Monday, June 30, 2014

"Follow me": Daily Mass Homily--Monday, June 30th, 2014 (Feast of the Roman Martyrs)

            Jesus’ commission to us is the same as to the crowd: “Follow me…”
            Whenever we go on a journey, be it by car or foot, it is important to know the destination to which we are going.  Keeping the end in mind helps us get there quickly and efficiently and dictates where we go.
            The call of Jesus to follow him should always be the end we have in mind.  It is to Jesus we travel.
            This begins first in our own person.  What thoughts do I need to let go to follow Jesus?  Who must I stop judging?  What sin must I remain steadfast against?
            Jesus’ mission to us then calls us forth through the various relationships we have.  How do I treat my children?  Spouse?  Coworkers?  Is it clear that I am a follower of Jesus to these people?
            This basic principle of our faith is crucial as we live in a society which has become increasingly more difficult to navigate.  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and find your identity in him as you strive to be good citizens.
            In this regard we have as an example the Roman martyrs—many men and women who were brutally tortured and killed under the wicked emperor Nero (the same emperor who ruled when Peter and Paul were martyred).  These nameless men and women shine in their resolution to follow Jesus at all costs.
            We are also reminded of what happens when we do not follow Christ: “Remember this, you who never think of God,” cries the Psalmist.  At the same time Amos denounces the wicked that do not act in accordance with God’s will.
            Always remember our call to follow Jesus.  Please God, may this mission permeate our thoughts, words and actions today.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul (replaces 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

            One of the greatest blessings from my time in seminary was the opportunity to travel to both the Holy Land and to Rome.
            During the course of my time in the Holy Land I remember asking myself a question: “Why is it that the center of our Catholic Church is in Rome when Jesus’ activities were centered around Jerusalem?”  Socio-political factors aside, Rome is now our Catholic eternal city because of the men we celebrate today: St. Peter and St. Paul.
            It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of these two apostles in the life of our Church.  It is worth noting that we all know their names nearly 2000 years after they lived.  They both established churches that are still around today.  They wrote documents that are now considered canonical and are read by millions around the world in a multitude of different languages.
            While Peter and Paul share the feast day (a solemnity which is so great it is even celebrated on Sunday), they were very different men with very different experiences of Jesus.  Peter was an intimate follower of Jesus on a daily basis.  Paul never met Jesus in person yet had a mystical experience of Christ that literally knocked him to the ground.  Peter was a simple fisherman while Paul was a learned member of the Pharisees.  Peter worked mostly with Jewish-Christians; Paul was sent to the Gentiles.  While they worked together to build the Church, at one point they had a sharp and public disagreement.
            One characteristic both Peter and Paul shared was their sin and weakness that forced them to rely entirely on Christ.  While Peter was quick to say he would die before rejecting Christ, he denied Jesus three times.  Paul consented to the arrest and death of Christians and on more than one occasion shared with the early churches his weakness with an interior struggle.  These men, in and of themselves, were not great—they were weak.  Yet as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “…when I am weak, then I am strong.”
            The way God used Peter and Paul in the Church shows how He can use us today.  Some of us, like Peter, have been walking with Jesus on a daily basis our whole lives—many here are cradle Catholics.  Others, like Paul, have had an intense spiritual experience or have come through hitting rock bottom to have a 180-degree conversion to the Lord.  Neither path is better or worse than the other, and God needs both Peters and Pauls today to do His work!
            Our Church’s center is in Rome because this is where their earthly ministry came to an end.  Both were arrested under the Emperor Nero and executed for the faith.  These two weak men, coming from obscure backgrounds in Palestine, found power in Christ to shed their blood for him…Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down.
            These two great apostles showed the power of Christ in their earthly work and, along with countless martyrs, shed their blood to be the seedbed of our Christian faith.
            Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us!

