Saturday, July 27, 2019

Our Father and Our Priests - Homily for the 17th Sunday in OT (C)

Image result for our fatherThis week's homily is only available via audio and can be accessed here.

Let us continue pray for each other!

~Father Gerber

Sunday, July 21, 2019

On His Terms - Homily for the 16th Sunday in OT (C)


What did you take away from the trip?

I was in my doctor’s office and I had returned from hiking with a few friends in Rocky Mountain National Park. My doc, a Methodist, was curious if I derived any spiritual fruit from a week out in God’s creation. Hence, he asked:

What did you take away from the trip?

If you have been on vacation this summer, I ask you that question, too. What did you take away from your trip? What insight did you learn about God or others or yourself?

***

For me, I learned that one of the reasons why I love the mountains is because you must live on nature’s terms. You wake up when the sun rises (or when two squirrels are fighting outside your tent) and not when you have set your alarm. You go to the restroom when the trail allows it, which may be a few miles—and not simply a few steps down the hallway. And, unless you want to carry a ton of water—water which is the heaviest thing in your pack—you sometimes have to wait for nature to give you a creek. When you are in the mountains, you live in on nature’s terms.

“And that appeals to me,” I told my Methodist doctor, “because that’s closer to the actual way we are supposed to live with Jesus.”

Hear me correctly: I’m not saying we’re all supposed to go to all granola and off-the-grid.

Rather, what I’m saying is, it is so easy to live according to my terms: to do what I want, when I want to, because I want to. But being out in the wild reminds me that, no, I’m not supposed to live on my terms. I’m supposed to live on His terms.

***

That’s actually the point of the Gospel today. We heard about Martha and Mary. Mary is at home, presumably praying, and Martha is doing all of the work as she plays host.

Most preachers are going to hone in on the whole “one was busy, one was not—and we should avoid being busy” sort of homily. And that’s fine. But that’s not why Jesus takes Martha aside. After all, Martha was doing a good thing by playing host—just like Abraham had done in the first reading. Sometimes work and busy-ness have to be done.

But Jesus takes Martha aside not because of her busy-ness, but because she thinks that this is the best way to love Him. “I’m going to cook and clean for him,” she thinks. “That’s how I can best love Him.” And maybe that’s how Martha always has been. Maybe cooking and cleaning is the sweet spot for her—something comfortable, something that she is used to.

But that’s Martha just loving Jesus on her own terms.

Jesus takes her aside and says, “No. The better way to love me is to be with me. Love me how I want to be loved, not in the way that you think I want to be loved. Love me on my terms.”

***

Do you love Jesus on His terms? What are His terms?

I could mention the Commandments; for He says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Or I could mention our daily sufferings, for He says “If you love me, you will pick up your cross and carry it daily.” Or I could mention your marriage; “Love your [spouse] as Christ loved [us]…”

Those are His terms. “If anyone says that they love Jesus, but hates their brother, they are a liar” says St. John (1 John 4:20). Sure, they may think they are loving Him, but Jesus says otherwise.

For my part, as a priest, I think about the Holy Mass—the very Mass that I was ordained for.

So many people have opinions about what Holy Mass should be. It needs to be this or that; and it can be boring. And do I really need to be here?  And it’s so easy to be a Martha: when it doesn’t go our way and we don’t feel like we are getting anything out of it, we can be like Martha and complain.

Many priests, not wanting to rock the boat, oftentimes cater to Martha. The priest says, “oh, let me make the Mass more entertaining, or shorter, or relaxed. I’ll turn a blind eye to those absences or to those who leave early without an emergency. How can I make it easier for you? We’ll have a Mass for young people and a Mass for old people and a Mass that has contemporary music and a Mass that has no music and –”

When it comes down to it, isn’t that just catering the Mass to our own terms?

***

When I was at the doctor’s office, he told me that my broken finger wasn’t progressing as much as he would like. So, we had two options: one, continue to exercise it daily or, two, we could do a steroid injection into the joint.

“You mean,” I said to him with open eyes, “I have a choice between daily exercise or a needle being stuck into my finger? Into that little space in my joint?!”

“Yes.”

“Exercise for me, please!”

After all, do you realize how painful it is to get a needle into your finger? – into the joint­ of your finger?

Image result for doctor with needle“But, Father Gerber, the needle is actually the best option. We really should do that. Otherwise, you’re not going to get better.”

