Archive for the ‘Providence’ Category

Our Lady’s Wisconsin Message: The Meaning of the Two Trees

September 25, 2014

In the Garden of Eden, there were many fruit-bearing trees, but Genesis mentions only two by name: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking of the Tree of Life the human race could keep living forever, but the Lord warned that to eat from the other tree would mean our certain death. On October 9th, 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared near Green Bay to a 28 year-old Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise while she was walking eleven miles home from Sunday Mass. Interestingly, Our Lady chose to appear to Adele not in a church, or a thousand other places, but between two trees: a Maple and a Hemlock.

Maple LeavesYou’re familiar with the beauty and goodness of the Maple. In the fall, its leaves turn the most striking colors, and in the spring its sap yields sweet syrup. But do you know about the Hemlock tree? The poison that the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink came from this plant. Ingesting just six or eight fresh Hemlock leaves can kill a healthy adult. The Maple is a tree of life while the Hemlock is a tree of death. Mary, the New Eve, stood between the two.

Three Conium Maculatum (or Poison Hemlock), Cedar Bog, Champaign CoMary told Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” Our Lady’s message between the two trees is akin the words of Moses, who told the Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land….

Peshtigo Fire MapApparently, Our Lady’s warnings were not sufficiently heeded. In October of 1871, exactly twelve years later, disaster came. Both in terms of size and number of lives lost, the Peshtigo Fire remains the worst recorded forest fire in U.S. history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives ended in that firestorm which saw, according to an eyewitness, “large wooden houses torn from their foundations and caught up like straws by two opposing currents of air which raised them till they came in contact with the stream of fire.” This seems to be the punishment due to sin that Mary spoke of, yet this does not mean that everyone who perished in that fire was condemned. We should remember that at harvest time, the wheat and the weeds are pulled up together in a moment, but their future fates are not the same. Once uprooted, the good are gathered and kept in the barn, while the bad are thrown away forever.

The firestorm came and surrounded the shrine of Our Lady, where hundreds had come for refuge with their families and herds, beseeching her intercession before God. As many as fled to her there were saved. The shrine’s consecrated earth was an emerald-green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes as far as eyes could see.

Mary, the Queen of Heaven, prays for the conversion of sinners and she wishes you to do the same. You receive Holy Communion, and that is well. But you must do more. Begin by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation regularly, because it is powerful for growing in holiness. The sinner whose conversion you are most responsible for is your own.

One Is Enough — Tuesday, 8th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

March 4, 2014

Gospel: Mark 10:28-31

Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.

Jesus lists seven things people give up for him and his Gospel but only six things that we will receive a one hundred-fold more in this present age. A person might give up an earthly father for the Kingdom of God, but he or she receives in return the singular, infinite fullness of God the Father.

Praying For Rain — February 10 — St. Scholastica

February 10, 2014

While some people only pray when they need or want something, others pray frequently but hesitate to ask anything for themselves. Like the Prodigal Son’s older brother, these think it more proper to never ask God for special gifts (not “even a young goat to feast on with” their friends.) However, the Office of Readings selection for St. Scholastica written by St. Pope Gregory the Great shows us that God is pleased to give His children the good gifts they request:

Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate. One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.

Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.” When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more. Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself. Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.

Remade for Love — 5th Sunday of Easter—Year C

April 27, 2013

Today, Jesus gives us his new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” What a challenge this is! Consider how Jesus loved us: he lived and died for us! Loving people like Jesus does is not an easy commandment to keep, yet we must keep it. As Saint Paul preached, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

It is not easy to love as Christ loves, but the Lord assists those who seek to please and serve him. God matures us in love through our ordinary, daily lives. And God perfects us in love through our hard times. We have no lack of opportunities: daily life gives us countless chances to love as Jesus would. And wherever we are too weak to grow or change ourselves, the Lord permits us to experience difficulties in order to transform us. Like a doctor, he sometimes gives us bitter medicine to cure our illnesses.

