Thursday, May 30, 2013

Homily Notes - To the Graduates of JP II Prep: May Your Study Be a Crucifixion

Good evening. Once again, congratulations to all of you graduates. Tonight for this Baccalaureate Mass, I want to give you a homily that is more academic than I normally would give at the parish. If it goes over your head—well, all the more reason for college.

Studying: A Crucifixion

St. Thomas Aquinas once said: “Study is crucifixion at a desk.” It is the hardest work in the world, says Chesterton, because hard work, he says, is repugnant to our nature.
What is interesting to me is that Aquinas should call study a crucifixion. The crucifixion is the place where Jesus dies for us, where Love reveals His true nature: that love is self-sacrificial, total, faithful, and (on this tree of life) it is fruitful. It is there that the deep truth about God is revealed: that God is a loving God. But it is also on that same cross that the deep truth about humanity is revealed: that man is most fully man when he ascends this wooden ladder in love, for it is there that man achieves his ultimate reality—that is, as St. Athanasius once said: that man might become gods.
So, when Aquinas calls study a crucifixion, he isn’t merely saying that study is hard. He is also saying that, in study, we encounter Love and Truth. Indeed, it is in study that we begin to encounter God and also our humanity’s dignity and vocation. Thinking, therefore, is not only the search and expression of Truth, but it is also a labor of one who loves. Yes, study and friendship—like Truth and Charity—are married.
And we know this from experience: your friends: you got to know them by spending time together, by expressing and receiving ideas, and by having your friendship tested through trial. This was study. The desk might have been the local McDonald’s or your mom’s kitchen table as your played cards, but the book was one of the most interesting (and, paradoxically, one of the most unread): the book of humanity.
Friendship, we hear in the first reading, is a treasure beyond price, like fire tried in gold, or a sturdy shelter built on rock that can withstand winds and storms—unlike sand. And friendship—yes, even friendship—required study. And thus, friendship requires both loving and thinking.
And if such is the case with human friends, then should not even more be the case for God?

The Status of the Non-Crucified Culture

Now, let me be frank with you, graduates: our world today avoids study of God and his friendship and has therefore lost its ability to think and to love. If you haven’t already encountered this, you will encounter it soon. You’ll see it in the words people use. Do you notice the words people use? Let me give you a few examples. [Inspired by Dale Alquist’s book “Chesterton, the Complete Thinker”]
Whatever. Whatever reveals the default position of the world: “Whatever. I’m not going to think about this. It’s too hard. Or I don’t care. Or whatever.” As the world has lost its ability to think, so too has it lost its ability for true friendship. You can be unfriended at a bad glance, at the click of the “unfriend” button, or through boredom. This is because the world doesn’t stop to think when the storms of emotion and gossip begin to swirl. And without thinking, it never encounters Truth, that thing that protects the treasure of friendship, the home of charity. With no thinking and no truth, such homes and friends crumble into the sand. Just like whatever.
Like. No, I’m not talking Facebook. But I could say a lot about Facebook and friendship, but I would digress… “Like” is a lack of precision, that something is vaguely similar. It expresses mere opinion. “I like this.” Or “this is like something.” In itself, there is no problem to liking something. The problem is, however, as we have seen in Facebook, that everything is a status update; everything is an opinion. Our world is full of opinions (mine here included). But I’m tired of opinions. I want the truth! The world uses “like” a lot because it cannot say what something “is.” I don’t want a “like” button on Facebook. I want an “is” button. I want truth. Yes, this… IS.

            You know? That’s the last of these words. You know? “You know” means “I don’t know… but I hope you know because I don’t. You know?”
             Um, yeah. Um—like, that’s what we are reduced to. You know? Yeah. Whatever.

             Why can’t the world talk? Because it doesn’t think. And why doesn’t it think? Because it either does not want to do the work—which, in a microwaveable, give-it-to-me-now world, is easy to avoid, or because it has never been taught how to think.
And how frustrating it is for a society that cannot think or talk! This is the quickest way for isolation—which is the opposite of friendship and love.

Results of a Society that Unfriends Jesus

How does society react? Often with anger because it is the easiest emotion when one cannot think or encounters things too hard to think about. Society reacts with even more anger because it doesn’t know how to express its anger since it cannot speak. And so the rage is released in the most brutal and unimaginable ways—in terrorism, in shootings at school, in mindless video game violence, in loud music that fills empty minds with sound instead of logos, and in empty, soulless and mindless sex.

