Archive for the ‘Courage’ Category

Who Conquers the World?

January 9, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord

I have a friend, Kathy, a former parishioner of mine now living in Michigan, whom I often call to converse about upcoming Sunday readings. She’s quite knowledgeable about the Scriptures and our Faith and, even now as she endures cancer, delights to discuss them. Talking with her always makes my homilies better. When we chatted this week I shared my hope, frustration, and challenge in preaching compellingly about the Baptism of the Lord. Virtually everyone who will encounter my homily is already baptized, a baptism they do not remember – they were baptized so young that they can’t remember any time in their lives when they were unbaptized. Getting people to appreciate having been baptized is like trying to get them excited about having once been born; or like getting an American to appreciate living their whole lives in a country where freedoms of religion, speech, and representative government are taken for granted. I didn’t know what message I was going to preach when I spoke with Kathy, but she encouraged me that God would give me something and promised to pray for me. Today I’d like to share with you some threads from other interesting conversations I’ve had this week and in the end I promise to tie their lessons together.

On Monday evening, my fortieth birthday, I spoke with my life’s longest friend. Josh is nine days older than me, we were in school together all the way from pre-K through college, and he grew up into a dynamic Christian businessman. Josh remarked that he is struck and bewildered by how much New Year’s matters to people – it’s far less big a deal for him than it seems to be for others. I likewise have memories of being underwhelmed by New Year’s Eve ever since I was a kid. Even though the ball that drops over Times Square is now covered with high-tech shimmering lights, the sight of that sphere’s slow descent still remains a disappointment to behold. A new year is just a change in number on our calendars and forms, a number whose only significance comes in reference to Jesus Christ. Maybe people like it in the way some of us have enjoyed watching a car’s mileage rollover to 100,000 on the odometer. Maybe people just like any excuse to party. But I think New Year’s appeal in popular culture owes greatly to the idea of a new time beginning, the start of a new chapter in our lives. Lots of people make New Years resolutions, typically related to health. They’re hoping for change, hoping this year will be different, yet their resolutions typically fail quickly because our human nature, by itself, is so very weak.

Thursday morning I did spiritual direction through Facebook for another past parishioner and friend of mine. I met Stephanie at my first priestly assignment, helped her become a Catholic, and today she is her parish’s Coordinator of Religious Education and Director of Youth Ministry in Neillsville. Stephanie’s family has an annual tradition of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and this year she saw it twice. I asked her if she took away any new insights from that rich film and indeed she had. The first time George Bailey goes to Martini’s Bar it’s a calm and friendly establishment where people show concern about him. George quietly prays there, “Dear Father in Heaven… Show me the way,” leaves, meets Clarence, and returns to the bar again in a world where he was never born. The bar is called “Nick’s” now and like the rest of town it has become more crowded and less wholesome, rude and cruel. These scenes impressed on her anew how much one life well-lived can make an extraordinary difference to all the lives around it.

On Thursday afternoon I partook of spiritual direction myself through Zoom with Fr. Bill Dhein, the thoughtful Chancellor of our diocese who sometimes celebrates Masses here for us. Father and I were both drawn by the Spirit to this passage from today’s second reading from the 1st Letter of John:

“Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Who indeed conquers the world? If the rioters at the Capitol this week or the rioters from this summer had succeeded, if they had prevailed and conquered, would they find peace in this world? History suggests not. Violence and death would continue to accompany them. In today’s first reading, the Lord tells us through the Prophet Isaiah:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
As high as the heavens are above the earth
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

Fr. Bill told me one of his admired spiritual heroes is St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was in the world but not of the world, and in Jesus Christ she conquered the world through a holy power which transforms this world for the better. Today’s gospel says:

“[Jesus of Nazareth] was baptized in the Jordan by John.
On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”

Remember, Christian, that you have been baptized into Christ, the Holy Spirit rests on you, and the Father acknowledges you as his beloved child. Your human nature, by itself, is weak and frail, but you are clothed in Christ and ‘can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.’ Do you want to change yourself? Do you want to be a blessing to others? Do you want to change this world wonderfully for the better? Then ask God for his indispensable, gracious help; and also seek the support of Christian friends, for iron sharpens iron and coals stay hot when gathered.

As our culture becomes increasingly less Christian we can expect to see increasing examples of social decay and religious persecution. Just as you cannot remove the foundation of a house and expect its walls and ceiling to stand upright and level, so our nation will suffer in many ways from discarding its Christian faith. But when worse things come, do not fear and do not despair – ‘God works all things for the good of those who love him.’ Do not be afraid and do not give up. The good of this community depends on you and those around you. Who indeed is the victor over the world? Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the children of God, whose faith shall conquer the world.

Finding Your Treasure Map

July 27, 2020

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

Jesus gives us few details but I imagine his first story like this. A traveler is walking a dusty road he has gone down many times before, but today as he looks out at a field nearby he notices a sunlit glint coming from the dirt. Now curious, he investigates and discovers a broken wooden crate full of gold and silver coins, apparently uncovered by recent plowing and rain. (Reportedly, in the turbulent conditions of the Holy Land in that era, it was not unusual to safeguard valuables by burying them in the ground.) Shoving the coins back inside, the man reburies the treasure on the spot with handfuls of dirt and then joyfully goes off to sell all he has in order to buy the entire field with the treasure in it. But why doesn’t he simply carry the treasure away? Who would ever know? Because that would be stealing, and in the words of our psalm the commands of God are “more precious (to him) than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” True happiness is not to be gained through evil, and one cannot come to possess the riches of God’s Kingdom using wicked means.

In Jesus’ second story today, a pearl merchant comes across a high-priced pearl for sale. Its price, let’s say, is a hundred thousand dollars. Others may have beheld this beautiful jewel before, but this pearl merchant has a discerning, expert eye. He recognizes that this pearl’s worth is significantly more than its cost and shrewdly sells everything he owns to possess it. To onlookers, he seems crazy. “Selling everything you own just for one pearl?” But the man knows what he’s about and that he will profit from this transaction.

Obviously, these two parables are similar. In both stories, men find things of great value and sell everything that they have to possess them. In this, both the traveler and the merchant display courage; courage against others’ judgments, and courage against their own natural fears. Onlookers might tell them, “What are you doing? Are you nuts? You’re giving up everything just for that?” And because we all have an incredible ability to doubt ourselves, the traveler and merchant might wonder, “What if I’m mistaken and the thing I found is a worthless fake? Or what if sell all I own and return to find the thing has disappeared?” These men will only possess the treasure or the pearl (and the profit which come from them) if they do not give in to their own unfounded fears or the misplaced criticisms of others.

We can also learn from these two stories’ differences. The fact that Jesus gives us two parables instead of just one suggests he’s teaching through their unique details. For instance, both the traveler and the merchant find valuable things, but the pearl merchant knows and actively seeks out what he’s looking for in market after market, while the traveler stumbles upon his treasure. As Jesus says, both of these parable stories describe aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” he says.

Humanity seeks after Jesus and his Kingdom; some knowingly, but many without knowing. Some seek him everywhere and rejoice to find him. Others love truth, beauty, and goodness, and are surprised to find these in Christ in his Church. His parables tell us that when we find Jesus, he expects of us a total commitment, an all-in investment; that we would love and serve him more than all else, and that we would love everyone and everything in light of him. We do this especially by embracing and living out our vocation.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare,” which means “to call.” Your vocation is your life’s calling from God. Your vocation is the means by which he intends for you to become holy and a great blessing. Some people find their vocation like the traveler on the road – stumbling upon it without having sought it. I think this is often true for marriages. A man and woman can be drawn to each other, fall in love, delight in each other, and decide to spend their lives together with or without much discerning God’s purpose for their lives. Yet, since “we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” as St. Paul says in our second reading, leading us to where he wants us even despite ourselves. If you are in the sacrament of marriage, your vocation is clear: your primary mission in life is to be the best spouse and parent you can be and to help lead your spouse and children to Heaven. There will be other works to do and people to bless through your life, but your treasure is not to be found in different fields or shops; your means to holiness is already in your midst and in your grasp.

