Friday, February 28, 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Generosity (with help from Matthew Kelly's "Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic"): Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, February 27th, 2014
I’m currently reading Matthew Kelly’s Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic (he is the one who wrote Rediscover Catholicism which we gave out last year). In it, he shares research he has done about Catholics in the United States. Originally he wanted to see if the Church followed the 20-80 model of business—that 20% of people in a business do 80% of the work, contribute 80% of the finances, etc. What he found was that only 7% of Catholics make up 80% of volunteer hours and revenue in the average parish. While this is alarming, Kelly sees this as a great opportunity to wake the sleeping giant of the Church. Imagine if we could get 1% more involvement at St. John’s?
He also shares that these dynamic Catholics (in the 7%) have four qualities in common: prayer, study, generosity and evangelization.
I bring this up because of one of his most surprising lines (which Fr. Rich will appreciate) in his section on generosity. While many complain about priests talking too much about money, Kelly states he wants to hear more. Jesus himself frequently taught about money, as it can be either tremendous gift or harmful obstacle in our faith. That said, Kelly maintains that we priests shouldn’t bring up money issues only when we need it for a particular project. Rather, he wants to hear more about detachment from money.
St. James gives a chilling reminder of the detriment of greed: “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire.” Note that being generous has nothing to do with personal finances. The rich person St. James wrote about was selfish and greedy. Yet a rich person may be very generous. A poor person may cling to every dollar selfishly.
Kelly also connects the generous with the grateful. No matter the individual’s budget, the generous Catholic recognized the blessings God gave them and responded by giving back to God and neighbor. May we be grateful for all of God’s blessings and be more generous in response.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
St. James highlights the three sources of temptation in our lives. First is from ourselves: “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” Each of us, thanks to the original fall, has a tendency to sin—concupiscence.
The second is from the world: “Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” If we just go with the flow of our society we head to destruction. We end up with a destructive worldview, destructive morality and destructive lives.
The third is from the devil and evil. Satan wants nothing more than to wreak havoc in our lives and tempt us to choose anything else but God. Yet as I mentioned last week, the devil hates resolute souls. James makes this point clear: “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.”
While we face an interior battle against these three forms of temptation, part of our victory lies in getting outside of ourselves. Really, love is the answer to any temptation and striving for love of God and neighbor is the best way to stand fast in moments of temptation.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
I would like to begin with a quiz. To answer, simply raise your hand. (Don’t worry, no judging!) If you think you are holy, please raise your hand. [No hands are raised.]
You are all incorrect. I should see everyone’s hand in the air, because you are holy. Being holy simply means being set apart. By the very fact that you are baptized and at Mass means that you are holy. St. Paul says as much: “…the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” I didn’t ask, “Who is the holiest?” (that wouldn’t be wise and it wouldn’t be me). That said, we should strive to be holier.
We heard two similar lines in both Leviticus and Matthew: “Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy,” and, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While nearly identical, they had much different results with their audience. For the author of Leviticus, to be holy was to fulfill the 613 laws to maintain religious and ritual purity. Yet Jesus came to fulfill the law, and taught that being holy was to love.
In a specific way, we are called to love God first, then our neighbor, and then ourselves. Now a lot could be said on each one, so I would like to encourage you with a few simple thoughts for each.
First, the greatest way we show our love of God is in our prayer. Here I was struck by Matthew Kelly’s book The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic (the same author who wrote Rediscover Catholicism which we gave you last Lent). He writes that we Catholics talk a lot about prayer but rarely teach someone how to pray. Here is one way to pray, and everyone here can do it. And as a bonus it would only take three minutes a day. Just three minutes. Give God the first minute of the day. As soon as you wake up, thank God for another day to be alive and ask Him to be with you. Then, take one minute to talk to God during the day. Is it a good one? Challenging? What are you doing? Let Him know. And finally, give God the last minute of your day. Before bed, spend one minute thanking God for the gifts He gave—food, water, work, family, etc. Try this for a week and take baby steps forward in your prayer life by adding a minute here and a minute there.
Second, we are must love our neighbor. Mother Teresa reminds us that we are not necessarily called to do great things—like being a missionary in China—but are called to do the normal things with great love. While Jesus shows us that our neighbor includes even enemies, strangers and the poor, love of neighbor begins at home. Do small activities with great love—dishes, cleaning your room or snow blowing (and there is plenty of opportunity for that now).
Finally, we have to love ourselves. St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” To be holy requires treating our bodies as God’s temple. As my Mother always says, “Garbage in, garbage out” and this refers both to your mind and your body. What do you put in your mind? What do you watch on television or do on your cell phone? What is your diet like? Do you exercise? Being physically and mentally healthy is one feature of being holy as it honors the body God has given.
