Thursday, October 31, 2019

Homily for Ordinary Time 30 - October 27, 2019

Homily for Ordinary Time 30
October 28, 2019
The Only One to Change Is Ourselves

            When I was at St. Mary’s in Stamford, which is a mostly-Hispanic parish, there used to be a running joke among the priests that all Hispanic women’s confessions began the same way: “Oh Padre, tengo problemas con mi esposo!” (“Oh, Father, I have many problems with my husband!”) And then they would proceed to tell us all of their husband’s many flaws…and at a certain point we would always have to stop and say, “I’m sorry Seniorita, but this is your confession, not his!”
            We all know those people who blame others for their problems. A kid gets a bad grade on a test, and he complains, “Oh, my teacher hates me!” A guy has a tough time at work and says, “My boss is just crazy!” A couple fights, and they both say, “Oh, if the other person would only change!” It’s always easier to blame the other person than to look at what needs to change in ourselves.
            Jesus is clear that the purpose of this parable is to speak about people who are “convinced of their own righteousness”. The Pharisee – who truly was righteous in comparison to the tax collector – was so busy noticing the tax collector’s flaws that he couldn’t see his own.
            But how often do we do that in our relationships? We say: My coworker doesn’t do his job right; it’s the other students’ fault that we got in trouble; if only my kid was more respectful we will have peace in the house. And while all of this might be true – maybe your coworker really isn’t doing their job, maybe the other students really are to blame, maybe your child really does need to learn respect – but it ultimately does no good only to focus on the other person’s flaws when the only person we can truly change is ourselves!
            Our standard for behavior should not be who we are in comparison with other people. Rather, we should ask ourselves, who are we in comparison with Jesus Christ? A lot of times we think, like the Pharisee, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that guy.” That may be true – but are we as holy as Jesus Christ? We all fall short of His standard; thus, we all stand in need of repentance and mercy.
            I was once in a profound conversation with a fellow and we were talking about holy people that we both knew – some real living saints. I asked him, in jest, “Do you think I’m holy?” He paused for a moment, cocked his head, and replied, “You’re not as holy as you should be.” It was an insight I’ve never forgotten!
            So my challenge for you is this: if you find yourself in an ordinary human conflict today or this week, stop and consider: how can I change to become more like Christ in this situation? What can I do differently to bring healing to this conflict? There will be greater peace in our hearts, our homes, and our world when we stop thinking of ourselves as the innocent victim in every conflict (“The other guy’s gotta change!”), and instead turn the mirror around and start to look at our own repentance first.
            Finally, I close with this story. It’s from Chicken Soup for the Soul – I know, I know, I apologize for how sentimental those are – but I thought this was a great, true story. A son in his late teens drove his father into town to run some errands, before the teen took the car in for some work. The boy told his father he would pick him up in two hours, after the car was done. After dropping the car off, the boy went to the movies. But this was back in the day when sometimes the movies were “double features,” where you can watch two movies in a row for one price (who remembers those days?!). So the boy lost track of time watching the movies and when he looked at his watch, four hours had passed! He quickly got the car and drove to pick up his dad. His father was waiting patiently, and the boy quickly came up with a lie: “Dad, the car took much longer than expected, I’m so sorry.” The father looked at him sadly and said, “I know that is not true. I called the mechanic and they said it was done over two hours ago. Now I am going to walk home and ponder what I have done wrong as a father, that you feel the need to lie to me.” And the father started walking home. The boy, heartbroken, followed his father home in the car – for ten miles, the father walked and the car trailed along at three miles per hour.
            Not only is that story about honesty, it is also about a father who is willing to look at himself and his own failings first – and by doing so, he taught an unforgettable lesson to his son.
            Mother Teresa was once asked by a reporter what needed to change in the Church. Her response: “What needs to change in the Church? You and I.”