And he said it with an apologetic look. He knew it would hurt. He wanted an easier way. But he knew this was the better part.

Those were his terms. And he was telling me those terms from years of experience and study. In essence, those weren’t his terms—it was good medicine’s terms.

***

Priests are spiritual doctors and, unfortunately, many priests struggle with the terms that Jesus has given for the Holy Mass—terms which require a lot of reading, prayer, and the example of good doctor priests.

I see the struggle that people have with Mass, as do many of my brother priests, and—admittedly, we priests struggle to recommend the proverbial needle: those hard decisions about music and attendance and reverence: to come early, and don’t leave after communion (unless its an emergency), and so on. Because such things are challenging, they stretch us beyond our own terms, and we may be perfectly comfortable where we are; and such terms may hurt. Some priests, because of the scandals, worry: will the people believe me anyway?

Such bad thoughts have led a generation of priests to become uncertain and unconfident in their training as spiritual doctors—years of training as numerous as a medical doctor. But here’s the thing: uncertain priests make us as confident as do uncertain doctors—which is to say: not at all.

And what happens when we are not confident in a doctor? We go to WebMD. And we think we  don’t need a doctor and that we can cure ourselves: “Physician, heal yourself.” The same happens when we lose confidence in a priest. We start to believe in weird things and weird spiritual cures; we do religion on our own terms; we may even think that that we don’t need the Mass. We start to become Martha instead of Mary.

And that temptation is so real. Shoot: I would have chosen exercise over the needle every day—and twice on Sunday. But I wanted healing. I wanted the better part.

So, I’m sorry that there is an entire generation that has grown up with the mentality that Mass is supposed to cater to our desires and that Christianity is just about feeling good. Christianity is not about just feeling good—it’s about being healed.

And Mass isn’t about what we get out of it.. It’s about giving God the bare-minimum of an hour of our love.

And that’s why Mass is difficult: because when it forces us to love God on His terms for just one hour, we oftentimes see that the whole rest of the week we have been living on our terms.

***

Let me draw this all to a conclusion…

For doctors, the terms of their art and science is found in the principles of medicine. Good doctors give patients not what they want, but what they need—and in accordance with good medicine.

For priests, the terms of their art and science is found in the documents of the Church and the sacred books of the Roman Rite. Good priests give their people not what they want, but what they need—and in accordance with the documents of the Church and these sacred books.

Please pray for priests, that they will be good spiritual doctors. Pray, too, that we may be open, that when a priest must change something in the Mass or call us on to a higher way of life, that we may have confidence that he is doing so not simply on his own terms, but because the Divine Physician, Jesus Christ, is calling the priest to do so.

Yes, some may complain, like Martha. All the more reason for us to pray that we may always be like Mary.

(I chose the needle, by the way. I’m glad I did. But I won’t ever forget it.)

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Your Name is Written - Homily for the 14th Sunday in OT (C)


One of the great blessings we have seen here at Saint Theodore is the new springtime of new families with new babies. Each week, I see in the back pews a mom or a dad with their little one, mom or dad holding them, taking caring of them, loving them. It has given me a spiritual reflection; for, as I see them take care of their little one, one who is so totally dependent and vulnerable, I see the Father taking care of me. Indeed, for that little one’s name is written on her parents’ hearts. So, too, our names are written on God our Father’s heart. He loves us.

This is the opening theme of our reading today. God says to us: do you see how much that mother loves her child? I love you even more than that. Therefore, “Rejoice, Jerusalem,” rejoice—know that you are cared for.

***

But, Father—I know some of you may be thinking—Father, that sounds all nice and good. But I don’t think God really cares for me. I don’t feel His love. Things feel pretty empty right now and I’m struggling and I’m suffering.

Yes, I know. In such times, it feels as though God is not a loving Father. This is part of the paradox in the Gospel today. We hear that God loves us, but then Jesus sends His seventy-two disciples out into the world—with nothing. No money, no extra clothes, nothing. And it would seem that Jesus is not caring for them. (The disciples could have said: Jesus, aren’t you going to help us? Aren’t you going to provide us with things that will help us? We are totally… vulnerable…)

But what happens in the end? They come back rejoicing. Rejoicing because God showed up. He really did take care of them.