As Jesus fulfills the Law, he teaches us that it is love, and not simply following rules, that makes us holy. I pray that you will love God, your neighbor and yourselves well this week in your quest for holiness.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Two thoughts on the reading from James. First, I was reminded of the people we met in Ghana as I read: “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom that he promised to those who love him?” I’ve mentioned this before in updates, homilies and at our slideshow, but it was remarkable meeting people who were materially poor yet rich in faith. This verse describes my experience in Ghana perfectly.
Second, James reminds us of the Golden Rule—to love your neighbor as yourself. Someone once asked Jesus who his neighbor was. Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The true neighbor was not someone known or nearby—he was a stranger from a foreign land.
We must remember that our neighbors aren’t simply those we live by or are acquaintances with. We have men and women in our city, state and world who need true neighbors—the poor.
“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Do you?
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
What do Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Pope Francis have in common?: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Since being ordained a priest I have been inspired to grow in serving the poor. I owe a debt of gratitude to you Sisters and our campus ministers here at CSS. Simply being in your presence has been a witness of the call to love our neighbor. I have also been amazed by the witness of Pope Francis is in his dedication to serving God and the poor.
Part of the inspiration I have experienced has led me to learn more about great witnesses in loving the poor. In particular I have been reading up on Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Pope Francis and I have found they have a lot in common. The most obvious is their whole-hearted service to the poorest and loneliest in society. They are the first to see Jesus in the face of the poor. They also brought many people around them from various walks of life, including religion. Even an atheist would recognize the contributions these three individuals made. They had deep lives of prayer and were united to Mother Church.
Yet the greatest feature Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Pope Francis have in common is their devotion to the Eucharist. Did you know that in each house Dorothy Day founded in the Catholic Worker movement there was a chapel and daily Mass? In one farming commune two hours were reserved in the morning for Mass!
The Missionaries of Charity have a devotion to Adoration that grew slowly. They began with a holy hour once a week. At one point a sister asked Mother, “Can we have adoration every day?” Her answer—“No” because there wasn’t enough time in the day! But she went on to say they prayed and she prayed, and they added it to their daily calendar. And not only did they find enough time in the day to get all the work done, but also grew in love in their community and for the people they served.
Pope Francis is well known for visiting the slums, sneaking out of his apartment to visit soup kitchens and living a humble life in union with the poor. What our media misses though, is that he begins and ends every day before Jesus in the Eucharist and spends a few hours each day with Jesus. He recently reminded the world that without adoration of the Eucharist, meditation on the Scriptures and personal prayer, our service to others becomes stagnant.
James reminds us what our faith is all about: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Thank God for witnesses to show us how to live our religion to the full.
And we especially thank God for the gift of the Eucharist, which we will receive again today. May it help us to live out religion in full—to serve God and neighbor well.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
“Blessed is he who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proven he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him.”
Each of us face temptation every day. Whether it is a temptation of the mind, body or tongue concupiscence—the tendency to sin—rears its ugly head.
When a temptation comes, we must react in two ways. First, we must remember that God walks with us through any inkling to sin: “When I say, ‘My foot is slipping,’
your mercy, O LORD, sustains me…” Offering the temptation itself to God is a powerful prayer because He knows what is happening and is near us in that moment.
Second, Mother Teresa frequently cited a line from St. Theresa of Avila: “The devil hates resolute souls.” We must be resolute of soul in our battle against sin. We must immediately say, “I don’t want this” when an evil desire comes and make a choice for God.
Being resolute of soul requires resolution of our whole person. Our will is stronger when we are healthy—getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly and living balanced lives.
We pray for the grace to trust in God’s presence in whatever temptation comes our way today and to remain resolute in choosing Him.
Monday, February 17, 2014
A common theme in working with high school and college students is vocational discernment. I can relate to those who are eager—even anxious—about doing God’s will, as I spent many years wondering where I was being called.
One way not to discern: asking God for signs. Seeking an overt sign is like telling God, “I want to know the path of my life now!” While asking God for indicators is not in itself bad, we must be careful to remain patient and trusting in His plan. We cannot be like the Pharisees who seek a sign out of mistrust and testing.
James refers to two virtues which can help us in following God’s will. The first is joy. Since our Lord wants us to be joyful, it is beneficial to consider how you experience joy in your life. Chances are great that this area will be linked to God’s path. In fact, the joy I experienced in ministry led me to join seminary.
