Saturday, December 15, 2018

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent - December 16, 2018

Homily for Advent 3
December 16, 2018
The Joy of Mercy

            The classic French novel Les Miserables starts out with one of the most famous acts of kindness in all of human history. The main character, Jean Valjean, had just been freed from nineteen years of prison, but because of his criminal background he is rejected by society, poor and homeless. The kindly local Bishop gives him shelter for the night, but Valjean responds by stealing all of his silverware. When the police catch Valjean, the Bishop, out of mercy, fabricates a story about how the Bishop had given Valjean the silver. To make the story believable, the Bishop goes on to give him two silver candlesticks that he “forgot”. The police believe the Bishop’s story and release Valjean. The Bishop – obviously a saint – tells the former criminal that it was God who spared his life, and that he should take the silver candlesticks and sell them, using the money so that he could live an honest life. Jean Valjean takes to heart the Bishop’s admonition and turns his life around, becoming the hero in the novel.
            A little mercy goes a long way. And this is precisely the kind of mercy we rejoice in today. I find it interesting that the end of today’s Gospel features John the Baptist “preaching the good news” to the people. Why is the message of salvation “good news”? And why is there so much focus on rejoicing in today’s readings?
            Jesus came to offer us mercy. Justice requires us to receive what we deserve – the punishment for our sins. But mercy gives us what we do not deserve – forgiveness, freedom, love. Mercy turns a slave into a son; it turns a sinner into a saint.
            And this is the “good news” that John proclaims – that the Savior of the world is on His way! Looking back from the other side of the Cross, we know that because of Jesus’ death, we now have access to complete mercy and forgiveness!
            Our world lacks mercy. Just this week I was reading about two people – an actor and a Heisman trophy winner – who have been attacked in the media for tweets that they had posted on Twitter years ago. Yes, their tweets were inappropriate and wrong – no doubt. But even after they apologized for them and took them down, the blogs and the news continued to rip into them, to criticize them and slander them. Where is the mercy? The football player’s tweets were posted when he was fourteen – for heaven’s sake, haven’t we all said things we regret when we were teens? The media is always on the lookout for shame, for scandal, for juicy details of someone’s past…never for mercy.
            And some of us feel that way, too. Maybe it’s a big sin you have never confessed; maybe it’s small things but you just feel unloved or unlovable. Have you ever seen one of those ball-and-chain devices that was used in England for centuries? A prisoner would have a chain secured around his ankle, and he would have to walk dragging a 20-pount iron ball behind him. For many of us, we feel like we’ve got something in our life that is dragging us down and preventing us from running freely after Jesus.
            But the Lord Jesus offers us mercy. There was a wonderful story of a nun who was having visions of Jesus. She told her mother superior about them, but the mother superior did not believe her. She said, “We will put these supposed ‘visions’ to the test. The next time you see Jesus, ask Him to tell you what I said in my last Confession.” Later that day, the nun did have a vision of Jesus and she asked the Lord what the Mother Superior had confessed. Jesus responded, “I don’t remember.”
            I don’t remember! It says in Scripture that our sins are taken from us as far as the east is from the west. East and west go on infinitely – unlike north and south, there is no “east pole” or “west pole”. If you go north far enough, eventually you hit the north pole and you start heading south. But you can never go so far east that you start going west – no, east and west are infinitely distant from one another. And that is how far our sin, our shame is taken from us because of the love of Jesus!
            So what is our response? Two things. First, get to Confession so we can lay down that sin! My friends, we are offering Confessions here three times every week during Advent – Mondays from noon to 1pm, Wednesday from 7-8pm, and Saturdays at the usual time, 4:15-5:15pm. Break the ball and chain, lay down the burden and sin – come to Confession.
            The second response is to extend that mercy to others. When the people asked John the Baptist what they must do, he replied that if they had two cloaks, they should share one with someone who had none, and likewise with their food. We extend mercy by generously giving freely, to people who may not deserve it but who need it anyway. So that person who cuts you off in traffic, you extend mercy and respond with a smile. We do our chores even when it’s the other person’s turn. We let people go ahead of us in the shopping line, we make the extra effort to be kind to the barista and the mailman. As we have freely been given mercy, we extend mercy to others.
            With all the craziness that is always happening in the world – and in our busy, frantic lives – it’s easy to feel dragged down. The Church gives us this Sunday to rejoice – not in holiday office parties and gifts, but in the ultimate gift of God’s mercy freely given. With everything else that might be happening this season, we must not forget that Christ came to offer us His mercy – and that should bring us joy.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Advent 2 - December 9, 2018

Homily for Advent 2
December 9, 2018
Behold, He Knocks

            In the 1850s, British artist William Hunt painted a very famous portrait of Jesus called “The Light of the World”, based off a scene from the Bible. It features Jesus portrayed as a king, carrying a lantern up a garden path and knocking on a large wooden door. When art critics saw the painting, however, they pointed out that Hunt had made an error – the door had no door handle! He explained, however, that he painted it that way purposely, because the door of our souls can only be opened from the inside – Jesus will never force His way in!
            John the Baptist proclaims today that we ought to “prepare the way of the Lord”. But Jesus is a gentleman – He only comes where He is welcome. He knocks, He calls, He waits – but it is up to us if we wish to have a living relationship with the Lord.
            So how do we do this? John the Baptist goes on to say that “Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth.
” Let’s break this down to see what it means for us to invite the Lord into our lives.
            First, every valley and every mountain shall be level. There is a trail in the Catskills mountain called “The Devil’s Path”. It is often listed as the most difficult trail on the East Coast. A couple years ago, a friend and I found out why! Over 24 miles, there is over 18,000 feet of elevation change – up and down. Traveling over five solid mountains, it took us three days to cover 24 miles – because, as I once heard, every foot of elevation gain is equal to 10 feet of flat walking in terms of energy output…so those 24 miles felt more like several hundred! For anyone to get somewhere quickly, it’s always easiest to take a flat route. And for Christ to invade your life, it helps for the valleys to be filled in and the mountains to be made level.
            What are the mountains and valleys? We often talk about “towering pride” – the mountains are our ego, our selfishness, all of our unhealthy focus on ourselves and our own pride. The first thing we need to do is to humble ourselves and recognize our need for God and His Saving power. It’s so significant that the Savior came as a little baby, humble and meek – because He can only be accepted by someone who is meek.
            If mountains are our pride and ego, then valleys are our weaknesses and sins. The Gospel says that John the Baptist’s mission is to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins, because our sins are valleys, chasms, which separate us from God. So once we humble ourselves and recognize our need for the Savior, we get to confession so that our sins are no longer an obstacle to our friendship with the Lord.
            “Winding roads shall be made straight”. If you’ve ever been to Nebraska or some other Midwest state, you know something about straight roads. I think that Google should test its self-driving cars out there because literally all you need to do to get somewhere is to point your car in the right direction and drive. You can take your hands off the steering wheel for fifty or sixty miles because the roads are literally that straight. But…you have to be pointed in the right direction. So to have a straight road is to point your life in the right direction – to make your decision to follow Christ and to seek holiness. If we have as our life’s goal to glorify God and live in intimate friendship with Him, then we will arrive at our destination. So to make straight a winding road is to point your life in the direction of seeking the Lord.
            Finally, John urges us to make rough ways smooth. To polish a stone, you have to grind it with something harder – they make those rock tumblers where stones can hit against each other to rub the rough edges off. In the same way, we need to spend time with God in prayer, who will scour off our edges and polish us with His Spirit, making us a beautiful gem for His Kingdom. Spending time with Him makes us more like Him!
            My friends, if Advent and Christmas teach us anything, it is that God is not just some myth or some distant, unapproachable being. He took on flesh at Christmas precisely so that He could establish a deep, daily friendship with us. He wants to be more than just a fairy godmother we turn to when we need something – no, He is inviting us into so much more: a deep intimacy with Him, a life lived with His grace and His Spirit within us. But He will not force – He knocks and waits patiently for us to invite Him in. Tear down the mountains of your pride and admit that you need Him; fill up the valley of your weakness through Confession and repentance; make your life’s path straight by keeping Him ever in your sight; allow prayer to make your rough ways smooth. Then will Advent be a time of ever-increasing friendship with the God who has already come in Bethlehem, and who will come to take His friends home to Heaven at the end of our lives.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent - December 2, 2018