Yesterday, Jesus' heart, Today, Mary's: Daily Mass Homily--Saturday, June 28th, 2014 (Immaculate Heart of Mary, College of St. Scholastica Alumni Mass)

            I mentioned to the Sisters yesterday that the word heart is used over one thousand times in the Bible.  While the Scriptures do refer to the organ, the vast majority of uses of heart mean the seat of emotion or life in the human person.
            I repeat this for you today because of the intimate connection in our liturgy from yesterday and today.  Yesterday we worshiped the Sacred Heart of Jesus and today we honor the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
            The hearts of Jesus and Mary are forever fused.  This began when Mary literally carried the heart of Jesus in her womb for nine months.  The Gospel of Luke adds insight to this connection when he describes the presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  While Simeon spoke about Jesus—that he would be the cause for the rise and fall of many—he also addressed Mary stating, “…a sword will pierce through your own soul also…”
            Mary’s heart was a motherly heart.  Many of you understand this more than I ever could as you have children of your own.  You know the love you have for your kids and that this love would enable you to do anything for your child.  Mary had this love for her Son Jesus, though it was even more intense because she was without sin.
            Yet Mary’s sinlessness did not mean she didn’t suffer.  Sometimes we may think that Mary lived a blissful, sin free life with no temptations or hurt.  On the contrary, Mary lived out two nightmares of any parent, first in losing her Son in Jerusalem and second losing Him to the cross.
            Yet Mary “kept all these things in her heart.”
            As we worship at Mass in the Queen of Peace Chapel, we do so in reverence of Mary’s Immaculate Heart.  She is not only Jesus’ mother—she is our mother too.  She points us directly to her son, and provides us with maternal love especially when we face suffering.  May we always seek Mary’s help as we strive to grow closer to God.

Friday, June 27, 2014

God's Heart: Daily Mass Homily--Friday, June 27th, 2014 (Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)

            The word heart is used over a thousand times in the Bible.  While at times it refers to the organ that pumps blood around the body, the sacred authors usually have a different intent with this word.  Most of the time heart refers to the source of emotions or seat of life in the human person.
            One feature of Old Testament literature is the use of anthropomorphic descriptions of God.  While God is true spirit, the Old Testament uses metaphorical language to describe Him with a face, hands, back and mouth.  In the first reading we learn of God’s heart: “…the LORD set his heart on you and chose you…”  What a beautiful image of God and this, from the Old Testament, which was before Jesus came to reveal the Father more fully.
            Living after Christ, we understand a fuller picture of God’s metaphorical heart: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”
            Yet above all, Jesus came to make literally what was metaphoric.  Having become a man, Jesus took on a body with an anatomical heart.  On the cross, this heart stopped beating as Jesus gave up his life and it was pierced by a soldier’s lance.  Yet this physical death gave new life.  This new life was foreshadowed by Jesus’ Sacred Heart pouring forth water and blood—signs of our Sacraments—and fulfilled every image of God’s heart in the Old Testament.
            Through this gift, Jesus tells us: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  Wherever you are today—busy or tired with daily work, dry in prayer, stressed out or battling sin—find rest in Jesus’ Sacred Heart.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Walewale, Ghana Well Project

During the month of May we were blessed at St. John's and St. Joseph's to host Fr. Albert Wugaa and Fr. Robert Abotzabire, my classmates from Ghana.  I am proud to say that through the generous benefactors of our parishioners (and the faithful at Holy Family, McGregor and Our Lady of Fatima, McGrath) and friends, we raised $11,000 for a well project in Walewale!  This well will provide a reliable and clean source of water for the people at St. Paul's parish (where we visited in January) and their community.  Here are some pictures and video of their progress:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

King Josiah's conversion inspires us to encounter God's Word: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

           Something happened in our first reading that would be next to impossible today—the Scriptures were lost!  With the printing press and modern technology, the Bible is easily accessible and can be found in millions of places around the globe.  But this wasn’t so in ancient Israel.
            The priest Hilkiah discovered the book of the Law (the Pentateuch or part of the Pentateuch) in the temple after it had been forgotten.  He showed it to king Josiah and we saw a heartfelt conversion in Josiah’s heart.  This great reforming king not only returned to the Lord in his own life, but also stimulated the return of the Law into his subjects.
            By coming to daily Mass, each of you encounters God’s Word every day in public worship.  And, since you are faithful and disciplined in your Mass attendance, I encourage you to never forget the Scriptures in your personal prayer.
            Here is a challenge for you: read the entire Bible.  Have you ever done this?  Might God be asking you to?  As I read the Scriptures I find it helpful to follow a guide.  That way I don’t march through Genesis and Exodus only to get lost in Leviticus!  Find a Bible track online or in a Catholic bookstore that will lead you through it in a year.
            Like king Josiah models, the Scriptures inspire us to repent of our sins and grow in fidelity to God.  We have the assurance of God’s Word in our lives, we have only to pick up our Bible to read and pray.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Learning from the sinful Israelites: Daily Mass Homily--Monday, June 23rd, 2014

