Saturday, December 26, 2015

Feast of the Holy Family - December 27, 2015

Feast of the Holy Family

December 27, 2015

Respect For Elders


            The patrons at the restaurant hardly noticed the younger man walk in, but it was hard to ignore the older man who was with him. He walked with a shuffle that denoted age and arthritis. They sat down at a table for two. Throughout the meal, the older man needed help cutting his food, continuously dropped bites onto his tie and his dress shirt, but the younger man patiently helped him and wiped his mouth when his fork missed its mark.

            After watching this for some time, the waiter came up to the younger man and remarked, “I find it so inspiring that you are helping your father like that.”

            The younger man shrugged and said, “It’s no different than what he did for me. He cut my food, cleaned my messes, and was patient with me.” Well put!

            On this Feast of the Holy Family, I would like to reflect on the Fourth Commandment. We’re all familiar with it – but how is it lived out?

            First, let’s look at what it says: “Honor your father and your mother.” We’re all familiar with that part, but in the Scriptures, that commandment has a second part as well: “…so that you may have a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” This is the only commandment with a promise! God has promised that he who honors his parents will be abundantly blessed. It’s also important to realize that this commandment comes directly after the ones which deal with God. It’s as if saying, “After God, the persons we owe the most love and respect to is our parents.”

            Honoring your parents looks differently based upon what your state in life is. If you are under 18 years old, honoring your parents means obeying them. We don’t often talk about obedience – but it is a hugely important virtue! When we are young, disobeying our parents is akin to disobeying God, since God put our parents over us as His representatives. So, young people, when your parents tell you to turn off the X-box, do so! I’ll bet if Jesus Himself told you to do something, you’d do it without question. Well, our parents have been given to us to take the place of Jesus – so obey them without temper tantrums and trouble!

            Also, consider today’s Gospel. If Jesus – who was the perfect Son of God – could obey His human parents, how much more should we obey ours!

            Of course, we do not need to obey our parents if they tell us to do something sinful or forbid us from following God. I know a teen whose parents refused to take him to Mass, so he walked there instead. Our obedience is to God first – parents second.

            When we leave the house as an adult, we do not owe our parents obedience – but we do owe them respect. That means we ask their opinions and listen to their advice, we speak kindly to them, we help them in their needs. This is especially true as our population continues to grow older – stats show that by the year 2050, about 20% of our American population will be elderly, while a hundred years ago it was only 4% of our population! It is our responsibility, as far as we are able, to take care of our parents in their hour of need.

            I remember when I was in college, I went with some college friends to visit a nursing home one time. We had a nice visit with the residents, and as we were leaving, I noticed a woman beaming a bright smile. I asked her why she was so joyful, and she explained to me that one of the other students volunteered to visit her on a regular basis. She said, “I’m so happy! I’m finally not alone!”

            It broke my heart to hear that, but it was very telling. Why are so many people lonely in nursing homes? Because we don’t visit our own family members. This is part of honoring our fathers and mothers – to take care of them in their time of need.

            For those whose parents have passed on, we can still honor them! Visiting their graves, having Masses offered for their intentions, and praying for them are ways in which we can honor them.

            In addition to our parents, we also need to respect all of our elderly family members. We live in a culture that worships youth – over the course of a lifetime, the average American spends over $15,000 on beauty products to make us look younger. All the time, we see ads – “this diet will take ten years off your age!” But there is a great gift in our elders – they are living histories, full of wisdom to pass along to us.

            After all, Jesus – who knew everything – chose to learn from and obey His parents and the elders in the Temple. If it’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for us!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Homily 2016

Christmas Homily

December 25, 2015



            How many of you have a little nativity scene in your house? They’re pretty much everywhere this time of year. Everyone’s got a little figurine of Mary and Joseph, an adorable baby Jesus, probably some sweet-faced angels and innocent shepherds. It all just looks so…cute.

            But it doesn’t tell the whole story of what’s going on here.

            We are in a world at war. From the beginning of time, there has been a dreadful war between the powers of Satan and darkness and the power of God. In the midst of this war, humanity came under a terrible curse – the curse of sin, which drew us toward the side of evil. Violence versus peace, lust versus purity, hatred versus love, greed versus generosity…from the beginning of time, this invisible war was raging to see which side will win out for the control of souls. And for the longest time, it looked like darkness was winning.

            And then came the Invasion.

            In the cold of December amidst the darkness of night, God Himself entered the world – Jesus Christ. He came in camouflage – looking like an innocent newborn baby. But no one could have predicted the immense power and holiness in that small child, because this was no ordinary child – it was God, invading the world to set captives free and deliver us from evil.

            Yes, my friends, when we look at that cute little manger scene, remember that it was a daring invasion in the middle of a battle – the battle for human souls, to literally save the world.

            And it was a battle to the death. Literally. Evil, sin, and the devil tried to destroy Jesus Christ by hanging Him on a Cross. But there’s the sweet irony – it was precisely by using the devil’s own weapon, death, that Jesus conquered him. He arose on the third day as the victorious King, the Hero who set our world free.

            But what does that have to do with us? Why did Star Wars just recently smash box office records? Because there is something in the human heart that longs to be a part of an epic battle between good and evil! I remember about ten years ago when Lord of the Rings came out. My sister and I went to go see the first one, and as we were driving home from the viewing, she said with a sigh, “Why can’t life be more like Lord of the Rings? Epic battles, daring rescues, the war between good and evil. Why can’t life be like that?”

            At the time I remember thinking, “But life IS like that! If we had eyes to see the invisible battle that rages on around us, with eternity hanging in the balance, we would recognize that we DO live in an epic story.”

            But the primary battlefield between good and evil is not primarily “out there”, as if it were fought on the streets or on the internet. No, the battlefield between good and evil, between God and the devil, is your soul. As St. Maximilian Kolbe – a saint who died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz – once said, “What use are victories on the battlefield if we are defeated within our innermost selves?”

            And it’s up to us to decide who will win. Will we allow Christ to invade our hearts? He invaded the world 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. He conquered the enemy forces on the hill of Calvary when He died on the Cross. But He cannot win the victory in your soul unless you let Him invade your life.

            If you do not have Christ in your life – in every single day of your life – then you are captive. You are held bound by sin, addiction, fear, past hurts, emptiness. That is precisely what Christ came to free us from, if we let Him invade our souls!

