12 June 2018

These Aren't My Pants

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Probably the weirdest thing I’ve heard working with law enforcement, is when we had a driver out of a car and the Troopers were making sure he didn’t have any weapons or drugs on him.  As they looked in his pockets, they found some drugs.  We asked the person why he had drugs on him, and he said, I kid you not, “These aren’t my pants.”  Now, I know that I live a sheltered life, but I don’t have any particular memory in my 34 years of life, or at least since I was responsible for dressing myself, that I ever wore someone else’s pants, and certainly not with drugs in them.
“These aren’t my pants,” may sound crazy as an excuse, but we’re good at excusing ourselves and rationalizing our behavior.  We’ve been doing it almost since the beginning of humanity.  God called Adam on the carpet, Adam, who represented all of humanity, for eating the fruit that we were forbidden to eat, and what did he do?  “These aren’t my pants.”  Well, not so much, because he was wearing a fig leaf.  But he did the same thing: “It’s not my fault!  The woman made me do it!”  Then God goes to Eve, and, anticipating by some millennia the Flip Wilson Show, she basically said, “The devil made me do it!”  

We’re so good at dodging responsibility.  These aren’t my pants, someone else made me, it’s the Devil’s fault, and so many more excuses come to mind.  But sin is always our fault.  We have free will, and we only sin when we make choices that go against God’s law, natural law, and just human laws.  Temptations, however, are not sins.  Sin is only when we make a choice.  
If I desire to eat that quarter pounder on a Friday of Lent, my desires are not rightly ordered, but I haven’t sinned unless I pull through the drive-thru lane and take a bite into the burger.  If I’m laying in bed Sunday morning, the birds chirping, a cool 68 degree and sunny day, wanting to play nine holes instead of going to Mass, I’m not wanting to be where I should be, but I haven’t sinned.  If I’m cut off in my car by someone who needs remedial driving lessons and my desire is to lay on my horn and raise a certain finger to greet them, the emotion of anger is probably getting the better of me, but if I don’t act on that emotion, I haven’t sinned.  It’s only when we make that choice, in thought, word, or deed, when we exercise our free will in a negative way, that we talk about sin.
The Good News is that Jesus came to conquer sin.  The people in our Gospel today didn’t recognize that, and the scribes claim that Jesus is casting out demons by the power of demons.  But as Jesus points out, if Satan is fighting against himself, how does he expect to win?  Jesus comes to destroy the reign of Satan, and does so as God.
That’s why it’s so important to turn to Jesus when we are tempted, so that we don’t give in to that temptation and sin.  We shouldn’t wait and figure that we’re strong enough; let’s be honest, we’re weak.  Almost every time I have thought: I’m strong enough; I can handle this, I end up giving into temptation.  When I realize that I am weak and that without God I can do nothing, it is then that God conquers sin through me.  
Another thing that can be very common in our spiritual life and spiritual battle with sin is to “flirt” with the temptation.  We say no at first, but then we might return to the temptation a little later, and then maybe we say no again, but then we go back to it.  And eventually it conquers us.  But if we nip the temptation in the bud, and call on God to help us at the beginning, then God will preserve us from falling into temptation.  
There is only one sin that God cannot forgive, and that’s the sin against the Holy Spirit.  While there are different theories, what I was taught in seminary is that the only unforgivable sin is the sin that we don’t allow God to forgive, because God does not force His grace upon us; He respects our free will.  If we think that this sin or that sin is so bad that God cannot forgive it, then He won’t; not because it’s so heinous, but because we don’t allow Him to.  
The other key to fighting sin comes from our second reading.  St. Paul exhorts us not to be discouraged.  That can be easier said than done, especially when we’re struggling with the same sin over and over again, no matter how big or how small.  But God will give us victory eventually if we persevere in His grace and keep fighting.  It’s only when we give up, when we decide it’s useless, that Satan wins and gains mastery over us.  If we keep fighting, no matter how many battles we lose, God can still win the war.

When we sin, don’t blame others, don’t be discouraged, and do call on Jesus to help us.  Jesus came to free us from sin, and will do exactly that if we allow Him to and cooperate with the grace He gives us through the Sacrament of Penance and the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.  

