Sunday, December 10, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent year B 2017:
Today our gospel focusses on that great saint, St. John the Baptist.  His proclamation has rung through the Church now for 2000 years: prepare the way of the Lord.  This message is simple.  But, it is anything but easy.  I love the fact that we reflect on this message every year in Advent.  It reminds us that our spiritual life needs intervention, we need to prepare the way for the Lord.  Notice, this doesn’t mean that our spiritual life is a product of our actions.  No, holiness is always a result of the power of God acting in our lives.  However, our role in this process is to open our hearts and minds to God.  Our role is to remove obstacles in the way of growing closer to Christ.  We don’t become saints because of our hard work, it’s always God’s work.  Yet, we can prevent God from working in our lives if we don’t remove the obstacles. 
So, what are the obstacles that prevent Christ from coming into our lives?  There could be millions right?  Each one of us have obstacles and difficulties that are unique.  But, I thought I would just talk about 3 that I have seen in my own life or that I see when I talk with people.  These three are time, interest, and bad habits.
First obstacle is simply time.  Over the last year we have been looking at creating a pastoral plan here at St. Jude.  We conducted group meetings and we also had an online survey.  I would say that the number one complaint that people had as to why they felt they were not able to grow in their spiritual life they stated they did not have the time to devote to prayer, did not have the time to attend spiritual events, did not have the time to volunteer, etc.  I certainly know this is a concrete issue that faces pretty much every one of us.  How many times do we ask someone: how are you?  The answer comes back: Good, busy, but good.  I can certainly say that in my own life, I seem to get busier all the time.  I thought I was busy in seminary.  Then I get ordained and I get busier.  Then Bishop asked me to go to canon law school, busier.  Then I became a pastor, busier.  Now Bishop asked me to run the tribunal while Fr. Mark is in Rome, busier.  I’m sure everyone here probably feels their life has done the same thing.  We always add more stuff, but we rarely take stuff away.  So, time is an issue, and I get that.  But, I would also say that time is probably the most precious resource that we have.  And where does it come from?  It comes from God of course.  Everything comes from him.  So, many years ago I started thinking about time like money.  I knew that I needed to give back some of my money to God; so why not give back some of my time?  What I found is that when I tithed my time, I actually ended up having more time for my work, not less.  When I gave back to God generously from my time, the rest of my life seemed so much better in order.  But, just like tithing our income, it can be scary to leap into tithing our time.  We might think: I’ll never get it all done.  Have faith.  So, here is my concrete suggestion.  Just do a time study.  Keep a journal or calendar where you simply jot down how you spend your time.  First, you might find that there is time that could be used more productively.  Second, build time tithing into your calendar.  Start small: 10 minutes a day.  If your current time tithing is 1 hour on Sunday.  Adding 10 minutes a day will be a huge improvement.  Prepare the way of the Lord by giving him an entrance point in your life.  It will make a big difference.
Second obstacle is interest.  It’s closely associated with time.  When it comes to how we spend our time, we usually spend it on things that excite us.  Ok, well much of our lives are spent working.  But, what about our free time?  We usually spend it on things we like.  I can tell you that when Star Wars comes out next week many of us will magically find time in our busy schedules to fit in a 4 hour movie experience.  I will certainly be among them!  So, one obstacle for us to grow in our spiritual life is that we simply do not cultivate a great interest in spiritual things.  When was the last time you were amazed by God?  When was the last time you got passionate about the Eucharist?  I can say that after High School I went to church every Sunday, but it didn’t rate high on my list of interests.  I was way more interested in football or in making money, etc.  However, that all changed when I became an RCIA sponsor and started learning about the faith.  I got hooked on the mass.  I came here to St. Jude every morning for mass before work.  I came here to St. Jude to pray in the chapel.  I read the catechism.  I bought a book about the Eucharist.  So, find something in the faith about which you are passionate.  Learn about it.  Research it.  Watch YouTube videos.  The more you learn, the more you will be interested.  But, if you are not interested right now, it might be an obstacle to Christ.
Third, is bad habits.  This might seem obvious, but it is really hard to prepare the way for Christ if we are stuck in bad habits. If we are stuck in sinful ways, it will be hard to grow in holiness.  Now, there’s no reason for me to list all the bad and sinful habits that hold people back.  You all know what they might be.  But, my challenge to you is this: how will you change your bad habits?  Don’t just accept them: I can’t change my gossiping, that’s just who I am.  Don’t be satisfied by sin.  Sin is never satisfying.  So, how to change bad habits?  First, identify them.  If you don’t know what your bad habits are, just ask your spouse.  They will tell you.  Second, confession.  Go to confession.  Have your sins cleansed by God!  Third, take a daily inventory.  If you are trying to overcome something you have struggled with for a long time, make little goals.  Simply make today a day where you will start breaking your bad habit.  I’ve said this before, but I used to smoke 3 packs of cigarettes a day.  I was very unsuccessful in trying to quit.  But, one idea finally settled in my mind and allowed me to quit: I just have to make it today with a smoke.  Just make it one day, and you are on your way to breaking your bad habits.

