Thursday, September 17, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 25 - September 20, 2020

 

Homily for Ordinary Time 25

September 20, 2020

Life is Christ

 

            If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would your reaction be? Would you be at peace, knowing that you would join Jesus – or would you beg the Lord for a few more days, or a few more years?

            Blessed Chiara Badano faced a similar choice. Growing up in Italy in the 1980s, she was a normal, fun, popular teenager – she played guitar and tennis, had crushes on boys, and loved to hang out with friends. She also had a deep relationship with the Lord Jesus through her local youth group, and grew active in her Catholic Faith. At the age of sixteen, she was playing tennis when a sharp pain in her shoulder forced her to drop her racket. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with bone cancer – a particularly painful trial, but she accepted it with great faith, saying, “This is for you, Jesus – if You want it, then I want it too.”

            She underwent chemo, and every time a clump of her hair would fall out, she would hold it up and say, “For You, Jesus.” The chemo made her tremendously weak, but she would use a walker to get around. She befriended one particular fellow patient who suffered from depression, and would go on walks with her through the hospital garden, which were agonizingly exhausting for Chiara. When her family urged her to rest more, she said, “I will rest in Heaven.” She even refused morphine because she wanted to consciously offer her sufferings to God. At one point she said to her parents, “There's only one thing I can do now: to offer my suffering to Jesus because I want to share as much as possible in His sufferings on the cross.”

            After a two-year battle with cancer, it became clear that she wasn’t improving. She was more than resigned to death – she longed for it. When the doctors told her that she had no hope, she responded, “If I had to choose between [being healed] and going to heaven, I wouldn't hesitate. I would choose heaven.”

            News of this remarkable dying girl began to spread, so much so that Cardinal Saldarini, the Archbishop of Turin, Italy, visited her and remarked, “The light in your eyes is splendid. Where does it come from?” Chiara responded, “I simply try to love Jesus as much as I can.”

            As she was dying she gave two instructions to her mother: first, to bury her in a wedding dress, because her death would be her wedding with Jesus; and secondly, not to mourn, because union with Jesus would be a time of great rejoicing.

            How many of us would have faith like that? For Chiara, as for St. Paul, life was Christ and death is gain. What powerful words St. Paul uses: “I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Yet most of us do not desire Heaven as much as we desire a long life here on earth! We’d often rather enjoy the passing pleasures of this world to the endless joys of the life to come!

            How can we change so that “life is Christ and death is gain”? Two practical thoughts.

            First, we must pray! If we do not enjoy spending fifteen minutes with God every day, we will not want to spend eternity with Him in Heaven! Prayer is how we become accustomed to breathing the air of Heaven. He has shown us manifold signs of His love: the beauty of nature, the love of family and friends, His mercy on the Cross…prayer is our response of love to such a generous God. We cannot say “life is Christ” if He is just an afterthought in our day. Rather, our time with Him must be our bedrock, our foundation. It’s more than just “reciting prayers” – it is spending time in silence, with His Word (the Bible), speaking to Him from our hearts and listening to Him.

            Then, ask God daily what He wants you to do. When I was at Trinity High School, I used to ask the kids, “What college do you want to go to? What career do you want to have?” But I realized that was the wrong question – I should have been asking, “Where do you think God wants you to go to college? What career is God calling you to?” Our lives are not ours to do whatever we want with them. As we heard last week in the readings, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. Both in life and death we belong to God.” So ask the Lord daily, “How do you want me to use this day? How can I glorify You today?”

            This past week I had lunch with an old friend who was recently baptized. He had been raised without faith, but due to God’s grace and the example of his wife, he embraced the Catholic Church and was baptized right after the quarantine. He was telling me that his wife, a devout Catholic, wanted to purchase a second home on a beach somewhere. But this man, despite being a newly-minted Catholic, said to me, “I just don’t think that’s what glorifies God! It just seems so self-indulgent. Can’t we do something better with our money, for God?”

            If life is about Christ and not about us, then we cannot live it self-indulgently! Self-indulgence is the American vice, because in many ways we see it as the culmination of the American dream. We work hard, earn money, and then we think we earned our right to relax and enjoy the good things in life. If that’s the case, then life’s not about Christ, it’s about you – your wants, your pleasures, your time, your money. My friends, to say that “life is Christ” means that our time, our money, our talents, our health all belong to Him – we are not free to do what we want with them. St. Paul says, “Christ will be magnified in my body” – every last breath, every last minute, every last dollar of Paul’s belonged to Christ. What does the Lord want you to do?

Then we will be detached from the things of this world, and attached to Him alone. Back to my original question, the reason we don’t want to die is because we love this world more than we love the Lord. But our lives cannot be about the things of this world. Life is Christ, and death is gain.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 24 - Sept. 13, 2020

 

Homily for Ordinary Time 24

September 13, 2020

Paybacks

 

            “I’ll make you pay for this!”

            How many times have we thought this? Someone cuts us off in traffic, so we find a way to get back at them. A person insults us, so we find a way to insult them. When we see some misfortune befall someone who has done us wrong, we say, “Ah, finally they get their paybacks!”

            We may justify such thoughts and desires by saying, “Well, they’re only getting what they deserve” – as if the paybacks were justice. But what would we receive if we were treated with strict justice?

            Because of our sins, all of us deserve to be separated from God. St. Paul says that “the wages of sin is death.” Consider – one unrepentant mortal sin is enough to condemn a soul for eternity! A lot of times we think, “Oh, I’m a pretty good person.” But if a prisoner were to appear before a judge and say, “Judge, I know I murdered that guy, but look at all the good things I’ve done too!” – do you think the judge would let him walk free? On the contrary! It says in Isaiah, “all of our good deeds are like filthy rags”. Just as one drop of poison makes a whole meal sickening, so our sins make our entire souls unfit for the glory of Heaven.

            And when we consider Who we have turned out backs on: the All-Holy God, Pure Love Himself, the One whose purity and holiness is so great that even the angels must shield their eyes…how good God is! How not-good we are! Although we were meant to become radiant saints, all too often we have chosen to wallow in the corruption and filth of sin! Even the smallest sins – the lack of charity, the unkind word, the unchaste glance – are offenses against the infinite goodness of God.

            So, according to strict justice, we could never pay back our debt to God. In today’s parable, the servant owes the king “a huge amount” – the actual Greek says it was 10,000 talents. This would be approximately 200,000 years’ wages! It would have been impossible to pay that off in a thousand lifetimes. In the same way, because of our sins, we owed a debt to God that was literally unpayable – how could we make up for rejecting God’s goodness? We cannot – and that is the point of the Gospel.

            Jesus alone can pay back the debt that we owed God. He took upon Himself the punishment for our crimes, wiping them away on the Cross. And look how easy it is to be forgiven now! A simple Confession to a priest forgives even the most heinous sins. You could have a thousand mortal sins and be one step away from Hell, and in ten minutes be washed as clean as a baptized baby and regain your citizenship in Heaven. Amazing! We don’t have to fast on bread and water or walk a hundred miles barefoot on sharp rocks – no, all we have to do is ask for mercy, and it is given. What a gift – freely given, gratefully received!

