Monday, April 20, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 3, 2015

Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 3, 2015



            The great missionary St. Francis Xavier baptized over ten thousand people during his years in the Philippines, India, and Japan, but he wrote a letter back to his friends in his native Spain, telling them, “There are so many people who would be Christian, but there is no one to show them how!”

            I think that could be said of today’s world as well. There are many people who would make excellent Christians, but they’ve never been invited to have a relationship with God. In today’s first reading we hear about how the community of believers grew by leaps and bounds in the early Church – but this only happened because people were willing to go forth and invite others to become disciples.

            Sharing your faith is called evangelization. Evangelization is the duty of every single person in the church, not just priests and nuns. Most of the people I deal with on a daily basis are already churchgoers. But those people in your work, in your family, in your school – who rarely see a priest or nun – need to know about Jesus – and so it’s up to you to bring Him to them!

            A few years ago I was starting a youth program at my old church, and on our first night we had a great turnout of kids. Afterward, one high school freshman named Jonathan came up to me and said, “Excuse me, but is this a Catholic youth group?”

            I thought it was an odd question, since I was clearly a Catholic priest and we had just spent the last hour talking about the Sacraments, but I responded, “Yes, it is…is that what you’re looking for?”

            He shrugged. “I guess so,” he replied. There was a really long pause so I asked him, “And are you a Catholic?”

            He replied, “No, I don’t have any faith, but I just kinda figured that I need God in my life, so I want to become one.”

            I was rather taken aback, but I am happy to report that he was baptized that Easter, and now he’s a senior in high school and he still attends Mass every week. But people like Jonathan are rare – people don’t usually go knocking on the Church door saying, “Hey, I saw how beautiful your church is and I’d like to become a Catholic!” No, people only begin coming to church in two ways: by witnessing the radical love of Christians, and by our invitation.

            First, it should go without saying that our lives are the most important way we teach others about Jesus. One of the things that convinced people to join the early Christians – even though they could be martyred for their faith – is that they saw the Christian community living a life that was radically different from the culture around them. The culture around them was debaucherous, while Christians lived purely. The culture around them was filled with back-biting, gossip, selfishness; while Christians lived simply with humility and love. Considering that we now live in a post-Christian society much like that of the ancient Roman empire, we need to live counter-culturally as well. What does that mean? It means not watching those TV shows and movies that insult our faith. It means speaking up to defend traditional marriage or the pro-life cause. It means spending our time differently and making sure that Sunday is a day for God. It means not engaging in gossip with others, or complaining. It means remaining faithful to our marriage vows despite challenges. In a word, unless we live a radical life for God, we will just become indistinguishable from the pagan culture around us.

            But in addition to living a life that is obviously influenced by our relationship with Christ, we also must speak about it. I can’t tell you how many times some of our older parishioners reminisce about the days that this church was packed and Masses were overflowing. Well, let me ask you then: how many people have you invited to church? Do you expect people just to fill the pews without an invitation? Let’s be real – if we really love Jesus, if He has changed our life, and if we really believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, then we have a duty to tell others about it!

If someone discovered the cure for cancer but then never told anybody and kept it all to himself, we would all consider him to be selfish! Even if he was a shy person or was afraid of how others would react, he should still overcome all that because of the importance of the discovery! In the same way, what we do in this church every Sunday impacts the eternal destiny of souls. There are people going to hell because no one has taught them about Jesus! We will be guilty if we stand by idly when others need to hear the good news that Jesus saved them!

Of course, we can only bring Jesus to others if we have Jesus in our hearts. The Lord says so in the Gospel: only if we are united to Christ like branches on a vine can we bear any fruit for Him. So, let me ask you – do you believe in Him? Do you love Him? Do you seek to be united to Him in the Sacraments and in His Word? If so, then why do we not go out and bring Him to others? I think sometimes we don’t realize that people actually can and do go to Hell! If we were convinced of that fact, we would strive with all of our strength to bring as many people to Christ as we can, since only He can save us and forgive us of our sins!

My challenge for you is very simple. This week, have a conversation with one person (someone who’s not a fellow churchgoer!) about Jesus, and if possible, invite them to join you here next Sunday. Because there are many millions of people outside of these four walls who are thirsting to know about Jesus.

Fourth Sunday of Easter - April 26, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 26, 2015

Good Shepherd Sunday


            Eleven-year-old Brett Haubrich of St. Louis has cancer. He’s currently undergoing chemotherapy for brain cancer, but his suffering hasn’t shaken his faith. Recently, the Make-a-Wish Foundation approached him and asked what he would like for a wish, he demurely declined, but the organization persisted – is there any place you’d like to go? Anyone you want to meet? What would you like to do when you grow up?

