Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Hunt - 1st Sunday of Advent (2018)

A couple weeks ago, we had our annual “Deer Hunters’ Mass” and it was a pretty good turnout.

This week, my brother and I drove through northern Missouri on our way to Iowa and I thought of all of our deer hunters at our parish. My brother Ed loves deer hunting and he was quick to point out that northern Missouri and beyond are great deer hunting lands. (A little town in Iowa—Albia—held the world record for the largest deer. My brother knew that).

I, however, know very little about deer hunting. (I prefer skeet shooting. After all, clay pigeons are always easier when they land)!

Anyway. I asked my brother what it was like to hunt deer and for the next several miles he told me all about it. The hunter wakes up early, very early in the morning. And it’s usually cold, because it’s November. And he sits in the trees or in what is called a deer blind for hours at a time.

At which point, I asked my brother:

“And what does he do?”

He just sits and watches. And waits.

“In the dark? And in the cold?”


“For how long?”

Probably for several hours. Depends.

“Wow, Ed. That sounds… exciting.

No, Anth, it’s amazing. Because then there’s this moment when you see the deer and you get really excited and your adrenaline starts going and your heart is thumping (because not everybody sees a deer)—and you gotta stay cool and breathe and slowly squeeze the trigger. And, if you do it right, when the rifle fires, it even surprises you a little bit.

(And he and I keep at this all through northern Missouri).

And I learned that hunters are really rather fanatical about their deer. They bring heaters and coolers (filled with, ahem, “beverages"). And some hunters who own some land spend months preparing the land by putting out food plots to attract the deer and the hunters watch trail cams to see where the deer are going so that they know where to track them.

Shoot, the hunters totally clear their calendars for those two weeks of hunting. And God have mercy on the dude that schedules his wedding to fall during deer hunting weekend!

So that’s deer hunting.

* * *

Now it would be pretty easy for me to draw the analogy that Advent is a lot like deer hunting. The homily would go something like: “When it comes to Advent, we gotta clear our calendars and really watch—watch like the deer hunters—so that you don’t miss Jesus.”

And that would be a fine homily—one that you probably have heard before.

But then I remembered a line from the Psalms:

            Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.

And I realized something: in past years, I spent Advent like I was the deer hunter and Jesus was the deer.

But Jesus is not the deer!!!

I am! I’m the deer—and Jesus is the hunter.

And Advent—Advent is the season for me to become aware of that—that I’m being hunted.

(I know, I know, that sounds weird). So, let me explain. Let’s start with the Gospel. Listen to Jesus’ words. He says:


            “Be vigilant...”

            “People will die of fright…”

            “[Don’t let] that day catch you like a trap.”

Doesn’t that sound a like a hunt is on? Beware… you are being tracked…

This is a little disconcerting. But it’s the truth: we are being hunted. 

* * *

So what does this mean? And who, exactly, is hunting us? And how? And what happens if we are caught?

Let’s answer those questions.

First, who is hunting us? We are being hunted by Jesus and by the world.

When it comes to Jesus, He hunts us not so as to destroy us, but to give us life. He’s the Good Shepherd who goes in search for His sheep. This is a meaning of the word "hunt"-- it means to zealously search. (Like, in another place in the Gospel, we see a woman who hunts for her lost coin).

And for this hunt, He has prepared so much to attract us to Him. The food, the place of rest, the calendar, even. 

And as Jesus waits and watches and searches for us in this hunt, when He finds us He may—as some prayerful saints (called mystics) have pointed out—He may pierce us with a dart of His love. The dart is not a tranquilizer to put us to sleep, but is filled with His life and love. As His dart hits our soul, we breathe in new life and a new power to love. That's what happens in Jesus' hunt.

He comes not to destroy, but to save. (Only the demons are afraid of Him. They cry out: “What have you come for, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” That is very helpful to us: if we find ourselves afraid of Jesus, it’s likely we have been hanging out with the demons and not the saints).

* * *

The other hunter is the world.