Homily for Advent 1
December 2, 2018
Embrace Christ’s First Coming So We Won’t Fear His Second

            It’s always pretty bad to be caught red-handed, but imagine the fear someone would feel if they were caught standing guard over a giant pile of gunpowder…as part of a plot to blow up the government. Back in England in 1605, a number of people were unhappy with King James I and his Parliament, so they decided to revolt, by blowing up the House of Lords. These conspirators rented a storage room immediately under the Parliament building and filled it with gunpowder, with one of them standing guard at all times.
            Unfortunately for them, the King was tipped off to the plot, and did a surprise raid on the building. They caught one man – Guy Fawkes was his name – and eventually executed him for treason. Imagine the horror Mr. Fawkes must have felt when they walked in on him, he who was trying to rebel against the King! He knew that his death warrant was sealed, as he was caught red-handed with a pile of gunpowder!
            If someone is found to be a friend of the King, they will receive a reward, a promotion, a blessing. If someone is found to be a traitor to the King, they will receive a punishment. The same person – the King – inspires both love and fear, depending upon your relationship to him.
            And so it is with Christ. I was intrigued as I read this Gospel about the two different reactions people will have at the Second Coming of Jesus. Our Lord says that “some people will die of fright” – they will be so terrified when they see Jesus coming on the clouds in glory that they will drop dead! But then He goes on to say, “But for you” – and He is speaking to His disciples – “Lift up your heads, for your redemption is now at hand.” For those who are His friends and His followers, the Second Coming of Christ will not be a fearful thing, but a joyful event, something we will look forward to.
            Advent is not really about preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. That is a historical event that has already happened. Instead, Advent is about more serious preparation for Christ’s Second Coming. There are two ways in which He will come again – first, He will come at the end of time, when He will come in glory and judge the world. But before that happens, He will come to each one of us at the end of our earthly lives.
            So if we embrace Christ at His first coming as a baby at Bethlehem, we have no need to fear the second coming of Christ as judge. If we follow Him faithfully on this earth, we do not need to be afraid to see Him in eternity. Our choice of whether or not to follow the Lord Jesus on this earth will determine whether or not we wish to follow Him in the next life.
            It always amazes me when I see families that have big dogs like a Labrador or a Great Dane and at the same time have a baby or a toddler. It’s funny to watch how the baby interacts with the big dog; they often seem totally okay with this giant beast hanging out around them, and the dog is usually happy to be pet by the kid – or ridden like a horse! I am amazed when the child isn’t afraid of this animal which is larger than them, but the kids lose their fear because they love the pet.
            St. John writes in the Bible that “perfect love casts out fear”. When we love God, there is no need to fear Him. Yes, He is powerful and awe-inspiring; yes, He is the just Judge and eternal King – but if we love Him with a deep love, and invite Him into our souls and seek to follow Him, then we do not need to fear His judgment or His kingship when He returns in glory.
            So, this Advent, we prepare for Christ’s triumphant coming at the end of time or at the end of our lives – and we prepare by receiving Him into our souls through faith and in the Eucharist. If we willingly embrace Christ’s first coming as a man and in the Eucharist, then we do not need to fear His second glorious coming when He triumphs as our King.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Homily for Christ the King - November 25, 2018

Homily for November 25, 2018
Feast of Christ the King
Royal Standards

            St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his “Spiritual Exercises,” invites people in their prayer to meditate on what he calls the “Two Standards”. Picture this scene – you are standing in a field in between two large groups of people. Each group is huddled around a flag. On your left stands a group huddled around a flag called “The World” and on your right is a group gathered around one that is labeled “Jesus Christ”.
            St. Ignatius then asks us to choose. We can’t stay in the middle – we have to pick one side or the other. So we start to examine the sides. On the world’s side, they have cookies…and nice clothes…and everyone seems good-looking and successful. On Christ’s side, they are joyful, but their clothes aren’t that nice, and they don’t seem like the “cream of the crop”.
            Then you see this group’s leader – Jesus Christ. But He looks nothing like a king. He stands before Pilate, beaten, scourged, falsely accused, hated by all. Would you join such a king? Would you belong to such a kingdom as that ragtag group of misfits?
            Our readings today reveal two contrasting views of Christ’s Kingship. In the Gospel, we see Jesus as we saw Him on earth – merely a human being, and a weak and powerless one, at that. He has to stand, powerless and innocent, before Pontius Pilate, a corrupt and bloodthirsty earthly king. But in the first reading, we see Jesus crowned with honor, triumphant over His enemies, reigning with complete power and authority. He answers to no one; His victory is complete.
            We must follow Christ in His first humble Kingship if we wish to reign with Him in His glorious kingship. In many ways, these two aspects of Christ’s Kingship (humility and glory, the Cross and the Resurrection) mirror the life of every Christian. Because of grace, we are truly glorious! We will someday reign with Him and radiate holiness that we never knew possible. In the Old Testament, Moses’ face actually shone because of his closeness to God; but in eternity, our entire selves will be radiant with glory. But that glory is hidden now, and Christians have to live a life of humility, patience, embracing the Cross and following after the Lord Jesus.
            This means we cannot submit to following the crowd who is gathered around the flag of “The World”. The World wants the glory here-and-now. The World professes pride, not humility; pleasures, not sacrifice; power, not service; hatred and division, not love. You have all promised at your baptism to reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises – these are the empty promises that they are talking about. Glory, pleasure, pride, victory here on earth. Lots of fun for seventy or eighty years. But we follow a religion that makes no such promises for this world – rather, our hope is in the Kingdom to come.
            This feast of Christ the King was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, and he established it during a time of great turmoil. Italy had just fallen into the fascist government of Mussolini who in 1925 officially became Italy’s dictator, and the Communists had just come to power in Russia. World War I had just ended as well. These tumultuous times displayed to the world the type of authority that the worldly flag endorses: harsh and atheistic authority, concerned only with power and hostile to anyone who disagrees.
            In contrast, Pope Pius XI wanted to remind the world that political authority is not the ultimate authority in the world. Instead, look to Jesus Christ as the ultimate King: a humble, loving, compassionate King, Who lays down His life for His sheep. His Kingdom is not of this world – and neither is ours!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Ordinary Time 32 - November 11, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 32
November 11, 2018
Undercover Child of God

