14 July 2019

Who Are Our Neighbors?

Fifteen Sunday in Ordinary Time
    It seems like we are perpetually in an election cycle, with politicians running for this or that office.  And already we are now in presidential election mode, even though the day for voting is one year away…from November.  I don’t know about you, but it can sure get exhausting for me, watching all the ads, seeing all the coverage of the debates, and the back and forth between our two dominant political parties (though, it’s important to note, there are more than just Republicans and Democrats!).
    As Catholics, we are often at odds with both parties in particular ways, which makes it tough, and which gets a lot of Catholics into arguments with other Catholics and even within their families.  I know I wish that there was one major party that we could wholeheartedly embrace, but that’s not currently the case.  And even if there was, the recent general practice has been to preach about issues, not parties or candidates, which can be wise.
    I bring this up because Jesus today talks to us about loving our neighbor, which is precisely the realm of politics: how we treat our neighbor.  If we ignore our religion when it comes to our political activity, then we can’t really say that we’re loving our neighbor as ourselves, because our belief in what God has revealed to us about who we are, how we are to live, and how we are to treat others affects the make-up of society.
    As Moses said, though, it’s not that you have to be a genius to understand what God has revealed about how we are to treat our neighbor.  We don’t have to go up into the sky, or go across the sea.  God has revealed it through His Word in Sacred Scripture, and through the teaching of the Church, to which we owe religious submission of will and intellect when it comes to the doctrines of the Church.
   
    So in our own day, we are challenged in how we are to love our neighbor.  Jesus instructs us to love those who have a homosexual attraction.  They are created in the image and likeness of God and deserve respect, courtesy, and love, just like any other person.  We should not discriminate against people with homosexual attractions.  But, at the same time, God created marriage between a man and a woman, and we cannot support any other definition of marriage.  Nor can we accept sexual acts between two people with homosexual attraction, as sexual acts, are reserved for marriage.  Just as Jesus challenged the Jews with His parable, we are challenged to love persons with homosexual attractions, even without supporting the choices those persons may want to make.
    We are challenged to love our neighbor when it comes to immigration.  We cannot support any action which is contrary to the dignity of any human person, no matter where they come from, or how they entered our country.  We are called to welcome those who are fleeing violence and oppression in their countries, especially when that oppression is based on a political view or a religious belief.  At the same time, we are allowed to have legal ways to enter the country, and make sure that those who wish to enter the country are not trafficking in illegal drugs or even trafficking human persons, and we can even utilize physical barriers at the border.  Just as Jesus challenged the Jews with His parable, we are challenged to love the immigrant, both legal and illegal, and respect their human dignity, even while we defend our border and the legitimate laws of how to enter the country.
    We are challenged to love our neighbor when it comes to the infant in the womb.  We cannot support any legislation or any politician who supports the killing of an innocent human being, simply because it’s in the womb of the mother and is not desired, or not “convenient” to the lifestyle that the parents want.  If an innocent human being in the womb can be killed, then no innocent human being is safe.  At the same time, we are also called to care for and support mothers who often have difficult decisions to make to bring their child to birth, as sometimes they have no support from the father of the child, or from their own family.  We should remind them of the beauty of life, and of the opportunity to give their child up for adoption for those couples who cannot conceive.  Just as Jesus challenged the Jews with His parable, we are challenged to love the infant in the womb and all life from natural conception to natural death.
    Love of God and love of neighbor is not complicated to say.  But the practical applications of how we love our neighbor need to be based in what God has communicated to us, and can often be complicated.  Hopefully we will strive, not only to know that we need to love God and our neighbor to be happy, but also to put that love of God and neighbor into practice as members of God’s chosen people, the Church.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, either.  Jesus’ example of the story of the Good Samaritan would have challenged the Jews in Jesus’ day.  Samaritans were pagans, and not just any pagans, but pagans who used to belong to the Chosen People.  They abandoned their worship of the true God to worship pagan gods.  In the parable, the priest and the Levite (one of the lower members of the priestly class), leaders of the Chosen People, walk on the opposite side of the victim.  But the Samaritan, who knows no loyalty to a Jew, cares for the victim and even spends money to nurse him back to health. 

