Sunday, November 30, 2014

Heaven and the Cincinnati Bengals

I’ve been a Bengals fan since they started in 1968.  There have been a few highs, like the two super bowls, and lots of lows.  So, when I read today’s Gospel about being watchful and anticipating the heavenly kingdom, I naturally thought about my beloved Bengals.  I imagined what it would be like if the Bengals won the rest of their games including winning the super bowl.  For some of us, that might seem like heaven.   Then, I imagined that Marvin Lewis, the Bengals’ coach, came to me and asked me to be on the team.  I know that this is far-fetched, but dream with me a little.  Finally, he revealed to me a secret weapon which made everybody play better and virtually guaranteed that the team would win super bowls for years to come.  I began dreaming about participating in exciting victories and lots of super bowl rings. 
So, how does this dream about the Bengals relate to the parable Jesus told in today’s Gospel?
In the parable, the man traveling abroad, Christ, is the master of the house, like the owner of a football team. The master, Christ, leaves home and ascends into heaven.  Then, he rules through his gatekeeper, the head coach, Peter and the apostles and their successors, our bishops.  The Church is Christ’s household, and its members, all of us, are his servants.  This passage reminds us that this present arrangement will not last forever, and when the Lord returns he hopes to find each of us working hard at whatever tasks we have been assigned.
We have some work to do during our short time on earth so that we all can follow Jesus to everlasting life, the ultimate victory.  Jesus has made us members of his team, the winning team, his sons and daughters, through baptism.  He has given us everything we need to succeed, like the playbook of a football team, through his church.  He has even given us a secret weapon, his body and blood in the Eucharist which gives us grace for our journey.  All we have to do is to follow him and our final victory, eternal destiny with him in heaven, is assured. 
These are very exciting times, more exciting than any football season.  They can be described as already, but not yet.  Christ has already come and has won the victory.  He has defeated the devil and has opened the gates of heaven for us. But, we are not yet there.  First, we must spend a short time here doing our part as his sons and daughters, His mystical body, His winning team, to build his kingdom.  The season of Advent, which begins today, is the announcement of a time when Christ shall return to establish his kingdom. Advent is a time of preparation for that final triumph over death and darkness. That is why Advent begins with this passage from St. Mark: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It’s like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.”
Our current time, “the age of the Church”, lasts from the birth of the Church at Pentecost until the end of time.  In this age, every person is given the opportunity to play an important role on Christ’s team in building His kingdom.  Christ longs for us to use this opportunity well, and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t.
In the Gospel, Christ provides a snapshot of what it means to be a Christian.  To follow Christ is to honor him by serving and obeying his Church as a member of His Mystical Body, His team.  Each of us is a member of this household, his Church, and our membership constitutes the most important aspect of our lives on earth.  If we live accordingly, we will be ready to welcome him when he comes again.  If we neglect to watch, however, and let other concerns take precedence over our relationship with God, we may be unpleasantly surprised by the eventual outcome. 
Jesus tells us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  If we build our lives on the rock of Christ and his teaching, we will achieve our goal, eternal life with Him.  Jesus doesn’t speak about these events to scare us, but to motivate us.  It is so easy to fall into a purely natural outlook on life, getting so wrapped up on our daily to-do lists that we forget the big picture.  When we do that we ignore our relationship with Christ.  Jesus knows that nothing could be worse for our happiness, now and forever.  Therefore, he reminds us to keep the end in sight, so that we can keep everything in its proper perspective.
If we do our part, we won’t have to worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.  We also won’t have to worry about money, power, fame, or even our favorite sports team.  These are just fleeting things. 

In this game of life, all of us are in the trenches, like offensive and defensive linemen.  We don’t get to call the plays or to be the star.  We just continually do our part in building His kingdom.  The stakes are high, eternal life or eternal death.  What team are we on, the losing team with our culture and the father of lies on the wide road to eternal death?  Or are we on the winning team with Jesus on the narrow road to eternal life?  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Two great commandments