            Ever seen that TV show, “Undercover Boss”? It’s still on, and still pretty popular. It features a CEO of some company who, for a week, takes on a new hairstyle and new identity and works alongside the entry-level workers in his company. It’s pretty funny to see how the big bosses struggle to perform tasks in their own company – like hauling trash or working on an assembly line or cleaning port-a-potties. At the end of the show, there is always the “big reveal” as the boss reveals his actual identity, and all of the other workers are shocked and amazed. The employees had been treating this CEO as just “one of the guys”, but now that he has revealed himself as the head of the company, I’m sure some of them are wishing they hadn’t said things or done things around them!
            We all treat our bosses differently than our fellow employees. In fact, there are many people we treat differently because of external factors. We treat people differently if they are rich…or if they are good-looking…or if they are talented…or if they are famous or powerful. Many times we do this subconsciously, but we do it nonetheless. For example, a recently-published study showed that attractive-looking people made 3-4% more money at the same job than people whose looks were below-average.
            But Jesus cuts through all of that external stuff and looks directly at the heart. While these dozens of wealthy patrons in the Gospel were putting their contributions into the Temple, I am quite sure that the priests were welcoming them, thanking them, cultivating relationships with them. But then comes this poor widow – was she ignored? Was she disdained? She was old and poor, the opposite of what any fundraiser would look for.
            Jesus penetrates right to the heart, though, and sees the person beyond the externals. He recognizes and praises her generous heart, which was far more virtuous than these self-important wealthy people.
            How do we see people – with the eyes of faith, or just according to the externals? How do we treat them – as beloved sons and daughters of God, or do we treat the rich and good-looking better than others?
            St. Alexius of Rome was a saint whose true identity remained hidden. He was born from a wealthy family – his father being a Roman senator – in the fourth century. His father tried to arrange a marriage for him, but he wanted to dedicate his life to Christ. As the date of the arranged marriage approached, Alexius ran away from home, determined to live for the Lord alone. He fled into the deserts of Syria, living as a beggar for the next several years, all while growing in holiness.
            The people of Syria began to notice his holiness and come to him for prayers and wisdom, calling him a “living saint”. Out of humility, he wanted to live a life of complete anonymity, so he ran away again…back to his father’s house in Rome. But his appearance had changed so much in the intervening years that his father didn’t recognize him. His father reluctantly allowed him to rent a room in his house, a tiny, dark and dirty closet underneath a staircase. For the next seventeen years, Alexius prayed, begged, and lived a life of charity. All the while, his parents still thought he was just some random beggar who was living with them! Finally, upon his death, they found in his room a document that revealed that he was their son. They were overcome with grief and sorrow at how poorly they had treated their son!
            Someday, if we have the good fortune to be saved, we will be in Heaven for the “big reveal” when we see everyone as they truly are. The poor will be princes; the plain will be beautiful; the mentally disabled will be brilliant; the anonymous people will be glorified. I know that many people who I have treated poorly or judged harshly based on external things will be far ahead of me in Heaven. Here on earth, let us resolve to see and treat others as we will know and treat them in Heaven – not according to temporary external factors like riches or beauty, but as sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father, in disguise.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

All Saints Day - November 1, 2018

Homily for All Saints Day
November 1, 2018
Cheering Us On

            When I was younger, my dad was an avid runner. He even ran a couple marathons, and my family went down to cheer him on during the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. Thirty-thousand people run this marathon every year, and it was quite amazing to be at the end of the run. My family visited several spots along the race course, but I remember standing near the end, maybe mile 23 or so, and cheering people on. By that point in a marathon, the people look like living zombies, their tongues hanging out in exhaustion, their feet dragging, sweat drenching their clothes, their eyes half-closed as they stumble along. But it must have been encouraging for those runners to see all the cheering fans! We were surrounded in a thick crowd of supporters, all shouting encouragement for the runners as they dragged their half-dead bodies onward toward the finish line.
            And this is often how I view the saints. They are our cheering squad, as we continue to “run the race” towards the finish line of Heaven. Our journey of faith is a marathon effort – every single day, getting up in the morning resolved to follow the Lord Jesus.
            The difference is that these saints aren’t just on the sidelines; they have already run the race of faith before us. They know how tough it is – what saint is there who didn’t suffer and struggle? All of them had their weaknesses, their failings, their physical pains, their rejection – but they conquered all of those things through the grace of Christ, and are now cheering to us, “Come on! You can do it! Keep going, keep your eyes on Jesus!”
            Because, let’s be honest, the Gospel demands something of us! To pick up our cross and follow Him, to love Him more than father and mother and friends, to trust Him and reorganize our life so that He is the number-one priority – all of this is really tough, and we would likely get discouraged if not for the saints. The saints show us that, though holiness is difficult, it is not impossible. Holiness has been lived by people just like you and me. And if they can do it, so can we!
            In Spain in the 1500s lived a soldier by the name if Inigo. He was a vain man, concerned about his looks and impressing the ladies, and was full of pride for his great military accomplishments. In one particular battle, he took a cannonball to the leg, shattering the bones. For the next couple months he was laid up recuperating, but when they took the cast off, it turned out that his healed leg was two inches shorter than his regular leg! Concerned that it would make him a bad dancer and unpopular with his lady friends, he asked the doctors to re-break his leg…without anesthesia! So they did so, and once again he was laid up in bed, recovering.
            While recovering, he asked for some books to read, having nothing better to do. He was used to reading romance novels and tales of knighthood, but this particular hospital was run by an order of nuns who didn’t have any of those types of books. They only had a book about Jesus and the Lives of the Saints. Inigo was so bored that he reluctantly accepted these books, and began to read. All of a sudden, his life began to change. He read about St. Francis and St. Dominic, and began to consider, “What if I lived like they lived? What if I did what they did?” This thought began to take hold – that it was possible for him to become holy, even after the worldly life he had led. When finally released from the hospital, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he consecrated his life to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Lord Jesus. He ended up starting the Jesuit religious order and is now best known as St. Ignatius of Loyola.
            And it all started because he discovered that holiness was possible – saints had lived it! And if St. Joan of Arc and St. Patrick can do it, if St. Isaac Jogues and St. Therese of Lisieux could do it, why not you? They are no different from us – they had flesh and blood, temptations and struggles, joys and sorrows.
So now it is our turn. The world needs St. John Smith, and St. Jane Doe – men and women of the twenty-first century who are the saints of the next generation.
            Because we are not running this race alone. No, we are surrounded by a great crowd of men and women and children who have successfully finished this race before us and are rooting us on. “Keep going!” they say. “Keep your eyes on Jesus! Don’t give up! Holiness is possible!”

