Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 26, 2016

Homily for Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 26, 2016
Leaving All Behind

            St. Francis of Assisi did not start out as a saint. He was born to a wealthy cloth merchant and for the first couple decades of his life, he lived the life of a Medieval playboy – parties, girls, drinking. But when he finally had his conversion and met the Lord, he knew he needed to make some drastic changes in his life. Feeling called to be in solidarity with the poor, Francis waited until his father went away on a business trip before selling all of his father’s expensive cloth and giving the money to the poor.
            Needless to say, his father was not pleased when he returned. He angrily demanded that Francis somehow repay him for the lost revenue. Francis and he began to argue, and they brought their argument in front of the local bishop. Finally, in frustration, Francis took off all of his clothes in the middle of the town square and threw them at his father, declaring that he was no longer the son of such a worldly man. God would be his only Father now. The bishop quickly covered the naked Francis with his cloak and guided Francis on his journey of radical abandonment to God.
            The prophet Elijah invites his young protégé Elisha to follow in his footsteps of radical service to the Lord. In order to do that, Elisha needs to forsake his past, his comfort zone, and even his family in order to do that. He slaughters his oxen and burns their plowing equipment as a symbol of leaving everything behind – there’s no turning back now, since he destroyed the source of his livelihood. He’s finding the freedom to follow God with radical abandon.
            Two men approach Jesus in the Gospel promising to follow Him, but they qualify their offer: “I will follow You, Lord, but…” But let me bury my father. Let me say goodbye to my family. They are not free to follow the Lord because they’re hedging their bets, they’re thinking to themselves, “If this doesn’t work out, I want to be able to return to my old life. I’ll only give the Lord so much…but not all of me.” Although the Lord is patient with them, He invites them to give more, to love more, to follow more than just their half-hearted attempts.
            To follow Jesus Christ requires freedom – freedom from anything that will lead us into sin! St. Paul reminds us that it is for freedom that Christ set us free – but what kind of freedom? Does freedom mean doing anything you want to do? Having no limits? The world offers false freedom – St. Paul says that some people use their freedom for the flesh and not the spirit – in other words, they think their freedom is all about doing whatever they want, when they want, with anyone they want. But is this true freedom?  No, not at all. Freedom is having the ability to become the best version of yourself (which is Matthew Kelly’s definition of a saint!).
            Let’s use an example. Let’s say two men sit down at a piano. One man is a concert pianist who has practiced three hours per day, every day of his life. The other man stopped taking lessons in third grade and never practiced. Which one has the freedom to easily play Mozart or Beethoven? Obviously, the concert pianist. But it certainly didn’t look like freedom to be practicing daily. He had to give up a lot of liberty in order to become good. But now that he has become an expert, it’s easy to make beautiful music. He has the freedom to play anything, unlike the other man who never developed his talent and is limited by his lack of discipline.
            This is similar to our spiritual life. If we want true freedom, we have to give up the false freedom of doing whatever we want. People who want to have the freedom to follow Christ must be willing to give up those things that prevent us from following Him. Perhaps we have someone in our life who always leads us into sin – we need to cut that relationship out of our life. Perhaps we have something in our life that causes us to waste time when we could be using it to become a saint – we need to get rid of it (video games and iPhones come to mind…). Perhaps we have a bad habit – like drinking too much or judging others or just being a sourpuss – and we need to get rid of that habit. Perhaps we just have too many material goods which take up our time and our worries. Like Elisha the prophet or St. Francis of Assisi, we have to give up those things that prevent us from following Christ freely.

            So, I ask two questions for reflection – first, do you truly want to follow Christ whole-heartedly, or do you like Jesus but are happy living a worldly, self-centered life? And if you DO have the desire to follow Christ, what is preventing you from following Him freely?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time - June 19, 2016

Ordinary Time 12

June 19, 2016

Eye on the Prize


New York Times journalist Tim Sanders spends an inordinate amount of time in airports. Many of his assignments have him flying across the country two or three times each week. With so many hours logged on planes, Tim began to notice that many of his fellow passengers were terrified of air travel. So, Tim began an experiment.

            Whenever he would be sitting next to someone who looked nervous or uncomfortable on a flight, he would immediately strike up a conversation and ask them about their destination. Where were they going? Who were they going to see? What were they going to do? He found that when passengers were focused, not on the flight, but on the destination, their demeanor calmed down, they stopped scowling and started smiling, and they began to enjoy the flight.

