Sunday, July 26, 2015

What Good is So Little for So Many? - Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

For the next five weeks, we will be reading through the Sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel. It is here that we will encounter Jesus’ clearest teaching on the Eucharist. And, just as He always does, He will back up His teaching with a miracle. In fact, He is going to back this up with two miracles (and two of His most iconic miracles at that!): His walking on water and feeding the five-thousand. That's how important His teaching on the Eucharist will be.
Jesus’ feeding of the five-thousand begins when He sees a large crowd following Him like sheep without a shepherd. He has pity on them, gathers them to Himself, and instructs them to recline on the green grass there in the fields. It is Psalm 23 all over again:

            In verdant pastures He gives me repose…
            You spread a banquet before me
            in the sight of my foes….

The banquet, at least for today, will be the supernatural and miraculous multiplying of the loaves and fishes.

But there’s a problem: where is Jesus and the Apostles going to get enough to feed such an overwhelming crowd? We know the answer—we know that Jesus is going to miraculously feed them.

But the apostles do not know that. Here is where we begin.

*          *          *

The apostles do not realize that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. They do not yet realize the totality of His power. So, when the apostles are faced with a huge crowd to feed, and the impossibility of that mission, they are immediately overwhelmed.

Lord, they say,

Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.

We’re poor after all, Jesus. We’ve given everything away to follow you. We can’t put a dent in this. So they give in to doubt, despair, almost a kind of anger. Hear Andrew, the first-called. He points out that

There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish…
            But what good are these for so many?

Do you hear the hopelessness, the scorn? Everything needs to be done, but it seems nothing can be done—or, at least, nothing that would matter.

*          *          *

We’re tempted to the same when we survey our world. The Supreme Court decision on marriage from a couple weeks ago, the news this past week that the Little Sisters of the Poor are once again being pressured by the President’s administration…. This past week, you probably heard the news of Planned Parenthood selling baby parts to the highest bidder. And, when we think that the DOJ is going to investigate Planned Parenthood, the DOJ instead turns and announces it is going to investigate the organization that broke the story. We’re not surprised, of course, given the Administrations’ obsession with abortion even at the expense of quality health care for the poor. (see * below).

This is to say nothing about our day-to-day living and our quest for growth in the spiritual life. “I need to do pray for this long and I need to do this devotion. And I need to be a great saint, so I need to do not simply x, y, and z, but I need to do all the things.” Yes, ALL THE THINGS!

Oh, we want to do everything and we feel as though we should do everything, but more often than not we become overwhelmed and hopeless and we end up doing nothing. Filled with scorn.

*          *          *

But, my little flock, your "little" is important! Do you see the young boy holding up to the Lord the basket with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish? This sacrificial offering-- the Lord can do something with that! Remember what Jesus did with the water at the wedding feast of Cana! He turned it into the choicest of wines! Yes, He can take your little and make it superabundant!

If only we would give just a little. He's not asking you to do everything. Just the little.

I mean, can you imagine what just a little bit of patience would do for you and your relationships—your marriage?

Or just a little bit of prayer? A little visit to our Lord?

Of course, we are tempted to say, “But that won’t make a difference! It won’t matter—I mean, look at how huge the problems of the world are! And have you seen my pile of laundry? My to-do list?”

Hmm. Don't you see that's the same melancholy as the apostles?

Stop that. You are thinking not as God thinks. Remember what He said about faith.

            If you had faith the size….

Of a mountain? Of some huge, vast, imposing force? What—how big does your faith have to be?

            If you had faith the size of a mustard seed.

Little. Just a small faith. Just a little bit. And you could move mountains.

And not because you are doing it—but because God is super-powerful and the Almighty and He can multiply. You have faith that when you give, gifts will be given-- just as Jesus promised-- and not just a little bit, but

a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing

You see, you might not think your “little bit” matters. But it matters to God.

So, what it all boils down to is this: Will you not abandon yourself to God’s superabundance, to His supernatural grace, His Divine Providence?