Jesus gives us the two great commandments in today’s Gospel; love God and love our neighbor.  These are universal commandments for all people and for all times.  They aren’t something that we need to take a poll on or something that changes from one culture to another.  They are universal truths which Jesus has given us for our own good.
These two great commandments are shorter, more concise versions of the ten commandments which God gave to Moses.  Again these commandments are not just meant for the Israelites in the desert.  They are given to all peoples of all times to help us to live our lives in a way which will make us happy and, ultimately, will lead us to heaven.
So, if these commandments are so good for us, why do we continue to break them?  The answer to this is simple, because we’re human, because we listen to the evil one more than we listen to Jesus, and because we want to do our will and not God’s will.  We don’t want to turn away from God and sin, but like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we just cannot help ourselves.
When we break these commandments, we often hurt those closest to us.  That is why our families today and throughout the ages are often a mess.   Of course, the evil one wants to convince us that our families are not a mess.  He tells us they are normal, modern families, if you will. 
Our society and our Church have very different views about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, what a marriage consists of, what love is, and even when what life is.  Over the last fifty years, we seem to have gone in the wrong direction as far as our families are concerned.  If my parents and grandparents were still alive, they would hardly believe how much things have changed in just the past fifty years. 
A group of our church leaders met recently in a synod on the family.  When you read the reports from this synod, it is apparent that many bishops are confused also.  On the one hand, they want to be pastoral, to welcome everyone and to meet them where they are.  After all, our Catholic church is meant to be a warehouse for sinners not a museum for saints.  But, the bishops don’t want to encourage the sinful behavior which is being promoted by most every other group in our society today.   How does our church hold the line on the ten commandments and on Jesus’ teaching and still remain open to meeting the needs of everyone?
Clearly, this is a difficult problem which isn’t easily solved. But there are several things we all can do during these challenging times.
First, we need to pray, pray, and pray some more.  We need to pray for our church fathers that they will listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and will continue to guide the church in the right direction.   Also, we need to pray for families.  Pope John Paul II said that as the family goes, so goes the church, and as the church goes, so goes the nation.  Today, our church and our nation are struggling because our families are such a mess.  And we won’t see the light at the end of this tunnel until families return to holiness.
Second, we need to trust in God and in our church.  Jesus told us that the gates of hell will not prevail against our church.  Sometimes, it seems like the gates of hell are prevailing, but we need to keep the faith and to do our part in building his kingdom on earth.  There have been disagreements at church councils and synods before and somehow the Holy Spirit always has prevailed.   Recently, I heard that at the Council of Nicea in the fourth century the discussion was so heated that one bishop punched another bishop and pulled his beard.  Fortunately, they didn’t have facebook or twitter in those days, so it didn’t become instant news.   We need to relax and not pay too much attention to the reports that we read.  Based on past experience, the initial stages of these types of controversial meetings are often messy and confused.  But, somehow the Holy Spirit always leads the church in the right direction. 
Third, we need to do our part in promoting and building strong families.  When I come on Sunday mornings and I see the families here, it gives me hope.   I see mothers and fathers who are bringing their little children to mass and I know that the future of our church is secure.  I don’t care how much noise those children make.  Their voices are like angels which drown out the evil one and guarantee the ultimate victory of the family.  All of us need to witness to everyone we meet about the joy of our families and the joy of raising children.  Too many people today have bought into the devil’s lie that:  Things are a blessing and people are a burden.  The truth is things are a burden and people are a blessing.  Just go to a family’s home with lots of children who are living their faith.  They might be having financial struggles, but if they are able to trust in the Lord, they will be joyful.  We need to embrace and to rejoice in our traditional families.
Finally, we need to love those who have somehow fallen off the track, who are in dysfunctional relationships or strained situations.  We need to love them even more than we love those who have it all together.  We need to love them as the children of God that they are.  Somehow, and this is difficult, we need to love them without embracing their sinful behavior.   I suspect that there isn’t one adult in this church who doesn’t have a friend or family member who fits this description.  Love them.  They are your neighbor.  They need a friend.  Love them not because they have sinned but in spite of the fact that they have sinned.  Who knows, we might need their love when we fall off track.

As Jesus tells us:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul.  And love your neighbor as yourself.  Love is the answer.  Do not be afraid.  Trust in the Lord and have faith in His church.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

We're invited to a party

My family loves birthday parties.  In fact, we’ll have a party later this afternoon to celebrate two birthdays.  I have five children and seven grandchildren with number eight on the way.  Four of my five children are married and these four all live either in Mason or Lebanon.  So, our typical birthday party has seventeen people attending.  When these parties are at our house, which they often are, we are seated at a large dining table with a smaller table at the end.  This seats sixteen with one baby in a high chair.  I don’t know what we’ll do when we need another seat at the table. 
Today, Jesus tells a parable about a party, a wedding banquet.  Twice he sent his servants out to invite guests to this party.  Some people ignored the invite and others even killed his servants.  The king was enraged by this and killed the murderers and burned their city.  But, he sent out his servants once again to invite anyone they could find. One of those attending the wedding feast didn’t wear the proper wedding garment.  So the king had him tied up and cast into the darkness. 

In this parable, God is the king; Jesus the bridegroom.  The feast is eternal life as we hear in today's first reading.  The Israelites are those first invited to the feast by God's servants, the prophets.  For refusing invitations and killing His prophets, Israel was punished, with its city conquered by foreign armies. 

