Sunday, August 14, 2016

Do they know we are Christians by our love

As Catholic Christians, we have the rock, we have the truth, we have power.  Jesus has told us that he is the way, the truth, and the life and that he is the way to the Father.  Jesus told us that he has already won victory over the evil one.  We cannot keep this message to ourselves.  Our broken world needs Jesus now more than ever.    
                                                                     
For most of us, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ isn't in our comfort zone.  We'd probably rather just keep quiet and not get involved. But, as baptized Christians, our mission is to lead everyone to Christ by our loving, joyful, and hopeful, words and actions.  We often sing:  "They'll know we are Christians by our love."  Do people we meet really know that we are Christians by our love or are we just the same as everyone else?

After the priest was killed in France, I decided that I needed to do something to show that I'm a Christian and a deacon in the Catholic Church.  Deacons in this Archdiocese cannot wear clerics, like priests can.  So that option is out.  But, I can wear a deacon cross on my collar whenever I go out.  The cross indicates that I am a Christian and the red stole over the cross indicates that I am a deacon.  Now, I realize that this is a little thing.  But, I hope that this will be a small witness to my faith and my vocation.  I would suggest that all of us wear a cross.  This would provide a great example of who we serve, Jesus Christ.  It also encourages us to act as Christians wherever we are.
As Catholic Christians and members of Jesus' church, why are so many of us afraid to bless ourselves and say grace in public?  When the person at the checkout counter greets us with “happy holidays,” why are we afraid to respond, “Merry Christmas to you”?  And why do we think that Jesus came to bring us a false peace where nobody is offended, no one is called to task?  And, why do we think we have come to hear an easy Gospel, be lulled into a false security, and belong to a religion that costs us nothing?           
The Gospel today calls all of us to a faith that is not cheap, not wimpy, not politically correct.  Which is why only fire can describe it so well!  Am I fully committed to being a disciple of Jesus?  What am I willing to sacrifice for Him?


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Don't fear, pray and trust

     Often, I have a dream where  I'm in school, it's the end of the quarter and I haven't attended any classes.  And, I am taking the final exam but I don't know anything about the subject.   I'm freaking out and don't know what to do. 
     I think that this dream relates to my fear of being unprepared and looking foolish.  I normally don't just wing it.  I like to be in control.  But, sometimes things are outside of my control. 
     Today, we see a world where things are spiraling out of control.  In Baton Rouge, Dallas, Orlando, Munich, Paris, and elsewhere, evil seems to have the upper hand.   These tragic events seem to be happening at an increasingly rapid pace.  Our governments are trying to find the bad guys before they do evil things.  And often they are successful but occasionally,  the evil happens.  It is enough to give us nightmares.  
     Several weeks' ago, I attended a conference for priests, deacons, and seminarians with Father Wood.  The first speaker, Father Dave, encouraged us not to fear but to pray.  He encouraged us not to get overwhelmed by our day to day work or by the evil in our world today, but to focus on prayer and on our primary responsibility - the salvation of souls. 
     This same message applies to all of us.  We can get so overwhelmed by our day to day needs and by things that don't really matter, like the many activities that we or our children participate in, that we forget what really matters - the salvation of souls.  For each of us, our critical job is to lead ourselves, our spouses, and our children to heaven.  Everything else is not very important.
     So, how do we do this?  Of course, prayer is a very important part.  Hopefully, our prayers aren't a negotiation with God, like we heard Abraham negotiating with God in the first reading.  We might say, I'll come to church every Sunday if you'll just get me a job.  Or, I'll put money in the collection basket if you'll just heal me of this illness.  We should trust that God will answer our prayers.  Our prayers should strengthen our relationship with our loving God.  God knows what is best for us in the long term, for our salvation, better than we do.  He might allow us to carry a cross so that we start relying on him instead of ourselves. 
     I'm not suggesting that if we just pray and turn things over to God, our lives will be perfect.  No, but when we can rid of the evil, the sin in our lives, we can be a beacon of hope and love to those that we meet.  This is something that we can control which will have an impact on our family and our friends.
     With the evil events occurring the world today, It might seem that we should be on the defensive.  We might want to protect ourselves and our families and even our church from harm.  So, we might just try to build walls to protect ourselves from those that might harm us.  We might keep to ourselves or interact only with those that we know.  But, this isn't want the Lord did and it isn't what he wants us to do.  Instead, we are to go on the offensive.  We are to get out of our churches, our homes, and our offices and show the love of the Lord to everyone we meet.
     A great example for us to follow in this area is Mother Theresa.  In the midst of turmoil in India, she went to the poorest of the poor and met their needs.  And, along with her sisters, she even found time to pray several hours each day for those they ministered to .
     Today's Gospel tells us to ask and we will receive, seek and we will find, knock and the door will be opened.  God is there for us especially in those areas we cannot control.  We just have to trust in Him.   We also should seek His guidance and should follow His will in key areas of our lives.  Before we take a new job, or buy a house, or determine our vocation in life, or decide upon our future spouse, we should pray and listen.  And, we should turn to him when things seem to be spiraling out of control either in our lives or in our nation.
     In today's Gospel, “friend” is mentioned three times and  friendship is used once. The atmosphere of this parable is a world of friendship. The one asking, is a friend. The unexpected guest who came at midnight, is a friend. The one inside, with the much-needed bread, is a friend.  Jesus’ listeners expected a favorable response from the person inside: one friend helping another friend to feed a friend who came visiting.
     If a friend would respond favorably to a request, how much more will God favor us? And we don’t have to wear God down. The parable urges us to express our constant and daily trust in God. We won’t get discouraged. We won’t give up. There is something in trustful asking and in persistence.  As we wait for a response, we come to grow in trust for Jesus, our friend, who will provide for our real needs, the ones only God can know.