On the other hand, some people are still searching for their vocation, like the merchant for his pearl. One does not become a priest, a religious sister or brother, or a holy celibate person in the world without a firm commitment to live one’s life for God. To others, such a choice may seem crazy: “You won’t be happy! You’re throwing your life away! We want grandchildren!” And within ourselves, it’s possible to feel cold feet and doubts toward any real commitment in this life. (“What if… what if… what if?”) But when God calls us to our vocations, we will only possess the treasure or the pearl and the profit which come from them if we do not give in to their own unfounded fears or the misplaced criticisms of others. To find and embrace your vocation requires prayerful discernment, courage, and desire for what’s truly valuable, for what ever endures.

In today’s first reading, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and tells him, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon the new, young king, feels overwhelmed by his high office, and says, “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Solomon’s request of wisdom for the benefit of the kingdom of God pleased the Lord, so God granted him great wisdom and all the gifts he had not asked for as well. Likewise, Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

Pray to God for the wisdom to find your vocation and, having found it, to joyfully embrace it (like the traveler and the merchant) with the investment of everything you have. In this way, you will come to possess treasure and the pearl of great price – Jesus Christ and his Kingdom.

Virtuous Thomas

July 14, 2020

Doubting Thomas — That is how the apostle is remembered since he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Upon seeing Jesus alive he professed, “My Lord and my God,” but the ignoble nickname endures. St. Thomas has just four quotes in the gospels, all of them found in John; his two other quotes reveal more of his character.

After Lazarus had died, Jesus said, “Let us go back to Judea,” and the disciples objected, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you and you want to go back there?” When Jesus insists on going, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” Then later, Jesus says at the Last Supper, “Where I am going you know the way.” And Thomas relies, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?

From his four quotes we glimpse Thomas’ weakness and his strengths. He should have believed his friends’ testimony that they had indeed seen and touched and spoken with Jesus resurrected (especially after having witnessed Lazarus risen from the dead) but Thomas was lacking in trust. Yet at the same time, Thomas possesses great loyalty and courage.

Where is Thomas one week after Easter Sunday? The disciples are gathered in the upper room, hiding behind locked doors for fear of those who murdered Jesus, and Thomas is right there with them. He could have chosen to retreat to someplace safer but he is loyal and brave and these virtues lead him to encounter the risen Christ.

We typically focus on our faults and flaws, on the vices and sins that hinder us. However we each possess virtues as well, areas where God has had success in us. Know and acknowledge these virtues, give thanks to God for them, and utilize them to grow. Pray for grace and use your strengths to lead you to perfect holiness like St. Thomas’ virtues led him to glory with Jesus Christ.

A Man for our Seasons

June 22, 2020

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 22nd is the feast day of St. Thomas More, one of my favorite saints. Back in 1929, the great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time.” This prediction’s one hundred year anniversary arrives this decade. So who is St. Thomas More, what made him a martyr, and what lessons does he have for us today?

In 1509, the new eighteen-year-old Catholic King of England, Henry VIII, married a smart and extremely beautiful Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon. Seventeen years later, King Henry, without a male heir, with his affections now shifted toward a mistress, began citing a passage from the Old Testament book of Leviticus to argue that his marriage to Catherine was invalid and he asked the pope to annul his marriage. What happened thereafter is a story retold in my favorite movie, 1966’s Best Picture Winning film, A Man for All Seasons. That remarkable man for all seasons – adept in all circumstances – was St. Sir Thomas More.

A successful attorney, judge, diplomat, and statesman, Thomas More served in many official roles, including as Speaker of the British House of Commons. His brilliance is reflected by his witty quotes and writings. Four hundred ten English words have their invention (or at least their first-known appearances) from him, including the word “Utopia,” the title of his most famous book. A deeply devout Catholic, Thomas More had seriously considered becoming a monk, but instead discerned a call to marriage, family, and a career in public life. All these traits combined made him a great asset to the King. For instance, More once helped Henry VIII write a treatise in “Defense of the the Seven Sacraments” against Martin Luther’s errors for which the pope bestowed upon the king the title “Defender of the Faith.” The king trusted and admired Thomas More for years and appointed him to be the Lord Chancellor of England, a very high office. Then a season of great evil came to that land.

When King Henry asked Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage the pope refused. What Henry sought would have been a divorce, and Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” Henry continued petitioning, but the Holy Father’s refusal was steadfast against this king spurning his queen. In response, Henry divorced and remarried anyway and went on to assert his supremacy over and against the pope, declaring himself to be the leader of the Catholic Church throughout his realm. Henry then used the power of the state to make all his subjects fall into line. It became a crime to agree with the pope against the king and all public figures were required to swear oaths affirming the king’s supreme headship over the Church in England. Those who denied the king’s claims would be executed.

Thomas had resigned his office and withdrawn from public life because of and prior to the king’s illegitimate remarriage and Thomas did not attend the wedding ceremony. Thomas was not going to endorse, by his words or actions what he did not believe. The king’s remarriage was wrong, but Thomas hoped that by maintaining public silence he and his family would be left alone. However, the compelled oath affirming the king’s supremacy would no longer tolerate Thomas’ neutrality. The oath was evil. Jesus, from his own lips while on this earth, had entrusted the role of supreme governance of the Church to St. Peter and his successors, the popes. Thomas was absolutely resolved not to swear a false oath, for Jesus warns us, “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

When Thomas would not take the oath, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and was charged with high treason. Thomas, the brilliant expert of law and debate, put up a sound defense that under the law they had no grounds to punish him, but following evidently false testimony from an ambitious acquaintance who betrayed him, Thomas More, under this pretext, was found guilty. The condemned man then spoke out against the unchristian oath and the injustice being done, yet in closing he said this to his judges: “More have I not to say, my lords, but that like as the blessed apostle Saint Paul, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was present and consented to the death of St. Stephen, and kept their clothes that stoned him to death, and yet be they now [both] holy saints in heaven and shall continue there friends forever: so I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have now in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in Heaven merrily all meet together to our everlasting salvation.” At his beheading for being condemned as a traitor, at his martyrdom for being faithful to Christ and his Church, St. Thomas More spoke these words: “I die the king’s good servant and God’s first.”

Today, like willful King Henry VIII, much of our prevailing culture also wants things contrary to God’s will and Christ’s teachings. They declare that all who do not fully agree with them are evil and should be expelled, cancelled from society. And the powers of government, our courts and leaders, seem to be taking their side. Jesus said:

“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

God made us male and female, he created marriage, all peoples and races share a common origin and dignity from him, and Christ was sent to save us all. Thus, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, an adult female is a woman and an adult male is a man, no one should be judged for the color of their skin, and Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. These beliefs are not always popular, but ignoring these truths leads to pain and loss. The story of St. Thomas More shows us that public silence and private disagreement may not be tolerated by this world. Sooner or later, it may be demanded that you too either submit or suffer. At that time, and all times, remember: do not lie, never ever lie, and do not be a party to a lie.

Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness… thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In years past, this passage made me think of suffering Christians in the distant mission lands of Asia or Africa, where they are the vulnerable minority, or of how the Roman pagans persecuted the early Church. But who was Jesus referring to when he said “they persecuted the prophets who were before you”? Who persecuted the Jewish prophets in the Old Testament? It wasn’t so much the unbelieving pagans as the prophets’ own leaders and neighbors they were sent to, the people of God. Likewise, a Christian can easily become a betrayer or a passive party to evil if he or she does not resolve like St. Thomas More to live in the truth and stand with Christ no matter what.

Though Thomas More was clearly innocent, it took his twelve jurors only fifteen minutes to find him guilty. They were afraid. There were fifteen judges at his trial, many of whom had been his friends, but none of them were willing to defend him. They were all afraid too. The saint might have been saved if only one had stood firm instead of just standing by. The Church in England might not have collapsed if there had been more upright men like St. Thomas More. What we do in the time that is given us matters. Stand with him and the Lord will strengthen you like he did the Prophet Jeremiah. You may feel alone, but you won’t be, and Jesus Christ will be proud of you.

