Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Homily for Ordinary Time 17 - July 27, 2014

Homily for July 27, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Pearl of Great Price


            A good long time ago, two young men entered college and happened to be randomly assigned as roommates together. They couldn’t have been more different – one was just coming off of a major conversion – he was filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and win the world for Christ. The other one was a party animal, in love with the world and its pleasures. Against all odds, they became friends and got along well.

            But every day, the Christian young man would ask his friend the same question: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his soul?” The worldly fellow was mildly annoyed by this question, which was repeated daily. It almost became a routine: at some point during the day – they could be studying, or having lunch together, or just waking up in the morning or brushing their teeth – but the Christian young man would turn to the other and ask him the same question: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his soul?”

            It took three years, but through this simple question, the worldly young man began to finally examine his life. He realized just how utterly futile it was for him to live for the passing pleasures of this world. Three years after their friendship began, the worldly man finally asked the Christian what he might do in order to find the deep happiness that he was seeking.

            The Christian young man invited him to join the new religious order of priests that he was founding. The formerly-worldly man agreed, and together the two of them set out to become two of the most famous and well-known saints in the world: St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and St. Francis Xavier, who was converted by St. Ignatius’ perseverance in that one simple question: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his soul?”

            We were created for one purpose: to become saints. In fact, one author (Leon Bloy) once said, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” That’s what Jesus means in today’s parable.

            Have you ever watched that TV show “Pawn Stars” (or back when I was younger we had the TV show “Antiques Roadshow” which was basically the same concept without the slightly PG-13 show title). Imagine if you walked into a pawn shop and you saw that someone was selling an antique chair that was worth seventeen million dollars – and they were selling it for only a thousand. Wouldn’t you head straight to the ATM or your local bank and withdraw the money to buy that item? Of course you would! Because you knew the value of that 1850s wicker chair, you would do anything you could to get your hands on it. Nothing could stop you.

            Now let’s take that story to its logical conclusion. If you knew that you could have an eternity with joy unimaginable, that you could experience the most profound love, that you could have perfect contentment forever and ever, world without end, wouldn’t you say that that is the most valuable prize in the universe, worth even more than seventeen million dollars? Of course. An eternity of joy is what we all really long for. Compared to the joy, the price we pay is really rather small. Jesus simply asks us to give up our sins, to follow His commandments, and to have a real relationship with Him.

            Not only is that a small price, the price we pay is itself a gift. It’s like a little kid – I grew up with four younger siblings so I know how little kids act. Have you ever caught a little kid trying to put something bad into their mouths, like maybe trying to suck on a marker thinking it’s a lollipop? We grab the marker and take it away, and then give them a real lollipop instead. Same way with our relationship with Christ. He wants to take away our sins – which make us sick and miserable anyway – and instead, give us His peace and joy. Sounds like a deal I’ll willingly make!

            What is the treasure? What is the pearl? It’s holiness. To become a saint. To live your daily life, but to live it transformed for Jesus Christ, seeking after Heaven. Because what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose eternal life – the only thing that really matters?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Homily for July 20 - 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for July 20, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Weeds of the Heart


            Have you ever done weeding? For me, it’s one of the most unpleasant tasks. It’s usually backbreaking, bending over in the hot sun to rip out these invasive plants. And heaven forbid if you unknowingly ripped out poison ivy or stinging nettle – you’ll be in agony for hours or days. Not a fun job. But a necessary job. We do it so that the flowerbeds or garden looks better – and so that the good plants have more space to grow. If we let the weeds grow unchecked, the good plants get choked off and they won’t grow as strong.

            This parable about the wheat and the weeds is, as Jesus says, about the world – how there are good people in the world, along with people who do evil deeds, and at the end of time all will be sorted out – the virtuous people to Heaven, the evil people to Hell. But I think there’s another layer here – the fertile ground of the human heart.

            If we’re honest with ourselves, each and every person has both sins and good deeds dwelling in their soul. We both complement other people, and we gossip about them. We pray for others…and we judge them. We offer our praise and worship to God, and we forget to pray to Him on a daily basis. We want the freedom that Jesus offers, and we struggle with addictions to drugs or alcohol or porn. All of us have both wheat and weeds within our heart – both virtues and vices, both sins and good works.

            So it’s time to go weeding. The very first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel is this: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Repent – we must give up our sins, turn from them to the living God. Today’s first reading is a beautiful meditation about God’s mercy – there is no sin that is unforgiveable if we are willing to turn from it. He wants to heal us, bring us back to Him – and the first step to this is to recognize our sin and ask God for mercy.

            So what is your weed? What is your major weakness, the sin that is most prevalent in our lives? Is it greed? Cursing? Dishonesty? Lust and impurity? Laziness? Gossip? Being grumpy? Choosing things other than God – like sleeping in on Sunday morning instead of making weekly Mass attendance a priority?

            Once we have identified our sins, we turn from them, and we do this by going to Confession and making a resolution to avoid the sin in the future. Our Scriptures tell us that by confessing our sins, we will be forgiven of them.

