Saturday, January 28, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 29, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 29, 2017

Humility Before God


            A millionaire was hosting a banquet and he invited many of his friends and associates. The dinner conversation turned to religion, and the rich man began to scoff at the value of it. He said, “I have everything I need – if I am ever in need of anything, I have the money to buy it. Why would I need to pray to God? What could God give me that I don’t have?”

            One of the men there, a devout believer, replied, “There is one thing that you might pray for.”

            “What’s that?” asked the rich man.

            He replied, “You might pray for humility.”

            If there was one virtue that God cherishes the most, it is humility. Recognizing our need for and dependence upon Him. Pride makes ourselves into a god – but humility recognizes that there is a God, and I am not Him!

            Recently I was sent a video which was, unfortunately, showed in the Greenwich public schools as part of the 8th grade social studies curriculum. This video was discussing the causes of poverty in the world, and the narrator noted that all of the poorest countries in the world had the highest rate of religion, while the richest countries were the least religious. The video erroneously concluded that for poor countries to get richer, they ought to abandon religion which, as they said, focused only on Heaven and never focused on improving the lives of those on earth.

            Not only is that conclusion wrong, it also misses the real link between religion and wealth. I believe that the poorest countries are religious because they are steeped in humility – they recognize their utter dependence on God, even for their daily bread. By contrast, the richest countries are the least religious because when we grow in wealth and self-sufficiency, it is easy to become prideful and start to think that we are our own saviors, that we are our own gods.

            In some sense, I think this is why God allows us to undergo trials and suffering. When we are in a hospital bed, it’s hard to be prideful. When we are struggling financially, it’s hard to rely upon our own efforts. Trials keep us humble – and humility is pleasing to the Lord!

            Our readings today talk about God’s exclusive preference for the humble. Only if we are poor enough will God give us the riches of His grace; only if we are foolish enough will He fill us with His wisdom. If we are too full of ourselves, we cannot be filled with Him!

            There is a wonderful story of St. Augustine who had to learn humility the hard way. He had been struggling, for some time, to understand the mystery of the Trinity. He just couldn’t fathom how there could be three persons in one God. He spent days and days pondering this mystery. Finally, in frustration that he couldn’t figure it out, he went for a walk along the seashore. While doing so, he saw a young boy trying to pour water into a hole he dug in the sand. Back and forth the boy went – he would fill up his bucket from the ocean, then go back to the hole and dump out the water, before returning to the ocean again.

            After watching for some time, Augustine asked, “What are you doing?”

            The boy replied, “I am trying to empty the ocean into this hole!”

            Augustine laughed and said, “That’s impossible! The ocean is much too large to fit into that hole.”

            To which the boy replied, “It is easier for me to fit the ocean into that hole than for you to figure out the mystery of the Trinity.”

            Augustine realized he had been seeing an angel, who gave him a great dose of humility that day!

            So what does humility look like in our relationship with God? For one thing, it means that we pray like our life depended on it – because it does! God is not merely a crutch but our very life-breath, our only hope. As a drowning man is desperate for a gasp of air, so our souls should do anything for a breath of God.

            When we pray, too, we must accept God’s ways and His will. We often want to know answers – why did bad things happen, why did my life have to turn out this way. It’s natural to ask these questions, but humility demands that we must trust God when He does things we do not understand. As a priest once said in a funeral homily, “All of us are asking why this young man was killed in the prime of his life – but I believe that Heaven will be one big time of exclaiming, Oh, so THAT’S why You did that, Lord!” We humbly trust that God’s plan is bigger and better than ours.

            Humility realizes that we are sinners. We are never more humble – and never more pleasing to the Lord – than when we are on our knees in the confessional, recognizing our weaknesses and begging from Him the strength to be holy.

            It also means that we humbly accept the teachings of the Lord through His Church. The difference between the disciples and the Pharisees is that the disciples were willing to be taught, while the Pharisees, in their pride, refused to hear Him. I always cringe when I hear someone say, “I disagree with what the Church teaches about X” – because that is a type of veiled pride. It says, “I know better than two thousand years of the holiest and wisest people who ever walked the earth, and I know better than the Church that Christ Himself guaranteed would never fail.” When faced with a teaching we don’t understand, we can question it, we can study it, we wrestle with it – and ultimately we ought to submit to it out of humility.

            My friends, humility is the virtue that pleases God the most. We may fail in charity, but God can forgive that. We may struggle with lust or greed or laziness, but God can forgive that. But God can only rescue a person who is humble.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time - January 22, 2017

Ordinary Time 3

January 22, 2017

Radical Reorientation of Life


            You and I are created to become saints.

