Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 22, 2018

Homily for 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 22, 2018

            When someone donates blood to the Red Cross, they can save up to three lives. But I know someone whose Blood saved a hundred billion people – the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
            A lot of times in the Church, we talk about what we should do. But today, let’s talk about what God has already done for us in the shedding of His Blood. July is the month in the Church year dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus. And today’s second reading speaks about the value of this Blood and what it accomplished. So let’s take a look at why we should speak about and reverence the Blood of Jesus.
            In the Jewish mindset, blood was equal to life. Still to this day, a devout Jew would never consume blood – so no blood pudding or rare steak. To shed something’s blood, even if a few drops were shed, is to deprive it of life. So it is hugely significant that the Chosen People were saved and cleansed by blood.
            You may remember the Passover, when the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God chooses to save them by having the blood of a lamb anoint the doorposts of their houses. Only the houses where the blood covered the door would be spared the death that awaited the first-born in Egypt.
            Once they were freed, God began to reveal Himself to them. He extended the offer of friendship in the way of Covenants, and all Covenants were sworn through the shedding of blood. In fact, after Moses read the Law to the people for the first time, he splashed the blood of calves on the altar and on the people, symbolizing the union between God and His people…but also foreshadowing the Blood that would swear the New and Everlasting Covenant on the Cross.
            But the blood of lambs and calves could not take away sin and reconcile us to God. We needed a sacrifice that was human, since it was humans who sinned. But we needed a human who was perfect, to offer to God a sacrifice unsullied by sin. That one Person was Jesus Christ, who was not afraid to shed His blood for the salvation of the world.
            Jesus could have saved us with a single drop of His blood. He could have pricked His finger and a thousand worlds would have been freed from sin. But He chose to die in such a way that every drop of His blood was shed, to show us the vast extremes that God would go to love us.
            If you’ve seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ”, you know how much blood was shed in His Passion. During the production of the movie, Mel Gibson was highly criticized for being anti-Semitic – people claimed that he portrayed the Jews as heartless and that they seemed to be guilty for the death of Christ. In response to this criticism, Gibson took out a scene which was directly from Scripture - where the Jewish leaders shouted to Pontius Pilate, “Let His blood be upon us and upon our children!”
            When we say “His blood be upon us,” we’re saying that we are responsible for that person’s death. The Jewish leaders were speaking for all of us, for the whole human race, when they recognized their responsibility for the death of Jesus. All of us, without exception, are the reason why Christ died. It was our sins that put Him on that Cross, and it was for our salvation that He shed His Precious Blood.
            But Pope Benedict XVI made an interesting comment about this. He said that while “blood on your hands” usually means guilt, with Christ’s blood it means forgiveness! We should want to invoke Christ’s blood to be upon us, because only those who have been cleansed by Christ’s Blood are truly forgiven!
            So what does all this mean for us? A couple things. First, what an honor it is to be able to receive Christ’s Blood in the Holy Eucharist! We believe in a doctrine called concomitance (don’t worry, this won’t be on a test). Concomitance means that when we receive the Sacred Body we also receive the Precious Blood. So even if you just receive the Host, you are also receiving His Precious Blood. After all, a body without blood is dead, but in the Eucharist we are receiving His Living Body, so we believe that we receive both Body and Blood together! This is how we steep ourselves in His mercy and protection – by receiving His Precious Blood worthily every week!
            And even when we cannot receive Him, we can invoke His Precious Blood upon ourselves. A couple weeks ago I was with our Trinity kids at Brownstone Park, which is this outdoor water park over by Hartford where you can cliff jump, zip line into water, and lots of other things. I was preparing to go on the tallest zip line, over a hundred feet tall, and was being clipped in by one of the Brownstone employees. As he’s clipping me in, I noticed that he was wearing a chain…with a pentagram around his neck! (A pentagram is a Satanic symbol – a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle). Standing on a hundred-foot cliff with a member of the Church of Satan is not a comfortable experience! As I was standing there, feeling quite creeped out, I immediately invoked the Blood of Jesus Christ, asking His blood to cover me and to cover this heavily-tattooed man. Knowing that spiritually I was covered in the Precious Blood of Christ brought me great comfort…as he pushed me off the cliff (which was what he was supposed to do, since I was clipped into my zip line!).