01 July 2019

No mo' FOMO

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
A little over a month ago, on one of the very few nice days that we had in May, I decided that I was out of shape (that reality had been true for some time), and I should do something to get in shape.  So I decided to do a 30-minute run around the exterior of the parking lot here at St. Pius X.  And then I decided to try to keep it up around every other day.  And then someone suggested that I run the CRIM, which I foolishly agreed to do.  So I’ve been running about every day or two, usually doing 5 miles, but once a week trying to get in a 7.5-mile run.
A few months ago, I would have told you that I would only run if I were being chased, or chasing after somebody.  And I can confirm that I never have a smile on my face while I run.  Yes, you do get the endorphins (the good feelings) after you’re done, but the fact that you get them after you’re done running should say something about running in general.  I can tell you that there have been no few amount of times where, during a run, I wonder what in the world I’m doing, and I just want to give up.  But I keep on pressing forward, at least until I attain my goal of running the CRIM.
Jesus in our Gospel tells us to keep going.  He tells us not to look back to what was before, but to continue following Him.  There will be all kinds of excuses about why we can’t follow Him, but He tells us to ignore those, and press on forward.
One of the plagues of today’s culture, especially among the youth, is FOMO–Fear Of Missing Out.  I can’t tell you the number of young adults that I have spoken with over my nine years as a priest who convey to me their fear about experiences that they really want to have, but which may pull them away from a current education, job, or even significant other.  There is a general lack of perseverance, of sticking with something for the long-haul, simply because it gets tough, or challenges appear.
Following Christ is not for sissies.  It gets tough, and there are many temptations to veer off course to something else, maybe not even something bad, that catches our eye.  As a priest, in my three parish assignments, there have been times–during my four years in East Lansing, during my two years in Adrian, and yes, even during my three years here–where I take my eye off Jesus ahead of me, and want to look back and wonder if I made the right decision.  At first, as I entered college seminary, I was more like Elisha, telling my mom and dad goodbye, and then just going for it.  But whenever a trial would present itself, and each parish has its own trials, there would be a little voice (like the one in cartoons that comes from a little red guy with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork) asking me to think about what life would have been like if I wouldn’t have  gone through the seminary and been ordained.  But the voice of the little angel on the shoulder with the halo and wings would respond with what Jesus said today: “‘No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.’”  And, by the grace of God, I have persevered and been filled with such joy by remaining faithful to how God has called me to be a saint.
But it’s not just for priests.  For married couples, too, there’s the temptation to cut bait and run.  To be clear, I’m not talking about physically or verbally abusive situations, where a person needs to leave the marriage for his or her own physical or mental health.  Marriage is tough; it takes perseverance.  For me as a priest, I had eight years for the seminary staff to prepare me to be a priest.  For married couples, it’s usually around 8 months, and it’s not daily preparations; it’s a day here, a weekend there, etc.  And yet it is no less demanding of a vocation, and the temptations to look back also present themselves.  But that’s why it’s so important, when discerning marriage while dating, to make sure that it’s a person with whom you feel God is calling you to spend the rest of your life.  
There will be challenges that married couples will need to face together.  Many of you here can speak to that better than I can.  Many of you here have celebrated 25, or 30, or 40 or even 50 years together as a married couple, and some of you are even working towards 55 or 60 years of marriage.  What I notice about successful marriages is that they both work at following Christ, and, more often than not, they don’t give in to that temptation to look behind them at what could have been.  That’s true if you marry when you’re 19 or 22 or 30, whether you have 3 children or 5 or 8.  Don’t look back at what could have been; face forward toward Christ and where He is calling you to be as a couple.
And for those not married or not considering a vocation to the priesthood, Jesus’ words are still applicable.  It is not helpful in our relationship with Christ to look back and think what could have been.  It’s not helpful to give in to FOMO, to the fear of missing out, and never make that commitment towards doing something great, no matter how hard it is.  That goes for the simple act of making it to Mass every Sunday and Holyday; that goes for choosing to avoid places where you know you’ll be tempted to wander away from God; that goes for choosing to serve others rather than serve yourself.  

