Sunday, August 31, 2014

To Love and Not to Count the Cost - Homily for the 22nd Sunday in OT

This morning we see a very interesting dialogue between Jesus and Peter in which Jesus calls Peter Satan. At best, it looks like Jesus is using hyperbole; at worst, Jesus looks childish and insulting. After all, who calls another person Satan, anyway? So, what’s going on here?

Jesus has revealed to his disciples that He is going to Jerusalem where He will suffer and die. But isn’t this the same Jesus who has raised the dead? He’s the Messiah, after all! Messiahs don’t go into cities and die; Messiahs go into cities and kick butt, then take names. Like Chuck Norris. Or, at least, that’s what Peter thinks. Peter has this certain idea of who Jesus is and it doesn’t involve suffering. Peter’s idea involves a triumphant march into Jerusalem where Jesus kicks out the Romans and solves everything and then life will finally be comfortable. Because that’s what Peter’s Messiah brings: He brings comfort—not the Cross.

I am like Peter. I’m scared of suffering. I don’t trust God very well. I cling to the world and its allurements and I seek my comfort there. Sure, I try to love God, but I also count the cost of following Him. And that’s what is really the problem: I count the cost. I count the cost when I see Jerusalem and when I hear Jesus say he is going to suffer and die there. Since I count the cost, I ask: “Lord, isn’t there some other way?” And then, when I'm faced with the Cross, I'm like Peter: I'm ashamed of this Jesus. "I do not know him."

Thankfully, Jesus knows how I operate and he doesn’t leave me there. So He addresses my near-sighted cost-analysis: “Anthony, what does it really profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?” In other words: which will cost you more? gaining the whole world and losing your eternal salvation, or gaining eternal life but having to suffer and sacrifice for as many as 70, 80, or 90 years?

I’m initially convicted by this—because, if I’m a cost-counter, then I should actually count. And when I do that, I find that the pains of eternal hell are a lot more than the pains of 70 years.

But then I wonder: why can’t I have the comforts of earth AND heaven? Lord, why can’t I have them both?

Because of love. Love must choose. This is because love—if it is really love—ultimately suffers and dies for what it loves. So, Jesus is going to Jerusalem and He is going there to show us what love is AND to show us how total His love is for us—a love so total that He will lose everything of this world, giving it up in sacrificial love for us. He will even lose himself.

Peter says, “No, no, no!”  And by doing so, Peter is tempting Jesus will the allurements of the world. “Heaven forbid you should suffer, Lord. You’re supposed to be comfortable!” Hence Jesus’ response.

But there is something more that Peter is saying, whether he intends to or not. Peter is telling Jesus: “Lord, your death in Jerusalem—that’s not what love is!” And here’s the kicker: “Lord, I’m not worth that kind of sacrifice anyway!”

When Jesus turns towards Jerusalem, He is saying to Peter and to all of us: “Peter, I love you more than all of the world. I love you more than myself.” Notice, then, how much you are worth to God! You are worth more than all of the treasures and powers of the world. You are even worth His life! This is what He is trying to show us.

The question is whether or not we love Him in return. Do we love Jesus enough to suffer for Him?

Hear the words of St. Paul: “I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…” Offer yourself as a living sacrifice. This is what Jesus did, right? And why? Because He wanted to reconcile the world to God and show us His love. Doesn’t this still happen at the Eucharist when the priest says, “This is my body, given up for you?”

How are we to respond to this? Well, if we are frustrated or anxious or hurt by the events of the world, I must ask: Have we suffered for it? I don't mean: have we simply been hurt by it or been passively anxious about it. No, have we actively and deliberately chosen to offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God in reparation for sin and for the sanctification of souls? In other words, it’s not enough to be hurt by what has been going on in the world, we must actually and intentionally take up our cross and follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to the place of suffering. Have we joined ourselves to the suffering Christ-- that same suffering Savior who is present here in the Eucharist?

