I can still remember the day quite clearly. I remember that it had started to rain. I had a poncho on, but I stuck my head inside the poncho and made a little tent for myself. I had brought along a little paperback book and I was reading it as we were passing the time. I still remember this day being one of the more impressive days of my life.
Where was I? I was in a canyon waiting for John Paul II to come in for the evening prayer at World Youth Day in Denver.
I had never seen such a vibrant expression of my Catholic faith before. Here there were like a million people all drawn there to see this Pope. I thought it was way toooo cool.
Years later I would think of my experience again when I started to ponder my priestly vocation. I can say that John Paul was important there too since I read Pastores Dabo Vobis which very clearly helped me to understand what a vocation to priesthood meant and what I needed to do in order to become a priest.
John Paul died while I was in the seminary, but he was crucial in my priestly formation. It's too bad I had never had the chance to say "John Paul our Pope" during the Eucharistic prayer. But, now I will get to say something even better: St. John Paul II... ora pro nobis.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
2nd Sunday of Easter:
Today we celebrate what is called Divine Mercy Sunday. Today we hear in the gospel Christ bestowing the power of his mercy upon the apostles. Receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven. How amazing a gift is this?
As a priest I am privileged to have received this power of absolution, this power of forgiveness. If I stop and think about it, it gives me goose bumps to think that Jesus Christ himself handed this power to the apostles, and they handed it down to the next generation, who handed it down, etc all the way to me on the day of my ordination.
One question I get sometimes is this: why do I need to confess my sins to a priest? I just ask God to forgive me. Now, I certainly would never say that God cannot forgive sins outside of confession. He is God, he can certainly do that. But, the reason why we confess our sins to priests is because this is the express will of Christ. He was the one who instituted the sacrament of confession. And, since he is the Son of God, maybe he knows what he is doing.
There are many benefits to confessing our sins to priests. First, sin loves to hide in the darkness. There is nothing better to allow sin to flourish and grow than the dark hidden places in our hearts and souls. When we let sins stay there, deep down, they have the ability to weaken us and drag us down. Confession does not allow us to leave sins in the dark. It takes great courage to say your sins out loud, but when you do, the light of Christ is able to shine into those dark places. Do don’t be afraid to say your sins to a priest, don’t let them hid in the dark. Go behind the screen if you want, it is about saying the sins out loud that conquers them. Also, don’t go in there trying to explain away the sin, that is like leaving it in the darkness, just go into confession and confess your sin.
Another benefit of confessing your sins to a priest is that you get a chance to hear some advice. I don’t pretend to be an expert or some kind of wonder counselor. But, I have received extensive training in seminary and I have a great deal of experience of helping people in the confessional. I know that in my own life, I have gained many wonderful little insights by priests in the confessional.
A third benefit is that we get to hear the words of absolution. There is something deeply soothing about these words: I absolve you from your sins. Trusting in the power of God and in the fact that Christ gave this power to the priests, we know that when we hear these words, our sins are forgiven. What a wonderful gift that is. We do know that God can forgive sins whenever he wants, but we also know that he definitely does when we make a good confession and we receive our absolution. I wish I could describe the way that people’s faces change whenever I say the words of absolution. I can see their worries and concerns melt under the light of Christ’s mercy.
These are all great benefits. But there is another one. When Christ appears in that room he says: peace be with you. This is the ultimate goal of the sacrament of confession, the peace of Christ. We all know from experience that our sins do not give us peace, they do not give us joy. Christ wants his peace to dwell in the hearts of every disciple, which is why he gives us the sacrament of confession. Confession is the medicine of peace, it is the pathway of peace in our lives. Some people think that confession is something you do when you have gotten rid of all your sins. But, this is not true, this is what sin wants: to stay in the darkness. Rather, confession is the medicine that cures the disease of sin.
One thing that really makes me happy is the devotion to the sacrament of confession here at St. Jude. Many people come to confession here. It is a wonderful sacrament that leads us to the peace of Christ.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Tonight is the night! The best night of the whole year. The night we remember Jesus and his rising from the dead. Tonight is the night that makes everything new. Tonight changes everything.
Over the last couple of days we celebrated Jesus’ Last Supper, we celebrated his death. But by themselves these events are not entirely ground breaking. People have eaten Paschal dinners before, people had died on the cross before. But, never has anyone risen from the dead like this. In fact, it is because of Jesus’ rising that his death and last supper take on a new significance. This is not simply a matter of resuscitation, this is not simply a medical advance. This is an entirely new event in the course of human history. This Jesus who died, is dead no longer. As a result, it is not simply enough to say that Jesus WAS alive; now, and forever, Jesus IS alive.
