Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Death, Love, Eve, and The Ark - Homily on the Assumption of Mary (2017)

Today is a celebration of the victory of Jesus’ Cross over the powers of sin and death. It is the day when our Blessed Mother enjoys the fruits of that victory by being brought body and soul into heaven.

Of course, many of our good brothers and sisters at other denominations may ask us why we spend a day celebrating Mary. (You’ve probably heard things like that: “why go to Mary when you can go straight to God?” and so on). Let’s answer this today because, admittedly, at certain local rock-band churches, things like today aren’t celebrated—and we need to know why it’s important that we do.

The answer will come in two parts: one subtle, one scriptural….

I love my mom. Mom has always been my biggest support, the one who knew my vocation before I did, the one who always tells me to “be safe”… But mom is starting to near retirement age. She is getting… older. And with getting older may come the usual health problems. And (I don’t like to think of this but) there will come a day when God calls her from this life.

If it were up to me, I would have mom pass from this life to the next without having to go through any illnesses. Illnesses and death were not part of God’s original plan anyway. Death was the result of sin. If I could have mom go straight to heaven without having to taste death and all that comes before it, I would. And I wish that because I love my mom. Of course, I am not God.

But Jesus is. And He loves His mother. He’s the only one who got to choose His mother. And because death was never part of His plan, Jesus brings Mary to heaven without illness or death. Any son who loves mom wants the very best for mom. Jesus wants the very best for His mom—and He is able to give that to her. Not only because He is God, but also because this is the very effect of His victory on the Cross! He mounts the Cross precisely to claim victory over death. It makes sense then, that He would share the celebration of that victory with His mom. Because He loves her.

That’s the subtle part. You see, people often say “Why go to Mary when you can go straight to God?” The reason is that we learn a lot about Jesus precisely by admitting His love for His mother. He loves His mother. This is important because it orients Jesus in a family—He is not foreign to family. He is not an alien to the experience of being a mother’s child.

Indeed, if you want to get the real dirt on me, you can go to my mom. She knows me very well. So too with Mary: is there anyone else on the face of the earth who had a deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ than Mary—the one who literally carried Him in her womb, who fed Him with her flesh and blood, who felt him kick in the night and coo in her arms? Mothers know something about their children. So it goes with Mary.

The subtlety here is love.

Now we turn to scripture. Some say this isn’t scriptural. Au contraire!

We see in the book of Revelation a vision of the Ark of the Covenant and, in front of it stands The Woman and her child. (That’s Mary and Jesus). The question is: what’s this Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant was the sacred vessel that held the two tables of the Commandments, the Rod of Aaron, and the Manna from the desert—all of which were pre-figurements of the presence of God. This Ark was considered holy and only ordained priests could touch it (see 1 Chronicles). It was powerful and whenever Israel carried it in battle, they were victorious. Eventually, when the Temple was built, it was placed in the holiest place: The Holy of Holies.

But this was just a shadow, a foretaste of things to come. The Ark and what it contained was not God—just an image of His presence.

Eventually, this Ark disappears. And nobody knows where it went. Indiana Jones was looking for it. But nobody knows. Where did it go?

We see it in the Book of Revelation today and, in front of it, Mary. What does this mean? It means that Mary is the New Ark of the New Covenant. Whereas the Old Ark contained the objects of the Old and the foretaste of things to come, the image; the New Ark (that is, Mary) now contains the actual presence. She literally carried God, Jesus Christ, in her womb.

So, if the Old Ark was considered so holy and so powerful while only carrying the image of God, how much more so must the New Ark, Mary, be considered holy and powerful!


But, lest we forget how sin entered into the world: it was through Adam and Eve. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians (15:20ff) writes how God in His perfection unties the sin of Adam by the victory of a New Adam, that is, Jesus. But God is perfect in His redeeming plan: so, whereas a man and a woman brought sin into the world, a man and a woman will bring redemption. So, not only must there be a New Adam, there must also be a New Eve. That’s Mary. She’s the woman in Revelation, she is the woman spoken about in Genesis 3:15 where she will crush the head of the serpent—the dragon we see in Revelation. This is why many statues of Mary have her crushing the serpent’s head with her foot. “He subjected everything under his feet.” There is no competition here: Mary and Jesus go together—and all the more so than did Adam and Eve.

This is why, in Scripture, it says that Mary’s “soul magnifies the Lord.” If we see Mary, we see God’s plan of love.

In Scripture, it continues, saying “From this day, all generations will call me [that is, Mary] blessed.” That word, “Blessed” means to be holy. It is the same word used in Matthew 5 to describe those in heaven.

Ok. That’s a lot. But this is very important. Mary is important because she helps us to see the heart of Jesus who loves His mother. And not only that, it helps us to see how the victory of His Cross really does conquer death in the here and now.

A woman cries out to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore you…” To which Jesus replies, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” What is Jesus saying there? He is saying, “Yes, Mary is blessed—all generations will call her so—and so too are you. That is, you too will be blessed, you too will enjoy the victory of the Cross and the joys of heaven—if only you would receive the Word of God and observe it.”

Which is precisely what Mary did. She received the Word of God—the Word which is Jesus Christ—the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us, beginning in Mary’s womb. She received the Word and observed Him, all that He commanded—just as Mary had told us to do when, in Scripture she says, “Do everything He tells you.”

Yes, Mary is in heaven. She is in heaven because her son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, proved victorious over death by the Cross. She is in heaven because He loved her.

