15 October 2018
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Christmas is slightly more than 10 weeks away. As a priest, that makes me say: oh my! Now, when I was a kid, that meant it was time to start picking through the toy catalogues from different stores to see what I wanted for Christmas presents. I have no idea why, but there were years where I wanted a Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll (I was a weird child, I guess). But I focused my attention pretty quickly on what I wanted.
What do you want? What do you desire? We’re really good at asking God for things that we want. Some are as frivolous as a Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll; others are more enduring like love, health, and good friends. King Solomon, the traditional author of the Book of Wisdom whence our first reading came today, asked for prudence and wisdom. As we hear in the Second Book of Samuel, he didn’t pray for gold, for a long reign, or for the death of his enemies, but for the gifts that were truly necessary to be a good king. Prudence is that virtue that tells us when, to whom, and how to do the right thing. Wisdom is that virtue that tells us what to do, what that right thing is.
In the Gospel we heard today, a man goes to Jesus desiring to go to heaven. He, like King Solomon, didn’t want passing things. He wanted eternal life. Jesus tells him to obey the commandments. “Yep. Got it,” he says. And then Jesus “loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” Jesus presses to the place where his desire for heaven stops, and in this case, it was his money.
I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have parts of our life that we are not quite comfortable giving to Jesus. Those parts probably change during our lives, but they’re there, nonetheless. We all can say (I hope) at a surface level, “I want to go to heaven.” But then that desire bumps into another desire, and we find out what we value more: heaven or the other thing. Today’s Gospel is not so much about having money (though it can easily be an obstacle to our relationship with God). It’s about whatever it is that we value more than our relationship with God and our goal of going to heaven.
If you wonder if you have anything that you value more than heaven, then think about how you would feel if it God asked you to give it up in order to go to heaven. Maybe it’s control (or what we consider control) of our life. Some people, like me, like to have things planned out and have a particular direction. If God asked me to give that up, that would be difficult for me. God may not ask me to give control up, but if I’m not willing to give it up, then I’m not ready for heaven. What if God asked you to give up your family? It should make you sad (if losing your family makes you happy, we need to talk!). But could you do that for God? People do. People who convert to Catholicism, especially in the Middle East, are sometimes disowned by family members. What if God asked you to give up all your money? Could you do that for God? Could you do that to gain eternal life if Jesus asked you to, like he asked the man in today’s Gospel? How about your political affiliation? If God asked you to stop being a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or whatever so that you could go to heaven, could you do that? Sadly, too often I know people who are more committed to a political platform than to their faith. Whatever it is, if we desire it more than we desire God, than we desire eternal union with Him in heaven, Jesus invites us to give it up to find true and eternal happiness.
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures -
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
08 October 2018
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
|My sister, Allison, |
and her fiancé, Tom
My youngest sister, Allison, is getting married in March. This is the first and only wedding that I’ll have the chance to do for one of my siblings (unless, God-forbid, a spouse dies), since my other sister, Amanda, got married before I was a priest. Of course, in all of the prep, there’s the wedding questions about the Mass, the dress, the tuxedos or suits, the reception, the food, and whom to invite. As a priest, I see lots of different options for how weddings are celebrated. I will say that entertainment and mass media has increased the ideas that people have (some good, some bad) for what their wedding should look like.
What almost never gets considered, or is given only a small consideration, is how the Church, the Bride of Christ, views the wedding and, more importantly, the marriage. We hear about marriage in our first reading and Gospel today, but before I get there, I do want to take the opportunity to say that the Church expects certain things even from the wedding, ways that our Catholic understanding of marriage is expressed. But just having a wedding in a church is a big part of that. A wedding is not a ceremony whose goal is to make the couple look as much like royalty as possible. A wedding is supposed to be in a Catholic church (unless the bride or groom would find such a location offensive due to their Jewish or Muslim faith) because marriage is a sacred covenant, an agreement between the couple, yes, but also between the couple and God. And a church is a place where God dwells in a way that God doesn’t dwell on a beach, in a fancy barn, or anywhere else.
But, back to the readings. In our first reading we hear about God creating marriage. It’s not explicit, but God creates Eve for Adam, as an equal partner, to compliment him. Man and woman are different (I know that, for many of us, that’s common sense, but in today’s culture, saying that man and woman are different is quite shocking!). And in creating Eve to be with Adam, God creates marriage. And since God created marriage, and since God does always what is for our good, we see in Adam and Eve a pattern with which we have no authority to tinker. Marriage cannot be one man and two women; it cannot be one woman and two men; it cannot be two people of the same sex. That doesn’t sound loving, but everything God does for us is an act of love, and Scripture makes it very clear how God created marriage.
