Sunday, June 29, 2014

Do you love me?

Readings for Sunday, June 29: Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul:
(Vigil readings, since they are used in homily)

Acts 3:1-10
Psalm 19:2-5
Galatians 1:11-20
John 21:15-19

This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Usually saints’ feast days are separate because they mark the anniversary of the death of that particular person, but this is not the case with these two great missionaries. They are placed side by side because their individual paths took them to the Eternal City of Rome, where they were each martyred for the faith – Peter, crucified upside-down because he didn’t think he was worthy enough to die in the same manner as Christ; Paul, a Roman citizen, was shown mercy and simply beheaded. They became disciples in very different ways, preached to separate peoples, took different missionary paths, and lived very different lives. And yet they came to receive the same martyr’s crown, as the Preface for Mass tells us today. These men are a sort of microcosm of the Church in their unity and diversity.

At our baptism, every single one of us received a candle from the minister as the words were spoken, “Receive the Light of Christ.” That symbolic gesture is a reality that we have all been enlightened by the Lord Jesus Christ and as such, we are supposed to be the light of Christ in the midst of the world that so often is full of darkness. By the simple fact that we call ourselves Christians – we literally bear the name of Jesus! – we must then live the example that Jesus set. We must be a people of love who seek to serve the poor and draw all people to the loving embrace of the Heavenly Father in the joy of eternal life that is to come. This was Jesus’ mission and it is ours. This is where we are united. We are all members of the same Body and all have the same goal. The difference is that we all are called to do this in different ways. This we can look at in three points.

First – we must all be a people of prayer. If we are not a people of prayer, we are not a people of God because prayer is relationship with the Lord. We must pray and we must pray in the way that fits our personality and spirituality. The beauty of the Church is the wide variety of styles of prayer that rest within her and so it is for us each to find that way that permits our hearts to encounter Jesus and to dive deeply into that place. Our prayer cannot be something that just happens on Sunday or even just a few days a week. It must be daily, even if only for a few minutes. If we commit to a few minutes then eventually we will want more time and will ache for the time of prayer when it is taken away by busy schedules or life’s demands. That’s when we know we are really praying with the Lord.

Second – we must use what we have. In the Vigil readings we heard the story from the book of Acts where Peter and John were going to the Temple (they were men of prayer!) and along the way they encounter a man at the gate who couldn’t walk. Peter goes to Him and says, “I have neither gold nor silver, but what I have I give. In the name of Jesus Christ, rise and walk.” And he did. There is a temptation sometimes in the spiritual life to think that because we don’t have this or that person’s gifts we aren’t useful. That because we aren’t as ‘holy’ as some other person or that we aren’t ‘worthy’ of some specific task that we shouldn’t do it. We can think to ourselves ‘one day, when my relationship with Jesus is better I can do that, but not today’. When we do these things we cut off the work that God has in store for us to do. We limit the God of all creation. The truth is that none of us is ever holy enough, worthy enough to do God’s work. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t called to it.

The Gospel passage from the Vigil was the story of Peter and Jesus that we all know – how Jesus asks three times “Do you love me?” and Peter responds three times, “Lord, you know that I love you.” The problem with that passage for us is that that there are two different words employed for the concept of love. The same as I can say I love pizza and I love Jesus with two different meanings, the original Greek text uses two different words entirely: agapao and phileo. Jesus asks, ‘Do you love me?’ using agapao - in a sacrificial, self-giving sort of way. Peter responds, ‘Lord, you know that I love you.’ – using phileo – in a fraternal way. Jesus asks again employing ‘agapao’ and Peter again responds with ‘phileo’. The third time Jesus says ‘Do you love me?’ – using ‘phileo’. He basically says, ‘You don’t love me enough to be sacrificial yet, but do you at least love me like a brother, like a close friend?’ And Peter says ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you’ – using ‘phileo’ a third time. Peter recognizes that while he loves the Lord, it is not yet at the level that Christ desires. And yet, what happens? We hear the Lord continue, saying, ‘When you were younger you dressed yourself and did as you pleased, but one day you will have someone else dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go.’ He love Peter where he is and then assures him that one day he will be able to love in the sacrificial ‘agapao’ way that Christ desires. And then He simply says, “Follow me.”