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Ordinary Time 30 - October 28, 2018

Homily for Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time
October 28, 2018
Get Your Attention

            It’s amazing how sometimes we are blessed with an insight into the Heart of God. I had such an experience this past summer. I was blessed to join a very wonderful family on a vacation to Scotland. This family – two parents and six kids – were absolutely delightful.
            I have always been fascinated by family dynamics, and this family’s inner dynamics were very interesting. The oldest three kids are in college or just out of college, preparing for their successful careers and starting their lives. The fourth boy was in high school and desperately wanted to be cool like his older siblings, so he hung out with them the whole time. The youngest kid had Down’s Syndrome and was doted on by everyone.
            And then there was Sam. At eleven years old, Sam is the fifth of six kids, and no one really paid much attention to him. He’s quiet, and the age gap made it so that he didn’t really fit in with the older kids.
            One day after dinner, we were all sitting contentedly around the dinner table when Sam said to me, “Hey Fr. Joseph, let’s go outside, I want to show you something.” So we went outside, and I asked him, “What is it you want to show me?”
            There was a long pause, as he started looking around the yard, and I realized he really didn’t have anything to show me. Finally, he said, “Uh…let’s go…look in that shed over there!”
            So we went to the shed…and it was pretty empty and ordinary. Nothing in there worth looking at.
            So Sam said, “Um…well…let’s go see what’s over that fence!”
            We went over to the fence and looked over…it was an empty lot full of weeds.
            “Oh…uh…let’s go…look into the cellar!” So we went to go look into the cellar, which was quite empty.
            By this time, I was getting a little tired of this strange game, so I suggested that we just go back inside and eat dessert, which Sam agreed to reluctantly.
            Later on that night, I was praying, and that incident with Sam came to mind. Why was it that he wanted to show me all these random and uninteresting things? Suddenly it dawned on me – it had nothing to do with the shed, the fence, or the cellar. He just wanted to have someone’s undivided attention for a little while…and then I realized just how much God wants to have our undivided attention, and how often we forget about Him and pay no attention to Him! I saw in Sam the heart of God, Who will do anything to get our attention.
            Bartimaeus certainly wanted attention in today’s Gospel. Here he is, making a ruckus and drawing everyone’s attention to him. Even when told to be silent, he carries on, seeking the attention of Jesus of Nazareth. Imagine how many people would love to have Jesus pay attention to them! And Jesus, in His infinite compassion, stops and shows the blind man kindness.
            But I can’t help wonder if it wasn’t the blind man seeking Jesus’ attention, but Jesus seeking Bartimaeus. He heals his sight, yes. But Jesus gives him a deeper sight, because Bartimaeus realizes that the Man who healed Him is also the Savior. Instead of running home to tell his family, or going on a sight-seeing tour, Bartimaeus immediately follows Jesus, becoming a disciple. It had been Jesus searching for Bartimaeus’ soul all along.
            And yet…in our modern, busy, noisy culture, how often do we forget about the Lord Jesus! How often do we not give Him any attention! He tries to get our attention with gifts throughout the day – a sunset, coffee with a friend, a quiet moment of prayer or reading, a smile. And how little do we think of Him Who has given these good gifts!
            God even uses sufferings of daily life to get us to pay attention to Him. After all, do you think Bartimaeus would have ever met Jesus if he had not suffered from blindness? If Bartimaeus was born with eyesight, maybe he would have been out working in the fields or laboring in a shop when Jesus was passing by. Maybe he would have heard the Lord, but perhaps he would have been too satisfied with how his life was going to pay any attention. God used even this man’s blindness as a way to get his attention – and the Lord made him a disciple. So even in our difficult moments, God is trying to get us to turn to Him for strength, shelter, comfort.
            There is an incident in the life of St. Francis of Assisi that has always moved me. One day, the great saint went missing. His religious brothers looked everywhere for him, but could not find him in the church, the monastery, or the town. Finally, after a couple of days, his brothers stumbled upon him in the wilderness, where he was weeping. They asked him, “Francis, what’s wrong?” He replied, “Love is not loved! Love is not loved!”
            Like young Sam, God desires our attention. He has done everything to win over our hearts. Yet many people have a great apathy towards God – “Oh, I will think of Him once on Sundays, and that will be enough.” But He desires to be loved! His Heart, so full of goodness and blessings, thirsts for your love, your attention! Let us not keep Him waiting any longer!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Ordinary Time 29 - October 21, 2018

Homily for Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 21, 2018
Suffering Before Glory

            It’s a well-known fact that in order to accomplish anything good, there will be sacrifices involved. To win at sports takes the discipline of exercise. To excel at school means long hours hitting the books. To succeed in your career means working hard and continuing to improve. And to possess the joys of everlasting life takes the Cross.
            This Gospel directly follows one of Jesus’ predictions of His own Passion. He had just told His disciples that He was going to be rejected and crucified, and the very next scene shows James and John wanting glory. Oh, they had faith that He would be King – but they wanted the Kingdom without the Cross.
            So Jesus brings them back down to earth. “Can you drink the cup that I will drink?” He asks – the Cup of His sufferings and trials. And He asks that same question to us – do you want the glories of Heaven? Do you want to enjoy God for eternity? Then are you willing to embrace the Cross as the path to Heaven? There is no other road to the Lord except the royal road of the Cross.
            Let me illustrate some crosses that followers of Jesus must endure:
            First, the suffering of denying your desires. St. Augustine was a saint who lived a very sinful life during his early years – he had a live-in mistress out of wedlock and pursued pleasure and fame with abandon. But even after his conversion, he found it difficult to say “no” to his old sins. Famously, he once prayed, “Lord, give me chastity…but not yet!” It was only through grace (and a whole lot of self-denial) that he was able to overcome the desire for lust. What is it for you that you must deny? Lust? Greed? Gluttony and eating too much? A desire to be the center of attention? An unhealthy desire for praise, or for money? A worship of sports? To be a disciple is to suffer the denial of these sinful desires.
            Second, the suffering of loneliness and misunderstanding. Many people will question and doubt a follower of Jesus. Do you really have to skip the baseball game to get to Mass? Why don’t you go out drinking with the rest of us? You really don’t watch “Desperate Housewives”? You believe in the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death? Just recently I was Googling a priest-friend from seminary, to see what he was up to these days, and one of the first responses that came up was a letter to the editor about him, calling Fr. Michael a “poor, narrow-minded bigot” for believing that marriage was between one man and one woman. Recently you may have seen that the President of France was criticizing women who chose to have large families, saying that it was impossible to be both successful and open to life. What an insult to those parents who are choosing to be generous with God! This misunderstanding and even rejection, from family, friends, and society as a whole – is to be expected if we are truly faithful to the Gospel.
            Third, embracing the sufferings of everyday life – and lifting them up to the Lord. I think of the example of St. Bernadette Soubirous. She is best known as the saint who saw the Blessed Mother at Lourdes in France, where Mary appeared to her several times and caused a stream to flow from the rocky mountainside with healing waters. But St. Bernadette’s holiness is not simply because of seeing Mary. She also united her many, many sufferings to Jesus. She was always a sick child, suffering from asthma and other illnesses, and after she saw Mary and entered the convent, she developed a painful cancerous tumor on her knee. Many of her friends urged her to go to Lourdes, so that she could perhaps be cured by the miraculous waters. But she responded, “My business is to suffer, because here on this earth there is no love without suffering.” All of her pains, her humiliations, just the daily sufferings of being human – she united all of that to Christ’s Cross so intensely that she said one time, “Jesus, I do not feel my crosses when I think of Your Cross.” We too can take the aches and pains, the insults and misunderstandings, the humiliations and the stress and struggles – and we can look at Jesus’ Cross and say, “Lord, I offer this to You who suffered for me!”
            One might say, with all of the sufferings of following Jesus, why bother? Because, as St. Paul says, “The sufferings of the present time are as nothing compare to the glory to be revealed in us.” As St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “For Jesus Christ, I am prepared to suffer still more.” We embrace the Cross, but we keep the Resurrection in view. Glory and suffering are always united in Christianity.
            So do not be afraid to embrace the three Crosses, that we may all share in the glory of the Resurrection.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Short Story - "What It's All About"

