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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!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Humility - Saint Therese of Lisieux

Audio: click here!
We are Christians.  We believe that Jesus died for us and rose from the dead to bring us with Him into the eternal life of heaven.  We profess that Jesus is alive in heaven, and in His Church on earth.  We profess that He is so closely united to us that we call the Church His Body – the Body of Christ – as He told saint Paul.  We as Catholics furthermore proclaim that He was not kidding around when He said “this is My Body... this is my Blood.”  Jesus is here, he is alive, and He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist.  
Why?  So that we can become like Him.  And what is the most important way to become like Jesus?
Do we need to be miracle workers?  No.  Do we need to go turning over tables and calling out the Pharisees?  Not necessarily.  Do we need to love?  Definitely.  But what is the first step?  The first step is humility.  What we hear in the Gospel and the first reading today is the first step of the Christian life.
Humility is not beating ourselves up and denying that we can and should strive for greatness.  Rather, humility is a gut-check, a reality-check, a down-to-earth quality of being in-touch with the way things are.  And the way things are is this: God is God, and I am a creature.  I do not exist on my own.  I did not  bring myself into this world, nor can I keep myself here.  Furthermore, I cannot fulfill myself – I need others, especially God, in order to be happy.  I cannot control this world, I cannot even control myself at times, and (speaking for myself) there are some things I will never be able to control, like my hair.
That is humility.  Not bad hair, but that real acknowledgment of “c'est la vie” “such is life” and accepting the facts for the facts.  This does not mean we do not hope for a better world, a just society, personal holiness, or any other good dream we should shoot for.  But it does mean admitting where we are at this point.
We can become saints.  We should become saints.  We, God willing, will be saints one day.  Are you saints yet?  No.  That's humility.
And that is where true power comes from.  Yes, humility is the source of strength.  Since we all are weak, unable to conquer ourselves or even to exist apart from God's grace, humility is the first step toward holiness.  Saint Therese of Lisieux is a great example of this.  I'm reading a book about her called “33 Days to Merciful Love,” and I am finding the little two-page sections each day to be very powerful.  She wrote: “I do not grieve in seeing that I am weakness itself. On the contrary, it is in this I glory; and I expect each day to discover new imperfections; and I acknowledge that these lights concerning my nothingness do me more good than the lights concerning the Faith.”
How many of you see weakness as a gift?  Perhaps we need to start, because this little saint has done more good on earth that many “high and mighty” lives combined.
Therese saw weakness (what she often called being “little”) as a gift, saying: “What pleases Jesus in my little soul is to see me love my littleness.”
If we cannot love our own littleness before God, who chose to make us with the limitations that we have, then we too need to grow in humility.
Finally, she tells us: “It is my weakness that makes all my strength. Jesus did everything in me. I did nothing but remain little and weak.”
If we want to do great things, we need look no further than this saint and the Blessed Mother Mary, who was the first person in the Gospel to show us that in order to do great good for God and for the world, we need not boast of ourselves and puff ourselves up, but on the contrary we should become little and be an instrument for God to work in us.  Mother Teresa, who will be named a saint in just a few weeks, said the same in her own way: “God did not ask me to be successful.  He asked me to be faithful.”
I have printed off a handout with two prayers for humility.  You can find them in your pews and in the back of church.  Please use these prayers as a help toward growing in that first step in the spiritual life, and that greatest of all gifts: the gift of our littleness and humbly receiving God's Mercy.

Litany of Humility
by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed...
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I...
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should…
O Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, make my heart like yours!

