Saturday, December 26, 2015

Feast of the Holy Family

Holy Family Year C 2015:
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family.  Every year on the Sunday following Christmas we celebrate this important feast.  It is a chance for us to look at the Holy Family of Nazareth for intercession and guidance.  It’s a feast where each of us can thank God for our families as well as ask God for help in our families.  None of our families will ever replace the Holy Family, but our prayer should always be that our families be holy.
Our scriptures today shed some light on what it means to be a holy family.  In the first reading we heard that Hannah remembered the promise she made to the Lord.  She also remembered all the good that the Lord had done for her.  These two acts of remembering led her to the temple to worship and praise God, but also to entrust her son to God’s protection.  Now, I’m not saying that we should just leave our kids here at church.  But, I am saying that it important for us to make these same acts of rememberance.  We have all made promises to the Lord.  If you are married, you made promises on the day of your wedding.  I made promises on the day of my ordination.  If you are single, you made promises on the day of your baptism.  We are all called to be in closer union with Christ.  But, we don’t just remember obligations, we also remember all that the Lord has done for us.  If we do so we will grow in happiness and holiness.  I heard a statistic yesterday: just by keeping a thanksgiving journal people responded that it helped them grow in happiness by 25%.  Hannah remembered what the Lord had done, and she went to the temple to worship.
Then we hear the story in the gospel.  It’s one of my favorite stories.  I just love trying to imagine the scene when Joseph and Mary realize that Jesus wasn’t there.  Imagine the dread they must have felt.  I can just hear Mary saying, “how do I explain to the angel that I lost the son of God?”  They were so busy, so distracted by the feast that they lost track of their son, they lost track of Jesus.  Don’t we have a tendency to do the same thing?  We can get distracted and busy, we can lose track of our relationship with Christ.  If Mary and Joseph could do it, so can we!
In both readings we hear that the solution was found in returning to the temple.  Hannah went to the temple in good times, Mary and Joseph went to the temple in bad times.  In both occasions, it was a source of blessing for them.
We want our families to be holy right?  So we learn a lesson from the scriptures.  In good times or in bad times, the important thing is going to the temple.  I think that many people misunderstand our obligation for attending Mass.  We all know that we have to go to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.  But, why?  Why doesn’t the church just relax these rules?  I mean, we are busy right?  It’s precisely because of the absolute zaniness of our lives that the church insists on Mass obligations.   There are just too many things out there to distract us.  There’s sports practices, after school activities, television, internet, new Star Wars movies, video games, etc.  There is just so much that can pull us in many different directions.  The Sunday Mass helps us to get focused.  It helps us to center our lives on Christ.  Our weekly returning to this temple for worship and praise is not just some obligation.  Rather, it’s powerful medicine.  Whether in good times or in bad, we come to this temple to worship and praise almighty God.  Here at the Mass we find grace and strength.  Today we celebrate this Mass in honor of that Holy Family of Nazareth.  May this Holy Mass give to all of our families the grace and strength to become holy families as well.

Merry Christmas

Christmas 2015:
Hello, and a very merry Christmas to all of you.  It is such a joy for me to be with you for this special celebration.  Among the very cool things I get to do as a priest, celebrating Christmas here at St. Jude is one of the very best things.  While we didn’t quite get a white Christmas this year, I’m hoping and praying that this feast of Christmas will be a day of great joy for each and every one of you, a moment of grace and peace for you and for all your families.
But, I have to be honest with you.  This is a tough day to give a homily.  This is my 6th Christmas as a priest and every year I find this really challenging.  Not because Christmas isn’t awesome, it's the best.  I just find it hard to come up with something new and interesting for the Christmas homily.  So, I thought maybe I’d try to incorporate some movie idea.  I know that about 300 million people saw Star Wars over the last week.  So, I tried to come up with some witty idea about how the birth of Jesus is like the force awakening… But, I thought that was a terrible idea.  I thought about talking about cookies somehow.  It seems to me like cookies are the second most important thing about Christmas behind the birth of Jesus, but I couldn’t think of a good cookie homily.  I thought about inviting the kids forward and talking about the story of Christmas, but then I remembered the time I tried that at St. Matt’s and a kid climbed under the altar and had to be rescued by his parents. 
In other words, I was running out of ideas.  But, then I read Pope Francis’ Twitter feed.  He had a great thought there.  He said, “God is in love with us.  He became very small to help us love him.”  Christmas is all about love.
God is in love with us.  Do you know that?  Does that simple phrase have an impact in your life?  Every day we should wake up in the morning and let this simple truth be the start of our day: God loves me very much.  I can only imagine how much our lives would change if this simple truth became the core of our existence.  God loves me.  God!  The maker of the universe, the all-powerful ruler of everything, loves little ole’ me.  Just think about how much more we would appreciate everything we face and experience in life if we held onto this simple truth at every moment.  We would appreciate the good things even more.  Wow, God loves me.  We would have a better time dealing with trials.  This sickness is really tough to deal with, but God loves me and that’s enough for me.  I think we would be more loving people: I’m really mad at this guy who just cut me off in traffic, but God loves me and so I’m going to love him.
I don’t think this is pollyannish.  I mean all the great saints in the history of our church did amazing things precisely because they knew that God loved them.  Now, we might say: I know that God loves me, but how do I really know that God loves me.  Look at this little baby.  God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that all those who believe in him might have life.  This little baby is an eternal proclamation of the love that God has for us.  If he didn’t love us, he never would have sent his son.  If Jesus didn’t love us, he never would have died on the cross for us.  Truly, God is in love with us.
But, it might not always seem easy for us to love God in return.  I mean how can we get our heads around this?  God, the eternal, the creator, the ruler of heaven and earth, loves little, puny me.  How can I return that love?  I’m weak, I’m sinful, I’m insignificant in the divine perspective.  As Pope Francis says, God became very small as a way to help us love him in return.  Look at this little baby, love this little Baby.  It might be hard to love the eternal triune God, but it's easy to love little babies.
Don’t we all love babies?  They are cute and sweet and innocent.  Ok, sometimes they cry and smell bad, but we love babies.  I have a lot of experience with babies.  I have 18 nieces and nephews.  I’m the oldest of 11 kids.  There is something just so amazing about little babies.  So, don’t be afraid to love this little child.  Jesus became small so that it is easier for us to love God.
I really find the littleness of this baby as such an important mystery.  He was born as a little child.  Think about that.  Babies certainly are cute, but they are completely helpless, completely dependent on others.  No babies can take care of themselves.  All of us were babies once, and none of us would be here today if someone didn’t feed us, cloth us, take care of us.  The same was true for Christ.  He was completely dependent on his human family.  The Son of God became small, weak, and helpless because we are small, weak, and helpless.  Jesus Christ became human so that humans could have a relationship with Christ.
So, my homily for Christmas this year is quite simple, and I’m shamelessly stealing it from Pope Francis.  God is in love with us.  He became small to help us love him in return.  So, don’t be afraid to love this baby.  Don’t be afraid to love God.  He loves us.  Christmas is a chance for us to remember this great love.  To look on this little child and see the Son of God, born to set us free, born to save us, born to help us love God better.

