Wednesday, January 30, 2013
First, a Catholic trivia answer for you. We are told that Jesus had brothers and sisters and our Gospel, and we may wonder, “How can this be? Wasn’t Mary a virgin?” Some will cite a verse like this in attempt to show that we are foolish for believing in the perpetual virginity of our Blessed Mother. Yes, the Scriptures report Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Yes, also, do we maintain Mary’s virginity. These can be reconciled by recognizing the original languages of the Scripture had no word for cousin. The same is true in some places today. When I was in Ghana, Africa, they didn’t have cousin in their vocabulary either. Thus, what we consider cousins they do in fact call brothers and sisters. The men and identified by the evangelist were not blood brothers or sisters but His cousins.
Now for a homily…
The Scriptures repeat the importance of God’s will in our lives. At the most basic level God wills two experiences for us: to be happy and to be holy. God wants us to be happy here on earth and forever in heaven. He doesn’t want us to eek through life or find constant distractions that blur our true desire for happiness.
Yet to be happy we must be holy. We may hear the word holy quite a bit and may be tempted to think it is a quality reserved to priests and nuns. Yet holiness is nothing more than being in a relationship with our God. God wants to be our best friend.
Think about the ways you communicate with a friend—pictagram, facebook, texts, phones and more. Granted, you can’t text God, but He wants us to communicate with Him in a variety of ways in our lives. Whether this is vocal or mental prayer, reading the Scriptures, offering up a game or workout or enjoying His beautiful creation in nature.
The more we give to God, the more we receive from Him, and that is the stuff of which holiness is made. Then we may dare say with the Psalmist, “Here am I, Lord, I have come to do your will.” And when we do His will, we will be happy.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Last year on this date I had the great opportunity to be in Toulouse, France, to celebrate the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have to admit it a sort of bipolar experience. On the one hand, it was awesome coming to the tomb of this great saint. I studied Aquinas quite a bit in seminary, learning how he translated the ancient philosopher Aristotle’s thinking into Christian terms. He wrote one of the greatest treatises of all time—the Summa Theologica—which, despite being four volumes long was written for beginners. It was amazing having Mass with the Dominicans with their heavenly choir and processing with his relics on his feast.
On the other hand, this was one of the only times of the year Mass is said at his tomb. This former church is a state museum that you have to pay to get into to see Aquinas’ tomb. This is indicative of the faith at large in France—only 1% of people there go to Church. It was bizarre seeing this great saint resting where faith is sorely lacking.
I am currently reading Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. His basic premise is in order to reignite faith in the world we must first rediscover it in our own lives.
We are reminded in Hebrews that Jesus comes to “bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.” The world needs to turn back to God, and we must be the beacons to do this. We ask this great doctor of the Church to pray for us and our society, that we may be more fully converted to Christ.
St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.
Note--this homily is different than the first one I posted for this Sunday in Ordinary Time. We celebrated Mass with our kids from school and they did the serving, music, lectoring and gifts. This homily was specifically addressed to our families from the school.
Two thoughts came to me when I thought about how the Israelites in the first reading listened to Ezra read from the Law from sun up until noon. First, I decided to go with the longer version of the 2nd reading for Mass. If the Israelites could listen for five or six hours, we can listen to a minute or two more. Thanks, N. for your excellent reading for this! Second, I wondered what it would be like to listen to Fr. Rich preach for five hours. Though it seems like that long every time he takes the pulpit!
Can someone remind me what we celebrate this week? [Younger student answers] “Catholic Schools Week.” And how are we celebrating Catholic schools this week? [Students answer:] “decorating our doors,” “dressing up,” “playing the staff in volleyball,” and “having Fr. Rich and Fr. Ben play a game.” Yes, we have a great week coming up. For the record, the staff will be destroying the sixth-graders in volleyball and I will be destroying Fr. Rich in any game we play.
Why do we celebrate Catholic schools this week? Put in another way, what is your favorite part of attending St. John’s school? [Students respond:] “we have God,” and “we get to pray.” Wow, impressive. I promise, I did not bribe the kids to say any of that! You are exactly right. We praise God for a week of Catholic schools because we are blessed with so many gifts He gives us in school. And whenever we thank God we celebrate.
Let me share two parts of our school that I am grateful for. First, our readings today show how important the Bible is in our lives. The Israelites listened attentively for five or six hours, the Psalm reminds us: “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life,” and Jesus even quotes the Old Testament. I am proud that we take learning God’s Word at school. What are some ways we do this? [Student responds:] “You give us candy to memorize verses.” I do? Yep, I do indeed encourage our students to memorize verses! [6th grader responds:] “you give us homework slips if we don’t!” Indeed—both the 5th and 6th graders have another incentive to memorize their verses—by not getting a slip! Where else do we learn about the Bible at school? [Student responds:] “in religion class.” You bet—we are blessed to have time in our day to read and pray with God’s Word. Where else? [Student responds:] “Mass.” Excellent! We are so blessed to attend Mass each Wednesday where we hear God’s Word and then experience the Word made flesh in the Eucharist. This is by far the highlight of our week.
Second, I appreciate how our school, like St. Paul’s image of the Body of Christ, has many important members that make up one body. We have a wonderful principal, Mrs. Frederickson, and excellent teachers. They excel not only in teaching their subject materials, but also in leading our children in the faith. Our volunteers, staff and maintenance men keep our building ship shape and ensure the odds and ends are taken care of. Dare I say, we also have great priests here. Now, I rarely would say such a thing in public, but Fr. Rich has always inspired me in how involved he has been at school. He probably sees the kids two or three times every day and even opens their milk cartons at lunch! I have never met a priest who has spent more time in the school than Fr. Rich and he has shown me how important the mission of our school is in my own priestly call. Finally, we have our parents who do so much to bring their family here and most importantly our students. We certainly couldn’t have a school without you!
We gather this morning at Mass—the highlight of our school, parish and lives. We come to hear God’s Word and then experience the Word made flesh in the Eucharist. This is the greatest source of strength for our school and we pray this morning that we may be strengthened in our faith and mission. We want all of you to know you are welcome here at Mass every weekend. And kids, if your Mom or Dad forgets to bring you each week, remind them and ask them to take you because you want to experience God’s love for you!Let’s have a great Catholic schools week, praising God for the great gift St. John’s School is to all of us, and ask that we may be drawn ever more closely to Jesus through this week.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Two thoughts came to me when I thought about how the Israelites in the first reading listened to Ezra read from the Law from sun up until noon. First, I decided to go with the longer version of the 2nd reading for Mass. If the Israelites could listen for five or six hours, we can listen to a minute or two more. Second, I wondered what it would be like to listen to Fr. Rich preach for five hours. Though it seems like that long every time he takes the pulpit!
One of my favorite hobbies is reading. I love to read, and not only religious or spiritual books. I have laughed with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I have been angry at Smeagol and “his precious”. I cried when Dumbledore fell off the castle—well, not really. I even tried to learn the ways of women through Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice—and am more confused than ever. Even secular literature can capture the joys and sadness of the human experience.
Yet my favorite book by far—and there is no close second—is the greatest book ever written. It has the greatest author: God. It has the greatest heroes, villains, plots, poems and even romances. It is the best-selling book of all time—the Bible. I have experienced in my own life the fact that “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life,” and I pray you may do the same.
The Liturgy of the Word today is all about the Word. Again, Ezra read from the Scriptures for five or six hours. And this event is very significant—he didn’t just do this on a whim. This context of this report places the Jews having come home to Jerusalem. Only a few decades earlier their capitol city, center of worship and nation were decimated by the Babylonians and carried into exile. We check in with the Israelites as they rediscover the Scriptures which had largely been lost.
This is an inspiration for us. Are the Scriptures being used in your life? If not, it is time to pull out the greatest book ever from the shelf and rediscover what God has in store for you through His Bible.
Jesus is brilliant with the Scriptures. After sitting in the synagogue, Jesus rises and is handed a scroll. This seems ordinary enough, but consider the fact that Jesus probably did not know which book of the Bible He would be handed. Plus, the scroll He is given had no paragraphs, punctuation, spaces between letters or even lower case letters. Yet Jesus quickly finds the passage He is looking for and reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Imagine the crowd as they hang on every word Jesus reads. Imagine as they recognize this is a prophecy foretelling the coming of the Messiah. And then Jesus states, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
One of the greatest scripture scholars ever, St. Jerome, once said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” How well do you really know Jesus? And not the Jesus that society portrays—someone who leaves controversially topics alone, ignores sin promotes love without justice and doesn’t really care if we choose Him or not. Learn about who Jesus Christ truly is.
Pick up that Bible and read it daily. You will never regret it.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
“Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.”
Our responsorial psalm—also a prayer of trust found in the prophets—is a common one among college students. And it is a good one.
Yet I remember a time when I was so focused on discernment in my life—where does God want me to go? Should I be married? A priest? I was obsessed with figuring out what God wanted me to do.
Many of you might face the same challenge. You want nothing more than to do God’s well and are eager to find out what it is. Yet here you must remember it is all about Jesus—not you.
Discernment can at times be an overrated word. To ensure we follow God’s path for our lives tomorrow we must first love Him today. Discernment can never overshadow God Himself.
God wants our happiness more than we do. We must be like the crowds in our Gospel—“Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him…” We must consistently come to Jesus. We must love Him and remember it is He “who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne.” It is all about God and not about us.
Love God—love Jesus—and you will live out the saying “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.” And God will lead you where He desires.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Today we are introduced to the first priest in the entire Bible, Melchizedek. This mysterious figure is very important as we learn that Jesus Himself was a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” So, too, are all ordained priests to this day.
The great prophet Abraham offered Melchizedek a few gifts which are essential for us to consider. First, he gives him bread and wine. And where do we see bread and wine today? Only at the most important event of all of our lives—Mass! This is one of the first signs of the Eucharist in the Old Testament. In the Mass, you offer to God not only your money, but also symbolically the bread, wine and your own intentions as the gifts are presented. The priest then offers up this bread and wine for the greatest event ever.
Second, Abraham gives this priest a tenth of all he had. This is where we first learn about the tithe—giving God ten percent of our time, talent and treasures. Did you know that the average Catholic gives 1%? Imagine what our parish, diocese and Church could do if we, like Abraham, gave God the first tenth.
We praise God for sending His son as the priest in the order of Melchizedek. We pray that we may be generous as Abraham was to give God the best of our time, talent and treasure.
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
We Catholics often get a bad rap for being nothing more than a bunch of rule followers. In this Gospel passage we learn how the Pharisees—overzealous for the Law—try to catch Jesus breaking the rules of the Sabbath. Jesus reminds them that the these very rules are to be followed, not in and of themselves, but because they help us.
Take the Sabbath. We are asked to keep that day free from unnecessary work, homework and busyness because it is good for us. We need a day each week to catch up with friends, watch a game and nap—all for the glory of God.
In this succinct response to the Pharisees tattle-tailing, Jesus also teaches us that we must always remember two facts with respect to the “rules and regulations” of our lives. First, we must not be judgers of others’ conduct like the Pharisees. Second, we must remember that all of God’s law is for our good. The Church is the servant of God’s Law and thus the Church’s guidelines for living is strictly for our benefit. We must always keep this in mind especially when we struggle to understand why the Church teaches as she does.
We praise God today for giving us the Lord’s Day—Sunday. We thank Him for providing us with a framework in which to live our lives and pray for the grace to trust Him and His Church all the more.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Our reading from Hebrews was one of the most comforting passages from Scripture while I was in seminary: “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.”
In seminary I learned more than ever that I am a sinner, have vices and weaknesses. As a priest I must pray for forgiveness and go to Confession before I can forgive others.
This applies to everyone. Each of us struggles with sin, vices and weaknesses. We experience physical and mental ailments, some of which we may be afraid to share with others. Here we can take comfort because Jesus experienced the same. He “learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Jesus enters into our weakness and sin. He comes to bring freedom and life in our fallenness. For this we must praise God.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
“…you shall be called ‘My Delight’, and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the LORD delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”
When I read this text from Isaiah I first thought of the religious sisters I know in my life. Throughout the Old Testament, one of the most common images to describe God and His people is marriage. God is the bridegroom and He remains faithful in unity to His people. So too, our religious sisters have been called in a particular way to consecrate their lives to God, as He beckons them to union with Him.
Indeed, this image has been fulfilled by Christ’s love for His Church. God remains the bridegroom, and through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, consummates His love for His bride the Church.
Yet despite this reality, we can often look at the green grass on the other side of the fence. For instance, my two of my best friends just had a baby. As a priest this makes me yearn for the gift of marriage, children and a faithful companion in my life. At the same time, my lovebird friends shared how they often desire to have silence each day for personal prayer like I have. Some religious sisters long to do what a priest does, students wish they could be professors and on and on…
Yet we must remember, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit…one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.” The Spirit has placed us in whatever state of life we live—whether married, religious sister, priest or single. We can trust that whatever this vocation, God delights in each and every one of us.
This same God—Jesus—solves an emergency in our Gospel: they ran out of wine at the wedding of Cana. (The only worse situation is if they would have run out of beer). He takes the jugs—and not dinky things we first think of—but six foot high jugs that each held 20-30 gallons of water—and made wine. This is a sign Christ’s abundant gifts.
In our own lives—to wherever He has called us—Jesus takes the ordinary and bestows His grace upon it. Whether it is a beautiful scene in nature, the sight of a baby and especially in His sacraments—He gives us His gifts.
We pray in thanksgiving for these gifts God has given us, no matter what our vocation. We trust in Him and pray that through these gifts we may become more happy and holy.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Sunday, January 13, 2013
With the feast of the Lord’s Baptism we fast-forward nearly thirty years from Christmas. Before Jesus begins His public ministry He approaches John the Baptist to be baptized Himself.
I have been to the site of Jesus’ baptism on the Jordan River. It’s nothing like you would expect, or at least was nothing like I would have expected. I had pictured a bluish-green luscious river teeming with life. Actually, it looks more like a ditch in northern Minnesota. It is cloudy brown in color and has less water than ever. The site of Jesus’ baptism doesn’t even have water in it anymore.
I sat there looking at a glorified mud puddle with some broken pillars and even some trash. How simple, I thought, yet how profound. This is where God was manifested as Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the Son came to be baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the Father spoke to His Son.
Earlier this week I came across an insightful quote about Jesus’ Baptism. One of the Church Fathers stated that we may wonder why Jesus was baptized—indeed it was not necessary. He stated that Christ was not baptized to be purified by the water, but to purify water itself.
I thought this was cool as I love water. In addition to needing it like every other life form, most of my time is spent hunting, fishing, ice fishing, camping or relaxing by this great gift from God. Jesus took this simple element of the universe and elevated it to the supernatural level.
It is in these same waters that we have been baptized into Christ. We have been sealed as God’s for all eternity, freed from original sin, welcomed into the Church and filled with the Holy Spirit.
As we close the Christmas season we celebrate Jesus’ last act before His public ministry—His baptism. We pray that we may be faithful to our mission to bring others to Christ and give God thanks and praise for the great sacrament of Baptism.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
In the scriptural academic world, some cynics and skeptics will say, “Jesus never claimed to be God.” They argue that we made up assertions about Jesus’ divinity that He never claimed. Ironically, these scripture scholars don’t know the scriptures well.
In our Gospel Jesus cites a messianic prophecy from Isaiah. Through such prophecies the Jews looked to the coming of the savior of the Israelites who would bring military victory and prosperity to their nation. Imagine the scene in the synagogue as “the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him” and he said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus might have well as said, “Hello! I’m the Messiah! I’m God!”
And Jesus did fulfill this particular message from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
And Jesus did bring deliverance and abundance. Not military victory or earthly prosperity, but freedom from sin and abundance of grace.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
If you had to summarize the Bible in three words, “God loves us” is not a bad attempt.
Our first reading today speaks of God’s love which always comes first. The Old Testament frequently refers to this love. God created everything out of nothing, forming man and woman as the pinnacle of His work because of love. He led His people out of slavery in Egypt. He spoke to His people through the prophets, not in a desire to smash them down, but to show His love.
The culmination of this love comes in the sending of His son: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” God loves us so much that He sent His son to die for our sins. And He even offers us the opportunity to participate in Calvary as we re-present Jesus’ sacrifice of the cross at each Mass.
Today Jesus shows His love for the hungry crowds: “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them…” Here He fed thousands with bread. But imagine the billions Christ has fed throughout the centuries with His Body and Blood!
We reflect this morning on God’s love which comes prior to our loving Him. We praise Him for the great love of sending His son to die for us and for the gift of the Eucharist.
The only response to these realities is, “Thank you.”
Monday, January 7, 2013
Some people continue to believe that the Church and our faith is nothing more than a bunch of rules. To such a person I would point them to the book of Leviticus, which is the Old Testament rules in detail. There you can learn what bugs you may eat or how to tell when your house is unclean.
The fact is, Jesus came to fulfill all the Laws and Commandments in the Old Testament. Really, we now have two laws—faith and love. “And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.”
To this critic I would also add that our Church continues the ministry of Jesus. We hear about His public ministry in a nutshell in the Gospel of Matthew: “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.” The Church continues to teach, proclaim the Gospel and cure people, not just of physical ailments, but spiritual diseases and illnesses.
As she does, she continues to point to only the two laws—faith in Jesus Christ and love of God and neighbor.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
When we hear the word exclusive—as in an exclusive group—we have a negative connotation. Yet there are times when being exclusive is a good thing. For instance, businesses, classrooms and teams need to have limits to function well. It is a good thing for your family to have your house exclusively. I can’t just come over, walk in and eat all your food and beer. Though I might!
In God’s mysterious providence, exclusivism was a part of salvation history. One of the most common ideas in the Old Testament is God’s chosen people. The sacred authors infer, then, that other nations and people are rejected. We take it for granted living after Christ that all are called to enter into a relationship with Him. In the Old Testament this wasn’t so. You were either a Jew—a chosen one—or not. Period.
Consider the covenants God makes with His people. It begins in a garden with Adam and Eve—a couple. God then makes a covenant with Noah and his family. Later in Genesis we see God entering into a covenant with Abraham and a tribe, through which God promised Abraham’s descendents would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Next comes Moses and the nation of Israel in slavery. Finally, in the pinnacle of salvation history in the Old Testament, God establishes a covenant with David and His kingdom. Notice, God continually brings more and more people into His fold from a couple, family, tribe, nation and kingdom.
Jesus Christ comes and blows the door open to who can be God’s people. This continues God’s work and fulfills many Old Testament prophecies. We heard from Isaiah: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” This prophecy pointed to a day in which the Jews would not be the only ones to worship God, but all nations. The Psalm we prayed said something similar: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”
The magi show the first glimmerings of these prophecies fulfilled. These wise men from the east came to worship Christ. The men from the east were not Jews and not of the chosen people. Yet Christ opens the doors to all the world to be His people.
We can learn a lot from the magi. First, they were very generous. They brought the baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. They didn’t reach in their pockets for a dollar or a couple of coins, or give out of their surplus. They brought truly costly gifts over an arduous journey to present to the Lord. Are we so generous?
Second, the magi presumably didn’t hold their experience to themselves. They went forth different men, disobeying Herod’s command to reveal the location of the King of kings. They did not hold the experience of the King to themselves but brought this to the world. Is our faith something we are exclusive about, leaving it in our own lives or the lives of our families? Or, is it—as Jesus desires—an inclusive endeavor in which we strive to live in a manner that helps others experience His love and mercy?
On this great solemnity of Epiphany we pray in thanksgiving for being one of God’s chosen ones. We pray for the grace to be like the magi—to be generous in giving and evangelistic in our lives. Above all we pray to not be exclusive in matters of faith but to include everyone we encounter—family, coworkers, teammates and schoolmates—in the good news of Jesus Christ.