        And, if you think about it, isn’t this what the devil wanted from the beginning? He didn’t want Adam or Eve to think because that would have an effect on how they loved. Thinking and loving, the devil knows, are the things that make us godly in the first place. And Satan hates God. So Satan hates thinking and loving.
            This is why sin is stupid.

        And what is the result of sin? What is the result of all this lack of thinking and loving? It’s slavery. That is not where our culture is going—it is where our culture is. People are enslaved to their stuff because they can’t think beyond their stuff. And because they can’t think beyond their stuff, they can’t love anything beyond their stuff. And so they become isolated in lives of quiet desperation. Or not-so-quiet rebellion. Remember: the Crucifixion was a result of a lot of enslaved people not thinking.

         The strange thing is: in such a state of slavery, you will find that the non-thinkers will accuse the thinkers of something ludicrous: namely, of being unreasonable.
         We are told to believe that the Catholic Church wants to return the world to the Dark Ages, that moment in history that was supposedly freed by the Enlightenment. We heard this when Cardinal Burke was Archbishop of St. Louis. “He wants to return the Church to the Dark Ages!” they said. This couldn’t be further from the Truth.
           When the Visigoths and Barbarians—Barbarians, from which we get our word today—were destroying civilization in murderous, non-sensical ways, it was the Catholic Church that preserved civilization, persevered its languages and literature and philosophy and sciences and art and architecture and music. The only reason why we can read Virgil and Plato and Socrates today is because the Catholic Church preserved such works from the book-burning Barbarian barbarians. It was in such ways that the Catholic Church brought the world out of the Dark Ages and into a renaissance. The Catholic Church held thinking close to her breast.
        Later, when the “Enlightenment” began, we did not see the shining of light into man’s minds, but the dark clouds of doubt and despair, the fruits of which we have reaped by the greatest genocides, wars, and New Barbarianism ever known to man.
And yet we are told that we are unreasonable and, even worse, we are told that we are intolerant. We are told that we are the ones causing this mess, that we are behind the times, that we need to learn the truth of charity and friendship.
        But, as Chesterton once said, there is nothing more fanatical and intolerant than the fanatical hatred of morality—especially of Christian morality.
        And it is this world’s fanatical intolerance of Truth and Charity that is rapidly spinning our world into a new slavery: a slavery of the passions and emotions. And this might be the worst of all slaveries, because the slave-master happens to be our self, and his demeanor is often unpredictable.

In the Creed: an Encounter with the yet-Uncrucified Jesus

        Into this mess, Jesus comes, saying: “I no longer call you slaves,… but friends.” This escape from slavery and into friendship came when Truth in Charity was revealed through the 10 Commandments. Have you ever noticed how they begin? It says: “I am the Lord your God who freed you… from slavery.” Does this not invite us to consider a deeper friendship with the Lord?
            Friendship involves commitment. And so, to the 10 Commandments I offer my 10 Commitments:
God says, “You will not have any other gods.” To which I respond: “I won’t have any other gods. I commit to that, Lord.” I commit to using His Sacred Name only in blessing and in prayer and praise. I commit to keeping Sunday sacred and every Holy Day of Obligation. I commit to loving my parents. I commit to protecting life. I commit to a life of holy purity and chastity, seeing people as they are and not for my own use. I commit to using what I have been given and never to steal. I commit to telling the truth and never to gossip. I commit to being thankful for what I have and faithful to the relationships to which I have given my promise.
        In the simple words of St. Dominic: “I’d rather die than sin.”
            Because sin is stupid. And it hurts my friend.

            Probably the most poignant reminder for me to lead a life of thinking and of charity comes every Sunday when we say the Creed. During the creed, we profess our belief in God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church. We even mention Mary and the communion of saints.
            But what is odd for me and what is the most poignant reminder is that we also name Pontius Pilate by name. Why? Because Charity and Truth stood in the flesh before him, inviting him into friendship.
        How did Pontius Pilate respond? He said, “What is truth?”
        This is the modern response to the Catholic faith. This is the modern response to Truth. This is the modern response to Charity. This is the modern response to thinking. “What is truth?” the world asks—not in a thinking way, but in a distant, I-don’t-really-care-about-the-truth-but-I’ll-at-least-sound-sophisticated-if-I-pose-the-question kind of way.
            This is a lack of integrity. And for this reason we recite in the Creed: “And he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
            Truth. Charity. They were both crucified under the apathetic Pontius Pilate who feigned to think and to care, but who could really care less.
            When I say his name every Sunday, it serves as a remind to me to examine my conscience: How am I responding to Jesus’ invitation to friendship in Charity and Truth? Am I responding to the crucifixion at a desk or am the one doing the crucifying?