Now, throughout the Old Testament, God continued to reveal more about how He created marriage. But, sometimes the message got muddled. And that’s where our Gospel comes in. The Pharisees ask Jesus if, as Moses said, divorce is still allowed in following Jesus. Jesus had overturned a lot of what the Pharisees thought was right, and so they’re seeing if he’s upending marriage, too. Moses allowed a husband to divorce his wife for certain reasons, including infidelity. But Jesus clarifies: man and woman in marriage are no longer two, but one flesh, joined by God. So what God has joined together, no one must separate.
As radical as it now sounds to say that two men or two women cannot be married in the eyes of God and His Church, it was that radical in the time of Jesus to say that divorce could not happen. This was not an easy statement. It was very counter-cultural. But Jesus, who is God, who is Love Incarnate, tells us this so that we can truly be happy.
This is, I’m sure, where all sorts of objections come to our mind. When we think about how the Church does not allow or recognize homosexual marriage, maybe we think it’s not fair to have two people who feel a certain way for each other to deny them marriage. But marriage is ordered toward sex (as well as union and fidelity and the good of the spouses), and sex is ordered toward children. All the goods of marriage have to be present to be part of God’s plan. Older people get married, yes, but even sometimes older people conceive children; just ask Abraham and Sarah or Elizabeth and Zechariah. And God reveals in the Old and New Testament that only those who are married can have holy sex.
When we think about divorce and remarriage, sometimes people bring up cases of abuse, and say that the Church is saying they need to stay in those abusive relationships. We turn back to Genesis: Adam and Eve are co-equal partners, who are there to help each other. Abuse is not an example of helping each other. Marriages can be annulled if abuse happens, but even before that, the defense of self and/or one’s children is another basic part of God’s teaching. If you’re in an abusive relationship, God is not calling you to be a verbal or physical punching bag. Come to me, and I’ll help you to take care of your marriage situation.
Even if you’re not part of an abusive marriage that broke up, but simply divorced, I can help you examine if there was an obstacle that existed before you were married, even if it was only known after you got married. Or if you have questions about your marriage situation, I’ll be glad to help you understand it in the light of what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church so that you can be truly happy according to God’s plan. I’m not here to beat you up spiritually or emotionally even if your marriage is not what is part of God’s plan; I’m here to help you get to that place where your marriage reflects God’s vision for marriage.
There are a lot of groups that give us what they think is the key to a happy marriage. We see royal marriages, Hollywood marriages, and what some people call marriage but which are, in God’s eyes, not marriage. Go to the Creator of marriage to understand how to live this beautiful Sacrament. Go to what He has revealed through Scripture and the Church to understand how marriage truly works. It may be difficult; it may be counter-cultural. But, as it comes from the source of all true happiness and joy, it will make you truly happy and filled with joy.
05 October 2018
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometimes reading the Bible is difficult. Sometimes it’s difficult because of unique names. The two we had in the first reading, Eldad and Medad, aren’t too bad, but when you get to names like Melchisedech, Rehoboam, Abinadab, etc., it’s easy to see why some people get a little nervous. It’s also tough because some parts of the Bible are read differently than others. In some cases, we can follow the literal meaning that is easily recognizable at face value. Other times, God speaks more figuratively. And, if you’re just reading the text, you can’t always tell the difference. It’s not like there are brackets around the literal phrases and italics for the more figurative statements. But that’s why we have a Magisterium, an official teaching office entrusted to the Pope and the Bishops to help us understand how the Word of God is to be interpreted. And that’s why we offer Bible studies at our parish: to help you understand what the Word of God means.
While that part of our Gospel is not literal, our first reading can be taken literally. God sent His spirit, that He had previously bestowed on Moses, and gave it to seventy elders. God told the seventy to be in a certain spot to receive His spirit. Of course, two of the seventy didn’t make it, or didn’t get the message. So they were in the general camp, when they started prophesying. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, complains because they didn’t follow directions. But Moses said, “‘Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!’” Moses wanted, and God wants, all His people to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we might all be prophets, so that we might all speak God’s message. But perhaps we take this passage a bit too figuratively.
After all, we might say, the priests are the ones who are supposed to be prophets and speak God’s word. Or religious sisters; they’re supposed to be prophets and speak God’s word. Or missionaries in Africa and tropical islands: they’re supposed to be prophets and speak God’s word. That’s not us! But, that’s not what God is saying here. God is saying He wants us all to speak His message for Him. We can’t pawn it off on priests or deacons or sisters or missionaries. We are all called to be prophets, as I preached last Sunday.
But what, then, are we meant to say? I think all of us can start with the basics of Catholicism. And in case you’re rusty, here it is: we’re sinners; we cannot save ourselves; God sent His Son Jesus to save us from sin and death; Jesus did this by His Death and Resurrection; we can be saved by believing in Jesus and following Him; if we believe in Jesus and follow Him, we’ll be ready for heaven, which is perfect happiness and the goal of our life. That’s it.
