Friday, May 31, 2019

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter - June 2, 2019

Homily for June 2, 2019
Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
White Martyrdom

            A major turning point in my relationship with Jesus occurred when I was blessed to go on pilgrimage to Rome when I was fourteen. I was just excited for ten days without my parents in a foreign country! But I remember visiting the Coliseum, and as I stood there, I realized – over ten thousand men, women, and children shed their blood for Jesus Christ right there, on that spot. Why did I not take my faith more seriously, if they were willing to die for it? And when I returned home, I vowed to live out my Catholic Faith in Jesus Christ more intensely.
            The word “martyr” in Greek means “witness”. And these men and women – starting with St. Stephen in today’s first reading, all the way up to those killed in Sri Lanka in the recent Easter church bombings – are witnesses to the Lord Jesus. It’s one thing to say you believe in Jesus – it’s quite another to die for Him. And thus, the martyrs are one of the most credible witnesses we have to the truth of our Faith. As the Church Father Tertullian said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” If they are willing to shed their blood for Christ, it calls us on to take our faith more seriously!
            A few years ago, in 2015, you may remember a video that was circulating on the internet of ISIS who had captured twenty Egyptian Christians. The terrorists brought these men to the seashore and filmed their beheading. Seeing their immense faith and courage, one of the terrorists declared, “Their God is my God!” He was then martyred along with the twenty. It was the courage and faith of those twenty that led one more to the Lord Jesus.
            Over the centuries, there have been over fifty million martyrs. Think of it – fifty million people killed for their faith in Jesus. And most of these were in the last one-hundred years! More people died for Christ in the twentieth century than in all other centuries combined.
            With the eyes of faith, though, martyrdom is not a tragedy but a blessing. After all, the reward of martyrdom is mentioned in our second reading – they have “washed their robes” (in other words, been purified through the Blood of Christ) and now have the privilege to enter the city of Heaven and eat from the tree of life.
            In fact, some of the greatest saints had an overwhelming desire for martyrdom. For example, St. Therese of Lisieux said, “My desire for martyrdom is profound and unsettling.” St. Francis traveled all the way from Italy to Egypt to preach the Gospel to the Muslim sultan, in hopes that he would be martyred. The Sultan listened to the saint, impressed by his courage, and then sent him back home to Italy without harming him at all – much to Francis’ disappointment!
            All Christians should love Jesus so much that they would be willing to give up everything for Him. Now, you may be thinking, “Really? I want to live a long and happy life! I don’t want to be a martyr!” But Jesus says that there is no greater love than to lay down your life. And we should all seek to cultivate that kind of love – as Jesus died for us, so we should be willing to live and die for Him. He is not asking us to do anything He has not done first! Besides, union with God in Heaven is far, far better than this world, which the saints have called a “valley of tears”!
            But don’t worry, because living in twenty-first century America means that we probably won’t face physical martyrdom any time soon. Nevertheless, there is a type of martyrdom called “white martyrdom” that we can all participate in. This means being willing to endure the mockery, struggles, and misunderstandings of others as we follow our Lord Jesus.
            So that family who receives sarcastic remarks because of their openness to life, but responds with a smile – that is white martyrdom. That high school student who is unafraid to wear a crucifix or miraculous medal, despite what others think – that is white martyrdom. The person who suffers from chronic pain but doesn’t complain and offers it up to the Lord – that is white martyrdom. The Christian who prays grace in a public restaurant, who is not afraid to walk away from a dirty conversation or to leave a family barbecue in time to get to Mass when others think it’s silly…all this is white martyrdom. It is a sign of our love for the Lord Jesus, who was willing to suffer a red martyrdom by shedding His Blood for us.
            Jesus gave us everything. He held nothing back for Himself but was willing to endure every suffering to draw us close to His Heart. One who loves Him and seeks to give their lives to Him is willing to endure any suffering or hardship, with our eyes firmly fixed on the Lord whom we love. This is white martyrdom – this is the call for every Christian.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Devotion to the Sacred Heart