    Today's Gospel is all about prayer and trust.  Jesus tells us how to pray and gives us the Our Father.  Then, he tells us that he will answer our prayers.  So, we can say with conviction: Jesus, I trust in you.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mothers help us become saints

           Today we celebrate Jesus' Ascension into heaven and Mother's day.  Our mothers raise us.  They take care of us when we are sick.  And they correct us when we do things we shouldn't do.  Proverbs 29 tells us: "a child left to himself brings shame to his mother." Clearly, good and holy mothers are critical to the health and well being of their children.   Children don't raise themselves.  And a good child isn't raised by a village but by a family.  Mothers are the heart of the family.
            Last week at the first communion masses, I watched the mothers and fathers as they proudly came up to the altar with their children who would receive the Eucharist for the first time.  I noticed one mother who was crying as her twins received communion.  After mass, I asked her why she was crying.  She said that they were tears of joy as she watched her children and thought about how hard it has been raising them on her own.
            Mothers routinely sacrifice for their children.  They sacrifice their time, talent, and treasure to make sure that they are well fed and happy.  That's what mothers do. 
            There is a special place in heaven for all mothers.  Mothers have to endure a lot in raising their children.  When the children are young, they have to be at their beck and call most of the time.  And when they get older they still have to nurture them, direct them, and make sure that they stay on the straight and narrow. 
            Most mothers have some favorite sayings in directing their children.  I remember that whenever I did something bad by imitating one of my friends, my mother would say:  "If Chucky jumped off a bridge, would you do that also?"  She also was fond of saying: "offer it up" whenever I complained about something.  Often, a mother's sayings get passed down to their children and grandchildren.  Occasionally, I will hear my daughters say something to their children that my wife used to say.  That certainly makes me smile. 
            In the first reading, after Jesus rose into heaven, two men say to the apostles: "Why are you standing there looking at the sky?"   This sounds like something that our mothers might say to us.  Why are you just standing there wasting time, get to work! 
And so it is for us who look for Christ in the clouds when all the time he is here among us.  The early Christians spent a lot of time looking up at the heavens for Christ. Their writings reveal a general expectation that Christ would return soon, perhaps even before those who knew him firsthand had died. There is a legend that in the early Church someone was appointed, probably a deacon, to go outside during the celebration of the Eucharist to see if Christ had returned. Gradually, the Church learned that it should be concentrating on building up the Kingdom of God here on earth rather than gazing at the heavens.
 As members of Jesus' church, we are clothed with power from on high.  And, it certainly is time for us to get to work.  Let us honor our mothers by becoming saints.  I know that sounds like a difficult target, but, by definition, we cannot get to heaven unless we are a saint.  So, the goal for each of us is to become a saint.  And for many of us, our mother, by her love, her prayer, and her discipline, helps us either here on earth or from heaven as we continue along this journey. 
At a recent CRHP meeting, Several men commented that our parish is special.   They indicated that the many young, vibrant families here drew them to our parish.  In these families, we see the love and sacrifice of the mother.  Each week at mass, a family is asked to bring up the gifts.  Often, these families have young children.  And, typically the youngest end up carrying the gifts while the parents follow behind praying that the children successfully make it up the aisle without dropping anything.  Several weeks ago, a family with several young children was bringing up the gifts.  Their twin boys, who are around two, were each carrying a bowl with  money in it.  And their four year old daughter was carrying the carafe of wine with another young boy carrying the plate.  Fortunately, they made it safely up to me.  I am impressed with the courage of parents who trust their children to do this at such a young age.
Today, I salute all of the mothers present.  For those of you who brought your children, thank you for bringing them to church.  I know that this isn't easy especially when they are little and even when they are teenagers.  And I salute my wife who is the mother of five and my two daughters and two daughter in laws who are raising my nine wonderful grandchildren.

