Saturday, August 19, 2017

Ordinary Time 20 - August 20, 2017

Homily for Ordinary Time 20

August 20, 2017

God’s Favor Is for Our Fruitfulness


            Why did God pick the Jews as the Chosen People? Doesn’t it seem like God is picking favorites? That doesn’t quite seem loving of God, right? Here we see in today’s Gospel Jesus seeming to reject this foreign woman because she isn’t part of the Jewish race – is Jesus being racist? Why would He choose one person over another?

            Let’s go back to the Old Testament to see the answer to these questions. God did indeed choose a Chosen People – but He did so in order to prepare the world for His coming. It was never enough for the Jewish nation to be insular, separated – they were supposed to be transformed by obedience to the Law so that other nations saw their holiness and were attracted to the Lord. Our first reading speaks of how any nation or foreigner, who loves the Lord and sacrifices to Him with a virtuous heart, will be accepted.

            The Jewish people were set apart precisely so that they might be a light to the nations. They were given a unique law so that they became holier than the other nations. When the Jews entered the Promised Land, they were surrounded by nations who worshipped Ba’al and the other false idols, who practiced sexual immorality, and who even had human sacrifice at times! So, God needed to give them a Law which set them apart and taught them the true way of holiness.

            But the problem was, the Jewish people became proud, arrogant, and idolatrous. They said to themselves, “We’re the Chosen People – we can do whatever we want and God will protect us.” So they started to adopt the practices of the surrounding nations – worshipping false idols, living lives of violence and lust, breaking the Law. They thought that because they were “chosen”, they would be able to sin with impunity.

            But that is not WHY they were chosen! They were chosen to be a shining example to the other nations of how to live as beloved sons and daughters of God. But they shirked that responsibility and even turned away outsiders who sought to know the Lord – in fact, even now, if a person wants to convert to Judaism, a traditional Jewish rabbi will turn someone away three times or more before allowing them to convert!

            With Christ’s death on the Cross, salvation was no longer only for the Jews, but now accessible to anyone who had faith in Him. St. Paul, in today’s second reading, talks about how God’s mercy is showered upon all people – Jews and non-Jews (called Gentiles) alike. We are the new Chosen People of God – we, the Catholic Church.

            Have you ever thought about how blessed you are to be Catholic? I was born Catholic, like many of you, and so I never had to wrestle with the challenge of conversion – I always knew the Truth of our Catholic faith from the time I was very young. That is a great gift, one that we don’t appreciate enough – the fact that we have been chosen, by God’s free grace, to belong to His Chosen People in the Church. We didn’t earn it – it was freely given to us!

But like the Chosen People of the Old Testament, we too must bear fruit. Just like it wasn’t enough for the Jewish people to say, “God will protect us because we are Jewish”, we cannot believe that God will save us or that we will automatically go to Heaven because we are Catholic. On the contrary – we are chosen so that we will bear fruit! The fruit that the Lord requires is a holy life, so that we too may be the light to the nations.

When I was ordained a priest, a very wise older priest wrote me a note where he said, “Bring thousands of souls to Heaven with you.” I never forgot that exhortation. Yes, my vocation to the priesthood is a free gift, one that I did not earn – and one that I must use now for His glory, for my own salvation and the salvation of thousands of souls. It’s not for my own benefit or pleasure, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee a free ticket into Heaven. As my grandfather used to say, “Just because you put on a collar don’t make you a saint!”

Likewise, just because you are baptized a Catholic doesn’t make you holy automatically! His grace is there – but we must respond with eager hearts. We have been chosen by grace so that we bear the fruit of a holy life.

When you stand before God, you will understand all of the graces you have been given: the gift of your faith, the Sacraments, the ways in which the Holy Spirit has inspired you, the people in your life who have encouraged you along the right path. My question for you is this – when God asks, “What have you done with all of those graces I offered you?” – how will you be able to respond?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - August 13, 2017

Homily for August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Difficult But Good


            Let’s break down this parable and see how it applies to us. Peter starts out in a boat that was sinking. Perhaps many of us find parts of our life that are sinking, that aren’t working out well – maybe we struggle with a particular temptation, or we haven’t really developed a prayer life, or we are estranged from a family member, or we just fall into the same pattern of sinful behavior that isn’t healthy and is spiritually destructive. Many of us have parts of our life that just aren’t working. But we’ve gotten used to it, and it’s become somewhat comfortable with it – we hate it, but we’re used to it, and it would take too much to change, just as Peter would not leave the boat without an invitation from the Lord.

            But Jesus wants Peter to draw near to Him, so He invites him to leave the sinking boat and come towards Him. Christ wants us all to experience abundant life – the freedom from sin, deep inner peace, the security of His love – but to experience this life, we must draw closer to Him.

            The problem is the waves. Peter’s fine until he realizes that it would be difficult to draw close to Christ – then he starts to sink, because he took his eyes off of the Lord. If we really want to follow the Lord, we must expect that it will be difficult. It is difficult to put away our smartphones and really develop a prayer life. It is difficult to give up, once and for all, our addiction to food and lust and alcohol. It is difficult to live simply when we are tempted to surround ourselves with self-indulgent luxuries. When we seek to draw closer to the Lord, it will be opposed – by our fallen nature, by Satan, and by the temptations of the world in which we live.