Bulletin Column – June 2, 2019
            In the Church, June is the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is one of my favorite devotions, as it emphasizes the true humanity and deep tenderness of the Lord.
            The devotion originated with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun who began having visions of Jesus’ Sacred Heart in 1673. Jesus revealed to her His own desire to be loved: “Behold the Heart that has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love.”
            How strange to consider that God, who is Perfection Himself, desires something! He who is Pure Joy still thirsts for our love! The “heart” is often considered the core of the person – their inner life, their emotions and desires, their very self. This Sacred Heard devotions shows the inner life of God – how His Heart burns with love for us, and how It desires nothing more than to be loved in return.
It took a while for this devotion to catch on – her own mother superior believed these visions to be nothing more than a hoax. But with the support of the priest-chaplain of the convent (who himself was a saint – St. Claude de Colombiere), the devotion began to become deeply rooted in the life of the convent. The Jesuits soon heard of it and spread it far and wide. In 1928, Pope Pius IX wrote an encyclical which publicly ratified devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
One of the reasons why the devotion struggled to catch on was a heresy called Jansenism, which was rife at the time. Started by Bishop Cornelius Jansen, a university professor, it emphasized the total corruption of human beings. He said that only certain people were predestined to be saved, and heavily spoke about God’s judgment and wrath with its concomitant strict morality. Much of the Church was deeply influenced by his teachings. Although his teachings were officially condemned by the Church, many preachers continued to emphasize God’s anger and our corruption. As a Protestant preacher later put it, we were “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
All of this influenced the cultural milieu in which St. Margaret Mary found herself. Her own autobiography bears witness to this – she sees herself as nothing more than a worthless worm, a vile sinner, and she performs extreme penances to assuage God’s justice. While all of this shows a glimmer of truth (we are all sinners who ought to do penance in reparation for our sins, since God is truly just), it is also incomplete – it lacks the perspective of God’s infinite mercy, His redemption of mankind, and His desire for an intimate friendship with us. Hence – the Sacred Heart devotion was God’s corrective measure to balance the excesses of Jansenism!
Catholicism is not “either-or” but “both-and”. It is not either God’s justice or His mercy – it is both/and. Human beings are sinners, AND we are washed clean in the Blood of Christ. We must obey the Ten Commandments AND have a deep personal friendship with Christ. Our spirituality gets out-of-whack when we emphasize only one to the exclusion of the other.
This month, as we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 28, we recall the beauty and passion of God’s Heart – a heart wounded by our sins, but burning with love for us.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 26, 2019

Homily for May 26, 2019
Sixth Sunday of Easter
A Well-Ordered Life

            It was a dark place, damp and smelling of death. The Tower of London was the place where people were jailed before their execution. And that is precisely what brought St. Thomas More there.
            He was once the Chancellor of all of England, the second-in-command to his friend, King Henry VIII. But as the King began to stray from the Church – first by divorcing his wife and marrying another woman without an annulment, then by declaring himself the head of the Church in England – Thomas stayed faithful to his Catholic Faith. When the King forced all officials to swear an oath declaring the King, not the Pope, to be the head of the Church, Thomas refused, knowing that it would lead to his death. Despite offers of great wealth, freedom, and honors if he only violated his faith and signed the oath, he stayed steadfast, and was sentenced to execution by beheading.
            The night before his death, he wrote a letter to his beloved daughter Margaret. In part, it reads: “Therefore tomorrow I long to go to God:  it will be a day very perfect for me. Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you, and for all your friends, that we may merrily meet in heaven.”
            How can a condemned man keep such peace? Here he was, facing his own death, but able to write to his daughter with joy and love. He had a peace the world cannot give – the peace that Jesus promises in the Gospel.
            Peace is not the absence of conflict. That is not possible on this earth. As St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote, “It is not possible to avoid the malice of the wicked, no matter how one’s life is ordered.” No, we will always have stressful situations, difficult bosses, bullies, family tensions. But we can still have peace – because peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of Christ.
            The Gospel ties together three seemingly disparate ideas – peace, the Holy Spirit, and following God’s commandments. But these ideas are actually closely connected – and they all have to do with ordering your life well so that we can have inner peace.
            What do I mean by “ordering our life well”? Simple. The order of our life should be: God first, others second, ourselves third. Let’s take a look at that.
            Inner peace comes, first, from a life where God is central. Jesus talks about sending the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit will not dwell in a soul where He has to take second or third place. We’d all like to think that God is the most important priority, but is He really? Do we attend Mass every Sunday, even on vacation or when it conflicts with our kids’ sports games? Do we pray for at least ten minutes daily? Do we read spiritual books and seek to grow in our Faith? Do we seek to live a virtuous life, following in the footsteps of Christ? If we had to be honest, probably most of us have idols on the throne of our heart!
            Imagine that your life is like a bucket. Into the bucket you must place a big rock, pebbles, sand, and water. What needs to go in first? The big rock. If we fill the bucket with sand, we will never be able to put in the big rock. But if we put the big rock in first, then the pebbles can fill in around it, and the sand can fill in around the pebbles, and the water can fill in around the sand. Likewise, if we put the non-essential stuff into our life first (work, sports, cars, etc), then we will have no room for God. But if we put God into our life first, then the rest will fit in its proper place as well.
            So, to have inner peace through a rightly ordered life, we keep God first. Second is our love for neighbor. As Pope John Paul II said, “Man can only find himself in a sincere gift of himself.” In other words, when you sacrifice for others, that is when we find the true joy and peace.
            Third – and this is often overlooked – we must have a rightly-ordered love of self. Human beings are made of two parts: body and soul. Which one should be dominant? Which one should be the master? The soul. Our souls should direct our body, but so often it’s the other way around. We know that we should pray, but our body is too comfortable on the couch watching reruns of “Game of Thrones” so we allow our body to rule. We know we shouldn’t eat that third donut because it would be gluttony, but our bodies overwhelm our soul’s good intentions. We know we shouldn’t look at women with lust, but we are – all too often – slaves to our bodies.
            Unfortunately, our culture supports this. Look at any commercial: they always emphasize pleasure, comfort, convenience, ease. How many times do you see a commercial like “Kale: It Tastes Horrible, But It’s Good for You” or “Ford Focus: It May Not Be Comfortable, But It’s Got Great Gas Mileage.” Of course not! Advertisers know that we are attracted to the comfortable, the easy, the pleasant – but in our world, this leads to a population that is ruled by its physical desires instead of what is truly good for the human person.
            So what is the antidote? How can we be rightly-ordered within ourselves, and not allow our bodies to master our souls? The answer is discipline. Self-discipline leads to inner peace. We grow in self-discipline every time we make a choice to do something unpleasant that is for our good. The alarm goes off – we have a choice to hit the snooze button or to get up. Choose to get up! (St. Josemaria Escriva once called that “the heroic minute” – as it’s the first battle of the day to choose your body’s comfort or your soul’s strength). We are at an office party with free food, and our favorite cookie is there – do we go crazy and stuff ourselves, or exercise self-mastery and say, “I will have three cookies, and no more.” Every time we choose discipline, we are re-ordering our life so that the soul has mastery over the body.
            And this is the way to peace – living a well-ordered life, putting God first, others second, and having an ordered interior life where the soul has mastery over the body. This is also the way to peace in society – when enough people live a well-ordered life, we will have well-ordered families, well-ordered communities, and a well-ordered – and peaceful – nation. These three ideas in the Gospel aren’t all that different – the Holy Spirit, following the commandments, and peace – because with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and a well-ordered following of God’s commands, we will have peace!