God bless and happy mother's day.  

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The shepherd and heroic leadership

A number of years' ago I read a book titled Heroic Leadership.  It is about the 500 year history of the Jesuits.  In the book, they give four key principles which enabled the Jesuits to survive during some very turbulent times.  The four principles are: self awareness - knowing who you are and what you value, ingenuity - exploring new ideas, love, and heroism.
Today I want to focus on the last principle, which is: when the opportunity presents itself, do something heroic.  There is no question that Jesus did this when he died on the cross for us.  He is the best example of  heroism the world has ever known.  He was even  willing to give up his life for us.
            In today's Gospel, we are given the image of Jesus the shepherd.   John is encouraging his community to pay attention to the shepherd, who is present to and guides his flock. They are to listen to him.  And he even pays attention and listens to us, the sheep of his flock. If we hear the voice of the Shepherd, we will remain close to him and he will strengthen us as the world closes in and opposes us- as it did to him.
            We are meant to follow Jesus, our shepherd.  Many of us are also shepherds for others in our roles as parents, grandparents, friends, bosses, and co-workers. In these situations, we are meant be like Jesus and lead them to him.  I know that this isn't always easy.  And, like Jesus, we may be ridiculed, and face resistance in our attempts. 
            So, this is the act of heroism that all of us are meant to perform during our lives.  We are meant to lead others to Jesus, even if we are ridiculed and our efforts don't seem to be bearing fruit.  We are meant to lead others to Christ by our words and our actions.  Now, this may not seem to be heroic - especially if we only talk to those who are members of our own community.  But, we all know how difficult it is to bring up Jesus and our Catholic faith to others.  It certainly isn't easy.  But, that is our role, to shepherd those who we come into contact with and to lead them to Jesus' flock. 
            Of course, it is especially important to lead our family and our friends to Christ.  When we get to heaven, we will want all of them to be there with us.  And sometimes it is more difficult to talk to them than it is to talk to someone we hardly know.  That is why this evangelization effort requires constant heroism.  When the opportunity presents itself, do something heroic.  When the opportunity presents itself to lead some lost sheep toward Jesus, the Good Shepherd, do it. 
            Now, you may say that you don't know enough about Christ and his Church to do this.  If you don't, you should.  Pick up your bible and your Catechism and learn your faith.  Turn on EWTN or Sacred Heart Radio or log onto our faith formation web site: formed.org and watch the programs, listen to the CD's, watch the religious movies, and read the books.  The Catholic telegraph called this site, Netflix for Catholics.  There simply isn't any excuse these days for not knowing your faith.  And if you struggle with some aspects of your faith, come see Father Bernie, Father Wood, or me to discuss these areas. 
Many times during our lives we are faced with a critical decision.  Often, we can decide to either take the easy way or the difficult, road less traveled.  Normally, our world tells us to take the easy way out, the path of least resistance.  In fact, we might even be ridiculed if we go against the tide.
            We are not meant to wander off  from the rest of the flock and go it alone.  While it is possible to attempt to follow Christ on our own, that isn't the model that Jesus left for us in his church.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  If we attempt to discover truth on our own, we will be deceived by the evil one.  We are meant to follow Christ in community so that we have the love and support of each other, especially on the difficult parts of our journey.

