Friday, August 27, 2010

Faith in the Cross

Readings for Friday, August 27/Memorial of St. Monica:
Icon of St. Monica
1 Corinthians 1:17-25
Psalm 33:1,2,4,5,10,11
Matthew 25:1-13

Look at the Crucifix. Does that look like wisdom?

The Lord God Himself suffering; His flesh torn open, His hands and feet pierced by nails, His whole body racked with pain – not to mention the spiritual suffering that the Lord knew in that hour. You can almost understand why the Jews considered it a stumbling block to belief in the Gospel message and the Greeks considered it foolishness, stupidity. And yet we know that the Cross of Christ is the wisdom of God, not by signs or wisdom but by faith.

Mother Church celebrates today one of the great women of the early Church, Saint Monica, a model of this faith in the Cross of Christ. Saint Monica was the mother of three children, one of whom was wise in the ways of the world. A pious and prayerful woman, Saint Monica poured out her prayers and tears before the Lord for many years, seeking the conversion of her son, Augustine, to the faith. After many thousands of tears and prayers, the heart of Augustine was converted and we celebrate his feast day tomorrow. A man once wise in the things of the world, he became a man wise in the things of God and it is due to the faith and fervent prayer of his mother, Saint Monica.

May we too have the faith of Saint Monica, that we might persevere in prayer and one day join her and her son in Heaven at the Heavenly Marriage Feast.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

God Is Speaking To Us

Michaelangelo Caravaggio's
The Inspiration of Saint Matthew

Readings for Thursday, August 26:
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Psalm 145:2-7
Matthew 24:42-51

Sometimes the Lord speaks to us in a quiet way and sometimes He speaks to us loud and clear. In my six years of formation for priesthood, we have often been told of the necessity of listening to God’s voice in our discernment of our vocation as well as in making normal decisions. In the midst of all of the things going on sometimes it was easy for me to miss what the Lord was saying to me in small things. I was too distracted that I simply could not hear his voice and so His only option was to make His point loud and clear so that I could not help but hear it.

Today the Lord is speaking to us in that loud and clear voice as He tells us “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day the Lord will come.” There is an exclamation point here, which is not very common. It shows His intensity and the point of making this call forceful. And as we hear the force of this call, we are jolted a bit. For us who might have been going along and not hearing clearly the call of the Lord, it is a loud sign for us to be more attentive. Now we have heard the loud call, so we can be reminded that God is speaking to us daily in small ways. He speaks to us in the words of friend or stranger, or in a small scripture quote or gesture. The point is that He is always speaking to us. The question for each of us to ask ourselves is: what is he speaking to me today? 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do As I Say...

Statue of St. Louis in the
Cathedral of St. Louis, Missouri

Readings for Wednesday, August 25/Feast of St. Louis, King of France:
2 Thessalonians 3:6-10, 16-18
Psalm 128: 1,2,4,5
Matthew 23:27-32

Do as I say, not as I do.

It’s funny how sometimes phrases we use can contain such depth if we really contemplate them. To say “Do as I say, not as I do” is to recognize that what we profess is not what we live. It speaks to the fact that it is easy to know what it is good and true, but it is a whole different thing to live it and seek after it.

As we celebrate the feast of Saint Louis, King of France, we recall the fact that he not only knew what was true and good, but sought to live his life based on it. Rather than simply telling others what to do, he showed them in his own actions. A zealous man, Louis took seriously the charge to preserve the faith in France and fought against various heresies that arose in his time. Too, he lived as a true servant leader, personally serving the poor and the sick, and always seeking the good of his people rather than his own glory and power.

He truly lived the faith in his daily life so that he, like Saint Paul, might be able to say “we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.” Let us then, be imitators of him and Saint Paul, not simply knowing the truth but living it daily so that others might imitate us in turn.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Can We Extend the Invitation?

Readings for Tuesday, August 24/Feast of the Apostle Bartholomew:
Revelation 21:9-14
Psalm 145:10-13, 17-18
John 1:45-51

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Apostles Bartholomew and it might seem odd for us at first to be reading a story about Philip and Nathanael. But the reality is that Nathanael IS Bartholomew. Just as Peter was known as Simon Bar-Jonah, meaning ‘Son of Jonah’ it is believed that Bartholomew is actually a sir name and Nathanael would actually be Nathanael Bar-Tholomai. This is strengthened by the fact that Bartholomew is always coupled with Philip in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke. And in John’s gospel account, Nathanael is portrayed as the friend of Philip.

It is because of the friendship that the two of them had that Bartholomew was brought to have faith in Christ and it is this that the Church calls us to reflect upon today – our role in bringing others to know Christ.  In the letter to the Romans, Saint Paul asks us:  How are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? It was Philip who told Bartholomew about their having found the Messiah. And by inviting Bartholomew to come meet the Lord, Philip plays a vital role in Bartholomew’s own profession of faith in Christ and his subsequent following after the Lord. Bartholomew was counted among the twelve apostles and went out to Armenia and India, where he spread the faith to many thousands of souls and eventually won the martyrs’ crown and entered into his heavenly reward, all because of Philip’s initial invitation to meet the Lord.

As we hear on this gospel message, we give thanks for the Philips in our own lives who have invited us to know Christ more deeply. And mindful of the power of an invitation to know the Lord, we must ask ourselves two questions: Who does the Lord want me to invite to come to know Him deeper? And am I willing to extend the invitation?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Spiritual Exercise

Readings for Sunday, August 22:
Isaiah 66:18-21
Psalm 117:1-2
Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13
Luke 13:22-30

People often try to paint Jesus as this super-nice, ultra-optimistic guy who just talked about heaven and good things all the time. But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, he talked a lot about the reality of judgment and Hell. In fact, Jesus talked about those two things more than any other person in the whole Bible. Why? Because He knew they were important for us to reflect upon and are things we sometimes don’t want to think about.

