Friday, September 27, 2019

Homily for September 29, 2019 - Ordinary Time 26

Homily for September 29, 2019
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            I have never met any famous people. Never met the Pope, or movie star, or pop artist. The only professional athletes I’ve ever met were pretty obscure, not household names. I’ve never shaken hands with a celebrity or been to lunch with a CEO. But I do know Miriam.
            Miriam is the mother of 12 kids (which should qualify her for canonization right there!). She lives a simple life, homeschooling her kids during the day and visiting the local Adoration chapel at night. She is blessed to get to daily Mass, leads her family in the Rosary, and lives simply. She has also been arrested a couple times for praying too close to an abortion clinic, and has illustrated several Catholic children’s books. But in the eyes of the world, Miriam is not and will never be famous or powerful.
            But I am privileged to know her because she is a living saint. She may not be much in the eyes of the world, but she is precious in the eyes of God.
            Three things stand out to me in today’s Gospel. First, notice that the rich man isn’t even named, while we know the poor man as Lazarus. For all his wealth and influence, in the afterlife he is completely forgotten. But the poor man who lived virtuously is remembered for his deeds.
            Second, notice how things look quite different in the eyes of eternity. In this life, riches and popularity and influence seem desirable. Many of us crave them! We work to amass our riches, we seek to become more famous. But how desirable are those riches in eternity? Where is that influence now? They only led to misery, since they became an idol to the rich man. It was the virtuous man who, while suffering poverty and rejection in this life, enjoys the glories of Heaven.
            Finally, did you notice the intentional irony that Jesus uses at the end of the Gospel? The rich man asks that Lazarus go to his family to convince them to live a better life, but Abraham responds, “They will not believe even if someone rises from the dead.” The irony is that Jesus WILL raise a man named Lazarus from the dead (a story we are all familiar with!) and yet people STILL do not believe in Him – both the Jews in Jesus’ time, and many people nowadays!
            So what’s our practical takeaway from today’s Gospel? The big takeaway is that we ought to be more concerned about leaving a legacy of holiness and virtue than a legacy of riches and popularity. We live in a world of hype – get 1,000 followers on Instagram, be the best-looking or the best athlete with the biggest contract…There are entire classes of people called “social media influencers” who have so many followers on social media that they can promote a product and everyone will go and buy it. But, will any of that matter in eternity? From the perspective of eternity, what will matter? as Archbishop Charles Chaput said, “The only people who really change the world are saints.” Being good-looking or rich or having a thousand Instagram followers will make us awesome in the eyes of the world – but a life of holiness will make us beautiful in the eyes of God. Which one would you rather be?
            A close corollary is that in eternity, what we will value will be quite different from what the world values. The people we look down upon will be considered far, far more glorious than we could ever imagine.
            St. Germaine Cousins is one of those saints who was profoundly looked down upon on this earth. She was born with a deformed hand and a skin disease. Her mother died in childbirth and because of her deformities and disease, her stepmother forced her to live out back in the barn. She never received a bit of kindness from her stepmother or her other siblings, and was forced to endure the cold winters and hot summers and loneliness, with only bread and water as her sustenance. Yet she never complained, and would speak kindly to her cruel stepmother (sounds like a Catholic Cinderella, right?). She attended daily Mass and prayed the Rosary frequently, and would often give her meager bread to beggars. Because of her intense love for the Lord, miracles started happening around her – at times the swollen river would part so she could attend Mass, and when she would be off at Mass, she would plant her shepherd’s crook in the ground and no sheep ever wandered away. People began to notice her holiness and came to her for advice, even though she was only in her late teens! Finally, her stepmother relented and allowed her back in the house, but she refused, wanting to offer her sufferings as penance for sinners. She died at the age of 22. We now know the name of this great saint who achieved profound holiness while living in a backyard shed.
            And the name of her cruel stepmother? Lost to history.
            What will your legacy be?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Catholic Roots of Beer and Pretzels