Keeping the Lord's Day Holy

Bulletin Column – May 26, 2019
            Welcome to summer! Memorial Day weekend often heralds the unofficial beginning of the summer season. As we start this much-anticipated season of recreation and fun, I read a very interesting short document this past week that kept it all in perspective for me.
            The Archbishop of Detroit, Archbishop Vigneron, recently released a Pastoral Letter called “The Day of the Lord” as part of what they call a “missionary conversion” of their diocese. He – like many other zealous bishops across the country, including our own – is taking the call to become missionary apostles in a post-Christian America, and is leading his own diocese through a process of renewal and rededication to the truths of our Catholic Faith (much like we did with our synod process back in 2014-2015).
            In this particular document, the Archbishop talks about the importance of the Lord’s Day (Sunday) as a day of rest, worship, and true connection to God and our loved ones. He is making a call to reclaim Sunday as the day that is set apart from all others, on which we should not work or engage in pursuits that do not lead to greater holiness and wholeness.
            To that end, in this pastoral letter, the Archbishop officially declared that there will be no sports in any diocesan school (high school or elementary school) on Sundays. Wow! What a radical change! Even when I was chaplain at TCHS, our field would be used by our teams on Sundays to practice or to host games. But this Archbishop is declaring that there will be no practices, games, or any other sporting-related events for any school team on Sundays in his diocese.
            What a mandate! And it flies in the face of our modern culture. It is an amazing fact that on Sunday mornings, more Americans can be found at sports fields than in churches – prompting us to ask, what do we really worship? This pastoral initiative by the Detroit Archdiocese seeks to replace kids’ sports with the Lord Jesus as the true God that we worship.
            This declaration should cause us to pause. Do we, at times, put sports or vacations above God when Sunday rolls around? When I was doing the Confirmation interviews for our students here at St. John’s, I would ask every single one, “Do you go to Mass every Sunday?” Many of them said, “Well, I get to as many as I can, but I have dance…I have lacrosse…my family was on vacation so we missed it…”
            As we celebrate the unofficial start of summer, let us redouble our commitment to make sure that we worship God fifty-two weeks out of the year. If you need help finding a Mass because of vacations or your kids’ sports tournaments, check out – this fantastic website has the schedules of every Mass in every town and city throughout the world – so there’s no excuse to miss Mass! Our vacations should not be a vacation from God!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 19, 2019

Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 19, 2019
Spiritual Works of Mercy

            In today’s Gospel, Jesus commands us to love. But this love must be lived out practically – it’s not enough to have warm fuzzy feelings, we must put it into action. As Mother Teresa said, “There should be less talk. Just grab a broom and sweep someone’s house. That speaks loud enough.”
            Most of us can think of ways to put this love into action – make a meal for someone, give them a gift, give money to the poor. In Catholic lingo, this is considered the corporal works of mercy – practical ways to love your neighbor as Christ loved us.
            But, human beings are made of both body and soul. So we can also show love to others by caring for their spiritual well-being. We call these the seven spiritual works of mercy – and it is these that I would like to talk about today.
            First, why do we need them? Shouldn’t we just “live and let live,” letting people take care of their own spiritual lives? No! The Bible teaches us that we are our brother’s keeper. It is a great act of charity to help others to grow spiritually. If I make someone a meal, that will give them energy to live. But if I feed someone spiritually by teaching them about the Lord, I am giving them a reason to live – and I am feeding their souls for eternal life, which is far better than this physical life! So let’s look at the seven ways in which we are called to love our neighbor by helping them encounter the Lord.
            The first spiritual work of mercy is instruct the ignorant. This is what we see Paul and Barnabas doing in today’s first reading. They are traveling to seven different regions of the ancient Near East to proclaim the word of God, instructing those who had never heard about the good news of Jesus, the Savior.
            We can do this too! When parents teach their kids about prayer and our Catholic Faith, they are fulfilling this work of mercy! Or when a friend asks you why you wear a crucifix and you explain about your faith, you are performing this act of mercy! St. Peter instructs us to “always have a reason for the hope that lies within you” – we must know our Faith so we can instruct others, as a profound act of charity!
            Once when I had just graduated high school, I was shopping for new clothes in Wal-Mart (where I shop for all my groovy threads). I happened to strike up a conversation with a lady in the checkout line who asked about my college plans. I told her I was going to Franciscan University to study philosophy. She then asked, very reasonably, what in the world I was planning to do with a degree in philosophy – a valid question! But I thought, “Hmm, do I really want to tell this woman that I just met that I was going to study for the Catholic priesthood? She might think I’m weird or something!” Finally, I decided to tell her, so I said, “Well, I’m thinking about becoming a Catholic priest.” She got really quiet and then said, “Oh, that’s interesting. Why do Catholics worship Mary?” I was floored – was this conversation really happening in a Wal-Mart checkout line? Somehow I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to respond, so I said, “As Catholics, we don’t worship Mary. We honor her, because since she was the closest person to Jesus on earth, we believe she is the closest person to Jesus in Heaven, and she prays for us just like one Christian prays for another.” The woman said, “Oh! That’s interesting! I never knew that. I thought Catholics really worshipped Mary.” There’s an example of instructing the ignorant!
            Second is counsel the doubtful. We all have friends who need advice or just a listening ear. When someone is going through a confusing time in their life, just to listen to them and offer wisdom is a great act of charity.
            Third, admonish the sinner. This can be tough – who wants to tell someone that they are wrong? And yet it can be a tremendous act of charity. St. Hyacintha Mariscotti became a saint because she was admonished as a sinner. She was a worldly nun who loved comfort and pleasure more than prayer and sacrifice. She would often have friends sneak food to her when she was supposed to be fasting, and she would leave the convent grounds when she should have been praying. One day she became gravely ill, and her fellow nuns called in the priest to give her the Anointing of the Sick. The priest took one look at her nice silk habit, her comfortable bed, and her stash of snacks in her room, and exclaimed, “If you do not change your life, you will go to Hell!” She was immediately shocked out of her complacency. Upon recovering from her illness, she gave away her fancy habit and excess food, and began to live a life of sincere prayer and penance. This priest’s admonition saved her soul – and if we, in charity and humility and privacy, correct others, than we can be instruments of God’s grace for people.
            Fourth, bear wrongs patiently. Mother Teresa was once begging for bread for the children in her orphanage. She approached a baker for a handout, but the baker promptly spat upon her. She calmly wiped the spit from her face and said, “That was for me – now how about something for my children?” The baker, shamed by her response, gave her the food she asked for. To patiently sit in traffic when another person wrongly cuts you off; to not defend yourself in the staff meeting when a coworker throws you under the bus; to put up with your annoying little brother or sister – this is a great act of charity that will win over hearts!
            Fifth, forgive offenses willingly. How well can you forgive others? After being stabbed twenty-two times, St. Maria Goretti forgave her attacker. When her attacker was released from prison thirty years later, he went to St. Maria Goretti’s mother to ask for her forgiveness. How would you respond? That saintly woman responded, “If my daughter could forgive you, how can I do any less? I forgive you completely.” Christ forgave us from the Cross – we must forgive others who have done far less to us.
            Sixth, comfort the afflicted. So many times, we feel helpless when a friend or family member is suffering. I remember watching my grandfather take care of my grandmother who was dying of Alzheimer’s – he couldn’t take away her suffering, but he could seek to comfort her and make her life more pleasant. A beautiful act of charity!
            Finally, pray for the living and the dead. One of the greatest acts of kindness we can do is to pray for others. St. James says in Scripture, “The prayer of a just man (or woman) is powerful indeed.” Lifting someone up to the Lord is an incredible act of trust in God – one that will be rewarded, both for you and for the person prayed-for.
            My friends, I challenge you this week – to show your authentic love for your neighbor, choose one of these spiritual works of mercy and carry it out!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Philosophical Problems in Superhero Movies

