Archive for the ‘Peace’ Category

Defending our Vineyard from our Enemy’s Servants

October 12, 2017

Today’s parable has a straight-forward interpretation: God is the landowner. He establishes his people Israel like a man who sets up a vineyard. God entrusted the care of his vineyard to the chief priests and elders of the people. They are the tenants. Then God sent his servants – the prophets – to obtain the good harvest. But the Jewish leaders resisted and persecuted the prophets; sometimes beating them, sometimes killing them, sometimes stoning them. Finally, God, in the crazy twist to our story, sends his own Son to them. The chief priests and the elders will go on to seize Jesus, condemn him, and see to it that he is taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and killed on a cross. “Therefore,” Jesus says to them, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” The authority of the Jewish leaders will be handed over to the Apostles and priests of Jesus’ New Covenant Church; a Church that will baptize and embrace Jews and Gentiles alike, forming a new people in Christ who will produce much fruit.

That is the straight-forward meaning of Jesus’ tale, but I would like to turn your attention back to those wicked tenants in the parable, because they, in a certain way, can serve as an example for us. Now I would not dare to suggest such a thing – I would fear it being scandalous to use the wicked as a Christian example – if Jesus himself had not once used a dishonest steward as someone we could learn from.

As you may recall, the dishonest steward, knowing that he would soon be losing his job, wrote off the debts of his boss’ debtors so that, once he got fired, these new friends of his would welcome him into their homes. Jesus used the shrewdness of this bad man as an example to teach his disciples to ‘make friends for yourselves with the wealth of this world, so that, when these passing things fail one day, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’ Likewise, I believe we have something valuable to learn from the shrewdness of the vineyard’s wicked tenants in today’s parable.

What if, when the servants of the landowner had arrived at the vineyard, the tenants did not promptly beat them, kill them, or stone them? Imagine if the tenants, instead of turning them out, welcomed the servants’ arrival; giving them food to eat and somewhere to stay on the grounds. Now the wicked tenants’ prior plans to never deliver any of the harvest to the landowner would still be in place, but can you imagine what might happen to their resolve over time?

The good servants staying with the tenants would keep speaking with them so kindly and pleasantly and persuasively, encouraging them to do the right thing. The good servants would encourage the tenants to imagine their possible reward: “If you do what is just, our good master will be even more generous with you! If you will not give him the total amount, could you perhaps give him the least little bit? Surely that wouldn’t hurt and it wouldn’t cost you very much.” If allowed to stay, the servants may well convince the tenants to give up some or all of what they have. However, if the tenants wish to remain faithful to their original intentions, then when their enemy’s servants arrive they should be neither fed nor lodged, conversed with nor welcomed in any friendly manner, lest their persuasion change minds and hearts and plans.

There is a spiritual battle in our midst. You can hear about it on the news and see it in the headlines, hidden behind every divisive controversy and murderous atrocity. (For instance, if no demons played a role in the rise of ISIS, then the demons are not doing anything in our world these days.) But the spiritual battle in our midst is not only fought out there; it is fought within us.

How do temptations come into our minds? From our senses, what we see and hear; from our invisible spiritual enemies, the demons; from our own human brokenness; or any combination of these. However our temptations come, in whatever form they take, our response to them should be as unfriendly at their arrival as those wicked tenants were at the arrival of the landlord’s servants.

Do not welcome temptation when it arrives. Do not feed it. Do not give it a place to dwell and lodge within you. Do not converse with it. Do not fantasize at its suggestions. Do not compromise with it, not even a little. Do not allow it to change your mind, your heart, your plans. Do not befriend temptation, but violently turn it out as a servant of your enemy.

Now temptations may come in our direction even against will – sensations, sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, memories – these can seem to pop up out of nowhere. Remember that an unwilled temptation, in and of itself, is not a sin. A saint is not someone who never experiences temptation. A saint is someone who chooses what is right and good and loving even amid temptation.

What should you do when temptation comes? First, pray. Pray now, and then again when temptation arrives. Prayer opens the door to Christ and lets him take the lead in our daily lives because he respects our freewill. Pray every day and call on the Lord in times of temptation. He is stronger than all the demons put together and mightier than your weaknesses.

A second helpful thing to do regarding temptation is to change your environment. Sometimes people in confession lament to me about always confessing the same sins. I try to encourage them by pointing out, “Well, thank goodness it’s not something totally different every time: ‘Father, last month I committed arson and this week I robbed a bank! I have no clue what I might do next!‘” Human beings, for better or worse, are creatures of habit, so we can learn a lot from our repeated failures. By changing your environment can do much to avoid temptation. For example, if you’re always gossiping with the same gathering of people, then perhaps avoid that group. If you are always unchaste using the same media, then block, limit, or cut out that technology. If you always get drunk at the same establishment, then stop going there. When you have traveled the same road many times you know well where that road leads. When you find yourself walking on that road, then stop and turn around or take another path. Changing your environment can lead you away from near occasions of sin.