Of course, we don’t know how long they were vulnerable—how long it took them to get that first meal or that first night of shelter. They may have been cold and hungry for a while—and wondering: “What has Jesus done, sending us out here like this? I’m hungry….”

But then the food came. And the shelter. And even the power to pray and to heal.

***

The obvious challenge is to trust God, therefore. But, I think God is calling us in a different direction today.

When I was in high school, I heard of a religious order that did something amazing. When a man would enter their order, there would come a point where that man would be sent hundreds of miles away and with twenty dollars—and the mission: “you have one month. Come back home after a month.”

The man only had $20. For one month.

During that time, I heard stories of what the men went through during that time. The vulnerability, the trust, the surprises in others’ generosity. And the discovery that some people believe that God loves them—and some people doubt that God is a Father who loves them.

That month would turn the man into a more grateful soul. And, because of his gratefulness, he would be more generous—and especially to those who doubted the Father’s love. It was as though the man would say, “You doubt the Father’s generosity? Let me show you.”

After all, the man had been in such a state. He, having been sent out with only $20, likely asked with his first footsteps: “Is God going to take care of me? Does God… love me?”

***

I think the first step towards trust and to generosity—and to helping others experience the Father’s love—is to first take a moment and reflect on how God has blessed us.

This week, I was driving through a part of town where there was a coin laundry on the street corner.

I had totally forgotten about coin laundries.

But I remember them. I remember, when I was younger and our dryer went out, having to load up the laundry in the car, then riding in the car with mom, then finding quarters for the machines, then folding the laundry there. And I even remember it raining once and having to load up the laundry into the car in the rain.

I begged God to fix our dryer.

Years later, woefully forgetful of those days, I enjoy a dryer. But when have I ever thanked God for the dryer?

Maybe I’m awash (sorry, puns!)—maybe, I’m awash in God’s love and I’m just simply not aware.

***

That’s the challenge for this week. What are the things you have been taking for granted? It may be something simple like being able to walk. Maybe it’s a child you had hoped would come years ago. But what do you take for granted? That "daily bread" that God gives you each day...

Take a moment and thank God. Let His love enter your mind and heart.

And then hear the words of the Gospel:

do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,
but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.

In other words: do not rejoice simply because of the stuff you have. Rejoice because your name is written on the Father’s heart.

You are that little one in His arms. And He is caring for you. He loves you. Your name is on His heart. In heaven. Forever.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

"All In" - Homily Notes for the 13th Sunday in OT (C)


Have you ever heard the phrase “All in”? 

Related imageI first heard the phrase long ago and in connection with a game of cards. The card game was Poker—specifically, Texas Hold Em. And the phrase, “All in,” was used when one of the players bet everything he had. Typically, among buddies, “All in” doesn’t amount to much. But in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas—well, I have seen a card player bet over $100,000 “All in.” What that means is that he is risking $100,000 on one set of cards. If he loses, he loses everything. If he wins-- what an exciting win. Either way, there’s no going back. “All in.”

That’s the theme of today’s readings.

* * *

In the first reading, Elijah the prophet approaches Elisha and calls him to be his successor. This was an amazing moment. (Elijah is one of the biggest “names” in the prophet world—we even see him at Jesus’ Transfiguration). When Elisha realizes that this “big name” is calling him, Elisha embraces the invitation and follows him.

But, before Elisha follows him, Elisha kills all of the oxen that he has, burns the yokes and farming equipment, and says goodbye to his parents. Why does Elisha do this?

Because there is a temptation in the past: that is, once you choose a certain “way” in life, it is so easy to turn back around and ask “what if?" Nostalgia, the-grass-is-greener moments—temptations like that happen when times inevitably become difficult. Today, it's Facebook to reignite past flames. The past can haunt us. So, Elisha kills the oxen and burns the yokes. He goes “All in,” risking it all, no turning back.

(And please note: Elisha is not poor. When it says he has “twelve yoke of oxen,” the ancients would have heard “rich man.” Elisha is not a poor man who borrows an ox. No, Elisha has twelve yoke of oxen! In other words, Elisha’s bet on Elijah is huge).

In a way, by giving up his inheritance, Elisha is turning to God and echoing the Psalm: “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”

* * *

Fast-forward to the Gospel.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus calling people to follow him. One man responds, saying: “Lord, let me first bury my father.”