St. Therese's "Prayer to obtain humility" (Prayer 20) written July 16, 1897.
O Jesus! when you were a Pilgrim on earth, you said: "Learn of Me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls." O Mighty Monarch of Heaven, yes, my soul finds rest in seeing you, clothed in the form and nature of a slave, humbling yourself to wash the feet of your apostles. I recall your words that teach me how to practice humility: "I have given you an example so that you may do what I have done. The disciple is not greater than the Master.... If you understand this, happy are you if you put them into practice." Lord, I do understand these words that came from your gentle and humble Heart and I want to practice them with the help of your grace. want truly to humble myself and to submit my will to that of my sisters. I do not wish to contradict them nor seek to see whether or not they have the right to command me. O my Beloved, no one had this right over you and yet you obeyed not only the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph but even your executioners. Now in the Sacred Host I see you at the height of your annihilations. How humble you are, O divine King of Glory, to subject yourself to all your priests without making any distinction between those who love you and those who are, alas! lukewarm or cold in your service... At their word you come down from heaven. Whether they advance or delay the hour of the Holy Sacrifice, you are always ready O my Beloved, how gentle and humble of heart You seem under the veil of the white Host! To teach me humility you cannot humble yourself further. Therefore, to respond to your love, I desire that my sisters always put me in the lowest place and I want to convince myself that this place is indeed mine.

I beg you, my Divine Jesus, to send me a humiliation whenever I try to set myself above others. I know, o my God, that you humble the proud soul but to the one who humbles herself you give an eternity of glory. So I want to put myself in the last rank and to share your humiliations so as "to have a share with you" in the kingdom of Heaven. But, you know my weakness, Lord. Every morning I make a resolution to practice humility and in the evening I recognize that I have committed again many faults of pride. At this I am tempted to become discouraged but I know that discouragement is also pride. Therefore, O my God, I want to base my hope in You alone. Since you can do everything, deign to bring to birth in my soul the virtue I desire. To obtain this grace of your infinite mercy I will very often repeat: "O Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, make my heart like yours!"

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Entering the narrow gate: on never giving up


I've been to WYD three times: once in high school (Toronto), five years ago in Madrid, and the last month to Poland. The trip to world youth day always culminates in an excursion or hike that leads us into a bit of "Mother Nature."  This past event in Kraków was a nine-mile hike to an huge open park with a couple retention ponds and lots of flat green space. Bushes and shrubs and tall grass were all cut down for the crowd of about 2-million.  The hike is never easy. In Toronto and Madrid I recall intense heat.  Kraków had temperatures in the 80's, which was comparatively not too bad.  But it was certainly not easy.
Pilgrimage is a symbol for the Christian life. It's not easy -- but it's worth it.  In some ways that can be said of a lot of things in life: it's not easy -- but it's worth it.  Learning a new language is not easy -- but it's worth it.  Making new friends is not easy -- but it's worth it.  Forgiving someone who hurt you is not easy -- but it's worth it.  Making time for prayer every day is not easy -- but it's worth it.  Taking care of your physical health is not easy -- but it's worth it.  Persevering in marriage and parenthood is not easy -- but it's worth it.
Like all these things, following Jesus is not easy -- but it's worth it.
That is the point of today's Gospel. Jesus says "strive to enter through the narrow gate!" It's not easy, he is saying. Work hard at it. Don't be a pushover.  If you fall, get back up.  If you get distracted, refocus.  Whatever you do, don't follow the easy road.
When it comes down to it, life is about one thing: heaven.  In fact, experiencing heaven means to be a saint - there are only saints in heaven. So you could say that life is really all about being a saint, and if you are a saint on this earth, then the journey to heaven is already heaven.  A poet of the last century said, "There is really only one tragedy in life: to not be a saint."  That is what life is all about. That is our narrow gate.  How many of us wake up every day and say, "Lord, help me to live like a saint today!" Or at least we should pray, "Lord, help me to want to live like a saint today!"
The problem is, our world indeed leads many away from the narrow gate. We go in the wrong direction so easily due to the  various distractions that are present: electronics, media, books, movies, sports, 

One thing that helps us is not doing it alone.
The pilgrimage hike was easier because we weren't alone - we helped each other along the way, picking each other up when it was tough, sharing the burdens of those who were struggling.  The challenges of the trip gave us opportunities to show love for each other in concrete ways - and they increased our love. 
That is the beauty of family, including the parish family. We help each other along the way.
I thank God for my family, and for the family here at Saint Johns. It has been a joy and I'm happy to keep striving for the narrow gate with you. Let us keep helping each other every day to pray in our hearts: "Lord, make me a saint today."

