Saturday, May 30, 2015

Homily for Trinity Sunday - May 31, 2015

Homily for Trinity Sunday

May 31, 2015

The Trinity and the Family


            One day St. Augustine, the brilliant theologian and Church Father, was trying to figure out the Trinity. He was deep in thought, walking along the beaches along the Mediterranean Sea, when all of a sudden he came upon a boy who was taking a bucket of water, and dumping it into a hole he had dug in the sand. He then went back to the ocean, got another bucketful of water, and dumped it again into the hole. He kept doing this – filling the bucket from the sea, then emptying it into the hole. After some time, St. Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?”

            The boy answered, “I’m going to fit the ocean into this hole.”

            Augustine laughed and said, “That’s impossible! The ocean will never fit into your little hole.”

            The boy looked at him most seriously and said, “It will be easier for me to fit the ocean into this hole than for you to figure out the mystery of the Trinity.” Augustine realized that the boy was actually a vision of an angel.

            A mystery of our faith, however, doesn’t mean that we can’t say anything about it. Mystery simply means that we can never say everything about it. It’s like the boy and the ocean – he could always go back and take more water from the ocean; he’ll never finish emptying it out. Likewise, every time we think about a mystery of our faith – like the depths of God’s love, the redemption of the Cross, the joys of Heaven, or the Trinity – we will always be able to discover new and deeper aspects of these truths that we believe.

            In a nutshell, the mystery of the Trinity means that we believe in one God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not three gods, but it’s three Persons in one God. It’s kind of like water – we have liquid water, steam, and ice. All three are water, but they are water acting in different ways. Likewise, the Father, Son, and Spirit are all God – but they have distinct characteristics and they act in different ways. The Father is the Creator, the Son redeemed us on the Cross, and the Spirit dwells within our souls to make us holy.

But the Trinity isn’t just some out-there, abstract thought. It has very practical consequences, because there is something on earth that resembles the Trinity very closely: the human family.

You see, the Trinity shows us that God is not some isolated, anti-social individual sitting in a distant heaven somewhere. The fact that God is Father, Son, and Spirit means that He is a community of love. The Father loves the Son perfectly and gives all things to Him, and the Son loves the Father perfectly and gives His very life back to the Father as a gift. This love is so intense that the Holy Spirit proceeds from their love.

That is the same way a family is supposed to operate. A family is supposed to be a community of self-giving love. The husband must love his wife, pouring out his life in service and sacrifice for her. The wife, in turn, opens herself to her husband in vulnerable trust and love, giving her life to him as well. This love is so intense that it can create a third person – a child, the result of loving self-gift.

The Trinity’s love for each other naturally spilled over, so They created the world on which to lavish their love. Likewise, a human family is supposed to be a place where God’s love is channeled into the world.

A lot of modern mainstream media want to redefine the human family in all sorts of bizarre ways, and they often reject Catholic teaching about family life, human sexuality, and love itself. But when we see the human family as a reflection of the Trinity – the great dignity of the family – then we can begin to see that Church teaching makes sense. Married love must be free, faithful, total, and fruitful, mirroring the Trinity’s free, total, faithful, and fruitful love for each other. Human sexuality must be open to life, since life and love are inseparable. Marriage must be permanent, because a community of love should not be destroyed. Children and parents must be willing to give of themselves in sacrifice to each other, just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are constantly pouring Themselves out for the Others. In a word, a faithful Catholic family is supposed to be a witness to the world of the love of God!

My friends, allow God’s grace to transform your family, that you may mirror the Trinity!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pentecost Sunday - May 24, 2015

Homily for Pentecost

May 24, 2015

The Spirit, Like Water


            Deacon Mike Oles had been working at the local homeless shelter for some time. After years of seeing the same faces show up at the shelter, he began to grow frustrated at the whole problem of chronic homelessness…if only there was a way to get the homeless off the streets and into a house of their own! But he had no idea how that would work.