Then, God sent new servants, His apostles, to call not only Israelites, but all people - the good and bad alike - to the feast of His kingdom.  Who is this God who loves us so much that he wants us to be with him in heaven for all eternity?

Several weeks’ ago I attended a retreat with some other deacons.  The leader of our retreat was Father Vincent, a wise elderly monk.  Father Vincent told us to trust in the Lord and to follow his will and not our will.  He told us we could learn more about our great and loving God by reading the psalms slowly.  Today’s responsorial psalm, Psalm 23, tells us a lot about our God.  It compares our God to a shepherd, with us as his sheep.  It reads:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.   
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.
   You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
   you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.
   Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I thought of psalm 23 as I was reading today’s Gospel.   In the Gospel, we are encouraged by the king’s willingness to seek out guests for the wedding feast.  But, then, at the end of the parable, we might be taken back when the king tells his attendants to cast out into the darkness the man who wasn’t dressed in a wedding garment.  Is this God of ours a merciful God or a just God?

As we hear in psalm 23, our God is a merciful God.  He is a shepherd who constantly seeks us.  Our God is also a just God.  Since he gave us our freedom, he honors our freedom by allowing us to choose whether we will attend and be properly dressed for his wedding feast or not. Will we follow him, our loving shepherd, or seek our own way?

I love my children and my grandchildren.  I love celebrating birthdays and other occasions with them.  I’m sure those of you who have children and grandchildren also love them.  Our love for our children and grandchildren is just a small sample of God’s unsurpassed love for each of us.  Like a loving father, our God combines mercy with justice, compassion with freedom.

We may reject God, but God doesn't give up on us. There is a party planned and God, like a shepherd, comes out to find us.  He wants to share His joy with us.  After all, the invitation comes from Jesus, who wants us at the feast so much that he offers himself as a sacrifice on the cross and on the altar today to encourage us to accept his invitation.

By coming to Mass today we accepted an invitation.  We come to the supper of the Lamb seeking help putting on our wedding garment.  For, we must dress appropriately for the heavenly banquet.

Are we properly dressed for the heavenly banquet?  The time to prepare is now and the best place to prepare is here at this Eucharistic celebration. Let us rejoice and continue the celebration.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two sons

In today’s Gospel, the first son represents tax collectors and prostitutes, the worst sinners of Jesus’ day - who by their sin refuse to serve in the Lord’s vineyard.   But, after hearing John the Baptist, they repented and did what is right.
The second son represents the chief priests and elders who worshiped in the Temple and kept up the appearance of a "yes" to God.  But they refused to accept John the Baptist's call to a change of heart. When the promised one came and stood in their midst, they missed him.

These religious leaders were hypocrites. As Jesus' disciples, we have to do more than "accept him as Lord."   We must go into his vineyard and follow through on our initial "yes."  Otherwise, we also will be hypocrites.

Catholics don’t tend to evangelize.  We watch as other groups, fundamentalists, Baptists, Jehovah witnesses, Mormons go out, even door to door, and evangelize.
Maybe that's the point Pope Francis is making when he says: "All the baptized are called to be evangelizers. If we have said our "yes" to Christ through our baptism, then just going to church on Sundays is not enough. Our "yes" must be followed by going into the vineyard." Each day our words and actions must be consistent with what we say about believing in Jesus."
I recently heard a joke about this.  What do you get when you cross a Jehovah witness with a Catholic?  You get someone who goes out to evangelize, knocks on the door, and says nothing.
Why don’t we evangelize?  We have the fullness of truth.  We have 2000 years of history, all the way back to the time of Christ.  We have an excellent resource in the Catechism. We would seem to have everything we need.  At the very least, we should be evangelizing those close to us – our family and our friends.  Why don’t we?
I think there are two reasons for this.  First, we don’t know Jesus and his love of us, and second we don’t know his Church and its teaching. 
The second reading tells us about Jesus’ unbelievable love for us. "Rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a slave coming in human likeness .. he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
Can you even imagine a God who would love His people so much that he sends his son, not as a king but as a lowly carpenter’s son, knowing that his son would be crucified? 
How do we get to know Jesus and His church so that we can tell others about him?
We can watch EWTN and listen to Sacred Heart Radio.  In fact, you might even hear Father Rob on Sacred Heart Radio.
We can go to a Catholic bookstore and purchase good Catholic books, such as a Bible or a Catechism.
We can search the web for good Catholic resources such as Catholic Answers and the US bishops site, USCCB.  We can go to our parish web site to find links to these and other good sites.
We can attend a bible study or a faith formation session.  This also gives us the opportunity to rub elbows with other Catholics who are learning their faith.  Our fall faith formation program, Symbolon, which provides a comprehensive overview of the faith, begins tomorrow night.  This would be a good way for you to learn your faith.
Bishop Fulton Sheen once said: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”   If we rely on the media to teach us our faith, we also won’t know what the Catholic Church actually teaches.
There are many opportunities for us to learn our faith.  But after we learn it, we are challenged to share it in our words and our actions. 
As the Pope says, "Reading the Scriptures also makes it clear that the gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God... Both Christian preaching and life are meant to have an impact on society". Today’s parable would say it this way, "If you said "yes" to Christ, go out and do the work he asks you to do." Jesus said it in another way in his Sermon on the Mount. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven".
As Christians we should examine our lives. Do we say yes to Him but do nothing?  Do we know Jesus’ church well enough to lead others to him?  Our family, our friends, and our co-workers need us to show them the way.  Are we ready and willing to do this?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who do I say Jesus is?