A third and final thing to do amid temptation is to change your focus. The human mind is made to process ideas, to chew on thoughts; we cannot think about nothing. (If I were to tell you not to think about flying alligators, I bet you couldn’t do it for sixty seconds—you’d either be thinking about flying alligators or checking to see whether you’re thinking about them.) What should you think about instead when tempted? Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, praiseworthy, think about those things, and you will persevere in doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in Jesus Christ.

Some people only think of temptation as enticements to pleasurable things. But temptation can also be towards unpleasant things, like shame, despair, fear, and anxiety. The devil not only wants you to fall, but to stay down and not get back up. And if he cannot make you fall into sin, he wants you to be neutralized and paralyzed by fear and confusion. What is the antidote for such negative temptations? St. Paul offers this prescription for anxiety: “Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Let’s break that down.

Have no anxiety at all.” Concern is of good use. If you were not concerned about going to church you wouldn’t come. I were not concerned about my homily then I would have nothing to say. Concern is useful, but worry is worthless. Have no anxiety at all, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” In everything, whether you are anxious or not, make your requests known to God; not because he doesn’t know, but because it opens you up to him and invites him to work. Pray prayers of praise for who he is, voice your petitions for what you need or want, and do so with thanksgiving – without which you feel impoverished and embittered despite your innumerable blessings. ‘Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding

will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.’ We do not have the big picture, long-term perspective of God to see how God will work all things for the good of those who love him, but by prayer comes a peace that surpasses our limited understanding. This peace will guard your mind and heart in Jesus Christ amid temptation.

God entrusted the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve to tend and to protect. By the devil’s temptation, they lost their great treasure. Among the many treasures Jesus has given, he has entrusted to you the vineyard of your mind. Tend it and protect it. Do not fall to temptations but drive them out as your enemy’s servants. May your vineyard remain at peace and bear much fruit in Jesus Christ.


Moral Principles & Just War

July 23, 2015

St. Paul providentially wrote,

“[W]hy not say — as we are accused and as some claim we say — that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.” (Romans 3:8)

In this passage, the Holy Spirit led St. Paul to denounce the idea that having a good goal in mind can ever justify using immoral means to achieve it. God’s most basic commandment is heard in every human conscience: “Do good, avoid evil.” We must never do evil in hopes that good may result. If we do, there is no guarantee that our hoped for goal will come to pass, but we will have surely allied ourselves (in some measure) with evil by opposing God’s will.

A second moral principle (which frees us as it binds) is this: we must never intentionally kill the innocent, for this is murder. All human life is sacred and precious, which makes any decision to wage war a most serious one. Catholic Just War doctrine teaches that all of the following conditions must hold for a war to be morally just:

  1. The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.
  2. All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
  3. There must be serious prospects of success.
  4. The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
    (See The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2309)

B-24 BomberEven if all of these conditions are met and a country goes justly off to battle, enemy civilians must not be targeted. It is inevitable that some innocents will die in the chaos of war; sometimes bombs dropped over a military target will accidentally hit homes nearby. But it is something very different to intentionally aim for the civilians in hopes of killing as many as possible. This is a war crime. It is murder. “But what if murdering civilians will end the war faster and save more lives in the end?” (*) This is the tempter’s promise, but God’s commandment remains without exception: ‘You shall not become a murderer.’

I do not share these moral principles to condemn any previous wartime generation. God knows it is hard do what is right in times of stress and fear; and only He can judge hearts. I share these teachings because history shows that even in peacetime we stand between wars. When the next conflict threatens we must judge aright whether it must be fought, and if so, guard that the war does not make casualties our souls.

Three Crosses Line Break

( * – Some may claim that if enemy civilians are working, paying taxes, and not in rebellion against their government, then they are legitimate military targets, since they are aiding the enemy. Such thinking abandons the distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, condoning all sorts of evils. A similar case could be made for summarily-executing enemy prisoners of war, since their captivity aids the enemy by diverting our wartime resources. )

Shalom x 3

April 11, 2015

Isaiah saw Seraphim in the temple before God crying out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3) God is indeed the most holy.

The charge nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head reads three times: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (written in Hebrew, Greek, & Latin.) Jesus is the greatest king.

After his resurrection, Jesus appears twice in the upper room and says the same thing three times: “Peace be with you.” He offers us the profoundest peace.

Be Not Afraid — 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 28, 2011

This morning, I would like to recall events from the life of a great man. When he is eight years old his mother dies. When he is twelve years old, his older brother (a physician) also dies, having contracted scarlet fever from a patient. At nineteen years old, the Nazis invade his homeland and inflict much suffering on those he loves. With his father’s death, he becomes the last survivor of his immediate family, at only twenty years of age. After five years of war and occupation, the Nazis are driven out, but the Soviet communists replace them. They will later try to murder him, but they will (just barely) not succeed. At age seventy-three, he is diagnosed with an incurable disease that will slowly weaken him and kill him, and eleven difficult years later, he dies.

