Wednesday, September 18, 2013
St. Paul was a mentor to Timothy, and the letter we heard this morning is an example of Paul assisting Timothy’s ministry. As an older and more experienced preacher and evangelist, Paul had a lot to offer to Timothy in his youthfulness. It would be like Fr. Rich—the old priest—sending me—the toddler priest—a note of encouragement.
Such guidance is important in our lives. I need someone like Fr. Rich to help me learn how to be a priest well and he needed examples in his own life when he was younger (a long time ago!).
St. Paul tells Timothy, “Beloved: I am writing you, although I hope to visit you soon. But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God…” Behaving in the household of God refers to two different places.
First, it refers to how we act in God’s house—in church. Our Kindergarteners and First graders have been learning about how we behave during Mass. We remain quiet to listen to God, fold our hands, bless ourselves with holy water when we come in and genuflect before the tabernacle. Each of these helps us to behave well in God’s house.
Second, we are members of God’s household even when we are not in church. Thus, God asks us to behave well at home, in class, with our friends and to be obedient to our parents, teachers and coaches.
We thank God for letting us be members of his household and do our best to behave well in God’s house and in His household.
There are a number of wrong perceptions of Jesus in our society that I would like to point out this evening. First, Jesus is not dead. Secularists see in Jesus a man who was a decent teacher and humanitarian but one who died centuries ago. One philosopher—Friedrich Nietzche—even said, “God is dead.” Yet we know that Jesus is not dead—he has risen and that is why we are all here tonight. A bumper sticker captures this reality succinctly: “‘God is dead,’ Nietzche. ‘Nietzche is dead,’ God.”
Second, Jesus is not a wienie. He was not and is not a pushover where “anything goes” so long as we love. Jesus is the most powerful man of all time—not in the ESPN Strongest Man competition sense—but in the fullness of his humanity. He expelled demons. He combated enemies of true religion. He healed, cured, forgave and taught with authority. He even raised the dead to new life as we hear in our Gospel this evening.
Third, Jesus is not some amorphous blob somewhere else in the universe. He seeks each of us out at a personal level and yearns for you. He becomes little for you to receive in the Word of God and the sacraments.
Finally, Jesus is not a loner. While he wants a personal relationship with each of you, he is not satisfied with you alone. He wants your peers, classmates, teammates, family and friends. He wants this chapel to be packed on Tuesday and Sunday evenings. He wants the lines to Confession to be so long we need more priests to hear them all.
Trusting in the resurrected Jesus—the powerful Jesus—we thank him for loving us. We pray for the grace to introduce him to others on campus and in our classrooms who do not yet know of his great love and mercy.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
As we began a new school year my candy basket is in action once more. Once a week I visit the classrooms with my basket and if a student has memorized a verse, they get a piece of candy.
At the start of the year, some of our students wonder how they could memorize parts of the Bible. Over time we get into where to look for verses and how to remember them, but my first task is to show them they already know a lot of the Bible.
We can see this first hand in our Gospel: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…but say the word and let my servant be healed.” This is one of the many lines at Mass that we Catholics know by heart—and it is in the Bible.
The Scriptures play an essential role in the Mass. The first half of the Liturgy is devoted to the Liturgy of the Word. Our greeting, Holy, Holy, Holy, Our Father, Lamb of God and consecration all come from the Bible. These verses we do know well.
We Catholics must daily read the Scriptures and strive to read, pray and memorize. But we are very blessed in that we do each of these each time we come to Mass. And when the kids figure this out, the candy practically jumps out of my basket.
One of the greatest joys of my priesthood is hearing Confessions. It is such a humbling privilege to speak the words of Christ to those desiring his love and mercy.
Many people get nervous when someone mentions Confession, especially if it has been awhile since you have been to the sacrament. Some might even fear what the priest will think or say if you tell him how long it is been. I have found that quite the contrary is true. Not to rate Confessions—they are all miracles of forgiveness—but some of the most powerful Confessions I’ve heard have come from men and women who have stopped in for the first time in years or decades. Knowing this makes me more inclined to show Jesus’ compassion and mercy. Don’t be afraid to come.
In one sense, it is good to feel guilt, shame or nervousness examining the sins in our life—this shows we have a working conscience that wants us to do better. But in another sense, these feelings may distract us. What I mean is, overemphasizing such emotions may prevent us from looking at God. It is helpful to get outside of our own sinfulness to remember God and His infinite mercy, love and compassion.
