Archive for the ‘Our Lady of Peace Parish’ Category

The Significance of Standing — Tuesday, 3rd Week of Easter

May 10, 2011

There’s a curious detail about Stephen’s vision of Heaven in our first reading today:

“Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and Stephen said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”

Stephen looks up to Heaven and sees Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand, but both the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed (which we say each Sunday) describe Jesus as “seated at the right hand of the Father.” What are we to make of this?

In the ancient world, to be seated at someone’s right hand gave you the place of higher honor. At a meal, this favored seat granted a special closeness to the host. In a kingdom, the one seated at the right hand of the throne would share in the king’s authority and rule. Of course, describing Jesus as “seated at the right hand of the Father” is only an image (God the Father is unlimited, pure spirit and doesn’t have a right hand.) But this phrase from our creeds does describe a reality: that Jesus is now in the intimate presence of God the Father, sharing supremely in His glory and rule. In his vision, Stephen beholds Jesus in the place of honor, at the Father’s “right hand,” but Stephen sees Jesus standing. So why is Jesus standing?

Did you know that whenever the President of the United States enters a room, everybody stands up? It doesn’t matter if it is a room full of Democrats or Republicans, members of the press, or ordinary citizens, everyone stands up for the President. The same goes for a judge in his courtroom: “All rise, the Honorable Judge So-and-so presiding.” And a gentleman knows that he ought to stand up whenever he greets a lady. Why do they stand? Because it is a sign of respect. If you think about it, whenever we’re offering prayers in the Mass, provided we’re not kneeling, we’re standing up to pray. We stand to pray as a sign of respect to God.

Sometimes, people stand as a sign of respect not so much for the individual but for the greatness of the office they possess. Even a U.S. President’s most hostile critics in Congress, political opponents who couldn’t say one good thing about him, will stand up when he arrives to give his State of the Union address out of respect for the office he holds. It wasn’t for this reason that Jesus stood. No one on earth could have demanded Jesus’ respect by holding an office higher than his.

Jesus stood up because he wanted to show Stephen a sign of His respect. Jesus stood up because he was proud of Stephen. I think that we forget that Jesus is a real human being, with human feelings and emotions about the human events he sees. At the same time, He is also God; and therefore, He sees us all.

When you’re alone, and overcome temptation to do what you know is good, Jesus sees you and He’s proud of you. When you give an anonymous contribution or do a secret kindness, Jesus sees it and He’s proud of you. When you are opposed like Stephen, by people who hate you, or that just don’t understand you, when all the while you’re trying act with love, you do not stand alone. Remember that when you do what’s hard for Jesus, He sees it, and He sees you and He’s proud of you for it.

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The Emmaus Travelers — 3rd Sunday in Easter—Year A

May 7, 2011

Let’s start off with a riddle… Once, a father and his son were driving along in the country together when they got into a terrible car crash. They were both seriously injured and ambulances rushed them to two different hospitals. But when the boy was brought into the Emergency Room, the surgeon on duty saw him and declared, “I can’t operate on him. He’s my son.” How can this be…? The trick of the riddle is that we tend to assume that surgeons will be male. The answer is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

There is a similar trick of the mind at work when we hear the story of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus; we always assume that they were two men. It’s not wonder, since virtually every painting of the encounter on the road to Emmaus will show Jesus with two men. For example, look at the relief on the front of our altar. Many people assume that this is a depiction of the Last Supper (but that there are only two apostles shown because we had to crop it down to size.) Actually, this scene is from after His Passion—you can see crosses on the hill in the distance and there are wound marks in Jesus’ hands. What we have here is to two men at the house in Emmaus, shocked to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

The artistic depictions always show two men [the picture on the right being the only possible exception I could find], however the original Greek does not call them “two men,” or even “two disciples.” It only says there were “two of them” and that one of them was a man named Cleopas. As to the name and gender of the other traveler, the gospel text is silent. Perhaps the second person’s identity is left as a mystery so as to invite any of us to imagine ourselves in their place in this story. This may be the extent of what we can know for certain, but there is an interesting clue from another Gospel that suggests more detail.