These are events from the life of a great man, a man the Church will declare “blessed” this May 1st. He is Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II. Throughout his papacy, over and over again, he repeated this message: “Do not be afraid.” He is well-known for saying this, but these words were not originally his. They come from another man, also a man of suffering—accustomed to infirmity, who knew both poverty and exile, one who experienced the deaths of loved ones, a man who was also targeted for death himself. This man is Jesus Christ, who first said, “Do not be afraid. Be not afraid.” In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus says this more than just about anything else.

I recall the trials of John Paul the Great and the sufferings of Jesus Christ lest anyone think their words come from naivety about life and the world, or that their Gospel is not grounded in reality. Jesus knows what he is talking about when teaches us, when He commands us, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. …Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” Jesus never denies that evils exist in this world, but tells us that none of them should make us fear. This is why the Church asks God the Father at every Mass, “Deliver us Lord from every evil and grant us peace in our day, in your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety….” We really mean it when we pray this, that we may be free from all anxiety. Christians should care about many things, but not one of these things should make us anxious.

Of what should we be afraid? Poverty? Jesus lived it. Suffering? He experienced that, too. Sin? Jesus has conquered it, and He offers us restoration. Death? Jesus has defeated it, and He promises us resurrection. With Jesus Christ, we can have the peace that, in the end, everything will be ok. Yet, many people feel crushed by their worries, about matters large and small. How are we to overcome these anxieties and experience the peace Christ wants for our lives? We conquer anxiety with these two things: prayer, and confidence in God’s love for us.

As Saint Paul wrote the Philippians, “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus will never forsake us, and He will never forget us. Even if a mother should forget her infant, or be without tenderness for the child of her womb, Jesus will never forget you. So, “Do not be afraid.” The next time you feel worry, the fruit of fear, remove it from your mind and place it on an altar before the Lord. Make a sacrifice of it, a burnt-offering before God, and say, “Jesus, I trust in you. I’ll show up and do my part, but I’m relying on you to take care of this. I sacrifice my fears to you.” It is a high compliment to Him when we trust in Him to be our God, and opens us up to receive His peace.

Always be confident in Jesus Christ’s love for you. The next time you feel worry coming on, this is your cue to pray. Do not be afraid. With Jesus Christ, we can have the peace that everything will be ok.

No Regrets — Tuesday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time—Year I

January 21, 2011

When I was a kid, my Uncle Tom said to me, “I remember when I was young like you, when I felt invincible and thought that I’d live forever.” It struck me, because I have never felt that way. In fact, the idea that I would someday have to look back on my whole life was a consideration throughout my youth.

When I was about the age of most of you, I began to read the Gospels on my own and started to seriously consider Jesus’ teachings. What He said challenged me. Jesus said, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” I had always felt like whatever I gave away only made me that much more vulnerable to harm. But I thought to myself, “Do I want to have to look back from my deathbed and have to wonder how my life would have been blessed if I had been more generous?”

Jesus said, ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  If our heavenly Father feeds the birds and clothes the grass in flowers, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? Are not you more important than they?’ Jesus was telling me not to worry when there seemed so much to worried about. But I thought to myself, “Do I want to have to look back at the end of an anxiety-filled life and wonder if I could have live in peace the whole time?”

When Jesus encountered the apostles and called them to follow Him, it seemed like He might be calling me, too, to serve Him as a priest. Though I had always respected our priests, priesthood had never been a personal dream of mine. But I knew that if I never went to seminary to seriously discern it, even if I went on to live an otherwise o.k. life, I would still wonder if I had missed out on God’s plan for me.

I wanted to live a regret-free life, so I tested whether God’s blesses a giver, I tried out what life was like when I trusted God to handle things, and I followed where I thought He was calling me. I’m glad I did.

There are two different views of religion reflected by the Pharisees and Jesus. For the Pharisees, religion is about keeping rules.  They say, “Look, why are [your disciples] doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answers, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” For Jesus, religion is about freedom and fulfillment. So it is with Sundays, our Sabbath, the Lord’s Day.

When I was in college I wanted to try taking Jesus at His word by keeping the third commandment, so I resolved to make every Sunday a true day of rest. That meant no studying or homework, no matter what I had due on Monday. Now I had some pretty late Saturday nights, but I was faithful to my commitment. The funny thing I discovered was that when I gave my Sundays to God, He gave them back to me. Before, Sunday had been just another day; but after, I had a vacation day every week; to sleep, to have meals and fun with friends, to go to Mass and to pray.

Do you want to live a regret-free life, and not have to look back someday and wonder what your life would have been life if you had trusted Jesus more? Then take Jesus at His word, and put His words into practice.

