Saturday, November 30, 2019

Best Advent Ever

Bulletin Column – December 1, 2019
Title: Advent Conspiracy

            Well, it’s Advent (or according to the secular world, it’s the Christmas season…or rather, the Christmas season started on November 1 when I saw the first Christmas ad of the season). And every year we are admonished to remember the Reason for the Season – Jesus Christ, not Santa Claus.
            But this year, why not do so radically? A few years back I came across an amazing website: Advent Conspiracy ( The website – and the movement – was started by three Protestant pastors who felt like every year they got so caught up with all the busy-ness of the season (presents! parties! cookies! ugly sweater contests!) that they never felt connected to the amazing wonder of the Incarnation of our God.
            The Advent Conspiracy movement asks people to enter into Advent with four tenets:
            ~ Worship Fully. Put God-centered traditions into this season. Growing up, my family would light an advent wreath every day and say prayers around it – a powerful recognition of Who we are celebrating. Perhaps a daily family prayer around a crèche scene would be helpful. Definitely come to Mass every Sunday, or perhaps more frequently if possible!
Also, did you know that Advent is supposed to be a penitential season, like Lent? What would it be like if you decided to “give up” something for Advent like we do with Lent? I’m going to do that this year – anyone else want to give it a try? That will make Christmas a day bursting with joy!
~ Spend Less. We often buy things because we think we have to. “Gotta get a gift for my kid’s piano teacher!” Why? Do we think the piano teacher will despise us if we don’t give them the $10 Dunkin Donuts gift card (when he doesn’t even drink coffee?). We feel the “peer pressure” to make sure our list is long so that we don’t become “that one parent” who didn’t give the teacher a gift, or “that one employee” who didn’t do something for the boss. Why not this year say, “Enough!” Instead of buying all these gifts, maybe say a Rosary for these people on your list. Or give a donation to charity in their name. Or just not do anything at all, because there is no requirement whatsoever that you have to give more stuff to people at Christmas!
~ Give More. The gifts that truly matter are time and relationships. The toys will soon get broken and gather dust. But maybe instead of another Saturday out shopping FOR your kids, you can spend a Saturday WITH your kids – making cookies, going for a walk, or doing something else fun. Instead of buying another coffeeshop gift card, take your coworker OUT for coffee, and really listen. Give less of your money and more of yourself.
~ Love All. Remember all that money we saved by not buying gift cards for your boss? Why not give that money to the poor, or to a charity, or to the Church? It would do so much more good in the hands of the needy than yet another Christmas ornament on a tree stuffed full of them.
I truly, ardently believe that the materialism and frantic busyness of the Advent season is a work of Satan. He wants us to focus on toys, gifts, and parties, while Christ wants us to focus on peace, love, and worship of His Incarnation. Satan has so distorted this season that the vast majority of the world sees it as only a secular “winter celebration” filled with reindeer, snowflakes, and cookies. And while it is harmless to bake cookies and attend parties; while there’s nothing wrong with buying presents for others, we cannot let it consume us to the point that we do not remember the why behind all of the frantic stuff on our to-do list.
The “why” is Jesus Christ, the Word-Made-Flesh.
This year I’ll be observing the Advent Conspiracy. Will you join me?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Homily for Christ the King Sunday - November 24, 2019