This is not a flippant request by the man. The man’s father just died. In fact, what the man is asking to do is a good thing. Burying one’s father is one of the corporal works of mercy (ie, “bury the dead”) and it fulfills the Mosaic law (“Honor your father and your mother”).

But Jesus says to him: “Let the dead bury their dead.” 

What does this mean? And why does Jesus say this? I mean, it almost sounds cold-hearted. So, what’s going on here?

Jesus is showing the man the importance of the moment—and not just of the moment, but of the One who is inviting him to “follow me.” Here’s what Jesus is saying:

I know that your father has died. But I am the One who made him and who can raise him from the dead. In fact, I am the One who gave you the Law that you know, that Law that says to honor him. I want you to know, therefore, that I am God. The most important One right now is the One who is speaking to you. Follow me and trust that your father will be taken care of. So follow me.

Go "all in."

* * *

But how is this any different than the first reading? Isn’t this just a repetition?

Actually, there is something new going on here. To get to that, we must take a brief detour into history….

When a person would die in Jesus’ day, the faithful Jewish person would wrap the deceased’s body in linen and place the body in a cave—much like what we saw when Jesus died. The body would be left there for a year to decompose and, after a year, the family would return to the cave and collect the bones to be buried in a niche nearby—so, in a year, there would be a “second burial.”

Therefore, when the man says, “Let me bury my father,” the man is saying, “Jesus, look, I have some important family things going on right now. I get your invitation, but it’s going to have to wait a year. How about I follow you … then.”

This is why Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead.” He’s saying to the man:

Look, you honored him in the first burial. But you need to follow me now. This is urgent and we can’t wait for a year. If you believe that I am the Messiah, you need to go all in and you need to do so now.

* * *

I don’t know about you, but this is challenging.

What comforts me is the next thing that Jesus says. He says:

Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head.

In other words:

I already have bet everything. I risked it all—even my home, my bed—I have nothing left because I have gone all in for love of you and my Father.

We see the crucifix all the time, but see it anew: the crucifix is the ultimate “risk.” On the Cross, Jesus is saying, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” He is giving it all—pushing in even His life.

And here’s the thing: Jesus’ bet is riskier than ours. When we bet on Jesus, we are betting on a God who is going to take care of us. Ours is a certain and therefore easy bet when we think about it. But Jesus—Jesus is betting on humans that are changeable and moody and faithless and emotional and greedy…

His bet is riskier than ours. And yet He loves us so much that he makes the bet anyway.

* * *

So, we come to the challenge: are you all in?

* * *

Gut check: you’re already all in.

You are already betting your life on something. The question is: on what are you all in?

For many, we are all in for our job. Or our family. Or our schedules. Or for comfort. We are spending—betting—our entire lives on something. But is it worth it?

Jesus is coming to us today and says, “I want you to bet your life on me.”

And we might say, “Well, Lord, I am betting on you already.”

But, if we are honest, we often hedge our bets. We’re say: “Lord, let me take care of my family first, then I’ll pray to you.” Or, “Lord, let me finish this project, and then we will spend some time.” We give those parts of our life our first and best energies—and we find ourselves giving God our leftovers.

Jesus is saying: “Give me your first. Take the risk. Bet on me.”

When we do that, He assures us like He does the man who just lost his father. Jesus says to us: “I’m going to take care of him. Bet on me here and I will take care of the other stuff you are worried about. Your family, your job—come to me first and you will find that all of the other things will go a lot better than when you were doing it all yourself.”

* * *

If you are intimidated by this or wonder what the next step is, I have two helps for you.

First: our Lord Jesus is coming to you in the Eucharist today. He will help you. Ask Him to help you!

Second: if you don’t know how to go “all in,” let’s take the first step of “upping the ante.” In other words, if you are not an every-single-Sunday-Mass goer, let’s up the ante. Take the next step and make the time for another Mass per month. If you are going every single Sunday, consider adding a daily Mass. (We will be starting a Wednesday evening Mass here at Saint Theodore in the school year). Consider daily prayer if you don’t do so already. If you haven’t been to confession since Lent, let’s get right with God this summer. Maybe the next step is being open to the next step....

These are small steps, “upping the ante,” but as we keep doing them, we will find ourselves all in.