04 June 2018

How to Receive Jesus

Solemnity of Corpus Christi
Arguably the most popular topic for renaissance painters was the Madonna and Child.  There are more paintings of our Blessed Mother holding her child, Jesus than probably any other saint or person.  In almost all of those paintings, Mary is holding Jesus, and is looking down towards Him with love and wonder.  Probably the most famous statue of the Blessed Mother is the Pietà by
Michelangelo.  Currently housed in a chapel in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City, it shows the Blessed Mother holding the lifeless Body of her Son after He was taken down from the cross.  She is still looking down towards Him, but this time with sorrow on her face.
In both the paintings of Madonna and Child, and the Pietà, Mary’s gaze is towards Jesus.  She is focused on Him.  And as we come to Mass today to celebrate the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, Mary invites us to do the same thing: to gaze towards Jesus.
For cradle Catholics, the Eucharist might seem very familiar, maybe even not a big deal.  But in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, we see the same Jesus that Mary held, and receive Him either on our tongue or in our hands.  It is the biggest deal on earth, and the greatest treasure the Church has.
Jesus, on the night of the Last Supper, that we heard about in the second half of our Gospel passage today, instituted both the ministerial priesthood and the Eucharist, as His way of perpetuating the new Passover, no longer the angel of death passing over the house of the Israelites, but Jesus, the true Passover or Paschal Lamb being sacrificed so that we, His adopted brothers and sisters in baptism, would not have to suffer eternal death.  Each time the Mass is celebrated, Jesus’ one, perfect sacrifice on the cross is made present to us again as we enter the ante-chamber, the narthex, as it were, of the perfect tabernacle in heaven.  That is why, instead of the risen Christ, the crucified Christ should occupy the central place above the Tabernacle in the sanctuary: placed before our eyes in a prominent way should be the mystery of what the Eucharist recalls: the crucifixion.  
But because this re-presentation of Calvary happens so frequently, as Catholics we can forget its power, and forget just how awesome it is to be able to come into the presence of Jesus Christ Himself.  Our posture hopefully helps us to remember.  We kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer, lowering our very bodies in adoration of the miracle of the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Not simply a reminder of Jesus’ Body and Blood, but the same Body that hung on the Cross; the same Blood that was poured out for our salvation in Jesus’ Passion.  We even used to (and people are still allowed to) kneel to receive the Eucharist.  There was something good about this, as it reminded our bodies that we are not worthy, and therefore lowered, before the presence of Jesus.  
Our heavenly patron, Pope St. Pius X, encouraged frequent reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, and in his time, many people would only receive once per year, even though they attended Mass every Sunday.  There was, in his time, an over-exaggerated sense of sin and unworthiness to receive Jesus.  And so it was very important to encourage frequent, worthy reception of the Eucharist.  In our day, we have gone to the other extreme: the Eucharist is something that everyone who comes to Mass gets, even if they are truly unworthy and should not receive.  Only Catholics in a state of grace, that is, not aware of any grave sins, should receive the Eucharist.  Those who skip Mass out of laziness, who have taken the Lord’s Name in vain, who have misused the beautiful gift of human sexuality, or who have lied in a serious way need to go to confession before they receive the Eucharist, otherwise, as St. Paul says, they eat and drink damnation upon themselves for receiving the Eucharist unworthily.  Our venial sins are forgiven by the reception of the Eucharist, but our grave or mortal sins need to be healed before we can receive Holiness Himself in the Sacrament of Sacraments.  Too often the line for the procession for the Eucharist is like a line of a drive thru at a fast food restaurant.  But the line for the Eucharist does not lead us to a Whopper or a Big Mac, but to our Lord, Savior, and Creator, Jesus Christ.

We should take as our model as we approach the Eucharist Mary, the Mother of God.  Mary shows us how to love Jesus in the Eucharist.  Mary shows us how to hold Jesus carefully as a mother with her child, in the Eucharist.  Mary shows us that, to hold Jesus, we should be doing all that we can to say yes to Jesus, and being reconciled with Him in the Sacrament of Penance if we have, in some major way, said no to Him.  As we celebrate Corpus Christi, may we rediscover a profound spirit of wonder and awe in the presence of Jesus, who each day around the world humbles Himself by changing bread and wine into His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.

14 May 2018

Our Hope in Christ, Assisted by Mary

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
This past Thursday I buried a brother; not a biological brother, but a brother priest.  Fr. Tom Butler was a priest of the Diocese of Lansing, and well-loved for his sense of humor that he shared with his parishioners and with us priests.  And while many of his jokes could not be told in a church, probably not even in polite company, there is one story for which I will always remember him.
Fr. Tom told this story at a regional penance liturgy at St. Anthony in Hillsdale, where he was pastor for many years.  Fr. Tom and his family were originally baptist, but converted to Catholicism.  His mother embraced the faith, but always found a relationship with our Blessed Mother difficult.  Fr. Tom’s brother passed away some years ago in the Dallas, Texas area.  It was a cold day, and so, at the end of the funeral, he and his mother stayed just inside the doors of the church while the casket was carried to the hearse.  As it happened, his mother turned a little, and was noticeably startled.  Fr. Tom asked his mom if she was alright, and she said yes.
A few weeks later, his mom called Fr. Tom.  She said, “Tom, do you remember your brother’s funeral?”  “Yes, mother,” he replied.  “Do you remember when your brother’s casket was put into the hearse, and I was startled?”  “Mother, are you ok?” Fr. Tom asked.  “Yes,” she said.  “When I was standing there, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder.  I thought it was you, but then when I turned, I saw Mary, the Blessed Mother standing next to me.  She said to me, ‘I’ll watch over your son until you can join him.’  Then she disappeared.”
Perhaps it’s not fair to tug at the heart strings on this day the we honor mothers and celebrate the Ascension of the Lord.  But this story is perfect for these two celebrations.  We all know that the Ascension is when Jesus went, Body and Soul, into heaven.  But the Ascension is also our hope, because where Christ has gone, we are meant to follow.  Jesus took our human nature, which He had united to Himself at the Annunciation, and brought it into heaven at the Ascension.  He showed us the way to get there: by following Him with all our heart, mind, and soul.  Because Jesus has gone to heaven, we hope that we can go there, too.
Hope is not mere optimism, a wish that things will go well.  Hope is the grasping of things unseen.  It is, as we might say, the already, but not yet.  Hope is being at the edge of victory, and only having to finish.  Hope is what belongs to us as baptized Christians.  Our hope is that if we have died with Christ in baptism, then we shall rise with Him to new life.  When we are baptized, God does all the work, and we have only to cooperate with His grace throughout our life to claim the prize of victory.  
And how do we cooperate with God’s grace?  Mary shows us how.  Our Blessed Mother watches over all of us, her sons and daughters, and helps us grow closer to her Son.  Mary always said “yes” to God, and that’s how we take our hope and make it a reality.  It’s as simple and as complicated as that: say “yes” to God in all the decisions of our life.  And if we don’t say “yes” to God, Mary, as our loving Mother, picks us up, cleans off our wounds, and encourages us to try again.
Sometimes it may seem like we give Mary too much honor, and go to her too much.  That is often the complaint from our Protestant brothers and sisters.  Some accuse us of worshipping her, which we don’t; we worship God alone, but we honor Mary, the Mother of God.  But think about it this way: Jesus loved Mary, and Jesus’ love is infinite.  So there’s no amount of love that we can give to Mary that would ever even come close to rivaling the love that Jesus showed her.  
And Mary, free from all sin, does not let that honor stay with her.  Because she is the first and only perfect disciple, Mary always takes whatever honor we give her, and directs it toward her Son.  Mary has no selfishness, no pride, no ego that would cause her to take something away from God.  Her soul, as she herself said, proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

