14 August 2017

"Do You Trust Me?"

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but the Disney version of “Aladdin” came out 25 years ago!  Robin Williams is the voice of the Genie, and it has the famous song, “A Whole New World.”  That song takes place on Aladdin’s magic carpet, and it begins right after Aladdin, pretending to be Prince Ali Abawa, asks Princess Jasmine, whom he likes, “Do you trust me?”  Those are the exact same words that Aladdin asks Princess Jasmine when she is pretending to be a commoner and she is running away from trouble in the marketplace: “Do you trust me?”
“Trust,” we so often say, “is earned, not given.”  Or we might say, “Trust, but verify.”  But in our Gospel, St. Peter takes neither of those approaches.  Jesus has done some amazing things for Peter (helps him catch fish even though they had been fishing all night; changes water into wine), but it’s not clear that Peter knows exactly who Jesus is.  It’s not for another chapter in Matthew’s Gospel that we hear Peter confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.  And it’s clear that most of the apostles think that the vision of Jesus is a ghost, not the real thing.  Peter had no way to verify if it truly was Jesus.  In fact, in Peter’s act of faith (which, admittedly, falters), Peter walking on water was the way he was going to verify it was Jesus.
But Peter must have trusted that it was truly Jesus, and that if Jesus told him to walk on water, then walk on water was what Peter would do.  Think of all the temptations that Peter had before he even got out of the boat: they were being tossed about by waves, it was the middle of the night, and the apostles were all terrified.  And yet Peter stepped out onto the water because Jesus, or something that Peter thinks might be Jesus, tells him to do so.  
But as soon as Peter stops trusting Jesus, as soon as the realities around Peter become the focus and not Jesus, Peter starts to sink.  But even then, Jesus verifies and earns Peter’s trust, by reaching out to save Peter when he cries out in fear.

Do we trust Jesus?  Or do we feel Jesus hasn’t earned our trust, or we need to verify before we can trust Jesus?  Would we be willing to step out on water (and not the frozen kind) to walk to Jesus, or would the fear of drowning keep us from even putting one foot over the side of the boat?
Trusting God can seem hard.  It doesn’t mean life always goes well.  Jesus had to entrust Himself to God the Father even on the cross.  Temptation eats at Jesus, as we hear Him say, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  But even though tempted, Jesus doesn’t give in to His fears, and will also say, “Into your hands I commend [or entrust] my spirit.”  Even as He is dying, Jesus shows us how to trust God in horrible circumstances.  
What makes it especially difficult to trust is when we feel that we have been let down.  We all have that one person, maybe a former friend, who has let us down, betrayed us, and not been there when we needed him or her.  Maybe that friend was even a spouse.  And now we find it hard to trust again.  That fear of betrayal, of abandonment, can easily bleed into our relationship with God.  We show up, but it’s on our terms, not God’s.  We have expectations about how things should be, and if they’re not fulfilled, then we’ll cut bait and run.  
For many of us, we trust God with certain things: secrets, hopes, fears, etc.  But maybe there’s an area of our life where we don’t trust God.  Maybe we don’t trust God when it comes to money.  Maybe we don’t trust God to guide our relationship.  Maybe we don’t trust God when it comes to conceiving a child or how many kids we should have.  Maybe we don’t trust God to truly forgive us.  All of those are very common ways that we think we know better than God, or we don’t want to involve God in those parts of our lives.  But to that fear, Jesus invites us to trust in Him and walk on water.
Maybe we don’t trust that God will be enough for us, or we don’t trust that we can be alone with God.  In our first reading, Elijah heard God not in the dramatic aspects of life–the strong and heavy wind, the crushing of rocks, the earthquake, the fire–but in a tiny whispering sound.  The only way to hear that tiny whisper is to keep silence.  If we really want to know if we trust God, try being silent with Him.  Silence can be the scariest thing in the world, because we might actually hear God, and maybe we don’t trust that what He says to us will be for our good.  It’s so much easier to play with our phones, to listen to music, to distract ourselves, than to be silent with God.  
After the music stops and while I’m still purifying the sacred vessels (or as some say, cleaning the dishes), can you simply kneel or sit in silence and wait to hear God, whom you have just received in the Eucharist?  It would be comical if it weren’t so sad, how many times someone feels like they have to break the silence by a “cough” or another noise (and I’m talking about adults, not kids).  But it is in the silence where we can so often hear God speaking to us, inviting us to trust Him in every aspect of our lives, not just the ones we want.
Take time in your life for silent prayer with God, a time, maybe just 5 minutes, to entrust yourself to God.  For some of us it may be as scary as stepping out onto the water like St. Peter did.  But remember that God will not let us drown.

Today at the end of Mass, we will also, along with every other parish in the Diocese of Lansing, entrust our parish and all who belong to it, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in an act of consecration.  In a formal way we give ourselves over to God for His glory, rather than our own plans.  We do so on the 100th Anniversary of the apparition of our Blessed Mother to the shepherd children at Fatima.  We entrust our lives to her and ask her to help us to say yes to God, just as she did at every moment of her life.  There is more information in the narthex if you are interested.  May we truly trust in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and His Immaculate Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

31 July 2017

Jack Sparrow's Compass

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I will admit: when I first heard that Disney was making a movie based on the ride “Pirates of the Caribbean,” I was very skeptical that it would be a good movie.  But, 7 movies later, I am happy to be wrong.  One of the staples in every movie has been Captain Jack Sparrow’s special compass, which doesn’t point towards north, but points towards whatever the person holding it wants most.  The compass helps Jack find the Black Pearl, the fountain of youth, and all the other things and places that Jack or the other characters want, especially rum.  

