Friday, June 14, 2019

Homily for Trinity Sunday - June 16, 2019

Homily for Trinity Sunday
June 16, 2019
Made for Community

            Understanding the Trinity isn’t easy. But you know what else isn’t easy? Family life. And the two ideas – the Trinity and the family – are very closely related!
            The Trinity is a community of life and love, just as a family is a community of life and love. In the Trinity, the Father loves the Son so intensely that their love begets the Holy Spirit. In a family, the father and mother love each other so intensely that their love begets children.
            But you may say, “Oh, my family looks nothing like the Trinity! You should see the mess in my living room!” Before you despair of having a family that reflects the beauty of the Trinity, let’s look at some lessons that the Trinity can teach us about our own families!
            First, the Trinity is a community of self-giving love. Jesus says in Scripture, “I come, not to do my own will, but the will of My Father.” And in today’s Gospel, He says that “everything the Father has is Mine”. And they do not keep the Holy Spirit to themselves; no, they pour out the Third Person of the Trinity upon us human beings.
            Likewise, our families will only be peaceful and happy with a love that sacrifices for others. In my family growing up, we were great about keeping score – I always knew whose turn it was to do dishes, so that if it was my sister’s turn, I wouldn’t let her off the hook! A father of one of our parish families was telling me that his six kids have a whole system about who gets the last piece of pie or cookie – they keep track so that if Johnny got the last cookie last time, then this last piece of cake will go to Suzie this time. (I admire their organizational skills to remember whose turn it is!).
            But a love that sacrifices says, “Hey, it’s my turn to have the last piece of pie, but I know you really love it, so you can have it.” Self-giving love says, “Yes, I didn’t make the mess, but I will help you clean it up anyway.” The Trinity is a community of self-giving love – your family can be, as well!
            Second, the Trinity each has a role to play. The Father is the Creator, the Son died on the Cross to save us, and the Holy Spirit dwells in our souls to sanctify us. They work together to accomplish their plan to make creation holy.
            In the same way, every family member has a role to play in building up the family. If you are a student, it means being the best student you can be. If you are a stay-at-home parent, it means doing the domestic chores to the best of our ability. If you work to support your family, it means that we seek to excel at work out of love for our family.
            Finally, the Trinity shows us that we must look outside of ourselves. The Trinity wasn’t content just to exist in eternal bliss – God wanted to pour His love on others, so He created us!
            In the same way, holy families should be a light to their neighborhoods, schools, and communities. I know a family where the parents are always encouraging their kids to invite their friends to come to Mass with them – and they often show up at Mass with a few more kids in tow! I know a family in Stamford who has taken a widow and her son and daughter into their life, inviting them over for Thanksgiving dinner and walking with them through their difficult times following the death of the kids’ father. Good, wholesome families have a mission – to use their joyful, Christ-centered family as a light to other families. Just as the Trinity needed to shower Its love upon the world, so families should seek to shower their love upon others in need.
            Finally, a word to those among us who are single. Much of what I have been speaking about is also applicable to you! If you are single, your family can be varied: it can be your parents and siblings; it can be your neighborhood or your friend-group. All of us are made in the image and likeness of a Trinitarian God, which means that all of us are made for community!
            My friends, the Trinity doesn’t need to be mysterious, because we have a beautiful reflection of the Trinity here on earth: the family! May all of our families begin, more and more, to reflect the Trinity in its life-giving love.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Franchising Catholics

Bulletin Column – June 16, 2019
            Ray Kroc did not start McDonald’s. The world-famous hamburger joint was founded by the McDonalds’ brothers. But what made Kroc – and McDonald’s – a worldwide success was franchising. Ray worked with the McDonalds’ brothers to standardize their food, their prices, their quality, and even their buildings so that a McDonald’s in Iowa would look and taste the same as a McDonald’s in Nevada.
            Ray realized that unless there was a high standard among all franchises of the entire chain, they would never be successful. At first, this was such a novel idea that certain individual McDonald’s in California began tinkering with the recipes and even offering different menu options (fried chicken, anyone?). Ray had a conniption when he found out and managed to bring those renegade McDonald’s back into line. Since then, there are almost 38,000 cookie-cutter McDonald’s throughout the world (including one opened in the Vatican in 2017).
            This is indeed a successful business model! You know exactly what you’re getting when you go into a McDonald’s. If you want Chinese food, you won’t find it on the menu. That’s not being “exclusive” – it’s just being McDonald’s.
            So why can we not expect the same from our Catholic institutions? So often, our Catholic schools and parishes teach, preach, and live out a different mission than the universal Catholic Church.
            Case-in-point: back in May, Fairfield Prep held their first annual Fairfield Prep Pride Week. No, it wasn’t about being proud to be a Jesuit (as their sports teams are called). It was about celebrating the LGBT agenda. They had special classes in which they watched videos of Fr. James Martin, a priest who completely misrepresents the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction. The general message was NOT what the Church teaches (that we love and respect all of our brothers and sisters including those with same-sex attraction, but that homosexuality is a gravely disordered attraction and that such actions are always intrinsically immoral). Rather, the gay lifestyle was celebrated – in the classroom! - as if it were something positive.
            In addition, there is already a club at Fairfield Prep called REIGNS (Respect, Education, and Inclusion of Gay and Non-Binary Students), which supports people who identify as gay, lesbian, non-gender-conforming, etc. Rather than supporting them for chastity and authentic holy friendships (which would be laudable), it is a club to “celebrate diversity” and give these people a platform to normalize this disordered sexuality.
            Back in 2014, I wrote a letter to Prep to object that they invited a speaker to address their community who advocated for same-sex marriage. They wrote back saying that they “do not advocate any policies that are contrary to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church”. Perhaps they have changed in the intervening five years? Because this recent First Annual Pride Week certainly seems to me – and to the students who brought it to my attention - like an advocacy of something against Church teaching.
            Allow me to be blunt – this is an institution that currently forms over 900 souls in the Catholic Faith. Add that to its alumni and future students and we are considering thousands of boys who have, or will, pass through its halls. These teachers and administrators will have to answer to Christ the Just Judge for the way in which they are corrupting these young souls, leading them away from the Truth. Woe to those who call evil “good”!
            It grieves me to no end to see “Catholic” institutions betraying the Catholic Faith. If we can expect unity among various McDonald’s throughout the world, why can we not expect a unity of thought and purpose among Catholic institutions? The Church continues to shoot herself in the foot if our institutions are teaching anti-Catholic, politically-correct, scandalous material (in the truest sense of the word – a scandal is that which leads another into sin, and this type of teaching definitely legitimizes sinful behavior!).
            We live in difficult times, to be sure. But we don’t need to make it more difficult by division in the Church. If McDonalds’ can unify their service so that we know what we’re getting, how can the Church do any less?