What It’s All About
(Or, A Profound Meditation along the Billy Goat Trail)
By Joseph Gill
October 17, 2010

            “What is it all about, anyway?” I fiddled upon the rock that served as my seat, gazing out across the canyon. “I mean, really. All this effort, all this beauty, all this…all of this, what is it for? In a few short eons, it will all be gone. In a few short decades, we will be gone. What about it all?”
            John didn’t respond, as usual. Lost in his own thoughts, or perhaps formulating a response, I didn’t know which. Such a holy enigma, he was.
            “Ya know what I’m saying? I remember learning in philosophy class that some famous dead guy said that you can’t step into the same river twice, because the second time it’d be different. Then the next famous dead guy came along and said that we can’t even step into the same river once, because all is just constant change.”
            How apropos to reference a river, I thought, as I stared off across the crystal blue stream of the Potomac, flowing swiftly on this stunning autumn day. Always flowing, always carving a deeper path through the rocky canyon in which we sat.
            John at last said something, at least acknowledging that I had spoken. “I don’t know,” he said, in characteristic simplicity, before returning to his silent watch of the passing earth.
            I didn’t know what else to say, how else to put into words the transience that I felt that day, surrounded by a beauty that was as fleeting as it was stunning. My breath was taken away by the steep rock walls that formed a cocoon around us, rising high to the azure sky.
            I rubbed my forearms, still sore from the tremendous effort it took to descend the steep rock face. It was worth it, though, to discover this tiny refuge of flat stone on the banks of the river. Even the sun was obscured from our view in the shadows of this canyon – I could see the shimmering outline of where the sun would be peeking its way around the rock face in but a minute or two.
            Glancing at John, I noticed him staring at me with his eyes, as blue as the sky and the river. I turned away, not worthy to look into a soul so pure. Briefly I felt dirty, an impure wretch beside a living tabernacle, even though nothing on my conscience convicted me of sin. I simply knew that my love for God would never be able to match the union that John enjoyed, even at such a young age.
            “The glory of God is truly in this place,” I said, but it was forced piety; the words sounded awkward in my mouth. I recalled what Tertuillian had said centuries before: The glory of God is man fully alive. And how alive I felt this day! My senses were more alert than ever before, trying to take in more beauty than could possibly be consumed by my own limited mind.
            I looked over to John again, trying to discern on his face what he was thinking. He gave off an air of being uncomplicated, as he gazed long at the other side of the canyon wall, himself trying to soak in the surroundings. It was a safe bet to say that he agreed with my former assertion that this day was the splendor of God on display for man to enjoy, or ignore. And he was enjoying it, allowing it to draw him ever closer to the Beloved of his heart.
            Again trying to discern the mysteries of the universe, I picked up my prior theme. “I feel so insignificant out here. As if God could really care about the lives of three souls who found themselves on the banks of the Potomac river today. It seems sometimes like the great cosmos of life is just too large for us to make any difference at all.”
            I noticed John absent-mindedly pick up a pebble and toss it into the water, staring intently at the spot where the elements collided. Perhaps he was just distracted; or perhaps he meant it as a parable. With John, I was never sure.
            My attention was diverted to a hawk flying overhead. Such a majestic creature, soaring on weightless wings. I wondered if I could ever take God up on His promise, that those who trusted in Him would rise up on wings like the eagle, to soar above the petty problems of this earth-bound mass of humanity.
            “Crud! How do you get down from here?”
            I looked up to see Patrick standing on a narrow ledge, as he tried to follow our path of descent to the valley floor.
            John chuckled to see him, the most boastful of our crew, abandoned with a thirty-foot drop beneath him. “You can do it!” John called out, encouragingly.
            “Yeah, but how?” He wasn’t genuinely worried, just frustrated. And probably a little embarrassed, considering how he was the one who cockily told us that this would be an easy climb.
            I stood up and pointed out the way to him, following a faint path down the solid granite that stood between him and the resting place beside the river.
            Deftly, like a hind that was longing for the peace and rest of this flowing stream, he agilely made his way down. Finally standing on flat ground once again, he beheld the view. “Oh, wow.”
            It was indeed becoming ever more beautiful, if that were even possible. The sun had begun to peek its face around the cliffs that surrounded us, its rays playing with the autumn leaves, dappling them in vibrant colors.
            My mind was blown. There must be a Love that created this, just for us. I looked up to the top of the cliff where the path led, and saw people distractedly eating lunch or talking on their cell phones, completely missing the canvas that the Master Artist was painting right before our very eyes.
            And yet, how do I fit into this great work of art, I in my weakness and frailty? I am but a man, created as wondrous as this glory yet so often corroded by my own humanity. I looked down to the greatest example of a holy soul that I knew, who sat before me looking at the professional rock climbers scrambling up the other side of the canyon. John had nothing to say, as usual, but what was happening in his soul?
            “What do you think of all this, John?” I asked, trying to glimpse into the hidden realms.
            He smiled, and looked at me briefly before returning his eyes to the scene before him. “It’s really beautiful. Thanks for inviting me to come hiking with you.”
            That’s it? That’s all that is going on in his soul? This living incarnation of Christ’s injunction to possess the heart of a child…and he can only express it in the simplest of terms. Perhaps that is what made him so holy, that he is able to love God with uncomplicatedness. I suppose that when one embraces the God who is Pure Light Himself, there is nothing more to say.
            “I think this is pretty beast,” Patrick offered, smiling broadly in his impish, worldly-wise way. He looked back from whence he came, and slapped the rock. “I totally poned that climb. And the view ain’t half-bad, either.”
            I snorted. “That’s putting it mildly. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be than here.”
            He laughed. “Oh, I can think of several. Maybe back in bed!”
            I had to laugh at his response – it was true that we certainly did get an early start on the day, to beat the crowds out to this solitary spot – but, is it really better to be asleep than alive? I suppose transcendence is lost on the carnal.