Of course, a compass that points toward what we want is not real.  It would be a nice invention, but, as far as I know, it doesn’t exist.  If it did exist, though, where or to what would it point?  Would it be a new house, a new car, or something?  Or would it point to a place, or even to a person?
We are a society that generally gets what it wants pretty quickly.  If we want to know something, we simply ask Siri or Alexa.  If we want to buy something, we put it on the credit card, even if we don’t have the money to buy that thing.  Our desires are satisfied quite rapidly.  But we are probably also one of the most miserable societies in this history of the world, because more often than not, our desires fluctuate between very transitory or passing things or relationships.  When it comes to the deeper things of life, many people seem to set those aside.
And yet, our deepest desire is for God.  The cliché phrase puts it this way: we have a God-sized hole in our heart.  St. Augustine, the great Doctor of the Church, puts it this way in his book The Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  We seek after so many things and people, but what we really want, what all those things and people cannot give us, is a deep relationship with God.  And the things and even other people cannot fulfill those desires because we really want the infinite, and those things and people are finite.  
A person on the road to heaven would have a compass that would point right here, to the tabernacle, because inside is Jesus, who is the deepest desire of our hearts.  The person who is living out the call that God gives to every baptized person to be a saint would want to have God.  Yes, that person would probably have other things–a house, a car, personal relationships–but they would all come second to God.
Is God the treasure that we desire?  Is God the pearl of great price in our life?  The person who is working in the field and finds a treasure, then does everything he can to buy that field so that he can have that treasure.  The merchant who is searching for a fine pearl sells everything he has so that he can get that one, perfect pearl.  What do we do to deepen our relationship with God?  What are we willing to give away?
Because in order to say yes to God, we have to say no to other things.  That’s not just true with our relationship with God, it’s true with everything in life.  Whenever we say yes to one thing or person, we say no to another.  When I said yes to becoming a priest, I was also saying no to every single woman that would cross my path for the rest of my life (in terms of a romantic relationship).  For a married woman, when she says, “I do,” to her husband, she is also saying, “I don’t” to every other man, no matter how handsome or kind he might be.  When a student says yes to partying on a Tuesday night, he or she is saying no to the homework that is due the next day.  Saying yes to anything means saying no to the other options.  That sounds tough, but it’s the way life works.  And it’s true whether the choice is for something good, or for something that is a lesser good.
Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, is getting more difficult to live.  We no longer have a culture which supports living out our faith.  The truths of the faith which cannot change are so often now opposed by friends, family, and even the government at times.  We have not yet reached systematic persecution in the United States, but the groups who call those who live out Catholicism bigots, backwards, and hate-filled seem to grow every year.  More and more we will have to decide what religion we will say yes to: Catholicism or hedonistic secular humanism–a secular type of religion that tells us to do whatever feels good, whatever we want?  And that decision will be made by what we love the most, what we truly think is the treasure in the field or the pearl of great price.  

If we had a compass that pointed to what we want the most, where would it point?  If it doesn’t point to that tabernacle, more precisely, to Jesus who is inside it, then Jesus invites us to reprioritize our lives.  God has made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.  May God be the strongest desire in our life.

24 July 2017

Being Patient with God and Ourselves

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Probably each of us has been on the receiving or the giving end of the question, “Are we there yet?”  If we’re on the receiving end of that question, maybe we responded with some form of, “No; and if I hear that question one more time…”  Especially as kids, we may not always have a lot of patience, but even as adults patience can be difficult.  It never seems to fail; whenever I’m in a rush, I always seem to end up behind a person who wants to drive 5 mph lower than the speed limit without a safe way to pass, or I manage to hit every red light.  