*          *          *

Consider how Jesus feeds the five-thousand. He doesn’t simply give them enough. When was “just enough” good enough for God? God doesn’t work that way. He’s always about superabundance. Superabundance of manna in the desert. A superabundance of the Holy Spirit upon the prophets. A superabundance here in the five-thousand.

I mean, for heaven’s sakes: there are left-overs! Have you ever thought why?

I mean, He could have sized up everyone on that hill there and said, “Yep, you need this and you need that, … and that'll be enough.” And there would be no left-overs. But there are. why?

Because Love is not content with the “just enough.” Go back to Psalm 23. At the banquet of the Lord, what does it say about the cup? It says,

            My cup overflows.

That’s superabundance. A superabundance which is seen most clearly in that the Father gives us His Only Son. The Father didn’t want to just give us “enough” to get us into heaven. In His superabundant love for us, He gave us superabundantly, not even holding back His Son.

And we can’t do a little?

You see, this gets at the heart of “the little.” When we are invited to do the little, we are faced with two realities:
1)      That I am not God and that it is His powerful grace that is the source of all transformation; and
2)      In the humility of that “littleness” is the real struggle for love.

To do the little things with great love—that is where we show our true love for God. You who are married know this: you can show each other love by grandiose plans executed to perfection—and that’s great—but, when it all comes down to the day-to-day struggle of love, your simple look of affection, your little smile, your little kindness… this "little" is more precious than gold. And there is a struggle there. To trust the power of this little. To trust the power of God in that. But we must trust this, else we will simply make grandiose plans never finished, overwhelmed at how much we need to love and don't. Wanting to do ALL THE THINGS, but doing none.

*          *          *

So consider the Eucharist. Every day, Jesus is little, giving Himself… day after day after day. And something like 60% of Catholics doesn’t think this matters. Not only do the surveys show this, but just the way we receive. They come on the BIG DAYS, but where are they on the little? For us too, do we really believe—really believe—that this little host and this little sip from the chalice will really, really make a big difference?

It’s the little boy offering His little bit—and would you scorn it like the apostles once did?

Consider what we say in the Our Father. We say

            Give us this day our daily bread.

Those are Jesus’ words. And that word “daily” is deeper than meaning simply “every day.” In the Greek it is ἐπιούσιον (ep-ee-oos-ee-on), which is not only translated into the Latin as cotidianum (daily), but also as supersubstantialem—super-substantial. (This is the only time in Scripture that this word is used).

Let me translate. It is as though the bread cannot contain what is within it, as though something is brimming over from it, an exploding cornucopia of some Thing burgeoning forth, as though the substance of bread cannot itself hold what it is to hold. A substance above and beyond what we know substance to be. Such that the substance of the bread is changed into the super-substance of something-- some One-- even greater.

In this little host and in this little chalice is the Very One who is Superabundance, Jesus Christ.

The gospel, therefore, of the miracle of the super-substantial multiplication of the bread and fish is to point us to the reality of the super-substantial daily bread which we call the Eucharist. Both of which He "took... gave thanks... blessed... and gave them to His disciples."

And that might not mean much, but for the crowds that day it meant everything.

The crowds—representing The World and its longing for fulfillment and Truth—after they have been filled, begin to worship this Jesus.

they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king.

Their hearts were on fire. They believed. Or at least, to some degree.

They thought that this Jesus was the Messiah who was going to bring them material wealth and comfort here on earth. But this is not why He has come; this is not the essence of His Kingship. This will only be seen later when, after He gives us His Body and Blood at the Last Supper, He then gives what little He has left, giving on the Cross His last. Words are inscribed above His head

            Behold, the King of the Jews.

That you who are little might see how much He loves you and how much your little means to Him!

Let us give to Him our little now. Abandon ourselves into His loving care. Come, and receive His Body and Blood, the banquet of our King, this superabundant Bread of Life!

* In 2011, Indiana attempted to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding. Other states quickly followed suit but the Obama administration made clear that those states would simply not receive federal funding for Medicaid. Think about that for a second. The Obama administration would sooner refuse funding for poor people's healthcare than not give money to Planned Parenthood. From here. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Gut-Check for Shepherds - Homily for the 16th Sunday in OT

This morning is a gut-check for us shepherds.