Bulletin Column – September 29, 2019

            Well! October is right around the corner (hard to believe when the temps have been in the 80s!) and that means that there will be a considerable amount of Oktoberfest celebrations! While it is always a great time to celebrate all things German, some of the often-consumed foods have Catholic roots.
            Perhaps most associated with Oktoberfest is beer, one of the oldest and most popular drinks. Beer was around well before Catholicism, but it was Catholic monks who perfected and popularized the drink in several ways:
- The addition of hops (to preserve the beer and add its classically bitter taste) was an invention of abbots. It is first mentioned in the ninth century by an abbot under Charlemagne, and also by St. Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century abbess and mystic.
            - Monasteries were the first to mass-produce and distribute beer. There are records of brewing beer in monasteries as far back as the fifth century. At one point over 600 Catholic monasteries in Europe were producing beer. Monks would sell their brew to provide for the material needs of the monastery, and since Benedictine monasteries in particular emphasized the virtues of hospitality, their own beer was offered to guests and travelers who stopped by.
            - Monks were also responsible for the development of dark beer. During Lent and other periods of fasting, the monks would often survive on meager rations, which included beer. To increase the caloric content of beer, they would throw in honey, bread, and fruit. The resulting brews were often very popular.
            - There are even patron saints of beer! St. Arnulf (Arnold) of Metz, who once said, “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world” – he was known to do miracles related to beer. Once, when a plague struck his town, he placed a crucifix in a vat of beer and urged the townspeople to drink. Those who did so were cured of the plague (the antibacterial properties of the alcohol could have helped…). And according to legend, after his death, his friends were carrying his coffin to its final resting place when they grew tired and went inside of a tavern to have a drink (must’ve been quite some funeral procession!). The tavern owner told them there was only one mug of beer left. They prayed to St. Arnulf, and began to pass around the stein – which miraculously kept refilling itself so that every man had plenty to drink.
            - Of course who could forget the great Catholic thinker GK Chesterton’s love for beer! He once said, “Catholicism is the only religion that sees no contradiction between a pint, a pipe, and the Cross.” But he also said, “I love beer so much that I don’t drink too much of it” – recognizing that even good things must be enjoyed in moderation. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Drink to the point of hilarity, and no further!”
            What goes best with beer? Pretzels, which also have Catholic roots. According to Snyder’s of Hanover (one of the biggest Pretzel manufacturers in America), the pretzel was founded in the early 600s when a monk, needing to bake something during Lent that would fit with the penitential theme of the season, rolled salted dough into the shape of arms crossed across the chest, which was a popular position for prayer. It was both a food of fasting and a reminder to pray, all in one!
            The name “pretzel” had two religious etymologies. One story says that it comes from the Latin “bracelle”, meaning “little arms”. The other story says that these baked treats were given out to children when they had learned their prayers. The Latin word for “little reward” is “pretiola”, from which we might get “pretzel”.
            This October, enjoy Oktoberfest and all things German…in moderation, of course!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Homily for Ordinary Time 25 - September 22, 2019

Homily for Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 22, 2019
Who’s Your Poor?