We celebrate that. And it gives us hope and a reminder—a reminder that is subtle and easily overlooked in the middle of August: that we were not made for death, but for heaven—if only we follow Him.

That’s why this random Tuesday is a Holy Day of Obligation. There will come a random day in our future—we know not when—when our Lord will call us from this earth. May today’s celebration give us hope and remind us and prepare us for that moment—that we may be ready, that we may enjoy the victory, that we may be with our Mother in heaven. “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Upper Limits - Homily for the 19th Sunday in OT (A)

Have you ever tried to walk on water? When I was a boy, I went out back to the swimming pool and gave it a try. It didn’t work too well.

Of course, Peter walking on water is a miracle. To walk on water is outside the ordinary, natural course of our abilities. Jesus gives Peter a miraculous grace, something extraordinary, something above nature—supernatural—so that Peter can walk above the water. This is the reality of Jesus: He wants to raise us above what we ourselves consider to be our upper limits to our natural capacities. Jesus wants to take us beyond what we have gotten used to or think is our limits.

I had the pleasure of being able to go to Colorado for a few days with a couple of friends. One of them had never hiked in the rarified air there, where trails are above 12,000 feet. If you have ever had the joy of hiking in elevations that high, you know of the possibility of altitude sickness. That’s where a person starts to get a headache, or dizzy, or disoriented; sometimes even nauseous. It can be pretty miserable. Of course, people endure that possibility because the views at the tops of mountains are pretty phenomenal.

So my friends and I are hiking to a lake above 12,000 feet and my friend starts to get altitude sickness. Now, when this starts to happen, there are voices that start to talk to you in your head—like in the cartoons when you see a little red demon one shoulder and a little white angel on the other shoulder. The white angel whispers “Hey, it’s going to be alright. It’s just a little altitude. You’re gonna make it. You’re not going to die.” The little red demon, however, tries to get you to panic and give up. He says, “Oh my gosh! You’re going to die! Give up! You’re never going to make it!” and so on.

In this moment, my friend sits down on a rock and I can tell she is starting to listen to the discouraging voice. “This rock is fine. There’s a fine view here. You’re too sick, too tired. This is as good as it gets. This is your upper limit.”

I see this and I look at her and say with some seriousness: “My dear, get up. You’re going to make it.” (She would later tell me that she hated me in this moment). But we were only 200 feet from the top. And she was going to make it. She just had to trust—and pray. And believe.

Which is what we did. We started praying the Rosary during those last steps. My brother, an avid hiker in Colorado, once told me that he prays the Rosary when he is facing those hard inclines. Last time we hiked, he said, “Ant, the Rosary is always worth a solid 400 feet of elevation.” It’s true. So, there we are, on the side of the mountain, praying the Rosary. And my friend is thinking about Jesus and about Mary and she is receiving grace. One step at a time, we go beyond what she thought was possible.

And before we knew it, we made it to the top. As my friend saw the beautiful lake and the mountains surrounding it, she put her hands up to her face in astonishment: yes, this view is beautiful; so much better than that rock. And not only that—she began to weep with joy: she had made it. She didn’t think she could make it, but she made it. I got a little weepy, too. No one was ever going to take this away from her. And this memory would always be with her.

I thought about Peter: after he walked on water, no one was ever going to take that away from him. That memory would always be with him. And he would need that for the next time Jesus called him from beyond the comfortable boat of self-contentment—for the next time Jesus stretched him beyond what Peter thought was the upper limit of his capabilities.

Because that’s what’s going on here. I mean, when Peter is called from the boat, there must have been some trepidation: “Jesus, are you sure? I mean, you aren’t really serious, are you? No man has ever walked on water….” Yes, this is beyond Peter’s limits. And with that comes the fear of failure: “Lord, if I do this, I might fail. What then?”

This is where our Lord says to us, “Take courage! Be not afraid. It is I.”

And who is this? This is Jesus, whose name means “God saves.” Yes, when Peter fails, when Peter takes his gaze off of Jesus and Peter sinks, Jesus plunges His hands into the water and pulls Peter up. This is Jesus’ promise: “if you come out of the boat, even if you fail, I will pull you up. You must trust me.”

And yeah: we’re scared: we see the storm, the waves; we hear the wind—all of the things of the world that distract us and grab our attention away from Jesus—we know that our boat is tiny and the storm so big. And the mission to walk on water—it seems so impossible. Yes, it is beyond the upper limits of our abilities. But our Lord calls us anyway: “Take courage! Be not afraid! It is I.” He is going to give us grace to take us to places beyond our wildest imagination—beyond our upper limits.

From heaven, above the waters above us, He is going to plunge His hands into our existence. (You’ll notice the sky is blue; the Old Testament called it the waters above us). God is going to plunge His hand into our lives and pull us up out of “these waters” so that we may walk on “these waters”—that is, if we walk above these waters, we are in heaven.

You see, the red demon on our shoulder wants us to be content just sitting on that rock, thinking “this life—this life is as good as it gets.” And we do that with a lot of things. We look at that difficult relationship with our parents or siblings or co-workers and we say, “Well, that’s as good as it gets.” Or we think we have reached the upper limits of holiness or the upper limits of our ability to forgive—“that’s the best as I will get.” But no! Don’t listen to that voice. Listen to the “little whisper of God” from our first reading who tells us that He is going to raise us up to higher places.