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture....

Woe. That’s condemning. It means that I who am a shepherd—pastor in Latin—if I do not lead and unify the flock of Jesus Christ given to me, I am going to hell. It means that if I don’t preach the Truth up here, if I don’t then go and live out what I preach as well—if I simply live comfortably and do whatever I want—then I’m in trouble.

So please pray for me. Please pray for all of us shepherds!

*          *          *

Most of you know that I love soccer. Growing up, I played for St. Catherine CYC and for Kolping. And I remember my coach from St. Catherine: Mr. McNutt (… I can’t remember his first name!). Mr. McNutt.  When I was in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, he was my coach. And I remember his kindness. During practice, he would encourage us and spur us on, he was deliberate and reasonable, and after practice he always had a cooler full of soda and Snickers bars that I am certain were frozen the night before. He was generous. He is only one of about two people who I would ever allow to call me “Tony.” (I’m not Italian, I’m German after all)

Little did he know that he was shepherding a future shepherd of the Church. Teaching me about kindness and generosity and calculation and encouragement. I will admit, it was a stark contrast to my dad in the stands. Dad liked to yell—he was good at soccer and a fan—but dad did not know about praise. I recall rides home from games when I was told everything I did wrong, even when we won. I remember one game in particular when I had busted my butt so hard that I actually came off the field, hyperventilating. Dad was yelling from the stands. Mr. McNutt came over to me and said, “Good shift, Tony.” I’ll never forget that. It meant everything.

*          *          *

Often, we don’t realize when we are being shepherds and how important it is to be kind. How many priests—and let’s be honest—how many have been a source of bad example, scandal, and unkindness. We probably know many. And that hurts us. It scatters the flock. We need to pray for them. Again, pray for me!

But it isn’t just about priests. It’s also parents. Yes, you are shepherds too! When you were baptized, you received a share in Jesus’ priesthood. And when you were married, your home became the Domestic Church, a mini-monastery, a small parish. Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony, they go together! They are complementary and mutually illuminating: they are both called Sacraments at the Service of Communion. Communion of what? The flock! The Church!

Did you know that you have parishioners? They are your children! And some of them might be future priests! In your care!

Now, I don’t get a day off. I’m not talking about from work—I mean, I can’t have a bad day. How many people go to confession and they are just waiting for one bad word, one impatient sigh, one speck of imperfection from the priest and they are gone. I can’t have a bad day. I look at my homily and I think, “If I don’t do this right, I might be the last priest that person hears.”

But do we think of our parenting in terms of that kind of priesthood, that kind of shepherding? Where our words can have deep effects upon our children? How many children see our lip-service and our worship here, but then also see our hypocrisy as we discipline with wrath or live with immorality?

We are scandalized by priests who are hypocritical—perhaps we should hold ourselves to that same standard. Integrity. Charity. Kindness.

*          *          *

But it’s not enough simply to be kind. Have you ever seen a kindergarten soccer game? Throw the soccer ball on the field and all the kids run into one big group. (Except for the goalies.... because they're dumb....) J Besides the goalie, there are no positions in kindergarten soccer. It’s just chaos. So, they have to learn. They have to learn that there are positions and rules and things like out-of-bounds.  That’s why, after Jesus took His future shepherds aside, it says

He began to teach them many things.

This is a mark of a good shepherd.

Mr. McNutt wasn’t just kind, he also taught. We learned positions. When to attack, when to defend. We learned to play as a team and to become virtuous in our skill-sets. Don’t kid yourself: the coaching could be challenging. But by 8th grade, we went 12-0. We weren’t kindergartners.

So too in life. Priests and parents both need to instruct the flock under their care—parishioners and children both—that we have a goal, we have strategy, and virtue and that we need to develop these and grow and stop being like kindergartners that just simply run, chaotically, without any knowledge of rules. Because, in life, there are rules and there are things that are really out-of-bounds!

Woe to those priests and parents who have not taught their children! Not taught them to pray “just because” or to go to confession beyond Advent and Lent and “on their own.” How many have simply given the shepherding over to the school—or to no one in particular, like the TV!

