Sunday, January 31, 2016

Love Is... - Homily for the 4th Sunday in OT

This morning, we hear St. Paul’s famous treatise on love. They are iconic words: “Love is patient, love is kind…” And they reach a summit when Paul says: “love never fails.”

But is this our experience today? Among many of the young—and yes, even among some of the old—there is a growing cynicism and skepticism here. I mean, is love really forever?

*          *          *

Pope St. John Paul II wrote extensively and beautifully on the nature of love. In one of his works (Love and Responsibility), he points out that human beings have the capacity to see in another person a “Somebody” with a heart and mind and desires to be known and loved—just as we do. We also have the capacity to know that all of us have something Eternal and of immense value in us such that “before [God] formed you in the womb, [He] knew you.” We have eternal souls; we are made in the image and likeness of God.

Love, if it is truly love, will go to great lengths to see this and to uphold these divine and eternal realities in ourselves and in the Other.

So, for example, a person who loves another will never treat that other person as a mere object; no, a person who loves will always see that other as a Someone of great value: with an eternal soul and having the divine image and a heart that is made for love.

Pope St. John Paul II, therefore, notes that the opposite of love is not anger—as odd as that sounds (for anger may be revealing that a love has been hurt. At which point, love may still be there! It is possible to love a person and be angry at them at the same time).

The opposite of love is not anger, it is use. Let me repeat that: the opposite of love is use: to turn a person into an object for my own gratification and satisfactions, to forget that they are a Somebody eternal, beautiful, and loved.

To use a person forgets their dignity and undermines our own!

In sum, it is impossible to uphold a person’s dignity and to empty it at the same time; it is impossible to love a person and to use at the same time.

*          *          *

If we understand this, we can extrapolate why the Church teaches many of the things She does concerning many of the hot-button topics of our day. I could list many here, but for our purposes it is enough to say that there is disagreement out there about what the Church teaches—and, often, the disagreement is lobbed at us (usually by appeal to the Golden Rule) with the accusation that our teachings are not very loving.

The world’s arguments seem convincing, since we live in a post-Christian, relativistic culture, where the word love has been hijacked to mean whatever we want it to mean. The Corinthians were doing the same during Paul’s day and age. And it’s why Paul writes to them about the nature of love.

So this is the crux of the matter: what is the nature of love?

Love, it would seem, is defined by the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But what if you don’t mind being used? Surely, we cannot say that love could exist in a world where everyone is using everyone else, rationalizing it by appeal to the Golden Rule!

The Golden rule is not the definition of love; rather, it presumes it. And so Jesus comes forward and provides the definition. He says:

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

It is not enough to treat others as you want to be treated; we must treat others as Jesus loves us!

So, to get at the nature of love, we must see how Love Himself, Jesus, has loved us:

When we nailed him to the Cross, “love *pointing to Jesus on the Cross* Love did not brood over injury.” When we dismissed Him and He had every right to get angry at us, “Love *Jesus on the Cross* was not quick-tempered.” When we sought our own interests and were inflated, pompous, and rude, Love was “patient” and “kind.” He bore all things (including the Cross under which He fell three times), believing and hoping all things (including our conversion), and enduring all things (even the loss of all of His friends who abandoned Him).

That’s how he loves us. That’s love defined. Because Jesus is love—He is its definition. He is the “love that never fails.”

*          *          *

Paul translates this into our lives when he says, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child…”—I was selfish, I used people, I was inflated, I was rude and pompous. I thought I knew better than the Church and I brooded over injury and I sought only my own interests, going so far as to cast Jesus headlong over the hill in the name of what I thought was love.

That’s how perverse Paul’s understanding of love was. That’s how irrational the people in the Gospel were today: they would cast Jesus who is Love over the brow of the hill and in the name of love!

Did Jesus condemn Paul? No. He loved him. Jesus came to Paul and asked him why. Jesus mercifully invited Paul to examine his life. And so Paul would write, in time, “when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” When I started to love as Christ loved, I started to see that love carried with it responsibility.

It was not enough to promise love and to treat another as something to use and cast away. It was not enough to express vows and then to seek my own interests. It was not love to do things contrary to love, to Jesus and His Church. Love, after all, does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the Truth!

This is the truth about love: Love is a Person, Jesus Christ. And for us to love-- and to love in the Truth of love-- means to become another Christ. Only then will our love "bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things." Only then will our love never fail! For Jesus Christ, who is Love, never fails!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Glory of One Body - Homily for the 3rd Sunday in OT

We hear in the second reading a discourse about the body and its many parts. Paul is writing to the Corinthians. And he is not writing simply about the human body, but the Church. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. And we who are baptized are baptized into this Mystical Body. Each of us, then, are parts of this body—just like a hand and a foot—and just like a hand and a foot, each of us is needed! We are important to the functioning of this body, the Church.

We know this in our Sunday Mass here. So often at Mass, we are concerned about our prayers, and what we need, individually—but, the reality is, right now, each one of us is doing something for others around us: our presence here is strengthening the faith of those around us. If you have been at a parish where it is empty, you know that it can be difficult to keep faith. Therefore, we have effects on people whether we intend to or not and whether we know it or not. Right now, you are having an effect on people just by being here. You are strengthening the faith of others around you, showing that this faith is worth spending our time on.

If I were to lose my eye, I could still function, of course. But, I would function deficiently—I would be missing something and the body would be affected. We feel, therefore, the absence of those who are not here, those who have fallen away—the body is affected.

Thus, when we attend Mass, it isn’t just for me to get something out of Mass, but I am also choosing to give something to others: by our being here, I can strengthen another’s faith.

*          *          *

That all said, we can summarize the second reading: as a body, the Church, we are all connected.

When we do good, all the members of the body benefit. When we do bad, all of us are affected by it.

Have you ever stubbed your toe or shin on a coffee table? Or had the invigorating experience of stepping on a Lego in bare feet? It hurts! Now, it’s not your hand or your head that hurts, but it’s your foot. But yet the entire body goes Ow! We know, then, that one member is in sin or suffering, that we cannot excuse ourselves from the member that is hurting—we have a responsibility to help that person: we should see it as our duty as one body to not only have empathy, but also to assist—like blood to a wound, grace to the body to help them.