When we start to reflect on our own personal judgment, when the Lord looks at our life and determines whether we enter into the heavenly banquet or are left outside, we will inevitably arrive at the point when we focus on the question of how it is possible to avoid the rejection and condemnation to Hell that he speaks so sharply to those in the gospel. Or put more positively, we will look to see how it is that we can enter through the narrow gate and be welcomed into the heavenly banquet.

You all know the answer because we’ve heard it more times than we can count – we must pick up our cross daily and follow Christ.

It isn’t for no reason that Christ says that we must strive to enter through the narrow gate. It’s not possible to just casually walk along and mosey through it. It takes a serious effort and a lot of what we call ‘want-to’ in order to be able to approach the narrow gate and enter through it.

A lot of times we don’t like discipline. We want to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and that’s just how it is. But that isn’t good for us. I’d love nothing more than to be able to eat Raisin Canes and Coldstone Ice Cream every day, but I know that I can’t. And I’d love to never have to exercise again, but I know that I must. And that’s where we experience the discipline – both in positive and negative ways, in doing things and avoiding things. And as the writer of Hebrews says, it may not at the time seem like a cause for joy but for pain. But if you persevere in that pain for the sake of the Lord, it will shape you and mold you and in the end it will bear great fruit in the form of righteousness.

Last semester at the seminary I decided to start doing the P90 workouts – an intense 90-day workout program. I got the DVD’s and a friend and I started doing these daily workout routines to help us get back in shape. At first there was a lot of pain involved – moving muscles that had had not been worked in a long while, stretching in ways I hadn’t before, and pushing myself to keep up with quick-paced routines all were ample sources of physical pain. And yet, as I endured it, I found that I was eventually able to keep up with the program and do pretty well. But that was only half of the battle. In addition to the “do this” aspect of the exercise routine, there was also the “don’t do this” aspect. That part included things like not going back for seconds at meals, not going to fast food joints every other day, and not celebrating a good workout with a Gotta Have It size cookies and cream milkshake at the Coldstone down the street from the seminary. What I found was that the ‘don’t do this’ aspect that was the most difficult part. The exercise was easy; I could do it in 30-45 minutes and be done with it for the day, I could check it off the list. But the part about avoiding bad food choices – that was with me all day every day. It was much harder to struggle with, but the struggle was worth it and the discipline of the program was worth it because in the end I felt better, I was in better shape, and I had a bit more pep in my step going through the day.

As I think about the fact of how much effort I put into the exercise routine to get in better physical shape, I had to wonder: What do I do to get in better spiritual shape? What sort of exercise does my soul get?

You see, in the spiritual life there are certain disciplines, positive and negative, that are given for us in order be in good spiritual shape. Most of us know the ‘do this’ list of Catholicism– we must attend Mass every Sunday, go to confession regularly, pray daily, forgive others, love our neighbors and the like. Those are all pretty easy because once they’re done, they’re done. But like that exercise program I was in, the hard part isn’t the ‘do this’ list but the ‘don’t do this’ list. This is where we need the real strength and must do the real striving that Christ spoke of because these are the trials and struggles that are around us all day every day. Some of the major ones we know are drunkenness and gluttony, using profane language and speaking negatively about others, sexual promiscuity and pornography, and neglecting the poor and needy. But there are a ton of small things also, little instances throughout the day when we have to choose between doing good or doing wrong. And wherever we go, matter how many times we are victorious over temptations to sin, the temptations always return and we must strive to overcome them and continue on the path to the narrow gate. And if we do, then our discipline will bear the fruit of righteousness in God’s eyes.

In the act of contrition I say when I got to confession, there is a line that says “In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against You, whom I should love about all things.” How wonderful would if be if at the moment of our judgment we could stand before the Lord, victorious over the temptations to sin, and tell him instead “In choosing to do good and failing to do wrong, I have shown my love for You, Whom I do love above all things.” God’s grace is abundant and He is always willing to give it. All we have to do is ask and it will be given, and then on the last day, we will hear not “I do not know where you are from” but instead, “Well done my good and faithful servant, enter into your heavenly reward.“

Friday, August 20, 2010

Saint Bernard and the Love of God

Readings for Friday, August 20/Feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux:
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 107:2-9
Matthew 22:34-40

Today the Church celebrates the life of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th Century Cistercian monk. Saint Bernard’s whole life was characterized by those two most important commandments we hear spoken on the lips of Christ in the gospel – love of God and love of neighbor. As a youth he was known for his great piety and love for Our Lady. Having lost his mother as a teenager, Bernard turned to The Blessed Mother to be his own mother. Through her care, Bernard was led to a deep devotion to the Lord and an intense love of God. So great and powerful was his love for God that when he entered the monastery at age 23, he did so not alone but joined by thirty other men who were compelled by his example of holiness and joy. Those thirty men were but a small sign of the great things to come in the life of Saint Bernard.

In the course of the next forty years, he would be called on time and again to undertake vitally important roles in the defense of the Church and of Truth. He was sent out to combat the heresies that had spread like wildfire. He was called upon to help mend divides in the Church between various factions and leaders. He was consulted for Church Councils and asked to go out during the Crusades. Just about every major events that went on during the span of his forty years as a monk ended up drawing him into it as a defender of the faith and for that he was named a doctor of the Church by Pope Pius VIII in the 19th century.

But above all of these glories, he surely would rejoice most in the role he played in encouraging devotion to Mary. Until that time the devotion to Mary was often viewed as being on the same level as devotion to any other saint, but with the theological writings of Saint Bernard there came the beginning of a wave of Marian devotion that would continue to surge even to today. A great devotee of the Blessed Mother, he truly came to know and love God and neighbor by her intercession and aid. And so today we take his example as our own and entrust ourselves to our Blessed Mother, Mary, desiring to have our hearts burn with love of God and neighbor as his did.