           This morning I’d like to share the context of our first reading from 2 Kings.  There are three movements throughout the Bible—God loves us, we sin, God is faithful—and we see a great example of the consequences of sin in this passage.
            Backing up, the very desire for a kingdom of Israel sprang from sin.  The people did not trust God and wanted a king to be like other nations.  God allowed this and called forth Saul as the first king of Israel.  Yet Saul’s sin caused him to forfeit his kingly call.
            David and Solomon—the second and third kings of Israel—were integral in solidifying the nation by consolidating rule and conquering various peoples.  Yet Solomon quickly stumbled, worshiping pagan gods, thus rejecting God.  The kingdom had barely been established and sin led to division!
              This division continued throughout salvation history.  The northern tribes (Israel) and southern tribe (Judah) formed two separate kingdoms.  One of the reasons why the books of Kings and Chronicles are difficult to follow is because they jump back and forth from the north to the south.
            What we read today was the tragedy of the Israelites being decimated.  They were conquered by the Assyrians, led into exile and vanish from history as an independent nation.  Looking back, this led to a period where our Jewish ancestors hung on by a thread through the tribe of Judah.
            So what does this mean for us?  First, we read the Old Testament as a reminder of the cycles of life—God loves us, we sin, God is faithful.  Our sins, like the sins of the Israelites, have consequences and always lead to division in our own person, with your spouse and children, at work and in life.  Sin is a reality of our fallen nature.  The major issue from the Israelites—they didn’t repent from their sin.  There was a break between the reality that we sin and that God is faithful.  When we sin, then, we must seek God Who is always faithful and humbly ask for His forgiveness.
            Let’s not be like the Israelites who sinned without repenting.  Rather, let us approach our loving Father with humility and seek His fidelity and love.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Priesthood and the Body and Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi (replaces 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

            Two years ago today, I received the greatest gift of my life—being ordained a priest.
It was a blessing on Friday to participate in another ordination as Fr. Blake Rozier and Fr. Tim Lange were ordained priests.  Praise God, we added two more young priests (Fr. Blake is 25 and Fr. Tim is 26!) to our diocese and have now ordained eleven men in the last three years.  God has been very good to us!  While we have an influx of young priests, we always need more.  I hope every boy and young man will at least think about the priesthood as it is the best life I could imagine.
While I was at the ordination I was reminded of many powerful moments from two years ago.  I recall the joy of being surrounded by my family, friends and faithful.  I felt strength in the unity of the priests of our diocese.  I was humbled to lie prostrate while everyone chanted the Litany of Saints, at the same time feeling empowered by the prayers of God’s people.  Most of all, I remember the awesome and humbling opportunity to utter the words of Jesus Christ at the consecration of the Eucharist.
Getting through seminary was no easy task.  In fact, I consider my six years there as one of the greatest and most challenging endeavors I have ever undertaken.  There was a ton of academics and I think I received over 200 credits through this time.  Additionally, we were formed to be good men and this included countless conferences, lectures, meetings with advisors and learning from my classmates and friends.  We had regular spiritual direction, retreats and grew in daily prayer.  Finally, we had many opportunities to grow in pastoral ministry in hospitals, parishes, schools and families.
After I presided at Mass for the first time and heard my first Confession I told people, “I would go through six years of seminary all over again just to say one Mass or hear another Confession.”  I still would.  (Though I am glad I don’t have to!)
One of the most powerful lines I heard in seminary came from a bishop.  I can’t remember who he was, or the context in which he was speaking, but I clearly remember what he said.  He told us that he had been to Mass every day for the last forty years or so.  He then gave the date of the last Mass he missed and said, “I still regret missing Mass that day.”
What a powerful inspiration to the devotion to Mass!
I am especially proud of the love you have for Mass by coming each week or even daily.  During these summer months I encourage you to come to Mass more often.  If you have never been to a daily Mass please come.  You will be inspired by the number of men and women who meet the Lord each day.
I can speak for myself, Fr. Rich, our two new priests, and priests in general—without the Eucharist I would not be a priest.  We would not be priests if what goes on at the altar every day isn’t real.
Yet the Real Presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood is one of the clearest teachings in scripture: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”  I wonder how any Christian could fail to understand Christ’s teaching in this regard.  Whether at the literal or spiritual level, analyzing the Greek text or simply using common sense (the Jews quarreled over what they thought was bizarre and disciples left Jesus and he didn’t bring them back), Jesus’ teaching is obvious.
And Jesus’ offering his Body and Blood didn’t come out of nowhere.  Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the sign of the manna that fed the Israelites in the desert: “This [Jesus’ Body and Blood] is the bread that came down from heaven.  Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  While the Israelites were fed physically, they still died.  When we eat Jesus’ Body and Blood we eat the food that nourishes for all eternity.  While we, too, die physically, the Eucharist prepares us to live for ever.
Before every Mass I offer the same prayer:
Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your first Mass;
Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your last Mass;
Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your only Mass.
As we gather on the feast of Corpus Christi—the Body and Blood of Christ—come to the altar as if it were your first time ever.  Enter into Mass today as if it will be the last Mass you will ever attend.  Pray and focus as if this is the only Mass you will celebrate.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

