Wednesday, July 31, 2013
One of God’s great gifts to us is light. It was one of His first creations and we would be lost without it. We can see the gift of light in a variety of ways. Imagine a beautiful sunrise (not that I’ve seen many of these), or sunset. Picture the child whose nightlight scares away the monsters. Or consider on the celebration of the Easter Vigil in which the Paschal candle is processed in through the dark and then everyone’s candles are lit.
Moses face was actually illumined after speaking with God. He radiated God’s love so much so the Hebrews had him wear a veil. We, too, are called to shine in the same way.
In this Year of Faith, Pope Francis has given us his first encyclical: Lumen Fidei—Light of Faith. Now some of you gave me homework assignments while I was a student here and others even gave my Dad homework at the old Cathedral. I would ask you to do a homework assignment: read Lumen Fidei. I have been working through this slowly and it is nothing short of enlightening. In this work, Francis declares: “The light of Christ shines, as in a mirror, upon the face of Christians…”
One way people can perceive this light in us is if we exude his joy. In one of his homilies to the young people at World Youth Day our Holy Father said, “Dear friends, if we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new wine which Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy. Christians are joyful, they are never gloomy. God is at our side…Christians cannot be pessimists!”
Are you a joyful person? Does your joy radiate like light to others? My prayer for you and your religious community this day is that the light of your faith may shine. May it shine through the joyful way you approach your vocation and serve God and neighbor.
In our reading from Exodus we heard, “The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.” In another translation this same text is translated, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Here we can observe Moses approaching his friend—speaking, pleading and praying to God.
Moses and Abraham were the only two men in the Old Testament that were called a friend of God. Usually they, like everyone else, were called servants or slaves of God. Jesus changed such descriptions. He told his disciples, as he tells us, “No longer do I call you servants…I have called you friends.”
Last week, Pope Francis encouraged the young people at World Youth Day to become friends of God through the light of faith. Our Holy Father inspires us in our daily walk with our friend.
Are you a friend of God’s? Is He your best friend?
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Billy Graham once quipped—“If God doesn’t judge America He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Today we enter into the detailed dialogue between God and Abraham. God was on the brink of destroying Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness—inhospitality and the desire to abuse. Abraham intercedes for these people, “chipping away” at God’s plan until they agree that if ten righteous people were found in these cities, they would be spared. The end of the story, though, is that Sodom and Gomorrah were in fact destroyed. This implies that there were not ten righteous men and women in these cities.
Our country—the United States—has many similarities with Sodom and Gomorrah. We live in a society in which our human sexuality has been brutalized over the past few decades. Sodom and Gomorrah did not have a multi-billion dollar pornography business. Nor did they have sexting. Infidelity in our country is far too common, as is cohabitation, contraception and the like. Our culture has even lost its sense of what marriage is. Added to this, we live in a country which supports abortion that kills many innocent unborn babies each day. Materialism, individualism and relativism are the norm.
Now I am not asking God to smite us with sulfer from heaven, or point fingers, but this reading from Genesis begs the question—are there ten righteous people in our country? Are there ten righteous people at St. John’s?
I hope so. I hope we are of the ten. We must be of the ten in order to save our society!
In dark times like this, we must be guided by the light of faith. Indeed, Pope Francis has providentially given us his first encyclical called by this very title—Lumen Fidei—light of faith. I encourage you to read it as it is nothing short of God’s inspiration for us. In it, our Holy Father writes, “Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not. Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.”
We can gaze on another light of faith occurring in our world today. As we celebrate Mass in Duluth, Minnesota, Pope Francis is celebrating Mass with three million young people from around the world in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. They are gathered to celebrate the faith throughout World Youth Day. Earlier this week, Pope Francis encouraged the young people: “In the face of those moments of discouragement we experience in life, in our efforts to evangelize or to embody our faith as parents within the family, I would like to say forcefully: Always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you! Let us never lose hope! Let us never allow it to die in our hearts!”
God is near us. You have been “buried with [Christ] in Baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God…” You can trust in God! You can trust in His sacraments! You can trust in His Church and in her teachings! The same God with Whom Abraham pleas says in our Gospel, “…ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Ask. Seek. Knock. Pray that God may give you the courage and confidence to be near Him. Ask, seek and knock that you may be one of the ten righteous. Pray that your family, friends and coworkers may be as well. Be one of the ten and reflect the light of faith to our world.
Saturday, July 27, 2013
Why do we have the Ten Commandments? Some, outside the faith, would suggest that this list is similar to other Ancient Near East cultures and was necessary for the stability of Israelite society.