I have seen this happen in my own life. When I was little, it was painful to be teased by my peers, but this led to my practice of treating everyone kindly. When I was older, it hurt to discover that the first woman I fell in love with did not share my feelings, but this experience cured me of my cynicism about the beauty of romantic love. When I was newly ordained, my first assignments were challenging, but this made me a better priest. All these things displeased me at the time, but now I am grateful for their results.

Can you see how God has used the difficulties of your life to make you become more like Jesus Christ? Then do not lose heart when new difficulties come to you. Through all these things, our love is being made into the perfect likeness of Jesus Christ. God refuses to leave us as we are. Instead, as the One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Hoy, Jesús nos da su mandamiento nuevo: “Que os améis los unos a los otros. Que, como yo os he amado, así os améis también vosotros los unos a los otros.” ¡Qué desafío es esto! Considere como Jesús nos ha amado: él vivió y murió por nosotros! Amar a las personas como Jesús no es un mandamiento fácil de mantener, sin embargo, deben mantenerlo. Como San Pablo predicó: “Es necesario que pasemos por muchas tribulaciones para entrar en el Reino de Dios.”

No es fácil amar como Cristo ama, pero el Señor ayuda a aquellos que tratan de agradar y servir a él. Dios nos madura en el amor a través de nuestras vidas cotidianas. Y Dios nos perfecciona en el amor a través de nuestros tiempos difíciles. No tenemos ninguna falta de oportunidades: la vida cotidiana nos da innumerables posibilidades de amar como Jesús lo haría. Y donde estemos demasiado débiles para crecer o cambiar nosotros mismos, el Señor nos permite experimentar dificultades para transformarnos. Él es como un médico, que a veces nos da la amarga medicina para curar nuestras enfermedades.

He visto que esto suceda en mi propia vida. Cuando era pequeña, era doloroso para ser objeto de burlas por mis compañeros, pero esto me llevó a la práctica de tratar a todos con amabilidad. Cuando fui mayor, me dolía al descubrir que la primera mujer que me enamoré no compartía los mismos sentimientos que yo tenia, pero esta experiencia me curó de mi cinismo acerca de la belleza del amor romántico. Después de mi ordenación, mis primeros trabajos fueron duros para mí, pero me hizo un mejor sacerdote. Todas estas cosas me disgustaron en su momento, pero ahora estoy agradecido por sus resultados.

¿Puedes de ver cómo Dios ha usado a las dificultades de tu vida para hacer más como Jesucristo? Entonces no perder el corazón cuando las nuevas dificultades vengan a ti. A través de todas estas cosas, nuestro amor se convirtió en la imagen perfecta del amor de Jesucristo. Dios se niega a dejarnos como somos. En cambio, como el que estaba sentado en el trono dijo: “Yo hago nuevas todas las cosas.”

Instructions For Missionaries — Thursday, 14th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 7, 2011

Today, Jesus teaches His Apostles how they are to behave as they proclaim the Gospel and do His works. Why does Jesus give them the instructions He does, and what do they mean for us?

Jesus said, “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts, no sack for the journey.”  He wants us to depend on God, so that we can learn that God is dependable. But if we depend on God for nothing, then how can our trust grow? The things in your life that you worry about are the places in your life where He wants you to depend on Him more.

Jesus said, “take no second tunic, nor sandals, nor walking stick.” He did not want the Apostles making long trips. They wouldn’t need gear for long-distance hikes, such as a second tunic to sleep in outside overnight. They were to witness in one small village after the next, so that, working separately for the same goal together, everyone in every place would be reached with the Gospel. Like the Apostles, your mission territory is not far away.

Jesus said, “Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave.” Of course a person has to stay somewhere until they leave, but a person who has been welcomed into one house could receive a tempting invitation to stay in the same town with someone “better.” We too must beware the temptation to alienate Christ’s “little ones” in order to ingratiate ourselves to others.

Jesus said, “As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you.” Like the Apostles, we are sure to encounter people who would snub, ignore, insult, or be cold to us, but that should not rob us of our peace.

What Jesus said to the Apostles, He is saying to us as well. Let us do as He instructs us as we proclaim the Gospel and do His works.

