Friday, June 28, 2013
The Scriptures emphasize the importance of names. A name is more than a label—it is a sign of a person’s being. It is especially important to note when a name is changed in the Bible—Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul and Jacob to Israel are some examples.
Two people receive new names in our first reading. God gives Abram the new name Abraham: “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” Sarai receives a new name as well: “As for your wife Sarai, do not call her Sarai; her name shall be Sarah. I will bless her, and I will give you a son by her.”
I admire the fact that sisters and brothers in religious communities often receive a new name when they profess vows. As a priest, I am slightly jealous that I didn’t get a new name at ordination. (If I had, I would have wanted Sebastian—my patron saint and athlete). For priests, instead of a new name, we get the Fr. in front of our name. This was definitely something I had to get used to, especially hearing “Fr. Ben” from men and women who could be my grandpa or grandma! Yet I appreciate being called “Father” because it reminds me that I am called to be someone different than Ben Hadrich. It is a daily reminder to live out God’s will in my life in a new way.
I wish I could hear everyone’s name-story here at St. Scholastica. Did you receive a new name? Did you take your Baptismal name? Choose a new name with the help of your superior’s? Whatever your story, your name as a Sister is a sign of the new life God has called you to.
During our times of reflection during Mass today, think about your name. Ask the saint—patron, chosen, familial or otherwise—to pray for you. And ask God to bless your continued vocation to which He has called you.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Women, never give your husband a concubine. What a strange situation in our first reading, so I’ll preach on the Gospel.
Since Martin Luther, there has been a debate between faith and works. Luther said that faith alone can save us. Catholic theology is much different. We believe it is grace alone that saves, and we must live in this grace by both faith and works.
One of the passages to which we can refer in this conversation is from our Gospel: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.’” Faith and works can never be separated.
We come to Mass this morning in faith to receive God’s grace. We pray this grace fuels us to charitable works in our lives today.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Abraham is rightly known as the Father of the faith.
Today we catch a glimpse at a conversation between God and Abram. Here God promises Abram a multitude of descendants and abundant land. As a sign for this promise, God asks Abram to count the stars—that is how many descendants he will have. Abram, though childless in old age, believes God.
Yet we must observe one vivid image. Note—God asks this question during the day, not at night. Later in the passage we read, “As the sun was about to set…” and “When the sun had set and it was dark.” Thus, Abram couldn’t even see the stars when God asked him to count them. And Abraham believed.
Faith is not believing what makes perfect sense. While faith and reason never contradict and always complement each other, true faith involves mystery, or truths we might not first be able to see. Anyone can believe what they personally think is right, or seems to conform with society. Yet true faith is shown when such personal obstacles are overcome. Yet like the stars, which are hidden from our sight during the day, so too is Jesus Christ always present in our Catholic faith.
To be honest, I struggle sometimes seeing Jesus in the rubrics of the Missal, or in the canons in the Code of Canon law. Yet, like Abram, I must have faith to know he is present.
What are the issues you find difficult in the Church? Is it a moral teaching? Something we do at Mass? What difficulties does your order face in the world, Church and faith?
Be like Abram, who did not simply believe in what made sense or what was clearly seen. Be like the Father in faith and trust in God’s Church even when it is difficult.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
As we continue to walk through the Sermon on the Mount we come to the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”
This summer our youth minister Kevin—this week at VBS it is Sir Kevin—and I are reading John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. This teaching came from over 100 of John Paul II’s Wednesday audiences in which he reflected on what it means to be a human person especially in our sexuality.
John Paul II takes the Golden Rule as a basis for how we are to treat others, especially within our sexuality and vocation. First, he notes that we must never merely use a person for our own desires. Second, because we are each created in the image and likeness of God, the only proper response to another is love.
Many in our world do not live out the Golden Rule. Jesus tells us as much: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” We Catholics must treat others as we want to be treated to help others find the narrow gate to life. We must never use others but must rather love and inspire others to do the same.