True Christian Soldiers — November 11 — St. Martin of Tours — Veterans Day

November 11, 2010

This morning I would like to tell you two stories. The first is the story of a cavalry officer who was sent to serve in France. He grew up in a military family and got enlisted when he was still only a teenager. Interestingly, his parents were not Christians, but this young man was studying in preparation to become a one himself. He was what we call a catechumen.

One cold winter day, at the gates of the French city of Amiens (A-mi-en), he encountered a shivering, half-naked beggar. This miserable sight disturbed the young soldier and he drew his sword from its scabbard. Because he had nothing else to give the poor man, the soldier took his own cloak, cut it in two pieces, and reaching down from his horse handed one half to the beggar. Giving away half of his cloak was no small gift, considering that the soldier himself needed to keep warm, too. In this act, he had loved his neighbor, the beggar, as himself.

That night, the soldier had a dream in which he saw Jesus Christ, surrounded by angels, and dressed in half a cloak. He heard a voice say to look at the garment and say whether he recognized it. He then heard Jesus say to the angels, “Martin, as yet only a catechumen, has covered me with his cloak.” Very soon after that dream, Martin, the 18-year-old Roman soldier, was baptized. He would go on to become a monk, a priest, and a bishop. Today we call him as St. Martin of Tours, and celebrate him as the patron saint of soldiers.

My second story comes from more recent times. A great and horrible war was raging, as it had for more than four years, killing every day. Many people could see no end in sight. But then, ninety-two years ago today, the wonderful order came announcing an end to all armed conflict at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, of the year 1918. This was the end of the First World War and it came to pass on the ancient feast day of St. Martin of Tours, the 11th of November.

Do you think that St. Martin in Heaven may have prayed for his beloved France and for their enemies, too? Do you think that he interceded before God for peace on Earth? Of course he did, for he was a true Christian soldier. No true Christian soldier loves war, or even hates his enemy. He fights not because he hates who is in front of him, but because he so loves what is behind him. The Christian soldier trains for war because he loves peace.

Today we thank and honor our veterans for they have served to defend our nation and freedom-loving people around the world. Through the intercession of St. Martin of Tours, let us pray that our country, history’s most benevolent superpower, may be served by Christian soldiers like them for many peaceful generations to come.

Preparing for Tests — Friday, 8th Week of Easter

May 31, 2010

Today were heard from the first encyclical of the first pope. Today’s first reading came from the First Letter of St. Peter. And what he said applies to you: “The end of all things is at hand.” Originally, St. Peter meant that Christians should always be ready for the end of their lives or the end of the world (whichever comes first.) But this morning I think we can hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us about the coming end of this school year.

At Columbus, the end of all things is at hand: that means finals week, with all of its due dates, studying, and exams. Don’t be surprised that this trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. Finals week happens every year. I know that finals time is a challenge and that it takes some hard work, but why should this trial overwhelm us or make us behave ugly towards each other? If we have Jesus Christ in our lives we should face difficulties differently than the world does. The beauty of a soul at peace in Christ, is seen through the person’s  graceful actions.

So how should we face our finals? First of all, have faith in God, and remain at peace, confident that no matter what, everything is going to be ok.  Second, be serious and sober-minded. You’ve worked for the whole semester. Now keep going just one more week to maintain or even improve those grades you’ve worked for all semester. And third, above all and through it all, let your love for one another be intense, be hospitable to one another without complaining, and as each of you has received gifts. Use them to help one another.

At this Mass, prepare yourself. Ask Jesus for constant peace, for steady focus, and for generous love throughout finals week so that you may perform at your best in every respect. It’s nice to get good grades in school, but that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is to be prepared for the final exam which awaits us all.

Luke’s Source — January 1 — Mary the Mother of God

January 1, 2010

Have you ever wondered how it is that Luke the Gospel writer knows the stuff he’s telling us? For instance, he wasn’t present at the Annunciation to take down notes.  Only Mary and the Archangel Gabriel were there. And in today’s Gospel, after the shepherds visit, it says, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Now how does Luke know what Mary was thinking? Who could know something like that besides Mary herself?

Now I suppose the Holy Spirit could have directly infused the knowledge of these things into him, but that’s probably not what has happened here. Luke probably learned of these details in the most natural and human way; by being told about them, first or second-hand, by people who knew. Luke begins his Gospel by saying that his narrative of events is composed from what “those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed … down to us.”

But there is only one person who could have been the original source for many of Luke’s details, and that is Mary herself. In fact, some call the beginning chapters of the Gospel of Luke “the Memoirs of Mary.” Perhaps Luke heard of these details from Mary’s very own lips and took them all to heart.  Then later, knowing these things by heart, committed them to writing.