            One day, he was invited by a local Catholic church to talk to their confirmation students about his work with the homeless. He gave an inspiring talk about how to serve the poor, and he even invited a currently homeless man to tell the students his life story, and how he became homeless. The talk was a great success – the kids really seemed interested in his work with the homeless – but in the months that followed, he returned to his regular life and forgot about the talk…until he received in the mail a thank-you note, with a seven-hundred-fifty-dollar check. The kids had been so moved by meeting the homeless man that they took up a collection of their own money, and sent it to Deacon Oles, asking him to get that homeless man off the streets.

            But Deacon Oles had no idea how to go about doing this! The money sat on his desk for months, until finally someone from the church contacted him again, asking if he had gotten the homeless man off the streets yet. Finally, in desperation, Deacon Oles used the money to pay the security deposit on an apartment for that homeless man – and still to this day the homeless man lives in that apartment!

            But it didn’t stop there. People heard about how Deacon Oles was able to get him into the apartment, so they began to send him more and more money to get homeless people off the streets. Finally, after getting twelve people off the streets and into homes of their own, Deacon Oles decided to start a charity – called “Off the Streets” - that is now in four cities across the United States. Since its founding in 2010, over 200 people have gotten off the streets, and over 80% of them have been able to stay that way. A pretty good success rate!

            I met Deacon Oles when he and I were assigned together at my last parish in Bethel. He started Off the Streets in Danbury, Connecticut. I was always amazed at what he accomplished – or rather, what the Holy Spirit accomplished in and through him.

            It was the Holy Spirit that inspired those kids to send him the money, and it was the Holy Spirit that prompted Deacon Oles to start this organization which has impacted hundreds of lives. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the one who prompts us to do anything good. If we have an inspiration to pray, that is from the Spirit. If we have a desire to make a sacrifice for others, that comes from the Holy Spirit. If we are moved to serve another person, we can trust that the Holy Spirit is behind that! The Holy Spirit is how God lives in and through us!

            St. Paul teaches us that the Spirit causes different good works in everyone. A good analogy is like that of rainwater. When it rains on a garden, the rain causes different plants to grow and bear fruit – from apple trees to eggplant to blueberries. It’s the same rain, but it makes everything grow in a different way.

            We look around at the world and we can notice that there are so many needs that one person couldn’t possibly satisfy all the needs – there is poverty, lack of education, illegal immigration, people who struggle with addiction, children who need a loving home, the problem of abortion, the need to bring Christ into politics or business or law, the need to spread the Gospel…there is no way that one single person can work to fill all these needs. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit gives each of us different promptings and different passions. These are often called charisms. For example, Deacon Oles has a charism – a gift from the Holy Spirit - for working with the homeless.

            What is your charism? In other words, in what way are you passionate about improving the world with the aid of the Spirit? How can you put your gifts at the service of the world? Every Christian who has the Holy Spirit dwelling within them has charisms!

            Perhaps you are elderly and have a lot of time on your hands. If that’s the case, you might have the charism of praying for the world, or perhaps you are called by the Holy Spirit to volunteer somewhere. If you work in the world, perhaps you have the charism of bringing Christ to the world through your job – your workplace is your mission field. Maybe you’re still in school – then your charism can be to be a good example to your peers, or maybe to get involved in the pro-life cause or serving the poor. Everyone has a charism, a gift and passion from the Holy Spirit – what’s yours? There’s an easy way to find out what your charism is: look for where your passions and your gifts intersect. So if you’re passionate about some good cause (like ending hunger or spreading the Gospel), and you have the gifts and talents necessary to make a difference in that area, then the Holy Spirit has given you a charism – and we must use it!