            Our readings speak of justice for the poor – but who are the poor? A lot of times we associate “the poor” with homeless people who are unshaven and dirty, begging on street corners. And yes, that is one type of poverty. But today I want to mention some other types of poverty – and the Christian duty we have to show mercy to the poor.
            Mother Teresa, who worked with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, said, “You can find Calcutta anywhere in the world. You only need two eyes to see. Everywhere in the world there are people that are not loved, people that are not wanted nor desired, people that no one will help, people that are pushed away or forgotten. And this is the greatest poverty.” So, there are many types of poverty. I want to outline four types of poverty and show how we as Christians can minister to them.
Perhaps the most obvious poverty is lacking material goods. Even in this country – in this city – there are many people who do not have enough to eat. What is our duty toward them? Tolstoy once said, “I am a participant in a crime if I have extra food and another has none.” This echoes the words of St. Augustine: “Those who keep what is extra, steal from the needy.” Most of us in this church have never known hunger or want, and for this we should be grateful. But the money that is leftover when we have taken care of our family’s needs – who does it belong to? Not us – it belongs to God and to the poor. To keep it for ourselves makes it into mammon (mammon is wealth that enslaves us and becomes an idol).
            But another type of poverty is the painful poverty of loneliness. Mother Teresa once visited a nursing home in America, and her tour guide took her around and showed her all of the nicest amenities, the TVs in every room, the finest food, the best nursing care. But Mother only noticed all the forlorn looks on everyone’s face. She asked her host, “Why are they always looking towards the door?” She responded, “This is the way it is every day. They are looking to the door, hoping a son or daughter comes to visit them. They are hurt because they are forgotten.”
            Who is forgotten and lonely? It could be anyone – the elderly, single people, teenagers (a recent study from Britan found that 40% of teens say they feel very lonely all the time!). Regardless of age, we can alleviate that loneliness simply by taking the time to talk to people. We put down the iPhones and look them in the eye – both the elderly and the young – and we spend time with them. We may not have money to alleviate material poverty, but all of us have time we can spend to alleviate the poverty of loneliness. Lacking love is sometimes more painful than lacking food – but all of us have love to give.
            Then there is the poverty of being vulnerable, such as the disabled, the unborn, and unwed mothers. This is indeed a type of poverty. But thanks be to God there is much we can do, even here in Stamford, to help protect the vulnerable. For example, two of our parishioners are founding a pro-life women’s clinic here in Stamford called “Project Beloved” – check it out if you have not heard about it! We also have frequent pro-life activities here at the parish, such as our upcoming Life Chain on October 6, which is Respect Life Sunday. Respecting and proclaiming the dignity of all life – including the unborn, disabled, sick, elderly – helps to overcome the poverty of our nation’s callous disregard for the gift of human life.
            Finally, there is the poverty of not knowing the hope held in store for us in Jesus. If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you give a man a faith in Jesus Christ, he will be satisfied for eternity. More than food and shelter, our hearts hunger to know that we are loved and that our life has meaning – both of which are found in Jesus. This hunger is true if someone is homeless or if they live in a mansion; if they drive a Ford or a Mazerati. Sometimes those who wear Gucci are poorer than those dressed in rags, if they suffer the spiritual poverty of not knowing Christ. We as Christians can minister to this type of poverty by sharing the hope of Christ that dwells in our hearts.
            So I ask – who’s your poor? Who are you, as a Christian, called to minister to? The world is filled with poverty – material poverty, the poverty of loneliness, the poverty of the vulnerable, and spiritual poverty. All Christians have the duty of showing mercy to the poor - we can share our financial resources, our time, our faith. Who is your poor, and how is God calling you to show them mercy?

Friday, September 20, 2019

What Will Solve the Crisis of Mass Violence?