This stand may cost you dearly. Will it be worth it? Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven.” So do not be afraid. Jesus says, “Fear no one.” Remember there is only One whose opinion ultimately matters. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” St. Thomas More said, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”

Last Friday evening, a statue of St. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan missionary to California, was pulled down and desecrated by about one hundred people in San Francisco. The police did nothing to stop them. Those people who did this probably believed false and horrible things about the saint, and that would be some encouragement except that many people believe false and terrible things about our Church today. Along this path it’s not hard to imagine Catholic churches being firebombed sooner or later. But remember, even if this happens, whatever may come, whatever persecution we may face, Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Love God and everyone because it’s Christian love that saves. This is what Jesus Christ, St. Thomas More, and all the martyrs showed in their courageous words and actions. Let’s learn from them and imitate them in whatever seasons await us, and so come to share in the eternal reward of the Just in Christ’s Kingdom.

 

Strong Reactions — 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

March 3, 2020

My childhood memories of summer include the Osseo City Pool. I remember having fun in the water with friends, the 80’s songs playing from the lifeguards’ boombox, and the big brown door with red letters, warning something like: “Danger, Deadly Chlorine Gas, Staff Only!” As you might imagine, I never ventured into that room. Another memorable experience from my youth involving chemicals happened some years later. My science teacher, Mr. Hall, placed a bucket of water into the snow outside of our high school. Then, using tongs, he carefully dropped into it a chunk of pure sodium, and quickly backed away. The water steamed and bubbled and exploded a couple of times. It was intimidating and awesome. Two potent chemicals: chlorine and sodium. What happens when you combine them? You get sodium chloride. Today, this compound is present in the environment and inside of our homes. It’s in the oceans, on our streets, and even in the food we eat. Sodium Chloride may sound dangerous, but you know this common compound by another name: it’s salt.

Sodium Chloride (a.k.a. Salt)

Salt preserves, salt disinfects, and salt also adds flavor. Salt can preserve food from spoiling. In the days of sailing ships, unrefridgerated salted-pork could safely feed a crew for three months at sea. Salt has been used as a disinfectant and cleaning product since ancient times. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans employed salt water to treat cuts, wounds, and mouth sores. Even in 2010, a study from the Mayo Clinic found that gargling warm salt water reduces cold symptoms, including sore throat pain and mucus. And you know firsthand from a lifetime of eating that the addition of salt can make an otherwise bland dish taste much better.

Today, Jesus tells his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth.” Like salt, Christianity is found all over the world, preserving its good, purifying its evil, and adding flavor to what would otherwise be bland, meaningless life. And yet, like Sodium Chloride, Christianity is irrationally feared. This is nothing new. Listen to this second century Letter to Diognetus describing how Christians are present throughout the world, both helpful and good, and yet feared and opposed:

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. … With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose [their children to death]. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh.”

“They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of Heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.”

Why does the world oppose devout Christianity? One reason is they imagine believing Christians behave like sodium in water, boiling hot with hatred and intolerance and violent in their reactions. Yet Christians’ allegiance to Jesus and his teachings on mercy, love, and the value of every human person are the best antidotes to mankind’s natural hatred and indifference toward others. Who is more responsible for sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, and clothing the naked in world history than Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular?

Another reason why worldly people oppose Christianity is that they think our faith is lethal to life’s pleasures; they fear that embracing Christianity would asphyxiate their happiness, like breathing chlorine gas. This too is nothing new. In Roman times, Christians were charged with “hatred of humanity” because the Romans believed ‘a lover of man should love what men love.’ The Early Christians would not partake of common sins for passing pleasures while, at the same time, living joyful lives. Joyful even at their martyrdom. As Diognetus’ pen-pal observed in the second century: “The world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because [Christians] are opposed to its enjoyments.” And so it is today. When we tell the world some things it loves are false roads to happiness the world hates us for it.

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. … In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” So what are we to do? First, realize that the modern animosity to Christianity is nothing new. Don’t wait for that cultural hostility to pass; it won’t pass in our lifetimes. Next, never accept or act like your faith is a shameful thing. Jesus 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.” If you are a Christian, Jesus wants the people around you to see something different in you and wonder, “What’s your secret.” Be unafraid to tell them the truth, “It’s my personal relationship to Jesus Christ and his Holy Church.” Cooperating with Christ to live like this saves souls and transforms our world.

There is another, more literal translation of Jesus’ words in our gospel: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world”: “You are the salt of the ground… You are the light of the cosmos.” Through your life, and every Christian life however humble, Jesus would reveal his divine light to the world, the glory and love that sustain the cosmos.

Obstacles to Jesus — 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

November 6, 2019

Last week, Jesus told us a parable about a penitential tax collector. This Sunday, St. Luke recounts for us a true story about real one. Jesus came to Jericho and a man there named Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, was seeking to see him. You just heard the ending of that story; Zacchaeus joyfully succeeds in to beholding and encountering Jesus, and Jesus happily succeeds in finding and saving Zacchaeus. But Zacchaeus’ story would have ended differently if he had allowed any earthly obstacle or any human excuse to stop him. What sort of things could have gotten in Zacchaeus’s way of seeing and encountering Jesus? Many of the same things that can get in our way.

For starters, Zacchaeus could have believed or claimed that he was too busy to devote time for Jesus. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, a busy man, and this appears to have been a working business day. Faithful Jews did not walk long distances on the Sabbath day of rest. The rabbinic tradition set the limit for Saturday travel at 2,000 cubits or about ¾ of a mile. (That’s not very far.) But Jesus walked to Jericho and had intended to pass through the town, suggesting that tolls and taxes from toilers and traders and travelers were there for the tax man’s taking. But Zacchaeus made time for Jesus in his busy day.

Are we busy? I’d bet that most people would say that they are, but busy with what? Last year, the average American adult spent 3 hours and 44 minutes a day watching television; that’s more than 28 hours per week, that’s a full 56 days in a year! Maybe you don’t watch TV at home (I don’t) but how much time do we expend with games and social media and entertainments online? Whether we have time or not for something is really a question of priorities.

We just celebrated All Saints’ Day’s. Have you ever considered, if you get canonized as a saint someday, what you would like to become the patron saint of? If I get canonized I’d like to be the patron saint of packing. I have a number of reasons for desiring this niche but needed patronage, but it all goes back to a lesson from my father. One time, for an Illinois trip, he taught me how to pack a car trunk. He said, “Put the big things in first, and then fit the smaller things in around them.” So it is with life; put the big things in first. Make time for weekly Mass, daily prayer, spiritual study, and spiritual growth. Make them your priority.

Another reality that could have made Zacchaeus give up on Jesus when they got in his way was other people. “Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.” (In other words, Zacchaeus wasn’t tall.) The crowd was not only an imposing physical barrier, but a hostile obstacle as well. They all knew him by sight and despised him as a sinner. Because of Zacchaeus’s small size, they could easily and effectively block him out or even push him away from Jesus.

On this occasion, the short of statue Zacchaeus was one of the “little ones” whom Jesus warns us not to despise: “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” And Jesus warns of great woe for anyone who causes his little ones spiritual harm: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” It is gravely wrong to push people away from Jesus through sin, but it is also a great error for us to allow others to push us away from Jesus. Jesus’ Church is holy but it’s the home of sinners, too. Do not let Judas’s betrayals or Peter’s denials, as horrible as these scandals are, keep you away from meeting Jesus here.

Zacchaeus did not let the obstacle of other people thwart him. When he was unable to penetrate the crowd, “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.” It is debated within scripture commentaries whether is was considered undignified for a first century Jewish man to run apart from an emergency. But another embarrassing aspect of this story remains recognizable for us today. When was the last time you saw a grown man climb a tree for any reason other than to cut down a branch? Climbing trees is something kids do. When people saw Zacchaeus, the rich man, sitting in a tree on Main Street they probably pointed and laughed at him. But Zacchaeus ignored their gossip and mockery to do this for Jesus, and that made the difference for his soul.