May this love, the love God has for us, and the love we have for God, live richly in your hearts and minds.  I pray that this love lives in your lives, in your families, and in our world.  May the love of God fill you with joy and hope.  May it give you strength in time of difficulty, may it fill you with peace.  May the Good News of the Birth of Jesus Christ grant you a wonderful, joyful, and very merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent 2015 (December Stewardship Sunday):
Well, my friends, Christmas is almost here.  This is the final Sunday of Advent, our joy and expectation are building.  Our Savior will soon be born for us.  This season of Advent is a time for us to remember that our Lord comes to us to be our Savior. 
During this season of Advent we have been reflecting on the Mass.  During Advent we are supposed to be preparing for the coming of Christ, but we have been remembering that Christ comes to us at every Mass.  In the Liturgy of the Word, Jesus comes to us, he speaks to us in language that we can understand.  He guides us and forms us for our lives as his disciples.  In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we join in the sacrifice of Christ.  We offer this sacrifice with Christ in thanksgiving for all that he has done for us.  The entire Mass is one act of worship and praise.  How can we repay the Lord for all the good he has done for us?  We give him our worship and our praise.
This last week of Advent, I want to talk about what happens after Mass.  No, I’m not talking about shaking hands after mass, or wading through our congested parking lot.  Rather, I’m talking about how the Mass changes our lives.  We come here to Mass just as we are.  We are sinners in need of God’s mercy.  But, hopefully, we leave Mass a little different.  Hopefully, encountering Christ here in this act of worship has an effect on the people we are and the way we live our lives outside of these walls.
At the end of each Mass, there is a dismissal.  Go in peace, is often the last phrase we hear.  But, this is not just a phrase of utility.  Its meaning is not just: ok folks we’re all wrapped up here.  Rather, it comes from the Latin phrase: ite, missa est.  Which, loosely translated means, Go, you have been sent.  Missa is where we get the word for missionary.  When we are “dismissed” from Mass, we are not simply sent home.  We are sent on a mission.  What’s our mission?  You remember the show and movies “Mission impossible?”  Every movie or episode contained a mission.  And the mission is always presented this way: your mission, if you choose to accept it.  It’s the same for us, we get a mission, but we have to choose to accept it. 
Now, our mission doesn’t self-destruct in 3 seconds like the ones on the movies.  Our mission is the gospel.  Our mission is to spread the good news.  Our mission is to spread the kingdom.  The way I like to think about it, our mission is to take what happens here at Mass and let it happen out in the world.  I like to think about it in three ways: the kingdom in our lives, in our families, in our world.
First, our mission is to bring the kingdom into our lives.  We are called to be disciples of Christ.  But, what does that mean exactly?  The disciples in the bible listened to Christ, they followed after him, they tried to live and love just as he did.  Many of the admirable saints in the history of our church did heroic things.  The fed the poor, they built hospitals and schools, they might have even died in fidelity to Christ.  And, it can be easy to call attention to these marvelous things they did.  But, one question that always pops into my head is: where did they find the courage and strength to do these things?  The lesson of the saints is that they did amazing and marvelous things precisely because of their connection to Christ.  Every saint has a unique story and took a unique path, but one thing they have in common was an unfailing love of Christ.  They knew Jesus.  They listened to him.  They changed their hearts and minds because they wanted to be disciples.  The Mass is a privileged place for encountering Christ, we hear his voice and we are united to him.  If we are faithful to what we receive here at Mass, it will change our lives.  Our first mission is to let the mass live in us every day of our lives.
Second, our mission is to spread the gospel in our families.  Christmas is a great time for family.  So many of us get a chance to see and connect with family members during this joyful season.  Yet, for so many of us, there are difficulties and tensions in our families.  Christmas can be a time of sadness or conflict in many families.  So, we have a great opportunity to spread the kingdom in our families during this time of year.  But, how do we go about it?  One method that has been tried for decades is the old fashioned guilt trip.  This method tries to criticize or shame our family members into going to church or reconnecting with Mass.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure this method is all that successful.  But, what do we learn here at Mass?  When Jesus calls us to follow him he doesn’t criticize, blame, shame, or ridicule.  Rather, when we come here to Mass he inspires us, lifts us up, gives us grace and strength.  I think that if we are going to try to spread the gospel in our families, we need to use this same strategy.  We should be thinking: how can I inspire my family members?  How can I lift them up?  How can I meet them where they are, and lift them to the next level?  We can do this by sharing with them the beauty of the Mass, the beauty of the story: God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to be our Savior.  Like St. Paul said in Ephesians: say the good things that people need to hear to build them up.
The third mission we receive at every Mass is to spread the kingdom in our world.  Last month on Stewardship Sunday I mentioned many of the ways that St. Jude spreads the kingdom.  People from this parish are feeding the poor, consoling the sick, visiting the imprisoned.  Today I would like to call attention to our monthly food collection.  The last Sunday of every month you bring in food.  This gift of food is distributed far and wide.  This simple gift touches the lives of thousands of people throughout our community.  This past week I received a kind note from a woman who received one of our food baskets.  She couldn’t thank us enough for the generosity of this gift, it meant so much to her.  This food collection is one of the ways that we fulfill our mission to spread the gospel.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to follow Christ.  Mary is our model for this.  After her encounter with the angel, after she welcomed Christ into her life, she rushed out to her cousin.  She went out in peace to bring the Good News to the world.  Here at the Mass we encounter Christ, we hear his voice, we give him thanks and praise.  At the end of every Mass, we are dismissed: go in peace.  Our mission is to accept the peace of Christ in our hearts, in our families, and to give this peace to the world around us.  