Saint Bernard, pray for us.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Shepherding the Flock

Readings for Wednesday, August 18:
Ezekiel 34:1-11
Psalm 23:1-6
Matthew 20:1-16

Our scriptures today clearly speak to us of the nature of shepherding. Ezekiel paints us a picture of a nation whose shepherds cared not for their flock but for themselves. Those wicked shepherds even went so far as to abuse the sheep and use them for the shepherds’ own benefit. This sort of shepherd cannot stand long in the sight of the Lord, and we hear the Lord Himself tell us “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” And so He did.

The Lord cared for His people from afar until Christ was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When Christ came into the world, we knew the face of God and the Good Shepherd. Christ fed the flock of Israel and He guarded them and led them to the Father. And when He was about to suffer through His passion, He entrusted the care of the flock, the Church, to Saint Peter. And for nearly two thousand years, the pope, the successor of Saint Peter, has been shepherding the earthly flock of Christ.

The gospel of Matthew provides a stark contrast from the story of Ezekiel, instead showing us a landowner – a shepherd of sorts – who truly cares for his flock. Pope Benedict XVI seems to have modeled his priesthood and papacy after this very passage, taking the landowner as a model shepherd. The landowner goes out five times in the course of the day seeking to give work to the laborers. He doesn’t go out looking to make profit for himself and take advantage of others, but rather he goes out and upon hearing that they have not been hired, shows them compassion and love and invites them to work in his vineyard to earn a days wage. He pays them equally, unconcerned about himself.

Pope Benedict, modeling himself after this man, has continually reached out to others in the world, inviting them to come labor in the vineyard of the Church, working out their salvation. He has had great dialogues with Orthodox Churches of the East who are not yet in union with the Church. He has made it possible to bring large groups of Anglicans home to the Church. And he is currently working with a number of other groups to try to bring back other sheep who have wandered off. He does this not for his own prestige or glory. Rather, he does it for love of the sheep.

Today, as we gather here at this altar, we call to mind the love the Holy Father has for his flock and offer prayers for him, as well all bishops and priests, that they might always have the heart of the Good Shepherd in tending to their flock.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Everything is Grace

Readings for Tuesday, August 17:
Ezekiel 28:1-10
Deuteronomy 32:26-28,30,35,36
Matthew 19:23-30

Everything is grace. Everything.

The fact that we have come here tonight is proof that God’s grace is active in our lives. Nothing that we do is because of ourselves, but because of God’s grace. Every breath we take is because His grace allows us. Every time we go to pray, it is because God compels us to do so. Everything is grace.

The Prince of Tyre in the reading from the prophet Ezekiel forgot that. He thought he could do what he wanted and not rely upon God’s grace but rather in his own wisdom, wealth, and power. And in the end, he is told by the Lord that he cannot save himself and can do nothing for himself truly.

Our gospel speaks also of salvation and tells us that it is a gift, the greatest gift really. The disciples struggled with that question of ‘who can attain salvation? Who can be saved?’ And on Christ’s lips we hear the response ‘for men it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’ He speaks of this simple fact of all things being because of His grace. And what is the best way to recall this fact, that all things are grace, than to be thankful; to be thankful for each breath that we take, for God bringing us here safely tonight. For everything that we do, we are called to give thanks to God. Tonight, before you go to sleep, reflect on those things and give thanks for all of those things that we take for granted each day.

And as we come to celebrate this Eucharist, which literally means ‘thanksgiving’, let us call out to God and ask for all of those graces, for He has much in store for us and simply desires that we ask and receive.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Ark and the Assumption

Readings for Sunday, August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption:
Revelation 11:19; 121-6,10
Psalm 45:10-12,16
1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Luke 1:39-56

Today the Church celebrates the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption; that is to say that we honor the day when she was taken, body and soul, into Heaven. As we celebrate this great mystery though, it seems odd that our first reading speaks of the Ark of the Covenant and a heavenly vision and the Gospel recounts Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. It is only the letter of Saint Paul that speaks of resurrection. Why is this? Why not tell a story of the life to come or of the resurrection? When things like this happen, when something just doesn’t make sense right off hand, it is usually a sign that something much deeper is present and waiting to be revealed. In the scriptures we often coast along and think we know the point of all the stories, but often there are little details that seem inconsequential and unnecessary. Those little details are often the key to unlocking the depth of a passage. So why talk about the Visitation and Ark on the solemnity of the Assumption?

First, we need to understand what the Ark of the Covenant is. When we hear the word “ark” most of us think of the story of Noah and the flood, but this is now the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was the dwelling place of God. It was a large box that was made of a strong wood and plated in gold and in it were contained three things: a jar of the Manna that sustained the Israelites during the Exodus, it held the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, and it held the rod of Aaron the high priest, which was a sign of divine authority.

Luke the evangelist, though he was not a Jew, surely knew about the Ark of the Covenant and through his interactions with the Blessed Virgin Mary came to understand that she was in fact the New Ark of the Covenant. He conveys this to us by a bunch of seemingly insignificant words that link to the 2nd book of Samuel in the Old Testament. 2nd Samuel tells us that King David got up and went to the place where the Ark was and Luke uses the same wording for Mary visit to Elizabeth. David came into the presence of the Ark and was totally in awe, and we hear Elizabeth’s response “How does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” She was in awe because she knew she was in the presence of God. The Second book of Chronicles tells us that psalms and hymns are chanted before the Ark. The word used for those hymns was used only 5 times in the Old Testament, each time in reference to hymns sung before the Ark of the Covenant. That exact word is used only one time in the New Testament and it is used to described Elizabeth’s crying out in a loud voice as Mary came into her presence. David leaped with joy in the presence of the Lord in the Ark, which held the manna, tablets and rod of Aaron. John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of the New Ark, who held in her womb the Bread of Life, the Fulfillment of the Old Testament Law, and the True High Priest. And finally, David stayed in the presence of the Ark for 3 months before bringing it into the city of Jerusalem. And what is the last line of our gospel reading? “Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.” There’s no other reason to mention that fact than to indicate through small indicators that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.