            One of the main reasons why people find it hard to forgive is that we forget how much we have been forgiven for. If you struggle to forgive, look at the Cross – as He was hanging there, thinking of you, loving you, He said, “Father, forgive them.” Not just his executioners, but all of us down through the ages who need His mercy. When we realize just how much we need to be forgiven, then it is easier for us to extend that mercy to others.

            Please understand – forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. It is a choice to acknowledge, “What you did was wrong, it mattered, it hurt – and now I release you from my anger and I do not wish you harm.” We often have to forgive over and over again – every time the anger boils up within our soul, we make a choice to forgive again. Pray for the person who offended you – pray with your lips and mind, even if your heart’s not in it, and eventually your heart will come around.

            Back in the early 1940s, a young, talented girl from Paris named Marie Girtanner was on her way to becoming a famous concert pianist. She had been giving concerts from the age of 9, and was playing before concert halls at age 18. But when Hitler’s Nazis invaded France, she decided to use her talents in a unique way – she would play concerts for the Nazis in order to spy on their activities and gain information for the Resistance.

            Such a daring plot worked for a while, but in 1943, her ploy was uncovered and she was arrested with several other Resistance members. In custody, she was tortured by the Gestapo so badly that she lost the ability to play piano.

            She was finally rescued the following year, but was devastated that she could no longer play music. Turning to her Catholic faith, Maria became a Third Order Dominican, and for the next forty years, prayed to forgive the man who tortured her. It was a daily struggle. As she would later write, “Forgiveness does not come about in the abstract; it calls for someone to whom it can be addressed, someone to whom it can be received.”

            Finally, in 1984, the doctor who tortured her reached out and asked for a visit. What would you say to the man who ruined your life? When she walked into his house, Maria embraced him, and granted him forgiveness. Later she said, “Forgiving him has liberated me.”

            Many times we want justice for those who offend us, while we desire mercy for ourselves. And mercy has been granted to us through the death of God on the Cross. But how we ever pay back the Lord Jesus for His incredible sacrifice on our behalf? We cannot pay Him back. But we can pay it forward – by extending that same mercy to others.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 23 - September 6, 2020

 

Ordinary Time 23

September 6, 2020

Tough Love

 

            One day during the summer of 1852, a wealthy young man named Francois Dorel was approached by a friend who asked him, “Have you heard of the priest in the nearby town of Ars? He is rumored to work miracles. I intend to go to Confession to him tomorrow – will you come with me?”

            The young man Francois had no faith, but he replied, “I will go with you, for perhaps I can go bird hunting in the ponds near Ars, while you go to Confession!”

            So the two of them set off on the two-day journey – the friend making a devout pilgrimage, while Francois brought his gun and his dog for hunting. When they arrived at Ars, they saw crowds of pilgrims surrounding the church, as the priest, St. John Vianney, was out blessing the people. Out of curiosity Francois wanted to see what all the hubbub was about, so he drew near with his dog.

            Immediately the saint stopped blessing the people and looked directly at the young man and exclaimed, “My friend, I wish that your soul was as beautiful as your dog!”

            Francois was cut to the heart. His dog was faithful, loyal, and living as a dog should – but he, a baptized Christian, was unfaithful to God and living in sin! He quickly ran away to a quiet location where he reflected on those words; then, he gave up his dog and gun and made a good Confession to St. John Vianney. The saint urged the young man to become a monk, and Francois died as a holy Trappist.

            One might say that those words of St. John Vianney were harsh or cruel. What an insult! Or…what an act of love. What motivated St. John Vianney to speak such words? He loved souls and wanted them to come to conversion.

            St. Paul tells us that “love is the fulfillment of the law” and that the only debt we should owe to one another is love. But what is love?

            Love is NOT just being nice to people. Love is NOT letting people do whatever they want. Love is NOT affirming people in every choice they make.

            Rather, St. Thomas Aquinas defines love as “willing the good of the other.” We desire the other person’s benefit – even if it is costly, difficult, or uncomfortable. What is the ultimate good of every human being? The salvation of their souls. All the riches, pleasures, comfort, and success of this world cannot compare with the Ultimate Good of possessing God for eternity.

            So if we truly love someone, we should seek their True Good – the salvation of their souls.

            Why is this important? Because our culture completely misunderstands the nature of love. You have probably seen those yard signs around town that have a misunderstanding of love. One yard sign says, “Love is love” – implying that if you do not support homosexual marriage, you are a “hater”. Another yard sign says, “Hate has no home here” – implying that if you support legal restrictions on immigration, you are motivated by hatred. But both of these are based on serious misunderstandings of the nature of love.

            In fact, one of the biggest lies that our culture tells us about love is that if you love someone you have to support every decision they make. This is false! If a child is about to touch a hot stove, you say, “No!” and grab their hand away. Will they cry and be upset? Sure. But is it loving? Absolutely. In the same way, when we see our family members engaging in behavior that is sinful or self-destructive, do we not have an obligation to speak – out of love?

            Jesus instructs us how to do that in the Gospel. He says that first we must go directly to that person (how often do we, instead, go and tell others about a person’s fault, instead of telling the person directly?). If that doesn’t work, join forces and approach them. If that doesn’t work, get the Church involved. Why? Isn’t it easier not to speak up, to live and let live? Should we just let the guy continue cheating on his wife, or let your son keep living with his girlfriend, or let your uncle continue to drink and be abusive to his spouse? Yes, it’s easier – but it’s not loving. If we truly want to love, we must “will the good of the other” – even when it’s difficult.

            But – we must make sure we are motivated by love; that is, by a genuine care and concern for the well-being of others. It is too easy to be motivated by judgment, or self-righteousness, and thereby lose a soul. When we give careful, prudent, discreet advice to help someone change their life, we must also make it clear that we want what is best for them, and that we love them even if we do not approve of their choices.

Love is often tough – Jesus said some very tough things to the scribes and Pharisees – because He loved them. Personally, Jesus has said some very tough things to me in prayer, because He knows I need to change and repent. Perhaps you’ve had the same experience, when God convicts you of sin or shows you how He wants you to change. Yet along with those tough things, we know that we are still His beloved sons and daughters and He wants what is truly best for us.

            So here are the three takeaways from today’s homily: first, love does not mean just being nice, but truly willing the other’s good – and the highest good is eternal salvation with God. Second, to truly love someone might mean to offer them “tough love” in word and deed, because we desire their deep and everlasting happiness. Third, we must make sure that any “tough love” we offer is covered in mercy and compassion, following the example of Jesus.

Monday, August 31, 2020

September 2020 Youth Group Events

 

Youth Group Activities in September! Before youth group "officially" starts, please join us for three pre-youth-group activities this September! Two are for families, and one is for older kids only!


Saturday, September 5 - Youth Group Family Hike - Please join us for a day in nature! All families are invited to join us as we go to Topstone Park in Redding. Meet at 9am at the Park & Ride on High Ridge Road by the Merritt Parkway to carpool (or meet us at 10am at Topstone Park in Redding if that's more convenient. All families are welcome! No drop-offs, please - a parent must attend! Please RSVP if you're coming.