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Halloween for Catholics

Bulletin Column for October 27, 2019 – Can a Catholic Celebrate Halloween?
            A couple days from now, ghosts and goblins will haunt our city streets in search of candy. Ordinary kids will transform into policemen and superheroes, witches and sports stars. Halloween is upon us (or, if you look at the department stores, it has been upon us since mid-July!) – and it’s worth examining the question: Can a Catholic celebrate Halloween?
            Often I have heard that Halloween stems from a Catholic holiday (being the evening of All Saints Day, it was often called All Hallow’s Eve, or Hallow-e’en). And while this is true, the backstory is a bit more complicated than that.
            Our ancestors were much more in-touch with the natural rhythms of the world and the skies than we are (I guess without Netflix there’s not much else to do at night…). Many of our pagan ancestors – particularly the Gaelic pagans of Ireland – held great feasts at the turning of the seasons. But not only did they celebrate feasts when the seasons changed – they also had half-season feasts (called “quarter days”) which were the exact midpoints between two seasons. November 1 happens to be around the midpoint between the beginning of Fall and the beginning of Winter.
            For the ancient Gaels, the night of October 31-November 1 was a major harvest festival called “Samhain”. Samhain celebrated the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold season that would lead up to the shortest day of the year (December 21st). On Samhain, the Gaels believed that the barrier between the afterlife and this earth was the thinnest, allowing souls to pass from the afterlife to visit relatives and friends here. Not all of these souls were benign – these spirits (called “Aos Si” in Gaelic) could be malicious and all sorts of rituals were devised to prevent harm on this night. Many of the Samhain rituals involved divination (seeking to contact the “other side” or telling of the future – grave sins against the First Commandment!).
            Ironically, these festivals were often held in conjunction with Christianity! These pagan remnants remained ingrained in the common folk even after they had accepted Christ. In fact, it was a rather frequent occurrence for the Church to adopt a pagan festival and “baptize” it – for example, the first celebration of All Saints was actually instituted by Pope Boniface IV in 609, when he rededicated the pagan Pantheon (the temple to all the gods) as the Church of St. Mary and All Saints. The date he chose for the re-dedication was May 13, which was the same date as the Roman pagan festival of Lemuria which was a festival of the dead. So, the Church has often taken pagan traditions and reoriented them so that they pointed to Christ.
            And this is what was done with Samhain. It was in 835 that Pope Gregory IV named November 1 as the Feast of All Saints, at the behest of Irish missionaries who needed to baptize the festival of Samhain. Samhain was still celebrated by the locals, however, who would practice divination on the evening of October 31 and then attend Mass on November 1 (some habits are hard to break, I guess!).
            Now, of course, Halloween bears only a nominal resemblance to the pagan festival of Samhain. Trick-or-treating was originally a Samhain-Christian hybrid custom of “souling”: poor children going from door-to-door begging for a “soul cake” (a little loaf with a cross on top) which would be given to them in exchange for prayers for the donor’s family’s deceased relatives. When out “souling”, children would take lanterns made from hollowed-out gourds and turnips – a predecessor of our Jack-O-Lanterns. The custom of dressing up came from both a pagan and Christian origin. The pagan origin: as Samhain was believed to be the day that souls wandered the earth after death, people would disguise themselves so that no soul with a vendetta could recognize them and wreak vengeance against them. The Christian origin: Christian churches too poor to afford relics for All Saints Day would have children dress up as saints instead, and they would process through the town.
            So, yes, Christians can celebrate Halloween, knowing that many of the traditions do have Catholic roots!
            But…here comes the truly frightening part – Samhain is still celebrated by neopagans and Wiccans as one of their highest holy days. Their celebrations vary by group, from a reconstructed Celtic ceremony to something truly diabolical. So stay away from anything that remotely looks neo-pagan or Wiccan!
            The other caveat is that at times, Halloween can make glorify death and the occult. There is, in many cultures, a theme of memento mori – remember your death – and so skulls and skeletons can be very Christian themes. But it can be overdone – we must remember the One Who conquered death! And although it’s probably harmless to dress up in a witch’s hat and walk around with a broomstick, it is important to emphasize that the occult is very real – demons and witches and spells are actual realities which should not be toyed around with in real life.
            Other than that, Halloween is a harmless celebration for Catholics. I certainly enjoyed it every year while growing up. Just avoid the paganism and the occult, and go easy on the gross-out death stuff. And give me all of your Almond Joys. And we will all have a happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Ordinary Time 29 - October 20, 2019