Bulletin Column – May 18, 2019

            I suppose it’s a curse, but I can’t watch a movie without analyzing its philosophical and theological undertones. Most people watch movies for enjoyment and entertainment, but I’m always watching them and thinking, “Hmm, isn’t that similar to Plato’s allegories? Isn’t that from Sartre or Aquinas?” I really wish I could just sit and be entertained like everyone else!
            Recently, like the vast majority of the world, I saw the new Avengers’ movie, “Endgame”. And while it was three hours of your typical superhero movie (bad guy wants to rule the universe, powerful artifact that gives him power, lots of explosions and an endless fight scene, good guys eventually win), it made me realize just how many theological and philosophical errors and problems are present in every superhero movie.
            (N.B.: I mean this bulletin column to be cheeky, not overly-serious! There’s nothing wrong with watching superhero movies, despite the truly problematic philosophies!)
            1. Superhero movies never acknowledge God. If a bad guy suddenly takes over the world, my first instinct will be to pray! But you will never see anyone recognizing that there is a Higher Power that can give them grace to overcome evil. Rather, mankind has to do it on their own strength, coming up with their own solutions.
            Even in “Endgame”, when one of the main characters dies, there is no hint of a religious funeral, or prayers at the graveside. It is completely secular, as if God did not exist.
            2. Superhero movies treat death as the worst tragedy ever. The premise of “Endgame” – and pretty much every other superhero movie – is that the bad guy wants to destroy the world, killing everyone. In “Endgame”, half of the human population is destroyed, and the people who are left will literally do anything to bring them back. They can’t see any way that these deaths will be redeemed.
But for a Christian, death is not such a horrendous tragedy, because we have hope for everlasting life. We can look at death with a healthy perspective – we want to live, but we realize that this earthly life is merely a preparation for a better, eternal life with God.
3. Superhero movies reject natural law. There is a terrible arbitrariness in superhero movies. I honestly thought that “Endgame” was nothing more than three hours of deus ex machina. Why is it that certain characters can be beaten endlessly and still survive, but then when the director wants one certain character to die, they die immediately? There is no logical reason for why certain magical amulets are granted magical powers – what is up with the “infinity stones”? Where did they come from? Why do they have their specific powers? There is no logical reason for anything in superhero movies – the directors and screenwriters can break or rewrite rules of their own universes constantly.
This is in contrast to our Catholic belief in natural law. God has written into the very fabric of creation a certain way in which the world is meant to work. For example, fish were created to live in water only; gravity works at a consistent rate; human beings find misery in selfishness. These laws were not created by us, but by an all-loving, all-powerful God. We cannot violate this natural law without coming to our own destruction.
4. Superhero movies follow Nietzsche’s “Will to Power”. Nietzsche was a German nihilist philosopher who believed that the driving force in human nature was the desire to control things. Certainly the villains in superhero movies live out this “will to power” (they always want to rule the world) but, interestingly, so do the heroes. The heroes believe that if they obtain enough power, they can stop the bad guy. So they seek out the strongest weapons, the best techniques, the smartest plan.
This is the opposite of Christ’s example. Jesus chose to be humble, poor, and weak. He won His true victory in being crucified. When He was powerless, it was then that He was strong. He did not seek to rule in a worldly sense; rather, He came to serve, and by serving, He has been given all authority in Heaven and earth by His Father.
5. Superhero movies always fight death with death. The only way superheroes win is by violence. They say they are trying to stop violence, but they do so only with violence. There is always an epic battle that is supposed to defeat the bad guy.
Here, there is a hint of truth. We do live in a spiritual war zone. We have an enemy (Satan) who wants to destroy us, and we must fight him. But we do so with weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We fight his hatred with our love for God and neighbor. As Christians, violence is acceptable in self-defense – but as history has shown, non-violent protests (such as the Civil Rights Movement) have proven more effective than armed conflict. What would it be like for the superheroes to fight evil without weapons and battles, and instead find a creative and peaceful solution to their crisis?
In sum, please do not take this article as a condemnation of superhero movies – it is not intended as such! I watch them and have (occasionally) enjoyed them.
But we must be aware of the philosophical and theological errors present within. The media always communicates a message – it is never merely a tabula rasa, but espouses a certain subtle ideology (by the way, did anyone catch the not-so-subtle homosexual innuendo in “Endgame”?). We must go into movies wide-aware of our own beliefs – and the beliefs of Hollywood. Movies are made, not just make money or create a work of art, but also to form culture through the mass media!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Homily for May 12, 2019 - Fourth Sunday of Easter