When Jesus rises from the dead he takes all of us with him. One of the things I like about this Easter Vigil are the extended readings that we hear. It gives us a yearly chance to relive the whole sweep of salvation history. We recognize that God made us, but because of the Original Sin, death enters the world. Yet, God never abandons us; rather, he guides and shepherds his people throughout all of history, culminating Tonight. Everything in the history of the world has been leading up to this night, and everything since this night is seen in a new and amazing light. For Jesus has broken the bonds of death. No wonder the message of tonight’s gospel is “do not be afraid.”
No wonder this night is not like any other. For it is this night that gives the human race new hope. It is this night that the human race receives the gift of new life. No longer are we imprisoned by death and destruction; now, all those who believe in Christ will live just like he does.
What could possible give us fear? If Christ has destroyed death, there is nothing left to give us fear. Christ has destroyed sin, he has destroyed evil, he has destroyed death. And even if we end up facing these things in this life, we know that they no longer have the last word. Evil doesn’t win! That is the story of the cross. That even though we live in a broken world, that brokenness is not the last word. The last word is that one spoken from Christ: do not be afraid.
What a great joy it is for us to gather here tonight and renew our faith in the resurrection. We get a chance to hear Christ say to each one of us: do not be afraid. What gives you fear or anxiety? What causes you trouble or concern? I want us all to call to mind some concern we face, something that gives us anxiety, causes fear. Now, take that thing and stack it up against the amazing wonder of the Resurrection and how does it look now? Pretty small I imagine… Why do we let the trials and troubles of this world cause us fear? Jesus is alive! Death has no power over us, and Jesus can come to our aid in difficult times. Our faith and the power of the sacraments help us in difficult times.
Tonight many of our community will be receiving these sacraments for the first time. Hear the words of Jesus: do not be afraid. These sacraments are the doorway to new life. They are Christ’s gift to us. They give us the power to overcome fear or anxiety; they give us the power to live lives of holiness, to grow closer to Christ.
My friends, Jesus is alive, what could possible cause us to be afraid in the light of such an awesome truth?
Friday, April 18, 2014
Good Friday 2014
We continue through our three days of remembering all that Christ has done for us. Last night he stooped down to wash away our sinfulness, he fed us with the Holy Eucharist, and he handed on his ministry to the first priests. Today he shows us exactly how far he is willing to go for each one of us. It is not too much to say that there is nothing more that Christ could possible give us.
He hands over his body. The pain and anguish of Christ on this Good Friday is hard to ignore. Last night he suffered the pain of betrayal at the hand of one of his chosen followers. Then he quickly suffers the pain of abandonment by the rest of his chosen followers. This morning he suffers the pain of being mocked, the pain of being misunderstood, the pain of being unjustly condemned. His physical pains are well known as well, there is the crown of thorns, the scourging at the pillar, the carrying of the cross, the falls on the way. Also on the way to the cross, he suffers the pain of seeing his mother in anguish. His hands and feet are pierced. He is left to die on the cross. Crucifixion is a particularly nasty death as the cross kills by a slow and painful asphyxiation as a person’s lungs fill with fluid. Even after his death, Christ’s heart is pierced with a lance, and blood and water flow out.
I would venture to say that any suffering that a human being could possibly experience in this life was experienced by Christ. Think about any pain you have ever suffered, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual. Christ suffers it today. The great lesson that we learn today is that we do not have a Savior who is unable to relate to us in our suffering and pain. No matter what we face in this life, and there are often times of pain and difficulty, was experienced by Christ. In the crucifixion, Christ gives us the key to understanding how to be strong in the face of pain and suffering. He says simply: I thirst.
Remember back a few weeks ago, we heard how Jesus thirsted for the faith of the woman by the well. Jesus’ great thirst is really a thirsting for love. He longs for each one of us. He loves us and wants nothing more than to draw us to himself. It was his thirst that brought him to this earth, and it was this thirst that brought him to the cross. It was this thirst that provides for him the motivation to take each step, it gives him his reason and purpose for undergoing his passion and death.
What a great lesson our Lord teaches us. What is our thirst? In the heart of every human person there is a thirst for God. He made us, we belong to him, we will only be happy when we are in communion with him. Jesus himself is the living water that can satisfy our thirst. So, whenever we suffer in this life, it reminds us of the thirst we have for something more. We thirst for a life without pain, a life without suffering, a life in communion with God. And by recognizing this thirst in the midst of our sufferings, it becomes a pathway to faith.
I have given you a model to follow, as I have done for you, you also should do. Tonight we enter into the Sacred Triduum, the yearly entrance into the great paschal mystery. This is the Passover of the Lord Jesus, where the blood of the Lamb frees us from the bondage of sin and death. We begin here at this Last Supper with Jesus. This is the supper he greatly desired to celebrate with his friends. He celebrates the Jewish feast of Passover, but he makes it his own, giving it a new meaning and significance.