Saturday, September 19 - Saint Movie Night (For Grades 8-12) - All young people in grades 8-12 are invited to join us as we watch "For Greater Glory" about the Mexican Martyrs. Pizza will be served! It'll be at Holy Spirit Church from 6-9pm on September 19. We will eat outside (weather permitting), and masks will be required when we go in for the movie. Please RSVP so we have enough food, and bring a snack to share.


Friday, September 25 - Family Backyard Adoration - Our final Family Backyard Adoration will take place at the Sturhahn's house (74 Valley View Drive, Stamford) from 7-9pm. Come and join us; bring lawn chairs and food to share!
God bless you!
~fr joseph

Friday, August 28, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 22 - August 30, 2020

 

Homily for August 30, 2020

Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Living Sacrifice

 

            A British World War II fighter pilot named Vivian Rosewarne, having successfully flown many missions, was still always amazed at the grandeur of the earth and sky as he would maneuver his plane – and also conscious that he could die at any moment on these dangerous missions. He was tragically shot down at the young age of 23, but as his commanders were going through his possessions, they came upon a letter that he wrote to his mother but never sent. One line from this letter has always stood out to me. This fighter pilot writes: “The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice.”

            This echoes the powerful words of Pope John Paul II: “Man can only find himself in a sincere gift of himself.”

            Do you ever feel like your life is routine, mundane, boring? Do you feel like you’re just going through the motions? Getting up, going to work or school, watching TV…kind of an empty existence? What is the point of it all – to get another paycheck, get another “A” on a test, and then do it all over again the next day? Doesn’t it just seem hollow?

            When the first Lord of the Rings movie came out in theaters, my sister and I went to see it together. After the movie, we were driving home in silence, still drinking it all in. Looking off into the setting sun, my sister sighed and said, “I wish life could be like that! An epic quest, a thrilling battle, an adventure to live!” It is written deep in the human heart: a desire for our lives to have meaning in a story bigger than us and our mundane existence.

            And we can! We are part of an epic story – God is bringing about the healing and restoration of the human race, and we have an irreplaceable role to play in that mission! We are living in a battlefield between good and evil, between God and Satan - and souls are being lost and won because of our words and deeds!

So if we are living in something more than just a mundane, humdrum, ordinary world, then the measure of our lives and our existence is in what we are willing to sacrifice for. St. Paul tells us to “make of our bodies a living sacrifice.” Our everyday, commonplace life can be a living sacrifice of love for God. Nothing is wasted when it is given to Him – doing the dishes, walking the dog, working out – all of these things gain eternal consequences when we make ourselves a living sacrifice. The crosses we endure – whether they be small like a traffic jam or large like a cancer diagnosis – these sufferings, when made into a “living sacrifice”, become torrents of grace for our souls and for the healing of the world.

            One beautiful way to do that is to make a “Morning Offering”. This is a prayer that we pray at the beginning of the day to offer our day to God. A classic one goes like this: “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of all my relatives and friends, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father.” Thus, your whole day and everything in it becomes an act of love.

            The other way to make yourself a “living sacrifice” is to offer up everything to God. When you suffer, when you study, when you play sports, when you work, when you sleep – a ten-second prayer beforehand to say, “God, I give this to You, help me to do this for Your glory and in a way that pleases You” will elevate those actions from ordinary to momentous. They are no longer insignificant, because they are given over to the Lord, who uses our offering to sanctify ourselves and change the world.

            Too many people are miserable because their life is meaningless, because it is all about themselves. Your life only matters when you live it for something greater than you. Want to make a difference in this world and in eternity? Offer your life as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 21 - August 23, 2020

 

Homily for August 23, 2020

Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Powers of Hell Will Not Prevail

 

            I know a priest from Savannah, Georgia, who told me that one day, two ladies showed up at his parish, asking him to come bless their house. They explained that they thought their house was possessed. He went with them to the house, and they told him about all of the strange noises, cold winds, and a sinister presence. The ladies thought that the devil was involved in such creepy occurrences.

            After he blessed the house, he asked them what parish they attended, since he didn’t recognize the ladies. They responded, “Oh, Father, we’re Baptists!”

            Shocked, he replied, “Then why did you come to a Catholic priest, and not your Baptist preacher?”

            They replied, “Oh, don’t you Catholics deal with this kind of stuff?”

            He had to laugh, because it was true – we Catholics DO deal with Satan and evil head-on, because the Church has been given the authority to do so by Christ Himself.

            In reading this Gospel, what stood out to me is the line, “The gates of Hell will not prevail” against the Church. Often, we interpret that to mean that the Church will exist until the end of time – which is true. But it also means that the gates of Hell are going to try with all their might to prevail! We live in a spiritual battle, one with eternal consequences – and the gates of Hell, the powers of Satan, are trying to conquer the Church, your family, and your immortal soul.

            Satan tries to attack the Church through errors, heresy, scandal, and division. He likewise attacks the family through division, through family strife, or through sins like alcoholism or abuse or adultery. We have all experienced Satan’s power in our everyday lives through strong temptation, fear, confusion, and self-hatred.

            But thankfully God has given authority over Satan to the Church and to every baptized Christian. I want to look at three types of spiritual authority that God has given to us: in the Church, in the family, and as an individual Christian.

            The Church (through Peter) was given great authority. In the first century, not everyone had keys – the only person who had keys was the master of the house, the one with authority. And they would use those keys to lock the doors to keep out evildoers at night or when they were away on a journey.

            In the same way, the Church has been given the “keys of Heaven”, with authority over good and evil. Fr. Gabriel Amorth, the Vatican’s top exorcist who performed over 10,000 exorcisms in his lifetime, said that the two best weapons the Church has against Satan are…Confession and the Eucharist. If we stay close to these two Sacraments, we never need to fear the Evil One.

            But the Church also has other weapons. For example, its teachings are powerful weapons. Two of the tactics of the Evil One is ignorance and rebellion – so knowing our Church’s teachings and humbly obeying them will guarantee victory in the spiritual battle. The treasury of devotions in the Church such as the Rosary, Adoration, and Stations of the Cross are powerful means of grace, which is that supernatural power that conquers Satan. The Scriptures are also a powerful weapon (St. Paul calls it a “two-edged sword”), and the Church is the custodian of the Bible.

            Some people focus on things such as statues, blessings, and Holy Water in their fight against the Evil One. Yes, these are helpful, but only if you are serious about personally following the Lord and having a solid prayer life. One time a woman at another parish came to me with a five-gallon bucket, asking for Holy Water. I didn’t recognize her, so I asked her what she planned to do with the Holy Water. She said she wanted to give her children baths in it. I then asked if she attended Mass and she said no. So I refused her request and said, “Oh, my dear, going to Mass will do far more for your children’s soul than bathing them in holy water!” These sacramentals are meant to augment and not replace our living faith in Jesus.