Jesus expects us to be different from the world sometimes, both in the things we do and the things we don’t or refuse to do. And people will not always respect us or like us because of it. There are various reasons for this hostility, but a major one was noted in the second century by a Christian who wrote: “the world hates the Christians not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.” Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper before his death: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”

Do you sometimes avoid doing good things because you’re afraid of looking too pious or of being thought of as a goody-two-shoes? Do pray before meals to give thanks to God and ask him to bless your food at home but never at restaurants? Do you avoid receiving Jesus’ absolution in sacramental confession because you’re afraid of what the priest or others might think? When and where was the last time you mentioned the name of Jesus outside of church or apart from prayer? We need to be unashamed to be Christians, unashamed to be Catholics, not cowed by peer pressure but bold in doing what Jesus desires of us.

Let’s make a quick review of the things that might have prevented Zacchaeus, or might prevent us, from seeking and encountering Jesus: believing or saying we’re too busy; obstacles from other people, their sinfulness or peer pressure; and finally, our own resistance to full or true conversion.

When Jesus reached the tree he saw a fruit hanging in it for his harvest. Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And Zacchaeus came down quickly and received him with joy. Jesus was not content to simply exchange pleasantries and then go their separate ways. Jesus says, “I must stay at your house.” This more than merely a historical detail–this is a profound utterance; the Lord desires to dwell with Zacchaeus for all his days.

In encountering Jesus Christ, Zacchaeus realizes he must change the way he lives. He can’t play host to Jesus one day and then behave like it never happened. Well, he could, that’s the temptation. He can keep clinging to his sins, but his sins haven’t made him happy. If Zacchaeus had been content with his life he would not have been trying so hard to see Jesus. Now, Zacchaeus is free to change his life with Christ, and he’s excited by the new hope set before him. Zacchaeus declares: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” The focus of Zacchaeus’ life has changed. No more defrauding. No more hoarding. Now, the Lord dwells in Zacchaeus’ house as his honored guest. And giving away one-half of all his wealth suggests his heart’s intention to love his neighbor as himself. And Jesus says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.

The name Zacchaeus is a Hebrew name. It means “clean” or “pure.” While Zacchaeus was still imperfect, still unclean, still impure, Jesus called out to him by name and said “today I must stay at your house.” And Zacchaeus, by finding and knowing Jesus, became true to his name, realized his true identity, became his true self. The Lord desires the same for each of us. So allow nothing to get in your way of seeing and encountering Jesus.

Christ the King & His Kingdom Among Us

November 27, 2018

We tend to think of Mexico as one of the most Catholic countries on earth, but for a time in 1920’s it was illegal to publicly celebrate Mass there. Following a revolution, the new, socialist, Mexican government effectively sought to outlaw the Catholic Church. They seized church property, expelled all foreign priests, and closed the monasteries, convents and religious schools.

But this did not stop priests like Blessed Miguel Pro from secretly ministering to the faithful; celebrating the Eucharist, distributing Holy Communion, hearing confessions, and anointing the sick clandestinely. He would often sneak from place to place in disguise, sometimes as a mechanic, or an office worker, or as a beggar. After many close calls, Fr. Pro was arrested by the government and, without trial, condemned to death on false charges that he was connected to a bombing assassination plot.

On November 23, 1927, Fr. Pro was led out for his execution by firing squad. He blessed the soldiers, knelt and quietly prayed for a time. He declined the blindfold and faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other. He held out his arms like the crucified Christ and shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!”

Just before the order was given to fire, he proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (which means “Long live Christ the King!”) When the initial bullets failed to kill him, a soldier shot him point-blank. The anti-Catholic government had a photographer on hand to capture these moments for propaganda purposes, but soon after these images were published in all the newspapers the possession of these pictures was outlawed. Seeing this Catholic priest dying innocently, bravely, and faithfully was an inspiration to the oppressed people of Mexico, who eventually won back their freedom of religion and freedom for Christ’s Catholic Church.

Today we celebrate “Christ the King,” but where is his Kingdom? During his ministry, Jesus said, “If I cast out devils by the finger of God, [and he did] then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” On another occasion he said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” And at the Last Supper he declared, “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” The next time he drank the fruit of the vine (that is to say, wine) was the next day, Good Friday, when he drank it from a sponge held to his lips as he hung upon the Cross. So when Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” and, “My kingdom is not here,” he is not saying it is entirely absent from this world, that we will only begin to see it in Heaven or at his Second Coming when his Kingdom will come in its fullness. His Kingdom is not here because it is not yet here fully, and his Kingdom does not belong to this world because it is not from this world but from Heaven.

So where is Jesus’ Kingdom on earth? Jesus was called the “Son of David,” that is, the descendant of King David and heir to his throne. It was believed that the Christ would become the new King of Israel. And in fact, when Jesus was put to death on the Cross, the written charge declared above his head was: “This is Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” The Kingdom of David and his successors (the old, Davidic dynasty) was imperfect but it prefigured Jesus’ Kingdom. As St. Augustine taught, the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The old foreshadows and points to the new. So, we can draw clues from the old Davidic Kingdom to identify Jesus’ new Kingdom in our midst.

The kings in the Davidic dynasty had many, many wives. From the beginning, God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman, but the kings of Israel – thinking blood is thicker than water – used marriages to seal their peace treaties and alliances with other nations. But this presented a problem: when the king has many wives, who is the queen? You can imagine the rivalry and discord this question could generate. The solution in the Davidic dynasty was to have the mother of the king fulfill that role, as Queen Mother. She had a throne of honor at the king’s right hand and served as an intercessor for the people of the kingdom. If someone had a request, one might bring it to her to present to the king. If the request were pleasing to the king and good for the kingdom he would happily grant it to please his well-loved mother.

The king of Israel had many ministers, but there was one prime minister among them: the king’s chief steward, the master of the royal household. As a sign of that man’s office and authority, the chief steward carried a large wooden key on his shoulders. When he would retire, or die, or be removed from office, another would take his place. His power was that of the king, on whose and with whose authority he acted. But a chief steward acting contrary to the king’s will would soon find himself replaced.

In the courts of ancient kingdoms, including Israel’s, you would find eunuchs. A eunuch is a man born or rendered physically incapable of marrying or having children. Eunuchs were preferred for practical reasons. First, they were safe to be around the king’s wives and harem. Secondly, since they had no wife or children of their own, eunuchs were entirely focused on the king and the kingdom. Their mission, personal success, and legacy were entirely wedded to that of the king’s.

Now we can see how the old conceals the new, and how the new reveals what the old prefigured. Jesus called all those willing and able to be “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Today, many ministers serve him devotedly in his celibate Priesthood. Jesus told Peter, “I give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” Jesus made Peter the first Pope, the first prime minister, chief steward, and master of his royal household on earth. Jesus has sealed his peace treaty and alliance with peoples of all nations through a single marriage: his marriage to his bride, the Church. But among the Church’s many members, is anyone the queen? As before, she is the mother of the King. The Lord has called Mary to a throne at his right hand where she intercedes for his people. If we have a request, we can ask her to present it to her Son, and if the request is pleasing to the King and good for his Kingdom he will happily grant it because he loves his mother so.

We are called to be good citizens of this country, but we are first and foremost citizens of Christ’s Kingdom. We are to vote and participate in the political process (for good polices and laws do good, while bad laws and policies do great harm) but we are not to put our trust in princes or politicians. We are to obey the law, but we know there is a higher law that supersedes unjust laws, and we know that above every earthly leader there is a higher King. That is why Blessed Miguel Pro was willing to defy the laws and president of Mexico to celebrate the Church’s sacraments and was not too terrified to face death before a firing squad. Let us remain loyal to Christ our King, and remain loyal to his Kingdom, a Kingdom which is among you, in His Holy Catholic Church.

Jesus in the Storm — 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

August 11, 2014

walking-on-water-by-aivazovsky-1890I do not think that the apostles wanted to get into that boat. Jesus made them do it.

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.

Why would they not want to go? Peter, Andrew, James, and John were previously fishermen working on this Sea of Galilee. They could recognize an approaching storm. The apostles did not want to be on the sea that night, but they obediently went.