Thus, when we wake up in the morning and suffer that moment of not wanting to get out of bed, we can offer that to the Lord for the salvation of the world. When we have a chance to eat more than we should, we can eat smaller amounts and offer our hunger to the Lord. When we have a chance to check our phones for the hundredth time today, we can forego that curiosity of the world and our avoidance of God and kneel down in prayer and offer that sacrifice to the Father. Every decision in life, from the biggest to the smallest, can be a decision to love, if only it chooses to love God instead of ourselves-- if only it chooses to carry the cross in sacrificial, self-emptying love over self-preserving comfort. "For he who saves his life will lose it. But all who lose their life for my sake will gain it!"

Brothers and sisters, heaven is not given to those who were comfortable here. Heaven is given to those who loved. And those who loved, suffered.

Be not afraid of the Cross. And do not count the cost. And if you do, see the glory! Hear the words of Paul once more: “Brothers and sisters, do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

Let us ask Jesus for that grace right now!

Lord, transform me. Purify my love. Strengthen me so that I may suffer with you for the salvation of my soul and for the whole world. Comfort me when I fail, comfort me by this perfect sacrifice of the Mass and receive it as it is all that I can offer you.

And Lord...  please remind me—remind me that when you had the same choice as I did, remind me that you chose to suffer for love. Remind me that you chose me over all of this world’s treasures because you loved me more than the world and all that was in it. You suffered for love of me. Please help me to do the same for love of you! For you are the greatest gain. You are worth any cost!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Holy Hour for Ferguson - A Brief Reflection

Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est.
Where there is charity and love, there is God.

This evening, God calls us to bring to him our hearts: full of prayer or worry or anger or hurt. Our Father in heaven has called us to ask Him to heal the divisions of men and to bring charity to his children. Jesus is here in the Sacrament of Charity, the Eucharist, to fill our souls with his overflowing love and to remind us that where there is charity and love, there is God.

The events in Ferguson have been troubling. Not only has the violence there betrayed communion among brothers, but such violence also betrays that there has been a carving out of a space separate from God. For if God is where charity and love are, then what happens when there is violence?

Certainly, God is even there—and precisely there too, for we know that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. In the places of violence, it is there that the crucifixion is placed and experienced anew, with Christ still suffering for the souls of men, still offering Himself to the Father for the forgiveness of sins: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

In these past days, we have been encouraged to pray for peace. I humbly suggest that we ask for more than peace. What we have witnessed in Ferguson is not simply the result of inequalities brought to the fore by the catalyst which was the shooting. No, what we have witnessed is the rotten fruit born from a culture of death, a culture that for decades has been sowing larger structures of sin and evil. No, what is required is not just peace, but repentance and mercy. We pray for mercy for our culture’s sins—and our own.

We have been part of a culture that has overlooked the dignity of man precisely because it has overlooked the dignity of God. This is why, when Pope St. John Paul II visited St. Louis, he said: “America, if you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. If you want life, embrace Truth -- Truth revealed by God.” And “what is Truth?” says Pontius Pilate. I AM says Jesus. Only when our culture is filled with the light of Christ will the darkness of violence cease.

I lament that these events took place just days before the great celebration of the anniversary of our city and of our patron, St. Louis. But today is his feast day. Let us ask for St. Louis’ intercession, on this the 800th anniversary of his birth. That he, as our saint and patron of our city and Archdiocese, will drive away all darkness and evil and beg God to grant us mercy, forgiveness, and peace.

Jesus, heal our culture. Hear our prayer for mercy. Dwell in our midst once again. For where there is God, so too there is charity and love. Amen.

The Dignity of a King - Homily on the Solemnity of St. Louis (21st Sunday in OT)

Who do people say the Son of Man is? There are a lot of opinions out there about who Jesus is. Some say he’s like a 1970s hippy who never judges; some say he’s a fanatic who always judges. Some say he’s an inspirational teacher like Ghandi preaching peace; some say he’s the reason why there are religious wars. And that’s all very odd—because even when Jesus expels demons, even they say that Jesus is the Son of God. But for men-- strangely, men do not know.