Follow me...
Our life is not about getting our act together and becoming perfect people and then following Jesus. It’s about accepting ourselves wherever we are and placing ourselves at the feet of Jesus, know that, like Peter, we aren’t able to love Him as much as He wants but that we are willing to at least follow after Him and try to learn. That’s what Jesus desires, our willingness to be used in whatever place we are today. It’s not that God will work great miracles when we become holy people. It’s that God will work great miracles through each and every one of us and that will make us into holy people.

This leads me to the last point – being ready to act. Peter and John were simply on their way to the Temple and the Spirit moved them to approach and heal the individual at the gate. How often does God speak to us in our daily lives? He’s certainly speaking; maybe we just don’t hear Him because our lives are too noisy to hear the still, small voice. For instance, have you every had that feeling that you can’t explain that you just have to do something different? The other day I was driving home from the office and I drove past someone’s house and I felt this something on my heart saying that I should stop in and visit them. I made some excuse of needing to get back and kept on going. When I arrived home, guess who had just left me a voicemail for me at the rectory asking me to come by? The person whose house I had just driven by! I know from personal experience and from stories of others the ways that the Spirit can work when in the midst of our daily lives we have that something urging us to take a different way home, to linger for a few minutes in a particular place for some unknown reason, to speak to someone or to offer a prayer for someone who happens to be on your mind. These are the ways that miracles happen and lives are changed more often than not.

Peter didn’t try to be Paul, Paul didn’t try to be Peter, and we don’t have to try to be anyone other than the person God created us to be. It is our particular strengths and weaknesses that God created specifically in us and wants to work through to speak to the world seeking His voice. Through the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul, may we today set ourselves at the feet of Jesus and open ourselves to being instruments in His hands to accomplish whatever works He desires. God grant us this grace and the strength to carry it out each and every day!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

HWP: St. Juliana Falconieri

Last week we celebrated the feast of St. Juliana Falconieri in the Extraordinary Form Calendar. St. Juliana had a great love for Our Lord, especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament. On her deathbed she asked that they bring a corporal and Eucharistic Host to place upon her chest. They heard her request and when it was done, the Host miraculously disappeared and she died in peace. She was proclaimed a saint of the Church shortly thereafter and has been honored for nearly 700 years now. Our Half-Way Prayer of the week is...
A Prayer to St. Juliana Falconieri 
O faithful Spouse of Jesus Christ and most humble Servant of the Sorrowful Virgin, glorious S. Juliana, when nearing the term of a life all spent in the practice of the most heroic virtues, you felt but the one grief of being prevented by sickness from receiving in viaticum your Beloved; but this grief proved to be so pleasing to your heavenly Spouse Jesus that He deigned Himself to reward it by an extraordinary prodigy, when, behold, at your supplications, the Divine Sacrament having been placed on your virginal breast, it instantly penetrated the same, leaving the image of the Crucified visibly impressed thereon, whilst your soul, with a sweet smile, expired in His sacred embrace. O great Saint, and my special Patroness, obtain for us from God, we pray, the grace to live a holy life like to yours, that we may die a like holy death; and in particular that, prepared for this last voyage, provided with the Holy Sacrament, and strengthened with God's grace, I may deserve a holy demise and escape eternal death. Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Making A Place

Readings for Sunday, June 22/ Corpus Christi:
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16
Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