            What a great value there is in the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ! His Blood has saved us, redeemed us, freed us. His Blood was the price paid for our salvation. This month, we honor His Precious Blood and acknowledge all that He has done for us out of love!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 15, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 15
July 15, 2018
Prophets of the New Covenant

            It takes a lot of guts to tell the Pope that he’s wrong. Especially if you’re a humble Dominican nun in the 1300s.
            You see, because of political pressures, the Pope had moved from Rome to Avignon, France back in the late 1200s. Popes figured that it was better to be protected by the strong French king than to be possibly attacked by the chaotic and disunified Italian city-states. But this meant that the Popes were entirely too wrapped up in European politics, forgetting about their spiritual role as head of the Church. Really, the French government controlled the papacy – not a good situation!
            Enter St. Catherine of Siena. This feisty nun in her 20s felt inspired by God to travel to Avignon and face down the Pope himself. She was granted an audience with Pope Gregory XI, and she told him to his face that he needed to return to Rome and focus on his spiritual duties, not on worldly power. What a daring thing to do! If the Pope were offended, he could excommunicate Sr. Catherine, or even have her executed for heresy. But lo and behold, he listened to her, and heeded her advice, returning at once to Rome and guaranteeing the freedom of the Church from the influence of foreign kings. She was a prophet – and a saint.
            I think there is misunderstanding as to what the role of the prophet is. Prophets are not fortune-tellers; they don’t tell the future. Rather, they live their relationship with God so radically that it’s obvious to everyone around them. They take seriously the call to holiness, and they call everyone around them to that same faithfulness.
It’s not easy being a prophet. Usually when someone is chosen for the role, they try to get out of it. We see Amos in the first reading today explaining that it wasn’t his idea to be a prophet – it was a genuine call from God. And no wonder no one wanted to be a prophet – it usually wasn’t popular with kings and people alike to hear prophets. Even Jesus, as He sends out His disciples, tells them that they’re going to be rejected and unwelcomed because of the message they preach.
            It’s not popular – and it’s precisely what Christians are called to be.
            I always tell my students at the high school that Christianity isn’t cool. It never was, it never will be. It will always be countercultural if you take your faith seriously.
            When you were baptized, you were baptized into Christ Jesus and His three roles: priest, prophet, king. We exercise our priestly role when we offer ourselves “as a living sacrifice,” as St. Paul puts it, offering up our joys and sorrows, work and recreation, bodies and souls as an offering to the Lord. We exercise our kingly role when we use the grace of the Holy Spirit to practice self-control – not being trapped in addictions and sins and vices, but living in the freedom of the Redeemed.
            But we exercise our prophetic role by taking seriously our Catholic Faith. Does our life look different because we are Catholic? Or are our lives totally indistinguishable from the rest of the modern world? Let’s look at a couple ways to live prophetically.
            First, our language. It’s so easy to take the Lord’s Name in vain, and many Catholics do just that, not realizing that His Name is sacred. I once had a young man who struggled with that habit in my youth group, and he decided that to stop the vice, every time he would say “Oh my God,” he would always follow it up with “Praised be His Holy Name.” Of course his friends gave him strange looks…but he stopped the habit pretty quick! He wasn’t ashamed to look like a fool in living his Catholic faith radically, like a prophet. Do you take the Lord’s Name in vain? How radical are you willing to be to rid yourself of that sin?
            Second, our media. A lot of times in my office at the high school, kids will be watching videos on their iPads, and when I ask for a peek, they say, “Oh, Father, this isn’t really something a priest should watch.” Well, my friends, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re not watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood! If a priest shouldn’t watch it, why should another baptized Catholic who wants to please the Lord? That’s a pretty good test of whether we should be watching that movie or listening to that rap album – would I be ok with sharing it with a priest, or Christ Himself? So to live our faith radically, prophetically, we will need to say to our friends, “Nah, I’m good. I don’t want to see that movie.” And they will ask, “Why not?” and we can respond, “Because I love Jesus more than I love that movie, and that movie will lead me away from Him.”