Ok, that was a little bit long today.  But, preparing the way for the Lord is not just an important theme for Advent, it’s the important theme for our whole life.  What is holding you back?  Clear out those obstacles and invite Christ more deeply into your life, you won’t regret it!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent 2017

1st Sunday of Advent Year B 2017:
Its hard to believe, but here we are in Advent.  Im sure Im not alone in saying that this time of year is one of my favorites.  Now, Im not a big fan of winter and cold weather.  But I spent all day yesterday morning listening to Christmas music while I was working.  I just love Advent and getting ready for Christmas.
Every year we get a reminder from Jesus about the need to be attentive, be watchful, be attentive.  Advent is a yearly reminder of our need to be aware and ready to meet Christ.  A relationship with Christ does not happen automatically.  Jesus doesnt over power us.  We have to watch for his presence in our lives.  He comes in subtle and not so subtle ways.  But, its important to be on the lookout for those little details.
As you probably know, I was in Rome last week.  I was there for a canon law conference and it was a great trip.  The conference was very informative and it concluded with a meeting with Pope Francis.  I even got to shake hands with him.  Pretty great. 
One neat thing about being in Rome is that you never know what you might find around a corner.  Rome is one of the oldest cities in the world.  So, very often you could be walking along and find the ruins of some ancient Roman building or aqueduct.  It really makes you keen on being watchful and attentive.  In fact, Fr. Mark and I were walking past a relatively small church that caught my eye.  So, I said: what church is that?  He told me it was call San Salvatore in Lauro.  Then he said, its pretty neat, there is the arm of St. Jude in there.  I was like, what?!  The arm of St. Jude?  Why didnt you tell me that sooner, lets go.  So I got to see the arm of St. Jude.  Pretty great.  All because I was being attentive.
So, in Rome, I was always looking at everything I could see.  I was just fascinated by being in a different country.  But, one thing that was the same?  Black Friday.  Now, Italians dont celebrate thanksgiving on Thursday, but some of the stores were still having black Friday sales.  Crazy isnt it?
But, thinking about this Gospel and the season of Advent as a time to be aware and attentive, it got me thinking about Black Friday a little bit.  I dont know about you, but I got about 7 thousand black Friday emails.  I think if there was ever a website that I visited in my whole life, they sent me an email about black Friday specials.  And you know what?  I think I read every one of them.  Theres just something in me thats always looking for a good deal.  Im always alert and attentive to black Friday deals.  Now, being in Rome, I didnt really do the whole black Friday thing, but its like an American ritual.  We are alert and attentive to the deals.  We get up early and fight the crowds.  We spend all day in the effort. 
Now, if we are going to do all that just for a good deal on a TV or some toys.  What about our spiritual life?  The end of black Friday shopping may be to get some good deals.  But, the end of our spiritual life is to live forever in heaven. 
So, where to start?  First, being attentive.  So pay attention to God.  Pay attention to Mass.  Try to do some extra reading and research.  We do that for deals on Black Friday, we should do that for God as well.  At the doors of church there are some cards for the best Advent ever.  Why not sign up and get some emails that will help you to be attentive to God during Advent?
Second, on Black Friday we get up early and work hard at deals.  How about working hard first thing in the morning on prayer?  Now, I wont ask what time you got up to go shopping, but I would ask you simply to get up 10 minutes early and spend that time in prayer.  I think if everyone did that for the season of Advent it would be an amazing spiritual experience.  In fact, if you try it during Advent, Im betting you will want to do that every day for the rest of your life.  Just 10 minutes.  Say the rosary.  Read the bible.  Get up for Jesus and Jesus will be there for you.