Bulletin Column – September 22, 2019
            El Paso. Dayton. Odessa. The unholy litany goes on – the recent mass shootings that we have seen in our nation. It seems like every week there is yet another one, followed by the predictable societal hand-wringing, promises of thoughts and prayers, calls for change, and then inevitable silence as the nation moves on to the next newsworthy event.
            Recently I came across an article online from Chris Check of Catholic Answers (and brother of our very own Fr. Paul Check!) regarding this situation. Its title was potentially controversial: “The True Roots of Mass Violence”. It argues that there are deeper reasons for the mass violence than even the racism, extremism, and mental illness that are often cited. Here are Mr. Check’s words:
Perhaps you have caught yourself nodding along with a commencement speaker holding forth about “progress.” Did the occasion cause you stop and wonder, after so many commencement speakers have launched so many generations of “bright young graduates” to go forth and make the world a better place, why it so obviously is not? We have all been seduced to one degree or another by what in the end is a denial of original sin. When we speak of evil today we more likely mean some not-so-clearly defined failure on the part of men to organize human society properly.
A good bit of the political rhetoric that followed the El Paso and Dayton massacres argued that we can arrest or reverse immoral behavior with legislative, therapeutic, or technological solutions. We have heard calls for more federal money to address mental illness, more legal restrictions on the ownership of firearms, and better software for sifting through billions and billions of social media posts. Some of these measures may well prevent some future brutality, but their effect will be marginal.
I propose something more fundamental: Christians who feel a sense of helplessness or even despair after each mass shooting should start being honest about evil, with themselves and with those that God puts in their lives. If you are reluctant to talk about evil and need a pep talk, I recommend the stirring final chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Let’s set aside talk of the culture war and talk instead about spiritual combat. Paul’s meaning is clear: evil is personal. There are demons at work in the world, and these demons are persons—not just vague forces or bad feelings. If you have ever been tempted by the deliberate efforts of another human person, you can at least have a guess at how vastly more skilled demons are. They need not bother with your senses. They can go straight to your imagination.
Closer to the truth, of course, is the causal relationship between the disintegration of marriage and family and the abundant social pathologies that afflict the children of broken homes. My friends Allan Carlson and Jennifer Roback Morse, and many other historians of the family, have amassed data enough to choke an elephant showing that social chaos fills the vacuum left by the retreat from marriage. If the government wanted to promote the one institution whose failure leads more than any other to the violence plaguing our country, it would encourage marriage and the traditional family. An easy way to do this would be tax incentives that favor intact families with children.
Catholics who want to do something about mass shootings should live fully and publicly the teachings of the Church concerning the sacrament of matrimony. Here are two: don’t divorce and stop contracepting. That sounds glib, I know, but matrimony is a sacrament, so with it comes all the graces needed to live it to the fullest.
Such divine grace, in fact, is the ultimate remedy to evil. If you want to do something about mass shootings, avail yourself with abandon of the many means of grace the Church has given us. I recommend sacramentals like scapulars, miraculous medals, and holy water, and devotions like consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Above all, avail yourselves regularly of those means of grace instituted by Our Lord himself: daily Communion and frequent confession.
While the reasons behind the mass shootings are complex, I do believe Chris Check has a very good analysis of some of the underlying issues. American violence will not be solved only with legislative or therapeutic solutions – the problem is deeper than that: it goes all the way to the root of original sin and our propensity for evil. The antidote, then, is conversion of heart and being receptive to the Lord’s transforming grace. Along with the Sacraments, one of the greatest sources of this grace is intact, stable, God-fearing families. When family life is restored and when our nation turns to God’s grace to overcome the very real problem of evil within the human heart, we pray then that these mass shootings will become a thing of the past.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Homily for Ordinary Time 24 - September 15, 2019

Homily for Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 15, 2019
For the Conversion of Sinners