Yet through the lens of faith we know of a more important reason. We believe we are each fallen creatures. Because of original sin, we know that none of us—or any society—could come up with and follow a perfect code of conduct. Indeed, since everyone is fallen, our intellect and will are not always in sync with what is truly good and coming up with a rule of life is impossible at the human level. Thus, God intervened in our history giving us the Ten Commandments to give us a guide to show how to love God and neighbor.
Today is an important feast in the Church—the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim. In your community this day has been especially revered as many of you received the name Anne in your new religious identity. This feast represents a break from original sin in the human family. Through Joachim and Anne’s love and intimacy, they conceived the Blessed Virgin Mary. We believe they conceived, through God’s grace, a child who did not inherit original sin, thus the Immaculate Conception. Mary was the only human who lived out the Ten Commandments to the full.
It is fitting that many of our sisters have the name Anne. This is a sign that sin stops here! In receiving this holy name you emphasize your public witness to live a life of holiness and strive for purity in a dark world. You show your desire to love God and neighbor in your daily lives, seeking to glorify His name in all that you do.
May you continue to follow God’s will in your life, and on this great feast for your community, be strengthened in holiness.
“We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” The saints exemplify this passage from St. Paul in showing that everything good comes from God and that within our earthen bodies we hold a great treasure.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. James, the brother of John and one of Jesus’ closest disciples. James followed through his promise to the Lord: “‘Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?’” They said to him, ‘We can.’” James didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk and was the first of the apostles martyred for the Lord.
In giving being killed for the faith, James understood clearly that, while his earthen vessel was destroyed, the treasure within flourished. Would that we had the courage to live—and die—like St. James.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
You probably know that the Israelites ate manna in the desert for forty years. What you probably don’t know is that they were creative in preparing manna—they had to in order to keep their diet interesting. Did you know they made mannacoti? Or mannawiches? Or, my personal favorite, mananna cream pie?
Those Israelites. They just came out of the Red Sea on dry land and are already complaining about their empty bellies. Instead of seeking God, who is above, they desired to be filled from what comes from earth—the fleshpots and bread of Egypt.
Our first reading leads us to consider how we must be fed on earth. There is both a physical and spiritual way to ask this question. Because we have spiritual ministers at Mass today I’d like to focus on the latter.
People today are starving—and I’m not talking about food. They desire to be satiated and seek all sorts of earthly means of nourishment—money, drugs, alcohol, self-help books and the like. Yet as spiritual ministers—religious, priest, lay faithful—we must help feed people with what comes from above.
What comes from above? The easy answer is God—and this is the only one Who can feed His people. We cannot and should never settle for making our ministry about ourselves or any other mere-human affair. The Eucharist is the food which we have been given to be fed and we must draw people to Mass. The Scriptures—the seed planted on various soils—is God’s Word that can nourish, heal and strengthen.As we strive to live our vocations to the full and assist in feeding God’s people, always do so by seeking the food that comes from above.
Our opening collect for the Memorial of St. Bridget states: “O God, who guided Saint Bridget of Sweden along different paths of life…”
St. Bridget did indeed live an interesting life. First, she had eight children which should be cause enough for being a saint. After her husband died she lived a disciplined life of the third degree of Franciscans. She started a religious order—the Bridgetines—and chastised the popes who had moved from Rome to Avignon, France. Here she did not spare words! Along the way she had many mystical prayer experiences which can be read in some of her books.
St. Bridget lived out God’s call in her life and proved Jesus’ words, “…whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”Wherever we are in our own vocation, the same God who opened the Red Sea has called us to a particular mission in our lives. May we recommit ourselves this morning to this call he has given us.
Monday, July 22, 2013
Our first reading gives a great principal for our spiritual lives. On the brink of fleeing from the Egyptians, Moses encourages his fearful people by saying, “The LORD himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”
Each of us will face temptations and persecution from evil. At such moments we may naturally ask, “What can I do to fight?” The answer is given succinctly by Moses—we do not fight. We let God fight. We only have to keep still. Our Psalm this morning speaks of God’s majesty—He is gloriously triumphant, magnificent in power, a warrior and a savior—and this is the one Who fights our battles.
The saints are a great witness to humility in the spiritual battle for souls. Mary Magdalene was delivered of seven demons, not by her own power, but by the power of Jesus Christ. She was sent as the apostle to the apostles, not from her initiative but Christ’s.
This morning renew your trust in God. He is the one who will fight whatever battles you are facing today and in the future.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
When I first think of hospitality I picture my friends in Ghana, Africa. When I visited last year I was inspired by their gracious welcome everywhere I went. No matter the place I was offered water and food and was always told, “You are welcome here.” This came from people who—materially speaking—had little compared to us in the United States.