Being alert, being attentive, means that we bring the pursuit of Jesus into our daily lives.  Dont let your desire for Jesus remain something that is simply on the outside of our lives, like a dream or a wish.  Make it real and concrete by keeping your focus on him in your daily lives.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

Start your training now

32nd Sunday of OT year A:
In today’s gospel we hear another parable.  This time it is the wise women vs. the foolish women.  I remember the first time I heard this parable as a child I thought it should have been a parable about sharing.  I’m the oldest of 11 kids.  So, sharing has always been one of the most important family virtues that can keep peace in the home: we would yell, mom, Nick is eating my candy: make sure you boys share… 
But, I don’t think this parable is about sharing, obviously.  I think the parable tells us everything we need to know at the beginning.  Five were foolish, five were wise.  This parable is about what it takes to be wise.  We all know the bridegroom is coming.  We say every week when we pray our creed that we are awaiting the return of our Savior.  Therefore, we want to be the wise ones ready to welcome him when he returns.
So, how to be wise?  We need to be prepared.  Jesus will come back at some day, at some hour, none of us knows.  Further, none of us knows the day when we will die.  Rather, we should be prepared to meet Christ at every moment, during every day.  Not to be morbid, rather we should be excited to meet our savior when he returns.  But, we want to be wise, not foolish.
So, the difference between the wise and the foolish was that the wise had oil.  I think that is pretty interesting.  I know that in ancient times, oil was considered a source of strength.  Wrestlers would put oil on their bodies before matches.  When people were sick, they would rub oil on their wounds.  Also, oil is used in the bible to be a sign of God’s favor and blessing.  Oil was poured on the altar and in the temple.  Oil was poured on Aaron and the priests.  Oil as produce was a sign of God’s favor, because olive trees took a long time to produce oil. 
I find this fascinating.  Strength and blessing.  What does it mean to be wise, to be prepared?  It means to be strong and to be living with God’s blessing.  So, if we want to be the wise ones who are ready for the Lord’s coming we need to be strong, we need to live with God’s blessing.
I don’t know about you, but this seems like a pretty good description of the spiritual life.  To grow strong by prayer, to know God’s blessings by living in gratitude.  If we want to be wise in the Lord and ready to great him, it’s vital to grow in our spiritual life.
But, we should all remember that this is not easy or automatic.  There are no shortcuts in the spiritual life.  I’m sure when we all read this parable we certainly want to be the wise ones.  We don’t want to be locked out of the kingdom of heaven.  But, growing in strength and in God’s blessings is a daily process.  Being wise is about growing in faith and in prayer.
We should start thinking about it in terms of training.  Think about it like exercise.  If I want my muscles to be strong, if I want to lift 200 pounds, I can’t do it all at once.  But, if I start small, and I make gains over time, eventually there’s almost no limit to how strong my muscles can get.  The same is true about our spiritual life.  We want to be strong, we want to be wise, we want to be saints.  But, we cannot do it all at once.  It takes constantly daily commitment.  It takes commitment to prayer, commitment to the bible, commitment to service and for living in gratitude. 