            Third, our priorities, especially when it comes to Mass attendance. For a couple years I used to visit patients in a large hospital in Baltimore. I was always amazed that I would frequently see Muslim doctors and nurses in the nondenominational chapel, praying on their prayer rug, facing Mecca. They knew that they had to interrupt their work five times each day to fulfill their religious duties – and I really admired their dedication. At that same hospital, a nurse was explaining to me that she hadn’t been to Mass in a month because she always had to work weekend shifts. I said to her, “Isn’t that a double standard? Our Muslim brothers and sisters never miss a prayer even if it means they skip work for a bit, but we Catholics are too embarrassed or busy or ashamed to make it to Mass if that would require sacrifice?” Yes, it might mean coming in late to work on a Holy Day of Obligation…it might mean skipping a baseball game on a Sunday morning…but if all this is true: that Jesus Christ really died for you, rose from the dead, invites us to Heaven, left us His Body and Blood…then live life prophetically and make sure nothing stands in the way of our Sunday obligation to attend Mass!
            A warning: people who really live their faith without compromises aren’t always well-loved. There’s always something disconcerting, controversial, uncomfortable about living life radically and prophetically. But if you believe in this Catholic faith, and you believe in what God has done for you, what He continues to do for you in the Sacraments, and you believe that He has promised eternal life to you, then be courageous! Be bold! Be radical! Be a prophet!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 8, 2018

Homily for Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 8, 2018
His Power In Weakness

            Everything seemed to go wrong for poor Joseph. Born into poverty – actually in a cowshed, as the family house was in foreclosure - in 1603, he was underfed and scrawny growing up, catching every disease and sickness from pneumonia to ulcers. He was sent to school but failed every class; he had no friends because he was ugly and clumsy and boring to talk to. When he finally failed out of school as a teen, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, but he failed at that too. Finally, in the midst of his aimless and hopeless life, he met a beggar coming through his town that changed his life.
This beggar was a Franciscan priest, begging for his community’s food. Joseph realized, “Hey, I may not be good at anything else, but I can beg!” And he applied to the local monastery to become a Franciscan priest. But he failed in this too: he was turned down twice, and when a third monastery let him in, they soon kicked him out because Joseph’s absent-minded ways and stupidity were causing a distraction in their community life.
Penniless, with nothing left but his faith in God, Joseph returned home where his own mother refused to allow him to enter the house. Instead, she got him a job tending the donkeys’ stable at another Franciscan monastery. There amidst the filth of the stable – where he not only worked, but ate and slept as well - Joseph spent long hours in prayer as he did his work, growing in his love for God.
The Franciscan monks began to notice his holiness and joy, even despite his humble circumstances and apparent failures. After a couple years, they decided to invite him into the monastery, where he impressed everyone with his deep love for God despite his evident weaknesses. Finally, the Franciscan priests decided that he should study to become a priest, because of his evident holiness.
Joseph was elated and began his studies – but continued to fail his classes. Finally, the day came for the big exam to determine whether or not he would become a deacon. He studied day in and day out, but could only remember one single line of Scripture – the rest of his lessons were completely forgotten! When the day came for the test, he was brought in, and the only question asked of him…was about that particular verse of Scriptures! He was thus able to miraculously pass the test. The following year, when they were testing to become priests, the students who went before Joseph impressed the teacher so much that he came out and declared that the entire class passed, without Joseph having to take the test – thus, despite his mental failings, Joseph became Fr. Joseph.
And then the miracles started. Fr. Joseph was granted the grace of seeing visions, of healing the sick, and even levitating in prayer! He would be so absorbed in prayer that he would literally lift off the ground – a phenomenon witnessed by thousands of people! Thousands of people came to see and hear him each year, just to get his blessing – his humility showed people the great love and humility of our God. We now call him St. Joseph of Cupertino, a saint who had nothing of his own to be proud of – and every reason to rejoice in God.
We boast of all sorts of things. We boast of our bank account, our cars, the fact that we played college baseball, our kids’ honor rolls, everything. And we do have many gifts from God. But how many of us boast of our weaknesses? St. Paul tells us to do just that – not to be ashamed that we’re bald, or bad at math, or struggle with alcohol or impatience.
But why would we boast in these bad things? St. Paul goes on to say, “So that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” It is precisely the weakest, the frailest, the smallest, the most sinful human beings that God often chooses to use. The Apostles weren’t the best and brightest; Mary was too young and uneducated; St. Paul himself was a murderer. None of them were what the world would consider sleek and successful. And yet God chose all of them and did something wonderful in their lives.
And this makes perfect sense. God can’t work in a person’s life when that person is full of themselves; they must be empty to become full of God. He gets more glory from using weak instruments, from making saints out of sinners and weak people and broken, messed-up lives. It would be easy for God to take an amazingly talented person and work through them; but God’s power is shown precisely in taking ordinary folks with messy lives and making them holy.
