Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

Here is a beautiful quote that I found while reading this evening. Maybe I ought to post these to supplement my homily posts...let me know what you think.

"The exchange of hearts that He [Jesus] made with St. Margaret Mary is only a special confirmation of the exchange of hearts - and of lives - which He makes with us in baptism and in Holy Communion. He gives us His own Sacred Heart that we may love Him with the love that is in that burning heart - that living flame of love that cannot contain itself!"
- Eugene Boylan, This Tremendous Lover

Embracing the Will of God (First Martyrs of the Church of Rome)

I’ve always been fascinated by this gospel passage for a couple of reasons. One reason is that I have to laugh a bit when I picture it in my mind and see a whole herd of swine stampeding down a steep hill into the sea. But more importantly, I wonder at the response of the people in that town. They experience these great miracles of men being set free from the grasp of demons and are not happy. More than not happy, they are downright upset with Jesus for doing what He did and for allowing the demons to go into the swine. The people had their own ideas of what God should do and this particular instance didn’t fit the mold they had set out. They wanted God to work, but did not want to have to submit themselves to His will, which sometimes includes some suffering on our part.

What a stark contrast from the saints that we celebrate today, the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. In the year 64 AD, Rome caught fire and the Emperor, Nero, blamed it on the Christian community there in Rome. He soon began the persecutions that would continue off and on for the next 300 years. The Christian men and women of Rome were subjected to incredible sufferings and death; some were crucified, others were fed to the wild animals as parts of the games of the city, and still others were burned alive and used as human torches to provide light for all of this to be seen in the evenings. In the face of all of this suffering, the martyrs we celebrate today were not angry with God. They did not abandon the faith or seek to avoid all of these things. Rather, they embraced it and went joyfully to the painful death that they knew would bring them eternal life.

May we, like them, never go against the will of God or seek to escape our own crosses, but be willing to embrace them and do so with joy, knowing that it is only by doing so that we are able to attain salvation for ourselves.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Reality of the Church

Homily for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul:

In my early adolescence I had great difficulty in believing in God and consequently in the value of the Catholic Church. As I began to move a bit from the mindset of an atheist and non-believer to that of a Christian and Catholic, I often experienced great struggles of faith when times got hard. I believed in Christ, the Church, and everything she taught, but still the questions would pop into my head “How do I know this is all real? How do I know that this isn’t just a big story someone made up?” These struggles lasted up even into my time in seminary. But during the winter of 2004, I had an experience that would permanently alter my response to such thoughts.

A group of guys had organized a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi over the Christmas break and I was blessed enough to have been able to go with them. We saw Assisi and the burial place of St. Francis, the catacombs where many saints were buried, and a great many churches and historic sites. One of the more interesting things we saw was the area under Saint Peter’s Basilica, in which we could see the family burial plots of Christians in the early Church. We walked around viewing all of these things and came to a point where our guide gathered us and brought us in small groups to this one small section that they were working in. There he pointed to a hole in the wall and said “In that hole lie the remains of Saint Peter.”

Saint Peter. The Apostle. As in the “you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” Saint Peter. As it began to sink in that I was standing at the tomb of the Rock, Saint Peter, I couldn’t help but simply stare at the hole. And as I stood there totally focused on this hole in the wall I knew in my heart that there was no way that God and the Church couldn’t be real. It was not a story someone had made up long ago. It was the reality of a God Who loved us so much that He sent His only Son to dwell among us and to die for us so that we might live with Him and in doing so this Son, Jesus Christ, left us the Church as the means to attaining our salvation.

Jesus’ word has been proven true. The Church has not fallen away but remains even today, after two thousand years of persecution from the outside and sometimes a lack of good leadership from the inside. In the face of all of that, she stands still a beacon of hope in the world and as the means of salvation for all the world. Thanks be to God for His faithfulness. And thanks be to the two blessed Apostles who boldly led that infant Church, forming the foundation on which the Catholic Church is built.

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.

Friday, June 25, 2010

You can make me clean...

“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”

If we place ourselves in the gospel passage from today, we see that this incredible act of faith is not just a statement on the part of a leper but is a genuine plea for help. In the Jewish culture, leprosy wasn’t just a disease that affected the skin; it affected one’s whole life. They were social outcasts because nobody went near them. But more importantly, they were religious outcasts. Because they were unclean, they were not able to enter into the Temple area to offer praise and sacrifice like everyone else. Instead they were confined to certain areas and restricted highly so as not to ‘infect’ others with this uncleanness. One’s relationship with God cannot survive long under such circumstances.

When Jesus says those words “I will do it. Be made clean,” He not only cleanses the man of the leprosy but also sets him right with God. He renews that life of faith that was slowly dying in the man.