In the life of a disciple, there will always be moments where we wonder what life would have been like if we would have chosen B instead of A, gone left instead of right, given in to temptation rather than following Christ and His plan for our life.  Don’t look back; don’t second-guess yourself.  Keep your determination to follow Christ and you’ll find the joy that comes from persevering and finishing the race that God has set before you.

24 June 2019

The Language of the Eucharist

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
One of the things I love doing is learning languages.  In fact, from time to time I use a free app on my phone called Duolingo, which allows me to study, in this case, Dutch, at my own pace.  I love languages because it helps me understand people.  It’s like a key that unlocks the doors of those who don’t speak English.
When it comes to the Eucharist, we as Catholics have our own language.  That language, once understood, helps us to open up the riches of our faith when it comes to the Eucharist.  We use words like transubstantiation, which means that the bread and wine truly become, in their substance, the Body and Blood of Jesus.  We use words like host, Holy Communion, chalice, paten, and we use the word sacrifice.
That word, sacrifice, is the key to understanding the Eucharist.  Now, after Vatican II, there was a lot of emphasis on the meal aspect of the Eucharist.  And certainly, Jesus did institute the Eucharist at the Last Supper, which took place in the context of the Passover meal.  But even the meal of the Last Supper recalls the sacrifice of the lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites, the sacrifice which saved them from the death of the firstborn.
The Eucharist is not a community meal that celebrates the unity of the assembly.  The Eucharist is not a social gathering of like-minded people who share fellowship.  The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the truly unblemished Lamb of God whose Precious Blood, poured out for us, saves us from eternal death.  That is why the place where the sacrifice of the Mass is offered is called an altar, which is, by definition, a place of sacrifice.  On that altar, Jesus’ one, perfect, and unique sacrifice is made present for us in an unbloody way, so that we can share in what Jesus’ sacrifice made possible for us: life in heaven.  That is why those who offer the prayer are truly called priests, whose central job it is to offer sacrifices.  
When we understand the Eucharist as a sacrifice, it opens up for us the Old Testament.  Today’s first reading highlights the sacrifice of Melchizedek, king of Salem, who offers bread and wine to God Most High on behalf of Abram, our Father in Faith, after he had won the victory of foreign kings.  When we hear about a sacrifice of bread and wine, we should immediately think of the Eucharist.  And, as the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament states, Melchizedek is himself a prefigurement of Christ, as he has no beginning and no end (as evidenced by no genealogy); his name means King of Justice; and he is the King of Salem, that is, King of Peace.  And even Jesus’ miracles, like the one we heard in today’s Gospel, point to the sacrifice to which the Eucharist points.  Jesus offers loaves and fish, which is clearly different from bread and wine.  But, in an early mosaic at the place where this miracle happened, there are two fish, and a basket with four loaves, right in front of the altar, because the fifth loaf was understood to be the bread that was offered on the altar.  