When we do good too the whole body—the Church, the community—is affected.

I know this personally through one of my friends from grad school. She was very inspiring and prayerful and one day she let us know that she was going to enter the Nashville Dominicans. She gave her life entirely to Christ. Me and my friends were inspired by this—and it got me to think: how am I giving myself to God?

My friends also began to think. One of them became a priest, another became a sister, couples were married—it was like dominoes. My friend’s yes resulted in a wave of goodness and holiness that has changed my life and others. And to think: she has no idea that I’m talking about her right now—that her yes may just be affecting you: you who she has never met!

Do we ever really realize the effects that our good decisions make in people’s lives? Of how far-reaching our decisions really go?

*          *          *

But let us be honest: not all of us choose the good. We sometimes choose the bad. And we don’t realize how far those bad effects go.

This year, a year of “favor of the Lord” is the Year of Mercy. A year where, if we realize that we have fallen away from the Body, the Church, and are in need of healing because of sin—that we can be healed. This healing comes through Confession.

And, taking what we have just said, our healing there in the confessional doesn’t just affect us—but it helps bring healing to the whole Body!

We do need healing. A few weeks ago, I hurt my ribs pretty badly (I slipped on some ice). The doctor at the urgent care said it would be wise for me to avoid playing sports for a couple of months. Being hurt doesn’t feel good—I need healing.

And yet, I also know—as those of you who are more “seasoned” know—that our injuries from our youth have effects in our body in older age. My ankles, so often turned and hurt in soccer, although healed, will never be quite the same.

In the confessional, Our Lord heals us. He refashions us back to the Body and heals our spiritual wounds. But… there is some reality that things aren’t going to be the same again. The Body still feels the effects of our sins. While I am forgiven, the effects of my bad decisions continue.

This causes us to lament. And yes, it should—that the body will not be the same until glorified.

However, in this Year of Mercy, we are invited not only to be healed, but also our Lord wants to bestow His glory and His grace to help us with the effects of our sins.

You see, in justice, we owe God for the effects of our sins. So, while we are forgiven, we still have to repay God for the effects of our sins. This we owe Him in justice.

*          *          *

But how do we pay Him back for the effects of our sins?

This is where we do penance. We make reparation for our sins—this is what penance is. Through works of Mercy; through prayer; through uniting our sufferings to Jesus and offering them to the Father in love, just as Jesus did in love. Love, after all, covers a multitude of sins.

If during our life here on earth we do not pay God back what we owe Him in justice, we will pay Him back in purgatory, where we will “pay back the last penny” (Lk 12:59).

There is one more way: God gives us a special grace, a special gift of indulgence. This is a special gift of His mercy. What is this “indulgence”?

When Jesus suffered—and also, the saints who have gone before us united to Him—our Father receives those good works of love and treasures them in His heart. This treasure of love is an ocean of mercy whose depth is greater than the weight of all of man’s sins.

All of us can come to the Father, therefore, and request to receive from this treasury of grace so as to pay for what we owe God in justice. This is part of Jesus’ bestowing of The Keys of heaven to Peter when Jesus said, “Whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18; cf Lk 10:34ff). The Church, therefore, is given the keys by which this treasury is opened and God’s mercy is bestowed.

A special gift of this mercy is called a partial or plenary indulgence.

(You may think: didn’t we get rid of these in the 1500s? Actually, no. The problem in the 1500s was “simony”—that is, the selling of indulgences, as though one could buy heaven. We don’t believe you can buy heaven—but we do believe that you can ask for it. And God, in His loving and generous plan of mercy, makes the means available for us to receive heaven! He only wants us to ask).

*          *          *

Ok, so a plenary indulgence. A plenary indulgence is where ALL of what we owe God in justice is paid and wiped away.

In this Year of Mercy, there are many ways that you can receive a Plenary Indulgence. They are:

Ø  Making a pious visit to a place of pilgrimage (even if that place is local: for example, the Carmelite Monastery on Clayton Road; or one of the Basilicas in St. Louis);
Ø  Visiting a homebound/imprisoned person as though they were Jesus;
Ø  Fasting for a day/abstaining for meat and giving the sum of money for that food to the poor;

This may be scandalous to us—that what we owe God could be so easily paid. But this shows how much God loves us—and also the value of the treasures that are available to us! Jesus and the saints have suffered for you to win these graces.

And to think: not only can we receive these graces, but we can also "store up treasures in heaven" (Mt 6:20) for those who will come after us. Yes, your sufferings now may just be winning grace for those who will come after you-- and possibly centuries after you-- and so bring them to heaven!

Again: do we ever really know how far-reaching are the good effects of our good decisions?

Jesus Himself is the head of the body who is already in heaven—He is drawing us there!

And even when there isn’t a Year of Mercy, many plenary indulgences are available. For example:

Ø  Eucharistic Adoration for at least half an hour;
Ø  Praying the Rosary in the parish church or with the family at home;
Ø  Reading Sacred Scripture for at least half an hour

All of these carry a plenary indulgence with them!

You see, Our Father doesn’t just want to heal the body—He wants to glorify it! He wants to make it new!

And not just for the Body here on earth, but the Body in purgatory—for those that died still owing God.

You see, we can receive a plenary indulgence and ask God to use it not for us, but for our family and friends who have died. Or for a soul in purgatory that desperately needs someone to pay back what he owes. We can do that—and it has eternal effects!

You have a job to do! Bring people out of purgatory by your prayers and sufferings! This is why we have Masses for the dead too: not simply to remember a person, but to pray for them and to offer the Mass as payment for what they owe! Glorify them, Lord!

This is what is so profound about the Catholic faith: we not only seek redemption (we do), but also the glorification of the Body which is the Church in all her members. God has given us a participation in that; for we are one body, one body in Jesus Christ!