In this miracle, we see the power of Jesus in healing the body but we also see a foreshadowing of the sacrament of penance or confession. The leper, recognizing the state that he is in and desiring to be set free, humbles himself and places himself before Jesus in faith that he will be cleansed of what has separated him from God.

All of us sin. As much as we’d like to avoid it and as hard as we might try, we all sin. Maybe we said something mean or untrue about someone, or act out of pride or greed, or maybe we just have trouble forgiving that person who hurt us in the past. All of these – and surely many others – can be little walls built up between us and the love of God; walls which keep us more and more confined to ourselves. But thanks be to God that we have a sacrament that tears down those walls and reconciles us to God, as well as to our neighbors. But in order for Him to do that, we must first humble ourselves and come before Him to ask for that cleansing, trusting that He does will that we be made clean.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By their root you shall know them???

I have always loved listening to music. Ever since I was a little child I enjoyed listening to different types of music and singing along to it or playing along with it on my guitar. Even today when I hear certain words or phrases, songs immediately pop into my head and I feel the need to sing them. Every time that I hear Jesus’ words “By their fruits you will know them” I immediately think of the song “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and the tune just doesn’t go away. Even now as I speak to you I am resisting the urge to hum the tune.

As we reflect on the gospel for today, it is pretty clear what the message is: we can see what is of God and what is not of God based on the fruits; thus the connection with people knowing we are Christians by our love. But I’d like to take a look at things from a different angle. We see the fruits, but what is really important is the roots – the part we don’t see.

In one of my classes at the seminary, we were given an illustration of the spiritual life. The professor said to think of ourselves as a big tree. We can have a big healthy trunk, beautiful green leaves, and an abundance of fruit, but if we are separated from the ground it all fades quickly. In the spiritual life, the ground is the Holy Trinity and we bear spiritual fruit only because our roots grow deeply into God’s love and peace. Our roots, by being immersed in the presence of God, are the means to our bearing great spiritual fruit because the soil of the Lord is the most fertile and life-sustaining soil one can find. And more than just bearing good fruit, as our roots begin to spread they not only draw life from the soil but become so connected to it that the two become one. We can recall from past hurricanes the image of fallen trees not just pulling up roots but bringing with them a huge chunk of the earth as well.

And now, as we prepare to enter into the presence of the Lord in a more real way, we pray that our roots might sink more deeply into His love, that we might not only bear good fruit but will be joined intimately to Him.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

They Shall Look on Him Whom They Have Pierced

Homily for Sunday, June 20 - Father's Day:

“And they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.”

When we look at a crucifix we often think one of two things. Either “I nailed you there” or “What great love you have for me”. These are really two different ways of responding to our own sinfulness. The first of these responses “I nailed you there” is a response of remorse that focuses more on us than on God; if we stay there, we focus only on what we have done wrong and move no closer to God. The second response, that of “What great love you have for me,” is one of sorrow and repentance that turns into faith and love. We recognize our wrongdoing and regret having sinned, but this is overshadowed by our realization of the greatness of God’s love and the incredible gift that Christ makes of Himself. We are stunned at the love God has for us and all else fades away.

In our first reading we find a people in need of this love. The Israelites had been exiled from their homeland and sent to Babylon. They returned after nearly fifty years to find their Temple destroyed and their land in absolute ruins. Many gave up hope of returning to any sense of normalcy and questioned whether the Lord was on their side. They needed something to hope in. It is in light of this that we begin to see many prophecies of the Christ and the kingdom to come, prophecies of prosperity and joy for all of their people. In this the people of Israel began to hope, and in the prophecy we hear today from the book of Zechariah they see a faint shadow of the love that their descendants would one day know. They received the promise of forgiveness through the one who would be pierced.

Five hundred years later, we hear the fulfillment of that prophecy spoken on the lips of Jesus as he says “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” He is the one about whom Zechariah wrote, the one the Lord had promised so many years ago. He is the one that is to be pierced and gazed upon, the one for whom the people shall mourn as for an only son, the one for whom they shall grieve as for a firstborn.

The question is: Why do they mourn when He is lifted up? If they were to weep only out of remorse, it would not be as for an only son or a firstborn but only out of self-condemnation and self-pity. But if they were to weep because they were looking upon him whom they had pierced and finally see clearly the love that He has for each of them, the would be weeping not only because of their sins, but because of His love, because in that moment he reaches to the depths of their souls and shows them His love and mercy. They weep because they know that He is the Christ of God.

Seeing this, we note that Saint Peter’s confession of faith doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It comes out of a prolonged interaction and connection with the person of Jesus Christ. Saint Peter was able to boldly assert that Jesus was the Christ of God because Jesus had been with him and the others and had shown this to them.

Following after Saint Peter’s example, I want to make an assertion about Jesus myself, though it is not nearly as bold as that of Saint Peter. If we look at this gospel passage closely, we are able to see something which many of us don’t often think about: the fact that Jesus is a model of fatherhood.

