Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

A Wonderful Vacation

September 7, 2017

How was my vacation? It was a wonderful adventure! Missouri’s solar eclipse was beautiful; a black circle with white wisps extending over a surprisingly blue background. In the first seconds when the Sun began reemerging from the Moon there was a bright speck and then an expanding light so intense that it could not be looked at. It was like seeing the large stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb on Easter morning at the moment of the Resurrection.

We touched the St. Louis Arch, a structure whose geometric simplicity belies the amazing landmark that it is. Ask yourself, how would you build such a thing sixty-three stories in the air?

In Arizona, I was pleased to providentially cross paths with Clare Shakal from Cooks Valley. I was surprised to learn she happens to work at the parish where a friend from seminary I was visiting is now pastor.

In  Southern California I saw the last line of light from a red Sun be swallowed by the ocean. Pedestrians paused on the pier to watch the Earth eclipse of the Sun (what we call a sunset) but there was nothing like the numbers who gathered for the much rarer eclipse the week before.

One morning, I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, and went to bed in Wisconsin that night. While flying home (over a distance it would have taken me months to travel on foot) I gazed down upon the Grand Canyon for the first time. Our pilot never mentioned it.

My trip had many highlights but the part I enjoyed the most and what seasoned all the rest was the good friends I was blessed to share my adventure with.

What makes something wondrous? Things we encounter often feel less precious and usually go unnoticed. If solar eclipses happened daily at noon they would be no less beautiful but they never make the news. Our world is filled with wonders but even when we live in appreciative gratitude we still long for more. This is a sign to us that we were made to live forever; in a loving communion of persons with an infinitely interesting and beautiful God.

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We Owe Him Big — Tuesday of Holy Week

April 20, 2011

When I was your age, there was a popular show on TV that I liked to watch that maybe you’ve heard of, the show was called The Simpsons. And though it was 20 years ago, I still remember my favorite episode: “Bart Gets an F.” This episode happens to be the most highly-rated Simpsons of all-time and Entertainment Weekly once picked it as the “31st Greatest Moment in Television [History].”

Bart Simpson was failing the fourth grade, and Mrs. Krabappel told him that if he failed his next exam he would forced to repeat the year. Bart tries to prepare by teaming up with Martin to study, but Martin abandons him. And so, the night before the exam, Bart has run out of time. Bart goes to his bedside, kneels down, and prays.

“I know I haven’t always been a good kid, but, if I have to go to school tomorrow, I’ll fail the test and be held back.  I just need one more day to study, Lord.  I need Your help! A teachers strike, a power failure, a blizzard… Anything that’ll cancel school tomorrow.  I know it’s asking a lot, but if anyone can do it, You can!  Thanking You in advance, Your pal, Bart Simpson.” Bart turns off the light, goes to bed, and outside, snowflakes begin to fall.

The next day, the whole world is white and deep. Kids are throwing snowballs, building forts, and riding sleds downhill. Even the adults are joining in the fun. Mayor Quimby solemnly proclaims, “I hereby declare this day to be Snow Day, the funnest day in the history of Springfield!” Bart grabs his sled and makes to rush out the front door, but when arrives at the door, Lisa’s ominous shadow blocks the way.

“I heard you last night, Bart.  You prayed for this.  Now your prayers have been answered.  I’m no theologian; I don’t know who or what God is exactly, all I know is He’s a force more powerful than Mom and Dad put together, and you owe Him big.”

Bart pauses and says, “You’re right.” He removes his goggles from his head and hands them to Lisa. “I asked for a miracle, and I got it.  I gotta study, man!” He goes up stairs and studies like he’s never studied before, or probably since. The next day Bart passes his exam, and the fourth grade, with a D—, and mother Marge puts his test proudly on the fridge.

This weekend, we are going to have a lot of days off from school. Let us remember whom we have to thank for that, what he did for us, and what this long weekend is for. I know you will all be in church on Easter. Everybody’s in church on Easter. But Holy Thursday evening, and Good Friday afternoon, Jesus would enjoy your company at church then, too. If you can’t come at least think of Him then, and of what He’s done for us. Let’s not be like Judas, who was without gratitude, and was the first one out the door. Let us be like Bart Simpson, at least in this much, in showing our thanks to the God who saved our butts, because we owe Him big.