Jesus asks us today “who do you say that I am?”  Our answer to this question comes from our actions not from our words.  Do our actions show others that we really know who Jesus is? 
I wonder if we follow all of his commandments or just some of them.  I wonder if we accept all of the teachings of his church or just some of them.  Do we accept Jesus as the Son of God and our savior by all of our actions or just some of them, when it is convenient?
Michelle Ranck, a member of this parish who teaches religion at Mount Notre Dame recently told me that one of her students asked her: “Mrs Ranck, do you believe everything the church teaches?  Michelle’s response was: “well, yes, if it is a teaching on faith and morals.”  Her students were amazed by her response.  They view the church as just another organization – not one established by Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit.  They probably think that Michelle is either na├»ve or brainwashed in believing everything the Church teaches.
What about us?  Do we trust Jesus church?  Can we see past its human failures to its truth?  Do we marvel at its saints or are we dragged down by its sinners?  Can we believe Jesus words about his church: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?”  Do we live our lives in hope and joy, trusting the Lord or in fear and depression watching the work of the evil one?

Who do we say Jesus is?   Who do we say his holy Catholic church is?  The girls at Mount Notre Dame and their attitude toward Jesus’ church is typical of the attitude of most in our secular society today.  The only way that this attitude will change is if we become saints.  If those around us see that we are living as Jesus tells us, if our actions say that “Jesus is Lord”, then slowly those close to us will begin to see, and then some will believe.  Who do we say that Jesus is? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Pope Francis, the Canaanite woman, and Bernie Stowe

This week, Pope Francis visited South Korea.  The papal ride from the airport to the city was broadcast live, showing images of the pope in a small, dark gray compact Kia escorted front and back by dozens of luxury SUVs and police motorbikes.    A journalism student in Korea commented:  “He climbed into a tiny car like a cat going for a small cozy space.  It’s humbling and at the same time respectful."  The Pope certainly shows us what humility is all about.
Today’s Gospel of the Canaanite women who asked Jesus to heal her daughter is a story of faith and humility.  The woman shows her humility when she says:  “Have pity on me Lord, Son of David.”  She remains persistent when Jesus tells her that he was only sent to the people of Israel.   
I wonder what we would have done if we were in the shoes of the Canaanite woman.  We might have given up when the disciples tried to send us away.  And we certainly would have been insulted when Jesus told us that he was sent to Israel, not to us.  Would we still have the faith, the persistence, and the humility to continue to press Jesus by saying:  “Lord, help me”?  And then when Jesus says that it isn’t right to take the food of the children and give it to the dogs, surely this would have caused us to give up on this Jesus.
But the Canaanite woman continued to persist and Jesus rewarded her by healing her daughter.  Are we willing to do the same?  Or do we give up when our initial prayers aren’t answered?  Do we have too much pride to ask Jesus again and again when we need help?

A week ago, on Friday, I went to the Reds game.  After the game, they recognized the members of the Reds hall of fame who were there for the induction ceremony.  It was interesting and a little humbling to watch these men, formerly great baseball players, walk onto the field.  Two of them, Lee May and Jim O’Toole, walked with canes.  Dave Parker looked weak due to his Parkinson’s.  Several others limped as they took their positions on the field.  I can remember all of these men when they played during their prime.  I remember them as great athletes and it was difficult to see them getting old.

Then they honored Bernie Stowe who was the equipment manager during the years when all of these guys played.  They showed a short video about Bernie and his sixty seven years as equipment manager.  As equipment manager, Bernie made sure that the player’s uniforms were clean and that they had all of the things necessary, such as bats and gloves, to play baseball.  Effectively, he was in the background serving the players so that they could look good in the limelight.  When he was introduced, all of the players came up to Bernie and welcomed him.  Jonny Bench was crying. 