In Gospel of John, it says that “standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas….” (John 19:25) So we have a Clopas and Cleopas both associated with Jesus. Perhaps these similar names are merely a coincidence, but perhaps Clopas and Cleopas are variations of the same person’s name. If Clopas and Cleopas are one in the same person, then the other traveler on the road was probably his wife, Mary. This Mary was most likely either Jesus’ aunt and the sister of St. Joseph, or one of the cousins of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What we do know for certain is that this Mary stood with Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross.

Admittedly, it is speculation to say the other traveler was Cleopas’ wife, but if it was, then this Resurrection episode has a much greater poetry. In the Garden of Eden, a husband and wife ate from a tree. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked.” They felt ashamed and afraid. But in the house at Emmaus, a husband and wife ate the Eucharist, the fruit of the tree of the cross. “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” They felt joyful and unafraid. In Eden, God moved about the garden with the man and the woman. After the resurrection, Jesus walks with us, both men and women, along our road.

But whether that second traveler on the road was a woman or not, it would be a remain mistake to think that only men were important in the early Church. That would be at least as mistaken as thinking that every surgeon is a male. Jesus Christ chose some men to be the Church’s leaders, and much is said about them in the Scriptures, but He chose to spread the good news about Himself through the witness of women as well.

Though we sing of the “Faith of Our Fathers,” the faith of our mothers has been just as important, if not more, through time. Today,  it is oftentimes mom who takes the forefront in fostering faith in the family, in leading her children to Christ and His Church; through bedtime prayers and Bible stories, by bringing them to Mass and to CCD, in seeing to it that they receive the graces of the sacraments. If you feel like you’re alone in witnessing to the faith in your family, I commend you, and Jesus is proud of you.

There is another trick of the mind when it comes to celebrating Mother’s Day. On Mother’s Day we remember our mothers, who gave us birth and nurtured us, who raised us and put up with us, but we tend to forget about the greatest gift, the gift of our faith. At the Easter vigil the Exultet asks: “What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our redeemer?” Indeed, what good would life be to us if after our births we had not also been brought to Christ through the witness of holy women. Who were these holy women in your life? At this Mother’s Day Mass, let us remember and pray not only for our mothers in the natural order, but for each of our spiritual mothers as well.

The Death of Bin Laden — May 3 — Sts. Philip and James

May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden has caused the deaths of countless people worldwide, he has spread hatred and division among peoples, and he has exploited religion for these purposes. He has done evil things, and now he is dead. How should we take this news? On Sunday night, some people celebrated in the streets of New York City and Washington, DC. Many people said with unrestrained delight that not a man, but a vermin, or a thing of pure evil, had been exterminated. But what is God’s opinion? What are His feelings on these events? God speaks to us in his words from Ezekiel 33:11: “Answer them: As I live, says the Lord God, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion, that he may live.” If God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked, then neither should we.

Our U.S. Special Forces’ successful mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan rightly pleases us in many ways, like in how this achievement may prevent future terrorist attacks or the fact that al-Qaeda is now deprived of their most charismatic leader, but a Christian should not rejoice in the death of a sinner. It should be noted here, that Jesus the Prince of Peace loves peace, but He is not a pacifist. (A pacifist is someone who condemns the use of force in all situations.) Recall that Jesus did not drive out the money-changers and animal-sellers from the temple solely by endlessly asking them nicely. “He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area…” Force, even deadly force, is sometimes just and necessary, as I believe it was in Abbattabad this Sunday. And yet, even in wartime, we must not hate those who hate us, nor rejoice in the death of wrongdoers, not even when it’s Osama Bin Laden. The death of a sinner is a tragedy to the heart of Jesus, whose Divine Mercy and Love we celebrated on that same Sunday.

Perhaps someone might hear this and ask, “What difference does it make whether or not I hate Bin Laden or other people I’ve never met? Or what difference does it make whether or not I hate some of the people I actually know?” This is why it matters. You heard Jesus say to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” No one comes to the Father, except through Him. Jesus is the way. He is our way to Heaven not just by our saying that He’s our Lord and Savior. Jesus is the way because He is the way we must become. No one comes to the Father in Heaven except they who conform themselves to the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if you die hating anyone in your heart, when you come to the gates of Heaven, whether the persons you hate are inside or not, you will not enter in; either you will be prevented from entering until your heart is cleaned to be like Christ’s, or you will never enter in, because you will have decided that you do not want Heaven’s ways, Heaven’s truths, or Heaven’s life.