Homily for May 12, 2019
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Lay Participation in the Mission of the Church

            This is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday” after the very beautiful Gospel we just read. But since the vast majority of us in this Church are called to seek holiness through marriage or the single life, I want to speak about how all of us – both priests and laity - are called to shepherd others by bringing them to Christ, the Good Shepherd.
            You see, the Church has a mission – Jesus gave it that mission in Matthew 28 when He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Trinity, and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” That is the Church’s mission. Everything the Church does – running hospitals, starting schools, building churches – is secondary to that one mission of bringing souls to the Lord Jesus. That beautiful image of the second reading today has always impacted me – the huge crowd, so large that no one can count, of souls from every place in the world (including Stamford, Connecticut!) who are saved and made pure by the Blood of Christ. And it is precisely the Church’s mission to increase that
multitude with more and more souls!
            But it’s not just priests and nuns who have that mission! YOU, the laity, play an absolutely critical role in this mission! Priests and bishops and nuns are not “the Church” – all of us, you and I, are equally the Church! We have a different role to play, but our mission is the same.
Back in 1988, Pope John Paul II wrote a powerful encyclical called Christifidelis Laici – on the role of the laity in the mission of the Church. In this encyclical, he makes the point that married people and single people have a mission to bring the Gospel to the secular world, to places that priests and nuns cannot go. I would not be welcome in the halls of Westhill High School; I could not just go into the New York Stock Exchange or the RBS building and start preaching. But you are already there – in your schools, in your neighborhoods, in your businesses – and you have the duty and dignity of bringing Christ there! You can reach souls who would never set foot in a church.
We do that in two ways. Primarily, through our own lives of holiness. Pope St. Paul VI said, “Modern man listens more readily to witnesses than to teachers, and if they listen to teachers, it is because they are first witnesses.” Our lives must reflect Jesus so much that if people had never read the Gospels, they would know what the Christian life is by the way we live.
But our example is not enough. People often misquote St. Francis of Assisi as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words” (he never actually said that, and it is quite the opposite of how he lived, as he spent his life preaching with words!). Very few of us are so holy that our mere example is enough to lead others to Christ. We need to use our words to speak about our relationship with Him and to invite others to find Him.
How do we do that? First, by inviting others to Church with you. Have you ever done that? I know a young man, a college student at a large public university, who is one of the best evangelizers I’ve ever met. When he was home over break, he called up his friend one night and said, “Hey, do you want to go to JC’s party?” She said, “Who is JC?” He responded, “Oh, you know JC!” “No, I’m sure that I’ve never met anyone named JC.” “Come on! You guys are tight. You’ve known him practically since you were born. He’s in your school, and he’s having a great party tonight, you’ve got to come.” “Oh, I don’t know. I still don’t know who you’re talking about,” she said. So he responded, “Would it help if I sent you a picture?” He texted her a picture of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance – JC was Jesus Christ, and His party was Adoration. They ended up going to Adoration that night together.
Have you ever invited someone to come to Church, or Adoration with you? Even if they turn you down, they’d be honored that you asked, I’m sure!
Second, we must not be afraid to speak about our relationship with the Lord Jesus. When a friend is going through a tough time, instead of saying, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” we should say, “I’ll pray for you.” When our coworker asks what we did over the weekend, we can say, “Man, we had the best Mass at St. John’s this weekend! It was so uplifting!”
We might find it initially awkward to talk about Jesus, but if we love Him, why would we not want to speak of Him? Imagine that you discovered the Fountain of Youth, which promised life everlasting and no more suffering. Wouldn’t it be a selfish thing to keep that a secret? Wouldn’t we want everyone to experience it – especially those we love? In Christ, we have something greater than the Fountain of Youth – we’ve found everlasting love, salvation, a real relationship with God!
I want to lay down a challenge. As this is Good Shepherd Sunday, I encourage you to pick three or four or five people in your life to “shepherd”. People who you think have an openness to God’s grace. Shepherd them through building relationships with them. Share with them your own spiritual journey and your relationship with the Lord. When the time is right, invite them to come to Church with you and to begin living a real Christian life.
As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “To convert someone, take them by the hand and guide them.” I challenge you to select three to five people in your life who you can take by the hand, and like a good shepherd, lead them to the Church and to Christ.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