Homily for October 20, 2019
Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time
The Faith to Surrender to His Will

            I was teaching a Confirmation class one year, and in the back of the room sat a kid named Jake who came to class with a bad attitude every Sunday. Arms folded, scowl on his face – clearly, he did not want to be there. Finally, mid-way through the year, I pulled him aside and said, “Jake, what’s the deal? Don’t you want to be here?”
            “No, I don’t,” he replied. “I’m an atheist.”
            Oh great, a thirteen-year-old atheist. So I said, “Why are you an atheist?”
            He explained, “I prayed for my grandpa to get better, and he died. There must not be a God.”
            Sad to say, this is a common reaction. People pray for something, don’t get it, and then lose faith. How does prayer work, anyway? Jesus wrestles with this very issue in the Gospel. He seems to indicate that if we persevere in prayer, we will get what we ask for. But why doesn’t that always pan out?
             Well, let’s look at two things today: first, the right and wrong way to pray. Second, we will consider the ways in which God does want to bless us.
Sadly, many people do not understand the right way to pray. They treat prayer as a divine vending machine. “I put in my three Hail Mary’s and…oh, what do I want today: healing, forgiveness, a new puppy, help on a test, a good diagnosis…yep, that’s it!” And we think that it’s an exchange – I “said my prayers” so God now has to do His job.
            What a far cry from true prayer! True prayer is surrendering to God’s will. True prayer says, “Lord, I want X, but if You think it’s better for me to have Y, then Your will be done!” True prayer seeks friendship with God, not to treat God like a rich uncle who we treat with kindness just so that he pays for stuff.
            When people have the incorrect view of prayer, seeing it as a way to force God to give them stuff, then they become like the woman in the Gospel. Notice how she uses a threat to get her way – the judge gives her the judgement because he is afraid she will come and strike him! Many people are like that – they think in their heart, “If You don’t give me what I want, Lord, then I will leave You, I will stop going to Mass, I will become an atheist.”
            This, I think, is why Jesus makes the final lament in the Gospel – “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” When Jesus comes to search our hearts, will He find us with complete surrender to His will, trusting that whatever the Father gives us is for our sanctification? True faith says, “Jesus, Your Will be done.” True faith says, “I seek only You, Lord, not earthly treasures.” True faith says, “Jesus, I trust in You.” What a difference from those who just pray, “Lord give me this, give me that – or I will leave You!”
            But from this parable, we can see that God is a good Father Who WILL bless us in His goodness. Consider: it was a widow who wanted her legitimate rights from the judge. In the ancient world, widows were a protected class – they were vulnerable, as anyone could come and seize their property. So the judge had an obligation to protect her by settling this court case in her favor.
            Likewise, we have an enemy – Satan – who is bent on our destruction. And the Evil One seeks to steal the freedom, holiness, peace, joy, and salvation that are rightfully ours by our baptism – when we became children of God, we inherited these things! So when Jesus says, “God will secure the rights of His chosen ones who call out to Him night and day,” He is saying that through prayer, God will restore what is rightfully ours – peace, joy, holiness, freedom, and salvation. THIS is what He has promised to give us – not necessarily a new job, a better house, freedom from cancer, an A on the test, etc.
            Our job, then, is to say, “Jesus – I trust that whatever You send me, it will lead to my greater holiness and salvation!” As St. Catherine of Siena said, “Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind.”
            In closing, I have always had a great admiration for St. Dominic Savio, the fourteen-year-old schoolboy who studied in St. John Bosco’s boarding school and achieved great holiness under his tutelage. One day, a new boy arrived at the school – this new boy was very sickly and pale, with a chronic cough and physical weakness (this was the 1800s in chilly Turin, Italy, after all). On the first day, St. Dominic struck up a conversation with this new boy, and the conversation turned to this boy’s chronic illness. Dominic asked, “Do you wish to be healed of this illness?” The boy replied, “I neither wish to get better or to remain sick – I just wish to do the will of God.” St. Dominic was so impressed with that answer that he became best friends with that boy.
            This, too, should be our prayer – neither sickness nor health, neither riches nor poverty, neither comfort nor difficulty – but only the will of God, Who loves us and wants our holiness and salvation.