            When we focus on our destination, it makes the traveling much more pleasant. That’s true when we have a long drive to make, and it’s true on the pilgrimage of life. When we remember what our destination is – eternal life with God – then the drudgery of this world becomes bearable, even sweet!

            Jesus tells us to take up our Cross and follow Him. But why do we do this? Because of the goal – union with Him in Heaven. The crosses of life – whether it’s an illness or caring for a loved one, financial trouble or family trouble, or just the everyday bumps and bruises of life – they have a way of purifying us, burning away the sin and selfishness so that we can become truly holy. Wisdom and holiness is never found in someone who has not been tried in the crucible of suffering.

            Of course, most of us fear suffering. A couple months ago, I was speaking with a much older priest who was preparing for retirement, and he said to me, “At this point in my life, I just want everything to be easy!” I think that’s a common sentiment – why can’t life be convenient, easy, always sweet and delightful?

            Because if life were perfect, we would never trust in God. If life were perfect, we would never grow in virtue. If life were perfect, we would never learn wisdom. If life were perfect, we would never have the opportunity to practice heroic, sacrificial love.

            But when we are suffering, it helps to remember the goal. Jesus’ desire is for us to experience abundant life – to know His love, to be transformed by grace, to live as new men and women. “He who loses his life for the Lord’s sake will find it” – Christ wants us to experience abundant life. But a truly abundant life is not one where everything’s easy, but one in which we have learned and grown through suffering, by taking up our crosses in humility and trust in God.

            The saints certainly knew this truth. I think of the example of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who was born to a wealthy, noble family in Italy in the 1500s. He had every pleasure in life – rich food, servants, the finest clothes. He lived in castles and had everything money could buy. But he knew there had to be something deeper out there, so as a teen, he began to slowly give it up – he started wearing the simple clothes of the peasants, refusing to eat the rich foods at his table, and even sleeping on the floor as a sign of penance! He decided to become a priest and take a vow of poverty, much to his father’s dismay, who wanted him to continue living the nobleman lifestyle. After much persuasion, his father gave Aloysius permission at age 17 to become a Jesuit priest. He died at the young age of 24 after nursing plague victims during an outbreak. He gave up his whole life – and in doing so, became truly alive. He embraced the Cross, and found joy.

            All because he kept his eye on the prize: union with Christ and the eternal prize of Heaven.

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 12, 2016

Ordinary Time 11

June 12, 2016

Sin Is Lame


            While browsing the Internet recently, I came across a website selling tee-shirts on which was written the phrase, “Porn Is Lame”. That kinda sums it up, doesn’t it? All sin is lame – it makes us miserable and unhappy. Then why do we do it?

            One word: concupiscence. You may have never heard that word before, but we’ve all experienced its effects. Take, for example, going to an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you’re like me, I would go to such a buffet and have a feast – going back six, seven times to the buffet to stuff myself silly. Then, I look up, and I notice that I haven’t visited the pie table. Now, I am faced with a choice. I know that if I get a slice of pie, I will have a stomachache later on – it will hurt, and at this point, I’m so stuffed that I might physically explode if I eat another mouthful. But at the same time, I really want it! I know it’s harmful, but I desire it anyway. That’s concupiscence – desiring things we know are harmful to us.

            And that happens all the time. We know it would hurt our friend to gossip about them, but we do it anyway because we can’t resist sharing a juicy piece of information. We know pornography makes us feel guilty and dirty, but we struggle to resist the temptation. We know we should really be more generous with our money, but there is that latest iPhone that we just have to own! St. Paul writes about his experience of concupiscence in Romans 7: “I do not understand myself! I do not do the things I want to do, and I do the things I hate!”

            So how do we get out of this cycle of sin? We can’t do it on our own. And that is why the sinful woman in today’s Gospel knew that she needed a Savior, just like each of us needs a Savior. She came to Christ, begging to be free, free from her unruly passions and sinful desires, from her addictions and chains. And Jesus saw her repentant heart, and bestowed His mercy upon her, setting her free from the guilt and the sin.

            The first thing we need to do, then, is to recognize our need for Christ and turn to Him for mercy. That involves confessing our sins sacramentally in the Sacrament of Confession, and receiving the Absolution (the prayer of forgiveness from the priest, who acts in the Person of Christ). How wonderful it is to hear those words, “I absolve you of your sins!” in the Sacrament of Confession! It is like hearing those words in today’s Gospel from the mouth of Christ Himself – “Your sins are forgiven, go in peace.”

            But then, once our sins are forgiven, how do we avoid them again in the future? The only thing stronger than sin is love. When we love God more than we love our sin, we will be free.