            The Kingdom of Hell is not just trying to attack the Church, though – it is also trying to attack the “domestic Church” – which is what the Catechism calls the family! Satan hates families, because they are such a beautiful reflection of the Trinity – a life-giving community of love. But if the family is the Domestic Church, then parents are the priests of the domestic church, and they have authority to protect their children from evil and lead them on the path to holiness.

            In a particular way, you fathers and grandfathers are given a unique authority in the spiritual realm. A few years back I had the privilege of helping with an exorcism. It was a boy who had been adopted by Catholic parents who was struggling with full-blown possession. One thing that struck me deeply is how much the devil had to obey the authority of the father in particular. If the demon was manifesting itself, the mother could say, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, be silent!” but the demon would continue screaming and writhing around. But if the father commanded, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, be silent!”, then the demon would quiet down. Demons know who has spiritual authority over them.

            Parents can exercise this authority by blessing their children, interceding for them, bringing them to the Sacraments, teaching them about the Lord, and keeping evil out of their homes (how many of you parents have put filters or restrictions on your children’s cell phones? You need to do that to prevent tremendous evils from influencing them!).

Finally, every Christian is also given a certain amount of authority over Satan, by virtue of their baptism. Did you know that when you were baptized, you became a priest, prophet, and king? You are granted a share in Christ’s kingship, which means authority over the devil in your own life.

            So, if you find yourself in a particularly strong temptation, rebuke it in the name of the Lord Jesus! Every baptized Christian can say, “In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I rebuke the evil spirit of lust…greed…anger…and I command you to leave me.” If you are overtaken by a powerful sense of fear, sadness, or shame, command it to leave in the Name of the Lord Jesus. When I was writing this homily, my computer froze up many times and came close to crashing – I invoked Jesus’ Name upon this document, and all went smoothly after that.

            My friends, it is true that the gates of Hell are trying desperately to destroy the Church, the world, our families, and our souls. But we have been given authority over these evil spirits. We only need to use that authority and the weapons provided to us by God, and the victory will be assured.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 20 - August 16, 2020

 

Homily for August 16, 2020

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

God Who Embraces All Nations

 

            When I was a teen, I used to go on week-long retreats with my family to an amazing place that has a seriously embarrassing name: Catholic Familyland. Yes, that’s a real place, and things always got cringey when my friends asked where my family went for vacation…Catholic Familyland…but the place was actually really great, and I grew so much in my faith during those week-long vacation/retreats.

            For a few years, Cardinal Francis Arinze joined us there. One time, he led a question-and-answer session for all of us, both youth and parents. My brother spoke up and asked, “Being from Nigeria, did you ever experience racism within the Church?”

            The cardinal pondered for a moment and replied, “The Church is filled with human beings, who are sinners, and the sin of racism is certainly present in some members of the Church. But the Church is also universal and God’s love encompasses all nations.”

            Our readings today speak about a hot-button issue that is as contemporary as today’s headlines – racism and welcoming other cultures. Jesus has a powerful encounter with a Canaanite woman – a woman of another race, culture, and religion – whose faith in Him is strong. Is Jesus being racist by refusing her request? Of course not – rather, the Lord is trying to show His disciples that having Jewish heritage is not as important as genuine faith – which is open to people of all backgrounds. Jesus challenges the woman to show the strength of her faith, and she persists in acknowledging that Jesus is “the Master” – a contrast to the frequent faithlessness of the disciples!

            Paul, too, writing to the Romans, addresses the racial divide present in the early Christian community. Again, it’s between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles), but Paul says that in Christ, God has had mercy on all – every race and tribe and tongue and nation – so the Jews had no reason to boast of their special status before God.

            We are now seeing racism again in the news. But most of the solutions that are proposed today, such as with the Black Lives Matter movement, are utterly ineffective at solving the issue of racism (and in many cases, they lead to deeper division and animosity). This is because such secular organizations are not looking at the problem through a Christian understanding of race. I want to make three points about how Christians should look at racism.

            First, racism is a sin. That seems simple, but many modern people don’t want to use that word. It’s often called “institutional racism” or “systemic racism”. But that misses the point – racism is a sin found in the human heart and soul before it’s present in any institution or system. So if it’s a sin of the human soul, the antidote is the same for any other sin: repentance and Christian charity.

            Second, the reason why we should treat others with equality and love is because we are all made in God’s image and likeness. This fundamental fact has been completely overlooked by the totally-secular Black Lives Matter movement! Yet this was the reason for the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s – Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders emphasized that we are equal before God since we were all created in His image. Without this fundamental principle, what unites us? All secular efforts to heal our nation’s divides will remain inadequate without a reference to God and our status as His beloved sons and daughters.

            Finally, what unites us most fully is our Catholic Faith. The word “Catholic” means universal, and truly this Church has the power to unite us! One summer, I hiked the Camino of Santiago de Compostella, the ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain to the bones of St. James. Along those 498 miles, over 33 days, I attended Mass in six different languages (English, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese…and Korean!) Truly a microcosm of the universal Church!

            Which is why it is unfortunate that some people have tried to destroy statues of Jesus or Mary, or St. Junipero Serra or St. Damien of Molokai, claiming that they were “too white” or symbols of white supremacy. Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus came to unite all races into one Faith – the Catholic Church. Have you ever seen the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome? The colonnade, which is those pillars that surround the Basilica, were purposely designed by Bernini to look like arms, as the arms of the Church are embracing the entire world.

            When the Spanish conquistadores came to Mexico, they were accompanied by missionaries, who had very little success. After decades, only 10% of Mexico had converted to the Catholic Faith. But in 1531, one person visited Mexico and converted the whole nation – the Blessed Mother, who appeared as an Aztec maiden at Guadalupe. Within ten years, 90% of the country had converted to Catholicism. Since the Blessed Mother appeared as one of them, they realized that the Catholic Faith was not just a “white man’s religion”.  Rather, they too were welcome to become Catholic.

            Mary has often appeared in different cultures: In 1981, she appeared in Kibeho, Rwanda; in 1798 she appeared as an Oriental woman in La Vang, Vietnam. In 1973, she appeared in Akita, Japan, under the title of Our Lady of All Nations. I believe that Mary wants to tell her children that she is the mother of us all!

            My friends, it is tragic that racism is still present within our society. But it will not be healed through the secular, liberal Black Lives Matter movement. It will only be healed when we see it through a Christian lens: recognizing that racism is a sin that needs to be repented of, realizing that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and encouraging all races to find their home within the Catholic Faith. God rejoices in the diversity that He has created, knowing that through Christ and His Church, we can be united in that diversity.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - August 9, 2020

Homily for August 9, 2020

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Power of Silence

 

            Once a farmer lost his pocketwatch while working in his barn. It had been given to him by his grandfather, and so had great sentimental value. He searched high and low in the barn, looking everywhere, turning things upside down, making a great racket. But after a couple hours, he could not find the watch anywhere.

            He found a few neighborhood kids and offered them a fine reward if any of them could find the watch. They likewise tore the place apart, looking up and down the barn, in every nook and cranny, sifting through the entire haystack, but to no avail. All left, disappointed, except for one young boy.

