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.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jesus' fan or disciple

I'm a Cincinnati Reds baseball fan.  I have tickets to twenty games each year.  But, I miss quite a few of these games, like today's game, because something comes up which is more important, like a  birthday party for one of my children or grandchildren.   I'm not an avid follower of the Reds.  When they are losing, as they are this year, I don't go out of my way to see them.    
For the past few Sundays, we have heard Jesus tell those with him about the Eucharist - his flesh and blood present in the appearance of bread and wine.  These people are following Jesus because they heard about his miracles -multiplying the loaves and fishes, healing people.  Now, they have come to see and hear Jesus first hand.  Jesus tells them: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."  But the people respond: "This saying is hard, who can accept it?"  So, most of them walk away from him. 

Those who walked away were fans of Jesus, like I'm a fan of the Reds.  They were not avid followers or disciples.  Jesus wants disciples, not fans.  He says to the apostles:  'Do you also want to leave?"  Later he tells his apostles to make disciples of all nations.  That's the message for us today:  be disciples of Jesus, don't just be fans.  Jesus asks us to accept His teachings, including those of his church, based on faith.  Accept all of them, even those that you don't fully understand, like the Eucharist, trusting Jesus great love for us.

This wasn't easy  for the followers of Jesus as we hear in the Gospel.  And it still isn't easy today.  We think we know better.  We want to pick and choose what we will believe.  Our society tells us that some teachings of Jesus are good, like loving our neighbor, while others, like the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, are not viewed as relevant in these enlightened times.
For many Catholics today, it's easier to accept the Eucharist than it is to accept the teaching of Jesus' church regarding our relationships.  We'd rather listen to Doctor Phil or to Oprah in these areas than to Jesus' church. 
Today's reading from chapter 5 of Paul's letter to the Ephesians about the relationship between husband and wife is probably the most misunderstood and controversial scripture passage.   But, if properly understood, this passage helps us see the intended relationship between husband and wife in the marriage covenant.  And, just to be clear, this relationship is not one of master to slave or of dominance by the husband.
Clearly, our society is struggling with marriage and the relationship between husbands and wives.  The divorce rate has skyrocketed over the past fifty years and now we're even struggling to define what marriage is.  So, it is important for us to take a hard look at the timeless wisdom of our Church in this area.
Five times in this reading St Paul compares the relationship of a husband and wife to the relationship of Christ and his church.  St Paul is telling husbands that a husband is expected to be willing to sacrifice for his wife to the point of death as Christ did for his church and a wife is expected to receive and return this love.  This kind of love excludes every kind of submission by which the wife would become a servant of the husband.
This passage in Ephesians can be summed up as follows: the husband is the one who loves. The wife is loved, so as to love in return.  While both are called to love and to subordinate themselves to the other, the husband initiates the gift, and the wife receives the gift. In fact, this relationship is stamped into their bodies.   Men and women are created by God to be equal but different.  In their creation, they are complementary.
 To live these teachings, we need the grace that comes from receiving the sacraments regularly, especially the Eucharist.  I know that many of you may be thinking as Jesus' fans did: "This is hard, who can accept it."  Are we fans of Jesus or disciples of Jesus?  Do we sacrifice our time and treasure for him?  Can we accept and live those teachings of Jesus which we don't understand?  
For many years, I was a fan of Jesus.  I knew his commandments and followed them.  For me, Jesus was a judge and I tried to follow his rules.  I certainly didn't know God as a loving father.   Then, after a marriage encounter and a life in the spirit seminar, I began my long journey to develop a relationship with Jesus.  Slowly, I began to become his disciple and to feel the joy of his love.  I began to develop a greater love for the Eucharist and to attend mass more frequently.  Of course, this process for me is far from complete; I have a long way to go. 

Today, I'd encourage each of you to begin your journey to get to know Jesus.  Become his disciple.  Trust in him.  Know and follow the teachings of Jesus' church not because you understand them but because they came from Him.  Feel the peace and joy that comes from following his plan instead of yours. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The shepherd and fireflies

The first reading today from the prophet Jeremiah tells us about false shepherds who have shirked their responsibilities toward the people of Jerusalem.  These false shepherds were the political and the religious leaders who lost sight of the law and all that God had done for them.