And the world employs a different kind of hunt. Here's what I mean by that: when it comes to hunting an animal, yes, it is typical that you use a rifle; but there is another way: you can drive it. You send the dogs or you get a line of hunters and you drive the animal fearfully into a trap.

That is what Jesus is warning us about when He says (and I paraphrase):

Beware not to be driven by the world, lest you be caught in its trap.

How does the world drive us?

Jesus tells us: through the lusts of the flesh (carousing) and drunkenness and—here’s the kicker—the anxieties of life.

The anxieties. How often we are driven by anxieties and by fear! We worry: will I have enough money in the checkbook? … Will I be forever alone? … What will people think of me? … What if I am not taken care of? … What if my suffering keeps on going?  and so on. We are so easily driven by fear!

And the world cultivates that, too. Just look at the marketing strategies out there that say you are not beautiful enough; your car is not new enough; your health is not good enough; your life is not awesome enough. No wonder why we are hunting for happiness! We are being driven into a trap! Sheep among the wolves!

Where does it lead to?

I think of the deer as they run-- deer in headlights, afraid-- onto the highway....

The trap is our destruction.

* * *

What does this mean for Advent?

All we have to do is avoid being driven by the world—just avoid being driven into the trap. And let yourself be found my Jesus. Let Him lure you with His preparations and His dart of love.

How does this translate into your daily life?

Well, I remember a priest once saying: For the lay faithful (that’s you), fifteen minutes of quiet prayer in this busy world is worth as much as a monk who prays for five hours.

I believe that.

Just sit with Jesus for fifteen minutes each day. Just sit and let yourself be found.

Let Jesus tell you in those minutes: I will prepare your heart; I will heal your soul; I am calling you by name; you are my prize, my love, my child. Come, eat of my food. Come, be refreshed by my drink.

Let us be hit by this dart of His love and fall into His arms. He shall place us on His shoulders and carry us home.

That’s all we have to “do.”

This is Advent. Let the hunt begin.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

You Must Remember! - Homily for the 21st Sunday in OT

One of the reasons why I believe that the Gospels are true is that they sometimes give us details that are unflattering and messy. This morning, we hear that many of the disciples left Jesus. That's an unflattering and messy truth-- because isn't He the Messiah? Why would people leave Him? Yes, it's that our Gospels speak these very real and perennial truths (even when they are messy) that I believe them.

So the question remains: Why? Why did many of the disciples leave? And, as a follow up, why didn't Jesus go after them?

Let's answer that first question: why did they leave? The disciples leave for two reasons [and a third here added].

First, what Jesus said was scandalous. Imagine you are going into Panera Bread Co and someone approaches you and says, "Hey, if you want to get into heaven, you have to eat my flesh." How would you react? I know how I would: I would say, get away from me. Weirdo.

But here's the thing: what if that person was known for healing people and for raising the dead? What if he had some... credibility?

Didn't Jesus have some credibility? Hadn't He just performed two of His most iconic miracles on just the day before?-- namely, the walking on water and the multiplication of the loaves? Sure, Jesus may have sounded weird, but what about those miracles?

This is the second reason why the disciples left: they forgot about the miracles and did not credit it to Jesus' credibility. Had they remembered, they may have been slower to leave and quicker to stay.

[[[A third reason-- and it's a historical one. At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus is announced by John the Baptist. John points to Jesus and says, "Behold, the Lamb of God..." John is alluding to the Lamb of the Passover Supper (that's when Moses, at God's direction, instructed the people to take a lamb, kill it, smear its blood on the doorposts, and eat it. The reason for this was that, if this sacrifice was offered and followed, the people would be saved from the Angel of Death and delivered from Egypt). John points to Jesus and says, "Behold the Lamb of God... who takes away the sins of the world"-- in essence, He who frees us from this spiritual Pharaoh (the devil) and his slavery (namely, sin).

