Audio Available!

Audio Available!
Be sure to check out in each blog post the links to the audio recordings of my homilies. They are at the beginning of each post! Also, look to the right for links to Audio from other good resources!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas homily


Today we celebrate one of the most central truths of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ was born - God became a little child in order to be with us.  Emmanuel we call Him: "God-with-us".  It really is true, God is with us.  He comes right into our world, not as a warrior-king with all the worldly authority and power we can imagine, but just the opposite: as a vulnerable and poor child, without even a home of His own.
It's interesting that there is no room at the inn for them.  I think that speaks to our parish in a special way as we continue with our plans, thanks to your generosity, to build a larger church: we want to make sure there is enough room for Jesus to be present to His people.  We are the Body of Christ, and the Lord desires to have a home here with us so that we can truly worship together and not broken up into so many separate small groups (like at the three 5:00 Christmas Eve Masses celebrated simultaneously).  There is a beauty to seeing Jesus at work in each other, and thanks to God for the way He is at work in our midst, drawing our parish into a stronger and more united family of faith, and never abandoning us.
Emmanuel comes right into our messy lives.  God is with us even when we aren't prepared for Him.  He doesn't wait for us to be "ready" for Him because He knows we'll never be completely ready for Him - Advent would last forever!   Instead, He comes into our mess in order to help us out along the way.  And I've seen that so concretely in the sacrament of Confession: God meeting us where we are, loving us where we are, and walking alongside us as we journey to become the best-version-of-ourselves, one step at a time toward holiness and happiness - which are really the same thing.

GS 22 - The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,(20) namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.
He Who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15),(21) is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled,(22) by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice(23) and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.(24)

"God became like us so that we could become like him" - Saint Athanasius
We look to Jesus to reveal to us what we are called to be.  He reveals to us the way we were made to be.
So, with Mary and Joseph, with the shepherds and the angels, we look at the Christ child in order to learn from Him.  What virtues do we see in Our Lord Jesus? We see profound Humility - God makes Himself into a creature because He loves us that much. We see littleness and gentleness. Even we see weakness (according to worldly standards), for somehow through our weakness God's power is made even stronger and more clear.  Let us look at Jesus and contemplate what we are meant to be: asking what is the best-version-of-myself that this child reveals to me?

Lastly, this Lord Jesus reveals to us the importance of the Eucharist as well.  For us Catholics, Emmanuel or God-with-us takes on a very special meaning in the Eucharist.  Thanks to the unbelievable humility of God, and to His amazing love which desires to be so close to us, even as a bridegroom rejoicing with His bride, we are able to receive this greatest of all gifts: Holy Communion, wherein the Lord Jesus becomes God-within-us!  Bethlehem literally means "house of bread" and that is what every Catholic church becomes: the heavenly house of divine bread, where in the Tabernacle we find our Lord Jesus, Emmanuel, present to us and showering us with His love.  May we always let the Lord Jesus feed us with His life-changing presence in our personal prayer, in Sunday Mass, and in the sacrament of Confession.  Lord Jesus, we love you; thank you for coming into our mess; please transform our hearts.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Jesus Question

Next week, Bishop Rhoades is going to give us a CD titled, "The Jesus Question".
How we answer the question “Who is Jesus?” makes all the difference.
The Church today asks us to reflect on this question, and it is especially the words of the Archangel that Gabriel help us to understand who Jesus is: he is the new King of David's line, the Messiah who will restore Israel to what it is meant to be: God's righteous children who are destined for holiness and eternal life.
The first word Gabriel says, 'Hail' in the Greek language actually means 'Rejoice.' Gabriel's news about Jesus is actually something to rejoice about. A couple weeks ago I reminded us that if we don't envision that we need a savior, then Jesus' coming won't be a big deal. But if we do realize that we are sinners who are in quite a bit of a mess and really in need of Almighty God's help, today we rejoice with Mary, because that help comes once and for all in Jesus. Gabriel's first word points backwards as well; and in fact, if you take the Latin word for 'hail' which is “Ave” (as in Ave Maria) then you get Eva, the name of the first woman of all time, who along with Adam fall into the trap of sin that every one of us knows too well. Finally, after generations upon generations of waiting and expectation of that first promise God made about our redemption that the serpent's head would be crushed, Mary the New Eve and her Son, the New Adam, are here to untie the knot of sin that the human race is found tied up within. Just think, Adam and Eve, and you and me, we human beings commit a sin against God, an infinite fault against an infinitely huge and infinitely loving Creator – what could we, finite beings as we are, do to make up for that? How you do fill up the Grand Canyon when all you have is a bucket? This is God's genius today: The Lord, the infinite One who made the Grand Canyon and the ocean that can fill it, enters our finite humanity so that finite human nature can make up the infinite debt. That's what a Savior is: someone who unties the knot that binds up as prisoner. This is exactly what we all long for more than anything, ever.

But before all that could happen, we needed Mary. God chooses not to force His plan on humanity, but rather wants us to freely choose it: He invites the sinless one, Mary, to be the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us. Will she say yes? All of creation, Mary, waits for your reply. Angels are holding their breath as they watch your eyes burn at Gabriel's invitation. Moses, David, Abraham, and all the patriarchs had longed with all their hearts to see this moment come. Please be bold! Don't let your perfect humility hold you back when the Lord also gave you the courage and the greatness to say “amen” to His Holy Will! Please, Mary, we need you! “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” With this reply, The world sighs with relief and delight, and Mary gives Gabriel, and the whole human race, something to rejoice about for all eternity. We have our savior. We have our hope. That is who Jesus is, and that makes all the difference. Thank you, Mary!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Me-Monster and The Reed of God

Gaudete Sunday is all about joy.  There are many obstacles to the joy of the Christmas season.  Some of them we can control, others we cannot.  If a loved one has died or we are experiencing some other type of loss or failure, we may not be feeling the joy of the radio stations and marketplaces resonating with our own hearts.  However, other things can get in the way, too, and they don't have to.  The biggest one, and the one today's readings call us to focus on, is ourselves.  If we are full of ourselves, we will not have joy.  True joy - not the sweet but empty "cotton-candy" joy - is the fruit of hope, of peace, of an encounter with someone greater than ourselves.