            The year was 1887, and Paris was rocked by the crime of the decade – an Italian man, Henri Pranzini, had been convicted of burglary and triple homicide. He was sentenced to be executed by guillotine, and all through his trial and imprisonment he showed no remorse.
            A fourteen-year-old girl read about his story in the newspaper – and made it her mission to pray for his conversion. For weeks she prayed, fasted, and made sacrifices for him, begging God for his salvation and for some sign that he would repent. But nothing seemed to be working – he refused to see a priest, and was as obstinate as ever.
            On the day of his execution, he went to the gallows with a surly attitude, angry and unrepentant. A priest accompanied him up the scaffold, hoping that he would have a change of heart, but he continually refused Confession. Finally, just before they forced him down upon the block to chop off his head, he grabbed the priest’s crucifix and kissed the Sacred Wounds of Jesus three times.
            When the 14-year-old girl read about this the next day, she was flooded with joy – here was her sign of repentance! Her fasting, her prayers, her supplications to God for this man’s soul – they worked! And this girl, now known as St. Therese of Lisieux, never ceased praying for sinners from that moment on.
            We see from our readings that Jesus desperately desires to have mercy on souls. But He can only have mercy on a soul that is repentant. Notice that the father did not chase after his son in today’s parable – the son first had to “come to his senses” and repent. In Greek, the word for repentance is “metanoia” – which literally means “turning around” – and this is exactly what this young man does. Once he turns back to the Father, then the Father runs to him with open arms.
            But how many souls do not repent! At Fatima, Our Lady told the three children, “Pray and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to Hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them!” We must be the ones to pray and make sacrifices for sinners! Eternal souls can literally be saved, rescued, transformed – because of our prayers and sacrifices!
            In our first reading, Moses is doing just that – he is making intercession for his people. God is furious about Israel’s idolatry – God had led them out of Egypt literally fifteen chapters before, and now they are making a golden calf to worship! He is ready to destroy them, but Moses stands in the breach and pleads with God – and the Lord has mercy upon them.
            We must be like Moses! As we look around at the world, we see the constant proliferation of sin – just turn on the TV if you have any doubt (on second thought, don’t turn on the TV! Nothing good there!). But how many people are praying for the conversion of the world? I mean, really, how many people pray for a pop star’s conversion? Or politicians? Or those talk-show hosts who film next door? Or your brother or sister who is away from the Faith? Now, I don’t know their souls or their relationship with God, but these people could be a great force for Christ if they experienced the power of His mercy!
            But I must be clear – we are not called to pray for sinners out of some sense of superiority, as if we’ve got it all together and they’re the reprobates. No, we pray for them because like them we are sinners too – but with one important difference: we know the sweetness of the Lord’s mercy. When Pope Francis was first elected, he was asked by a reporter, “Who are you? If you had to tell the world who Pope Francis is, what would you say?” And the Pope said very simply, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” This is the state of every Christian – to say with St. Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost.”
            A woman once complimented St. John Vianney on being a very good confessor. He replied, “If I am a good Confessor, it is because I am a great sinner.” The Protestant pastor D.T. Niles had a great quote – he said, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” I would also say that Christianity is about one sinner telling another sinner where he found forgiveness.
            So, we pray for sinners, we sacrifice for sinners, we witness to sinners about how the Lord has had mercy on us. Souls are in danger of being lost for eternity – so let us get started.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Bulletin Article – September 15, 2019
            St. Thomas Aquinas taught that “virtue is in the middle”. Too much of one thing is a problem, just as too little can be a problem. There is a “happy medium” between gluttony and starvation, between workaholism and laziness. We must seek to strike that middle balance between two extremes!
            This is also true in our spiritual lives. Not praying is bad, but it would also be bad to pray so much that someone neglects their daily duties. Not caring about sin is problematic – but also problematic is an over-emphasis on sin, with its accompanying fear of damnation and constant feeling of worthlessness.
            It is this latter state that I wish to discuss today. Having been in pastoral ministry for ten years, I have met many people who struggle with scrupulosity – a spiritual/psychological disorder that is marked by constant guilt about moral or religious issues. A scrupulous person feels like they have sinned grievously, even when objectively they have not. They magnify every small sin and think that little stuff is mortally wrong. Often, there is a tragic and obsessive fear of damnation, and an urge to confess more frequently than necessary.
            From a psychological standpoint, scrupulosity is closely related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The obsessions (unwanted, intrusive thoughts) are the overly-guilty feelings that someone gets for even the smallest sin. The compulsions (ritualized actions meant to compensate for the obsessions) involve too-frequent Confession, extreme penances, or a prayer life that is either rigid or done out of fear.
One sign that someone might be suffering with scrupulosity is too-frequent Confession. It is a wonderful gift that we offer Confession daily, but the US Bishops recommend that Catholics confess monthly. Personally I take part in the Sacrament every two weeks, and I know that some people go weekly, particularly if they struggle with serious mortal sin. But if a person has a desire to confess multiple times each week, then one might want to ask if scrupulosity is in-play.
            Another sign of scrupulosity is the feeling that they are always in a state of sin. I want to be clear with what is a mortal sin. There are really only three main categories of mortal sins that most genuine Christians commit:
- Deliberately missing Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation (if you are sick and unable to make Mass, you are exempt from this requirement – please do not confess it if you missed Mass out of sickness!)
- Intentionally and deliberately committing a sexual sin (again, notice that it must be intentional and deliberate – an unwanted sexual thought, even if it lasts for a while, is NOT a mortal sin; it is a temptation. Any unwanted thoughts that we do not intentionally call to mind are NOT sinful). Any deliberate sexual actions outside of the open-to-life marital covenant are mortally sinful (including the deliberate use of pornography).
- Intentionally getting drunk or using illegal drugs.
            Yes, there are other mortal sins (murder, grand theft auto), but these are rare. The aforementioned three are the three main ones that practicing Christians frequently confess.
            Notice, though, that all three are INTENTIONAL –someone cannot accidentally commit a mortal sin! If there is any doubt as to whether or not the action was intentional, a person may always presume that it is NOT a mortal sin (because the requirements for mortal sin are grave matter, FULL consent, and FULL knowledge).
            Why is this important? Because when a person thinks they are constantly in mortal sin, constantly in danger of losing their salvation, then they lose the joy and freedom of their living faith in Jesus Christ! We do not have a faith that is based in fear but one that is based in our confidence in God’s infinite mercy for sinners. Scrupulosity robs the faith of its joy and freedom, which is what Christ came to win for us!
            So if someone suffers from scruples, what can they do? First, make acts of trust in God’s mercy. Reading the Diary of St. Faustina can be a great help, as can praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Second, perhaps talk to a priest about it – and then follow his advice. Third, for severe cases, it might be helpful to visit a Catholic psychologist who can help develop coping techniques for the severe feelings of guilt. Finally, realize that even some great saints struggled with scruples. For example, St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote, “After I had accidentally trodden upon a cross formed by two pieces of straw, there comes to me a thought that I have sinned ... this is probably a scruple and temptation suggested by the enemy.”
            We do not believe in a God who is waiting to strike us down for small sins. He is merciful and wants us to rejoice in the victory He has won! Although we seek to avoid sin, our sins should not fill us with anxiety, scruples, or despair – because Christ’s Precious Blood is more powerful than our sins!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time - Sept. 8, 2019