How to Encourage & Inspire Vocations

Bulletin Column
May 12, 2019

            Today is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday”, after the beautiful Gospel we hear where Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd. Traditionally, the Church uses this Sunday to talk about Vocations to the priesthood and religious life, as priests and nuns also share in Christ’s shepherding role.
            We definitely need more vocations! In 1970, there were 59,000 priests in the USA; now there are just over 37,000. In 1980, the ratio of people to priest was 870:1; now it is 2000:1 (as the Catholic population of America has grown considerably due to the influx of Hispanic immigrants). In 1965, there were only 300 parishes in the country without a resident pastor. As of 2012, there are over 3,000.
            So what can we do about the vocations crisis? Here are some suggestions of practical things you can do!
            For Parents:
            - Teach your children how to pray in silence. Vocations only come from a living relationship with God. We must foster that living relationship by helping our kids to listen to Him. One of the best ways to do this is to take them to Eucharistic Adoration. I began going weekly to Adoration at fifteen years old and the hour of silence, in the presence of Jesus, inspired me to want to give myself to Him.
            - Talk positively about priests and nuns. There has been much negative press about priests in the news, but as parents you can counteract that by speaking positively about the priesthood or consecrated life.
- Do not pressure kids to achieve the “American Dream”. So often, kids feel pressured to succeed in a worldly sense (good college, lucrative career, good spouse) and to “give their parents grandkids,” (I have actually known many, many parents who have told their kids that they expect grandkids from them!). It is important to let them know that you do not expect grandkids or worldly success from them – but just that you hope they do God’s will for their life. Some parents think their kids will be unhappy without sex, money, or a spouse – but human beings are at their happiest when they are doing God’s will!
- Help your kids get to know priests and nuns. Have the Sisters of Life over for dinner. Stop and chat with the priest after Mass. A religious vocation should not be seen as something strange, or just for “super-holy” people. I’m amazed at the misconceptions people have about priests – some kids ask me if I am ever allowed to take off my clerics (yes, I don’t wear them when I sleep) or if I can watch TV (yes, I enjoy watching baseball and the news) or if I play sports (Frisbee is my favorite!) or if priests commit sin (we’re not perfect yet!). By spending time with religious people, you will soon find out that priests and nuns are very human and most of us are pretty normal folks! To see priests and nuns up-close can help a young person realize this can be a legitimate vocational option for them, even if they’re not yet saints!
For Everyone:
- Pray for an increase in vocations. God is calling, but the noise of the culture is very loud and it is often hard to hear His voice. So pray that God would give strength and courage to young people to respond generously, and that they may grow in a desire to seek His will for their lives.
- Invite people to consider it. Most people would consider it a compliment if you said to them, “Have you ever thought about the priesthood? I see many good qualities in you that would make an excellent priest.” Even if they dismiss the idea at the time, this just might get them thinking about it!
- Live out your own vocation with generosity and heroism. Vocations come from families and communities that are living their own vocations with holiness. For example, when parents are generous with their family size, their kids see that it is good to be generous with God. When single people dedicate themselves to service, they are building a culture where it is natural to be a man or woman for others. When retirees spend their time in intimate communion with God in prayer, others see this and are drawn to consider a deeper friendship with God. All of our vocations are necessary and complement one another in the life of the Church.
When I arrive at a new parish or school, I keep a look out for young men and women who I think have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Here at St. John’s, I see dozens! Let us work together as a community to raise up many more vocations to the priesthood and religious life!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Homily for Third Sunday of Easter - May 5, 2019