He wants more for you. This is an even greater level of holiness that He will bring to you—a level, yes, that is beyond your natural capacity—but a level that is not beyond the power of His grace.

“Call me out of the boat!” Peter says. That’s our prayer. “Lord, call me out of my self-contentment. Call me out of my funk and my thoughts that this is as good as it gets. Call me out of my doubt and help me to believe. I want to walk on water, Lord! I want to reach those beautiful heights above these waters, Lord!”

When and where will God give this grace? The answer is found in the timing of the miracle. That is, note what happens before and after the walking on water. Before the miracle, Jesus fed the five-thousand with five loaves and two fish. After the miracle, Jesus taught the people that “the bread I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world.” In other words, in the storm, Jesus shows the apostles that the loaves and fishes are not enough to save them, but the Eucharist—the Eucharist is going to be that supernatural grace that will save them from drowning in the stormy waters of death. It is the Eucharist where the supernatural joins with the natural, the extraordinary with the ordinary, where our lives are lifted beyond what we think are the upper limits—and are indeed drawn upward by the divine hand into heaven.

Here, on this “mountain, the Lord of hosts” will provide for His people with the grace to save us and raise us up. Here, at this Holy Mass, Jesus calls us from the boats of fear and anxiety and self-contentment—He calls us to trust Him.

And when He stretches us and we do those things we never thought we could do, we will—like my friend on that mountain—weep tears of joy. And I’ll probably joyfully weep with you. Because it’s beautiful. And nobody will ever be able to take that from you.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Being Distracted - Homily for the 15th Sunday in OT (A)

There are so many things that vie for our attention. Advertising, the child crying “Mom,” the daily worries. At any given time, we can go from being focused to being distracted. An occasional distraction isn’t always bad (we have a nice sign advertising our parish picnic), but when we don’t keep distractions in check, then they can become a serious problem.

An example: have you ever seen a distracted carpenter hammer a nail? Probably not, because it would not end well. Or have you ever sat as a passenger in a car where the driver was distracted? That last one causes me anxiety because I want my driver to be attentive—else we could die. So, distractions, if they are left unchecked, can become a serious problem. Attention and mindfulness, therefore, are important.

Last week, Jesus talked to us about rest and giving Him our worries. This week, Jesus is honest about how we can lose that rest or even have it stolen if we are not careful. He gives many ways that we can lose that peacefulness and I’ve found that, connected to His explanation of the thorns, distraction can easily steal our peace.

So let me pose a question for you. It is not meant to condemn. It’s just a question to get you to think about the soil—that is, the state of your soul. Here’s the question: How long do you usually go before you forget about Jesus dwelling in you from the Eucharist at Holy Mass? Do you make it to the evening, but then forget about Him before bed? Will you remember Him this afternoon at the parish picnic? Will we make it through the parking lot after Mass today?

Some of you are saying: “Father, I’m not going to make it through Mass!” I know. I get distracted at Mass, too.

It's not a fun question. But again, no condemnation here. It's just a check of the soil. And I think all of us battle with distraction, of losing our attentiveness to God’s presence in our lives. I think this is The Battle going on in our modern culture, actually. I think if we remembered God dwelling in my soul and in the souls of others, there would be a lot more civility and a lot more peace. So, what are we to do?

Well, I think that all of us can say that we want more out of Mass and we want more out of life. Is this true? Do you want more out of life? 

There’s a scientific principle [Newton’s First Law] that says: an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force. So, imagine a huge freighter on the ocean. It’s chugging right along. And let’s say that the captain wants to turn the ship around because he realizes he’s going the wrong way. So the captain reverses gears, turns the rudder, and what happens? Does the ship make an immediate U-turn? No, it keeps ploughing ahead in the same direction for a while.

The same can be said with our souls. We may come to Holy Mass with every intention on turning things around, on giving God our full attention, but the reality is: if we have been spending the past 167 hours in the week distracted by everything else, then we are likely going to keep that course during this hour. There's a brutal truth here: if we live a distracted life, a life only partially attentive to God, then we will be tempted to have God Himself become a distraction. That's the reality of so many of our family and friends who aren't here, who are pre-occupied with the job or the me-project or whatever, and they are terribly tempted to think that what we do here is a distraction from the other really more important stuff in life.

This temptation makes its way into our lives too. There’s a spiritual principle at play here. And that is that distraction and agitation at Holy Mass is often Jesus waving a yellow, caution flag for you, alerting you to the fact that you have a distracted life. A peaceful person 167 hours of the week is not going to be bothered so much by the crying baby or the immodest dress in this one hour as the distracted, agitated person who wants to be peaceful now but has been distracted and agitated for the previous 167 hours. An object in motion stays in motion. And object at rest stays at rest.

What we are getting at, therefore, is the concept of integrity of life. Jesus doesn’t want to be a distraction; He wants to free you from distraction. When we are distracted by something here at Mass or on the parking lot or later today, we need to turn to Him and admit it: “Jesus, I was distracted by this. I lost sight of you.” Ok, you gave it to Him. Now we can re-focus and move on-- but now we are with Him. Whatever we are doing, we are now going to do it in the presence of God. And that's peace!

You see, Jesus doesn’t simply want to be a part of your life or a distraction to your life. He wants to be your life. A priest once told me, “Even the Mafia baptize their babies.” What he was getting at is: yeah, they get their child baptized, but then they have no other thought about God; they are distracted by that whatever else. Jesus is only a part of their life. And so there is no integrity. And no peace.