And so we do know something today of what was going on inside of Mary in those early days, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” And some years later, upon finding Jesus in the temple, Luke reports that Mary and Joseph did not understand what their boy when said to them, but “his mother kept all these things in her heart.” In this there is a lesson for us to discover through Mary, a lesson that is particularly applicable for us this New Year’s [Eve/Day].

In her life, Mary knew some important aspects of God the Father’s plan, but there was always a great deal about which she did not know. She knew that her Son was messiah, savior, and Lord, but his future, and hers, remained largely a mystery. Perhaps Mary wondered, as we often wonder when faced with evils and obstacles, “How can this be, Lord?  How will your promises be fulfilled despite this?”  Yet through it all, Mary firmly trusted that the Lord was with her, and we should do the same.

What does the new year ahead hold for each of us? Like Mary, we do not know, yet Mary shows us that we do not have to know.  We do not have to fully know our future to be able to do great things for God and to be richly blessed by Him. We do not need to know our future for the Almighty to do great things for us.

In the year ahead, may the Lord bless you and keep you, as He did the Virgin Mary.

May the Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you, as He did for Mary through Jesus’ infant face.

And may the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace, a peace like that which Mary always kept with her Son, Jesus the Christ.

3rd Sunday of Advent—Year C

December 14, 2009

Advent is a season for penance and conversion, for the confession of sins and the changing of lives, but this Sunday of Advent reminds us that it is also time for joy. Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, a name which comes from the Latin command “rejoice!” This command is heard from St. Paul in today’s second reading:

“Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again:  rejoice!”

But is it that why do we need to be reminded, even commanded, to rejoice? Why are we not a people of constant joy and peace, even though we have great reason to be? I think it is because our hearts and minds give in to fear.

God is near, but when we give in to fear we do not trust that He really cares about us and really provides for us. In fear we become anxious about our future. In our fear we feel too stressed-out to be thankful. And in fear we forget or refuse to pray. St. Paul seems to have realized all this, that may be why he followed his command to rejoice with these words, words that it would do a lifetime of good to know by heart:

“The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God
that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Today I would like to share with you a true story about two friends of mine who had every seeming reason to afraid, but who kept God’s peace. Let’s call them Andrew and Christi. I have changed their names to conceal their identities, but I know they wouldn’t mind me sharing with you their story because it can teach us all a lot.

To say my friends had a difficult first year of marriage would be to understate it. Andrew, a hard-working man with rough hands and a good heart, became afraid that marrying Christi had been a mistake and he seriously considered getting a divorce. Christi, a beautiful woman inside and out, prayed fervently to God, for both Andrew and herself. She honestly did not know how God would provide for her, but God gave her a peace that surpassed her limited understanding of His plans. Then, as Andrew tells it, God intervened, giving him a sign that this marriage was indeed His will and that Andrew should not be afraid. This divine reassurance strengthened Andrew and he resolved to remain faithfully at Christi’s side no matter what.

A few months later, forces beyond their control forced Andrew and Christi to leave their hometown, away from all their family and friends, and to move down south to a town where Andrew had some distant relatives. But, once they got down there, all of these relatives proved to be too distant or too busy to care enough to lend this vulnerable couple a hand. Their first Advent season together, Andrew and Christi were jobless, homeless, and with child.

It would have been so easy for them to give in to despair that first Christmas Eve, for Andrew to feel like he had failed his wife as a husband, or for Christi to feel anxious and afraid about their future as a family. Yet, Andrew and Christi trusted that the Lord was near. They would pray together as a couple, and gain courage and strength, peace and even joy through their prayers.

Indeed the Lord was near them, through it all, and their first Christmas together turned out to be was the brightest and the most joyful that they, or the world, had ever seen. As I said, this is the true story of two friends of mine, but they’re also friends of yours and you knew their story even before I told it to you today. For Andrew’s real name is St. Joseph and Christi’s real name is St. Mary.

Today we rightly call them saints, not because they lived in a world free from difficulties, an imaginary world different from our own. Joseph and Mary are saints because they knew and practiced how to live in this world well; with joy, kindness, prayer, thanksgiving, and peace. And so brothers and sisters:

Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again:  rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God
that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

November 11 – Veterans Day

November 11, 2009

Pearl Merchant

In the Gospel today, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as being like a treasure buried in a dirt field, or like a ridiculously underpriced pearl in a market place. These are valuable things that take great personal sacrifice to obtain. Jesus’ lesson in this for us is that a wise person should be willing to trade away everything else they have, and do it joyfully, because of the desirability of what’s before them. So it is with the Kingdom of God.

But these parables are not only about us, and how we should go after God’s kingdom. They also tell about how God has sought after for us for His kingdom. The Lord saw us as the treasure buried in a field, the field being the world. He was like the pearl merchant, who saw us as a precious pearl whose great worth was unrealized by others. And out of love for us one could say that He joyfully sold everything that He had to possess us.