Whether we’re young or more advanced in age, we can also struggle with being patient with the world.  We see so many bad things that happen, so often to good people, and we get impatient.  We wonder why these bad things are allowed to happen.  Maybe we even get impatient with God as we get upset that someone we know and love goes through a difficult time and the person causing them a difficult time seems to have everything going right for them.
Things were not much different 2,000 years ago when Jesus preached in Palestine.  He tells this familiar parable about a farmer planting good seed, but an enemy going through the field and planting weeds that start to come up with the wheat.  Those working the fields ask if they should pull the weeds, but the sower tells them not to, lest the wheat get pulled up prematurely as the weeds are pulled up.
It is not a surprise to us that good and evil are so often intertwined with each other.  We may like this good trait of that particular person, but dislike the bad trait of the same person.  Maybe we see a good thing happening, but then it leads to someone else suffering.  Our world seems to be one large, mixed field of weeds and wheat.  And that may frustrate us to no end.  We just want the pure good, we want evil to be defeated and eliminated from the earth.
That desire is good.  It shows that we have a desire for heaven.  In the Book of Revelation, the cry of the martyrs under the throne of God is how long will God allow the evil to continue and His servants to suffer?  But God is more patient than we are, and His patience is meant to allow for conversion, for a change of heart and life.  God’s forgiveness is there to give time, as long as the person still lives, to turn away from evil and turn toward God.
Because it’s not just the world that is a mixed bag; it’s not just the outside world that is weeds sown amongst wheat.  Our own hearts are the same way.  There are parts of us that seek to do God’s will, that are full of His grace and love.  There are also parts of us that prefer our own will, that are full of wickedness.  It can be very easy to demand the justice of God, that evil be finally vanquished.  But if we look into our hearts, how much of us would be destroyed if God were not patient with us, if God exacted His justice upon us rather than His mercy.  I know I would be in trouble.
It is easy to think that the Church herself is a place for good people.  And in one sense, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is untrained by sin, because Jesus is untainted by sin.  But, in a different sense, the Church on earth in her members, is what St. Augustine of Hippo calls a corpus permixtum, a mixed body which has both saint and sinner.  The Church on earth is not simply for the righteous, but is also for sinners.  Pope Francis used the image of the Church as a field hospital that goes out to treat the mortally wounded.  We might extend that analogy to also say that in a field hospital, some are wounded in minor ways from the ricochet of shrapnel, while others have missing limbs and life-threatening injuries.  That is who we are as a Church.  Some of us are more injured than others, but we all suffer from the wounds of sin.  And if we don’t know that, if we think that we’re good, then we no longer need a Savior.  And if we don’t need a Savior, then we don’t need Jesus.  And if we don’t need Jesus, then we are the most pitiable people of all, and heaven is not the place for us.
Now, all analogies limp, and even as Jesus talks about the weeds and the wheat, and even as our hearts are fields mixed with weeds and wheat, it doesn’t mean we let the weeds go.  We cannot simply ignore our sin because God is merciful and patient with us.  We need to ask ourselves how the weeds got in our fields, and try to make sure they don’t get there again.  In reality, each morning of our life is the time for sewing seed, and each evening of our life is the time for harvesting.  Every day we can ask ourselves what good we did, and thank God for that.  Every day we can ask ourselves what evil we did, big or small, and ask God to forgive us, and help us to avoid those sins tomorrow.  It is especially effective if we confess those evils in the Sacrament of Penance, aka confession, because we receive the very life of God in order to help prevent the weeds from being sewn in our hearts.  

We may struggle with patience, especially when it involves someone else suffering evil.  But if we are impatient with others, then we should ask if God should be that impatient with us, or if we’d rather receive His mercy and give us time to turn back to Him.  And if we want God to do that with us, so we should do with others.

17 July 2017

Becoming Rich Soil

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I would never say that I have a green thumb.  In fact, plants inside my room or house tend to die.  I once even killed a cactus that I had in college.  And yet, I love planting things.  Last October I planted a couple of small rose bushes and some mums; this past April I planted some of the left-over Easter plants along the sidewalk, and in May I planted some lily bulbs and a few peonies starters.  Some of them are doing well; others I haven’t seen make it through the dirt yet.

Today Jesus talks about being good soil to receive the seed of God’s Word.  We’ve heard this parable a lot, and I have to be honest, as a preacher, this is one of the hardest Gospels to preach on, because Jesus Himself explains what it means.  I have a kind of dread when this Gospel comes up, because I don’t want to be a boring preacher, and I’m especially afraid of that when this parable is the Gospel for the day.
But I thought that this year what would be helpful would be looking at the kinds of things that we can do to be good soil.  Again, Jesus’ point is obvious, we should be rich soil so that we can hear the Word of God, understand it, and then have it make a difference in our life.  But maybe we’re not rich soil yet; maybe we’re rocky ground, maybe we surrounded by thorns that want to choke the Word of God out.  So how do we change that?  How can we be rich soil?
There are a few things that can change our faith lives to be more receptive.  I won’t give an exhaustive list, but I’ll give a few basic ideas that almost anyone can do to help make them more receptive to God, and to grow in their relationship with Jesus.
The first basic thing we can do to change our lives to be more God-centered, to help in our relationship with Jesus, is to actually read the Word of God.  Other than at Mass, how much exposure do we have to the Word of God?  We have Bible studies from time to time that we offer through the parish.  But even if you can’t make those, read a chapter of the Gospels each day.  Start with Matthew, chapter one, and go through John, chapter twenty-one.  And when you finish that, read the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul’s letters, the other Catholic letters, and then finish up with Revelation.  One chapter per day won’t overwhelm you (hopefully), and most Bibles have footnotes in case there’s a passage you don’t understand.  If you want something more in-depth, you can also get a Catholic Study Bible, or get a Catechism and look up what the Church says about that passage.
Another basic thing we can do to change our lives to be God-centered, to help in our relationship with Jesus, is to pray the Rosary and/or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  For some Catholics now, the only time they pray the Rosary is the night before a funeral.  But the Rosary is a beautiful prayer focused on the mysteries of the Lord’s life, beginning with His conception at the Annunciation, and ending with Him crowning His Blessed Mother as Queen of Heaven and Earth.  You don’t have to pray all 20 mysteries every day, but maybe try to pray one Rosary each week, especially together as a family.  Yes, the kids probably won’t like it; I didn’t when I was younger.  But it made a huge impression on me and gave me a way to pray.  You can even now use your smart phone to pray the Rosary.  During each Our Father, Hail Mary, or Glory Be, think about the mystery, joyous, luminous, sorrowful, or glorious, of Jesus’ life, Death, and Resurrection.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is another great prayer.  We have our Divine Mercy Apostolate that meets on a regular basis, but it’s also something you can do in your home.  And if you feel one Rosary is too long, try the chaplet.  It’s prayed using Rosary beads, but the prayers are shorter.  The Chaplet of Divine Mercy focuses on Jesus’ merciful love for us, shown especially in His sorrowful Passion.  You might have to look up the prayers the first few times you pray it, but it’s easy to memorize them.
Speaking of mercy, another great way to be God-centered and to deepen our relationship with Jesus is through regular confession.  You don’t have to be a horrible sinner to go to confession (though if you are a horrible sinner, you definitely need confessions!).  So-called devotional confession, where one confesses even simply venial sins on a regular basis is a great way to weed the garden of our hearts.  I hate weeding, usually because I let the weeds go a long time, and then it takes a long time to get them out of the ground.  But if I would weed regularly, there wouldn’t be as many weeds to pull (or, in my case, spray Round-Up on).  The same goes for our spiritual life: the longer we let our sins go, the more invasive they become.  Even venial sins add up and make it more likely to commit major (we call them grave or mortal) sins.  And if we go regularly, it’s easier to remember what we need God’s mercy for, and be strengthened to avoid those sins in the future.  We offer the Sacrament of Penance every Tuesday from 5:30-6:00 p.m, and every Saturday from 3:00-4:00 p.m., and by appointment if those times don’t work.  