Homily for Christ the King Sunday
November 24, 2019
Not Cool to be the King

            If Jesus Christ is King of the Universe, why is the world so messed up? Why is it that, despite our best efforts, it seems like sin is proliferating? Why is it easier for our kids and grandkids to leave the Faith than to bring them into the Faith? Why is it that we’ve been working to end abortion and promote healthy marriages and end poverty for decades, but the problems have only gotten worse? If Jesus is King, why is this world in such disarray?
            It’s because of us.
            God is, undoubtedly, the King of the Universe. But way back in the beginning, He instructed us to rule the world in His Name. Listen to what He says to our first parents in Genesis: “Have dominion over the earth.” We are supposed to be God’s regents – by serving God, we would reign over creation.
            But something happened – we gave that authority to someone else. In John’s Gospel, who does Jesus say is the “prince of this world”? Satan! By our sin, we refused to rule as regents of God, and instead shifted our allegiance to sin and the devil. We gave away the world so we could have an apple. So this earth is now enemy-occupied territory – and we have collaborated with the invader!
            Back in 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Denmark. Instead of fighting back, the Danes figured it would be better to cooperate with the Nazi government, so reluctantly they did so. But the leaders soon found that once they let the Nazis into their country, their Nazi propaganda started to sway the opinion of the Danish people. They passed a law outlawing criticism of the German government, and even handed Jewish refugees back over to the Nazis. What began as a reluctant collaboration soon became full-fledged support.
            And the same it was with us. Our first parents were tricked by the Devil’s lies, and once they were on his side, everything else in the world went to him.
            So Jesus came to regain the world, which is rightfully His. But even though our Liberator came to rescue us, we chose slavery over freedom. Christ wanted to restore us as His collaborators, and we put Him to death. This is why on Christ the King Sunday we read that Jesus reigns from the Cross! This world rejected its True King because we are still under the oppression of our demonic slave-driver and his lies.
            After all, Christ Himself testified that “My Kingdom is not of this world.” This means that those who follow Him will never fit in here on this earth! It will always be a battle and a struggle to fight for what is holy; the Truth and the Faith will always be rejected and hated and despised.
            When I was at Trinity, I was teaching a class of juniors one time. As they walked into the room, I had a Christian rock song playing over the speakers. One girl, as she walked through the door and heard the song, looked at me with a look of utter disgust and said with loathing, “Is this a Christian song?” I decided to do a little social experiment, and I replied, “Nah, it’s not Christian. It’s just something I found on Spotify.” And she replied cheerfully, “Oh, in that case, it sounds pretty good – I like this song.”
            Amazing! Someone would reject something simply because it’s Christian! But this is the reality of the world in which we live – we follow a King who was rejected by His own people.
            But this should not cause despair! Christ’s Kingdom can come on this earth – and it begins in your soul and mine. St. Josemaria Escriva said it well: “He is our king. He desires ardently to rule our hearts, because we are children of God. But we should not try to imagine a human sort of rule — Christ does not dominate or seek to impose himself, because he ‘has not come to be served but to serve.’”
            So Christ’s Kingdom will come in the world when you and I allow Him to be King of every aspect of our life. Every aspect: our thoughts, words and deeds; our work and our play; our family and friendships; our internet browsing and our music and our video games and our driving and how we spend our free time and what jokes we laugh at – we put ALL of this under Christ’s Kingship and live in a way that pleases Him. Jesus does not force us to accept Him as King – but as Bob Dylan sang, “Everybody gotta serve somebody.” So will we serve the prince of this world (Satan) or the King whose Kingdom will triumph in the end?
            My friends, in this world, it will always be a struggle to fight for goodness and faith and holiness. The world is a mess, because we have allowed an Enemy to rule us. But Christ came to be rejected by the world so that He could refashion the Kingdom inside of us – His Kingdom, which will last for eternity.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Thanksgiving 2019

Bulletin Column for November 24, 2019 – Thanksgiving

            This week we celebrate the great American holiday of Thanksgiving, so my bulletin column today will be about the sin of gluttony.
            Just kidding, it’s not about gluttony (although we should always practice moderation in all things, especially around the table!). Rather, let’s talk about giving thanks!
            A few years ago, a man named John Kralik was depressed. He had every reason to be – at 53, his life was falling apart. He had just gone through his second divorce, he was alienated from his children, he was forty pounds overweight, lonely, poor, and realizing that he would never achieve his career dreams. His depression was so dark that he considered suicide. On a cold December day, he took a walk to sort things out, and came to a profound insight – instead of focusing on the things he didn’t have, why not focus on the things he did?
            That month, he made a New Year’s Resolution to write one thank you note every day of the year – 365 in all. And day by day, month by month, he started to do so – to family and friends, coworkers and mailmen, neighbors and shopkeepers. Pretty soon, he found that his life was changed by gratitude. He started to have a more positive outlook on life, and with that came a myriad of changes. True friendships started to develop in his life; he lost weight and felt better; and most importantly, he found inner peace. All because of gratitude!
            I personally keep a gratitude journal. Every night before bed I write down a few sentences of what I am grateful for that day. It amazes me when I look over my day how many little blessings I easily overlook – a good conversation with a friend, a powerful ministry moment when I saw Jesus working in someone’s life, the chance to rest and recreate, intimacy with God in prayer, or even the simple blessings of knowing that I don’t have to worry about my next meal or where I will live. Since I started doing this, I’ve noticed much more of the little things in life – encounters that, previously, I would have overlooked; challenges that end up being blessings - because little things become things to be grateful for!
            And thus we come to another Thanksgiving holiday. My Uncle Mike used to have us all list something we were grateful for before we dug into the turkey; I used to think it was such a cringey thing to do – awkward to the max! Now I see the wisdom behind it. We do not know what we have until we are grateful for it.
            Thanksgiving is a holiday that is unabashedly Christian – because who are we thanking, if not God? Listen to the words of George Washington, who instituted Thanksgiving in 1789: Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor: Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies.
            Ultimately, our faith is centered around thanksgiving. The word in Greek for “giving thanks” is eucharistia – from which we get “Eucharist”. Every Mass is awestruck gratitude for the phenomenal gift of Life that Jesus Christ purchased on the Cross for us. We can never adequately repay God for humbling Himself, shedding His perfect Blood on the Cross, and inviting us into a relationship of grace. The Eucharist is a small way in which we repay Him – and in giving Him thanks, He gives us back His Flesh and Blood! What a marvelous exchange! We try to thank Him, and He only gives us more blessings – more of Himself – in return!
            So this Thanksgiving, amidst the turkey and the football and the pumpkin pie, we must always remember the real reason for the holiday – not just to gather with family and friends, but ultimately to give thanks to Him from whom all blessings come.
            (And don’t be a glutton!)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ordinary Time 33 - November 17, 2019

