Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 17, 2016

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 17, 2016

How to Make Jesus the One Thing Necessary


            There’s a wonderful story from the life of St. Francis Xavier, who was a close friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit religious order. Francis was one of the first Jesuits, and he was sent to be a missionary in the Far East: India, Philippines, and Japan. In most towns, he would successfully convert the local tribal chief, which would cause everyone else to seek baptism as well. He said that after he would baptize the people, for days after that they wouldn’t leave him alone because they would continually pester the missionary to teach them prayers! He would teach them the creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary and Glory Be, and they would still not be satisfied!

            Even Jesus’ disciples asked our Lord the same question: “Lord, teach us to pray.” It’s a natural desire to want to learn how to pray. So let’s talk about some ways to pray! But first, let’s debunk two popular myths about prayer.

            MYTH 1: Prayer is all about getting things from God. Religious education teachers and parents are particularly bad at perpetuating these myths. They say things to kids like, “Oh, you’re having trouble in school? Just pray and God will help you.” or “Aunt Millie is sick, let’s pray for her.” I cringe when I hear statements like this! Of course, it’s perfectly fine to pray when you need something. But asking for things is not the entire point of prayer. God is not a divine vending machine where we go up to Him, put in our three Our Fathers and pick out what we need (healing, forgiveness, help on a test, more money, a better marriage). That is NOT prayer. Prayer is a relationship – and what kind of relationship would you have with anybody if you only asked them to give you things? Not a very good relationship, I’d say.

Prayer, then, is sharing your life with the Lord. The goal of prayer is union with God. We pray so that we can grow closer to Him, so we begin to think like Him, so we can offer Him our love and experience His own love in our souls. Look at the example of Mary in today’s Gospel – she is adoring Our Lord, soaking in His Words…and not asking Him for anything!

MYTH 2: Prayer is always boring. If prayer is always boring, you’re doing it wrong! A lot of people think the only way to pray is to “recite your prayers”. And yes, that can be boring. But there are better ways to pray where we can actually develop a living relationship with the Lord! Again, look at Mary in the Gospel – she is riveted, with rapt attention totally focused on Jesus – not bored or distracted like her sister Martha!

So, then, how do we pray? There are many ways, and as an old, wise priest once told me, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t!” Let’s talk about some ways to pray to develop a living relationship with God.

First, The Mass is the highest form of prayer. As St. John Vianney said, “The Mass is greater than all other good works and prayers, because all of our good works and prayers are the actions of men, while the Mass is an act of God.” At Mass, Christ is present in His Word and in the Eucharist – we have a real encounter with Him. He makes present on the altar His one sacrifice for sins. Really, at Mass, it is Christ Who prays for us – we simply unite our prayers to Him. All things being equal, the Mass is the best way to pray!

After the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration continues the Eucharistic worship that was begun at Mass. I can testify that Adoration changed my life. My home church started Perpetual Adoration (Eucharistic Adoration 24/7) when I was in high school. My family started to go for an hour each week. Through spending an hour in silent Adoration of Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, something began to slowly seep into my soul. I started to change – I realized how much the Lord loved me, and how much I longed to be with Him, both now and in eternity. God speaks loudly in the silence of Adoration. We are blessed to have Adoration frequently in Stamford – every Sunday from 3-7pm we have Our Lord exposed in the monstrance at St. Mary’s Church, and there is also an Adoration chapel at St. John Fisher Seminary on Newfield Avenue which is open every day from 6am-11pm. In Adoration, we get to be like Mary, sitting silently at the feet of the Master!

But can we develop a real life of prayer at home? Of course. One great way is through reading Scripture. The Word of God is living and effective. But don’t read it like a novel – reading Scripture is different. Start with the Gospels, read a short passage, and then reflect on it – how is Jesus speaking to you? What does He look like, sound like? What character would you be in the story? For example, as we read today’s Gospel, would you be more like Martha – worried, anxious, busy – or more like Mary, reflective, centered, prayerful? Are the Lord’s words things that you need to hear?

In addition to reading Scripture, other spiritual reading is an indispensable for growth in the spiritual life. There are lots of wonderful books out there – right now I’m reading one called “This Tremendous Lover” about God’s pursuit of our souls…I highly recommend it!