Praise-- much praise to you who are teaching! And taking the time out and placing this first. You are our heroes!

As a priest, I must teach. I’m not up here to entertain you. I’m here to help you to achieve life’s goal: your salvation. And so I need to tell you what the rules are and how to play and how we’re going to work as a team and so on.

So parents: life isn’t about chasing after that “soccerball”—whatever that soccerball is: lots of money, a great job, straight-A’s, and so on. No, we are supposed to be getting our kids to heaven and if we are putting grades, sports, careerism, and narcissism ahead of God, then we are simply letting our kids grow up to be adult kindergartners who know nothing and gather in herds that don’t know what’s “out of bouds.” They will be like sheep without a shepherd!

Isn’t that the case in today’s world? The cacophony of this world (there’s the twenty-five-cent Word of the Day!), the chaos, isn’t that a direct result of priests and parents (and professors) surrendering their role as shepherds?

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,

for they were like sheep without a shepherd

*          *          *

Instead of the cacophony, we need the harmony of the integrity of the faith lived in charity. On the cover of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is a shepherd with pan pipes—four of them—that harmoniously lead the sheep to fresh waters and green pastures, a foretaste of heaven. The four pipes stand for fidelity to the teaching of the Church, the sacramental life, a moral life in Christ, and a life of prayer. We need to teach and model all of these!

Can you imagine a priest not praying for his parish? Or a priest offering the sacraments willy-nilly?

But a recent survey of Catholics discovered that less than 1 in 5 Catholic families pray together! We’re just talking praying together! We’re not talking about going to Mass every single Sunday or going to confession outside of Advent and Lent—we’re talking about something as fundamental as praying.

Can you imagine a parish or a monastery that doesn’t pray?—you who are the domestic church!

*          *          *

We need to rediscover what it is to be shepherds again. And not only the pan-pipes, but also the staff—the crosier.

The shepherd would use the staff to beat back the wolves. The shepherd would not run from danger, but would protect his flock from danger. Priests and parents both—we need to stand up to the evil in this world and learn to use our staff again! Stand up and drive the devil from our parishes, our homes, our domestic churches!

And we do this “in front.” We stand in front of the sheep, not cowardly behind. We lead. Which means that we need to know The Way.

And that’s Jesus Christ: He who is “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” If we do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that seeks union with Him—a union of our wills with His Will, a union in body and blood, a union in grace, a union in morality, a union in a life of prayer—if we do not “Come away… and rest a while” with Him and sit at His feet and learn what it is to be a shepherd…. then we will not only be too weak to protect the flock, but we will also lead the flock astray! And woe to us!

Do not lead your children into danger by teaching them to seek their every appetite or to sacrifice their life for fleeting goods. What does it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul? But we would lose it over straight-A’s or by “being successful.”

*          *          *

So, I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. If we're going to get to heaven, we have to have a game plan.

So, first, who is my Shepherd? Really. Who am I listening to? Who am I following every day? The radio talk-shows, the latest-breaking update on your favorite news-channel, the stars of God-knows-what television show we are watching? Do you know what your favorite singer/songwriter is actually saying? What are you listening to each day? Who are you following?

Is the Lord really your shepherd? The one who walks you through the valley of the shadow of death and, because he’s leading, you are not afraid—you don’t even have a want. Or, are you full of jealousy and envy and fear …and wants?

Who is your shepherd?

Second, who is following you? People are following what you do—no matter how un-important you might think yourself to be. You are shepherding people. You have something more than Twitter followers. Your children are watching. Your co-workers. Your spouse. Me. We are all affected. Someone is waiting for you to step-up and lead. And who knows the impact that this will have when you do!

I never could have imagined in my life that when I started to follow Jesus, that I would become a shepherd of the largest parish in the State of Missouri. Who knows who we will be called to lead! I could have never imagined this.

And this brings a very powerful truth home: none of us goes to heaven or hell alone. You always bring someone with you.

I hope you hear, then, the great love that I have for all of you. I want you to go to heaven. I want to go to heaven too. I want you to have good things to tell Jesus when He asks you—and all of us—where His flock is. He is going to ask us what we did to bring our children to Him.