Jesus wants to be our life. And that starts by acknowledging the state of our soil, then acknowledging our distractions, and then re-focusing on Him. “Jesus, come into my soul once again,” we pray. “Jesus, I remember that you dwell in my soul. Please help me remember this.” "Jesus, help me to remain in your peace."

And I can guarantee you: if you remember this for even just a handful of hours in the coming week, you will get so much more out of next Sunday’s Holy Mass and from life in general. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rest - Homily for the 14th Sunday in OT (A)

Reality: we all worry. Some of us wake up worrying. We worry about the bills and whether we’ll make ends meet. Parents and grandparents: you worry about your children, about their safety, about who they will grow up to be. We worry about our health. We worry about our eternal salvation. Shoot, I worry about that left turn onto highway 61. (Always: a good Act of Contrition there!). Yes, all of us at some point or another carry this weight, this burden of worry.

And so our Lord Jesus speaks to us and says, “Come to me” … “Come to me all who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” Isn’t that wonderful?

I mean, Jesus is our rest. How many of us have gone on vacation and everything is great, but then we get home. And what happens? All our worries are waiting for us again. “Come to me,” says the Lord. “I will give you rest.” The vacation isn’t enough. We can go to so many things to help us stop worrying, but they don’t solve the problem—the weight is still there. “Come to me,” says the Lord. St. Augustine put it so well: "Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you."

You see, Jesus doesn’t want us to be worried (see Matthew 6). He wants to free us from these weights; He wants to carry them for us. I know some of you are farmers and probably know this better than I do, but I hear that when a farmer is training a beast of burden to use a yoke, the farmer will have a more seasoned animal carry the lion’s share of the weight. The yoke will be on the shoulders of that bigger brother. And the animal being trained won’t have to carry much at all. This is what Jesus is getting at when He says, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” Because He’s the bigger brother who will carry the burden. He wants to carry the burden—if only we will let Him.

And yeah, sometimes we wonder whether Jesus will be powerful enough, strong enough to do this. I wondered why we had a first reading that talked about the Messiah coming in on a donkey—what did this have to do with rest? Well, it's a humble image-- a scandalous image (isn't the Messiah supposed to be great and strong? Why is He on a weak donkey?) In much the same way, sometimes we are scandalized by the meekness and humility of Jesus—scandalized just as the Apostles were on Good Friday. Jesus fell three times—surely He is not strong enough for my cross. But, you see: that was your Cross! And each time, He got up. And He was successful: He conquered death. He can carry anything you give Him!

*          *          *

Every morning at 7 o’clock, you can find me there on the bench where our altar server is sitting. There, I have an honest conversation with the Lord. I place all of my worries at His feet, there at the crucifix—Jesus is present at this tabernacle. And do you know what happens? Within five minutes, I start to breathe easier. I breathe deeper and I think more clearly. He’s helping me—and I didn’t even realize that I had woken up that morning worrying. Things are going to be ok.

And I need to know that because, well, sometimes I worry about whether things are going to be ok. You know I’m a first-time pastor. And there are decisions to be made. And some people will be happy. And some will be angry. And if I try to make everyone happy, ain’t nobody gonna be happy. And, and Lord! What am I supposed to do? And He says, “Let me carry this. I will help you. I will give you wisdom.”

Pope John XXIII—the man who carried so much of the weight of the world on his shoulders—do you know what he would say before he would go to bed each night? He prayed and would say to Jesus, “Ok, Lord, its your Church. The Pope is going to bed.” Haha, yeah—because it’s God’s show. It’s His work; He provides the growth.

There are so many anxiety issues and sleep problems—and those are very real—but some are just because we cannot put the day to rest. All of us, at the end of the day, have to look up to the Lord and say, “Ok, Jesus, I gave it my best” or, even “Jesus, I’m sorry, that wasn’t my best today.” And we place that in the hands of Jesus and He says, “Ok, I know. I’m going to take care of you.” And we can rest. Finally rest!

This is the whole logic behind the Sabbath, right? I mean, God knows that we can easily go week after week working ourselves into the ground, a flurry of activity. But God tells us "hey, we need to put an end to this past week. It’s over." The Sabbath is the punctuation mark that signals the end of the week and a new beginning. So many people are burned out because they think they have to do it all themselves and the weeks just blur together. So, ok, put your past week with all of its successes and disappointments, all of its worries—put it right here at this altar. Let Jesus take care of this past week. And as we pray at the Offertory, ask Him for the strength for this upcoming week. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest!”

*          *          *

That’s a good place to end our homily today. But can you indulge me for one more minute. There is something pressing on my heart that I must tell you. I feel that there is someone here who is carrying a weight greater that worry. There is a sin in your heart that you have been carrying for ten, twenty, maybe even thirty years. I know you have been carrying the weight of shame and you maybe have been too embarrassed to confess it in the past. I want you to know that Our Lord is saying this to you especially, “Come to me... and I will give you rest.”

Truly, there is no greater experience in the world than that moment of relief when Jesus frees you of that sin—that it’s over, that you can stop carrying it now. If you have been carrying that sin, I want you to come to confession. Let me free you of this weight. One of the greatest joys of my priesthood is that moment when the heart is finally free. When someone comes to me and says “Father, it’s been twenty years since my last confession…” Do you know my reaction? Behind that screen I am jumping for joy like the Father of the Prodigal Son. My son was lost and is now found! I am saying to myself, “What courage this person has!” And what a great honor it is for me to be an instrument of this grace of God. So, come to Him. Hear Jesus: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest!”