            Usually when I say that to people, there is a real hesitation. Me? A saint? Not if you knew my life!! What is it that makes someone a saint?

            To be a saint is to have a radical reorientation of your life. No longer can we live for ourselves with our old habits, our old way of doing things – our entire priorities must revolve around Jesus Christ if we are His disciples!

            When Peter, Andrew, James and John encountered Jesus Christ in the Gospel, their lives were radically reoriented. They left their jobs, their security, their comfort zone – because they had met a Person who changed their life. Their priorities were different, their values were different…everything had changed because they encountered Christ. This is what it means to be His disciple – everything is different in life because of Jesus Christ!

            I can testify to that transformative encounter. I grew up in a good Catholic family, but my faith was just something I did because my parents went to church. I didn’t have a real friendship with Christ. I wasn’t a bad person – just fundamentally self-centered. My life as a young teen revolved around baseball, music, and girls. But then, I had a few encounters that changed all that. First, when I was 14, I went to Rome on a pilgrimage with a youth group. Being steeped in the beauty and the history of the Church made me realize that there was more to this Catholic Faith than I initially thought. I remember standing in the Coliseum, the very place where over 10,000 people shed their blood for Jesus Christ, and thinking – these people were willing to die for Him. Would I be willing to die for Him? I realized that these martyrs lived and died for Jesus Christ – why was I living only for myself?

            When I came back, my priorities were rearranged. A year later, my church started Perpetual Adoration – Eucharistic Adoration 24/7. My family signed up for an hour, and I used to go with them. Spending one hour in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament really helped me to realize that I was profoundly, personally, passionately loved by Christ – and that my life only made sense if I gave it away to Him radically. How shallow it was to live for wealth, popularity, pleasure! How ridiculous to live for this world when we were created to spend eternity with the God who is madly in love with us! Through these Eucharistic encounters, my life was even more reoriented – towards Him, and away from the empty cares of this world.

            My friends, to be a disciple means that your life must be radically reoriented as well. Christ tells us in the Gospel what that looks like: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

            First, repent. When I came to Christ I realized I needed to give up my sins and strive to live like He lived – a life of holiness. Sin separates us from the love of God; it makes us selfish and unable to receive the Lord’s love. So a life lived as a disciple is a life of repentance from sin and seeking holiness.

            Second, the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom of God is allowing Jesus Christ to be Lord of every aspect of your life. He must rule over your work life, as you strive to make your work pleasing to Him. He must rule over your marriage, as you practice self-sacrificing love for your spouse, being open to life and overflowing with love. He must rule over your internet and phone use, as you browse websites that glorify Him. He must rule over your recreation, as we seek to act as Christians even on the sports field and in the TV we watch. He must rule even over your inmost thoughts, as we “take every thought captive and make it serve Christ” (as St. Paul tells us).

            And if you have never really had a true encounter with Christ? Pray for one – and then go and seek Him. Seek Him by coming to Mass more frequently. Seek Him by reading Scripture, and reading spiritual books. Seek Him in Eucharistic Adoration. Seek Him in silent daily prayer. Seek Him by going on a retreat or a pilgrimage. He wants to meet you – if you make yourself available. Often times in life we are so distracted by our everyday busyness, our to-do-lists and our technology, that we don’t leave space to encounter Him. But He is found by those who seek Him, because as with Peter and Andrew, He has been seeking you first, and when we encounter Him, it radically reorients everything about our life, until we seek to follow and love Him in this life and in eternity!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time - January 15, 2017

Homily for Ordinary Time 2

January 15, 2017

Who Is Jesus?


            When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away last year, his son Fr. Paul Scalia (a priest of the Arlington Diocese), gave a wonderful homily, which began with these amazing words:

            “We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”

            Instead of speaking about his deceased father, he brought up a man who is truly the turning point of history – Jesus Christ. No one in the history of the world has had a greater impact than He.

When faced with Jesus Christ, we are faced with a choice. We either believe in Him and follow Him, or we reject Him. But we cannot remain neutral about Him. Other great religious leaders, such as Confucius or Gandhi, showed us a way to happiness – but Jesus claimed to be THE Way, and the Truth, and the Life. People such as Mohammed or Buddha pointed the way to God – but Jesus claimed to BE God. Jesus made some radical claims – and either He was telling the truth, or He was crazy and a fool. As CS Lewis put it, “Jesus is either Lord, liar or lunatic.” Every human being must recon with the Person of Jesus – if He is truly the Messiah, then we must be His disciples!