You’re unlikely to hear the message of this homily said anywhere on TV. Imagine how the world would react if someone went on FOX News or CNN and suggested we shouldn’t hate Bin Laden. If you’ve heard anything like this homily since Sunday’s events, it was probably here at Columbus, through one of your teachers. What makes them different from the world is that they have been formed by the Gospel and a Catholic Christian worldview. Our Catholic Faith is the only thing that frees from the slavery of merely being a child of one’s time. It allows us to see the world more through Jesus’ eyes and to conform our hearts to His. This is important, because if you and I want to enter into Heaven someday, we must be converted into Him.

The Real Jesus — Monday of Holy Week

April 20, 2011

Who is Jesus? What is He like? Jesus is not the things that many people dismiss as being. Jesus is not an ancient myth or a bedtime story. Jesus is not a heavenly Mr. Rogers. Jesus is not a mean guy on a cloud. Jesus is not a hippy and Jesus is not an unmanly wimp. Jesus is not a weirdo, or a freak, and yet Jesus is not ordinary either. Jesus is not a religious fanatic and yet Jesus is not tamed. Jesus is not far away and He is not inactive. Jesus is not out-of-date and He is not irrelevant. Jesus is not a joke but He is not a stick-in-the-mud either. Jesus is not just a “nice guy” or a “buddy.” Jesus is not just a Jewish carpenter who died a long time ago. Jesus is not just a social reformer or a moral teacher who transformed the entire world more than anybody else. Jesus Christ is God and the greatest human being alive.

Our secular culture and sometimes Christians themselves create false pictures of who Jesus is, what He’s like, and what He’s about. And these false depictions can make us hesitate to draw closer to Him. But with the real Jesus, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. In the real Jesus there is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.

My prayer today is that each of you would all come to know the real Jesus Christ better. This is relationship is at the very core of what it is to be a Christian. Listen to what Pope Benedict wrote for the opening of his very first encyclical: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (This event, this person, is of course Jesus Christ.) “We have come to believe in God’s love.” In these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his or her life.

In today’s Gospel, Mary the sister of Lazarus approaches Jesus at a dinner with an alabaster jar of ointment. The jar was made of a type of marble and had a narrow neck to pour out the precious oil slowly. However, Mary breaks the jar and pours it entirely on Jesus’ feet, and its fragrance fills the house. When Judas saw this he criticized her, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” Some of the other disciples felt that way too. (Imagine spending $25,000 on a gift for someone.) But Mary knew the real Jesus in a way that Judas never would. She knew Him, and loved Him, and therefore desired to pour her entire self out for Him. If you know the real Jesus like Mary did, it makes sense.

I pray that you will seek to know the real Jesus through a commitment to daily prayer, without which spiritual growth is impossible. Ask Jesus in this Mass to reveal Himself to you. Then you too shall know Him, love Him, and pour yourself out like Mary the sister of Lazarus did, and then fragrance of the wonderful life will fill the house for all.

We Owe Him Big — Tuesday of Holy Week

April 20, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenten Penance Service Homily

April 15, 2011

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?  And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Sadly, all of us have sinned. Each of us is guilty. Now a sin is more than just an innocent mistake or a misunderstanding. (There is in guilt in those things.) The truth is that each of us at times have sinned by knowingly choosing to do what is wrong instead of doing what is right. With every sin, we hurt each other. We also hurt our relationship with Jesus, who is entirely good, and the most deserving of our love. All of us are guilty. We have all committed crimes against God and our neighbors. So what shall we do?

Like the two criminals in the gospel we just heard, this morning we have the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ, in the sacrament He gives us. But like which of those two criminals will we be in His presence? The first criminal didn’t acknowledge or care about his own sins. He tried to ignore his terrible situation and treated Jesus on the cross like a joke. However, the second criminal, who tradition calls the Good Thief, acted wisely and well. He recognized in Jesus Christ the one person in the whole world who could really help him. This guilty man praised Jesus for his goodness and asked for Him for His mercy. And Jesus forgave him and promised him great things.