The Giving Tree — Tuesday, 8th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

March 1, 2011

Do you remember The Giving Tree, that very green childrens book by Shel Silverstein? It’s a story about a boy and the tree that loved him. When he is a boy, the tree gives him her leaves to play with and her apples to eat. However, when the boy becomes a young man he comes asking for money, so that he can buy things and have fun. Since money doesn’t grow on trees, she gives him her apples for him to sell. Time passes, and he comes back, this time asking for a house. The tree lets him cut off her branches so that he may build one. Later, much later, the boy returns again, but he is now a much older and sadder man.”I want a boat that will take me far away from here,” he says. “Can you give me a boat?” The tree offers her trunk and he takes it. He fashions a boat, and sails far away. After a long time, the boy returns, now a very tried and very old man. The tree is now just an old stump. He has taken everything, but she still gives. The story closes with these words: “‘Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’ And the boy did. And the tree was happy.”

Now if The Giving Tree has always been one of your favorite books, that’s ok. If it has a special place in your heart, don’t let me or anybody take that from you. But, as for me, this book has always bothered the heck out of me. Even when I was a kid, the story filled me with indignation. Do you know what I’m taking about?

It’s the boy! The selfish, ungrateful boy, who never gives anything back. He receives everything the tree has to give and he never says, “Thank you.” He takes everything she has to give, uses all of it up on himself, and he never says, “I’m sorry.” This book would have been so much better if he just said “thank you” at the end. Does this kid’s behavior in the story of The Giving Tree bother you like it bothers me? If so, then you and I should make sure that we’re not doing the same in our own lives.

So who would be the “giving tree” we take for granted in our lives? Our moms and dads come first to mind. They’ve given us life, food, shelter, clothing, and love our entire lives. What have we given back to them? They probably don’t need your material support right now, but they would appreciate signs of your love. (It’s probably no coincidence that Shel Silverstein dedicated The Giving Tree to his own mom.) But there is another “Giving Tree” we can take for granted, who is even greater and more generous than our parents. I speak of God, and of Jesus Christ, “from whom all good things come.” What should we do for our parents and for God? We should honor them with our words. We should obey them in our actions. We should be grateful for everything and show it.

For God, we do this by way of sacrifices. (This Eucharist is a thanksgiving sacrifice. The name itself means thanksgiving in Greek.) Yet our sacrifice is not merely what happens here at church, but the offering of our whole lives. Those who make no sacrifices for God in their daily lives bring nothing to His altar. What do we have to offer Him today? What will we have to offer him tomorrow?

Jesus Christ is The Giving Tree. At this sacrifice, let us say to Him, “I’m sorry, for misusing your gifts.” Let us say, “Thank you, for your generosity to us.” And let us say, “I love you,” because that will make Him happy.

Mother’s Day Homily

May 9, 2010

This Sunday our country celebrates our mothers—and rightly so. For the care and love which our mothers have given us is beyond price or measure. Of course, our earthly parents are not perfect. Sometimes they’re quite far from perfect. But any love we’ve known from them is a likeness of the love God has for us.  A religious icon is made of mere wood and paint, but it can be a window to heavenly realities.  In the same way, we can see through our parents’ love a glimpse to God Himself.

Most of us have more memories about our mothers than we could possibly count, but today I would like to take you back to a time and place about which you have no clear memories—to the time in your mother’s womb.

In the Bible, the number forty denotes times of waiting and preparation: For instance, Noah spent 40 days and nights in the ark. The Hebrews wandered with Moses for 40 years in the desert. Before His ministry, Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness, and after His death, He rested 40 hours in the tomb. Similarly, you remained 40 weeks, more or less, within your mother’s womb, being prepared for a new life.

Attached to your mother’s vine you grew into the mature fruit of her womb. You were nourished and matured within her. You were never far from her heart or mind. You existed in within her, connected to her at the center of your being. She fed you with her very self. She provided for all your needs. Apart from her, you could do nothing. You remained in her and found rest within her.

In the womb, at the earliest stages of our lives, our minds did not comprehend very much, but what if you could have understood everything that your mother was doing for you at the time? Surely you would have directed your thoughts to her often.  And certainly, from time to time, you would have turned to her with the eyes of your heart to bask in her love for you.