Friday, October 18, 2019

How Can We Love the Church?

Bulletin Column – October 20, 2019 – How to Love the Church

            Earlier this month, the Diocese of Bridgeport released the final report from independent auditor Judge Holzberg, who spent the last year cataloguing the sexual abuse crisis and the diocese’s response to it, both past and present. It is a difficult report to read – “gut-wrenching” would be more like it – and it is a great source of pain for so many involved: survivors, families, priests, and lay Catholics alike.
            With such a shameful past, how can we continue to be Catholic in these times? There are many who have used the sexual abuse scandal to jump ship and seek spirituality elsewhere: in a megachurch, in other religions, or just by becoming one of the “nones” who claim no religion. Others abandon the Church because of Her teachings, or perhaps over something as simple as being yelled at by a priest or encountering a grumpy parishioner (not that we have any of those here!) Even I, as a priest, have been very hurt by members of the Church, and I too am shocked and disgusted by the scandals that keep making news.
            How can we continue to love the Church as She goes through her Via Crucis (Way of the Cross)? There are a few perspectives that might help us remain faithful during this difficult time:
            - First, we must stand on Christ’s promise that “the gates of Hell will not prevail against” the Church! (Matthew 16:18). He didn’t promise that the Church would always be robust or filled or glorious in the world’s eyes. He did promise that Satan would not ultimately triumph over the Church, and that the Church would endure to the end.
            - Second, it can be very helpful to study Church history. When we do that, we realize that the Church has been through equally trying times! Even beginning with the Twelve Apostles, we had a betrayer in their midst, and the first Pope (Peter) denied knowing the Lord. From the start, Jesus chose sinners to carry on His work. Crazy? Definitely. Daring? Without a doubt. Wise? Only with the wisdom of the Cross, where the weak are made perfect by God’s strength living in them.
            - We often speak of the Church as being semper reformanda – always reforming. The Church is never perfect until eternity, even though She is the Bride of Christ. We are all pilgrims on a journey to holiness, but we’re not quite there yet. As Pope Francis likes to say, “The Church is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” That goes for the men in the hierarchy as well as the last person in the pew. We are all sinners in need of God’s redeeming grace – and in a Church made up of sinners (of whom I am one!), how can we be surprised that the Church is not yet spotless?
            - But at the same time, we can still say we believe in one holy catholic Church because the Church really does possess real holiness! Consider: the Church’s Founder was holy (Jesus Christ), the Church’s goal is holy (salvation), the means of acquiring that goal is holy (grace through the Sacraments), and many members of the Church are holy (Mary, the saints). In addition, all of us can name a few “living saints” whose holiness keeps the Church afloat – I look out on Sunday morning and see more than a handful of profoundly holy men and women, boys and girls – laypeople whose lives are heroic in charity and prayer and humility. It is these who make up the Church!
            - We should want to be part of the solution! The Church will only heal and grow stronger if we become saints. The Church failed in the sexual abuse crisis because of a lack of holiness: deception, sexual perversion, a lack of integrity. The Church will grow stronger when we combat these things with honesty and transparency, purity, integrity. It is needed in the hierarchy, yes – but it is also needed in the pews, because as they say, “a rising tide lifts all ships.” Holy families will produce holy vocations; holy vocations will produce holy priests and bishops.
            We can take a positive kernel from this otherwise-horrific report of Judge Holzberg: since 2002, the Diocese of Bridgeport has been exemplary and stellar in its handling of sexual abuse cases. I firmly believe that right now, the Catholic Church is the safest place for children and families because of the cutting-edge Youth Protection training, a strict and stringent Zero Tolerance policy for sexual abuse, mandatory background checks for all those who work with youth, and a comprehensive Code of Conduct. Even secular organizations are looking at the Catholic Church’s youth protection guidelines and copying them, because the Church is now considered the gold-standard of how to protect young people in an organization.
            It has been difficult to be Catholic for the past few years – without a doubt. But this latest round of scandals has shone a light on a wound that needs healing – and now that it has surfaced, it can be dealt with and healed through the truth and love of Jesus. We as faithful sons and daughters of the Church should not despair. On the contrary, I believe that the Church will emerge purer, holier, and more brilliantly luminous as She reflects more perfectly the Light of Christ to the world.
            So stay Catholic. Love the Church. Be part of the holy solution as God raises up the next generation of saints.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Homily for Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Oct 13, 2019