A comedian once talked about the big scary beast of pride that we see so often in our world.  "Beware of the me-monster" he would say.  It's a good wake-up call.
Humility is the antidote to this, and we see it well in John the Baptist.  Humility is grounded on truth.  Literally it means "earthiness," someone who is lowly and in touch with reality.  That is why John can say "No" to all those questions, but still respond clearly to who he thinks he is: a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesy to prepare the Lord's coming.  He knows it and isn't ashamed, but there's no me-monster involved.  That's humility.  That's the road to joy.
John the Baptist has emptied himself.
If we empty ourselves and give it over to the Lord, letting Him sit on the throne of our hearts to have authority to shape our entire person as He wishes, then we will find the secret to Joy.  Not only that, but the Lord will do great things through us.
Carol Houselander wrote a great book on this truth called the Reed of God.  She spoke of how a reed has to be taken and emptied out, shaped as God wants it, in order to be transformed into a beautiful wind instrument.  If the reed is full of itself, it cannot make music.  Mary was exactly that as well: like John the Baptist, she was free of herself so that God could shape her and make something more beautiful than she ever imagined.  And through that, she was filled with great joy.

So if we want to share the joy of this season, we need to foster our hope that God will do great things through us, which starts with humility.  Let us empty ourselves and become God's reed so that he can make some beautiful music with our lives.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Real Jesus is more than warm & fuzzy

Let's try to be shocked again by the Gospel.  So often we get too comfortable with this good news.  But Jesus' coming is more than just a warm & fuzzy experience.  It is a revolution and we want to be on His side of the battle.  It has shocked people since the beginning of time.  We need to allow it to do the same to us.

Advent looks in two directions at the same time.  It starts at the end, looking at Jesus' coming at the end of time.  It ends with His first coming, his birth in Bethlehem.
Today St. Peter reminds us again of that second coming as a like a thief.  I think another good example for us is a car accident or a physical injury, like when I fell over my bike as a kid and tore open my chin and needed 13 stitches.  These things are never easy or comfortable or a welcome surprise.  We are never prepared.  Like that, we are never prepared for God crashing into our lives: which is exactly why the characters of the Old Testament are afraid when they see an angel or hear God's voice.

Another reason is because God comes to turn our world upside down, which really turns out to be right-side-up.  Mark also gets at this: Jesus' first coming is a revolution of the current state of things.  Mark is most likely writing St. Peter's testimony from the city of Rome itself, the belly of the beast so to speak, since Rome controlled almost everything touching the Mediterranean at that time.  And Mark begins this way: the Gospel (euangelion, Good News) of Jesus Christ, Son of God.  For Romans, Gospel meant a proclamation of military victory.  So Mark says Jesus, who is also Christ (messiah), has won a great military victory by his cross and resurrection.  Then he calls Jesus the Son of God, which might make us yawn, but for Romans who worshiped the emperor as a son of a god, a descendant of divine lineage, it would have certainly caught their attention.  They would have said, "wait, are you saying this Jesus is the real Caesar, the real king of the universe as we know it?"  Yes, says Mark, now listen to how he won that victory.  And then he starts the story that more and more, shocks his audience.

John the Baptist made people of his time quite uncomfortable.  He shocked them.  But sometimes it's a good thing when we are made uncomfortable.  For example, here's what my mom did to me when I was a baby.  She gets a ring at the doorbell and there's a man asking her "is this your child? I found him out in the middle of the road."  Now we're not talking some neighborhood road, we are talking a road of constant, but light, traffic.  Well my mom was terrified, embarrassed, and grateful and angry all at the same time.  So  guess what she did?  She spanked me to kingdom come saying "don't ever do that again!"  Now, was that comfortable for me?  Obviously not, otherwise I wouldn't have blocked it from my memory.  But was it good for me?  Yah I think so, since maybe the next driver wouldn't have been so alert and cautious.  So, discomfort can be good when we are in danger.  And that's what the Baptizer is doing for us: telling us we are spiritually in danger, demanding we repent and seek forgiveness for our sins.
So we have to be honest about our own sinfulness.  If we don't acknowledge we need a savior, Jesus' coming isn't that big of a deal is it?  Nope.
So, I hope this kind of shocks you: you are spiritually in danger without Jesus.  You don't know when the thief is coming to take back to Himself everything that you think is yours.  And the Baptist says this: repent and seek forgiveness.  To do this, I give one piece of advice: make a good Confession during Advent.  Either come a week from Tuesday or come to one of the times Fr. Bill and I will be available.  Don't get comfortable with the warm & fuzzy Jesus.  He's much more than that.  He's a Savior.  This Advent, let Him save you and heal you once again.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Homily - Advent Alertness

Jesus speaks of a struggle in our world for our own hearts using the imagery of sleepiness during the night watch. Our culture is very sleepy, which shouldn't be a surprise because it is guided by the spirit of the world more than the Spirit of God. You can see this struggle even in the commentary about Black Friday pushing back into Thanksgiving. Some people ask deeper questions about it while others have spiritually fallen asleep, some just say "it's no big deal" and others protest. The sleepy spirit of this passing world is literally working overtime to win the war for our souls.
I've been reading this book called The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which the parish read as a group one Lent a while before I arrived. It is a series of letters from a senior demon giving advice to his nephew demon who is trying to corrupt a male university student - perhaps those are easy targets for little devils to practice on. I first read it in college, so I often felt like the letters were written about me! I was practically looking over my shoulders expecting to see something I didn't want to find!
The senior tempter often stresses the desire to remain hidden and work under the radar - to more or less keep us asleep. If we are unaware, we are less likely to protest and run to God. It's like trying to cook a frog (or so I've heard): if you boil the water first he will not stay in.
There is a struggle like that in every one of our hearts and what the world wants, what the devil wants, is for us to fall asleep - to lose focus and drop our radar and forget about why we are here.
"Watch" in Latin is "vigilate". This is where we get the word vigil from, deriving from the ancient practice of guarding things at night from surprise oncomers hoping for some easy looting. Stay awake or keep watch also get to this point.
The darkness around us can be enveloping. It symbolizes our futures - in fact, this is a fundamental religious experience, one that we all can easily use for family members whose faith is weak. Everyone can appreciate that they don't have any guarantees of what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, or beyond. Our lives are a mystery to us, sitting under the stars surrounded by shadows and half-lights.
But that is only partially true. The other side of the coin is that we have a light placed within us, and that the fire of faith, if we keep it burning, will light up our present and show us through this life, one day at a time. The moon which represents Mary and the saints, who shine the light of the sun even in our darkness will also guide us and remind us that the dawn will one day appear in the East.
Advent is about waiting and waiting is hard. Some people wait years for the right person to marry. I waited years for Jesus to call me to the priesthood. It may take years of constant battle to overcome a particular vice or character flaw we have. Jesus doesn't say it's easy. He just says: watch. And pray!
Watch and Pray! Our prayer is essential to staying awake. Why? Because prayer breaks the mold of the devil's lies. Prayer is a wake-up call that rouses us from the sleep of this world, because it gives us a taste of what we were truly made for. Prayer is an art, a fine art, but different from painting or poetry or music, because it is something everyone is capable of and is always beautiful. Prayer is like breathing or walking – it is so deep a part of who we are and so essential to life, and every time it is a miracle even though we don't treat it as one. And it should be as natural and easy as breathing or walking, too. Because prayer is just spending time with one you love. If you set aside time and say “Lord, I love you,” then you have prayed well.
Watch and Pray.   You know, today the Church year begins.  The Church is trying to teach us that our New Year's Resolution should be to get ready for Jesus to crash into our lives.  Watch and Pray. May Advent help us to live these two commands of our Lord all year round.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lost sheep