Independence Day Homily

July 4, 2011


What is the most important and the most famous sentence ever coined in the English language? I believe it was a declarative sentence, of thirty-five words, published two hundred and thirty-five years ago today.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Like a passage of Sacred Scripture, this sentence from the Declaration of Independence was more profound, and would effect more providential good, than its human authors ever imagined.

In their original context, these words from the Declaration of Independence were written to justify the American colonies’ separation from the English crown. At that time, many people believed in the divine right of kings, that a monarch had been invested by God with supreme authority to rule. There was precedent for this in the Old Testament, where God chose Saul, David, Solomon, and others to rule His people as anointed kings. In declaring that “all men are created equal,” the Founding Fathers were rejecting the idea that some men are born royal while others are born common. They further asserted that God Himself endows every man with certain rights, and that any government which deprives men of these rights may be justly replaced by its people. In this way, the signers justified the American Revolution.

How much did the Founding Father reflect on how their words about the equality of all men applied to men of color, such as those enduring intergenerational slavery? How much did they consider what these God-given rights required for the female segment of mankind? I would say that these words, like a passage of Sacred Scripture, carried truths more profound than their human authors knew.

These were providential words, for they have been, and continue to be, instrumental in the work of advancing and defending the rights and dignity of all people, from conception to natural death, in our country and around the world. Wherever our nation has failed to embody these words, we look back with shame; but wherever we have honored human dignity, these represent our proudest moments. Martin Luther King Jr. called these words our nation’s creed, and like him we have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….”

This Fourth of July, let us thank God for this great gift to our country. Let us praise God for endowing each one of us with dignity and rights which every person and every government must respect. And in the future, let us remember and remind our neighbors, that if our country allows government and men to become our gods, human dignity and human rights will be swiftly brushed aside. Like the Psalmist, may our country always say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,my God, in whom I trust.”

Our Lady of Good Help Pilgrimage Homily

June 14, 2011

In the Garden of Eden, there were many fruit-bearing trees but Genesis mentions two by name: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking of the Tree of Life, the human race could keep living forever, but the Lord warned that to eat from the other tree would mean our certain death.

On October 9th, 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared here, to 28 year-old Belgian emigrant, named Adele Brise, as she was walking 11 miles home from Sunday Mass. Interestingly, Our Lady chose to appear to Adele not in a church setting such as this, but between two trees: a Maple tree and a Hemlock tree.

You’re all familiar with the beauty and goodness of the Maple. In the fall, its leaves turn the most striking colors; and in the spring, its sap yields sweet syrup. But do you know what distinguishes the Hemlock tree? The poison that Socrates was condemned to drink came from this plant. Ingesting just six or eight fresh Hemlock leaves can kill a healthy adult. The Maple is a tree of life, while the Hemlock is a tree of death. Mary, the New Eve, stands between the two.

She tells Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”

Our Lady’s message by the trees recalls the counsel of Moses, who told the Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land….”

Apparently, Our Lady’s warnings were not sufficiently heeded. In October of 1871, The Great Peshtigo Fire erupted. In terms of both size and loss of human life, The Great Peshtigo Fire remains the worst recorded forest fire in North American history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives ended in that firestorm which saw, according to an eyewitness, “large wooden houses torn from their foundations and caught up like straws by two opposing currents of air which raised them till they came in contact with the stream of fire.” This seems to be the punishment due to sin that Mary spoke of, but this does not mean that everyone who perished in that fire was condemned. We should remember that at harvest time, the good wheat and the bad weeds are pulled up together in a moment, but their future fates are not the same. Once uprooted from the earth, the good are gathered and kept in the barn, while the bad are thrown away forever.

The Peshtigo firestorm came and surrounded this shrine, where hundreds had come with their families and herds, to beseech the intercession of Mary before God. As many as fled to her were saved. The morning of October 9th, 1871, twelve years to the day after Our Lady’s appearance, saw them delivered.  This consecrated earth was an emerald-green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes as far as eyes could see.