General Requirements to Receive a Plenary Indulgence:

1)   Do the work of the indulgence (see examples in homily above)
2)   The person must have received Holy Communion within 20 days (before or after) the work of the indulgence;
3)   The person must have received Reconciliation within 20 days (before or after) the work of the indulgence;
4)   The person must offer prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff (the Pope). Saying the Our Father, the Hail Mary, or the Creed is sufficient;
5)   The person must have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
6)   There is a limit: only one per day*
7)   Indulgences can only be applied to one’s self. However, they can be given to another but only when that person has died.

* Some Specifics When Receiving Two or More Indulgences
on Days in Close Proximity
(for example: when spending ½ hour in adoration on successive days)

1.    Only one (1) sacramental confession is required for multiple indulgences when those indulgences are being received within twenty (20) days of each other;

2.    A person must receive Holy Communion once per every indulgence to be received—and this can be done any time in the next twenty (20) days;

3.    Similarly, a person must recite the prayers for the Pope once per every indulgence to be received—this can be done any time in the next twenty (20) days.


Or HERE for more reading on Indulgences.

Or HERE for a series of articles to help you defend the doctrine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

MOMS Talk - Habits That We Can Change

For those who were asking for the transcript of Sunday night's MOMs Group talk, here you go!

You are here this evening (or reading this now) because you are wanting a better life. And by “better life” we probably mean a happier life, a more peaceful life, free, meaningful, purposeful. Because you are here and are part of this MOMs group, I know that you are already taking your faith to the next level—maybe some of you are just beginning; some of you, however, are already experts. That said, I am going to try and put this talk “down the middle of the fairway”—hopefully not being too boring to the experts, hopefully not too overwhelming for those who are beginning. At any rate, know that it is a joy for me to be with you here tonight, to be with Catholic women who are engaging in the faith and striving to become saints. That’s awesome.

I’d like to thank Yvette and Suzanne for inviting me to give this talk. They have asked me to speak on the topic: “Our Lives Changes When Our Habits Change.” It’s a pretty expansive topic and is meant to be very practical.

In order to send us on the right trajectory, let us consider for a moment the ancient people of Israel who were enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt. What did their lives consist of? Busy-ness, work, meaninglessness—and a desire to be free. But to what purpose was that desire for liberation directed? To the worship of God. They wanted to be closer to God and they knew Pharaoh’s slavery was keeping them from God. So they began to pray, to cry out to God, for a change in their lives.

Thus began the process of liberation. First, they desired it. They knew they couldn’t just “back into” the new life. This desire and this understanding that it couldn’t come by simply their own efforts drove Israel to collectively kneel in prayer before the God who saves. So it goes with us: not only must we acknowledge that many of us are enslaved in the things of the world, but we must also desire to be free—and so desirous that we get on our knees in prayer for this liberation.

God hears Israel’s prayers and thus begins to bestow a series of graces upon them. He sends Moses; then plagues; then Passover; then the passage through the Red Sea; then the Commandments; then the manna in the desert. A few things can be said about God’s process of liberation.

First, God is with Israel. He is with us. But God also sends His representative, Moses. Our freedom, therefore, is going to be in union with the Church and Her leaders. We need someone to lead us; someone to teach, someone to guide. Let us pray for our priests and for our husbands to take up this grave responsibility with great diligence and charity!

Second, God responds with plagues. We don’t like to remember this part of the story, but part of Israel’s liberation came through some terrible events. Conversion sometimes must come through hitting “rock bottom”; or through illness; or through a loss of a job; or through boredom; or even through a death. We may be tempted to curse these “plagues,” but Israel saw them working towards her liberation. So too, let us know that all things work to the good for those who love the Lord.

Thirdly, God bestows His powerful grace. There is no such thing as cheap grace, or weak grace. Grace is powerful. The passage through the Red Sea—pre-figuring our baptism—is powerful. The Passover—pre-figuring the Eucharist—is powerful. And these are just images of the graces we receive in the Sacraments every day. God’s grace is powerful—in the sacraments, in the Commandments. Our lives will change through a fruitful receptivity to the Sacraments and the Moral Life. Call often upon God’s grace!

As a conclusion to this first section, let us consider a “point for prayer.” We often have an agenda on how we want our lives to change. But, really, we must ask: How does GOD want your life to change? That will lead to the greatest change, the happiest life, the most peaceful and liberating, right? So let us go to God and humbly ask Him with profound openness:

Lord, how do you want my life to change?

*          *          *

So, let’s recap.

1)      Needed to reach a point where their desire to change led them to prayer.
2)      God responded by His powerful grace.

These are the pre-requisite steps to this evening’s talk. For now, let’s presume that this is what is already happening in our lives. And if not, well, we will begin tonight. But for the rest of the talk, we are going to talk about a 3rd step:

3)      how we respond to God’s grace.

Since we are going to talk about our response, we do need to cover a doctrine that affects the quality of our response—a doctrine that has been incredibly under-taught in recent decades: the doctrine of concupiscence.

When Adam and Eve chose not-God, they chose against the very principle of what had brought order into their relationship and even into the integrity of their being. Disorder entered into their lives—into their relationship and even into the way they thought, felt, and chose. Concupiscence is that woundedness wherein our:

a.       Intellect is dimmed and in need of formation;
b.      Will is weakened and in need of strengthening; and
c.       Passions are rebellious, fluctuating, insatiable, and in need of moderating.

Let’s unpack this.

Our will is the faculty by which we choose. Now, when we choose, we are always choosing what we think is good. Our will is always oriented to what we think is good. However, what we think is good may actually not be good—and that’s because our intellect is dimmed, right? So, we see how it is important it is to have a formed intellect.

It may also happen that we actually do know what is really the good. For example, we may see the narrow way which leads to heaven. But the narrow way is difficult, we see that there is suffering involved. And in our weak will, we choose an easier way—a way that we rationalize as good enough to choose it, but which leads to sin. Jim Gaffigan calls this choosing of the easier way “McDonalds.” (YouTube it). So, our will must be strengthened so that it will choose The Good—even and especially when it is tough to do so.