And you know what? People need to hear it. People are generally miserable. Sometimes they hide it. Sometimes they try to distract themselves with temptations or shortcuts to happiness: sensual pleasure, power, and glory. All of them, but especially the first one, is the Johnny Lee song: “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” The second one is when we strive to be in control–of the world, of people, of work, of ourselves–when in fact we have control over almost nothing. The third one is about being known, being famous, being popular. And while all of them will give us pleasure, and may even distract us for a while, they will never give us true happiness.
And since this is what everybody needs, Bishop Boyea has proclaimed another Year of Prayer. This time the Year of Prayer is focused on helping us become a community of Missionary Disciples. Not just that we believe in Jesus (which is a necessary first step), but that we share that news for others. So, to be clear, when the Bible says would that all of God’s people were prophets, it’s not symbolic language, it’s not figurative language. God wants all of us to hear His message of salvation and truth; and then proclaim it to others. So go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!
24 September 2018
Solemnity of the Anniversary of the Dedication of St. Pius X Catholic Church
Ever since Vatican II, it has been vogue to say that the buildings don’t matter; that what matters is the people. Like all errors, it’s attractive because it’s partly true. But being partly true, it’s also partly false. Buildings do matter–the way they look, their shape, how they are decorated and adorned–because God uses material things to communicate His grace, His life. Our minds need order, and a building orders creation, and orders it for a particular use: for the worship of God. No other place helps us worship God more than a church, especially a beautiful one. Yes, seeing a sunset on Lake Michigan with the hues of pink and red against the blue background and white clouds is a way to experience God; no, it’s not the same as worshipping God in a church. Inside the church is better because God dwells here in a special way that He does not in nature.
And yet, the people do matter, because the building represents what the people are called to be: living stones in God’s temple. Some of us are more chiseled than others. But we are the stones that God uses to build His temple, built on the foundation of the apostles, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone, the stone that holds everything together. We are the church, just like this building is a church. And just like this building is ordered, not just stones randomly placed on each other, so the church is made up of different people with different roles, functions, and ministries, which keep the church going.
There are three ways that we rebuild the Church and are the stones that God wants us to be in His temple. And they are connected to our identity given to us in baptism to be priests, prophets, and kings.
Our identity as kings does not make us in line to become an earthly monarch like Princes William and Harry. Our identity as kings allows us to govern, not only our passions, but also to transform this world to look more like the Kingdom of God, in whose kingdom we are subjects by baptism. We are not all called to be politicians, but we are all called to transform this world in our day to day lives. That means we cannot settle for the common argument, “My faith tells me that X is wrong, but I don’t want to force my view on another.” One example shows how foolish that sentiment is: My faith tells me that murder is wrong, but I don’t want to force my view on another. If we really believe murder is wrong, then we should work as hard as we can, in many different ways, to prevent murder from happening. If it’s truly wrong, then it’s wrong for everyone, not just Catholics. To rebuild the Church, we cannot be satisfied with being Catholic only within the walls of this church. Our faith, strengthened by a worthy reception of the Eucharist, should exude from us in everything we do. We have too many part-time Catholics who only live their faith when they go to Mass, if they go to Mass. Live your life saturated with the teachings of Jesus. It will rebuild the Church.
As prophets, we are called to proclaim God’s Word. Prophets were not early fortune tellers, who told you what lottery numbers to play. Prophets spoke God’s Word, and told of what would happen if God’s Word was not obeyed. Jeremiah did it in the 7th century BC in Judah, when he told the people that they needed to live their faith out, especially in the treatment of the poor, widows, and orphans, or else the consequences were exile and destruction of the Temple. Very few, especially the princes, listened to Jeremiah, and so the people went into exile, and the Temple was destroyed. We, too, are called to speak God’s Word to others. We are called to do so charitably: “Stop X or you’ll go to Hell!” has rarely found a welcome ear. But letting others know how God’s law and the teachings of the Church help us to be happier people, that’s something people listen to, especially when spoken out of love. Live your life proclaiming the teachings of Jesus and His Mystical Body, the Church. It will rebuild the Church.
Last but not least is priest. Now, the priesthood of the baptized is different not only in grade but also in kind from the ministerial priesthood. But both are important. And being a priest by virtue of baptism means offering our daily sacrifices to God like a priest offering a sheep or goat in the Old Testament. The sacrifice that God desires from us is a contrite, humble heart. He wants us to recognize that He is God, and we are not. He wants us to do penance for our sins, and even the sins of others, so that God’s mercy, and not God’s judgement, may rain down from heaven. Sacrifice is not fun; it’s not easy; it always calls us to not do things we would like to do. But it’s how we live out our call to be priests. Not eating meat on Fridays was a sacrifice all Catholics used to do every week. Maybe we should return to that. Sacrificing five minutes of our time to pray is a great sacrifice. Praying for that person that drives us mad is a great sacrifice. Praying an extra rosary, reading the Bible, coming to daily Mass if we can, those are all sacrifices. Sacrificing time and energy and the things we love is not easy; it requires personal commitment. But living out your baptismal priesthood will rebuild the Church.