The people see the connection between this and when Jesus says that they must eat Him (one of the requirements of the Passover Lamb) and they put two and two together: if Jesus is the New Passover Lamb, that means that He must also be killed (for that was another requirement of the Passover Lamb).

This is too much for the people. They came out to follow a Messiah that would overthrow the Romans and give the people power and riches. They didn't come out to follow someone who was going to be killed. They didn't want to follow a loser-- they wanted a winner. So they left.]]]

And notice: this wasn't about a hard teaching on marriage or some matter of morality. The people were leaving because of the New Passover-- which we call the Eucharist.


This brings us to the second question: Why didn't Jesus go after them?

First, it's because they understood correctly. They may have judged Jesus incorrectly, but they understood the teaching correctly. Jesus didn't have to run after them and say, "Hey, you misunderstood!"

Second, it's because He had already given them everything necessary to stay with Him. He had given them the miracles. And not just the walking on water. He had healed their sick and expelled the demons and even raised their dead. What more did they need?

Here's an aside: many people think that Christians are just supposed to have "blind faith"-- a faith that just blindly follows. That's not Christianity. Jesus calls us to faith, but He gives us reasons. This is important. If we don't have reasons-- if we forget the miracles and the graces, for example-- we will fall away. Remember how I started this homily: I told you one of the reasons why I believe. You should have reasons, too.

This is important because Jesus turns to Peter and asks Peter a poignant question-- a question that every Christian must answer: "Do you want to leave as well?" Or, in other words: "Do you have a reason to stay?"

Imagine it: Peter has just heard the same things the crowd has heard. He has seen the same things. And he has seen half of them leave. Can you imagine his thoughts, the scandal, the struggle to believe?

Peter's faced with the same razor's edge that Joshua posed to the people in our first reading when Joshua said "Decide! ... Decide today whom you will serve."


Peter responds quite honestly and in a way that I often find myself responding these days. Peter says "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life." 

In other words:
Lord, I don't understand how you are going to give us your flesh to eat and what this whole New Passover Lamb thing means. But, Lord, in the past-- in fact, just last night-- I saw your grace at work, "great miracles before [my] very eyes." You have "protected [me] along [my] entire [life's] journey"; you "brought [me]... out of slavery." And when you called me, something resonated in my heart such that I left everything so as to follow you. I have nothing else to go to. So, Lord, it's a choice between you or nothing. I choose you.

Notice: Peter is able to accept the hard teaching because he remembers the miracles and, from that, Peter gives Jesus his trust.


Are there any other hard teachings that we encounter today? I can think of two.

Firstly, the second reading has that line, "Wives, be subordinate to your husbands."

Let me simply say that if your husband elbowed you in the ribs at that line, he misunderstood it.

What is this passage about? Is it about men and women? Look closer. Paul says, "I tell you a great mystery and I speak in reference to Christ and His Church."

In other words, Paul isn't firstly talking about your marriage. Paul's talking about His-- Jesus'-- marriage. Jesus is the groom; the Church is the bride.

And what Paul is getting at is: if we don't understand how Jesus treats the Church and how the Church is to treat Jesus, then we will not understand how husbands and wives are to treat each other.

Or, to put it another way: Paul knows his scripture and he knows that, in the beginning, the battle of the sexes and the domination over women came not as God's plan, but as the result of sin. So why would Paul, a saint who rails against sin and who follows Jesus (Jesus who upheld women to the scandal of that day's culture)-- why would Paul encourage a structure of sin?

The fact is: Paul does not encourage such sin. Rather, he proposes something revolutionary. "Look at Jesus," he is saying. "See how Jesus lowered Himself even to the point of washing Peter's feet (for those who have power must use it to serve)." This is the scandal of God: that He so lowered Himself and became subordinate to humanity.

And to what purpose? Jesus's goal is to bring His bride, the Church, to heaven. He will do this by laying down His life.

Therefore, "husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church."