On behalf of Jesus Christ, I beg you this morning to make a good confession, heartfelt confession of your all sins. Jesus said to the Good Thief, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Like the Good Thief, Jesus wants you to know the blessings of His complete forgiveness today.

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

March 1, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Our Rock — February 22 — Chair of St. Peter

February 22, 2011

If you claim Jesus Christ as your Lord, then listen to His words. To those He sent to preach for Him, Jesus said this, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me.” (Luke 10:16) Today there are many people preaching many different things about what they think Jesus would have us believe and do. These varying opinions are well-intentioned and shared in good faith, by ministers from pulpits and in conversations between friends, but they cannot all be right. Unless it doesn’t matter what we believe or what we do, then this is a big problem. To whom should we listen? Is there anyone today for whom Jesus’ words are still true, “Whoever listens to you listens to me”?     Does anyone teach with authority, such that ‘whoever rejects their teaching rejects Christ?’ If not, we are lost; but if there is, where do we find this person?

On another occasion, Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” (Matthew 23:1-3) Today teachers usually stand in front of their classes to teach them, but teachers in the ancient world would teach sitting down. Their chairs symbolized their authority, like the “chairman of the board” or the “chair of the English department.”Jesus spoke of the Chair of Moses, the position of the authoritative teaching for old Israel. For His new Church, Jesus establishes a new chair, the chair that we celebrate today, the chair of St. Peter and of his successors the Popes.

St. Peter, like every Pope after him, was only a man. He wasn’t perfect and he was weak in many ways. But Jesus has built His Church upon this rock. When the Pope, as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals, he teaches it infallibly. For the good of the Church, the Pope is empowered by the Holy Spirit to teach the faith of Christ without error. Can popes sin? Yes, infallible does not mean impeccable, as various popes in history have shown, yet even these bad popes prove the faithfulness of God in preserving them from teaching errors. Of them Jesus would have said, “Do as they teach, but do not follow their example.”

Jesus knew that living the fullness of Christianity on earth required that He provide us with an infallible guide. Some Christians have held that the Bible alone is this guide, but the Scriptures do not interpret themselves, nor did the Bible books put themselves in the canon. Even the infallible Scriptures require an infallible Church, and an infallible Church requires an infallible voice.

Mark Twain is believed to have remarked, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Of course, it was not the father but the child who had changed, when he finally recognizing the wisdom of his father. Some people reject or ignore Catholic teachings as stupid, like those on the sacred dignity of all human life, or the teachings on human sexuality. Some people neglect the sacraments of the Church for years of their lives. Then, after gaining painful experience, they return with a new love and respect for our Holy Father’s wisdom, and the ways of our Mother, the Church. As wonderful as it is whenever people to come back to the Catholic faith, I would much prefer that you would know the greater joy and peace of remaining ever united to the rock of truth found only in our Church.

Christ’s Boat — Tuesday, 6th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

February 15, 2011

Perhaps you’ve noticed at Mass that most of our prayers are directed to God the Father. That is why you see me looking up so often. I’m looking up to our Father in Heaven as I speak to Him. From time to time, while I’m looking up, I can’t help but notice the ceiling. Take a look for yourself. It often reminds me of a boat’s wooden hull. That is really quite appropriate, because the Church is a boat and it is an important boat to be in.

The old ark was a boat built by Noah in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through the waters of the flood. The new ark is our Church, the boat built by Christ, in which many are saved through the waters of baptism. Jesus’ boat has the cross for its mast and its sails are filled by the winds of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church, the bark of Peter, is the only vessel that navigates safely through the dangerous waters of this world.

As the Church Fathers frequently said, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” But how should we understand this teaching? Restated positively it means this: that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church, which is his Body. Basing Herself on Scripture and Tradition, Bride of Christ teaches that she, the Church, is necessary for salvation. As the Second Vatican Council repeated in modern times, Jesus “himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.”

