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.