Finally, the Rosary is a great way to pray, because the Rosary is looking at the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary. When we pray the Rosary, our lips recite the Hail Mary’s but our minds ponder the mysteries. Reciting the Hail Mary’s help to calm our minds while God speaks to us through the mysteries of Christ’s life – we remember His birth through the five Joyful mysteries, His ministry in the five Luminous mysteries, His suffering and death during the five Sorrowful mysteries, and His resurrection and Kingship in the five Glorious mysteries.

My friends, we all want a relationship with God. Prayer is the way to grow in it. More than just words, prayer is really communicating with the Lord, both speaking and listening. There are many ways to pray – find one that works for you and discover the “one thing” necessary that Christ speaks of in the Gospel – that “one thing” is union with God!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 10, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 10, 2016

We Love Because He First Loved Us


            There’s an old maxim that still rings true: “You can’t give what you don’t have.” I used to have a philosophy professor who would declare, “You can’t get blood from a turnip!” For someone to give you a diamond, they must first own the diamond. It’s not enough to just wish to give you a diamond – wishes are cheap, while diamonds are expensive. So you have to own a diamond if you want to give someone a diamond.

            It’s the same way with love. If you are to love your neighbor, as Jesus tells us to do, we must first allow ourselves to be loved by God.

            I want to read this parable in a different way. On face value, it’s a parable about how we ought to treat one another with love and mercy. But on a much deeper level, it’s also a story of how God treats us with His love and mercy.

            You see, we are that man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. What a huge significance, these two cities – Jerusalem was the home of the Temple, the dwelling place of God. It was in Jerusalem that people came to worship the living God. In contrast, Jericho was one of the oldest cities in the world – a city that was essentially pagan. This man who travels from Jerusalem to Jericho is a symbol of humanity – we were created for intimacy with God in Jerusalem, and yet so often we have turned our back on God and on our citizenship of Heaven, and instead we’ve chosen to pursue the worldly, pagan things of this earth.

            So humanity, having left the safety of our friendship with God, got accosted and beat up. That’s a symbol of what our sins do to us – they make us miserable, beaten, addicted, unhappy. When little kids come to confession to me and confess that they have lied, I always ask, “Don’t you find that you got in more trouble with your lie than you would have if you just told the truth?” And the same goes for all of our sin – it always promises pleasure, but leaves us unhappy.

            Then come the priest and the Levite. These two men were a symbol of our guilt, because this beaten man looks at them and realizes how far he has fallen. He is no longer pure like the priest or faithful like the Levite (the Levites were the priestly class of Israel). God gave the Israelites their laws to help them realize how holy they need to be; but it also made them – and us – realize how unworthy we are!

            But then came the Samaritan. The Samaritan was a foreigner, much like when God Himself became a man and made Himself a foreigner in our world. God sees our misery and is moved with compassion. He pours oil and wine on our wounds – a symbol of the Anointing of the Sick and the Eucharist. He lifted the dying man up (much like Christ took our sins upon His back on the Cross), brought the man to safety in the inn (as we are brought to safety within His Church), and paid for the man’s healing. The price that Christ paid for our healing was His own Blood, a price more costly than anything in the universe!

            My friends, we can only love our neighbor well if we are convinced of the Lord’s love for us. We love because He first loved us, says St. John in his letter. I think some of us have a hard time accepting that God loves us. We think we have to earn it, that if we try harder and clean up our act, then God will be pleased with us. My friends, nothing could be further from the truth! The Samaritan didn’t say to the man, “I’ll help you, but first you have to stand up on your own two feet, and you have to climb on my animal yourself.” No! The Samaritan bent down into the misery of the man, and healed him. God is not afraid of your misery!

            So many of us say to ourselves, “God can’t love me because…” God can’t love me because I sin too much. Because I’m afraid of the future. Because my parents always told me I was no good. Because I’m not successful or wealthy or good-looking or talented. Because I’m lonely. Because I’ve done things in my past that I’m ashamed of, because I’m carrying burdens.

            My friends, God’s love for you is not dependent upon what you’ve done, what you’ve endured, what people have said about you. It is a free gift, totally free. He looks at you and sees a treasure worth more than the entire universe. He looks at you and sees someone worth dying for.