            I breathed in and breathed out, lost for words. For the first time in a long time, I saw that same look of satisfaction on Patrick’s face that I had been enjoying. He was taking it in, too, drinking in the living water pouring from beauty.
            I turned back around, not wanting to stare in wonder at what the Great Spirit could do through His masterpiece.
            Breaking the moment’s silence, I spoke aloud. “I remember reading in a book that God draws people to Him in one of three ways: through truth, beauty, or goodness. What do you think yours is?”
            Patrick smirked. “Why do you always have to be so super-religious?”
            “Seriously, Patrick. Just answer the question.”
            But he didn’t, and I don’t know if he also couldn’t. For those who know not God, the spiritual is nothing but folly. I tried hard not to judge him, but I also knew him. I knew that he had been wrestling with even the most basic intellectual consent to the existence of God. My question might have been too deep for him at this point.
Yet I could see on his face that he was not remaining neutral to God’s art. I believe that it is impossible to be in the sacred presence of God in nature without it affecting us deeply, deeper even than our rational thought. Beauty needs no argument for its existence. It is enough to experience it. And if God is Beauty Itself…
            “John, what about you?” I pressed, wanting a glimpse into a beauty even greater than all of creation: the splendor of a soul in the state of grace.
            He thought for a moment. “I don’t know. Goodness, I guess.”
            “I guess it just fits me.”
            I withdrew my queries. A mystery such as a soul in love with God is perhaps a veil that is not meant to be penetrated.
            So, instead, I shared my own thoughts. “I think I’m drawn by truth. I’ve always wanted to stake my life on something rock-solid, like this cliff behind us. This rock has been here for millions of years, and it’s not about to go anywhere anytime soon. I need Christ to be the solid rock on which I build my life.”
            “I don’t know if we can really separate the three,” John said, for the first time adding an unprovoked comment. “I mean, God is good because goodness is beautiful and true, right? It’s all one, because it’s all one God.”
            Good ol’ John. The quietest waters run the deepest, just like the Potomac before us. He was right.
            And of course, Patrick had to rub it in. “Ooh, fail. Look how he poned you! C’mon, what you got now?”
            I just smiled. “Well, he’s right, you know.”
            He laughed, but had no more to say. He went back to tracing with his hand the outline of a quartz vein lodged within the granite.
            “That’s true, I suppose,” I said to John, re-settling myself onto the rock that served as my seat. “God uses every avenue possible to draw us to Him, and when we experience Him, we experience all of Him – the love, the beauty, the truth, the goodness. All of it, all at once. Wow.”
            John, while he listened, was intently watching a school of minnows swimming around in the shallow water right below our feet.
            And they swam, in concert, for the greater glory of God. That phrase that we so glibly throw around – the glory of God – what was it? I recalled my theology classes, how my erudite (or perhaps perfectly obscure) professor said that it was “ordered causal relationships.” I had never been able to understand what he meant by that. On the contrary, the glory of God was something that was perhaps easier to identify than to define. I knew it when I saw it, and here, with the way that every micro-ecosystem formed a vital link in the great chain of the world, the glory of God was present. Everything was working with everything else, all converging in this moment to put on a show for us: the drama that we so easily call creation. But creation is nothing less than the fingerprints of God, a thing that we should not take so lightly.
            Perhaps that’s what my professor meant…
            Presently I noticed Patrick digging into my backpack, which I had strewn on the ground behind me. He pulled out a package of beef jerky and then looked at me expectantly, begging for some.
            “Go ahead,” I granted. “Just toss me some when you’re done with it.”
            He obliged, gnawing down on the tough rawhide and passing a piece to me.
            We had to squint as we continued gazing at the marvel before us, as the sun rose higher in the sky, casting its rays upon us and showering everything in its love.
            What a symbol for life, I thought. Here was this glowing orb which gave life to the earth as it burned itself out. By its own destruction, it gave a chance for us to exist as we did. And thus did the Son do as well…
            “I think I got it!” I exclaimed. I think I startled John a little bit by my outburst, but I couldn’t help myself. “That’s what it’s all about!”
            “What the heck are you talking about?” Patrick shot at me, his mouth full of jerky.
            “What it’s all about. Creation is so transient that it is meaningless without redemption. And redemption is meaningless without sanctification. It’s the Trinity! They all work together to help us figure it all out! This is awesome! And stop eating all of my jerky.”
            “Oh, sorry,” he mumbled through his stuffed mouth. “But I still don’t get it.”
            “I’m not sure that I do, entirely, either. But so often it seems like life is meaningless, you know? Like we’re just here one day, and then we’re gone the next. Even this beauty, while nice, won’t last past today. But we’re not condemned to bear this burden of emptiness because Jesus has redeemed us. We’re not destined just to pass away like the water of this river. We’re meant to exist eternally in love, to become lost in the God of the universe Who has been reaching out to us in every way possible, through beauty, truth, and goodness, all of which are embodied in Jesus Christ. And He has sent the Spirit to start that transformation in us, the transformation that is our growth into a God-like soul – that’s truly the glory of God!”
            “Thank you, Pope Joe,” Patrick remarked sarcastically.
            But John’s face was glowing with an unearthly glow I had never seen. It was more than just the sun on his face – he was positively radiating the Spirit with a grin that looked as if it was about to jump off of his face.
            Perhaps I finally understood something that he had known for years; it was hard to read such radiance. In any case, my mind had been enlightened as well.
            John stood up and looked back up to the top of the rock cliff. “Well, I guess it’s about time for us to climb back up. You guys ready?” Without waiting for a response, which he knew would be in the affirmative, he started his way up the wall.
            I could only marvel as I waited my turn, after he and Patrick had started the difficult ascent. Had he been willing to wait there until I had understood the meaning of it all? Did I just discover the secret to the depths of his spirituality?
            Stealing one last glance at the river, I silently thanked God that He had shown me what it’s all about.