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Gaudete Sunday

3rd Sunday of Advent 2015:
Today we celebrate the Third Sunday of Lent.  Also known as Pink Sunday.  Today get’s its name from the entrance antiphon which begins: Rejoice.  Truly we do rejoice, because our God comes to save us.  Also, during this season of Advent we have been reflecting on the Mass.  Today we will reflect a bit on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is the second major section of the Mass.  This part of the mass culminates with our reception of Holy Communion, where we receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  But, before we get to communion we have the Eucharistic prayer.
The Eucharistic prayer tells us everything there is know about the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  If we pay special attention to the words used in the prayer we will see that the Liturgy of the Eucharist is a sacrifice.  There are currently 4 major Eucharistic prayers, and there are several others that can be used in special circumstance.  All of them contain the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: this is my body, this is my blood.  And, all of them are filled with sacrificial language.
Take, for example, Eucharistic prayer III which is the one that I commonly use at the Sunday Mass.  Just listen to some of these phrases: you never cease to gather a people to yourself so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.  After the consecration we hear: We offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.  Look upon the oblation of your church, recognize the sacrificial victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself.  May He make of us an eternal offering to you.  May this sacrifice of our reconciliation advance the peace and salvation of the whole world.
So, the mass is a sacrifice.  It’s important to know whose sacrifice it is.  First and foremost, it is the sacrifice of Christ.  I explain it like this: at every Mass the sacrifice of Christ is offered anew for the salvation of the world.  Jesus is not killed at every Mass, but the one death of Christ is offered again, throughout history until Christ comes in glory.  So every Mass is a new sacrifice, a new offering of the Cross of Jesus.  So, the mass is the sacrifice of Christ.  But, it’s also our sacrifice.  We are the ones who get to offer the sacrifice of Christ at each Mass.  I can tell you that offering this sacrifice with and for you is the greatest honor I have as being a priest. 
The Mass is a sacrifice.  Why is that so important?  I would like to recommend to all of you a book by Scott Hahn called The Lamb’s Supper.  In this book, Scott Hahn takes a look at the book of Revelation and examines it in light of the sacrifice of the Mass.  It’s a great book for understanding Revelation, but the first 4 chapters are all about the Mass and sacrifice.  I can’t tell you how good those chapters are.  I read this book this week and it helped me to see things new. 
Scott calls sacrifice one of the most primal forms of worship.  Throughout history, people have been offering sacrifices to God as a way of giving him worship and praise.  The first sacrifice in the Bible takes place with the story of Cain and Abel.  Cain brought an offering from his harvest, and Abel sacrificed an animal from his flock.  Both did so as an act of worship.  The people of Israel would offer sacrifice for a number of different reasons.
First, sacrifice was a recognition of God’s sovereignty over creation.  By offering sacrifice of material things, people recognize that all these things belong to God, and we are giving them back to him.  Sacrifice praises God from Whom all blessings flow. 
Second, sacrifice was a way of giving thanks.  By giving back to God, we not only recognize his rule of all creation, but we also give him our thanks for the creation he has bestowed upon us. 
Third, sacrifice was offered as a way of sealing oaths or pacts.  When God made covenants with humanity, sacrifice is offered.  We see that especially in the sacrifice of Christ, who inaugurates the new and eternal covenant with humanity. 
Fourth, sacrifice was offered as reparation for sin.  The people of Israel knew that because of their sins, they deserved death.  But, the sacrifice would stand in their place.  It was an offering to God imploring mercy and forgiveness. 
These four examples of sacrifice from the Old Testament tell us a lot about why we are here offering this sacrifice.  When we come to Mass and participate in this sacrifice, we do so for the same four reasons.  By offering this sacrifice, we recognize God’s power and majesty, we recognize all that he has done for us.  We offer this sacrifice as an offering of thanksgiving.  God has given us life, breath, everything; he has given us new life in Christ.  Every time we offer this sacrifice we agree and enter into the New Covenant of Christ again.  The covenant is renewed in us at each Mass.  We offer this Mass as reparation for our sinfulness, and we beg the Lord’s pardon and mercy at every Mass. 