[After sending away the apostles and the crowds, Jesus] went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.

Why did Jesus dismiss them without himself? Jesus wanted to be alone to pray after hearing about the killing of his relative and friend, John the Baptist. (Even Jesus needed dedicated times for prayer.) But there was another reason: Jesus wanted the apostles to experience one of the most memorable, most difficult, most amazing nights of their lives. After battling against the winds and waves from evening through the hours before dawn, the apostles were exhausted physically and emotionally. Then…

During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

The apostles have been casting out demons with Jesus for a long time. Perhaps they fear that this angry storm has been the work of a demon who is coming toward them in visible form on the water to finally kill them. In fact, the source of their greatest fear is actually their salvation. Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus says, “Be not afraid,” more frequently than anything else. And it is not a suggestion, it is a command. When it feels like a the hurricane blows above, and an earthquake shakes below, and fire surrounds you, it can be difficult to hear God’s tiny whispering sound. However, the Lord is always close. People are afraid of many things: Loss and poverty, loneliness and suffering, disease and pain, dying to ourselves and dying from this life. What are you most afraid of?

After [Jesus and Peter] got into the boat, the wind died down.

Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Like the Apostles, if any distress comes to you, the Lord has permitted this for your good. “Be not afraid.” Jesus comes to meet us in the storm. He does this because meeting Jesus in the storm is among the most memorable, most amazing, and most powerful experiences of our lives. As we see with Saint Peter, these difficult experiences make us more like Jesus. In everything, Jesus is near and telling us, “Be not afraid.”

Three Crosses Line Break

No creo que los apóstoles querían entrar en ese barco. Jesús les hizo hacerlo.

En aquel tiempo, inmediatamente después de la multiplicación de los panes, Jesús hizo que sus discípulos subieran a la barca y se dirigieran a la otra orilla, mientras Él despedía a la gente.

¿Por qué ellos no quieran ir? Pedro, Andrés, Santiago y Juan eran anteriormente los pescadores que trabajan en este mar de Galilea. Podían reconocer una tormenta que se aproxima. Los apóstoles no quieren estar en el mar esa noche, pero obedientemente se fueron.

Después de despedirla, [Jesús] subió al monte a solas para orar. Llegada la noche, estaba él solo allí. Entre tanto, la barca iba ya muy lejos de la costa y las olas la sacudían, porque el viento era contrario.

¿Por qué Jesús despedirlos sin él? Jesús quería estar a solas para orar después de enterarse de el asesinato de su pariente y amigo, Juan el Bautista. (Incluso Jesús necesitaba tiempos dedicados para la oración.) Pero había otra razón: Jesús quería que los apóstoles de experimentar una de las más memorables, más difíciles, más increíbles noches de sus vidas. Después de luchar contra los vientos y las olas de la noche a través de las horas antes del amanecer, los apóstoles estaban exhaustos física y emocionalmente. Entonces…

A la madrugada, Jesús fue hacia ellos, caminando sobre el agua. Los discípulos, al verlo andar sobre el agua, se espantaron y decían: “¡Es un fantasma!” Y daban gritos de terror. Pero Jesús les dijo enseguida: “Tranquilícense y no teman. Soy yo”.

Los apóstoles han sido echando fuera demonios con Jesús durante mucho tiempo. Tal vez tienen miedo de que esta tormenta enojado ha sido obra de un demonio que ahora viene hacia ellos en forma visible en el agua para finalmente matarlos.  De hecho, la fuente de su miedo más grande es en realidad su salvación. Jesús dice: “Tranquilícense y no teman. Soy yo”.

Jesús dice: “No temas,” con más frecuencia que cualquier otra cosa. Y no es una sugerencia, es una orden.  Cuando parece que un huracán sopla encima, y un terremoto sacude a continuación, y el fuego le rodea, puede ser difícil de oír el murmullo de una bias suave. Sin embargo, el Señor siempre está cerca. La gente tiene miedo de muchas cosas: la pérdida y la pobreza, la soledad y el sufrimiento, la enfermedad y el dolor, muriendo a nosotros mismos y muriendo algún día. ¿Qué es lo que más miedo?

En cuanto [Jesús y Pedro] subieron a la barca, el viento se calmó.

Jesús viene para encontrarnos en la tormenta. Él hace esto porque un encuentro con Jesús en la tormenta es una de las experiencias más sorprendentes, más memorables y más poderosos de nuestras vidas.  Como vemos con San Pedro, estas experiencias difíciles nos hacen más como Jesús. En todo, Jesús está cerca, y nos diciendo, “Tranquilícense y no teman.”

The Pentecost Project — Pentecost—Year C

May 18, 2013

Before Pentecost was a Christian celebration, it was an ancient Jewish observance. In the Old Covenant, in the Law of Moses, God commanded his people to bring some of the first grain harvested from their fields to Jerusalem be sacrificed as a burnt offering. This is the reason why Jews from so many distant countries were gathered in Jerusalem on this fiftieth day after Passover. Each Pentecost, the world’s first fruits were gathered and consecrated to the Lord. On one unique Pentecost, the Pentecost seven weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, Jews from every land were gathered by the Holy Spirit, and consecrated to God the Father, through Jesus Christ. By the end of Old Testament era, God had scattered the seeds of his chosen people across the world. On this Pentecost, the first fruits of his harvest are brought into his barn, the Church.

Pentecost can be seen as the beginning of the end of God’s project of salvation because we are now living in the world’s final era. And yet, Pentecost can also be seen as the start of a new divine project that will perdure forever. At the Tower of Babel, mankind endeavors to build a city reaching all the way to heaven. In other words, they attempt to become as gods while rejecting God. The Lord knows that this recurring human tendency leads to self-destruction, for both individuals and societies, so he thwarts their project by confusing their language. On Pentecost, God undoes Babel by allowing all peoples to understand the Apostles’ words, uniting and ennobling them. On this day, God begins in earnest to build up the Church, a new great city in communion with God that reaches all the way to heaven. Though heaven and earth pass away, this city of God, the Church, shall continue forever.

Why did the Holy Spirit come down in the form of fire? God the Holy Spirit, like the angels, is pure spirit and has no physical body. To be seen by human beings they must assume an appearance. Why did the Holy Spirit appear in the likeness of flames? Consider a different question: How many matches does it take to burn down a forest? The fire from just one small match is enough. As the small fire spreads, while remaining itself, it transforms everything around it. The holy fire that descended on Pentecost did not harm or destroy like natural fire would. The apostles may have been alarmed to see flames sailing towards their heads, but they were not burnt. The fire of the Holy Spirit is like the fire of the burning bush that Moses beheld in Exodus. Divine fire does not consume, but glorifies its hosts. Jesus once declared, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49) On Pentecost, a fire is lit in Jerusalem that spreads and transforms the world. This fire is the Holy Spirit at work.

All of salvation history was a preparation for Jesus Christ and Pentecost. Now we live in the last age of the world, the age of the Church, the city of God which shall last forever. Each of us is called to play an active part in this project of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, just as important as the gift of tongues given to the apostles was the Holy Spirit’s gift of fearless joy. Even after they had seen Jesus resurrected, the apostles timidly hid behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” But the reception of the Holy Spirit gave them a happy courage that allowed them to talk about Jesus in public to anyone who would listen. We have received the Holy Spirit also. Then why are we so timid? Why are we shy to introduce others to Jesus, our friend?  Why are we hesitant to welcome others to the Church, our community?  It seems that the Holy Spirit declines to act with power within us until we give him our free consent. Like he waited upon Mary’s response at the Annunciation, so the Holy Spirit awaits our invitation. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit’s will.  Ask him to give you new, powerful gifts. Give him permission to utilize you in the great project of salvation. And then, let us watch what he does through us.