I hope all of us will be able to say with clear conscience and full hearts: “Lord, I laid down my life for my sheep. I went to the Cross for them.” For this is what Jesus does for us. He is our shepherd. He is my shepherd. I hope to follow Him to heaven!

If you haven't done well at this-- none of us have, really-- then come to confession. And if you think it is too late, that your children are grown up and far gone and that it is too late for them and for you-- know that it is never too late! Come to confession, make reparation, pray, and invite-- not nag-- but invite your family to rediscover the Love that is setting your heart on fire today. So long as we have breath, it is never too late!

Let us pray for one another! Pray us priests! Pray for mothers and fathers! And for the youth, I pray for you, too, because you have friends who are following you too! Let us ask God to give us the grace to be good shepherds to lead all in our care to heaven! Amen!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

You Are Not Alone - Homily for the 15th Sunday in OT

When I entered the seminary, people would often ask me, “Aren’t you going to be lonely?” No wife or kids, a parish out in the country—won’t you be lonely? Little did they know that my schedule would be occupied by invitations to parishioners’ homes and to huge parties in my backyard (St. Joe’s picnic, this afternoon!). Even when I come home, there is someone to talk to: Father Chrismer and I can talk about our days and about whether Radiohead is better than Coldplay.

I see why Jesus sent the apostles out two-by-two. They would need each other—need each other for support and encouragement. And having two go out together would also mean a greater diversity of spiritual gifts. Perhaps one apostle was good at intercessory prayer while another was good at teaching. There could be a complementariness there that would make them stronger and better off than if they were simply lone rangers.

And it makes sense that our Lord would send out more than one. After all, God is love, so we would expect His heralds to be not only mouthpieces to speak about love, but to actually manifest it. Going two-by-two would become a visible witness to relationship: they would be in communion with each other and with the God who sent them. And this would add credibility to their proclamation.

Marriage exists in this dynamic, too. The husband and wife are joined together in divine love on their wedding day and they are sent out—as one, as a communion—not so that they can build an island, but so that they could forge a new community, a community that would have the power to drive out even the demons! The mission given in marriage would require the totality of their complementarity of gifts and their mutual support and encouragement. Like the apostles, every marriage has the potential and indeed the mission to announce the love of God to the world.

The crux is this: just because we are with people doesn’t keep us from being lonely.

Right now in the pews next to you—and maybe sitting next to you, sharing your same last name—there is sitting someone who feels alone. And there could be many reasons: maybe they don’t feel that communion with you or with others or with God; maybe there is pain there; maybe they are having a difficulty believing something about the faith; maybe they are actually alone, living in a word of day-in and day-out where no one really knows anyone beyond what is posted on the bumper-sticker in the car in front or on Facebook when you get home.

I think in particular of so many young adults of this parish who are want to be united in community and especially with people their own age, united in faith and in a common cause and in joy. But where are these young adults? Some of them are here; others are not. Many of them with whom I speak are trying to make sense of their post-college years, trying to figure things out on their own. And because they are seeking to figure things out on their own, they have their own island-lives. Perhaps we can do something about this. Perhaps if we could start going in search for them and start to build a community for them—for there is a wisdom that you can give to them. (And just because you have gray hair doesn’t mean that you can’t speak to a person with brown hair! Indeed, precisely because you are older means that you have the responsibility to initiate the relationship! You know better than they!)

People need to know that they are not alone. I mean, so many people think they are alone in their pain or alone in their fears or struggles with the faith. I mean, do you really believe you are the only one who is going to work and must struggle with people talking about various hot-topics that are contrary to the Church? We’re all struggling with that!

And not only in these, but even in our alone-ness, we are never alone. Do you remember Jesus’ final words? His final words as He was physically walking the face of the earth came at His Ascension. He said, “I am with you always.”

Now, He is going up into heaven at this point. The apostles could be looking up saying, “Wait, where are you going? Don’t leave us…. alone! We can’t do it on our own!”

You see, Jesus knows that we fear being alone. And so He promises that He is with us. Indeed, when He sends us out in community, in two-by-two, it would be a reminder that we are never alone.