This Gospel is, in many ways, what it all comes down to.
Thanksgiving always means we are nearing crunch-time for most college and high-school students: just around the corner are exams or finals, whatever they are called.  I remember losing some sleep and certainly cutting back on social time during the last week of college semesters: I wanted to do my best and be ready for that test.
Well, today, Jesus gives us a study-guide for our test, in fact its practically the answer-sheet.
Augustine quote: All that the wicked do is recorded, and they do not know. When “our God comes, he does not keep silence.”... he will turn towards those at his left hand:...” I placed my poor little ones on earth for you. I as their head was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father—but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need. If you gave anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head. Would that you had known that my little ones were in need when I placed them on earth for you and appointed them your stewards to bring your good works into my treasury. But you have placed nothing in their hands; therefore you have found nothing in my presence.” from CCC #1039

That's pretty sobering stuff, and that is why we Catholics take this message seriously.  This is why you can find Saint Vincent de Paul societies around the globe.  This is why our parish itself sacrifices close to a tenth of our operating budget to the needy of our area, not including all the collections and other donations that go directly to those in need.  The only test that is going to matter in the end is the five-word test: "you did it to me."  So we take what we do seriously - intensely.  

I think this has most impact on the small level: in the one-on-one encounters we have with the needy, like Dorothy Day did.  I was once told, in regards to this passage: "you have to see Jesus in them."  Even those people at stoplights whose stories are mysteries to us.  When we see people begging it should get under our skin, make us uncomfortable.  Because people make demands on us - we are responsible and God won't forget it.  I speak this more as a challenge to myself than to you, frankly. But like Blessed Mother Teresa did, we should see Jesus in them, no matter how disguised or disfigured Jesus looks within them.

Jesus himself practiced works of mercy.  He is our model.  He treats every person with dignity and love.  We have to see them through the eyes of their heavenly Father, and tend to their needs: both body and soul.  We call these the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
2447    The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.242 Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.243 Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity.
Jesus actually spent much more time on the spiritual works of mercy, and perhaps we should, too, without neglecting the physical needs.  We should accompany, as P. Francis likes to put it.  How will the world recognize us Christians? By our charity.  Let's be a strong witness of that love that we receive in this Eucharist, the Sacrament of Charity.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls Day

There are many things in this world we can't fully understand and have to let our faith help us to truly "get it." Death is one of the great mysteries of human existence.  There is a great movie about an autistic young adult named Temple Grandin, who upon attending a funeral can't help but ask the question: "where do they go?"  She knows that the person she knew wasn't in that casket anymore, that the immortal soul that animated those "remains" was somewhere else.
Today, as we remember all the faithful departed, those who have persevered in their faith unto the end of their earthly journey, our faith answers that question ("where do they go?") in a mysterious way - not completely, but only partially: "The souls of the just are in the hand of God."  This may not be the perfect answer we wish for, but that is what we have.  Jesus says "I will not lose anything that the Father gives me, and I will raise them up on the last day."  
This is what we believe, and in many ways it is the essence of our faith.  Everything the Catholic Church teaches only makes sense with our eyes looking toward God and toward our eternity with Him in heaven.  If we aren't making decisions with our heart and mind in the clouds, then odds are we will be making the wrong decisions.  Saint Paul expounds upon this further when he says we have to live in this world like we don't belong here.  Today he tell us we are already dead by our Baptism.  We die in Jesus.  We die to this world and all the vanities and decorations that don't make sense in view of eternity.  We have to remember heaven!  One way to do this is read C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce (which is heaven & hell, where humanity is divorced from itself and its creator), or Till We Have Faces.  These will keep our eyes up.
So we as Christians our different, very different from our culture.  We must not be afraid of death, nor forget to keep our heart & mind in heaven.  We look at death and almost mock it, as Saint Paul calls it just "falling asleep," and says "where O Death is your victory, where is your sting?"
My grandma's only fear was dying alone, without anyone around her.  Others fear dying in front of another person.  Still others are afraid to face sins from many years ago.  Some of us might be afraid of leaving people behind, or projects unfinished.  But none of us should be afraid of death, because it really is the greatest invitation.
Think of the infant child in its mother's womb: it is so content, having everything it could possibly want and need: warmth, food, protection.  But after the traumatic experience of birth is forced upon it, it is opened up to amazing experiences, opportunities, and blessings that it never could have foreseen.  In fact, parts of what God had prepared in that infant from the beginning (such as lungs, eyes, and mouth) only make sense after that great transition.  Death is like that for us: traumatic, painful, unwelcomed.  But only through that door are we able to be welcomed to live on a much higher plane, and parts of us (our immortal soul that stays strong as our bodies fall apart, and those longings for something greater) only make sense when we are placed back into God's hands.
Yesterday we celebrated that perfection of human destiny when we celebrated All Saints Day, rejoicing at the Church made whole in heaven.  Today we look at those who are a work in progress, even after death, as they are molded more into their perfect selves in Purgatory.  I think we might forget that these two other parts of the One Body of Christ: the Church victorious and the Church suffering, are present with us who are one in Jesus - especially here at Mass.  We pray for the poor souls who are overcoming their residual selfishness so they can truly love, and we recall the Saints and as for their prayers.  Today, preparing our hearts to receive the Body of Jesus in the Eucharist and share a foretaste of the glory of heaven, let us intercede for those family and friends who had died in faith, that the Lord will look upon them with Mercy and lead them to His Kingdom of Glory.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Homily for Sunday - True Love: Making it personal!