The Israelites prized the virtue of hospitality. We see an example of this in our first reading as Abraham saw three strangers standing idly by. He says to them, “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree.” Abraham hosts his guests to a meal and takes care of them, even though they were strangers. It was not uncommon for strangers to be taken into an Israelite’s home, not only being nourished but also having their flocks cared for as well.
What Abraham did not know was that he was actually hosting God—the three men were actually angels of the Lord. This is a crucial point and shows that when true hospitality is practiced we not only serve others, but also God.
Martha missed the boat here. While hosting Jesus, she begins to complain at the lack of help from her sister. She was overly concerned with the details and lost sight of why she was serving in the first place. She wanted everything perfect but neglected who her guest was. Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.”
Many of us have had a chance to host an event—a wedding, Baptism, grad party, dinner or other simple gathering. I have noticed Mary’s and Martha’s at some of these events. Some people get it, understanding that the point of service isn’t to look good or have everything perfect, but to show love and graciousness to others. Others, like Martha, become so consumed with details that the event loses its value. At times you wonder if they’re even enjoying the experience.
The next time you host an event, remember who you are serving—God and neighbor. And don’t forget Jesus’ words to Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.”
Friday, July 19, 2013
Today we hear God’s instructions to Moses about preparing the Passover Lamb. Obviously these go much deeper than preparing a dish of mutton.
The Passover Lamb was to be pure and undefiled. It was to be slaughtered and its blood spread on the lintels of the doors in order for the angel of death to pass over an Israelite’s home. It was to be eaten.
Jesus is the true Passover Lamb. As an innocent man his blood was spread on the cross in order for us to pass from sin and death to virtue and life. God has kept His promise to Abraham: “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.” He has indeed insured that all generations celebrate this perpetual institution through the Eucharist. We take part in the feast of the Lamb every time we come to Mass.
At every Mass a priest will raise the Body and Blood of Christ and declare, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” Once more we will respond, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter my roof, but only say the words and my soul shall be healed.”
More ink has probably been spilled on our first reading from Exodus 3 than any other text in the Bible. In it, God reveals His name to Moses: “I am who am.” In Hebrew, this phrase is abbreviated by YHWH and this name has been studied so much it has been dubbed the Tetragammeton—four letters.
The name of God was so sacred in Jewish life that it was replaced in the Scriptures by titles like el shaddai or adonai. This was also designated in the Greek and Latin translations and can be seen in our English Old Testaments whenever you see the word LORD in capital letters. Because of the unusual structure of this name, it was only spoken aloud once a year by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement because uttering this name would be claiming to be God. If a Jew spoke this name he was punished with death.
We could learn a lot from the Jews in respecting God’s name. Using God or Jesus Christ as a filler, response or for any other reason but prayer is common in our society. In the course of the day we probably hear it in public, on TV or in music, or perhaps say this several times. We are indeed to “invoke his name” as it contains power, but never to use it idly or otherwise. And when we hear someone else take God’s name in vain we should quietly say a prayer to give His name the honor that was neglected.God’s name is powerful. Through it we pray, bless and receive the sacraments. We must strive to keep His name holy in our lives and witness to this in a world which often does not.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
I love summer, even this hot and sticky weather. Though I do find myself missing something during these summer months—something I wouldn’t have guessed last summer—the children at school. Working with our elementary students has been nothing short of a blessing for my priesthood. Their innocence, zeal, honesty and unconditional love are refreshing on a daily basis.
Jesus frequently uses children as an image in teaching. Today he says, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” I have seen first hand how a child’s faith is often greater than an adult’s. Some of the smartest men and women are atheists (i.e. Stephen Hawking). Many theologians and scripture scholars in the academic world have lost their faith.
Of all the qualities we should emulate in children, two stand out today. The first is curiosity. Children always ask questions and desire to learn, even in issues that are not politically correct or those which we adults often shy away. They want to know about everything around them. The second is trust. As a priest, I don’t need to convince them of my credentials as a priest or show them my academic degrees. They believe what I teach them about God, the Church and life.
Moses exemplified the qualities of curiosity and trust as a child would. When he saw the burning bush he did not say, “There must be some scientific explanation for this,” or, “I must be hallucinating.” In childlike wonder he said to himself, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.” When God spoke Moses trusted. He didn’t question if he was dehydrated and hearing voices—he believed.
Foster curiosity about God, the Church and your vocation. Ask questions, seek answers and then trust in God and His Church in their reply.