So today, as we celebrate the Ascension and Mother’s Day, we celebrate our hope of eternal life in Christ, and our Blessed Mother who helps us make our hope a reality.  Never be afraid to run to Mary to help you make Christ’s life your own in your daily experiences.  Never be afraid to run to your Blessed Mother when you fall down in sin; she will help pick you up and direct you to the forgiveness that God gives to His children.  Cling to that hope that belongs to us as children of God, that where Christ has gone, we are meant to go, too.  If we die with Christ, we will live with Christ, and if we live with Christ daily, then we will reign with Christ for eternity, in the kingdom of heaven, where our human nature is seated at the right hand of the Father in Christ.  

06 May 2018

"Love is in the Air"

Sixth Sunday of Easter
     So clearly, St. John is focusing on love this weekend.  Our second reading, from the first Letter of St. John, says "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God."  And in the Gospel, also from St. John, we heard, "'As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love....This is my commandment; love one another as I love you.'"  As John Paul Young sang, "Love is in the air."
     And this weekend, as we have our second grade students receive their first Holy Communion, we celebrate what love is: love is the gift of self.  Jesus gives Himself in the Eucharist because He wants to remain with us, so that we can remain with Him.  And if we remain with Him, our joy will be complete.
   
 Love, as seen in the Eucharist, is a sacrifice.  We are so often told by basically every secular source, that love is about me.  Love is supposed to make me happy.  Love is a good feeling that I have with another.  Love completes me.  But that's not what Jesus shows us in the Eucharist.  What Jesus shows us in the Eucharist is that love is concerned with making the other person happy; love sometimes is not accompanied by any good feelings; love is about helping the other get to heaven.
   Because in the Eucharist, we receive Jesus' sacrifice of His own life on the cross.  In the Eucharist we receive Jesus' Body and Blood which was poured out for the one He loves, His Bride, the Church (that's us!).  If love was about the self, Jesus would not have died for us.  If love was about feeling good, Jesus would not have been crucified.  As St. John says, "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins."
     Love is difficult; it's not easy.  Love is difficult even when the beloved loves you.  It's always a joy to celebrate anniversaries of couples at Mass.  When I see a couple that has been married for 25, 40, 50, or even 60 years, I see their joy and happiness with each other.  What I don't see on those days are the days that they maybe weren't so in love with each other, the days when maybe they didn't have good feelings towards each other, the days when the maybe they wanted to kill each other (metaphorically speaking, of course...I hope).  Because we are human we fail at love, because we have a tendency to be selfish, which is the opposite of love.  We are afraid to be selfless, because we are afraid that the love we express will not be returned.  That's part of what makes love so beautiful: it requires great vulnerability.
     But love is even more difficult when the beloved does not love you, even if it's just temporary.  Parents know this all too well: those moments when your own child says that they hate you, that you're a bad parent, that they never want to talk to you again, because you took away their iPhone, or grounded them for bad behavior.  Kinds don't usually mean it, they are generally just taking out their frustration.  But sometimes we do find people that generally have o love for us, who maybe even wish us ill.  But we are still called to love them.
     Love doesn't mean letting them engage in destructive behavior, or letting them do anything they want.  That's not love, that's apathy, not caring either way.  But loves means  we do what's best for the beloved, even if it's not appreciated or understood.
     Jesus tells us that love means laying down our life for our friends.  If anyone could say that, Jesus could, as the following day (this Gospel recounts what happened at the Last Supper), Jesus would lay down His life for His friends, the Apostles, for His Blessed Mother, and even for those who hated Him.  Whenever I hear this passage I think of our military personnel who lay down their life for our country, even if laying down their lives doesn't mean paying the ultimate sacrifice, but is led out by delaying their own plans for life, being away for their families, and daily doing jobs that many others never want to to.  I also think of our police officers, and specifically for me our State Troopers.  Law enforcement personnel daily also lay down their lives for the citizens that they serve.  Sometimes they, too, pay the ultimate price and sacrifice their lives.  Other times it's the nights or days that they're away from their families, interacting with people with whom most other people would rather not come into contact, and running towards danger while everyone else is running away.
     The reason why we especially honor veterans and first responders is because they show love in a way that many of us could not even fathom.  But mom and dads also sacrifice greatly; employees sacrifice for the good of their company; kids sometimes also know how to sacrifice for others in simple, yet profound ways, like sharing a favorite snack with a friend who doesn't have much food.  Love is not only a vocation for the great, it is a vocation for everyone.
     So as we who are prepared to receive the Eucharist today come forward, may we be inspired by love.  Not by a false sense of love which focuses on the self, but on true love that focuses on sacrificing for the good of the beloved.  May the sacrifice of love that we receive in the Body and Blood of Jesus help us to live out Jesus' message that we hear from St. John: love.