            He answered that he’d like to be a priest when he grew up, so the organization contacted the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Bishop Carlson was thrilled with the idea. Last month, he invited young Brett to be a “priest for a day” – the boy served with the Bishop at Mass in the morning, had dinner with the seminarians in the evening, and had his feet washed at the Holy Thursday Mass at night.

            In all, Brett said it was one of the best experiences he’s ever had. He already has a great love for the Eucharist and for the Mass…and if, God willing, he is able to beat this cancer, he hopes to actually become a priest when he grows up.

            I thought that was a great story because it should be a natural part of every young Catholic man’s life to think about becoming a priest. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the day on which we consider how Jesus continues to shepherd His flock – through priests.

            All of us are in need of being led, protected, fed. How easy it is to wander away from the path to Heaven! How easy it is to fall into dangerous errors, how easy it is to fall into sin! We need shepherds to keep us on the right path, and Jesus knew that too – so He established shepherds after His own heart: priests.

            A priest is a man who is willing to lay down his life for the people, in imitation of Christ, Who did the same. A priest is a man totally sold-out for Jesus Christ – a priest doesn’t belong to himself, he belongs to God. Yes, being a priest is a life of sacrifice, it’s a tough life – it’s a life for real men who are madly in love with Jesus Christ.

            I first started thinking about the priesthood when I was pretty young. You know how some kids pretend to be doctors or teachers when they play? I used to “play priest” and have Masses in my living room using potato chips and grape juice. But then, of course, once I grew up and discovered girls, I thought maybe I should become a sports announcer or a professional rock musician so I could get married. But the idea never really went away – and I remember when I went to Rome on a pilgrimage when I was 14, I remember seeing the churches that people built for the glory of God, these beautiful and huge churches, and I thought, “What can I do with my life that glorifies God?” I began to think again that perhaps the Lord was calling me to become a priest.

            That summer, I still remember telling my best friend Billy that I was thinking about becoming a priest. We were talking about what we wanted to do for a living, and he told me he was thinking about becoming a doctor. I was really nervous to say it out loud, but I told him, “I’d like to become a priest.” There was a very long and awkward pause before he replied, “Joe, you’re not that ugly. I know you can get a girlfriend.”

            A lot of people focus on everything that a priest gives up. And yes, it is a sacrifice to give up a family and a career. But where there is love, sacrifice is easy. After all, priests are men in imitation of Christ, Who laid down His life – can we do any less?

            Besides, the joy of being a priest far outweighs any sacrifice. For only a priest can say those healing words, “I absolve you of your sins.” Only a priest can take ordinary bread and wine and change them into the Body and Blood of the Savior. When a person is dying, when a baby is born, when a couple wants to unite in marriage – they call the priest, who, in his very person, brings Christ into the moment. What a joy and a privilege it is to be a priest!

            A priest sacrifices much because he is a man who is only half in this world. Priests are men whose lives are half in Heaven, because we can bring Heaven to earth in the Sacraments, and bring earth to Heaven by teaching men and women how to be saints.

            [Dear younger brothers in the Lord, God is calling some of you to become priests – to give it all away to follow Him. Don’t be afraid to do so! If God calls you to do something, He will give you the grace to do it – and He will give you great happiness in following His will. How do you know if you are called to be a priest? First, if you have the desire. Perhaps you see what a priest does and think, “I’d like to do that”. Maybe you want to live a radical life of holiness. Second, if you have the desire for it, pray about it – and talk about it with a priest. I am convinced that God is calling a few of you young men to become priests – and I think you will be excellent priests if you have the generosity to say yes to God’s will!]

            What a great joy it is to be a priest! Pray often for your priests, that they may be good shepherds after the heart of Christ.

Third Sunday of Easter - April 19, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

April 19, 2015

Shroud of Turin


            Anyone who has ever worked with little kids knows that the best way to learn is through the five senses. If you want a little kid to learn about something, have a show-and-tell – let the kids pass it around, touch it, smell it, see it up-close-and-personal.

It’s a natural human tendency, I think, to want to see and touch before we believe. And God, Who created us, knows this. He established His religion, the Catholic Faith, with very physical signs to communicate His invisible grace. Water poured over our souls actually causes the dirt on our souls to be cleansed. Oil on our forehead strengthens, not our bodies, but our souls to become confirmed in the Faith. Bread and wine become the very Flesh and Blood of God.

So, in order to help the Apostles to believe, He demonstrates His Resurrection in very physical ways. In the Gospels, we read that Jesus invites the Twelve to touch Him, to feel His hands and feet, to prove that He truly has been risen. He even goes further – He eats a piece of fish in their presence, not because He was hungry, but to show them that He is physically raised from the dead, and not just a ghost. Ghosts don’t have hands and feet to touch; ghosts can’t eat a piece of fish.

