Saturday, August 31, 2013
Why we strive for hospitality: Daily Mass Homily--Friday, August 30th, 2013 (Sisters of St. Scholastica)
I can’t think of a better antithesis (at least on the surface) in the Scriptures for the virtue of hospitality you Sisters of St. Scholastica live out. I picture ten of you bridesmaids with your lamps (that you give to each graduate of the college!) waiting for the groom. I can’t imagine any of you refusing to share your oil with someone without it.
Yet we must remember the context of this passage. Jesus is not teaching us to refrain from generosity or service. This section, towards the end of the Gospel of Matthew, is meant to prepare the disciples both for when the Lord would leave this earth and the end times.
Jesus is teaching us that, at the end of the day, each of us makes a choice that only we can make—choosing God or rejecting Him. This can be painful, especially for those of us yearning to give Christ’s love to those who have not yet experienced it.
I pray that your example in hospitality and generosity may be an inspiration for all who receive it. You do not simply care for the elderly, support the poor or welcome college students here on campus. In doing these acts of kindness, and many others, you are witnessing to God’s love in the world. May your example help others to choose God in their own lives.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
John the Baptist's call to chastity: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, August 29th, 2013 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist)
It is fitting that the precursor of our Lord preceded Jesus in both birth and death.
It is crucial to understand why John the Baptist was martyred: “John had said to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” Presumably Herod was a lustful man. Against the law he took his brothers wife—his sister-in-law. Then he was “delighted” by his young niece’s dance…creepy. John the Baptist stood for the good news of marriage and chastity.
In the United States our culture is failing in chastity. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar institution. The divorce rate is nearing 60% and many marriages fail from infidelity. Couples are living together before marriage, contraception is the norm and primetime television features fornication, adultery and affairs. We have even lost an understanding of what marriage is.
God does not make up arbitrary rules to keep us from having fun. In our human sexuality we receive one of God’s greatest gifts—so good that when a man and woman unite (please, God, this is in marriage) a new life may be formed. Through His Church God shows us the road to true happiness and fulfillment through chastity.
Everyone is called to chaste living whether single, married or in religious life or priesthood. We strive to honor the great gift of our sexuality, to make decisions that affirm our call to be united with God and neighbor based on our age and state of life.
We are called to witness to chaste living in our world which is desperate for this good news. We are also to take a stand for the truth—in love—by promoting a culture of purity and reverence for God’s gifts.
In this task we ask St. John the Baptist, pray for us.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
St. Augustine's conversion through Scripture: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 (St. Augustine)
Yesterday we celebrated the model of intercessory prayer St. Monica. Today we rejoice in her son St. Augustine.
Augustine lived a wayward life. He was a womanizer and had a child out of wedlock. He bounced around from several pagan religions and erroneous philosophies. For much of his life he sought the truth in his mind. He ended up receiving a conversion of heart.
Augustine’s conversion came thanks to two verses from Scripture. While in a garden he heard a child’s voice tell him, “Pick up and read!” He opened to the thirteenth chapter of Romans and read: “…let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:13-14). When I read this I first thought this seemed like a regular section of Scripture. I didn’t experience a major life conversion after reading them.
Yet Augustine, “in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God…” His conversion shows the great power of the Scriptures. He was meant to be converted through a small section of Romans, even though this passage was written 300 years ago to an early Christian community. So too, passages in the Bible will jump out at us if we but pick up and read.
St. Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Would that each of us would rest in God through resting in the Scriptures.
St. Paul sets forth a basic goal for each of us in that we should live, “not as trying to please men, but rather God, who judges our hearts.”
St. Monica did this well, especially with her son Augustine. While Augustine lived a life of debauchery and jumped from one foreign philosophy to the next, Monica pleased God by continuing to pray for him. She lived out St. Paul’s tender analogy: “Rather, we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.”
Each of us knows someone who is not walking in the fullness of the faith. Whether it is a child, friend, coworker or loved one, St. Monica is the one for us to ask for prayers. She lived many decades yearning with all her heart for her son to meet Jesus. And thanks in part to her prayers, he did.
Monday, August 26, 2013
The mission of Catholic Schools: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, August 26th, 2013 (Catholic School Teachers day of reflection)
I can relate well with St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians this morning: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen.”
The we in this passage today refers to our bishop, priests, parents and parishioners around the Diocese. We are all grateful for your service to teach our children at our Catholics schools and are proud of the work you do. More than this, God Himself is pleased by your work of faith and labor of love.