None of these things is rocket science.  None are overly complicated.  And yet, if we try even just one or two of these simple things, I am confident we will find our spiritual lives changing for the better.  We will become, by the grace of God, rich soil, which is more receptive to His word, so that we can bear fruit “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

10 July 2017

Easy Living: A Christ-centered Life

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Though I don’t play, I love watching golf.  Lots of people make fun of me for this, saying things like watching golf is like watching the grass grow.  And I will admit that, on a Sunday afternoon after Masses, I do tend to doze in and out of watching the final rounds, but I attribute that more to my fatigue than to the game itself.  Probably my favorite golfer is Jordan Spieth.  He seems like a nice man, went to Catholic schools, and plays quite well.  Watching him play, even on tv, makes golf look so easy, though, from having tried to just hit the ball, I know golf is anything but easy!

Our life in Christ can sometimes seem like golf: the pros make it seem easy, but to the rest of us it’s quite hard.  Maybe we look at the saints and feel that they have set the bar terribly high, and those standards are not something that we could ever do.  But Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that “[His] yoke is easy, and [His] burden light.”  Living under the kingship of Jesus is something which is not meant to be a heavy burden on us.
I mention kingship because our first reading is a prophecy about the king, the Messiah, which was fulfilled in Jesus.  We hear this passage from the prophet Zechariah each Palm Sunday as it is fulfilled in Jesus entering His city, Jerusalem, on a donkey.  The donkey was not a sign of dominance for king (that would have been a strong horse), but a sign of humility and easiness.  A king who rode on a donkey came not to enforce his will by brute strength, but to invite people into his kingdom for its good.
Kingship also reflects that we owe our life to someone else.  As Americans we’re not so keen on monarchies and royalty (unless it’s the Kennedys or the younger British royals), but there was a relationship between king and subject, where they worked together to promote the kingdom.  We owe our life, really everything, to Christ, as I preached a few weeks ago.  And Christ our King, for His part, gives us everything we need to be saints, to be holy men and women, to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, so that we enter the kingdom of heaven.
But there is a prince working to undermine the kingship of Christ, and that is Satan.  He wants us to switch our allegiance to him.  St. Paul talks about that in our second reading.  When he encourages us not live according to the flesh, St. Paul means everything in us that is fallen, that gives in to the temptations of the devil.  Sometimes those temptations can be in our very flesh and blood, like the temptations to gluttony, sloth, and lust.  Sometimes they are more in the heart like greed, envy, or hatred, or even in the mind, like pride.  But they are not of the Kingdom of God; they are not the work of the Holy Spirit, who continues the presence of Christ our King in us.
Sometimes living the life of the Kingdom of God seems so hard, and living the life of obedience to Satan seems so easy.  After all, Satan lets us do whatever we want, because it enforces our selfishness, which keeps us from God.  Let’s be honest: it’s sometimes hard to make it to Mass, especially when sports, or even just vacation, is going on; it’s sometimes hard to hold back on amounts of food or even certain types of food, so that our stomach becomes the deciding factor in our life; given our sex-saturated culture, it can be very difficult not to engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage, not to ask for or send inappropriate pictures on Snapchat, not to live together before marriage; it can sometimes be hard not to hate or even simply hold a grudge against someone who has done something that we don’t like, or to speak ill of that person to others.  It can often seem very easy to give in to these and so many other temptations, and it can seem very difficult to live a Christ-centered life.
In the midst of those challenges, Jesus still says, “‘Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.’”  Living for Jesus makes for an easier life, and a life that prepares us for heaven.  Living a life where we give in to our temptations makes life much more difficult, and prepares us for hell.  A life spent trying to be a saint helps us to be more and more free; a life spent following our fallen passions wherever they lead us enslaves us.  Who lives the better, freer life?  The people who want the newest Lebron shoes, a Go-Pro, the newest phone, or Fidget Spinner, and who see if they really need it, and then, if they do, earn the money and buy it?  Or the people who steal it, get caught, then go to jail, then maybe can’t get the job they want, and are restricted to working less satisfying jobs?  

