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.”

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 24 - September 16, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 24
September 16, 2018
The Case for Christ

            In the late 1970s, a journalist named Lee Strobel was at a crossroads. He was born and raised an atheist, and his wife was one as well. But one night as they were dining out, their daughter began choking. Panicked, they looked around the room for help, and a nurse happened to be there. She quickly performed the Heimlich maneuver and the girl was saved.
            That nurse began a friendship with Lee’s wife, and through that influence, his wife became a Christian. Lee, however, was staunch in his atheism. He thought that Christianity was a thing of legends and myths. He was challenged, however, by a friend who told him to examine the evidence. As a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, he knew all about examining evidence – cold, hard facts. So he began a years-long journey examining the facts about the claims of Christianity.
            First, he had to examine who Jesus said He was. As CS Lewis put it, Jesus is either “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic”. He clearly claimed to be God, as we sort-of see in today’s Gospel. We read Mark’s version of this event, but Matthew takes the same event and spells it out more clearly – Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” in Matthew’s account. So, when pressed about the identity of Jesus, His disciples acknowledge Him as God. And Jesus does not deny it! He accepts it and calls Peter “blessed” for understanding this about Him.
            If a person claims to be something outrageous – like a man claiming to be a ham sandwich (or in today’s society, a man claiming to be a woman…) – we have every right to challenge that claim. If you say you are a ham sandwich, prove it! If you claim to be God, prove it!
            Did Jesus do the sorts of things that God does? He was able to do some remarkable miracles – healing the sick, multiplying bread and fish, walking on water, casting out demons. But many prophets and patriarchs did similar miracles. These miracles alone do not prove Christ’s divinity.
            But there was one miracle par excellence which proves His divinity – the Resurrection. Never before, and never since, has a man raised himself from the dead. We can believe in the Resurrection for several reasons.
            First, there is the empty tomb – no one has ever claimed to have found Christ’s Body. Second, all four Gospels testify to it – and the Gospels were historical documents written by eyewitnesses! In fact, the Gospels tell us that after Christ’s Resurrection, Jesus ate and drank, and was seen by over 500 people.
            It is highly unlikely that these witnesses could all have mass hallucination. These were hard-headed fishermen, farmers, and laborers, not dreamers and hippies.
Besides, the twelve main men who saw the Resurrection – the Apostles – paid for it dearly. All of the Apostles except for John were martyred, killed for proclaiming that Jesus is Risen. Who would die for a lie? No one. Consider, too, that all of the Apostles except for John, upon Jesus’ death, ran away in terror. How could these fearful men, hiding to save their own skins, only fifty days later be transformed into bold and courageous preachers? Peter went from denying he even knew Jesus to being the first one on Pentecost Sunday to declare that He is risen. Something must have happened that changed him – and that something is that he met the Risen Lord!
Now, all of this is evidence, not proof. No one can prove a historical event in the same way we can prove a math equation or a science experiment. But the historical record shows a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that Jesus is truly God.
What did that mean for Lee Strobel? After two years of searching, seeking out facts and truth, he came to the conclusion that Jesus truly is God, and he became a baptized Christian. What does this mean for us? Two things.
First, consider how absolutely unique and phenomenal it is that God – the very same God who created the universe, the all-holy One whom angels worship on bended knee – this God became a human. He ate, drank, slept, got hurt…He is one of us. We should be in awe of this mystery! God is intimate, close, fully human in Jesus Christ.
Second, since Jesus is God, we have an obligation to follow Him. CS Lewis said that when confronted with Jesus, there were only three reactions in Scripture: hatred, terror, or adoration. No one just gives Him mild approval; no one says “meh” when confronted with the radical possibility that this Man, Jesus Christ, is God among us. If we really knew Jesus, who He is and who He claimed to be, we would be forced to either love Him wholeheartedly or reject Him completely. There is no middle ground. Let us love Him wholeheartedly, then!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 23 - September 9, 2018

Ordinary Time 23
September 9, 2018

            Here are four statistics to boggle your mind:
-          The average teenage girl sends and receives an average of 4,000 texts per month. That averages out to 133 per day, or 8 texts every waking hour.
-          There are over 13 billion web pages existing on the internet.
-          If you were to try to watch every single video on Youtube, it would take over 1400 years of non-stop watching. Even then, it wouldn’t work, because every minute, another 35 hours of video are uploaded.
-          The amount of “content” (music, videos, pictures, words written) that was produced from the beginning of the world until 2008 is now produced every two days, thanks to social media and the internet.
This should stun us. We live in a very noisy world. I’d be curious how many of us have social media; how many of us browse the Internet for an hour or more each day. A recent 2018 study shows that teenagers spend an average of six hours and forty minutes each day in front of a screen. That is a huge amount of time!
In all this noise – visual noise, audio noise, stimulation – are we going deaf to the things that really matter?
My mom used to joke around that we, her kids, had “selective hearing”. Oh, we could hear the TV just fine, but when she would ask us to mow the lawn, somehow we went deaf! I wonder if we as a culture, and we as individuals, have developed “selective hearing” where we are deaf to God?
All of this noise, distraction, technology addiction has brought about three negative consequences.
First, it has deafened us to God. God only speaks in silence. A lot of times people ask me, “How does God speak to me? I don’t hear Him?” He has made it clear how He speaks to us – through nature, through other people, through the Scriptures and the writings of the saints, through Christian music, through the Liturgy. But all of these require that we unplug from the other noise that surrounds us. He wants to speak to us, but He will not shout over the noise we surround ourselves with.
The Evil One is very cunning, and he knows that his #1 best tactic is to get us to stop praying. As long as we seek God daily, Satan has no power over us. So the Evil One doesn’t try to get us to give up our faith altogether, but bit by bit, little by little, he tries to distract us and block out the quiet voice of God. We must be aware that Satan has used technology and media to separate many souls from a regular life of prayer!
Second, we have to ask what messages are coming through all of this noise. Every Youtube video starts with an ad – am I being subtly told that my happiness will come if I buy this product? So many of our talking heads are shrill and divisive – am I being subtly told that the solution to our problems is to vote for this candidate or endorse this issue? Many articles and news sources come from the perspective that the Church’s teachings are wrong, that there is no God, or that we get to define right from wrong – do I subtly start to agree with them? Media forms us, forms our opinions, forms our culture. How is the media forming us, maybe without us even knowing?
Finally, has our technological noise brought about division among us and within us? There was a girl in one of my confirmation classes who had her earbuds in constantly. She was the type to put them in at the beginning of the day and not take them out until she went to sleep (and maybe not even then!). One day, I challenged the class to spend ten minutes in silence each day. She gasped and exclaimed, “I could never do that!” I asked her, “Why not?” I’ll never forget her response – “I am afraid of what I might hear.”
She was alienated from herself. She wasn’t at peace within herself. How much of our technological noise is due to the fact that we aren’t at peace with ourselves or with one another? We’ve all seen those families who go out to eat, and instead of talking with each other, they just stare at their phones for the whole meal. If we aren’t careful, technology can make us lose our ability to connect.
I do not mean to criticize all technology or all social media. Surely, technology has been a blessing in many ways. But it’s a tool that we must master, or it will master us. People often ask why I don’t have a smart phone. It’s simple: I don’t think I have the ability to master it – more than likely, I will be a slave to it.
So I challenge you: has your technology, has the noise of the media, made you deaf? The man in today’s Gospel was deaf from birth; we are often deaf by choice. Deaf to God, deaf to the Truth, deaf to our family and friends. If technology and media has made you deaf, consider giving it up, limiting it, using it less. Only then will we be able to hear God.