To the ladies, Paul then says, "Wives, is the bride of Christ called to love and follow Him?" Of course-- every Christian is called to follow Jesus. Paul then says, "Wives, would you follow Jesus-- knowing that His whole purpose is to bring you to heaven and that He will lay down His life for you to see it through?" What woman wouldn't?

Then Paul says, "Be subordinate to your husbands as to the Lord." In other words, if your husband is sitting at the feet of Jesus, if your husband's goal is to bring you to heaven, if he is laying down his life for you, then why wouldn't you go where he goes?"

The problem is, of course, is two-fold: one, that many husbands don't sit at the feet of Jesus and take on His ways; and two, many husbands who do take on His ways are not loved-- just like many in the Church don't love Jesus even though He loves them.

So, what are we to do?

Remember the graces.

Remember the graces of your marriage. Remember the miracles that have happened together. Remember what Jesus has done for you. "And be subordinate to each other out of reverence to Christ" who has been subordinate to you!

Help each other to remember. Build each other up. Wives, look for those reasons to believe in your husband again; husbands, look for ways to deepen the reasons for your wife to believe in you again!


That was the first hard teaching. The second hard teaching is much, much briefer. And it comes from the last two lines of the Sixth Chapter of John. For some reason, they are omitted from today's Gospel reading (you can find them in your Bible at home, however). Anyway. After Peter remembers the miracles and makes his statement of faith, Jesus responds:
Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.
What's going on here? Jesus is saying: 
Ok, Peter, good. You remember and you are with me. But this is not the only time you will not understand. This is not the only time that you will be scandalized. One of your own-- not the crowds, not the people in the pews-- but one of your own, an Apostle and a bishop like you, will betray me. One of your own is going to be the cause of scandal.

And what will you do then? Will you remember the miracles? Will you remember the graces? Will you proclaim a living faith then?

I think such words are important in our times. I addressed the clergy scandals at length in my previous homily and noted many things that we as a church must do, from support of victims, to holding people accountable, and so on (and you can find that homily on my webpage).

But I think another thing we must do during these times-- the mission that we have-- is twofold:

One: remember. Remember the miracles; remember the graces. God is with us; His Eucharist, His Presence is here. And He gave that on the very night He was betrayed by an Apostle, a bishop. Jesus foresaw what would happen and He gave us all the reasons to keep on believing.

Two: go out and help people remember. Help a scandalized and unbelieving world to remember that there are miracles and graces and reasons to believe.

This is our faith. This is our hope. Let us proclaim that now and ask our Lord to strengthen us in it.

St. Theodore, pray for us! +

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Running into the Burning Building

Shock, horror, amazement, anger, sadness, worry. In the moments and days after the 9/11 attacks, I would use these words to describe my thoughts and feelings; of course, those words were not adequate. Like many of you, I still remember where I was when it happened. Of course, for those of you who are currently in college and younger-- you probably do not remember having such feelings on 9/11 because you were too young or not alive. Yet, you and all of us were effected by it: we live in the age of security checkpoints at airports, ziplock bags in carryons, "God Bless America" in the seventh-inning stretch, an un-ending war in the middle east, and a rise in anti-religious sentiment. This is the post-9/11 world.

A few months after 9/11 came the "Long Lent of 2002." This is when the first bombshell of a series of bombshells fell about how many priests in the Boston Archdiocese had done terrible things to the young and innocent. Catholics would be using the same words I had at 9/11-- and with the same inadequacy. Surprisingly, I remember nothing about that Lent and those bombshells. That may sound odd, but the Internet back then was not what it is today; I did not have a TV; and I was trying desperately not to fail out of WashU. Many college students at this time do not remember Lent 2002.

Of course, like our young who never experienced 9/11 but who know it by its fruits, I would see 2002's effects years later: parish churches' attendance was dropping dramatically; there was disillusionment and increased distrust of clergy along with names calling them what many of them were (and which I will not repeat here because there are little ears present); we would see Protecting God's Children seminars; and a rise in anti-Catholic sentiment.