I’m sure that all of us, myself included, can sometimes go through the motions while we are here at Mass.  But, by renewing our appreciation for the importance of sacrifice, I think we can gain a new appreciation for the important place Mass plays in our spiritual life.  Sacrifice is the most primal form of worship.  Today at this Mass, we lift our hearts to the Lord, we give him thanks and praise because it is right and just.

2nd Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent Year C 2015:
This year during the season of Advent we are taking a closer look at the Mass.  I think this is a great way to spend the season of Advent.  This is a season where we contemplate the coming of Christ.  Not only his first coming, but also to prepare for the day when he will come again.  There is no better way to prepare for the coming of Christ than to worship and praise God here at the Mass.  That is because at this Mass, and at every Mass, Jesus comes here to us.  Last week we talked a bit about some things we can do to prepare for Mass.  Things like praying with the readings during the week before Sunday Mass, arriving early to spend a few minutes in prayer, seeing the Mass as an act of worship, a chance to give God thanks and praise.
This week, I want to think a little bit about the first half of the Mass.  It’s called the Liturgy of the Word.  At the heart of this part of the Mass is the reading of Sacred Scripture.  Catholics have a bad rap about the Bible.  How many of us really think that we know the Bible well?  It was actually pretty common some 70 years ago that Catholics were discouraged from reading the Bible.  The thought was that it was too difficult to interpret, so better off not reading it.  But, this is certainly not the teaching of the Church.  The Church encourages all the faithful to know the Bible well.  Because, through the Sacred Text of the Scriptures God makes himself known to the human race.
If you want to learn more about the bible, go to the Catechism at paragraph number 101.  There is a great description there of what we believe about the Bible.  We profess and believe that this Bible is no mere book, no mere history lesson.  Rather, the Bible is truly the Word of God.  This means that we hold that God is the author of the Sacred Scriptures.  Now, we also hold that humans acted as true authors.  But, through the miracle of inspiration, God employed human authors so that they wrote down all and only what he wanted, and did so without taking away human freedom.  It’s truly a wondrous teaching.  These are the words of human beings, but because of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, these are truly the words of God.  This is one of the greatest miracles of all time.  God inspired human beings so that he could talk to us directly.  Therefore, the Second Vatican Council states that the Sacred Scriptures contain the truth which God wished to reveal for the sake of our salvation.
No wonder the Bible is so important.  Contained in the Word of God is the truth that will set us free, it’s the truth that leads us to faith in Christ.  As St. John says so well in his gospel: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”  Isn’t that a great description of the Bible: the things written so that you might have faith in Jesus?
No wonder the Bible is an essential part of the celebration of the Mass.  By encountering the Word of God we are led to faith in Jesus Christ.  But, it is not a simple or automatic kind of thing.  The Bible doesn’t work like magic.  We can’t put the book under our heads and hope to learn more about God.  We have to read it, study it, wrestle with it.  We have to let the words of the Bible comfort us sometimes, like in our first reading: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever.”  Sometimes we need the bible to challenge and inspire us.  St. Paul prayed in the second reading: may your love increase ever more and more … so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.  I don’t think I’ve gotten to the point of being pure and blameless, have you?  The Bible tells us the story: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee.  But, it also calls us to something deeper: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths,” for “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
The catechism states: “In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way.”  Think about that, in the Scripture, God speaks to us in words that we can understand.  At this Mass, and at every Mass, Christ comes to us, he speaks to us in the Liturgy of the Word.  If we open our ears, open our minds, open our hearts, each one of us will hear the saving truth that God wishes to speak to each one of us. 
And it really is God who does the speaking.  One time when I was at St. Matt’s I wrote out my homily just like I normally do.  But, as I was starting the second Mass I decided that I wasn’t too happy with the way that homily came out the first time.  So, I decided to scrap that homily and go with something else for that Mass.  And I have to say, that was a colossal mistake.  I kept putting my foot in my mouth, nothing came out like I wanted to.  After I sat down I thought “even I don’t know what I said, how were they supposed to get anything out of that.”  But, after mass a woman came up to me and said: “thank you so much, that was exactly what I needed to hear.”  I was tempted to ask her what she heard, but I decided to let it go.  It was God who was speaking to her.

