Archive for the ‘Sunday Homilies’ Category

Forgiving others is crucial (and maybe easier than you think.)

September 12, 2020

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Jesus’ parable today, a servant owes his king a huge debt, more precisely (in the original Greek) 10,000 silver talents. This was an amount equal to 150,000 years’ worth of labor in the ancient world, something akin to $4.5 billion today. It’s an unrepayable debt, but the servant’s king is rich in compassion; he feels pity and forgives the man’s entire loan.

Now, this servant was a creditor himself, and one of his fellow servants owed him a significant but much smaller amount, literally 100 denarii, which was 100 days’ wages back then. Think of it like $10,000. The newly debt-free man sought out this fellow servant and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe!” Despite pleading for patient mercy, that first servant put the second into debtors’ prison until he should pay back his debt.

Now when other servants witnessed all of this they felt deeply troubled by it. They went and reported the whole situation to the king and master of them all. The king summoned the unforgiving servant and pronounced a swift judgment: “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then, in anger, his master threw him into debtors’ prison as well until he should pay back his whole debt.

The king was clearly angry. One rarely-considered reason for his anger is that all of these servants were his own. The 100 denarii debtor suffered by being tossed into prison, his fellow servants suffered from witnessing the scandal, and all of this impacted the king personally. Their distress affects him deeply, for the king is compassionate, but it affected him in another way as well: his servants being detained or disturbed by this unhappy affair kept them from doing his important work. They’re all his servants, but the actions of one impeded the others from freely and fully fulfilling his will.

Of course, the king and master in this parable represents God. Who on earth forgives someone’s $4.5 billion personal debt like our Lord forgives the debt of our sins? And we are each his servants, like St. Paul says, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” So, if we are to learn a lesson from the servant whose great debt was forgiven, how can we avoid imprisoning or impeding our fellow servants? Through merciful love.

When someone is angry with you, yells at you, or criticizes you, when you know someone dislikes or despises you, how does that affect you? Does your tension and anxiety go up? Do you think about that person and the situation obsessively? Do you run scenarios in your mind about what you wish you had said or done previously, or what you’ll do the next time you cross paths? Do you avoid that person, or the places they could be, and feel uncomfortable in their presence? Do you gossip to others about your ongoing bitter conflict, thereby spreading the scandal to them? If so, then you’re being imprisoned, partially impeded in your peaceful service of our Lord.

We can easily have this effect on others by how we treat them. And cherishing and nurturing our own anger makes a prisoner of yourself to anger. When you experience some slight or shortcoming from another, be gracious. Maybe just let it be; let it pass. Give their actions a most-generous interpretation. Mistakes are more common than malevolence. And you yourself have bad days, too.

Sometimes, though, we need to address matters for the common good. As we heard about last week, love sometimes calls us to do fraternally correction. But when we do it, let’s do it with a kindly, gentle spirit, sharing the truth in love that they might be able to receive it. Merciful love is necessary to keep each other out of prison, the prison of unrepentance and the prison unforgiveness.

In the Our Father, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches his disciples, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” And at the end of today’s parable, Jesus warns us that our fate will be like that of the unforgiving servant ‘unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’ Now many Christians find this teaching deeply disconcerting. They’re troubled because they believe they just can’t forgive. But I usually find they think this because they imagine forgiveness means something it’s not.

Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. You can’t force yourself to have amnesia and forget. You might remember the misdeed for the rest of your life. And forgiveness doesn’t mean saying what someone did wasn’t serious or wrong. The offense committed may have been a grave sin and to say otherwise would be a lie. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what someone did no longer hurts. Only grace and time can heal some wounds, but we can forgive even with lingering pains. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to pretend nothing happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything must go back to the way it was before. Forgiveness might lead to full reconciliation, but not always. You can forgive someone even before they can be trusted. You can forgive even before they are sorry for what they did. Why? Because forgiveness means loving someone despite the wrongs that they have done.

Forgiveness is loving someone despite their sins. Is there someone you’re worried that you haven’t forgiven? Then pray for them, because you can’t hate someone and pray for them at the same time. Is there someone you find it hard to pray for? Then that’s whom you should pray for, for their sake and for yours. Jesus came to reconcile us to one another and to the Father. So have mercy. Jesus works to heal the wounds of sin and division. So have mercy. And Jesus intercedes for us with our Father. So have mercy, too.

Saving Dates & Saving Souls

September 5, 2020

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The just shall flourish like the palm tree… They shall bear fruit even in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” (Psalm 92)

In the time of Jesus, forests of Judean date palms covered the whole region from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. This plant, the date palm, symbolized ancient Israel. When the scriptures call Israel “the land of milk and honey” we today think of cow’s milk and the honey of bees. But milk in the Old Testament is just as likely to be goat’s milk and the honey it refers to is usually the sweet honey of dates. By the 1500’s, human activity or changes in the climate had caused the Judean date palm to disappear. Because of that species’ extinction, the date palm plants grown across Israel today were brought over from California in the 1950’s and 60’s; they’re different in species and originally native to elsewhere in the Middle East. However, the Judean date palm was not to be lost forever.

The Judean Date Palm Tree Methuselah in 2018

During the 1960’s, archaeologists excavated the mountaintop palace fortress of Masasda built by King Herod the Great near the Dead Sea. There they found, preserved dry and sheltered in an ancient jar, a cache of date seeds which carbon testing indicates are 2,000 years old. These seeds were kept in storage at an Israeli university in Tel Aviv for forty years. Then, in 2006, an American-educated horticulturalist in Israel planted several of those seeds. To her and her colleagues’ delighted surprise, one sprouted. They named that plant after the oldest person in the Old Testament, Methuselah. Today it’s over eleven feet tall. After their success with Methuselah, they planted more ancient date seeds from Masada and the caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and six new samplings have grown. They hope to pollinate one or more of the new female palms with pollen from Methuselah, which is male palm, eventually yielding the famous delicious dates of ancient times.