We hear in the first reading about the institution of the Passover supper. The Israelites were to celebrate this supper annually to remember all that God had done for them, especially when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt.
Our Passover supper tonight is much the same. We gather to celebrate this supper annually to remember the great things that Christ has done for us. Really this whole Triduum is an extended period of remembrance. Each day we remember something specific. Tonight we remember Christ’s Last Supper. Tomorrow we remember his passion and death. Saturday we remember his rising from the dead.
But, in each case we do not simply remember as though it were some distant event. This is not like remembering the declaration of independence every July 4th. Rather, when we gather during these holy days to remember, we get to enter into the very mysteries we celebrate. Tonight as we gather to remember the Lord’s last supper, he is here in our midst. The deeper we reflect on these saving mysteries, and the more we are open to Christ who speaks to us, the more we are able to see his example.
Tonight we remember three key events that took place at the Last Supper, Christ washing the feet of his disciples, the gift of the Eucharist, and the institution of the Priesthood. Each of these events teaches us something important. The better we remember these events, the better we can follow Christ’s example.
You call me master and teacher, and rightly so because I am. But, if I have washed your feet you must wash each other’s feet. There is nothing pretty about washing feet. Remember that in the days of Jesus neither shoes nor cars had been invented. So, a person’s feet tended to be quite dirty. This is why it was pretty standard custom for a wealthy homeowner to have one of his servants by the door in order to wash his guests’ feet. It would have been crazy for the master of the house to be doing this kind of work. We even see that Peter had an almost violent reaction to such humility: Master, you will never wash my feet. What love, what humility. That Christ would stoop to wash the feet of his disciples. The showing of humility is amazing. But, even more, the Church has seen this act of washing feet as being a symbol for baptism. The Lord stoops down to wash us clean, to forgive us, to show us his mercy. As people who have experienced this love, this humility, this forgiveness, Christ calls us to go and do likewise. We are called to bend down to pick up our neighbor, we are called to spread his love and mercy.
At this same Last Supper, Christ also gives us the gift of the Holy Eucharist. If you thought bending down and washing feet was humble, how much more so is the gift of the Eucharist? Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of the Father, and he gives us his body and blood as an eternal memorial. But, he does so in a humble and lowly way. Simple bread and wine become his very body and blood. At this Mass and at every Mass, he takes lowly elements and transforms them for us. There are no earthquakes, no lightning flashes. Rather, the Eucharist is simple and humble, and handed over to people like us. What a lesson the Eucharist teaches us. Every Mass is like attending a 3-credit course in humility, simplicity, and service. Who are we to scoff at our neighbor, or fail to give of ourselves, when our Savior tireless pours himself out to us in the Holy Eucharist.
Finally, tonight we remember the first ordination class. When Jesus says “do this in memory of me,” he hands over his priestly ministry into the hands of the Apostles. Another lesson in humility. Christ did not choose the highest classes or the smartest people. Christ chose lowly fishermen, common men, who were weak and sinful. In fact, tonight the apostles show their weakness in an important way, because when Jesus is arrested they all flee. They were weak and humble men. And yet, it was precisely these men that Christ called as the first priests.
I can tell you from personal experience that not much has changed. He continues to call weak sinners to be his priests. Talk about amazing humility. In order to carry on his important priestly ministry, he chooses ordinary common men. Christ doesn’t choose supermen to be priests. He chooses ordinary, lowly men. But there is one catch. Notice the order the apostles receive these signs.
First, the Apostles have their feet washed. The first step on the road to priesthood is experiencing the mercy of Christ. I can say this is very true in my own life. What drew me to the priesthood was the amazing mercy and forgiveness that God gives in the sacrament of confession. I thought: what an amazing gift, how blessed I would be if I could give that gift to others.
Next, the Apostles were fed by Christ by the Eucharist. I can say with certainty that every priestly vocation is born in front of Christ in the Eucharist. Here in the Holy Eucharist every priest finds his mission: to give everything in humble service. In many ways, the Eucharist IS the vocation to priesthood because the Eucharist gives the priesthood its meaning and direction. To be a priest means to be a person who loves the Eucharist.
Every priestly vocation needs these two things as prerequisites: an experience of the mercy of Christ and a love for the Holy Eucharist.
Tonight I’m asking for you to pray for your priests. Not just Fr. Bob, Fr. Paul, and myself, but all priests everywhere. That we might continue to experience God’s mercy, be strengthened by the Holy Eucharist, and be inspired to share these gifts with others. But, I would also ask you to pray that more young men will experience God’s mercy and fall in love with the Eucharist. Men like that will be inspired to go and do likewise.
What tremendous love the Lord shows us tonight: he stoops down to wash away our lowliness, he gives himself to us in the Holy Eucharist, and he continues his work among us through the hands of priests. Truly this night, this Holy Night, is a night for us to be thankful.