Homily for October 13, 2019
Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Outsiders Come In

            An interesting theme in today’s readings is how God gives His abundant grace and mercy to outsiders. Our first reading features Naaman, who is the chief military officer of the King of Aram, which was outside the Promised Land. In other words, he’s a pagan Gentile, who has nothing to do with the Chosen People – but God has mercy on his leprosy and heals him.
            Our Gospel features the ten lepers, one of whom is a Samaritan. Samaritans despised Jews, and vice versa – although they were both children of Abraham, Samaritans had intermarried with pagans and refused to worship God in the Temple of Jerusalem. Although this Samaritan is outside of the Chosen People, God has mercy on him and heals him of the leprosy.
            Both cures require a leap of faith, though, before God can offer mercy. Naaman had to believe that this Jewish prophet Elisha actually possessed the power of God to cure him (Elisha, interestingly, did most of his ministry in Samaria). The Samaritan leper had to make an even bigger leap of faith and overcome a deep-seated prejudice – when Jesus said to show themselves to the priests, that would require this Samaritan to travel to the hated city of Jerusalem and submit to the priests whom Samaritans reject. But he had enough faith to trust that this Jewish man Jesus had the power of God to cure him – so he was willing to rethink his rejection of the Jewish Temple and the Jews in general.
            And once God had moved in their life, they became full-fledged believers. Naaman swore that he would only sacrifice to the God of Israel – not to the pagan gods of his ancestors. To emphasize his newfound belief in the True God, he brings back two mule-loads of earth from Israel, because he could not offer sacrifice on anything less than holy ground. The Samaritan returns to Jesus, praising God and recognizing that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah that both Jews and Samaritans longed for.
            You see, these stories are about so much more than simple gratitude. They are about outsiders having faith in God’s messengers, receiving His incredible healing and blessings, and then becoming full-fledged followers of the Lord.
            So – how do these stories apply to us? One of the questions I get asked most as a priest is, “Can non-Catholics or non-Christians go to Heaven?” Certainly receiving the grace of salvation – a free gift from God – is the greatest blessing He can give us. Can those “outsiders” – non-Catholics – be so blessed by God?
            The short answer is “yes…but.” Yes, God can bestow saving grace upon anyone He chooses. We are bound by the Sacraments, but God is not bound by the Sacraments. So He can certainly save those of other religions who sincerely seek Him as best as they know how.
            BUT…we have the obligation to discover what the true religion is – and once we have discovered it, we have the obligation to invite others into it. Recently a teen from a former youth group came to me and said, “Oh, Father, I’m sorry to tell you, but I’ve started going to a local Evangelical church.” I was pretty saddened and asked why. She told me that she felt more welcome there, they had better music and better preaching. But then I asked her if it was the true religion founded by Jesus – she looked flabbergasted, as if she had not given it any consideration! We have a duty to seek after the true religion – not the one we prefer, or enjoy more, or the one we find the most helpful to us personally.
            When I was a deacon, I was invited to lead a Holy Hour at a most interesting convent. Just outside of Baltimore was a convent of Anglican nuns – all of whom decided to convert to become Catholic nuns…except for one! One nun remained Anglican and explained that she was “too old” to convert. So when I came for the Holy Hour, I walked into the church to find all of the nuns in the main body of the church, praying to Jesus in the tabernacle – and the solitary Anglican nun off to the side of the church, praying before her Anglican tabernacle. But the Anglicans don’t have a valid Eucharist, since they do not have valid Holy Orders – so this poor elderly nun was kneeling before bread! It was an interesting contrast – the rest of the nuns are possessing the Pearl of Great Price in Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist, while the elderly nun, out of a sense of convenience, had only bread that she knelt before.
            Yes, it costs something to find the truth – Naaman had to swallow his pride, the Samaritan had to overcome his prejudice. The saint who was canonized yesterday, St. John Newman, knew quite a bit about the cost of seeking the true religion. John Newman was a popular Anglican priest, always in demand for his preaching. He wrote extensively and was well-thought-of in the Anglican world. But as he continued studying the Scriptures and the Church fathers, he realized that the true church was the Catholic Church. It soon became inevitable that he become Catholic.
            Now, this was a crisis point in his life. To become Catholic was to lose his friends, his upbringing, his good reputation, his teaching position at Oxford. But he knew he had to become a full-fledged follower of the Lord – so he converted. In doing so, he received the greatest graces – the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the authority of the Pope and the Church to guide his theology, and access to all of Jesus’ graces to aid him on the way of sanctification. He is now known as St. John Newman!
            So, the sum of it is this: God can give incredible blessings – healing, mercy, salvation - to those who are “outsiders” – people “on the margins” of society. But He desires the “outsiders” to come in – into the fullness of truth, the fullness of grace, the fullness of life found most perfectly within the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Homily for Ordinary Time 27 - October 5, 2019