            We do that by confessing our sins in Confession – that frees us from the powers of darkness. We do that by receiving Him here in the Eucharist – that allows Christ to invade. We do that by daily prayer, especially reading the Bible – that gives us instructions on how to follow Him as soldiers of Christ. We do that by our acts of service to others – that spreads the Kingdom of God throughout the world.

            My friends, I apologize if you came here looking for a “cute” homily. There’s nothing cute about it: You and I are a part of an epic story, a battle between good and evil. The good news is that today, Christmas, we celebrate the invasion of God into a world ruled by evil. Now go live your part – and let Him invade your life.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Homily for Advent 4 - December 20, 2015

Homily for Advent 4

December 20, 2015

The Risk of Faith


            If you had a few thousand dollars to invest and you took it to a financial planner, I’d bet they’d give you a simple word of advice: diversify! Investments are safer if you diversify – buy many different types of stocks and bonds, so that if one of them goes down in price, it doesn’t affect you as much. It’s risky to put all of your eggs into one basket and buy only one type of stock, because if it fails, you’re left with nothing.

            But faith is a risk like that. Consider the risk that Mary took. Yes, we hear Elizabeth’s affirming words in the Gospel, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!” Yes, we know the end of the story, that because of Mary’s faith she is now Queen of Heaven and earth. But consider the risk she took in believing!

            Mary was a fourteen-year-old girl, probably uneducated, most likely poor, engaged to be married to a much older man. She is going about her daily business when all of a sudden she has a vision of an angel, who tells her that she is about to become pregnant with the Son of God – and the angel asks Mary’s permission for such a miracle to take place.

            If she said yes, she was risking a lot. She would be an unwed teenage mother. Surely her family would not have believed her story that the baby came about through the Holy Spirit – they would have said, “Yeah right! That’s ridiculous!” They might have thought she was crazy, or perhaps she would have been disowned by her family and forced into abject poverty. She could have lost her fiancée Joseph – who would want to marry a young woman who is mysteriously pregnant? Worst of all, she could have been stoned to death – that was the penalty for adultery in the Jewish Law.

            All of this must have gone through Mary’s mind. Would she lose her family, her good reputation, her fiancée, all of her possessions, even her very life? It was a very big risk to say, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” But she recognized that faith is a risk – a risk worth taking, because the Lord is trustworthy and will keep His promises. She said yes, and that yes changed the history of the world.

            True faith is indeed a risk! It’s not a “safe” investment! Consider – faith means that we are living our lives in hope of a reward that we can’t see, loving and serving a God who we can’t always sense, denying ourselves and taking up our cross in the hopes that we will find everlasting joy in Heaven. That’s a risk!

The world mocks those with faith and says, “What if heaven doesn’t exist? What if it’s not real and you’re wasting your time? Instead, just live your life for yourself – make money, enjoy yourself.” But what if the world is wrong – and there really is a God, and eternity really is forever? I wouldn’t want to risk the chance that I wasted my life…so I’m willing to take the risk of faith!

            I once heard faith described as “fire insurance” – in other words, the person was saying, “I go to church just so I can avoid Hell.” If that’s the entirety of their faith, then they don’t really understand faith at all. Faith is not a crutch that we only turn to when things get bad. We don't use faith to prevent bad things from happening. Rather, faith is the most dangerous virtue of all: it means giving your life away in hopes of finding it in eternity!

            Let me give you an example of faith that I just read about this past week. I really admire a man named Michael O’Brien, a Canadian Catholic man who is a painter and a novelist. When he was young, his paintings were starting to actually become quite famous. He was making a lot of money painting landscapes and giving art exhibitions. But in his mid-20s, he decided that he was going to consecrate his painting to Christ and only seek to paint for Him. He and his wife went to church one day and they put their paintbrushes on the altar, asking God for the grace to paint only for His glory. When he began to paint again after that, the art critics roundly criticized him for his Christian artwork; people stopped buying his paintings; he could no longer find art galleries that wanted to feature his work. He risked it all for faith! However, this time of trial in O’Brien’s life bore fruit. As he was an unemployed artist, he began to write…and one of his novels, “Father Elijah”, eventually became a bestseller and has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. He was able to glorify God through a different path. But it took a risk to put his entire life, his career, his talents into the hands of God…and God has done something beautiful with them.

            True faith is a risk. I say “true” faith because I mean a faith that permeates every aspect of our life. Yes, it’s safe to go to Church on Sunday mornings. It’s much less safe to be a Catholic when your friends invite you to a bar on a Friday night. Are you willing to risk mockery and scorn when you won’t get drunk with them or indulge in their impure jokes? It’s safe to speak about Christ to your fellow churchgoers. It’s much more risky to bring up your love for God with your friends or family members who don’t share that belief. It’s safe to pray when it’s convenient. It’s much more risky to stay faithful to your commitment of daily prayer when it’s hard, when it takes sacrifice, when you’re tired.

            But the risk is worth it because the reward is worth it. The reward for Mary’s faith is having the honor of being the Mother of the Son of God. The reward for our faith is joy in this life and in the life to come.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Advent 3 - December 13, 2015

Advent 3

Joy: The Mark of Discipleship

December 13, 2015


            The word “Gospel” means “good news,” and I had a professor in seminary who used to say, “If the Gospel is good news, could you kindly inform your face?” I always thought it was a great line, because if we truly believe that the Gospel is good news, then we’re going to be joyful people!

            One big way to tell who among us is a disciple of Christ is that disciples have joy. But what is joy? And how do we obtain it?

            Well, let me first ask you a question. How do you think God looks at you? Do you think He sits in heaven, doing a face-palm and saying, “Gosh, I just wish they’d get it together.” Do you think He’s angry with you all the time? Do you think God’s like, “What a mess. I regret creating them.”?

            That is the exact opposite. Scripture tells us today that God “delights over you.” He rejoices over you, He sings over you. Goodness! That certainly doesn’t sound like a dour-faced God. This is a God who dances and sings because of how much He is in love with you. He doesn’t just “tolerate” you, or “put up with” you. He is smitten with you.

            God gave me an insight into this last year. I was doing some counseling with a young man who I’d known for several years (I’ll call him Johnny). He had been involved in some pretty bad stuff. As I was listening to him, I found my heart breaking for the trouble this teen was in. He kept saying he was unworthy, he was trash because of what he had done. I felt the exact opposite – he was heroically fighting a hard battle against sin and its consequences, and in my heart I felt like a father encouraging a beloved son.