            If we look at the difficulties instead of Christ, we are likely to be overwhelmed. Who can overcome strong temptations? Who can practice fasting, self-control, constant kindness with difficult people? No one can on their own – but if our eyes are on Christ and His grace, we can do all things!

St. Augustine, even after his conversion to Catholicism, still struggled with some of the temptations of his lower nature – particularly lust. One time he prayed, famously, “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!” His heart was divided – he wanted to follow Jesus, but also wanted to indulge in the pleasures of this world.

            The turning point came when he picked up St. Paul’s letters one day and read, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” From that moment, his soul was flooded with grace. His eyes were now fixed, not on his temptations and sins, but on the Lord. It was hard to be pure – but now it was worth it.

            Many people feel like their life is stuck on hamster-wheel mode – going round and round, but getting nowhere. Is that because we are always willing to take the easy way out, live our lives in our comfort zones? Christ is inviting you to a better life – peace, joy, freedom, love – but to have this better life, we must be willing to do the difficult things: give up sin, love our enemies, practice sacrifice, have a disciplined life of prayer and fasting. These things are only possible if we keep our eyes fixed on Christ – when done for love of Him, we will find it easy to overcome all difficulties in our life of discipleship, until by His grace we become saints!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Final Homily at St. Mary's/St. Benedict's Parish, Stamford

Last Homily at St. Mary’s/St. Benedict’s

August 13 & 20, 2017


            Carnegie Mellon University has a unique tradition: every year they invite one of their professors to give what they call the “Last Lecture”. If this was the last lecture this professor was ever to give, what would he or she say? Well, this is my “last homily” here at this church. So I have to ask myself – what would I impart to you as I depart from this community?

            I want to leave you with three points. In some way, they’re a summary of everything I’ve tried to preach and live for the past three years here on the East Side of Stamford. First, strive for holiness. Second, stay close to the Eucharist. Third, life is short so do not put off loving God and our neighbor.

            First, strive for holiness and become a saint. To a lot of people, this sounds impossible. We often think of saints as plaster statues, with their hands folded and their eyes looking toward Heaven, instead of seeing them as flesh-and-blood human beings. But to be a saint is simple. We must love God more than anything else on this earth, and love our neighbor to the point of sacrifice. Simple, but not easy – and we do not do this on our own, but through Christ who lives in us through grace.

            I have been very inspired by reading the lives of the saints, who show us that holiness is possible for all of us. One in particular who inspires me is a young man by the name of Venerable Faustino Perez. This young man from Spain died at the age of 17, but had already achieved great holiness. After going on a life-changing retreat at the age of thirteen, he made it his life’s goal to be like Christ. He began to pray the Rosary daily, and to unite all of his daily sufferings to the Lord. He didn’t become some cloistered monk – he still played soccer, enjoyed hanging out with friends and camping, and even smoked cigarettes a little (which was legal for teenagers in Spain in the 1950s). When he came down with cancer, he continued to suffer well, without complaining, remembering the Lord’s sufferings on the Cross. He eventually died of his cancer, but before his death he said, “Holiness is very hard. But I will try, and who knows if I might achieve it?” Here was an ordinary young man whose life revolved around God – and who became a saint because of it!

            It is precisely that union with God that allowed him to be holy, and the best way to be united to Him is in the Holy Eucharist. My second point is to stay always close to Jesus in the Eucharist. I am willing to give up everything, even my life, for the Eucharist, because to receive the Eucharist is to be united to the very Body and Blood of God. Never pass up an opportunity to attend Mass! Make sure that it isn’t just one more thing to fit into your week, but truly the cornerstone of your week! The Mass is an infinite value – every time we come to the Mass, we come to the Cross, and we allow the merits of His death and resurrection to be applied to our souls. If we had to choose between having a long life, great riches, superior talents, constant pleasure, being adored by everyone, or receiving the Eucharist once, we ought to choose the Eucharist. What good are riches, honors, pleasures without God? And when we have the Eucharist, we have God.

            Finally, we ought to consider that life is very short, and eternity is very long. Most days we spend our entire day thinking about things that won’t matter at all in a year, let alone for eternity. If our eternity is going to be about loving and praising God, then we must begin here on earth. What if you were given two options: to be a billionaire for one hour, then spend the rest of your life penniless and in pain; or to suffer and be poor for one hour and spend the rest of your life as a billionaire? Of course, any rational person would choose the second. And yet so often we live this brief life as if it were the only thing that matters, when on the other side of death we can be princes and princesses in God’s Heavenly Kingdom – if only here we learn to live with Him as our King. I can remember when I was probably ten years old, I was sitting outside on a giant rock that was on my family’s property, looking at the leaves changing color in the fall and thinking, “Man, it seemed like summer was just beginning, and now it’s over…life goes by too quickly!” And the older I get, the quicker it goes! So let us live for something eternal – which means living in the love of God and seeking His Kingdom first.

            My friends, I love you and pray for you. Let us pray for each other, that we may meet again in eternity in Heaven with God. Seek holiness – stay close to the Eucharist – and live for God.