            The boy begged the farmer for one last chance to find the watch. The farmer shrugged and said, “Sure,” but was exhausted by the ordeal and headed home for some rest. But only a short time later the boy showed up on his front porch with the watch. The farmer was amazed and asked, “How did you manage to find the watch in a few minutes when we spent hours searching?”

            The boy responded, “I just stood there in silence, listening to the watch tick. In silence, it was so much easier to hear and I could tell the direction of the sound.”

            Indeed – how much you can hear in silence! When the cacophony of noise subsides, we hear the powerful voice of God. As CS Lewis wrote, “In Heaven there is music and there is silence; in Hell there is only noise.”

            Elijah was fleeing from a queen who wanted him killed – so he fled to this cave, seeking direction and intimacy with God, in silence. Jesus had experienced a similarly stressful and life-threatening situation. Earlier in the chapter, John the Baptist had just been killed by Herod, who was now seeking to see Jesus. Jesus for His part had just multiplied bread and fish for five thousand people, causing such a riot that they tried to come and make Him king. This was not why He came – He was not intending to be a political king, and this crowd-enthusiasm was dangerous since the authorities would see Jesus as a threat that must be destroyed – so He needed some time of peace, to seek intimacy with His Father.

            So Jesus sends the crowds away – and He sends His disciples away. The word in Greek literally means that Jesus “ordered” or “compelled” the disciples to leave – He ached for this time to be alone, in silence, with the Father. Twice the Gospel writer emphasizes that Jesus was “alone” – the Lord Himself needed time of silence to hear His Father’s voice.

            If Elijah and Jesus need silence, so do we!

            Silence can be immensely powerful. We take a moment of silence before sporting events to remember tragedies; people sometimes take a vow of silence in order to protest an injustice. Many religious communities speak very little – the Carthusians, for example, only speak freely once per week, and keep absolute silence for twelve hours every day.

            Why is silence so powerful? In silence we encounter ourselves, and we encounter God. We have nowhere to hide from either when we enter into silence.

Once, I challenged a group of teens to spend ten minutes in silence per day. One girl looked as if I had asked her to cut off her right arm. She gasped, “I could never do that!” I said, “Why not?” And she responded, “Because I am afraid of what I might hear.”

In silence we can’t be fake; we can’t hide; we can’t pretend to be who we’re not. Silence doesn’t care about your bank account or PhD or Instagram followers. Silence strips it all away so we are alone with God. And God communicates Himself in silence, not in noise – if you want to know Him, be silent. You cannot have a real relationship with God if you do not have daily silence in your life.

It can be hard to find silence these days! On average, the American adult spends 11 hours per day staring at a screen – this “digital noise” takes away the silence we crave. But if you wish to have a relationship with God, to hear Him and be with Him, we must make time for real silence, every day.

Cardinal Robert Sarah recently published an absolutely phenomenal book called “The Power of Silence” in which he writes: “The greatest things are accomplished in silence…Through silence, we return to our heavenly origin, where there is nothing but calm, peace, repose, silent contemplation, and adoration of the radiant face of God.”

In silence, God shows us His love. In silence, He reveals His will. In silence, the Holy Spirit convicts our hearts of sin. In silence, we discover that peace that we long for.

So I wish to challenge you to carve out 10-15 minutes of silence each day to be alone with God. Turn off the TV and put away the iPhone; take a walk or hole yourself up in your room; order the kids to depart just as Jesus ordered His disciples; and just listen in silence, love God in silence. Silence will change your life.

If Jesus, the Son of God, needed silence – so do we. As St. John of the Cross said, “What we need most in order to make progress [in the spiritual life] is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.”


Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - August 2, 2020

Homily for August 2, 2020

Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

What Can Separate Us from the Love of Christ?

 

            “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” St. Paul asks this rhetorical question in the second reading. Nothing will separate us – not trial or distress, not anguish or suffering, not coronavirus or political upheaval. Those united to Christ “conquer overwhelmingly” all the trials and tribulations of this passing world.

            But we live in a world that grows crazier by the day. Why do we not experience that peace of Christ’s love? Why do we doubt that He has conquered? Two thoughts.

            First, do we focus more on the love of Christ or the trials of this world? Somewhere in the middle of April I went on a media fast for a week – no social media, no 24-hour news, no political opinion pieces. My mood improved drastically! We feel like we have to stay connected to Facebook or Instagram or CNN or Fox News…and most of the news is bad news. Do you want the peace of knowing that Christ wins in the end? Don’t dwell on the negativity that we see on social media. Yes, stay informed – but after ten minutes, get off the internet and spend a half-hour in the Word of God!

            Did you know that St. Thomas Aquinas classified curiosity as a vice? We usually think about curiosity as a good thing, but it was curiosity that led to the fall of our First Parents. By “curiosity”, Aquinas means having a burning desire to know about every scandal, every outrage, every controversy, every clickbait headline, every article of bad news – most of which doesn’t help us at all. Aquinas says that knowledge should always be seeking our Ultimate End – God – and if it doesn’t tend towards God, then it drags us away from Him.

            So, if you want to know deep within your soul that Christ has conquered and that nothing can separate you from His love, separate yourselves from the constant steady stream of social media and news networks which will make us think that evil is winning!

            Second, there is one thing that St. Paul does not include in his list of things that are unable to separate us from God’s love – and that thing is sin. Sin CAN separate us from the love of God – not that God loves us less when we sin, but that we cannot receive that love because we have put up a wall between us and God. So the solution, then, is to make sure our consciences are clear through Confession. If we feel a lack of peace in our own life, it’s usually a sign that we have strayed from God – return to Him through repentance and Confession – and then we will experience the peace of His love.

            My friends, many of us are very concerned about the direction the world is headed in. We can be troubled by the political unrest, anti-Christian ideologies, riots, economic uncertainty, this virus crisis, and so much more. But nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and the peace that He brings – our confidence is in Him. So disconnect from unnecessary bad news and social media, and make sure your conscience is clean in Confession, and you will have within your soul the peace of God.


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 26, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 17

July 26, 2020

Wisdom

 

            I’ll never forget the first time I told anyone that I was thinking about becoming a priest. I was 14 years old, and my best friend Billy and I were lying in our tent at Boy Scout summer camp, and we were talking about what we wanted to be in the future. He shared his dream of becoming an anesthesiologist (he’s now a civil engineer) and then he asked what I wanted to do. I thought, “Oh no, should I tell him?” I was very nervous, but got up the courage to say, “Well…I was thinking about becoming a priest.”

            There was a very, very long pause before Billy replied, “Joe, you’re not THAT ugly, I know you can get a girlfriend!”

            For him, the priesthood was just something that ugly bachelors did who couldn’t get married. What a far cry from what the priesthood actually is – a life consecrated to the Lord to lead souls to Heaven!