Since I wasn't anywhere close to being alive in the Church prior to 2002, I figured that these seminars, the names, the anti-catholic sentiment, and so on were normal-- much like those who live in a post 9/11 world consider airport security lines normal.

When I entered the seminary in 2006, I was entering at a time that it was not popular to enter. I didn't really care, however, because I was entering not for popularity but for Him. And after all, I didn't commit those crimes. And I was still the same guy who just weeks before was in a shirt and tie and trusted with teaching high schoolers. Certainly, I thought, people would still see I was the same Anthony whether I wore a collar or a tie. I was naive.

When I told my dad I was entering the seminary and not becoming a doctor, he raised his fist so as to hit me. He had stopped practicing the faith after the scandals of 2002 came out. After the craziness that followed Vatican II, it was his last straw. And the fact that I was becoming a priest in what he saw was a perversion of the Catholic Church-- it was too much for him.

Walking around in my collar in this post-2002 world is life-changing. Many people thanked me for becoming a priest at such a time; but many people looked at me with suspicion and even hatred-- even though I had done nothing wrong. I came to realize that many in this world which preached non-judgmentalism judged me guilty by association; or someone who is cow-towed into silence and cover-up. Some expected me to apologize for criminal priests, not thinking that this would be like asking David Freese to apologize for the 1919 Black Sox. Maybe I'm wrong there.

At any rate, I began to understand why many faithful priests would remove their collars when they went out to eat. And why many parents now worry about sending their boys to seminary.

The effects of 2002 were enough. I prayed I would never have to live through a 2002 as a priest. Just like we pray we never have to live through another 9/11.

But this past week, I found myself hearing about new bombshells, now in Pennsylvania: scandals that are double in size to Boston. And more bishops. And even Cardinals. I found myself saying those same words as I did at 9/11: I am shocked, horrified, amazed, angry, sad, and worried. Hearing parts of the unsealed Grand Jury report have made me sick to my stomach-- and I cannot hear any more of it.

In the past week, I have wanted bishops to resign and I have battled thoughts of vengeance. I have searched for wisdom and for the holy course of action. I have prayed for the victims and for all the innocent. Including those priests that are innocent. And the lay faithful, you, who have to endure these evil times.

The comparison to 9/11 is the best I can come up with right now. The analogy fails, however, in that we are not watching this on TV. We're living it.

That said, I remember the fire-fighters that ran into the Twin Towers on 9/11 and I realize this is what I'm being called to do here. Terrorists-- sadly our own priests-- have bombed the Church and the Church is on fire. And I can either stand there-- amazed, afraid (and both would be normal reactions) or I can be like those heroes and run in there and save her. I prefer that-- even if people say that I'm wasting my life. Because this is what Jesus did.

During the past couple of weeks, Jesus has been telling us how He is going to give us His Body and Blood. I have always wondered why He included His Blood. Why not body and soul? Here's why: Blood is connected to life and to judgment. Here's what that means. When Cain killed Abel, Abel's blood cried out to God and God heard it. When Jesus gives His Blood "of the new and eternal covenant," He is saying that He loves us not just with nice words, but with actions. And this blood proclaims judgment: those who do evil will be judged. Jesus sweat blood in the Garden as He saw all of these sins-- these sins even of His priests-- and His blood proclaims both love (for He went to the Cross anyway and His mercy can forgive all), but for those who refuse mercy and love: judgment.

That said, I am in agony with Jesus over this. And will go to the Cross with Him anyway. This will mean certain things that I as a priest will do in prayer and in penance.

If you wish to join me, if you are looking for what to do, run with me into the burning building:

First, if you are a victim of abuse-- abuse of any kind (sexual, emotional, physical) and by anyone (spouse, teacher, priest, anyone) tell somebody. Report it to the authorities. I know this takes courage, but the truth is not afraid of the light. This needs to be addressed. Only then can healing begin.

Second, if someone attacks your Catholic faith because of these scandals, do not defend what happened. What happened is reprehensible and indefensible. People need to grieve this and vent their anger-- that's one of the stages of grieving.