2nd Anniversary of the Priesthood: Daily Mass Homily--Saturday, June 21st, 2014 (private Mass with friends)

            It is with a grateful heart I celebrate this Mass for the occasion of the second anniversary of being ordained a priest (which occurs tomorrow).
            What a blessing to be with three of my best friends [Zach and Nikki Bennett with their daughter Gemma and Jeremy Vidmar].  Without the love, prayers and support of friends like you my journey through seminary and now as a priest would not be possible.
            Over the years we have shared how complementary the vocations to the priesthood and marriage are.  It is so healthy for me to walk with holy families like you.  I am inspired by your dedication to your spouse, children and God as I serve God as a priest.  I pray that the priests in your lives may inspire you as well.
            Know of my prayers of gratitude for you this day as I am ever grateful for the greatest gift God has given me—the priesthood.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Patriarchs point to Our Father: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, June 19th, 2014

            If you were listening carefully to our first reading you noticed something unusual.  While Elijah continued to be a focal point of the reading, it was from a completely different book.  This morning he (and Elisha) were described in the book of Sirach—a book written by Jesus ben Sira centuries after the readings from 1 Kings we heard the past few days.
            Sirach is my favorite book of the Old Testament.  It is the most theologically advanced and provides an insightful synthesis of the Jewish faith in the face of Greek cultural and religious influence. 
The passage we heard from today is contained in a longer section (chapters 44-50) that honor the fathers of Israel.  Sirach summarizes salvation history by recounting the great deeds of their ancestors—Elijah and Elisha among them.
These patriarchs of the Judeo-Christian faith point to the One Father.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus explicitly calls God not just a Father, but our Father.  Thus we can pray: “Our Father, Who art in heaven…”
The Our Father is a potent prayer.  We pray it often at Mass, in the Rosary, in the Divine Office and at other times in our prayer.  While it may become regular it is always powerful. 
I am reminded of my Clinical Pastoral Experience when, as a lay person, I would visit patients in the hospital and invite them to pray.  On several occasions I led unchurched people in the Our Father.  Even though they hadn’t prayed or been to church in many years, they knew the words to this prayer.  And they often cried as they recognized once more God’s love as a Father.
I have also witnessed men and women of deep faith near the end.  Sometimes they can barely speak, or have little cognitive faculties left.  Yet when I start the Our Father I frequently hear them join in or see their lips moving.
Every patriarch in the Old Testament points to God the Father.  We are blessed to know in a fuller way Who God is—not just a judge or leader but our Father.  Take time to focus on the words of this potent prayer when we say it at Mass this morning.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Visuals for sin from a violent reading: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

            The first reading from 1 Kings is a classic, “What on earth do I preach about?” passage.  It is violent, graphic and disturbing.  We may be inclined to ask, “How is this the Word of God?”
            Yet indeed it is, and passages like this have their place in the canon of Scripture.
            One way to see relevance of this particular passage in our lives is to have it in mind with respect to sin.  Ahab and Jezebel’s demise was prophesied by Elijah on account of their sin and injustice towards Naboth (whose vineyard they acquired after having him murdered).  Use some of the words from this passage to picture what sin does to your soul: devour, cut off, evil, blood, destroy.  I agree this is neither pretty nor easy, but having visuals in mind of the consequences of sin can help us reject it.
            And when we do sin (which we will), we need not despair.  Even though sin devours our soul or cuts into our relationship with God, He remains faithful and always ready to repair the breach again.