Thinking of Jesus as a ‘father’ is admittedly difficult for us. To say the word ‘father’ will likely bring to mind the image of your own father. For me, it brings to mind my dad and step-dad; I instantly recall many things, including summer vacations, lots of time working on our vehicles, and working alongside each of them at their jobs. I’m sure all of you probably now have similar memories in mind of your own fathers. And so to use the word ‘father’ in to refer to Jesus, then, seems weird to us. After years of hearing Him referred to as the Son of the Father or the Son of God, and even in this passage referring to Himself as the Son of Man, we are caught off guard. And yet, there is indeed a certain ‘fatherhood’ present in his life and ministry. After all, we call our priests ‘father’ and they are by their consecration said to be an ‘alter Christus,’ another Christ.

So let us look at our gospel to see this aspect of the fatherhood of Christ. The passage begins with Jesus praying in solitude. This small detail is quickly passed, but it must be pointed out that any man who claims to be a father is so only by virtue of his connection to God our Heavenly Father. We know Jesus is the Son of the Father, but he also remains connected to the Father in prayer. But Jesus is not just in prayer alone, He is in prayer with His ‘children,’ his disciples. He interacts with them and spends time among them. We can only imagine the amount of time that they spent in conversation or in listening to Jesus speak about the kingdom. In his simple questions of “Who do they say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” He opens up to them and begins to show them His most intimate self. And by telling them all that will come to pass – namely the suffering, death, and resurrection – He tells them how much He loves them. All of these point to something more than just friendship or brotherhood. He loves them as a father loves his children.

As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, we recognize that to be a father in the fullest sense is to be connected with God the Father and to follow after Jesus Christ, the greatest of all men and a model of fatherhood. To go after Christ, requires us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily and follow him. Picking up our cross daily often evokes the images of our major trials – physical or spiritual sufferings, the loss of a job, problems in the family or some other significant issue. But we must not forget that picking up our cross daily does not have to be a time of crisis but can be found in the smallest things. In the life of a father the daily denial of self and bearing of the cross can come in the form of taking care of a sick child in the middle of the night, in spending time playing or talking after a long day of work, helping with math homework, or any number of things in which the gift of love is expressed through self-denial and focus on the other.

Jesus lived among the disciples and no doubt took care of many mundane tasks with a fatherly heart. Above all of these things though, He showed them His love above all in fulfilling what He had been sent to do. In being rejected, suffering death and being raised again, Jesus showed the fatherly love that He had for each of His children, including us. As we look at the crucifix we mourn and grieve not only because of our own sinfulness but out of recognition of His love for us. He has touched our hearts just as He has touched those of many before us and so we weep not only as for an only son, but as for a loving and merciful father.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Treasure in Heaven

A little over a year ago one of the dormitory rooms at our seminary caught fire. We were all in class and as the alarm went off we casually walked outside to find – much to our surprise – flames were shooting out of a window right above our classrooms. As we all stood and watched the fire blaze and the firefighters fight it, I couldn’t help but think “What if that were my room?” You see, my little 10 X 16 foot room holds almost everything I own and I sat there wondering if it had all been burned up, how would I respond? Would I be crushed? Would I be upset and move on?

In the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount we hear Jesus telling us to store up treasure in heaven and not here on Earth, where moth and thief can take it from us. As I reflect on that incident with the fire and how I view my room, I probably value my book collection more than I should and I’d say that my music collection is definitely an earthly treasure for me. For some of you, your earthly treasure may be your antiques, or clothes, or keepsakes that you’ve collected on the road of life. The hard part is that all of these things are goods – they are things that bring us pleasure and happiness and improve the quality of our lives. At the same time, though, we recognize that while these things bring us happiness and pleasure, they are only shadows of the true happiness that we will experience in Heaven.

You see, God has built into our human nature a hole that only He can fill. So often we try to accumulate our earthly treasures and shove them in the hole but quickly find that they were lacking and that we still long for something more. What one would hopefully realize is that no matter the earthly treasure, it will be found lacking. What is not found lacking, but what fills us to the full is the reality of what those earthly treasures foreshadow – the joy of Heaven. And here we see that the greatest treasure that any of us can ever hope to attain is nothing else than spending eternity with God. And that begins today in this Mass, as we open ourselves to be filled by His presence.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Quickness of God's Response

In the few weeks that I’ve been here at Our Lady of Mercy parish, I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have heard people speak about the Divine Mercy novena done here during Lent. And I cannot help but recall the Divine Mercy prayer card that I myself have prayed hundreds of times over the course of the past six years. Some of you may be familiar with it – it begins with the invocation “Dear Lord Jesus, I need You.” As I pray that prayer, I am often struck by the middle of it, which says:

"I am sorry for all my sins. Please forgive me. I forgive anyone who has ever offended me. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. I turn over my whole, every detail of my life to You. Take control of my life. Help me to be the kind of person You want me to be. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life."