            Well, a few days later I went to confession myself, and I felt so deeply ashamed of my own sins. Here I was, a priest, and I had offended Our Lord because of sin! Even after confession, I just felt rotten – unworthy, guilty, still beating myself up over it. As I was walking out of the church, I saw a statue of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and the Lord spoke clearly to my soul. He said: “Remember how you felt about Johnny? You loved him unconditionally. You didn’t reject him, but your heart ached because of the love you had for his soul. Do you not think that I love you in the same way?” I was hit with a ton of bricks – wow, God really feels that way about me?

            Yes, He does…and He feels that same way about each one of you. This past year I was a part of our diocesan Synod, on a committee that was focused around youth ministry. On the first day we were having an open discussion about what teens needed in order to follow Jesus. Not more classes, not more teaching, not fancier programs or better music at church – no, they fundamentally need to know that they are loved. Period. Because so many teens – and adults – do not believe that they are loved or that they’re lovable.

            I am here to profess that you are loved. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” Your life is not an accident, but a creation of a God who loves you more than we can imagine.

            And this is why we rejoice: because we are loved, and our life has meaning in this love. St. Paul thought that joy was so important that he told us twice to rejoice in the second reading! This joy flows from the confidence that God delights in us.

            Think, for a moment, about the feeling of happiness that comes from various things. Every week I stop by an excellent Catholic school in Norwalk called Regina Pacis Academy to teach religion to the kids. I always stop by the Kindergarten classroom, usually during play time. It’s funny to watch how the kids interact. If one girl wants a certain crayon that someone else is using, she’ll ask…then demand…then shout…then cry…then go into a full-blown temper-tantrum until she gets it. Then, she makes two scribbles with it…and then drops it about five seconds later when another thing catches her attention. The happiness lasts all of five seconds!

            But we’re not much better! So we watch our favorite TV show – nice! That happiness lasts for a half-hour. So we get a good grade on a test – awesome! That happiness lasts for an afternoon. So we get a raise at work – great! That happiness lasts, maybe, a week or so. So we buy a new car or X-box – wonderful! That happiness lasts, oh, until the first time you get in a fender-bender or spill a Big Gulp all over the front seat.

            Last week after the 10:30am Mass I was talking with one of our teens who was reflecting about Christmas. He was saying how much of a downer it is in Christmas afternoon, because there’s so much hype and buildup to Christmas morning, and then you open your presents and…that’s it. It’s like a letdown. But if Christmas is a letdown, then we’ve lost sight of where our true joy lies!

            The only true, lasting, permanent joy is in knowing that we are passionately, personally loved by God, and that our life is called to be a response of love back to Him. That’s the only joy that never fades. And that type of joy is different because it is always present, even when there are crosses and difficulties. Knowing that we are loved allows us to smile through tears.

            “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God,” said Mother Teresa. Yes, yes it is. If you have Jesus, and you know His love living in your heart, you will have joy.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Homily for Second Sunday of Advent - December 6, 2015

Homily for Advent 2

December 6, 2015

Our Only Hope


            Maybe it’s because the seventh Star Wars movie is coming out soon, but I’d like to reminisce about one of the best scenes in the first Star Wars movie. If you’ve seen the original trilogy, you know the scene: Obi-Wan Kenobi turns on the robot R2D2, and finds that there is a message inside. It’s a hologram of Princess Leia, who begs for Obi-Wan’s help. The universe is in terrible disarray, and she is desperate to overthrow the evil Empire – and Obi-Wan is the only one who can do it. She concludes by saying, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi…you’re my only hope.”

            Our world is, perhaps, in even more disarray than the world of Star Wars. Just this past week we had another mass shooting, this time in California. Poverty, war, broken families…who will be our “only hope”?

            In 2008, President Obama ran his successful presidential campaign on the slogans “Hope” and “Change”. He thought that his ideas would bring hope. Some of us put our hope in money, or economic change, thinking that “only if I get a little richer, then I would be happy, then life would be better.” Some of us put our hope in public policies like climate change, gun control, or health care, saying, “Once this law is passed, then we will be safe, then the world will change for the better.”

But is that our best hope for a better life? I would like to propose that we have only one hope: our world, our nation, our family, and our own hearts need to turn to Jesus. This is the only hope we have. As good as it may be, no public policy will end the brokenness of sin; no amount of money will fix a lack of love. Only Jesus Christ can be the hope that we long for.

The Israelites, from our first reading, were in a sorry state as well. They had put their hope and trust, not in God, but in the strength of their army, in their alliances with the surrounding nations, and even in idols. But these things eventually collapsed: their army was conquered in battle, their alliances were broken, and their idols could not save them. They had been taken off into captivity and suffering.

But while in exile, their true hope began to dawn. They began to rediscover their love for God, and in turn, God began to promise through His prophets that they would return to their land and their homes. This is the hope that John the Baptist proclaims, too: that God has not forgotten His people, but that the light of salvation will begin to dawn for them. And that light, that hope…is Jesus.

All of our human attempts to make the world a better place cannot succeed if they do not have Jesus at the heart of them. We may try hard to fix the problems of our lives and our families, we may try hard to build a more just and fair society…but there’s something fundamentally wrong with us! All of us contain the brokenness of original sin, selfishness, weakness. It’s impossible to try to correct the world without first fixing the problem in our own souls! And the main problem, sin and selfishness, cannot be corrected on our own, through laws or programs or money. We can only be healed of sin by turning our lives over to Jesus Christ, by living in His grace through Confession and the Eucharist, by seeking His will through prayer and reading His word. There is no other hope for the world than this.

Pope St. John XXIII had a great insight into this. Every day, people from around the world would come to him with their crises: the bishop from Congo who would tell of his priests murdered by rebels; the world leader asking for help for his starving people; the sick who came to be blessed; the oppression in Russia during the Cold War…and the Pope would try to do what he could for each problem. But every night before he went to bed, he knelt down in his chapel, and brought everything to Jesus. He would conclude his prayer with a deep sigh and say, “Well, I did the best I could. It’s your church, Lord! I’m going to bed, good night.”

Here is a man whose hope was in the Lord! He knew that God could do what he could not do. And the truth is, the world will only begin to change when we give more and more of our lives to Jesus. I firmly believe that when one person advances in holiness and draws closer to the Lord, the entire world is improved.

With all of the problems in the world today, it might be easy to be discouraged. Our human efforts to improve them have not made as much of a difference as we had hoped. It’s time to turn to a true hope: Jesus, the light Who shines in the darkness.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

First Sunday of Advent - November 29, 2015

First Sunday of Advent

November 29, 2015

Brokenness Needs A Merciful Savior


            There’s something wrong…with us. We are broken. All of us, you and I and everyone else in this crazy, mixed-up world. We are sinners. We feel pain, loneliness, hurt, rejection. We struggle with addictions. We regret our past. We fear the future. We lose our patience. We make mistakes. And so, we need a merciful Savior.