            Back in the 1850s a young Irish man named Matt Talbot was struggling mightily with an addiction to alcohol. He had started drinking when he was only twelve years old – at the age of 13 he was hopelessly addicted (it didn’t help that he worked in a wine merchant’s shop!). He would often steal to have enough money for drink, or sell his own clothing simply so he could tip back the bottle. For over twenty-five years his entire life revolved around booze.

            One day he had no money so he hung out outside of a bar, hoping his friends would loan him some cash for a drink. But after all of his friends passed him by and refused to give him anything, he furiously stomped off and began to take a look at his life. He swore off alcohol for good – but it wasn’t that easy! At times he had to take a different route as he walked to church, simply so that he would not pass in front of a bar. He began to attend Mass daily, and spend time in prayer. He soon grew to love God more than his sin, and was able, by God’s grace, to conquer his addiction! He’s now being considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church. His love for God enabled him to overcome his sin.

            We see this in the Gospel as well. Jesus testifies that her sins were forgiven because “she showed great love.” If we want to break free from sin, we should strive to grow in love with God – through daily prayer, spiritual reading, and frequent reception of the Sacraments.

            To sum up, in order to be free from sin, we need to recognize our sinfulness and turn to Christ for mercy in Confession; and then, to avoid sin in the future, we strive to grow in our love for God. All of us are that sinful woman in the Gospels – all of us need His mercy.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 5, 2016

Homily for Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 5, 2016

Grace: The Life of the Soul


            I really don’t get the fascination with zombies these days. From the TV show “The Walking Dead” to “World War Z” to “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, our culture has a lot of movies, books, and TV shows dedicated to the undead. Even the federal government’s Center for Disease Control got in on the action – they published a booklet back in 2011 called “Preparedness 101: How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse”. What is this fascination with these zombies?

            It think perhaps zombies are a fascination for us because it’s how a lot of people live their lives – walking around, going to work, eating dinner, typing on their iPhones…and not really alive at all. They’re just walking zombies – no meaning, no purpose, no point to it all – just going through the motions. Their hearts are beating and they’re breathing, but they’re not truly alive.

            What does it mean to be truly alive? St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive”. FULLY alive – more than just breathing and eating. Fully alive means being alive mentally (learning and growing in our knowledge), physically (living a healthy lifestyle), relationally (having friends and family who love us), AND spiritually (living a life in relationship with Christ). This is how we become fully alive – and God delights in His sons and daughters being fully alive!

            So let’s focus on being fully alive spiritually. Our Church teaches so beautifully that our souls become alive through sanctifying grace – in other words, when God literally dwells within our souls. His life becomes the life of our soul! We receive sanctifying grace at baptism, and we grow in it through the Sacraments and prayer. We can only lose sanctifying grace through mortal sin – but we are restored to sanctifying grace through Confession.

In Christ’s miracle today, He raises a dead man to life, but more importantly He raises the crowd to spiritual life through faith. He wanted to show the crowd that He has the ultimate power over life and death – that He is truly God, the Savior of the World. The people, then, were so amazed that they immediately believed in Him – He was more than just a great man and a prophet – He is the Lord!

This faith, then, causes us to follow Jesus Christ as His disciple, to seek union with Him through baptism and the Sacraments, and to live a life of holiness. Faith opens us up to the life-giving power of sanctifying grace.

            You see, having a heartbeat does not mean that you are truly alive. There are plenty of people who are breathing and walking around on this planet who are really dead inside, whose souls are in the darkness of mortal sin, who do not have a living faith in Jesus Christ, who think that they are unloved and that their life is meaningless. These people are truly the “walking dead” – they’re like zombies, walking around on the earth without knowing why or having any purpose greater than “just getting through the day”. It is THIS kind of living-death that Christ came to raise us from, not just physical death!

So how does this apply to you and I? Well, do you have faith? Faith is not just a “yes, I believe that God exists.” Faith means, “My life and everything in it belongs to Him.” Faith means, “Even in tough times, I believe that He is still God, that He still loves me, and that He will make all things work for good.” Faith means, “I turn from my sin to follow Him.” Do you believe in Him that much? If we have faith, we recognize that sanctifying grace, the life of the soul, is far more important than even physical life, and we will never want to lose sanctifying grace through mortal sin. As St. Paul said, “For me, life is Christ and death is gain!”

 Don’t be a zombie. Get to confession, draw grace from the Sacraments, believe in God more, love more – and come alive.