So don’t think you have to be perfect to invite the Lord into your life. He is the one who will perfect you; and He plans all things – even your weaknesses – for His glory. So boast of your weaknesses – invite Christ into your weaknesses. In His mercy and love, there is nothing to fear, as He will make something beautiful out of your weakness, if you let Him.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 17, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 11
June 17, 2018
Parable of Spiritual Growth

            In many ways, nature reflects the spiritual life; hence, Jesus often uses nature in his parables to talk about our relationship with God. Let’s dive deeper into the parable to understand how we are to live as disciples of the living God.
            First, let’s talk about the seed. Both parables talk about growth, but growth has to start somewhere. Our start is when God reaches out to us. A lot of times we start by talking about our relationship with God, but we’re not the ones who initiated it! It was Him Who reached out to us, both in history and in our personal lives. In fact, that’s one major difference between Christianity and other religions – other religions are man’s search for God, while Christianity is God’s search for man! The human race was lost, unable to discover Who God is, so God took on flesh so we could hear and see Him, and died on a Cross to reveal the loving Heart of the Father.
            But God doesn’t just initiate a relationship in history. He also does so in our personal lives. St. Thomas Aquinas said that there are three ways God reaches out to us – truth, beauty, and goodness (also called the three transcendentals). He gets our attention and speaks to our souls in one of these three ways.
            For some people, it’s through truth. In the 1930s in Germany, a young Jewish philosophy professor named Edith Stein found some time during the summer to read a book that had been recommended to her – the autobiography of a great saint, St. Theresa of Avila. When she had finished reading the powerful life of the sixteenth-century mystic, she put the book down and declared, “This is the truth!” It was truth that led her to embrace the Catholic faith, become a nun, and eventually die a martyr in the concentration camps – and she is now known as St. Edith Stein. Truth was the avenue through which she encountered God.
            For others, it is beauty. George Harne, president of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic College in New Hampshire, was not Catholic when he and his wife were invited to attend a Eucharistic procession at a local church. He was struck by the beauty of it – the smell of the incense, the chanting of hymns, the vestments and the monstrance. Without really thinking about it, he realized that Jesus Christ must be truly present in the Eucharist – and he and his wife are now fervent Catholics. He was converted by beauty, not by any logical arguments.
            Finally, some people encounter God through goodness. The journalist Malcolm Muggeridge – a self-described cynic and skeptic – was given the assignment of producing a documentary on Mother Teresa. Reluctantly – and perhaps a bit curious – he accepted, and struck up an unlikely friendship with the future saint. Twenty years after they first met, Malcolm became a Catholic because of the influence of Mother Teresa – he saw goodness and holiness reflected in her life, and realized that God must be real if she could kiss lepers and care for maggot-infested dying people. It was goodness that brought him to God.
            So, I encourage you to consider – how has God been trying to get your attention and plant the seed of His love within you? Once our relationship with the Lord is established – the seed is planted, so to speak – then it must grow.
            In nature, plants either grow or they die. If something stops growing, you know it’s just a matter of time until it dies and rots. The same is true in the spiritual life – if we are not growing closer to the Lord, then we are losing our friendship with Him.
            So how does a plant grow? A farmer waters it, fertilizes it, prunes it. In this case, the farmer is Christ through His Church. The Church waters our soul through prayer and through the Church’s teachings; fertilizes our soul through the Eucharist; prunes our soul through Confession. All of the conditions for healthy spiritual growth are already here – but are you taking advantage of them? Unlike plants, we human beings can make the choice of whether or not to grow.
            Sometimes we neglect the Sacrament of Confession, and wonder why we have no peace; we skip Mass and feel our relationship with the Lord weakening. We feel like we’re stuck in a rut, but that’s because we don’t develop a solid prayer life or read the Lives of the Saints or the Catechism. The farmer – Christ and His Church – want very much for your soul to grow and develop and become holy. But we must take advantage of the opportunities that our Church provides us with!
            And ultimately, why should we even be concerned about spiritual growth? Because our joy, our peace, our love, our virtue is directly proportional to our intimate friendship with the Lord. If we are close to the Lord, we find ourselves filled with peace and joy and hope and love. If we are far from Him, we find ourselves lacking these things. God wants us to fill us with Himself – but it’s up to us to open ourselves to Him!