Life in Christ, a life lived by the Spirit of God, can seem tough and difficult, especially when we’re not living it.  And certainly sometimes following God’s will entails challenges and having to say no not only to bad things but also to lesser goods.  But just like watching Jordan Speith play golf, the more we live the life of Christ, the easier it becomes, and the easier it looks to others.  And the more others see a Christ-centered life, the more they will want that freedom for themselves where they live in the Kingdom of God.

03 July 2017

"With What Shall I Come Before the Lord?"

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The study of Canon Law, the law of the Church, is one of the least popular disciplines for priests to study after they have been ordained.  Recently, Bishop Boyea appointed one of my good priest friends, Fr. David Fons, to study Canon Law in the University of St. Thomas in the City (more commonly referred to as the Angelicum) in Rome.  Bishop Boyea’s two other choices were either Fr. Gary or Fr. Todd Koenigsknecht, the twins from Fowler who were ordained a couple of years ago.  They were very happy when Bishop Boyea chose Fr. David.  I joked with Fr. David that he should tell Frs. Gary and Todd: “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me,” quoting the famous line at the beginning of the movie “The Godfather.”

We don’t have to be in the mafia to want to do something kind for those who do something for us.  We hear about the Prophet Elisha who is taken care of by a woman of influence as she gives him room on the roof “with a bed, table, chair, and lamp.”  And without her asking, Elisha wants to do something for her to repay her generosity.  And he promises her that she will conceive a son with her husband, since she was childless and her husband was an older man.
Jesus Himself in our Gospel talks about how those who serve the servants of God will receive their reward: 

“Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.  And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

Now, this isn’t a homily about trying to butter Father Anthony up in order to get something in return.  I may call my bulletin article Don Antonio’s Dispatch, but I’m not Don Corleone.  You, my parishioners, my family, are very generous, but you’ll never hear me say, “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.”
If we really think about it, we have received everything from Jesus.  I dare you to think about one thing, other than your sins, that you have not received from God.  Your talents–from God; your family, spouse, and children–from God; your house–God gave you the talents that helped you find a job that paid you that helped you to get the house, so from God; this building–it was built by the generosity of our parishioners who went before us, and some still here, who paid for it with the money they made from the jobs they worked using the talents they received…you guess it, from God; your priest–some of you might be saying from the devil, but I was sent here by Bishop Boyea, who, when it comes to parish assignments, speaks for God.  Everything except our sin, which is when we try to do things on our own without God, is a gift to us from God.  We are in God’s debt.  There is no two ways about it.  We owe everything to God.  So how can we repay God?
One of the choral anthems played at my first Mass of Thanksgiving and at both my installations as pastor is based on Micah 6:6-8: 

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow before God most high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.

But Jesus, as He so often does, raises the stakes.  He says that we must give Him everything of who we are.  If we love even our family more than Jesus, then we are not worthy of the gifts He has given me.  Only if we give away our life to Him will we find it.
And in this Mass we have the opportunity to do exactly that, at least as a beginning to our week.  Every Mass we are invited to offer all of who we are–our joys, sorrows, excitements, fears, job, family, vacation, and all that has happened since the last time we went to Mass–and unite it with the bread and the wine that is offered to God and changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  I know I’ve said that before, but have we done that?  Have we really put ourselves into what is offered on the altar?  I can tell you that when I do that, especially if I have something heavy on my heart, then as I hold the host in my hands and say, “This is my Body,” and as I hold the chalice in my hands and say, “This is my Blood,” there is a great weight lifted from my shoulders and I almost want to cry because of the great gift of freedom that Jesus gives me as I give Him my all.  And then God transforms it and gives it back to me as something that no longer weighs me down, but that gives me life.  But it’s not just for the tough stuff; it also applies to our joys.  And then, having given God our all in the Mass, we are then much more likely to give Him our all during the week. 

You might think that this is just my shtick as a guy who studied the liturgy–the Mass and the Sacraments.  But I truly believe it.  Give your all to Jesus, because He has already given His all for you.  And He doesn’t want a favor or a service like a mafia don.  The only thing that Jesus wants the thing only you can provide: you.

26 June 2017

Do Not Fear

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
What do we do when we’re afraid?  When we’re younger, we often try to hide underneath the blankets (sometimes even going into the fetal position because the blankets don’t quite cover everything from the tip of the head to the soles of our feet).  We might turn lights on to see what is there.  I’m sure night lights are still on sale and a popular buy for some children’s rooms.  We might run to a parent when we’re afraid, either as a child or as an adult.  I’m sure some parents here have been woken up in the middle of the night with a child crawling into their bed after a bad nightmare.  Some parents have received heart-wrenching phone calls from an adult child who is going through a difficult or traumatic time.  Fear is a very powerful force.