It must be noted that this teaching is not aimed at those who do not know Christ and his Church through no fault of their own. “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

“Although in ways known to Himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please Him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.” If we love all men, we will naturally desire to share the truth and blessings of the Church’s Gospel with everyone. Think of it this way: while it is theoretically possible for anyone to swim the English Channel, it is a far easier crossing if we take the ferry. In the same way, it is not a matter of indifference if people come into the Church or not. The journey is much safer and easier if you’re in the boat.

Remember not underestimate the importance of the Church. In the end, all those who will be saved will be saved through their relationship, known or unknown, with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Jesus founded.

And do not underestimate the importance of the Mass. All the graces that flow into souls pours forth from the Catholic Church through this sacrifice we celebrate. The Mass takes the sacrifice of Calvary from then and there, through space and time, to here and now, and applies its power and effects to our world today. (What we’re doing here is a very important thing.)

And finally, do not underestimate the importance of remaining in the Church. May we never forsake it. We have to stay in the boat with Jesus Christ, because without Him, none of us can walk on water.

Wine and Drunkenness — Tuesday, 5th Week of Ordinary Time—Year I

February 8, 2011

“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. … Such is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation.”

Everything that God has made is good, but anything can be misused or abused in ways that are wrong. A volleyball-sized amount of Uranium can provide electrical power to 200 U.S. homes for a year, but it can also be used in a single bomb to level a city like Hiroshima. The complimentarily of man and woman is very good.  They were made for each other, but they sometimes use each other in painful and unloving ways.

What about alcohol in its many forms? Is it good or bad? On the one hand, the Scriptures praise God for it as a gift: “You bring bread from the earth, and wine to gladden our hearts.” (Psalm 104:14-15) Yet throughout, the Scriptures also caution about the sin of drunkenness: “…Do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, [instead] be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) You’ll recall that Jesus provided wine for the wedding feast of Cana, yet He would not be pleased if the guests used His gift for getting trashed.  If we are adults we may only drink alcohol in moderation, and if we are still minors we may only consume it under our parents’ direct supervision. Anything else is misuse, abuse, immoral and dangerous.

But what about illegal or recreational drugs? Can they be used in moderation? No, there is no moderation in this, for the entire goal of using them is to get high, to become intoxicated. If you have never abused drugs or alcohol, I hope you never start; and if you have, I hope you never will again.

Please do not dismiss this teaching as merely the tradition of your elders; for it is God’s command that we should never get drunk or high. God forbids it, just as every good parent forbids it of their children, because getting intoxicated is harmful and dangerous for us. The Scriptures say, “Honor your father and your mother,” and, “Whoever curses father or mother shall die.” Indeed, those who spurn their parents in this can taste sin and death in many forms.

When you’re intoxicated you make dumb decisions. (I don’t know about you, but I already make enough dumb mistakes in a day as it is.) Someone who is drunk or high will do impulsive, stupid things that they would never do otherwise. You lose control of yourself and become vulnerable to others. I don’t want any of you to wake up a morning after, regretting some serious thing done the night before. I don’t want any young woman here to find herself with child, and be tempted to do something terrible.

Imagine which experience would be worse as a consequence of getting intoxicated? To die alone from driving your car off a road into a tree, or to survive a head-on collision that kills a stranger or a friend? Go too far just once and alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose can have you pass out and never wake up again, put you in a coma or make you drown in your own vomit.

Or consider the risk and costs of addiction. Any recovering alcoholic can tell you a story about how much addiction costs, and any smoker can tell you how hard additions are to break. Of course, not everyone who gets drunk or high will become an addict, but some will, and after the first use of certain drugs, addiction is all but certain. With addiction, even if drug or alcohol abuse never sends you to prison, it can still cost you your freedom. And even if drug use never takes your life, it can cost lives of people far away.

Did you know that since 2007 there have been over 35,000 deaths in Mexico from the violence of their organized crime drug cartels? That’s almost ten times the number of American troops who have died in combat since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why so much violence? It’s because the Mexican drug cartels make more than one hundred billion dollars a year from selling marijuana and other drugs to Americans, and they will murder or assassinate whoever stands up to them. When we buy their drugs, we’re supporting their terror.