Antes de Pentecostés era una fiesta cristiana, fue una celebración judía antigua. En el Antiguo Testamento, en la Ley de Moisés, Dios ordenó a su pueblo para llevar a algunos de los primeros granos cosechados de sus campos a Jerusalén ser sacrificado como ofrenda quemada. Esta es la razón Judios de muchos países lejanos se reunieron en Jerusalén en este quincuagésimo día después de la Pascua. Cada Pentecostés, las primicias del mundo se reunieron y se consagraron al Señor. Por un Pentecostés especial, siete semanas después de la resurrección de Jesús, Judios de todos los países se reunieron por el Espíritu Santo, y se consagraron a Dios Padre por medio de Jesucristo. Para el final de la época de del Antiguo Testamento, Dios había esparcido las semillas de su pueblo elegido a través del mundo. En este Pentecostés, los primeros frutos de su mies se llevan a su granero, la Iglesia.

Pentecostés se puede considerar como el comienzo del fin del proyecto de salvación de Dios porque estamos ahora viviendo en la época final del mundo. Y, sin embargo, Pentecostés se puede también ser visto como el comienzo de un nuevo divino proyecto que va a perdurar para siempre. A la Torre de Babel, la humanidad se esfuerza por construir una ciudad llegar al cielo. En otras palabras, ellos intentan convertirse en dioses mientras que rechazando a Dios. El Señor sabe que esta tendencia humana recurrente conduce a la auto-destrucción, tanto para los individuos y las sociedades. Por lo tanto, Dios frustra su proyecto a través de confundir su idioma. En Pentecostés, Dios deshace Babel a través de permitir que todos los pueblos a comprender las palabras de los apóstoles. Dios une a las gente y les ennoblece. En este día, Dios comienza en serio la edificación de la Iglesia, una nueva gran ciudad en comunión con Dios, que llega a todo el camino al cielo. Aunque el cielo y la tierra pueden pasar, esta ciudad de Dios, la Iglesia, continuará para siempre.

¿Por qué el Espíritu Santo descendió en forma de fuego? Dios el Espíritu Santo, como los ángeles, es espíritu puro y no tiene cuerpo físico. Para ser visto por los seres humanos deben asumir una apariencia. ¿Por qué el Espíritu Santo aparece en la imagen de las llamas? Considere una pregunta diferente: ¿Cuántas fósforos se necesitan para quemar un bosque? El fuego de un solo fósforo es suficiente. Como los pequeños fuego se extiende, sin dejar de ser ella misma, se transforma todo a su alrededor. El fuego sagrado que descendió en Pentecostés no dañar o destruir como el fuego natural. Los apóstoles pueden haber sentido la ansiedad a ver las llamas que vuelan hacia sus cabezas, pero no fueron quemados. El fuego del Espíritu Santo es como el fuego de la zarza ardiente que vio Moisés en Éxodo. Fuego divino no consume, pero glorifica a su moradas. Jesús una vez declaró: “Yo he venido a traer fuego sobre la tierra y ¡cuánto desearía que ya estuviera ardiendo!” (Lucas 12:49) En el día de Pentecostés, el fuego se enciende en Jerusalén, se extiende y transforma el mundo. Este fuego es el Espíritu Santo en el trabajo.

Toda la historia de la salvación fue una preparación para Cristo y Pentecostés. Ahora vivimos en la última época del mundo, la era de la Iglesia, la ciudad de Dios que durará para siempre. Cada uno de nosotros está llamado a desempeñar un papel activo en este proyecto delEspíritu Santo. En el día de Pentecostés, tan importante como el don de lenguas dadas a los apóstoles fue el don del Espíritu Santo de la alegría sin miedo. Aun después de que habían visto a Jesús resucitado, los apóstoles se escondían tímidamente detrás de puertas cerradas “por miedo de los Judios”. Sin embargo, la recepción delEspíritu Santo les dio un coraje feliz que les permitió hablar de Jesús en público a cualquier persona que escucharía. Hemos recibido el Espíritu Santo también. Entonces ¿por qué estamos tan tímido? ¿Por qué evitamos introducir a otros a Jesús, nuestro amigo? ¿Por qué estamos renuentes a dar la bienvenida a otros a nuestra Iglesia, nuestra comunidad? Parece que el Espíritu Santo se niega a actuar con el poder dentro de nosotros hasta que le demos nuestro consentimiento libre. Como él esperó a la respuesta de María en la Anunciación, del mismo modo el Espíritu Santo espera nuestra invitación. Ábrase a la voluntad delEspíritu Santo. Pídele que le dará nuevos, poderosos dones. Dará el Espíritu Santo permiso usarte más en su gran proyecto de salvación. Y luego, velemos lo que hace a través de nosotros.

Our Thrice Holy God — 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

March 3, 2013

The ancient Hebrews did not have a word that means “very.” To describe something or someone as “very beautiful” they would use the word twice, “It is beautiful, beautiful.” And to describe something or someone as “the most beautiful” they repeated the word three times: “She is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.” This is the reason Isaiah hears the angels saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.” The Lord is the most holy, sacred, pure, and perfect.

It can feel overwhelming to be in the presence of the holy Lord. Isaiah exclaimed, “Woe is me, I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Peter says, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinner!” This Wednesday we begin another season of Lent, because we are sinners and God is holy. Yet, the Lord purifies Isaiah with the ember from the altar. And Jesus reassures Peter, “Do not fear.” St. Paul says: “I am unworthy to be called an apostle. However, by the grace of God I am what I am”.

God is not very concerned about where we have been. God is more concerned about where we are going. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Jesus says to you, “Be not afraid.” No matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done, God can do great things with Jesus Christ in you.

Los antiguos hebreos no tenían una palabra que significa “muy”. Para describir algo o alguien como “muy hermoso” usarían la palabra dos veces, “Es hermoso, hermoso”. Y para describir algo o alguien como “la más hermosa”, repitieron la palabra tres veces: “Es hermosa, hermosa, hermosa.” Esta es la razón Isaías oye a los ángeles diciendo: “Santo, santo, santo es el Señor”. El Señor es el más santo, puro sagrado y perfecto.

Esto puede ser abrumador para estar en la presencia del Señor santo. Isaías exclamó: “¡Ay de mí, estoy perdido, porque soy un hombre de labios impuros”! Pedro dice: “Apártate de mí, Señor, porque soy un pecador!” Somos pecadores y Dios es santo. Este miércoles comenzar otro tiempo de Cuaresma, porque somos pecadores y Dios es santo. Sin embargo, el Señor purifica Isaías con la brasa del altar. Y Jesús tranquiliza a Pedro: “No temas”. San   Pablo dice: “Soy indigno de llamarme apostól. Sin embargo, por la gracia de Dios, soy lo que soy”.

Dios no está muy preocupado acerca de dónde hemos estado. Dios está más preocupado por dónde vamos. Cada santo tiene un pasado y todo pecador tiene un futuro. Jesús te dice: “No temas.” No importa dónde has estado, no importa lo que has hecho, Dios puede hacer grandes cosas con Jesús Cristo en ti.

Teachings Hardly Heard — 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 10, 2011

Like the rains that come down from heaven to water the earth, so we are called to live lives of self-gift, fruitfulness, and peace. Jesus comes down from heaven to give us life, to free us from futility and slavery to corruption. But sometimes when Jesus preaches, people hear without understanding and the evil one steals away the seed of truth He sows. For others, worldly fear and the attraction of riches prevent Jesus’ word from bearing fruit. But when His word lands on a person of openness and discernment, it bears a great fruitfulness for that person and others.

What are teachings that we as Catholics have tended to hear but not understand, to glace at but never really examine. What are the teachings of Jesus Christ’s Church which we hardly hear with our ears and toward which we are most tempted to close our eyes? These are the issues about which clergy are most hesitant to preach. Nevertheless, Jesus wills that we hear these things with our ears, understand them with our hearts, and be converted, that He may heal us. Please pray now, for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that your heart may receptive to His word.

One area about which we hardly hear with our ears is the harm in sensual or romantic fantasizes.

