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.