Perform an act of heroism by telling your family and your friends  about Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Tell them how you have experienced the love of Jesus in your life.  Share your faith.  Your reward will be heavenly.      

Monday, October 26, 2015

Master, I want to see!

In today's Gospel, Bartimaeus says: "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!"  Jesus responds: "What do you want me to do for you?"  Then, Bartimaeus says: "Master, I want to see." 
Do you ever wish that you could have a conversation with Jesus like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, had?  Well you can.  The first key to having this conversation with Jesus is to realize that we are blind and cannot recover our sight on our own.  Now, most of us are not physically blind.  Due to prescription glasses, contact lenses, and laser surgery, we can see pretty well.  Instead, I am talking about spiritual sight.   That is, how we see things which have an impact on our eternal life.    In a spiritual sense, the eyesight of all of us is clouded to one extent or another by the world that we live in.  We cannot help but be influenced by the movies and TV that we watch, the music that we hear, and by our friends. 
My point is that we are all influenced by these things whether we realize it or not.  They can give us spiritual blinders when it comes to our eternal destiny.  And, to make it even worse, we don't even realize it.  Our moral decisions are clouded and yet, we think that is perfectly normal.  Yes, this is the state of affairs in our world today because, as Jesus tells us, the devil is the prince of this world.
So, what can we do?  We can start by approaching Jesus as Bartimaeus did in the Gospel, saying: "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!"   We need to acknowledge our sinfulness and beg for his mercy.  No matter how many or how few sins we might have committed, this is an excellent place to start.  We can go to the sacrament of reconciliation which will wipe away our sins and give us a clean slate.
Then, we can approach Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist and prayerfully listen to his loving advice.  In our prayers after receiving the Eucharist, we can pour out our difficulties to him and then  silently listen to his will for us.
Anyone who repeatedly exposes himself or herself to the Eucharist and confides in it will be changed.  We cannot receive the Body of Christ again and again, we cannot sit in his presence frequently without being affected by him and challenged by him, being changed and led by him.  We may of course lag behind him.  But, in the long run there are really only two possibilities: either to shake off the Eucharist or to surrender to it, to hold fast to it.  If we hold fast to the Lord, we will not be abandoned by him.  If we share our problems and concerns with him calmly and patiently, humbly and sincerely, we will be led by him and will never be denied his light.
Besides receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we have a great opportunity to pray here at St Francis every weekday before the tabernacle.  And one day each week, the Eucharist is exposed in the monstrance so that we can actually see the consecrated host as we pray.
I have been blessed to have an adoration hour in church on Monday from 1 till 2 for the past twenty years.  Before I retired, this was my busiest day at work but during my prayer hour I would normally experience peace in the presence of the Lord.  I have witnessed many changes in my life over those years.  Often, I have placed my concerns and my struggles before the Lord.  On occasion, I didn't like the answers that I received from him.  Although sometimes I have been challenged, in the end I have found joy when I have followed His will.  I have come to realize that he knows what is best for me better than I do.  I still haven't managed to completely let go and let God.  I am still stubborn and think that I know better.  But, I'm improving and he continues to work with me. 
If you don't already have an adoration hour, I'd encourage you to sign up for one.  Normally, there are one or two people at each hour, so you'll have Jesus almost to yourself during your hour.  You can sit or kneel in the adoration chapel and experience the presence of the Lord.  You might wonder what you will do for an hour in silence without your phone or anything else interrupting you.  You can pray the rosary or the Divine Mercy chaplet.  You can read and meditate on the bible.  You can write a letter to God and share your joys and sorrows.  Or you can just sit quietly and listen. 