            In 1931, a Polish nun named St. Faustina Kowalska was praying when she had a vision of Jesus, with rays of white and red light flowing from His heart. You may have seen the picture – it is the Divine Mercy image. Jesus revealed Himself to St. Faustina as the King of Divine Mercy, the Savior who comes with mercy to His people. His mercy is so intense, that He said to St. Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the greater their right to My Mercy.”

            All of our brokenness is no match for God’s mercy. His mercy can take everything broken in us – all of our pain, all of our chains, even our sins – and cleanse them, making of us something beautiful for God. Have you ever seen a mosaic? It’s a picture formed by thousands of pieces of glass or ceramic. It forms a beautiful work of art – but first the glass or stone must be broken, then placed in the hands of the master artist to make it beautiful. Likewise, when our brokenness is placed in the hands of the Creator of the world, He can bring about something beautiful from it.

            Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel, especially today’s Gospel. Jesus contrasts two groups of people at His Second Coming – some people will “die of fright”, while some people will “lift up their heads, for their redemption is at hand.” Which one will you be? The difference between the two is that the first group did not trust in Jesus’ mercy, while the second group did. After all, Jesus revealed to St. Faustina that “[those who trust in God’s mercy should] not fear judgment, for they will not be judged.” Which group will you be in – those who trust in God’s mercy, or those who do not?

            Mercy is so important that Pope Francis named 2016 the “Year of Mercy”. He wants to emphasize how important mercy is in our faith – he calls mercy, “the other name of Love.” Our sin, our wounds are like a drop of water lost in the ocean of God’s mercy; it gets dissolved and washed away.

            Why am I talking about mercy during Advent? Because the whole reason Jesus came was to save sinners and heal the broken with His mercy. Let’s be honest with ourselves: we can’t do this whole “life” thing on our own. We need a Savior because we need to be saved! If you think you can get through life on your own, then Jesus isn’t for you! You know what the first step in the 12-step program Alcoholics Anonymous is: admitting we have a problem. When we admit our brokenness and our sin, then the Lord can begin His healing work.

            The good news is, we cannot earn this mercy. Just recently someone came to me, distraught. She had been asked to be a Eucharistic minister, but she thought she couldn’t do it. She explained to me, “Father, I’m not worthy!” No, we’re not worthy…and that’s what makes mercy a gift! Do you know who was the first person to enter Heaven after Jesus’ death? The man dying on the cross next to Jesus. He repented of his sin and trusted in God’s mercy, and Jesus promised that thief that he would be with Him in paradise!

            So how do we embrace God’s mercy? It’s as simple as A-B-C:

            A – Ask for it! If we only knew the mercy and grace that Jesus longs to give us, we would be on our knees day and night. In Heaven, right now, God only wants one thing – to pour out His mercy on us. But we must ask in order to receive mercy!

            B – Be merciful! To receive kindness, we must give kindness. To receive love, we must give love. And to receive mercy, we must give mercy to others, if we desire God’s mercy upon us.

            C – Completely trust in Jesus’ mercy. Beneath that famous image of the Divine Mercy are the words, “Jesus, I Trust in You.”

            Jesus said to St. Faustina, “Humanity will never find peace until it trusts in Divine Mercy.” This Advent, we begin our journey to Christmas by humbly recognizing that we desperately need a Savior because we are broken and sinful, but trusting that His Mercy is greater than our brokenness and sin, and He can make all things new and make something beautiful out of us.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Christ the King Sunday - November 22, 2015

Christ the King Sunday

November 22, 2015

Rejected King


            Today throughout the world, there is a Catholic religious community of monks and nuns called the Carmelites. They live a structured life of prayer, work, sacrifice, and listening for God through Scripture. But there was a time when the Carmelite community was falling apart…

            Like many groups, they started out on-fire with love for God, but over time, the fire was cooled. They began to abandon some of their earlier disciplines – instead of prayer, they spent more time on worldly pursuits. Instead of penance and sacrifice, they slowly introduced more pleasure into their lives.

            But then came two saints: St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Both of them saw value in the Carmelite religious order – but they realized that reform was needed. So they set out to reform their order.

            Naturally, no one likes to be told that they’re not doing the right thing, and both saints suffered a lot of rejection from the Carmelites. John got the worst of it – his fellow Carmelite priests actually kidnapped him and imprisoned him in a tiny closet for nine months, giving him weekly beatings and feeding him only bread and water. He was finally able to escape by taking his door off its hinges, but not without being severely injured and weakened by the experience. Amazing – fellow Catholic priests would kidnap and torture one of their own! But John – and Teresa – were calling them back to holiness, and eventually their reform prevailed, and the Carmelite order returned to its original fervor. The saints had to first experience rejection before triumph.

            The only time Jesus accepts the title “King” in the Gospels is at His crucifixion. We are following a King who was rejected, who was hated, who was an outcast in the world that He Himself created. He came to bring us life and light – but the world preferred (and still prefers) death and darkness. The world does not want Christ as its King!

            Truth is, we who follow Him can expect nothing less than the rejection He endured. It is absolutely impossible to be “cool” in the eyes of the world and be a faithful Christian. We have to choose – which one is more important: to be “cool”, or to be a disciple?

            I was speaking with a dear friend of mine this past week, a woman who has five kids and one more on the way. She was telling me that often, when she takes her kids shopping or to a park, she gets all kinds of odd remarks. People often say to her, “Oh, are you running a day care?” Or when her doctor found out she was pregnant a sixth time, he snidely remarked, “So you’re one of those Catholics…”

            She was telling me this in frustration, as she said to me, “I just want to be a faithful Catholic, open to life, following the teachings of the Church!” But the reality is, we live in a world that chooses not to be under Christ’s Kingship, so when we decide to allow Christ to be OUR King, the world looks at us askance.

            You see, Christ must be King of our entire lives. Our thoughts, our relationships, the TV shows we watch, the way we spend our time and money, how we vote, what we love and what we despise, our hobbies and interests, all of that must be under Christ’s Kingship – and all of that might be called into question and rejected by our family and friends. They will ask, “Why don’t you watch the latest dirty movie? Why don’t you approve of my sinful lifestyle? Why do you make God a priority in your life?” We must expect that it isn’t popular to worship and pledge our allegiance to a rejected King.

