Saturday, June 20, 2015

The storms of life

12th Sunday of OT Year B 2015
Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth: who is this that even the wind and sea obeys.  I don’t know about you, but with all the rain the last couple weeks I have felt like the disciples: Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?
This passage helps us to see that Jesus is who we say he is.  The disciples are starting to understand that there is something more here than just a simple man from Nazareth.  Even the apostles had to grow in their faith.
That is comforting for all of us.   We too need to grow in our faith.  Last week we talked about faith growing like the mustard seed.  The seed is a great analogy for faith, it starts out small, but grows over time.  Yet, why is it so important for our faith to grow?  Jesus says in the gospel: why are you terrified?  Don’t you have faith?  Faith takes away our fear.  Faith helps us to trust even when it is difficult.
As we all know, life is not all gumdrops and rainbows.  Pain, suffering, temptation, and hardship are a part of our lives.  Maybe not every day, but I do think that all of us have those difficult moments.  We have parishioners here going through all kinds of difficulties: physical ailments and diseases, the pain and grief of losing a loved one, the difficulty of losing a job, and just the stress and fatigue that seems to follow us wherever we go.  There is always bad news in the world around us too: think about the shooting this week, or ISIS or whatever.  It can be tempting to get cynical: everything is bad and that’s all there is to say about it.  Or even to doubt God: why would God let bad things happen to good people?  This is a question as old as humanity itself.  The story of Job from the first reading is probably 2600 years old.  What is the story?  How a man responds to evil being inflicted upon him.  He was a good person, but bad things befell him… really bad things.
So, if you have ever wondered why, you are in good company.  Now, I wish I had a great answer, but I don’t.  I know that a lot of people like to say that God has a plan when bad things happen.  But, something about that never seems quite right to me.  I don’t like the idea of God inflicting bad things upon us so that good things happen.  I like to think that God is more powerful than that.  He could just skip the middle and go right to the good things.  Also, we never want to say that God is the author of evil.  We know that he is all-good, there is no darkness in him at all.  Sure, God is all-powerful, so he could interrupt the natural world every time something evil is about to take place, but that doesn’t mean he causes evil.  Still, we are often faced with that question: why?  We might feel like the apostles: Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing.
But, stop for a moment and let Jesus answer that question: Lord, do you care?   Of course he does.  If Jesus didn’t care, would he have become one of us?  If Jesus didn’t care, would have shared with us the Good news?  If Jesus didn’t care, would he have died on the cross for us?  Would he have given us the Eucharist as his lasting presence?  Of course Jesus cares.  All too often, when we are faced with difficulties in our lives, we want to ask the question why.  But, there really isn’t a satisfying answer as to why we suffer, why there is pain.  But, there is a great answer to the question: what.  In other words, instead of asking God why this stuff happens, we should ask God what he did in response to the pain and suffering of the human race.  His answer: he sent Jesus.  As St. Paul says today: he indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves.  Jesus died, so that we might live. 

This doesn’t mean that the Christian life is a life without pain, suffering, or temptation.  We might experience those storms.  It might seem like Jesus is asleep below decks.  But, taking our cue from the apostles, we call upon him: Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?  Asking that question in the midst of our difficulties is another way for us to grow in our faith.  When we ask that question during our difficult moments, we are inviting Christ into our daily lives.  He doesn’t always make the wind and rain stop that instant, but if we turn to him, he will always give us the strength to withstand whatever storms we might face in this life.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Faith, starts small...

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B 2015:
Now that the Easter season is over we are back in Ordinary time.  But, ordinary does not mean “plain.”  Rather, ordinary means the counted Sundays between the liturgical seasons like Christmas and Easter.  The word “ordinary” comes from “ordinal” or numbered.  So, here we are wearing green vestments.  I once had a class where we were reading some poetry, the professor told us that the color green symbolized hope.  So, I love to think of ordinary time as our season of hope, where we joyfully wait in hope for the coming of our Savior.
As we wait in hope, we live lives as disciples of Jesus.  We try to follow him in our daily lives, we learn from his teaching, and we try to grow in our faith.  Today in the Gospel, Jesus gives us some interesting parables about the kingdom of God and about growing in our faith, and he uses farming imagery.
I grew up out near St. Louis Besancon and my house is surrounded by fields.  I always loved this time of year because I could see the plants growing.  My favorite was when corn was planted.  I always thought it was impressive to see these little green shoots turn into 8-foot tall corn stalks.  What starts out as little seeds, become these huge plants. 
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus makes this an analogy for our faith?  What starts out as a little seed, becomes something big.  And I don’t know about all of you, but I want a big faith.  I want faith like the great saints, who did amazing things.  But, I think it is helpful for all of us to think about faith in terms of this analogy.  Faith starts small, and it grows over time.  So, how do we make our faith grow?
The first parable in the gospel might seem a bit strange.  Jesus tells us that the farmer does not know why the plants grow.  I think that’s pretty true.  We know how plants grow, we know how to take care of them, but can any of us really say “why” a plant grows?  It grows because it is a living thing; it grows because it has this internal will to live, which we all know comes from God.  Our faith is the same way.
We don’t know exactly how we grow in our faith.  Faith is a gift that comes from God.  It has its own internal will to live as well.  Our faith grows over time because God is causing its growth.
But, thinking again about plants, we all know that we have to do many things to create the best environment for plants to grow.  I have a friend who always says that his favorite trees are palm trees, because they only grow where it is warm all the time.  Plants like that don’t survive our cold winters; so, plants need a proper home.  We know that plants need sunshine and water.  Plants need to be protected from animals that attack them, and weeds that can choke them.
I think these things can be applied to our faith as well.  Our faith needs a proper home where it can flourish.  Isn’t that what the Church is?  This is our home.  Being a faithful member of this amazing parish family gives us the proper home for our faith to grow.  Trying to live a life of faith without being firmly rooted in the Church is like trying to plant palm trees on the North Pole, faith simply cannot grow without a warm home.  Just like plants need sunshine and water, we need the sacraments to feed our faith.  Last week we celebrated Corpus Christi where we had a chance to remember the amazing gift of the Eucharist.  This Blessed Sacrament is like the sun that shines on plants, it nourishes our faith and allows it to grow.  I think of scripture like watering plants.  The more we read the Bible and let the word soak into us, the more faith can grow.  But, we also have to protect our faith from those things that can harm it.  There is a lot stuff out there that is simply not good for our faith: think about the movies we watch, the music we listen to, the stuff on the internet.  These things can be like the animals that attack our gardens.  Just like weeds can choke the life out of our plants, our sins and selfishness can also choke out our faith. 