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Have you ever had to do or say something that you knew was going to upset people but you knew it was the right thing?
Every time you did this without backing down, you lived today's Gospel and you said by that decision: "Jesus, I choose you over the false comforts of this world. I love you more. I love you."  This is the truth of today's Gospel (as well as the first reading from Jeremiah): following God's will isn't just a sweet little piece of cake.
Following Jesus is often not easy, often not safe, often not pleasant. The Cross we are called to carry on this life is like a difficult medicine, a bad tasting pill, that ultimately leads to our full health.
Part of the pain of the cross is that when we follow Jesus, it can mean rejection, can mean insults, can mean (as in every century) persecution. Fr. Jacques, the French priest who was martyred in a brutal way during Mass, was only unique because of where this happened: Western Europe.  We must always be ready to witness like him even as we thank God that we can worship in peace.
Hebrews reminds us that we must "rid ourselves of every burden and sin"  --> what have we given up?  What should be we giving up?  Are we willing to listen to what Jesus is asking us to give up?
"I have come to set fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing"
Jesus is speaking of the grace of the Holy Spirit and the passionate love that should be in our hearts from Him.
Fire -> power to transform - to shine bright in a dark world - to melt the coldest of objects.  but to do so it also conquers, destroys, consumes.  "If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire." - St. Catherine of Siena
We must be fire to pass on fire, to make others burn with a passionate love of Jesus ("you can't give what you don't have.")
What do we need to rid ourselves of for Christ?  What do we need to say goodbye to, so that we can burn brightly?  Jesus, help me to let your fire take control of my heart, so that I can share it with others.  I love you Amen.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Homily - WYD - A Foretaste of Heaven


Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

Saturday, August 6th, is always the celebration of the Transfiguration. In this feast, we remember how three disciples, Peter, James, & John, were blessed with a special mountain-top experience, where during Jesus' deep prayer they witnessed Him speaking to Moses and Elijah, and more importantly, all heard the voice of the Father coming out of the cloud: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” That experience gave them a glimpse of who Jesus really was, of what God wanted for them. It helped them to trust despite the trials that was coming, for the Messiah and later for all of them.

World Youth Day was a similar type of mountain top experience. It provided a phenomenal opportunity for a broad vision of what life is about, of what we were created for. It was like a vision of heaven. A foretaste, like the Eucharist, of what heaven is meant to be. Just imagine: Surrounded by the church from all continents, surrounded by relics of saints, walking on stones and praying in churches where Saint JPII, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Faustina Kowalska, and other Polish saints themselves were. Singing the Lord's praises in over 5 languages. Celebrating Mass with over a million people. Praying for God's Mercy where over a million people were slaughtered. Letting Our Lady of Czestochowa gaze deep into my eyes and warm my soul. Reuniting with old friends from around the U.S., as well as my sister and her husband. Adoring the Blessed Sacrament in an arena full to the brim of 20,000 Catholics. Hiking miles in high heat, yet full of joy as we journeyed.

These experiences tell of what being a Christian is all about. We were not created for comfort, we were created for greatness. Indeed, it taught me the meaning of the words we heard today: Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. God truly desires to make us happy, but we so often fail to pursue it. All the things I mentioned, things that bring me to tears when I think of how beautiful they were, I notice that these things are free and open to everyone: Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven. We don't need to go running for things in this world to find what we were made for. Little flock, Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. A parent loves to see their children full of joy, that's exactly why we buy so many totally unnecessary things: we are convinced that these will delight our children, even if only for a time, and we are suckers for making other people happy. It's what we were hard-wired for. God Himself is hard-wired to delight us, but not with things that come and go, but with things that last.