            This is the King we worship: a King who dies on a tree! A King who embraces a shameful death! A King who humbles Himself! A King who is rejected! And…a King Who truly rules the universe with His merciful and just love. At the end of time, no one is going to care what the world thinks. When Jesus comes again, He will no longer be the rejected King but the triumphant King. I want to be on His side when that day comes.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Homily for November 15, 2015 - Ordinary Time 33

Homily for Ordinary Time 33

November 15, 2015

The Beginning and the End


            Jesus’ words in the Gospel are mysterious, to say the least. And He is really talking about two major events – one which has already occurred, and one which will occur in the future. But first, some background.

            For the Jewish people, the Temple in Jerusalem was the most sacred space in the universe. It was the place where Heaven met earth, where God literally dwelt. The Temple was the place of sacrifice, the place of worship, the place where sins were forgiven, the place where people encountered God. It was a world unto itself – a microcosm of the universe.

            After all, it was God Himself who gave the Jews their religion. God was the origin of the Old Testament Law, and it was He who instructed them how to build the Temple. The Ark of the Covenant was the very presence of God. So for them, the Temple was everything about their religion – it was where they met God!

            And Jesus knows that the cornerstone of Jewish religion was about to end.

            When Jesus died on the Cross, the veil of the Temple was torn in two. This seems like a really small detail, but it has huge significance. You see, the veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. The Holy of Holies was a small room at the very center of the Temple, separated from the rest of the Temple by a curtain. It was in that room that God’s invisible power and presence was located. Only one person – the High Priest – once a year – on Yom Kippur, the Feast of Atonement – was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies. It was God’s sacred dwelling place.

            But when Jesus died, the curtain was torn from top to bottom. Now people could look into the Holy of Holies and realize…nothing. It was empty. God was not there – no, God was outside of the city, on a Cross, dying for the sins of mankind. The Temple was empty. God no longer dwelt there.

            And about thirty-five years later, the entire Temple was destroyed by the Romans, who sacked it and then destroyed it. To this day only one wall is left standing – the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, where many Jews and Christians still go to pray in Jerusalem.

            For a good first-century Jew, this would have been, literally, the end of their world. The most sacred place was violated. The Temple was empty. God did not dwell there anymore. It isn’t that Judaism was destroyed – no, rather, it was fulfilled in Jesus. Because the entire purpose for the Jewish religion was to prepare the world for the Savior.

            Jesus was preparing His Jewish listeners for this. He is essentially saying, “Your world is about to come to an end. Everything you believed in is about to fall away, because it is being fulfilled in Jesus Himself.”

            That is the historical event that Jesus is speaking about in today’s Gospel. But He is also leading us towards a future event – one that we will experience as well.

            If the goal of the Jewish religion was to prepare the world for Christ’s coming, then the goal of the Catholic religion is to prepare the world for Heaven. There will come a time when this earthly world will end. For most of us (maybe all of us), it will be upon our death, when our connection to this earth will be over. But perhaps it will come sooner than that, when Christ comes again. Regardless of when it comes, it will be the end of the world, literally. And for this, we must be ready.

            Because in the world to come, there will be no church buildings. There will be no Sacraments. We will not need the Eucharist, or Confession, or devotions. Just like the Jewish religion was fulfilled in Jesus, the Catholic religion will be fulfilled in Heaven, where we are able to see God face to face, enjoy total and permanent intimacy with Him, and be in a place of blessed happiness and peace forever. God will conquer evil once and for all, and we will reign with Him over a new creation of joy and love.

            The only thing we get to take with us into this new world is who we have become – the love that we have shared with others, our love for God, and the virtues that have become a part of our soul. So let us use our short time on this earth wisely, prudently, becoming the men and women who will rejoice to close our eyes to this world and open them to see the sights of Heaven.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

November 8, 2015 - Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for Ordinary Time 32

November 8, 2015

Trust in God


            Opening Day, 2005. Cleveland Browns rookie Eric Mahl took the field with all of his teammates. But something was wrong. Oh, he was in the best of health – he could still bench press 450 pounds…but something just felt out-of-place.

            A very devout Catholic, Eric had been drawing closer to the Lord over the past few years, and he had been praying, “Lord, I will do whatever You want me to do.” That’s a very dangerous prayer, my friends, because the Lord will take us up on it. Even as Eric Mahl began his rookie season, taking down opponents on the football field, he continued to ask the Lord to show him his path.

            After one year in the NFL, through prayer became clear that this was not where Eric was meant to be. So he left the multi-million dollar contract, he left the glitter and the cheerleaders and instead decided to spend some time alone to figure out where the Lord was calling him. He spent three years as a hermit in the Arizona desert, praying and discerning, and what he heard was quite extraordinary.

            God was asking him to give up everything and follow Him, bringing His love to the poor and homeless. Like a modern-day Saint Francis, Eric was willing to do it. He gave away all of his possessions, moved back to Cleveland, and for a year lived like a homeless man. He would be found ministering to the homeless as one of them; sleeping in shelters, eating in soup kitchens, praying with the homeless, the lonely, the poor.

            I had the privilege of meeting Eric a few years ago. Above all, he exudes a trust in the Lord…possessing nothing, he has the Lord. And that is enough.

            The woman in today’s Gospel has a similar trust. She gave away everything – her last two pennies – Jesus says it is her livelihood – literally, everything she owned. And she walked out of that temple with a trust in God that puts us to shame. And I guarantee that God provided for her.

            On almost every page of Scripture, God is asking His people that same question – do you trust Me? Do you trust Me? And in almost every situation in our lives, God is asking that same question of us – do you trust Him? Most of the time in the Bible, people end up not trusting God. They try to take matters into their own hands…and things end up a mess because of it! However, when they trust God radically, He brings good out of it.

            I’m reminded of a little-known story from the Bible, from Judges 7. There is a man named Gideon whom God has called to lead His people. Gideon himself is struggling to trust the Lord…he asks for several signs from God before he is willing to lead the Israelites into battle. Finally, Gideon agrees to go, and he gathers the troops to fight an invading tribe. He ends up assembling an army of 32,000 men – not a bad showing! But God says, “That’s too many people – I want you to see that I am fighting for you – so send some men home.” Gideon sends home anyone who wants to go home, and he is left with 10,000. But God says again, “That’s still too many. Cut it down to 300.” So Gideon is left to fight this battle with 300 men…against thousands and thousands of the enemy army. God is inviting him to trust.