For men, this temptation tends to be toward indecent images. For women, it tends towards things like romance novels. With these things, a person looks at another, or imagines being with another, without ever touching them, but that does not make sensual or romantic fantasies o.k. or harmless. Recall how Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

What is the harm in these things? Real love is only found and shared in the real world. Sensual or romantic escapism leaves behind those we are called to love. Compared to these fantasies, no real man or woman, no wife or husband, can possibly measure up. These fantasies can be addictive and they change the way we look at and relate to others in daily life.

If books, magazines, or movies tempt you in this way, throw them out. If the internet is the gateway to fantasy, place near the monitor a picture of someone you love. Commit yourself to loving the real people in your life, for that is the only place where real love is found.

Another topic about which we hardly hear is the harm of contraception.

In the beginning, upon creating the first man and woman, “God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply.’”  To unite husband and wife in love, and to bless the world with new human life, God designed the one-flesh marital embrace. God created and wills this embrace for life as well as love. Contraception, however, separates life from love, to the harm of both.  This must not be done for as Jesus said, in the context of marriage, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

Forms of contraception are not new, they’re actually quite ancient. And from the start, the Catholic Church has recognized the wrongness of intentionally contracepted acts. In fact, as late as 1930, all Protestant groups agreed with Catholics on this principle (before they began to splinter off.) If the constant teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ is not persuasive enough, consider the fallout of contraception.

A contracepting couple closes off their marriage, their embrace, to life. Therefore, if they unexpectedly conceive a child, the little one is not felt to be a gift from God but a mistake. Whenever the surprise blessing of a child is considered to be a curse, love for that child is wounded, and even the unspeakable becomes tempting.

Contraception also threatens the love of couples. Pope Paul VI foresaw this danger, as he wrote in Humanae Vitae, “It is also to be feared that the man who grows accustomed to contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and psychological equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, and no longer as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” Contraception separates life and love to the harm of both.

What then does the Church ask couples to do; to have as many children as they physically possibly can? No—For serious physical, psychological, economic, or social reasons, a couple may limit their marital embraces to her cycle’s naturally infertile periods. This is called Natural Family Planning (or NFP) and its methods, when used as directed, are as effective as the pill. But unlike the pill, Natural Family Planning has no unhealthy side-effects, is not an abortifacient, and conforms with God’s will. Practicing NFP is fruitful within marriage, whether God blesses a couple with more children or not.

A third subject about which we do not hear is the harm of fornication, or partaking of the marital embrace without the covenant of marriage.

Body language speaks, and the message of the body in the marital embrace is one of total self-gift. It says, “I joyfully give myself to you, all of me, completely and forever.” Fornication, however, makes this language of the body a lie. Unless a relationship has been sealed, before God and the world, in the bond of marriage, either one of the couple can back out at any time, and the couple knows this. It’s always in the back of their minds. For this reason, these couples tend to repress anger and complaints, avoid facing problems in their relationship, and put off the hard questions about their future together.

The embrace of man and woman naturally forges strong emotional bonds between the couple. In marriage, that’s a good thing, but before a marriage this clouds judgment and can plaster over serious flaws, serious cracks, in a bad relationship, at least for awhile. And what if their embrace conceives a child they don’t think they’re ready for? The woman, to preserve the relationship, may be tempted or coerced toward an unspeakable choice she’ll always regret.

Cohabitating couples can slouch into marriage; sometimes the man doesn’t really choose marriage so much as finally give in to others’ expectations. Then, after their wedding, nothing really seems different from before, and psychologically, the assumptions of their dating relationship carry into the marriage. Once their wedding day (which wasn’t as special for them as it should have been) drifts further away into the past, and marital difficulties inevitably arise, the old idea, the old escape hatch of breaking up and moving out, naturally returns, increasing the risk of divorce.

Fornication and cohabitation expose a person to emotional and spiritual pains, decrease one’s chances of marrying the right person, and increase one’s chances of divorcing in the future. No matter where you are in your dating relationships, Jesus Christ calls you to pre-marital chastity, for true love is found in purity.

A final topic about which we hardly hear is the harmfulness in acting out according to one’s same-sex attractions.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated [tendencies of this kind] is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

It is important for all of us to remember that a temptation, whatever it is, by itself, is not sin. Unless we go out looking for temptation, we are not responsible for the temptations which our genetics, upbringing, or environment send our way. What important is how we respond to our temptations, whether we give in to them and fall, or if stand strong with God like His saints before us.

As a Christian, and a fellow sinner, it would be wrong for me to look down on anyone. God loves everyone like He loves me. But at the same time, it would not be loving for me as a follower of Jesus Christ to say that acting out on one’s same-sex attractions is o.k. or harmless. The Old and New Testaments and the constant teachings of Christ’s Church are clear.

People of the same sex may be friends, even the dearest of friends with each other, but they’re not meant to be lovers. Man and wife were made each other. Their masculine and feminine differences compliment and complete each other and husbands and wives, as mothers and fathers. This is seen physically, in their marital embrace and in the conception of new life; but also psychologically and spiritually as well, in faithful marriages that last a lifetime. Persons of the same sex do not have this complimentarity and to ignore truth this leads to suffering, for such relationships are unhealthy for one’s body or soul. The tragically higher rates of promiscuity, transmittable diseases and cancers, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and attempted suicide, point to the brokenness of these lifestyles. (And one notes that these comparatively higher rates are found not only in our country, but also aboard, like in the Netherlands where such relationships are more common and much more socially accepted.) Jesus calls these brothers and sisters of His and ours to a different, better, happier way of life.

Regardless of our temptations, there is hope. Freedom from sin and joyful peace are possible for all of us, by the grace of Jesus Christ the support of one another. For example, Courage international is a Catholic organization which ministers to help those with same-sex attractions live chaste and happy lives. For more information about Courage groups in our area, or about how to enroll in Natural Family Planning classes see me after Mass or give me a call. If you are cohabitating and wish to return to chastity but you don’t know how you as a couple can practically achieve it, talk to me. God has solutions for those who seek His will. May the seeds of Jesus’ teachings find rich soil in your hearts and bear an abundant harvest for you and for others.

Fear of Death — Friday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time—Year I

January 28, 2011

God permits us to feel a natural aversion to death. This is healthy and for our good. (Imagine what the world would be like if everyone were completely indifferent as to whether they lived or died.) However, for faithful Christians, there is no reason to be terrorized by a fear of death.

If you remain close to the sacraments and rooted in daily prayer you have no reason to be afraid. Maybe you feel ill-prepared to die, but like the seed that grows without the farmer understanding how, God is preparing you for the unending life of Heaven in ways you don’t even perceive. Like the mustard seed, we may go into the ground as seemingly small and weak human beings, but we will rise with a greatness and power that even delights and blesses the angels of Heaven.

A natural aversion to death is healthy, but for Christians a fear of death is out of place. For, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.”

7 Superpowers — Tuesday, 1st Week of Advent

November 30, 2010

Back when I was in seminary, we would sometimes joke around with a game we called Superpower/Super-weakness. One of us would imagine a superpower for himself, and then we would try to come up with a super-weakness, or vulnerability, to go with it.

So let’s say that you’re able to fly; then, your super-weakness is that you can only fly to Iowa. Imagine you have the ability to change anything into food; however, that food is always celery and you don’t have any teeth. Or perhaps you can talk with animals, but they only want to talk to you about lawnmowers, trees, and how things smell.

Today, I have a challenge for you. I am going to describe to you seven superpowers, seven more-than-human abilities, though none of these will have built-in drawbacks. Your challenge is to choose which superpower you want for yourself. Here we go:

The first is the power to always recognize what is truly important. With this power, you always keep the big picture in mind. With this power, trifles never distract you and you always spend your time and money well. Let’s call this, Wisdom.

Or, would you rather have the ability to power to penetrate deeply into any topic and grasp it thoroughly. With this power, you could become an expert in any chosen field. If you were to study the dynamics of the stock market, or the weather, or even your female classmates, you would soon understand them thoroughly. Let’s call this power, Understanding.

Or, would you prefer the power to sense the best course of action to take in the middle of any situation? With this power, you would always get reliable hunches in uncertain moments. Let’s call this power, Counsel. (Possessing superhuman intuition would be useful, but even if you always knew the best choice to make, you wouldn’t necessarily always have the strength or courage to follow it through.)