We have lots of false shepherds in our midst today.  They are often well educated people who are in positions of authority.  They may have power, money or fame.  Because of their position in life, they often assume that they know better than Jesus or his church.  Unfortunately, often these self-appointed shepherds just follow the latest fad to determine what is right or wrong.
The shepherd is meant to be a good leader, who protects his flock and keeps them out of danger.  The sheep are dumb and, if the shepherd doesn't protect them, will wander off and die.  The sheep know their shepherd and the shepherd knows his sheep.

In the Gospel, Jesus wanted to get off by himself for a little while.  But a crowd followed him and he was moved with pity because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

Today, we, as sheep, struggle in many areas of  our lives, especially in our relationships.  We want to do things our own way rather than God's way.  We forget that God, who created us, who formed each of us in our mother's womb, knows what is best for us.  We, like those with Jesus, are like sheep without a shepherd.

Several years ago, while we were in Gatlinburg on vacation, we went to Elkmont to see the synchronous fireflies.  These are male fireflies who, during their month long mating season, all light up in unison to attract female fireflies.   
So, we went to Elkmont just before dark and stood there and waited.  We all had flashlights to light our way, once it got dark.  But we had to put a red foil over our flashlight so that it didn't confuse the fireflies.  Slowly, it got dark and a few fireflies began to light up.  Gradually more and more of them lit until eventually the woods lit up and then grew dark as thousands of male fireflies attempted to attract a mate.  It was truly an amazing sight.  And, it caused me to reflect on our amazing God and his creative genius.
These fireflies were following God's plan for them.  And since they don't have a free will or intellect, they always follow his plan with incredible results.  We see similar things in nature all around us since God created all different kinds of insects and animals with unusual and incredible habits.

We, as humans, are made in God's image and likeness.  Unlike the fireflies or other insects or animals, we have an intellect and a free will.  God has designed us perfectly.  We are made to love God and to love our neighbor.  As men and women, he designed our bodies so that they are perfectly made for each other.
But, since we have a free will, we can decide to do things our way rather than God's way.  We can follow our plan instead of His plan for us.  We can ignore the fact that God is all knowing and all loving.  We can forget that He wants and knows what is best for us. 

Compared to God, we are sheep.  We want to be happy and think we know what is  best for us.  Often, we follow the lead of dumb sheep instead of following the shepherd.  This is especially true in our relationships.  As a result, we often make a mess of things.  And, worst of all, we often blame God for our failures. 

We fail to realize how infinitely smarter the shepherd, Jesus is, compared to us.  And we don't realize how much this shepherd wants to help us on our journey.  He gives us scripture like the readings we read today to instruct us.  He gives us a community of believers, his Church, to provide guidance.  And, most importantly, he gives us food for the journey, his body and blood in the Eucharist. 
Today, I would ask each of you to try following the shepherd.  Acknowledge the fact that you are a sheep and that Jesus is the all knowing shepherd.  Go do him whenever you face a difficult decision, especially those decisions which are related to those you love.  In prayer, listen quietly to his advice for you.  He will speak to you in the silence of your heart. Then, if you question whether this advice is truly from God, check to make sure that it agrees with the teachings of his church.  Pull out your catechism, go to the index, and find the relevant topic.  Read the paragraphs which relate to your situation.  If the advice you receive in the silence of your heart contradicts Church teachings, ignore the advice since it comes from the evil one.  If you still have questions, talk to a priest and ask him for guidance.

If you are able to follow God's plan for thirty days, you will find peace and joy.  If you think that you need a prayer partner for this effort, send me an email or stop me after mass and ask me to pray for you.  I'd be happy to do this.  When we pray, God will always answer our prayers.  He may not respond as we expect - remember we can be dumb sheep - but he will always give us what is best for us.