The second is wisdom. We must become wise in the ways of God to truly discern how to serve Him and live well.
Rather than asking for signs, may we be blessed with joy and wisdom as we seek to do God’s will today and in the future.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
During my short and unillustrious basketball career, I had one particular coach who was simply difficult to play for. He highlighted the negative, was very critical and seldom affirming. I found myself in a predicament which was not good for an athlete—simply playing not to fail.
You know what happens when you play not to fail? You fail. You play tight and lose sight on having fun and playing to excel.
For one reason or another, many Catholics find themselves in a similar spot. The media portrays us as an institution judging “do’s” and “don’ts”. Sadly, many Catholics follow suit. Ever hear of Catholic guilt? This comes from a reduction of our faith to a list. For many, being a Catholic means only following rules.
Granted, following the rules is part of living a good human life. Highlighted in the Old Testament (which is roughly three quarters of the Bible) these rules provide us with order. But Jesus came to fulfill the rules of the Old Testament. He says: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” And in one of the last verses of the Bible—Revelation 21—he adds, “Behold, I make all things new.” The entire New Testament is aimed at showing Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law.
Matthew highlights this truth in many ways in his account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He does so as a Jewish tax collector and convert to the Way. As such, his intended audience was the Jews (as Judaism and Christianity had not yet split) with a desire to convert them to Jesus. Thus he wrote in such a way to appeal to their understanding of the Old Testament.
First, consider how Matthew begins his narrative. If I were to ask you how it begins, I am guessing you would think of Jesus’ infancy narratives. Yet only one Gospel—Luke—begins with Jesus’ birth. Matthew begins in what seems like a strange way—a genealogy. His first words of the most important document he ever wrote: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David the son of Abraham.” He appeals to an important feature of the Old Testament—those lists of unpronounceable names we would skip over. Yet to the Jews these records underscored how God was present throughout the generations. Thus, a Jew reading Matthew’s account would think, “Jesus is connected to all of our history!”
Matthew was well versed in the Old Testament. He quotes these Scriptures more than any other evangelist, seeking to show all the varied ways in which Jesus fulfilled the Old.
Additionally, Matthew uses a subtle change in terminology when referring to God’s territory. While the Old Testament frequently labels it kingdom of God (as does the New Testament), Matthew dubs it the kingdom of heaven. He is the only evangelist to do so and uses this simple term as a way to announce Jesus’ work in a whole different realm.
There are two climactic moments in the Gospel according to Matthew. The second is the death and resurrection of Jesus. The first we heard from today—the Sermon on a Mount. We must pause to consider this name. Did you know that Luke records this sermon on a plain? Yet Matthew uses the place of a mount. A faithful Jew would be immediately tipped off—who else went up a mountain? Moses. Moses went up the mountain to receive God’s Law for the first time. Jesus went up a mount to fulfill it.
The Sermon on the Mount is full of examples of Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament. He begins with the Beatitudes, showing that what the world considers ridiculous—the poor, grieving, persecuted—are actually blessed. He teaches us to pray by giving us the only prayer he taught in the Our Father. He fulfills the Ten Commandments (which we heard about this morning) and gives the Golden Rule.
In so doing, Jesus did not speak about a list. He did not say, “Do this and don’t do that and you will avoid hell.” He showed us how to live well.
If you are caught in a sort of list-Catholicism, if you are trapped by thinking you are only as good as your last failure to obey the rules, remember Jesus came to bring in the New. For a good reminder of this redeeming fact I encourage you to revisit the Sermon on the Mount in your personal reading and prayer.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
The phrase “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” fits well with Solomon. He led the Israelites into a period of peace and prosperity. He constructed the temple—one of the marvels of the Ancient Near East. He was also said to be the wisest man ever and many of the Psalms and Proverbs come at the hands of his pen.
Yet he fell hard. His sin began with lust as he took numerous wives and concubines. It continued with following the pagan gods of his mistresses and rejecting God Himself. This despite the fact that, the Lord “had appeared to him twice.”
The reading begins by noting: “When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the LORD, his God, as the heart of his father David had been.” David too, had sinned grievously. He lusted, committed adultery, lied and murdered. Yet David, unlike Solomon, repented for his sin.
The fact is, everyone falls through sin. David’s heart was with the Lord because he repented. Solomon’s was not and we can observe the snowball effect of unchecked sin destroyed his life.
For us, it is not as much about sinning, but making sure to get up after a sin and seek God’s mercy.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
We have in the Gospel an example of Jesus fulfilling the Old Law. As he began the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s account, Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” In the particular incident in Mark’s narrative, Jesus deals with dietary laws, which is good news for us who like ham sandwiches and bacon.