So we come again to the question: why talk about the Ark on the Assumption? What is the connection between the Ark and the Assumption? The Ark was incorruptible. It was made of the strongest wood the Israelites knew about and was plated in Gold; it was never destroyed or broken down but rather the scriptures tell us that it was buried and never found again. And 2 Maccabees goes further saying that the Ark would not be found until God once again gathered His people to show them His mercy. When Christ was incarnated in the womb of Mary, the world was shown the mercy of God and the location of the Ark was known and was revealed in the person of Mary. This is the key that unlocks the whole mystery. Like the ancient Ark of the Covenant, Mary, too, was incorruptible and at the end of her earthly life, she was lifted up into Heaven to be with her Son. We know this because it has been a belief of the Church since the earliest days and also because nobody has ever claimed to have the body of Mary or to say “this is tomb where the Blessed Mother is buried.” We have no relics of her because unlike the rest of us, she received a special grace to enter into Heaven with body and soul immediately. And because of this she stands as a sign of hope.

Already in Heaven, she is perpetually interceding on our behalf to her Son Jesus and is a sign of hope in the promise of our future resurrection. Let us then join with Mary and pray that on the Last Day, when we are raised up, we will join her and all the saints in praising the Lord in Heaven forever.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Spiritual Life

Readings for Saturday, August 14/St. Maximilian Kolbe:
Ezekiel 18:1-10,13,30-32
Psalm 51:12-15,18-19
Matthew 19:13-15

“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, says the Lord God. Return and live!”

These words from the lips of the prophet Ezekiel are speaking not of a simple earthly life and death, but of a spiritual life and death. To experience spiritual death is to be separated from the Lord, which He surely does not desire. Rather, He desires that each of us follow after Him in the path of life. This comes by having a childlike simplicity. For this reason Jesus calls the little children to Himself and says that the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as they – they love deeply, the trust fully, and the follow faithfully. A child does not doubt that their parents will care for them, they assume in fact that opposite. So must we be with the Lord.

Today we have as a model of this childlike faith the 20th century martyr Maximilian Kolbe. It is said that as a child the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and held out two crowns, one white and the other red and told him to choose one. He chose both. These were the crowns of martyrdom. For a number of years he worked as a Franciscan Friar, establishing a community called the Militia Immaculata and serving those in need around him. The white crown was shown in his selfless service of others, especially in his time in the concentration camp Auschwitz. There he often gave of his own sustenance to those in need and in the end merited the red crown by offering up his life in the place of a father who had been condemned. He died a physical death but more alive spiritually than most of those around him could ever know.

As we celebrate Saint Maximilian’s entry into eternal life today and anticipate tomorrow’s celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven, let us call on the aid of Mary, who stands as a mother always ready to help us. Let us pray that we, too, might have a childlike faith and love that will always find us close to Our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

"No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another."
-Saint Benedict of Nursia

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Happy Feast of St. Philomena!

Today is the feast of Saint Philomena, my patroness and a powerful little saint. Martyred at age 13 for refusing to break her vow of consecrated virginity to Christ, she stands as a bold witness to the grace held out to each of us in times of trial and to the lengths at which we ought to go to be wholly devoted to Christ. May she intercede for all who come to this little blog.

Hail, O holy Saint Philomena, whom I acknowledge after Mary as my advocate with the Divine Spouse, intercede for me now and at the hour of my death. Saint Philomena, beloved daughter of Jesus and Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Spiritual Friendship

Readings for Wednesday, August 11/Feast of Sts. Philomena & Clare:
Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22
Psalm 113:1-6
Matthew 18:15-20

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

What an endorsement for community – the Lord telling us that if two or three gather in His name He is present! It is built into our nature to be part of a community. It may be a neighborhood community, a community of friends, a community based on a common interest, or a community that comes together for prayer and worship – but every one of us is part of a community.

But when we think about being a part of a community, do we think about the saints? It is easy to focus only on our earthly communities because they are the ones that we can see, touch, and interact with in an experiential way. Yet, we must also realize that the saints in heaven can be some of our most powerful bonds of friendship because they are always with us, are always praying for us, and are a constant inspiration for us to seek after holiness.

About five years ago a friend of mine introduced me to a little saint name Philomena, whose image we have here in the sanctuary and whose feast we celebrate today, together with Saint Clare. There isn’t much know about Saint Philomena’s life, but we know that she was martyred in the third century at the age of 13. She had consecrated her virginity to Christ and because she would not break it, she was killed by the Roman emperor Diocletian’s soldiers. As I read the story of this little saint’s life and the numerous miracles worked by her, I began to fall in love. In the five years since then, I have been blessed to have her constant friendship and guidance. And as I arrived here at Our Lady of Mercy I was excited to find that there is a group that gathers here to discuss the life and death of this powerful young saint and to pray together as a community for her intercession.

It has been a true blessing to have the friendship of Saint Philomena and I would suggest that each of you nurture a relationship with a saint who speaks to your own heart and with whom you can relate closely. And as the Lord shows us today the value of a community through which we can come into His presence, let us be thankful for the lives of the saints who give us examples to live by and sustain us with their prayers which are constantly lifted up to God.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

White Martyrdom

Readings for Tuesday, August 10/Feast of St. Lawrence:
2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Psalm 112:1-2,5-9
John 12:24-26

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Lawrence, a deacon from the 3rd Century. The story of his martyrdom is one that is more notable in the early Church. He was placed on a large rack and set atop a fire so that he would slowly burn to death. It is said that so joyful was he in his martyrdom that at one point he told his torturers ‘You can flip me over, I’m done on this side’ and just before his death ‘I think I’m fully cooked’.