Homily for May 5, 2019
Third Sunday of Easter
The Gospel Must Change Us

Soren Kierkegaard tells a great little parable about a town entirely comprised of ducks. Every Sunday, all the ducks would waddle out of their homes, down the streets, and to the little duck-church. The duck preacher would preach to them, “My fellow ducks, God has given us wings! We can use them to rise up to the sky, to fly like eagles! No walls can confine you, no fences hold you in! You were meant to fly!” And the ducks would all nod their heads, saying, “Amen! Preach it, brother duck!” And then they would waddle home.
A cute parable, but it tells a powerful point – will the good news of Jesus Christ change us?
This Gospel is one of my favorites, in part because I love Simon Peter – he is my confirmation saint, and I’ve always felt a kinship with this flawed but loveable guy. Consider this – Peter had just had three encounters with the Risen Christ. He has seen Thomas put his hands into the Lord’s side; he has received the power to forgive sins from the Risen Lord; he had seen the empty tomb. But even with all these experiences of the Lord, he can’t figure out what to do next – so he goes fishing. He goes back to his old ways of doing things, the things that are comfortable to him. The Gospel has yet to change him.
So Jesus does a miracle – and it’s one that should sound familiar, both to us and to Peter. The very first time Jesus meets Peter in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives Peter a miraculous catch of fish. We’re familiar with the story – Peter is fishing all night, catches nothing, and then Jesus tells him to throw his net down the other side, it is immediately filled with fish. This happened already the first time Peter and Jesus met – and at that moment, Jesus gives him a mission. He says to Peter, “From now on, you will be a fisher of men” – you will be bringing souls into the “net” of God’s love and His Church.
When Jesus does this miracle a second time in today’s Gospel, after His resurrection, Peter must have been remembering this first miracle! And just like there was a connection between “miraculous catch of fish” and “Peter’s new mission” the first time, we see the same connection here. Jesus does a miraculous catch of fish, then leads Peter off by himself to tell him three times, “Feed my sheep.” His calling is renewed.
Even the miracle itself gives us hints of Peter’s mission. We see this detail – 153 large fish – in the Gospel. Why so specific? Because many ancient Jews believed that there were 153 different nations and tribes in the world. So it is symbolic that Peter’s net (the Church) would include every tribe and tongue, people and nation.
And our first reading shows us how Peter, now transformed, is fulfilling his mission! He’s now unafraid to preach the Gospel in front of the hostile crowd of the Sanhedrin. He would go on to preach it even in front of Emperor Nero of Rome. The Gospel finally changed him, and he went from fisherman to evangelist.
But just like Peter, and just like the parable of the ducks, our belief that Jesus is the Risen Lord must change us as well! Does our knowledge of God and our Catholic Faith make a difference in our life? I want to look at three areas where it should make a difference:
First, the orientation of our life. This past week I have been interviewing all of our kids who are preparing for Confirmation. I asked all of them the question, “What is the meaning of life?” and most of them got the correct answer: “To love the Lord so that we can be happy with Him in Heaven.” That’s correct! But later on in the interview, I would ask them, “So what are your life’s goals?” And I would usually get, “Oh, to go to a good college, to have fun, to get married, to make a lot of money, to be rich and famous.” Very rarely would someone say, “My life’s goal is to be holy, to be a saint.” So these kids knew, intellectually, that the point of life is to be holy. But when it came to their life, and their personal goals, somehow holiness didn’t usually factor in! If the Gospel will change your life, your life’s orientation must change – from you, your wants, your needs, your pleasures – to Him, His glory, His love, His holiness-living-in-you.
Second, in our life of prayer. Let us think of this logically. If we believe that God is real, and that He wants a relationship with us, and that a relationship with us leads to our deep happiness here on earth and eternal joy in the next life – then the only logical response is to spend time with Him daily. If you do not pray for at least ten minutes per day, either: a) You don’t believe in God, or b) You don’t love God. Love makes us want to be in the presence of the beloved. If someone loves his wife, he wants to be with his wife. If I love pizza, I want to be in the presence of pizza (specifically, eating it!). So if someone really believes this Catholic Faith, it will make a practical difference in our prayer life because we’ll take the time to be with Him. St. Alphonsus Liguori said, “If you pray, you will be saved. If you do not pray, you will be lost.” That pretty much sums it up!
Finally, our life of virtue. The Gospel must penetrate to every aspect of our life – how we treat our spouse, what we look up on the internet, how we deal with the people we don’t like, what we do at work or school. Jesus tells us to “be holy, as your Heavenly Father is holy” – so in every aspect of our life we must seek to live like Him.
Once St. Peter allowed the Gospel to change him through the power of the Holy Spirit, he went out and changed the world. It would be a shame if a duck knew it could fly, but only waddled around everywhere. It would be even more of a shame if we knew a lot about our Catholic Faith but didn’t become holy ourselves.