Monday, June 24, 2013
Christ must increase, I must decrease: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, June 24th, 2013 (Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist)
St. John the Baptist’s entire ministry can be boiled down to one simple line: John 3:30—“Christ must increase, I must decrease.”
Throughout his life, John always pointed to Jesus. In his mother Elizabeth’s womb he leapt for joy when the Blessed Mother approached with the incarnate Word. He spent a life in prayer in the desert, praying for the coming of the Messiah. He proclaimed that the time for repentance had arrived and directed the crowds’ attention to Christ, the Lamb of God.
During this time St. John the Baptist exemplified the virtue of humility. Indeed, he too had been foreshadowed in the Scriptures and was to be the greatest of men born of woman. He was the new Elijah, coming to herald the Messiah’s arrival. Yet he never drew attention to himself: “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.”
“Christ must increase, I must decrease.” Do you live like this?
First, I am happy to report that we had two ordinations last week that were very inspiring. My good friends Blake Rozier and Tim Lange were ordained to the transitional diaconate on Thursday and will be ordained to the priesthood next summer, God willing. Nick Nelson, Mike Garry and Eli Gieske were ordained priests on Friday. I am very excited to have these new priests to work with, especially as they studied in Rome the last four years. I want to thank each of you for praying for vocations in our diocese and please continue to ask God for an abundance of priests.
The past few weeks my Dad and I have been keeping tabs on the NBA playoffs. He has a cell phone now and finally learned to text, which makes watching the games away from each other more fun. On Thursday my Dad and I watched the finale of one of the greatest NBA Finals series. At some point in the game he expressed a sentiment we both share with professional hoops: “Every time a player is called for a foul they whine and complain. No one ever fouls!” Unless it’s the other team.
We can be the same way with sin. We know sin exists by looking at the world around us. We may quickly see the sin in another person—a spouse, child, coworker, friend or complete stranger—but do we admit when we sin?
Every now and then you will see an old school basketball player who, when called for a foul, will raise his hand as if to say, “Yep, that was on me.” It is refreshing seeing a player admit his mistake and move on with the game. Do you do this after you sin? Do you raise your hand to God, spouse, child or other, do take responsibility for your action?
Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised…” You might be tempted to blame these elders, chief priests, scribes and other hypocrites for the crucifixion but not so fast…it is your sins and mine that nailed Jesus to the cross. We should thus follow the prophecy of Zechariah: “…they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.” It is wise, at times, to grieve for our sins because they really killed Jesus.
After we do, we can then tap into God’s mercy and forgiveness. This grace is foreshadowed in the earlier lines from Zechariah: “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition.” After owning up to our sins we ask for forgiveness. We do this on a few occasions at Mass, in our hearts and especially in the sacrament of Confession.
You may wonder why Fr. Rich and I preach about Confession so much. It is not because we are bored and have nothing to do. Well, I’ll speak for myself there. Fr. Rich is bored with nothing to do since I got here! We do so because we love you and want what is best for you. I go to Confession every week or two because I need it. I’ve experienced God’s healing and love regularly in this great sacrament and I want to be a bridge to this same Source of mercy.
That said, there are only two answers to bring light into a dark world. First—Jesus Christ. There is no answer to evil except in Him. Second—instead of fixing what is outside of us, we must be transformed within. If everyone in the world could look into a mirror, see and take responsibility for their sins and ask forgiveness, the world would be a completely different place.
Like an old school basketball player, admit your faults honestly and in humility to God and others and then seek forgiveness.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
We have each prayed the Our Father hundreds, if not thousands of times in our lives. Some of you even started praying it aloud as I read the Gospel! In order to heed Jesus’ teaching—“In praying, do not babble like the pagans…”—it is important to reflect on this prayer.
First, this is the only prayer that Jesus explicitly taught us to pray. Think of that…the man who cured, forgave, instructed and drove out demons gave us one prayer. Thus, the Lord’s Prayer should be near and dear to each of us.