While the fruit of Judean date palms was celebrated for its sweet flavor and medicinal uses, its palm branches are also noteworthy. They were probably the kind of palm branches that the crowds waved and laid before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before he was killed, the day we call Palm Sunday. Jesus once lamented: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus knew the history of the prophets as he entered Jerusalem – how God would send them to proclaim the right path to his people, usually urging conversion from their sins. Heeding the truth will set you free; but first, it may make you uncomfortable, defensive, and angry. God’s people typically resisted the saving message and derided, denounced, attacked, imprisoned, and killed the prophets. And then, the unhappy consequences the prophets had foretold would follow naturally and unchecked. Knowing how reluctant sinners are to listen and change, why did the prophets bother? And what was the point of it all when people so rarely listened? I suggest God’s prophets had three motivations.

One was to personally avoid God’s judgment themselves. In our first reading, the Lord warns the prophet Ezekiel: “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.” The prophets did not want to be condemned for failing to do their holy duty.

A second motivation of the prophets was love, love for God and love for their neighbors. As St. Paul told the Romans in our second reading: “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… whatever other commandment there may be, [is] summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If you were in danger, recklessly or unknowingly headed towards some serious physical or spiritual harm, don’t you wish someone would warn you? The prophets loved enough to try.

And a third motivation of the prophets was hope, hope that one day, perhaps many years later, the people they spoke to would be saved. The previously rebellious people, seeing their city ruined and their kingdom conquered as the prophets had foretold, would know that God had warned them and know that their next step should be to return to the Lord and walk in his ways. What motivated the prophets of old should motivate us as well, for many people go astray today.

Brothers… if a person is caught in some transgression,” St. Paul tells the Galatians, “you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit…” Jesus teaches us in today’s gospel, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault (privately,) between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have (successfully) won over your brother.” And as St. James writes in his New Testament letter, “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Fraternal correction isn’t fun, I know, but “admonishing the sinner” is a spiritual work of mercy you and I as Christians are called to do. Like the prophets, we are to place seeds, seeds containing the power and potential to yield sweet and healing fruit. Sometimes these seeds produce an immediate holy harvest through conversion. Yet we know our seeds will often be set aside, discarded, and forgotten; until, perhaps many years later after much desolation, these dormant seeds’ true and precious value is recognized, they’re allowed to sprout with deep new roots, and life that was once lost and dead is fully restored, producing good fruits again, to the joy of all God’s people.

Your Chosen Cross

August 30, 2020

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In last Sunday’s gospel, Simon Peter was inspired to declare of Jesus, ‘you are the Messiah, you are the Christ,‘ and Jesus affirmed that it was true. Then, immediately following in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the Jewish religious leaders, be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter is scandalized by this news. The Messiah is supposed to be our triumphant king! How could the Christ suffer and be killed? Peter has seen Jesus’ powers; like curing the sick, casting out demons, multiplying loaves and fish. The Lord doesn’t have to let anyone get the better of him. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Peter presumes that he knows better than the Lord. Jesus turns and says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (“Satan” is the Hebrew word for “adversary.”) You are [being] an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

God the Father did not prepare an easy life for his beloved Son. That’s what Peter had hoped for, a smooth and easy path to glory. Jesus’ life was marked by joy and sadness, struggles and sacrifice, death and resurrection. Christ’s was not an easy life but a great and glorious life, and Jesus calls you and I to follow him. Jesus says to his disciples, “whoever wishes to save his life (from every trial, hardship, and sacrifice) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake (whoever devotes himself in love and service for me) will find it. Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This call included Peter. Notice how Jesus in correcting Peter does not say to him “Depart from me, you accursed,” but rather “Get behind me”; in other words, “Follow me.

In the New Testament, we see that Simon Peter was not perfect. Both before and after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter made mistakes. Yet Peter’s faith in Jesus Christ was a foundation the Lord could build upon. And through a lifetime of providential trials, Simon Peter grew more and more into Christ’s likeness. Peter became the first pope, the first bishop of Rome, and while there, in 64 A.D., the Roman Emperor Nero unleashed a severe persecution of Christians, scapegoating the Church for a six-day fire that devastated Rome in July of that year. One tradition says that Peter, seeing the danger, reasoned that it would be better to flee the persecution so he could continue to lead the Church. However, on his way out of the city, Peter had a vision of Jesus walking in the opposite direction. Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” (“Domine, quo vadis,” in Latin.) “I am going to Rome to be crucified again,” Jesus replied.

This story comes to us from a late second century text and may or may not be pious legend, but what follows is very firmly known. St. Peter was arrested and condemned to die by crucifixion at Rome. However, Peter did not consider himself worthy to die in the very same manner as our Lord, so he made an unusual request. He asked to be crucified upside down, with his feet toward Heaven and his head toward the earth, and this is what the soldiers did. Peter died, his body was taken down from his cross, and Christians buried him in a grave very close-by. That place, a Roman hill, bears the same name now as it did then: Vatican Hill. The Emperor Constantine built a church over the place in the fourth century, and an even more magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica was built over the same site in the 1500’s and stands there to this day.

In the mid-twentieth century, archaeologists uncovered and forensic scientists studied ancient bones from below St. Peter’s, found some sixty feet directly below the main altar. Analysis indicates these bones came from a man between sixty and seventy years old, about five foot seven inches tall; and possessing a robust frame, as we might expect a fisherman to have. These bones were formerly wrapped in a very expensive cloth comprised of gold and purple threads in the pattern of an ancient Roman weave. The skeleton is largely complete but the feet are missing. If the Roman soldiers had no respect for Peter’s remains, it’s easy to imagine them using a sword to hack down his body from the cross, leaving his feet behind, nailed high on the wood. Jesus once declared, “You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church.” It appears that Jesus has not only fulfilled his words spiritually, through St. Peter’s faithful life, but has literally built his Church over St. Peter’s bones as well. This is what Jesus did and achieved with a man formerly so flawed and fickle as St. Peter. The Lord would do great things through the transformative trials of our lives as well.