Today God says to each of us what He said to St. Francis of Assisi: rebuild by Church. By living out our vocation as priests, prophets, and kings, we can be shaped and chiseled into the living stones that build up God’s temple. It may hurt at times; it will always require a sacrifice; but without you, the People of God, the Church, living out this call, then the Church will remain in ruins, not destroyed, but not thriving, either. Rebuild God’s Church!
04 September 2018
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Usually every week, a different day each week, I get a phone call. Recently it’s been more local numbers, like from Lansing, Detroit, or somewhere in the area. I answer the call, and this is what I hear: (long pause); and then: hello, could I please speak with Mr. Strouse? I think if you own a phone, you get those calls, too, unless you just let them go to voicemail (which they never leave, of course).
We’re used to that news, because we’ve heard it for almost 2,000 years. But it’s pretty shocking. God, who is transcendent, made Himself sensible and limited. He knows what it’s like to be born, to be in a family, to be poor. He knows the heat of the day and the cold of the night, the fatigue of walking all day and the joy of reaching a destination. He knows the cool splash of water, and having a great meal fill His stomach. He knows what it is to be loved, but also what it is to be rejected. And He knows what it is to die, to experience excruciating pain. In any experience we have, we know that God understands us, even better than we do ourselves.
And that’s a great comfort. When we’re sick, when we’re tired, when we’re lonely, when we’re supported by family, when we make a new friend, when we complete a job; all these things the Lord Jesus knows intimately. He never abandons us. And God desires to be so close to us that He gives us the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the co-eternal Son of God, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, so that He can dwell inside us, just like in a tabernacle here in the church. That’s great news!!
And yet, we can sometimes be like the telemarketers who call us but who don’t respond. God gives us this great gift, and we’re unresponsive, or, even worse, apathetic. St. James tells us today that we are to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” We’re often good at hearing. We often stink at doing.
We are part of the way that God’s work, the ministry of Jesus, continues today. The Holy Spirit gives us His gifts to continue the work of Jesus. God doesn’t need us, as if we didn’t exist nothing could happen. And yet God humbles Himself to allow us to bring His presence to others. He gives us His grace so that we can continue that closeness with His people. His Spirit fills us with His life (what we call grace) so that when His children are sick, tired, lonely, celebrating, making new friends, completing a job, etc., they feel His presence and His love through us. Sometimes, too, God wants us to challenge others with the power of His Spirit. When we see something happening that is not right, we are not called to be tattletales, but are called to address the wrong.
People are rightfully upset about the reports coming out that other bishops knew about Archbishop McCarrick and the evils he perpetrated, and yet they did nothing. There seems to be some evidence that even Pope Francis knew. And we are justifiably and righteously angry about that. But it should also become an opportunity for us ask if we have looked the other way in our own circumstances when we have seen evil done: evil like cheating or stealing from a company; greed; harassment; inappropriate jokes; and more. We have to be prudent about when to address wrongs and how to address them, but how often are we content to be hearers only of this message of repentance, and not doers ourselves?
God is close to us. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. And Jesus makes Himself present to us in a special way by humbling Himself each day by becoming incarnate, once more, in the Eucharist, in His Body and Blood that look like bread and wine. But God, who strengthens us with His grace and His presence, wants us not only to enjoy His presence, but to spread it to others, to help others experience how close the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
27 August 2018
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
So the second week of August was not a great week for me. It was one of those weeks, I know you’ve had them, where everything seemed to come together, but not in a good way, but in a way that kept draining me emotionally and spiritually. I had my regular responsibilities of taking care of parishioners, which is both something that gives me joy and something that tires me out, and then my grandmother was dying (she passed away on Tuesday, 7 August), and then the news came out about Archbishop McCarrick and how he is accused of abuse of minors and engaging in homosexual relationships with seminarians and priests. I buried my grandmother on Friday, 10 August, buried a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist in Davison on Saturday (because their church wasn’t available). Then the weekend schedule, then continuing with my usual parish duties with a few hospital visits, and also working with the State Police trying to comfort a woman whose husband had just committed suicide and left her four children fatherless. And then the grand jury report came out of Pennsylvania, talking about the horrific crimes perpetrated against children, some which could best be described by the word diabolical. Let’s just say my emotional and spiritual tank were running on E.