Let us as God for that grace. That we may love Him as He loves us: with a love that risky and total and worth it—a love that is “all in.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Cup and The Creed - Homily on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (C)


This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. But, if you don’t mind, I would like to just take a moment for the Saint Louis Blues and savor their recent Stanley Cup victory….

I remember watching games at the Old Barn, the Arena, when I was little and, each year, this team would just rip out our hearts—early playoff exits to Ed Belfour and the Blackhawks, Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings. Each year, we were faced with defeat. And, this year, the team was in turmoil through early January—so much turmoil!—that they were even fighting each other at practice. They lacked an identity. And, honesty, the last thing on our minds was this victory. Many were calling for the scrapping of the entire team and starting over.

But I'm not just speaking about the Saint Louis Blues. In some respect, this season is about the Church. For several years now, our Catholic Church has been in turmoil; lacking identity; and, well, some are calling for the scrapping of the entire thing. We wonder: where is the victory?

***

Yet, if we were to take a brief glimpse in history, we would find that this is not new to the Catholic Church. For example, in the 300s, the Church was just emerging from an era of persecution. Yet, as She emerged, there was still turmoil. There was a priest named Arius from Alexandria, Egypt, a town known for its history as a center of learning. This priest, Arius, while well-learned, made many errors and would spread error throughout the Church. Arius' biggest error was that he claimed that Jesus wasn’t God—that Jesus was simply a half-god, a creature. Arius was articulate, studied, and clever—and his errors took root. He even put his errors to music.

Many (and some argue “most”) Catholics and bishops fell into his error. It was like the modern-day Father James Martin teaching error and only a few bishops, like Cardinal Burke, defending the actual faith. There was arguing and fighting and, eventually, the emperor Constantine called a council in a little town so as to resolve the matter. That little town, just outside Constantinople, was called Nicea.

There at Nicea, saints like Nicholas (yes, jolly old Saint Nick) and Athanasius would argue against Arius. They would say, “If Jesus is just a creature, even the best of creatures, then who would save Him?” The Holy Spirit was clearly with them, the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised would teach us the Truth. In the end, the faith was preserved from the errors of Arius and there was victory.

***

What most people don’t realize about the story was that some of the bishops who attended this council had also been persecuted in the early 300s. When Christianity was illegal and long before Nicea, some had been thrown into the salt mines by the Romans. There in the salt mines, the Romans would oftentimes sever the Achilles tendon of the prisoner bishops so they would not escape. And, additionally, some bishops’ eyes were gouged and their limbs mutilated.

These bishops, after the persecutions ended, would find their way to Nicea and would be present during the arguments. They would face Arius and would help strengthen Athansius and Nicholas. Picture it for a moment: faithful bishops, hobbling to the Council, some with an eye missing or a hand mutilated. It would have been a powerful sight.

These were the ones—not Constantine, not the Romans—these were the ones who would write the words: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty… I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God.” He is not a creature, but “God from God, light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made…”

You know those words because you say them every Sunday at Holy Mass. It’s the Nicene Creed—named after that little town, the Council at Nicea.

Did you know this?

***

So here's the thing: when we recite the Creed, it is so easy to fall into the trap of “this is just another prayer,” or “this is just a list of doctrines,” or even to just mumble through whatever is that these words mean.

But these words are more than just a list of teachings from a Council long ago. These words are our identity. These are the words that will see us through the turmoil.

And, more, these words are the words of victory—that the Holy Spirit was victorious over error! That those persecuted bishops overcame the pride of the folly of Arius.

Not to be trite or to over-extend the analogy, but the Nicene Creed is our Stanley Cup.

Related imageWhat I love about the Stanley Cup, what makes it so beautiful, is that it has all of those layers—ring after ring, each layer after layer declaring a victory. "1973, the Montreal Canadians"; "1987, the Edmonton Oilers"...

So too does our Creed. "I believe in one God”: the first layer. “The Father almighty”—another layer. "Jesus Christ... God from God..." another layer declaring a victory...

And, just like the Stanley Cup where the names of each player is engraved on the layers—so too each doctrine, each layer of the Creed, is in a sense eternally "engraved" with the names of those saints and bishops who gave their lives and who were victorious in the fight for the faith. See the names “Saint Athanasius” and “Saint Nicholas”—they are engraved on the words “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.”