Ahab and Jezebel, "What not to do": Daily Mass Homily--Monday, June 16th, 2014

            Ahab and Jezebel were two of the most wicked rulers of Israel.  Their very names should cause us to cringe.  Their infamy was leading the people of Israel away from God and the covenant between God and the people to the pagan god of Baal.
            One of their most egregious acts of these two was described in 1 Kings.  To obtain the property Ahab desired, Jezebel conspired to have Naboth killed.  Ahab got what he wanted at the cost of an innocent man’s life.
            Yet consider this act at a spiritual level.  Ahab wanted something he could not have.  Rather than praise God for the gifts given to another, or at least to offer the Lord his temptation to covet, he became jealous.  He and Jezebel then lied and had Naboth killed.  The result of Ahab’s sin was literally death.
            I want to share with you a few verses from the book of James and compare it to the passage we just heard: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).
            Whenever we sin, we follow the path of Ahab away from God.  And these are often not the big sins of murder, theft or adultery.  We become angry with someone—which is a normal human emotion—but then allow anger to give birth to hatred, grudges or gossip.  We are tempted by the passions and rather than praying seek to indulge them.
            The goal of our lives is to not do as Ahab and Jezebel.  Rather, we must cut temptations off at the pass before they can grow and eventually lead to spiritual death.  We can only do this with God’s grace—grace that neither Ahab nor Jezebel sought in this passage.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Thoughts on the Trinity: Trinity Sunday (replaces 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

            Praise the Holy Trinity,
            Undivided unity,
            Holy God, mighty God,
            God immortal be adored.
            As we resume Ordinary Time, we continue to celebrate the great mysteries of our faith.  Today the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time is replaced by the solemnity of the Holy Trinity.
            Fr. Rich and I were recently speaking to some of our high school students and Fr. Rich asked them, “How many Persons are in the Trinity?”  One individual replied, “Thirteen.”  Fr. Rich was surprised and asked, “Can you name each person?”  The student began with, “Well, I’m one of them.” 
            Just to be clear, we do not think there are thirteen members of the Trinity, nor are any of us a member of the Trinity!  Remember, there are three Persons in the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—yet one God.  This is one of the greatest mysteries of our faith. 
            In seminary I took a course devoted strictly to the Trinity.  To prepare for our final our professor gave us a single sheet of paper.  I’m not kidding, there were over thirty arrows on this single page, hundreds of words in size six or eight font and words like aspiration, spiration and procession.  I think I knew more about the Trinity before taking this course!  Yet I do not say this to denigrate the class—indeed, we know less about the Trinity than we actually know.  That’s why it is hard to describe God’s unity in Trinity in everyday terms. 
Every analogy for the Trinity falls short, but the best one I have heard is to picture the sun.  The sun itself represents God the Father.  We perceive the sun with our vision, and Jesus Christ reflects the Father to us.  Finally, we can know the sun’s presence by its heat.  This relates to the Holy Spirit that warms our souls.
Our spiritual and sacramental lives are permeated with the Trinity.  Remember, every time we pray we begin and end with the Sign of the Cross—“In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The Mass is saturated in the Trinity.  Recall the opening greeting: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Our prayers usually conclude, “We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.”  And every Sunday we profess the Creed.  The three main parts of the Creed are formed by the three Persons of the Trinity, as we affirm our belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Did you know that I, as a priestly representative of the faithful, am speaking to the Father during Mass?  Whenever I have my arms extended, I am either addressing the Father or offering sacrifice to Him.  This sacrifice is nothing less than Jesus’ Body and Blood and is offered in the Holy Spirit.  The Trinity is present right now at Mass!
And think of the other sacraments.  How is someone baptized?  By pouring water (or immersing) three times with (in) water and declaring, “N, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  How do you receive forgiveness for sins?  By declaring your sins to Jesus through his priest and hearing the words, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Finally, as a symbol of their vows, married couples exchange rings in the wedding rite.  They do so by saying, “N, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
What we always need to remember about the Trinity is that God is a Family.  The Father loves the Son and eternally begets Him, and this love is so great it is another Person—the Holy Spirit.  The Trinity is the Family of families.  You parents share in such love—the love you offer each other sometimes leads to a third (or fourth, or fifth) person too!  Your goal should be to wrap your family in God’s love.
My we always be immersed with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Praise the Holy Trinity,
Undivided unity,
Holy God, mighty God,
God immortal be adored.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mount Carmel: Daily Mass Homily--Thursday, June 12th, 2014