When I had my conversion and really began to understand what it was to be a Christian, I often and fervently prayed that I would get the stigmata or be able to suffer some sort of really painful death to show the Lord how much I loved Him, how much I was willing to endure for Him. That prayer has yet to be answered and I doubt that it ever will, at least in the sense that I understood it. What the Lord has shown me is that I, and each of us, is invited to a white martyrdom – a death not of blood but of our will. It is giving up our will out of love from God and neighbor, dying to ourselves that others might live.

Our gospel today tells us that unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains but a grain of wheat, but if it dies it bears much fruit. The Lord is inviting us today to offer ourselves, to die daily – each and every day – in specific ways for God and neighbor. Saint Lawrence certainly lived this until the time of his read martyrdom. May we, through his intercession, also have the strength to daily pick up our cross, die to ourselves, and follow after Christ.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Messing up your life...

Readings for Sunday, August 8/19th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Wisdom 18:6-9
Psalm 33:1,12, 18-22
Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19
Luke 12:32-48

At the beginning of this summer I had the opportunity to go with about a dozen youth from the Mercy Teens group on a mission trip in Bayou LaBatre, Alabama. With our group were a few other groups from Ohio and Indiana. One of the first night that all of the groups were there we had a meeting with all of the adults and the leader of the mission, Dave, asked us about our hopes and expectations for the week. Each person shared what he or she hoped to see in the coming week and Dave was the last one to go. When he told us his hope, I was kinda taken back. He said “I want God to mess up these kids’ lives and all of our lives.” It sounds like a bad thing, something we wouldn’t want to happen. My first thought was “I don’t want God to mess up my life, I’m happy with how things are.” And then I realized – that’s the point! If we’re happy where we are, then it is easy for us to settle in and we can begin to miss the ways that God is acting in us, through us, and around us. And worse, we risk becoming unwilling to move out to those places to which God is inviting us.

For two straight weeks now we have heard this call to seek after heavenly treasure and to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. And this week we have the added element of the life of Abraham as a model for ourselves. This combination of readings is meant to evoke a response in us – a response of faith and action, of preparation and vigilance.

When we think of ‘Ordinary Time’ in the Church year we often think of it as a time that lacks big liturgical celebrations. There isn’t a Divine Mercy Novena, we don’t do a community Way of the Cross, we don’t have the special hymns of Christmas or Lent. It seems pretty…well, ordinary. And in the midst of this ‘ordinariness’ it is easy to allow ourselves to go on autopilot and go with the flow. We all know that there is no shortage of things for us to do, places for us to go, and things to attract our attention. And with all of those other things that are going on it is easy for us to lose track of the One Thing – the Lord. And so we are given these readings to water that seed of faith.

It’s not for no reason that we wear green vestments during Ordinary Time. Green is a color of life; it recalls the new life that should be present in our spiritual life. And so during the season of ordinary time we hear this call to be prepared and understand it as a call to look into ourselves and see where it is that the Lord is at work and where it is that He is calling us to follow after Him. Our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us about the life of faith that Abraham lived and shows us what can happen when we are attentive to the call of the Lord. Abraham appeared to be a regular guy, but it was through him that many miracles were worked.

Abraham heard the from God to go out to a foreign land. Because of his faith, we hear that he sojourned in the promised land. He heard the voice of God tell him that he would bear a son through whom he would have descendents as numerous as the stars of the sky. I’m sure Abraham laughed, being ninety-nine years old at the time and with he and his wife Sarah both supposedly barren. And yet he had faith and Isaac was born. A number of years later the Lord asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. Abraham had faith that the Lord would keep to his promise and give him countless descendents and so was willing to offer up Isaac. For his faith, Abraham was able to keep Isaac. Because of Abraham’s faith, the people of Israel entered the Promised Land and began to reap the rewards that Abraham never saw. Because of Abraham’s faith, many miracles came to be. Because of Abraham’s faith, the divine plan was carried out and among his descendents is numbered many great saints – King David, the great prophets, John the Baptist, the Blessed Virgin, and greatest of all, Jesus Christ. Because of Abraham’s faith, we have the gift of salvation.

It’s incredible how the faith of one man can so greatly impact the world. And yet, we must recognize that the Lord desires to work many great things in and through us as well, just as He desired to work through Abraham. Here we see the value of this call to be prepared always for the Lord’s coming and to have faith like Abraham.

As we look into ourselves, we will inevitably see something that God desires to work through to touch others and if we let Him, great miracles can be worked through us. Through a word of affirmation or a gesture of kindness, a soul might find peace. Through the sharing of our faith, the faith of another might be born or rekindled. Through the gift of our prayers, healing might take place. But none of this will happen if we do not keep ourselves aware of what is going on around us. So let us, then, not simply be happy where we are but let us desire that the Lord would ‘mess up’ our lives so that we might continually be aware of His presence and activity and be able to step out in faith to follow after him.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Do I Pray With Faith?

Readings for Saturday, August 7/First Saturday:
Habakkuk 1:12-2:4
Psalm 9:8-13
Matthew 17:14-20

Do I pray with faith?

This question came to mind as I was reflecting on these readings yesterday. Do I pray with faith? It should be an easily answered question and yet I pondered it for a long while. I can point to a number of times when the petition that I had prayed for did not come to pass – was it because I lacked faith?

Sometimes when we go to pray our prayers are more like wishes that we would like to see come true rather than heart-felt petitions that we believe will come to be. The Lord doesn’t want us to wish for things. He wants us to pray for things. And to do so with a strong faith.

Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, once said that we ought to go to prayer like we go to war. You don’t go to war without having a plan and you can’t win a war without going on the offensive. So when you go to pray, know what it is that you’re praying for and when you pray for it, mean it. This can require a certain boldness on our part at times. It’s easy to be hesitant in praying, to be worried about coming off too strong and seeming almost to demand things. But I think the Lord responds and so do His saints when we pray this way. Sometimes we need to be like the woman in the gospel on Wednesday, who, when Jesus tells her He was not sent to for the gentiles, persists in prayer and makes an even more fervent prayer and is granted her prayer.

As we celebrate this First Saturday, I can’t help but think also of the faith of Our Mother, Mary. Mary’s faith never waivered and she too had a boldness in her petitioning. At the wedding feast at Cana, she tells Jesus about the need for more wine and when He asks what concern it if for the two of them, she utters the most bold statement of her life to the headwaiter: “Do whatever He tells you.” This is a nice way of saying “Son, you heard me the first time.” And for her boldness in seeking a miracle, she is heard. Can we too have that boldness in prayer? Can we have the faith to tell the Lord our petitions and trust that they will be heard?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Glimpse of Glory

Readings for Friday, August 6/Feast of the Transfiguration:
Daniel 7:9-10,13-14
Psalm 97:1-2,5-6,9
2 Peter 1:16-19
Luke 9:28-36

I had a shirt as a teenager that sparked a lot of conversation. On the front it said “When the pain was too much…” and on the back “He thought of you” and below it was an image of the crucified Lord. Jesus’ suffering was not done for suffering’s sake, but it was aimed at our redemption and on the last day, our being raised in glory.

Why do I start with this reference to the crucified Lord today when we celebrate His transfiguration? In order to really grasp the importance of the Transfiguration, we need to understand its place in the scriptures. Yesterday we heard the story of Peter’s profession of faith in Christ and how Peter was the rock upon which the Church would be built. And following that, the scriptures told us that Christ then began to explain to them that he would suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, and that he would be killed and then raised three days later. Peter objected to this and is harshly rebuked by Christ. Jesus goes even further in the passage following that one and immediately preceding the one we hear today and tells that in order to follow Him we must carry our cross daily. Peter struggled greatly to conceived of the Lord having to endure suffering, and now Jesus basically says, ‘not only me, but you too will have to suffer.’ It’s a challenge that shook Peter – and probably the other disciples as well – because they couldn’t conceive of anything good coming from suffering.

It is in the face of that struggle of faith that Peter was experiencing that we come to this transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus brings Peter, James and John up on the mountain and reveals to the three of them a glimpse of His glory. For a moment in time, those three blessed men were able to look and see the truth of Jesus’ identity as a divine person and begin to understand the glory of the life to come. They begin to understand that the suffering that will necessarily come is not the end, but is a road to the life of glory. The comes upon them the cloud from which they hear the voice of the Father “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.” Instead of water, the three disciples have faith poured upon them from this encounter with the Most Holy Trinity and are assured that Jesus knows full well what is to come and that it is the will of God that it be so.

Today as we celebrate this First Friday in August, let us call out to the Lord Jesus and ask for greater faith and the grace to carry our crosses after Him; and when our pain is too much, let us think of Him Who in His suffering thought of us.

Professing Faith

Readings for Thursday, August 5/Dedication of St. Mary Major:
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:12-15,18-19
Matthew 16:13-23

*This is a homily written for a communion service for the staff of Our Lady of Mercy School*

Today the Church celebrates the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, the oldest western basilica dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the fourth century there was a great conflict over whether Mary was truly the Mother of God. The bishops came together at a council and declared that it was fitting to call Mary the Mother of God since Christ, being her son, was also fully God. We hear this profession of Christ’s divinity on the lips of Saint Peter in today’s gospel reading.

When asked who the people thought He, was Jesus is given a list of men who had died – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, all of whom had died long ago. And yet on the lips of Saint Peter we hear “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The living God - what a beautiful description. It speaks that the Lord is active in our lives, full alive in everything and still working wonders in the world today. And as we hear that profession of faith in Christ, we are called to also make our own act of faith. Faith is not something that just happens in us, it is something that we must actively pursue and continually live out.

As teachers and staff of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School and Parish, each one of us is called in a particular way to help the children who come here to come to know Jesus in a personal way so that they too might be able to make their own profession of faith in Him. They will come to find Him through you, through your caring attention, your willingness to help them, and the love you have for each and every person here, whether staff, student or parent. It is a beautiful thing to play such a formative role in these children’s lives and I thank you for walking with them along their journey of growth, education, and faith formation. And as you journey with them, journey also with one another. I understand that each of you will belong to a prayer family that will keep each other in prayer and I think it is a wonderful thing. Stay rooted in prayer, for it is there that we come to know Christ and are able to truly profess that He is the Christ, not because we heard it from someone else but because we have experienced His love ourselves. Amen.

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

"Mary, Mother of God, we salute you. Precious vessel, worthy of the whole world's reverence, you are an ever-shining light, the crown of virginity, the symbol of orthodoxy, and indestructible temple, the place that held him whom no place can contain, mother and virgin. Because of you the holy gospels could say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

We salute you, for in your womb he, who is beyond all limitation, was confined. Because of you the holy Trinity is glorified and adores; the cross is called precious and is venerated throughout the world; the heavens exult; the angels and archangels make merry; demons are put to flight; the devil, that tempter, is thrust dow from heaven; the fallen race of man is taken up on hish; all creatures possessed by the madness of idolatry have attained knowledge of the truth; believers receive holy baptism; the oil of gladness is poured out; the Church is established throughout the world; pagans are brought to repentance.

What more is there to say? Because of you the light of the only-begotten Son of God has shone upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death; prophets pronounced the word of God; the apostles preached salvation to the Gentiles; the dead are raised to life, and kings rule by the power of the holy Trinity.