        Pope Benedict XVI once wrote:
Each person finds his good by adherence to God's plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. Jn 8:32). To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). (Caritas in Veritate, 1).

Yes, to know and articulate and defend the truth in charity are exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Truth and charity helps us to let go of our “subjective opinions and impressions, [and allows us] to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things” (Caritas in veritate, 4).
            In other words, to study God and to enter into his friendship helps free us from the dictatorship and slavery of relativism and mere opinion.
            To practice this helps us “to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development. A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world.” (CV 4)
            This is what led St. Thomas Aquinas to say that the greatest work of mercy was to instruct the ignorant.


            On this note, I wish to thank your parents and the faculty and administration and priests here. We were all once ignoramuses, and they have set us free. This is the greatest work of charity: to instruct us in the truth.
            Now you must go and do the same.
            Go out into the world. Do not enter into a Catholic ghetto. Be like the yeast which leavens the entire loaf. And remember: it only takes a little yeast—just a little!—to make the whole loaf rise.
            And yes, you’ll be crucified. But you won’t be afraid, because you’ve been on that cross for a while now. You’ve been on that cross while on your knees and at your desk. You’ll have been at the place where Truth and Charity meet, where there is friendship and joy with the God who loves you.
            And so, this is my prayer for you: that in all your studies, they may be such a place to encounter God’s Truth and Charity. Yes, may your study always be a crucifixion.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tending to Wounded Butterflies - Homily Notes for Pentecost

The Commandments and Pentecost

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.

I found it interesting that the Gospel reading for today should mention the commandments. I thought that Pentecost and living by the Spirit superseded, in a sense, these commands from long ago. What is the relation?

Pentecost means fifty: it’s been fifty days since the Resurrection, the days of the Lord’s Passover. This “fifty” is important; for, what happens fifty days after the first Passover? Fifty days after the first Passover, we see Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. These Commandments were the doctrine, the one confession, which united the people of Israel. The Commandments were not meant to enslave or restrict freedom, but to keep Israel from returning to the slavery of the world.

In much the same way, Pentecost today unites us in one confession of faith—and with a new command: a command to love. This is not a minimum as the Commandments are, but a maximum without limit: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And the way that Jesus loves us is infinite, eternal, perfect, divine, and without limit. Pentecost infuses us with this Holy Spirit so that we might not just do the minimum, but live the maximum in love.

The Spiritual Responses to a Wounded Butterfly

Earlier this week, I noticed this maximum of love being lived out—and, in all places, it happened on the playground. One of our little fourth graders found a butterfly who wasn’t able to fly. She held it in her hands, protecting it and almost praying for it. Kids around her asked, “Whatcha got in your hands?” And, upon discovering that it was a butterfly, they insisted that she let it go. But it wasn’t able to fly, she tried to explain, and she was going to take care of it. She took care of it for the duration of recess, for as long as she could. Eventually, recess ended and, as she and I walked to the school, she asked what would happen to her butterfly.

To this story, the spirit of our age might react with a couple of opinions:

First, the spirit of our age might respond with words like “oh, how cute” or “what a child-like faith” and other such niceties. But rarely does the spirit of the age actually slow down, process the matter, question itself and ask: When was the last time that I looked close enough around me to see a wounded butterfly?—and even more so, to feel responsibility towards it?” These are the more painful questions that the spirit of our age will not ask because not only does it require us to slow down and take valuable time (for to do so would mean to question our schedule), but it also puts us into the painful reality of our modern situation: that we need healing from a life too busy or too bored or too self-absorbed to see wounded butterflies, and much less so to be so recollected and loving that we would pick one up to take care of it. Yes, the spirit of our world does have a heart and an initial outpouring of emotion, but it doesn’t let such experiences “sink in” and “hit home.” Sadly, the world does not allow the fruit of love to ripen because the world doesn’t allow itself the time to process and to think deeply about what it has experienced. Here, time acts as a means of purification.

The second response would be to simply dismiss the whole matter as a giant waste of time: after all, it’s just a butterfly. I have more important things to do—like watch TV, update my Facebook, or take the kids to volleyball—very important things. This response is summed up in that great word that summarizes today’s culture: Whatever. And it is this response that is not spiritual at all; for not only does spirituality require that we think, but also that we love.