The goal of Catholic schools is simple: let the children come to me. Teachers, bring your students to Jesus. That is by far the most important part of your job and call.
In order to bring your students to Jesus you must continually bring yourself to him. Always remember that God delights in you. He delights in you not only for the good work you do at school and at home. He delights in you despite your weaknesses, sins and shortcomings. He delights in you for you. Period.
In His delight, God gives us simple ways to receive His love and mercy. We begin our day together by coming to Mass—the source and summit of our faith and life. We receive God Himself in our own bodies. Wherever you are at in your faith, please come to Mass. It is the place to experience how much God delights in you.
God also gives us the sacrament of Confession. Confession is the best. A simple three to five minute—perhaps awkward—conversation and your sins are forgiven. Boom. Please come to Confession and experience God’s delight for you in His mercy.
If you fall in love with God—if you fall in love with the Mass and Confession—your students will be led directly to Him. Fall in love with the God who delights in you and continue to bring your students to Jesus.
In a recent phone conversation one of my best friends said to me, “Fr. Ben, you need to let that go.” I was telling Josh about the newest string of nightmares I have had. In consecutive nights I dreamed that I was sent back to seminary for more formation, and way behind in my math homework. I remember telling myself that I needed to get Josh to pound out my homework to catch up. That’s when he said it was time for me to move on.
As our children and teachers prepare for another academic year, there isn’t much I miss about gearing up for classes. But one thing I do miss, even after many years, is getting ready for cross country season. Especially in these hot and humid days I find myself lacking in motivation to get out and exercise. Having a team to run with kept pushing me to become better and was fun at the same time.
Reminiscing about cross country was in my mind as I read from our second reading—“Endure your trials as discipline…all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain.” Any athlete knows that not every moment of practice or games is fun. It takes hard work, conditioning, strength training and studying to become a good athlete and teammate.
Being a Christian is no different. Jesus never said it was easy, but he did give us a team in which we could be pushed, encouraged and strengthened: the Catholic Church. And he instructed this team to go out to all the world and convert nations. Yesterday in the Office of Readings for St. Bartholomew the Church prayed, “For the good deeds done by tax-collectors and fishermen through God’s grace the kings, philosophers and countless multitude could not imagine.” A small group of men and women indeed spread the Good News to all the world. And they did this because they exemplified discipline in by focusing on the most important part of life: living in relationship with Jesus.
We are continually called to grow in discipline of living out the faith. God wants to be ever present in our daily and weekly schedules. In a special way, today’s readings provide an opportunity to consider how focused we are on making Him a part of all we do and are.
Jesus calls us to preach the Gospel to the world. This may seem daunting or even vague, but he asks us to allow him into our world. Like a good teammate we are called to make our family, workplace and classroom better. Is Christ present in these places?
How are you called to be more disciplined in the faith?
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Usually you have Fr. Brian on Thursdays, but I was asked to fill in for him today. I knew why he wanted a sub after I read the readings today. Father, preach about a man who sacrificed his only daughter to a group of Sisters!
First, let’s be clear that Jephthah’s vow was foolish and wrong. God did not ask them to do this, nor did He approve of such a horrible offering. Human sacrifice has always been condemned by the Israelites and Christians and in no way did Jepthah act well.
Yet as this obscure passage from Judges is from the Bible it does contain truth. First, it illustrates the sanctity of vows in the Old Testament. While Jepthah’s vow was rash, the fact that he made the vow and followed through with it shows the seriousness of promises among the Israelites. The fact that Jephthah’s daughter also held to this vow—and gave her life—only supports this fact.
Second, it shows that we must be careful with what we promise to God. Jepthah’s will was not God’s. The man without the wedding garment in the Gospel was not prepared to enter the feast. So, too, in our own battle with sins and vices we can stray from God’s will in our life and fail to uphold the promises we make to Him.
Today we celebrate the Queenship of Mary. I was wondering if we could have different readings to better honor her! Yet Mary shows how to fulfill a vow. She said yes to the angel Gabriel and continued to be faithful to this yes for the rest of her life. Plus, her promise to God was in perfect relationship with God’s will for her.
Today we ask our Mother to pray for us, that we may be faithful to the vows we made in religious life and priesthood and that we may conform ourselves to God’s will.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
This isn’t exactly the Gospel I would have chosen the day after the beautiful wedding yesterday.