The Creed—this is our victory. This is our identity. And it will see us through the turmoil and defeats of this life. It will remind us that hope does not disappoint and that the Holy Spirit is with us. We already have The Cup. Now we just have to hold on to it until the parade in heaven—when “The Saints Go Marching In”* 

***

Now, I could end the homily there, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our fathers on this Father’s Day. Dear fathers, we offer you our gratitude and, also, our admiration for sacrifices you make for us: for family, for community, and for the faith. It is not easy to be a father out there—indeed, you are in a battle with a culture that ironically hates it when men fight but also wonders where all the strong, heroic men are. To be a man in this world—a man that stands up for the faith and his family—is to have a target on your back. Know that my prayers are with you this day and always.

May you never forget that the greatest mission you have been given is to bring to heaven those entrusted to your care. To that end, the faith is the greatest treasure you can give to your biological and spiritual children.

Image result for john paul ii hockey stick st. louisFor me, I am thankful to my dad for raising me in a family that loved the Blues. While that wasn’t bestowing the faith itself, it did provide joy and, also, when spiritual fathers taught me the faith, I would have a greater appreciation for what it meant to fight the good fight and, when victories came in this life, they were just a glimpse of The Victory yet to come. I mean, imagine: the parade yesterday was amazing-- how amazing will heaven be?!

Indeed, the best of fathers do both. I think of Pope John Paul II. When he visited Saint Louis, he went to the Kiel Center where the Blues played. He prayed with the youth there and, at the end, he picked up his cane and used it like a hockey stick and prayed that the Blues would one day win. That was 20 years ago—January 26, 1999.** (Someone would actually give him a hockey stick that night. And I still remember that).

So, as the Blues celebrate their victory, there's a part of me that can’t help but think there was a victory for the faith and for the Pope there, too.... 







*    "When the Saints Go Marching In" is the song played when the Blues score a goal.

** Interesting aside: on January 26, 2019, which was the 20th anniversary of JPIIs visit to Saint Louis, the NHL’s season came to a halt for the All-Star Game. Ryan O’Reilly, the eventual Stanley Cup MVP, was the only player to represent the Blues. The All-Star Game was hosted by the San Jose Sharks (whom the Blues defeated in the Conference Finals). And, after the All-Star Game, the Blues would go on to win ten games in a row. At this point, it was clear the season had turned around. A saint’s intervention? ….

Monday, May 20, 2019

Waiting for Judas - Homily for the 5th Sunday in Easter (C)

As I have loved you, so you should love one another.

We have heard these words before. In fact, so often have we heard these words that I was tempted to preach on something else. But there was a detail in our reading today that struck me and changed how I understood Jesus’ words—and I think I need to share that with you today.

The detail that struck me was this: it’s from the first line:

When Judas had left them, Jesus said…

Why is that detail important?

Because we are being told exactly when Jesus tells His apostles (and us) to love one another. And the exact moment isn’t while on the road between Jerusalem and Galilee. It isn’t at Peter’s house. It isn’t even in the synagogue. Jesus is telling His apostles to love one another at the very first Mass; namely, the Last Supper.

And this command to love isn’t at the Washing of the Feet. And it’s not at the moment of the Bread and the Wine being changed. No, Jesus tells His apostles to love one another at the very moment that Judas leaves to betray them.

This is huge.

*          *          *

Here is why this is huge. When Judas leaves at the Last Supper, no one (except Jesus) really knows why. The Apostles think he is going off to buy supplies. But later in the evening, they realize what Judas has done: Judas has betrayed them!

Take that into your heart for a moment. ... How would you feel if you were betrayed?

I would be angry. And then, knowing that it was breaking apart my friends and family (as the Apostles were to each other), I would be extremely grieved. And angry some more.

Now take that anger for a moment and hear Jesus' words again:

          As I have loved you, so you should love one another.

In other words: Jesus is getting the Apostles ready for this. You are going to be angry, but love anyway.

And why?

Well, because, first of all, the betrayal will not be the end of the story. There will be glory even in this hardship:

When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
             Now is the Son of Man glorified.

Now is the moment of glory. Now—even among the hardship of the betrayal and the subsequent crucifixion—now is the moment when the glory will enter in (and immediately-- “at once”). So you need to remember that. Remember this because it will bring you hope.

Because, if you are angry and holding on to the resentment about Judas, you’re going to miss the glory.