Homily for November 17, 2019
Ordinary Time 33
The End and the Beginning

            Is Jesus talking about the end of the world in today’s Gospel? Certainly sounds rather apocalyptic. But He is actually talking about a historical event that was the end of a world, even if it wasn’t the actual end of everything.
            Remember, He was speaking to first-century Jews. For them, their religious and cultural world revolved around the Temple. The Temple was the sign of their unique identity, the place of worship, the symbol of how they were the Chosen People. And in 70 AD, the Temple was completely destroyed by the Romans. This would have been earth-shattering for Jesus’ Jewish listeners – it would have been the end of their Jewish world.
            But two years later, the other part of Jesus’ prophesy was fulfilled. Any Jewish follower of Jesus in the first century actually practiced both religions. They would have gone to synagogue on the Sabbath day, and then the next day they would have attended the “breaking of the bread” (aka Mass) on the Lord’s Day. But the Jewish leaders were none too happy to have these Jewish Christians joining them for worship. So in 72 AD, the Jewish leaders held a council in Jamnia, where they added to their synagogue liturgy curses upon anyone who believed in Jesus (these were called the Birkat haMinim). Essentially, this forbade Christian Jews from worshipping in the synagogue. It would have been the end of their world!
            But guess what? Instead of it being the end, it was also a beautiful beginning…because the Church was in its infancy, and would continue to grow and spread across the globe. Yes, it was a terrible tragedy to the Jewish Christians to have their Temple destroyed and to be expelled from the synagogues – but God had a better plan by giving them the Church as their new home.
            Have you ever felt like something was the end of the world for you? Perhaps it was the loss of a job, or financial misfortune; maybe it was a cancer diagnosis or the break-up of a marriage, maybe it’s a natural disaster or war. These can feel like catastrophes. But all things work for good for those who love God – even the things that seem like the end of our world!
Consider where and when Jesus gives these predictions. This passage is at the end of Luke’s Gospel, after Jesus enters into Jerusalem for Holy Week. He will be crucified in a few days. He knows that the Apostles’ faith will be shaken by the scandal of the Cross, and they will think that His death is the end.
But three days later, we know how it turns out – His death was not the end but the beginning of grace pouring forth into the world, as He rose from the dead. And for those who are in Christ, He “makes all things new” and can redeem even the worst situations.
But the key is in Jesus’ final words: “Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.” Will you persevere in faith when your world collapses? It is said that during the Great Depression, atheists jumped out of windows while people of faith went back to work. Because even if you lose all your money, or have everyone close to you die, or whatever other tragedy befall you – if you trust in God and persevere in loving Him, then He will bring a new beginning out of the end.
Certainly the saints lived this out. St. Alphonsus Liguori is a perfect example of turning tragedy into something great. Growing up, he was destined for great things – he was the son of an Italian nobleman, and received the best education money could buy in the eighteenth century. He was so smart that he got his law degree at nineteen years old! He never lost a case in his first eight years of practicing law. Because of his stellar reputation, he was given a tremendously important case, which he studied for endlessly. Finally, the case was brought to court and he argued brilliantly, proud of himself and sure of the win. But lo and behold – he forgot about an important piece of evidence and the judge ruled against him! He was seen as an absolute fool. He felt like his career and reputation was ruined.
But in prayer after that legal disaster, he heard a voice saying, “Leave the world and give yourself to Me.” He became a priest and founded a religious congregation, the Redemptorists, which now has over 5,000 priests and brothers throughout the world. God had brought great good out of an abject failure…but He was not yet done with St. Alphonsus’ sanctification.
Alphonsus was the head of his religious order for many years, but toward the end of his life, his major benefactors began questioning the “Rule” (which is the document that acts as the Constitution to a religious order). They brought it before the King of Naples (where Alphonsus lived) and the King declared that he would personally change the Rule and expel Alphonsus from the order that he founded! He was kicked out of the order and forced to live his last years in exile. Another great tragedy – but one that God redeemed by teaching Alphonsus greater humility and trust. He died, a failure in the eyes of men – but was quickly declared a saint by the Church!
Disaster will befall us here on this earth – but he who perseveres in faith and trust until the end will find that all things will be made new and redeemed in Christ.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Beauty and Danger of Indulgences