Very seldom does someone who is in the background serving others get recognized.  I commend the Reds for doing this.  I don’t know Bernie Stowe, but, based upon his job, serving others, I would expect him to be a humble man who didn’t want to draw attention to himself.  In fact, he seemed rather embarrassed when he was honored.  For me, it was a lesson in humility.   Most of us can’t expect to be recognized for our humility in this life.  But, at judgment time, God will surely take note of our humility or lack thereof.

A strong faith requires humility.  But, our pride stands in the way.  We have to let go and let God.  We have to decide that He is in control and consult him on our key day to day decisions.   That is, we seek his guidance in all things.  As Jesus told us, we need to have the faith of little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.  We need to find humility like that of Bernie Stowe,  the Canaanite woman, and Pope Francis.
Humility seems to be rare today in our world of selfies and reality TV.  We want to think that we have all the answers.  And especially as men, we want to believe that we can handle anything that the world throws at us. 

Now, this is a good ideal for us, but it just isn’t realistic.  The devil has too many tricks up his sleeve for us.  And he knows all of our weaknesses.  It may be pride, or power, or sex, or money or some combination of the above.  And he’ll tempt us at our lowest moment.  Then he’ll try to convince us, just like he did Jesus, that we’ll be better off if we follow him and that no one will know and no one will be hurt.  We’ve all been there.

When I have a tough decision to make, do I turn to the Lord for guidance?  And do I listen for His advice or do I tell Him what I want to have happen?

When I have done something wrong, do I admit that I have done wrong or do I rationalize my behavior?  And, then, do I confess my sins to a priest?   

Do I follow the teachings of Jesus’ Church?  Do I follow all of them or just some? 

These questions reflect a continual battle in each of us of humility versus pride.  If we can humbly submit to Christ and say “Lord, help me” like the Canaanite woman, our faith will be vibrant and our eternal happiness secure. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

We see him, we worship, but we doubt

Last week we heard Jesus tell the apostles that he will not leave them orphaned and that the Father will send an Advocate.  Next week, the feast of Pentecost, the Advocate comes upon them in the form of tongues of fire.  Then, they begin to speak in different tongues and go boldly out to proclaim the faith.   This week, the feast of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, Jesus tells the Apostles to make disciples of all nations and that he will be with them till the end of time.  The Gospel tells us “they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”
Doesn’t that describe us?  We see him, we worship, but we doubt?
Several weeks’ ago, as I was driving to the men’s faith sharing meeting, I was listening to Open Line on Sacred Heart Radio.   A caller said that several of his closest friends had fallen away from their faith because of controversial teachings of the Church.  He wanted to know if there was something that he could say to them to help them return to the faith. 
I thought, “I can’t wait to hear the answer, since I too have struggled in this area.  I would like to share the joy, excitement, and knowledge that I have on these teachings with others.”  The moderator passed the call to Tim Staples, who replied.  “I think that the problem that your friends and many others in the church are experiencing is due to the fact that they don’t believe that the Catholic Church is really the body of Christ.  Then, he referred to our second reading today which tells us:  “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ has put all things beneath Jesus’ feet and gave him as head of all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”  Then, Tim said: “So, St Paul tells us here that Jesus is the head of the Church, which is the body of Christ.  We must ask those who struggle with these teachings if they were to stand before Jesus himself and hear him proclaim them, would they still disagree with them?”   Then, he said:  “Jesus’ church, his mystical body on earth, led by the men he himself chose has proclaimed these teachings continuously for the past 2000 years.   Is it surprising to us that our culture rejects these teachings?  And which are we going to follow, Jesus and his church or our culture?”
That answer really struck home for me.  I have discussed these issues with many people, especially over the past few years since I have become a deacon.  And I have to admit that my efforts have normally fallen short in trying to eloquently present the relevant facts. 
Then, I went to the men’s faith sharing meeting and the topic selected by the person leading the group was: “The Godly man is faithful.”  On the video, the speaker began by saying:  “The Godly man is faithful to the teachings of Jesus’ church.”  He gave a scripture reading from Luke chapter 10: “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  Jesus was speaking to the apostles and to their successors, our bishops today, telling them that they were speaking in his name.  
Two times in the space of thirty minutes I heard the message to be faithful to the teachings of the Body of Christ, his Church.  This was not a coincidence.  I really got the message.  The body of Christ on earth, the Catholic Church, has since the time of Jesus and will till the end of time speak for Jesus in its teachings on faith and morals. 
Why do we find this teaching about the Church as the Body of Christ so hard to believe?  Why do we worship Him but continue to have doubts?   
We have doubts because we don’t fully embrace and utilize the graces that are available to us.  We can receive the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, daily.  We can go to the sacrament of Reconciliation on any Saturday and free ourselves from the burden of sin.  When we doubt, do we turn to the sacraments to strengthen our faith or do we just turn away?
We also have doubts because most of us have grown up with a natural tendency to question authority.  Since the early sixties, we have lived during a time when we have often been let down by our government leaders, our business leaders, and even our church leaders.  This has fostered an inherent tendency to question any and all authority.  Can we trust that our Church is led by the Holy Spirit when we witness the sins of some Church leaders? 
We also have doubts due to the counter-cultural teachings of the Church.  It is easier for us to follow the crowd, to go with the flow, to embrace the popular “values” of our culture and not to create waves.  In this area, we just have to look at what Jesus did.  Jesus certainly didn’t follow his culture and was constantly creating waves.  Do we have the courage to follow him today?
And, we have our natural tendency to choose the wrong thing, to pick evil over good.  We can relate to St Paul who said:  “For I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  And the devil is a master at getting us to choose the wrong thing.  Have we formed our conscience?  Do we understand what the Church teaches and why it teaches it?
Finally, it is human nature to justify our behavior.  Sometimes, even after we find out that something we did was wrong, we still defend our action.  Should we trust Jesus’ church or our own instinct?