Our faith grows because God causes it to grow within us.  We all want that big faith that will move mountains, but we all need to remember that faith starts out as a tiny seed and grows over time.  This season of Ordinary time is a great chance for us all to ask ourselves if we are giving our faith a great environment where it can grow.  Our faith might start out small, but through the grace of God it can grow like the mustard seed.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi Year B 2015:
The body and blood of Christ.  This is the feast we celebrate today.  We celebrate with great joy.  Today we profess our belief in the Blessed Sacrament.  We believe and profess that the Eucharist is really the body and blood of Christ.  We believe that during the Mass the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.  He is really and substantially present, though the appearances of Bread and Wine remain.
However, I was doing some research this week and I found an interesting poll.  According to this poll, only 50% of Catholics surveyed were even aware of the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist.  Isn’t that interesting?  Only 50% even know that we teach and believe that Jesus is really and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist.   Why would this be? 
First of all, I think that very often we just assume that everyone knows what the church teaches about a variety of issues.  Because of this assumption, I don’t know how often priests and catechists remember to talk about these fundamental beliefs.  So, I want to be sure that everyone this weekend hears this fundamental truth: the Eucharist is not simply bread and wine, it is not simply a representation of Christ, when we celebrate the Mass we don’t just “remember” what Christ did many years ago.  Rather, it is truly Christ, each Mass allows us to not only remember Jesus, but we enter into his story.  The precious gift of the Eucharist is Jesus’ lasting presence in our world.  The Eucharist should be an important part of our lives.  In fact, Vatican II called it the source and summit of our Catholic faith.
But, a second reason why many people are probably unaware of this teaching is because most of us stopped learning about our faith when we were in grade school.  I know that was the case for me.  I went to Catholic grade school at St. Louis Besancon till 6th grade, then took CCD classes till confirmation.  That was about it.  But, that didn’t make my faith all that interesting or exciting.  I thought of my faith as something in the background.  Once I started learning more about my faith that it became so much more exciting.  I bought a book on the Eucharist and I was totally blown away.  I mean, I guess I always knew it was Jesus, but reading this book really opened my eyes to understand just how amazing the gift of the Eucharist really was. 
I remember running across a quote from the Cure of Ars who once said if we really understood the Mass we would die of joy.  That quote rocked my little world.  I was always going to Sunday Mass, but I never quite felt like I was going to die out of joy.  Maybe it’s the same for you.  But, once I started learning more about the Eucharist, all of a sudden I couldn’t get enough of the Mass anymore.  I started going to daily Mass.  It was a great and prayerful experience.  Then someone told me about the Adoration Chapel at St. Jude’s.  I started coming here.  I felt like a moth attracted to a flame.  I couldn’t get away from the Eucharist if I tried.
The rest, as they say, is history.  I started feeling a pull toward the priesthood.  The priesthood and the Eucharist are intimately connected.  If it wasn’t for the priesthood we wouldn’t have the Eucharist.  But, if it wasn’t for the Eucharist the priesthood would have no meaning.  Yesterday I went to the ordination of 4 men for our diocese.  Again, I felt that powerful call of the Eucharist.  I can’t tell you how happy I am that I found that renewed interest in the Eucharist all those years ago.  It changed the way I saw the mass, it changed the way I lived my life, it even led me to become a priest.  The Eucharist literally changed my life. 
The Eucharist can do the same in your lives as well.  Learn to love the Eucharist more and more.  If you do, you will see that it is the Eucharist that gives us the grace and strength we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus.  So, no matter what your vocation is, the Eucharist should be central.  The Eucharist makes you a better husband or wife, mother or father.  This is because the Eucharist gives us the presence of Christ in our lives, and it teaches us the great lesson of self-giving love. 
Become enamored by the Eucharist.  Fall in love with it.  During the homily yesterday, Bishop Rhoades had words for the newly ordained priests.  He said to them: don’t just say the words of Mass, really pray the words of the Mass.  I guess I would say the same thing to all of you today.  Don’t just say the words of Mass, really pray them.  If you draw near to the body and blood of Christ, Jesus himself will draw near to you.