            Our first reading checks in with the struggle between Elijah the prophet and the wicked king Ahab.  Ahab and Jezebel were perennial enemies of Elijah and the Israelite faith as they turned their back on God to worship Baal.  At this point in the story God has caused a drought because of the wickedness of the people.
            I have had the fortune to be on Mount Carmel, the place on which Elijah prayed the drought would subside.  It is a lush mount that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.  When I was there I read this passage, imagining that small cloud that was first seen by Elijah’s servant—a sign of the rain to come.
            Mount Carmel was a pivotal place for Elijah’s labor against pagan worship.  It was here he took on 450 prophets of Baal.  They had a contest in which both would set up an altar and a sacrifice and call upon the divine to consume it with fire.  The priests of Baal tried—and failed—as Baal was not a god at all.  Along the way Elijah taunts them—“Cry louder, he must be sleeping.  Maybe he’s on vacation!”  When it was Elijah’s turn he rebuilt the true altar and even doused the sacrifice with water.  When he called on God, God answered with fire.
            Even today Mount Carmel has an important place in our faith.  It was on Mount Carmel that the Carmelite Order was founded.  This order has two well known saints and doctors of the Church—St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.  Their charism is like the mount itself—to walk up to God through prayer and meditation.
            We come to a spiritual mount this afternoon as we come to Mass.  We leave the world to walk up to God.  As we do, may we reflect on what is happening here well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why Priests Need Prayers

What follows is an actual letter I received in the mail today showing just how important it is that you pray for both your priests and for those who struggle with our faith.

The basic context: Jack and Jill (not their real names) were to be married at St. John's and completed their marriage preparation in a different diocese.  Last week they asked me the following questions about the ceremony: i.)  Can we write our own vows?  Or at least use our vows and the church's?; ii.)  Do we have to use Christian music?; iii.)  Can we use a unity candle?

Having asked for a Catholic wedding I responded that we needed to stick with the vows given in the ritual for weddings and the music should be from a Catholic hymnal.  The unity candle is allowed, though I typically discourage its use.  I tried to convey that Catholic weddings are sacramental, and because of this, certain elements need to be followed.  I left the ball in their court: do they really want a Catholic wedding (which they had signed up for) or their own vows/music?  I still haven't heard back from the couple, but I have learned they will not be getting married at St. John's and I got the following letter in he mail today (I quote verbatim, including quotes and underlines):

"I am writing this letter with a great deal of angst, contempt, frustration, and a few other adjectives I choose not to use.  It has come to my attention, that a young man and his future wife had attended a meeting with you regarding 'Their Marriage Plans."  They were turned down to be married in God's Church not your church, because of a few factors they wanted in their ceremony, as a great many young people want to do, and do in fact get to do.  

I am an "80" year old woman with all her senses and thinking capacity in tact and I want to relate to you exactly what I think of you.  My religious beliefs and affiliations are irrelevant where your concerned.  I could be Jewish, Baptist, Budist, Protestant, Catholic or whatever.  That is not your business.  

What is my business is when you, and its not the Catholic faith as a whole, you have the audacity to tell a young man and his intended, they can't have a few things in the ceremony.  Like their choice of music, but young people today have a "Special Song" they relate too and they want it sung or played.  They want to write their own vows, which means a lot to them, to name a few.  You say NO because its against the church law or beliefs.  Really now.  I hardly think God would condemn them and others to hell for that.  You might be doing this for 2000 years, but if we did literally in life literally [sic], we'd still be wearing sandals and walking in the sandy desert.  There are many laws the church professes to follow saying their "Church Laws" but they're not.  They're man made laws told to me by a "Priest," yes a "Priest".  I've known many priests in my 80 years and they don't strangle people by church laws.  One told me, after I asked him, if he knew someone who wasn't Catholic, if he'd refuse the sacraments to them.  He knows some like that but said he'd never refuse them as that is between them and God.  