            But what about us? Do we have any evidence of the Resurrection? In a sense, yes. I’d like to mention one interesting artifact that the Church possesses, which has always astounded scientists and helped to bolster faith: the Shroud of Turin.

            In the city of Turin, Italy, there is a long cloth, about fourteen feet long, which most people – including myself - believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus. On the cloth is an interesting image – there is an image of a human body…an image that was not made by human hands.

            The image depicts a man who had been crucified, and the image is unexplainable – no one knows how the image got there. It’s not paint, it’s not dye. Scientists have studied the Shroud of Turin, and it seems that the image was made when some intense radiation hit the cloth. The Italian national science organization just recently finished some tests on the cloth, and they found that the light would have to be thirty-four trillion watts bright to cause such an image. Consider – those light bulbs up top are only 150 watts – no human agent could have produced 34 trillion watts.

            The cloth is two thousand years old – no one knew about radiation back then to produce the image! Even more amazing, the image is actually a negative. When the first photograph of the Shroud was taken in 1898, it was discovered that the image on the cloth was actually a photographic negative – so when you look at the image, it’s actually a reverse of Jesus’ face. This was impossible to make using any technology from the ancient world.

            Science can’t explain the mysterious image on the Shroud of Turin. To those who believe, though, the image is of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. I personally believe that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus, and the image was made by the truly awesome Resurrection of the Son of God from the dead.

            Now, to be clear, our faith in the resurrection isn’t based on whether the Shroud of Turin is actually the burial cloth of Jesus, or whether it’s an expert hoax. But I think the science points to its legitimacy; and these sort of tangible reminders of the mysteries of our Faith help us to believe, since we human beings so often need to see before we believe!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter - April 12, 2015

Homily for Second Sunday of Easter

April 12, 2015

Real Resurrection


            A few months ago, I was popping into the fifth grade religious education class at St. Benedict’s, and we started talking about holidays and what their religious meaning is. The kids were able to tell me what Christmas was all about – the birth of Jesus – but most of them were stumped about Easter. So I re-told the story of the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, telling the kids about how Easter is the celebration of Jesus rising from the dead.

            One kid looked incredulous and said, “Wait. You mean to tell me that Jesus actually rose from the dead?”

            I said, “Uh, yeah, He did.”

            He looked bewildered and said, “Really? I thought that was just one of those myths that our religion teacher made up!” Meanwhile his religion teacher was mortified and looked like he wanted to melt into the floor!

            Yes, Jesus really did rise from the dead. We know this must be true for several reasons.

            First of all, the tomb is empty. If the tomb wasn’t empty, then early first-century Jews or Romans who wanted to stop this rumor about a Risen Jesus could simply point to the tomb and say, “Look! He’s still dead!” But the fact that they couldn’t find His body lends credence to the reality of the Resurrection – the enemies of Christianity couldn’t find it, archeologists couldn’t find it, no one could. The body of the most famous Man in history doesn’t just disappear – unless He is truly risen!

            But not only does an empty tomb show the Resurrection, but also, consider the large number of people who actually saw Him! It says in Scripture that not only did the Apostles see Him alive, but St. Paul tells us that over 500 people saw the risen Christ. Five hundred people couldn’t all be hallucinating! Besides, did you know that eleven out of the twelve Apostles died as martyrs? Every single one (except John) died a horrific, torturous death – Bartholmew was skinned alive, Peter was crucified upside-down, James was beheaded – all for the crime of proclaiming that Jesus is risen. If this was some sort of hoax or myth, why would they be willing to die for it?

            Consider, too, how many people believe in it today. If the Resurrection were a myth, why would over two billion people believe it? Look at the incredible transformation that happens in peoples’ lives when they believe in the Risen Christ – the first reading talks about how the early Christian community “was of one heart and mind, not possessing anything but holding everything in common, without needy people at all.” Wow! Something obviously has changed these people – even the best religious teacher can’t inspire people to live such a radical life of charity. But an earth-shaking event – like the Resurrection – can change our lives like that.

            In many ways, we are those people that Jesus refers to in the Gospel – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” We have not seen the Resurrection. But we believe precisely because of the testimony of those who have seen it. John writes in His Gospel today that his Gospel “is written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His Name.” We believe in the Resurrection because we believe the people who told us – people like the Gospel writers, who wrote down the biography of Jesus (and the Gospels are accurate historical documents!).  We believe because of people like Thomas, whose disbelief gave us a greater proof of Jesus’ Resurrection, because Jesus invited Thomas to touch Him to prove that He really is risen. We believe because of the Apostles, who went to the ends of the earth to tell others that He is risen, and shed their blood in defense of this fact. And, it is my hope, that we believe because we ourselves have been personally transformed by our faith in Christ, who is alive.