That is what our readings are about today. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” God is the one who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to search for you. He leaves the ten coins to search for you. He is the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son—which could just as well be called the parable of the Merciful Father. After his son essentially wished his father’s death to get his stuff, left home and squandered the money in a life of dissipation involving prostitutes, where was the father? He was still on the road. And when his son had a conversion, the father went out to him. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”
Jim Gaffigan, a comedian, once said that the pig is the greatest recycling program in the world. You give it an apple and it makes bacon. You give it garbage and it makes bacon. Now bacon is objectively the greatest food, but I would disagree with Mr. Gaffigan. Confession is the greatest recycling program ever. We give God our worst and He gives us a new slate. We go in sinners and come out living saints.
As we start a new year of religious education, I want to affirm our youth minister Kevin. Kevin is one of the best in our diocese and the reason he is so successful is that he leads our children to Jesus, especially in the sacraments. Each week at The Deep he brings a small group into church so they can receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. Our children at school, The Edge and The Deep are great examples of coming frequently to Confession.
I invite you once more to come to Confession. Following Mass I will hit the sin-bin, and if you are so moved—especially if it has been a long time—please come to the God who loves you more than you can imagine.
Discernment to the priesthood, religious or married life can take some time. But I knew after three days living in seminary that I was not called to religious life. This is not to say I don’t admire sisters and brothers living in community, but the sharing of residence, bathrooms, showers and space—in short doing everything together—wasn’t for me. What a gift to see you all who have given up everything—even your personal space—to follow the Lord.
Our Gospel is a good one for you Sisters who live in community. Some of you have lived, worked, ate and prayed together for decades. You know each other very well and can readily see each other’s gifts and weaknesses. Jesus words are especially important for you: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”
Living in community brings with it the temptation to compare yourself to others or to judge others. Here we must always remember that we are not perfect either. We must look in the mirror and allow Christ to root out the log in our own eye before we can help our sister root out the splinter in hers.
Praise God for your community and continue to let Christ’s words help you live well together.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
St. Paul gives us a great charter for Christianity in his letter to the Colossians. And the crowning jewel of this is love: “And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.”
Jesus shows us what this love entails: “…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” It is easy to love those who love us in return, but Jesus calls us to the radical love that extends even to our enemies. He calls us to love the terrorists in Syria, to do good to those who hate us and to pray for those who mistreat others. While we don’t accept acts of terrorism on innocent victims, we must love the same.
This radical love was first shown by Jesus. He died for those who killed him and blessed those who cursed him.
We must show such radical love in our lives today. On the brink of possible military attacks, our country should note that we Christians are men and women of love, and of peace.
Seek what is above in national and international tragedy: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
This morning my pastor preached about the attacks on September 11th in 2001 at our school Mass. It was interesting that most of our kids weren’t born by 9-11 and have no memory of what happened.
Now I may not be thirty yet, but I remember well the terrorist attacks twelve years ago. I walked into Spanish class to start the day and the room was completely silent with the television on. We watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center and the collapse of the towers.
As an immature Christian my first reaction was a desire for vengeance. I remember telling my friend Aaron (over instant messaging), “We should blow Afghanistan off the map.” Aaron, who was a good role model in my faith and far more mature than I, replied, “No. We don’t respond to violence with violence.” Aaron showed a mature approach to tragedy—he lived out St. Paul’s exhortation to “seek what is above.”
Today our world faces other terrorist attacks in Syria. Leaders are gassing their own citizens—innocent men, women and children. In the United States many are seeking vengeance on those responsible, a natural earthly reaction to tragedy.
As Christians we must be witnesses of peace. We need to pray for the innocent in Syria who have lost their homes, families or even lives. We need to hold our brothers and sisters who are now refugees in our thoughts and prayers. We must pray for the conversion of those responsible for horrendous crimes. And we must pray for a peaceful resolution in Syria.
As we remember those who fell on 9-11 we pray for the grace to be men and women of peace. We pray for the grace to be men and women of prayer.
Just so you know, I am still excited not to be back in classes again.
Speaking of classes, our readings caused me to think of one of the courses I took at seminary—ecclesiology—the study of the Church. It is in such study we examine why the Church looks like it does today—why we have a pope and bishops, male priests and the authority inherent in Church hierarchy.