At Mychal and Melissa’s wedding we perceived a taste in the cloud of witnesses that Hebrews describes. Their family, friends and relatives were at Mass for the purpose of rejoicing with these two and giving glory to God. Yet as we prayed for Mychal’s grandparents and Melissa’s grandfather I was reminded that there was another dimension of witnesses with us—the angels and saints in heaven. We are called to live among these men and women both on earth and in heaven.
We believe that the Church is one and this unity is forged in friendship. We can infer such a friendship existed between Ebedmelech (what a great name for future children) and Jeremiah. After Jeremiah was dropped into the muddy well, Ebedmelech approached the king—at the risk of his own safety and life—to ask for Jeremiah to be released. When Ebedmelech was given permission to do so he even dropped cloths to Jeremiah to put under his arms to avoid getting a rope burn on the way up. Ebedmelech showed bravery and tenderness for his friend.
Finally, Christ reminds us that we will find division in this world. Please, God, may we be in families who are not divided. Mychal and Melissa give us hope for united families, especially in the faith. Yet we know that families can be torn apart by the choices people make, especially when some choose not to have a relationship with God.
We are called to be examples of unity as we strive to remain in the cloud of witnesses. We must hold fast to our Christian friends and family to support each other in a world of division.
Our reading from Judges is obscure this morning, but as we continue through this intriguing book it is important to remember the repetitive cycles which Judges records.
Each cycle begins with Israel being in a period of peace both with God and with the neighboring nations. At some point Israel then breaks the covenant with God, usually falling to idolatry. Israel then is defeated by an enemy—symbolic of being defeated by sin. They eventually plead for mercy and God grants them peace and victory once more through raising up a judge to lead them.
The cycle in Judges is one we experience in our own lives. There are times we live in harmony with God and neighbor. Yet each of us sins, bringing upon ourselves division with our relationship with God, family and friends. Please, God, we repent and convert once more and enter into a state of grace again. This is the story of our Christian journey throughout our lives.
The Gospel emphasizes that God is generous with His gifts. Many of us know family members, friends, children and others who do not yet walk closely with God. We can take great hope that, even in the last hours of the day, God is ready to bring people into His vineyard and pay them a just wage. Our job is to seek out the idle and invite them to come to God, joining us in the mystery of sin and redemption along the way.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Gideon expresses to God what many of us think today: “…if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” Gideon wanted to know where God was in the midst of the Israelites’ subjection to the Midianites.
Today we only need to read a newspaper or watch the news to wonder where God is in our society. In fact, one of the greatest challenges that nonbelievers raise to believers is: “If there is a good God, why does so much evil happen?”
We approach evil much differently. With the eyes of faith we can observe the presence of God all around us. He is with us in the Eucharist, Scriptures, poor, nature and wherever two or three are gathered in His name.
When we see darkness around us we look with the eyes of faith to see God at work and trust that He can accomplish what for us is impossible.
The most important item in the Old Testament is the Ark of the Covenant. This ark was initially held in the Meeting Tent which traveled along with the Israelites in their wanderings in the desert. Actually, it was God’s presence at the Ark that led the Israelites in their travels. This Ark contained three items: the Ten Commandments, manna from the desert and Aaron’s staff which had budded. The only reason for the temple—to which much of the Old Testament is devoted—is to provide a permanent place for the Ark.
Mary has rightly been called the New Ark of the Covenant. In holding Jesus Christ in her womb Mary held the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments, the true bread from heaven and the fulfillment of the Old Testament priesthood.
In a sense, each of us becomes a mini Ark of the Covenant. We hold the Holy of Holies in our bodies when we receive the Eucharist and in our minds when we read and pray with the Scriptures. We are called to emanate God’s glory to those around us that they may perceive God’s presence as the Israelites did in the Old Testament.
In seeking to follow God and imitate the perfect disciple of Jesus—Mary—it is well to ask today, “Am I being a good Ark?”
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Fire of prayer: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 (Memorial of St. Maxmilian Kolbe) (CSS)
The heart of your call to religious life is in our Gospel today: “…amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Your call as Benedictine Sisters is stated in Benedict’s Rule: work and prayer—ora et labora.
Your life is built around prayer and your prayer is powerful. In particular, your communal prayer for the needs of our community and world is essential for us all. In a society which is driven by goals, results and success, we may be tempted to think prayer is unimportant. I have seen as a priest elderly people, the sick and people confined to their homes often face this temptation. Precisely the opposite is true! Prayers of the elderly, homebound and sick are especially powerful.