Paul, having learned from the Apostles, knew that in such times Jesus was

[strengthening] the spirits of the disciples
And [exhorting] them to persevere in the faith, saying
"It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships
to enter the kingdom of God."

*          *          *

But Jesus tells them to "love..." not simply for the glory, but also for Judas.

Let me explain that for a moment.

At this stage in the game—at the Last Supper—there was still hope for Judas. We often equate him as having lost hope-- and he does-- but, at this stage in the game, Judas still had decisions to make—not only about the betrayal, but, after it, Judas had a decision of whether to repent or not.

And here’s the thing: Judas could have repented. Just like Peter, Judas could have repented and become a great saint.

That possibility was still a possibility at this moment of the Last Supper.

Jesus was getting the Apostles ready for that possibility.

That is to say, when Jesus was telling them to love, Jesus was in effect saying, “Peter, you and the other Apostles: Judas is going to betray me now. But I want you to love him as I have loved you.”

And they could have asked: “How is that, Lord? How are we to love him?”

And Jesus responds: As I have loved you.

“And how is that, Lord?”

When you betray me, I will forgive you. I will not even get angry. I will continue to love you through it all. I want you to do the same for Judas. Don’t get angry at him. Love him through it all. And, should he repent, forgive him.

Until hope is actually lost, do not despair about his conversion.

*          *          *

Ok, so... Can I make this a little personal? ...

Who is the Judas in your life?

And not simply the one who has hurt you—who is the one who you are angry at? The one, or even the group of people, that you think will never change?

In our polarized world, it is so easy to be angry. But, here’s the thing, by being angry at people, it is so easy to fall into the trap—the lie—that says: “This person—or that group-- they will never change. They will never follow the Truth.”

And it’s easy to live like that. Easy to just chalk it up to fact—and to despair.

It is so, so easy to become a Judas—about Judas.

*          *          *

Instead, we must have great confidence. Have confidence in the power of God’s transforming grace. Yes, some people never change. Some will always remain Judas. But you must have hope. Until their last breath, there is hope. So don’t lose hope while the game is still on. Wait for Judas. Hope for his return. Pray confidently for his return!

Because, if that person—that Judas in your life—if he does actually repent, you need to be ready.

You need to be ready to forgive. And that means that you have to put away the despair. And the anger.

And yes, this will make you different than the angry, polarized world.

In fact, you must be different than that world: for,

This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.

If you have love not only for the ones at this Last Supper, but love for the ones who have left. That's the hallmark of our faith!

Dear children! We must be known for Jesus' kind of love! Be known not for anger, but for the ability to hope for the conversion of the sinner! Be known for your confidence in God's transforming grace! Be known for the ability to forgive!

Jesus told His apostles this at the Last Supper—the First Mass. It was so important then.

Isn't it just so important now?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Hunt - 1st Sunday of Advent (2018)


A couple weeks ago, we had our annual “Deer Hunters’ Mass” and it was a pretty good turnout.

This week, my brother and I drove through northern Missouri on our way to Iowa and I thought of all of our deer hunters at our parish. My brother Ed loves deer hunting and he was quick to point out that northern Missouri and beyond are great deer hunting lands. (A little town in Iowa—Albia—held the world record for the largest deer. My brother knew that).

I, however, know very little about deer hunting. (I prefer skeet shooting. After all, clay pigeons are always easier when they land)!

Anyway. I asked my brother what it was like to hunt deer and for the next several miles he told me all about it. The hunter wakes up early, very early in the morning. And it’s usually cold, because it’s November. And he sits in the trees or in what is called a deer blind for hours at a time.

At which point, I asked my brother:

“And what does he do?”

He just sits and watches. And waits.

“In the dark? And in the cold?”

Yeah.

“For how long?”

Probably for several hours. Depends.

“Wow, Ed. That sounds… exciting.

No, Anth, it’s amazing. Because then there’s this moment when you see the deer and you get really excited and your adrenaline starts going and your heart is thumping (because not everybody sees a deer)—and you gotta stay cool and breathe and slowly squeeze the trigger. And, if you do it right, when the rifle fires, it even surprises you a little bit.

(And he and I keep at this all through northern Missouri).

And I learned that hunters are really rather fanatical about their deer. They bring heaters and coolers (filled with, ahem, “beverages"). And some hunters who own some land spend months preparing the land by putting out food plots to attract the deer and the hunters watch trail cams to see where the deer are going so that they know where to track them.