Ordinary Time 28 - Oct 14, 2018

Homily for October 14, 2018
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Seeking Guidance, Finding Jesus in the Church

            A few years back, I was leading a group of boys through their Boy Scout Catholic Award. After the first session, one of the boys approached me. He asked, “Is this a…Catholic religious award?”
            I was a bit confused by the question, considering I am a Catholic priest! I replied, “Uh…yes.” After a considerably awkward pause, I asked, “Are you a Catholic?”
            He shrugged and said, “Nope. I don’t belong to a religion.”
            Surprised, I asked him, “Why are you here?”
            He replied, “Well, I just figured I needed some sort of religion in my life. Can I explore Catholicism?”
            I’m happy to report that this young man, as a freshman in high school, got baptized that spring and is now a happily practicing Catholic.
            But what an insight! “I need a religion in my life”. He knew he couldn’t do this “life” thing alone – he needed a guide, someone to show him the way.
            So it is with this rich young man. Presumably he had a comfortable life – riches, stability, and he seemed to be a pretty moral guy. But he wanted more; he wanted to go deeper in his faith. So he seeks to discover the path to greater love of God and neighbor.
            But seeking a spiritual path is not a matter of trying on jeans at Forever 21 or the Gap – you don’t just try them on for size and see which one fits your lifestyle. Rather, we should seek the truth – which is why this young man turns to Jesus, Who Himself is the Truth.
            I remember one time browsing in a church library. Those can be very scary places – you just never know what’s going to be on those shelves. I happened upon a book called “Ten Best Guesses”. Intrigued, I opened it up. It was by a priest who admitted in the book, “I don’t have all the answers to life’s questions like suffering, eternity, happiness, holiness…but here are my ten best guesses to life’s big questions!” I almost threw the book across the room. I understand about knowing your limitations, but I don’t want best guesses about how to live – I want to know the truth about suffering, about eternity, about the path to holiness! I want to know a tried-and-true way to come to God and follow Him!
            And I have found it – in the Scriptures and in the teachings of our Catholic Church. I believe – and our Church teaches – that the Bible is the living and inerrant Word of God, entrusted with the Truth of our salvation. And I believe that this Word of God is explained and lived out in the living Tradition of our Church.
            After all, look at the evidence – all the saints who have followed the Lord Jesus and found their life’s meaning, their life’s purpose, true joy, abundant life, everlasting love, and an eternity in Heaven. We often look only at the scandals in the Church – and yes, there have been some bad leaders. But look for a moment at those who have found in the Church the spiritual path to Heaven – Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II, St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux…we have tens of thousands of canonized saints, and many more saints who we will never know until Heaven, who have already blazed a path to Heaven by following the guidance of the Scriptures and our Catholic Church.
            So, if you are looking for spiritual guidance, look no further than the Word of God and the Catholic Church. Here, you will find the wisdom of two thousand years of people who have followed the Lord and blazed a path to Heaven. This is why we should remain Catholic – because it is the True Path to Heaven. This rich young man came seeking a guide to holiness, but turned away because it required too much of him. We come to the Scriptures and the Church to seek a guide to holiness; may we have the courage to do what He asks of us through His Word and His Church.
            I want to close with the story of a saint who found in the Church a true guide and pathway to Heaven. His name is St. Moses the Black, and at one time he was the most feared gang leader in Ethiopia in the 400s. He led a gang of 75 men across the countryside, raping and pillaging and murdering anyone in his path. After years of leading this gang, the law began to catch up with him, and he was pursued by the police. Knowing he needed to hide, he found a monastery in the desert and prepared to ransack it and use it as a hideout.
            But when he banged on the monastery door, he was greeted by the abbot…who welcomed him. He has so shocked to be welcomed, and doubly shocked to see in the abbot’s face something that he had rarely seen: love, joy, peace. Moses allowed himself to be led into the monastery, and had a long conversation with the abbot where he heard the message of Jesus Christ for the first time. Finally, he decided to remain in the monastery as a monk, dismissing his gang.
            But life as a monk was difficult. He had developed so many vices: lust, anger, greed; and it was difficult to rid himself of them. After several years, he was frustrated by his lack of progress, and he made ready to leave the monastery. Once again, the abbot intervened, and early one morning brought him to the roof of the monastery just as the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. “Just as the sun lights up the sky gradually and not all at once, so God’s grace will bring His light into your life gradually.”
            Moses persevered in the monastery, and was finally able to master himself through prayer and penance and great struggle. He was ordained a priest and eventually started his own monastery with 75 men; since he had led 75 men into sin, he would now lead 75 men into Heaven.
            Moses was looking for the right way to live, and he found it in Christ through the mentorship of the Abbot. If we are looking for the right way to live, we can find it in the Bible and in our Catholic Faith.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Ordinary Time 27 - October 7, 2018

Homily for Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 7, 2018

            Many years ago, I was running a faith-formation program for a group of middle school kids. We were working on learning about the Sacrament of Matrimony, so I invited a couple from my parish to speak with the kids. They had been married for over 50 years, so their testimony was quite inspiring. After their presentation, we asked if the kids had any questions. One young man raised his hand and asked, “Have you ever thought about splitting up?”
            There was an awkward pause as husband and wife looked at each other nervously. Finally the wife spoke. “Yes, there have been times…”
            The husband looked at her with surprise. “Really? You too?”
            Jesus’ teaching on marriage in today’s Gospel is one of His most difficult teachings – He says that one who remarries after a divorce (without the benefit of an annulment) is committing adultery. He really couldn’t be any clearer than that, but let’s look at the why behind what Jesus is teaching.
            We go all the way back to the beginning to see the very origins of marriage. From our first reading, which Jesus references, we can see that marriage is a divine reality, not merely a human one. This is the first relationship that God creates – not a country, not a village, not friendship, but a family – a husband and wife who are given to each other. It is so significant that Eve is created from Adam’s rib, for two reasons: first, the rib is nearest to the heart, signifying that Adam and Eve should hold nothing back from each other but truly give each other their “hearts” – share their entire life with the other. Also, the rib shows their equality – if Eve were created from Adam’s head, that would have symbolized her domination over him; if she were created from Adam’s foot, that would mean that she is subject to him. But instead, she was created from his rib, from the center of his body – so that they would share equality.
            This relationship was unique in all of creation, because it was meant to be one-flesh union – a total gift of every last part of oneself to one’s exclusive spouse. This gift-of-self must be free, total, faithful, and fruitful. When one chooses to freely give oneself to another in marriage, this gift must be total, leaving nothing behind. A husband and wife share each other’s names, bank accounts, destinies, home, and family. Since this gift is total, it must be exclusive – once you have given yourself to another, you no longer can possess yourself to give it away to someone new. It’s like if I give you a $20 bill, I can’t give that same $20 bill to another person because it’s yours now. In marriage, a husband belongs to his wife. A man is no longer just “John Smith” – he is “John Smith, the husband of Mary Smith.” His very identity is different because he has given himself away. And to give away this love to your spouse is to open yourself to the life that God wants to pour into a marriage.
            This sounds like a beautiful image for marriage, but as the infomercials say…but wait, there’s more! This entire view of marriage, as a self-giving, one-flesh union, is meant to be a very image of God’s love for His people! Marriage is beautiful because it reflects a heavenly reality! Just as a husband and wife give themselves to each other in marriage, Jesus Christ has given Himself to His Bride, the Church. From the side of sleeping Adam came His Bride; from the side of Christ as He sleeps on the Cross comes out blood and water – the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, which make up the Church. God desires to become one flesh with us in the Eucharist, as a husband desires to become one flesh with his wife, and this one-flesh union should bear fruit – in the Eucharist, the fruit of holiness; in marriage, the fruit of children.
            I don’t know if you’ve ever read the Song of Songs, but it’s one of the books of the Bible that is definitely not G-rated! This book is passionate love poetry, where a groom expresses his love for his wife in some unique poetic terms… “Your cheeks are like pomegranates; your hair is like a flock of goats running down a mountainside.” Try that on your wife and you’re likely to get a strange look. But when St. Theresa of Avila began writing an explanation of this book of the Bible, her fellow nuns were scandalized. They said, “How can you write about such a steamy book? It’s shocking!” St. Theresa merely smiled and replied, “Have you never tasted the Eucharist?” God desires this one-flesh union with us – a union that is mirrored in creation by marriage!
            Looking at marriage through this lens – created by God, meant for one-flesh union, a total gift of self that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful, that reflects God’s Divine love for humanity – then we can understand why the Church holds up marriage as such a beautiful gift, and why She teaches what she does about marriage and sexuality. For example, the Church teaches that contraception is a grave sin, because one cannot make a true gift of self if they are not giving the gift of their fertility to their spouse. The Church teaches that any sexual act outside of marriage is gravely immoral, because a man and woman cannot give themselves faithfully and freely without the sacred Covenant of marriage, a marriage that is supposed to reflect the Covenant of God with His People. It isn’t possible to redefine marriage to be two men or two women, either, if marriage is created (and therefore defined) by God and directed towards that fruitfulness of children. Jesus teaches us that civil divorce does not change your marital status in the sight of God, and therefore the first Sacramental marriage is not ended with a civil divorce and therefore the person is not free to marry again.
            All of this sounds like Christ and His Church are saying, “No, no, don’t do this, don’t do that.” But in reality, the Church is saying a resounding “yes” – a yes to a vision of marriage that reflects a divine reality; a vision of marriage that is free, total, faithful, and fruitful self-gift.
            When we speak of this vision of marriage, we recognize that not every marriage is perfect – and this homily is not meant to criticize anyone who is divorced, or to judge anyone who has fallen into sins against the dignity of marriage. “All have fallen short of the glory of God,” and our marriages are not exempt. Satan has a special hatred for marriage because it is the most perfect reflection of divine love on earth, and so many marriages have fallen apart in our modern society. But when we invite Christ into our marriage, we will find it begins to be formed into the holiness it was made for. A fascinating statistic: About 40% of marriages end in divorce. But if a couple attends church together weekly, the divorce rate is 35% less. Couples that pray together daily have only about a 2% divorce rate. Couples that pray together daily and do not use artificial birth control have less than a 1% divorce rate. Inviting Christ into your marriage and following His teachings on marriage and sexuality will lead to a better, more fulfilling life. I know that’s a bold claim, but it’s one I am willing to defend. My friends, if you are married, stay faithful to one another and invite Jesus into your marriage. If you are young and are not yet married, practice purity and save your self-gift until marriage. All of us, let us pray for the marriages in our community – that by God’s grace, they may be radiant signs of God’s love in the world.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 25 - September 23, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 25
September 23, 2018