While you all know that I’m leaving for my new assignment next week on July 1, some of you may have noticed that I have actually been gone for a couple of weeks already. The Lord put it on my heart a few months back that I ought to go to Combermere, Ontario to visit the Madonna House Apostolate there. I had no idea why I should go, what happened there, or what the Lord might have up His sleeve, but I decided to follow what I believed to be His voice and went. I arrived right at dinnertime and was welcomed into the dining hall. I found an open seat next to a lady named Maureen from Buffalo, NY and we began chatting. I sheepishly confessed that I had no idea what the Madonna House was even about and that I had driven all that way on a hunch, and I asked her, “What exactly happens here?” Looking around at the hundred or so people around me and seeing the numerous buildings on the property, I was expecting a litany of jobs and ministries. Instead, she simply said, “Well, Father, we make a place for God.” I asked for clarification on what exactly that meant but she let me know that I would simply have to learn it throughout the week. And you know what – I did. In the midst of my daily work of prepping veggies, cutting & stacking firewood, and repairing chapel pews, I found God. Being a priest for three years now I should have already done so! And indeed I had, but this was a new experience, a new encounter that the week and the work helped to facilitate. And it was all because rather than giving me a list of things, Maureen’s voice just cycled through my mind all week long “we make a place for God.” It was so simple. And yet so profound.

This week we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. You know well that I would love nothing other than to sit here with you for the next three hours or so and talk about the topic because there is so much to be said. We could talk about the theology, the connections between the old Temple and our church here, ancient and modern liturgy, the Manna and the Eucharist, and a whole host of others things. But I know you don’t want that to happen, and even more I know that the Lord doesn’t want that to happen. All week as I was thinking about this homily, the many theological concepts kept coming up the Lord continued to speak to my heart in prayer saying, “Just be simple.” And the simple truth about this feast is that the Eucharist we come to celebrate and receive is not bread and wine as it appears, but is the Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and our God. When we let that reality really sink into our hearts it changes things. All of us know that the Church says it’s His Body and Blood, but the more we let it move from the intellect to the heart, the more it becomes the center and everything else takes second place because we realize it is GOD that comes to us. The God who created the universe billions of years ago, who created Adam & Eve thousands of years ago, who knows every hair on our head (especially those of us who are running a bit short of those!), and who knit us together in our mother’s womb – that God humbles Himself, and comes in what seems to be a simple piece of bread and place Himself in our hands, on our tongue. GOD! It’s so simple and yet the greatest minds cannot fully grasp this mystery.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
There’s another thing that’s on my mind lately that is simple in it’s own right: did you know that there are only 69 days until LSU Football starts up again!? That’s less than 10 weeks! I don’t normally preach about it much in my homilies but I love LSU football and always have. There’s just something about Saturday Night in Death Valley – or any time in Death Valley, really – that just energizes me. And you know as well as I that for most of us there is a sort of ritual that takes place. I get on my purple & gold shirt, or at least my hat to wear with my cassock. On the way to the stadium I crank up the LSU Fighting Tiger Band CD and get pumped up for the game. Of course you gotta get there early because there is tailgating to be had. And sometimes I walk down to the hill and watch the band pass by and feel the beat of drum line and hear the blare of the horns for the Pre-game Salute that gives me goose bumps every time. And then we all go in and see one of the greatest secular liturgies on the face of the earth! Did you know that LSU Football is liturgy? Think about it – when the defense stops the opposing team on third down, what happens? Everyone in the stadium starts to worship the defense (bowing down with arms raised out in mock worship). There are specific chants to chant and you can’t not sing along to Callin’ Baton Rouge. We all know the proper times to sit or stand, clap or yell. And then afterward we all hop in our cars and listen to the postgame in the traffic on the way home as they talk about what happened and look forward to what is coming up. The whole thing is energizing and filled with great intensity and much intentionality. But what hit me was this: what if you and I lived with that same intensity and intentionality for the Eucharist?