For me the question itself is odd, because when I look at other major religions and their founders—whether Buddha, Confucius, or Mohammed—they point away from themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, points to himself and makes a claim: that unlike the other teachers, He is God and the people out there aren’t just his students—they are his children. Thus, when Jesus asks the apostles this question, it is because he is orienting them outward: there are people out there who do not know Him and He wants them back.

But then Jesus makes it personal. He asks the apostles—those very same ones who are going to go out—He asks them: “what about you? Who do you say that I am? It’s so easy to be anxious about the world, but what about you, my apostles? If you don’t know who I am, you who are closest to me, then how are you going to bring back the other people?” So, Jesus makes the apostles vulnerable. “Who do you say that I am?”

This is a question about Jesus' identity. But it is also a question that is inviting the apostles to discover the source of their dignity-- and, by doing so, to discover that they have a higher dignity than they ever-before thought. We can put it this way:: if Jesus is the Christ, the King of the Universe and the God of all, then what does this make Peter and the apostles who have been brought into the King’s innermost court?

I think of the Chronicles of Narnia: Peter and Edmund and Susan and Lucy are just children, but when they meet Aslan—a Jesus-figure portrayed by a lion—they are changed. They are given gifts; they discover their talents; they become battle-tested; and, in time, they are raised to thrones and are crowned kings and queens. They are raised beyond that which they ever thought themselves capable of becoming. And, because of this, they cannot be like everyone else. Being like everyone else no longer corresponds with the new definition of their life and of their new dignity.

Thus, today’s Gospel isn’t firstly a moral exhortation—it is firstly an invitation to rediscover what defines our identity. Hence Jesus asks us: “Who do you say that I am? Who or what defines your life? Have you allowed me to raise your dignity? Do you believe that I am the one who can do that for you?”

In the moments after you were baptized, the priest anointed you with the oil of Sacred Chrism—Chrism, which shares the same Greek word as Christ or, in Hebrew, Messiah, meaning “anointed.” When you were anointed at your baptism, the priest said the following words: “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation." And then he says this next and very important line: "As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

What does this mean? It means that at your baptism, Jesus gave you a share in the kingly anointing. He elevated our dignity beyond that which the world could give. It means that we wear a crown and can walk in the dignity that being so crowned provides. Kings so crowned hold up their heads and their actions because their dignity comes from God. Kings so crowned don’t search for other things to define them (even less do they play in the muck) because kings so crowned have a higher dignity than the world can give-- or take away!

This weekend, we celebrate Louis IX, King of France and Saint of Holy Mother Church. Not only was he a king by worldly constitution, he was firstly a king so constituted by baptism—and he considered the crown he received at baptism to be of more value than the crown received by men. Because his kingly rule was defined by his Christian dignity and not by the trappings of the world, St. Louis’ reign was different than other kings. He tried to reign as Christ the King reigned.

So, like Christ the King, St. Louis was generous to the poor and a suffering servant, choosing penances over comforts so as to sanctify the souls of his people while filling their stomachs with his bread. Like Christ the King, St. Louis governed with justice and mercy, seeking to rule in accordance with the laws of God so as to uphold the dignity of the human person. And like Christ the King, St. Louis battled against the powers of darkness and evil: St. Louis would lead Crusades against barbarians that were creating havoc in the Middle East and threatening to bust through the gates of Europe. (As an aside, in our day and age with the rise of ISIS, and seeing how quickly certain worldviews can devolve into barbarianism, the “embarrassment” of the Crusades suddenly doesn’t seem so embarrassing nor so morally far-fetched anymore. Truly, if Europe and the rest of the world is to be saved from the powers of darkness, another Crusade is going to have to be waged-- and it is going to have to be fought not simply with metal swords, but with spiritual ones as well).

So, Peter, who do people say that I am?

And will you lead them, Peter? Will you manifest my kingly power and presence to the world? Will you not only be generous and merciful, but will you stand up against evil and bear the sword of the spirit, the shield of faith, the armor of justice and the breastplate of salvation?

Who do you say that I am? Am I your king? Am I the God of this city and the Lord of this nation? Am I the one that defines your life?