            We cannot have a relationship with Jesus if we are trapped in serious mortal sin. Sin is like the weeds that crowd out the good plants – the virtues, the good habits, the good works – that are supposed to be a part of our lives. The only thing that can separate us from God is sin, but God’s mercy is stronger than our sins IF we are willing to confess our sins AND be willing to change our lives.

            His mercy is everlasting, and the lives of the saints bear witness to that. I think of one of my favorite saints, whose feast day we celebrated this past week. St. Camillus de Lellis grew up as quite a heathen. His mother was quite elderly when she had him, and when she got pregnant, she prayed about what sort of man he would become. She had a dream of her son as a man, and he was leading a group of other men who were dressed in long black robes with large red crosses on the front of them. The problem was, the only people who dressed like that back in 1500s Italy was condemned criminals. She woke up in great fear – and by the time Camillus was a teenager, he was starting to fulfill that prophetic dream. He had quite a temper, was kicked out of school for fighting, and got involved in drinking. When he was about 16, he ran away from home to join his father in the army – which was basically an excuse to keep drinking and gambling. He became quite addicted to alcohol and to gambling. He would gamble so much that literally he would come home without a shirt, having lost it in the game. Finally, after many years of hard living – drinking, gambling, and womanizing, he had lost so much money that he had to hire himself out in order to make ends meet. He ended up working in construction – for a local Franciscan monastery that was building an addition onto their friary. The priests so impressed Camillus by their joy and peace. But his sinful side was too strong – once the job was done, he went back to his former life of drinking and gambling. However, a few months later, he came to his senses and realized that he would end up dead or destitute if he kept living such a life, and so, remembering the joy and peace of the Franciscans, he went back to the Franciscan house and asked to become a priest. The Franciscans would have welcomed him, but he had developed an open wound on his leg that refused to heal, and they were afraid it was contagious. They told him that he could come back when the wound had healed. Desperate to get away from his former way of life, Camillus travelled to Rome to the best hospital in the country to get healed. He was appalled at what he saw – conditions in the hospital were so disgusting, inhumane, and foul that he was moved with compassion. After he got well, he decided to dedicate his life to the service of the sick, and he founded a religious order of men who would serve those who were sick and poor. His religious order’s uniform was a long black robe with a red cross on it, fulfilling his mother’s prophecy (and, ironically, giving rise to the American Red Cross, since the red cross became the symbol of compassion for the sick). This former hard drinker, gambler, and womanizer became a great saint – only because he was willing to do the hard work of weeding out the sins and choosing to follow Christ.

            All of us, too, can become saints – if we’re willing to do the work of getting rid of our sins through Confession and changing our lives. Ready to go weeding?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Homily for July 13, 2014 - Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for July 13, 2014

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Seeds and Ground


            I have had the privilege of sponsoring a number of young men for confirmation over the years. One of the most recent ones was a young man named Patrick. I remember a few days before his confirmation, I asked Patrick if he was excited to get confirmed. Much to my surprise, he said no. I asked him why not, and he said, “Because everyone in my class is doing it, even though some of them never go to church and some of them don’t even believe in God. It doesn’t mean much if they’re getting confirmed just like I am.”

            It made me think – for eight years, these kids had had the seeds of the Gospel sown in their lives, and yet many of their hearts were rocky, hard ground.

            I’m sure we’d all like to think that we’re the good ground, the one that is receptive to the grace of God and producing fruit a hundred-fold. But are we really? Let’s delve deeper into the Scripture to see exactly who we are…

            First, what is the seed? It is the kerygma – the central message of the Gospel. In other words, that Jesus Christ died to forgive our sins and reconcile us to God, that He rose again, and that He offers us eternal life if we believe in His name and live according to His commands. That is the seed – it’s the core of who we are as Christians. This is the Gospel that the martyrs shed their blood for, this is what defines us as believers.

            So the Gospel has been preached – how has it been received? What sort of ground does it fall upon? We are gathered here this morning because we believe in this core of our Faith, but some of us believe more strongly than others. For some of us, this defines who we are, and our lives revolve around the fact that Jesus died and rose for us. For others here, it’s a nice thought, but hey, we live in the real world of bills and jobs and doctors’ appointments, so we think it doesn’t affect us.

            For a seed to grow, it has to penetrate the ground. It can’t just stay on the surface. For us to be changed and saved, we need this Gospel to penetrate us in our deepest levels. And we can see how deeply this Gospel has penetrated by looking at the harvest. Jesus says that the harvest will be a hundredfold for those who allow the Gospel to grow in their lives. So how can we judge the harvest? I propose three ways.

            First, what is our consuming desire? Do we have a real hunger for the Lord? I mean, if we stopped and thought about it, if you were about to die and someone died in your place instead – maybe someone pushed you out of the way of an oncoming truck as you were crossing the road, or took a bullet for you – wouldn’t you be eternally grateful and think about that person every day? Wouldn’t you want to live your life to honor that person, and do everything possible to make them proud? Why, then, would we not do the same for Jesus? He died so that you don’t have to. He took upon Himself the suffering that was meant for us. Shouldn’t we, then, desire to think about Him daily, speak with Him daily, live our lives to glorify Him? Do we desire Him that much?