My friends, God has a message for each one of us.  He speaks to us through the Sacred Scriptures.  I hope each one of us has a great relationship with the Bible.  I hope it’s a part of our daily lives.  I especially hope it is an important part of our worship here at Mass.  Because if we are listening, God will speak to us exactly what we need to hear.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent and the Mass

1st Sunday of Advent, year C 2015:
Today we begin the season of Advent.  When I was a kid, Advent was my favorite season.  It meant Christmas was right around the corner.  It meant presents and vacation from school.  And to make it that much better, the church was helping you do the countdown.  Every time I came to Mass I looked excitedly at how many candles were being lit. 
Advent is a season to prepare.  We are preparing for the celebration of Christmas.  We are preparing to welcome the newborn baby Jesus.  But, it is also a season for us to prepare to welcome Christ when he comes again.  Are you ready to meet him?
I’m convinced that we will only be ready to meet Jesus on that last day if we are able to see him even now in our daily lives.  Christ is not too distant or remote.  He is close to us.  Jesus speaks to us through the scriptures and through the voice of the Church.  Jesus said that when we took care of others in his name, we were taking care of him.  He said, where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am.
Jesus is not distant or remote.  He is present with us.  We will be ready to meet Jesus on the last day if we are able to meet him today.  The most concrete and tangible way for us to meet Jesus is right here at the Holy Mass.  Advent is a time for us to prepare to meet Jesus, but right here at the Mass he comes to us every day.
I thought that this year, for Advent, it would be a good time for us, as a parish, to reflect a little bit on the Mass.  The mass is something that is a part of our lives, but how often do we stop and reflect on the Mass itself?  First, let’s think a bit about the Mass.  Second, I’ll give some tips for getting the most out of Mass.
We know Mass is important.  The Second Vatican Council called the Eucharist the source and summit of our Catholic faith, but what is it?
First of all, Mass is worship.  It is a chance for us to gather as a body to worship almighty God.  First and foremost, the Mass is all about God.  We are not here so that we can feel good.  We are not here so that we are the focus.  I know many people who say they don’t go to Mass because they don’t “get anything out of it.”  I’ve never thought about Mass as something for me.  I’ve always thought about Mass as something I do for God.  It is truly right and just to give God praise.  How often have we heard those words?  Now, don’t get me wrong, the Mass has amazing spiritual benefits.  I’m not here so that I can feel good, but it makes me feel good to worship God.  There are many personal benefits to going to Mass, but all of these come from worshipping almighty God.
Some people say: I worship God on my own, I don’t need church.  Maybe so…  I certainly hope that each one of us has a healthy life of prayer.  But, since when was it a good idea to go alone in this life?  Football players need teammates, police officers need partners, even golfers have caddies.  We never live life all alone.  So, why would we think we could have a spiritual relationship with God all by ourselves?  Coming here to Mass is an important part of our spiritual life because we remember that we are part of something bigger.  We are part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  When we come to Mass together, it keeps us connected to the body, it gives us strength to continue as disciples of Christ.  Also, sometimes we are the ones who can reach out and give help to others.  You never know how your kindness, your prayers, could make a huge difference in someone’s life. 
So those are two keys for understanding the Mass.  First, the Mass is worship.  Second, it is the place where we connect with the Body of Christ.  Now, here are some tips for making sure you are well prepared for Sunday Mass.
First, spend some time in prayer every day.  Spend some time worshiping and praising God during the rest of the week.  Then, when you come to Mass, it is part of the conversation and not the whole story.  Sunday Mass and weekday Mass should be a part of our well-rounded life of prayer and discipleship.
Second, put some time in before Mass and look at the readings.  The more thought you put into the scriptures, the more you will hear when they are read.  You can easily find the readings online, or you can use our parish app. 
Another good tip: get to church on time, or even get here early.  By getting to Mass early you can spend time praying before Jesus in the Sacrament, you can quite down your mind and heart.  You can offer yourself to the Father in worship, thanks, and praise. 
While you are at Mass, pray and participate to the best of your ability.  This is the communal prayer of the Church, we can’t do it without you.  The more you put into the Mass, the more that comes out of it.  I know it is not always the easiest thing to participate fully in the mass.  I know many of you are parenting small children.  Thank you for doing your best be sure your kids don’t disrupt the people around you.  I know for many of you, this means many trips to the back of church.  It might seem like you are constantly walking back and forth.  Do the best you can.   I don’t think Mass is a game of perfect, we are all doing the best we can.

Mass is not easy or simple.  It takes a lot of work and planning.  Our ministers put in hours of practice to be ready.  But it is all worth it.  It is truly right and just to give him thanks and praise.    We come to this mass because Jesus is here.  We come to this mass to praise him and to connect with his body, the Church.  At this Mass, and at every Mass, the Lord comes to meet us.  Are we ready?  Do we put in time and effort to be ready to welcome Christ at Mass?  The more we meet him here, the more we will be ready to meet him when he comes again.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Christ the King of St. Jude Parish