This is also why Jesus tells them to go out without an extra tunic, without a walking staff, without a sack, and without money. What do I mean?

Well, imagine the two apostles going out from here. They may get along. But perhaps they don’t. Perhaps Peter and Thomas get on each others’ nerves—as we all tend to do, especially on road-trips. And so maybe they aren’t best-buddies. And now they are going out without any extra clothes, without any money, without any place to sleep. They have become totally dependent not only on each other, but on God.

Now, they don’t have to be dependent on God. They could go and take a walking stick and tell Jesus He is crazy and carry with them some money. It would make sense. But Jesus is making them profoundly vulnerable. And this vulnerability comes out not only when they are walking with nothing but the Gospel and each other, but in that moment before bed when Peter is by himself and Thomas is by himself and they quietly confide to God all that they do have: namely, their hearts.

“Lord, I am afraid.”

“God, please help me. I can’t do this on my own.”

“Father, why you have abandoned me?”

“Jesus, I feel so alone….”

As they confide their thoughts, feelings, and desires to God, they will start to see that they are not alone. And not only that, but that God is going to provide for them. And not just “enough,” but super-abundantly. Remember the loaves and fishes: Jesus didn’t simply make “just enough,” He made enough for left-overs; His grace was super-abundant. The apostles, in that moment of alone-ness, would face the moment of decision: where am I going to go when I am feeling alone and restless? They don't have anything else-- and that not-having has opened up the opportunity for them: to choose God ... or nothing. That's what it all comes down to.

Yes, there is fear there. Every person fears being alone. It’s why, when we climb into the car, the first thing we do (besides starting the car) is turning on the radio. It’s why we busy our lives and work so much. It’s why we turn on the TV or fly to the internet when we are home alone, telling people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and whoever will listen what our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and desires are. We do anything but lean into that loneliness—because we don’t want to feel what is there in that moment: that in that moment we are faced with the question of whether or not we are known and loved. And every person has deep within them the desire to be known and loved. And maybe we aren’t known and loved, we think. Maybe I am... alone. Loneliness is the symptom wherein we have begun to believe that we are not loved, that we are not known, that no one cares to be with us.

To which Jesus says again, “I am with you.”

I know all the hairs on your head.
I am closer to you than you are to yourself.

I love you more than you love yourself.

Do you not believe me?

When we busy ourselves, we are saying to Jesus: No, I do not believe you. I don’t believe that I am loved or lovable or that you care to know me. I mean, Jesus, where were you when I was hurting? Where were you when the world was crumbling down around me? Where were you…?

This is actually the reverse of God’s question to Adam and Eve in the Garden. God asked them: “Where are you?”

He is the Good Shepherd, remember? He is searching for us—more than we search for Him.

Yes, we have to let Him in. He is the one knocking on our door of our hearts. We have to put away the walking stick, the extra tunic, the money bag—all the stuff that we busy ourselves with… and let Him in and talk with God. Because you are not alone. You’ve never been alone.

*          *          *   

I have two practical thoughts.

First, at the end of every day, make an act of faith—“Jesus, I believe that you were here with me today”—and then ask Him to show you where He was. And say it to Him, because He is with you right now.

Along those lines, I encourage you—if you have had a painful moment in your life when you felt so alone, I want you to bring that to Jesus. Look at that moment in your life and see yourself there and ask Jesus to show you where He was. I recall one moment in my childhood when I was very, very anxious, pacing the dark hallway of my home and then just sitting there, wondering. My world was crumbling down around me and I felt so alone. As I look back on that moment with an adult faith, I present it to Jesus: “Jesus, show me what you were doing in that moment.” And I see Him there, holding me, and Mary, my mother, placing her mantle around me, and my guardian angel, filling the hallway with light, and the saints praying for me. I was not alone.

What do you need to bring to Him?

The next practical bit of advice I would have is this: remember that you are always walking in the presence of God. St. Francis de Sales would start all of his prayers by saying, “Let us remember that we are in the presence of God.” Wouldn’t this be wonderful? Whenever you start a new task at your job or in your home, remind yourself that Jesus is there with you—and speak to Him, tell Him what you need, what you are afraid of, or simply tell Him that you love Him. Does He not have a heart that has felt loneliness before?