If you haven't noticed, I loved my trip. Bishop Rhoades, 5 priests, 6 nuns, 14 seminarians, and 110 youth from the diocese truly formed a family from that time, and I will dearly miss them. I felt the same after I attended World Youth Day in Madrid 5 years ago. It's an unforgettable experience of the Christian life, and I cannot wait for this “foretaste” of heaven to be fulfilled in eternity. Little flock, your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Indeed these words are truer to me now than ever.

I pray you also can experience the joy of such moments, through personal retreat, through prayer, through friends, through the sacraments, through the beauty of this world. I can only encourage you to carve time out for what you were made for, for the true identity that Jesus reveals to you: a person of community, of faith, of persevering and loving despite the difficulties that the journey of life may bring. Give Jesus your heart, saying “Jezu Ufam Tobie” “Jesus I Trust in You.”

Friday, August 5, 2016

World Youth Day - Conclusion (CAMPUS MISERICORDIAE and return home)

Saturday morning was the last chance for a shower for the next 36 hours, and we all knew it.  After breakfast, the group met at 8am to head for Mass with Bishop Rhoades.  I however, went to see JPII's parish when he was a university student before entering seminary: St. Stanislas Kostka in the debniki neighborhood of Krakow.  It must have been a newer area, because the church has an architectural style that is more representative of the early 1900's.

 A cassock of Saint John Bosco (known as Don Bosco) was present in the church, and it was apparently ministered by his order the Salesians (perhaps since its founding).  I stumbled in during a Mass so was very reverent and inobtrusive as I made a quick view of the church.

Then I joined up with the group for the huge march to the "Campus Misericordiae," the field of mercy, where we would gather as a group of 1.6 million or more young Catholics from around the world.  It was about an 8 mile hike to get there.  I carried a portable "Mass kit" so that I could celebrate Mass for the dozen or so pilgrims from our group who decided to leave at 5:30am and get us really good spots!  Here I getting things ready.  A couple Polish girls (with blue headbands) joined us as well as three pilgrims from Michigan who wanted to attend Mass.  This was one of the neatest memories for me, because it is rare to have such a blessed opportunity to celebrate Mass outside surrounded by so many faithful who are on an international retreat pilgrimage!

A miracle was that the music and sound tests were quiet during the Mass before picking up again around 5pm.  My sister Katie and her husband Matt found us and we were able to chat for a couple hours before Pope Francis arrived for a prayer service and a long sermon, followed by Eucharistic Adoration.  They passed out candles for all of us and the beauty of praying the Divine Mercy chaplet in that environment as Catholics from all over the world brings me to tears.  God is so good!  Jesus, I Trust in You!

After Benediction, we bid farewell to the Holy Father for the evening, and had a concert until around 11pm.  I played cards with a few of our pilgrims, reminding me of how I learned to play that game at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto with my high school youth group!  Then, bedtime under the stars!
SUNDAY MORNING, I had a rough time sleeping since I packed super light, so I was up before sunrise a little cold and wet.  I walked around to get out the shivers, and a young man from Spain came to me for Confession (en espanol, of course!).  Then I said my prayers and took photos of the beautiful sunrise.  I hope this photo gives a small sense of the wonder of the experience.  It's hard to describe how "at home" you feel in circumstances that would normally terrify most people, but it's the beauty of all being there for God and God alone.  Amazing to have such a "family" in the Catholic Church.

It warmed up quickly.  The other priests of my group rushed out to get us a spot for Mass, since they were afraid of things not working out (with reason, since in Madrid 2011 it wasn't as smooth of a trip).  I eventually joined them, and we all got special chasubles for the event.  With some 2,000 bishops, you can only imagine how many priests were there.  It was a long way to the altar from our seats!