Consider this analogy: imagine a shot glass and a bucket, both filled up to the top with water. Which one is more full? Well, actually they are both completely full. But which one holds more water? The bucket, obviously. God wants to fill you with His very divine life, but your vessel is too small to hold much of Him! Increase the size of your bucket by increasing your spiritual life, and you will be filled with more of Him!
So, two takeaways from this homily; two things to ponder, if you will. First: how does God reach out to you, personally? Is it through truth, beauty, or goodness? Consider which one resonates more with you, and be aware of how God might be initiating a friendship through it. Second: are you growing closer to the Lord in your spiritual life? Are you closer with the Lord, with deeper faith and trust and love than you were one year ago? Do you have greater virtue, a deeper prayer life? More love and patience with others? If not, and you are not growing in your spiritual life, how can you begin to do so?
I leave you with these questions to ponder. Abundant life in God awaits for those who are willing to grow!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Homily for Friday, June 1 - Feast of St. Justin, Martyr

Homily for June 1, 2018
St. Justin, Martyr
Fruit of Holiness

            “The end of all things is at hand” – that’s how our readings started off today, from the Apostle Peter. Yes, the end of school is at hand…but so is the end of all things, the end of your life.
            Perhaps I’m strange, but I love wandering through old graveyards. Maybe it’s because my Eagle Scout project was to clean and fix a graveyard at my local church in Maryland. Right next to Holy Spirit Church, where I live, is a small graveyard from the early- to mid- 1800s that I often wander through. It’s amazing to see these graves, some of which belong to Revolutionary War or Civil War veterans, people who lived through some hard times and monumental changes in the world…I look at the graves and think, I’m going to go join them too. I don’t know how long, I don’t know when, but it’s inevitable: I will die. And so will you. And the sooner we realize and take this to heart, the sooner we can really start to live.
            I’ll never forget the only time I’d ever seen someone die. I was hiking with some friends along the Potomac River in Maryland a few years ago. It had just rained, and the river was truly raging and swollen. There are big signs along the whole trail: Do Not Swim in the River. Fair enough – it looked like chocolate milk, it was so brown and raging. Not something I would want to swim in, anyway. We took a break for lunch and looked across the river, where another group was picnicking on the other side. We saw two young men, in their early 20s, take off their shirts and start to wade in the river. All of a sudden we got nervous – this couldn’t end well. They both started swimming – the first man made it across to our side, several hundred feet downriver because of the strong current. The second man started strong, but soon started struggling. We could hear him crying out, “Help me! Help me!” as he bobbed up and down. We knew we couldn’t go in to help him, or we would drown ourselves. We immediately called 911 as we watched him go under…and he didn’t come up.
            Needless to say, we were all shocked and stunned. After giving reports to the police about what had happened, we sat there to process it. It was a sobering moment for me – it made me realize that life on this earth is temporary. That young man got up that morning, thinking that he was just going for a fun hike with some friends, and because of one bad decision he was now facing Jesus Christ his Judge. He never thought that he would have died that day.
            Interestingly enough, in the days that followed, my friends had two reactions. Some of my friends though, “Wow, life is short. I’d better make my time count” and they started living a better life – praying more, treating their parents with more respect, studying harder. But some of my friends thought, “Wow, life is short. I’d better live it up before I die” and started drinking more, partying more, sleeping around more, smoking more weed. The difference? One group of friends thought that eternity was real – and they lived accordingly. The other group of friends thought that this life was all there is – and they lived accordingly.
            My friends, Jesus makes it clear in today’s Gospel that something is required of us from this life. We see this mysterious story of the Lord cursing a fig tree because it didn’t give Him fruit – well that seems rather strange, now doesn’t it? Why would Jesus curse something He created? It’s actually richly symbolic – He curses something that doesn’t bring Him what it’s supposed to. The fig tree doesn’t produce figs; therefore, it’s useless. You and I are supposed to bring Him something too – a holy life. We are supposed to present our lives before Him, saying, “Lord, here I am. I have tried to live my life for You and Your glory, living a life of holiness.” If, at the end of our life, we are able to bring Him the fruits of a holy life, the fruits of prayer, of virtue, of humility and repentance and love – then we have done what is asked of us from this life. But if we bring Him nothing but a wasted life of pleasures and empty riches, bad habits and addictions, then we will be like the fig tree – cursed, condemned.