My prayers are with you.  God bless.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Father's Day

Earlier this week, I was at Franciscan University in Steubenville at a retreat for priests, deacons, and seminarians.  The theme of the retreat was 'Father" and reflecting his love on our spiritual and biological children. I felt the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit there all week.  On Thursday night a priest prayed over me to trust God more in my life.  Afterward, he told me that I needed to let go.  I thought, "No kidding, that's why I asked you to pray over me."  I was disappointed that I didn't feel the presence of the Lord there like so many other men did.  Then, Friday morning after mass I stayed in the chapel and began to reflect on today's Gospel.  Why is Jesus asleep in the boat?  I need for him to wake up right now before more boats sink during these turbulent times.  I was like the apostles who said to Jesus:  "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"  Then, it hit me.  Jesus is present, even with me personally.  After all, I just received him in Holy Communion.   I welled up and tears came as I felt the overwhelming love of Jesus for me.  Now, I don't cry easily or often.  But, on Friday, he touched me deeply.  Jesus is with us.  He will be here on the altar in a few minutes.  No matter how much your boat is rocking, go to him.  Trust him.  He can calm the waters and give you peace and joy if you let him.
As fathers, we image God the Father in our fatherly roles as we create life, bring our children to the baptismal font to initiate them in God’s family, and witness the beginning of their married lives.  As I treasure key events in my family’s journey, so our heavenly father also treasures and sanctifies these milestones.  Today, as we celebrate the gift of fatherhood, I’ll try to encourage biological fathers and anyone else who must, by default, assume the father’s role in the family.
In our families today, sometimes we seem to be in very rocky waves, struggling while Jesus is asleep.  Jesus response to his disciples in the boat is the same one that he would give to us: “Why are you afraid; have you no faith?” 
If our faith were stronger, we wouldn’t be worried so much about all the evil that we see in the world.  We would  follow Jesus in peace and joy and would trust that things would work out in the end.    
We, as fathers, trust and follow Jesus with five key actions: prayer, humility, leadership, protection, and love.    
Prayer.  Prayer connects us to Christ.  We cannot trust and follow Christ if we don’t know him.  So, this is the starting point in leading our family.  Prayer gives us the wisdom and the power to lead our family to Christ.  If we want to win the fight for the hearts of our children, the battle is won with prayer.  Spend an hour each week before the Lord in the adoration chapel if you really want to get to know him.  Tell him your concerns, and he will show you the way.  
Humility.  It’s OK not to have all of the answers.  As fathers we think that we need to be problem solvers all of the time and that we cannot have problems ourselves.  No earthly father is perfect, only our heavenly father is perfect.   Our families know our weaknesses.  God knows our weaknesses very well.  Don’t expect perfection from yourself and don’t be afraid to apologize when you mess up.  My oldest son, Tim, once said that I was learning to be a father by trial and error with him.  And he was right on.  At the time, I was a young father and was making my share of mistakes.
Leadership.  The father is meant to be the spiritual leader of the family.  It is our responsibility to bring our family to the faith.  And we do this primarily by our example.  If we aren’t willing to do this, our wife then has to step into this role.  But, more often than not, the children will follow the father’s lead even if this takes them away from the church.  And, if neither of you lead your children in faith, the evil one will be more than willing to fill the void. 
Protection.  Fathers have historically been responsible for physically protecting their children.  And, most fathers are very good at this.  However, protection also has a spiritual dimension.  The father must protect his children from spiritual evils that will pull them away from Christ.  These evils are all around us today.  These are the waves in the water that are swamping our boat.  They come through the internet, TV, phones, everywhere we turn.  Teenagers and young adults in particular are constantly getting messages which are contrary to Jesus’ teachings.  This, in my opinion, is the elephant in the room today for fathers.  As fathers, it is just as important to protect our children spiritually as it is to protect them physically.  
Love.  Love God.  Love your children.  Children learn the love of Christ through the love of their father.  Love them unconditionally.  Love your wife.  The most important gift that a father can give to his children is to love their mother.  Receive the love of the Father for you and reflect this love on your family.
Remember: prayer, humility, leadership, protection, and love.
God bless.  Happy Father’s Day!                     