Homily for Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 5, 2019
Growing Faith

            Is it reasonable to have faith? The Apostles want more faith – but what does “faith” even mean? Is God just a “magical sky fairy” (as some atheists refer to Him) or does it make sense to believe?
            Faith, at its core, is believing something on the basis of someone else’s testimony. For example, if I tell you that I went to Paris in 2012, you will likely believe me, but you will take it on faith. Perhaps someone will say, “I need proof!” And then I could show my passport, or plane ticket. But what if I say, “I ate roast duck in Paris in 2012” (which I actually did) – that would be a lot harder – if not impossible - to prove. And you would just have to take my word for it.
            In the same way, there are a few things we know about God from human reason – basically we know THAT He exists. We can logically know that creation needs a Creator, and that a design needs a Designer. But who is this Creator, this Designer? We only know because God has revealed Himself to human beings.
            Starting with Abraham, then through Moses, David, and the Prophets, God continually revealed Himself to us. That is how we learned that He is merciful and forgiving; that is how we learned what we must do to please Him (the 10 Commandments). The ultimate revelation came through Jesus Christ – He revealed everything about God to His Apostles, and entrusted them with the task of passing it on.
            So the basic question of faith is – do we believe the testimony of these people? Do we believe that Abraham, Moses, and the prophets really spoke with God? Do we believe that the Apostles really saw Christ rise from the dead? We can believe these people who have experienced God in two ways. First, we consider the people themselves – were the Apostles trustworthy? I believe they were. They would have no reason to lie or make up such a fanciful story. They were flawed, weak, fearful men who were immediately transformed into powerful, courageous preachers because they obviously experienced something. If it wasn’t the Resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, what would have caused such a transformation? Also, consider what they gained from their testimony about Jesus – only hard work, suffering, and eventual martyrdom. This makes me think that it’s not a lie and it’s not the preaching of a madman – the Apostles must have really encountered God through Jesus.
            A second way in which we can believe is the existence of miracles – proofs of God’s power. I know in today’s modern world we tend to be skeptical about miracles – and I personally tend to be quite skeptical! A few years ago when I was at St. Mary’s in Stamford, we had a special celebration for the feast of Padre Pio. Afterward, there was a reception in the church hall and I noticed a crowd had gathered around one particular table. I went up to the table and saw a window pane on it – just a single part of a window. I asked what it was, and a woman responded with awe, “Don’t you see it? It’s an image of the Virgin Mary in the window! It’s a miracle!” I looked again – it was a smudge that could only be considered an image of Mary by the most far-fetched imagination. I must’ve smirked because the woman huffed and said, “Those priests! They never believe!”
            But miracles ARE real! The parting of the Red Sea was a real, historical event – as evidenced by Egyptian chariot wheels that archeologists have found at the bottom of the Red Sea! The Resurrection was a real, historical event, as evidenced by the Shroud of Turin and the empty tomb. I absolutely believe in miracles – both in the Scriptures, and throughout history even until the modern day.