            We must always remember that it’s only in and through the Holy Spirit that we can do any good – we can’t do good in this world on our own! So we invite the Holy Spirit to live in and through us. One great way is through the old traditional prayer to the Holy Spirit – so, please repeat after me:

            Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created, and You will renew the face of the earth.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 17, 2015

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 17, 2015

The True Church


            The author of the “Lord of the Rings” series, JRR Tolkien, converted to Catholicism through an interesting route. He was born with virtually no faith at all, but his father died when he was quite young – age 4. His mother Mabel, torn with grief, sought a way to deal with her sadness – so she turned to faith, but her nominal Protestant background provided little consolation. So Tolkien’s mother started to search for another faith, one that was more substantial and offered greater truth. When JRR was eight, his mother converted to Catholicism – and brought her two young sons with her!

            But the story doesn’t end there. Sadly, the family was immediately rejected because of this conversion – they thought Mabel and the boys had gone off the deep end! Within a year, the stress of having their entire family turn their backs on them proved too much, and Tolkien’s mother died tragically, leaving her two boys in the care of an old aunt who paid them no attention. Left to themselves, the Tolkien boys found themselves spending more and more time at their local Catholic church – they would serve Mass for the priest, clean up around the church, and even eat breakfast with the priests before heading off to school. Later on in life, Tolkien said that he first learned charity and forgiveness from the pastor of that Catholic Church. He remained convicted of the truth of the Catholic faith and was willing to hold to it, despite personal cost.

            Truth is something worth seeking. It’s something worth fighting for, even worth dying for. But our world is one that is full of opinions – just look at the vast number of blogs and comment boxes on websites, all full of opinions…and very little truth. Is it possible to find truth in the modern world? In particular, is it possible to find truth about God, about humanity, about our eternal destiny?

            Yes, it is. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that He is the Truth – He’s not an opinion, not one man among many, but THE Truth. He proved that His words are truth when He rose from the dead. So if Jesus is the Truth – if He reveals the Truth about God, about who we are as His beloved sons and daughters – then we must follow Him.

            And if Jesus, Truth Himself, starts a religion, we can be assured that it is the true one. Jesus set up the Catholic religion upon the faith of Simon Peter, the first Pope, and He promised His Apostles that “the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church” – in other words, that His Church would never stray from teaching the truth about God and our relationship to Him.

            I am Catholic because I believe that the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ. But I almost wandered away in my teen years. Growing up, I went to a Catholic church that was pretty cold and unfriendly. The people were grumpy, the priests were boring, the music was lame…so when I reached my late teens, I started to go to a Methodist church a few times, and I went with my friend to his Lutheran church. I was amazed at how warm and welcoming these other churches were! I immediately felt at home there…except, they didn’t have the Eucharist, and they didn’t have the fullness of truth. So, I returned to the Catholic Church, knowing that truth is more important that warm feelings or good preaching.

            You see, we believe, as Catholics, that the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth. Other faiths have partial truth – for example, our Protestant brothers and sisters share with us truths such as baptism and a love for the Scriptures. Even other non-Christian religions like Muslims and Hindus have part of the truth – they all encourage people to be kind and compassionate, for example. But the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth – everything that we need to know about God and how to best love Him, we can find in the Catholic Church. It’s a bold claim, I know…but who would want to belong to a religion that didn’t claim to be the true religion?

            It’s kind of like this: you could probably build a house with just a hammer, a saw, and a few nails, right? It may not look pretty, but you could do it if you had to. But it would be a lot easier if you also had a tape measure, and a level, and a screwdriver, right? Of course! We would want every tool we need to build the best house possible.

            In the same way, can those of other faiths get to Heaven with the partial truth in their religion? Yes, but it is harder. As Catholics, we have so many tools for holiness: the Rosary, devotions, Eucharistic Adoration, the teachings of the Holy Father, the examples of the Saints, the two-thousand-year-old Tradition, and so much more. Why settle for less when we can have every tool in the toolbox?

            Jesus only wants one religion – He says so in today’s Gospel, as He prays “that all may be one.” There are currently over 33,000 different branches of Christianity, from Methodists and Episcopalians to Evangelicals and Non-Denominationals. That was clearly not Jesus’ will! He wanted all to be one, united in the one Church He founded – the Catholic Church.