We all have difficulties.  We are all sinners.  Some church teachings are complicated and many haven’t been explained well.   These are clearly difficult times for men and women of faith.  Do not be afraid!   Seek the truth! Embrace his mystical body, his Church!  Find the peace and joy of following Jesus!  Then, someday soon, like Jesus, we will joyously ascend to heaven to meet the Father.   

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Helen Ziegler- rest in peace

For about forty years Kathleen and I went to her brother’s house, to Will and Helen’s, for thanksgiving dinner.  Initially, we weren’t even engaged.  But, eventually, we got married and began to bring our children, then their spouses and then the grandchildren.   These dinners became a tradition in the family and we used to say that if you brought a girlfriend or boyfriend to Thanksgiving dinner at Will and Helen’s then you had to marry them.  We only missed a few Thanksgiving dinners during this time; several when I was in the service and once when we decided to go skiing instead.  And the year when we went skiing, we all decided that we should have gone to Will and Helen’s because we missed being with the family.
These dinners were happy events.  After all, we say Happy Thanksgiving.  The Latin word for blessed in today’s Gospel, beatitudo, can also be translated as ‘happy’.   So, Jesus is telling us nine different ways to be happy.  He says: “Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meek, happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, happy are the merciful, happy are the pure in heart, happy are the peacemakers, happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and happy are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely in my account.”
Some of these ways to be happy are not what we would expect.  To understand this teaching of Jesus, these beatitudes, we need to better understand what happiness is.  Today, many associate happiness with “having a good time” that is, pleasure or comfort.  But, long term happiness is spiritual and moral and not emotional and pleasurable.   The saints in heaven are supremely happy, because they’re with God, the source of all happiness.  Happiness, then, is joyful, flowing from the life of God.  The one thing we all desire is joy.  Jesus tells us in the beatitudes how to find true joy and happiness.    
Now, a funeral mass might seem like a strange place to talk about joy and happiness.  But, if we truly believe in eternal life with Jesus in heaven, then this is the perfect setting to speak of happiness. Death for those who are following Jesus isn’t meant to be a sad event.  Instead, it is a transition from the trials and suffering of this life to eternal joy with Jesus in heaven.
Happiness in heaven is what we all are striving for, but we might not realize it.  We might look for happiness in the things of this world, like money or power or pleasure or honor.  But, eventually, even if we achieve some of these things, we come to realize that they only satisfy us for a short time and then we look for more.  Ultimately, we are looking for the joy which only God can offer us.
In his apostolic letter, Pope Francis recently wrote:  The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. … With Christ, joy is constantly born anew.  The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him.
I’ve known Helen for over forty years.  And to me, she always seemed to be happy.  I know that she had trials in her life, as we all do, but she endured these trials gracefully and maintained a joyful disposition.   She let God lead her as she persevered through the difficulties of life.  Our first reading from the book of Proverbs described the ideal wife by saying:  “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come.  She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel.  Her children rise up and praise her.  Her husband, too, extols her.”  That was Helen.
Several weeks ago, my wife and I visited Helen in the nursing home and then in the hospital.  It was obvious that her days were numbered.  Where we once were praying for her to recover; now we prayed that her suffering would end soon.  Last Saturday, her trials and suffering came to an end.   She lived a long life and now has transitioned from the trials of this life to eternal life.   
All of us are dying.  For some, death will come in days or months.  For most, it will be many years.  We all will take this journey from life through death to everlasting life or everlasting death.   Even Jesus, the Son of God, made this journey.  Out of love for us, he came to earth just like us and died like we all must die.  Jesus death and resurrection provide hope and consolation to all of us.  He has shown us the way to everlasting life.  And through him, we obtain everlasting life.