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Communal Life (Part II) - Homily for Corpus Christi and Father's Day (A)

A very blessed Father’s day to all of you dads out there. Thank you for your sacrifices and inspiration that you give to your family and to all of us. Be assured of my prayers for you in a particular way at today’s Mass. We also pray for our dads who have passed on from this life. May they be received by our heavenly Father into the joy of His kingdom. For those who did not know their dad or had a tumultuous relationship, may our Lord bring healing to all hearts. And, finally, to those dads who feel as they haven’t been good dads, may our Lord show you His graces in your life and give you a renewed strength in the life to which He has called you.

*          *          *

In addition to Father’s Day, today is Corpus Christi, a great solemnity in the universal Church and it is about this which I will speak today—and I’ll circle back around to Father’s Day.

This great celebration of Corpus Christi is a celebration of the Holy Eucharist: Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity given to us here at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. After three years with me, you have heard this message several times.

There is a teaching of the Church, however, that is often misunderstood and which, I think, we should spend some time exploring today—and that is the teaching about how some people cannot receive the Eucharist. It seems like it is a harsh and exclusive teaching, so let’s explore that. In order to do that, let’s look at an equally harsh-looking and exclusive-seeming scripture passage.

It’s the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman (see Mt 15:21-28). The woman, who is not Jewish, has a daughter who is in need of healing. The woman comes to Jesus and begs Him to heal her. Jesus responds by saying “It is not good to take the bread of the children and feed it to the dogs.”

Ok, at face value, it seems like Jesus is being very harsh, cruel even. But I also know that Jesus is God and God is love. So, I’m conflicted: what is going on here?

I prayed hard about this and here is the light I received: the emphasis is not firstly on the dogs, but on the bread of the children. Our first reaction is to say, “Hey, Jesus, you called her a dog.” But, the first emphasis is on the bread of the children: when Jesus says this is “the bread of the children,” He is saying that this is bread that He’s worked for, bread that is for His family, bread that has value and for a family who is valuable to Him. In other words, the emphasis is on the value of the bread—it is not common bread; it is valuable.

Therefore, He says the dogs part. And by that, He means: “I don’t just give this bread to anyone, even less do I just throw it away—like to dogs. Because dogs consume without thinking. They don’t know the value of this bread. I want someone who will think and love me in return; someone who will become part of my family.” In other words, when Jesus says the dogs part, He is giving the woman a chance to respond to a very important question, namely: “Do you understand the value of this bread? Do you wish to become part of my family?” After all, she is not Jewish.

Thus, Jesus’ words are not harsh, but a loving teaching—a teaching about the value of the bread and an invitation to enter into a deeper communion with Him and His family.

Hence, when she cries out with understanding—that is, when she says “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table” (yes, Lord, I understand that this is very valuable bread; I understand that I am not part of your family, but I long to be part of it)—when she responds with understanding and love, Jesus heals her daughter.

*          *          *

The Catholic Church follows the lead of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, when she too teaches her children the value of the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is not just the “bread of the children,” but the “bread of angels.” Heavenly bread greater than that miraculous manna bread. It is bread given on the night before Jesus dies, bread (as we hear in John’s Gospel) without which we have no eternal life. Truly, if this bread is from heaven and is connected to eternal life, this is no ordinary bread! Indeed, Jesus says it is His flesh for the life of the world.

Even the crumbs, as the Syrophoenian woman acknowledges, have great value. You will notice, therefore, that Catholic Churches have linens on the altar which are folded at the end of Holy Communion—these linens, called corporals, are to catch those crumbs. You’ll notice, too, that the priests and holy deacons take all of the chalices to the back credence table after Holy Communion and pour water in them and then consume that water. We don’t simply pour the water down the drain—even less do we pour the Blood of Christ down the drain. No, every drop is consumed, because it is Jesus! We have sacred vessels of gold to alert us that this is not an ordinary meal. We even have a special sink in the back of church called a Sacrarium that is used when we wash the chalices and ciboria. And the leftovers—we place all of the hosts (which are Jesus)—we place Him in the tabernacle. “This is my Body, given up for you” Jesus said as He held the bread at the Last Supper. No ordinary meal, no ordinary bread.

If it was ordinary bread, we wouldn’t care. We would do like many of our Protestant brothers and sisters—good people, very good people—we would do like they would do: we wouldn’t always have communion every Sunday. We would focus on the music and the preaching—both of which are very important, but a mere moon in comparison to the sun of glory which is the Eucharist. If this was ordinary bread, we would just gather the leftovers and put them back into plastic bags and store them in some drawer somewhere as non-denominational churches do. We wouldn’t have priests and lay faithful dying to protect the Eucharist from desecration. We wouldn’t have any care about who receives and in what manner they receive and so on. Yes, we could do whatever we wanted. 

*          *          *

But Jesus says, it is not good to take this bread of the children and to “feed it to the dogs.” In other words, “I don’t want you to consume without thought or without love. I love you. Do you love me? Do you hunger for me?”

Hence, the Church, for all of her 2,000+ year history now, has reminded us that if we receive without thinking or without desire, we profit little. We find this in Sacred Scripture, too, when Paul admonished the Corinthians in his first letter to them (chapter 11). So, we must spiritually hunger for this.

We must also desire to be in Jesus’ family—for it is the bread of the children. Jesus is saying to us: “I want you to be in communion with me, with my children, with my family.”