What Jesus does is to show a distinction between the external and internal. Note, he does not reject all the externals—he fulfills them. So, too, we Catholics have external signs of our internal faith.
I have experienced this as I have grown from a baby to toddler priest. In my daily life I wear clerics—an external thing. I don’t wear them to tell the world, “I am better than you,” but to humbly say to everyone who sees me that a priest is available for service. So, too, at Mass. It’s a good thing I don’t show up in sweatpants and a sweatshirt to celebrate the divine liturgy! As I vest—putting on the external garb—I offer the traditional vesting prayers which help me prepare for Mass.
On the other hand, I love how Pope Francis has been getting after clericalism and elitism based largely on external ritual or dress—the “more lace, more grace” philosophy. Many miss the point of the Gospel by focusing too much emphasis on what is seen and too little on what is inside.
Finally, this newness of Christ can free us from an all-too-common reality of Catholics—the list. How many reduce the faith (albeit with good intentions) to a list of do’s and don’ts. “If I don’t do these actions, and I do these, I am holy.” This program leads to our Catholic guilt and falls short of Christ’s desire for us.
Jesus came to offer us everything. He came to allow for our very souls to be transformed. He came to help us live integrated and holy lives. We pray that the externals of our faith will be means to this end.
Solomon had an insightful line in the first reading. He had just completed the temple—one of the greatest buildings ever built and a marvel of human work. I suppose it would have been similar to seeing St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in person with its grandeur and sheer size.
Yet Solomon recognized that as great as this building was, “If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built!” Solomon recognized the transcendence of God that could not be contained by anything human.
I wonder what Solomon would think if he knew about the Eucharist today. Indeed, we have a much simpler and smaller space to worship here at St. Scholastica. Yet, paradoxically, God is contained here in the tabernacle. God, while utterly transcendent, is imminently present right here in the Eucharist.
And more than this, our same God comes into us in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. What one of the greatest buildings in the world could not contain, our mere human bodies do. This is something to remember in thanksgiving each time we receive the Eucharist.
Monday, February 10, 2014
A Jesuit and a Benedictine: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, February 10th, 2014 (Feast of St. Scholastica)
You’ll permit me to start this homily with a Jesuit. And if not, please forgive me for doing so.
I’m referring to Pope Francis. I can think of no better example of a person who lives out the Benedictine maxim, ora et labora—prayer and work. I like to think this Jesuit is deeply inspired by the maxim of the first Benedictine. He models the necessity of having both prayer and charitable works in response to the Good News of Jesus Christ. And I love how he is giving us permission to focus on the basics of our faith and referring all we do to our Lord. In his encyclical The Joy of the Gospel (which I encourage you all to read), Pope Francis reminds us that our love of Jesus must overflow with joy to everyone we meet. And that means talking about our Lord with others.
What most inspires me about St. Scholastica, our patroness and mother, is that she frequently talked about Jesus. In fact, the famous storm which prevented her brother Benedict from leaving came because she wanted to converse about God’s goodness. (Perhaps we should ask her to pray for warmer weather!) She delighted in sharing the graces God had given her.
I am happy we are focusing efforts on strengthening our Catholic identity on campus. Yet deeper than any courses, endeavors or plans, the most critical piece to transforming this college is that we share how God has touched our individual lives. And indeed He has. Many of our sisters have been moved by God to enter religious life, and many have worked and prayed for decades. The fact that any of us are here at Mass indicates grace working in our lives.
Given the recent encouragement by our Holy Father, I would ask: do you share these graces with others? In the midst of your studies, does Jesus’ name pop up in conversation? In administrative duties, is time allowed to focus on God’s grace? In your religious calling (which is centered on God), how often do you speak how God has transformed your life?
The greatest gift we can give this campus is to speak about Jesus with joy. This is what Pope Francis does in his life. This is what St. Scholastica did in hers. As we seek to bring many more to Christ we ask—St. Scholastica, pray for us.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
I confess, I don’t currently listen to popular Christian music. Yet I often did in high school, and my favorite Christian band was the Newsboys. I was reminded of one of their hits by our readings today. (I will spare you from singing it as that would not do justice to anyone, including them.) The chorus goes: “Shine, let ‘em wonder what you got, let ‘em wish that they were not on the outside looking bored. Shine, let it shine before all men, let ‘em see good works and then, let ‘em glorify the Lord.”