My friends, none of us knows the day or the hour.  Rather, than just hoping we will have the oil we need to welcome Christ, we should see today’s gospel as an inspiring challenge.  Are you ready to welcome Christ right now?  If not, no better time than now to start your spiritual training.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Vocations Sunday

31st Sunday of OT:
I laughed to myself this week when I was reading this gospel.  Jesus says call no one on earth your father.  I found this ironic, because this is national vocation awareness week and I wanted to talk about vocations to the priesthood.  So the day we hear: call no one father, I wanted to talk about becoming a priest, where everyone calls me father.  God has a great sense of humor.
I think it is pretty clear from the whole passage that Jesus is not so much saying that we should have or use titles.  Rather, we shouldn’t seek titles because we are looking for honor and privilege.  If a young man wanted to become a priest because he was seeking honor, attention, and titles, he would certainly be violating our Lord’s direction to humble service.  But, calling priests “father” has more to do with the mission of the priesthood, which is to bring God’s love to his people. 
God is our Father in Heaven.  My job as a priest is to make help people our Father’s love here on earth.  So, calling me father reminds me of that mission.  And it’s a wonderful vocation.  To be a priest is more amazing than I can describe.  Helping people grow closer to God is truly an honor and a joy.  I’m thankful every day for God’s calling to the priesthood.
So, this is a week for the whole church to pray for vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life.  But, every religious vocation has its roots in the vocation that every one of us received at our baptism, that is the universal call to holiness.
I am a firm believer that the key to a resurgence in priestly vocations across the world is the commitment to holiness.  Every one of us is called to be saints, we are called to be holy.  But, we are called to live out that holiness in a unique way.  Lots of people are called to holiness through the vocation of marriage.  Some are called to be holy as religious sisters, brothers, or priests.  But, we are all called to be holy.

If you are a parent or grandparent, try to have a conversation with your children/grandchildren this week.  Encourage them to live out their vocation to holiness.  Holiness is a great adventure, because it means living in communion with God and following his voice.  Literally nothing is better than living a life with God.  As the church, we all need to encourage our young people simply to follow Christ, to grow in holiness, to listen to God’s voice.  If they do that, we will have amazing priests, sisters, brothers, but also amazing married couples and amazing people living out their call to holiness.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pray for us St. Jude

30th Sunday of OT and feast of St. Jude:
What a great weekend for our parish.  We are celebrating the feast day of our patron, St. Jude.  He was an apostle and friend of the Lord.  He is our friend as well and he is praying for us, leading us, and guiding us.  St. Jude, pray for us.  We were also blessed yesterday that Bishop Rhoades joined us for the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation.  He called down the Holy Spirit on 45 of our young people.  It was a great Mass and a moving experience for all who were there.  Indeed, this is a great weekend, we get to experience God’s love and guidance.
Not only that, but in our gospel, we also hear about love.  But, maybe in a slightly different way.  In the gospel, Jesus gives us the great commandments: love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. 
Now, I’m sure we are all quite familiar with this gospel message.  I know that I learned from an early age that the great commandments tell us to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves.  So, this might not seem like a new message.  But, something really struck me as new when I was thinking about this passage.  I think there is a tension hidden inside of these commandments.
Has it ever struck you as strange that God commands us to love?  Doesn’t that seem incompatible?  We all know what a command is.  A command is an injunction ordering one to do something or to avoid something.  You shall not steal, this command seems quite straight forward.  But, love seems quite different right?  Love is a free act whereby a person actively wills the good and the intentions of another.  So, how or why do we follow this command to love God, neighbor, and self?
I think the first question to ask is why should we love God?  I think there are two reasons people often use to try to love God.   Neither is bad, but I think they can end up being incomplete.  First, there is this notion of duty.  We love God because it is a duty, he has commanded it, we must try to do it.  And, it’s true.  I do think we have a duty to love God.  But, simply thinking about the command to love God and our neighbor as a duty certainly seems to take away some of the awe, wonder, and excitement of love.  If love was simply a duty, doesn’t that seem kind of boring sometimes?  I mean, I have a duty to pay my taxes.  But, I don’t find that particularly thrilling.  Think about St. Jude and all the other martyrs.  They literally died because of their love for Christ.  Now that’s exciting.  I doubt he thought of it as some dispassionate duty, but rather it was something much more.
However, this leads me to the other reason to love God that is also incomplete.  Many times we try our best to love God because it leads to pleasant emotions.  In other words, loving God feels good sometimes, so that is why we do it.  Now, I’m not saying loving God shouldn’t feel good.  I had a great holy hour this morning before Mass.  I could definitely feel God’s presence.  It was wonderful.  But, we don’t always FEEL great when it comes to loving God.  Sometimes our life of faith is tough, sometimes it’s the cross.  We might be tempted to think that something is going wrong.  But, it’s not.  Love is not simply a matter of feelings.  Love is a decision to give one’s life for the good of another.  Sometimes that feels great.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  That’s ok.
So if we shouldn’t love God simply out of duty, nor simply for the good feelings it can cause sometimes, why should we love God?  Bishop Rhoades said it so well yesterday at the confirmation mass that I told him I was going to steal it for today’s mass.  At the end of his homily he was encouraging all the young people to embrace their vocation to holiness, to strive to be saints.  He said, “being a follower of Jesus is a great adventure, and if you follow him you will have a wonderful life.  If you don’t follow him, your life will be boring and mediocre.  Jesus is calling you to a life of greatness.”  Why should we love God?  Because we want a life of greatness.  We should love God because we don’t want to be mediocre.  We should love God because following Christ is the only pathway to a life of fulfillment and peace. 