Bulletin Article for November 17, 2019 – The Blessing and Danger of Indulgences

            A number of parishioners mentioned this month that they were seeking indulgences for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
            Some might ask: Indulgences? Are they still around? Didn’t they go out with the Middle Ages? We might remember hearing about the abuses of indulgences in the past – how they were sold to finance the building of St. Peter’s Basilica, and how Martin Luther reacted against such worldliness by starting the Protestant Reformation. Do we still believe in them nowadays?
            Yes, indulgences are alive and well!
            What is an indulgence? We believe that the graces received by Mary and the Saints forms a treasury that we can dip into. It is as if the saints were sharing a bit of the grace that made them holy, and we (or the Holy Souls in Purgatory) are blessed to receive it. So, yes, we still believe in indulgences!
            What do indulgences do? The simple answer is that they take away temporal punishment due to sin. Imagine that your soul is a block of wood. Committing a sin would be like driving a nail into that wood. We go to Confession, and the nail is removed. But the wood is not back to normal – there is still a hole, a wound (what we call “temporal punishment”). This needs to be filled in. Indulgences help to “fill in” the wounds that our sins cause in our soul.
            Consider – when we sin, we are training ourselves in vice. A lie makes it harder to be an honest person; a greedy act begins to form us to become a greedy person. So although our sins are forgiven in Confession, we still need to be re-fashioned into the Image of Christ, putting on His virtues. Thus, indulgences help us (or Purgatorial souls) to become more fashioned into the image of Christ, more free from attachments to sin and vice and the things of this world.
            There are two types of indulgences: plenary and partial. A plenary indulgence means full remission of temporal punishment – a complete re-fashioning of Christ-within-us. But here’s the challenge – it’s very, very, VERY hard to get. To obtain a plenary indulgence means that we perform the necessary act of piety (such as attending Stations of the Cross, a half-hour of Scripture reading, pilgrimage to a holy place, etc), pray for the Holy Father, go to Confession & Communion within a week’s time, and be free of ALL attachment to sin. This last caveat makes it quite difficult! I recall one saint (I believe it was St. Philip Neri, but don’t quote me on that) who was leading a Eucharistic Procession for the people of Rome to gain a plenary indulgence. He was granted a vision of the souls who were there, and he saw that only one person out of a thousand actually had the detachment necessary for the indulgence – it was a simple, pious, old woman. So most people do not actually gain plenary indulgences because our hearts are not yet pure enough to love the Lord fully. (See Pope Paul VI’s document Indulgentarium Doctrinis for more details).
            But never fear! We do have partial indulgences which start the process of re-fashioning us into Christ. Partial indulgences are often misunderstood. Some prayer books will say “500 days indulgence” or “Seven Years Indulgence” attached to certain pious works. Those are NOT the amount of time off of purgatory! Purgatory, being outside of time, cannot be quantified. Those days or years are actually a reference to the initial reason for indulgences – to lessen difficult penances from Confession. It used to be common, in the early Church, for priests to give penances such as “Three years of bread and water” or “Not allowed to receive Holy Communion for two years” (common for those who had publicly denied the Faith under persecution). So if a prayer or action has a note with “100 days indulgence” next to it, it means that it will shorten such a severe penance by 100 days.
            Despite the ancient and venerable tradition of indulgences in our church, I shy away from talking about them because there is a danger of wanting to “gain an indulgence” rather than grow in love for God. We should ultimately pray, go on pilgrimage, attend Mass, read Scripture so that we can thank God for His awesome love, offering our small love back to Him. When people say, “I am going to Confession to gain an indulgence” I want to say to them, “Well, you should really be going to Confession because you wish to repent of your sins.” We should never do anything solely for the purpose of gaining an indulgence, as if our relationship with God was one of commerce (I’ll give you a few prayers, God, if you give me a shorter purgatory sentence).
            Now, I know that most people don’t think that way. But I fear that the idea of indulgences lessens the purity of our motivation.      Rather than seeking an indulgence, we should be motivated solely by love for God to do these acts of piety. We should want to pray even if there was not an indulgence attached to it! So, let us not worry about whether we get this indulgence or that indulgence. Let us just pray for the souls in purgatory, and live our life with radical love for God. He will take care of removing temporal punishment and forming Christ within us!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Homily for Ordinary Time 32 - November 10, 2019