Third, do not fall for the lie that prayers do nothing. We must both call for bishops to tell the truth and treat this as the crisis it is AND we must pray. If we do not pray, this spiritual war will never end. That said, I am not praying for more policies-- we have plenty of those-- I am praying for action, for the Holy Spirit to pull up this evil by the roots. Eucharistic Adoration, where we pray before Jesus' body and blood, is crucial here. Come to adoration.

Fourth, do not lose hope. When Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus and the apostles kept loving and believing. Our parish and the Church at large continues to do great things: in our schools, in our help with the poor, at our Masses. Remind people about the good and that holiness continues-- just as Paul said: "where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more."

Fifth, know that the Archdiocese of St. Louis has overhauled its seminary since 2002. To gain entry, a man must go through a thorough psychological examination and his every-day activities are observed and evaluated by formators-- which include lay professors and psychologists. In addition, the Archdiocese's child protection practices were evaluated by a member of the FBI and found to be thorough. On my end, knowing that even just one false-accusation can ruin a priest, I am scrupulous when it comes to being with children; I always make sure there is a group and another adult present.

Sixth, when people say this is a reason to get rid of celibacy because men need to engage in physical relations; tell them, no, this is the reason why men need to take control of their physical appetites and master them. Indeed, if a married man wants to remain married, he knows this fact: that when a beautiful, "newer model" comes walking into the office with high heels, that man had better be celibate while she is there. Celibacy is not the issue-- promiscuity and psychological illnesses are (along with the culture that covers up and encourages them).

Seventh and finally: I have sat and talked with God about this homily. He responded with the following words. Please take them to reflection and prayer, too:
Matthew 18:6 "If anyone causes scandal to any of these little ones, it would be better for that man if a millstone were tied around his neck and cast into the sea." 
Romans 12:19: "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord."
Matthew 18:21: "Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'Not seven times, but seventy times seven."

I leave you with a prayer that has given me comfort in these days. It is Psalm 5:
Give ear to my words, O LORD; give heed to my groaning.
Hearken to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to thee do I pray.
O LORD, in the morning thou dost hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for thee, and watch.
For thou art not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with thee.
The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers.
Thou destroyest those who speak lies;
the LORD abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.
But I through the abundance of thy steadfast love will enter thy house,
I will worship toward thy holy temple in the fear of thee.
Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of my enemies;
make thy way straight before me.
For there is no truth in their mouth; their heart is destruction,
their throat is an open sepulchre, they flatter with their tongue.
Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels;
because of their many transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against thee.
But let all who take refuge in thee rejoice, let them ever sing for joy;
and do thou defend them, that those who love thy name may exult in thee.
For thou dost bless the righteous, O LORD;
thou dost cover him with favor as with a shield.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. +

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Out from the Clearance Bin - Homily for Corpus Christi (2018)

This weekend, we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi-- that's Latin for "The Body of Christ." It is a celebration of God having given us the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ present here in the Eucharist.

One of the joys of being assigned to a parish with a school is that I get to see the children and their reaction to the Eucharist. For example, on Tuesdays we have Eucharistic Adoration here. This is where we place a gold object, called a monstrance, on the altar (monstrance from the Latin "to show"). In this monstrance, there is a window and, behind the window, you can see the host, the Eucharist. When people come to Eucharistic Adoration, they come to see and to adore Jesus present in the host. There's no need to recite lengthy prayers or to "do" anything. It is enough to just be with Jesus.

The kids, for their part, often kneel in the pews and some of them move up to the floor in front of the pews where they sit or kneel. But it's pretty cool to see what they do. I see them close their eyes in prayer; others sit criss-cross and just look up at Jesus; once, I saw a child blow a kiss to Jesus. It's very beautiful.