Once upon a time, one night, a Christian had a dream. They were carrying a cross, representing all of their burdens, temptations, and trials, and approached Jesus standing beside a large warehouse. The Christian said, “Lord, my cross is hard to carry. May I exchange it for another?” Jesus invited them inside the warehouse containing millions of crosses of different styles, materials, and sizes. Walking the aisles, the Christian sees an attractive, short cross with straight edges and flat sides made of pure gold. Gold is extremely heavy, about ten times denser than brick, so the Christian was not strong enough to lift it up. Going further on, there was a beautiful, tall and thin cross made entirely of diamonds. Now diamonds are very hard; they are sometimes employed at the tips of drill bits because they are harder than pretty much anything else. The Christian could lift this cross, but it poked and gnawed and cut into one’s palms and shoulder, so it was set down again. Circling back, the Christian saw a wooden cross of head-height leaning against the wall. Its sides were uneven but wear had smoothed them. It was not light, but not too heavy to carry. It was a simple cross, but a noble one. The Christian returned to Jesus and said, “This is the cross I’d like to carry.” And Jesus replied, “That’s the cross you came here with.

Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Great Gifts Gained

August 16, 2020

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus withdraws to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Sidon and Tyre were two pagan cities on the Mediterranean seacoast. Both cities still exist today, about twenty-five and fifty miles south of Beirut, in Lebanon. In today’s gospel, a local, non-Jewish, Canaanite woman, a gentile, finds Jesus and wins a grace from him.

This gospel story from Matthew is also told in Mark. Combining these two accounts, we learn that Jesus was staying in a house there and wanted nobody to know about it, yet he could not escape notice. This woman heard about Jesus, and came to him pleading. She cries out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But surprisingly, Jesus does not say a word in answer to her. His disciples even complain to Jesus: “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” Jesus replies, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (That is, the Jews.) The woman comes, kneeling at his feet, and says, “Lord, help me.” He tells her: “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the little dogs.” What’s going on with this unexpected reaction from Jesus?

Previously in Matthew’s Gospel, another gentile, a Roman centurion, a commander of soldiers, asked Jesus to heal his servant who was lying at home paralyzed and suffering dreadfully. Luke records that at the time some Jewish elders were urging Jesus to save the man’s dying servant, saying, “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” Jesus said, “I will come and cure him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning, said to the crowd following him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” From this we can gather that the centurion was more than just an unbelieving pagan, but a God-fearer; that is to say, he was a gentile who believed in and worshiped the God of Israel yet had not gone all the way over to becoming a Jew himself, enduring circumcision and keeping all the rules of the Law of Moses. The centurion showed great faith in both Yahweh and Jesus as the Christ. Perhaps Jesus’ challenging reply to the pagan woman was to elicit from her a greater display of faith in both God and Jesus as well.

In Matthew, a couple of chapters after healing the centurion’s servant, Jesus sends out the twelve apostles on mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God, having first instructed them: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That’s just like he tells the woman, a few chapters later, in our gospel. Maybe Jesus is trying to keep a low profile during his stay near Tyre and Sidon and reluctant to work any miracles there because the time is not yet ripe for the pagans to be evangelized. “Let the children be fed first,” he tells the woman, signaling that her people will be fed later. This is the mission to the gentiles St. Paul speaks of in today’s second reading. Yet the woman wins Jesus over and he grants the miracle she seeks.

How does she do it? Through her faith, hope, and love, her asking and persistence, and her great humility. She has faith, calling him “Son of David,” a title for the Messiah. She hopes that he can heal and free her beloved daughter, the love for whom has led her to this encounter. She asks and keeps asking, until her humility wins the day. When Jesus tells her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the little dogs,” she doesn’t hurl an insult at him, or storm off enraged. She replies, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” The eternal, divine, Son of God, who so had incredibly humbled himself by becoming human as an obedient suffering servant, admires this reply. She wins the dialogue by humbly speaking the truth. As a result of her faith, hope, and love, persistent asking, and humility, Jesus says to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour. Upon her return home she finds her daughter well, lying in bed, and the demon gone.

This Canaanite’s story provides a lesson for us in our life of prayer. When you wish to approach Jesus to ask for some grace imitate the virtues we see in her. Perhaps there is also a lesson in her example for how we dialogue with others, especially about contentious topics; at home in daily life, or in society during this election year. And here is a final reflection for our benefit. Imagine how joyful and grateful the woman must have been when she came home and found her daughter cured. She knew this was because of Jesus. It was a foretaste of the gifts and graces which were to come to the gentile nations. And the Church of Christ has since spanned across the world to us here and now, few of whom have much biological connection to the Jews. Most of us here have been Catholic for as long as we can remember. It’s been a given for us. But here’s a question for a car ride discussion or to bring to your prayer: If you couldn’t be Catholic anymore, and further, if you couldn’t be a Christian anymore, what things would you miss the most?

The gifts of Jesus which come to my mind are having a life with meaning, purpose, and hope. I’m not seeking to hasten my death, but I do not regard dying with horror. I posses a Sacred Tradition of moral truths which is not merely my opinion or the changing opinion of culture, but God’s teachings for how to live. And I have, in this era without heroes, a Communion of Saints on earth and in Heaven, to inspire and support me. Consider, discuss, and pray about this question yourself. Give thanks and rejoice that these great gifts are now yours through Jesus Christ and his Church.

Praying Like Jesus

August 9, 2020

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

From the start to the finish of his public ministry, Jesus makes time for private, personal prayer. We see this throughout the gospels. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, the morning after Jesus cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and others in the town of Capernaum, it says, “Rising very early before dawn, (Jesus) left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Then, before calling certain men from among his many followers to form his key inner circle, Luke’s Gospel notes: “(Jesus) departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles.” And Matthew’s Gospel records how, on the night before he died, “Jesus came with (eleven of those Apostles) to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his apostles, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter, James, and John, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Today’s gospel begins with another example of Jesus’ commitment to private, personal prayer.