Homily for Ordinary Time 32
November 10, 2019
Celibacy for the Kingdom

            The great British actor Sir Alex Guinness (best known for being Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars Trilogy) converted from Protestantism to Catholicism based on a unique encounter he had while filming a movie in France. He was playing a priest in the movie, and during some down-time he took a stroll through the quiet town, still dressed as a priest. All of a sudden, a young boy came up and took his hand, and started chatting happily in French. The actor didn’t know what he was saying, not knowing any French, but he was impressed by the trust and affection that this boy had for Catholic priests, even those he didn’t know. When the boy finally said, “Au revior, mon pere!” and ran off, Alex began to rethink his long-held prejudice against the Catholic Church.
            What allows priests to be a father to all is the incredible gift of celibacy. Celibacy means giving up marriage and family for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. It is not about being a bachelor or just not finding “Mr Right” – no, celibacy is about giving your life, your body and soul, for the cause of Christ. It is an incredible gift, and one that Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel.
            Jesus says that in Heaven there will be no marriage. This is because the purposes of marriage are exclusively for this earth: the sanctification of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. But in Heaven we won’t need our spouses to make us holy, and we won’t need to have children. In Heaven, Jesus will be our everything. And those who live celibacy now are living on this earth as we will all live in Heaven.
            If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you may have seen that there was a recent gathering of bishops in Rome to discuss how to bring the Gospel to the Amazon, which often suffers from a lack of priests. Many in the Church said that the solution is to start allowing priests to get married, that celibacy was perhaps outdated. Is there any value to living celibate lives for Christ today? Yes – here are four reasons why celibacy is a great gift.
            First, giving up marriage and children for the sake of the Kingdom means that a person belongs entirely to Jesus Christ. That, in itself, is a gift! I have the awesome blessing of being able to spend an hour in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament daily, which I would not be able to do if I was married and had a family. It is an incredible joy to know that all of me belongs to Him, because He is worth it!
            Second, living celibacy is a powerful witness to the world that Jesus Christ and heaven are real, because celibacy would make no sense whatsoever if Jesus was a myth. I once had a young man in a youth group go from zero to sixty in his spiritual life. When I first met him, he didn’t care about God, and after two years of coming to youth group he was walking himself and his little brother to Mass on Sundays. I asked him what inspired him to suddenly believe in Jesus, and he said, “I believe in Jesus because you’re not married.” I was flabbergasted and asked him to explain. He said, “No one would give up a wife and kids if this was all a myth.” When you’re willing to sacrifice a natural desire for a family in order to live the life of Heaven here on earth, where we belong completely to Jesus, then it’s a powerful witness to the world.
            Third, celibacy allows a man or woman to be a spiritual father or mother to many, many more children. Consider – everything that physical parents do for their children, so a priest does for the soul. A father and mother bring a child to life – a priest brings a soul to life in baptism. Parents work to put food on the table – a priest feeds his children with the Eucharist. Parents clean up after their children and correct them when they are wrong – priests clean your soul in Confession. Parents teach their children how to live – priests and nuns teach others how to have spiritual life in God. I have more children than I could ever have if I were married – because all the souls who are in my care are my children!
            Finally, celibacy shows the world that there are deeper types of love than physical affection. The world says that love equals sex, and that human beings are unfulfilled if they aren’t engaging in sexual intimacy. Celibacy, when lived joyfully, demolishes both claims. I am definitely not lonely (in fact, I frequently wish I could be more alone!) and have received tremendous outpouring of love through friendships – above all through my friendship with Christ. Celibacy is a powerful witness to the world that there are rich and beautiful types of love and joy that do not require sex.
            But celibacy is absolutely counter-cultural. Some may claim that celibacy is unnatural. Others claim that it is too difficult. The truth is, it is not unnatural – it is supernatural. Every normal, healthy person has a natural desire for marriage and family. But some people have a supernatural desire to give up that natural desire for the sake of Christ. It is a grace given by God, and with every grace and calling He gives us the strength to carry it out.
            Finally, celibacy does NOT necessarily mean priesthood or being a nun. There are many people in the world who are called to live celibately for Christ and his Kingdom. I know people who have forsaken marriage because they feel called to give themselves completely to the poor, or to the care of their aging parents, or to teaching our Catholic faith to the young.
            So, celibacy is a great gift for our Church and our world. As Jesus said, in Heaven we will all belong body and soul to Christ. Those called to celibacy are living that out, right here. Some of our young people here this day are called to celibacy. If God is calling you to give up your entire life for Him, I pray that you have the courage to say “yes” – because our lives only make sense when we give them away. And a total self-gift of body and soul to Christ is the greatest thing we can do with our small lives here on earth.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Do Catholics Believe in Ghosts?