            I was reading the life of one of my favorite saints, St. Dominic Savio. He was a young man who achieved great holiness at the young age of 15. In his Catholic boarding school that he attended, I was reading that all of the students participated monthly in a prayer for a happy death. I thought, “Woah! Young teens are preparing for a happy death?” But that was part of the secret of his holiness. St. Dominic Savio lived his life in such a way that he was ready to die at any moment, ready to meet the Lord.
            Are you? If today was your last day on earth, would you be ready to meet Him? Would you be able to present Him with a life of holiness if you were to meet Him this day?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trinity Sunday - May 27, 2018

Homily for Trinity Sunday
May 27, 2018
With Us on the Journey

            Back in 2012, I had the incredible privilege of hiking El Camino. The Camino is an ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, a town in northern Spain which holds the bones of St. James. This pilgrim path is ancient – it was first marked out in the 800s – and still wildly popular. Last year, over 300,000 people walked it.
            But it is a long journey! 498 miles, all on foot, through deserts and mountains and cities and forests. We started in southern France in the heart of the Pyrenees mountains, and thirty-three days later stumbled, exhausted, into Santiago de Compostela on the other side of Spain. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience…because I’m not sure I’d want to walk quite that far ever again!
            It’s interesting how many stories, movies, and novels are all about journeys. I think of things like Lord of the Rings, or Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We love a good journey story, in part because life is like a journey – we’re not quite home yet, but still on the road.
            Journeys – whether it’s a 500-mile hike or a quick jaunt to the beach – all have several things in common. There is a starting point, a destination, and a route. We need a mode of transportation, whether on foot, or by car, or by airplane. We need a map, and we need traveling companions.
            So let’s apply all this to the journey called life. Where is our destination? Heaven: eternity with God. That’s where we will finally be at home. What’s our starting point? This earth – a place of great beauty and joy, but also a place of great suffering and pain. So how do we get from point A to point B? Our route is given to us by Jesus Christ – living a holy life in imitation of Him.
            But holding a map in your hand is not the same as taking the first step. And the mode of transportation that brings us from earth to Heaven is His grace.
            Grace is God’s divine life – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – living in us. The very same Trinity that exists above and beyond creation has chosen to dwell within your soul. Grace is like the gasoline that powers our car; like the food we eat that allows us to have the energy to walk. Grace – being connected to Him – is what causes us to grow in holiness and approach the destination of Heaven.
            But how do we receive grace? Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel. The Sacraments, prayer, and the teaching of the Church. Think of how the Sacraments envelop you in the life of the Trinity – in baptism, we become sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father; in the Eucharist we receive the Flesh and Blood of the Son; in Confirmation, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. These powerhouses of grace are what Jesus means when He says “I am with you always” – look no further than the Eucharist if you want to see where Jesus is today!
            With all of this grace, there should be no problem growing in holiness and approaching our destination of Heaven! But why do we look around and not see more saints? Why do we look in the mirror and not see more saints?
            First, for some people, the destination is wrong. I have to apologize, but one of my least favorite movies is “Polar Express”, which I know is a Christmas classic for many of us here. But the reason why I dislike this movie is because of one single line that is so absurd that I just couldn’t appreciate the rest of the movie. The little boy who discovers this gigantic train that just pulled up on his street approaches curiously and asks where the train is going. The conductor responds, “It doesn’t matter where the train is going, all that matters is that you hop on!”
            Wait a second! Doesn’t matter where you’re going? What if you want to go to Albuquerque but you end up in Ottawa instead? That’s a pretty big difference! You may say that’s just a movie but that’s how many people live their life – “Oh, I don’t know where I’m going, I’m just along for the ride!” My friend, we need to know where we are going – to Heaven? Or to Hell? There are only two options on this train line! Which direction do you want to pursue?
            The other reason why we are not yet saints is because we don’t believe we need His grace to get there. One of the very common things I hear from parents at Trinity is, “Oh, I send my kid there so he can get good morals.” Well, good morals is fine, being a decent person is great, but our Catholic faith is about so much more than that! It’s not just about being decent, it’s about being holy…through a living and enduring friendship with the Trinity. If we try to be good without grace, then we are not yet disciples! A disciple of Jesus is one who lives in an intimate relationship with Him. We should desire Him – and our “good morals” will be a response to His unconditional love. Jesus doesn’t say “get to Heaven by being a basically good person” – He says “make disciples of all nations” – disciples who love Him and live for Him!