Bishop Mengeling, when he was still bishop of Lansing, would often say that he quit frequently, usually at the end of the day. And I can honestly say that at points, especially as the news about Archbishop McCarrick and the priests in Pennsylvania came out, I wondered what sort of organization I was working for, and whether it was worth it. I don’t mind all the work, and in fact I love helping others find God in difficult times, especially sickness and death when God seems so absent. But to hear about so many brother priests who were priests in name only, who did not serve God’s people but preyed on them, that just killed my morale.
So today’s Gospel really hit home. Jesus is finishing with what we call His Bread of Life Discourse. He has told the people that unless they eat His flesh and drink His blood, they do not have life within them. He has told them that what He is giving them is even more precious than the manna that God gave them in the desert. And what do His disciples, those who followed Jesus, do? “‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’” And they mostly leave.
What’s interesting is that Jesus doesn’t stop them; He doesn’t run after them to say that they misunderstood, that they were thinking about eating human flesh, when He was talking about the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine. He doesn’t even expand His teaching where He is. If it were a numbers game, Jesus was not doing what He should have to keep His attendance high. All Jesus does is ask the Twelve, the Apostles, “‘Do you also want to leave?’” And honestly, in the midst of my fatigue, my lack of energy, my disgust at people who betrayed Jesus and misused the sacred office entrusted to them by Jesus, I felt like Jesus asked me, “Do you also want to leave?”
There are a million reasons to leave the Church. In heaven she is the immaculate bride of Christ, but on earth, she is made up of sinful members, sometimes very sinful members. And I don’t have to look beyond myself to find a sinner in the Church. There are myriad historical examples of the Church not doing what she should have, even if we take off our modern way of thinking, which would have been very odd to those who lived centuries and a millennium before us. We’ve had popes, bishops, and priests who fathered children why claiming to live a chaste life; we’ve had lay people in public office who claimed to be doing the will of God even while they were anything but godly in their governance; we’ve been on the wrong side of history more times than we’d like to admit. Sometimes pastors make decisions that we don’t like, that we think are bad decisions.
But while there are a million reasons to leave the Church, there’s only one real reason to stay: Jesus. If Jesus really is God, and if the Church is really the Mystical Body of Christ, then even when the Church on earth messes up and does horrible things, my faith in Jesus can still remain. If Jesus said that we need to be baptized, to be born again in order to have eternal life; if He said that unless we eat His Body and drink His Blood we do not have life within us; and if He set up His Church in such a way as to continue that power to make His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension–His Paschal Mystery–present for us through bishops and priests, then even when some whom He has chosen as priests act in a polar opposite way than Jesus, it does not shake my faith in Jesus and His Mystical Body. It may break my heart, first and foremost for the victims who suffered so horribly, and then for an institution that I love which is going through a very painful purification from its sinful members. But it doesn’t make me leave, because my faith was never in those individuals, but it was in Jesus. They were supposed to lead me to Jesus and act in His name, but they weren’t Jesus Christ Himself.
In the midst of this trial, Jesus asks us, “‘Do you also want to leave?’” And you’ll have to decide how you will respond. Maybe you want to leave because of the horrendous news over the past few weeks. Maybe you don’t like the new Mass schedule. Maybe you have a different reason that makes you want to leave the parish or the Church. But to that question from Jesus, asking if I want to leave, I have to make my own the words of Simon Peter and Joshua: Master, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life. I have come to believe and am convinced that you are the Holy One of God. As for me, I will serve you, Lord.
13 August 2018
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are all sorts of diets these days: Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, No Carb, and the list goes on and on. The different types of food you eat are supposed to help you either lose weight or maybe grow muscle mass, or help with a particular health goal. Growing up watching cartoons, I was very familiar with the Popeye diet, where, if you wanted to grow strong, you downed a can of spinach. I didn’t know what spinach was (we never really ate it at my house), but it seemed to work well for Popeye. I have had spinach in salads and Greek food since, and it’s pretty tasty, but I can’t say that I have become as strong as Popeye when I eat it.
Our first reading, psalm response, and Gospel reading all have to do with eating. So if you’re getting hungry, that’s understandable. In the first reading, an angel tells Elijah to eat, or else “the journey will be too long!” And our psalm and Gospel both speak about tasting the Lord. The Psalm says that we are to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. And Jesus in the Gospel talks about Himself as the Bread of Life, and if we eat of Him we will live for ever.
We need the Eucharist. It is our spiritual diet that gives us strength to live as Christians. Vatican II called the Eucharist the source and summit of our Christian life: the fount from which we gain all of our strength to follow Jesus, and the goal of our life, because heaven in the wedding banquet of the Lamb of God. We tend to talk about the Eucharist as food for our Christian journey with people who are dying, as we give them Viaticum, which literally means “on the way with you,” but in our daily lives, even when we are not dying, we need Jesus to be with us on our way to Him.