“For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again,” ‘giving us a new birth to a living hope through His resurrection.’ Through Christ’s poverty, He made us rich, giving us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [us].”

Whenever something is truly valuable, it is worth one’s great personal sacrifice to possess it and to protect it. Today we are honoring those men and women who have done just that; who have made great personal sacrifices to serve our country in the military. Today is Veterans’ Day. While we would be mistaken to identify our country as being the kingdom of God, it would also be a mistake to dismiss the good our country and its veterans have done around the world.

We can we be so proud of our country’s veterans because they are true soldiers. As G.K. Chesterton said, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” This is reflected in how we have treated those we have defeated. We forgive them, rebuild them, and let them have their freedom. We may need to fight some enemies, now and in the future, but we have no need to hate them. Our power is not in our hatred, but our love. In this we follow our model, Jesus Christ, who loved the world so much that sacrificed everything He had for it. And let us remember that He conquered the whole world for us without firing a single shot.

Thursday, 28th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

October 15, 2009

Have you ever noticed how unpopular the  prophets are? That’s because it’s usually the prophet’s job to point out peoples’ sins to them and to tell them they have to change. Some people, particularly the arrogant and the wicked, respond very badly to this, like the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel.  When Jesus left the home of the Pharisee, after having criticized them strongly but in private, they

“began to act with hostility toward him and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.”

These scribes and Pharisees, whose fathers had hated and killed the prophets of old, would go on to bring all that blood upon themselves by killing the Wisdom of the prophets Himself.

The question I would like you to consider today is how you respond to criticism or correction directed at you.

The book of Proverbs teaches,

“Reprove not an arrogant man, lest he hate you; [but] reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”

And a translation of Psalm 141 says,

“If a good man strikes or reproves me it is kindness.”

 A wise man does not respond to correction angrily. He knows that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God,” so he is not threatened by the suggestion that he is not perfect yet, that he still has areas for improvement.

The wise man evaluates correction with detachment. If the criticism is valid, or at least well intended, he receives it as a loving act and is grateful for it. And when the criticism is nonsense, the wise man doesn’t let it get to him. Why should the ungrounded opinions of foolish, fickle people have power over us, to rile us up, or provoke us to the sin of personal hatred?

Let us ask Jesus for the grace to receive valid criticism with humility, and for the grace to be merciful with those who criticize us unjustly.

Monday, 22nd Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 31, 2009

Why does Saint Paul say that the dead are “fallen asleep?” Are we to think of the dead as unaware and unconscious until the general resurrection? No. We believe that all the saints in heaven are actively alive in Christ.

As the dying St. Dominic said to his religious brothers, “Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.” And as St. Therese of Lisieux said in her last conversations, “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.”

The saints continue to cooperate in Christ’s messianic work. The Spirit of the Lord is with the saints, He has anointed them, to bring gifts to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and to make times and seasons acceptable to the Lord.

Though death is not unconsciousness, going to sleep is a fitting image for it. The deceased Christian arrives home from a long-road’s journey. After blisters, sunburns, and dehydration are attended to, not to mention a needed bath (I speak of the business of purgatory), dying begins the Christian traveler’s transition to a lasting, comfortable rest.

Those who have arrived at this home before of us are not cut off from those of us who are still journeying there. As Lumen Gentium and the Catechism says, “the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods.”

So today, why not ask your favorite saints to provide you with something special for this day’s journey? I suspect that they’re here, waiting, eagerly listening, for us simply to ask for something good.

2nd Sunday of Easter—Year B

August 23, 2009

Jesus said to “Doubting” Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.”

This gospel passage has a very fond and special place in my heart, because when I was younger it used to really tick me off. If I had had my choice between either seeing and believing, or not seeing and being blessed, I’d have picked the seeing option every time. But now looking back, I realize  that if Jesus had actually appeared to me in a vision that would have just raised more doubts and questions in me. I once shared my various frustrations about faith and doubt with a priest.  After he had patiently listened, He suggested that perhaps I was going through these kinds of trials so that I could help others through similar trials someday.  At the time, that also ticked me off… but he was right. I hope that six lessons I’ve learned in the years since will be of help for you today. Today the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, but on account of Doubting Thomas one might also call it Doubter’s Sunday. I feel a lot of mercy for the doubters out there, and Jesus does too.

Lesson One:  Jesus does not condemn the honest doubter, the sincere questioner, the genuine seeker.

When Jesus appears to doubting Thomas notice that he is not angry with him.  He says, “Peace be with you!”  Then he says, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe.” The Gospel does not say whether Thomas actually took Jesus up on touching his wounds, but Jesus was not patronizing him when he made the offer—it was an sincere invitation that met Thomas where he was at.

