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.