This is personal. “Alright, now it's personal” means they are now intensely committed to something because it is starting to have serious direct effects on them: whether their reputation, their relationships, their livelihood, or perhaps their very life. We don't get in-between a mama bear and her cub because then it gets personal. When I was a kid, we had a raccoon living in our garage one summer, and when my dad reached his hand into that cardboard box without knowing, wow talk about personal!

This is exactly what God is talking about in the first reading today: He takes us personally – all of us! But especially today, the weakest in society: the orphans, the widows, the aliens (not meaning martians but rather foreigners). God says if we mistreat them, things are going to get personal, “for”, The Lord says, “I am compassionate.” God has united Himself to us, His people, and if we mess up His Name among the nations, He will take it personally. This should be a big wake-up call to all of us for social justice: God's wrath flares up when He sees injustice. So too should we have a burning desire to set things right and take calm and prudent steps that get us closer, one day at a time, to true peace, as newly Blessed Paul VI once said: “If you want peace, work for justice!

Today in another showdown between Jesus and the religious authorities of His day, we get a glimpse into the heart of religion. What is it all about? In many ways, a master teacher is proven by the ability to make complex things simple without losing the essence of them. An architect is no good if he can't explain to me what makes a good roof: “it keeps the weather out and doesn't fall apart.” Jesus today answers “what is religion all about?” And even very young children can understand this anwer: Love God, and Love your neighbor as if they were yourself.
That's all folks! If it's that simple, it sure makes us look silly for how often we make a poor job of it, huh?!
Then Jesus adds an interesting phrase at the end, and he uses the Gk. Kremetai 'hang' “On these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets (i.e., the entire Jewish faith tradition).”
Now I'm sure you've seen, a few action movies, and in so many of them there is a time where someone is over a big drop, and the only thing keeping him from falling is the ledge or rope he's holding onto, or even better the hand of another person who reached them at the last minute. Without that grip, down they go, so long. Well, that is the image that Jesus is using when he says “on these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets.”
Love God, and Love your neighbor as if they were yourself. And if we don't God will take it personally. So we should take it personally.
Our relationship with God should be personal. It has to be more than Sundays. We have to both give God space in the home of our heart, and also spend time in that home with Him. God has, in fact, already carved a home for us in the Lord's Sacred Heart. Do we visit Him by prayer and sacrifice?
Secondly, our love of others should be personal. Do we sacrifice ourselves for others? There is a great almost-saint that Paul VI himself promoted, named Pier Giorgio Frassatti, and I'd love to tell you all about him but I don't have enough time: Fr. Bill would come shut off my microphone! So, go to the parish website, click on the word “homily” at the top, then click on my name. Then you can listen to another priest's account of Pier Giorgio (especially around 8min15sec). He's a wonderful young man of an upper class Italian family whose love for God showed itself so clearly in love for neighbor. It was personal for Blessed Pier Giorgio because He saw how God, in His Son death on the cross, made it personal first. Let us make it personal, too, and put the love of this Eucharist into practice.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Caesar and God

There are two truths that are important for today's Gospel, and they both are contained in Jesus' memorable saying, that we should all have memorized: Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.
The first part is important.  It reminds us as Catholics that we must not shy away from public life and social responsibility, nor should we be opposed to legitimate authority in civil society.   The Catechism says, 1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it.16 ... It is necessary for the unity of the state. [So, Catholics cannot support anarchy!] Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society. 1925 The common good consists of three essential elements: respect for and promotion of the fundamental rights of the person; prosperity, or the development of the spiritual and temporal goods of society; the peace and security of the group and of its members.   1900 The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.  1915 As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. ...

Thus Catholics should be the best citizens of every country, and for all kinds of different reasons: it promotes the common good; it fosters stability and peace; it helps with evangelization because non-believers will be more attracted to good citizens; and it is a sign of our humility after the example of Jesus.  So being informed voters and engaging in public dialogue, even going to be on jury for court trials, are all essential elements of good Christians.  We don't try to hide away in our own bubble as the world around us goes up in flames.
But also,  Jesus demands  that we render to God what belongs to God.  Caesar is not God, and neither are we.  The phrase "what belongs to God" in the context of a Roman coin is meant to connect back to the creation story.  The coin had Caesar's image and likeness on it, but we in our very nature were made in God's image and likeness.  So for us, to render what belongs to God must mean our entire life!

Sometimes in this imperfect world Caesar and God will butt heads with each other. We know that in our society today, we are seeing conflicts between our faith and the society, and we have to take sides.  Jesus will at times make demands on us to be sort of conscientious objectors to society.  This is exactly what our bishops have been modeling about the HHS mandate over the past four or five years.  There are other historical figures we can think of from our country as well as the world.  If it is not promoting the common good, we must oppose it with humility and dialogue, trying our best to influence a change in the society.  And here is your challenge for the week: do one thing that promotes the common good in our social order, whether it is researching your vote, writing to the newspaper or to your congressman, or doing some grassroots work for the common good by volunteering in the parish respect life ministries or local community outreaches.  If you do that, you will be living Jesus' message for today, rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Join the Feast!!

Audio recording (Sat. Night): Click Here
Spanish-American George Santayana wrote (in The Life of Reason, 1905): “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Winston Churchill outlined this reality quite well in 1935, rather ominously foreboding another world war in the future, with the following words:
“When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.” (House of Commons, 2 May 1935. Source: Churchill Museum)
We see this playing out today in this Gospel passage.  Jesus' parable works in two directions.  Looking back into the past, the Kingdom of heaven was a free invitation God offered  to His chosen people of Israel, sending the prophets ahead of Him to invite them to the banquet to which the Messiah would lead them.  But they failed to accept that invitation, and the city of Jerusalem, including the Lord's Temple, was burnt to the ground for their lack of fidelity to the Lord's covenants.  But looking to the future, jesus foretells the reality that is unfolding before their eyes: the leaders are again rejecting the invitation that Jesus offers them into the great feast of heaven, the will indeed kill Him, and later on, when the apostles try to preach the Lord's Resurrection and the wedding feast of the Lamb, they'll be kicked out of the temples and synagogues again and again.  Then, around 70AD, the temple will be destroyed for the second time.  History will repeat itself if we are too stiff-necked and hard-hearted to make the difficult changes they demand of us.
This seems to be a disease of humanity.  We are too often "unteachable" (as Churchill said) whenever we fail make the tough adjustments that history demands of us, which ultimately means conversion.  Anyone who makes a regular examination of conscience knows this, too.  The fact is: sometimes we let evil win by lack of foresight, poor counsel, laziness, or lack of vision of the ultimate goal.
Fixing that lack of vision is exactly what Jesus has been doing for us these past weeks with these parables.  Every single parable has mentioned "The Kingdom of God" or "The Kingdom of Heaven."  Jesus wants us to think about heaven, he wants us to have a vision so that we can have the enthusiasm to go after the goal, the focus to run the race of life.  One thing you can do this week is spend some time reading that vision in the Sunday Gospels of past weeks - just think about what God's Kingdom, heaven, is like.  Last week we saw how heaven is a vineyard that is meant to produce an abundant harvest of grapes.  On Sept. 28th the Kingdom goes to the son who obeys God's word with deeds.  The week before that it is the reward of a hard day's work (even when we don't fully deserve it).  Before that (if it wasn't trumped by Sept. 14th's feast of the Exaltation of the Cross) the kingdom of heaven is a place where we forgive others because our master has forgiven us so much more.  