Children, I think, have a sense that Jesus is here. A mom of our parish recently told me that her little one whispers in her ear at communion time: the little one says, "Mom, my mouth is watering. I want Jesus." Indeed, I have a memory from my childhood-- I was about 4 or 5. I remember the priest giving out communion from the ciborium (that is the gold object that holds the Eucharist-- from the Latin "cibus" meaning "food"-- a ciborium is a food container...)-- I remember the priest giving out communion and I wondered how it was that he never ran out of hosts. I knew the story of the multiplication of loaves and fishes and I just presumed that when Father gave out one host, another miraculously reappeared in the ciborium!

I will admit: in hindsight, I know that I am very blessed that, from a very young age, I always believed or at least intuited that there was something miraculous going on here. I knew it wasn't about the preaching (thank God!) nor the music. Mass wasn't a meeting on Sundays. It was something special-- Jesus was here. And something miraculous and transcendent was going on-- something out of the ordinary.

I'm blessed in that I've never really doubted this. Sure, I've had temptations just like anyone else, but I always believed. What I found interesting, however, is that the moments of temptation typically came in those moments when I was in a hurry or preoccupied with some other project. I started to wonder why this was.

The conclusion I came to was this: there is a correlation between the cost of something and the value we place on it. Let me repeat that: there is a correlation between the cost of something and the value we place on it.

That's kind of heady, so let me explain.

Say that you want to buy a pair of shoes and you find the pair you want in the clearance bin. Ok, so they're twenty bucks, but they were the ones you were looking for. -- But they were in the clearance bin. We start to think: what's wrong with them? why are they on clearance? why did no one else want them? are they knock offs? are they damaged? and so on.

Let's say that you go to the store again and this time you buy a pair of shoes, but this time you spend $120 on them. A pretty fine pair of shoes for that cost. Indeed, you are going to take care of those $120 shoes. They cost $120-- so you're not going to walk through the mud in them or give them to your dog to chew on and so on. No, you're going to take care of them.

Here's the point: our human nature will take care of the shoes that cost $120 much more than those that cost $20-- even if they are the exact same pair of shoes. In other words, it doesn't matter so much about the shoes so much as how much you spend on them. If you spent a lot on that pair, you're going to take care of it much more than the one you got from the clearance bin. There is a correlation between the cost of something and the value we place on it.

The same can be said about our faith.

So, for example, it is no secret that some converts to the Catholic faith are more zealous and evangelical than some cradle Catholics. Why is this? Take, for example, a Baptist who is becoming Catholic. She may lose her friends over this; or her parents; she will definitely lose her Baptist worshipping community (some who may even accuse her of idolatry when she talks about worshipping the Eucharist). But she feels called to the Eucharist. So, to help explain to her family and friends and community, she starts reading and studying and forming ways to articulate. And, probably during all of this, the way that she is living is changing, too.

This-- this Eucharist, the very Thing that makes Catholics different than all Christian denominations-- this is costing her a lot. And precisely because it cost her so much-- much more than those $120 shoes-- she is going to value it so much more than those for whom this faith cost them nothing.

What does this mean for us?

I think it means that we need to raise the bar when it comes to our spiritual life and Eucharistic devotion. Here's what I mean by that. After the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, there was a kind of experiment in the Church that thought that, if we lowered the bar when it came to morality, to what was expected at Mass, and so on-- that if we lowered the bar, more people would become Catholic.

But if you look at how many parishes have closed and how many people are no longer Catholic-- well, I think you can see that this particular experiment has failed.

The question is why?

The answer is: because at the very heart of our religion is the belief that love costs. We believe in Jesus Christ, who is God, and that He loved us even unto the Cross-- and that cost Him His life. It is this same Jesus that then turned to us and said, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must lay down his life, pick up his cross daily, and follow me." In other words, if you love, there is a cost.

In past centuries, the laws of the Catholic Church helped Her children to remember this fact and actually to live it out. For example, many of you remember that, when it came to fasting before receiving communion, it wasn't an hour-- it was from midnight. You had to make it from midnight all the way to after Sunday morning Mass. (Which is why you didn't see too many Sunday evening Masses. And the word "breakfast" literally comes from this: Break Fast). You would literally feel a little pain before and even during Mass.