But Jesus today says not to fear three different times: “‘Fear no one’”; “‘do not be afraid…’”; and again “‘do not be afraid…’”.  In the first place he speaks about fear of someone concealing something, or a secret, or not being totally honest.  In the second place he speaks about fear of those who can attack our person.  And in the third place he talks about fearing about our physical needs.
Sometimes we can be afraid of speaking the truth.  We’re afraid of what someone might think, or maybe that if we speak out, someone will say something else about us.  Maybe we’re afraid about talking about Jesus.  Maybe we’re afraid because we worry that someone will think we’re a Jesus freak or a hyper-religious person.  To that fear, Jesus covers us with the blanket of His love, and says, “‘Fear no one.’”  In our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah was afraid of what the people would say about him because he was speaking the word of God.  He hears the whispering of those around him; he hears his so-called friends denouncing him to find fault with his message, which is not his message, but is a message from God.
Fear of those who can do physical harm is also easily understood.  Our bodies naturally put us in a fight or flight mode when we think someone might do us harm.  And certainly Jesus is not saying that we cannot defend ourselves.  But He is inviting us to trust in Him, even when we are threatened with bodily harm.  Because while the body is good, it is the soul that is the most important.  We can struggle with all sorts of bodily ailments, disfigurements, or disabilities, but our soul could be as strong as ever with God’s help.  If our soul is in a good place with God, then while our body can be tortured (either from enemies, or even just from old age or sickness), what others do to the body does not necessarily have any effect on what happens after we die, which is what we should be most concerned with.
Think about our brothers and sisters who are Catholic and Orthodox in the Middle East.  Some of them, especially in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, go to Mass, and they must know that, given the terrorists in those countries, their church could be bombed or set on fire.  And yet they go to Mass.  Why?  Because they want Jesus; they want to hear the Word of God and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist; because in some cases there, and in other places around the world, they only have Mass once a month, and it means that much to them.  But they are willing to risk life and limb to be connected with Jesus and spend time with him (and their Masses are often even longer than one hour!!).
Fear about our physical needs is also a tough fear to fight.  We know we need food, water, housing, and clothes to survive. But we are worried that we will not have enough.  Especially here in Flint, we are afraid that our water is not drinkable.  Those outside Flint don’t understand why at least some people, and maybe some here, are skeptical when the city or the State or the feds tell us that the water is fine to drink.  But we have been burned before.  So how can we trust in God to provide these things?  
We can trust in God to give us the gifts we need to work hard and contribute to society to the best of our ability, and receive as payment the money we need to take care of ourselves.  Certainly, we need to prioritize.  If we put cable TV ahead of a meal, or even fancy food ahead of the basic staples that we need to survive, then our priorities need to be rearranged.  While the cost of living has gone up, and maybe more than our wages, think back to your parents or your grandparents: so many of them were able to provide a good living on one income.  I’m not saying only one person should work, but I think our parents and grandparents prioritized better than we do (at least in general).  Our parents or grandparents probably didn’t take exotic trips every year for Spring Break, or have the newest gadgets.  But they put good food on the table, and often times they paid for a Catholic education.  There’s nothing wrong with Spring Break in Panama City Beach or having a gadget, but they should be placed behind other more important needs and wants.  And think about your parents or grandparents: maybe they didn’t have it all, but they never wanted for anything they needed.  And for those who had more, they often passed along their resources to those who legitimately could not work, or maybe just helped someone make it for a few weeks who had fallen on some hard times.  We also become the ways in which God takes care of all His children.  But no matter what, God cares for us, and knows what we need.

So we don’t need a blanket to hide us; we don’t need an LED lightbulb to illumine the darkness; we simply need God, and to trust in Him to help us not be afraid.  Talk to others about Jesus; work on having a strong soul; prioritize life with the truly important things at the top of the list.  With God, we need not be afraid.

19 June 2017

Spiritual Comfort Food

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Probably each of us has a comfort food that we go to in times of distress or trial.  Sometimes it’s a particular recipe from a loved one, sometimes it’s just a type of food like homecoming or an ethnic cuisine.  It may betray my youth, but for me, pizza is definitely one of my comfort foods.  There’s nothing quite like a few greasy slices of bacon and pineapple pizza to make me feel good inside.

The Eucharist is, or should be, our spiritual comfort food.  It was prefigured by the manna in the wilderness that satisfied the Israelites in the desert for 40 years (which we heard about in our first reading).  Psalm 78, speaking about the deliverance from Egypt and the sojourn in the desert for 40 years was meant to be a reminder of this spiritual food as it said, “God rained manna upon them for food; grain from heaven he gave them.  Man ate the bread of the angels.”  The very popular Corpus Christi hymn, “Panis Angelicus” in fact means, “Angelic Bread” or “Bread of the Angels.”  
But the Eucharist is not simply a reminder.  St. Paul tells us that when we receive the Eucharist, we participate in the Body and Blood of Christ.  So many Catholics (a 2010 study by the Pew Forum put that number at 50%) do not believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, a cornerstone teaching of our faith.  And yet, we heard Jesus very clearly in our Gospel today: “‘Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.’”  In order to share in the life of Jesus, we need to be connected to Jesus, and the best way that we can be connected with Jesus is by receiving His Body and Blood into ourselves in the Eucharist.  And our belief about what the Eucharist is changes the way we act.
During the Eucharistic Prayer, as the bread and wine become by Transubstantiation the Body and Blood of Jesus, we kneel.  We lower our bodies to express what is (hopefully) happening interiorly: the humbling of our souls as this miracle takes place.  Even before we get to Mass the Church asks us to refrain from any food and drink which is not water or medicine for 1 hour before we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we may truly hunger for Jesus.  Some of you are old enough to remember a Communion fast which was much longer than just 1 hour!  But we try to prepare ourselves by not brining in coffee or juice to the church, by not chewing gum during Mass, and by doing our best to focus all our senses on Jesus who humbles Himself to become truly present under the appearance of bread and wine.  