And today, Heaven is a banquet that the King Himself invites you to.  If Pope Francis sent a bishop to your doorstep to invite you to a dinner, you probably wouldn't say, "sorry but we have a soccer game," or "my house is a mess" or "I just need to relax today."  Well, God isn't Pope Francis, or rather, Pope Francis isn't God, so let's not allow any excuses keep us from the invitation to heaven that God Himself invites us to for our eternity.  Furthermore, don't let those things keep you from Mass on Sundays, which is the true wedding feast of the lamb, as the priest says every time he elevates the host before communion time: "Blessed are those called to the supper of the lamb".  You are called.  Experience the joy of that call.  Leave behind the less important things and get that deeper spiritual vision of what life is really all about.  When you spend time seeing what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, your hearts will start burning in a way they never have, and you will be happier, more peaceful, more effective in your daily works, and a more joyful witness of God's love to others.  Don't let history repeat itself again: accept the King’s invitation, make the changes you need, and come, join the feast!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Homily - Saint Francis and Good Fruit

Recording from 10:30am Mass: Click Here

What kind of fruit are we bearing?  What kind of tree are we eating from?
Today, when the scriptures demand of us a clear produce of proper fruit, we should also recall the two great trees of the Bible, because if we are what we eat, then we have to ask ourselves what kind of tree we are spending time with.  One tree is the tree of the old man, Adam, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which is the source of our divided human heart: part of us afraid of God and the healthy part of us always reaching for Him.  The other tree in the story of the Fall is the tree of life, which in the fullness of time was revealed as the Cross, where we die to our disordered nature and find new life in the new humanity begun in Christ Jesus.
These two trees today are at every moment battling for our hearts as loud, annoying, and effective as any television or radio commercial.  Which one do we spend our time listening to?  The old sinful ways of the tree of pride, the tree of sin and death, the tree of a divided heart, or the tree of humble obedience and rebirth?  How do we do eat of the fruit of that tree?

Ultimately it is connecting with God in prayer.  Prayer is done in all kinds of ways: coming to Mass, reading Sacred Scripture, journaling, using a technique of one of the saints such as Saint Ignatius, Teresa of Avila, or John of the Cross.  Singing Christian music of any era can be prayer.  Simply put, it is looking with love up to God again and again.

CCC-2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

Saint Francis, the patron of our pope, had his feast day yesterday, and he has some words about bearing good fruit in our life, and he sees that in order to produce fruit, we have to be connected to the tree of life through our prayer.

SAINT FRANCIS - " O how happy and blessed are those who love the Lord and do as the Lord himself said in the gospel: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul; and your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, let us love God and adore him with pure heart and mind. This is his particular desire when he says: True worshippers adore the Father in spirit and truth. For all who adore him must do so in the spirit of truth. Let us also direct to him our praises and prayers saying: Our Father, who art in heaven, since we must always pray and never grow slack.

"Furthermore, let us produce worthy fruits of penance. Let us also love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us have charity and humility. Let us give alms because these cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve. We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather we must be simple, humble and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God’s sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way and persevere in it to the end. He will permanently dwell in them. They will be the Father’s children who do his work. They are the spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Let us bear that great fruit then, connected to the Tree of Life, the Cross, through this Eucharist, and through our commitment personal prayer, bearing the fruits that God demands of those who bear His name before the world, always displaying the Joy of the Gospel.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Homily - Views on Work: Stewardship vs. Consumerism

Audio: Click here

I want to make sure before my long tirade that we all are clear on the main point of this Gospel, so here it is: Heaven is worth anything - anything, even martyrdom.  Don't get sucked in to imagining that it's not enough to satisfy every single desire you could ever want.
Okay, now I'm going to talk about stewardship.  In this world of sin, our fallen human nature has that tendency toward sin (called concupiscence) that makes us see things from a corrupted perspective: we look at work and boil it down to just some way to get money, like in the parable.  But as Isaiah tells us, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways."  God remembers what work was meant to be.  We Catholics have to start thinking about things at a deeper level, not get sucked into the shallow views of the culture.
If we look around, we can see that work is not just about money.  The teachers in our school aren't doing it for the big paycheck, folks.  Their excellent skills could be compensated much better in public schools, but they stay at St. Pius because there is something besides money in their work here.
In today's Gospel parable, some of the workers  are sucked into the culture's way of thinking.  They look at work with a consumerist mentality: "what am I giving? what am I getting?"  Apparently consumerism has been around for quite some time in one form or another.  But the interesting thing about those 11th-hour workers is this: were they playing the game of "the best deal" or were they resisting a consumerist mindset?  I think they were waiting around for something worth giving their lives to.  And when the Lord invited them, they jumped at the opportunity and discovered a better way to live: Stewardship.
Stewardship helps us to think about work and about money at a deeper level: ultimately, every good thing we have is either a direct or derivative gift from God - it can all be traced back to His generous love.  Along with that, our work is a necessary collaboration with God's plan for our world: to make a communion of saints here on earth and not just in heaven.  So work is much bigger than just money, and here are some big examples:
1. Whether it is a paid job, a sport, an artistic talent, a chore at home, or a school assignment, work sanctifies us. We become saints one bit at a time, something that money could never buy.  Work fosters virtues in our hearts: discipline, perseverance, patience, courage, prudence, self-control, humility.  All of these are the building blocks of holiness, and many are fruits or gifs of the holy spirit.
2.  Work build's God's kingdom of peace and justice.  By work, we get a chance to let God work through us in bringing heaven to earth.
3.  Work teaches us to love.  In work, we learn how to properly relate to others and give of ourselves.  So many parts of any task (paid or otherwise) are done better if we are considerate and kind toward others.  This helps us to infuse love into all that we do.
Those are just a few examples.  I welcome you to think up some more from your own reflections.