            When we read this weekend’s Gospel (John 17), we are basically eavesdropping in on Jesus’ final prayer before He is crucified. He prays to the Father for us – for the Church – and He prays that we may be consecrated in the truth – in other words, He is consecrating the Apostles to bring His Truth to the world. Our Catholic faith is built upon those Apostles who handed on that Truth down through the centuries. The teachings of the Catholic church are the same, unchanging teachings that were handed on to the Apostles from Jesus.

            So, for this reason, we should be proud to be Catholic. In today’s world where many people believe that there are “many equal paths to God” or that they can be “spiritual but not religious,” we respectfully disagree with those assertions. While we respect the partial truths that are in all other religions, we are confident that we have the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church, the religion that Jesus founded. And this Truth, more than any external reason like good music or a beautiful church building, is why we are Catholic!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Homily for Ascension Thursday - May 14, 2015

Homily for Ascension Thursday

May 14, 2015



            There’s an intriguing scene in John’s Gospel right after the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene is at the empty tomb, overcome with grief, when Jesus visits her, disguised as the gardener. When she finally recognizes Him as Jesus, the Lord says something mysterious – “Don’t cling to Me.”

            My goodness, I would think we should want to cling to Jesus, right? Why would Jesus discourage her from holding on to Him? The reason is because He didn’t want her to rely upon physically seeing Jesus – she had to move from physically seeing Him to faith.

            There’s a virtue in the spiritual life called “detachment” which means enjoying the blessings of God, but not clinging to them. Today’s feast of the Ascension calls to mind detachment. The Apostles were very used to having Jesus with them – they had been with Him for three years, and now were delighted to see Him risen from the dead. But His physical presence was about to end. So they were left now only with faith – the only thing we can ever get attached to.

            And the same goes for us. God gives us many blessings in this life – family, friends, good food, a good reputation, wealth, physical health. We are meant to enjoy these blessings! But at a moment’s notice, it can all be taken away. We can get sick, our friends can move to another town, we could be falsely accused of something, we could have a misfortune and lose all of our money. What is the only thing that can never be taken away? Our faith in Jesus Christ. That alone is immoveable; that alone is our rock. The rest could disappear in a flash – only Jesus remains.

            I had the misfortune of going to four completely different schools by the time I was in eighth grade, and this is now my ninth parish assignment (counting my time as a seminarian, where we had assignments every summer!). And at each place, I would allow myself to get attached to the people, the places, the routines, the perks…only to have it torn away when I had to move again! God has been trying to teach me that the only thing I can really cling to is Him…but I’m a slow learner!

            Have you ever noticed how bees land so gently upon the flowers? They ease their way in, not prying open a closed flower, not trying to take the flower with them. They take the nectar, but then they move on, leaving the flower to continue to grow. Detachment is much like that – we go through our lives, receiving God’s blessings at every turn, but we don’t force them to stay with us; we can’t cling to them.

            We cling to God alone, to faith alone, because that’s all that we are truly able to possess on our own. It must’ve been bittersweet for the Apostles to be missing the Lord after His Ascension. He’s now no longer with them physically. But the one thing they could cling to is their faith.

            So don’t set your hearts on anything in this world. All passes. We must be detached enough to cling to the only thing that endures – faith, hope, and love.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 10, 2015

Easter 6

May 10, 2015

The Charity of Christ


            I heard that fans of Star Trek tried to translate the Bible into the fictional language of Klingon…but they couldn’t do it, because there was no Klingon word for “love”. And certainly love is in the Bible quite a bit – we hear that word exactly twenty times in today’s readings alone!

            A Christian’s love is different than a worldly person’s love, though, because a Christian’s love reflects God’s love. We can only truly love because He first loved us. We are able to love others because God first loved us. In fact, this supernatural ability to love like God loves is called charity. Charity is one of the “big three” theological virtues, along with faith and hope. In other words, these are virtues that direct us towards God. So let’s take a look at how God’s love is the source of our love.

