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.