Shoot, the hunters totally clear their calendars for those two weeks of hunting. And God have mercy on the dude that schedules his wedding to fall during deer hunting weekend!

So that’s deer hunting.

* * *

Now it would be pretty easy for me to draw the analogy that Advent is a lot like deer hunting. The homily would go something like: “When it comes to Advent, we gotta clear our calendars and really watch—watch like the deer hunters—so that you don’t miss Jesus.”

And that would be a fine homily—one that you probably have heard before.

But then I remembered a line from the Psalms:

            Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.

And I realized something: in past years, I spent Advent like I was the deer hunter and Jesus was the deer.

But Jesus is not the deer!!!

I am! I’m the deer—and Jesus is the hunter.

And Advent—Advent is the season for me to become aware of that—that I’m being hunted.

(I know, I know, that sounds weird). So, let me explain. Let’s start with the Gospel. Listen to Jesus’ words. He says:

            “Beware....”

            “Be vigilant...”

            “People will die of fright…”

            “[Don’t let] that day catch you like a trap.”

Doesn’t that sound a like a hunt is on? Beware… you are being tracked…

This is a little disconcerting. But it’s the truth: we are being hunted. 

* * *

So what does this mean? And who, exactly, is hunting us? And how? And what happens if we are caught?

Let’s answer those questions.

First, who is hunting us? We are being hunted by Jesus and by the world.

When it comes to Jesus, He hunts us not so as to destroy us, but to give us life. He’s the Good Shepherd who goes in search for His sheep. This is a meaning of the word "hunt"-- it means to zealously search. (Like, in another place in the Gospel, we see a woman who hunts for her lost coin).

And for this hunt, He has prepared so much to attract us to Him. The food, the place of rest, the calendar, even. 

And as Jesus waits and watches and searches for us in this hunt, when He finds us He may—as some prayerful saints (called mystics) have pointed out—He may pierce us with a dart of His love. The dart is not a tranquilizer to put us to sleep, but is filled with His life and love. As His dart hits our soul, we breathe in new life and a new power to love. That's what happens in Jesus' hunt.

He comes not to destroy, but to save. (Only the demons are afraid of Him. They cry out: “What have you come for, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” That is very helpful to us: if we find ourselves afraid of Jesus, it’s likely we have been hanging out with the demons and not the saints).

* * *

The other hunter is the world.

And the world employs a different kind of hunt. Here's what I mean by that: when it comes to hunting an animal, yes, it is typical that you use a rifle; but there is another way: you can drive it. You send the dogs or you get a line of hunters and you drive the animal fearfully into a trap.

That is what Jesus is warning us about when He says (and I paraphrase):

Beware not to be driven by the world, lest you be caught in its trap.

How does the world drive us?

Jesus tells us: through the lusts of the flesh (carousing) and drunkenness and—here’s the kicker—the anxieties of life.

The anxieties. How often we are driven by anxieties and by fear! We worry: will I have enough money in the checkbook? … Will I be forever alone? … What will people think of me? … What if I am not taken care of? … What if my suffering keeps on going?  and so on. We are so easily driven by fear!

And the world cultivates that, too. Just look at the marketing strategies out there that say you are not beautiful enough; your car is not new enough; your health is not good enough; your life is not awesome enough. No wonder why we are hunting for happiness! We are being driven into a trap! Sheep among the wolves!

Where does it lead to?

I think of the deer as they run-- deer in headlights, afraid-- onto the highway....

The trap is our destruction.

* * *

What does this mean for Advent?

All we have to do is avoid being driven by the world—just avoid being driven into the trap. And let yourself be found my Jesus. Let Him lure you with His preparations and His dart of love.

How does this translate into your daily life?

Well, I remember a priest once saying: For the lay faithful (that’s you), fifteen minutes of quiet prayer in this busy world is worth as much as a monk who prays for five hours.

I believe that.

Just sit with Jesus for fifteen minutes each day. Just sit and let yourself be found.

Let Jesus tell you in those minutes: I will prepare your heart; I will heal your soul; I am calling you by name; you are my prize, my love, my child. Come, eat of my food. Come, be refreshed by my drink.

Let us be hit by this dart of His love and fall into His arms. He shall place us on His shoulders and carry us home.

That’s all we have to “do.”

This is Advent. Let the hunt begin.