It was at the end of recess that the little girl realized that she couldn’t take the butterfly back into the classroom with her. And at the same time, she realized that if she let the butterfly go, the butterfly was going to die. She was thinking and she was loving, and initially she wanted to hold on; she wanted her will to be done: that is, she wanted to take the butterfly inside even if that meant making herself the authority, like the principal. Or, at the very least, she wanted to construct her own fantasy world where she could have the butterfly live forever and not actually be wounded.

But neither were the will of God.

In the spirit of the world, the girl could have simply dropped the butterfly and said, “I don’t care, it’s just a butterfly.” But this girl had a heart—and a mind. She looked at me and asked: “Father Gerber, will God take care of the butterfly?”
            “I have no reason to doubt otherwise; He made the butterfly, after all.”
“But if I let the butterfly go, he will surely die.”
I nodded.
Then she paused and thought. Then she asked, “Father, do you think God brings butterflies to heaven?”
            “That’s a good question. I don’t know, my dear. I hope so.”
At which point, she walked a few more steps, stopped, and then reverently placed the butterfly on the ground and began to walk away. Together, we walked to the school and as we neared the doors, she told me, “Father, I’m going to pray for him.”

In this decision, this little girl laid down her own desires in order for the deeper desire of God’s will be done. This is a holy act of charity. And an act of charity done with a drop of the Holy Spirit is worth far more than all of our human endeavors done with a bucketful of the spirit of the world.

And I believe she had the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit she received in her baptism, the Holy Spirit she received at each confession, the Holy Spirit which she receives at every sacrament and which I received in Holy Orders. The Holy Spirit which concludes the prayer which is the Sign of the Cross.

The Human Spirit at Babel and the Babbling at Pentecost

Here, then, is our entry into really understanding Pentecost.

At Pentecost, we see how the disciples were touched by fiery tongues while some onlookers scoffed, thinking their babbling was meaningless gibberish resulting from drunkenness due to new wine. The disciples might as well have been children tending to butterflies. Many of the onlookers failed to see the greater principle at work. That there was a new wine and it was being placed in new wine skins—for the old wine skins had grown old: humanity had grown tired and worn out and dry.

Behind this story of Pentecost, there is the older relative: the Tower of Babel. In that story, certain men with an overdeveloped sense of independence and pride, and motivated by the belief that all was up to their will, attempted to build a tower that would reach to heaven. They did not consult God nor consider whether they were building the foundation on sand. Rather, their action was, in a sense, a declaration of independence from the will of God and from his grace. They were saying to God: “I can do this myself. My will be done.” But as their tower fell, so did man into the confusion of many languages to be scattered across the world.

This is the fate of the spirit of the world: confusion and a disintegration of the human family, a confusion and disintegration which ultimately leads our human endeavors—as well-intentioned as they might be—into ruin.
Today, Pentecost does not unite the tongues of man, but unites man in the tongue of the Holy Spirit so as to unite man not simply in man’s own endeavors that fade, but into authentic Truth and Love—truth and love found in the charity and teachings of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church who is the mystical body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost makes us realize that our modern culture is characterized by a superficial existence and even a hostility towards authentic charity and truth, a hostility that builds towers against opportunities of service and authentic expressions of love as found in the caring for “wounded butterflies,” or the standing up for injustices against the most vulnerable like the unborn, the poor, and the elderly—not to mention the human family (… and is there a more “wounded butterfly” that the family today?).

Such hostility and superficiality doesn’t even free us to give fifteen minutes to God in prayer each day or to family at the dinner table. Rather, the spirit of the world builds tower after tower against things, calling them a waste of time or a practice for some other holy person, but not for me.

This modern-day slavery can only be remedied by the infusing of a new spirit. “New wine in new wine skins.” And this requires us to rediscover the Holy Spirit and to invite Him into our hearts and homes.

Many Catholics respond to this invitation in much the same way that the world responds to wounded butterflies: we tend to overlook Him as simply a nice extra to the faith that, really, only applies to holy people. He really isn’t for me and I really don’t need Him.

But the Holy Spirit is God. And Pentecost invites us to rediscover Him, to ask who He is, to probe deeper and not simply dismiss.

Spiritually Tending the Wounded Butterfly

And in so doing, Pentecost invites us to ask which spirit moves us today. Or, in other words: why do we do what we do? Is it the spirit of personal accomplishment and pride that moves us to do what we do? Is it the spirit of comparison and lifestyle that moves us? What motivates our calendars? What motivates our purchase and the ways that we spend our time? And, strangely, are we moved by sheer boredom? If our actions are not rooted in the solid bedrock of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and love, then our actions might as well be the Tower of Babel. We are the wounded butterfly in need of care.