This is why the saints are so inspiring to me.  They certainly followed these 2 great commands of Jesus.  But, they did so not simply out of duty or because of emotions.  They followed these commands because they recognized that following Christ is the only great adventure that satisfies the longing of our hearts.  So, as we celebrate this feast day of St. Jude, we ask him to pray for us.  May we emulate his great love for Christ and follow in his footsteps along the great adventure of faith.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Christ sends us to work

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:
In just a few minutes, we will hear from our mission speaker for the year.  Tyler Kolden is going to talk to us about missionary work in Eastern Russia.  So, I have a shorter homily than usual.  I just want to bring up 2 points from the gospel that really struck me today.
First, just remember how the gospel begins.  Jesus says: the kingdom of heaven…  Before we even get into the parable, the whole truth is made plain.  We aren’t talking about a piddly little bit of money.  “The usual daily wage” in this story is nothing less than heaven.  It’s nothing less than eternity with God.  So, I don’t care who you are or what you have done in your life: heaven is way beyond anything we could ever hope, imagine, and certainly way beyond anything we could ever deserve.  No matter who we are, we should really remember: we are getting a really good deal.  The people in the gospel were jealous because of the generosity of the landowner.  We might be prone to jealousy sometimes too, when we look at the gifts of others.  But, each of us should reflect on the promises of God and our hearts will be filled with thanksgiving.  So that’s number 1: this story reminds us that we are getting an amazing deal.

Second, it really struck me that the landowner sent those people into his vineyard to work.  Work!  Now, I just got done saying that God gives us much more than we can ever hope, imagine, or deserve.  But, we should see ourselves as active workers in the Lord’s vineyard.  Working for God is not just the job of the priest or the bishop or the pope.  Sure, it’s my full-time job to be pastor here at St. Jude.  But, all of us are called to work full-time for Christ.  Are you a mother?  Take care of your children for Christ.  Are you an accountant?  Treat your customers fairly because of Christ.  A Doctor?  Serve patients out of love for Christ.  This past week I was discussing the sacrament of Confirmation with the parents of our young people who are about to be confirmed.  The Church teaches that the sacrament of confirmation “obliges them more firmly to be witnesses of Christ by word and deed and to spread and defend the faith.”  That’s true for all of us.  Christ sends us into the vineyard to work.  
So two keys.  First, God's pay is more than we can ever imagine; but, second, it’s good for us to remember that he sends us to work.  Christ has a mission for each of us, and his reward is beyond all comprehension.