Thursday, August 6, 2015
(Listen to this homily here).
We celebrate a fascinating feast today, commemorating the moment in which Jesus allowed his divinity to really shine through his humanity.
Now, when we hear the readings today, we have them side-by-side in our Lectionary. Even in the Bible, the narrative of the Transfiguration from Matthew and St. Peter’s allusion to it are only a few pages apart. But I want to point out how Peter is attesting to the reality of the Transfiguration across time and space. Remember, this event happened in Jesus’ life—near the year 30 AD. Matthew didn’t write his Gospel account until around 60 AD. Peter wrote even later. These accounts were written by different men at different times and in different places.
Yet listen again to how Peter describes what happened on Mount Tabor: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we [Peter, James and John] had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” This is almost verbatim to what Matthew reported! Peter is offering testimony to the truth of the Transfiguration. Interestingly enough, secularists and atheists often claim we Christians believe in fairy-tales or myths, and Peter denounces such a perspective head on.
Another point for you today—we know that Jesus’ mission was to die for our sins. This is the number one thing we must know about him. Yet linked intimately with this mission is the identity of Jesus Christ—that he is true God and true man. As Jesus was obedient to the will of his Father, we see in the Scriptures—over and over again—Jesus’ claim to be God. As he traveled around Galilee he did so in his teaching, forgiveness, healing and combating evil. He did so in a particular way as he allowed himself to be transfigured—allowing his divinity to shine through his humanity—as a proof that he was and is God.We do not follow cleverly devised myths. We follow Jesus Christ, who is true God and true man.
This afternoon I would like to make a case for optimism. You know the range—optimist, realist, pessimist? The glass half-full or half-empty? Here is why I think optimism (connected to reality) is the way to go.
I have always enjoyed being around optimistic people. This probably began with my Mom. Though I didn’t always appreciate her 7:00am enthusiasm when she’d wake me up, she’s the type of person that is always joyful. She frequently says, “It’s a great day to be alive!” Or one of my cross-country coaches. He was always affirming us that we could run faster than we thought—we were capable of more than we knew.
We see both an optimistic and pessimistic attitudes on display in our first reading from Numbers. The setting—the Israelites were on the brink of the Promised Land, ready to receive God’s gift. God ordered spies to search the land and our reading describes their findings. The majority reported: “[The land] does indeed flow with milk and honey, and here is its fruit. However, the people who are living in the land are fierce, and the towns are fortified and very strong...We cannot attack these people; they are too strong for us.” Note the Debbie-downer attitudes!
On the other hand, Caleb and Joshua, “…to quiet the people toward Moses, said, ‘We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly do so.’” Their optimism came from a confidence in God’s fulfillment of His promises. While the task of entering the Promised Land was difficult, these two men knew it was possible—with God all things are possible. As it turns out, those who doubted in this moment never made it to the Promised Land—they were punished for their lack of trust in God. Caleb and Joshua, however, did.
With God on our side, why shouldn’t we be optimistic in life? Why shouldn’t we be joyful, full of hope and excited to live?
The narrative from Numbers affirms a basic maxim in life: whether you think you can or you think you cannot, you are right.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
God chooses His ministers.
Whenever I hear Aaron and Miriam’s grumbling against Moses I think of those who want to change the priesthood. Listen again to what they said: “Is it through Moses alone that the LORD speaks? Does he not speak through us also?” [emphasis added]. Aaron and Miriam, either out of jealousy or bitterness, want to push themselves into Moses’ unique call from God.
Many today say, “Priests should get married,” or “Women should be priests” or, “Who lets these guys run the place?” Now it is a good thing to ask questions in our faith—even about who can be a priest or how a priest should live. Unfortunately, many have already answered the questions themselves and want to change the Church, being unopen to our traditions. But at the end of the day, God calls men to be priests. God asks priests to be celibate. No one has a right to be a priest anyway—it is a humble honor that I am thankful for every day. And contrary to an American rights mentality, this does not suggest a priest is better than or more powerful than anyone else. We are all equal in dignity as God's sons and daughters.
God chose a special priest whom we celebrate today—St. John Vianney. He is the patron saint of priests—imagine that role as a saint! He lived in the 19th century and barely made it out of seminary because he couldn’t learn Latin. He was assigned to a small town in France—Ars—as it was a small parish and out of the limelight. No one could have predicted how much God worked through the Cure of Ars!
His reputation as a confessor quickly grew. Men and women traveled all across Europe simply to go to him for confession. On his part, John Vianney heard confessions upwards of sixteen hours a day!
He lived a life of simplicity, austerity and penance. His diet—one potato a day.
He battled the devil. One night he heard something at the foot of the bed. He opened his eyes, saw the evil one standing there, chuckled and said, “Oh, it’s just you.” He rolled over and went back to sleep.