Let’s take a look at three of the titles that Jesus is called in today’s Gospel. First, John the Baptist calls Him the “Lamb of God”. This title hearkens back to the Old Testament, where a lamb was sacrificed on Passover. The lamb’s blood was spread upon the doorposts, causing the angel of death to pass over their houses and spare the Israelites. The lamb – a male lamb, without blemish – would, by its death, free the Chosen Ones from death. John is calling out that this Man, Jesus, would be that Lamb – the one whose sacrifice on the Cross would be our new Passover – passing over from the spiritual death of sin to the rich and abundant life of grace. It would be His sacrifice, His blood that does this for us – and thus, Jesus is the Lamb of God.

Secondly, Jesus is referred to as the one “on whom the Spirit rests”. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ first public act was to go to the synagogue and open the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He then read this passage: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Jesus’s role, through the Holy Spirit which rests on Him, is to preach the Gospel (a word which means “good news”). But what is the Gospel? Essentially, it is this: God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to die for our salvation, and anyone who believes and follows Him will have eternal life. That’s the Gospel in a nutshell!

Finally, Jesus is called the “Son of God” by John. He is divine – truly God, and truly man. But this has huge implications for us as well – if He is God, and we are His brothers, then all believers become adopted as sons and daughters of God. The Good News is not just that we are sinners covered by grace – Martin Luther used the erroneous example of humanity being like a pile of dung, which God then covered with snow so the dung wasn’t visible any more. But that’s not who we are in Christ – we’re not just dung heaps covered by snow. We are sons and daughters of the Most High God. By our faith in Christ, by His grace in the sacraments, by our daily walk with God, we become truly transformed! I love what Pope St. Leo the Great said – “Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition!” In other words, realize WHO you are – you are sons and daughters of God – and WHOSE you are – you belong to a good and holy Father. This realization should be enough to make us change the way we live!

My friends, it all comes down to Jesus. We have to decide who He is – if we believe that He is the Messiah, then it changes who we are, it changes the point of our life, it changes everything. One thing we cannot do is remain neutral – either we believe in Jesus, or we reject Him, but we must decide. As for me, I am certain that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Homily for Epiphany - January 8, 2017

Homily for Epiphany

January 8, 2017

Seeking God Where He Is Found


            Do you want to find God in your life? The Wise Men went on quite a journey – from as far away as India and Persia – because they wanted God. They wanted to see Him, experience Him, be in His presence and give Him worship. It’s a fundamental desire of the human heart.

            In the twentieth century, Poland had been suffering under Soviet Communist occupation for decades, since 1945. The Communists aimed to stamp out religion, seeing it as worthless and dangerous, since they viewed human beings as only valuable in what they could produce. Yet in June of 1979, Pope John Paul II – himself a son of Poland – visited his homeland, and met with massive crowds hungry for God. On June 5, he gave a speech to millions of people in Krakow – and in response, the millions of people started to chant, “We want God! We want God! We want God!” Even forty years of Communist oppression couldn’t snuff out the desire for God in every human heart.

            So, we all seek God. But where can we find Him? The Magi found Him as a baby – quite an unexpected way to find God! But what about us?

            First, we find God in nature. His creation proclaims the majesty of Him Who created it. One of my favorite memories of this past year was camping with a few people from the parish up at Housatonic Meadows State Park in northern CT. Once you get out of the city, the night sky comes alive – and we were taken aback by the amount of stars we could see. We prayed a Rosary there, outside by the Housatonic River, beneath the Milky Way…it was a truly stellar experience (pun intended!). You could almost see God’s fingerprints in the galaxies and constellations!

            Second, we find God in Scripture. If you ever want to know what’s on God’s mind, read His Word, which is like His love letter to you. It is in the Bible that we encounter Jesus, we learn about what is on God’s heart, and what plans He has for your life.

            Third, we find God in fellow believers. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, I am there in the midst of them.” It is true – I belong to a couple prayer groups, both of which show me a face of God that I need to see – the face of friendship, love, compassion. When I pray together with my family, I feel the Holy Spirit moving, because I know that we are praying for each other, united in our love for Christ.

            Fourth, we find God reflected in the poor. “The poor” does not always mean the homeless standing on street corners – it means the lonely kid sitting by himself at the lunch table; it means the elderly person forgotten in the nursing home; it means the friend who is self-destructing through bad choices; it means your spouse and your kids who need your love. As Jesus Himself said, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me.” If we want to find God, we can look for Him in the distressing disguise of the poor and those in need.