30 April 2018

It's About the Yes

Fifth Sunday of Easter
It’s a sad reality that talk is often cheap.  This is not universal, but is especially true in our Western culture.  We need a contract for everything.  When planning for my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I wanted to go with a local group from Palestine.  However, they’re not big on contracts, and as an American that makes me leery.  Because I have been to the Holy Land before, I know that, in the Middle Eastern culture, a person’s word is everything, and if they do not live up to what was agreed, that person can lose everything, including his honor.  But I also know that, as Americans, we like to have things in writing.  So instead of going with a more local group, I went with an American tour company that has pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
St. John reminds us that we are called to love, not only “in word or speech but in deed and truth.”  It’s very easy to say that we follow Jesus, but do our actions back up what our mouths say?  In fact, St. John goes on to say that loving Jesus means keeping His commandments.  If we do this, then the Holy Spirit remains in us.  On the contrary, if we don’t keep Jesus’ commandments, then we lack a reality of the life of Christ.
John could say this because He heard Jesus say what was in our Gospel today, which is also from St. John.  Jesus told us that we need to stay connected to Him, as branches with the vine.  It’s not enough to say that we’re branches, we have to truly remain connected to Jesus.  If we are not connected, we’ll waste away and be good for nothing else then burning.  If, however, we stay connected to Jesus, then we’ll bear fruit that proves that we not only profess faith in Jesus, but also live in the way He shows us.
Words do mean, something, however.  They are cheap if they are not followed up by actions, but they can also be profound if they are connected to action.  For example, a relatively recent Pope wrote about the dangers facing society.  He warned against increased dangers of marital infidelity, and a lowering of moral standards.  He warned about how easy it is for young people to be tempted, and how they need to be taught how to live the moral law.  He also warned of a lack of respect for women, and how men could so easily make them objects of the satisfaction of their desires, rather than an equal partner “whom he should surround with care and affection.”  This pope wrote about these dangers 50 years ago, in 1968.  And in many ways, his prophecy, his words spoken from God, have come true.  It is more and more common for spouses to cheat on each other; I don’t think anyone would argue that morality has decreased over the past 50 years; young people more and more don’t know how to live the moral law, and are exposed to grave evils at younger and younger ages; and women are seen more and more not as people, equal in dignity and respect, but as tools to satisfy lust.  
These words were penned by Pope Bl. Paul VI.  And he wrote this in his very famous, and often derided, Encyclical, Humanae vitae.  This summer we celebrate 50 years since the promulgation of this prophetic document about human life.  I know it is a very contentious document, but Bishop Boyea has asked us to preach about it this weekend.  I think that one reason it is so often seen as negative is because it seems to simply say no to artificial contraception.  In fact, it actually talks about the great value of human life, something that needs to be reinforced, especially in light of the Alfie Evans’ recent.  Many people think that all the Church says is “no.”  But in fact, while the Church does say no, that no means an ability to say yes to other goods.
The Church teaches that all artificial contraception is gravely wrong, not because it can spread out childbirth, which can be a moral decision, but because the marital act between a woman and a man is meant to be a full gift of self, and artificial contraception of any kind means holding back one aspect of the gift of self, the ability to conceive, and makes that moment a lie, because one is not truly giving his or her entire self.  
But again, we can see it as no.  But in fact, sometimes, in order to say yes to a good, we have to say no to other lesser goods.  Think about when a man marries a woman.  That man, in marriage, is saying no to every other woman that has ever or will ever come along.  He is forsaking that special relationship of marriage with any other woman (and vis versa for a woman towards other men).  But I have never met a man who is so focused on the no to other women.  He is focused on the yes to that one woman.  He can’t say yes to that one woman without saying no to all others.  But it doesn’t meant it’s about the no.  It’s about the yes.
And look at what has happened with the ubiquitousness of contraception: we have a lower sense of morality, marriages break apart more and more, and we have recently seen the epidemic of men treating women in a way that is beneath the dignity and respect that they deserve.  Pope Bl. Paul VI’s words have been followed up by actions, a reality that is sad and has caused no small amount of pain in the lives of perhaps most families in America.