Lastly, we find ourselves in the parable among those workers.  The question comes to all of us: who will you serve?  God or stuff?  Will you be a consumer, or a steward?  As I now invite Jan Druyvesteyn to come forward for her witness in stewardship, let us pray for the grace to remember that heaven is worth anything.

Witness Message for Stewardship Services - September 20 & 21, 2014
Saint Pius X Catholic Church (by Jan Druyvesteyn)

Four years ago this fall, I began weekly sessions in RCIA, thanks to Father Bill’s encouragement. I was received into full communion in the church the following Easter Vigil, and things have not been the same since. That’s the reason, this Stewardship Weekend (Sunday) I am grateful to share my story.
By way of introduction to the Catholic Church my husband (a new Catholic himself) gave me a subscription to The Magnificat – the monthly meditation that I know many of you read. The daily Scripture readings, prayers, and meditations opened my heart and fed me spiritually. So much so, that after a year, I was actually “dependent” on reading it each day. That was the beginning of the path that led to Saint Pius. What was happening, I realized, was the fulfillment of the words in the Epistle of James, chapter 4:8, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”  And God did – beyond my imagining.
To my surprise, I discovered that the Scripture readings for today hold that same message: Isaiah 55: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near,” and  Psalm 145: “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.”
So – drawing near to God ever more faithfully through prayer, reading God’s word, and listening in silence to the Holy Spirit, re-set priorities in my life. I began closely watching how I used my time and ally resources. I realized I was swept away – as most of us are – by the presumed “need” in our society for more and more possessions, for the excuses to be self-indulgent (think... specialty coffee drinks, the extra glass of wine … fill in the blanks) – and the mindless living with excess. 
What’s interesting is that I didn’t intentionally decide to change any habits. The changes occurred because I had drawn nearer to God. And one of those changes, or decisions, was how – and how much – I was giving to the church. I no longer viewed my annual pledge as an obligation, but rather an act of worship.  It’s thanksgiving! And that’s also what the Eucharist is for us each time we are here in worship to receive the body and blood of Christ. 
All that we have is from God – entrusted to us to serve him.  So I asked myself, “How can I possibly thank God except to return to him in thanks-giving ALL my gifts: time, talent, and treasure.
We are blessed to be members of this parish, to worship in a community that supports one another and seeks to be faithful witnesses of Christ’s love. We are blessed by Father Bill and Father Terry who lead us in worship and help guide us along our way through life. Many of us know what it’s like to have Father Bill walk through the door of a hospital room. He is in that instant the face of Christ.  And how often he, and Father Terry come alongside us when we are in need of comfort, support, or blessing.
I had a very dear friend, name Elsie, who rather late in her life discovered the peace and joy of drawing near to God. Elsie always said, “Gratitude is everything.”  May we all count our blessings today – in gratitude – and pray for what we might do to repay those blessings – past, present, and future to our wonderful parish.  May we all be disciples – shining witnesses of Christ’s love to the world – so others may come into this fellowship, welcomed as I was, into the open arms of Christ’s love. For this, I give praise to God, and I thank you.

Jan Druyvesteyn

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Homily for Saint Joseph High School (Wed. - St.Robert Bellarmine)

1 Cor. 13 is a passage that is used so often in marriages that priests joke about getting tired of it, but really no one gets tired of love, seeing it, hearing about it, living it.

As we have the service organizations by the chapel during lunches this week, I think it is important to remember that the word for love in Latin is caritas, charity, and the saint for today, Sept. 17, is a great example of charity.  Robert Bellarmine was an important apologist, who explained the faith during the protestant reformation.  Buried in Rome where he took care of so many beggars, Bellarmine was known for pawning off even his episcopal ring, and at least twice his own bed mattress in order to give money to the poor around him.  His financeer who was in charge of his giving as well, would often complain about things disappearing in the residence such as the drapes, to which St. Robert Bellarmine said "the walls won't catch a cold!" Instead of big decorative graves for his parents, he took care of the needy in their name.  Rome called him il nuovo poverello, the new little poor-one, referring to the great Saint Francis (which was actually Robert's middle name and his patron).

But Charity and service are meant to fill up our whole lives: we are called to love, so that every moment of our lives is spent in love, like Bellarmine spent anything for others.  We should remember the great insight of St. Therese of Lisieux and her discovery of her vocation.  Therese is a great saint, also a Doctor of the Church (one of 4 women and the youngest and most recent of them all).  She is actually my brother's favorite saint, but he's a little jealous that my birthday was the day she was born into heaven, just a couple weeks away.
Anyways, while in the convent, Therese struggled to figure out what exactly she was called to spend her life for.  She had such great desires and dreams, yet she felt so ill-equipped to accomplish any of them.  She wanted to be a priest bringing people the sacraments, a martyr shedding her blood for Jesus, a missionary bringing new souls into the Church, a doctor of the Church (like Bellarmine) who led many closer to God, and not give up the life of a cloistered nun spending herself in prayer with God and for others.
She searched for her answer using Lectio Divina (praying with Scripture and letting God speak to her, like I just taught you freshmen in religion class last week).  She used today's reading, 1 Cor. 12 and 13, she must have spent an hour or more in prayer, and now I will read her from her autobiography called The Story of a Soul.

At prayer these desires made me suffer a true martydom. I opened the Epistles of St. Paul to seek some relief. The 12th and 13th chapters of the First Epistle to the Corinthians fell before my eyes. I read, in the first, that not all can be apostles, prophets, and doctors, etc., that the Church is composed of different members, and that the eye cannot also be at the same time the hand.

The answer was clear, but it did not satisfy my desires, it did not give me peace.... Without being discouraged I continued my reading, and this phrase comforted me: “Earnestly desire the more perfect gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). And the Apostle explains how all gifts, even the most perfect, are nothing without Love... that charity is the excellent way that leads surely to God. At last I had found rest.... Considering the mystical Body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather, I wanted to recognize myself in all... Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church has a body composed of different members, the noblest and most necessary of all the members would not be lacking to her. I understood that the Church has a heart, and that this heart burns with Love. I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood... I understood that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places... in a word, that it is eternal!

Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!... Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place... in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!.... Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!”