After Jesus had fed the crowds with the loaves and the fishes (which we heard about last Sunday) he made the apostles get into a boat and depart before him for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Like the Prophet Elijah in our first reading, who retreated to a mountain to encounter God, Jesus seeks out a quiet and deserted place to pray. Though the wind, the earthquake, and the fire outside of Elijah’s cave all reflect something of God’s glory, chasing after these would be a distraction. God’s presence is revealed to Elijah as “a tiny whispering sound.” Do you put yourself in a place, do you give yourself enough time and space and silence, to encounter within you God’s tiny whispering sound through prayer? If it was very important for Jesus Christ the Son of God to devote focused time for prayer (and he did) how much moreso for you and me?

What was on Jesus’ mind and heart the night he prayed in today’s gospel? What did Jesus take to prayer? Recall that John the Baptist had recently been murdered. John’s disciples, after burying his body, went and told Jesus. When Jesus hears this news, he withdraws in a boat for a deserted place with the apostles where he finds thousands awaiting him. He heals them and teaches them and feeds them all. Then he dismisses the crowds, sends the apostles off ahead of him, and goes up the mountain to pray alone.

Was Jesus feeling sad that evening? Our Blessed Lord once said, “Blessed are they who mourn.” And he himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus mourning at the death of John the Baptist, his friend, relative, and ally, is easy to imagine. Might Jesus have felt angry that night? Anger is the natural human reaction to a perceived injustice, and what happened to John was gravely wrong, a great injustice. Anger, like all human emotion, can be turned toward good or evil. For instance, zeal for his Father’s house moved Jesus to make a righteous mess of a marketplace that was hindering peoples’ worship and profaning the temple in Jerusalem. There are a number a divinely-inspired prayers among the Psalms which give voice to human sorrows, frustrations, and anxieties.

Did Jesus feel stress and strain about the steps of the path ahead of him? When people saw Jesus multiply those loaves and fishes, John’s Gospel tells us the crowd was going to carry him off to make him King of Israel, the Messiah of their dreams. But that would have derailed Christ’s redemptive mission as the Lamb of God, so Jesus did not permit his followers to do so. Jesus’ enemies, of course, presented obstacles as well. How was Jesus to reach and drink the cup at his mission’s end? In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus under great stress and strain even speak to his Father about the course of the Father’s plan. In prayer, Jesus could bring to God his Father, whatever he thought or felt.

Did Jesus pray for other people? In our second reading, St. Paul reveals a “great sorrow and constant anguish” in his heart. He swears by the Holy Spirit that he could wish himself “cut off from Christ,” could wish himself condemned to Hell, if that would somehow lead his people, the Jews, to Heaven. Do you think Paul prayed with that sorrow and anguish for others’ salvation? If Paul prays with such intense feeling, how much moreso does Jesus pray for the salvation of others from his Sacred Heart?

Jesus Christ is not only our Lord and Savior, he’s the best example for our Christian life. We must learn from him and imitate him. Here are three things Jesus does that we all should do likewise. First, Jesus makes time for private, personal prayer. Whether early morning or late at night, he created time for communing with the God who loves and leads him. Turn off the car radio, the TV, the devices, to make some silence to hear within you the “tiny whispering sound” of God. Second, Jesus prays with everything on his mind and heart. No thought or feeling need be hidden from the God who knows and loves you better than you do yourself. The Holy Trinity and our other heavenly friends want us to share these things, so that we may grow close together in their likeness and friendship. And third, Jesus prays for himself and others. Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, if you only pray for yourself, or only pray for other people, something is out of balance in your prayer. In conclusion, make time for personal private prayer. Pray about anything on your mind and heart. And pray for yourself and others. Make this sacrifice, give yourself this gift, of communing in prayer with the Lord who loves and leads you.

The Disciples’ Burdens

August 2, 2020

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Only one miracle (besides the Resurrection) appears in all four Gospels: that’s today miracle – Jesus’ multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed more than five thousand people. Bringing all four of these Gospel accounts together provides us with a detailed picture of that day, one of the most amazing days in Jesus’ ministry. However, for the apostles, much of that day probably felt far from awesome.

First, the terrible news had recently arrived that John the Baptist had been murdered by the government, his neck severed by a soldier at Herod’s command. John the Baptist was Jesus’ beloved relative. At least two of the apostles had once been John’s own disciples. They all held the Baptizer in high esteem. So the unjust killing of this righteous man was shocking, and the senseless death of their friend was sorrowful.

Another strain on them that day was their shared fatigue. The apostles had just come back from the villages Jesus had sent them out to in missionary pairs to preach, and heal, and cast out evil spirits. Upon their return to Jesus, Mark’s Gospel tells us that “people were coming and going in such great numbers that they had no opportunity even to eat.” So Jesus says to his apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” The apostles might have thought to themselves, “Finally, a break.

Jesus and his apostles embark in the boat by themselves toward a deserted place called Bethsaida on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But other people see them leaving, word gets around, and many come to know about it. They hasten there on foot from all the towns and arrive at the place even before the boat did. So when Jesus and the apostles disembarked, a vast crowd of thousands was already there waiting for them. Imagine the apostles’ mixed emotions; “Great, another massive crowd. I guess our retreat is over.” But Jesus beholds the crowd and his heart is moved with pity for them, for they are like sheep without a shepherd, unsettled and unled. Jesus cures their sick and proceeds to teach them many things. So maybe the apostles got a little break that afternoon after all.

When evening came, the apostles approached Jesus to say, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus says to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” They respond, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” They’re already mourning an unexpected, painful loss. They’re burnt-out from their recent labors. And now, Jesus seems to expect the impossible from them. Can you relate to that today?