Who can put Mary's high honor into words? She is both mother and virgin. I am overwhelmed by the wonder of this miracle."

-St. Cyril of Alexandria, delivered at the Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sexual Purity?

The article I wrote for this weekend's bulletin:

What comes to mind when we hear that words ‘sexual purity’? Is it something that we don’t need to worry about? Something only priests and religious do? Something outdated that we need to cut ties with? I hope that you didn’t say ‘yes’ to those questions because in reality sexual purity is a beautiful gift that God desires each of us to live, whether married, single, or a religious. It is a way of life that all people are called to live – a life of chaste relationships, modesty, and a true respect for others.

There are many in our culture that think that sexual purity is a thing of days long past, something that inhibits our ability to be ‘free’ and do what we want. These people will tell us that the restrictions are unnecessary and that if something makes us feel good or brings us happiness for a moment, there is nothing wrong with it and we ought to be able to enjoy it. And we often take this in without realizing it. If we were to realize what they were telling us, we might be able to make a clearer choice for the good; but it is often disguised. This reminds me of something that happened at my house recently. A stray cat made our back porch his new home. Seeing that he was sick, my mom took him to the vet and she was given some pills for the cat to take to get better. She covered them in peanut butter and the cat ate them up like they were treats. One time, though, she tried to simply put it in the cat’s food. Going outside later, she noticed that all the food was gone and on the plate there sat the little pill. She went and got the peanut butter and pretty soon the cat was enjoying another of those delicious little ‘treats’.

A similar thing happens to us with our use of the media. Our TV shows, movies, magazines, and internet websites are so ‘tasty’ that we often fail to realize what it is that we are really taking in. Mixed in with those good things are little ‘pills’ that are actually harmful to us. It can come in those brief commercials on TV, the unnecessarily racy scenes in movies, or those little ads in magazines and internet sites, and we are so used to it that we just act as if it is normal, part of daily life. And as they become part of daily life in what we see, they can easily become daily life in what we do and how we live. The question is what do we do about it? Do we stop watching TV, seeing movies, reading magazines, and using the internet? That’s one option. But most would think that a drastic step. So what other options are there?

As Fr. Miles mentioned in his bulletin article last month, it is good to exercise ‘custody of the eyes,’ modesty in dress, and pre-marital abstinence. In addition to that – PRAY! As Americans, we often think that we have to do things and forget that spending a few minutes in prayer can be more effective than a whole day of work. The grace to do all things comes from God, so to be in contact with Him is vital. It is with that thought in mind that we have begun the rosary for sexual purity, prayed each Tuesday after the Mass and Benediction. In recent weeks we have consistently drawn 60+ people of all ages to this powerful prayer. We pray for ourselves first and secondly for our society, taking the words of St. Francis as our model: Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society. So why not come join us and help us as we pray to change the world one person at a time by being little beacons of the light of Christ in a world with so much darkness?

A Personal Love

Readings for Wednesday, August 4/Memorial of St. John Vianney:
Jeremiah 31:1-7
Jeremiah 31:10-13
Matthew 15:21-28

Our scripture readings today tell us two stories about love. In the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we hear the Lord speaking to His people: “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will restore you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin Israel.” In these consoling words He addresses the people of Israel, the chosen people. This promise of restoration is a promise of hope to all of Israel and stands as a sign for God’s love for that people.

In the Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear a different story of love, a personal story of love. The woman pleads at Jesus’ feet that He might heal her daughter and we see this apparent harshness in Jesus’ response; an apparent rejection because of her status as a gentile. But then, she persists, and we realize that the Lord allowed her to endure rejection to pull from her an even deeper act of faith in Himself. And filled with faith, she again calls on Him and He, because He is compassionate and loving, hears her prayer and answers it. This shows the attentiveness that the Lord pays to each one of us, knowing what each of us needs personally and desiring to give it to us.

Today, the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars. A humble parish priest in a little town in France, Saint John took up the task of being Christ to the people by his witness to prayer and His desire to spread the Good News. But above all, Saint John was truly Christ to the people because of his love. The love that led him to spend up 16 hours a day in the confessional, the love that led him to intense fasting and prayer, and the love that led him to reach out to individuals so that they might experience Christ’s presence. The love of God, which he certainly experienced himself in a powerful way, was what compelled him in all things.

As we come to this sacred altar to receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, let us ask ourselves what it is that the Lord desires us to do today out of love for Him. What act of love does he compel us to do?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Fourth Watch

Readings for Tuesday, August 3:
Jeremiah 30:1-2,12-15,18-22
Psalm 102:16-23,29
Matthew 14:22-36

"During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea."

Today we hear the familiar story of Christ walking on the stormy waters and Peter’s test of faith. In the midst of this great story we encounter an odd thing – the mention of the little detail of it being the fourth watch of the night when it occurred. It’s rather curious that Saint Matthew would see fit to include this seemingly insignificant detail here. The thing is that he wants you to question why it’s there. This is so because we find that it is often the little pieces of information that tell us the important points of the story.

So what is so significant about the fourth watch? In this context, it shows us that the disciples had been out in the boat on the stormy waters for a number of hours. The fourth watch was the period between 3 and 6 a.m. and so they had likely been under this great stress through the whole night. You can imagine how stressful that might be, having to try to maintain control of the boat while facing the reality that death could soon come and not knowing how things will work out. And yet we also must realize that this was not just an accidental thing, but that Jesus knew that I would occur and used it as a test for all of them. Recall the first line of the gospel today, “Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side of the sea…” The last time they were having trouble in the boat, He was with them to calm the sea. This time, however, He is not physically present because He wants them to grow strong through trials of faith. He wants them to be strong in faith and trust in Him Who told them to go out in the boat. This is more than a test of Peter’s faith; it is a test for each of them to prepare them for the future mission Christ had in store for them, one that would surely hold much greater trials than stormy waters.