Our intellect is the faculty by which we think, reason, remember, imagine. It can aid the will in that it says: “Yes, choose this! And here’s why.” But, again, since it is dimmed, it needs formation—not only through study and experience but also by the enlightenment of grace.

Our passions are those appetites and emotions that we feel: anger, sadness, hunger, elation, etc. On the one hand, these can assist our intellect and will only insofar as they are lined up with the properly enlightened intellect and will. For example, a little bit of righteous anger can provide a little “oomph” to stay a few moments longer on one’s knees in prayerful reparation for the world’s sins (or our own).

On the other hand, the passions can also be a mess and a detriment to good thinking and holy choosing. For example, have you ever been in a blind rage or a deep sadness, only to find out later that what you were feeling wasn’t exactly consistent with reality? We can get so angry or so sad about something that really isn’t important—or even real. Passions can easily make a mountain out of a mole hill, blowing things out of proportion.

This is where our intellect must come in: to temper the passions and to point out what IS real. This is where a strong will must come in too: to choose something that might not “feel good” or which might be contrary to what our passions and appetites are telling us to choose.

Passions, therefore, are often described as being the dictator that must be ruthlessly contained and put in its proper place. Passions are like the waves in the storm that we need to beg Jesus to calm.

Yet, you will notice that the world operates on “how we feel” without recourse to the rational and intelligent. I mean, look at how we respond to homilies. When was the last time we thanked Father for his exposition of the finer points of St. Thomas Aquinas. Rather, we thank Father for the “moving” homily. What part of us did the homily “move?—intellect? Often it is the passions.

Ok, so now we have the structure for the rest of the talk. We are going to look at practical ways to strengthen the will, enlighten our intellect, and moderate the passions. Let us remember: this is the 3rd step. We are presuming that we are praying about and for this change; and banking on God’s grace. Without Jesus, we can do nothing.

*          *          *

Let’s begin by discussing the moderation of the passions.

Oftentimes, our passions move us to say: “I’ve gotta have _____”  Or, “Until ____ happens, I will not be happy.” Our passions start to convince us that perfection, happiness, freedom, etc, is going to be found when the passions are satisfied—by releasing anger, eating food, being busy, buying something, etc. But we often find that entertaining the passions does not make us free. On the contrary (and like the dictator, Pharaoh), they often enslave us, zap us of our energy, make us unhealthy, and take away our happiness.

So, we realize that the formation of the intellect and the will—and employing those faculties—will be very beneficial.

For now, we can say this:

1.      Never act solely on your appetites.

Take a moment to breathe. Think. Seek advice from an objective person who is not being blinded or persuaded by the passions. Take time to pray. Find the narrow way.

2.      Life is messy.

I know you want things to be perfect. But we are on pilgrimage. We are leaving Egypt and traveling to the Promised Land. We are going to have to be adaptable and we are going to have to suffer. Letting your passions rule your life will leave you throwing a tantrum and getting mad that you aren’t back in Egypt. That’s a quick way to be left behind. Sure, we can cry, we can get angry—but sometimes, too, we have just gotta keep going. Life is messy; don’t get bogged down by what you do or don’t have, or by the order that you want.

3.      Be ready to sacrifice a few things.

So, take a cold shower once in a while (for the duration of a Hail Mary). Abstain from meat on Friday. Go without wine for dinner. Stay five minutes after Holy Mass. Sign out of Facebook for a week.

You aren’t ruled by your passions. So, show Pharaoh—your passions—that you mean business.

*          *          *

This moves us directly to questions for our intellect. One of the fundamental questions for our lives is:

            Do I need this? And do I know the difference between a want and a need?

So often, we think that we need something—when, really, we don’t. We just simply are wanting it. And why? Because our appetites are run amok. Perhaps, also, because we are comparing ourselves to others. This leads us to another “point for prayer”:

Who do I compare myself to? The popular, the “with it,” the comfortable? Have I ever compared myself to the poor? the saintly? How (and why) can it be that someone can have less than me and be happier than me?

We see this especially in the drive to be “supermoms”—to be totally sane while driving kids to soccer practice, dance practice, girl scouts, school and back again, while working a job, making dinner, being “on” for the husband, and having the perfect spiritual life that prays the Rosary, goes to Mass, and quietly meditates—awake—for a half-hour before bed.

That’s crazy.

The intellect must be engaged and it will answer two questions:

1.      What am I spending my life on?
2.      Do I have unreasonable expectations?

Regarding the first question, we must realize that we are spending our lives on things and we need to take a moment and take an inventory on what, exactly, we are spending our time, our energy, and sanity—our lives.

We must come to grips that we cannot have everything. Let me repeat that. YOU CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING. You are a limited human being—and coming to grips with that IS humbling. You might grieve it. You might be angry with God about it. But you are human and you cannot expect to have everything. Because that’s insane. Our PASSIONS want that, but our intellect says no. You can bargain; you can rationalize; you can will to try to have everything—but you will be enslaved. You can’t have everything.

So, if you want family time, you cannot have six sports/dance/etc practices at the same time. We have to choose.

If you want truly happy and affectionate children, you cannot have an overbearing presence that seeks excellence in studies at the expense of spontaneous play, and wasted time hugging and laughing.

We must remember (with the intellect) that our kids are kids. Even teenagers are, to a great extent, kids. Kids are not adults. AND they have concupiscence. Shoot, WE have difficulty knowing what we want and controlling our passions—and we have a 20+ years’ head-start on the kiddos. And yet, we expect them to be more “with it” than we are? That’s insane.

We are killing ourselves—and them—with too many activities and too many expectations. This enslaves us, them, and it sabotages our happiness. And theirs.

Let them be bored. Boredom is the blank slate on which creativity can begin. And yes, you will have to hear the whining (there’s the plague!), “I’m bored!” But we gotta muscle through that. Model creativity. And take away all those devices that imagine things for them. No TVs in their bedrooms. So many kids’ active imagination has been paralyzed by the passive imagining of those devices. This is hard, the narrow way—but we must “will” it. To make forts out of cardboard boxes or tents out of bedsheets again; coloring, painting, ….