Homily for Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 8, 2019
What Must Be Given Up

            Last November, you may have read the news story about the new shoe store that opened up in a mall in Los Angeles. It was an upscale store, featuring shoes that cost $500 or more. Called “Palessi”, they invited a number of media personalities to its grand opening, and over the course of the weekend these celebrity guests shelled out over $3,000 for shoes. Imagine their surprise, then, when it was revealed that the store was an elaborate stunt – “Palessi” was actually a “Payless Shoe Store,” and the shoes that sold for $500 were the exact same as the ones that go for $19.99 in Payless! They thought that because it cost more, it was somehow worth more!
            There have been studies shown that people consider something to be a higher value when it costs more. A study published in 2008 gave two groups of people the exact same wine. One group was told it was a boxed wine; the other group was told it was an expensive and pricey vintage. The group that was told it was expensive reported that it was more flavorful and more pleasant to drink – even though it was the exact same wine!
            So when Jesus talks about the costs of discipleship, He is making it clear that He is offering something of unsurpassed value. To possess Christ and His friendship is the most worthwhile, most important thing in the universe – hence, it must cost the most.
            But many of His disciples don’t understand that. It says that “great crowds” followed Jesus – but why? Well, Jesus did some incredible miracles – feeding five thousand people, healing the sick. Some people followed Him because they wanted free food and free health care (sounds like why some people vote for certain politicians…!). Others followed Him because He was a great teacher – His words were captivating.
            But Jesus wants to make it clear that to be His disciple is more than just fancy words and free dinners. It would take true self-denial to all that is not Him. Let’s look at the three things He asks us to deny in today’s Gospel:
            First, there must be no loves more than Christ. So often I hear people complain, in the confessional, that their boyfriend or girlfriend is leading them into sin. Others tell me that their friends are a bad influence on them. Then we must choose! Who do we wish to please – our significant other? Our friends? Or is our love for Jesus strong enough that we choose Him over all other people?
            Second, He says we must carry our own crosses. Great crowds were following Jesus – because they were all headed toward Jerusalem. The crowds thought that He was going to take possession of the Kingship, but in reality, He was headed to the Cross. I would be lying if I said following Jesus was easy, but it is not. We have to face the Cross of giving up our own desires, pleasures, and goals, and instead seek His glory instead.
            At almost every other funeral, the family of the deceased requests that we play Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” as one of the funeral songs. What a terrible song – as Ol’ Blue Eyes sings, “I did it my way.” No Christian should ever want that song applied to their life! For a Christian, it’s not about my way, but about Jesus’ way. All of our decisions must be for His glory, not our own convenience. So when we are making a decision about how to spend our time or money, where to work and what our family size should be, what to watch on TV and how we should vote, we don’t seek that which is easy or comfortable – as a Christian, we seek what glorifies Him. And this often means choosing the Cross.
            Finally, Jesus says we must “renounce” our possessions – the things of this world that interest us. I think of saints like St. Katherine Drexel, the second American saint, who was a rich heiress in Philadelphia in the late 1800s. She shocked all of high society when she gave up her $20 million inheritance to become a nun who worked with the Black and Native American population. They thought she was crazy – but actually she was just taking seriously the Gospel. Think about your possessions – if any of them (or all of them) were taken away tonight, would you still be at peace? Would you still trust God? Or would you be distraught? Would you feel like a part of yourself is missing? Because if our hearts are attached to anything on this earth, they cannot be fully attached to Jesus Christ in Heaven.
            My friends, Jesus does not mince words about the cost of discipleship. He says it takes self-denial – to choose Him above all other relationships; to choose the Cross of doing His will and not our own; to love Him above all of our possessions. But the cost is commensurate to the value. Possessing a deep friendship with Christ costs everything – because it is worth everything.