Second, this prayer has power. I have witnessed on numerous occasions the efficacy of our Lord’s words around a hospitable bed, after an accident or near death. Many times men and women who have been away from God for decades cry in remembering these words and seek His love once more.
Finally, our Catholic faith offers us many opportunities for such prayers that become part of who we are. Often those with severe loss of mental capacity can still pray the Our Father. Others are able to mouth the words in their final breaths.
We will pray the Lord’s Prayer in a few moments, as we do at every Mass. Don’t let a day go by where you don’t say for yourself the words our savior taught us.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
After a brief hiatus, my commentary on the Scriptures resumes. We pick up in the New Testament, beginning with the Gospel of Matthew. Eventually I will be writing an introduction to the four Gospels, but I will first provide some thoughts on the books of the NT individually. Matthew can be found here.
“…the abundance of their joy and their profound poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”
I can’t think of a better way to describe my good friends from the Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga in Ghana, Africa. As many of you know, I had the privilege to study with four men (Frs. Albert, Kevin, Robert and Peter) from this diocese who became some of my best friends. Last winter I was blessed to travel to their home country to take part in their ordination to the priesthood.
This experience was one of the greatest blessings of my life. I was inspired by the hospitality, joy, generosity and welcome I received. Two examples come to mind to explain. First, my good friend Albert’s family lived in the country and only received electricity at their home a few years ago. Imagine this! normal people like you and me without electricity. Yet when I arrived at their house there was a comfy reclining chair and an ice cold beer waiting for me.
Second, on our last evening I asked Fr. Ezekiel (a priest from their diocese who was ordained a year before me) if any shops were open to pick up some gifts for my family. They weren’t. He called someone he knew to open his shop and I was able to pick up a few items. I went to pay and Fr. Ezekiel said, “No, no, no. You are not paying for these.” I answered, “Um, yes I am. That’s what you do when you buy something!” “You are my guest. It’s taken care of.” Here was a priest who did not earn a salary (like I do) paying for my gifts! That is hospitality.
I have found it true that the people we Americans consider poor are actually more joyful and generous than our culture. With all the resources we have, we can start thinking that we are self-sufficient and hold desperately to my stuff. Other people who have less than us recognize what is truly important—God, family and sharing gifts we have. We must counter such temptations by cultivating hospitality in our own society to share the abundant gifts we have been given.
I am excited that a group of 28 of us will be traveling to Ghana to visit our brothers and sisters in Navrongo-Bolgatanga. My prayer is that this experience will help our young people, parents and teachers reassess what is really important in our lives and bring the spirit of joy and generosity back to our parish.
A very happy Father’s Day to all Dads and Grandpas. I am pleased to wish my own Dad a happy Father’s Day as he is present at Mass this morning. As he walked into church this morning we both wished each other a good day as I celebrate my first Father’s Day as a priest. I hope my parents didn’t get me too large of a gift. (Note the sarcasm!)
We have some powerful readings about forgiveness this morning. First, we see David called out for his sins. This great king, with riches, power and ability beyond imagination, fell hard. He lusted, lied, murdered and committed adultery. Yet David quickly showed contrition: “I have sinned against the LORD.” God immediately forgives David his egregious sins: “Nathan answered David: ‘The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.’” The Gospel records a sinful woman who fell at Jesus’ feet in penance for the sins everyone knew she had committed. Jesus uses her humility to teach that love comes from forgiveness.
I would ask all of you—especially our fathers—to consider two crucial features of living out the Christian life. First—are you a man who asks for forgiveness? Do you regularly go to God in your heart, at Mass and especially the sacrament of Confession to ask of God’s mercy? I have found that Dads who go to Confession bring their whole families to this great second. Additionally, do you apologize to your wife when you are out of line? Sometimes the three words “I am sorry” are more difficult for men to say than “I love you,” but they are just as important. Do you swallow your pride and ask forgiveness from your wife? What about your children? After losing your patience, acting out of anger or messing up in another way, are you man enough to seek your children’s forgiveness?