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pentecost Sunday - what a beautiful and holy day

The apostles were gathered in the upper room.  They were confused and frightened.  What were they to do?  Jesus had left them.  He told them to go and make disciples of all nations.  How were they to do this?  Should they go back to what they were doing before they met him?  They had seen Jesus brutally crucified.  But, then, three days later, he came back.  Now, he was gone again.  Why didn’t he take them with him?   And, where is this great kingdom that was promised?  
Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
At once, they had the courage and the strength to begin their mission.  It all began to make sense to them.  They were Jesus' arms and legs, his voice and presence on earth.  At Pentecost, Jesus’ mystical body, His church, was born and the world would never be the same.
Each of the apostles received from the Holy Spirit a power, an energy, a fire of love that would transform the world.  Then, they followed Jesus command and went to all corners of the  world to spread his message.  They were so consumed by his message that they endured physical hardship and ridicule.  Eventually, ten of the eleven apostles present in the upper room at Pentecost were martyred for their faith.  The Church went on to grow rapidly, and it did so by a few being solidly committed to Jesus’ mission and message.
Led by the Holy Spirit, the early church grew tremendously in spite of persecutions. Through the years, the Holy Spirit continued to guide the Church through many difficult times.  After the Protestant Reformation, there came a great renewal of Church life. The Council of Trent was held, reforms were made, new religious orders came into being and a renewed Church was born. The same occurred in our own time at the Second Vatican Council, when the Spirit stirred up the Church to renew itself so as to better evangelize the modern world.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which began at Pentecost has never stopped. The Spirit that came upon each of us at baptism and confirmation continues to work in us, even when we are unaware of it, shaping us into the body of Christ. The energy that comes through the Holy Spirit transforms us.  When we are in the state of grace, the Holy Spirit gives us seven gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.  Through these gifts, we have the knowledge, the desire, and the courage to live our faith during turbulent times.
Today, Christian churches are facing a crisis.  Recently, the Pew Research Council conducted a survey of more than 35,000 Americans.  They found that the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christian has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years to 70.6%. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six percent to 22.8%. 
The ultimate answer to this crisis is found in the feast we celebrate today.  Whenever there is crisis in the Church, there is a new outpouring of the Spirit.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is calling each of us to go and make disciples of all nations.
At our baptism and confirmation, each of us has received the same Holy Spirit that the apostles received at Pentecost.  So, why aren't we on fire with our faith as the apostles were after Pentecost?   Certainly, we see examples of the Holy Spirit working in our midst.  Recently, our eighth graders were confirmed and received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  At our CRHP weekends, we often witness examples of the Holy Spirit working in peoples’ lives as many experience God’s love.  And, at our Easter vigil each year, many men and women, led by the Holy Spirit, are welcomed into our church. 
Today, as we celebrate the decent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill us, as he did the apostles, with knowledge, courage, and faith.  Then, we will radiate the fruits of the Holy Spirit including peace, love, and joy as we assume our role of Christ's disciples in our fallen world. 
Let us close with a prayer.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.  And You shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Stolen identity

Several weeks ago I attended an excellent talk on digital security by my son, Tim.  He told us about various threats that come through the Internet, including viruses, malware, identity theft, stealing  personal data, and various other evils lurking in the cloud.  I left the talk with a headache and went home and signed up for some software to protect my identity.
Clearly there is evil in the world today.  Sometimes it might attack through your computer.   Or it might even hurt you physically, like the Christians who are being killed in the Middle East.  Or, you may experience spiritual warfare as you try to live a holy life.  We can try to protect ourselves from these evils, and certainly we should.  But we can't eliminate all of the risks in life today.  We'd have to go off by ourselves into the woods and live as a hermit to get away from these things.
Instead, we should worry more about our spiritual identity being stolen than our digital identity.   We receive our spiritual identity as a child of God at baptism.  This is strengthened  when we are filled with the Holy Spirit at confirmation.  These two sacraments place indelible marks on our souls that mark us eternally as children of God.  But, the devil, the great deceiver, tries to convince us that we aren't worthy to be God's children or that these sacraments don't matter.  He will tell us that God doesn't love us anymore.  The devil lies to us just like he lied to Adam and Eve in the garden.   
Ultimately, we have to put our trust in someone or something.   For us, as Christians, Jesus is the answer.  By his death and resurrection, Jesus has already defeated the devil.  So, we know that he has already won the battle over evil.  We just have to trust Him.  By ourselves, we can't win this battle.  But with Jesus on our side, victory is assured.
"We walk by faith," St Paul says in the second reading.  What is it to walk through life by religious faith?  Sound religious faith is saying "I believe you" to God communicating himself and his truths to us through his church.  If God kept silent and hidden, we'd be helpless, like children without instruction from their mother.  We couldn't have faith if we had no word from God to believe.  
To make faith possible, God communicates himself and his truths to us, and assists us in understanding them.  We can't do it unaided.  We need the help of his Holy Spirit shining in our minds.  We call that help grace.  So faith is our response to God communicating with us.  We say to God, "I believe you," when he gives himself and his truth to each of us, the way he gave his Son to the whole world. 
God has revealed himself by his presence, by his powerful deeds and miracles as recorded in the Bible, by his word through the prophets, and finally by the birth and life of his Son.  Jesus brings God to visibility, revealing himself to us in love. 
Whenever I give a homily on Sunday, I have my wife read it first.  She usually says the same thing: "where is the joy in that?"  She believes that Jesus' message for us is one of joy and my homilies should reflect that joy.
Today's second reading from St Paul: "we walk by faith and not by sight", is a call to joy.  It tells us not to be overwhelmed by the many problems that we see around us and to focus on our faith.  It doesn't matter if our computer has a virus and our identity has been stolen.   It doesn't matter if we are struggling financially or have health problems.  It doesn't matter if ISIS has conquered more of the Middle East or if our Supreme Court has made another ridiculous ruling.  These things are only temporary, things of this world.  What really matters is that Jesus is Lord, that we are his brothers and sisters, that he died for us, and that he loves us, no matter what.  All we have to do, is to continue to walk by faith, to continue to follow Jesus, and our eternal destiny is assured.
St Peter, in his first letter, expresses this perfectly:  "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.  Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.  Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you."
Our answer to the evil in the world today is faith.  It is a trust in Jesus who loves us and has won victory over evil.  If we live our lives following Jesus, we can be certain that our eternal destiny will be with him where we will be safe from evil forever.