The Church also asks us, based upon St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, to examine ourselves to see if we are in a state prepared to receive Holy Communion.  Does our life witness to what the Church teaches as true?  If not, if we find ourselves rejecting, either in thought or in deed, a major teaching of the Church, then we are asked to refrain from the Eucharist so that our communion with Jesus, which always means communion with His Mystical Body, the Church, may be real, and not lip service.
But besides the before of the Eucharist, there is also the after.  If we receive the Eucharist worthily, then it should transform our lives.  From time to time we may think, ‘If Jesus was walking this earth, then I would follow Him and live as a faithful disciple.’  Jesus does come to earth, especially through the Eucharist.  In fact, we don’t even need to have the separation of Him being outside of us that the Apostles and disciples experienced.  Jesus, in the Eucharist, enters into us so that we can be a faithful disciple.  The reception of the Eucharist is meant to have an affect on the way we live our lives.  It is meant to give us hope, give us strength, and help us to bring the gift of Jesus to those we encounter every day.  Maybe people who encounter us wouldn’t know exactly why we’re different, but could people recognize the difference in us after we receive the Eucharist?

Jesus promised at the Ascension that He would be with us always, even until the end of the age.  And He fulfills that promise in the Eucharist.  Do we prepare to receive our spiritual comfort food?  Do we examine our lives before receiving Holy Communion?  And does our reception of the Eucharist transform us to be more and more like Jesus each week?

16 June 2017

Communion Cannot Come through Facebook

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
One of the great blessings of technology is the ability to keep in touch with people that we would otherwise not see.  It can be notoriously difficult for priests to meet up with friends sometimes because of the nature of our vocation.  I have one friend who has lived in Ann Arbor for the past four years.  But even though we’ve been only 45 minutes to an hour away from each other, we’re generally doing pretty well if we can meet up twice a year.  So we rely on texting to catch up and see how each other’s doing.  Technology is certainly great for that.
Today we celebrate a communion of Divine Persons as we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity.  God is one.  But God is three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  How that works is beyond us.  Our finite minds cannot totally understand an infinite God.  But we do have some access to understand who God is.  God demonstrated His one-ness throughout the Old Testament.  The great prayer of faith of the Jews called the shema from Deuteronomy is: Adonai Elohim, Adonai ehad (The Lord is God, the Lord is one).  But in the New Testament, God also revealed that, while He is one, He is also Three Divine Persons, a communion of Persons, a communion of love.  That is why St. Paul can talk about Jesus as Lord (a reference to His divinity), and speak of the Holy Spirit in the same way that St. Paul speaks about God.  We hear that in the greeting at Mass, which comes from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  The Holy Spirit is also on equal footing with God the Father and God the Son in the command to baptize that Jesus gives at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew: “[baptize] them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  
But even though the Trinity is based in Scripture, the Church has unpacked what it means to be one God and three Persons for two millennia.  In fact, the first term to speak about God’s three Persons was trias, a Greek word, used by Theophilus of Antioch in 180.  That word would later be translated into the Latin word trinitas, from which we get our English word Trinity, and was used by Tertullian who died in the early 3rd century.  Many of the first Ecumenical Councils starting in 325 were about how Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God.
But one of the great developments of Trinitarian theology is that God is a communion of Divine Persons.  His unity is not such that He is alone, but shares love between the Father and the Son, a love that pours all of the Person out (except His identity) to the other, a love so strong that it breathes forth (spirates is the technical theological term) the Person of the Holy Spirit, which doesn’t happen in a linear fashion, but has always been and always will be.
I brought up technology at the beginning of my homily because, as good as it is to help people keep in touch, it cannot create communion.  Communion can only happen in the presence of the other.  God the Father does not text God the Son.  Their outpouring of deep and abiding love does not happen by technology, and so neither can ours.  We can stay in touch with each other, but we do not have communion with each other by text, FaceTime, or SnapChat.  
We are created in the image and likeness of God, and so we also have a desire built within us to have communion with others.  This communion can be the communion of faith, the communion of family, the communion of husband and wife, and the communion of friends.  Each communion has its own rules and expressions of love, but they are all forms of communion.  And we all need these to be a happy, holy, and wholesome human being.  And this is where our challenge is as modern people, especially the young: we seek communion through technology, but we cannot find it there.  As good as texting my friend from Ann Arbor is, it doesn’t even come close to actually spending time with him.  
But if we don’t realize that technology doesn’t really fulfill that need, then we can put ourselves in a vicious circle or seeking communion in a way that will never give us communion.  Why do so many people (especially young people) act as if they’re glued to their phones?  Because they want communion, and they think staying in touch will meet that need, but they’re never quite satisfied.  It’s like setting up a treadmill at the starting line of a track meet.  Running is still happening, but you’re getting nowhere.  
Pornography is an even more evil expression of this phenomenon.  A man or woman desires the communion that is proper between a husband and wife.  But seeking it in a video with a stranger or strangers only mimics that communion, cheapens it, and in the end, does not fulfill the desire of the heart.  And so a man or woman can easily get sucked in to seeking communion when that communion can never come through pornography.
Technology is not inherently evil.  It does allow people to stay in touch and keep updated on each other’s lives.  But it never creates communion, and because we are created in the image of a Triune God, that’s what our hearts desire most of all.  
So how do we fill that need?  One way is time-tested: have a meal with each other.  Have a weekly family meal, or meals with friends.  Even the sacrifice of Jesus in the Mass is in the context of the Last Supper–a meal.  These are the ways that we find communion.  There are other ways, too, but simply by having a weekly or occasional meal, especially as a family, can satisfy that need for communion and keep us from trying to seek it in artificial ways.  Does it take a little more work than a text?  Yes, but love always takes a little more work than simply affection.  