Bartimaeus waited patiently for Jesus on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.  Then, he had to ignore the rebukes of Jesus followers  and continue to cry out for his mercy.  When we want to spend time with Jesus, it is much easier, maybe too easy.  We can receive him in Holy Communion when we come to mass in the state of grace.  We can spend time with him in the adoration chapel on any weekday.  All we have to do is to commit to one hour each week.  If you don't already have an adoration hour, please sign up for one in the gathering space at the end of mass.  Jesus is waiting for you.  He will ask you as he did Bartimaeus: "What do you want me to do for you?"  Then, you can tell him: " Master, I want to see."

Monday, October 12, 2015

The rich man goes away sad

In today's Gospel, a wealthy man came to Jesus to ask what he needed to do “to inherit eternal life.” Evidently, this man was where many of us are. His material needs were being met, but not his spiritual ones. He wasn't a bad man, just an empty one.

This man believed that, if he just kept the Law, he would have it made spiritually. He thought money would make him happy. But it didn’t. He thought minding all the rules of his faith would make him happy, but it didn’t. All his life he had been taught that if he had enough money and if he was a good person, that would be enough. But it wasn’t.

He was asking the right question: "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"   This is the ultimate question for all of us.  But, he didn't get the answer that he was expecting and hoping for.  He probably was expecting Jesus to tell him that he was following all of the commandments and was a pretty good guy, so he was on the right track for heaven. 

Jesus looked at this man and loved him. Jesus knew this man was trying to live as his society told him he ought to live. And Jesus appreciated that. Jesus wanted to give him the key to what he needed. “One thing you lack,” Jesus said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 

If accumulating toys won’t bring you happiness and keeping the rules won’t buy you salvation, what’s it going to take? If we take everything we have and sell it, and give the proceeds to the poor like Jesus was telling this man to do, is that enough? Well, that depends. Is money what’s most important in our life? Is it money that’s keeping us from giving our all to God? When Jesus told this man to sell everything he had and give to the poor, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus was telling this man the truth about what came first in this his life--and that was his money.

What is it that comes first in our life? What is it that keeps us from doing something great for God? Is it our job? Is it time playing computer games, or watching sports on TV, conversing with our friends on Facebook, or some hobby? Where do we devote our time, our money, our dreams, and our energy? Is it the accumulation of ever more wealth, ever more toys?
Jesus calls us to follow Him not on our terms but on His.  In fact, Jesus doesn't even promise us a roof over our heads.  The foxes and birds have better benefits than we do.  Jesus demands our all.  It would be unreasonable for anyone else to make such demands.  But a crucified, nail-scarred Savior has the right to expect our all. 

Jesus' teaching can evoke feelings of guilt.  We are a comfortable community.  Few of us have any fears about food or shelter, or basic human needs.  Our children are cared for, our responsibilities are met, our future is as secure as one might hope for in these insecure times.

But Jesus’ words today call us to look beyond our lives, to the needs of the poor.  Nobody likes to feel guilty, but I think guilt is like cholesterol.  There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol; so too with guilt.  Bad guilt can immobilize you, making you feel hopeless or helpless. Good guilt helps you get off the dime and get moving, and opens you to making some needed changes. 

The wealthy young man who came to Jesus probably thought that he had it made. But, in truth, he was a slave to his wealth. Jesus was offering him a lifeline, but he couldn’t see it. All he could see was what he would be giving up.

Jesus doesn't say that it is impossible for people with money to enter the kingdom. He said, “All things are possible with God.” The people in danger are those who put their wealth before God. The people in danger are those who enjoy their wealth while turning a blind eye to the needs of the poor. The people in danger are those who have no greater purpose in life than the accumulation of more.

We all want to be liked.  When we post something on Facebook, we want to get a lot of likes.  In fact, some are almost addicted to being liked.  But, in the big picture of life, these likes don't matter.  What matters is the like that we get from Jesus at the end of our life.  St Francis of Assisi once said: "Who you are before Jesus is who you are; nothing more, nothing less."  All of the money, the friends, and the power we might have in our life doesn't matter.  What matters is who we are before Jesus.  Will he like us?  Will he comment: "Well done my good and faithful servant, now enter the kingdom of heaven"?           