After witnessing this miraculous deliverance, and seeing the lifelong dedication and fruitfulness in Adele Brise’s efforts, many began to believe that she had indeed seen and heard Our Lady. Just last year, the Church formally agreed, approving the apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 as worthy of belief by the Christian faithful. Some people will think that this official recognition closes the book on the story of Our Lady of Champion. Some will come here like tourists, excited see where Mary once appeared and go home contented. They won’t think to imagine that Mary’s message was not only meant for Adele in the past, but directed toward us today

In 1859, Mary prayed for and sought the conversion of sinners. Have we gotten less sinful since then? In 1859, Mary lamented how the young did not know the faith. How much better do we live it now? In 1859, Mary warned that if people did not convert and do penance, her Son will be obliged to punish them.” Do we need to convert and do penance? Would you be surprised if a great natural or man-made disaster befell us? How spiritually well prepared do you think people would be to face that?

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the message of Our Lady of Champion is arising to new prominence in our day. Today we heard talks about Our Lady’s Fatima apparitions, which date from 1917. At that time, Mary asked for Russia to be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart to bring about its conversion and a period of peace in the world. On March 25th, 1984, Blessed John Paul the Great consecrated Russia and the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was on the feast of the Annunciation. On Christmas, seven years later, the miracle arrived. On the evening of December 25th, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev peacefully resigned as the President of the Soviet Union and from atop the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered forever. This was not a coincidence. Politics, economics, and the threat of nuclear war did no bring the Soviet Union to a stunning and peaceful end; it was the work of Jesus and Mary.

What moved Blessed John Paul the Great to consecrate Russia, so many years later after the apparitions, precisely when he did? What moved Bishop David Ricken to approve this apparition, so many years later, as our country’s first Marian apparition site, here and now in our day? In both cases, I suspect that there is more behind these events than the personal whims of men. I suspect that both acts are orchestrated for their role in God’s plan.

I don’t think that Mary’s message was meant for Adele alone, such that their relevance passed away with her death. I think Mary is asking similar things from us. But what exactly? Mary’s message focused upon interceding for sinners and teaching the faith.

Mary the Queen of Heaven, prays for the conversion of sinners, and she wishes you to do the same. You receive Holy Communion, and that is well. But you must do more. First, regularly receive the sacrament of reconciliation, for the sinner whose conversion you are most responsible for is you. I suggest going once a month, for it is effective for growing in holiness.

Next, in this state of grace, offer holy Communions for the conversion of sinners. At every Mass, the priest has an intention for which he is offering the sacrifice. This is a person or group that he asks to be graced, or a problem or need he asks to be helped, by this offering of Jesus’ sacrifice. At every Mass that you attend, you can also offer an intention of your own. Offer some of your holy Communions for the conversion of sinners. And, like the children of Fatima, you can offer your daily sacrifices, burdens borne or pleasures foregone to help those far from God. In doing this, you follow Jesus, who suffered what He endured in order to save others.

Mary also told Adele: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” Anyone who faith is immature is still a child in the faith. You can help teach them. Mary told Adele to ‘teach children their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments.’ For children you will do one way, for adults, another, but you have something to offer them all; your children and relatives, your coworkers and acquaintances. As Mary said, “Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

And finally, if and when a new firestorm afflicts our land, or when personal firestorms erupt in the lives of those we love, lead them to take refuge in Jesus through Mary. Confession and holiness of life, holy offerings and penances for sinners, teaching the faith to all, and leading them all to Jesus with Mary—this was Adele’s mission, and it is our mission too.

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.

Prayers Gradually Answered — Wednesday, 6th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

February 16, 2011


Noah’s Ark was no cruise ship, and forty days and nights on stormy waters is no pleasure cruise. Imagine what it was like for Noah; shoveling food for the animals all morning, shoveling something else all afternoon; hearing the squawking of the animals all night, hearing the complaints of your family all day. Noah must have been praying hard for land. He sends out a raven and it doesn’t come back. He sends out a dove and it brings back with a twig. After sending out the dove again they finally make landfall. Noah’s prayer was fulfilled in a gradual way, just like Jesus healed the blind man of today’s gospel in stages.