Each sentence is loaded with things to reflect on, but what strikes me is willingness of the Lord to reach out to us. In one breath we ask for forgiveness and in the next breath give thanks for receiving it. The only thing in the middle is our response to Him, and then only briefly. We can see a similar thing with the Our Father, particularly in the celebration of the Mass.

As we all stand to recite the Lord’s prayer, we recognize the fact that each of the petitions that we ask for in the Lord’s prayer are given to us without even much of a wait – we need only respond to and accept the Father’s gift. Just minutes after we pray to receive our ‘daily bread’, we receive into ourselves the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ. We ask for forgiveness and our venial sins are cleansed by the power of the Eucharist. We seek protection from evil and are strengthened by His grace. I think that we receive these gifts so quickly because God desires so much us to receive them. The words barely pass our lips before the Father responds to us. How amazing it is to be loved by a God who anxiously awaits our prayers, that he might fulfill our deepest needs and desires.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Greatest Work of Charity

Today we continue the twelfth chapter of Saint Mark’s gospel and find yet more questions being asked to Jesus. Tuesday we heard the question about paying taxes to Caesar, yesterday the story of the seven brothers, the woman, and marriage in heaven. Today Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment.

Jesus’ response – namely, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves – is something we’ve heard many times. These two commandments are really a short form of the Ten Commandments given in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. To love God is to worship Him alone, to keep holy His name, and to keep holy the Sabbath day. To love your neighbor is to honor your parents, to avoid adultery, killing, stealing, etc. etc. If we try to apply these to our daily life we can see the commands to respect others and their property, as well as to be generous in giving of ourselves and our time. With all of the ministries here at Our Lady of Mercy and simply by looking around us throughout the day, there are many opportunities for us to love our neighbors in a tangible way.

Above all of these works though, there is one work of charity that is greater than all others. That one work is to be holy ourselves; to love God first. If we fail to love God and keep the first three commandments, we can certainly do a lot of good in the world and help with things in this life. But if we do love God and keep Him first, then not only can we do a ton of good things for people in this life, we can also help them with gifts that will last in the next life. If we entrust ourselves to God and have a solid relationship with Him, He will work through us in incredible ways to transform others and even the world.

Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions embody these commandments. Charles worked tirelessly to protect young children from the tyrannical king of Uganda and no doubt did many charitable works for the people around him. What was most valuable to the people of Uganda though was his love for God, which resulted in his martyrdom. The missionaries who had first evangelized them, upon returning several years later after expelled from the country, found a group of 500 Christians and over a thousand catechumens waiting for entry into the faith. This gift of faith, which leads to eternal life, then shows the value that our own relationship with God has in being a grace to others. May the death of Saint Charles and his companions inspire us all to love God and others more and being willing to lay down our lives even in the small things, knowing that what is important is not really how we live for God but how we die for Him daily.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Are You Ready?

Yesterday I was riding in my car and flipping through the stations hoping to find something good on the radio when something caught my ear. It was a minister preaching on the Book of Revelation and how the end was near and we all needed to prepare because the Second Coming was going to be in the next few years. While I wonder how he has this knowledge since the Lord Jesus Himself said that only the Father knew the day and hour, there was a truth in the message he was preaching – the need to be prepared for the Lord’s coming. Saint Peter’s tells us that the reason that the Second Coming has not happened is for our salvation; the Father holds off so that we might be able to prepare for His coming and not be caught off guard but instead be saved. We see in the letter of Peter, then, a call to always be prepared by persevering in the faith.

We can see this idea of being prepared in today’s gospel reading as well if we look closely. We hear Jesus tell the Herodians the well-known phrase “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Asking for a denarius – a roman coin – he establishes that the coin belongs to Caesar because it bears his image. What Jesus leaves unspoken for his hearers to figure out is that what belongs to God, what bears God’s image is humanity. All of us are made in God’s image and by our baptism we are more conformed to His likeness. We then see that Jesus is saying that Caesar can have the coins but God should get the whole person – He should be our first love, our first concern.

Saint Justin, whose feast we celebrate today, is a witness of this focus on loving God first and being concerned for Him above all things. A second-century Christian, Justin had converted from paganism and became a zealous defender of the Christian faith, writing several defenses of the faith to Jewish and pagan leaders of the day. Faced with the choice of offering worship to pagan gods or suffering death, he proudly professed his Christian faith and went joyfully to the place of his martyrdom. I pray that we, like Saint Justin, might have God as our first love and our first concern, because then we would surely be well-prepared for the Lord’s return – whenever it may come. Amen.