Following the Good Shepherd, the Church reminds us that two basic requirements for communion in the family of God are that we are not in a state of mortal sin and that we haven’t left His Body, the Church (cf. 1 Cor 11). Those who are in a state of mortal sin or those who have protested against her by being part of a denomination that protested against her, are not in communion with this family, the Church. If we are not one in this Body, we cannot receive The Body.

So, when the Church says that some people cannot receive, she is not doing so to be exclusive, but to do what Jesus did: 1) to alert us to the tremendous (indeed, divine) value of this unordinary bread and 2) to invite us into a deeper communion with His family, the one Body, the fullness of which is the Catholic Church (precisely because she has the Eucharist).

The Church, therefore, is not a social club, nor is the Eucharist the token of acceptance. No, the Eucharist is Jesus and the Church exists precisely to bring this uncommon bread to the world.

Those in mortal sin, therefore, need to come to their senses as the Prodigal Son did and return to the Father’s house—the confessional—and so be brought back into communion with the family. Our world is trying to convince us that we aren’t hungry for God. But, yeah, when kids eat junk food before dinner, kids feel that they don’t need dinner. A comfortable world doesn’t think it needs God. Intentionally skipping Mass (not for illness, but while on vacay) is mortal because we’re saying that we don’t hunger for God and that the world is enough. And that hurts. We need to repent. And our Father who loves us takes us back in an instant! He threw an uncommon feast for the Son!

On the other side of the coin, if a Protestant recognizes the value of this uncommon bread, the Eucharist, to them we say: Welcome Home! Come, enter into this family. Become Catholic. We have been praying for you and we cannot wait to be one with you at this great celebration!

*          *          *

Let me conclude, then, by returning to fathers on this Father’s Day. One of the principle duties of fathers is to show and teach their children by word and action the true value of things. I hope that, as a priest, I have done this for you in the way that I offer the Holy Mass and in the way that I live during the other days of the week. But, as good as I hope my example is, it is not enough.

St. Therese of Lisieux once commented that “I learned more about the Eucharist from my dad than I did from the priest.” She wasn’t talking bad about the priest—she was talking about how important her dad, her hero was to her faith. Her dad, St. Louis Martin, revealed the true value of the Eucharist to his daughter, Therese, by the way he kneeled, by the way he dressed for Mass, by the way He talked about the Mass, by the way he prayed and then lived the other days after Mass. He was a man of piety—that is, someone who loved and revered holy things—and a man of devotion.

Our Church as a whole needs to reclaim that word, “Devotion.” It means not simply to attend to or to occasionally think or love, but to be devoted—to be consumed by this, to be committed, thinking and loving God and neighbor day in and day out. It’s what separates us from the dogs.

We must not be afraid, therefore, to speak about these hard teachings or to kneel as we receive and so on. It helps us. And it helps the world and our children to see that Someone important is here. And that I need Him. We all need Him. We hunger for Him.

And, really, that’s all our heavenly Father asks of us—just like any father asks of his child—that we be devoted and love him. After all, our heavenly Father loves us. Loves us so much that He gives us His everything, day in and day out; He gives us our daily bread; He gives us Jesus, His very life. Like any father, all he wants are those simple words: “Thank you, dad. I love you.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Communal Life - Homily for Holy Trinity Sunday (A)

When we were in grade school, we probably heard the phrase: “God is love.” For those of us who have heard this throughout our lives, it may be easy to gloss over—but for someone who wonders about the goodness of God, this is quite the statement. “God is love”—He is good, goodness straight through.

But let us peel this back a little. When we say that God is love, we mean more than just God loves you. We are also talking about who God is. Love, by definition, is relational; it requires at least two persons (else it is not truly the self-sacrificial love that Jesus reveals love to be on the Cross). So, already, we know something about God: there must be at least two Persons. And this is true: there is the Father and the Son. And they love each other. The Son, for example, when He is dying on the Cross, dies not only for love of us, but also for love of His Father. And the Father, who is the inspiration for the father in the Prodigal Son story, receives His Son, Jesus, with great love.

And, together, their love is so perfect, so good, so eternal, and so divine that their love is God and a third person: the Holy Spirit. Together, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God: three persons, and yet one—the Holy Trinity. In common language, we would say that God is, in His very essence, family; community. And not “He is like a family”—no, God is the inspiration and the source for every family. We are the image—He is the source.

Everything about our faith redounds to this, that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. And for what purpose? So that we may be in communion with Him. Yes, not only can we say that “God is love” and that “God loves me,” but also that God wants to be in communion with us—He wants us to be brought into one with Him. This is what Jesus prays on the night before He dies: “Father… may they all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…” (Jn 17:21) Or, easlier, when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, He said: “In that day [that is, Pentecost] you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20). That’s pretty awesome. Indeed, we are made for this.

*          *          *

When God created us, going all the way back to Genesis, He said: “Let us make man in our image” (Gen 1:26). Notice the pronouns there. They are plural. (A nod to the Trinity). But notice, too, how we are made: we are made in the image of God. And who is God again? Love—a communion of persons whose life is love. In other words, at the heart of every one of us is the image of the Trinity—indeed, we are made for love and community. Hence, God immediately thereafter says: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

This isn’t just a statement about how a man needs a women else the man will starve (haha!). It’s not simply a statement about marriage. No, it’s a statement about who we are: that is, it is not good for us to be isolated; we are made for communion and when we isolate ourselves, it is not good. And why is it not good? Because our hearts are most alive and are truly discovering the goodness of God when we love and experience love. Selfishness breeds a sadness in our heart—an isolation that doesn’t allow itself to be loved or believe that it can be loved.