Be joyful.  The battle is won.  We are on the winning team.  We even carry marks on our soul which identify us as God's kids.  Keep the faith.  After we have suffered a little while, we will experience eternal peace and joy.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Divine Mercy

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, a day that celebrates the merciful love of God.  Pope John Paul II established the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday on April 30, 2000, at the canonization of St. Faustina.  
Since this is a fairly new feast, many of us might not be familiar with it.  So, let me briefly review its history.  Sister Maria Faustina, a Polish nun of the Sisters of our Lady of Mercy, had a special devotion to the mercy and trust of Jesus.  On February 22, 1931, Sister Faustina saw an image of Jesus dressed like that in the picture displayed in the gathering space.  Jesus told her to paint of picture of this vision and to venerate it. 
Sister Faustina wrote in her diary:  "The Lord permitted me to see the immensity and greatness of His Mercy.  If souls could only realize how much God loves them!"
Jesus told Sister Faustina:  "Know my daughter, that My heart is mercy itself.  From this sea of mercy graces pour out upon the whole world.  No souls that come to Me depart without being comforted.   All misery vanishes in My Mercy: and every grace, redemptive and sanctifying, stems from this source."
Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, was the champion of Sister Faustina and the message of Divine Mercy.  As Archbishop of Krakow in 1965, he began the process of the beautification of Sister Faustina.  After he was elected Pope, his second encyclical, Rich in Mercy, was influenced by the message of Divine Mercy.  And, on April 2nd, 2005, right after the Divine Mercy Sunday vigil mass was celebrated in his room, Pope John Paul II passed away.
I must admit that I haven't paid much attention to the message of Divine Mercy in the past.  But, this year, I think the Lord wanted to get my attention.  So, last November, when my wife attended a prayer service, a visionary gave her a rose pedal which had the Divine Mercy Image on it.  When Lent began, she suggested that we pray the Divine Mercy chaplet each night.  Then, we, like many others in the parish, participated in the 33 days to Morning Glory retreat during Lent. At the end of this retreat, we said the consecration prayer which included the following: "Wash me in the blood and water that flow from his pierced side, and help me never to lose my trust in this fountain of love and mercy."   Hmmm, this sounds like Divine Mercy.   Then, I was asked to lead the Divine Mercy Celebration this afternoon during which we will venerate the divine mercy image.  So, the Lord has my attention.  He wants me to tell everyone about His divine mercy.  
Our Lord said to Sister Faustina: "I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the font of My mercy. The soul that will go to confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened.".
We can celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy today three ways:

1.  We are to venerate the sacred image of our merciful Savior by gazing upon it as a reminder to trust Jesus and be merciful.  This afternoon at 3, we will have a Divine Mercy celebration in church with an opportunity for everyone to venerate the sacred image.
2.  We are to seal and ratify the covenant of mercy by receiving Holy Communion.
3.  We are to perform some works of mercy for others.
Jesus said to Sr. Faustina: "Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy". Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.