            My friends, the Feast of the Holy Trinity is an invitation to consider grace – that divine life of the Blessed Trinity that wants to dwell within us to make us holy. We are offered that grace every time we receive the Sacraments, and when we engage the Lord in prayer or reading His Word. We all receive enough grace to become saints – if we ask Him to make us holy, His grace will do it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Baccalaureate Homily for Trinity Catholic High School - May 31, 2018

Baccalaureate Homily
May 31, 2018
Change the World by Changing Yourself

            All over the world, at every school, graduation speakers are saying basically the same thing to graduates: “Go out and change the world! Make the world a better place!” That’s a nice idea, but how do we do that?
            If we had to be honest, I think most of us will agree that the world is not becoming a better place. If anything, it’s getting worse. School shootings, broken families, poverty, division, racism, unbridled greed, depression and anxiety – it all seems to be getting worse. I think it’s interesting that in the 1950s and ‘60s, if there was ever a futuristic movie or TV show, it always showed the future as something awesome, full of cool gadgets and happy people. Think “Jetsons” or “2001: A Space Odyssey”. But nowadays, when we have a movie that portrays the future, it is almost always dismal, depressing, or dystopian – think “The Hunger Games”. Why is it, with generations of people being told to “Go out and make the world a better place” – it really isn’t getting that much better?
            Because the message is all wrong. Don’t go out and make the world a better place. Make yourself a better person. Strive, with God’s grace, to become a saint.
            “The only people to really change the world are saints,” said Archbishop Charles Chaput. I think of the beautiful story of back in 1982 when a fierce war raged between Israel and Lebanon in the Middle East. This war ended up claiming the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians alike. Caught in the crossfire of this war, in the capital city of Beirut, was an orphanage for disabled children. Mother Teresa heard about the danger these children were in, and volunteered herself to go and rescue them. Officers in Lebanon’s army urged her not to go – she would surely be shot with all the fierce fighting raging around the orphanage! But Mother Teresa was confident in God alone, and promised the general, “We will have a cease-fire tomorrow, and I will go in and take the children to safety.” The general was skeptical – there were no plans for a cease-fire the following day. That night, Mother Teresa and her nuns prayed fiercely for a pause in the military action, and lo and behold, the next day the bombs and gunfire fell silent. Continually in prayer, Mother Teresa courageously crossed the front lines in West Beirut and entered the orphanage. To the horror of everyone present, all of the nurses and caregivers had abandoned all sixty children, and the building had been hit with rockets several times. But Mother Teresa was able to rescue all of them and bring them to a safe shelter outside the city. That, my friends, is a courageous, faith-filled love of God that brought safety to sixty completely neglected children. Mother Teresa was able to gain the cease-fire, to have the courage and desire to rescue these children, precisely because she was a woman so intimately united to God.
            My friends, politics won’t change the world. Money won’t change the world. Wars won’t change the world. New laws, better fashions, catchier slogans won’t change the world. All of that is ultimately empty. We can try with all of our human efforts to change the world, but we forget that we human beings labor under a burden – the burden of original sin, our fallen nature. This makes it impossible, on our own, to improve the world.
Remember the book you read in sophomore year, “Animal Farm”? A stark reminder of how even good intentions go awry. The animals were fed up with being oppressed, with injustice and poverty and sickness, so they rebel and try to set up an government of equality. That works for a time, until the pigs realize they can have power…and abuse power. It’s a cute story, but when that idea was enacted in real life – the desire to make everyone equal only by the power of the government – it ended up with millions of lives lost to the Communist revolutions.
They forgot that real equality does not come from force, but love. They forgot that eliminating poverty is not about the redistribution of wealth, but the increase in love. They forgot that the end to violence does not come through more laws, but through more love. Don’t get me wrong – laws and politics and money has its place, but if we are looking for real and lasting change, look no further than the mirror. Have YOU been changed? Changed into the image of God, who is Love Itself?
Think about today’s feast – Mary is the perfect example of this. She is not anyone the world would consider important. She is poor, uneducated, a woman in a time when women had few rights, too young – and she changed the world because she allowed God to work through her. Her soul “glorified the Lord” – and human history was changed because of it.
If you want to change the world, first allow God to change yourself. The world doesn’t need a bunch of idealistic college students. The world needs an army of saints, people who can bring the love of God to conquer the darkness of this world. Do you want to change the world? Become a saint.