I appreciate your diligence in your prayer. I love how you remember to pray for the weak, sick, hungry, poor and marginalized. I encourage you to stretch yourselves in prayer as we all need to do this. Remember, Jesus asked us to pray for our enemies. We are called to pray for people and situations we personally may not like or prefer. In all such circumstances we pray for God’s will to be done.
We celebrate the memorial of St. Maxmilian Kolbe who took the place of a married man and father in a Nazi death camp. Maxmilian gave his life—his blood—so that others may live. While you will probably not shed your blood in this way you live out a different sort of martyrdom—what the saints often refer to as a white martyrdom. You have been chosen to step out of the world in order to pray for the world. You have been chosen to ensure prayer is constant while married men and women, students and others live busy lives.Finally, I love our Responsorial Psalm—“Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!” What a vivid and poignant image. May your souls be filled with the fire of God’s prayer. May your community be filled with the fire of prayer.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
There are many false conceptions, false images of God. Some individuals imagine God as an impersonal deity far removed from our world. Others treat Him like a vending machine, coming to Him only in crisis. Still others think He is a bully Who can’t wait to pour His wrath upon sinners in judgment.
For many years I pictured God as a crabby teacher. He sat behind a desk with a big red marker and glared at me as I answered the questions in the test of life. I tried to do everything perfect, only to see my test flooded with red ink and a big F on the top.
Through revelation we learn, however, that God is much different than such notions. He is our loving Father and our readings indirectly affirm this truth. Moses, near the end of his life, encourages the Israelites: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be in dread of them: for it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”
Kids will often banter, “My dad could beat up your dad.” Moses is saying, “Our Dad can beat up ANY dad!” As our Father God protects us. He preserves us in harm’s way and provides for all of our needs.
In the Gospel Jesus shows that we must be childlike to be great in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus teaches this because children are solely dependent on their parents. So too, we are 100% supported by God and all that we have and all that we are is thanks to His goodness.
In my own Christian journey as I struggle with weakness and sin, I often picture myself as a child learning to walk. I stumble, stagger and often fall down. You moms and dads know what it is like to help such a child. When they fall, do you yell at them? Do you tell them, “Come back to me when you have it figured out.” Or rather, do you not encourage them, cheer them on and hold them after a fall? God does the same for us. As we learn to walk with God we often stumble and fall, and as our Father He is there to embrace us in His love and mercy.
What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of God? Try picturing Him as your loving Father.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather not be beaten at all.
“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” I didn’t fully appreciate how comprehensive the study of faith could be until I went to seminary. There is the Catholic faith which we profess. There is faith from the perspective of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Faith is essential for salvation, so it enters into discussions about justification and redemption. It can be approached through the various lenses of the Church in different times and societies.
The text from Hebrews just quoted is the basic definition of faith: it is “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”
As good as it is to study faith from a variety of perspectives, or to know this basic definition, we must always remember that faith is simply an experience—an encounter—with Jesus Christ. It is to be lived, not only learned. That is the goal of the Year of Faith which Pope Benedict called and which Pope Francis will conclude. It is the major thrust of Francis’ first encyclical, Light of Faith, and saturated his homilies and talks at World Youth Day.
How is your faith? How is your relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you walk with him every day? Do you pray? Is he your friend?
In our Christian journey it is helpful to look at models of faith in our lives. Throughout this Year of Faith the Northern Cross has been featuring a column entitled Cloud of Witnesses that highlight men and women from our diocese who live our Catholic faith to the full. I could write many such articles about you and continue to be inspired by the faith you live out.
The Bible—beginning with some of the early chapters of Genesis—holds up Abraham as the father of faith. The letter to the Hebrews reflects why this is so. First, Abraham had a deep trust in God. He left his home, career and family to follow God’s will. Could you do this?
Second, Abraham believed in God’s promise of bearing life, even at the ripe old age of 90 (while his wife Sarah was 100). You sixty, seventy and eighty year young folks, imagine having a child now! Imagine believing that you could conceive in your later stages of life! Yet Abraham’s belief shows that faith always produces life.
Third, Abraham was willing to give every gift he received back to God. He was tested and asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. He was ready to, even though it was only through Isaac that God’s promises of a multitude of descendants and an inheritance of land could come. Abraham gave everything to God and we should do the same. Everything we have and are come from God’s goodness.