Today the Lord challenges us to not simply say that we will follow Him, but to actually do it, including in the ways that we regulate the size of our families.  May we not be focused on all the things we give up by following Jesus in word and deed, but in all the greater yeses that are made possible by following Jesus “in deed and truth.”

23 April 2018

Unexpected Pastures

Fourth Sunday of Easter
This Sunday of Easter is called Good Shepherd Sunday, and it’s not hard to understand why: our Gospel today comes from the Gospel according to John where Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd.  I think that we all see the necessity of Jesus leading us, like a shepherd, and, in fact, probably the most popular Psalm in the Bible is Psalm 23, which usually is remembered for it’s first line, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  
A shepherd is someone who leads us, and sometimes we don’t want to be led.  Often we want to lead ourselves, to determine our own direction and our own destinies.  But we proclaim this weekend that God is the one who is supposed to lead us.  Without God we would be lost and in danger, like sheep without a shepherd.  There are many other hirelings who tell us that they will lead us to good places, but Jesus reminds us today that they run away when danger comes, and they often do not lead us where we truly want to go.

I know in my own life Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has led me places I never imagined I would go.  If I simply think about my assignments as a priest, when I was meeting with Bishop Boyea to be approved for ordination to be a priest, I was wondering where he would send me.  The parishes I thought would be open for a newly-ordained priest would be Queen of the Miraculous Medal in Jackson (where I had interned as a seminarian), St. Gerard in Lansing (where I had lived for a summer in college), St. Thomas Aquinas/St. John Church & Student Center in East Lansing (where I went to middle school and where I had spent a couple of summers in college), and St. John the Evangelist in Fenton, where I was then serving as a deacon.  In my heart, I wanted to stay at St. John the Evangelist in Fenton, as I had grown to love that community, and knew how things operated with Fr. Harvey.  But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, through Bishop Boyea, sent me to St. Thomas Aquinas in East Lansing.  Even though it wasn’t my first choice, I had a great four years in East Lansing, made some lifelong friends, and learned a lot about parish ministry.
Then, when my first four years were coming to a close, I thought I might become an administrator in a new parish.  There were a number of parishes that were open, but none of them really jumped out at me as a place for which I should apply.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, through Bishop Boyea, sent me to St. Joseph in Adrian, on the outskirts of the Diocese of Lansing.  I had never even really visited Adrian before.  And yet, the people of St. Joseph became near and dear to my heart and it was a good, two-year assignment which helped me learn how to be a pastor.
In my second year in Adrian, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, through Bishop Boyea, again led me somewhere I never imagined to go: Flint.  I was very happy in Adrian, but Bishop Boyea said that, because of other moves, he needed me to go to St. Pius X.  I told him that if that’s where God wanted me, then that’s where I would go.  We have certainly had our struggles here at St. Pius X since I arrived, but I love it here, and I love you, my parish family.
In each of my moves, the Good Shepherd has taken me to pastures I never expected.  And in each move, I have found blessings more than I ever would have expected at places that maybe I thought I would do well.  And that extends even beyond my parish assignments: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, continues to guide my formation as a priest.  That is greatly impacted by Bishop Boyea, my immediate shepherd, who, I know, loves me (as he does all his priests), but also challenges me (as he does with all his priests) to grow.
The People of God, the laity, are also called to grow in ways, sometimes that they never expected, and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, exercises his role as Shepherd through His priests.  This is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  Each vocation is a gift from God, and whether a person receives the Sacrament of Matrimony, makes vows in consecrated life, or receives the Sacrament of Holy Order, each is called to build up the Church, along with those perhaps not in one of those vocations temporarily or permanently.  But priests in a special way help make the Church.  Without priests, we do not have the ordinary way that God forgives our sins in the Sacrament of Penance, and without priests, we are not strengthened to live our universal vocation to be saints through the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  
And yet, some parents, or other family members, discourage their sons, grandsons, nephews, etc., to answer God’s call to become a priest.  As far as I know, no son of St. Pius X has ever been ordained a priest, or has even entered the seminary.  That is a very sad statistic.  Priesthood is not always easy; it is a sacrifice; and it requires a real man to step up and give his life away for the good of the People of God.  But it is also rewarding beyond any measure that I ever expected.  And I cannot imagine my life doing anything else (yes, that even includes being a police officer).  
So what can we do?  If you have a son or multiple sons, encourage them to think and pray about becoming a priest.  Always include it as an option for a future.  The same goes for if you have grandsons or nephews.  If you don’t, or can’t think of anyone who would be a good priest, then pray for the Holy Spirit to call one of the sons of St. Pius X to consider this vocation, maybe even if it’s simply trying out the seminary.  And pray for that man to be open to the Holy Spirit’s voice.  Another great way to promote the priesthood is to live married life faithful to the call in Holy Matrimony: a life of prayer, sacrifice for the other, and holiness.  Good priests come from good families.  