            Fifth, we find God in gratitude. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above,” St. James tells us in his letter. When I was home over Christmas break, I was telling my family about a dear priest-friend who often said, “Food is God’s love made edible!” To which my mom responded, “I’ve also thought that taking a warm shower is like being hugged by God.” Wow! Great realization! Such small blessings, but by our gratitude, we recognize the good Giver Who poured them out on us.

            Sixth, we find God even in our sufferings. We are never closer to Christ than when we are on the Cross with Him. In fact, it’s a sign of God’s great love for you and His desire for your holiness if He allows you to participate in the Cross. Even in the midst of suffering, we can find Christ with us, carrying our burdens with us.

Lastly, we find God in the Eucharist par excellence. In the other places like nature and good gifts and helping the poor, we encounter a symbol of God. God is not literally a warm shower or a homeless man! But here in the Eucharist, we encounter God Himself! We are able to receive Him into our own flesh and blood. The same God who took on flesh in Bethlehem now takes on the appearance of bread, humbling Himself once again so that He can be small enough for our poor souls to love.

Often in life we ask, “Where is God?” All of us have a desire to see Him, encounter Him, love Him. And we can still find Him today – in nature, in Scripture, in suffering, in the poor, in fellow believers, in the Eucharist…He is real. Encounter Him. Love Him. Give your life to Him, as He gave His life for you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Homily for January 1, 2017

Homily for New Year’s Day

Mary the Mother of God

January 1, 2017


            Like most people, I try to make New Year’s Resolutions. January 1 seems to be a good time to reflect on life. Almost every year, my resolutions are about the same:

  1. Eat healthier
  2. Work out more
  3. Drive more carefully (I’m a maniac on the roads)
    Every year around January 5 or 6, though, there is another tradition: the New Year’s Excuses.

  1. Gosh, I’d love to eat healthier, but it would be a shame for these Christmas cookies to go to waste!
  2. I wish I could work out more, but I’m too busy watching TV.
  3. I would drive more carefully, but look at all those bad drivers! I have to defend myself on the streets of Stamford!
    And on it goes. I make excuses for things that are hard, that take work, even though I know in the long run it will benefit me.
                And isn’t that the same way with our spiritual life? We make a resolution to work on a relationship with God, then we make excuses why we can’t pray. We make a resolution to be kinder to others, but gosh that person is so annoying! We find a million reasons why we can’t be saints: I’m too young, I’m too old, I’m too busy, I’m retired, I’ll work on it later.
                But we CAN become saints and God wants to do that in us – if we’re willing to give up the excuses!
                This reminds me of one of my favorite saints – an obscure saint named St. Hyacintha Mariscotti. She was an Italian woman who, in her teen years, was profoundly worldly and vain. She spent copious amounts of time on her hair, wore only the finest clothes and jewelry, and went to parties so she could gossip about the boys.
                In particular, she had her eyes set on one particular young man. This fellow kept coming around to her family’s estate, spending time with the family, and she was sure that it was because he was in love with her. Finally, the day came when she was sure he was going to ask to court her. He went in to have a private chat with her parents, and when they came out, the parents excitedly announced that the young man wanted to court…Hyacintha’s younger sister!
                Utterly devastated, she decided to become a nun. She joined a convent, but did not give up her worldly ways. She made her habit out of the finest, most expensive material. Instead of fasting, she secretly hid snacks and treats in her room so she could eat as much as she wanted. Instead of prayer and penance, she often socialized with friends from back home. She was truly a source of scandal to her fellow sisters.
                But God had mercy on her, and she was struck with an illness so severe that she feared she was dying. She called for a priest, and when he came, he took one look around her cell – the expensive habit, the stockpile of food – and was horrified. He called upon her to repent, to rid herself of her worldly, lukewarm, duplicitous ways. Choose Christ or choose the world!, he said.
                She was cut to the heart. Upon recovering from her illness, she gave away her expensive garments and wore rags; she gave away her food and fasted strictly; she spent long hours in prayer and works of charity. Throwing away her excuses, she gave herself completely to God – and in the process, became a saint!
                God wants to do the same thing in you! Throw away those excuses. Make resolutions, and keep them unwaveringly – resolutions to start reading Scripture or spiritual books; to spend time in prayer daily; to start volunteering more or serving others more. Practical, do-able steps – and if we don’t give up, God will do the rest. If we mess up and skip our prayer time or snap at someone, we don’t make excuses for our behavior – we confess our sin and return to the path of holiness.
                Long enough have we been making excuses for not becoming a saint. He wants to make you one! When next New Year’s rolls around, I pray that we are holier and closer to God – because otherwise, we will merely be one year closer to death with nothing to show for it. God will make you a saint – if you get rid of excuses and start to live for Him alone!