Of course, we’ve heard the gospel story and know how it ends. You and I now already know what happens next. Taking the five loaves and two two fish, and looking up to his Father in Heaven, Jesus says the blessing, breaks the loaves, and gives them to the disciples, who in turn (at Jesus’ command) give them to the crowds. They all eat an are satisfied and finish with more than they began. Jesus takes what his disciples offer him (as meager as it is), gives each of them an important role to lay, and works something amazing through them.

Brothers and sisters, what will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? Do these things separate us from the love of Christ? What of pandemics, or quarantines, or closures, or face coverings, or financial troubles, or personal failures? Will these things separate us from the love of Christ? No, in all these things we can conquer overwhelmingly through him who loves us. For neither death, nor life, nor spirits, nor politicians, nor time, nor space, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. These are hard days, and we might be tired and discouraged. But do not doubt the good you are doing, nor the good that you will do, because Jesus Christ is with you.

Finding Your Treasure Map

July 27, 2020

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prophetic Parables

July 19, 2020

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Why does Jesus speak in parables? Why does he use symbolic stories to teach about our salvation and the Kingdom of God? One reason Jesus employs parables is revealed by the story arc of Matthew’s Gospel.

After being baptized by St. John the Baptist and spending forty days in the desert, Jesus begins preaching and calling his first disciples. Then he proclaims his famous Sermon on the Mount through chapters 5, 6, and 7. As with parables, Jesus’ teachings in that sermon employ images – such as putting a lamp under a bushel basket, or serving two masters at once – but Jesus tends to explain his symbolisms there pretty clearly: your good deeds must shine before others, and you cannot serve both God and wealth. After his great sermon, Jesus works amazing miracles, healings, and exorcisms for two chapters, increasing his renown. Next Jesus commissions and sends forth his twelve apostles but warns them of coming persecutions. His disciples must be courageous; division and sacrifice will be inevitable, but they are promised great rewards. And then, Jesus faces doubters, answering John the Baptist’s disciples, chastising the disbelief in the familiar towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, and finally (in chapter 12) the Pharisees appear in force.

The Pharisees were those whom St. John the Baptist had called a “brood of vipers,” that is, a family of poisonous snakes; cunning predators, quick and deadly. They see Jesus’ hungry disciples picking and eating grains and complain, “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” They see a man with a withered hand in the synagogue and question Jesus, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath,” so that they might accuse him. And after Jesus performs an exorcism, the Pharisees denounce him, “This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” It is in Matthew chapter 12 that the Pharisees first take counsel against Jesus to put him to death. When Jesus realizes this he withdraws from that place and begins to teach in parables without explaining them to the crowds.

Today’s gospel says, “He spoke to them only in parables.” When his disciples asked him last Sunday, “Why do you speak to (the crowds) in parables,” Jesus’ response might have confused us: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Doesn’t Jesus want to be understood? Yes, by any of good will. Those who approach him with love, or at least an open mind, can ponder his parables and gain from them, while those who hate him will ignore his stories as being (in their eyes) irrelevant nonsense. As Jesus says, “To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” If Jesus had come out and announced “I am the Christ, and I am not only the Messiah but also God incarnate in your midst,” his earthly ministry would not have lasted three Passovers. His parables allow the humble to become enlightened while providing his haters no ammunition against him. In Jesus Christ (and St. Paul after him in the Acts of the Apostles) we see that we should be shrewd against opponents in the midst of doing good, while recognizing that conflict with the mob may ultimately prove impossible for us to avoid.

Another reason Jesus preaches with parables is because we human beings love stories. Stories stick with us better than bare teaching alone. And the images Jesus uses are relatable for all generations – sowing and harvesting, wheat and weeds, bushes and birds, and making bread. All these things are very likely to exist until Jesus comes again, even if that proves to be thousands of years from now.

Yet today, some sixty-six generations after Jesus preached, one might wonder during moments of discouragement whether the promises Jesus makes in his parables will ever come to be. We see good and evil growing side by side. Will the Son of Man ever come with his angels to gather the good and confront the wicked? Will those who cause others to sin and all evildoers ever be compelled to stop and the righteous be blessed to shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father forever? If that feels improbable now, consider how impossible Jesus’ prophetic parables must have seemed in the era when he first preached them.

The Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus said, “is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds (that any passing bird might gobble up), yet when fully-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” Jesus is a mustard seed buried in the earth – who would have imagined anything more to come of him after he died? His Church is also a mustard seed, threatened to be consumed by the nations from the beginning. Yet today the Church of him who rose from the dead has members that dwell in her from every nation.

The Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus said, “is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Three measures of wheat flour weighs about fifty pounds, yet the admixture of a little yeast can change and raise up the entire batch of dough. So it has been with Christianity mixed into this world by the Bride of Christ, the Church. To take one example, slavery was ubiquitous in Jesus’ time, but today it is condemned around the world today because of the influence of Christianity. Wicked human traffickers still exists in our day, the Chinese government is operating concentration camps with slave laborers right now, and that is unacceptable. But these perpetrators must hide their deeds from the world only because Jesus Christ and his Church have changed and raised up the world’s understanding of human dignity.

Jesus’ prophetic parables have been proven true. His words have been fulfilled in history despite every earthly expectation. Whoever has ears ought to hear. Whoever has eyes ought to see. And whoever has an open mind can accept that Jesus Christ will come again with judgment on this world and salvation for his people.

“As Nothing Compared with the Glory”

July 11, 2020

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current archbishop of New York, tells a story from his first Lent as a newly ordained associate priest in a small Missouri parish. The president of their church’s men’s group told him unenthusiastically, “Father, you’re supposed to give us an evening of recollection in Lent.” So Fr. Tim, on fire to share the treasures of our Faith, worked earnestly for weeks preparing spiritual reflections about characters appearing in the Stations of the Cross. The big night for his men’s talk came. He opened the church doors early for all those who would be coming — and just two guys showed up. Fr. Tim gave his talk anyway, of course, but the young priest was crestfallen, crushed. When he returned to the rectory, his pastor said, “Oh, I should have told you those never work.” All of his devoted time and effort seemed wasted.