Yes, let us invite the Holy Spirit into our lives! Holy Spirit, come into my life! Come into my schedule and into the choices that I make each day! Holy Spirit, enlighten my mind and my heart and expand my often near-sighted vision! Keep me from choosing the things that fade, but help me to choose the things that are eternal.

My friends, as we rediscover God the Holy Spirit and put away the spirit of the world, we will then rediscover the “wounded butterflies” around us that need our assistance. And as we rediscover the God who is love, we will also rediscover (or perhaps even discover for the first time) the world beyond ourselves and we will be alert and able to respond to the needs of our family, the needs of our parish, and the needs of our community.

It is then that our spirit will become holy for we will have received the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life and the God who is love! We will be united in one language of love that confesses the power of love that lives the new commandment of love.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a Spirit of adoption,
through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

At the Kitchen of the Heavenly Layers - Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

The Makings of a Dessert

What is your favorite dessert? You know, that sweet goodness that fills you with joy at the first bite: Pineapple Upside-Down cake? Cookies? Ice cream? For me, it’s chocolate cake. With a glass of milk. One big heaping bite of chocolaty goodness. It’s heavenly.

            This past week, Monsignor and I put on a special dinner for a few of the young men of our parish who wanted to know more about us priests and what we do when we’re not eating bon bons and watching Law&Order all day. Monsignor wanted the dinner to be special, so he was going to make a tasty entre. But then he had the bright idea that I should make the dessert.
            I’ve been known to burn water.
            But he has this recipe, he says. It’s really easy. It’s for a chocolate trifle.
Chocolate? I’m interested.
            What is a chocolate trifle? Let me tell you. It has layers.

First layer: chocolate cake (great start).
Second layer: chocolate moose.
Third layer: cherries.
Fourth layer: whipped cream.

(Um, Are there more layers?) Yes!!

Fifth layer: chocolate cake again.
Sixth layer: moose!
Seventh layer: cherries!
Eighth layer: who cares!!! There’s enough chocolate here to satisfy Augustus Galloop! 

And if that’s not enough, we repeat the whole process—for a total of twelve layers!

(Monsignor, we should do this more often!)

Now with all those layers, certainly the recipe would be difficult, I thought.
But monsignor made it easy: he bought me the chocolate cake, he bought canned cherries, he brought whipped cream, and he bought the moose—which comes as a powder (who knew moose was a powder?). So, everything was all ready-made, just layer it all and throw it into the fridge. No cooking, stirring, mixing or anything else needed.
            Except…. Moose is not a powder.
Not knowing this, I added the powder as its own layer. When I was later “reminded” that I needed to add milk to the powder, I was a little embarrassed. But I thought that I could remedy the problem by pouring milk on top. This only made the problem worse.
Yes, Monsignor, the dessert is coming along just fine!

            Now, in full disclosure, I knew that I was not well-practiced in everything kitchen. So, before any of this disaster happened, I actually had asked Monsignor to help me through. Very kindly he walked me through the recipe step-by-step and taught me how to make a chocolate trifle—and how to make chocolate moose. So… I didn’t mess up the moose or the dessert. In fact, the only mess that was made was of the pan after it was licked clean. It was a heavenly trifle.

The Apostle at the Kitchen of the Heavenly Layers

            Ok, so this relates to today’s readings. (I know you’re wondering how I’m going to make this all connect).
            At the heart of today’s Gospel, Jesus promises to give the Holy Spirit to the apostles. This Spirit, Jesus promises, will remind the apostles and will teach them. Fast-forward through the Ascension, Pentecost, and the Apostles going out into the world, and we see Paul in our first reading having to deal with a problem of the Church that Jesus never had to deal with: namely, are the Greeks required to follow the Jewish rituals if they are to enter into heaven?
            It was like the question I had in the kitchen: do I pour the powder in the pan or am I supposed to mix it with milk first?
            I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t been taught. Nor had Paul about this matter.

            In our own lives, we face such questions, questions of morality that have an effect on our eternal salvation—on whether the chocolate cake comes out tasty, if you will. Such questions as: can I rally be married outside of the church and still be “cool” with the Lord? Can I use contraception? Can I really do whatever I think is right and hope for the best? Can I do whatever I want and really expect that my eternal life will come out all right?
            There are answers to these questions. Right answers. Not just: eh, it doesn’t matter; do what you want. No, that might ruin things. And our lives are more important than desserts.