Christ the King 2015:
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the king.  This is the last Sunday of Ordinary time, Advent starts next week.  In the gospel today, we listen to the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.  The words of Jesus are somewhat haunting: my kingdom is not here.  These words bring sadness, since Jesus’ kingdom is not here, he suffers and dies.  It can be easy to think that these words still hold true today.  Think about the terrorist attacks in France or Mali.  It seems like every time I check the news there is some outbreak of evil or violence.  Every time we experience evil, sin, death, we can think: his kingdom is not here. 
I sometimes meet people who are overly pessimistic.  The evil in the world has beaten them down.  They say, “the world is terrible, and there is nothing good.”  But, this kind of pessimism is incompatible with Christianity.  We are not allowed to be pessimists like this. 
True, the world is broken and fallen.  True, we experience real pain, real evil.  But, Jesus Christ has conquered the world.  Today, on this feast day, we proclaim that Christ is King.  This is a proclamation that the evil doesn’t win.  That Christ, and his kingdom of peace and justice, will reign for all time.
We do well to see where his kingdom does exist in this world.  Whenever we experience love, his kingdom is here.  Whenever we experience mercy, his kingdom is here.  Whenever we experience peace, justice, courage, strength, his kingdom is here.
The kingdom of Christ is not just something for us to take in and experience ourselves.  The kingdom is also something for us to spread.  This weekend is our stewardship weekend for November.  During this year for stewardship we’ve been praying this prayer for stewardship.  I love the way it ends: help us to spread your kingdom. 
This is the mission of St. Jude parish.  This is the goal of stewardship.  Really, it’s the mission of the whole Church.  Our mission is to spread the kingdom of God, to proclaim that Christ is king.  Indeed, this is our mission as St. Jude parish, a parish committed to the stewardship way of life.
I thought that I would share with you some of the ways that St. Jude Parish spreads the kingdom, ways that are only possible because of our commitment to stewardship.  I chose three areas, but there are obviously more.  We spread God’s kingdom by worship, education, and service.
The most important thing we do is praise and worship almighty God.  This is the heart of what it means to spread the kingdom.  Because, if the kingdom doesn’t reign in our hearts first, we will never be able to spread that kingdom.  It begins at the Holy Mass.  St. Jude offers 16 masses per week.  That’s 832 masses per year, not counting extra masses for weddings, funerals, and holy days of obligation.  By my estimates, there are over 2500 people per week who attend Mass here.  Our community comprises the young and old, rich and poor, from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences.  Yet, we all come to this altar to praise and worship almighty God, to proclaim that Christ is king of our lives and of our hearts.  Combined Fr Bob and I hear about 8 hours of confessions per week, not to mention penance services for the parish and in the school.  There is a great love and commitment to the sacrament of God’s mercy here at St. Jude.  Last year there were 69 people baptized, 6 people welcomed into the church, 62 first communions, 92 confirmations, 17 weddings, over 70 funerals.  This is a parish that lives and thrives because of our dedication to worshiping God and celebrating the sacraments.  Worship is at the heart of what we do.  It brings the kingdom of God into our hearts.
Second, education is a huge priority for us here at St. Jude.  We have a wonderful school and religious education program.  Right now there are about 550 kids attending our school Pre-k – 8th grade.  There are 94 students enrolled in our religious education program.  Our faculty and staff are committed to Catholic education because we know this is an important way for us to spread the kingdom of God.  By passing along our Catholic faith we are ensuring that the good news of Christ will be proclaimed by the next generation.  We make a huge commitment to Catholic education here.  Last year the parish subsidized the school spending $715,000 dollars for Catholic education.  We gave another $90,000 in tuition assistance.  These contributions make it possible for parishioners to send their children to this school, so they have a chance to learn about the kingdom of Christ.  All of this is made possible by your generosity to the parish.
Finally, St. Jude is committed to service.  So many people have given of their time, talent, and treasure to serve the needs of others.  I certainly cannot name every activity that takes place here.  But here are some.  The social action committee sponsored outreach programs helping the Franciscan center, rescue mission, project linus, Matthew 25, literacy alliance, blue jacket, associated churches, just neighbors, habitat for humanity.  Members of our St. Vincent de Paul society visited 362 people, and distributed almost $20,000 in aid.  452 people were helped with holiday food baskets.  I don’t know if everyone knows this, but we set aside a portion of the parish offertory and use it for charitable works.  We call it our parish tithe.  Last year we made donations of over $27,000 for charitable works in the community and across the world.
I don't call your attention to these things so that we can be proud and gloat.  But, I want everyone in the parish to see the connection between supporting and participating in the life of the parish and spreading the kingdom of God.
All of these events and activities are possible because we have committed to a stewardship way of life.  You spread the kingdom of Christ when you participate in the life of the parish.  When you give back from your time, talent, and treasure, you are spreading the kingdom of Christ. 
It brings sadness to think of all the ways that Christ’s kingdom is not here.  But, we are not pessimists.  We are full of hope.  Christ has conquered sin and death.  Christ is Lord and King of the universe.  He is king in our hearts and king of the world.  And with eyes of faith, we can see his kingdom become more present in our world.