Be who God has created you to be: a person created in His image and likeness; a person created for communion with Him and with others.

05 June 2017

Finish Strong!

Solemnity of Pentecost
In high school track I was a short distance runner.  I usually ran the 100m dash, 200m dash, 100m relay, and/or 200m relay.  I always said that as far as running went, if I wasn’t done in 26 seconds or less, something had gone horribly wrong.  But at one meet, perhaps because my track coach was a sadist, he asked me to run a 400m dash.  I had never run it before, never trained for it before, and had no desire to run it.  But, coach was telling me to run the event.  And how bad could it be?  It was only once around the track.
As the gun fired to start us, I tried to set a pace that I felt would make me competitive in the second heat.  Even though I wasn’t prepared for it, I didn’t want to lose and embarrass myself or my team.  So I pushed it.  After about 200m, I realized just how long 400m was as my legs started to ache.  The two things which were competing to win at that point were the fatigue in my muscles and my pride not to lose.  As I crossed the finish line, I think I got third.  What I remember more vividly was that my legs felt like jello, and I was sure I was going to fall down.  But, I had given it everything I had, and had finished strong.
Today, as we come to the end of our Easter Season and celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, we should want to finish strong.  Of course, we’re not totally done with life, but we are done with the Easter Season.  And we finish our Easter Season the way that the Apostles began their public ministry: with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We hear about that gift in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, a story with which we are likely pretty familiar.  There is a great wind, and then the Holy Spirit appears over the heads of the apostles and disciples like tongues of fire.  Immediately the disciples are compelled to speak about Jesus and how He was raised from the dead and offers us new life in Him.
As Catholics we may be a little uncomfortable with the Holy Spirit.  God the Father is someone we’re familiar with, but we can often keep Him at arm’s length, since He seems so mysterious.  Jesus is someone with whom we’re much more familiar, we know the stories from His life, but even He can seem a little distant, since He is seated at the right hand of the Father.  But He tends to be the focus of most of our prayers.  But the Holy Spirit–that’s the one who seems to make things go out of control.  Maybe we’ve even seen people who claim to have the Holy Spirit and they do what we consider “weird” things like speaking in tongues or having the gift of prophecy.  Perhaps we’re not that comfortable with the Holy Spirit.
But we need not be afraid of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the one who continues the ministry of Jesus in the Church.  He does give some people special gifts like speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, etc., but He also showers His gifts upon all believers.  And we hear about some of those gifts that we can experience in the Scriptures.
At the Vigil Mass the first reading was from Genesis, and was the Tower of Babel.  The people all want to get to God on their own terms, but God makes them speak all different languages.  The unity of the people is not based on God, but on becoming the masters of their destinies, and so they are scattered.  But in the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit helps the people to have access to God by hearing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus spoken to them in their languages.  And we experience that in our own way today: our Gospel was proclaimed in Latin, the mother-tongue of our Latin Rite church, and some of our petitions this weekend will be proclaimed in the languages of our parishioners, including Malayalam (from India), Tagalog (from the Philippines), Spanish, German, Arabic, and Italian.  And while perhaps we don’t all understand all these languages, they reflect the diversity of our cultures, and yet the unity of the faith, because what we believe is the same, no matter in what language it is proclaimed.
The Holy Spirit also gives us each gifts to build up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.  We all have certain gifts to build up our parish, our diocese, and the universal Church that the Holy Spirit encourages us to use.  Some of us garden and do yard work, some teach, some cook, some comfort the sorrowing, some serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion or Lectors.  I am sure that some of our parishioners, besides being called to these ministries, are also called in the future to a vocation to the priesthood or diaconate, or to consecrated life as a sister or nun.  

The question for us is whether or not we are willing to respond to the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit may lead us to new circumstances that are unfamiliar for us, just as the foreign lands to which the apostles went were unfamiliar to them.  But if it is the Holy Spirit calling us to them, then we know it is for the building of the Church and the spreading of the Gospel.  Do not be afraid of the Holy Spirit, but be open to His gifts, and then, with the courage the Holy Spirit gives us, use all that we have to continue to ministry of Jesus in the world!