Twelve years later, the same Fr. Timothy Dolan was visiting a woman in the parish who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was amazed at how tenderly her elderly husband was taking care of her, staying by her side and helping her with everything. As he was being walked to the door to leave, Father told the husband how much he admired his devotion to his wife. The man replied “Oh, Father, I’m just trying to be that Simon of Cyrene you talked about.” Father Dolan looked at him confused. “Remember that Lenten evening of recollection when you told us that just as Simon of Cyrene helped our Lord carry His cross, we do the same every time we help somebody else carry theirs? I’m just trying to help Ramona carry hers.

I first read about this story as a seminarian and it has stuck with me ever since. It’s a story of suffering. Granted, the young priest’s suffering was not so great as having a terminal disease or accompanying a dying loved one, but it was an experience of suffering whose value — though invisible at the time — was later wonderfully revealed. What Fr. Dolan had sown in painful labor and imagined to have been worthless toil proved beautifully precious and important. As one of the psalms say:

They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing:
they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their [harvest] sheaves.

All suffering is painful, but any sort of suffering is worse when we think it has no meaning and all suffering is made easier when we know that it has worth. I speak of all this because of St. Paul’s words to the Romans in our second reading today: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” The sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.

Nobody likes suffering, but we all experience it in various ways regardless. We suffer from uncertainties and misunderstandings, from tribulations and persecutions, from worldly anxieties and temptations, but the saints tell us trials of suffering are rich soil which bear fruit manyfold for ourselves and others. St. Vincent de Paul declares, “If we only knew the precious treasure hidden in infirmities, we would receive them with the same joy with which we receive the greatest benefits, and we would bear them without ever complaining or showing signs of weariness.” In light of divine justice, St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi assures us, “You will be consoled according to the greatness of your sorrow and affliction; the greater the suffering, the greater will be the reward.” And St. Teresa of Avila encourages us, “Suffering is a great favor. Remember that everything soon comes to an end… and take courage. Think of how our gain is eternal.”

Sometimes God permits or sends sufferings for correction, that sinners may repent and be saved. But other times, sufferings are given in order to further purify, perfect, and glorify his friends. As St. Ignatius Loyola says, “If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” St. Faustina Kowalska notes, “Suffering is a great grace; [for] through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystallised; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.” And St. Augustine of Hippo observes truly, “God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.”

It was through the innocent suffering of his Passion that Jesus offered the sacrifice which converts hearts, forgives sins, and achieves Christ’s greatest earthly glory. Do you believe in the power of the Cross to save you? Then believe in the power of your own sufferings — lovingly endured and patiently offered up — to perfect you, save souls, and achieve your greatest glory.

“Take My Yoke (Instead)”

July 5, 2020

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

What is Jesus telling us? For starters, what’s a yoke? A yoke is made of wood or metal and lays around the necks or shoulders of beasts of burden in order to pull something behind them, such as a plow or a wagon. Though there exists single yokes for animals working alone, yokes are typically designed for pairs of animals to work side-by-side, together. A wise farmer might pair a mature animal with a less experienced animal to help guide and train the junior one. Looking down from above, a yoke that connects two animals and the attached tongue beam connected to the implement behind them bears a likeness to the Cross.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…
I am meek and humble of heart.”

Jesus criticized the proud and learned Pharisees for (in his words) tying up heavy burdens hard to carry and laying them on people’s shoulders without lifting a finger to help them. Do not imagine that Jesus is asking you to bear a yoke by yourself. Instead, Jesus asks us to share his yoke with him, to share in his labors and learn from his example.

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.”

Jesus’ invitation to bear his yoke will seem unattractive to us if we mistakenly imagine ourselves being presently unyoked, totally free and unencumbered. But no one’s neck or shoulders are unyoked — everyone bears a burden. Some are yoked to serious sins. As St. Paul says, those who sin are slaves to sin. Other people yoke themselves by trying to do lots of good things which the Lord is not asking of them and they find it overwhelming. Both of these yokes are heavy and hard and chafe against us because they are not God’s will for us. Is the yoke you now carry Jesus’ yoke for you or one of your own fashioning? Perhaps bring that question to prayer to find relief.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

When animals’ shoulders are yoked together as a team, their work is the same. They plow through the same field or walk along the same road. Jesus wants you, wherever you are, to share in his labors. Jesus desires you to work alongside him with your family, with your friends, at your job, in all that you do. Ask the Lord to put you to salvific use, then be open and see what opportunities and encounters he sets before you. Ask Jesus that you may share in his works.

When two animals’ necks are yoked, facing forward together, their perspectives are the same. Jesus wants us, wherever we are, to share perspective, his outlook. To look up, and see the Father as Jesus sees him. To look out, and see other people and the world as he sees them. To look within, and see ourselves as Jesus sees us. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” And no one sees you and the rest of humanity more clearly and truly than Jesus Christ—and he loves us. Ask Jesus that you may share his sight.

So in conclusion, if you labor and feel burdened, go to Jesus and he will give you rest. Wear his yoke and learn from him, he’s a meek and humble partner. And you will find rest for yourself, for his yoke is easier and his burden is lighter.

A Prophet’s Reward

June 27, 2020

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus says, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” So what is a prophet’s reward? Being a prophet in this world is a kind of a mixed bag.

On the positive side, a prophets’ words and deeds and their role in working miracles can give great blessings and yield joyful fruits for both the preacher and the people. For instance, the Shunammite woman in our first reading repeatedly received the prophet Elisha into her home and to her table, and he was pleased to be so warmly welcomed. First, she was graced by the holy man’s words and presence, then she was blessed through the miracle he announced: “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.” She was overjoyed at the birth of a son, and Elisha surely shared that joy. Those who heed the word of God are blessed to see its fruits.