Who appointed you, "God, Judge and Jury".  Who are you or the church to say they can't have their music and special vows.  Perhaps the church will one day be judged for their actions by God and the people.  How about the Church hiding the "Pedophile Priests" from place to place and harming minds and bodies of young boys.  Why weren't they prosecuted for their horrendous crimes.  What's worse, that or "Special Music and Vows".  

You are a pompous, arrogant, self centered, egotistical, self centered person and the church is in many ways--not God's Church, but what people like you have made it.  You don't have all the answers and the Church doesn't--only God does, and he is a loving, caring, and forgiving God.  He is not judgmental.  He rules the world.  You don't.  He makes the rules--man doesn't.  He thinks he does.  Shame on you and all the others who think they rule the world.  Shame on you all.  "Judge not, lest yea be judged."  Its God's job to judge--no one else.

The Church has many problems and its people like you who make it like that.  Why do you loose so many people--they're leaving the Church.  I feel pity for you and the church cause you don't see it.  "Martin Luther" broke away from the Church.  You wonder why.  Hmmmm?

Maybe you all should put your thinking caps on and ponder the happenings going on today.  

These beautiful people will be married inspite of you and the church and well have a wonderful blessed day and memories without you and the church."

This letter shows a few insights into ministry in our culture.  First, one should know the facts before contributing to a discussion.  Unfortunately, this woman (who I know truly loves her grandson and wants what is best for him) lacked many of them, starting with my own name.  The letter was actually addressed to "Father Kuntz" (referring to Fr. Kunst, my pastor) who had no interaction with this couple.  She was not present at our meeting and did not hear what I said or how I said it.  And as the game of telephone goes...(For the record, I never said they couldn't get married in a Catholic Church, and I certainly didn't condemn them to hell.)

Second, in heated moments like this it is important to distinguish ideas/desires from the person himself.  Without ever meeting me, she described me as "a pompous, arrogant, self centered, egotistical, self centered [she drove home this point]" person.  She doesn't know me or the work I do on a daily basis in priestly ministry.  Ironically, she told me not to judge others while all the while judging my character.

Third, the philosophy of individualism and egocentrism are dangerous.  Note it was "Their marriage plans" and "Their wedding".  Where is God?  Where is Christ's Church?  This couple wanted what they wanted.  Period.  Yet as Catholics we know it takes three to get married.  And if you sign up for any sacrament in a Catholic Church, certain rites need to be followed, just as you need to show up to the basketball court with a basketball, not a hockey puck.  As a priest witnessing a wedding, I can no more insert different vows (or add additional vows) than I could change up the consecratory prayers at Mass or the words at Baptism.

Finally, I move on from this experience with new gratitude for the couples I am honored to work with towards marriage.  Wherever they are at in the faith, I appreciate their openness to hear what the Church (and God) has to say about marriage and their willingness to take steps toward Him.  And I am reminded of just how important the prayers of the faithful are to priests--sadly there are people in the world who hate us and our Church.  May God, in His love and mercy, send such men and women abundant grace.  When we face persecution, may we forgive them as Christ does and love them as God's beloved sons and daughters even when we are not.

Three ways to encourage others: Daily Mass Homily--Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

            A few weeks ago Barnabas showed up in the daily Mass readings and I preached about how we can be encouraging.  This was based off Barnabas’ name, which means son of encouragement and a line from our first reading today: “When [Barnabas] arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all…”
            This morning I would suggest three ways we can be more encouraging in our daily lives.  First, be present to those around you.  One of my pet peeves is when I go to a family’s house, out to dinner or spend time with friends, only to have everyone on their cell phones.  I bug our kids at youth group by asking, “Who can you be texting when you have friends right here?!”  Simply giving a person attention is a way to encourage them.
            Second, use words of affirmation.  We all love hearing compliments yet don’t always give them ourselves.  Take time to tell someone, “Good work,” or “I appreciate you”.
            Finally, remember that you can never say thank you enough.  These two simple words convey gratitude and it is in a spirit of gratitude that encouragement is born.
            Like St. Barnabas—the son of encouragement—may we encourage our spouse, children, coworkers, friends and strangers today, especially in their walk of faith.