As a parish, we are committed to Christ.  We proclaim him as our king, and as we go forth from this holy altar, we acknowledge and accept the mission our king has given us to spread his kingdom.  Our stewardship prayer expresses it so well: Lord, help us to spread your kingdom, where you live and reign forever, and ever, Amen.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

All Saints

All Saints Day:
            Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints.  Today we remember all those who have been found victorious, those who have been washed clean in the blood of the lamb.  Today we honor God our Father who is glorified through his work in the Saints.  Today we remember all those whose lives of virtue and holiness have won for them the rewards of eternal life.  We are inspired by their example, and aided by their prayers.  All you holy men and women pray for us.
While we celebrate the feast of all the saints, we are reminded that sainthood is not the vocation of a select few.  Rather, we are all called to be holy, we are all called to be saints.  At the beginning of every school year, I tell the kids that we all have one homework assignment in life.  Our goal is to become saints.  You can ask them, I’m sure it’s annoying, but I remind them about his vocation all the time.  But, it’s not just for the kids.  We are all called to be saints.  In fact, there are only two options: either to be a saint, or not to be a saint.  To be a saint means to be with God in this life and in the life to come, not to be a saint means to be distant from God in this life and in the life to come.  That’s it, there are no other options.  There is no middle ground, either you are a saint or you are not.  To be a saint means an eternity of happiness being with the God who loves us, not to be a saint means an eternity doomed to our own selfishness, pride, and sinfulness.  If given the choice, who would choose the latter?  But, every day we are given the choice, and when we sin we are choosing not to be a saint.  To seek virtue and holiness means to seek sainthood, something we should be seeking every day.
But, when we think about the saints, it can be somewhat depressing.  We see these great models of holiness: Mother Teresa picking up the destitute in Calcutta, John Paul II and his courageous witness to the dignity of the human person, St. Francis and his love of poverty and the poor, St. Therese of Liseaux, who loved others even in the small things.  The list goes on and on.  When I think of these great saints, I get a little down: how am I supposed to be a saint?  I am a sinner, I struggle and I fall, even if I true to do those things that the saints did, I find that I cannot do it.  But, that’s ok!
Saints do not become saints because of their own effort.  No one can become a saint on their own.  Rather, we become saints not because of something we do, but because of something that God does.  It is the power of the cross made present in our world that makes saints.  All of the saints you can think of, they lived their great lives, not because of their own power, but because of the power of Christ.  The Holy Spirit is the one who makes saints.  Rather than depress us, this should give us great hope, because the same Holy Spirit that made John Paul II great, is present to you.  The same Holy Spirit that helped St Francis will come to your aid.  The power to become saints does not come from us, but it is available to us.
One great way to grow in holiness is by Eucharistic adoration.  This last week Bishop Rhoades mentioned that adoration is the most powerful devotion we have.  By spending time with Christ in the chapel, we get a chance to become more like him.  Eucharistic adoration is a great way for us to grow in our vocation to holiness, our vocation to be a saint.

What, then, is the difference between a sinner who becomes a saint and a sinner that remains isolated from God?  This is a question I want each of you to ponder.  Because all of us are sinners, but we should all want to be saints.  In my opinion, the difference between a sinner who becomes a saint and a sinner who remains isolated is openness.  Are we open to God?  Do we allow God into our life?  Do we allow God to direct our daily actions?  Do we listen to the voice of God, do we trust him, love him, want to be with him?  Do I come to him here in this Eucharist to receive the strength I need in my life?  If we let God in, he will do amazing things, we will become saints!  If we keep him out, it will be the biggest tragedy we can imagine.  So I leave you with a question: do you want to be a saint?  If the answer is yes, be open to God and let him into your life.

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

32nd Sunday OT year B 2015:
Every year as we get closer to Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year, we hear readings about the end of time and the last judgment.  We even started talking about it a bit last week: we are all called to be Saints.  Either we are saints or not.  Now, we might not like to think about things like death, judgment, heaven, and hell.  But, it comes up every year.  We get a chance to think about eternity.
Normally, when we think about Jesus, we think of him as the merciful judge.  We think of him as the good shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep.  But, today in the gospel we hear something a little bit different, when talking about the scribes he states, “they will receive a very severe condemnation.”  Obviously, we don’t want to be like those scribes, do we?  We want to be like the generous widow who gave all she had.  We want salvation, not condemnation.  We want to be saints.
But, what do you envision when you think about the last judgment?  I think very often we get the idea that God sits us down, takes a long hard look at us, then measures up how many bad things we did versus how many good things.  In other words, God is like the great task master.  Or, some people think: Oh everything is just fine, God doesn’t really care what I do…  Neither one of these is a very good option.  Jesus talks about condemnation in the Gospel.  What does salvation look like?
What does it mean to be a saint?  It means to be Holy.  Saint is a word that means “holy person.”  God alone is Holy.  The saint is a person who is a lot like God.  Salvation means spending eternity in communion with God.  If we are going to spend eternity with God, then we have to become like God.  The final judgment is like a compatibility test.  Are you compatible with God for all eternity?  God is pure love, pure holiness, pure light.  Do we have enough love, light, and holiness to be with him?  The scribes may have talked the talk, they knew the law, they were the teachers and leaders in the faith, but they were proud, arrogant, and showy.  None of these things were compatible with God.  The widow, on the other hand, was humble, poor, and generous.  She is compatible with God.
So, how do we become compatible?  God will change us, if we let him.  But, it happens through our action.  One of the best classes I ever had was a class on the philosophy of John Paul II.  Before he was the Pope he was a teacher of philosophy.  His thinking was incredibly dense and difficult to understand.  It was a really challenging class.  We read his book “The Acting Person.”  In this book he captured so well the effect that our action have on us human beings.  He said that our actions have an effect on us in that they mold us into the people we become while we are still in the state of our human development.  In other words, the stuff we do makes us the people we are.  Our bad actions make us into the kind of people that are not compatible with God, our good actions make us into saints.  It is not simply enough to want to be good, to want to be a saint.  Rather, we become holy by responding to God’s grace and taking action in the midst of our daily lives.  The scribes knew all about holiness, but none of them were Holy.  The widow may not have been an expert at the Torah, but she was humble, kind, and generous.