May we bear our trials and suffering with grace and perseverance as Helen did even during her final days. May all of us here and especially Will, Greg, Dan, and Rob find hope and courage during this difficult time.  And, through the love of our merciful and forgiving God, may we experience true joy and happiness in this life and in eternal life.    

Monday, February 10, 2014

He leadeth me - a homily given at the Presentation Ministries Retreat

Recently I read He leadeth me by Father Walter Ciszek.  Father Ciszek was an American Jesuit priest who felt a strong calling to serve the people of Russia in the late 1930’s.  After ordination, Father Ciszek was assigned to a small parish in Poland.  From Poland, he went into Russia with a logging crew.  When the authorities found out that he was a priest, he was arrested and spent twenty three years in Soviet prisons and labor camps.  They convicted him of being a Vatican spy and, on many occasions, threatened to kill him. Father Ciszek struggled with his faith and wondered why he went to Russia where it was often nearly impossible for him to minister as a priest.  Eventually, he came to realize that he was led to the Soviet prisons and labor camps by the Lord for a reason and that he should serve as best he could under very difficult circumstances.  Father Ciszek couldn’t control the people who were placed in his path.  But he could minister to those he did meet.
While in prison, Father Ciszek said:  “I grew firm in my conviction that whatever happened in my life was nothing else than a reflection of God’s will for me. And he would protect me.”  Father Ciszek ministered to those he met who were willing to listen.  He persevered in spite of the attempts of the authorities to silence him.  He planted seeds but normally wasn’t able to see the results of his efforts.
All of us have roles to play in salvation history.  John the Baptist’s role was an important one, to announce the coming of the Lord.  As we hear in today’s Gospel, he was beheaded by Herod because of his role.  Father Ciszek also had a role in bringing the faith to the Russian prison camps and Siberian towns.  He fanned the flame of faith in a barren time and place. 
Our role might not require the complete commitment of John the Baptist or the continual sacrifice of Father Ciszek.  But, our faith is very important to those the Lord puts into our path.  Our primary role in salvation history might be limited to evangelizing our friends, our family, and our co-workers. For some of them, we might be the only Christian witness that they hear.  We are to bloom where we are planted.
I’d like to tell you a story about a couple in our parish, I’ll call them Amy and Jim, who are living their lay vocation.  A few years ago, Amy attended a Christ Renews His Parish or CRHP weekend here at St Francis de Sales.  Amy was touched by the witnesses she heard on the weekend and resolved to develop a closer relationship with Christ. 
Jim saw the impact the weekend had on Amy and agreed to attend the next men’s weekend.  After the weekend, Jim, who was normally pretty quiet, witnessed to his friends about Christ.  He and Amy also had many serious discussions about living their faith.  There was one area of their faith where they continued to struggle, the issue of having additional children.  Jim and Amy had three children and each one had medical problems after birth.  After the third child, they had decided that they shouldn’t have additional children and Jim had a vasectomy. 
Now, after attending CRHP and finding a closer relationship with the Lord, they became aware of the church teaching against contraception.  They prayed about what they should do and discussed the issue with Father Rob and me.  Since Jim’s business was struggling, they really couldn’t afford the cost to get the vasectomy reversed.
After much prayer, they decided to have faith and to trust in the Lord.  They got a new credit card with no interest for several months.  Jim had his vasectomy reversed and put the cost on the credit card.  Jim’s business picked up and in several months, they were able to pay off the credit card.  When Jim wrote the check, Amy asked him if he realized what day it was. It was Father’s day.
Several months later, Jim was on a CRHP giving team with me and gave the witness on Father’s Loving Care.  During his witness he told this story.  At the end of his witness, he told us that Amy was pregnant.  I was so touched by the faith and trust of this young couple that I almost cried.
After the baby was born, they asked me to baptize her.  I call her a CRHP baby.  The baby hasn’t had any of the health issues that their other children had after birth.  It has been a joy to the family and to many of us in the parish.  Amy and Jim are witnesses to all of us at St Francis of the power of living your lay vocation.  Jim is on the current CRHP giving team and will be giving this witness once again.
When I look out at the congregation at our Sunday masses, I see couples like Jim and Amy who are living their lay vocation.  I see families large and small who are coming to church every Sunday and are doing their best to be Christ in this community.  I hear the crying babies, who are the future of our church.  They give me hope for our Church and for our nation. 

