Sunday, April 29, 2018
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Jesus speaks very clearly about the need to abide in Him today (prayer and obedience to His commands), but also about the importance of bearing fruit (good works, including evangelization). And in fact, the two things must go hand-in-hand for us as Christians. Truly, you cannot have one without the other.
We human beings tend to fall into the trap of focusing on one thing at the expense of others. We have limited attention and, at any given time, there is usually one things that grabs that attention. Hopefully most of the time that attention is focused on God, our family and friends, our vocation, but if we are honest we all could probably admit times when it is not so. Our focus is elsewhere, stuck in things of earth.
Jesus challenges us to keep two things in our focus at all times: abiding in Him, and bearing fruit. In other words, we could describe this as prayer and service, as the Benedictine tradition simplifies as “ora et labora” - prayer and work.
We fallen human beings, with our limited attention, tend to lose the balance of these two things, as if what we do in this church or when we our hands are folded in our homes has nothing to do with what we do at work or at play. This is not true. Our prayer must be a part of our work, and our work must be fueled by our prayer. Saint Teresa of Kolkata knew this well: her sisters prayed for about two hours each morning before going out into their service of the poorest of the poor. So can I pray 20 minutes, or at least ten, each morning? If not, our faith will burn out and we will not bear any fruit for the kingdom.
In fact, it’s the same reason I will never be able to bench press as much as my dad. Now this may sound unrelated but I promise it connects. My dad is back up to benching around 205 lbs, and I promise I’ve never been able to do even 150lbs. My little brother tommy has done something like 175lbs but scrawny Fr. Terry, no way. This kinda miffs me but in all honesty it makes perfect sense. Why? Because I don’t like lifting and have never practiced it. I don’t do it, and so those muscles wither away and die just like Jesus says about the branches that don’t remain on Him the vine. If they don’t bear fruit, they are cut off.
So we Christians, if we want to get results in the things that really matter (I’m sure glad the weight room doesn’t matter that much!), then we need to exercise those things that are required. We must pray and we must bear fruit in lives of virtue and of service to others. Let us pray that we can always keep in balance these two lessons from Christ Jesus today: abiding in Him and bearing fruit. Amen.
Saturday, April 21, 2018
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One of my favorite stories is the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. In this great adventure story between good and evil and personal choice, the author was able to imbue his deep Catholic faith in a quiet but compelling way. One connection I just made this week was near the beginning of the story, when four simple hobbits are running away with their short legs from some fierce enemies on horseback. They are pretty hopeless to escape except for the river crossing that is nearby: a ferry that will bear them safely out of their foe's reach. That ferry is truly the only way they are saved.
In some ways, brothers and sisters, that ferry is a symbol for the Lord Jesus Christ. As Saint Peter says today, There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.
The Catechism describes this as well in par. 846:
all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
- Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336
Now we need to be clear that people may not know about Christ and therefore only have opportunity to seek God in other ways. This is what conscience is.
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
- Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.337
Jesus and His Church are so important that we can describe them as the one bridge that we need to be saved. The Name of Jesus is a beautiful gift, for the name bears a representation of the whole person of the Son of God who died and rose for us. Thus, we must treasure the gift of the name of Jesus, even as Saint Peter clearly does. In fact, it is a good simple prayer to repeat slowly and peacefully the name, Jesus, and simply keep our attention fixed on Him.
Finally, as we also remember Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church reminds us of the importance of vocations. So we remember that if Jesus is the one bridge that brings us safely to the eternal shores of heaven, we cannot help but recall where we encounter the Lord Jesus: in the Church and her sacraments. So we thank God for the priests we have encountered in our lives. Men who, each in their own ways and albeit imperfectly, were human instruments through which we have met the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist, in Confession, and in many of the important milestones of life. This summer we have an opportunity to support the vocation of the priesthood in a seminarian who will be with us for ten weeks. Vince Faurote, of Decatur, IN, will be joining us in about a month. I ask you to keep him in your prayers as the Lord works in his heart and soul over the next years to shape him into a worthy instrument of God's grace - to represent well the one bridge between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd.
Saturday, April 14, 2018
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The apostles didn’t believe at first. “Incredulous for joy” means literally they are so excited that they can’t believe themselves. It is like if someone gets that long-shot birthday present that they would never expect would actually happen, or, as I just heard this past week, when one day a plumber in Chicago is suddenly introduced to Pope John Paul II after making an emergency call to the Cardinal’s home.
So Jesus responds to this with a good, down to earth suggestion He says “Do you have anything to eat?” Now I had a friend in seminary who said, “If I ever become bishop, that will be my motto” - Bishop Rhoades has “truth in charity”, and my friend jokingly offered this “Do you have anything to eat?” Tongue in cheek, of course, but also profoundly central to our faith. The fact that Jesus is risen from the dead, not in some neat spiritual freedom kind of way, but concretely: no joke, this guy ate fish right in front of the others, and his wounds are there.
Those wounds, like I said last week, are shown not to shame the apostles, but to heal the wounds of doubt they are still carrying. The faith of the disciples should strengthen ours. To believe too easily would be silly or delusional. But to deny what is revealed is to be stubborn and proud, or afraid of what it could mean. And for Peter and the rest of the eleven (Judas is no longer among their number), it meant that the world is changing, that the distant future is not so distant, and not so future. The future is already begun and not yet complete. For they would have been quite comfortable with the idea of the resurrection, which meant at the time that when the world ends and all have died, God will raise up the dead - for reward or punishment according to their deeds, like in some of the parables Jesus speaks about. Sure, sounds good, but that is way down the road of time - at the end. And yet here is the Lord Jesus, in the flesh, right in front of them, and able to stand in their midst in a locked room. So the world is changing, and the future resurrection is breaking through into time in Jesus, the first-fruits of the full harvest to come. It’s happening, it’s already started.
And so for the disciples, “incredulous” (unbelieving) is turned into “witnessing”. Jesus says they will be His “witnesses” and that is indeed what they become, as we see in the first reading today with Peter’s bold proclamation after a paralytic was healed in the name of Jesus.
Blessed Pope Paul VI - who died in 1978 and is to be formally canonized a saint in six months, spoke about witnesses: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Ev. Nun. - 1975)
I wonder: do we witness? Do we share with ourselves and with non-believers the good things God has done in our lives? Are we bold enough to say “I met Jesus today in Confession” or I spent some time with Jesus in church today. Do we share our joy with each other, recounting what God has done or is doing in our lives or those we know?
The future, the end of all things, the resurrection, heaven, brothers and sisters, is breaking through into our world. It is here in this Mass when we receive the first installment of what is to come. Jesus stands in our midst, not dead but alive, and wishes to give us His peace. Let us never forget to look for how God is breaking through in our lives and share it with each other, so that we ourselves may be witnesses of God’s merciful love.
Sunday, April 8, 2018
But all these important factors really come down to one core difference: Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and His Resurrection which we celebrate anew with this close of the Easter Octave. Because of this one thing, Christians live differently in this world. Because of the victory over death, Christians live in a way that can seem weird to the rest of humanity. We look at death and face it without terror, even if we admit its reality.
I’ve had some of the more difficult losses in my life these past weeks. Two weeks before Easter - my cousin. One week before - a student at my high school. This past week - a staff member at our parish, Vicki Schwab, succumbed to cancer and was called home to God. I’ve noticed through all this grief, wrapped closely around the most important celebrations of our Christian faith, precisely what the first Christians knew: Jesus is alive and has conquered death, and so we can look at these sorrows with a peace the world cannot give.