I’ll talk about teens and chores in a bit—because we should model maturity too…

*          *          *

Continuing on the intellect: we must take a moment and ask:

What is the goal of all that we are doing?

If it is anything other than union with God, love, and heaven, then we’ve got our priorities out of order. Monetary success and a comfortable life—when did Jesus ever say that this is the way to heaven? Indeed, He often said the exact opposite! Being uncomfortable—carrying a cross, living simply—this is the way to heaven.

So what is the goal of everything you are spending your life on? What is the goal of your expectations?

Knowing the answer to the RBQs is helpful here. The RBQs are “Really Big Questions”—such as “where did I come from?”; “where am I going?”; “what is the purpose of my life?” etc.

Israel knew that making bricks was not the purpose of life. Knowing and loving God and worshipping Him—that’s the purpose; that’s what drove them to prayer and to beg to be liberated from slavery.

So, a few practical words of advice here.

If you want family, make family a priority. Eat as a family. And no one eats alone. And use your intellect: if your kids are under 6 or 7 and they are running around during dinner time, don’t fret. They are not adults. They are kids. With concupiscence. Their work is to play. Adapt.


In ten years, you will miss the joy of kids running around the table and making a mess. Remember: life is messy. And that’s part of what makes it beautiful. Stop trying to be a perfectionist and so orderly, Supermom. The mess will get cleaned up later….

And kids will inconvenience other adults. Do your best, but don’t get too upset. Frankly, our rigid, gray, dead culture needs to be inconvenienced by the spontaneity of playing children.

Back to family…

If you want family, pray as a family. Fifteen minutes—not at bedtime, but at a sacrificial time: 6 or 7pm…. Kids under 6 can run around a little, that’s ok. Slowly, SLOWLY, bring them in over time.

As an aside: these 15 minutes will pay big dividends when faced with the 60 minutes of Holy Mass on Sunday. I mean, if we tried to run 10 miles all at once, we would die. We would need to work up to that. So too, we need to help work kids up to doing 60 minutes of prayer. Those 15 minutes will pay dividends. Perhaps having one “quiet” hour each week will help too: where the TV and the electronics are all off, and the hour is spent in quiet activities.

Yes, if our house is a beehive, becoming quieter will take time…

Slight detour: we need to teach kids to use their intellect when it comes to our faith, especially when it comes to “intentionality.” What I mean by that is: kids need to learn to take action on their faith through their own initiative. So often, studying about the faith, praying, going to confession, etc—so often, those actions are served up on a platter by the school and the kids never learn to take initiative.

For example, kids go to confession during Advent and Lent every year at school, but then when college hits, they stop going—until they are prompted to take their 2nd grader to First Confession. Why did they fall away in the first place? One of the reasons is that they never learned to think: “I have sinned, therefore I need to go to confession.” Rather, confession was just simply served up on a platter by the school—the kids never learned to make the actual connection.

We need to help them intentionality. Choosing confession because I’ve sinned—and not simply because I’m prompted by the school or by mom. Choosing to read a book on the faith because this helps me grow in the supernatural life—and not simply because Sister at school has assigned homework. We have to engage our intellect in the formation of the intellect of our children and intentionality.

This goes to teenagers and chores too. If we have to constantly harp on our teens to do chores, we have failed in the task of intentionality. You see, teens are easily absorbed in the “me-project.” So, before that happens, we need to take them aside as 7 year olds, 9 year olds, and 12 year olds—we need to teach them how mom/dad is doing chores because he/she loves me; then we teach them that if we love mom/dad, we do the same; then we teach them to start looking around the home: “is there anything else that you see needing to be done?” and we start maturing them: “go and do it—prove your love.” We teach them to own it—such that doing chores is not simply from duty, but from a mature heart that loves and wills to intentionally love.

*          *          *

That said, we must form our intellect concerning God. Recommendations:
- Read the Gospels, then the Psalms, then Genesis, … (don’t try to read the Bible cover to cover—you’ll stop by Leviticus!)
- Study amazing works on the faith: Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Cardinal Ratzinger, …
- Read actual books on or by the saints—not just paragraph summaries. You will be stunned—STUNNED!—at how real and human and just like us they were!
- Start reading the Catechism. This is a treasure trove.
- Pray. This is not the “means” to the relation with God. This IS the relationship. And remember: you have two ears and one mouth: use them in that proportion.
* Book Recommendations listed below

Learn more about yourself and others. Read from the book of humanity.
- know yourself from within: what makes you tick, what do you enjoy, what are your weak points that lead you to sin? We all share certain “red flags” that we know lead us to bad choices or stinkin’ thinkin.
            An acronym: BALD HAT:
Bored; Angry; Lonely; Depressed; Hungry; Anxious; Tired
If you are feeling these things, be on guard: your passions may be mounting a rebellion! Engage your intellect and will!
- know yourself from without: God looks at you and says, “You are my daughter. I am well pleased in you. I love you.” We have to remember this.
- write this or any motivating scripture passages on your bathroom mirror (use a dry-erase marker)
- do a good Examination of Conscience every few weeks. Go to confession once every three months (or more frequent).
- every night, make a movie of your day. Thank God for his graces; say sorry for your sins. Do this standing up so that you don’t fall asleep. 7 minutes tops.
- go through the “death” of receiving feedback. Ask God for feedback. Ask your spouse where your sins are (we know our spouse’s sins so easily, right?)

Learn what freedom is; get perspective; learn from experience
            - read the book Interior Freedom
            - experience poverty/simplicity by helping the poor (eg. The Missionaries of Charity)
                        - live by a bare-bones budget for a couple weeks…
            - learn from this… and about God and yourself through it…

Be reasonable:
            -  you can’t do all of these all at once. Pick a couple and get to work….

*          *          *

It naturally follows that we now turn to strengthening our weakened will.

As with the body, our will needs exercise. Strength comes through routine and repetition. This also builds “muscle memory”—which, when it is the will, is amazingly powerful and liberating.