Second—are you a man who forgives others? Do you show love and mercy to your wife when she sins against you? Do you welcome your children back into your arms after they make a mistake? Do you forgive your coworker that annoys you? Are you able to forgive, as Christ does, the most wicked in our world?
Dads—part of your job is to maintain your relationship with God, wife, children and others. This requires being forgiven and then forgiving. Are you doing this?
Finally, on the day we celebrate our earthly Dads, we must not forget to praise our heavenly Father. In fact, any time our Dads act well—by showing love and mercy to all, procreating life, providing, protecting and establishing their families—they act as icons of the Father. They give us a hint of God who created the entire cosmos and knit us in our Mother’s womb all the while sustaining our being.
Today we thank God the Father for our earthly Fathers. We pray that they may be men who receive and extend forgiveness as they strive to be Fathers as God Himself is.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Many people ask me how a priest figures out how to preach everyday. I follow a few rules to assist me. First, brevity is best. Second, I must make fun of Fr. Rich. Finally—and the most serious—is what St. Paul states in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord…” A priest or deacon must always preach Jesus—neither himself, an agenda nor anything else. This is also true for all of you as you live your promoting not yourself, but Jesus.
St. Paul has another nugget we must all live by: “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” We are able to live in freedom when we follow Jesus’ teachings—especially those on which we currently meditate from the Sermon on the Mount.
In this great discourse, Jesus fulfills the Old Law and teaches that in order for us to be free, we must live in love with God and neighbor. We must not live in accord with a simple checklist of do’s and don’ts, but to treat others as we wish to be treated and God above all else.
Today, may we both follow the example of St. Paul by preaching Jesus Christ and not ourselves, and also live in the freedom of the Spirit.
If you were to pick one verse to summarize the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the first verse this morning wouldn’t be a bad choice. Matthew 5:17 reads, “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.’”
In reading from Matthew, we must remember that he was a Jewish convert to Jesus. Not only this, but also he wrote with a Jewish audience in mind. The structure of his writing, the numerous Old Testament references (greater than the other three Gospels), and the theme of Jesus’ as fulfiller of the Jewish Law and prophets all helped Matthew write in a convincing manner to his audience.
We continue to read from the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus’ definitive fulfillment of the Old Law. St. Paul states, “the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life.” The letter here refers to this very law that was intricate and judicial in nature. This letter literally called for the death of people who broke the Law. I, for one, am glad Jesus’ fulfilled this law as it would be no fun sitting outside of Duluth for a week after touching a corpse at a funeral!
Jesus came, not to make the Old Law irrelevant but to show at what this Law aimed—love. We are called to live in accordance to Jesus’ teachings, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, in order to love God and neighbor well.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
St. Barnabas, son of encouragement: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 (Memorial of St. Barnabas)
Towards the end of the school year a number of our students received letters from their pen pals from Ghana, Africa. It was cool reading through the names of these students which were clearly Christian: Faith, Charity, Mary, Fidelis (Latin for faith) and even Patience. In the Scriptures, names are significant—especially when they are changed. Even today some cultures name their children for a virtue or quality they pray the child will grow into.
St. Barnabas’ name was actually Joseph. He received the name Barnabas—which means son of encouragement—after the apostles witnessed his encouragement, support and zeal among the early Christians. After arriving in Antioch Barnabas “saw the grace of God…rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.”
In our world today we need more encouragers like Barnabas. Each of us appreciates being affirmed and loves a compliment, so why not give these out abundantly to others? When we love someone, we must never tire of letting them know of our love. So, too, we must be diligent about affirming our family, friends and coworkers.
On this memorial of St. Barnabas may we also be sons and daughters of encouragement.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Today is an important day in my life as it marks my second anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate. Truth be told, I was much more nervous for this ordination than for priesthood because it was when I promised to live out the call to celibacy.