In our world, the enemy is working overtime to isolate and divide us. There is the stereotypical scene at the restaurant as the people in the booth aren’t talking to each other, but texting on their phones. Choosing to be on our phones is a choice to be alone. In some ways, it’s easier. We don’t have to be creative and come up with conversation or use our imagination to discover the person next to us. Yes, it’s so easy to just be alone.

Our social structures are not helping much, either. So many of us live in subdivisions and the houses are close by and it gives the illusion that we live in a community. But, honestly, so many people do not actually know their neighbors. Have you had them over for dinner? Or they you? I give communion to the sick and I can tell you they are all throughout our subdivisions and yet very few people know that the sick and elderly are there and that they are suffering. Alone.

And we don’t mean to be—it’s just that, either from our youthful days or in college, we got caught up in the me-project: “I’ve got a paper to write… I have to study for my test…” And then it is about me getting into a good school; and then me getting a good job; and then me getting a good place to live—I don’t have time to get married. People are actually saying this. I don’t have time for a family. And that’s true when life is isolated in the confines of self. Phone calls to parents—much less letter-writing-- is all but dead.

These trends translate into religion as well. It’s all about “me and Jesus” or “I am spiritual but not religious.” Neither of these statements embraces community (community which is a hallmark of religion); it simply embraces the self. And that’s a shame, because I know of so many young couples that are overwhelmed by having a kid or two and they feel as though they are going it alone and re-inventing the wheel, when in reality all they need to do is seek the wisdom of some of the couples here in this community. But few do that. And for whatever reason. Sometimes, people don’t want to inconvenience others. Maybe it’s easier to go it alone…

And let’s be frank: the enemy tries to drive a wedge in communities. Must I mention politics? Yes, politics are important. But I had a funeral some time ago where the parent had died and a couple of the kids were alienated from their parent because of their differing ideas in the political realm. Thankfully, just days before the parent passed, they reconciled. But the kids expressed deep regret—regret that something so passing and oftentimes so juvenile as politics got in the way of one of the most meaningful of relationships: that of a parent and a child. Yes, dear friends, we often get divided by who’s on the left and who’s on the right and we forget that there is an up and a down—up is where there is communion and heaven and the saints and love; down is isolation and regret and hell.

You see: community is really hard. It takes work. And the fact of the matter is: people can be annoying. Priests can be annoying. I can be annoying. It takes practice and messing up and struggle and love to bite one’s own tongue and to listen and to not react, but to love. This is why we need community, else we live in echo chambers where, if our positions are threatened in any way, we don’t have the patience to be charitable and courteous. And to grow.

*          *          *

God is love. And it is not enough to simply note and fight against the isolating trends in our culture. We must also teach how to care for our community. This requires teaching our children not only about rights but also responsibilities.

I hear of so many people who talk about how their grown child lives in their basement, focuses on the electronics, and is a bear to get them to make a contribution to the family and the home. Something must be done to help curb this epidemic. I offer this humble solution—which is not mine, but which I have gleaned from my conversations with all of you. Here’s how it goes:

Say you have a little son, Johnny, and he’s eight. At eight, he adores his dad and loves whatever he loves.

Ok, so, “Johnny, do you see mom there making dinner?”     
            “Yeah, dad.”
“Mom’s great isn’t she?”       
            “Yeah dad!”
“You love her, right?”
             “Of course, dad.”
“Ok, if you love her, then go help her. Because if you love, you help.”

And suddenly little Johnny is connecting the dots: that if we love, we must respond. We cannot sit idly by and let mom do everything. Love requires a response. Great lesson. And eight year olds understand this.

Later, when Johnny is twelve, a new conversation is had:

            “Johnny, you’re becoming a young man, so I’m sure you’ve noticed something.”
                        “What’s that, dad?”
“Well, every week, mom and me do the same things over and over: take out the trash, fold the laundry, set the table, and so on. You’ve notice that, right?”
                        “Well, now that you point it out, yeah.”
“And know you love us, but you’re smart and you’re becoming a young man, so I don’t have to tell you what to do—I mean, I have to tell your sister to always help mom, but you: you’re becoming a young man, right?”

At twelve, young boys don’t want to be treated like babies (sometimes they do if they are hurting), but most of the time, they want to be seen as one of the big boys.
“Ok, so I don’t have to always point out what has to be done. You can see it and do it without me even having to tell you, right?”
                        “Absolutely, dad.”
            “Ok, I’m relying on you. So, from that list that you know of, what will you do?”

Johnny is starting to learn initiative. He wants to be a young man, a contributor, a leader. So, ok, let’s give him the reigns and tell him that he has them: “I’m relying on you.”

Finally, when Johnny is fifteen or so and he’s going by “John,” another conversation can be had—something from The Lion King:
“John, you’re becoming a man and I want to have an adult conversation with you. I’m getting old and some day this will all be yours—you’ll have a house of your own and family to take care of. And I won’t be around to tell you to love mom or to remember your list, but you are going to have to look around you and see what needs to be done and to do it. So, I want you to look around our home. You’ll notice that I’ve done work on it and made some improvements. Tell me: what do you think? What needs to be done around here?—something I may not have thought of.