Understanding the Eucharist as a sacrifice also changes our approach to it.  If the Eucharist is merely an old thanksgiving meal, then how we act, how we approach the Eucharist, how we prepare for the Eucharist, doesn’t really matter.  Yes, preparations are necessary for Thanksgiving dinner, but it has to do with the food, not so much with the people attending.  If the Eucharist is simply a thanksgiving meal, then our attendance doesn’t really make a difference; sometimes family members make other plans on Thanksgiving than spending it with all their extended family.  If the Eucharist is merely a thanksgiving meal, then you might have special dishes or special entertainment on TV, like watching the Lions lose, or you might decide to make things easier and go with chinette plates, and you might change up what you watch or what you listen to.  
If, instead, the Eucharist is the sacrifice of our salvation, the means by which we are cleansed of our sins and heaven is opened to us, then we prepare by making sure that we are in communion with each other and communion with God through the Sacrament of Penance regularly.  We prepare by fasting from most food and drinks for one hour before we receive Jesus.  We show up because we are grateful for what Jesus did for us then, and what He continues to do for us each day.  We use special clothes and special vessels, and special music, because it is made for a sacrifice, not for entertainment.  We might even read the Sunday readings ahead of time as a way of preparing, or attend daily Mass as an overflow of our gratitude to God.  

Without sacrifice, we cannot understand the true nature of the Eucharist.  And understanding the Eucharist as a sacrifice also helps us to unite our daily sacrifices to Jesus, because we know that He already did that for us, and we want to return to the favor, even in our own daily ways, big or small.  Understanding the Eucharist as a sacrifice allows us to approach the Body and Blood of Christ, not as if we’re in a line at the grocery store, waiting to get a handout, but with wonder and awe and reverence as we receive Jesus, our Lord, on our tongues and on our hands, as He brings us into union with Him in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

09 June 2019

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Solemnity of Pentecost
Who is the Holy Spirit?  I will admit, growing up He was the Person of the Blessed Trinity with whom I was least familiar (luckily, He was much more familiar with me!).  But we grow up hearing about God the Father, and of course, as Christians, we spend much of our time focusing on the work of Jesus, the Son.  We talk about the Holy Spirit, but usually in relationship to Jesus.  So as we celebrate Pentecost, it can all seem a bit out there.
Our readings today give us a clue about the Holy Spirit: who He is, and what He does.  He unifies; He demonstrates power; He continues the work of Jesus.  In Genesis, in the story of the Tower of Babel, when people try to get to God on their own terms, confusion is caused.  In the Pentecost account, though, it is the Holy Spirit who unifies the Apostles and Disciples in proclaiming Jesus to the people in different languages.  It seems like the best thing in today’s world is diversity.  And diversity is a gift.  Even I have to admit that if everyone were like me, the world would be a dull place (but it would be amazingly organized and punctual!!).  But, in the midst of diversity, we also need unity, we need something to bring us together.  And what truly brings us together is the Holy Spirit, who utilizes our diverse gifts and personalities in order to achieve unified goals.
The Holy Spirit demonstrates power.  In the Book of Exodus, as the people go to worship God on the mountain, there are peals of thunder and lightning, a cloud over the mountain, and very loud trumpet blasts.  Smokes rises from Mt. Sinai, as the Lord came down in fire.  The Holy Spirit was demonstrating power.  The same happened in the upper room: the Holy Spirit shook the room, and tongues as of fire appeared over the apostles’ and disciples’ heads.  In the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the Holy Spirit gives life to the dry bones, and in the Book of the Prophet Joel, the Holy Spirit is promised to help the people prophesy and work wonders.  Throughout the history of the Church, the Holy Spirit has demonstrated power, not only in the magnificent ways, but even in smaller, yet equally powerful ways.  Each time Mass is celebrated, the Holy Spirit transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  I have spoken to you of priests I know whom the Holy Spirit utilizes to heal others (the work is the Holy Spirit, the vessel is the priest).  Lay men and women are given incredible courage and strength to talk about Jesus, not only in the old days to Roman governors and foreign kings, but even in our own days.  One of our own young parishioners shared an account with me of how the Holy Spirit answered his prayer through a phrase from Scripture that a friend spoke to him after He asked God for a sign.  The Holy Spirit continues to exercise His power in the world.  
The Holy Spirit continues the work of Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus breathes on the apostles and says, “‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.’”  Jesus came to reveal God the Father, to share the truth about what truly makes us happy as human persons created in the image and likeness of God, and to share the mercy of God.  The Holy Spirit continues to do that.  Through the proclamation of the Word of God, especially at Mass, we come to know the Father better.  Through the teachings of the Church, we learn the truth about how we can experience the joy and peace that God desires for all His children.  Through the Sacrament of Penance especially, we receive the mercy of God.  In this way, the ministry of Jesus spreads throughout the whole world, and is not limited to Palestine.
So what?  Who cares?  All of those things are nice, but to what end?  We need unity, and not simply around the lowest common denominator of belief, but unity in the truth.  We need a unified goal towards which we can apply the diversity of our gifts.  And this is certainly true as a parish.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us proclaim the Gospel, not only in what we do, but also by what we say.  Without this sharing of the truth, by showing the power of the Holy Spirit to make even the meekest person share Jesus as Lord, our parish will continue to shrink.  We need to continue the mercy of Jesus, because that is what we are about as a Church: not a social club, not a weekly meeting of people who live in the same area, but those who are committed to continue, by the power of the Holy Spirit, what Jesus Himself did and taught.  