            And once we have really taken this to heart, then – and only then – can we love one another.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 3, 2016

Homily for Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 3, 2016

Kingdom of God


            So what is this “Kingdom of God” that all of these people are preaching? We hear that phrase so often but it’s rarely defined. So here is what it means: the Kingdom of God means that God is King over our entire lives – thoughts, words, actions, feelings, choices. We have given Him full reign over every aspect of our life. That is the Kingdom of God. Now, let’s break that open.

            First, the Kingdom of God comes through faith. And faith means more than just, “Yes, I know God exists.” Faith is saying, “Yes, I know God exists and I entrust my entire life to Him.” In the Letter of St. James in the Bible, St. James points out that merely believing in God isn’t enough – he says that “even the demons believe – and tremble!” So faith in its fullest sense involves entrustment of our entire life to God.

            This has daily practical effects. You have money in your bank account – have you asked God how HE would want you to spend it? You have free time – have you considered how God would want you to use it? You who are married – have you sought God’s guidance for your marriage? You young people who are making decisions about college or career – have you asked God what His path for you entails?

            There’s a great story in the Bible (1 Kings) about that. King David, who is called “a man after God’s own heart” (now there’s a compliment we should all strive to become worthy of!), asks God, “Lord, should I travel today?” And God responds! The Lord tells David exactly what he ought to do – go to a certain city, and meet with certain people there. For King David, the Lord was King of his life.

            Now, I’m not saying we need to ask God whether to have chicken or pork for dinner – that’s not what I mean. But if we want the Kingdom of God to reign in our life, it means that we want to please Him with every thought, word, and deed.

            But how do we know what pleases Him? We know through the Scriptures and through the teachings of the Church. For example, if you want to know what God thinks about money, there are plenty of places in the Gospels where Jesus speaks about it! He warns of the dangers of money, requires generosity of His disciples, and makes it clear that we are only stewards of His gifts. Through the Church’s teachings and the guidance of the Scriptures, God has revealed to us what pleases Him.

            The truth is, God is already King of the entire universe. He already owns your heart, your thoughts, your life by virtue of the fact that He is the Creator and you are His creature. Praying, “Your Kingdom Come” (as we do in the Our Father) is our way of recognizing God’s sovereignty and submitting to His loving rule.

            A priest who I know was once in Rome and, since he speaks Italian fluently, struck up a conversation with a local Italian man. They started talking about religion, and in the course of conversation, the priest asked the man, “Are you Catholic?” and the man immediately responded, “Si! Si! Certo!” (Yes, yes, of course!). The priest then asked him, “Do you attend Mass regularly?” To which the man replied, “Padre, sono Catolico…non sono fanatic.” (Father, I’m a Catholic, not a fanatic!). Some people think it’s odd or fanatical to let your entire life by ruled by Jesus Christ! But otherwise, who is in charge of your life? You? Your sin? The influence of the culture? We have to serve someone – serve Jesus Christ!

            It’s kind of like this example. Imagine that there was a kingdom being ruled by a kind, generous, fatherly King. He is a good man, always looking out for his subjects. Some of the people love him, follow his commands (which are for their own benefit anyway), and seek to please him. Others, however, try to rebel against the King – they make their own laws (which are always destructive), they try to overthrow the King, they angrily demand that THEIR will be done. Which of the two groups will live in peace and joy? Which of the two groups will experience the King’s favor? Of course, it is the citizens who submitted to the King in obedience and love. The other group will only experience misery and the King’s wrath.

            God is already King over the entire universe, which He rules by His love and mercy. We have the choice, then, to submit to His loving rule and commit our thoughts, words, deeds, and entire life to Him…or we could rebel like spoiled children, wanting our own way, finding only misery and wrath. The truth is, though, that if we are not willing participants in the Kingdom of God, then we are slaves of the Kingdom of Satan, of sin and lies!

            I think St. Paul sums it up best when he says, “For to me, life is Christ.” THAT is the Kingdom of God – allowing God to reign over our entire lives. Has the Kingdom of God come in your life?


            Here is the challenge I want to offer this week to become a better citizen of the Kingdom of God. The next time you have a choice to make – big or small – ask God what He would want you to choose. In this way we recognize His authority in our life, and we will seek to please Him.