            Second, to know if the Gospel has taken root in our life, are we ashamed to talk about how our relationship with Jesus has changed our lives? I always have to chuckle when I talk to parents and I ask them how they’re doing, but they don’t tell me how THEY’RE doing but instead tell me how THEIR KIDS are doing. “Oh, Johnny just made the soccer team for school, and he’s getting straight A’s, and he just got a scholarship to college…” It’s easy for parents to talk about their kids, because their relationship with their kids is one of the most important relationships that they have. In the same way, if we really have a true relationship with Jesus, and this relationship is deeper than any other relationship we have, then we should be willing to tell others about how Jesus changed our lives!

            Third, can other people see our faith expressed in our love for them? Love must be made real by our choices. Love is not some mushy feeling – it is actions of love such as doing the dishes, taking out the trash, speaking kindly to others, being patient with difficult people…this is love. And if the Gospel has taken root in our hearts, then others will be able to see that through concrete acts of love.

            The good news is that even if our soul is like the thorny ground or the rocky ground, we can still change it into good soil. And sometimes this takes years. St. Augustine, for example, struggled for many years to accept the Gospel fully. When he was growing up, he was something of a hooligan – he stole from his neighbors, and made trouble for his parents. When he was older he had a child outside of marriage, and had no faith whatsoever. Gradually, however, he began to accept the Gospel bit by bit. He started to pray, but at the beginning, sin was still rooted deeply in his heart – in fact, one day, he famously prayed to the Lord, “Lord, give me purity…but not yet!” He wasn’t ready to fully accept the Gospel until much later. One day he was walking through a garden, wondering if he really could turn his life over to Christ, when he heard a child singing from a distance, “Take up and read, take up and read.” He looked down at a bench and saw a Bible upon it. He took it up, began to read, and decided right then and there to give up his sin once and for all, and turn his life over to Christ. He ended up becoming a bishop, and a saint. And many years later, as he was reflecting upon his life, he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Our hearts are restless until the Gospel has taken root in our hearts and changed our lives.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 6, 2014

Homily for July 6, 2014

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Spirit Versus World


            St. Paul tells us something odd in the second reading – he starts off by saying, “You are not in the flesh.” Uh, okay Paul, but I have a body and sometimes this body needs sleep and pizza. So what does he mean by this?

            Well, let’s look at the next line. “You are in the spirit instead, IF you have the Spirit of God dwelling in you.” What does that mean? It means – what are you living for? This world or the next?

            This world isn’t bad, and St. Paul isn’t saying that. There’s lots of good things in this world like soccer and music and mom’s home cooking. But everything here is incomplete – it shouldn’t be the end goal of our lives. We were made for much more – we were made for eternity.

            There was once a young man named Francis who had everything the world could offer. He was a successful decorated soldier, he was wealthy, and kind of a playboy. Girls would throw themselves at him. He had everything that money could buy. But there was a deep unhappiness beneath his life. This restlessness drove him to the chapel one day, when Jesus on the Crucifix began to speak to him. The Lord said, “Francis, rebuild my church.” Immediately he took the words literally and began to physically rebuild the chapel, which was falling into ruins. But upon further prayer, he realized that God was calling him much deeper – to rebuild the universal Church by becoming a saint. He immediately gave away his money, and became a beggar. He immediately stopped going to parties and instead slept on the ground and focused on Christ alone. He gave up his prestigious career, abandoned the honors he had won, and became known as “the Little Poor One.” We know him now as St. Francis of Assisi, someone who knew what it meant to live for God alone.

            The stuff that we think we really want in life – the money, the pleasure, the honors, the popularity – this stuff will never truly satisfy us. We will always be left empty if we make these things the goal of our lives. Instead, we have an ache that’s deeper – a hunger that can only be satisfied by God alone.

            And the Gospel today gives us the clues about how to fill that hunger. We must know the Lord to find that deep satisfaction that He alone offers. But knowing God isn’t just knowing ABOUT God, it’s about having a personal friendship with Him.

            If someone came to you and said, “Do you know the President?,” you might respond, “Sure, I have seen him on TV, I know his life story, I know all about him.” But they would say, “Okay, but do you know HIM?” And you’d have to admit, “No, I don’t really know him.”

            Many of us here know lots of things about God. Perhaps we went to Catholic school, maybe we watch EWTN, the Catholic TV station. But do we KNOW God personally, do we have a friendship with Him, do we know Him as the closest friend to our soul? We can have that kind of relationship with Him – in fact, we NEED to have that kind of relationship with Him.

            How do we develop that kind of relationship? Pray from the heart. I don’t mean reciting words. That’s not real prayer. Prayer is having a conversation with the Lord. Maybe you already speak to the Lord on a daily basis. If not, today, make a resolution to begin this. Simply speak to God in the silence of your heart – He longs to speak to yours.

You’ve got the hunger. He alone satisfies.