What would happen if we all consciously put on our special clothes for the big trip to church? What would happen if on the way here we listened to good spiritual music or even sat in silence to prepare our hearts to meet God? What would happen is we showed up a couple of hours early for Mass so that we could come and read over the scriptures, get familiar with the prayers of the Mass and prepare for the music that would be sung? What if when we came into Church we all genuflected and let our knees hit the ground because it is really God we’re genuflecting to? What if we let our bodies really speak to our hearts about the actions we do – the bowing, standing, kneeling – all for a purpose that heightens our spirit? What if we sang as loud here as we scream at the game? We’d have to install straps over the roof because we’d blow it off with all the noise! What if as we prepare for Holy Communion we spoke to the Lord about what our heart needs most? We yell all the time at the players and coaches on the field and they can’t even hear us. Why not speak to the God who can? What would happen if we reverently receive the Lord in our hands or on our tongue, recognizing the gift we have received. And what if rather than bolting out as quickly as possible we stayed until the end of Mass and even stuck around to pray afterwards for a few moments, like when the team sings the Alma Mater in front of the student section? What if when we left the Church we were full of excitement like we had just beaten Alabama? What if the ride home and the conversation at meals was about the homily, readings, or some new aspect that struck us in the Mass or what we look forward to next time? What if we lived our lives like that for every Mass?

The simple truth is the 2000 years ago God the Father gave you and I the greatest gift we could ever receive in the person of His Son Jesus. He humbled Himself, took on our flesh, worked quietly for thirty years, and preached publically for three. The end of His life brought His crucifixion and death on the Cross, then the Resurrection and Ascension, but before that He gave us the Eucharist so that the words spoken to the Apostles before His Ascension would be true: “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” He has kept His promised and remained here with us at every moment. He rests here in the tabernacle out of love for us. When we receive Holy Communion, we are able to enter into that Love. By some great mystery, the Eucharist acts as a door into the Heart of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has made a place for us there. The question, are we willing to make a place for Him in ours?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


As you may recall, June is the month in which Mother Church honors the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is in part because the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart, celebrated on the second Friday after Pentecost, usually (or always?) falls within this month. This year the feast falls next Friday, June 27...which means that the novena to the Sacred Heart begins...TODAY! So, what better prayer to offer than the...
Efficacious Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus  
I. O my Jesus, you have said: "Truly I say to you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you." Behold I knock, I seek and ask for the grace of......(here name your request). Our Father....Hail Mary....Glory Be.... 
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you. 
II. O my Jesus, you have said: "Truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you." Behold, in your name, I ask the Father for the grace of.......(here name your request) Our Father...Hail Mary....Glory Be.... 
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you. 
III. O my Jesus, you have said: "Truly I say to you, heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away." Encouraged by your infallible words I now ask for the grace of.....(here name your request) Our Father....Hail Mary....Glory Be... 
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you. 
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of you, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, your tender Mother and ours. 
Hail, Holy Queen.... 
St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

HWP: Our Lady of Combermere

Tonight I will be arriving in Combermere, Ontario at the Madonna House Apostolate retreat house for priests. For six days I will be spending a good bit of time in prayer before the image of Our Lady commissioned and sculpted for the community, known as Our Lady of Combermere. A beautiful image of Mary flying to the aid of those in need, it is a remind of how much Mary longs to bring us to the loving Heart of her beloved son. So I figured why not share a little piece of the joy with everyone. Therefore, this week's Half-Way Prayer is...

A Prayer to Our Lady of Combermere
O Mary, you desire so much to see Jesus loved. Since you love me, this is the favour which I ask of you: to obtain for me a great personal love of Jesus Christ. You obtain from your Son whatever you please; pray then for me, that I may never lose the grace of God, that I may increase in holiness and perfection from day to day, and that I may faithfully and nobly fulfil the great calling in life which your Divine Son has given me. By that grief which you suffered on Calvary when you beheld Jesus die on the Cross, obtain for me a happy death, that by loving Jesus and you, my mother, on earth, I may share your joy in loving and blessing the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit forever in Heaven. Amen. 
Our Lady of Combermere, pray for us.

Learn more about the Madonna House Apostolate.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Readings for Sunday, June 8/ Pentecost Sunday:
Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

Today we gather to celebrate a feast that has roots dating back well over 3000 years. That’s right 3000. We often forget that our Catholic faith didn’t just spring up out of nowhere but instead is firmly rooted in – and is the fulfillment of – the Jewish faith until the time of Christ. Our architecture, worship, teachings, are all intimately tied together. In Jewish life Pentecost was a day that God marked out seven weeks after Passover (50 days is what Pentecost indicates) for the people to turn to Him in thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth that had grown in the recent weeks. In like style, our Christian faith also turns to God 50 days after the New Passover of Easter and gives thanks to God once more, not for earthly fruits but for the fruit of the Holy Spirit who has made His dwelling among us.