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost Homily

Homily for Pentecost
June 9, 2019
Sent on a Mission

**NB - much of this homily was taken from the graduation speech of a remarkable young Catholic man, Daniel Calderon, at his eighth-grade graduation from Regina Pacis Academy. ***

            This is graduation season – I attended two just this past week. And graduations always have the feel of being sent on a mission. We call graduation ceremonies “commencements” – because they begin something new – it’s not the end, but the beginning. The people graduating have received two things: a mission, and they are equipped for that mission.
            Jesus, too, sends His Apostles on a mission. We hear those words in the Gospel, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” He gives His Apostles the marching orders for that mission at His Ascension when He says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” But even though they have the mission, they do not yet have the tools to make that mission a reality.
            Until today. Pentecost is where they have received the tools to carry out that mission. The Holy Spirit has equipped them with His seven gifts and we see a radical transformation – Peter is no longer cowering in fear, denying that he even knows Jesus; rather, because of the Spirit he is boldly proclaiming Jesus as Lord. Peter knows his mission – and he now has the Spirit which stirs him to carry it out.
            This mission is given, not just to Peter, but to the whole Church. The Church has a mission to bring the world to Christ, and it has the spiritual weapons to fulfill that mission. This is helpful to remember when we are shocked by scandals in the Church. Yes, individual members are sinners and some even betray the mission through their sins and crimes, but the Church has been filled with all the gifts of the Spirit to accomplish its mission.
            You and I are part of this Church, so we have received that mission as well! We live in a world where Satan’s kingdom has a powerful stronghold – not just in the world “out there” but far too often also within our own hearts. We have not yet fully allowed Christ to win the victory in us, to rescue us and let His Kingdom reign in us.
            So this is our mission – to allow Christ to win the victory in our souls, and to bring that victory to the world. Our mission is to become saints and to help others encounter the Lord Jesus. Have we been equipped for that mission?
            Yes! We have received His Spirit! If you have been baptized, and especially if you have been confirmed, you have received His Spirit – in the same measure that Peter and the Apostles received it! How does His Spirit help us accomplish our mission?
            First, it is His Spirit living in us that inspires every good work. If we have a desire to pray, that is the work of the Spirit in your life. If we can call God our Father and Jesus our Lord, that is the gift of Faith given by the Spirit. If you are inspired to say a kind word, that is His Spirit putting the good thought in your mind. If you feel passionate about your faith and want to share it with others, that is the Spirit working in you! If you have a gift or talent that can be used powerfully to serve others and build them up in Christ, that is a work of the Spirit!
            Just like someone building a house can always go and get more materials, and like an army that requests more weapons, we can request an increase of the Holy Spirit. He came to us in Baptism and Confirmation, but that wasn’t the end of His gifts! We should ask Him frequently – daily! – to “stir into flame” the Spirit we have received.
            St. Philip Neri did just that, and he experienced a unique miracle because of it. He was a priest in Rome in the 1500s and had a habit of visiting the catacombs to pray. One day he was praying for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit when he saw a globe of light float through the dark catacombs, enter his mouth, and settle in his chest with intense heat. He was filled with such a deep joy and peace and the experience of God’s love that lasted a long time that day. When it finally faded, he felt that his heart had expanded within his chest – and, after his death, an autopsy revealed that his heart was so seriously enlarged that two of his ribs were broken! He literally received a physical miracle from a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit!
            We can – no, we must – do the same. We must ask the Spirit daily for the power to live out our mission. For Christ’s Kingdom will not come in our souls or in our world unless we take up our mission and fight with the weapons that the Spirit gives us.
            Seventy-five years ago this past week, thousands upon thousands of men stormed the beaches of Normandy; seventy-five years ago was the largest seaborne invasion in history; seventy-five years ago was D-Day. That was the day that the US and England began a dangerous invasion into enemy territory to win it back for the Allies. This Pentecost, I urge you to imitate them and begin to take back territory – in your own life and in the world – that has been under the dominion of Satan and evil for far too long. Fathers, mothers, young people, all Christians here, we have a mission – to fight the good fight of faith, to win the prize of Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “I ask you to fight in your homes, to fight in your schools, to fight in your workplaces and in your neighborhoods, I ask you to fight in your own hearts, I ask you never to surrender.”
            You have a mission – to bring Christ’s Kingdom to your life and the lives of those around you. The Spirit has equipped you for that mission. Now, go out and claim the victory that Christ has won for you!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Graduation Homily 2019 - Milestones