Here, I remember the picnic last night. All of the people at the bar, many having more beer than they know they should, filling their lonely hearts… Wouldn’t things be different if they know that Mary was with them? And their guardian angels! And Jesus in each one of them.

I told those who went to confession yesterday to offer a couple Hail Mary’s for all who would be at the bar last night—that our Blessed Mother and our guardian angels would tap on the shoulder anyone who needed to stop drinking. To remind them that they are not alone.

[To be fair-- and my apologies for not having mentioned this in the homily-- I am truly grateful to Dave and Dee I. for their outstanding job in this regard. They and the staff there had the most responsible and respectable tent at any parish I've been at]

Here, then, you are sent. To go into the lonely world and to announce that Jesus is with us! Emmanuel! That you are not alone. You never have been. Jesus has always been with you.

Want to go deeper? Check out this amazing post on the topic.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Weakness of Love in a World of Hate - Homily for the 14th Sunday in OT

Many of you with kids know how difficult it is to constantly teach them and to form them. The same lessons, over and over, and you’re busy or you’re tired. The kid is reaching into the cookie jar and you could say something, but you think: will it really matter? (it’s their sixth cookie after all).

Priests are fathers and we’re tempted with the weariness too. I felt it last week when our culture was conversing about the Supreme Court decision (and with varying degrees of civility). Would another word from me really matter—especially since this conversation has been deteriorating for the past half-century? And could I give a word with charity?

That was a big question for me. I was tempted to just simply react. But, if there is something I’ve learned in my years as a priest, it’s this: we can’t beat the devil by using the devil’s weapons.

The devil employs anger, snarkiness, ugliness, oppression, hate, and mob-mentality ruled by emotionalism.

In contrast, Paul says,

power is made perfect in weakness….
[Therefore] I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. 
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Content with weaknesses and insults and hardships? I was hardly content! And that’s because I was not thinking as God thinks. God does not work as we work. The weakness of God is stronger than human strength, His foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (1 Cor 1:25). Exhibit A: the Cross.

I knew that I would need time to reflect, pray, think, get some exercise, seek wisdom and counsel—and only then open my mouth.

And so, having done that, this is what I would say to all who would hear:

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My children, God made you male and female and has called you very good. Gender is good and it is important. There is a diversity of gifts there and a complementarily, the depths of which need to be prayed about and reflected upon—and not glossed over as an embarrassment of historical inequalities—for one gender without the other leaves them both deficient. As our heavenly Father says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Indeed, man’s masculinity needs the complimentary of woman’s femininity; and the woman’s femininity equally needs the man’s masculinity.

God’s plan for the man and woman receives a deepened meaning when He invites the two to become one through the gift of Holy Marriage. The gift of Holy Marriage is His gift to you and not just simply our ratification of our earthly love. It is His gift, a share in His innermost secret: that is, that God is a communion of persons united in His very nature and therefore called Family. Holy Marriage, as instituted by God in His plan of love, was meant to lead men and women to a divine participation in His innermost family life—which would include not only children, but also the angels and saints.

Marriage, therefore, was not meant to be an end to itself, but a means to that end. As a result, in heaven, there is no more giving nor receiving in marriage because marriage has served its purpose: to bring us into communion with God. Oftentimes, we have that upside-down—I’ve fallen in love before and I know that it is so easy to make another person our be-all, end-all. But marriage isn’t the be-all, end-all as our society presents it to us. Marriage is the means to the end. Jesus Himself calls to us as the Bridegroom of our hearts.

The problem arises when we seek to put our own designs of marriage separate from the intellect and heart of God. At that time, love is wounded, injustice ensues, and eternal life with God is put in jeopardy.

For example, some say that “what others do is their own business.” Love, however, says something different. Love says that we are our brother’s keeper. We are a community of love and so we are one body. And where one member suffers, the whole body suffers. In much the same way, if we do an act that is unjust, the culture feels it. Without love, we would over-look the suffering of members of the community. Thus, to the extent that people say this is a private matter, there is not love.