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Deaf and dumb


       Ten years' ago, I felt a calling to the diaconate and discussed this with several people in the parish.   When I told a good friend that I would have to go to school for about five years, he commented that I knew my Catholic faith well and shouldn't need all these classes.  As I took classes, I realized that there were large gaps in my knowledge of the faith.  I knew a lot in some areas but very little in others.  When I read articles in the paper criticizing church teaching, often I couldn't articulate why the church taught what it taught.  In short, I was deaf and dumb when it came to my faith.  I needed my ears and mouth to be opened like Jesus did in today's gospel.

The deaf man with the speech impediment in the gospel points to our own difficulty in hearing the message of the gospel as it is proclaimed in our own time. Each of us is in continual need of being healed of our own deafness—not the physical deafness of the man in the gospel, but a more critical impediment: our faculty for hearing with our souls. We go through life struggling to hear the Word more clearly. Because if we cannot hear the Word clearly, we cannot proclaim it clearly or live it out well in our daily lives. Learning to listen in this way to what God is saying is a lifelong discipline.

For many people today, the words we will soon declare in our confession of faith, the Creed, are simply absurd. They have no meaning.  The atheist, for example, finds absurd the notion of a loving God who, out of love for you and me, would send his son into the world to be crucified. Such a person is impeded from hearing the voice of God in the words we proclaim. His or her deafness is as real as that faced by Jesus in the gospel.

And what about us? Do the words we recite in the Creed seem absurd to us? Of course they do, because they are such huge thoughts! Anyone who is not a little hard of hearing when it comes to the great truths we proclaim is not being honest with themselves. We are all impeded in our hearing of the Word of God, not because we are insincere or because we don't try, but simply because of the magnitude of the task. We go through life begging Jesus to heal our deafness a little more, to remove a little more of the impediment, to help us to listen and truly hear what God wants us to hear.

And how does the cure work? Is it done with touching and spitting, as Jesus did in the gospel?  No, it happens through our prayer and ultimately our obedience.

 This week we witnessed the obedience of the court clerk in Kentucky as she refused to sign the marriage licenses of same sex couples.  She was being obedient to her conscience.  As a result, she suffered the consequences and went to jail.   I can sympathize with her because, as a deacon, I might someday have a same sex couple come to me to get married.  Odds are, when I follow my conscience and refuse to marry them, I too will suffer some consequence.

Most of us won't be tested as this clerk was.  But we may on occasion need to support others whose faith and conscience is tested.   More and more we are seeing that our society's laws are contrary to God's laws.  And often we cannot even be quiet bystanders in this battle.   But, we must know our faith and have a well-formed conscience so that we can play our role in this spiritual battle. 

Healing our deafness and following our conscience requires that we learn our Catholic faith.  It isn't enough for us to just attend mass on Sunday.  The Sunday readings and homily give us a good start on our faith journey.   But, we need more.  You may think that you know your faith, like I did ten years' ago.  But, when you have to defend what you believe to your children, your neighbor, or your co-worker, you'll probably be at a loss for words.

This fall, we are offering several faith formation programs to help all of us learn our faith.  We are offering the second part of the Symbolon series which will focus on living the faith including those teachings on morality and marriage which impact our day-to- day lives.  Once again, we will offer this excellent program two times - between the 9 and 11 o'clock masses once a month starting next week and weekly on Monday nights starting a week from Monday.

Also, on the first two Mondays in October, Father Earl Fernandes, the Dean of the Athenaeum and an outstanding speaker and teacher, will be here to offer sessions on beginning of life and end of life issues.  He will discuss our Church's teaching that a person from the tiniest embryo to an elderly adult is always worthwhile and that everyone has inherent dignity because we are all made in the image of God, not because of our usefulness to society.

I would strongly encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities to learn your faith.    Once again this year, our high school PSR class will be attending the monthly Sunday faith formation sessions.  For those parents who have high schoolers in these PSR classes, I would encourage you to attend these monthly sessions.  This will provide an excellent opportunity for you to  discuss these important topics with your high school student.

In my homily two weeks' ago, I asked us to decide if we were fans or disciples of Jesus.  A disciple of Jesus knows Jesus and can proclaim and defend the teachings of His church.  Become a disciple of Jesus.  Learn and spread the good news.   Arm yourself for the on-going spiritual battle.