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who sends us places sometimes we never expect.  He also sends us shepherds who care for us and help us to follow Him.  Pray for more men to respond to the call of priesthood: to a life of sacrifice, yes,  but also a life of great joy spent in imitation of the Good Shepherd, who calls us all to be saints, and leads us to green pastures.

26 March 2018

Jesus is Alive!

Easter Vigil & Easter Sunday
The thought had crossed my mind, but apparently someone put up a billboard on 23 that says something like, “Jesus is dead.  April fools!”  I have to admit, it is a little weird that Easter falls on April Fools Day.  But as we assemble to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection, we should ask ourselves if we truly believe that Jesus is alive.  And if we believe it, is that belief evident in our actions?
It’s very easy to treat Jesus like we treat any other deceased teacher or famous figure.  Someone recently told me that a lot of young people today see Jesus in the same light as Mahatma Ghandi, or Abraham Lincoln, or Socrates, that is, that they were good people, who taught and did good things, but now they’re gone, and relegated to history books and their writings.  Jesus is simply one of a long list of teachers and do-gooders who have graced the earth with their presence.  
But there is a major difference: Mahatma Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, and Socrates, along with all the other teachers and good people, are all dead.  Jesus is alive, and we know it because His disciples, who, as our Gospel relates, were not looking for Him to be alive, saw the risen Jesus.  We can joke about “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” (because Ulysses S. Grant is actually in a sarcophagus above ground), but the tomb of Jesus is empty.  I have seen it, and there’s no one there.
I think it can be easy at times to treat Jesus like a deceased relative that we loved dearly.  We like to remember that person; we probably have a nice picture of that person in our home.  Maybe we even talk to that person from time to time.  I know I have a picture of my deceased grandmother in my home, as well as the pictures of other friends who have died in my office.  And we do profess by faith in our funeral Masses that, for the faithful, life is changed, not ended.  But with Jesus it’s even more dramatic.  His Body and Soul and united and He is active in the world.  
And it’s not just that he’s alive in the people who believe in Him, in their hearts and in their minds.  He’s more alive than that.  People saw Him, touched Him, heard Him, and ate with Him.  And we can, too.  
I think about my friends who are alive, and the way I think of them, versus how I think of my deceased relatives.  There’s a difference.  I’m not sure I can quite explain it, but there is.  You probably know what I’m talking about.  But when we think of Jesus, in which category do we put Jesus: our alive friends, or our deceased relatives?
So what does it look like to actually believe and act as if Jesus is alive?  What are some of the ways that others can know that we believe Jesus is alive?  One way is by our actions.  St. Paul (in our second reading) encouraged us to put away the old yeast, “the yeast of malice and wickedness,” and to live with the new “bread of sincerity and truth.”  If Jesus is alive, then He encourages us and strengthens us by the power of the Holy Spirit to live in a new way, a way that patterns our life on the life of Jesus.  We reject hatred, we reject vengeance, we reject evil desires, and we live for honesty, for love, for forgiveness, and for virtue.  
I don’t know about you, but I also talk about my friends who are alive a lot more than I talk about my deceased relatives.  Yes, we talk about the deceased especially around holidays.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  But we tend to tell stories about what we do with our friends, our communications with our friends, and how much we value our friendship especially when that friend is still alive.  I’m sure I bore people to death with some of my stories from ride alongs with my State Trooper friends.  There are things with other friends that seem funny to me that make no sense to people who don’t know my friends.  And I often will sing the praises of friends who help pick me up when I’m feeling down.  
Do we do the same with Jesus?  We might have to think about it, but we all have stories about times that we have spent with Jesus that are memorable.  Some of those stories may even sound crazy, but we know that it was Jesus and that He was there with us.  And how many times have we experienced the love of Jesus?  And yet, how often do we talk about that?  About ten chapters after our second reading, St. Paul also says to the people of Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins.  …If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.”  In other words, if Jesus is dead, if Jesus was just a good teacher who went the way of all the other good teachers, then redemption is not ours, and we are the most pathetic people.  

But Jesus is alive.  It’s not an April Fools joke.  Recommit yourselves this Easter to living like Jesus is alive: not only remembering Him on each Sunday as we come to Mass (that is important), but talking with Him, listening to Him, inviting Him to be a part of your life, talking about Him, and living a life like Jesus’ to the best of our ability.

The Power of the Cross

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
Baseball season is upon us.  Yesterday was supposed to be opening day for the Detroit Tigers, the 118th season, but it was rained out, so it was today.  Many baseball players, as they are walking up to Home Plate, do a quick sign of the cross before they bat.  On the one hand, it’s a nice witness to their Christian faith.  On the other hand, it’s often done so quickly, that it barely looks like a cross.  Sometimes we may fall into that same bad habit of quickly signing ourselves without recognizing the power that the cross has.
Often, when I’m thinking about Good Friday, I immediately think of the movie “The Passion of the Christ.”  And I vaguely remembered the crucifixion scene, so I watched it again.  I was overcome by emotions as I watched the very gruesome portrayal that was the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion.  After Jesus’ side had been pierced by the lance by the Roman soldier, the scene changes from Calvary to an unknown, dry ground, cracked from lack of water, with bones strewn about, and Satan in the middle, shrieking.  Satan, who had worked so hard to kill God, now realizes that by Jesus’ death on the cross, Satan himself had been defeated.
That is what happened on Good Friday, and that is why we call it “Good.”  The rule of the prince of this world, the devil, was defeated by the Prince of Peace, and the rule of unending sin was stopped.  And all of that happened by the cross.  
Later in the liturgy today we will kiss, genuflect, or bow before the cross.  As I come before the cross I will take off my chasuble and my boots as a sign of reverence.  When we pray the Stations of the Cross, we say, “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”  Probably at least some of us remember in Catholic schools writing a cross at the top of each paper.  
The cross has power because it is the instrument of the victory of Jesus.  Because we make the sign of the cross so often (at the beginning of our prayers, probably when we enter the church and bless ourselves with holy water), we may easily forget its power.  
The cross, as it did almost two thousand years ago, defeats Satan and all his fallen angels.  It protects us from all who want to do us harm.  St. John of Damascus writes in one prayer that he composed:

…let the demons perish before those who love God and sign themselves with the sign of the cross, saying with joy: Rejoice, most precious and life-giving cross of the Lord, who cast out demons by the might of Him Who was crucified upon you, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who descended into hades and trampled upon the power of the devil and gave you, His honorable cross to us, to banish all of our enemies.  O glorious and life-giving cross of the Lord, help me together with the holy Lady, Virgin Theotokos and all the saints unto all ages.  Amen.  

If you’re every feeling weighed down by sin, or feel like the devil is having his way with you, you can pray this prayer, and trusting in the power of the cross, know that you will be free.
The power of the cross of Christ also helps us to carry our daily crosses.  As I come before the cross, I not only bring my own crosses of my life, my struggles, my pain, my sin, but I also keep in mind your crosses, the struggles that people entrust to me, the sins that they confess to Christ through me, the pain that they ask me to ease by visits to their house or to the hospital and the prayers and I saw for them, especially when I anoint them.  This year I bring the pain of loss with the death of my grandmother.  I also bring all the parishioners whom I have buried since last Good Friday, and the family members who remain.  I bring the misunderstandings that I have caused, or of which I have been the object.  I bring the struggles to do more with less, and the difficult decisions that I am responsible for making as pastor, especially when they affect others more than they affect me.  I say all this not to gain your pity, but to proclaim to you that when I lay them at the foot of the cross of the Lord, the burden is lighter, and I am strengthened to carry my cross.
God can give you the same strength, too.  You have many crosses that I don’t know about, and I will never know the weight of some of the crosses you carry.  But I promise you that if they are united to the cross of Jesus, then you don’t carry them alone, but Jesus carries them with you so that whatever in your crosses is due to sin, to death, to Satan, may be defeated by Christ in you.  

So may our witness to the cross be strong, be purposeful, and be public.  May the power of the cross scatter any darkness in our lives, cast out any evil spirits who wish to harm us, and gain for us the grace of perseverance in the faith so that we may be made worthy of the gift of salvation that was won for us by Jesus’ death on the cross.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Mass of the Lord’s Supper
One of my major complaints about movies today is that Hollywood no longer knows how to tell a new story.  Many of the movies that have come out recently are either telling a story that’s already been told (like in a comic book), or continuing with a story that was told earlier (like the new Star Wars movies).  I was recently chastised by an older friend who was appalled both that I liked the new “True Grit,” and that I had never seen the original “True Grit” with John Wayne.  
But the great things about the movies that stick with us is that they tell a timeless tale.  In any movie that works, there is a decisive event, which leads to a challenge, and that challenge must be overcome to find success.  As I understand literature, the comedies are the stories where the success involves the life of the hero; tragedies are the stories where the success involves the death of the hero.
Human redemption is not simply a story, but it is the basis for all good stories.  Salvation history, writ large, is about the decisive event (the Fall of Adam and Eve), and God reconciling humanity (quite a big challenge because of our stubbornness and our attraction to sin), and God overcoming our challenge by the Death of His Son, Jesus.  Of course, in Jesus, we find both tragedy and comedy, as Jesus both dies, but then lives again.  
In salvation history, redemption is always tied up with death, either literal or metaphorical.  In our first reading, we hear about the redemption of Israel from the slavery of Egypt by the death of the lamb, which also saves them from the death of the first born, the tenth and most drastic plague.  And as Jesus institutes the Eucharist (which St. Paul talks about in the second reading), He gives His apostles a way to connect, not only simply to remember, but to connect to His death, which He anticipates in His early celebration of the Passover.  Perhaps that is why God inspired the Psalmist to say: “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.”  Psalm 116 seems to see the necessary connection between death and redemption.
The Eucharist is precisely redemption given to us as food and drink.  In the Eucharist, Calvary is given to us under the appearance of bread and wine as Jesus gives His Body and Blood for us.  That is why the Church asks that a crucifix occupy a most central place in the sanctuary: so that we can see and be drawn to the love that we receive on our tongues and in our hands.  
Redemption involves death, but God turns death on its head so that death actually becomes an opportunity for life.  We will see this on Saturday night and Sunday, but we also see it in Jesus washing His apostles’ feet.  Jesus does not literally die when He washes the apostles’ feet, but He dies to elevating oneself and what should be.  He is the Lord, they are they servants, and yet He makes Himself their servant.  He is the Rabbi, they are the disciples, but His teaching involves elevating them, rather than Himself, and then He says that just as He has done, so they should do.
Bishop Boyea washes Fr. Anthony's foot at his
presbyteral ordination
It is easy to pass over (if you’ll pardon the pun) the depth of this event.  Every Holy Thursday we hear about Jesus’ washing His apostles’ feet, about Simon Peter resisting because it’s unbecoming, but then overcompensating by saying he wants his hands and head as well.  But remember this: Jesus would wash the feet of Peter, who would, that same night, deny even knowing Jesus.  Peter would not die to his fear, to his pride, and so death, which is what sin is, would enter his soul.  Judas also had his feet washed, the same Judas who that same night would find the temple guards and lead them to Jesus to betray Him.  Everything in Jesus’ human will must have screamed against treating Judas, the betrayer apostle, the same as John, the beloved apostle.  But He died to that temptation so that He could live in obedience to the Father.
It would be to facile to simply say, “serve others.”  What Jesus did on Holy Thursday, in the washing of the feet and the institution of the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood, is much stronger than “do good for others.”  Jesus invites us to be a part of the grand story, the grand reality, of our redemption.  But as we are reminded, redemption, our own redemption, involves death.  Perhaps the death of our bodies (there continue to be armies of martyrs crowned with the palm of victory), but more likely the death of our wills, where we let go of what we want, where we let go of what the world says is right, and we hold on to dear life to the will of God, which is often not what we want and not what the world says is right.  