Finally, Abraham was a deep man of prayer. He talked with God frequently. He listened to God. In our age of texting, tweeting, instagramming, snap chatting, do you spend as much time talking with our Lord as you do on your phone?
In his encyclical, Pope Francis notes that “The Christian faith is faith in a perfect love.” I invite and encourage you to be immersed in this love through your faith.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Each of our readings this morning refers to a rock.
As the Israelites continue to wander in the desert, they continue to complain. Today they are thirsty. Rather than praying to the God who brought them out of slavery and through the Red Sea, they hold a council against Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron, though, respond in a better way—they go directly to the meeting tent in which God resided. God listened to their pleas and quenched the Israelites’ human thirst with water from a rock.
In the Gospel, Jesus takes his disciples to Caesarea Philippi and Peter utters his famous proclamation: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then gives Peter his name (until this point he was referred to as Simon) which actually means rock and gives him the keys of heaven and earth. This whole sequence took place beside a massive rock structure—100 feet high and 500 feet wide. (No, Fr. Rich, this is not a monadnock). Jesus uses this tangible image of strength and endurance to show how His Church would be established on Peter, the rock.
As great as Moses, Aaron and Peter were, we must remember that they are not perfect. Moses and Aaron didn’t follow God’s command to the full—did you notice what they failed to do? God commanded Moses to command the rock to give water. Moses struck the rock with his rod. And Peter is no better. Just after being given the keys, Peter denounces Jesus’ explanation of his upcoming passion: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus replies, “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
We must always remember Who the rock really is: “Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.”
God blows away human expectations. In a sense, God is revolutionary in His goodness.
In Numbers the Israelites check out the land they are to inherit. They come back scared, thinking it would be impossible to take that land as the men there were bigger, stronger and more numerous. Yet they eventually did.
In the Gospel, a non-Jewish Canaanite woman approaches Jesus, begging him to heal her daughter. Jesus seems cold, if not mean, in his response. At first “he did not say a word in answer to her” and when he did respond he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” And to call this woman a dog! Dogs were not domesticated in Israel—when we hear this we shouldn’t think of a cute puppy, but a large varmint.
Yet we know Jesus never sinned. Jesus is not insulting this woman—simply receiving her presence was already breaking Jewish law—rather, he is providing an avenue for her to express her faith. She did and her daughter was healed.
God continues to work in revolutionary ways beyond our human conceptions today, especially through His Church. Many think we are old-fashioned or even bigots. Yet Christ’s Church does nothing less than revolutionize the world. Imagine finding someone on the street and telling them, “I just received Jesus’ Body and Blood in what looked like bread and wine.” That would blow their mind! Or consider the high divorce rate in our country. Some complain, “What? The Church teaches I must be faithful until death! No divorce?” Or remember that our Church for 2000 years has been the biggest supporter of the poor, hungry, homeless, sick and weak in the entire world. We go against societies that leave such people behind and treat them like Christ.
God wants to revolutionize our world today. We must have faith—like Joshua, Caleb and the Canaanite woman—in God and in our Church to do this.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Fair is fair and after being quizzed yesterday at Mass by Fr. Rich I have a question for him. And I am betting him five dollars he won’t know the answer. Fr. Rich, what is the geological term for Mount Tabor? [“I never took geology"…silence.] Monadnock, obviously. I would also have taken inselberg, but thanks for the five dollars.
I mention this because Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration, is indeed a unique structure. It is an isolated mountain rising in the middle of the flat Jezreel Valley. When I went to the Holy Land I visited Mt. Tabor and some of my classmates got carsick driving up and around its sides to get to the top. I can only imagine Peter, James and John as they followed their Lord up the hillside…what a climb!
Mountains are fairly common in the Bible. Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount. Peter was given the keys of heaven and earth at a giant rock structure in Caesarea Philippi.
Both Jesus and the sacred authors of the Bible use characteristics of nature to teach spiritual realities. Whenever we hear of a mountain in the Scriptures we should immediately think of heaven. These awe-inspiring physical landmarks indeed rise to the heavens. Jesus intentionally brought Peter, James and John to the top of Mt. Tabor to show the heavenly reality of his presence on earth.
Peter responds, “Master, it is good that we are here…” We can say the same when we climb the mountains of our faith: the sacraments. It is good to participate in heaven kissing earth at Mass. It is good to climb God’s mountain of mercy in Confession.
Like Peter, James and John, we are called to come down the mountain after being fed from heaven. We are called to return to our work, all the time seeking others to join us on our return to the mountain top.