The Eucharist is our spiritual life, because it is the life of God, the true flesh and true blood of Jesus. We taste the goodness of God by tasting His Body and Blood in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. And yet, from the very beginning, we have also protected the Eucharist and required preparation for it, since it is not any everyday food. St. Justin Martyr, in the early second century, spoke about how the Eucharist was only for those who were baptized and believed what the Church taught. It wasn’t for everyone. And to this day, we still hold that, unless one is Catholic, one cannot receive the Eucharist in a Catholic church (with very few exceptions). Those who are not Catholics, even if they believe in Jesus, cannot partake of Holy Communion with us, because they don’t have communion with us, and we are never closer to each other in the Body of Christ than we are in the Eucharist.
But even beyond that, sometimes even Catholics lose communion with Jesus and with the Church through grave or mortal sins, sins that separate us from the saving grace of God given to us in baptism. And so the Church requires us to have that communion restored, to be healed of our grave or mortal sins before we present ourselves for Holy Communion, for, how can we have communion with Jesus in Holy Communion if we have separated ourselves from Him through sin? Now perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “Well, I’m not aware of any grave or mortal sins, nor have I been in some time, so you’re losing me, Father.” Praise God that you have been sustained in grace. But others may struggle more, and, as a good shepherd, I need to warn the sheep about pitfalls. If we have skipped Mass through laziness, if we are guilty of adultery or fornication, if we have taken God’s Name in vain, or any other grave sin, then we need to go to confession first before we present ourselves for Holy Communion. Otherwise, our unworthy reception of the Eucharist does not help us on our way, but becomes another obstacle to having God’s grace and life within us through the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
But beyond what we shouldn’t do, what does the Eucharist do for us? If it is the food for our Christian journey, how does it give us strength? For one, the Eucharist unites us to Christ more closely than we could ever be with anyone else on earth. We often think of marriage as the greatest exchange of love between two persons, but infinitely greater than that is receiving the Eucharist, because we receive the love of Jesus which was made manifest for us when He died on the cross for you. If no one else existed on earth, Jesus would have still died for you; that’s how much he loves you, and that love is consumed when receive the Eucharist worthily.
A second effect is that our venial sins, the small ways that we have said no to God, are wiped clean. All those little things that we do, and we know what they are, that are not what we should be doing as followers of Jesus, those things are washed clean in our souls. The Eucharist is a great way to find forgiveness for our small sins (not our mortal or big sins, but our small ones).
A third effect is that we get to taste heaven. We often talk about being so close to something that we can almost taste it. In the Eucharist, we can taste heaven, because we receive Jesus who is in heaven. When we receive the Eucharist, heaven exists within us, and the more that we live the life of heaven here on earth, the more we’ll be ready for it for ever at the end of our lives. The more we practice for heaven, the more we’ll be ready for it at game time. Through the Eucharist, the veil that separates heaven from earth is pulled back, and Jesus gives us Himself so that we can experience it in a small way. What a great blessing the Eucharist is for us! There is nothing more valuable on earth, because nothing is more valuable than Christ, and the Eucharist is His Body and Blood.
O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is recalled, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given us. Amen.
06 August 2018
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In my first few years as a priest, I would, from time to time, buy lotto tickets with my own money. Every time I would buy a ticket, I would remind God that I would give at least 10% to the Church, and how much good $15 million (I would usually only play if the jackpot were $150 million or higher) could do. And yet, I never seemed to win; I barely even won enough to pay for the tickets. So I stopped playing.
I’m sure some of you have done that, have told God that if He just gave you some money, or something else you want, how much good you could do with it. We tend to be, especially in our younger days, better at knowing what we want than what we need. Sometimes what we want is what we need, but not always, and often that comes with a certain level of maturity. As a kid at Christmas, it was always better to get toys than to get clothes (especially underwear!). But toys will fall out of favor or break, while clothes (even underwear) are more necessary.
In our first reading and the Old Testament prefigurement of John chapter 6, we hear about the Israelites who are not happy with what the Lord in the desert. They’re so ungrateful to God that they would rather go back to slavery than remain with God. It’s interesting to really think about that: they would rather go back to slavery, to barely making it, to being subservient laborers making the grand buildings of the Pharaohs, than stay with God, who had destroyed Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea while the Israelites passed through safely.
We also hear about the Jews in this week’s installment of John, chapter 6. Jesus knows that they are not following Him because they believe in Him, even after He fed more than 5,000 of them from 5 loaves and two fish. They are following Him because they thought Jesus was what we could call now a vending machine that gives out free food. And when Jesus pushes them to believe in Him, they demand another sign, another multiplication of loaves. Instead of giving them what they want, Jesus says that He is the bread of life, and if anyone believes in Him he will never hunger or thirst.
In both the first reading and the Gospel, the people want what they want, and reject what they need: God. And we might think it is silly for people to prefer slavery to God, and to not recognize that Jesus is God based on His miracles. But we have not always come so far; in our own lives we prefer things to God, and prefer slavery of our favorite sins to God.