Would you rather have the power to be free from all unreasonable fears and to be able to ignore any sufferings? With this ability, you are be perfectly brave and an overwhelming force. Let’s call this power, Fortitude.

Or, would you want the ability to detect when someone is speaking truth or a falsehood? With this power, you are more than a human lie-detector, you are able to see through subtle and false arguments which other people accept as true. Let’s call this power, Knowledge.

Or, would you prefer to have the innate ability that you would always intensely desire to do what you know to be right? People often know the right thing to do but they still don’t do it. With this power, you are irresistibly drawn to do what’s good. Let’s call this power, Piety.

Or, lastly, would you rather have total protection from ever doing anything stupid? With this ability, you are spared from making the mistakes and errors which are committed by many other people. Let’s call this power, Holy Fear.

So, how many here would choose Wisdom; the ability to always recognize what is truly important and to keep first things first in life?

Who here would choose Understanding; to penetrate deeply into great mysteries?

How many would choose Counsel; an uncanny intuition for choosing the best course of action?

How many here would choose Fortitude; the power to be freed from fears and endure all sufferings?

Who would choose Knowledge; the ability to recognize truth or falsehood whenever you hear it?

How many would choose Piety; the ability to intensely desire to do whatever you know to be right?

And how many would choose Holy Fear, or the Fear of the Lord, to be protected from doing foolish things?

These seven superpowers, these seven more-than-human abilities, are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Their names come from today’s first reading, Isaiah 11:1-10. The good news for us is that God freely gives these gifts to the childlike who ask Him for them, and He does not limit us to just one. At this Mass, pray for all seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, but especially for the power which you desire the most.

The Sorrowful Mysteries, Meditations on Vocation with the Saints

October 29, 2010

The 1st Sorrowful Mystery:
The Agony in the Garden

Years before Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Blessed Virgin Mary had an agony of her own, when the Archangel Gabriel came to announce to her that she would bear the Son of God. Mary was “greatly troubled,” and the angel sought to reassure her “Do not be afraid, Mary….” Even after the plan was presented to her, she must have been full of questions about her future, like “What will Joseph and my parents think?” But Mary answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” and because she said that, Jesus could say years later, “Father… not my will but yours be done.”

God has a plan for every life, and a calling, a “vocation,” meant for them. Accepting God’s plan for our lives can take great, trusting courage, but answering “Yes” to Him will do more good than we know. Let us pray for the grace, trust, and courage to say “Yes” to our own God-given callings.

The 2nd Sorrowful Mystery:
The Scourging at the Pillar

Father Damien went to the Hawaiian island of Molokai to minister the spiritual and bodily needs of lepers exiled there. Last year, in 2009, Father Damien was canonized a saint. But in 1889, six months after his death, the following letter was published in a Protestant Christian newspaper:

Dear Brother,

In answer to your inquires about Father Damien, I can only reply that we who knew the man are surprised at the extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he was a most saintly philanthropist. The simple truth is, he was a coarse, dirty man, headstrong and bigoted. He was not sent to Molokai, but went there without orders; did not stay at the leper settlement (before he became one himself), but circulated freely over the whole island (less than half the island is devoted to the lepers), and he came often to Honolulu. He had no hand in the reforms and improvements inaugurated, which were the work of our Board of Health, as occasion required and means were provided. He was not a pure man in his relations with women, and the leprosy of which he died should be attributed to his vices and carelessness. Other have done much for the lepers, our own ministers, the government physicians, and so forth, but never with the Catholic idea of meriting eternal life.

– Yours, etc., “C. M. Hyde”

Hyde’s comments are noted today only because they were so exquisitely answered in an open letter by Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island (1883) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Stevenson quite rightly wrote, “[If the world will] at all remember you, on the day when Damien of Molokai shall be named a Saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage.” The whole reply, assessing Damien and rebuking Hyde, is worth your reading, but I will give you the closing words: “[Father Damien] is my father… and the father of all who love goodness; and he was your father too, if God had given you grace to see it.”

In yesterday’s gospel, Jesus asked, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” This is because when someone set about to do God’s will, the world, which opposes God, will attack that person. Criticisms will land on the just man like lashes on the back. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all speak well of you,” for ‘the world loves its own.’ If there is nothing very counter-cultural about your life, then you are not yet living out the Gospel as Christ calls you to do. Let us pray for the grace to be faithful to the Gospel, even at personal cost.

The 3rd Sorrowful Mystery:
The Crowning with Thorns

Once, when St. Maximillian Kolbe was a boy, his behavior began trying his mother’s patience. She said in exasperation, “Maximillian, what will become of you?” As St. Maximillian writes, “Later, that night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” How bold of him to imagine, and how bolder still to ask, that he might receive them both. St. Maximillian would receive both crowns, as a holy Franciscan brother, and as a victim of the Nazis at Auschwitz, where he took the place of another innocent man who was condemned to die.

At yesterday’s Mass you heard that God, by His power, “is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine.” Yet we will receive little if we are too timid to imagine or ask much of Him. Let us pray for the grace to imagine and ask to be crowned by Christ with a life with far greater than whatever we would merely drift into on our own.

The 4th Sorrowful Mystery:
The Carrying of the Cross

In 1961, Gianna Molla was expecting another child. During her second month of pregnancy, a tumor developed in her uterus. She could have chosen to have her uterus removed—preserving her own life, but resulting in her baby’s death.  Instead, she chose to try having the tumor surgery removed. After the operation, complications continued throughout her pregnancy. Gianna told her family, “This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other—I want them to save my baby.” On Good Friday, 1962, Gianna gave birth to her daughter, Gianna Emanuela, but it was too late for the mother. St. Gianna Molla died one week later.

Naturally, we all hate to suffering, but if you were to ask St. Gianna Molla what was the greatest thing she ever did, the thing she least regrets and of which she is most proud, I bet she point to this final trial, carrying the cross for the life of her child. I suspect, that on the other side of death, we shall see how much good an offered suffering can do, and we will regret not having offered more. We should ask ourselves, would I rather live a great life, or merely an easy one. Let us pray for the grace to be a lasting blessing to others though the crosses that come our way.

The 5th Sorrowful Mystery:
The Crucifixion

We think of Mexico as one of the most Catholic countries there are, but in 1920’s, it was illegal to celebrate Mass there.  That did not stop priests like Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J. from sneaking about to minister to people in their homes.  After many close calls, Fr. Pro was captured by police and condemned to death on false charges that he was somehow connected to a bombing assassination plot.

When he was led out for his execution by firing squad, Fr. Pro be blessed the soldiers, knelt and quietly prayed for a time. Declining a blindfold, he faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other and held his arms out in imitation of the crucified Christ and shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” Just before the firing squad was ordered to shoot, he proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) When the first shots failed to kill him, a soldier shot him point-blank. The government had a photographer on hand, capturing these moments for propaganda purposes, but soon after the images were published their possession was made illegal—a Catholic priest dying faithfully and bravely was an inspiration giving new life to a people oppressed.

At the end of the Rosary we pray, “O God… grant, we beseech Thee, that, meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.” If we are faithful to Christ, the mysteries of His life we be made manifest in our own. And if we are faithful to Christ, we will receive a glory similar to His own. Let us pray for the grace to live extraordinary lives in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

A Great Quote about St. Issac Jogues

October 20, 2010

August, 1642 AD. The Jesuit missionary St. Issac Jogues is canoeing to the land of the Herons in New France when he is captured by Mohawk Iroquois. They torture him and cut off several of his fingers. He later escapes them and returns home to France, but he laments no longer being able to preside at the Mass.  (Canon law prohibits him from offering the sacrifice with his maimed hands.)

An appeal is made to Pope Urban VIII in Rome for an unprecedented dispensation. The pope  responds with this famous reply:

“Can one deny the right to say Mass to a martyr of Christ?”

St. Issac Jogues returns to Canada and sheds his blood a second, final time at the hands of those he came to save.