Many in our society belittle our Church. They think she is old fashioned and in great need of updating. Yet our readings show why we can trust the Church, even two thousand years after her founding. First, St. Paul notes that in Jesus “dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily.” Jesus is no ordinary individual starting a human institution—he is God—and he established a divine institution.
Second, St. Luke records that, “Jesus departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles…” Jesus did not establish the Church willy-nilly. He prayed for an entire night, speaking and listening to His Father before choosing the leaders of his Church. And later he promised that he would be with us until the end of the age.
In a society which thinks little of the Church, we have great reason to have faith in her today.
Monday, September 9, 2013
As Catholics we have a rich understanding of suffering and that suffering can be redemptive. In our first reading we heard one of the most important verses in Scripture on this topic. St. Paul writes to the Colossians: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church…”
Paul didn’t just make this teaching up—it came from Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus taught, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” On the road to Damascus, our Lord asked Paul himself, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
We believe that our Church makes up the mystical Body of Christ. When one of the members of the Church suffers, so does Christ. Thus, when we suffer well we do so not merely for ourselves, but for Christ.
May God give us the grace to offer all that we suffer to Him.
In college I learned to despise trail running. Now some of you may despise running period, but bear with me. Whenever our coach told my team to hit the trails I cringed. Inevitably we would run far longer than we were supposed to. It always seemed to be the hottest and most humid day and we went without water. And we couldn’t stay on the well groom trails—we went bushwacking through hip-high weeds. Worst of all, we would get lost without fail.
This summer I have been exploring the trails once more. I was in Hartley with my friend Zach and the old panic I remembered well crept into our run. We had been going for twenty-five minutes and didn’t know where we were. Luckily we got on a trail that led us to the top of a large hill, on which we could look over all of Hartley and Woodland. Because of this vantage point we were able to get back on track and as I am here today you know that I lived.
When faced with day-to-day decisions—both large and small—we at times proceed with confidence, at others caution and still others confusion. Sometimes life is like being lost on the trails—it can be tiring, frustrating and confusing. The book of Wisdom says as much: “For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty…”
It is in such moments that God provides us with a vantage point to guide us; namely, detachment from earthly possessions. Jesus says in the Gospel, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Now Jesus is not giving us permission to fight with our siblings or family, but is showing us that “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
I have used an activity with kids to illustrate this point. I ask them to list things they like and when they say, “My dog,” “Dairy Queen,” and “Nintendo,” I put a zero on the blackboard. Then I add my own likes—country music, fishing and running. After everyone has had a chance to speak we are left with a number of zeroes on the board. I then ask what number is there. You mathematicians know that any number of zeroes still is zero. Then I tell the kids, “Watch this…” and I put the number one before all the zeroes. Now what was nothing becomes a huge number.
This is what Jesus is saying in the Gospel. At an earthly level we have many likes, but if God doesn’t come first these are really worth nothing and can become a distraction. But if God is first, all that is around takes on eternal value. Plus we are able to have a heavenly vantage point on the path of our life.
Don’t be like me running around Hartley aimlessly. Put God first and you will receive a unique vantage point on life. Give God everything you have and are and you will have direction, especially in the moments of confusion.
Last Wednesday I was caught in the excitement of our first day of school at St. John’s. I had just made lunch and was walking over to the teacher’s lounge when I looked at my watch. Immediate panic set in as I realized I had eight minutes to get to Mass with you! I threw down my lunch, grabbed my truck keys and was lucky I didn’t get a ticket on the way. And after all this, Sr. Jean Anne called and said Fr. Lee had Mass.
As a priest, my calendar runs my life. I look at it in the morning, before I go to bed and frequently throughout the day. When I forget about my schedule chaos ensues.
I mention this, because chaos comes when we are not focused on Christ throughout our day. Sin is the worst example of this as we take eyes off God and choose something else. Frequently in Confession I hear people say, “I was doing so well and then I messed up and I’ve been off track ever since.”
But even when we are doing well we can go through a day without looking to Christ. We may do good things throughout the day—go to Mass, pray the Office and serve our neighbor—without remembering our Lord.