I remember several years in my life, especially in seminary, focusing a lot of time and energy thinking, praying and asking about God’s call in my life. Where was He calling me? What would make me the happiest? Many college students I’ve worked with have similar concerns and can obsess on God’s call.
Yet I learned that vocation isn’t so much about me, but about others. God has given me (and each of us), gifts and talents, not for ourselves, but to put at the service of others. This is precisely what St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God…If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”
God gives us good and allows us to experience evil in our lives. None of this is to be kept to ourselves and wasted. If we are suffering, we must do so for others. If we are joyful, we must share this joy with our neighbor.
No matter what vocation we are in, God asks us to allow our experiences—both good and bad—to serve God and each other.
As the seconds waned down in the 1980 semifinals of the men’s hockey Olympic tournament, Al Michaels uttered one of the most famous sport’s broadcasts: “Do you believe in miracles?!” Indeed, the severely outmatched United States team beat the Soviets in improbable fashion. The game itself has since been known as the Miracle on Ice.
We frequently use the word miracle to describe incredible events. For instance, when I saw that we would have six days of sun in a row after this depressing spring, I called it a miracle. If Fr. Rich cooked a meal I would say the same. Someone who won the lottery would as well.
But we must remember what a true miracle is. A miracle is an event that takes place from God’s direct intervention in the world he created that reverses, suspends or overlooks what is possible at the natural level.
I just finished reading C.S. Lewis’ work Miracles, and I highly recommend it if you are looking for a summer read. In it, he argues that there are two types of people in the world—those who believe in miracles and those that don’t. Those that don’t he calls naturalists because they believe this world is all there is. Our society could qualify for this camp as it is driven by scientific proof and skeptical, even critical, of believing in something beyond this world. He labels supernaturalists as those who believe in miracles, convicted that God created all that we know and from time to time directly alters worldly events. C.S. Lewis notes that we Christians must believe in miracles because our whole faith is based on them.
We see this first hand in the Scriptures—the book of miracles. Each of our readings contains impressive miracles wrought by the hand of God. In the first reading and Gospel, God raises the dead—a child and man respectively—through the hands of Elijah and Jesus. Not only do these miracles show God’s power over life and death, but also His generosity to those in dire need. In both cases a widow’s livelihood was at stake and the gift of new life was able to provide them with food, home and company. No human power could ever do this.
Then in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he recounts how he learned about Jesus: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul did not study Christ’s life and work from humans, rather, he received a divine experience from the resurrected Christ.
C.S. Lewis also speaks of the Grand Miracles which found our faith. The first is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This miracle can only be called grand as God stooped down to become one of us, sharing in our human nature in all things but sin. And as a bookend to the incarnation, Jesus Christ—crucified and died for our sake—rose again from the dead. In both cases, God showed His power by entering into our own lives in the most real way possible and by redeeming us when it was impossible for us to do so.
In 1980 Al Michaels described a hockey game as miraculous. This was done to highlight the improbability of a sporting outcome. Yet the line he uttered is worth pondering as Catholics and so I ask you this morning, “Do you believe in miracles?”
Saturday, June 8, 2013
In our long first reading from Tobit there were some rich insights about the love of a man and a woman.
First, Tobias and Sarah’s meeting was no accident: “Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven!” For you husbands and wives, never forget that God knew of you and your spouse’s path from all eternity.
Second, in the midst of a society where marriage and family life is crumbling, we are reminded of the purpose of marriage. Tobias wisely states, “Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose.” The sacrament of marriage is meant to lead a man and a woman to heaven, having a companion to walk with on the way.
Finally, Tobias and Sarah found their marriage on prayer. On their wedding night the first thing they do is to get on their knees and pray together. If you spouses aren’t already, be sure to incorporate prayer into your marriage. Take a lesson from these two and pray from your knees before bedtime.
Marriage is a great gift from God that many of you are blessed to experience. Take a lesson from these two and pray on your knees with each other every day.