What kind of people do we want to become?  In that book I mentioned, John Paul said that all of us are free to become the people we want to be.  So, no matter where we are right now, by the power of God’s grace, we can become holy, we can become saints.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Vocations to the priesthood

30th Sunday of OT year B 2015:
            The readings this week focus powerfully on following the call of Christ.  In a way, all of us are the blind man in the gospel.  Bartimaeus is like an icon of every human being.  We were all born blind.  Maybe not physical blindness, but we all inherited the blindness of sin and selfishness.  We know that without Christ in our lives we are like Bartimaeus, sitting by the roadside and calling out to God: have pity on me.  Whether we realize it or not, we were made for a deep and lasting union with God.  Our hearts are restless without God.  We might even be blind to the fact that we need God.  How many people in our world are looking for the secret to happiness?  So many people offer an illusory path to fulfillment, but it won’t be found in money, power, pleasure, or success.  Fulfillment is found in Christ.  Once we realize that we are blind and helpless without God, then we need to call out to him like the blind man.  When we encounter Christ, the only viable option is to follow him. 
            As the Second Vatican Council stated so clearly, the vocation of all the baptized is holiness.  We are all called to follow Christ.  The vocation to holiness is lived in the concrete experience of our daily lives.  Each of us will live this call differently depending on our station in life.  If you are married, your call to holiness is lived by loving service to your spouse.  If you are parents, your call to holiness is lived by laying your life down in service of your children, your family.  If you are single, your call to holiness is lived by following Christ and sharing his Good News with others.  And, as we read in our Second Reading from the letter to the Hebrews, some are called to the priesthood.
            I would like to speak a little about the call to the priesthood.  Perhaps it has always been an issue in the Church, but we need more priests.  We need young men of good quality to hear the call from God and to have the courage to follow Christ like Bartimaeus.  I certainly believe that God continues to call men to serve as priests, but it can be quite difficult to hear his call in our world.  There are many distractions and false voices out there.  How can we help foster the call to the priesthood?
            First, we have to understand the vocation.  The letter to the Hebrews gives a great job description of the vocation to priesthood: every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifices before God.  What a perfect description of the priesthood.  Priests are called to be the representatives of the human race to offer sacrifice of God, to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the salvation of the world.  There is no better description of what is at the heart of the priestly life.  My call to the priesthood was born out of a powerful attraction to the Mass.  I started attending Mass daily, usually here at St. Jude.  I felt that the Eucharist was drawing me ever closer to the priesthood.  In the power of the Eucharist, I discovered that the center of the priestly vocation was the sacrifice of Christ.  Jesus laid down his life because of his love for all of us.  In a similar way, the Priest is called to lay down his life for Christ by serving his Church and by ministering to the people, especially through the sacraments.  It’s amazing to be a minister of God’s grace.  It’s unbelievable to celebrate the Eucharist, to forgive sins in the sacrament of Confession, to welcome new members in baptism, to comfort the sick with anointing.  The priest is a bridge connecting God and human beings, that’s the job description.  But, how did I know it was my vocation?
            I recently visited a classroom and the kids asked me questions.  One of the questions was: how did I know I wanted to be a priest?  I said, easy: God called me on my cell phone and told me to be a priest…  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Like I said, I found a powerful attraction to the Eucharist.  I wanted the Mass to be an important part of my life.  But, that is not why I became a priest.  Like the letter to the Hebrews states, no one takes this honor, this vocation, upon himself, but only when called by God.  Through my life of prayer I felt this calling that wouldn’t go away.  I felt God was inviting me to follow this pathway to vocation.  I felt the courage to explore this vocation because of the supportive environment in which I lived.  My family was extremely supportive.  No one thought I was crazy for exploring the call.  My friends said things like: I can see you doing that.  My employer told me to go for it, and if it didn’t work out I could get my job back.  I always tell people that the only reason I became a priest is that I thought God wanted me to be a priest.  But, I never could have responded to the call if I didn’t have the support and blessing of my family, my parish, my friends, and my community.
            This is what we need to do as a parish if we are going to help foster more vocations to the priesthood.  Men from our parish are being called to the priesthood right now.  Look around, it might be your son or nephew, it might be the young man sitting next to you in Church.  We are not the ones who call people to the priesthood, that is what God does.  But, our job, if we want more priests, is to be helpful and supportive.  Do your sons know that you would support them if they followed the call?  Do you pray for the young men in our diocese that are studying for the priesthood?   

            All of us are called to holiness, all of us are called to encounter Jesus and follow him.  This is the only pathway to happiness and fulfillment.  But, let’s pray today for those that God is calling to the priesthood.  Let’s support them with prayer, with encouragement.  Let’s make St. Jude a place that welcomes and supports the call of Christ.  Come follow me.