Bulletin Column for November 10, 2019

            Last week we looked at Purgatory – how can we help our friends and ancestors who go before us through prayer and sacrifice. But today let’s take up a thorny related question that I am often asked – can people in Purgatory communicate with us? In other words, are ghosts real according to the Catholic Church?
            Personally, I have never seen or encountered anything supernatural, so I am not speaking from any personal experience. But I have known many people who are ordinary, rational folks who claim to have seen ghosts, shadows, presences…are they souls of the dead who have come back to us?
            There is no formal teaching in the Catechism regarding the existence of ghosts or the paranormal as such. Some, such as the Vatican’s top exorcist Fr. Gabriel Amorth, think that ghosts are either a) An evil spirit masquerading as a human soul, or b) By God’s permission, a soul in Purgatory is begging for prayers. It can be difficult to distinguish between the two. In either case, prayer, offering Masses, and possibly an exorcism is necessary. If a place is “haunted” (most exorcists would use the word “infested”), then the first recourse would be to have a Mass said for the soul of the deceased (especially if we know who they are). Contacting a priest to bless the house or even say Mass in the house can be helpful.
            There are references to ghosts in Scripture. King Saul conjures up the ghost of the prophet Samuel through the witch of Endor in 1 Sam 28 – and neither God nor Samuel are very pleased about it! The Apostles thought that Jesus was a ghost, both when walking on the sea and also after the Resurrection, so they were clearly familiar with the idea! When a person has an apparition of a saint (for example, St. Joan of Arc saw St. Michael and St. Catherine during her youth), it is akin to seeing a ghost, insofar as it is an encounter with a spirit from the afterlife. So, to see a ghost is not outside the realm of the Catholic cosmology. If God allows a ghostly or supernatural vision, it is for the greater good of all involved.
The Church does, however, clearly forbid us from trying to contact “the other side” through divination (mediums, fortune-tellers, Ouija boards, etc). There are several reasons for this prohibition. First, it goes against the First Commandment to seek to have knowledge that we are not meant to have, such as where a loved one is spending their eternity (remember that the first sin of our first parents was the desire to possess illicit knowledge by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). Some knowledge is meant for God alone – we must respond by trustful surrender to His providence.
Second, fortune-tellers and mediums are not neutral – they (often-unwittingly) use the Evil One for their “gift”. Only God knows the future with absolute certitude, but Satan is a very, very good guesser and can often inform us of the future through mediums. Even mediums who claim to be “spiritual” or who only practice “white magic” are deceived – God does not reveal secret knowledge on demand.
Finally, if a medium “channels” a spirit from the afterlife, there is no guarantee whatsoever that it truly is the person they are claiming to be – it could likely be a demon speaking through the medium.
So, although ghosts may be real (I do not know if they’re real or not), and although the existence of ghosts are not opposed to our Catholic Faith, we are not to go and seek them out. Terrible things can result!
Finally, there is an absolutely wild story about what can go terribly wrong when you try to contact someone in the afterlife – from the life of a saint! One of St. John Bosco’s closest friends during his seminary days was a fellow seminarian named Louis Comollo. The two of them shared a fervent desire for holiness, and one day after discussing the joys of Heaven, they made a pact that whoever would die first would come back and tell the living friend whether they were saved or not. Tragically, while still in seminary, Louis died of illness at the young age of 22.
A couple nights later, John Bosco was in his dormitory which he shared with dozens of other seminarians. Suddenly, close to midnight, the sound of a tremendous wind and thunder echoed through the hallway. The whole dormitory shook and men actually fell out of their beds through the force of it. They huddled together in fear, when out of the rumble came clearly the words in Comollo’s voice: “Bosco, I am saved!” Three times he said this clearly – it was heard by every man in the seminary. When the voice and the noise finally faded, St. John Bosco said it was the most terrifying moment of his life. John Bosco was so afraid that he literally became sick, and was ill to the point of death, but later recovered. He cautioned everyone never to make the same pact on this earth!
So, as we continue through this month of the Holy Souls, we acknowledge that our Catholic Faith is open to the idea of ghosts, but that if they appear, they do so with the express will of God and for the greater good of souls. We are never to seek out communication with them! Rather, we entrust all souls of the deceased to God’s mercy through prayer and offering Masses for them.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Homily for Ordinary Time 31 - November 3, 2019