He was not only concerned with his parish, but the town of Ars. He went around to try to prohibit excessive drinking and dancing that distracted the community from God. At one point, he bought out a bar in order to help the owner get out of the business.
I also appreciate one of his maxims: poverty ends at the sanctuary. In his personal life, he was the most simple in order to be most generous to the poor. Yet at the same time, he gave his best—especially money—to adorn God’s house. He fully believed in having beauty in Churches—in the vessels, vestments and building. Today, some would suggest we never use money for church stuff in order to give to the poor. John Vianney shows this is not an either/or but a both/and situation.
It is a great day to be thankful to God for the priesthood and for the great example of one of the finest priests, St. John Vianney.
Monday, August 3, 2015
In the midst of the feeding stories in our daily readings—the Israelites in the desert and the hungry crowd in Matthew—Moses’ prayer offers an important insight: “I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me.” Here Moses demonstrates what should be an essential characteristic of each of our lives: humility.
Using team sports as a metaphor—I would rather have a team of good athletes that work well together rather than a team with one superstar and no teamwork. An individual may win you some games, but you can only win a championship with everyone working together.
Take, for instance, my job as a pastor. Moses’ prayer could be my own! I cannot carry all of you by myself! Think about how many people it takes to run this place—our employees in the parish office and school, members of different organizations (like the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters, Tabernacle Society, etc.), members of committees (finance council, pastoral council, school advisory board), volunteers who care for our buildings and grounds, those who minister to the sick and elderly and the list goes on.
The lesson from Moses is important for wise leadership. A good leader doesn’t do it alone or micromanage—he empowers others to serve and builds up the team. Each of you is a leader in some way—among your friends, within your family or place of employment. Growing in humility will help you become a better leader.
But the greatest lesson from Moses is his recognition that only God can carry the people. Moses can’t do it without God! And the same is true for each of us.
It has been an exciting month in the faith formation department!
Earlier in the month nineteen of us (thirteen young people) made a trip to Valleyfair. It was a great day riding the coasters, relaxing in the water park and eating a well balanced diet of fried and sugar-coated food.
The following day we celebrated Mass at my friend’s parish. We then stopped in at the St. Paul Seminary and Beau gave us a tour and shared his experience as he studies to be a priest. Besides Beau and I, this was the first time anyone on our trip had visited a seminary!
Before heading home we stopped at the St. Paul Cathedral in St. Paul. Our young people were blown away at the size, beauty and atmosphere in this amazing place of worship.
Our cities run was a successful one, full of fun and faith!
Next up was Totus Tuus and I am pleased to report that it was amazing! We had about twenty-five elementary students in the day program and around twenty for the high school and junior high kids in the evenings. Our potluck featured over seventy parishioners and some amazing food—thank you to all who were able to make it!
The kids—with the help of colorful strings—learned about the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, virtues, saints, Mass and importance of living out our faith. They had the opportunity to go to Confession, attend daily Mass and hang out with their dynamic teachers. Their week ended with water games. I backed up my word, unleashed my secret weapon—a fire truck—and won the water fight!
Our junior high and senior high evenings were powerful too. One evening featured adoration, praise and worship and Confession. Another focused on vocations—God’s call and purpose for our lives—and a question/answer session. When I showed up for our last evening I was pumped to see a number of new faces—friends of our students whom they had invited to come!
While they have moved on to their next parish, I want to thank Joseph, Ben, Hannah and Tasha for the great week we had for our children, families and parish. Their motto—learn more, pray more, have more fun—is precisely what I want for our faith formation opportunities in the future!
Stay tuned as Sabrina, Jean and I continue planning for the upcoming year. We want to build off of this great month in order to give your children the best opportunities to experience God’s truth, love and mercy. And yes, we will have fun along the way!God bless!
Saturday, August 1, 2015
We heard this morning from the last chapter in the book of Exodus. Featured is the meeting tent—also known as the Dwelling, the tent of meeting or the ark.
Earlier in the book of Exodus God instructed Moses how to make this dwelling. It was a portable place of worship featuring the tent, surrounded by a rectangular sort of fence. Within the tent was a partitioned section called the Holy of holies. This is where the Ark of the Covenant was held. Containing the Ten Commandments it was the holiest place known to man.
Another name for this place—the tabernacle.
It’s interesting that thousands of years later we come each morning to the new tabernacle. This dwelling is the holiest place in the world and houses the body and blood of Jesus Christ—the fulfillment of the Law, the true Bread of life and the Priest of priests.
Another cool point: the Israelites were led by the cloud—God’s presence—in their journeys. When the cloud moved, Moses and the people followed suit. If the cloud stayed put, so did they.
This should be how we move in our lives. By frequently observing the tabernacle—by coming to Mass, receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist and praying in Eucharistic adoration—God will show us His will. He will allow us to see how He wishes to move in our lives.
Praise God for our time to dwell near the tabernacle at Mass this morning.