Deception, Division, Distraction

Bulletin Column – September 8, 2019
            Recently, Bishop Caggiano tweeted out something that was so profound that it stopped me in my tracks. I could not find the exact quote again, but the core of it is that the devil has three weapons in today’s modern world: deception, division, and distraction.
            A penetrating analysis! Our world is filled with these three D’s – and we can see examples of it every day.
            Deception – the confusion that reigns over the simplest truths has gigantic implications. For example, in 2016, ten percent of the population of the United States said that they do not believe in God. This is a ten-fold jump from 1944, when only 1% of the population was an officially-declared atheist. (Interestingly, in 2016, the city with the highest percentage of atheists was…San Francisco, with over 20% of its population not believing in God). We live in a world where many people hold erroneous beliefs about human dignity, the right to life, what marriage is, and so many other fundamental topics. Even in our everyday life, we may struggle with deceptions such as “Oh, I don’t really need to pray” or “I’m so worthless, no one could love me.”
            So how do we defeat this tactic of the devil? We must live in the truth. The truth comes from Jesus Christ, not from the world, or from our culture, or from ourselves. St. Josemaria Escriva said, “For the modern apostle, an hour of study is an hour of prayer.” Of course, we must pray as well, but it is equally important to know what the Church teaches and what Christ has revealed about who God is, who we are, and how we are to relate to the world around us. We must have the truth so interwoven into our lives that we “are transformed by the renewal of our minds” (Romans 12:2) and start to see the world with the eyes of Christ.
            Division – every day it seems like the world is getting more and more shrill, as people live in their online camps and do not know how to have respectful dialogue with people of opposite opinions. Every now and then I wade into the “comments” section of an online article, and immediately I regret it! It seems like many people are content to just shout at each other – and this happens in real life, too, in our own families and neighborhoods.
            I believe the answer to division is love. Love always assumes the best about the other. As St. Paul said, “it is never rude, or envious, or self-seeking. It does not rejoice in the wrong but rejoices in the truth.” Love means that even though a person may have a different opinion from ours, we can still recognize the good in them and acknowledge it, treating them with the respect that they deserve as a child of God.
            (I believe that the answer to division is love and not unity per se, because we can still love those with whom we do not have real union. Unity implies that there is a shared, common truth that we all live by; but it is possible to love those who do not share our common values. Of course, the truest form of love is to help others encounter the truth!)
            Finally, the Bishop says that the third tactic of the devil in the modern world is distraction. Nielsen released a study in 2018 that claimed that American adults spend over 11 hours per day interacting with media – from TV to radio to internet and everything in-between (and we’re only awake for 16 hours total!). With all that time in the digital world, is it any surprise that we have lost touch with nature, each other, and God?
            The way to overcome this distraction is disconnecting from the things that do not lead to real encounters with God and one another. Do we really need to check our email one more time? Will that extra article really enrich our life as much as a walk through the woods on a Fall day? When is the last time we used our phones to talk to a real, live person instead of texting them? Disconnection leads to real connection – with God, with ourselves, with one another.
            Classically, the Church has always seen the world, the flesh, and the devil as the triumvirate of temptation. Bishop Caggiano’s insight, though, is that the devil is now using three strong tactics in the modern world – deception, distraction, and division. But we can overcome these three tactics through truth, love, and real connection with God and one another. How can you set to work on these in your own life?