We must remember it’s all about Christ: “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…he is before all things…” Throughout our day we ought to pause and raise our eyes to heaven to remember what we should be living for.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
As the new school year began I had my first evening Mass at St. Scholastica last night. While there I met a woman from Zimbabwe named Evangelista and was reaffirmed in my love for African names. Each time this young woman hears her name she is reminded of our most basic task as Christians—to spread the Gospel.
This is what Jesus came to do. In Capernaum the people held onto him having seen his miracles and heard his teachings. Yet Jesus told them, “To the other towns also
I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent…”
We see a successful evangelist in St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians as well. We don’t know much about this man—Epaphras—but we do know he was crucial in the building of the Church in Colossae: “Just as in the whole world [the Gospel] is bearing fruit and growing, so also among you, from the day you heard it and came to know the grace of God in truth, as you learned it from Epaphras…”
In the final weeks of summer we saw evangelism take place here at St. John's, though many of you were probably unaware of it happening. Remember the four or five high school students who came to daily Mass? One of them had never been to Mass before, and thanks to one of our kids invitation she began coming! That is evangelism.
Today we pray for the grace to be prepared to spread the Gospel. May God give us opportunities to witness to Him in our words and actions.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
The dialogue between Jesus and the unclean demon is important to consider in our own society. The demon begins, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Many today share similar sentiments. They say that God or the Catholic Church seek merely to destroy our freedom of thought, desire for pleasure or independence.
Always the gentlemen, Jesus listens to the demon and then gives his reply, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Whenever we are confronted with the temptation that the Church, or even God, desires anything less than our happiness, peace and joy we need to tell these temptations, “Be quiet!”
Only in God can we find true happiness here on earth. Only through His Church can we find a guide to navigate us through this life and experience the peace that only God can give.
I normally don’t give daily Mass homilies at home, but since we have guests I suppose I should. I also think I should take up a collection.
Two thoughts come to mind on Labor Day. First, our country recognizes the need to give all workers a day off once a year. Yet we Christians know that God gives us one day a week to worship, rest and relax with our family and friends. This day should be a reminder that we are blessed with the Sabbath and get to keep it holy.
Second, our hearts should be filled with gratitude on the gifts we have been given. We are all comfortable with good jobs and live in a safe environment. We have an abundance of food, clean drinking water and do not survive day by day. Each of these gifts we have is a gift from God and our only response to His goodness is our gratitude.
Eucharist comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. We are blessed by coming to Mass this morning. To our neighbors, you didn’t even know an invitation would come when you woke up this morning. As a priest, I am blessed to celebrate Mass every day. For the gift of the Mass, we say thanks to God.
As we rest at our beautiful corner of Big Sandy Lake we thank God for His abundant blessings in our life.
St. Lawrence lived in the third century when the Church was being heavily persecuted by the Romans. The pope had just been arrested when Lawrence, the head of seven deacons in Rome and responsible for the Church’s possessions, was approached by a Roman prefect. This prefect demanded that Lawrence hand over the Church’s riches to the Romans. Lawrence responded by saying it would take a few days to assemble and went out to gather the poor and sick of the city. When the prefect returned, expecting to be handed material items, Lawrence pointed to the poor and said, “These are the sole and greatest treasure of the poor.”
Do you treasure the poor?
In our responsorial psalm we sang, “Lord, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor.” Jesus teaches in a similar vein in the Gospel: “…when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you…”
We are blessed with rich Catholic social teaching. One of the seven themes of this philosophy is the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. We are not called to tolerate the poor, nor simply serve them. We are to prefer them. We do so by being generous with our time, talents and treasures. We do so not by giving our leftovers or out of our abundance, but as Mother Theresa said, to give until it hurts.
This can be challenging in our country which is polarized in seemingly every social issue. This either/or mentality has seeped into our Church and I have seen this first hand on college campuses in our state. Every college has a social justice group. On Catholic campuses, many have a student group based on the Catholic faith. And heaven forbid that they would actually work together! We do not believe we are faith or charitable works. We ought to live with both faith and charitable works. And this isn’t an option…it is who we are. It was who Jesus was.
We have seen a wonderful witness to this way of living in Pope Francis. Here is a man deeply in love with God, His Church, prayer and the sacraments. At the same time he visits slums, feeds the poor in soup kitchens and goes to the sick in hospitals.
I pray that you will experience the integration of your faith and service to the poor, and in so doing, make the poor your treasure.