Pope Francis returned for Mass after driving through the Campus and saying hello to everyone.  Mass was at 10am and was a beautiful ceremony.  The story of Zaccheus climbing up the tree to see Jesus gave Pope Francis opportunity to remind us that Jesus wants to be with us, with you, with me, to come to your home and to dwell with you and be with you, even though we could never deserve it or earn it.  That is mercy.  Jesus shows us and the Pope reminds us.
After the Mass (mostly in Latin, our universal language), we headed back in small groups for our hotel.  It's quite an operation to see: almost 2 million people walking on foot out of the huge field.  Thankfully a storm came through to cool things off without dropping rain on us until the very end (I got inside 20 minutes prior!)

Around 5pm Pope Francis drove past the hotel, so a small group of us were out there to say hello, and I spontaneously gave him a blessing myself, as a priest.  I don't think I've ever done that!
The group had a farewell dinner that evening, then we went out for ice cream (Polish word is 'Lody' - we learned that fast!!) and last souvenirs.  I got back around 11pm and then we stayed up late as an attempt to get ahead of jet lag - which I think worked only marginally.

MONDAY we were up early to be on the bus at 6:45.  We headed back for Warsaw to catch our flight.  On the way, we stopped at a church where our bus guide Adam was baptized.  The church was about 400 years old.  It was the last Mass as a group, our swan song.  They had a relic of Blessed Jerzy Popielusko there, a reminder of our first Mass together (which I preached at).  The return trip was very smooth, very comfortable.  I played more cards because the other three were loving it.  It helped me stay awake so I could try to get back on a normal sleep schedule.  Landing in Chicago around 8pm, we got back to South Bend around 12am, so I fell asleep just before 1am.  Back at home.  What a trip.  So many blessings.  Deo gratias!!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

World Youth Day - Friday

Finally updating with more stories from last week.

Friday was a wonderful day.  After getting some sleep (not too much!) we went out early to see some JPII sites: we went to the Jagellonian university where he was a student and later a professor.  Then we prayed at the huge Marian basilica that is in the downtown square.  I prayed especially for the parish whenever I saw John the Baptist, which was of course quite often!

We next made a quick visit to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati at the nearby Dominican church before heading to a morning Mass with Bishop Rhoades at the ancient church of Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Stanislaw at the Skalka monastery.
The not-very God-fearing king Boleslaw had the gall to come into the church and slay the bishop Stanislaw because he was excommunicated (probably for the right reasons!).  Anyways, he threw the body of the bishop martry into the stream nearby, and this is the origin of the fountain (the water is "drinkable" but very sulfuric - I learned the hard way!).

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis happened to be at the church and were hoping to find an English Mass that morning, so they were thrilled to join us.  Two of the pilgrims were my sister Katie and her husband Matt! (and their child in the womb!)  I was so happy to see them for the second time (I saw them Wednesday at the Tauron Arena with the 20K pilgrims there).  I had hoped I could hang out with them for the afternoon but it did not work out since we had different groups, etc.
I continued for the afternoon as a bit of a JPII tour: the Wawel Cathedral (he was Archbishop & Cardinal), as well as his first parish church, St. Florian's.  Then the four of us got a very nice (and huge) lunch at a restaurant and visited another church before making our way to the Blonia park again.

The stations of the Cross that evening were especially moving for all of us.  After Pope Francis arrived, we began immediately to enter into this tradition prayer that Saint Francis himself instituted some 800 years ago.  Each station was coupled with a work of mercy (corporal or spiritual), and each began with a  Gospel reading followed by a dramatic presentation of some sort to introduce the theme.  Then we read a meditation and a prayer, concluding with a video that showed how the Church was carrying out that work of mercy throughout the world.  The meditations were powerful.

 After this concluded, we started back for the hotel.  I however, broke off for a special treat: I went to see JPII's apartment where he lived for a couple years with his dad while he attended university.  (This was before he decided to enter seminary).
I was welcomed in after hours by a nice lady who had mercy on a nice young priest.  So I was able to see the place by myself and pray quietly there!

I also tried to see the nearby parish he attended, because he celebrated his first public Mass there as a priest.  However, I was not able to get inside, so I ended up going there early the next morning!