Case in point: in the debate concerning the Supreme Court decision, there have been several groups of people who have been overlooked. Two come to mind: women and children.

In the case of the union of two men, injustice is done to their children. How so? Children have a right to a mother and to the genius of her femininity. A house of boys needs to know the dignity of the woman.

The injustice has been done to the woman because the woman’s gift of femininity is said to be meaningless and therefore worthless. Is that really the message we want to send to girls: that being a woman doesn’t matter? That was the message sent by our Courts. And if gender doesn’t matter in marriage, then where does it really matter? And if gender doesn’t matter, then neither does being a Mother and being a Father.

Many have responded to such line of thinking by saying that divorce is also unjust to children. And we agree. The Catholic Church vehemently opposes divorce and has been doing everything in her power to renew and restore those families that are struggling. This is why the Church also speaks out against adultery, pornography, lust, prostitution, domestic violence, emotional abuse, alcoholism, fraud, drugs and every kind of sin that undermines the high dignity of marriage.

That being said, I do not condemn anyone who supports homosexuality. Truth be told: holy marriage became suspect many years ago. Not only because of divorce and adultery and porn and whatnot, but also because marriage was separated from having children. Let’s be very, very honest: in practice today, there is little difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. Yes, there are obvious differences. But, really, in today’s culture, both embrace cohabitation without the sacrament of Marriage; very few pray (only 1 in 5 Catholic families pray together); recreational sex is for its own selfish gain and very rarely is it open to kids; and the commitment to the relationship exists up until the point when such commitment becomes too painful to continue. So, I do not fault people who support homosexuality—heterosexual people have already been living like that for years.

As a father, I know that these words may convict some of you. Our Father is merciful and he wants you to come home. Come to confession if you are or have been doing these things. Let’s be renewed by Jesus’ love!

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There was a time when I could have intense debates with people with whom I disagreed and the dialogue was marked by a respectful decorum. At the end of those conversations, all would return home as friends and probably more learned. But in our culture, such decorum has come to an end. And it came to an end by the hashtag: “Love wins.”

This implies that something lost. And what lost? Hate.

Now, I want hate to lose too. But what has been labeled as hate is that which I have said to you today. This homily, because I have supported marriage so defined, is now seen as equivalent to the hatred and ignorance that fuels racism and which once motivated slavery.

And when we say “love wins” it also implies that the game, the dialogue, is over. After all, we only declare winners and losers when the game is over.

In effect, we have been told to be quiet. That this is experienced at the national level is troubling to me, because democracy requires the free expression of ideas—even those with which we disagree. To silence such dialogue not only affects our country, but our friendships and our families.

I have had many conversations end with someone giving a dismissive “well, you can’t tell me what to do.” And they are right. They are adults. I can’t tell them what to do. But such retorts are what step-children do when their step-father tells them to take out the trash: “You’re not my dad. You can’t tell me what to do.”

I will admit: the Catholic Church may come off sounding like that when we tell the Courts that we aren't going to follow them. We are vindicated in our speech by our Father who is Love.

My deeper concern is about my children who do not listen to their priestly fathers. Or to their mother, the Church. Or to God the Father.

And if God isn’t their dad, then who is? There is only one other father: the father of lies.
I will admit: as a priest and father, I am hurt by the brokenness of the world. I am hurt by it because I do love. I love my children who are here and who are away. I go in search for those who are lost. And if the world should call this hate, then I long not be a part of this world.

Yes, these are difficult times. But I am reminded that the Cross is a Cross—not a couch. Catholics are no longer going to be able to be both Catholic and comfortable. Many of us will be faced with difficult decisions—if we haven’t been already. Some of these will involve business, to which our Lord says,

It profits a man nothing if he gains the whole world but loses his soul.

Some of the difficult decision will involve friends and even family. We love them, but they are not the be-all, end-all. Christ first. Hear Him when He asks:

Do you love me more than these?

And then, to those who have found these words too difficult to bear: He says

            And you, will you leave me as well?

To which I respond:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Let us pray for each other in our weaknesses, that God may strengthen us by His Love!