We may not be as familiar with the Holy Spirit, but we need Him, now as much as at any time.  We need the unifying power of the Holy Spirit continuing the work of Jesus in us.  The growth of our parish depends on it!  Come, Holy Spirit!

03 June 2019

Watching for Jesus to Return Together

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
So, ad orientem.  You’ve noticed that there have been no differences thus far.  But as I wrote in my bulletin, we’re only doing this for this weekend.  Still, the differences you’ll see are only during the Eucharistic Prayer.  But why ad orientem?  Is this simply another crazy Fr. Anthony idea?  Is it old stuff for the sake of old stuff?
For probably at least 1800 years, the Church celebrated Mass this way, and as my bulletin article says, there are hints that it’s still pre-supposed, as one of the instructions on the Mass will say, “”The Priest, turned towards the people…”.  But we celebrated Mass this way for a reason.  And that reason coincides with what we celebrate today: the Ascension of the Lord.  The Apostles, the Blessed Mother, and the disciples see Jesus ascend into heaven.  The site of Jesus’ Ascension is on a hill to the east (ad orientem) of Jerusalem.  And ever since then, we’ve been waiting for him to return.  This year, we celebrate 1,986 years of waiting for Jesus to return as He promised.  The orientation (which comes from a word that means east-facing) of the Church since Jesus left was looking for his return.  Honestly, that’s hard to do, especially after 1,986 years.  Nowadays, we get frustrated in the ten seconds it takes Siri to give us an answer.  We can forget that our Lord is coming back, “‘in the same way as you have seen him going to heaven,’” as the angel said in our first reading.
So our Mass has always reminded us that we’re waiting on Jesus.  Scott Hahn, a noted Biblical scholar and writer, speaks about how Tertullian, who lived form 160-220, already writes about Christians (and at that time there was really only one type of Christians, Catholics) facing east during our worship.  St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Basil the Great, and St. Augustine also all speak of this practice.  One of the early house churches in Syria, dating from 233, is arranged so that priest and people faced east, with an altar against the east wall.  St. John of Damascus in the 7th century also speaks of this practice.  
Scripture itself talks about the importance of the east.  In addition to our first reading, we can also look to Malachi, who prophesies Christ as the “Sun of Righteousness” (and the sun rises in the east); to Zechariah in the Gospel according to Luke who refers to Jesus as “‘the dawn from on high’” (and dawn comes from the east); and Jesus’ own words in the Gospel according to Matthew, who says, “‘For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.’”  
But all of these things point to the face that we’re waiting for Jesus to return from the sanctuary not made with hands, heaven itself, and restore not only Israel, but the new Israel, the Church.  And the way that we face reminds us in our worship of God to be ready for His return, to be like the wise virgins who are ready, or like the homeowner prepared at all times so that he is not robbed.  That’s why we’re doing this, for this weekend only.  
And there is something very unifying about this.  When I celebrate Mass facing you (as is common and allowed), it can seem like it’s a performance of sorts for you.  Your eyes probably naturally focus on me.  But if you notice, in order to highlight that we’re waiting for the Lord, I almost never look at you during the Eucharistic Prayer, unless I’m speaking to you.  I look towards the heaven, to God, whom I’m addressing most of the time during that holiest part of the Mass.  The common orientation can easily become a me versus you scenario.  When Mass is celebrated ad orientem, we are all united, facing the same direction, facing our Lord in the tabernacle and waiting for his return.  Yes, I’m still at the head of the assembly, leading us all to Jesus, but I’m also a part of you, not disconnected.
The common response is that my back is turned towards you.  But Pope Benedict XVI aptly wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, “The common turning toward the east was not ‘a celebration toward the wall’…it did not mean that the priest ‘had his back to the people’….  For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together ‘toward the Lord’…They did not close themselves into a circle; they did not gaze at one another; but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us.”  Again, it all goes back to waiting for Jesus to return, to keeping our eyes fixed on him, to reminding us to be ready for the Second Coming.  
And this even remains uninterrupted in both Catholic and some Jewish cemeteries.  There is a large Jewish cemetery to the east of Jerusalem on the hill that leads up to the place of the Ascension.  It’s packed full, and it’s the prime cemetery, because the Jews also believe that the Messiah will come from the east of Jerusalem, and they want to be the first to greet him when he comes (of course, we know that He has already come, and will come again).  And in our own New Calvary Catholic Cemetery, and in every Catholic cemetery I’ve visited, when people are buried, they are facing the east, so that they can be ready to greet Jesus, the Dawn who comes from on high.  