So many times in our daily lives we think about things that we want, things that we think will make us happy. Maybe it’s a person, maybe a boyfriend or girlfriend that we’re convinced we can’t live without. Maybe we want lots of money, because we’re convinced it will make our life easy. Maybe we want a better home with more space, or maybe a pool, or maybe that cottage up north on a lake. There are so many things we can want, and focus our attention on, that we think will make us happy. And none of those things are bad in themselves. But they all come second to God, and not even a close second. The person who has nothing but who has God can still be filled with joy. The person who has everything but does not have God is never filled, and always feels that emptiness in his heart. St. Paul encourages us in the second reading to put behind us the old way of life, the way of life where we focus on what we have and on what we can get, and to live in the new way of life where we recognize that we have all we need in Jesus.
In fact, St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the saints depicted in our icons, says that virtue and holiness is found when we order rightly our loves, with the love of God first, and the love of everything else in its proper place after God. It’s not wrong to want things, but do we think about those things more than we think about God? Do we work harder to obtain those things than we work on our daily relationship with God?
There’s a beautiful Gospel hymn called “Give Me Jesus” that echoes this point. It starts out, “In the morning, when I rise / In the morning, when I rise / In the morning when I rise / Give me Jesus. // Give me Jesus, / Give me Jesus. / You can have all this world, / Give me Jesus.” The next verse starts, “When I am alone,” and ends, “Give me Jesus.” And the final verse starts, “When I come to die,” and ends, “Give me Jesus.” The Gospel hymn reminds us that, at all times of our life, and even at the end of our life, we should recognize our need for Jesus. The others are all wants, all desires that we may not really need.
That’s a hard prayer. I know that I’m not perfect in preferring Jesus to everything. But it’s my goal. I have friends that I prefer to Jesus sometimes; maybe not when I think about it, but in the way I act. But, if they are more important to me than God, then I’ve made an idol for myself, and I need to re-evaluate my priorities. Of course, just because we prefer God to other people or other things doesn’t mean that we will necessarily lose them. But we could if God asked us to, because God is enough for us. In these moments of silence, think about what you desire the most. What takes up most of your time and energy? The many things that you want in your life, or the one thing that is truly necessary: Jesus? You can have all this world, give me Jesus.
30 July 2018
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Whenever I ask my parents what they want for their birthday or Christmas, they usually say they don’t need anything. There may be a few things that they might pick-up for themselves, but they’re usually not that communicative about what those things are. And the things that I usually think of that they probably would enjoy, are a bit out of my price range for gifts.
As we begin our five-week trek through John chapter 6 today, we start with Jesus feeding the 5,000 plus. We heard a similar story in our first reading from the Second Book of Kings with the Prophet Elisha. Elisha has twenty barley loaves for 100 people, and Jesus has five loaves and two fish for over 5,000 people. When Philip says that they don’t have enough, Andrew replies that they only have a little, and certainly not enough for everyone. But Jesus takes that little, and miraculously multiplies it so that everyone has enough, and, in fact, there are twelve wicker baskets left over. God provides for His people, even when all they have is just a little gift.
I’m a bit like Fr. Mulcahy. I’ve lived a fairly sheltered life. People don’t generally look at me with the word “spectacular” on their mind (in fact, one of my great disappointments in life is how little time I have spent and spend on my own physical fitness). I’ve got no great talents (one of my classmates has a special charism of healing). I enjoy learning but I’m not a great student or teacher (one of my other classmates learns foreign languages with ease and has his doctorate). I work hard at preaching, but I’m no Bishop Barron or Fulton Sheen, let alone St. John Chrysostom. I’m just Fr. Anthony Strouse, with a few small talents from a small town, doing his best to lead people to God and run a parish.
But, like Fr. Mulcahy in “M*A*S*H,” I can honestly say that I try to give what little I have to God, and He uses them to bring about some good. I know it’s God, because it’s far beyond what I could have ever done on my own. God takes this pipsqueak of a man, with an average amount of small talents, and does great things, just like He did almost 2,000 years ago when He fed all those people. There’s nothing spectacular about five loaves and two fish. But God made it more than enough through Jesus.