What if you could have talked with your mom from the womb? Would you not have taken the opportunity to speak with her every day? Would you not have thanked her daily out of a deep gratitude? Would you not have let her know each day how much you love her? Whoever would refuse or neglect to express such love and thanks would continue to live, at least functionally or biologically, but they would not be fully alive without this relationship with their mother.

As you and your mother would continue to talk, as the days and months of pregnancy passed by, she would eventually present you with a most-frightening prospect: She might put it this way, “My child, soon, in a little while, you are going to begin a new stage of your life. You will be departing from the life you know, and then you’ll experience a whole world of people and things you have never known before.”

You might say, “I’m scared! I don’t want to go—not now, not ever!” But she would answer, “I realize this concept is scary for you, but trust me when I say that it is better that you go. In fact, someday soon you’ll look back and think it a silly thought to be again as you are now. This transition is going to hurt a little bit… trust me, I know… but when the appointed time comes, I’ll be right here with you. Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be O.K.”

This morning we reflect on this time in the womb because our life in our mothers is like our life in Christ. As it was with our mothers, so it is, in our life with Christ. You are attached to Him as to a vine you mature as a child of God. You are nourished and grow within Him. You are never far from His heart or mind. You exist within Him, connected to Him at the center of your being. He feeds you with His very self. He provides for all your needs. Apart from Him, you can do nothing. You remain in Him and find rest in Him.

Knowing and believing this, shouldn’t we direct our thoughts to Him often? Shouldn’t we, from time to time, turn to Him with the eyes of our hearts to bask in His love for us. We have the ability to talk with Jesus Christ, in prayer, whenever we wish. Who would not take the opportunity to speak with Him every day? Who would not thank Him daily out of deepest gratitude? And who would not let Him know each day how much we love Him? Whoever would refuse or neglect to speak with Him, would continue to live, at least functionally or biologically, but they will not be fully alive without this relationship with Christ. We need to pray every day if we want to remain in Him and bear much fruit.

We don’t want to die and that’s perfectly natural. But Jesus says to us, “Soon, in a little while, you are going to begin a new stage of life. You will be departing from the life you know, and then you’ll experience a whole world of people and things you have never known before. I realize this concept is scary for you, but trust me when I say that it is better that you go. In fact, someday soon you’ll look back and think it a silly thought to be as you are now again. This transition is going to hurt a little bit… trust me, I know… but when the appointed time comes, I’ll be right there with you. Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be O.K.”

Today, let us thank God for the life, love, and tender care we have received from our mothers and through Jesus Christ. God bless our mothers and praised be Jesus Christ.

Holy Reminders — Friday, 1st Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

January 16, 2010

Jesus said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”But why did Jesus send the man home with his mat? Why say anything more than, “I say to you, be healed and rise”? Why send the man home and have him take his mat with him?

Was it that Jesus was annoyed with the intrusion of this man and his amateur skylight instillation crew? That’s not it, for throughout the Gospels Jesus is always pleased by seeing displays of faith, and it says here that Jesus “saw their faith.” Rather, it is those who obstinately hold on to their faithlessness against all positive evidence who elicit Jesus’ annoyance in the Gospels. Recall when He said elsewhere:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.”

So why did Jesus send the cured man away with his mat? In setting the scene, the Gospel says that when “it became known that [Jesus] was at home… many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and [Jesus] preached the word to them.” Jesus preaches the word to the crowd so that they may be prepared to receive the Gospel about Himself. It seems that Jesus sends the cured man home because in his short time with Jesus he has been brought fully up to speed. Jesus sends the man home because, for now, the man knows everything he needs to know. Jesus forgives the man’s sins and cures him. From this the man understands why Jesus has come: for the forgiveness of sins and the healing of persons.

And why does Jesus send him home with his mat? I bet that the man would have gladly left it behind, happy to be rid of it, without a second thought. I think there are two reasons he’s told to take the mat: First, so that he may preach to others about Jesus. The mat will be conversation starter (“Hey, what’s with the mat?”) and it will also serve as “exhibit A” when the man gives his testimony about Jesus. The second reason for having him keep the mat is so that the man will always remember what Jesus did for him and what it meant. What good would it be for Jesus to teach the man everything he needed to know, if he were to quickly forget everything he had learned?