But, as I mentioned, I have no plan to extend this practice here beyond this weekend.  And it’s not about turning back the clock, or about doing something traditional, and certainly not about turning my back on my people.  No, it’s about facing the Lord, being focused on him, and being ready for his return.  

20 May 2019

Easier Said Than Done

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Easier said than done.”  We’ve probably heard and/or used that phrase countless times.  But it sure applies to today’s Gospel.  Jesus says, “‘I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.’”  It’s certainly easy to say that we should love others as God loves us.  But when it comes to actually doing it, that’s a different story.

Loving others can be difficult in two ways: knowing what love is, and then actually following through on loving others.  One of the greatest errors of modern society is with the definition of love.  Some say love is never having to say you’re sorry.  For others love is a feeling of delight in another person.  We use the word so often for different situations: love of food, love of a significant other, love of family, love of country, love of God.  We use the same word love for things that are very different from each other, or, at least, should be.  
For Catholics, love, true love, is willing the good of the other.  To love another person we have to want what is good for them and work for it.  Sometimes love means having to apologize for when we have done wrong, or forgiving someone else when they have wronged us.  Sometimes love doesn’t come with any good feelings.  Graduates, your teachers loved you when they gave you homework, and made you take exams.  In at least some cases, I bet that didn’t feel so good (or at least it would have felt better if you didn’t have homework or exams).  Graduates, your parents loved you when they kept you away from danger, when they gave you a spanking to help you know right from wrong, and when they dragged you to church every Sunday (maybe when they dragged you to church today).  You may not have appreciated that love, but they truly were acting for your good.  They wanted what is good for you and did their best to share it with you.
We often, as a society, divorce the truth from love.  We act as if they have nothing to do with each other.  But when love is separated from truth, it becomes mere infatuation or sentimentality, a feeling for something.  Think of a friend whom you know was being cheated on by a boyfriend or girlfriend.  What was the most loving thing to do?  Let them live in ignorant bliss for a while, oblivious to the infidelity?  Or tell your friend that the person with whom they were infatuated did not really love them?  Knowing the truth, which is intimately connected with goodness, helps us to love one another.
But besides knowing what love truly is, loving is hard because we actually have to follow through on willing the good of the other.  It is much easier to ignore other people, or to pretend that we don’t have any responsibility towards them than to love them.  In some ways our society also has made the act of loving more difficult.  People are now glued to their smart phones, their faces in a glaze at the screen even as they walk and drive.  We constantly see pictures of people who end up in danger because they’re trying to help someone who looks like they need a helping hand.  And if something goes wrong when trying to help someone, the person who tried to follow Jesus’ command to love might get sued.  All of those things and more can reinforce the mentality to mind our own business.  Plus, sometimes the people who need love do not run in our social circles, and we don’t want to be embarrassed by friends when we help them.  Throughout your schooling, dear graduates, I’m sure there were times where you felt the Holy Spirit in your conscience, encouraging you to help a classmate who was being teased or ostracized, or maybe even to stop antagonizing them yourselves.  How hard it was at those times to actually love that person because of peer pressure.  Here’s also a sad fact: peer pressure does not stop with middle or high school; it will continue for the rest of your life in different forms.
But in the midst of those difficulties, all of us, but especially you, dear graduates, need to be witnesses of true love, of willing the good of the other.  I remember well the excitement of graduating from high school, the anticipation of college, the joy of being away from my parents (though I did love them).  I had so much energy to change the world for the better, to learn the things that would help me transform the world.  And that energy is a blessing that will help you to love.  But in order to keep up that enthusiasm, you need the Holy Spirit to keep that love of others going.  You will need the Holy Spirit, Whom you received in a new, fresh outpouring when you were confirmed, to help you to know the truth more and more, and to love others in that truth.  