Maybe some of you are the brightest in your field, or the richest, or the strongest, or the most socially connected. Praise God for those things and use them for His glory. But if you’re like me, and don’t have much to offer the Lord, I would invite you today to give it to Him anyway. How? you say. Well, as you might have noticed in my three years here, I’m big on the liturgy, and celebrating it well. And part of celebrating that well is for all the people at Mass to give Jesus everything, even the smallest thing, that has happened since you last came to Mass. Just give it to Jesus. Tell him about it in your prayer before Mass begins. Visualize putting whatever it is you have with the bread and the wine that are brought forward. And as you listen in silence to the Eucharistic Prayer I say, see the angels taking those small things and big things to God the Father in heaven, through Jesus Christ His Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And then God will do something great with it. I don’t know what it will be, but when we give our best gifts to God, no matter how small they are, He always receives them as the best gift from His children, and transforms us and the world by it.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe letting the liturgy transform us by offering ourselves to God the Father through Christ the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit won’t have a huge effect. Maybe its just a cockamamie belief of mine that I picked up through years of study. But I don’t think I am wrong on this. And I think the Mass can transform us if we truly offer ourselves with the bread and the wine. Now, it hasn’t made me a strong stud, I still don’t have the gifts that many of my brother priests do, and I’m certainly not a saint yet. But I know it’s helping to change me, for the better, and helping me become the saint that God wants me to be.
So maybe try it out yourselves, if you’re not already. In these moments of silence after the homily, think of what you want to give God, no matter how insignificant you think it might be. After all, if God can feed 5,000 plus with five loaves and two fish, imagine what He could do with you!
23 July 2018
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
America, in particular, has a thing against “wasting” time. We place work and productivity on a very high pedestal. And there’s something good about that. Work can be sanctifying if we unite it to Jesus, and producing new ideas and new products helps to better society. But the temptation in our prodigiousness, the excess of that virtue of working hard, is working too hard, and missing out on the important things of life. I remember when I was studying in Italy how things would close down for a few hours around lunch. Now, I don’t mean to offend, and certainly I don’t want to stereotype too much, but in Europe, Italians are not known for being hard workers in the first place. But they always make sure to take a break in the middle of the day for pranzo, lunch, and a nice riposo, a nice nap. And while we might think that’s a waste of daylight, there’s something good about spending time with family and friends to enjoy a leisurely meal and rest. The work will always be there, but as some people learn in tragic ways, friends and family are not always with us on earth.
Bishop Barron, in his new series on the Mass, talks about how the Mass is the ultimate form of play. That might seem counterintuitive, given how serious we take the Mass. But, think about children and how seriously they take playing. Or think about sports and how seriously we take playing those games. There are rules, there are expectations, there are uniforms. So often, we think that the most important thing is work, and we play if we have time. But play can be more important, especially when we talk about the Mass.
It’s no secret that people don’t go to Mass anymore. We notice it as we look around, and as we prepare for the transition to two Masses per weekend. So why are Masses so scarcely populated, and not just here in Flint, where people continue to leave the city, but around the United States and around the world?
Jesus, after His disciples had returned, invited the apostles to go off “to a deserted place and rest awhile.” The ones whose very title, “apostle,” means one who is sent out, need time to rest with Jesus. And what do we do at Mass, if not rest with Jesus? We worship God, and that is most important, but just like the Jews on the Sabbath, we rest, and worshipping God allows us to rest from our labors, not because we are lazy, but because we imitate God in resting from His work of creation. I think that part of the reason for people not coming to Mass is that they expect the Mass to provide something that it’s not meant to provide. If you want to be entertained at Mass, then you will surely be disappointed, because the Mass is not a movie or a show. If you want an emotional or spiritual high, then you may be disappointed, because the Mass is not meant to appeal to every personality style and temperament every week. If you want music that speaks to you each and every time, then you’re putting way too much pressure on the Mass, because Catholic music, truly Catholic music, is meant to be adding dressing to Scripture. Can we be entertained at Mass? It happens; some priests are funny, and others, like me, are just funny-looking. Can we get an emotional or spiritual high? It can happen, and praise God when it does! Can music touch our hearts in a way that mere words cannot? Sometimes the words put together with a certain musical setting hits us right in the feels. But Mass is meant to help us worship God and rest in Him.
I know that’s a tough message. I know it’s not the message we want to hear, because we want to be entertained, we want the high, we want the feels. But too many sheep have wandered away from the fold because what they want from the Mass is not what the Mass is meant to give. Sometimes even priests have mislead and scattered the flock by overly inserting themselves in the Mass, making the Mass a performance of their personality, instead of celebrating the Mass as the Church asks. And I also know that sometimes, despite my own best efforts, my homilies are boring. Our sound system could also use some updating.
But I invite you to come to St. Pius X each weekend after your weekly work of spreading the Gospel to rest with Jesus and to worship Him, who brought us near by His blood, and who reconciled us to God through His Body through the Cross. Sunday sports may sound more enticing. The lawn may need mowing and the laundry may need cleaning. The kids may be a handful and may be noisy. But come to Mass anyway, to rest with Jesus. And since you all already do come to Mass, tell your kids, tell your godchildren, tell your friends that Jesus knows you need a rest–not entertainment, not an emotional or spiritual roller coaster, but rest. Receive the Body of Christ. Taste the fountain of immortality. Waste time with Jesus and worship Him who gives you the precious gift of rest in Him.