            So, in the case of Paul, he goes to the Apostles. This is a huge detail. Paul could have simply answered the Jews and Greeks on his own. But he defers to the ones who Jesus promised He would give the authority and power to teach the Truth and to teach in His name. That’s the apostles. He told the Apostles: “whoever hears you, hears me.” Paul recognizes this; He recognizes His master’s voice in the voice of the Apostles. And so Paul, faced with this moral question, knowing that eternal life is on the line, goes to Jerusalem.
            And remember: Paul is in Greece. This is a long walk. It is dangerous and taxing. It would have been easier for Paul to just make up an answer and proclaim it as truth. But he takes the road of suffering.

            Admittedly, my friends, this is most unpopular, especially in our do-it-yourself culture; and doubly so in a culture where there is rampant distrust of authority—especially in an authority that speaks with authority and “specialness” (as though having hierarchy and the Holy Spirit is something special). It is rank with inequality. Yes, it is unpopular to be poor of spirit.

            But note the second reading. In the Book of Revelation we see the new, heavenly Jerusalem descending from the sky. It has twelve gates, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. And it also has a foundation of twelve layers. And what are those layers made out of? No, not chocolate cake! They are made out of twelve stones—and with the names of the twelve apostles.
            Now you know how important foundations are to Jesus. He says that a house built on sand will fall. But a house built on rock will endure storms, winds, floods, everything. Now, heaven is Jesus’ home—God’s dwelling. It is what makes heaven, heaven. And what is the foundation to God’s house? The twelve apostles! He builds on them such that when they teach, we know that we are on solid rock.

            Where are the apostles today? The early Church tells us. Whether in the first generation writings of Paul to Timothy and Titus or in the second generation, as in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, we see that the bishops are the apostles. They are the ones anointed by God to teach definitively on matters that pertain to our salvation. This is why we pray for them at every Mass. And it is why Paul, a good Catholic, would go to them when even he—a great saint—had a moral question.
            He wanted to get the recipe right.

Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord!

            In the Gospel, this is called keeping His word. We keep his word when we listen to Jesus by listening to His apostles; we keep his word when we keep the commandments.
            When Jesus talked about the house’s foundations, he begins by saying: “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Mt 7:24). And Jesus adds, “Whoever hears you, hears me” (Lk 10:16).
This is not restrictive in any way; it is seeking the wisdom of God which He offers us as we walk through difficult kitchen of life; it is a following of the recipe that has been handed on from generation to generation—just like our favorite recipes from mom are.         
And what does Jesus promise if we follow the recipe and keep his word? He promises chocolate cake! He says, “my Father will love him” – I will love you!—“and we will come to him”—yes, to you!—and make our dwelling with him.” Jesus and the Father will DWELL with you!
            Now, we just heard that where God dwells is rightly called heaven. And now He’s promising that whoever follows these shepherds and keeps the commandments—that He will dwell in that person? That means that—… I’m in a stupor just thinking about this—it means that God is going to bring heaven to you. Here. Now.
            And the Eucharist! Heaven coming to us! God edible!
            Yes! Keeping God’s word and receiving this Eucharist means that we will begin to taste and see the joys of heaven right here on earth: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 4:34). The chocolate cake isn’t so far away as we await the timer to go off. We begin to taste this heaven now.
            And we know this when we follow a recipe for making chocolate cake. As we follow the recipe, we begin to enjoy the dessert: the smells of the cake, it’s looks—and, what else? What else do we get to enjoy when we make chocolate cake? Yes! The beaters and the spoons and the bowls on which the chocolate still clings!
            In the moral life, this means we experience the freedom of being released from the slavery of unforgiveness and resentment, from the chains of stuff and the jealousy of comparing lifetstyles, from the bondage of meaninglessness and happenstance. We begin to see the beauty of reality as it really is and embrace all the layers of it.
            And we come to realize, just as we do when we make a cake, that there are some things in our moral life which we must remove or which we must never add at all. Likewise, there are some things which we must always add. We realize that there are times to do things and times to wait. We realize that sometimes we need help in the kitchen, and seeking the wisdom of others is not a sign of weakness, but an exercise of wisdom itself.
            Yes, some recipes are difficult. But God tells us: it’s worth it. Keep it up. And I’m here to help you. We’re in this together. You’re really going to love this chocolate cake. Don’t you smell it? Here, here’s the spoon. Isn’t it heavenly?