Therese finds LOVE as the heart of her vocation.  The more we become like God, who is Love itself, the greatest good we are to those around us, because Love transforms everything.
God is love.  The words can almost be interchanged at any moment.  Any love that is worthy of the name is God.  So we can look at the words of St. Paul and say: God is patient, God is kind, God is not jealous, inflated, pompous or rude, etc.  We could also replace it with "the Father" or "The Son" or "Jesus" or "The Holy Spirit."
But here's the real good one for all of us: because we are called to love, we can use this passage as an Examination of Conscience for us.  Fr. Terry is patient.  "Am I patient? Am I jealous or rude or pompous?"  Maybe these words are too old-fashioned for you, so I thought about some better ways to say it: Do I bash people either in person or behind their backs, or on social media?  Do I get mad when something good happens to someone else instead of me?  Do I hold grudges?  Do I feel hurt when others get more attention than me?  Do I always want things to go my way?  Do I end up complaining about it?  Do I sulk?  Do I spread rumors to get back at people?  When was the last time I forgave someone?  When was the last time I sincerely asked for forgiveness? (that is part of rejoicing with the truth - having the humility to confess it).

Saint Paul talks also about the Old Man vs. New Man.  The Old is Adam, earthly and sinful.  The New is Jesus, born of God and heavenly, and glorified.  We as humans are a work in progress between the Old Man and the New Man.  We have all been born into a world of sin, with a confused and corrupted heart that often leads us away from God.  But we are also redeemed, or bought back, from those sins by Jesus' death on the cross.
Christ, the New Man, transforms us, if we let Him, into His image.  And The Mass is the place for that transformation.  Here in the Mass we see that love given, and we receive it in the Eucharist.  The Corinthians were scolded harshly by St. Paul precisely because the Mass and the accompanying "Feast of Love" or "Agape meal" became an opportunity for division instead of unity.  The struggle goes on today.  We all can ask ourselves if we really live out the true meaning of the Mass as well as we should.  I think the answer would be yes and no.  Yes we are trying, but no, we aren't there perfectly yet.
On our journey to becoming more like Jesus, to being Love like St. Therese, and to being generous servants of the poor like St. Robert Bellarmine, we have to keep remembering who we truly are meant to be: who God has redeemed us to be: the New Adam, Christ Jesus, who is perfectly patient, kind, not jealous, etc. like from 1 Cor. 13.  If we don't reaffirm our identity, the devil will sneak in and wedge our sins against us.  If we let him remind us of all we've done wrong, we will run and hide from God, and then we will hurt our community and ourselves by holding grudges, being jealous, complaining, and tearing down relationships instead of building the family of Saint Joseph High School.
Here at Mass, we ask God who is love to help us to put our sins and the sins of our neighbor behind us.  We lay those sins at the foot of the Cross.  If we need to, we return to His loving embrace through the sacrament of Confession.  And finally, in this Sacrament of Divine Love, we beg Jesus in the Eucharist to help us to become what we are already but not yet: perfect saints who let Him love the world through us.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Subversive power - God's wisdom

Homily recording (Sat night): Click Here

This feast of the exultation of the cross in many ways is the foundation of our parish. This Catholic community would not exist, unless it were for devotion to the holy cross, inspiring a congregation of religious priests and brothers that started in France, moved over to the United States and started a University in this area, establishing a strong Catholic presence. This parish was run by priests of the Holy Cross order for about 40 years and for much longer before that on the farm.

Paul speaks of the cross as a folly of God that is greater than human wisdom.

I am just starting a book called quiet which speaks to the subtle and often unnoticed power of being introverted in a society where extraversion and flaring personality are so often praised.  One example of such quiet strength is Rosa Parks, an absolute introvert that became a critical witness of the African-American civil rights movement.  Human wisdom wouldn't expect such a humble, simple person to be the watershed of such a huge event in American history. But that just shows how God works.

I just finished once again the first episode of Father Robert Barron's Catholicism series, an excellent set of DVDs containing 10 one-hour sessions on the Catholic faith.  Standing in the coliseum where Christians were once persecuted at the behest of the emperor, Father Barron talked about the power of God through Christ's cross and resurrection, and told a little anecdote about World War II. Pope Pius the 12th, after making some scathing criticism's of Joseph Stalin and Russia, apparently retorted back, "... And how many divisions does Pius the 12th have?" But the power of the Spirit is greater then the power of the sword, as we see in the fact that the successor of Joseph Stalin was overturned and overthrown by the successor of Pius the 12th: John Paul the second, who stopped the flow and broke the foundation of communism without a single bullet.

He spoke of the cross as a very interesting new type of battle that God uses to stop the terrible cycle of violence that we so often experience in our world. The early Christians would use the cross as a symbol of victory, even though the cross was so clearly a symbol of defeat and destruction and fear. This was a way that they would simply show them what for, to get in their face so to speak. It is a subversive act because the Romans would use the cross precisely to instill fear, saying "if you mess up, you will end up like this." The Christians held up the cross and said "we aren't afraid of that. You can't hurt us, God has already conquered death!" 

 I think the same thing applies to what has happened in recent weeks, and what  happened 13 years ago this past Thursday, in regard to terrorism.  What is going to conquer such a nebulous monster as the corruption and perversion of the human spirit? Nothing other than the power of God in the witness of his Son's victory over evil by the cross! Certainly indeed we respond prudently to stop the spread of this evil, with the guidance of our church's leaders, face-to-face. But at the same time, we must not give in to the mind of this world: that the force of power and domination alone is enough, when we know that God's power is not shown in such a way.

Another important part of today's salinity is the transformation of human suffering. So many people in our world despair about suffering. Euthanasia, suicide, and other illnesses are clear signs that people cannot make meaning out of suffering. They get caught in it, and fall to despair.

But today we recall that Jesus suffered. She knows intense pain, intense isolation, intense betrayal, absolute rejection and animosity. He took all of that upon himself, bearing our curses, and now has turned them into something that can save us. If only we do not run away from suffering. We cannot avoid it, we were made for it to some degree. Our longing heart finds suffering in our world no matter what path we take, no matter how good we have it.  Suffering comes to every single one of us, so what are we going to do with it? If we want it to eat us alive, it can. If we wanted to draw us closer to God, to make us live happier lives, to transform our vision of the world, and to teach us to love, it can. Today from this cross we receive that sacrament of love poured out for us.   Even in an imperfect world where our hearts will always suffer, let us allow the holy cross to be the source and center of our lives and of our joys. 

Capital punishment in some ways is a sign of weakness within a society, since  it is a testament that they cannot truly win over a person's mind & soul.