            Contrast that with another friend from my childhood, Steven, who had a very deep faith. He was a couple years younger than me, so I got my driver’s license first. When I was telling him about getting my driver’s license, he said, “Oh, Joe, that’s great! Now you can get to daily Mass!” My response was something like, “Uh…yeah…I’m not sure that’s what I’ll be doing with my driver’s license!”

            For Steven, the freedom of driving was meant to help me grow in holiness. For me, it was about getting out of the house. He was the wise one – I was the fool!

            Wisdom, according to St. Augustine, “is the contemplation of divine things.” It means understanding this world properly in light of eternity. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, a gift given to Solomon in today’s first reading. He wants to be able to rule Israel rightly – not for his own benefit, but benefitting the people. In other words, he wants to see his kingly rule in the light of Heaven. And God grants this request for wisdom lavishly!

            This theme of wisdom is also present in the Gospel. Consider this pearl of great price – this pearl was probably sold in a marketplace, and many people probably walked past it without knowing its true value. Finally, someone with a trained eye – a merchant, it says in Scripture – recognizes that this pearl was tremendously valuable, and purchases it. He sees it from a different perspective and realizes what’s valuable and what is cheap.

            In the same way, a truly wise person will be able to evaluate the things of this world to know what is truly valuable, and what is worthless. Let’s take a look at some things of everyday life to see the wise way to view them:

            Money – the world says grab as much as you can, for money guarantees happiness. Wisdom says that money is a gift given to us by God so that we can live and be generous to others, and we have to steward it rightly.

            Prayer – the world says that prayer is a boring waste of time. Wisdom says that prayer is our essential connection with the Lord, Who we desperately need more than the air we breathe.

            Suffering – the world says that we should avoid suffering at all costs, since it is worthless. Wisdom sees in suffering an opportunity to grow in virtue, to have our souls purified, as we unite our suffering to Christ’s cross for the salvation of the world.

            Our Body – I once saw the world’s view of the body summed up on a humorous bumper sticker that read, “My body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park!” But wisdom says that our bodies are not our own, they have been purchased at a price, and thus we should glorify God in our bodies as living temples of the Holy Spirit.

            Work – the world takes one of two extremes: either we become workaholics and make our lives revolve around work, or we see it as a drudgery just to get a paycheck. Wisdom, on the other hand, sees work as an opportunity to develop our gifts and talents for the service and benefit of human beings, united to Christ Who Himself was a laborer.

            Leadership – the world encourages leaders to seek after power, to get their way and force others to do their will. But the example of Christ is one of a leader who serves in humility.

            Faith – the world sees faith in God as a crutch for the weak, or perhaps as belief in a comforting myth. By contrast, wisdom recognizes that our faith is based on the testimony of men and women who actually saw the Risen Christ, and who died for that belief – and thus our faith is not blind but makes sense.

            Sex – the world sees sex as a fun way to spend an evening. Looking at it with Christian wisdom, we see that it is the most powerful way in which we can show our love for our spouse – an action that makes incarnate one’s wedding vows, and which allows us to become like God in potentially co-creating a new life.

            Meaning of Life – a priest where I was growing up once said that the first question God is going to ask you when you die is, “Did you have a good time?” But this is the world’s foolishness, not the Lord’s wisdom. Life is not about having a good time. Wisdom says that our life is given to us so that we can know, love, and serve God here so we can be eternally with Him in Heaven forever.

            Death – the world sees death as the end, as a tragic closure to this life…and ironically the world also believes that pretty much everyone goes to Heaven. We as Christians have the wisdom to know that death is a passageway into a new and more abundant life, but that we must pray for the dead to be cleansed of their sins in Purgatory.

            My friends, St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2 that “We speak a message of wisdom among the [spiritually] mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.” The follies of this world are empty, passing. Real wisdom, a life lived well, consists in knowing how to evaluate all things in light of God – seeing the world through His eyes. Then we will know what is truly valuable, like the pearl of great price or the treasure in the field.


Friday, July 17, 2020

Homily for Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 19, 2020

Homily for July 19, 2020

Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Christ Loved the Church – We Should Too

 

            Last month, I saw on a Catholic website that a prominent Catholic couple, who used to speak at various Catholic events, decided to leave the Church. They said that they were fed up with the abuse scandals, and had encountered so many hypocrites in the Church that they were leaving to seek a better, healthier spiritual tradition.

            I didn’t know this couple personally, but it is always discouraging to hear that the Church has lost another family. Why bother staying Catholic, since they’re right – the Church IS full of scandalous leaders, hypocritical sinners, and unfriendly parishioners?

Later that evening, I opened my breviary for Evening Prayer on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, and the reading was from Ephesians 5, where Paul said simply, “Christ loved the Church.” This settled my troubled heart – if Christ could love the Church, so can I. If I love Christ, I will love what He loves – and He loves the Church enough to die to make her holy.

Today’s parable of the wheat and the weeds is a poignant reminder that in this world, the Church will be filled with both saints and sinners and everyone in between. If we are looking for a “perfect” Church with stellar leadership and parishioners who are unfailingly friendly, we won’t find it on this side of eternity. And that is good – because our Church, as Pope Francis likes to say, is a field hospital, which treats the wounded and the sick. Those who are broken, sinful, weak, hurting are welcome to come to the Church to encounter the healing, merciful love of Christ.

But this also leaves us with a Church that is messy, imperfect, flawed, sinful. To many people, this is a scandal – how can we encounter the all-holy God in a Church that seems so unholy at times? Here are a few perspectives:

First, the fact that the sins of the Church are so shocking means that people hold the Church to a high standard. We expect Hollywood to be full of scandals, but the world expects the Church to radiate Christ’s love. And…they’re right! We ought to be holy. The world recognizes our dignity - I pray that we do as well.

Second, we can’t forget that the field of the Church is not all weeds – there is plenty of wheat in there as well! There are so many people whose love for Christ is beautiful and holy…we cannot forget this, even if they don’t make the headlines. For example, two weeks ago we buried one of our oldest parishioners who died at the rich old age of 101. Every time I would visit her and bring her Communion, she would weep and say, “Thank you for bringing me Jesus. I love Him so much.” A living saint like this should inspire us – and there are millions like her in the Church, if we have eyes to see.

Third, we must consider that Satan hates the Church because this is the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ with the fullness of Truth and every possible avenue of grace. Thus, the Evil One hates the Catholic Church more than any other! Satan doesn’t waste his time on mediocre churches, but the Catholic Church has the spiritual power to transform the world – so it is logical that Satan works particularly hard to bring it down.

Fourth, the wheat and the weeds are not people because in each human heart there is some wheat and some weed! We all like to think, “Oh, I’m the wheat, because I go to church and basically live a good life.” Yes, but we have all contributed to the lack of holiness in the Church – maybe we’ve given a bad example of a Christian. As Protestant pastor Brennan Manning said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and get on with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” But the good news is that Christ can root out the weeds in our own souls. The Church is “semper reformanda” – always reforming – and every Christian needs to be as well.