There is a clear connection in three of our readings between light and charitable works. The prophet Isaiah states, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.” The psalmist sings, “Light shines through the darkness for the upright; he is gracious and merciful and just.” Jesus, in one of his famous lines declares, “You are the light of the world…your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
In the early Church, Christians were easily identified by the love they showed to others. They were as visible as a candle in a dark room.
Do you shine in our dark world? When people meet you, do they notice something different? Do you live in a way that clearly points to Jesus Christ?
Pope Francis is leading our Church by his integration of faith and works. More than anything he says, he joyfully serves. And everyone recognizes him as a light in the darkness.
One of the recent blessings of my priesthood recently has been taking part in our Pope Francis Commission. This group, made of normal parishioners, has met a few times to discuss how we can best serve the needs of our community and parish, especially those who are in need.
Without an explicit mission, we have really been working to follow the encouragement of God through Isaiah: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” “Share your bread with the hungry…” Members of our parish have been volunteering at the Union Gospel Mission to serve meals there. We now visit twice a month and could sign up for more if there is interest. “…Clothe the naked when you see them…” I have been amazed at the amount of clothes that have been donated so far in our clothing drive. We have already sent one jam-packed vehicle to the Damiano center and, as you can see in the gathering space, we have another pile ready to go. (It was great seeing the bags come in even between the 8:00 and 10:30 Mass this morning!) Please go through your clothes and give what you don’t use anymore and some of what you do.
I was struck by the command, “…do not turn your back on your own.” I think we can do better here with a specific group of parishioners: the homebound. We have many seniors who would love to get to Sunday Mass. Some of them can’t drive. Others aren’t physically capable of getting out in the cold and snow. Still others feel isolated. Part of the problem in serving these men and women is that many don’t know who they are. Do you know a friend, family member or loved one who isn’t able to come on Sundays? Please let us know! And would you be willing to drive a caravan of seniors to Mass on Sunday? If so, let Fr. Rich or I know and we can get these names to those who are working on coordinating rides to Mass.
I pray that the love you have shines in our world. God loves you unconditionally, may this love spill out with joy and light up a world of darkness.
When I taught Totus Tuus, this passage from Mark was a constant source of solace. Totus Tuus was a very demanding schedule. We’d be with children, high school and junior high students or families all day (save a two hour break) for a week. A frequent source of my meditation was Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
These moments of rest with the Lord didn’t last long this summer. We had Friday evenings and Saturday mornings to relax and were then off to the next parish. My meditation shifted: while Jesus was on his way to a break with his friends the crowds beat them to it! Yet Jesus was not selfish with his time off: “…his heart was moved with pity for them.”
It’s no secret we are all busy. Even when we seek a place of refuge from the busyness of life, duty often calls. Yet we must take this Gospel seriously—God wants us to have a break! He wants us to find rejuvenation every day through our daily prayer. Especially on Sundays he gives us permission to take a break and rest a while.
When do you get to rest? When do you get to go to the desert to be with Jesus? I hope it is daily and especially on Sunday.
Friday, February 7, 2014
In the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation—which I referred to on Tuesday—Pope Francis reflects on evangelizing with joy. In so doing he warns against an individualism in our faith.
Jesus himself sent his disciples out two by two. He modeled how we need to preach the Gospel—in community.
There are at least two forms of individualism which we must avoid. The first is having a mentality of me versus the world. Though we are called to have a personal relationship with Christ, it is not just about me and Jesus. We must be rooted in our community of faith and find good fellowship among Christian brothers and sisters.
The second is a sort of collective individualism. This is something which we Catholics in the Midwest need to work on. Many people here at St. John’s have their “own pew”. Many sit at “their table” when we have coffee and donuts after Mass.
While this in itself isn’t bad, many don’t notice we often have new people at St. John’s. Some are new to the area, looking for a church they can call home. Some are interested in becoming Catholic. Do you introduce yourself to these families? Do you introduce these families to your family or friends? Or do you remain comfortable being at church or social activities with people you already know.
The second largest denomination of Christianity in the United States is former Catholics. Many of these men and women are leaving our parishes precisely because they don’t feel welcomed. Indeed, our Protestant brothers and sisters often kick our butts. For example, if you go to the Vineyard as a visitor you will receive a warm welcome at the door. You will be introduced to people. You will ask to sit with someone. If you want, you will receive follow up phone calls and be invited to Bible studies, fellowship and other activities.
We can’t underestimate how important it is for people to be included at St. John’s. To be frank, we must do a much better job doing this. Fr. Rich and I do our best, but it is your job, as the laity, to offer an extended hand and bring newcomers into our parish family.
May we have the grace to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ with joy, and bolster our mission here at our own parish.