            It takes a while but Gideon is willing to trust the Lord. He has his army carry torches in the dead of night, silently, into the enemy camp. On cue, they all cried aloud, waking up the enemy. In the confusion that resulted, the enemy ended up fighting amongst themselves, destroying their whole army, while Gideon and his 300 men all survived. God brought them to the point where it seemed like everything was a failure – and then, because of Gideon’s trust, the Lord came through in an unexpected way.

             So do YOU trust God? Trusting God means that we believe, deeply, that God is our loving Father, Who only wants what’s best for us. He desires that we become fully alive: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically. He came that “we might have life, and have it most abundantly.” (John 10:10). We can trust Him as a good Father, then! He made many promises in the Scriptures that we can rely on: promises such as, “I will never abandon you.” Or, “Happy are those who follow the law of the Lord.” Or, “All things work for good for those who love God.” If God gives a promise, He will fulfill it, since He cannot deceive. We can trust Him completely!

            Even when He asks us to give up control of a situation. Do you worry? Are you afraid of the future, or concerned about finances or problems at work or school? The antidote is trust. God has come through in the past, even when it seemed like everything was lost. Just look at the Cross – when all hope was lost, God brought great good out of the worst evil in history.

            Sometimes we struggle to trust God because we think that we know what’s best for us. A lot of times we’re like a child who wants candy, but their parent wants them to eat their vegetables instead. Is that parent mean, or uncaring? Of course not – that parent wants what’s truly best for the child. Likewise, God gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want. Perhaps we had our sights set on that new job, and we didn’t get it – and perhaps we would have been miserable if we got that new job. Perhaps our plans for the future just fell through – and maybe God has a better plan for us. I can say that from talking to Eric Mahl, he is much happier with God’s plan of serving the poorest of the poor than he ever was playing in the NFL.

            We believe that God loves us, that He takes care of us like a good Father, and that we can surrender everything to Him: our plans, our future, our worries…and even our last two pennies.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Saints Day - November 1, 2015

All Saints Day

November 1, 2015

The Little Way to Holiness


            Young Theresa Martin was frustrated. She had heard the stories of the great saints – martyrs such as St. Polycarp and St. Agnes; great missionaries like St. Francis Xavier; strong founders of religious communities like St. Clare and St. Francis; powerful reformers who changed the church, such as St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Some of these saints had mystical visions like St. Catherine of Siena, while some spent their lives working with the poor like St. Vincent de Paul.

            But Theresa was not like them. She was just a simple middle-class girl, not a visionary or martyr. What could she do to be holy?

            Her desire for holiness was so unsettling because she could not figure out how she could become a saint. In search for an answer, she started reading the letters of St. Paul in the Bible. St. Paul writes that the Church is like a body – the entire body is made up of many parts. The ear is necessary, but so is the eye. The hand needs the foot, and the foot needs the hand. Theresa was comforted by this, but she still struggled to see her place in this body of the Church!

            Finally, as she continued to read, she was struck by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13. “Faith, hope, and love remain…but the greatest of these is love.” She realized that the Church had a heart, and that heart was love. So she determined that she would be the heart of love in the center of the church, and do everything for love.

            But that wasn’t always easy. Theresa ended up becoming a nun, and she had plenty of trials with her sisters. One particular sister used to knock her rosary beads on the pew during prayers – this drove Theresa crazy! But Theresa patiently endured it out of love. Another sister used to purposely splash water on her as they did the laundry together, just to get on Theresa’s nerves. But once again, she bore it all with a smile and forgiveness. A different nun had a difficult personality, and was always grumpy and negative to everyone. Theresa made an extra effort to befriend that nun, even though she found that it cost her.

            These small acts of love were not earth-shattering. They wouldn’t make the front page of the newspaper. But they were real, they were genuine, and they are a simple path to holiness. Theresa called it her “Little Way” – the little way to get to Heaven!

            Let’s be real – most of us here will not have as dramatic of a life as some of the saints we hear about. In Stamford in 2015, there is little chance that we will be a martyr, and most of us are not called by God to be a missionary to a far-off land. But you and I ARE created to become saints – and with God’s grace, we can become a saint through the Little Way.

            The Little Way simply means that every action we do throughout the day can be done out of love for God. Things like doing the dishes, playing sports, driving our car, and talking to a friend can all become steps on the pathway to sanctity when we do them to the best of our ability and motivated by a love for God. It’s very simple – just begin every action with the intention of praising and loving God – and you will become a saint in no time!

            I love how the Australian Catholic writer Matthew Kelly describes holiness. He says that holiness is “becoming the best version of yourself.” Holiness does not mean that you have to become St. Padre Pio. You can’t become him…that particular path has already been walked! Instead, you should become a better version of yourself – your life, lived for Christ. That’s the message of the Little Way.

            I remember making a real mistake about this when I was just starting off on my spiritual journey. I had given my life to the Lord when I was 16, and during freshman year of college I was praying one day about how to be holy. I thought to myself that a truly holy person is humble. And a humble person never draws attention to himself. So that day I decided that to be humble and holy, I would say as little as possible.

            Right after my prayer time, I went up to the football field, where some of my friends were playing in a football game. I was watching from the sidelines when my friend Amelie came up to me. She tried to start a conversation with me.

            “Hey, Joe, how’s it going?”

            Remembering my decision, I replied, “Fine.”

            “How were your classes today?”


            Long pause. “This is shaping up to be a good game, huh?”


            Finally, she just gave up trying to engage me in conversation and said, “Well, you don’t seem very talkative today. I’m leaving.”

            I realized after that exchanged that I was completely taking the wrong direction to holiness! Instead of trying to become someone we’re not, let’s just become who we are – for Christ!

            This means that, through the Little Way of Holiness, every action of our lives can be an opportunity to grow in holiness. All we have to do is have the desire to do everything for love for God, and then do it to the best of our ability. Now, obviously, this means we should avoid sin – we can’t commit a sin for the glory of God! But in every other action – whether it be our work or our recreation, sports or homework, cleaning and eating and sleeping – if we do it all for the glory of God and we do it to the best of our ability, then we will become saints in no time!

            And that Theresa girl? Now she is better known as St. Therese of Lisieux, a saint herself – and a doctor of the Church – for her wisdom in articulating the Little Way.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Homily for Ordinary Time 30 - October 25, 2015

Homily for October 25, 2015

Ordinary Time 30

Progress in the Spiritual Life


            You know what I love about airports? Moving walkways. They’re great! You can just stand on them and you start moving down the terminal, getting to your destination faster. And it doesn’t require any effort on our part!