Graduation Homily 2019
Milestones on the Journey

            One of my least favorite movies is “The Polar Express”. I know for many people it’s a Christmas classic, but there was one line that completely ruined the movie for me. The little boy is about to board the train, but he stops and asks the Conductor, “Where are we going?” And the Conductor responds with a smile and an outstretched hand, “It doesn’t matter where we’re going, all that matters is that we hop on board!”
            I almost threw the remote control at the TV when I heard that. Doesn’t matter where we’re going? I know it’s fiction, but come on! If I’m trying to get to Boston and I hop on a train going south, I will never reach my destination. It’s pretty important to know where we’re going – because then we’ll know if we get there or not!
            [At the Catholic Academy of Stamford, a teacher has a big motivational poster outside her room with the words, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Um, actually, no. It’s definitely about the destination!][At CAS this year, we have had as our theme song “Enter the Journey” which is a very nice song but it leaves a question quite unanswered – where is our journey taking us?] What is the goal of life? Where are we going? How do we know if we are making progress?
            The Ancient Romans knew if they were making progress on a journey: they had milestones to tell them. The word milestone actually refers to an ancient Roman custom of putting up large stones to mark the miles to Rome. As the old saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome” and that was certainly true. Even in France and Spain and Portugal, some roads still have giant granite blocks with Latin lettering telling them how many miles to Rome. In the center of Rome, there used to be what was called the “Golden Milestone” because it was a big gold pillar that every other milestone was measured against. So if a milestone said, “15 miles to Rome” it meant that there would be fifteen miles until they reached the “Golden Milestone” in the center of the city.
            Graduating from eighth grade is a significant milestone in your life. But a milestone only makes sense if we know the goal that we are seeking. What is the goal? It is Heaven. The goal is to become saints. Because, really, nothing else matters. The intermediary goals of getting a high school and college diploma, getting a great job, a great spouse, a great house and kids and a dog named Rex – all that is good, but not our ultimate end. Those other things are milestones along the journey, not the goal of the journey itself.
            I have known you all for many years, and I can say that some of you have made real progress in holiness in these past (three/four) years. Others of you have chosen not to pursue the goal of holiness, and instead to live for the things of this world.
            But on this night when we celebrate this milestone, this point along the journey where we pause and look at how far we’ve come and how far we have left to go, I would challenge you to redouble your efforts to keep going on the journey to holiness, to becoming saints.
            How do we do this? Keep doing your “Ten-a-day”. Parents, last year I challenged your kids to pray for ten minutes per day, and many of them committed to doing it. If you aren’t, get back to it! A couple weeks ago, I was at Scalzi Park in Stamford watching a little league game, and afterwards a Catholic Academy kid came up and greeted me. He said, “Hey Fr. Joseph, I will make you happy in five seconds.” This piqued my curiosity – I was hoping he’d hand me a twenty-dollar bill or something! But even better, he said, “I’m still doing my ten-a-day, and I already did mine today.” Wow! That is the beginning of a life of friendship with the Lord. If you never started doing ten-a-day, start now! You will need His grace in high school!
            Second, look up. In Philadelphia recently a man was texting and walking in a subway station and accidentally fell into the tracks! Thankfully, the train wasn’t coming so he survived…quite injured and embarrassed! That’s such a perfect metaphor for modern life, though – when we are focused on ourselves or the things of this world, we get lost and hurt and confused. So look up – look to Heaven to find your true direction. In ancient days, sailors could only tell their direction by looking up, at the stars and the sun. In our lives, we can only tell the direction when our eyes, our goal is focused on the Lord Jesus – pursuing Him, possessing Him in Heaven.
            My friends, tonight we celebrate a milestone in your life. But a milestone only makes sense if there is an endpoint to this journey. The endpoint is being a saint. When we look back at our years at CAS/RPA, have we made progress toward that goal? Four years from now, when you are sitting in your high school graduation – or eight years from now when you get your college degree – will you be holier than you are now? Because there’s a big difference between making a journey and wandering around, completely lost. You will never be lost if the Lord Jesus Christ is the compass of your life.