Sometimes we get impatient and question when our prayers for ourselves and others are not answered immediately, but we should not lose hope.  But remember, slow, gradual progress doesn’t mean that God’s plan is not being fulfilled. And just because you’re not instantly healed doesn’t mean that your prayer for healing is not being answered.

The Author of Life — Tuesday, 27th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

October 5, 2010

If you took our Catholic faith and boiled it down to its most central and fundamental truths what would you have? I think you would end up with these four foundations:

First, that God is three divine persons who are one in being, a union we call the Trinity. Second, that Jesus Christ is both God and Man, a reality we call the Incarnation. Third, that Jesus Christ, to save us from sin and death, suffered, died, resurrected and ascended, an event we call the Pascal Mystery, and from which Jesus empowers His Church’s sacraments. And fourth, that every, single, human being has inherent worth and surpassing value, a truth we call the dignity of the human person. It is this fourth fundamental truth of our Catholic Faith that I will focus upon today.

The psalmist says to God:

“Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made”

From the womb, God fashioned your inmost being, giving you an intellect to know, a freewill to act, and a desire for loving communion with others. Made in God’s own image and likeness, made for a purpose and made for love, every human life is precious from conception to natural death.

Sadly, laws sometimes disregard this dignity, and even Christians can forget it too. Martha looked down on her sister because she thought Mary was not being useful enough or productive enough. Martha only saw Mary as causing a burden to herself, yet Mary was exactly where the Lord willed her to be.

As Mrs. Eichstadt said before, God has a providential plan for each one of you. Like St. Paul, the Lord has set you apart from your mother’s womb for a great story which He has in mind. But anyone who would presume to cut short an innocent life would deprive God of a masterpiece.

Assisted suicide or euthanasia rips out the crucial final chapters. Suicide, murder, or neglect of our neighbor unto death, would end a story halfway. And abortion prevents the story from ever being told. Jesus is the author of our lives and He is to be the one who decides when our lives end. Maybe you will always remember the homily when Father tore up a book, but remember this too: every human life is precious and worth more than many, many books.

Pushing Boulders — 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

July 1, 2010

Once upon a time, there was a hermit who lived in a cabin in the woods.  Each day, he would spend a good deal of time in prayer. One day at prayer he quieted himself, opened himself receptively to God, and heard Jesus speak to him. It’s wasn’t that he heard Jesus externally, speaking from across the room, but within his own thoughts. The hermit knew from experience that the Lord sometimes sends us an image, a memory, a song, or words in times of prayer to communicate with us.

The Lord said, “Go outside to the large boulder in your yard.” The man got up and went. Then the Lord said, “I want you to push this boulder for at least 30 minutes every day.” The man went about pushing the boulder every day, exerting his body in every way, but even months later he could not discern having moved the stone a single inch.

The man thought to himself, “Am I doing something wrong? Am I failing because of my sins or my lack of faith? The Gospels say that if I had faith the size of a mustard seed I could move mountains, but I can’t even move this stupid boulder.  Am I failing because this isn’t really God’s will? Did the Lord really tell me to do this, or did I just imagine it myself? No I heard Him, as surely as the other times when I heard Him speak. But why does He give me a task that He knows I can’t do? Does He want me to fail?” At this the man became very angry and (wisely) took his frustration to God. 

The man heard the Lord speak to Him, “Do you have reason to be angry? I told you to push the boulder, but I never told you to move it. Look at your arms, look at your legs, you have become strong because of your faithfulness and now you are ready for my next mission for you. You thought you were failing, but you succeeded in doing my will.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus turns resolutely toward His final journey to Jerusalem. He sends out advance teams to visit the towns ahead of Him and prepare His way. One of these villages is a Samaritan town and when they learn that Jesus’ destination is Jerusalem they refuse to welcome Him. James and John see this and ask, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them, like Elijah did back in the day?” Jesus turns and rebukes them; the fire of the Holy Spirit is meant for the salvation of people, not their destruction.