            Unfortunately, the spiritual life is not like a moving walkway – it does require effort to make progress in our relationship with Jesus. Today’s Gospel is a perfect parallel to that!

            The Gospel is about a healing, but it’s about more than that. The man is not only physically healed, but he encounters Jesus and experiences spiritual healing through faith in Him. But notice this man’s progression. First, he is seated by the side of the road, stuck in a rut. That’s symbolic of how we can be stuck in sin, in a rut, not moving closer to the Lord. But he hears something – he hears the good news about Jesus Christ, about how the Lord can heal him physically…and forgive his sins. So he cries out to the Lord!

            But people tell him to be silent. The world will tell you that you don’t need God at all. Don’t bother seeking, the world will tell you. It’s not worth it. No one cares. God isn’t real.

            I remember when I was in sixth grade at a Catholic school, our teacher gave us an assignment to write and deliver a persuasive speech. For all of us in the class, it was our first time public speaking, and we were all super nervous. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of a topic to talk about. My friends were doing a speech trying to persuade the class to save the environment or persuading us that the Giants were better than the Jets, but I wanted a challenge. So I wrote my speech about why we should love God more. I guess it was my first homily – as a sixth grader!

            I was tremendously nervous about giving this speech, and as luck would have it, I was the last one in the class to go. Finally, my palms sweating from nervousness and fear, I was able to give the speech…and no one in my class reacted. Just blank stares. Afterward on the playground I asked my best friend Philip what he thought of it, and he said something I’ve never forgotten: He said, “Who cares about God?”

            So, as we try to seek after the Lord, people will try to silence us and say, “Who cares about God?” But for this reason, like Bartimaeus, we must strive to seek the Lord even more. Finally, Jesus calls to Bartimaeus, and what does the blind man do? He leaps up and throws off his cloak, and runs to Jesus. He is no longer sitting in the pit of sin and despair. Instead, he throws off his cloak – the symbol of his old life – and runs to Jesus. Likewise, if we want to be followers of Jesus, we must throw off the old life of sin if we want to be His followers.

            Jesus then heals him, because of his faith. And if we have faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that is alive and passionate, then this faith in the Lord will heal us too. Does Bartimaeus then go back to sitting down? No! He begins to follow Jesus, to walk with Him – to make progress in his spiritual life.

            There is no automatic walkway in our spiritual journey – we have to walk, daily, and follow Jesus! That’s one reason why I love hiking – because hiking is a great spiritual analogy. If you want to get to the beautiful view, you have to walk the long, arduous trail. There are no shortcuts.

            This past summer I went out with some friends to Colorado, where we enjoyed the Rocky Mountains. Our first day there, we drove up Pike’s Peak, which is over 14,000 feet high. A short distance from the top, I asked to get out of my friend’s car so I could hike. I didn’t want to go to Colorado and say that I didn’t hike Pike’s Peak! So I found a trail and started hiking…and about ten feet into the trail, I immediately regretted the decision. I don’t know if you’ve ever had altitude sickness, but it hit me HARD. I couldn’t catch my breath because the air is so thin, and I was overwhelmed with dizziness, nausea, and headaches. As I watched my friends’ car drive off towards the top, I thought, “This is NOT the best decision I’ve ever made…”

            About forty-five minutes later (and this was only a quarter-mile hike!), I finally reached the peak, where I found my friends enjoying fudge from the gift shop on top. But as hard as it was, I was the only one that could say I hiked up Pike’s Peak!

            For most mountaintops, however, there is no shortcut, there is no automobile road. You have to hike it. And to advance in your spiritual life, you have to rise and walk like Bartimaeus, following Jesus.

            If you aren’t making progress in the spiritual life, you are sliding backwards. It’s like when salmon swim upstream every year. If a fish were to stop swimming for a moment, they would soon be carried downstream, further from their goal. They must swim constantly to make progress. Likewise, if we are not constantly growing in our faith, we will instead lose progress!

            What helps us make progress in the spiritual life? Well, like anything that grows, it must be nurtured. Spending time in prayer. Reading the Bible and other spiritual books. Attending things like retreats and spiritual events. Frequently receiving Confession and Holy Communion. Doing the works of mercy such as feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, or teaching religion classes.

            How do we know if we truly are growing in our love for God? We ask ourselves: am I sinning less? Have I given Jesus control in every aspect of my life, trusting Him completely? Am I growing in virtues such as humility, chastity, kindness, generosity?

            Bartimaeus’ life was changed because he met Jesus Christ, was healed of his blindness and his sin, and followed Him in faith. No longer sitting by the side of the road, Bartimaeus began a journey, following in the footsteps of the Lord and making progress as a disciple. Does our faith in Jesus Christ continue to grow daily, or has it grown stale? Are we sitting by the side of the road, or daily walking after Jesus?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Homily for Ordinary Time 29 - October 18, 2015

Homily for October 18, 2015

Ordinary Time 29

Passion To Serve


            God can do a lot with enthusiastic people…once their enthusiasm is directed to the right cause. I think of St. Ignatius Loyola. Before his conversion, he was a worldly man – popular with the ladies, wealthy, vain about his looks (despite the fact that he was only 5’2”). He loved to woo the ladies with tales of glory on the battlefield, from his many years as a soldier in the Spanish army. He saw himself as a knight in shining armor, winning the glory of the world!

In one particular battle, however, a cannonball ripped through his leg, shattering it. It didn’t heal properly, so Ignatius began to walk with a limp. He was embarrassed by this, so he asked the doctors to re-break his leg…without anesthesia! (This was the 1500s and their version of anesthesia was a big gulp of whiskey!). As he was healing a second time, he was bored being stuck in the hospital bed, so he asked for some books to read. He preferred books about gallant knights and romance novels, but the good nuns who ran the hospital had no such thing. So instead, they gave him the Gospels and the lives of the saints. He began to read it, out of sheer boredom – and it completely revolutionized his life. He realized that all of the worldly glory he was pursuing was completely vain, and he needed to instead focus on Christ. When he got out of the hospital, he became a priest, and ended up starting the religious community known as the Jesuits, the largest religious community in the world. God took this passionate, enthusiastic worldly man, and turned him into a passionate, enthusiastic Catholic man…and a saint.