So, to strengthen the will, a good routine is very helpful. Of course, this is often so difficult!—especially when we have little kids. But all of us, no matter how crazy our schedules—all of us have certain “rituals” that we already do in life: from waking up, to “morning things,” to work, to eating, to going to bed, etc. We already have these “rituals.” We can use what we already have there an affix some spiritual routines to them.

So, for example, here are some routines that you can affix to your already-existing rituals that will help you to remember and to be strengthened:

- You already have a ritual of waking up. Spiritualize it. See it as the moment that you are rising from the dead (for your bed does prefigure your “falling asleep” in death). Practicing waking up with the hope of the resurrection: that this day will be full of grace and blessing. “Good morning, God!” instead of “Good God, morning.” No snoozing.
- Have a crucifix on your bedside table. Why? So that when you roll out of bed, you grab it, you kiss the body of Jesus, and say a prayer. Place the cross on your pillow. And (if your spouse is not still sleeping) make the bed.
- notice: the cross is now on your pillow. When you go to bed tonight, the cross will remind you to pray!
- If you look in the mirror in the morning, have a scripture verse written on your bathroom mirror (dry-erase marker) to motivate you
- place a Rosary on your coffeemaker / diaperbox to remind you to say a decade while you drink coffee / change diapers
- have a holy card on your car’s horn … pray it before you take off. Pray it again when you arrive. Change the holy card monthly to keep things fresh.
- Set your phone’s alarm for 9, 12, and 3 to remind you to say a Hail Mary or a decade—or, at least, to remind you of your scripture verse and/or God’s love for you
- If your kids nap, take a nap too. It’s ok. Americans are missing out on the Siesta.
- On your way home from work, stop by a church and visit (adoration chapel or not) and place your work at Jesus’ feet. Ask Him for strength to engage your true vocation: marriage and family. If there is no church nearby, stop in your driveway and give all to Him there. Leave work at work—and with Jesus. He will take care of it.
- It’s ok to give the kids to the husband/grandparents so you can do a holy hour each week. You need quiet time with God: “Come away with me for a while…”
- At bed, pick up the cross and hold it close; make the movie of your day; thank God for 3 graces. Say sorry. You may need to stand while you do this so you don’t fall asleep.
- pray with your husband, an Our Father will do, before you go to bed. For your marriage and family. (What is a priest if he does not pray for his parish? What is a parent who does not pray for his/her spouse and family?)

Yes, this is about having a Rule of Life, kind of like a Monastery—and, like a monastery, requires simplicity and pruning away of the many activities on which we are spending our lives. Remember: you can’t do it all. But contemplation,… heaven… peace… these are worth it, right? That’s why you’re here, right?

And knowing that we are humans and that if it isn’t in our schedule, we don’t do it—PUT IT IN YOUR CALENDAR. Write down your “Divine Appointment” in your calendar. Jesus is your most important client. What day, what times are your divine appointments?

*          *          *

As with any endeavor, we always do better when someone hold us accountable. Confession helps here, but also friends. Remember: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Seek help from people. Ask for hugs (only with appropriate people, duh).

And be helpful to others, too. You can be their help, their strength. (Oy, how gossiping is so contrary to our growth as a community! It is gossip that leads to Jesus’ crucifixion, remember)

*          *          *

Finally, practice practice practice. But practice “higher” than you want your normal to be. So, just as when we want to run 3 miles well and with speed, we go beyond the goal and practice running 6 miles, so too when we want to develop a good habit, we must perform actions that go beyond the habit we are trying to develop. Practice higher than what you want your normal to be.

For example, if you are melancholy and want to be a joyful person, you are going to have to go beyond just simply smiling—you are going to have to seriously stretch your spiritual muscles and do some lifting and seek what is good around you—and often. There are good things going on around you. Stop twice a day and think about them. Thank God. …. I know, your will is weak so it wants to choose McDonalds. Your passions are going “ugh!” Well, you have God’s grace! Bank on that! You can be a joyful person!

Or if you are the disciplinarian in your home, remember that the woman is supposed to reveal the affection of the Church. Be more affectionate—even if your passions say you are tired or they don’t deserve it or you don’t feel like it. Be affectionate. And, at the end of the day, if you have corrected your children and your husband more than you have hugged them or loved upon them, yeah, then we need to be more affectionate.

*          *          *

Remember why we are doing this. We want our lives to change. We know that our culture is no longer Catholic and that we have to intentionally choose now. We can’t simply “fall into” being Catholic and entering heaven…. Think about it. Pray. Conquer the passions. Receive grace. Choose well. Taste freedom.


Here is a list of books that are very worthwhile – and each of these authors have numerous other, very high-quality books worth reading.

Prayer for Beginners – Peter Kreeft
The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home – by Clayton & Lawler

The Spiritual Life:
Interior Freedom – by Jacques Philippe
Discerning the Will of God – by Timothy Gallagher
Spiritual Combat – by Dom Scupoli

Biblical Aids:
The Better Part – Commentary on the Gospels – by John Bartunek

Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux – there is a good audiobook for this, too
Edmund Campion, a Life – by Evelyn Waugh

The Mass:
The Lamb’s Supper: the Mass as Heaven on Earth – by Scott Hahn

See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: 52 Meditations to Grow in Self-Esteem – by Marie Curley
The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic – Matthew Kelly
Magnificat Prayerbooks (a very worthwhile subscription service)
Laudete App for your phone

This part of Catholicism has been expanding exponentially in recent years. Here are a few good places to start: – resources and homilies by Bishop Robert Barron – your go-all place for every question you have about the Catholic faith

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Voice in Our Heart - Homily for the Baptism of Our Lord (2016)

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

A few years ago, when I was in the seminary, I was walking down one of the random hallways, reflecting. And in the middle of the hallway, I stopped. This verse hit me. God was saying it to me:

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

We all know well the age in which we live: an age of critique and criticism where we are more agile in tearing down than building up. It is so easy to focus on what is wrong and what needs fixing in others and in ourselves that, really, does anyone feel “beloved”? I mean, when was the last time someone told you that they were “well pleased” with you?