Still today, Jesus is not angered by our honest questions.  In fact, it is a compliment to him to ask tough questions of our faith because it shows that we believe there are good answers out there to be found. Honest questions make our faith stronger, not weaker. However, our questioning must be sincere. We must not build a comfortable home upon our doubts, doing nothing to answer or resolve them. This sort of questioning is not sincere, but often self-serving.  Jesus wants to give to those who ask, to reveal to those who seek, to open for those who knock, so that they will not be unbelieving, but believe.  But, when we refuse to ask, or to seek, or  to knock, we frustrate the Lord.  Jesus is pleased, however, by the genuine seeker because the genuine seeker will find him.

Lesson Two:  Having beliefs is unavoidable and our faith is reasonable.

Some people object to faith saying that “reason” or “science” is certain while “belief” is doubtful.  But in reality, all of our knowledge depends upon trusted beliefs. We cannot live, or even reason, without accepting beliefs. Before the scientist calmly walks across the street he assumes a thousand things without certain proof of them. We can learn many valuable things from science, but science itself cannot prove all of its own assumptions. There are even questions that science cannot answer, such as the transcendent goodness, worth, or purpose of things. Our faith answers such questions and our faith is not unreasonable. Our true faith is no more in conflict with reason than the truth could contradict the truth. Not everyone shares our faith, but you cannot live as fully alive without it.

Lesson Three:  If you ever worry about whether you really believe in God, you shouldn’t be worried.

Some people experience real spiritual anxiety when they ask themselves, “Do I really believe in God?” Realize this: people who don’t believe in God, don’t spend time worrying about whether they believe in God. Only a believer would do that. So if you ever worry about your belief in God, you shouldn’t be worried; you’re actually a believer and your mind should be at ease.

Lesson Four:  You already have enough faith to do what Jesus asks of you today.

Some people say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, but I just don’t have enough faith to do what he wants me to do.” These people experience a spiritual paralysis: they’re waiting for faith to show up, before they’ll take the next step in living the Gospel, whatever that might be. They’re actually psyching themselves out. They are like the apostles who once begged the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Jesus told them if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could uproot trees or mountains with a word and plant them in the sea. At first this might seem like a word of discouragement, but it is actually a word of hope. Your tiny, microscopic speck of faith is already enough for you to accomplish everything Christ asks of you today. Your faith right now may be only a pinhole-sized trust in him, but the God who can fit a camel through the eye of a needle can pour a river through your pinhole-sized faith. You already have enough faith to do what Jesus asks of you today.

Lesson Five:  Faith grows through being exercised.

We often keep very low expectations of God.  Maybe we think that if we don’t expect too much from him he won’t expect too much from us. Or maybe we think we won’t be disappointed by him, if we never get our hopes up. In this way our faith stays small. Our faith, which is our openness to the Gospel and our trust in Jesus Christ, remains small and weak because our faith is so rarely exercised. Do we really want to come to the end of our lives and have to look back and wonder what our lives could have been if we had committed ourselves more completely to Jesus Christ and his Gospel?

Consider this question:  If you had all the faith in the world, how would you pray, what would you pray for, and what would you do? If you want to see you faith grow, if you want to see the power of Jesus Christ active in your life, then try doing these things today.

Now sometimes Christ comes out of nowhere and powerfully reveals himself to those who have never really striven for him, or even looked for him, but it is more often the case with Christ that the more we give him the more we get. Imagine you hold in your hand seeds which symbolize your life; your time, your talents, and your treasure. You received all these seeds from Christ as pure gift. As long as we cling to the seeds in our hand, they will never bear fruit. But once we begin letting Christ plant these seeds, and we see the good fruit they produce, we will eagerly give him more and more. In this way, our faith grows through being exercised.

And finally, the sixth lesson:  Faith is about trusting in Jesus Christ.

Faith is not so much about generating a certain feeling, or a feeling of certainty, about particular facts.  The demons know that Jesus is Lord—and shudder. Faith is more about trust, trusting in a person who is worthy of our trust, Jesus Christ. Living-out such trust requires a personal relationship of knowledge and love with him.

What might be holding us back in the life of faith could be that we have unresolved sins, past and present, impeding our relationship with Christ. This Divine Mercy Sunday we celebrate the infinite mercy God shows toward all those who ask for it. Through the sacrament of reconciliation, we can receive a fresh start, a clean slate, an infusion of grace, a healing of the heart and mind, a full restoration of personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Whenever I go to confession, I encounter Christ through the priest, like Thomas encountered Jesus in the upper room. Jesus enters into the locked inner room of my heart, where I would otherwise hide out of fear on account of my sins. I see his wounds, I admit the ways that I helped to put them there, and I tell him I’m sorry. And his response is always the same: mercy. “Peace be with you. Your sins are forgiven.” Confession gives us pardon and peace, it increases our trust and love for Jesus Christ, and strengthens our faith in him.

This Divine Mercy Sunday, let us pray the prayer that he has given us for our uncertain times: “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Wednesday, 20th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 19, 2009

Today’s readings give us two lessons about service:

In the first reading we hear an allegory of the forest trees coming to their most prominent members, asking each one to lead them. But every tree declines, asking “why would I want to give up my comfortable glory to serve like that?” As a last resort, they ask the buckthorn tree. This last tree is something of a large bush, and not good for very much. The buckthorn agrees and rules as a tyrant over them.

What is the lesson for us here? If we Catholics are not willing to sacrifice our some of our comfortable glory for the social needs of others, we should expect bad things to come. As Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.”

The second lesson is from the Gospel, where we hear the parable most likely to offend an American’s sense of justice. We hear that the last laborers work a little and receive the same pay as the first. But the landowner is right to say that he has robbed no one. The first laborers receive the full wage which they agreed was fair and just at the beginning of the day.

What is the lesson here for us in our service? Serving Christ is work, but it should not make us feel deprived.  It should make us feel enriched. If we come to the end of the day’s labors feeling bitterness at our Landlord we are in need of an open and honest conversation with Him.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

August 17, 2009

Their boat set out for a deserted place along the Sea of Galilee. But the word got out and lots of people “hastened” there, that is, they eagerly ran on foot, and arrived there faster than Jesus and the apostles could.

Why did those people run? They ran because they anticipated good things. They ran because they believed their desires would be fulfilled. In a word, they ran because Jesus and the Apostles had given them hope.

What can we hope for as Christians? Can we hope that if we stay close to Christ and to His Church that we’ll go to heaven someday?   Yes.  But is that all there is?  No. Our hope in Christ is not only for the time beginning once we’ve died.

Moments ago we heard Psalm 23, a psalm commonly heard at funerals. Though we tend to associate it with the holy dead, the blessings this psalm speaks of are for the living as well. For example, in the Gospel, Jesus leads the Apostles to a place beside restful waters to refresh their souls. He teaches the vast crowds that come many things, guiding them in right paths, and giving them courage. He has the people lay upon the green grass and, breaking bread, He spreads a meal before them.

We can confidently hope that Jesus will do these things for us.

Jesus wants to give you peace.  But what is peace? It means, in part, being liberated from worthless worry, having anxiety at all. As Christ inspired St. Paul to write the Philippians,

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus wants to teach you wisdom, and give you the courage you need to live it. Jesus Christ, teaching through our Church and its Scriptures, proclaims to you truths that the world doesn’t know and isn’t going to teach you. Jesus not only tells you how to live well but empowers you to do it too through the Holy Spirit alive within you.

Jesus wants to give you the bread you need. In a few moments, you will be receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in His Eucharist. And in addition to that, Jesus doesn’t only provide for you on this one day at Church. He provides for us all week long in the world out there. We pray for “daily bread”, and this is not just food, but whatever it is we need. Christ is rich, and wants to give you good things. If we a frugal and generous, He will provide us with whatever we need.

There is a lot of hopelessness about our times and the way things are headed, but we Christians should live with hope about our lives and about the world we live in. Now bad things are going to happen, but with Christ, a more glorious resurrection always follows the cross. With this truth in mind, we should be a people of hope.

At the same time, we should be wary of unchristian hopes, which are too worldly. Consider the crowds that eagerly flocked to Jesus. They held hope in this world because of Him. Unfortunately, their hope was often because they thought Jesus might become some militant, revolutionary messiah, who would ascend to the throne of David by slaying the Roman armies that occupied Israel. They were invested in hopes that he would establish a kingdom for Israel that would provide them with cheap food and easy money for the rest of their lives. John’s Gospel says that after the miracle of the loaves they wanted to carry Jesus off and make him king. The people wanted change, but Jesus wasn’t interested in their kind of change. Jesus knew that changing this world would be ultimately fruitless, unless we ourselves could first somehow be changed.

Our world is broken, but man is more broken more by sin. Give two sisters identical dolls, or give two brothers identical trucks, and a short time later you might come back to find them fighting over the exact same toy. Even if you handed everyone on earth everything they wanted, there would not be peace. The problem isn’t out there somewhere, the problems always in here. Money can do good things, but wealth in not our salvation. Good laws can help people, but politics are not our salvation. Christ is our salvation.

Christ is real and active with power in the world out there, but He tends to work from the inside-out.  That is to say, the kind of change that He is interested in usually begins within souls, like ours. Christ first changes Christians, and then through us, He transforms the world.

He wants to give us trusting peace inside, so we can live with freedom. He wants to give us contentment inside, as the antidote for our over-consumption. But first and foremost of all, He wants to give you prayer inside.

If you only hear one thing I say, this is the final and most important thing: A Christian has to pray, every single day. Daily prayer is the means to our conversion. Daily prayer is the first step to transforming our world. Daily prayer is the key to realizing our hopes, for this life and the next.

Christ has good things He wants to give you. So run to Him, with eager hope.