            First, God’s love is sacrificial. Jesus tells His disciples, “I give you a new commandment – love one another as I have loved you.” When we hear that, we probably think, “Why is that a new commandment?” After all, the Old Testament tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. But Jesus ups the ante – we shouldn’t just love our neighbor as ourselves – we must love them more than ourselves. God loved us so much that He sacrificed His entire life for us! So to love like God loves, we must be willing to sacrifice – and it starts in the little things: holding your tongue instead of saying a harsh word, letting someone merge into traffic in front of you, doing the dishes at home without being asked. These are sacrifices! And this forms charity within us.

            Closely related to sacrifice is the fact that God’s love expects nothing in return. God received no benefit from dying on the Cross – it didn’t increase His glory, because He was already worthy of all praise. He did it for us, without any sort of benefit – and that should be our love as well.

            Recently I met a delightful woman who took care of her severely retarded son for his entire life. She was telling me, “We were so blessed to have him for 26 years.” I thought to myself – “Blessed? Wow! Most people would consider that a burden, since she didn’t receive any of the typical joys of motherhood – she never heard her son speak a sentence, or go to school, or play sports…she never received a mother’s day card…he didn’t really even recognize who she was…but she considered his life a blessing!” That was disinterested, selfless love – love that looked for nothing in return.

            Another aspect of God’s love that we can imitate is that God’s love is universal. God loves every single human being he created. As the old saying goes, God doesn’t make junk! Every one of us, regardless of talents or looks or age, is delighted in by God…His love is for everyone! Likewise, we as Christians must love everyone – regardless of what country they come from or what language they speak. Obviously you don’t have to like everyone, but we must be willing to give everyone the dignity and respect that they are owed because they are a child of the Most High God. Love that “picks and chooses” isn’t real love.

            God’s love is also faithful – it never gives up. That’s hard, isn’t it? But God forgives us one more time…so we must choose to love once again. His love is endless – thus our love must never grow weary, either. When we were all children, our parents didn’t complain about one more diaper that needed changing, or yet another dinner that needed to be cooked…well, perhaps they complained a little…but love is faithful, day in and day out.

            Finally, God’s love accepts us for who we are, but then challenges us to become our best. Notice that after Jesus forgives sins and welcomes sinners, He doesn’t just leave them in their sin – He always tells them, “Go and sin no more”. He is constantly inviting them to repentance. In imitation of that, we must say, “I love you for who you are – and I want you to become all you can be.” Ultimately, that’s what love is – willing the good of the other, wanting the other person to be fulfilled and happy and overflowing with life and blessings. We accept our spouses, our coworkers, our neighbors, our siblings for who they are, with all of their faults and flaws – but then we encourage them to be saints!

            Of course, we can only love others as God loves them if we ourselves have experienced God’s love – not just intellectually, but actually having an experience of it. God delights in you. He rejoices in you. We must reject the view of God as a police-officer God who is only interested in catching you when you mess up. That is not God at all. Why would God create humanity if He were only interested in condemning it? Why would He die on the cross if He didn’t want us to be saved? His love for us is so intense that He hungers, He thirsts for you. God’s greatest desire is for you to spend eternity with Him – He would rather die on a cross than risk spending eternity without you – and He is orchestrating everything in your life: the good, the bad, and the ugly, to help make you a saint. The bad things in life are not signs that God doesn’t love you; rather, they are invitations to trust more deeply in the love of God that we see made real in Jesus.

            So, let us recap. We must strive to cultivate the virtue of charity – that is, loving like God loves. This includes loving in a sacrificial way, with no desire for personal gain. Our love must be for all people and faithful, never giving up on them but accepting others for who they are while calling them to become saints. And we can only do this if we first have the love of Jesus dwelling in our hearts. The world needs God’s love – and with Him in our hearts, let us bring Him to them.