            We see some of this misdirected enthusiasm in today’s Gospel. Right before this Gospel passage, Jesus tells His disciples about His passion – how He will be handed over to pagans, scourged, and crucified. Immediately after this sobering announcement, James and John asked for seats of glory! How could they do this? Didn’t they just hear Jesus’ message of His suffering and death that He would undergo?

            On one level, James and John must have been so pumped-up by the miracles that Jesus had done. They had seen Him raise the dead, feed five thousand people, heal the sick, walk on water. After seeing such remarkable things, they probably were filled with such enthusiasm for the Lord! In fact, they were so enthusiastic that when Jesus asked them if they were willing to suffer like He was, they exclaimed, “We can! Bring it on! We’ll follow You anywhere, Lord!”

            I imagine Jesus being pleased with so generous a response. He assures them that they will suffer with Him, because of the generosity of their hearts. And, as it turns out, both James and John did suffer. John was the only Apostle who shared in Christ’s sorrow by accompanying Him to Calvary; while James ended up suffering martyrdom by beheading while he was the first bishop of Jerusalem.

            Jesus goes on, however, to teach them the meaning of real glory. James and John have generous hearts because they passionately believe in the Lord…but also because they were hoping for a worldly reward. Jesus wants to redirect those generous, passionate hearts towards service, not earthly prizes.

            There is a wonderful story of an old four-star general in the army who was retiring after a long and decorated career. He was not only respected by the men under him; he was loved by them, as sons would love a father. During his retirement ceremony, he was asked what his secret to leadership was. He said very simply, “The secret to leadership is this: officers eat last.”

            He was able to gain the respect – and the love – of his men because they knew that he sacrificed for them. He was willing to make himself humble, eating last, working hard, doing difficult tasks, for them. And this won their hearts.

            Think about the people in your life who have inspired you the most – maybe a parent or teacher, a coach or mentor, a boss or a friend. I’ll bet that these people were humble servants. People with worldly power may write history, but only people who are humble servants really make a true impact in our lives.

            There’s a word in Greek that is used in the Scriptures to describe Jesus’ humble service – the word is kenosis. Kenosis means “self-emptying”. Jesus is the King of the entire universe – the world should bow at His feet. Yet here He is, bowing down to wash the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper. He empties Himself of His glory.

            In the same way, He describes this self-emptying (kenosis) in sacramental terms – He says to James and John that suffering with Him will be a baptism and drinking from the cup – hinting at the Eucharist. In other words, those who have been baptized and those who have partaken of the Eucharist must now empty ourselves for Him and for others. The Sacraments must drive us to passionately live out our Faith through concrete works of service.

            Do you love Jesus? Then do the dishes. Do you love Jesus? Then obey your parents. Do you love Jesus? Then stay faithful to your vows. It’s really that simple – if you are passionate about your faith in Jesus Christ, then make that faith alive through sacrificial service. As Mother Theresa said, “There should be less talk. Just grab a broom and sweep someone’s house. That speaks loud enough.”

            But as we’ve seen from James and John, it is easy to say to the Lord, “Yes! I love You and I will follow You everywhere!” But then when the Lord says, “Okay, great. Now follow me in kenosis, in emptying yourself for others in service,” it’s so much harder to obey. James and John had generous hearts, and were willing to suffer for Christ if that meant the glory of the world. Jesus told them that their generous hearts must embrace the glory of service and kenosis instead.

            We follow Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to empty Himself for our sake.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Homily for Ordinary Time 28 - October 11, 2015

Homily for October 11, 2015

Ordinary Time 28

Love of Money vs. Love of God


            John is a man who worked hard all his life, and through discipline, a good education, and the right connections, landed a lucrative job working for a Wall Street hedge fund manager. He makes a nice six-figure salary and lives in a beautiful house in Greenwich. He is very generous with his money. He financially supports two Catholic schools in the diocese, and sponsors three children from the Sudan. Anytime his pastor needs anything around the parish, he knows he can count on John to donate the money for it. He is a very devout man, faithfully attending Mass and striving to follow Jesus in everyday life.

            Martin works a landscaping job in Stamford. He lives in a small apartment with his girlfriend. He makes enough money to survive, but gazes longingly at flatscreen TVs and new cars that he wants to buy. Envious of the possessions of his neighbors, he works constantly to have enough money for the new toy – even working on Sunday, which means that he never has time to go to Mass. He has enough money to eat and keep a roof over his head, but he is always striving, striving, striving…his desire for more money, more toys, consumes his days.

            So, according to Jesus, which one goes to Heaven? The rich man, or the poor man? Riches don’t always equal greed, and poverty does not always mean holiness. Sometimes it does – but sometimes it doesn’t.

            The Scriptures do NOT say that money is the root of all evil. Instead, it says that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). This is why the rich young man turns away sad – not because he was rich, but because he loved his possessions more than he loved Christ.

            I have met rich people who are greedy, and rich people who are generous. I have met poor people who are greedy, and poor people who are generous. The key to a biblical approach to money shouldn’t be, “How much do I have?” but “What good have I done with the money?”

            Every possession and every dollar that we own ultimately belongs to the Lord. Our money is really His money – He has given it to us so that we can use it to get to Heaven. Like everything else in our life – such as our time and our talents – our money and possessions are given to us so that we can use them to love God and our neighbor. It’s that simple – everything we have is on loan from God, and someday we will have to give an account of how we used it.

            A great example of that is Tom Monaghan. You may never have heard of him, but you’ve certainly heard of the company he founded: Domino’s Pizza! He is a multi-billionaire…and a very public Catholic. With all of his money, he purchased the Detroit Tigers, and began building his dream house – an architectural marvel. However, after reading a book by CS Lewis (“Mere Christianity”), he realized that he was living a self-indulgent lifestyle with all of his money. He sold the Tigers, he stopped building his mansion, and instead dedicated his money to the salvation of souls. He began to financially support inner-city Catholic schools, founded a pro-life radio station, and actually started his own Catholic university – which is still going on today (called Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida). Here is a man who realized that his possessions are not meant for his own enjoyment, but were given to him so that he could further the Kingdom of God.

            So, let me give you an uncomfortable analogy. I hope no one in here has ever been audited by the IRS, but if you have, you know how difficult that is. You have to provide every receipt from the past year to show that you are being honest with the government. Likewise, at the end of your life and my life, God will ask to see your receipts. He will say to us, “What did you do with that money I gave you?” I hope we can show him more than receipts for new clothes and expensive vacations. I hope we can show him how that money was used to feed the poor, to spread the Gospel, to shelter the homeless, to advance the work of the Church. Will you be able to present the Lord with these receipts?