Why has Jesus given this message to us today?
Our Lord makes it very clear to Saint Faustina that this need to proclaim His message of mercy is urgent, because the world needs it as a preparation for His coming again.  Jesus told her: "Speak to the world about My mercy.... It is a sign for the end time. After it will come the Day of Justice...."   "You will prepare the world for My final coming... "  "Tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of My justice, is near."

God is love. The unconditional love of God, the Divine Mercy, is always there for us. The one unforgivable sin is to think that our sin is too great for the mercy of God. As we saw during Holy Week, this was the sin of Judas: not that he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver but that he denied Jesus' Mercy. He thought that his sin was too great to be forgiven. He could have been forgiven just as Simon Peter was forgiven.
Today, Divine Mercy Sunday, is the day of mercy!
It is a day for us to turn to the Lord and plunge ourselves into the infinite ocean of His mercy. Today is the day to immerse our family and friends into the ocean of mercy by our prayers for them. Today is the day to tell Jesus we love Him and give our lives to Him and say that we trust Him. Today and every day we cry out to Him: Jesus, I Trust in You!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The muscular Jesus

Today's Gospel startles us.  When Jesus drove the money-changers from the temple, was this the same Jesus who forbid anger, insults, and contempt for others?  Is the Jesus who we see knocking over tables and driving out animals with a whip the same Jesus who said, "turn the other cheek" and "Love your enemies"?

Actually, what Jesus gives us here is an example of how to live out his teaching on anger.  Certainly, anger is a source of much evil.  But this means chronic anger which distorts our attitudes and infects our behavior.  This happens when we let our anger grow in us.  In itself, anger is just a natural reaction that is part of our human nature.  There is no fault at all in feeling angry, any more than in feeling hungry or cold or scared.  Like every emotion, anger can be put to good or bad use.   Today, Jesus shows us how to use anger as an expression of love.

Jesus' anger in the temple showed how much he cared about people, and it was directed to bringing about a change of heart.  Jesus didn't insult the merchants.  By quoting Scripture to them, he acknowledged their faith and the bond he had with them as fellow Jews.  By saying they had turned God's house into a den of thieves, he was not saying they were bad people, but reminding them that they were called to be good.  By expressing the anger he felt, Jesus was trying to show people that what they were doing was bad, so that they would change.

Jesus was not a man who stood meekly by and let evil go unchallenged.  He didn't use violence to overcome evil, but he did take forceful measures against it.  The gentleness and respectful love of enemies he teaches is not an excuse to stand by and do nothing about evil.  It is a call to risk speaking the truth and even to accept dying ourselves in an effort to bring people together in love and peace.

Jesus' angry actions might make some of us uncomfortable. We might describe the Jesus in today's Gospel as "the muscular Jesus." Sometimes the gentle images of Jesus make him seem too soft. But today's depiction shows us how Jesus could ruffle the Temple staff and cause the Romans to begin to wonder about him. The Jesus we heard about a few weeks ago who reached out and touched the leper, is the same one who wrestled with Satan in the desert and won. This is also the Jesus who will accept and bear his cross.

Which one are we most like, the meek and humble Jesus or the muscular Jesus?  I expect that most of us relate better to the meek and humble Jesus and that we wouldn't want to confront or argue with someone about issues of faith.  But, it has been said that all it takes for evil to win is for good men to do nothing.   

In the film, Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise says several times: "Show me the money."   If we follow the money, it will often lead us to evil.  If we follow the money in today's Gospel, we find God's house being turned into a noisy place of trade. 

Today, if we follow the money in the abortion industry, we find a big, profitable business which promotes barbaric procedures to dismember babies in the womb.  If we follow the money in child trafficking, we find children being used for forced labor, domestic and construction work, child soldiers, and sexual exploitation.  If we follow the money on the internet, we find that one of eight on-line searches is for pornography and that internet porn is estimated at 3 billion dollars.  If we follow the money in end of life care, we find lobbying for euthanasia or so-called right to die which is driven by a desire to avoid the expense of caring for a person at the end of his or her life. 