Finally, the solution to this problem is holiness – we must remove the weeds in the garden of our own soul, and pray and fast for the weeds to be rooted out in the Church. You may be familiar with the story of St. Francis’ call. After Francis began to seriously follow Christ, he didn’t know what to do. He was praying one day in a small stone chapel when the crucifix in the chapel opened its eyes and said to Francis, “Rebuild My Church, which as you can see is falling into ruins.” Francis took that literally and began to physically rebuild the chapel of San Damiano, begging stone from local villagers so he could restore it to its former beauty. After a while, though, Francis realized that Jesus wasn’t talking about the physical chapel, but rather of THE CHURCH – which had been falling into ruin through the corruption of its members.

But there are two parts of that story that most people don’t know. First: there were others who were unhappy about the corruption of the Church – a group of men, led by a charismatic preacher named Peter Waldo, fought corruption in the church…by separating from it. They wanted a pure, holy Church, and decided to form it themselves, apart from the Catholic Church. But that wasn’t the way to go – the Waldensian movement quickly died out (although there are actually a few still left today). Strangely, their founder, Peter Waldo, actually disappeared and no one knows where he’s buried, which leads people to ask…where’s Waldo?

So, Pope Innocent III wondered, when he met St. Francis, if this was going to be another Peter Waldo who wanted to reform the Church by leaving it. He was reluctant to approve of St. Francis’ mission until one night the Pope had a dream in which he saw St. Francis holding up a crumbling Basilica of St. John Lateran, which was the Pope’s official cathedral. When he awoke, the Pope quickly called in St. Francis and gave him his blessing – because he recognized that the holiness of this man would be a saving grace to the Church, which was indeed falling into ruin.

As we see our Church so in need of revival, so filled with weeds, we are faced with a choice. We can walk away – or we can do the weeding in our own souls and become the saints that strengthen and purify the Church.


Friday, July 3, 2020

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 5, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 14

July 5, 2020

Ready to be Taught

 

            Back in the 1840s, a Jesuit priest named Fr. Peter deSmet began missionary work to the Native Americans out on the plains. He founded a mission in South Dakota (the St. Francis Mission) and was able to earn the trust of the Lakota Indians. Unlike the other “white men” that these natives encountered, Fr. DeSmet was not interested in their land or their food, but only their souls – and they recognized it.

            When Fr. deSmet had to move on to found other missions, two Lakota chiefs – Chief Spotted Tail and Chief Red Cloud – petitioned the US President to send more “black robes” (priests) to teach the Faith to their people. These chiefs had been baptized, and wanted their tribes to follow the Lord Jesus as well – and they knew that to do so, they needed teachers. Several more Jesuit priests were sent, and their work flourished among the people – so much so that one of their converts, Nicholas Black Elk, is in the process of possibly being canonized a saint soon.

            One of the great titles of the Church is “mater et magistra” – Mother and Teacher (in fact, Pope St. John XXIII wrote an encyclical by this name). The Church exists to teach us the way to Heaven.

            But we must be open to being taught. That is why Christ says in the Gospel today that the mysteries of the Kingdom are only granted to the simple little ones. “Learn from Me,” He tells us. Those who are not puffed-up in their own pride are open to being taught by Christ and His Church.

            What does this mean, practically? Three steps.

            First, we recognize that we are not perfect and that we need the Lord Jesus to teach us how to be holy! The Christian life is full of joy, but it’s also a struggle. The Gospel these last couple weekends have been really challenging – take up your cross, choose Christ over your family.  Being faithful to your spouse is tough; being open to life is tough. Standing up for your faith is tough; living virtuously is tough. So we must first recognize that we can’t do it on our own – we need to learn how to live it well. We’re not saints yet – we are sinners on a journey, being redeemed by the Blood of Christ.

            Second, we recognize that Christ teaches us through the Bible and through His Church, and that these teachings are good. The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119, which has 176 verses. This long Psalm is entirely a hymn of praise for God’s law. As the Psalmist writes, “Your law is a delight to me.” Christ’s teachings are for our life, even the ones that are tough like “take up your Cross and follow Me.” We learn God’s law through Scripture and the enduring Tradition of the Church.

            Finally, we seek to know what the Bible and the Church teach, and apply it to our lives. As Pope John Paul II said, “The Church is an expert in humanity.” The Church gives us guidance on almost every aspect of human life: prayer, love, sexuality, family, money, work, politics, the meaning of human history. Are we open to hearing what the Church says, and then conforming our lives accordingly?

            It would be an error, though, to think that we have to understand in order to believe. It’s actually the exact opposite – we believe so that we might understand the Faith. The Medieval scholastics had a saying: Fides quaerens intellectum – Faith seeking understanding. There are things I don’t yet understand about our Catholic Faith – but I believe them nonetheless.

            There is a huge difference between “I don’t believe” and “I don’t understand”. The first comes from pride, the second comes from humility. The first says, “Unless I fully agree with the teachings of the Church, I won’t follow them.” The second says “I will follow the teachings of the Church, and will seek to understand them more and more.” We must have the humility to say “I don’t understand” and not the pride which says “I don’t believe!”

            Our Church is not anti-intellectual! Our Catholic Faith welcomes questions and inquiry – there are good reasons for what we believe – but we must seek from an attitude of faith. And where to we learn about what the Church teaches? From the Church itself – the Catechism, church documents, and learned priests and teachers. Once I was teaching an eighth grade class and we had a question and answer session. Almost all of the questions were ran along the same theme: “Why does the Church discriminate against gays?” I said to the kids, “The Church does not discriminate against anyone – all are welcome to encounter Christ, to repent, and to seek holiness and purity. Where did you get the impression that the Church discriminates against gays?” Sheepishly they all answered, “Uh…Instagram… Twitter…Facebook.” If you want to know what the Church teaches, read the Catechism, not the New York Times or your uncle’s Facebook posts!

            The Bible and the Church exist as a teacher because we need to be taught the way to Heaven. One of the early Mohawk converts, Maria Tsiaouentes, said it best when someone asked her why she spends time with the “black robes”: “The Fathers who instruct us have left their own home and friends to teach us the way to Heaven.”

            May we always be ready to learn.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - June 28, 2020

Homily for June 28, 2020

Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Death to Self

 

            People often ask me, “Why do priests wear black?” If I’m feeling sarcastic I usually respond with something like, “It makes us look thinner” or “It helps hide the pasta stains”! But the truth is, we wear black to show that we are dead to this world. In other words, the pleasures and joys of this world should no longer interest us – we are living for Christ alone.

            But this is not just for priests. Both St. Paul and Jesus make it clear in today’s readings that all Christians are called to put to death their sinful nature. What is he talking about, and how do we do this?

            Human beings are made of two parts – body and soul. Our body comprises our physical desires, and also our emotions and feelings. Our soul, however, includes our intellect and our free will. Our lower nature (bodily desires and emotions) should be under control of our higher nature (our soul). But because of original sin, we find that there is a rebellion within us – our body wants to be the master of our soul! We call this concupiscence – the weakness of our will that makes our soul a slave to the body.