            The great American Catholic laywoman of the twentieth century, Dorothy Day, was well-known for her love for the poor. She opened up her home to homeless people and often served them from morning until night. Her activism on behalf of the poor gained her significant fame, and she was interviewed by several newspapers and published several books and numerous articles.
            One day, a newspaper reporter wanted to do an article on her, so he traveled to the local soup kitchen where Dorothy could often be found serving the poor. He found the famous woman engaged in a loving conversation with a dirty, smelly, drunk homeless woman in ragged clothes. When the reporter approached, Dorothy looked up at him and asked simply, “Did you want to speak with one of us?”
            This is a pretty good definition of humility. This famous, holy activist thought herself no different from the dirty and drunk homeless woman. To Dorothy Day, all had the same dignity; all deserved the same respect.
            There are certain virtues that are very well-accepted by secular society. Kindness, generosity, compassion – all of these virtues could just as easily be found in a public school classroom or a company’s brochure as they would be found in church. But certain virtues seem very strange to the world. For example, few in the secular world would find “chastity” to be a virtue – it’s just too countercultural! Likewise, very few people would see “humility” as a worthwhile virtue – you don’t see that proclaimed as a value very often!
            This is, in part, because we don’t understand what humility is. Humility is the virtue of knowing yourself well, not thinking too highly of yourself, and recognizing that any talent or gift that you have is a gift from God. The humble man does not deny that he is good at a certain thing, or that he possess certain gifts, but rather recognizes that he has them only because God has given them to him.
            St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that virtue is the midpoint between two extremes – and this is certainly true of humility! On one extreme, we have pride – precisely what the Apostles were arguing about in the Gospel. They want to be first! They are puffed up in their own minds, thinking that they’re “all that and a bag of chips” (as the saying goes).
            Jesus’ response is not just a spiritual truth – it makes sense on a natural level, too. He replies that “if anyone wishes to be first, he should be the last of all and the servant of all.” Consider this – does anyone enjoy being around someone who is prideful, who brags and boasts? Of course not. They are obnoxious and a boor. There’s an old story about a man who was just named Vice President of his company, which puffed him up with pride. He went around boasting for several weeks about his promotion, until his wife finally said in frustration, “You think you’re so great, being Vice President? Everyone becomes a Vice President these days. Heck, down at the grocery store, there’s a Vice President of peas.” The man wanted to call his wife’s bluff, so he called the local grocery story and asked, “May I speak with the Vice President of peas?” To which the receptionist responded, “Fresh or frozen?”
            The opposite of pride, though, is a type of false humility. This is when people refuse to believe that they have any gifts whatsoever. We’ve all met people like that – we say to them, “That was an amazing piano recital! You have such a gift!” And they respond, “Oh, no, I’m not really very good.” Or they overly focus on their negative aspects instead of recognizing how God has blessed them. Think of Eeyore – he’s a perfect example of false humility!
            So, real humility is in-between pride and false humility. A truly humble person knows who they are, recognizes their gifts, and gives glory to God for any accomplishments. A humble person is not puffed up by success; nor are they crushed by failure.
            So how do we grow in this virtue? Three suggestions:
            First, imitate the lives of humble people, especially Jesus and Mary. Mary is a beautiful example of humility – here she is, the most privileged human being to walk the face of the earth, but she gives all glory to God. When her cousin Elizabeth says, “You are truly blessed among women!”, she doesn’t deny it. Rather, she responds by saying, “My soul glorifies the Lord” – she points to Him Who gave her the gift of being the Mother of the Savior.
            Jesus, too, is a shining example of humility. The King of the Universe didn’t think it was beneath His dignity to become a shivering baby in a stable. The Lord of all creation allowed others to beat Him and crown Him with thorns and hang Him on a cross. His humility was the vehicle through which His love shone through.
            A second way to grow in humility is to do humbling things. Clean the bathroom; take out your own garbage. Vacuum your own house; purchase the simpler car. It’s awfully hard to be puffed-up in pride when you’re scrubbing a dirty dish or driving a Mazda! Many ad campaigns tell you, “You deserve it – you deserve the vacation, the fancy dinner, the expensive purse.” Instead, purposely choose to do things that will make you realize that you’re not the center of the universe.
            A final way to grow in humility is to stop thinking and talking about yourself! There was once a man at a party who blathered on and on about himself: his accomplishments, his bank accounts, his job, his kids. People were getting bored listening to him talk about himself. Finally, he concluded by saying, “Well, I’ve talked too long about myself. So let me ask you about yourself – what do you think of me?” But humble people don’t often talk about themselves. As Pastor Rick Warren once said, “Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself…it means thinking of yourself less!” To grow in humility, don’t overly think of your gifts, your problems, your accomplishments.
            My friends, the greatest of all sins is pride. This is the sin that caused the Devil to rebel against God – he wanted to be greater than the Lord! The antidote to pride is humility – knowing ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, and knowing that all that we have and are is a gift from God. I will leave you with a powerful quite from St. Padre Pio: “Humility and purity are the wings which carry us to God and make us almost divine.”