Throughout history God has always raised up saints to lead his people.
We begin the story of one of the great men in salvation history—Moses. Today he is spared the death sentence of Pharaoh in order to one day follow God’s will and lead the Israelites out of slavery to Egypt.
In recent times he gave us John Paul the Great in the midst of communism, secularism and the sexual revolution. In the midst of poverty-stricken India he called Blessed Mother Theresa to serve the poor. In our own neck of the woods he sent men and women like Bishop Baraga and Monsignor Josef Buh to evangelize far from home to unchurched people.
As we heard the condemnations of various cities in Israel, I couldn’t help but picture Jesus chastising the United States. We live in a country that has lost the sense of marriage, experienced broken family life and supported abortion. We must take seriously Jesus’ words: “For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Through these dark times, God will continue to raise saints to lead his people. You are these saints called to bring God’s love and mercy to our world.
Monday, July 15, 2013
The scholar of the law asked one of the most important questions any human person can ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Moses told the Israelites that this answer was something they already knew: “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky…nor is it across the sea…No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
Jesus answered this question with the parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable we all know well.
The characters in this parable say a lot. The first two—the Levite and the priest—misunderstood the heart of the law and instead sought to fulfill the letter of the law. They avoided the robbed and beaten man as it would have been a breach in Jewish cleanliness to approach a man who was bleeding without knowing if he was a Jew or not. The Samaritan—one of the hated members of the Jews’ enemies—acted with mercy and compassion, soothing his wounds and caring for this downtrodden man.
It is important to remember that the Levite and the priest were not actually living the Law to its full. The scholar of the law cited the heart of the commandments well—“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Yet this same man stumbled in that he wanted to be justified in his own life. He was looking for a checklist of do’s and don’ts from Jesus rather than the point of his relationship with God and neighbor.
This man probably did not at first recognize who Jesus was. Most likely he thought Jesus was a good man or even a teacher (as he addressed Jesus). Yet Jesus is no ordinary good man or teacher: “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible…”
Jesus came to blow open the doors of the Old Law. He made it clear that the heart of our lives ought not be a checklist of do’s and don’ts—in which many Catholics think our Christian lives consist—but of being men and women of love and mercy.
After telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked the scholar, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered Jesus wisely, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus told him, as he tells each of us today, “Go and do likewise.”
Joseph, the main character of the last several chapters of Genesis, lives in God’s providence.
As an innocent man Joseph faced many hardships. While God’s plan was revealed to him at a young age, he was rejected for speaking about it. His own brothers kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. While in slavery he was loved by Pharaoh’s officer Potiphar but was eventually accused by his wife of raping him. Joseph was then imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, only to be sought to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Eventually Joseph became Pharaoh’s right hand man and while holding this prestigious office delivered his own family from the famine.
Joseph understood that God’s will had indeed been done through these various trials. When he was finally revealed to his brothers he told them: “I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”
Joseph shared many qualities with the longed for Messiah. Both Joseph and Jesus Christ were innocent men, sold into slavery and incriminated on false accusations. Both began their public work at the age of thirty. And most importantly, both followed God’s will and showed His providential hand in their lives.
We pray that we, too, may live out God’s will in our lives no matter where the journey leads.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
If you lost sleep last night wondering why the Israelites couldn’t eat the sciatic muscle of an animal, there’s your answer. What is the sciatic muscle, anyway?
We hear another story of a name change in the Scriptures. Jacob receives the name Israel as he strove with God and man. This name, and person, is important in salvation history because it is from Jacob/Israel that the twelve patriarchs come.
One of our former parishioners received a new name last week. Megan Crain, who finished her first year with the Handmaids in New Ulm, received the name Sr. Amata Mariae—Mary loved. I love the tradition in religious communities of receiving a new name to symbolize a new state in life.
We priests don’t get a new name, but we do take on the title Father. After a year, it now sounds natural to hear my name called—Father Ben. And I love hearing myself called this, not because I am better or more holy than anyone, but because God chose me to live in a new way as a priest. Some people shy away from calling priests Father but know it is helpful for me to be addressed in this way. Whenever I hear myself called Father I receive a simple reminder of my call in life.
And we must not forget each of us have received a Baptismal name to reflect our new relationship with God and His Church. In fact, this is part of the Rite of Baptism as the priest or deacon asks, “What name do you give this child?” These names don’t stand out too much in our culture, as many of our birth names are Christian names. Yet in other cultures, Christian names stand out as a witness to a different sort of person.
As names signify a different state of life, we pray that we may live up to the calling God has given each of us. May we act as men and women in love with the Lord.