How would Jesus react to these money changers in today's marketplace?  I expect that he would be angry and would do everything in his power to throw them out.  He would not sit idly by and watch these evil practices.  He loves us too much for that. 

And what does Jesus expect us to do about these modern day money changers?  Certainly he wants us to pray for their conversion.  But, what else can we do?  Is it time for us to follow the money and put an end to these evils?  Is it time for us, like Jesus, to throw these merchants our of our communities, our homes and our hospitals?  Let us follow Jesus' example and show these money changers our righteous anger.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Like St Francis de Sales or Jonah

Yesterday was the feast day of our patron, St Francis de Sales. After his ordination in 1593, Francis lived just over the mountains from Switzerland -- Calvinist territory. He decided to lead an expedition to convert the Calvinists back to Catholicism. 

For three years, Francis and his cousin traveled through the countryside.  They had doors slammed in their faces and rocks thrown at them. In the bitter winters, Francis' feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. He slept in haylofts if he could.  Once he slept in a tree to avoid wolves and tied himself to a branch to keep from falling out.  He was so frozen the next morning he had to be cut down. After three years, his cousin left him alone and he had not made one convert.

Francis' unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So Francis found a way to get under the door. He wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand, and slipped them under the doors.  In a few more years, Francis had converted 40,000 people back to Catholicism.

In today's Gospel, Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John.  He says:  "Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."   Immediately they respond to his call by leaving their nets and following him.   These first followers of Jesus aren't called into just a private relationship with Jesus.  Instead, they are part of the twelve who become  the first leaders of his church. 

Now, you might ask why were Simon, Andrew, and James willing to give their lives to proclaim Jesus' message and to build his Church?   And why did St Francis de Sales work so diligently to convert people back to Jesus' church, the Catholic Church?  Certainly, it is possible to follow Jesus and to get to heaven without going to church.  But, is that the best way, the path that Jesus himself gave us?  Jesus said to  Simon Peter:  "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."  Jesus formed a community of believers, a church, and he taught the first leaders of the church.  He formed a church, a mystical body on earth, as the guardian of the truth and the best and easiest way for us to get to heaven.  And he gave this church seven unique means of distributing graces, seven sacraments.  Through these seven sacraments, all of us are able to gain graces to help us on our journey. 

We have all had someone tell us that they're spiritual but not religious.  That is, they have a personal relationship with Jesus.  They don't need any church to get in the way and to tell them what to do.  Do we need a church?  Why are we gathered here today and not just meditating on our own?


In his homily for the January 1st Mass celebrating the solemnity of Mary, Pope Francis said: “The Church is like a mother who tenderly holds Jesus and gives him to everyone with joy and generosity…Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling.”

Without the Church and her guidance, our relationship with Christ “would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods,” he continued.

“Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ” who lives among us and can be encountered inside the Church through her sacraments, Pope Francis explained.

Jesus told us that our spiritual life is like a vine in which he is the trunk and we are the branches.  We are interconnected with others in the Church, through our beliefs, our worship, and our desire to know and understand the truth.

The first reading is from the book of the prophet Jonah.  Jonah was a reluctant prophet.  God told him to go to Nineveh and tell the people about their wicked ways.  So, Jonah reacted like we might react, he boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction.  Then, there was a terrible storm and the ship threatened to break apart.  The sailors threw Jonah overboard in the hope of calming the storm.  Wouldn't you know, Jonah was swallowed by a whale who carried him to Nineveh and spit him out on the beach.  Finally, Jonah did as God commanded and warned the people that their city would be destroyed in forty days.  The people responded to Jonah's warning by fasting and putting on sackcloth.  Then, our merciful God spared the city. 

Today, our culture in America is much like it was in the time of the prophet Jonah and the time of St Francis de Sales.  Like each of these men, we have an opportunity to evangelize our culture and to proclaim the truth to a fallen world.  At the end of each mass, like the prophet Jonah, we are sent out into our world.  Hopefully, we won't need to be thrown overboard in a storm or to be swallowed by a whale to understand our important role in building His kingdom.  I pray that each one of us will be inspired by St Francis de Sales and will tell everyone we meet about our loving and merciful God and about his Mystical body on earth, his Church.