Homily for November 3, 2019
Thirty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

            The day was November 2, 1950. The Korean War was raging, as American soldiers fought for freedom abroad. A cohort of American soldiers was overrun by over 20,000 Communist forces. In the ensuing battle of Unsan in North Korea, one particular American showed heroic courage – a military chaplain named Fr. Emil Kapaun. He would run out into no-man’s land to provide the sacraments and prayer to dying soldiers. As much as possible, he would try to drag them back to the safety of the American side, despite bullets flying in every direction. Even after the retreat was sounded, he continued to go from man to man in the battlefield, providing the last Sacraments. Because of such fearless courage, he was taken captive by the North Koreans and put into a POW camp.
            Within the camp, he was the face of Christ. He fashioned a bowl out of metal so that the Americans could boil water, preventing dysentery. He was always available for prayer or a word of comfort. Frequently he would sneak out of the camp to find extra food to give to the starving soldiers. His mere presence boosted morale – so the Koreans had a special hatred for him, making him stand naked and freezing for days on end. His last act before he was taken away to the POW hospital (more like the “death house”) was to forgive and bless his captors.
            For his courage, he is the most decorated military chaplain ever – and he is also on the path to sainthood – currently a servant of God.
            To be in the military – and to be a Catholic – takes intense courage. The kind of courage that chooses the good in spite of any difficulties. We call this the virtue of “fortitude” – the courage to choose the good amidst difficulty.
            Zacchaeus is a perfect example of that. He wanted to see Jesus – so he chose the difficulty (and humiliation) of a grown man climbing a tree. He wanted to welcome Christ into his home – so he did not back down even when the crowd started to grumble against him. He wanted to follow Christ – so he chose the humiliation of having to give back the money he cheated from people, admitting that he was wrong and a sinner. He was convicted by the love of God – and he had the courage to put it into action.
            We must have that same courage! We live in a post-Christian society. Perhaps fifty years ago, everyone was a Christian, so it was easy to be Christian. Stores were closed on Sundays, the worst thing they had on TV was showing a belly button or two, and people prayed in schools. Now that everyone is not a Christian, it takes courage to be a Christian. To have faith in Christ is to go against the tide. Here are a few aspects of our life that we must courageously live our faith.
            First, pray in public. Once when I was in college, some buddies and I went out to Red Lobster to eat – which was definitely a budget-buster for us poor college students! We said grace before our meal but didn’t make a big deal about it. At the end of the meal the waitress said, “That couple over there was so impressed that college students would pray grace that they paid for your whole meal!” What a gift! Praying in public inspires others to reverence God. For example, when you pass a Catholic Church in your car or on foot, make the sign of the Cross – it is a powerful witness to everyone else that you believe this is the house of God. Pray grace before meals. Don’t be afraid to have your Rosary in your hand as you wait for your doctor’s appointment. Courage!
            Second, don’t be afraid to insist on practicing your faith. When I used to visit the sick at a hospital in Baltimore, I was very impressed that Muslim doctors and nurses were granted time each day to do their prayers – so they would go down to the small chapel, face Mecca, and spend ten or fifteen minutes in prostration and bowing to Allah. In that same hospital, nurses would tell me, “Oh, I missed Mass because I was working last weekend.” Wait a second – why is it that our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters get time off to worship in their Faith – why do we not take advantage of it? We have to be serious about our religious obligations! So, don’t be afraid to tell your boss you can’t work fourteen hours on Sunday because you need time to get to Mass. Have the courage to tell your kid’s soccer coach that little Johnny will be late to the game because we have to attend Mass first. Only if Catholics insist on practicing their Faith will it be granted.
            Third, have the courage to repent of our sin. St. John Chrysostom said, “We should be ashamed to sin and courageous to repent, but Satan tries to make us courageous to sin and ashamed to repent.” Sometimes we are too afraid to repent, because repentance means we have to 1) admit that we were wrong and 2) actually change. That can be frightening! We get so used to sin that we think we can’t live without it. At the same time, we don’t want anyone to know how sinful we are. We have to have the courage to say, like Zacchaeus, “I will do whatever is necessary to follow Jesus – even if I have to change my ways and admit that I was wrong.”
            Finally, don’t be afraid to speak about Jesus. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words,” right? NO! He never said that and he certainly didn’t practice it, considering he spent the last twenty years of his life as a traveling preacher! There is this almost-embarrassment about saying the name of Jesus in public – we just don’t talk about religion and politics, right? Not at all! As a Christian we are proud of our faith in Christ, and should not be afraid to speak about Him to others.
Zacchaeus didn’t care with the “crowd” thought – he was following Jesus, no matter what. I pray that we are so convicted of the saving truth of our faith in Jesus Christ that we have the courage to live our faith fearlessly.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Homily for All Saints Day - Nov 1, 2019