*          *          *

Just over two weeks ago, we celebrated Christmas, that day when Jesus our Savior was born. On that day, we see that God has entered into the darkness of our lives and has shined His radiant light; He is not distant, but indeed has come very close: so close that His divinity is married to our humanity. Today, this same Jesus, now a young man of thirty years, enters into the Jordan River, the portal to the heavenly Promised Land, and plunges into those historic waters our frail humanity. After He does this, something profound happens: the Holy Spirit comes upon Him and a voice from heaven is heard: This is my Son.

This voice that we are hearing is the heavenly Father’s voice, the voice that reveals His heart’s love for His Son. This is for our benefit: that we may know the dignity of Jesus.

But notice: Jesus has taken upon Himself our humanity. When the Father looks with love upon Jesus, the Father looks with love upon all our humanity, too. The voice, then, speaks not only to Jesus, but to you and to me:

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

This is at the heart of Jesus’ gospel proclamation: that we may know the Father’s love and return to Him in love. Hence, Jesus’ parable about the Prodigal Son returning to the Father—the definitive expression of which is God the Father tenderly receiving His Son, Jesus, as He hangs upon the Cross. Here is where the relationship with God and man is definitively reconciled.

But because this relationship is not simply corporate but personal, Jesus emphasizes the importance of Baptism. Indeed, His final words while He walked on earth were:

“Go, and make disciples of all nations… baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:20).

Baptism, therefore, is the personal application of the graces won by Jesus’ crucifixion and offering to the Father—such that, when we come up out of the waters of Baptism, the Father no longer sees our brokenness; rather, the Father looks at us and sees His Son with whom He is well pleased. You have become another Christ!

Therefore, the same love which the Father has for His Son is now the love that the Father has for you. St. Paul expounds on this when he says:

Brothers and sisters… you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ… (Romans 8:15-17).

This is to fulfill what we heard on Christmas morning, that

to all who received him, who believed in his name, [Jesus] gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

This is the heart of Baptism: that we are given a new birth as a new creation, in a new relationship, as a child to God our Father.

*          *          *

What does this mean for us in day-to-day life?

Well, it is so easy to fall into the way of thinking that says that “I have to be somebody in order to be loved.” Or, “When I’m successful, then I’ll be loved.” Or—on the other side of the coin—“I’m a loser, nobody loves me. How could anybody love me?” It is so easy to fall into that trap that says that I have to earn God’s love—that, until I choose it or “be good” or “be holy”—only then will I be loved.

But our Father already loves you! You are already His beloved child! You don’t have to earn or win His love! I mean, do your children have to win your love? So, why do we place that on God? Perhaps it’s because we consider Him more as a Force than as a Father. Isn’t Star Wars really a story about Fathers and Sons?

I will admit: this is one of the hardest teachings for some of us to hear—harder than any of the “hot button” teachings. Throughout our culture, we hear the message that your dignity is tied up with what you do, what you own, and what you achieve.

But you are chosen. You are beloved.

This is, actually, one of the reasons that the Church baptizes infants. Baptism isn’t firstly about us choosing God. It’s about Him choosing us. Before we could even choose, the Father looked upon us and said, “I want you. I want you above all else.”

This actually makes Him more of a Father than our biological fathers. Our dads didn’t really have a choice in us. Ok, yes, to some degree, they did—but they didn’t know that they would get you, the all of you, the teenage you, the grown up you and everything in-between.

But God the Father did. And He chose you anyway. Because your are His child. And He loves you.

*          *          *

Children long to please their parents—even when we don’t realize it. Children really do long to make you, parents, happy. In our culture, however, there are many miserable children walking around thinking that they aren’t good enough, and that their dignity is tied up with whether they get an A or whether they become a Somebody.

When I get a chance to take a child aside—whether in the hallway or in the confessional or on the playground—and I tell them that I’m proud of them… this has such an incredible impact. I’m realizing more and more that our young children have never heard these words: “I’m proud of you.” Or, “Hey, you’re doing a good job.”

And sure, we can be of that culture that says that there are a multitude of things that our children are doing wrong. Sure, we could focus on that.

But notice the Father of the Prodigal Son. Even after that son had done horrible things and walked away, the Father still loved His son. These are Jesus’ words! So, when the son returned, the Father didn’t focus on what was wrong; He focused on him whom He loved! “My son was lost and is found! He was dead and is now alive!”

The Father is so pleased to have His son back!

When we emerge from the confessional, this is what our Father says to us! Even after we have confessed all of our worst stuff; even after we point out all the things that we have done wrong; even as we are saying “Father, I don’t deserve to be loved” and so on—even as we do that, the Father places His hand under our chin, and looks at us with love, and says, “My child, you are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Can you imagine if we lived everyday with those words in our heart?

I think we would be a more peaceful people. I think we would be more confident-- and less concerned about the frivolous pursuits on which we so often spend our lives. We would be stronger— and less swayed by the crowds of people or our own thoughts that keep replaying how horrible we are. I think that if we really took a moment and received these words into our hearts, we would be more likely to love and less likely to sin. We would live in this embrace.

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

Friday, January 1, 2016

"Peas Meat Too" - Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (2015)

Eight days ago, we celebrated the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Messiah and King. Here we are, eight days from Christmas, and perhaps this morning has a little Christmas morning feel to it: we hear again the Christmas carols, there are the fine decorations, and—if you stayed up late last night—there may be that same early-morning feel as though we had stayed up late wrapping last minute gifts or enjoying family on Christmas Eve.

On this eighth day, we receive another gift—the greatest gift, second only to Jesus Himself—and that gift is His Mother, Mary.

In order to see how great a treasured gift Mary is, we need to take a quick detour….

Jesus, while He was personally present and walking the face of the Earth, gathered a people to Himself and chose among them His Apostles. Upon them, He built His Church, commanding them with His last words to “go out and baptize”—baptism being the way in which a person would become a member of the Church. St. Paul, one of those who would be baptized, talked about this Church being Jesus’ body, such that not only are we all members of the same body, but that when the Church is persecuted, so too is Jesus. St. Paul knew this from personal experience when Jesus asked him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Act 9:4). In time, the Church would be known as Jesus Christ’s Mystical body—for where the Church is, so is Jesus.