On the other hand, on the negative side of the ledger, the prophets and their words were not always welcomed and received. In fact, they were usually met with hostility. The Letter to the Hebrews recalls how some of the prophets “endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword’s point; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented.” Knowing this, is it worth it for a prophet to answer God’s call?

Well, consider what else belongs to the prophet’s reward: Consider the value of living a holy life with a clear conscience. There is a great peace in doing what is right that is unlike the spiritual disquiet of sin. Consider the value of a life doing good with holy purpose, helping to save others’ souls. A selfish life lacks deeper, greater meaning, and its emptiness is a terrible taste of what Hell is like forever. Consider the value of a life that will be remembered. Remembered by people on earth? Maybe, maybe not, beyond the people whose lives you bless— but certainly remembered by God, who will reward his faithful ones with the joy of Heaven, an everlasting reward beyond our imagining. And all along this way to Heaven, you will share in the personal, intimate, friendship of God.

Now Jesus says, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” and “whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.” But where can we today find a prophet and righteous man to share in his reward? Long ago, Moses said, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen in all that he may say to you. Everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be cut off from the people.” Remembering this, when the crowds saw Jesus perform the miracle of the multiplication the loaves they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” On one occasion, Jesus stated that the men of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of (the Prophet) Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here.” Then, after Jesus’ Ascension, St. Stephen the first martyr preached that the prophets had “previously announced the coming of the Righteous One…” and St. Ananias announced to Saul, who had encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One.” Thus, the one who receives Jesus Christ will receive a prophet’s and righteous man’s reward. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple —amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward,” for Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine you did it for me.

How can we receive the Lord? First of all, through the sacraments. Are you unaware that in baptism you were baptized into Christ? To quote St. Paul, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” And your baptism has led you here today, to receive him anew in the supreme gift of the Holy Eucharist, the Most Blessed Sacrament. (For some of you, you are blessed to be about to receive Jesus in this way for the very first time, and we’re all very happy for you.) In this sacrament Jesus Christ comes to visit and dine with you with you: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” And if we have prepared a place for him and welcome him to dwell, Jesus stays and remains with us. The good Shunammite woman prepared room for Elisha in the highest place of her home, upon the cool rooftop, and furnished it for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp, so that he could comfortably stay. She converted and reorganized her house for her holy guest. Jesus expects the same of us; the conversion and dedication of our lives, our souls, our homes; for Jesus wishes to dwell with us.

Receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is not a one and done event. Even returning to encounter him here again at Mass every Sunday – as we are rightly commanded to do – is not all that he desires of us or for us. Jesus says, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Following Jesus requires us to die to sin and offer loving sacrifices like himself. It’s often hard to live for Christ. Knowing this, is it worth it to answer his call?

Consider the value of living a holy life with a clear conscience, with the peace that come from doing what is right. Consider the value of a life doing good with holy purpose, helping to save others’ souls. Consider the value of a life that will be remembered by God and those whose lives you bless forever. And consider how Christ will reward you with Heaven, an unending joy beyond imagining, and share his personal, intimate, friendship with you all along your way there. Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it,” but “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” And whoever truly receives our Lord Jesus Christ will receive the Christ’s reward.

A Man for our Seasons

June 22, 2020

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus’ Longing for You

June 14, 2020

Corpus Christi Sunday—Year A

After the suspension in March, our parish went eleven weekends without the public celebration of Sunday Masses. Throughout Salvation History, the number forty symbolizes times of purification, preparation, and longing. For most people, being away meant about eighty days (forty twice over) without physically receiving our Eucharistic Lord. For many, their yearning for Jesus in the Eucharist has never been greater. Feast of Corpus Christi homily usually focus (quite fittingly) upon the Real Presence, the beautiful truth that Jesus Christ is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity, alive in the Holy Eucharist. As St. Paul says in our second reading, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?” You are probably well-informed about this already; that’s why you have been longing for Him in the Eucharist. Today I feel moved to speak about Jesus Christ’s Eucharistic longing for you.

Jesus Christ’s desire for us is foreshadowed in the Old Testament; for instance, in The Song of Songs. There the beloved says of her spouse: “My lover speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.’” Later this same man, prefiguring Christ, declares: “I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride; … I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends; [and] drink!

In the Book of Proverbs, God’s personified wisdom speaks: “Let whoever is naive turn in here; to any who lack sense I say, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” The foolishness we must forsake is our sins, for what is freely-chosen sin if not harmful foolishness? Jesus seeks to bring about sinners’ salvation, in part, through drawing them to his meal, to share his presence, his food and drink. Jesus once responded to criticisms of his ministry saying: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

A Samaritan woman with many sins once asked Jesus, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” He answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Later, on the last and greatest day of a Jewish feast, Jesus stood up in the temple area and exclaimed: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” Before his miraculous multiplication of loaves of bread, Jesus called his disciples to himself and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” Jesus wants to feed us (we who have remained with him) as well, to strengthen us on our way. The food and drink Jesus desires you and I to receive are not mere objects for bodily sustenance — it is his very self. “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever… For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

At the Last Supper, which was the first Mass, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you… Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” Jesus earnestly desires to share his feast, this Mass, to unite with us today. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me.” Jesus is divine, but he’s also human. He dwells in Heaven, but he has human desires for you and me and our world. If you have yearned for Jesus in the Eucharist, if you have desired to receive him these past months, consider how much more Jesus Christ longs and desires for you.

The Unity of the Trinity

June 8, 2020

Trinity Sunday—Year A

My favorite professor at seminary was a young, married, Catholic layman named Dr. Perry Cahall. He taught us several courses but his Church History class stands out in my mind. I took away two big insights from Church History.