Homily for All Saints Day
November 1, 2019
At the Banquet of the Lamb

            This is a day in which we remember the thousands of canonized saints who made it – men and women, boys and girls just like us, who loved God more than anything and became holy through His grace.
            And it is right that we remember them, because we admire them! Certainly we admire the sacrifice of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave up his life for another man in Auschwitz. We admire the courage of St. Agnes, the twelve-year-old girl who would rather die in the Coliseum than worship the Emperor. We admire the prayerfulness of St. Therese of Lisieux, the zeal of St. Francis Xavier, the love of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
            History is full of saints whose virtues shine forth as encouragements to us. But this is also a day to celebrate the millions upon millions of saints, for a saint is anyone who is in Heaven! Perhaps some of our ancestors – our great-grandfathers or great-aunts – are numbered among the blessed in Heaven. We may never know their names in this life, but we will know their names and their stories of holiness in the next.
            And in that next life, when we all sit down at the Banquet Feast of the Lamb, we will hear stories. What stories we will hear! The martyrs will rise and tell of their glorious courage in the face of death. The virgins will then share their tender love for Jesus, their one and only Divine Spouse. The married couples will share the sanctifying power of the Sacrament of Matrimony; the young people will tell of their innocent faith that bought them the ticket to the Banquet of the Lamb. The missionaries will share exciting stories of preaching the Gospel in far-off lands, while the scholars will reveal how their study of truth led them to God.
            And then – and then it will be our turn. They will turn to us and say, with wonder in their voice, “What was it like being a saint in the twenty-first century?” And Saint Francis will be in awe at us – you and I – for our courage in seeking holiness in this most difficult of times. St. Lawrence the Martyr will nod his head as we tell tales of facing rejection for the Faith. St. Faustina will be moved to tears to hear how God’s mercy is poured out upon us again and again.
            And then – and then they will rise, our heroes in the Faith. They will rise to their feet and fill all of Heaven with the sound of applause and cheering and welcome, when St. Dominic gives you an embrace, when St. Claire invites you to sit by her, when Pope St. John Paul the Great says, “Welcome home, my friend.” And the Son of Man Himself will rise and place upon our heads the crown of righteousness, and our robes will be washed clean in His Blood.
            For the memory of the saints which we celebrate on this day should stir us onward to join them in glory.