In liturgical observance, we often think that the two most important feasts of the year are Christmas and Easter, but the truth is that Pentecost is more important that Christmas. It makes sense that Easter is first in rank because that is the day when Jesus conquered sin and death and opened the gates of Heaven for us. Without Easter, we all go to Hell. That’s why we sing ALLELUIA just about every other word during the Easter Vigil and all throughout the Easter season. But as we know, things didn’t just stop at Easter. The Lord Ascended into Heavenly glory, which we celebrated last weekend, and sent among us the gift of the Holy Spirit. What would have happened, you think, if Jesus gave us the great commission to baptize the nations and teach them to do all He had commanded and didn’t give us any help in carrying it out? I bet the gates of hell would have prevailed against the Church before Peter had every stepped foot out of the upper room! Without the Holy Spirit coming to us, we are as good as dead. We have no hope of doing anything good or holy because we wouldn’t have He who is holiness itself in our hearts. Pentecost means we are not alone. God is with us! Even in our very heart!

The fact that the Spirit is with us means that we are now able to carry out the mission begun by Jesus. That mission was basically to draw all of humanity to the Father. Jesus is like a big magnet who seeks to draw all people to Himself and hoist us up into the Trinitarian embrace of Love; it was about uniting us all together and going as one body to God the Father.

In the Vigil Mass yesterday we heard recounted the story of Babel from Genesis; that ancient story that explains the division of peoples. The story explains that everyone initially spoke the same language and in their pride they sought to make a name for themselves, saying, “otherwise we shall be scattered over all the earth.” They relied upon themselves rather than trusting that God wanted to do great things for them if they were humble. It was pride. Adam and Eve were the first but certainly not the last to commit it. And because they relied upon themselves rather than the Lord, they were made to speak different languages and scattered over all the earth, just as they had sought to avoid. Sin and self-seeking sows division.

In our first reading today we hear in the Acts of the Apostles that the disciples were gathered together in one place. This is significant because during the Passion of Christ they were all scattered and went their own way. But as they began to reflect afterward, they began thinking about the Lord and the promises that He had made and each began to come back to that place where Christ wanted to show them His power. They focused not on themselves but on God and were naturally drawn into union – all in the same place.

So if the mission of Jesus was to bring about unity in the world and to bring us together as one body before the Father, how are we doing? What ways are you and I actively promoting unity in our community and in the larger Church?

I can think of three ways to help us in this task: conversion of heart, thinking in the plural, and highlighting the good.

In the Gospel we just heard the Lord Jesus gave the power to forgive sins to the disciples. This was the first thing He did after the Resurrection, so that means it is of the utmost importance. Are we taking advantage of that gift? In order to build up unity and draw others to God, we must first be drawn to Him ourselves. Christ is calling us to come to reconciliation and experience the forgiveness of sins that takes away all barriers between us and the Lord and makes us conduits of grace for Him to work to reach others. A practical schedule that all of us ought to keep is to make a good confession at least once a month, to attend Mass at least once a week, and to spend time in prayer at least once a day. It is easy to find reasons not to do those things in that schedule, but if you do, you won’t regret it.

The second step is thinking in the plural. Our first step is to encounter Jesus and have the ‘me & Jesus’ moment that continually changes our hearts, but we cannot stop there. If my whole spiritual journey is ‘me & Jesus’ then our journey will end not at the pearly gates but the fire pit because our faith necessary requires us to reach out to others. ‘Whatever you do for the least of these you do to me’ means that we have to think of others and put the needs of others before our own sometimes. The perfect prayer given by Jesus reminds us of that same fact in that it begins ‘OUR Father’. We have to think not I/Me/My but Us/We/Ours and to do our best to work for the good of all and not just what benefits us most in the moment.