As we gather today to celebrate this Mass, we hear the invitation of the Lord extended to each of us, as with the disciples, to have faith in Him, trusting that He is with us in all of our stormy waters.

Monday, August 2, 2010

School = Leisure

"...the history of the word attests the fact: for leisure in Greek is skole, and in Latin scola, the English "School". The word used to designate the place where we educate and teach is derived from a word which means "leisure". "School" does not, properly speaking, mean school, but leisure."
-Josef Pieper in Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Just a little fun quote for those about to return to the classroom...Enjoy the Leisure! :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Vanity of Vanities!

Readings for Sunday, August 1:
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalm 90:3-6,12-14,17
Colossians 3:1-5,9-11
Luke 12:13-21

In January of 2005, I had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Rome with a group of guys from the seminary. With us came a couple of the monks from the Abbey where we studied, one of whom had actually spent a number of years in Rome studying. He would take us around and show us interesting sights that many would miss if they didn’t have a guide. As we were walking down the street one day, we came across an interesting little carving in a marble tile on the wall. It was an image of a skeleton with wings pointing to a little banner that had a Latin inscription that said “Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi.” Under it there was a little slot for money to be deposited. Curious as to what it meant, I asked the priest if he knew. He explained that the Latin phrase meant “Today for me, Tomorrow for you” and that it was a place to make donations to pay for upkeep of the cemeteries or to keep a candle burning in prayer for those who had died. The skeleton pointing to the sign was essentially a dead person saying, ‘I died today, it could be you tomorrow.’

That story came to mind as I was reflecting on this gospel passage because I think it hits both points that Mother Church is trying to illustrate in choosing these readings today. First, we are all going to die. And second, we can’t take anything with us when we go.

I’m sure that most anyone who has had a close brush with death can tell you that the experience forces you to reevaluate some things and, if not ready to leave this earth, to get prepared for when the day truly does come. I can’t help but think of the movie Bucket List as a prime example of this; people’s priorities start to come to the forefront. I’m also reminded of a book by Saint Robert Bellarmine, titled “The Art of Dying Well.” On first hearing the title, our modern ears probably find it a bit strange. In the book, St. Robert points out that dying well is nothing other than dying in the state of grace and thus meriting eternal life. With that in mind, the way to ensure that one dies well, he says, is to be sure that one lives well. It is to be prepared always for the death that each one of us will come to experience at some point. So how does one get prepared? How does one live well? For that answer, we now turn to the second point that Mother Church seeks to make to us today – that we can take nothing with us when we die.

In the first readings we hear those anguished cries on the lips of Qoheleth, also known as King Solomon: Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! King Solomon was a man of great wealth, a man with more precious metals and gems than we could fit into this church building. He could have anything he wanted and, for a time, took full advantage of that power. But as he was faced with the fact that he would one day die, he realized that his earthly fortune really was not so important. Everything he worked for, he tells us, is to be passed on to someone who hadn’t earned it. His cries are reasonable if we understand that he had put all of his trust in his wealth and power and only much later realized the pointlessness of it.

This sense of being wholly consumed with self-concern, power and wealth are also what we find in the parable that Jesus tells us, as well as the man who raised the question about sharing inheritance. In the parable, the landowner was so self-concerned that rather than rejoicing in his abundant harvest and sharing it with others, he makes the choice to tear down his barns and build even bigger ones in order to hoard all of the fruit produced. And like King Solomon with his riches, it is all in vain; but it was too late to change.
So what does all of this mean for us? How do these stories about men who lived two and three thousand years ago relate with you and me? Put simply, they challenge us to look at our own lives and see how we measure up. Do we live like Solomon and the men in the gospel had done, putting our hopes and dreams in worldly things? Or do we live the call of Christ, storing up treasure in heaven?

Since none of us is perfect, it is clear that all of us are somewhere on the sliding scale between the two. I recognize that in my life there are some times where I tend to put my trust in earthly things – trying to seek happiness in buying new CD’s and taking pride in my personal book collection. I’m sure some of you may have similar things that you may from time to time put your trust in as being your real treasure. But the thing is that ultimately we are called to realize that these should not be our greatest treasures, and are but faint shadows of the great treasures that the Lord desires for each of us. The real treasures that the Lord God desires us to have are not books or music, clothes or jewelry, cars or homes or lots of money. What the Lord wants for us is the treasure that lasts for eternity – love. And I don’t mean warm, fuzzy, puppy dogs and butterflies love. I mean deep, committed, self-sacrificing, self-giving love.

Rather than storing up treasures for ourselves and putting our trust in created things, the Lord desires us to be willing to give of ourselves to others. This may come in the form of financial giving, but more importantly it comes in the personal call to service that each one of us has received from the Lord. It is by serving others that we are able to show love and to receive love. You may be familiar with the story of Saint Lawrence, a deacon in the third century. He was the keeper of the money for the Church in Rome and the Roman emperor called him in one day and demanded that Lawrence bring him all of the Church’s treasure. The next day Lawrence arrived with a large number of crippled, sick, poor, and blind people because he knew that the true treasure was not gold and fine jewels as the emperor thought. He knew that other people, especially those in need, were the greatest of earthly treasures because by serving them, great treasures were being stored up in heaven. The marble cemetery collection tray stood as a reminder of that – if tomorrow we can be called to the Lord, then we ought to give of ourselves in service today.

In addition to that aspect of serving and loving others, we of course recognize that God is our ultimate treasure, being love itself. He Who showed the depth of His love by offering Himself on the cross stands as our greatest treasure and we have the blessing of receiving His Sacred Body and Precious Blood from this altar today and experience a preview of the greatness of the treasure that He has in store for us in the life to come. What better aid can there be in helping us to learn the art of dying well?