Perhaps we have need for such concrete reminders for ourselves in our life of faith. Maybe we don’t have souvenirs laying around from times that Jesus helped you, but I bet we all have access to Post-It Notes. If you think you would benefit from being reminded of Jesus’ past goodness shown to you, then write down titles for a few of these great moments.  Post them up on your wall, your mirror, your computer monitor, or wherever you will see them. This will help keep you mindful of Christ, what He did for you and what it means. And maybe, someday, someone will ask you, “Hey, what’s with the Post-it Note?”

Monday, 30th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

October 26, 2009

Christians Martyrs and the Lions

Remember Jesus’ story about the two men who went up to the temple area to pray, the self-righteous Pharisee and the repentant tax-collector? “The tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven…”

In today’s gospel, at the synagogue where Jesus is teaching, there is a hunched-over woman who has not raised her eyes to heaven for a very long time. Jesus calls her, lays His hands on her, and at once, she stands erect, for the first time eighteen years. I have to imagine that her very first act was to raise her eyes and hands up to heaven, to speak praises and to glorify God. Imagine how she must have felt to be deprived of such worship for so long, and then, how she must have felt for it to be so suddenly and wonderfully restored to her.

Seeing this, the authorities, the Pharisees, object that Jesus should not do healings during the Sabbath rest. But Jesus rebukes them, to their great humiliation. Who are they to say that this woman should not be free to worship God this day? Her freedom to worship comes from God Himself.

We, this morning, are free to gather here, free to raise our eyes up to heaven and offer worship. We are free from fears that authorities or angry crowds will storm through those doors and drag us off to our imprisonment or death. In the past, not all Christians have been so privileged. Still today, around the world, not all Christians are so privileged.

Let us celebrate this Mass, and every Mass, with a deeper reverence and gratitude, for the freedom we have to raise our eyes to heaven and to offer our worship to God. Let us pray for persecuted Christians around the world and celebrate this Mass, and every Mass, as if it were our first, our last and our only.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

August 30, 2009

For your entire life, you’ve been the beneficiary of a mysterious patron. You’ve never seen your wise and wealthy benefactor, but he has subtly helped you throughout your whole life.

For instance, when you were just a little baby, you were born with a serious and deadly illness. On their own, your parents couldn’t provide a doctor or medicine to treat your condition. But your benefactor learned of your plight. He had pity for you. He sent his own doctor to you, who healed you at his own cost.

Maybe your parents were too proud to tell you, but their hard-work alone was never enough to keep your family happy and healthy, with food, clothing, and a roof over your heads. But your family was never destitute, because your family received over the years all sorts of needed gifts through your benefactor.

Even into adulthood, your generous patron continued to give you good things. He was even behind the scenes orchestrating the meeting of you and your future spouse. Your benefactor was convinced that the two of you would be good for each other. 

This generous patron continues to help you in countless and subtle ways, even to this day. And now, I’ll reveal this benefactor to you:

“All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…”

God the Father is our great benefactor. Every good thing comes from Him. He is the source of the Son and the Spirit, of the angels and the universe, of our lives and of every good thing in them. God the Father deserves our thanks and praise.

From what congenital illness did the Father heal you? Original sin, the deadly condition of rebellion against God. The Father had pity on you, and sent His Son, the divine physician, to treat you. You’re healed through the power of Christ’s sacrifice which is comes to us through His sacraments.

How has the Father provided for you and your family? Although we work hard for the good things we need, we never achieve anything good “all by ourselves.” very good thing we have, and every good thing we do, comes through cooperation with God. We do indeed work hard in the fields of life, but God grows the crops for us, and gives us the power to harvest them. That is why when we sit down to eat, we thank God the Father for ‘the gifts we are about to receive, from His bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.’

Did the Father arrange for you to meet you spouse?  Yes. Your relatives, your friends, your spouse, your children, all came to you from Him. He orchestrated this through wise and loving designs which do not steamroll our freedom and freewill. Every person in your life is placed there by the Father for a reason.

All good things come from the Father, through the Son, and in union with the Holy Spirit. And every good deed and prayer from us goes to the Father by the same means. Whether we worship here at Mass or out in the world the pathway of our worship is always the same. Our deeds and prayers worship God the Father, through the Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

All good things come from the Father. That is why it is good and right, always and everywhere, for us to give Him thanks. So, at this Mass, lift up your hearts to the Father. Praise and thank your great and loving benefactor. Offer Him today an all-encompassing thanksgiving. Offer Him a deeper gratitude than you have ever had before.