First, in every age, century after century, it seemed like the Catholic Church was circling the drain, about to go down the tubes for good. There were Roman persecutions, Gnostic and Arian Heresies, barbarian invasions, Islamic conquests, Protestant rebellions, atheist revolutions, fascist and communist totalitarianisms. And yet, the Church endures because God is with her. Remembering this has been a reassuring consolation for me in the past, in our present circumstances, and will be in the future.

The second major insight was how heresies clarify the Church’s teachings. When some sect or movement would arise teaching some new heresy this would prompt a Church Council to more clearly define what we believe as Christians. Error prompts the profession of truth. This was especially so in our profession of the Holy Trinity.

Dr. Cahall is a pretty mild guy, so one of his most memorable lectures stands out in my mind. He said, “Gentlemen, if some day you are ordained and on Trinity Sunday you get into the pulpit and say, ‘The Trinity is a mystery and there’s nothing we can really say about it,’ I’ll hunt you down like the dogs you are.” Why? Because as the Catechism says, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin.” Well, I don’t want to be a dog, so I’m not going to just going to tell you “it’s a mystery.

So what are some of the things we can we say with certainty about the Most Holy Trinity? In the words of the Athanasian Creed, this is what the Catholic Faith teaches:

We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity.
Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance.
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit.
But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and co-eternal majesty.
What the Father is, the Son is, and the Holy Spirit is.
The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
The Father is boundless, the Son is boundless, and the Holy Spirit is boundless.
The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal.
Nevertheless, there are not three eternal beings, but one eternal being.
So there are not three uncreated beings, nor three boundless beings, but one uncreated being and one boundless being.
Likewise, the Father is omnipotent (that is, all-powerful), the Son is omnipotent, the Holy Spirit is omnipotent.
Yet there are not three omnipotent beings, but one omnipotent being.
Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
However, there are not three gods, but one God.
The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.
However, there are not three lords, but one Lord.
For as we are obliged by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person singly to be God and Lord, so too are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords.
The Father was not made, nor created, nor generated by anyone.
The Son is not made, nor created, but begotten by the Father alone.
The Holy Spirit is not made, nor created, nor generated, but proceeds from the Father and the Son.
There is, then, one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.
In this Trinity, there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less. The entire three Persons are co-eternal and coequal with one another.
So that in all things… the Unity is to be worshiped in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity.

How does the Church come to know such things? We learned them through Jesus Christ. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Jesus teaches there is one God, and that the Father and he are one, and that whoever has seen Jesus himself has seen the Father. He accepts Doubting Thomas declaring him “My Lord and my God,” and yet relates to his Father God as another person. When Jesus prays aloud in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” he is not talking to himself, he’s not pretending or putting on a show for the apostles. The Lord Jesus is the Father’s only-begotten Son and reveals the mystery of the Trinity to us.

God is not a solitary individual, but a loving communion of persons – less like a hermit and more like a family. God is three who know, three who love, three who will and act. The divine persons each work uniquely and together, yet the Father did not die on the Cross, the Holy Spirit did not become man, and the Son did not descend as a dove or tongues of fire. However, each divine person’s works are done in harmonious concert with the others’. We have one “Father from whom all things are, and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit in whom all things are.” We are made in the image and likeness of God not merely because we posses existence, intellect, freewill, and lordship over creation, but because we live to our fullest in loving communion with others.

St. Paul writes to “brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” I am pleased that we are beginning the (likely gradual) return to fully gathering at Sunday Mass. Though we can do good apart, it is best for us to be together. I am also praying for our larger society’s coming together as a community of communities. Strife, violence, and destruction are not the path to unity. If Almighty God had wanted to destroy us all he could have, but “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” True unity will come in the likeness of the Trinity. This is the life of Heaven that holy community can begin to know on earth. All of us are called to share in the life of the Holy Trinity, here and now into forever.

Uniting All Peoples

May 30, 2020

Pentecost Sunday—Year A

Did you know that the Feast of Pentecost actually predates Christianity? This solemn Jewish feast (called Shavuot in Hebrew and Pentecost in Greek) was established by God to celebrate and give God thanks for Israel’s wheat harvest. On this day, seven weeks after Passover, the Jews were to bring the first fruits of their harvests and present these in a basket at the Lord’s Temple. This is why “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven” present in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost. The Christians, who had been praying the first nine-day novena for His coming, were transformed by the Holy Spirit’s power and began proclaiming Jesus Christ in the streets. At the sound of it, a large crowd of these visiting Jews gathered, astonished and confused, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. In amazement they asked:

“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

At this, St. Peter (suddenly emboldened by the Holy Spirit) proclaims the Good News about Jesus being the Resurrected Messiah that is the Christian Gospel. He urges the crowd: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. … Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized and about three thousand persons were added that day.

Today, the solemn Christian feast of Pentecost celebrates the blessed gift of the Holy Spirit upon the earth and the harvest of the first fruits; men and women gathered from the nations and presented to God’s Church. As Jews and converts to Judaism, they were of many races and languages, they were of many cultures and countries of origin, but they were all called to be one in Christ. In time, the Holy Spirit led the apostles to see that this call to salvation was immediately accessible to non-Jews, to Gentile people, as well. Every person is created by God, loved by God, and called to close relationship with God through Jesus and his Church. In the words of St. Paul, “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Individuals are unique, one from another, so each person must be taken as they come. While we have differing backgrounds and talents, different material resources and gifts of the Spirit with which to serve, each person has equal worth before God. Yet a society apart from God will never fully honor that dignity. The people of Babel sought to build a great city reaching up to heaven. While working together apart from God’s truth and grace, however, they could bring about great evils in this world. (History is littered with such cultures and subcultures; you can know them by their fruits.) At Pentecost, the Lord undoes Babel. The peoples of many languages are reunited, becoming citizens and co-builders of the City of God. From where comes peace and true unity on this earth? Let us be led by the Holy Spirit and one with Jesus Christ that all peoples may be united in the one Kingdom of God.