And he starts to think about it. And you walk him through. And help him as he struggles to begin to contribute to the home and to the family—as he struggles to love. In other words, we are teaching him ownership, how to own and feel responsible for his community.

And this is precisely where he should be learning this. Too often, our kids are sent off to college and they have no idea not only how to take care of themselves (mom always took care of everything!), but they have no idea how to contribute to the community. Thus begins the me-project.    

*          *          *

Of course, I’m not talking about some fictional dad and his son. I’m talking about me and you. I’m that dad and you are my spiritual children. And I want us to grow in response, in initiative, and in ownership.

Response: I know you love the parish. And we have things to do around here. There is a parish picnic coming up. If you love, then help out. And, I know, some of you are saying, “I’m old, I’ve put in my time.” Ok, first: thank you for helping out so much. But we don’t retire from the community, we don’t retire from love. Teenagers in the basement say “I’m too old to be helping mom with dinner tonight.”

Initiative: I know you know the many things that go on at this parish beyond Sunday. Which ones are you going to do? Monsignor doesn’t have to personally invite you every time in order to do something, right? I mean, we are adults here, right? And we aren’t focused solely on the me-project—so we do have time, right? Take initiative.

Ownership: look out over the parish, and not only the parish, but the Cottleville area. What needs to be done? Again, I know there are many sick and elderly people in our subdivisions. We have to own that. When we own something, we feel responsible for it. We need to feel responsible that there are people out there who are alone and isolated and going to die alone and isolated. We have to own that. What else needs to be done? What can we do better?

Because it is not good for man to be alone. Because we are made in the image of God. God who is love. God who is Holy Trinity, community, family, unity. This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Whatever - Homily for St. Justin, Martyr

This morning, we celebrate and ask for the intercession of St. Justin Martyr. He lived in the 2nd century and was killed when he refused to worship the pagan gods of the times.  Justin was a philosopher, thus well-equipped to logically defend the faith, which he did—publically—in one of the still-recorded written works of the early-Church: his Apology (or defense) of Catholicism. In that defense, we have one of the earliest accounts of Catholic life and also, wonderfully enough, about the Holy Mass.

When I hear about the martyrs, I am tempted to think that such things belong to ancient days and don’t happen anymore. But, the reality is, is that in the past 100 years, there have been more people martyred for believing in Jesus than in all of the past 1900 years of the Church combined. Yes, more martyrs in the past 100 years than all of the past years combined.

What has been the cause of this?

Justin, a philosopher, would be able to point it out very clearly: the way that we think about the world—that is, our worldview—determines how we act in that world. Our “philosophy of life” will translate how we act in life. And in our world today, there is an insidious and violent worldview out there—and it isn’t simply radical Islam. It’s post-modernism.

Fancy word—but here’s the gist of it: post-modernism is a worldview that thinks and believes that nothing really matters. It is ultimately dismissive—of anything it wants to dismiss, really. It can be described by one little word: “Whatever.”

Whatever. It is such a dismissive word. “Do whatever you want”; “Do whatever makes you happy”; “Yeah… whatever.”

I say it is insidious because it can emerge out of good intentions: I don’t want to come off as a bigot or uncharitable or unfeeling, so can’t we just let people do whatever they want? Sounds good—but, then, what becomes of words? Do words really mean Some Definable Thing? … marriage… murder… heaven… Jesus…?

You see, words do matter. And Jesus is zealous about this. He says in the Gospel today: the Commandments matter. And if we act as though they don’t—and, worse, if we teach others by our words and our life that they don’t—then, yeah, we're not gonna make it into the kingdom of heaven. Contrary to popular belief, all dogs don’t go to heaven—because this matters and the world acts as though it doesn’t.

Now, I say that post-modernism is violent because, if we Christians stand up for the fact that Marriage means something and the Cross means something and that these things don’t just mean “whatever”—well, the Whatever-people out there aren’t going to like it. It is true: the post-modern worldview is diabolically opposed to Christianity (and, by the same token, Christianity is opposed to the post-modern worldview). As you are living out what Jesus says—that is to be “salt of the earth” and to be the “light of the world”—then, yeah, that’s going to buck up against those who say that you are bigoted, you who hold God’s Commandments or reality-objectively-defined-by-God.

But that’s the thing. Things matter. Words matter. The Gospels matter. Jesus' love matters. Justin died for this. He knew the worldview and he knew that you can’t simply acquiesce into the great Whatever and still hold on to heaven. We have to choose.

And that's the Truth: if we aren't different than the blasé Whatever of the world, then we are salt without flavor. We are already just as good as dead.

This is why I get more than a little upset when people, without emergency or without good reason such as to get to a job that puts food on the table, leave the weekend Masses early. I don’t judge them, but I do get upset that somehow, someway, the Reality of what is going on here at this altar has either been lost or dismissed. I hope it is the first and not the latter. Because there is nothing worse than realizing what is going on here—this great sacrifice of Love at the Mass—and then to dismiss it with the great early-exodus of Whatever. For us who come here every day, we have to have a little jolt in our lives so that we don't make this routine.

Like I said at the beginning , there have been more martyrs over the past 100 years than all of the years combined. Indeed, just last week, dozens of Catholics were killed while they worshiped at this very same Mass! Tens more were killed as they were driving to there. What would they say to us?

Jesus matters! This Mass matters! Our blood matters! You matter!

May we never take it for granted.

St. Justin, martyr. Pray for us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.