In Anticipation of Tomorrow's Feast - My Friend's Cross and the New Life it Brings

Please watch this video if you haven't seen or heard about the Comeau family.  Also, a homily about Josh.

Stop and pray a Hail Mary for them all.

In Christ,
~Fr. Terry

Other links to Comeau News/Prayers: 
Caring Bridge

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fraternal Correction

Homily audio from 10:30 Mass: Click Here

          In the  Lord of the Rings, one of the greatest images for the Church is found in the house of healing after the great battle.  There, the king heals, and the wounds of the past darkness are healed.  People are healed together and through each other.
          Today the readings speak of what is traditionally known as "fraternal correction," which literally means setting your brother back on the straight or right path.  In our world we might refer to it as calling someone out or to the carpet, or "being real," but the readings make a clear emphasis that this is not about a power-game to humiliate another or put ourselves on higher ground; rather, it comes from a sincere concern for the good of another.
          We talked about this a lot in seminary and learned how to practice it to some degree.  I remember one retreat the director spoke about the need for genuine correction in these words (kind of paraphrased): if your brother seminarian - who one day may be called by God to be a priest and be called "father" after God the Father and be called "another Christ" (alter christus) - if he is out of line and won't listen to reason when you try to speak to him, fraternal charity (in fact what Paul talks about today as the only true fulfillment of the law) charity demands that you take that brother out for a walk, and beat the snot out of him and replace it with some good sense!
          Now that was really a joke but he was stressing that we often quit too early on correction, and sometimes the cost of silence is too high, like with a priest, who role is so critical for people's spiritual lives!!
          Perhaps a better example of today's gospel is what I heard a friend do at a Notre Dame football game.  A couple people in the stands were clearly intoxicated, disruptive, and using foul language.  He  and those with him turned around and told the men to cut it out. They snapped back and in a minute or so were back at it.  They corrected them again, with others in the area joining in, and it worked for a fee more minutes. But after the mouths kept going they got the ND ushers who took those fools away.  Like Jesus says, "if they still don't listen, then treat them as you would one of the USC fans." That's the new translation for the word "pagan."
          Fraternal correction is one of the casualties of individualism and relativism in our country.  With the weakening of universal truth - especially in morality - people feel it is more difficult to confront problems and bring them face-to-face with another.  On top of that, individualism has created such isolation that we might not even feel connected and close enough to many people in order to call them to something greater.
          We as Christians are meant to be much more than that.  We are meant to be different from the rest of the world, and different in a good way.  The Christian community of Matthew's time saw the whole Church as a family. They called each other brothers and sisters just like we hear St. Paul say almost every week in the second reading.  And they followed Jesus' wisdom for caring for "the family" by observing fraternal correction.    
          In the family this should be easiest, but even that is not always easy.  We can at times try to correct our siblings, and hopefully we provide direction for our children.   A family is supposed to be on the same team and working for each other's health, such that one member's success is everyone's, and my sibling's spiritual illness is not her problem, but our problem. 
          Saint Paul uses the image of the body to emphasize how we are all connected, and how we rely on each other.  If one part suffers, all parts suffer, so we should work to remove any poisons or ailments from our body.
          And that connectedness and mutual relationship that a body has within itself is critical for fraternal correction.  We have to trust each other in order to take constructive criticism.  If we don't know that the other person wants what is best for us (and if we don't have the humility to confess that we aren't perfect) then we will not be able to move forward.  In many ways it is that stability that comes from trusting each other that sets the foundation for healthy correction.  So we have to spend time with each other, and we have to be vulnerable with who we really are.  With the erosion of family bonds by both divorce and the hyperactive modern lifestyle, how much time do we allow the family to relax together??  Do we truly share our lives and talk about our passions and aspirations, working out our problems together in mutual support?
          That bond that we need to do all this starts here at this Mass.  When we began Mass, we confessed our sins honestly.  We then let ourselves be taught by the word of God and soon we will profess the faith that unites us.  We can trust each other and help each other especially because in the Eucharist, we are one body in Christ, who wants us to be a house of healing for the world.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Homily for Sunday

Audio from Sat night: click here
Today's Gospel passage follows directly from last week.  Matthew reminds us very clearly of our weak humanity in the example of St. Peter.  One moment he claims Jesus as the Christ, the next he is telling Jesus what he thinks it means to be "the Christ."  All of the sudden, after feeling like he's on top of the world, Simon, whose new name is now Peter as head of the Church, gets called "Satan."  That's almost as bad as biking into Rome on the feast of Saints Peter & Paul and receiving a blessing from Pope Francis only to find out 15 minutes later that all your luggage is stolen! (if this could ever happen, right?)  No, Peter clearly has it way worse.  But isn't that possible for all of us?: One week we are good, the next we are on our faces.

Despite our pomp and circumstance, our big words and prideful actions, we are awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.  We are fragile and can do really senseless things without humbly placing ourselves beneath God's grace.

Ultimately, pride and a fear of the Cross get in the way of our true happiness, to be found only in humility and love as self-sacrificial gift.  We have to like Paul says, be transformed by the renewal of our minds.  Western society, especially in the United States, founded on individual dignity and rights, has idolized the self: whatever I want, my rights, my dreams, my sense of truth and of right and wrong.  This must be transformed, Paul says, into spiritual worship: God's will and dreams and truth and right (which ultimately are so much more beautiful, life-giving, and satisfying than anything we can come up with).

But this renewal is not easy.  Even I as a priest can, in my weaker moments, be afraid of the cross.  And as we grow up we become very capable of rationalizing how we run from the Cross and embrace our pride.  As a priest, I could easily say: "I've sacrificed X, Y, and Z for God so I know the cross - I've done my part."  But that's not really true.  Those sacrifices aren't real until I live year-in and year-out in faithfulness to them.  The same thing for marriages.  The vows made one day only take meaning in real life: the Cross is either embraced or abandoned when the spouses have to choose each other again and again, especially when it becomes difficult.  The reason that more marriages end and more priests run away from their flocks in the first five or ten years than in the next thirty or even fifty is because it is there that they choose to follow their fears or to follow their Lord.

And even if following Christ means obeying His Will, carrying our Cross and dying to ourselves, we will discover, especially at Mass, that we are not alone, and that the story does not end there.  Here from this altar is the fruits of the Christ's Cross: His resurrected body and blood given to us, a love stronger than death.  As we profess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord of our Life, we find that we are never alone, that our suffering has meaning, and we taste the promise that awaits those who love as He loved.