            For example, back in 2013 in Poland, a priest dropped a consecrated Eucharistic Host on the floor during Mass. He placed it in a basin of water, and a day later a red splotch was found on it. It was sent to two university laboratories in Poland, without telling the scientists where it came from. They identified it as human cardiac tissue (from the heart) with evidence that the tissue was damaged due to great physical trauma. The bishop then asked them to examine the possibility that it was not actually human tissue but a bacteria or mold that caused the red splotch. The scientists stated definitively that the red tissue was not from bacteria or mold, but was human flesh. The Vatican declared in 2016 that this is a legitimate miracle, the most recent of over 150 verified Eucharistic miracles in history.
            Now, one may argue, “Okay, but modern-day miracles do not prove that our Catholic Faith is true.” And – they are right. It is not proof, but evidence. What’s the difference? Proof means that it must exist – there is no way it could be opposite. So 2+2 must equal 4 – and any other answer would be wrong. Evidence, on the other hand, helps to strengthen our belief but does not prove it. For example, I believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist because of what Jesus said in the Scriptures, and because of the Eucharistic Miracles throughout history, and because it has been the consistent teaching of the Church throughout history. But none of this evidence is the same as scientific proof – there is no way that we can prove, scientifically and beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is there in the Eucharist. This is where faith comes in – we consider the evidence from Scripture and Tradition, and we give our assent to truth, not because we can prove it ourselves, but because we believe the testimony of the Gospel writers and the Church and the scientists that examined the Eucharistic miracles.
            So, if faith is necessary, we must seek to possess it and grow in it! The Apostles beg the Lord, “Increase our faith!” As I used to tell the teens at Trinity, faith is a living thing – if you feed it, it will grow, and if you starve it, it will die. Some teens used to complain that they came back from their first year of college and have lost their faith – but it’s no wonder why, since those teens didn’t attend Mass or bible study or Catholic fellowship while at college! How can we feed our faith? Some ways include: attending Mass, daily prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, reading Scripture or other spiritual books, going to talks and bible study and youth group, having Christian fellowship, listening to Christian music. It’s not rocket science: if you feed your faith, it will grow. If you do not feed your faith, it will die.
            And if we feed our faith just the bare minimum, it will be stunted. St. Paul instructs Timothy to “stir into flame” the gift he has received – the gift of faith! If we do not “stir it into flame” and help our faith in God to grow, then it will stay small. The person who attends Sunday Mass but does nothing else throughout the week – that person’s faith is stunted and small! One might say, “Well, I’m doing what the Church requires.” But in our Gospel today, Jesus has some sharp words for those who only do what is required – he says that they are “unprofitable, useless servants”.  Let’s not be useless servants or have stunted faith. Rather, let us feed our faith, since we want it to grow, to flourish, and to bear the fruits of holiness in our lives.