Why did Jesus send His disciples to that Samaritan town, instead of just instructing them to pass it by? Jesus knew what was going to happen when they went to that village–He knew by His divine insight that they wouldn’t accept Him. Remember when Jesus needed a donkey to ride on into Jerusalem? He sends two disciples to find and untie a donkey who had never been ridden before and He tells them what to say if anyone asks what they are doing. They go into the city and find everything as Jesus had described. Remember when Jesus needed a place to celebrate the Last Supper? He tells Peter and John to go into the city and to follow a man they will see carrying a jar of water, when they come to the house he leads them to, they are to ask if there is a place for the master to celebrate the Passover. They go and find everything a Jesus described, including an upper room already prepared for a Passover. Jesus knew that the Samaritan town would not welcome Him, so why did He send disciples there?

The mission may have seemed like a failure, but Jesus’ plan succeeded. Jesus knew that His Apostles would soon be preaching the Gospel to the whole world and He knew that not everyone would welcome them or their message. Jesus wanted to give them some experience in rejection to teach them how to respond; not with anger and violence, but with patience and peace. James and John learn a lesson about divine mercy. They may have thought their mission to the Samaritan town was a total failure, but the Lord was successfully achieving His goals in them.

So what does all this have to do with us? In our lives we often experience weakness, setbacks and apparent failures. In response, we often blame ourselves, even when we are innocent, or we conclude that we must not have been doing God’s will, or we get angry with God for frustrating or not helping our efforts. Yet, as long as we are faithfully following Christ, nothing we attempt is ever truly a failure.

The only true failure in the Christian life is sin, but if we repent of our past sins even these can be used to benefit God’s great plan. Scripture says, “God works all things for the good of those who love Him,” this even includes our repented sins. We are obsessed with success, but as Blessed Mother Teresa reminds us, “God does not ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful.”

Sometimes you will feel like you are failing, or that your efforts have been useless, but by your faithfulness you will be succeeding in doing God’s will. Let us remember that at the center of our faith is a man nailed to a cross; an appearent failure who was actually succeeding in saving the world. Jesus rolls away stones in ways we wouldn’t expect.

Rabbi Gamaliel’s Wisdom — Friday, 2nd Week of Easter

April 16, 2010

The apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council, to be questioned for why they continued to teach in “that name.” At hearing the apostles’ answers, the Jewish leaders “became infuriated and wanted to put them to death,” but a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin stood up and had the apostles put outside. This was Gamaliel, a great teacher of the law who was respected by all the people. (It was at this rabbi’s feet that St. Paul received his Pharisaical training.)

Gamaliel said, “Fellow children of Israel, be careful what you are about to do to these men.” Now his form of address here is interesting and revealing. He could have addressed his peers in the Sanhedrin in many different ways, but by calling them “fellow children of Israel” he recalls Jacob (whose name God changed to Israel) and his twelve sons.

Now of all those sons, Joseph was Jacob’s favorite. This made the others so jealous that they sold Joseph into slavery. But through suffering this dishonor Joseph would go on to become the instrument of their salvation. Even though they meant to destroy him, they failed. God intended this for good, to achieve the salvation of many.

Gamaliel concluded his speech to the Sanhedrin wisely observing, “If this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them…”

Evil endeavors or activities are destroyed in time. But what is of God endures, even if it is sometimes setback by evil and sins. In these beleaguering times, for our country, for our Church, and for our pope, this lesson from Rabbi Gamaliel gives us good reason for hope.

The Prodigal Son — 4th Sunday in Lent—Year C

March 14, 2010

If today happens to be your first time coming back to church in a long time, then take today’s gospel as a sign. God our Father is incredibly merciful and He welcomes you home with a loving embrace.

But most of us here, I suspect, came to Mass last week, and the week before that, because you always come every week. If so, then you probably hear this familiar parable of the Prodigal (that is, squandering) Son and wonder where you fit into the story. When you look at yourself I bet you can honestly say that you’re not living a life of great dissipation like the younger son, and the idea of a sinner being reconciled with God makes you genuinely happy, not bitter, like the older son or the Pharisees. So what does this story have to teach those of us who are doing a lot more right than we’re doing wrong?

First, let’s look at the younger, prodigal son. He goes to his father and says, “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” Here, he is asking for his inheritance while his father is still alive. He is basically saying, “I don’t want to share my life with you,” and then he demonstrates it a few days later by setting off to a distant country. There he squanders his inheritance on a life of dissipation, but after he has freely spent everything, he finds himself in dire need. What he thought would make him happy left him disappointed in the end.

Sure, we’re not professional, all-star sinners like the prodigal son, but we act like him in many little ways in our daily lives. The prodigal son asked his father for something which was not his and which he had no right to take (while his father is still alive.) Whenever we live as if our lives were our own, as if our lives did not come from God and do not belong to God, our Father, we say to Him, “I don’t want to share my life with you.”

Though our small and venial sins only hinder or wound our relationship with God, in every sin we turn our backs and set off for awhile to a distant country. Whenever we insist upon it, God permits us to freely spend our lives in squandering ways, in ways which we think will make us happy but which disappointing us in the end. When we return to our Father, He forgives our sins and welcomes us back, but you and I must learn to stop trying to live our lives without sharing them completely with God.

Why are we afraid of the idea of doing what God wants us to do every moment of our day? I think we are afraid that doing God’s will won’t really make us happy. Maybe we imagine that doing God’s will means we will have to pray ten hours a day at church or walk around wearing a burlap outfit. Of course that’s crazy. God probably wants you to live the same life you are living now, but with some minor adjustments, and more closely to Him.

Maybe we are afraid to give ourselves completely to God because we are a lot like the other, older, more faithful son in the parable. We have served our Father for years without ever asking or expecting much for ourselves. But working hard for God without ever experiencing His good gifts and joys does not make us holy; over time it makes us angry and embittered, like the older son who never asked for anything. We start to think of our Father, not as our father, but as a slave master. But our Father says to us today, “My child, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” as our psalm said. Do not let your face blush with shame at asking for good things for you and your friends to enjoy. When we are poor and call out the Lord hears us, and He will save us from all our distress. So look to God, and be radiant with joy.

We’ve learned important lessons from both of the sons in this parable, and I hope we will put them into practice.

From the faithful but disgruntled son, we learned the importance of asking for good things from God. So today, at this Mass, ask our Father to surprise you today with some good gift that you’ll enjoy. Then watch to see what He does for you.

From the prodigal son we learned the importance of living with and for God every day of our lives. So tomorrow morning, when you wake up and you’re lying in bed, make the sign of the cross and entrust yourself to God for that day, that you may live your life that day always with Him and for Him. Ask you guardian angel to remind you and I bet you will remember.  Try it, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the difference it makes in your day.

When Towers Fall — 3rd Sunday in Lent—Year C

March 7, 2010

When disasters happen, like the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, some Christian observers respond according to two opposite extremes. One reaction says that a truly just God would never let the innocent die along side the guilty; therefore, all of the victims must have been punished for their sins and got what they had coming to them. The opposite reaction says that a truly loving God would never punish our sins; therefore, all of the victims must have been innocent.

The truth is more complicated than either of these simple and pat explanations. Our God is both perfectly loving and perfectly just. In this world the wheat grows side by side with the weeds. At harvest time, the two are uprooted together, but their eternal fates are not the same. We see that the truth is more complex than some assume by looking at the gospels.

One day Jesus and His disciples observed a man blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Jesus smeared clay in man’s eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The innocent man washed and returned able to see.

Yet, on another occasion (in the same Gospel of John) Jesus saw a man lying on the ground who had been ill for thirty-eight years. Jesus miraculously cured this man too, but finding him later Jesus said to the man, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” In this case, it appears that the man’s sin was connected to the cause of his sufferings.

We need to remember that people who suffer and die are not always guilty. On the other hand, people are not always innocent either. Discerning the truth behind why this or that evil befell this or that person or place usually lies well beyond our own limited vision.

For instance, the friends of Job insisted with all confidence that Job’s sufferings must be due to some great sin he had committed.  However, Job stood firm on his innocence, and he truly was as righteousness he claimed. Great sufferings and even violent death are no certain indication of a person’s sinfulness, that “they had it coming.” Just look at our holy and beloved saints:

  • St. John the Baptist was murdered in his 30’s, and St. Paul in his 60’s—they were both beheaded.
  • St. Peter was murdered too, crucified upside down, and of all the apostles, only St. John died of old age.
  • St. Joan of Arc, age 19, was murdered with fire.
  • St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Faustina Kowalska both died of tuberculosis, at ages 24 and 33.
  • St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Edith Stein were murdered by the Nazi’s in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
  • More recently, before our eyes, John Paul the Great suffered greatly and died of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Even the Blessed Virgin Mary, as perfectly innocent as she was, shared as a mystic and a mother in suffering the passion and death of her Son.

The innocent who suffer live and die in the likeness of Jesus Christ are promised a heavenly reward like His.

So from where do earthquakes and other natural disasters come? In the beginning of time, some of the angels and all of humanity rebelled against God and we rejected our proper places within His creation. This Fall introduced disharmony into our (now) mortal bodies and into the entire natural world. Since that time, Christ has come and in perfect obedience to our Father, died, rose, and has enabled us to be reconciled with God. However, the disharmony of nature remains and we remain free to choose to rebel against our God.

If rebel in sin, we should not be surprised if bad things happen as a result. Usually in this world, we are punished through our sins, more so than for them. For example, someone who neglects prayer and Sunday worship should expect that they will feel disconnected from God. Someone who abuses drugs or alcohol, will see the harmful consequences it brings to their relationships and at school or at work. Someone who covets their neighbors’ spouse and possessions will become sickly green with lust and envy. Add up the sum total of an entire peoples’ sins and you can easily see how an empire or a great nation can decline and decay over time.

God hates our sins, but not merely because they “break His rules.” God hates our sins in proportion to how harmful they are to us. If sins were not bad for us, then God would not command us not to do these things. God hates our sins because He loves us; these are two sides of the same coin.

So what should we do when we witness disaster strike half a world away or in our own community? We should pray for the dead and give our aid to those who live on. Christ calls us to give our compassion, love, spiritual support, and material aid to those who need it. And as for ourselves, such disasters should lead us to convert and reform our lives. Death can come suddenly to any of us. A car crash or a heart attack could take any of us tomorrow placing us unexpected before the judgment seat of God. Let us take such opportunities to prepare ourselves for that day which will come to us all.

What if is not instant death, but a more prolonged evil that comes to me? For instance, what if I go to the doctor and receive a terrible diagnosis?  When such a day comes for me, I hope that I may remember the tree from today’s Gospel, which the gardener worked and fertilized in hopes that it would bear much fruit. If I, like that tree, will humbly accept the manure that comes to me, then it will be a source of great fruitfulness to me.

Could an evil such as this be a correction or a chastisement from God on account of my sins? Possibly, but if I’m not aware of any serious unconfessed sins on my conscience, then probably not. More likely, Jesus is giving me the opportunity to following in His footsteps, to have a share in His cross like the holy saints who came before me. If we accept our crosses with humility, then they can become the means of our sanctification in the likeness of Christ and a source for spiritual fruitfulness for ourselves and the entire world.

Asking and Receiving — Friday, 4th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

February 5, 2010

King Herod said to his daughter, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” If Herod, who was wicked, could be moved to give his daughter gifts, how much more will our heavenly Father give us good things if we ask Him. Praying for good things is something Jesus commands us to do.

While many Christians fall into the mistake of only praying when they want something from God, there are other Christians, who pray every day, who make an opposite mistake. These Christians pray for good things for others, but they never ask anything for themselves, fearing that this would be a selfish prayer. But the danger in this, in never requesting and never expecting God’s gifts and consolations, is that we’ll become discouraged and gradually embittered.

If we never ask for a share in the Father’s gifts we risk becoming like the older brother in Luke’s parable of the prodigal son. Eventually we’ll say to God, “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never even gave me something to feast on with my friends.” But our generous and forgiving Father would say to us, “My child, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours for the asking.”

Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” So ask God to give you gifts—this is not a selfish prayer, for it will strengthen you in holiness and glorify God. I suggest that you try out a little experiment. Pray, “Lord, please treat me to something special today,” and then watch for his gift to come.