Today I set before you life and death; choose life. If you have never abused drugs or alcohol, I hope you never start; and if you have, I hope you never do again. May no one ever say of Columbus Dons as Jesus said of the Pharisees: their hands are clean in public and ‘they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’

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.

Attacks Within — Tuesday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time—Year I

January 18, 2011

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He also created purely spiritual beings called angels to serve Him and share His friendship. Unfortunately, some of these spirits decided that they would not serve, and rejected His friendship. We call these rebels demons, and with intense hate they wage spiritual war against us on the battlefields of our hearts and minds.

Demons are pleased when we hold either of these two extreme attitudes towards them: either in denying their very existence, so that we will be completely unaware of their activity in the world, or in fixating upon them, so that we are paralyzed with false fears of their power. Demons are powerful (by nature we human being are “lower than the angels”) but we should not be terrorized. First, Jesus is greater than them all. Made “for a little while lower than the angels” the Father has crowned Jesus “with glory and honor, subjecting all things under his feet.” Second, as a baptized Christian, you belong to Christ, you are claimed by Him, and that gives you special protection. Demons cannot possess you like the man in the Gospels unless you invite them in. (This is why Ouija Boards, Tarot cards, seances, magic and other things occult are so dangerous.) Demons cannot control us, overriding our freewill, but they can influence our thoughts and feelings.

When I interact with you, I can influence your thoughts and feelings by what I say and how I act. If I mention elephants, you’ll think of elephants. If I smile and compliment you, you’ll feel good, and if I insult you, you’ll feel bad. But however I interact with you, you can see and hear me doing it right in front of you. The work of spirits, on the other hand, is more subtle since they operate invisibly, speaking in our thoughts and influencing our hearts. God’s good angels direct us toward what is good, but demons would lead us toward sin and harm. To be forewarned and aware of the demons’ tactics is to be forearmed and prepared to resist them.

One typical demonic tactic is to first entice and then condemn. Suppose you gave up cookies for Lent and you notice the cookie jar sitting on the counter. A demon might entice you by speaking thoughts to you like this: “… a cookie would be great right now …this sucks …I’ve been good all Lent… I’ve earned it.” Then, once you give in and have the cookie, the enemy shifts to words of condemnation: “…couldn’t even give up one cookie for God.” Whenever you fall into sin, the demons don’t want you to get back up with Christ, they want to kick you when you’re down and keep you there. Sometimes our heavenly friends will correct and challenge us, but whenever they do, they always do it in a way that makes us stronger to do what’s right.

Another demonic tactic is Always/Never, or All or Nothing Thinking. If you find yourself thinking that you’re “always” this, or “never” that, you’re probably being fed a lie; either an untruth welling-up out of your own human brokenness, or a lie coming from an external attack. If you find yourself thinking that you ‘always mess things up,’ or that you ‘don’t have any friends,’ or that you ‘never really sin,’ you’re facing a falsehood. The truth is that only in rare cases are you “always” or “never” anything. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Another tip: don’t dialogue with temptations. Whether the temptation springs from an external enemy or merely from our own desirous passions, both demons and we ourselves are cleaver enough to persuade us into sinning, if granted enough time for convincing.

So what can we do to defend against such attacks? We should pray every day and stay close to Jesus Christ through frequent reception of confession and the Eucharist. We should use holy water and holy images to sanctify the places where we dwell. We should call on our heavenly friends; Mary, St. Michael the Archangel, leader of God’s angelic armies, and all the saints. We should also remember that we are always accompanied by a Guardian Angel who God-given mission is to light, to guard, to rule, and to guide us.

Demons want us to either fixate on them or to deny that they even exist. Instead, let’s be forewarned in faith and confident in Christ about the invisible spiritual warfare fought on the battlefields of our hearts and minds.

A Teenage Examination of Conscience

December 16, 2010

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.”