Tonight we have the opportunity not only to remember what Jesus did, not only to recall our redemption in Christ, but also to actually participate in our redemption.  As we receive the Eucharist, we receive Jesus’ death for us.  And if we allow the Eucharist to do the work that it is meant to do, we can participate in the great story of human redemption.

Alone

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Our Gospels today relate a circumstance we know all too well: when things are going well and you’re on top of the world, your friends are happy to be with you.  But as soon as things go south, you are all alone.  It’s like when you’re young and you have friends over to your house: they’re happy to be with you to have a good time, but as soon as you hear your parents say your first name followed by your middle name, all the sudden your friends scatter and it’s just you having to face what you know will be at least a stern talking to by your parent.
Jesus enters Jerusalem, as we heard in the Gospel proclaimed at the blessing of palms, with lots of people, cheering Him on.  But when Jesus is arrested, and eventually led away to be crucified, it is only a few friends (by varying accounts the Blessed Mother, St. John the Apostle, St. Mary Magdalen, and a few others) who stand by Jesus.
Death is something that is a part of life which makes us feel alone.  Generally, no one else experiences it with us, even if there are people standing around us at the time of death.  We can never experience death for another person.  As much as we might sympathize, and as much as there are common factors, death will be a unique experience for each one of us.
So it makes sense, as Jesus dies on the cross, that He says, as we heard in today’s psalm, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus, in His human nature, feels alone, abandoned by God, as He dies.  He experiences everything we do, except without sin, including the individuality of dying.  Of course, for Jesus, death is not part and parcel of His existence.  Jesus is God, the source of life, Life Incarnate, so death is not merely something which makes so little sense, it is the antithesis of who Jesus is.  Of course, God the Father does not truly abandon Jesus at the hour of His death, as Jesus truly takes up His cross, any more than God abandons us when we are faced with the cross.  But Jesus feels like He is alone, as He empties Himself and dies on the cross.
The cross is the other place where we feel alone.  When I say cross here, I’m talking about our suffering, our challenges, especially the ones that touch us at the deepest levels of our human nature.  Whether it’s a big cross or a small cross to outsiders, each cross is heavy to the person carrying it, to the person dying on it.  Carrying the cross, on the cross, is where the person feels alone, abandoned, perhaps even by God.  The cross is the way that we, too, like Jesus, are invited to empty ourselves.  Our pride tells us to hold on to ourselves, to puff up ourselves, but the cross is the great deflator.  
Of course, we don’t have to carry or die on our crosses.  We always have the choice to say no to the cross.  But in saying no to the cross, we say no to the Resurrection.  The cross empties us, as St. Paul talks about in the second reading.  The cross humbles us.  But in emptying us and humbling us, we finally have room for God, who will not leave us empty and debased, but will raise us up, just as He did for Jesus.
Because we are human, our tendency is to run away from the cross.  We are afraid of its weight, and that God will abandon us as we carry it and die on it.  The cross, which is also to say dying to ourselves, is painful.  But it is the only way that we can allow God to raise us up, to conquer our sin and death and give us holiness and life.  And God will not abandon us, even if it feels that way, when we suffer.  

So I invite you not to abandon Jesus, just as He didn’t abandon you.  All this week we have an opportunity to be with Jesus as He suffers, to tell Jesus with our actions that He is not alone.  Come to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night at 7 p.m. as Jesus institutes the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood, and is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Come to our Good Friday Liturgy at 2 p.m., as Jesus dies on the cross, and to Tenebrae at 8 p.m., as He is laid in the tomb.  Embrace Jesus’ Passion, Cross, and Death, so that you can share in His Resurrection.