Approximately one third of the deaths in our nation today occur in the womb.  Our nation doesn’t support its families and is confused even about what marriage is.  We must pray that our nation doesn’t completely reject God, like Russia did in Father Ciszek’s time.  But, we have hope because of the young families, like Jim and Amy, in our communities today.  These families are raising godly children.  Unlike my generation, which brought us free love, no-fault divorce, and the collapse of the family, this generation, these families, are leading us back to Christ and his Church.  I pray that all of you, and especially the young mothers and fathers who are with us today, will live your lay vocation. Christ is counting on you to build His kingdom on earth.

Monday, January 27, 2014

I will make you fishers of men

In the sixteenth century, Francis de Sales, whose feast day was Friday, was sent to minister in the Chablis province of France.  Francis had only been a priest for two years.  He found himself in an area where the Catholic faith was almost non-existent with only about one hundred Catholics in a population of 25,000.  There were hundreds of desecrated Catholic churches and the area was under the influence of Calvinism. 
Even Francis’ father didn’t support his efforts to convert the people of Chablis.  But, Francis, with his cousin, walked ten miles each morning to the capital city.  They brought the sacraments to the few Catholics there and put tracts explaining the faith under the doors of non-Catholics.  At night, they headed home for their lives would have been in danger if they stayed overnight.  They survived assassination attempts, attacks by wolves, and harsh winters.
After two years, their efforts were apparently failing. Typically, Francis was preaching to only four or five people.  But, he didn’t give up.   He was planting seeds.
After four years, the converts began to come.  First there were one or two, then ten or twenty.  Eventually thousands came back to the church.  This story of the faith and perseverance of Francis De Sales wasn’t the result of legislation or government action.  It is a story of the apostolic work of one man who was driven by the love of God.  He went into the deep with joy and the people responded.   
            In today’s Gospel, four fishermen, James, John, Andrew and Simon, who is later called Peter, meet Jesus.  Jesus said to them: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Their response is immediate; they left their nets and followed Jesus.  These fishermen trusted the one extending the invitation enough to put their lives entirely in his hands without hesitating.
          When Peter, Andrew, James and John, got up that day to go fishing, as they always did, it may have felt like an “ordinary day.” But on this day Jesus broke their routine and offered them an invitation that would change their lives and reach all the way down to ours.
Jesus asks them to leave everything and follow him.  They answered the call and became fishers of men.  This wasn’t easy for them.  Andrew, James, and Peter ran away when they saw Jesus arrested.  Peter denied him three times. Clearly, it was difficult for them to see Jesus arrested and later crucified.  But, after the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost, all four followed their call.  Peter became head of Christ’s kingdom on earth, His Church.  He healed the sick and converted thousands.  Three of the four eventually were martyred for their faith. 
How does this apply to us?  Surely, we cannot be expected to convert thousands like Francis de Sales or to heal the sick like Peter did.  If the Lord asked us to drop everything, we might have some questions: “How will we follow you? Where are we going? How long will it take? How will we support ourselves?” So, what is the Lord asking us to do?
Most of us are to bloom where we are planted.  We are to minister to our families, our friends, and our co-workers.  In fact, we might be the only Christian witness that some of them ever hear.  And because they know us, they are likely to listen to us if they can see the impact of Christ in our lives.
We have so much to do as the body of Christ. Like in the time of Francis de Sales, our world is confused and many have drifted away from Christ.  Change is needed to transform our culture, but this change will not begin with government action.  Instead, the change will begin in the family, and then in the local communities with men and women living Christ-like lives.  Christ wants us to show our family and our community the joy of someone driven by the love of God.  Christ wants us to model compassion, forgiveness and a passion for righting the world’s wrongs. 
Christ is calling each of us to follow him, just like he called Peter, Andrew, James, John, Francis de Sales, and countless others through the centuries.  The Creator of the universe asks us to give him a hand in building his everlasting Kingdom.
Each one of us is responsible for keeping the light of Christ burning brightly so that we can be a light to those we meet.  Our light provides needed hope to a world which has been darkened by sin.  Let your light burn brightly for all to see.  It only takes a small amount of light to brighten a darkened room.  So, your light, small as it may be, is critical for our fallen world. 
What is holding me back from being the disciple God created me to be?  Am I trying to hang on to my boat, my nets, or my father?  God is my Creator and deserves my complete obedience. 

Someone has said that there is a thin line between fishing and standing on the shore looking like an idiot. Maybe it’s time we risk looking like an idiot for Christ’s sake. Let’s get on with our primary task—humbly reaching out and ministering to those in need.  Make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ.