Monday, April 29, 2013
Baptism Anniversary: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, April 29th, 2013 (Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena)
Today is a special day in my life as it is the 29th anniversary of my Baptism. 29 years ago the little pagan baby Ben was brought into God’s family. Growing up, my parents weren’t overly religious, but every year we celebrated our Baptism anniversaries and this has been a day I’ve celebrated ever since.
Indeed, our Baptisms should be remembered and I encourage those of you with children, or those of you who will be having children, to remember this practice. It is important to celebrate these important moments in life. While we don’t celebrate our conceptions (which would be a bit weird), we do celebrate our births. Yet our Baptism is arguably more important than our births because they are our spiritual birth.
We continue to read from the book of Acts, where we see the conversion of the multitudes. These conversions were driven by the desire to have people baptized. Indeed, the heart of evangelism—the spreading of the Gospel—is to repent and be Baptized.
In our own lives we probably know people who have not yet been baptized. How are you proclaiming the Gospel to them? At the parish level we do this as we typically baptize adults every year at the Easter Vigil and have several baptisms for babies throughout the year.
We thank God for the great gift of Baptism, and ask for the wisdom to preach the Gospel in our lives that many more will be brought into God’s family.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
At some point in our lives, we have all been scared of the dark. In fact, a couple months ago Fr. Rich got a little panicked when he got locked in his room at 5:00am. He had to call me and I kicked his door down so he wouldn’t be late—or scared of the dark.
Jesus teaches us, “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.” Jesus reminds us we don’t need to be afraid of the dark—or anything for that matter. He is always with us when we get scared.
But on a deeper level, Jesus is the light in the world. The world is full of sin—violence, lies, deception and unfaithfulness—and this is what St. John has in mind when he uses the word darkness. Jesus calls us to step out of the darkness of our own sinfulness and into the light. We don’t need to be afraid of the dark when we always have the light of the world with us.
With all humility to both St. John the Evangelist and the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, there was a mistake in our Gospel today. John writes, “It was winter…” Did he get 50 inches of snow in Israel in April? I think not!
We have been hearing from the Acts of the Apostles of how the Church grew in its very beginnings. People are converting by the masses to this new faith, which is first called Christianity in Antioch. In seeing the success of the apostles and disciples we might think they were very smart, eloquent speakers or truly special. Actually, in one sense they were quite ordinary. In fact, you are more educated than fishermen.
Yet St. John Chrysostom, in one of my favorite quotes, iterates, “For the deeds done by fishermen and tax collectors, the kings, philosophers and countless multitudes cannot begin to imagine.” Remember, the Church was founded, not on geniuses, but on simple men and women.
But at the end of the day we must remember, we don’t need to rely on our strengths and merits to proclaim the Gospel. Just like the early disciples and apostles, we must simply be faithful to Jesus Christ. He is, after all, one with the Father, and is the one we want to proclaim. When we align our will with his we allow him to work. And then God can do amazing things in spreading the Gospel now as then.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
When we first think of the prophets, we often picture the men of the Old Testament that proclaimed God’s Word to the Israelites.
Yet we must not forget who the greatest prophet of all is—Jesus Christ. In fulfilling his Father’s will, Christ lived as priest, prophet and king. It seems we easily imagine Jesus as a priest and Jesus as the King of kings, but he is in fact a prophet—one who preach God’s Word to people and challenge them to grow closer to Him.
One of Jesus’ prophecies is fulfilled today. In the Gospel he says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” In Acts of the Apostles Peter is told to kill and eat a number of animals he sees in a vision. Peter responds that he cannot because he is faithful to the Jewish Law. Yet the meaning of this vision is not that Peter can eat a lizard, (though I am glad we Christians get to eat bacon) but that he is to go to the Gentiles—those non-Jews who were considered unclean.
This is great news for us, and is the reason why we sit in a Catholic Church this morning. Fr. Rich excluded, I don’t think anyone else here has Jewish descent—thus we would have been considered Gentiles, the unclean, under Jewish law.
We thank God this morning for Jesus’ teaching to bring God’s entire flock to Him.
(At CSS I added:)
I hear there have been efforts made to dialogue about our faith from various students on campus. This is a great blessing—something that did not occur when I was a student.
In such discussion we must remember the basics of why we are Catholic. And it all starts with what C.S. Lewis describes in his book Miracles, “The Grand Miracle” of the incarnation. We believe that God became a man. And not only this, but the bookend to this miracle is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
We must remember these because if they are true, we can trust in the Church Christ established. Indeed, it is a far greater feat for God to become a man and then rise again, than for Him to establish a Church on earth and guide it to this day. Thus we can dive headfirst into the Church’s teachings on morality and social doctrine.
We too are called to be prophets of the Good News of Jesus Christ which feature the incarnation and resurrection. We are to go out into the world to bring many more sheep into Christ’s flock.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
We priests and deacons are charged with proclaiming God’s Word in our homily. Ideally, we connect the readings and make them more alive and concrete for you.
Today we have a clear connection in the readings. God is the Good Shepherd and sends His only Son to be, in a sense, one of the flock. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain for our sins.
Yet I want to share some thoughts this morning on something different. This has been on my heart this week and I am sure it has been on yours—the bombings in Boston. We saw another example in our world of innocent people suffering evil they did not bring on themselves.
Last night on the news one of the commentators said, “This bombing was like throwing filth on the pure.” I thought this was a vivid image for this event that took place during the Boston Marathon. I have been blessed with the running community in my own life and know just how this community of athletes, fans, volunteers, family and friends are good people supporting a great human endeavor. But this wasn’t any marathon, it was the Boston marathon—you can’t just show up and run this one, you have to qualify. Many of those runners you saw on TV trained years to fulfill this life dream. Yet these dreams were shattered with the two blasts at the end of the finish line.
This week I have been reflecting and praying a lot about this attack. I especially thought—how are we Christians and Catholics to respond to such atrocity?
First, we must seek God. Now I don’t say this as a cliché or in the caricature of the church mouse on her knees for hours on end. I mean we must go to God in concrete ways. We must speak to God honestly about our experiences. Whether in this tragedy or other forms of suffering in your own life, go to God. If you are sad, tell Him. If you are angry, express your anguish. If you are feeling hopeless, grieved or terror, give Him your burdens. If all you can do is sigh, cry our scream, do it because God promises in our second reading that he “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” True prayer is honest prayer and that is how we go to God.
And again, we are not going to some abstract deity. We are going to our loving Father who sent His son to die for us. Jesus, more than anyone else, can relate to wicked things done to the innocent. In fact, he is the only true innocent person because he was perfect. He knows the anguish of betrayal, physical pains of torture and beatings, and a brutal execution. He knows what the victims, families and our nation are going through now. We can go to him because he has gone before us in such crises.
Second, we must learn to forgive. Jesus asks, if we forgive only our loved ones, what credit is that to us? In the only prayer he taught us—the Lord’s Prayer that we pray at every Mass—we ask God to, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Now forgiveness doesn’t mean we need warm fuzzy feelings for perpetrators of violence, like what they did or forget the trauma they caused. But it does mean we extend mercy even to our enemies, and what greater enemies do we have this week than these two men who bombed the innocent?
With respect to forgiveness, I have found that it helps to remember that these people are sons of God. Jesus died for them just like he died for us. We should pray for their conversion and salvation, as they need God more than ever. The man in captivity right now is a nineteen-year old kid who is someone’s son, brother and friend. This man needs Jesus.
The Christians of the early Church were known for their forgiveness. This week in daily Mass we heard about Saul and his conversion. Saul approved of the killing of Christians and was on his way to Damascus to rip families from their homes to subject them to arrest, torture and death. If the early Christians were not forgiving, we would have lost one of the greatest saints ever.
Finally, one image remains in my mind and heart during the marathon. Many of you probably saw the video footage of the seventy-eight year old man who was a few feet from finishing his forty-fifth marathon when the first blast went off. His legs buckled and he fell helpless to the ground. Not entirely sure what was happening, he received help from volunteers to stand back up and finish the race.
In the Office of Readings this morning, St. Gregory the Great said, “Anyone who is determined to reach his destination is not deterred by the roughness of the road that leads to it.” We will all be knocked down at some point in our lives to suffering and tragedy. At these points, when we are lying on our back and helpless, we must turn to God. We must seek the help of friends, family and the Church to get back on our feet and press forward to the finish line.
For our nation, the citizens of Boston and all affected by the bombings, we pray that God will give us the grace to turn to Him. While seeking justice, we ask for forgiveness for the perpetrators of this attack. We ask for God’s help to get back on our feet and continue running the race.
Friday, April 19, 2013
We hear one of the most dramatic conversions in our reading from Acts this morning. Saul, “still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord” sought permission to arrest and persecute Christians. On his way to Damascus, Saul was knocked down and heard a voice from the sky saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” What follows is the 180 conversion of Saul’s life from a foremost persecutor of Christians to the foremost evangelist for Christ.
We might look at our own lives and think, “My faith story is lame compared to this!” Yet we must remember that God works in both Paul’s and Peter’s. The former in more dramatic conversions and the latter among us who know Jesus and continue to seek conversions of depth.
The point isn’t so much how we came to the Lord, but that we came to the Lord. We have been blessed with the gift of Baptism which Paul experienced in Acts. We are blessed to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.
There are Paul’s and Peter’s in our faith community, but the point is that our stories connect to the story of the Eucharist which we celebrate momentarily.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Our first reading holds a special place in my heart, as my class chose this passage to be read at our ordination to the diaconate.
The heart of this passage is the most basic summary of evangelism—to spread the Gospel and bring people to the sacraments, especially Baptism. As a deacon and now as a priest, I take great joy in the gift to preach and baptize in ministry, following the ranks of men like Philipp.
While deacons and priests have an official call to preach and baptize, the call to evangelize is not limited to the ordained. In fact, the documents of the Second Vatican Council make clear that it is your job as the laity to evangelize the world.
We praise God for the gift of being converted by the Gospel and being brought into God’s family through Baptism. We also pray for the strength and wisdom needed to preach the Gospel at all times.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Next to my faith community and family, the greatest group I have been a part of is composed of runners. One of the consistent features of members of our running community is it made up of good people who embody discipline, encouragement and perseverance. Yesterday, this community was devastated by the two bombs that went off near the finish line of the Boston marathon.
Now this is no ordinary marathon. You can’t just sign up—in fact, you have to meet a time standard that is difficult to reach. Those running in Boston yesterday didn’t just achieve an amazing human feat—completing a marathon—but probably were achieving a dream of theirs. Some probably trained for years to make it to the starting line of that race—it took me ten years to qualify and it is still a dream of mine to compete in this world-class event.
This is a tragedy of bad things done by bad people to the innocent. In the face of such tragedies, whether abroad or in your own life, how are we to respond?
We have an exemplary model in our first reading today in St. Stephen. Here, too, an innocent man faced wicked men who stoned him to death. How did he respond? First, Stephen looked to Jesus and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Our first response to tragedy ought to be the same—looking to Christ.
Second, Stephen prayed for the very ones who were killing him. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Our first reaction to the bombings in Boston was probably one of revenge. Both analysts on TV and our leaders are promising justice, and to me I hear hints of bloodlust. Yet as Christians we must remember Jesus died for those responsible for this attack as much as you and me.
It is a good thing the early Christians took forgiveness seriously. Had they sought revenge by a death sentence they would have killed one of our greatest saints—Paul.
Today, or whenever bad things happen to good people, we ought to commend our spirits to God. We must also forgive. Only God knows the plans in store for the attackers in Boston and we must pray for their conversion.
We pray this evening for those who lost their lives in the bombing at the Boston Marathon. We pray for those in critical and serious condition now. We pray for the families, friends and spectators who saw atrocious things and who will be grieving this day for the rest of their lives. For those still reeling from this tragedy, we offer this Mass, asking that God may “…be [their] rock of refuge, a stronghold to give [them] safety. You are [their] rock and [their] fortress; for your name’s sake you will lead and guide [them].”
Monday, April 15, 2013
When we read or listen to the texts from the Bible we might think that unbelievers never had the chance to know God. Yet our readings today show differently.
The great deacon Stephen gave an inspirational witness to Christ. His audience, “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke” and despite seeing Stephen’s face “like the face of an angel” they stoned him. In our Gospel, the crowds ate the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish and heard Jesus say, “Eat my body…drink my blood.” Many deserted him.
C.S. Lewis once said that the same sun hardens clay and melts wax. We see this image in Scriptures as believes respond positively to Christ while unbelievers reject or desert him. But it is the same Christ who is presented to both.
We praise God for the gift of faith which brings us to Mass on this icy “spring” morning. And we ask God to give grace to unbelievers in our lives, that they too may follow God.
Peter is a fascinating man. For starters, he can’t catch a fish without divine intervention! (And in that regard he reminds me of my Dad!) But I’ll refrain from preaching about Middle Eastern fishing strategies from 2000 years ago.
On Passion Sunday and Good Friday we saw Peter’s denial of Christ. He was weak—scared to even admit he knew Jesus. Now we see him after being arrested for the faith confidently declaring, “We must obey God rather than men.” What happened? How did Peter go from being a coward to the strongest leader in the early Church and eventually give his life for the faith?
Peter had a conversion. Now this conversion isn’t a conversion in a strict sense. When I first think of a conversion I imagine Saul who was struck down and introduced to Jesus in a dramatic way. Paul did a 180 for Jesus. Peter, though, already knew Jesus. He followed him for three years, watching him cure, forgive and perform miracles. At one point Peter declared Jesus was the son of God. Peter’s conversion, then, was one of depth.
We see this conversion take place in the Gospel from today. Three times Jesus asks Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” After denying Jesus three times, Peter now affirms, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
When I first imagined this scene I pictured Jesus talking to Peter alone in a heavenly dimension. But remember, Peter’s fishing buddies were present and they all knew that Peter had denied Jesus. Thus Peter’s declaration of his love for Jesus is a public act.
When was the last time you told someone that you loved God or that you loved Jesus? Not that you believed in God or Jesus, but loved Him? I think this is what we need to do in our society to follow Peter’s call to love God over man.
Granted, this is becoming increasingly difficult. Our society has taken God out of public places. Violence and infidelity are staples on TV and movies. There is a different golden rule in place—he who has the gold gets to make the rules.
Is it easy to proclaim our love of Christ to the world? No. Yet we are not alone in this task. Peter showed by his conversion of depth that God’s grace is sufficient through the most difficult times—even when it cost Peter his life. I challenge you to tell someone you know that you love Jesus this week. Then watch as Christ draws you into deeper relationship with him as you continue to proclaim the Gospel which our world so desperately needs.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
The Pharisee Gamaliel utters quite a prophecy today. He says to the Sanhedrin, “So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Gamaliel’s prophecy has proved true today. Our Church is still standing 1.2 billion strong nearly 2000 years after Jesus Christ established it.
One of the greatest arguments that God indeed established the Church is to look at our history. We have survived early martyrdoms and persecutions, dark times, corrupt leaders and even recent scandal. There is no way we would have survived on our own power and I am left to believe only God could have ensured our existence for this long.
Sometimes I wonder what Gamaliel would think if he could see us now. I bet he’d say, “I told you so!”
This morning we give God thanks and praise for His great gift of the Church.
Four of my best friends live in Ghana, Africa. I attended four years of seminary with Frs. Albert, Kevin, Peter and Robert and was inspired to learn about their experience growing up and living in Africa. When we finished seminary, these men went back home to begin their ministry and I was blessed to visit them in Ghana and attend their ordination to the priesthood earlier this winter.
While an ocean separates us, we remain close. At a personal level we exchange calls and emails, but I am especially grateful for the connections we are making between our parish/school and their ministry. Many of you have given money to be sent to these men, our students are being paired with a Ghanaian pen-pal and our school just completed a Lenten “Give to Ghana” drive. I am appreciative to all of you who helped connect our students with our brothers and sisters across the pond.
I am excited to announce an opportunity to foster the relationship we have with the people of Ghana, Africa. This winter, Kevin Pilon and I will be leading a trip to the Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga in Ghana for an experience of a lifetime. Like the trip to Dominica last year, we want to provide our young people with an experience of a different culture and lifestyle while sharing our rich Catholic faith. We will have the chance to serve our brothers and sisters, meet several priests and religious, get to know parishioners and experience their way of life.Our plans are just getting started, but we will be having an informational meeting on Wednesday night for those who may be interested in attending. (Due to the nature of this trip, we have decided that young people must be eighteen years or older or be accompanied by a parent in order to come). Please stop by during our regularly scheduled Deep on Wednesday evening for more information on this great opportunity!
Thursday, April 11, 2013
“We must obey God rather than men.” These are the simple words of St. Peter having faced arrest and persecution for preaching the Gospel.
Many think we are foolish for our steadfast beliefs in God’s laws. Our Church is constantly in the news when she preaches the truth which does not always conform with the laws of our society. Yet many fail to see the truth that we ought to obey God and not man.
And we don’t obey an abstract bureaucrat. We obey a loving Father who sent showers His love and mercy on us daily. We obey God’s son who came as a man to die for us. And we obey the Holy Spirit who contains to make all things new.
“We must obey God rather than men.” Live out this call today.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Do you ever think times were so much easier in the early Church? I mean, today Peter was rescued from prison by an angel! I wish I had an angel like that for those 5:00am calls when Fr. Rich is locked in his room.
While great miracles happened in the early Church, I would argue the apostles may have been jealous of us. If the early Church is an acorn, we would be a well developed oak. And no nostalgic oak tree would want to go back to being squirrel’s prey!
Yes, great miracles happened in our early Church. But today we have access to countless more. We now have a mature understanding of Christ’s continuous miracles in the Sacraments. We have 2000 years experience with the best and brightest men and women this earth has seen. We are founded on the witness of the saints and the blood of martyrs. I bet Peter and the like would stand back and wonder at the great gift of the Catholic Church.
Perhaps we should do that today.
One of the most painful experiences in growing up is to have your heart broken. In college, I had such a tragedy which, as an analytical person, it made no sense. On paper, we were perfect together, but the sad reality was this girl didn’t love me. (Now I’m sure you’ve never had a heartbreak ending to a relationship—you’re probably the heart breakers!)
In true love, both the mind and heart are in sync. In fact, there are times love is able to look past difficult traits in a person where reason would say otherwise. C.S. Lewis once quipped that if our friends knew our weaknesses and idiosyncrasies up front we may have no friends at all. Yet the love of a friend sees past deficiencies.
There is a powerful line in our first reading from Acts: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind…” One mark of the early Christians was that their love of God and belief were in harmony.
We must strive to live out this call in our lives as individuals and as a Church. Sometimes this may be difficult—there may be a teaching on faith and morals we don’t understand or that may be confusing. Yet the Church is truly of one heart and mind and her teachings make sense. Maybe not at first glance, or even after several approaches, but they do. And if we are in love with God these personal challenges can be overcome.
Be in one heart and mind with our Church by following Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel—to look first to heavenly realities and then to earthly. When we focus on God, we are more open to have unity in mind and heart and this will show in our daily lives.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
In the summer of 2002 I traveled with a couple hundred of people from the Diocese of Duluth to Toronto, Canada for World Youth Day. During this time we gathered from hundreds of thousands of youth around the world to celebrate our faith with Blessed John Paul II.
On the morning John Paul II was to arrive my friends woke me up at 5:00am. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten up that early! We traveled three hours by bus and train to the airfield at which thousands of us would gather. We arrived at 8:00am, thinking there would already be crowds gathered. We were met by a flock of geese. We found a spot right on a fence where the Holy Father would pass by. (Ironically, I first met Fr. Rich on this trip. He got there at 4:30 while we had waited all day!)
One of the guys in our group said, “Look at the sun.” We didn’t think this was a big deal until he pulled out the passage from Acts we heard today: “Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.” Based on the sun, the successor of Peter would be passing over us.
I’ll never forget when John Paul II arrived. As he made his way through the crowds on his popemobile, it was as if bombs of grace were exploding. People burst out into tears, laughter and applause as he rode by. And yes, his shadow passed over us.
John Paul II exhorted us, as he did so often in his ministry: “Do not be afraid.” He meant this in a variety of lights, encouraging us not to be afraid to put God first in our lives and to follow His will. Yet on Divine Mercy Sunday—which John Paul II inaugurated in 2001—I am reminded that he encouraged us to not be afraid of our sins and weaknesses.
The fact is, each of us sins. John Steinbeck painted a vivid image of our human depravity in one of his books. He said that each of us has a dark cesspool in our souls filled with wicked monsters who try to crawl out. This dark pond is something we are often ashamed of and keep to ourselves. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, do not be afraid to give God your sins and weaknesses.
In our Catholic faith, we can approach God’s mercy in many ways. But first, we must change the way we think of God Himself. With tax season on my mind, I think we often consider God as something like the IRS. At best, it is some distant bureaucracy that we must give our money. At worst, when we are in deep debt it is a group of sharks demanding every cent. God is not the IRS. He is not a distant accountant demanding payment for every sin and misstep. He is a loving Father who gave His only son to pay the debt of our sins.
After rising from the dead, Jesus spoke to his disciples. Now if I saw a man who had risen from the dead, I would be taking notes. And one of the first things Jesus said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained…” Jesus gave us the sacrament of Confession at which we can receive God’s mercy.
Do not be afraid to receive God’s divine mercy today. Remember He is our loving Father, not the IRS. Because we end the Easter octave with Divine Mercy Sunday today, I will be in the sin bin after Mass. Please come to receive God’s mercy.
St. Peter’s declaration is a good humility check for me as a priest. After the crippled man was healed he said, “You children of Israel, why are you amazed at this, and why do you look so intently at us as if we had made him walk by our own power or piety? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus…And by faith in his name, this man, whom you see and know, his name has made strong…” We priests see God’s powerful work on a daily basis. I must always remember this is God’s work, not mine.
This fact, that God is at work in our Church, reminds us that we can trust her. For example, many question the Church’s teaching about the priesthood—that priests can’t marry and that women can’t be priests. We can trust God is still at work and has chosen the priests He has called.
The same Jesus who rose from the dead, ate with his disciples and was present with them after his resurrection, is still working today. For this reason alone we can have great faith in the Church he established.