            We’ve all had the experience of concupiscence. We know it would be gluttonous to have that fourth donut, but we do it anyway. We know that two beers is our limit, but we are tempted to go for a third. Our intellect can perceive that possessions don’t make us happy, but that big-screen TV is on sale and hey, it’s time to upgrade the old one anyway. So the struggle rages between our lower nature and our higher nature, between the body and its desires and the soul and what is truly good for it.

            So we must put to death the lower nature. Putting something to death means doing violence to it – death involves suffering and struggle. So if we wish to be alive in Christ, we must embrace the sacrifices necessary to subdue our lower nature.

            Practically, I want to mention two important ways to do this.

            First, fasting. When I was a seminarian, my spiritual director said to me, “You will not begin to have a spiritual life until you stop snacking between meals.” At the time, I thought, “That’s crazy – what do my eating habits have to do with my love for God?” But the older I get, I realize – he is absolutely right! St. Alphonsus Liguori said, “Control of the palate (our food) is the ABC’s of holiness.”

            Why? Because we as Christians must learn to deny ourselves! I firmly believe that most people struggle with sins and addictions because we have never, ever denied ourselves anything. If we are hot, we turn on the A/C. If we are hungry, we eat – regardless of what time it is. If we are tired, we take a nap or a Five Hour Energy. Most people live lives that are so self-indulgent that when a temptation comes, they have never learned how to deny themselves anything – so they fall into the temptation.

            Fasting is a powerful method of serious self-discipline that strengthens our soul to have greater mastery over our body. As St. Augustine wrote, “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of temptation, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity.” I can tell you that in my own life, fasting has been a game-changer. It has led to greater interior freedom, more closeness to Christ, more self-control. If you struggle with stubborn sins, particularly sins of lust, then fasting is the best way to overcome them. After all, Jesus said in another Gospel that “some demons are only cast out through prayer and fasting.”

            Fasting and penance should be a regular part of every Christian’s life even outside of Lent. So what is the best way to fast? Start by going without dessert and drinking only water for a few weeks. Deny yourself a second helping. Get up without hitting the snooze button. Take a cold shower. The goal isn’t to be “macho” or just to grit your teeth and “tough it out” – the goal is to put to death your lower nature, so that your soul can flourish.

            In addition to fasting, every Christian should practice generosity that costs something. What do I mean? Most of us, when we give money to a charity, give out of our surplus – “Oh, I got a good bonus this year, so I can spare an extra hundred in the collection plate.” That’s all well and good, but when is the last time you have given something that hurts? For example, perhaps a person has gotten into the habit of stopping by Starbucks every morning on the way to work. It would be entirely possible to skip those Starbucks runs and give that money to the poor. Would it be a sacrifice? Yes, especially if you look forward to that little consolation every morning! But that is precisely what it means to take up your cross. Maybe don’t go out and buy the most expensive pair of shoes, but buy a less expensive one instead and give that money you saved to the poor.

            In addition to our bodily desires, our lower nature also wants worldly things – the glitter of the nicest car, the best clothes, the finest vacations, the ability to buy anything at anytime. So to put to death that part of our lower nature, we must overcome our desire to have the latest and greatest, and instead feel the pinch, the discomfort, the sacrifice of making due with simple and inexpensive things. We must not hunger for the passing pleasures of wealth – rather, put that worldly desire to death so that our only hunger may be for God.

            Please don’t misunderstand – physical pleasure and nice things aren’t bad in themselves. But using the things of this world are only a short step from clinging desperately to the things of this world! Only when we have put to death our lower desires – when they have no more power over us – will we experience the true freedom Christ has won for us, and only then will we grow in holiness.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Homily for Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time - June 21, 2020

Homily for Ordinary Time 12

June 21, 2020

Eternal Life

 

            The old man, stooped under the weight of years, was led into the arena. Thousands of spectators were there, and the Proconsul said to him, “Come now, Polycarp, have respect for your old age, swear by the ancient gods.” But the venerable old bishop replied, “For eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”

            The proconsul threatened to turn loose wild animals upon the old man. Yet Polycarp replied, “Call them. It is unthinkable for me to turn from what is good to what is evil.” Seeing him undaunted by animals, the proconsul then threatened to burn him alive. Polycarp responded, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”

            The old man then undid his outer garment and laid it aside, and stepped forward of his own accord onto the logs that had been prepared. They were going to nail him to the wood so that he wouldn’t escape, but he objected, saying, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle.”

            When they lit the flames, an amazing thing happened. The flames, instead of burning the flesh, began to form a large oval around his body, as if he was wreathed in glory. Instead of his body turning black, it began to glow a golden-brown, and the odor of burning incense was smelled by all. In fury, the proconsul ordered the soldiers to stab him to death, which they did – his blood flowed out upon the flames and put them out. Thus St. Polycarp was victorious over death in the arena, around the year 150AD.

            “Do not fear those that can kill the body – rather, fear those who can kill body and soul in Hell,” says Our Lord. It is important to note that in Greek there are three words for life. There is bios (from which we get the English word “biology”) meaning our physical life of the body. There is also psuche (from which we get the English word “psychology”) meaning the life of the mind, our consciousness, our personality. But there is one more type of life: zoe, which means spiritual life, the divine life of God. It is this last kind of life, our zoe, that is of primary importance.

            For all of us, our bios will come to an end someday. As good as our physical life is, it’s temporary. Why would we worry about temporary things? If I had to build a building that I knew would only last for a week, I wouldn’t bother putting in a foundation or using the best materials. When we go to a hotel, we don’t take along the fine china and the family pictures, because we know we aren’t staying very long. In the same way, why would we go to tremendous effort to worry about our bios – with all that it entails - when we are really here on this earth to grow in our zoe?

            We don’t need to fear any physical evil if we focus on the prize. Some of you may remember the TV show “Fear Factor” where contestants would have to eat live worms or skydive off of tall buildings. The challenges were, frankly, terrifying – but they were able to accomplish them because they focused on the prize ($50,000). If we focus on the prize – eternity with God – then everything we need to do to get there becomes tolerable and pleasant. Nothing in this world can trouble us if our eyes are fixed on eternity.

            Listen to the words of St. John Chrysostom: “The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? “Life to me means Christ, and death is gain.” Exile? “The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord.” The confiscation of goods? “We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it.” I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good.” Here is a man who practiced what he preached – he was exiled for his staunch defense of the Catholic faith.

            So what does this mean for us, practically? There are a lot of things that might cause us fear in today’s society – coronavirus, politics, finances, the mess that is America. Some people lose their peace because of these things – they live in fear, and they grow angry or worried. But all of these things are temporary. They deal with our bios but not our zoe.

If your fear of coronavirus is preventing you from encountering Jesus in the Eucharist, that fear is not from God! If your focus on politics or social media is preventing you from having peace in your heart and love toward your neighbor, then eliminate those things from your life! If you fear death or if you fear the future, make acts of trust in God and ask Him to increase your faith! A true Christian, with his heart set on eternity, does not fear death or sickness, poverty or chaos. All things are passing – God alone remains.

            In the words of St. John Vianney, “The eyes of the world see no further than this life, but the eyes of the Christian see deep into eternity.”