Since my last confession…

  • Have I neglected daily prayer?
  • Have I stubbornly doubted God’s existence, goodness, or love?
  • Have I denied Jesus Christ or my Catholic Faith?
  • Have I dabbled in occult things, like spiritualism or magic?
  • Have I frivolously said, “I swear to God”?
  • Have I used holy names as if they were profanities?
  • Have I failed to keep Fridays as a day of penance?
  • Have I failed to keep Sundays as a day of rest?
  • Have I skipped Sunday Mass?
  • Have I been irreverent or inattentive at church or towards Jesus in the Eucharist?
  • Have I neglected to confess serious sins?
  • Have I favored my own comfort and entertainments over God’s will?
  • Have I refused to trust that God will take care of me?

God said, “Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth.”

  • Have I disobeyed my parents?
  • Have I disrespected them to their faces or behind their backs?
  • Have I lied to them?
  • Have I manipulated them to get what I want?
  • Have I seldom shown them love or gratitude?
  • Have I neglected my duties at home?
  • Have I failed to put forth my best effort at school?
  • Have I lied to, disobeyed, or disrespected a teacher?
  • Have I cheated on tests, plagiarized papers, or copied answers?

Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

  • Have I quarreled with anyone?
  • Have I bullied, insulted, or mocked anyone?
  • Have I intentionally harmed anyone?
  • Have I wished for bad things to happen to anyone?
  • Have I embraced hated for anyone?
  • Have I had an abortion or encouraged anyone to get one?
  • Have I told gossip or unflattering stories about anyone?
  • Have I told any lies?
  • Have I betrayed any friends?
  • Have I broken any promises?
  • Have I wrongly revealed any secrets?
  • Have I been a poor friend?
  • Have I coveted, been envious or greedy of anyone’s possessions?
  • Have I stolen or vandalized what belongs to another?
  • Have I simply stood by while another did wrong?
  • Have I dressed, spoken, or behaved immodestly?
  • Have I been unchaste with anyone?
  • Have I been selfish or insincere in a relationship with anyone?
  • Have I manipulated anyone to get something I wanted?
  • Have I been impatient, jealous, unkind, or unmerciful toward anyone?

St. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit… and that you are not your own?  For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”

  • Have I gotten intoxicated using alcohol or other drugs?
  • Have I used illegal-performance enhancing drugs?
  • Have I malnourished myself or ‘binged and purged’?
  • Have I intentionally harmed my own body?
  • Have I plotted or attempted suicide?
  • Have I lusted using movies, TV, the internet, romance novels, magazines, or music?
  • Have I engaged in unchaste acts of imagination or with myself?
  • Have I used media or entertainments in obsessive, self-isolating ways?

An Act of Contrition

Oh My God, I am sorry for my sins. In choosing to sin and failing to do good, I have sinned against you and your church. I firmly intend, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to love as I ought.  Amen.

The New Eve — December 8 — Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2010

In the beginning, when our first parents fell, they lost a great deal, but they were not deprived of hope, for God spoke in their hearing a prophesy to the deceiving serpent, the devil. God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” Who is this offspring, who strikes back at the devil? He is Jesus the Christ, the New Adam, the Son of God. And who is this woman, who is Satan’s enemy? She is Mary of Nazareth, the New Eve, the Immaculate Conception.

After their Fall, when Adam and Eve heard God approaching in the garden, they became afraid, they fled and hid, so God called out, “Where are you?” When God drew near to Mary, she also was afraid, but she did not hide or flee. She declared, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” And, because she did, her Holy Offspring could go on to say in His garden of testing, “Father… not my will but yours be done.”

The first man, Adam, called the first woman Eve, because she became the mother of all the living. Now, Mary is the New and Second Eve, for she is the mother of all the living, and she loves each one of us personally as her very own children.

She is the icon of the Church, and as she is, we are called to be: holy and without blemish before God, as the second reading from Ephesians says. But how can we do this? Unlike Mary, at times we have been allies of Satan by our sins. To cleanse us, God gives us the sacrament of reconciliation, and to strengthen us He gives us the fruit from the new tree of life; that tree is the cross, and its fruit is the Eucharistic Christ.

If it has been a long time since you have been to confession, come that you may be purified as pure as Mary. And if you receive our Lord in the Eucharist tonight, consider that the Son of God Incarnate has come to dwell in you, just as truly as He dwelt in Mary.

7 Superpowers — Tuesday, 1st Week of Advent

November 30, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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