The third thing is to highlight the good. A couple of years ago Fr. Ronal Knott gave our continuing education conference for the priests and he was talking about factions and rifts among clergy and how easy it is to talk bad about other priests. He then challenged us not simply to avoid bad-mouthing brother priests, but to actually do some good-mouthing. That struck me because 1) is good-mouthing even a word?! And 2) how difficult is it to say something positive about others who you may not like?! All of us are members of the Body of Christ and have spiritual gifts and strengths, and even those who aren’t part of the Body of Christ yet still have some gift that builds up the world around them. Are we willing not just to avoid saying bad but to actually emphasize good things about others? To point out places where we agree rather than disagree? To list strengths and improvements instead of weaknesses and failures? We are all part of the same Body. Why not rejoice in the good that each part does and so spur the whole body forward to the glory that awaits us?

To celebrate Pentecost is not just to recall an event that happened 2000 years ago. It is to realize that the Spirit lives in us even today and seeks to continue the saving mission of Jesus in uniting all people to the Father. We have a mission and, thanks be to God, we have the gift of the Spirit to strengthen us in it. So let us thank the Lord for His love shown to us and to pray that we might be drawn ever more closely to God and many others with us.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

HWP: Salutation of the Heart of Jesus & Mary

June is the month of the Sacred Heart, in which we honor the human heart of Christ, that Heart which continues to exist in heaven and is filled with the love that led the Lord to die for us on Calvary. In searching various prayers, I came across this little pray to the Heart of Jesus and Mary which consecrates the heart of the one praying it. So without further ado, written by St. John Eudes himself,  we present this week's Half-Way Prayer:
Hail, Heart most holy,
Hail, Heart most meek,
Hail, Heart most humble,
Hail, Heart most pure,
Hail, Heart most devout,
Hail, Heart most wise,
Hail, Heart most patient,
Hail, Heart most obedient,
Hail, Heart most vigilent,
Hail, Heart most faithful,
Hail, Heart most blessed,
Hail, Heart most merciful,
Hail, most loving Heart of Jesus and Mary; 
Thee we adore,
Thee we praise,
Thee we glorify,
To Thee do we give thanks;
Thee we love,
With all our heart,
With all our soul,
And with all our strength;
To Thee we offer our heart,
We give it,
We consecrate it,
We immolate it;
Accept and posses it entirely,
And purify it,
And illuminate it,
And sanctify it;
that in it Thou may live and reign
both now and forever,
and in the ages of ages.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Made for Heaven

Fr. Joshua Johnson
Readings for Sunday, June 1/ Ascension Sunday:
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28:16-20

I don’t know about you, but this weekend has been an incredible one from my experience. Yesterday morning I had the joy of concelebrating at the Rite of Ordination of Priests at Sacred Heart Church in Baton Rouge. Deacon Joshua Johnson walked in at 10am and Father Joshua Johnson walked out just around noon changed, a priest of Jesus Christ. The experience, as every ordination I’ve been to, was one of incredible joy and hope. The diocesan choir and gospel choir present were both beautiful and lifted our hearts to the Lord in ways that rarely happen, the bishop preached an inspiring and challenging homily, and each of us priests was filled with thoughts and sentiments of our own days of ordination. The joy was palpable and not a single person that walked out the church did so without a smile on their face and a sense of awe at what had just taken place. In the midst of it all I simply tried to soak up the moment because days like that are few and far between.

Our vocation as Christian, Pope Francis continually reminds us, is to be a people of joy, hope, and life that reach out into the world that shine with the radiant Light of Christ. But you know as well as I that we don’t have to look very far to find things going on that try to steal that joy, hope, and life from us and replace them with sorrow, frustration, and despair. The torrential downpour that left many in our community – including some of you present today – with water in your homes, the expected or unexpected death of loved ones, illness that changes your daily life drastically, or just a whole slew of little things that seem to keep going wrong. These and others are ways that the evil one wants to quench the fire of hope in our hearts. But how do we fight back? How do we keep hope when things seem so difficult for us? Heaven. Remember that you and I were not made for this life. We were made for Heaven.