I ask you because your dignity is tied up with mine. Only if I am your king will you then reign as king—dignified, true, just, generous, unafraid, ... and victorious.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

To Get Out of a Boat - Homily for the 19th Sunday in OT

So there were Peter and the Twelve on a boat. Everything was against them: the wind was howling, the waves were tossing them about—literally, in the greek, their boat was being tortured. And worse, the darkness of night was beginning to fall on them. I can think of only one thing worse than being in a boat in such conditions—and that is to be overboard from the boat in such conditions.

I think this is the first thing we must consider about today’s Gospel. When it comes down to it, the problem for many of us (myself included) is not the whole walking on the water part—but the whole getting out of the boat part. It is easier, so it seems, to be in a boat being tossed around than to be out of the boat being tossed around.

And so I give Peter credit. He gets a bad wrap in today’s Gospel—we are quick to echo Jesus’ words how Peter had little faith-- but, when we think about it, Peter had enough faith to get out of the boat. I want that kind of faith: I want that strong of a faith that throws caution to the wind and takes the risk to get out of my comfort zone—a faith risky enough to go after Jesus when “going after Jesus” means doing even that which terrifies me. I want a faith humble enough too-- a humble faith that is willing to swallow my pride and turn to my Savior and cry out “Save Me!” when I’m failing miserably. Yes, even though Peter seems to have made a fool of himself, he had a greater faith than me. 

At which point, I must ask: was Peter a fool for his a leap of faith? Would we be stupid for jumping over the side with him?

You’ve probably heard of the phrase, “a leap of faith.” In our culture, a leap of faith is a stepping out into an unknown—society thinks of it as a blind leap, a kind of hopefulness that, when it comes down to it, is reckless and unreasonable. Is this what Jesus asks us to do? No. Jesus does not ask Peter—nor any of us, for that matter—to take blind leaps. Instead, Jesus gives us reasons to believe, reasons to leap—like a parent who is in the deep end of the pool, trying to get his little son to dive in. The son has every reason to trust. He won’t die. He won’t drown. His father is there to care for him. 

So too, Jesus beckons us to leap and he gives us reasons to trust him—first of which is that he himself is walking on the water and calling us out to him. “Come out of the boat… be not afraid… it is I… I am going to take care of you… you won’t drown!” Second, how many miracles has Peter seen Jesus do to prove himself? Peter has seen Jesus raise the dead, heal the sick, and—lest we forget—that very same evening, Jesus had multiplied the loaves and fishes. Isn’t Jesus trustworthy? Haven't we seen so many miracles in our lives? Hasn't Jesus proven Himself to you before? Won’t he reach out his hand to you if you fall? 

What have you to lose, except your pride? 

It is here that I realize how foolish I have been when I have stayed in my boat. I think my comfortable boat will save me from the waves of death. But it won’t. (And really, my little boat isn’t all that comfortable anyway.) I am still tossed about by the waves of the world—by its violence, by its corruption, by its desperation. I need something to bring me above these waves of change. I need something to help me to walk over the waters of death. I need something that saves me from the tempest of meaninglessness and isolation and hopelessness. Boats that are sinking aren’t very comfortable.... 

Take a moment and look at who approaches! Jesus walks on the water; walking to us in our little boats. He beckons us to come. Do not be afraid.

And I will admit: with all of the tumult of the world crashing its waves around me, I can barely hear Jesus. His voice seems like just a whisper. But He’s yelling through the air, urging me not to be afraid, willing me to place my entire trust in him-- after all, He sometimes have to yell in order to be heard over the din of the waves. Sure, all I hear is a whisper. But that is where God is. He isn’t in the wind that’s against me. He isn’t in the waves or in the earthquake or the fire—He is in the whisper.

It is a whisper that speaks to my heart. I know I must throw myself overboard. I must take the risk of love, the leap of faith. I must give myself entirely to Him. 

Can I do that now? Can I place myself and all that I am and all that I need help with in his care? I know what I shall do: when I come to communion today, I shall imagine that I am walking on water to Jesus. I will walk to Him in faith. I will get out of my boat. I will give him homage. I will let him help me. For He is my God! He is my savior! Of what should I be afraid?