Pope St. Leo the Great takes up this theme in his Christmas homily (which you can find from yesterday’s Office of Readings). Pope St. Leo writes that “the birth of Christ is the origin of the Christian people; and the birthday of the head is also the birthday of the body.” In the manger at Christmas, therefore, we see not only Jesus, but we see the Church and her members, born by the gift of Baptism. In other words, at our baptism where we are radically configured to Christ, we enter into the Nativity scene in a very real and radical way: we too are in the manger!

It is from this perspective that we can look up—and who do we see above us? We see St. Joseph, our father, and the Blessed Virgin Mary who, here, is called not only the Mother of God, but also the Mother of the Church. As she lifts up Jesus in her motherly arms and brings Him close to her heart, she also brings us. Yes, she reaches into our very lives and picks us up with tenderly care, self-sacrificial devotion, with motherly peace and joy!

You know that I teach RCIA…. When I reveal the beautiful treasure of Mary, it always happens that our inquirers come to me and say, “I never knew how important Mary was! I never knew how much she loves us!” Again and again, after I introduce them to Mary, they come to me and say, “Father, it is like one of the biggest parts of the faith has been missing all of my life—and I am only now discovering her! She is what has been missing!” This surprises them, of course, because they may have encountered a culture unfamiliar or even hostile to our Blessed Mother. But when they really meet her, the change is profound.

For us cradle Catholics—pun intended—it is easy to overlook how much a treasure Mary is in our life. We can rattle off Hail Mary’s and even entire Rosaries without so much as a thought to who the person is. For my part, it was not until the winter retreat prior to my diaconate ordination that I asked a very basic but very important question: “Mary, who are you?” I asked this not as an arm-chair theologian, but person-to-person: Mary, who are you?

There is much I can now say about who Mary is, but let me give you one insight. It came, actually, through my god-daughter, Regina. I call Regina my Little Queen—and at all of six, she is. Regina’s parents and I are good friends and we traditionally have a family dinner on New Year’s Eve. A few years ago, during one of these dinners—a feast of meat and peas and other delightful foods—Regina decided that she was going to engage me in conversation. She was about two. From her high chair, she looked at me and said, “Peas meat too.” I didn’t understand (for I was not very fluent in Baby). “Peas meat too” she said again.

“Oh! She wants more peas,” I thought. So I gave her some peas.

She was not satisfied by this. “Peas meat too” she said again, but with a little more emotion.

I started to think harder. Peas? … Meat. Ah! She wants more meat! Ok, here comes more meat for you, my Little Queen!

No. No meat. “Peas meat too!” Regina pleaded, now with furled brow and a new color of red on her face.

I clearly did not understand, so I looked to her mom. “What is Regina saying?”

“Oh, this is her new game,” said Regina’s mom. “You have sat down at the table and she is saying ‘Pleased to meet you.’”

 Pleased to meet you! Haha, pleased to meet you, too, Regina.

*          *          *

When Jesus Christ was born, He could not speak. But who could? His Mother. I must remember this often because, every so often it happens in my spiritual life that I do not seem to understand Jesus. Sometimes I do not know what He wants. Or our spiritual life becomes dry and difficult. Or we are looking to take our relationship with Jesus to the next step and we don’t know how.

It is here that we must—yes, must—turn to His Blessed Mother. And I say “must” because it is Jesus Himself who has given Himself to Mary in a very particular way that no one else was so privileged to experience: He gave Himself to Mary in the intimacy of her bearing Him for nine months in the womb; He gave Himself to her in the “silent years” of the quiet and mystical home in Nazareth; He gave Himself to her so profoundly that when His crucifixion was foretold at His presentation in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:22-40), it was Mary’s “crucifixion” that was also foretold as well. Jesus ties Himself to His Mother so radically, that when a lance pierces His heart, it pierces hers too. It seems to make sense that if we want to get to know Jesus better, it would be good to know the one to whom He so often gave Himself.

And this is not only a "reasonable" reality-- it is also actuality:the Church cannot be separated from Christ, so when Jesus gives Himself to His Mother, He is also giving the Church (who is united to Him) to her. We see this very explicitly when, Jesus says to us, “Behold your mother.”

Why does He do this?

Because at the very heart of His love is His love for His Mother. Loving Him means loving her.

This is surprising, and yet, not. After all, if you are going to love me, Father Gerber, I would want you to love my mom.

And, wonderfully enough, when you love my mom, you get a greater insight into who I am. I mean, if you want the real scoop on who I am, if you want to understand me better, simply drive to South County and spend an afternoon with my mom. Then you will see.

So too, then, when we want to go deeper in our relationship with Jesus, we will oftentimes need to turn to His mom—who is now our mom too. “Mary,” we may say, “I do not understand God’s will for me!” Or, “Mary, Jesus seems silent in my life right now…” Converse with her and she will lead you to a deeper understanding and love of Jesus-- just as Regina's mom led me to a greater understanding of Regina. This makes total sense: for if God is love, understanding Him requires approaching Him not simply as an isolated Being, but as One who is wrapped in relationships and love-- the greatest of which is with His Mother.

Perhaps, then, this is where we begin our New Year’s Resolution: do you have a relationship with Jesus’ Mother, Mary? If you don’t know the Hail Mary or the Rosary, it is time to learn these prayers. If you know these prayers, but simply rattle them off without actually taking a moment to actually talk to Mary, then it is time to start treating Mary as a real person—as a real Mother—the best of Mothers!

For, see! There she is above you! She is reaching into the manger of your life right now, seeking to pick you up and draw you close to her heart—the heart that is so united to her Son, Jesus! Let her pick you up with her motherly love and peaceful affection.

Yes, at Christmas we received the gift of Jesus our Savior. Today, on this the eighth day, we receive the gift of His Mother. Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church—and our Mother. Mary, pleased to meet you.