Our culture is so averted to cost that when the Church even begins to mention the costs required for Holy Communion (like, being free from mortal sin and a practicing Catholic), people get upset. But precisely because there is no cost, so many have such a little value of the Eucharist.

Now, this is not a complaining homily about how things have changed from the 1960s. That's not the point.

The point is that, when we were children, we found it quite easy to believe and to love Jesus in the Eucharist. We didn't have anything else pulling us away from valuing this. But then there came dating. And then college and studies. And responsibilities like a job and bills and family and so on. And we are pulled in many directions. Because things became complicated, we now had to choose-- and whatever we chose would cost us those things that we didn't choose. If I chose work on Sunday, it would cost me the Eucharist. If I chose the Eucharist, it would cost me the extra sleep on Sunday, etc.

To battle the temptation and to grown in a greater faith and love in Jesus here-- we have to raise the bar and, in a sense, we have to have this cost us more. I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about Monsignor Orf. Monsignor Orf-- he's a priest that came from our parish. He's about 90 years old. He offers Mass with me once in a while. Now, I have bad knees-- I can't imagine his, being 90 years old, but he tells me they aren't all that great. And yet, he genuflects to Jesus here. And when Monsignor genuflects, I hear a little grunt of pain-- it hurts.

There's the cost of love.

I don't know the specifics of how God wants to raise the bar of your spiritual life and Eucharistic devotion, but maybe it starts with a devoted genuflection. Maybe it means kneeling without putting your butt on the pew to rest. Maybe it means making a good act of faith when you come up the line. Maybe it's the commitment to Sunday Mass every Sunday. Maybe the cost is dressing nicely instead of casual. Maybe the cost is telling your employer that you can't work on Sundays anymore. I don't know what it is for you-- but can you imagine that person whom God is asking to tell their employer that Sunday Mass is more important than work on Sundays? Or the churches in Syria that are being destroyed and yet the people still come?

Can you imagine how much they value the Eucharist? They can look up at the Lord and say, "Jesus, I took that great chance, Lord, to be here with you."

It was a little Cross; but believe how much the Lord will bless that!

We must not lower the bar, but raise it. It makes our faith all the more firm; it makes our communion all the more sweet; it makes our worship all the more intense; it makes our community all the more vibrant. It makes us all like children again, kneeling in prayer, telling Jesus that we love Him and blowing Him kisses.

Friday, February 2, 2018

A Moment in Groundhog Day...

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. It's the Feast of the Presentation AND it's Groundhog Day. I celebrate with Holy Mass in the morning and then, sometime later, I watch the movie "Groundhog Day." (I know: I have weird traditions).

For what it's worth, one of my favorite moments in the movie "Groundhog Day" (and, for that matter, in any movie), is the moment of Phil's conversion. I won't tell you the whole movie, but there comes a point when he's reading poetry and, at the poem's last line, Phil realizes he's been foolish about love and about God.

The rest of the movie (and it's a pretty beautiful rest of the movie) is all about giving yourself over in self-gift.

... Which also happens to be a major theme of the Catholic Feast of the Presentation. In this Catholic Feast, the light of God comes to us as Mary brings Jesus (the light) into the temple. It is at this moment that hearts come to see that the best way to respond in life is to give ourselves over to Him and neighbor in self-gift-- that is, in love.

It's a beautiful moment. And, as I sip my coffee this morning, I can't help but smile at seeing this little bridge between the two.

Oh, and if you would like to know the last line of the poem that Phil was reading, it is from "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer. I hope you read it-- it's one of my favorites. You can find it right here:

I think that I shall never see 
A poem lovely as a tree. 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest 
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 

A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 

A tree that may in Summer wear 
A nest of robins in her hair; 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 
Who intimately lives with rain. 

Poems are made by fools like me, 
But only God can make a tree.