The feast of the Ascension, which we celebrate today, has two main points to it. First, it is about the Lord Jesus reclaiming the glory that is rightly His. The second point is that He doesn’t go to reclaim that glory alone, but to draw us into the glory of the Trinity with Him. The feast of the Ascension is celebrated because the Lord first humbled Himself and descended to be with us, draws us to Himself like a great magnet, and hoist us back up into Heaven with Him.  In short, the Ascension reminds us of that reality that Heaven awaits us and that it is our ultimate goal. The Collect for the Mass today spoke it such a wonderful theological and visual manner: where the Head has gone in glory, we the body are called to follow. Christ wants us to be with Him in Heaven because there alone we can find our fulfillment. There alone will we know true joy. In Heaven, the joy of our hearts will be so great that the greatest thing we experience in this life will seem as very little and the worst day here will seem as though it never even existed. Heaven is a place of such great glory that we can’t even comprehend it or conceive of an idea that comes close. And that is what we were made for.

The problem that I have personally is that while I know all of this in my head, it is often difficult for me to put it into action in my daily life. So as I was preparing for this homily I focused on three ways that I myself could try to re-orient my focus to Heaven. They are to simplify, reconcile, and pray.

Simplify. I’ve mentioned before that I love books. I don’t have that many valuable possessions or possessions at all for that matter, but I do have a good number of books. It’s funny because I always buy books. I don’t read them necessarily, but I buy them to have them in case I get to read them. I keep amassing this pile of books and the reality is that while all of those books are good and holy – mostly about Christ, the Church, the Mass, and other theological things – they are things that keep me focused on earth rather than Heaven. They enable me to do exactly what they are trying to prevent me from doing! And that’s not all. I fill up my time with all sorts of various activities and other things that complicate my life rather than letting things remain simple, permitting me to lift my mind to Heaven. To simplify is to remind myself that I don’t belong here. My treasure should be elsewhere.

Reconcile. In Heaven, every person will be perfectly united with God. They will have passed through purgatory and had cast aside all that separates them from the Blessed Trinity. And if every person is perfectly united to God, then that means every person is necessarily perfectly united to one another. And you and I both know that is not how this life works, unfortunately. I see in my own life that there are people with whom I am not completely reconciled. There is still room for forgiveness, increased unity, and a willingness to set aside past hurts, pre-conceived notions, biases, and all that other junk that divides me from others in order to build up here on earth what is going to be the reality of all eternity. To reconcile with others is to build up the body of Christ here and to prepare for the joy of true unity in the life come.

Pray. My vocation is primarily to pray and secondarily to serve the people of God. That sounds rather self-centered, but if I fail to spend the necessary time in prayer then my ministry among you will not be filled with the Holy Spirit but will be filled with the spirit of Fr. Brent Maher and whatever I feel like doing, and that is not what God wants. I recognize in myself that there are times that I pray well and am grateful for it, but there are also times where I fail to pray as well as I could. It’s easy to pop in the rosary while riding the roads and simply say the words but not give my mind to the mysteries and mark of my “pray the rosary” on the spiritual checklist. It’s easy to say the words of the psalms and readings for my obligatory priestly prayers each day and check that off too. But that is not what I am called to do. I am called to enter into real prayer that changes the way that I live my life. When I really pray, when I give myself time to enter into the presence of the God of Heaven, I interact with others differently, I interact with the Lord differently, my experience of life is approached differently. Everything changes because I was with the Lord and lifted up into Heaven.

It’s not about doing grand things. It’s about being willing to do regular things, but for the Lord. I was struck by a quote from St. Jean Vianney that I read the other day. It says this: “If we would only do as much for God as we do for the world we should all be saints.” How easy it is to get caught up in the things of this life! But when we do so we set ourselves up for sorrow, frustration, and despair because we were not made for this. We were made for Heaven. Let us pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be with us to help lift our eyes to the place that awaits us and be filled with the joy that comes from God, knowing that what awaits us is even greater.