The world can be transformed by your witness.  The world needs to be transformed by your love.  As St. John says in his first letter, “let us love one another, not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.”

13 May 2019

Revelation: Consolation & Worship

Fourth Sunday of Easter
When a lot of people think about the Book of Revelation, they think about scary stuff about the end of time.  They think about 666, the number of the beast, and the trials and tribulations of the end of the world.  And those things are in there, to be sure.  But the overarching theme of Revelation is not what we probably think.
If you’re looking for a good book on how to read the Book of Revelation, you can pick up Scott Hahn’s book, The Lamb’s Supper.  As a Church, we have been listening to the Book of Revelation for the past few Sundays of Easter.  But we haven’t heard too much about beasts and tribulations, dragons with seven horns, or the like.  And that’s because the overarching theme of Revelation is that God is going to take this fallen world, put an end to the fallenness, and then fully bring about a new heaven and a new earth, which He began through the Resurrection of His Son, Jesus.  Yes, evil will be punished, and justice will be established in fullness.  And then we will begin to enjoy the eternal reign of Jesus Christ that will last forever (no, it’s not just 1,000 years; that’s a symbolic number to signify eternity).  
Revelation is meant to be a book of hope for those who were suffering for the faith.  Those who were suffering during “the time of great distress,” those who gave their lives for Jesus, either by martyrdom of blood or the martyrdom of the witness of their lives, will be rewarded.  And it will not be limited to one group of people.  There will be those “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” in heaven.  And what will they do?
Revelation does not describe heaven as a sunny day of golf (golf wasn’t invented yet).  Revelation doesn’t describe heaven as a Caribbean paradise (as nice as that sounds).  Revelation describes heaven as filled with those who have remained faithful to Christ standing “before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”  The white robes should remind us of the white garments that those who are baptized wear.  It is also the basis for the alb that I and some of our servers wear, or the white surplice that our servers in cassocks where.  The white robes are the clothing of those who are worshipping God.  The palm branches should also remind us of Palm Sunday, when the people, and we in imitation of them, praised Jesus as the Messiah as He entered Jerusalem.  

Our second reading continues that those in heaven, “stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple.”  Heaven is eternal worship of God.  Heaven is a Mass that lasts forever, but without the symbols and signs that we have in the Mass, because God is all in all, and there is no need for things to remind us of God because He is fully present.
Coming to Mass each Sunday and Holyday is practice for heaven.  In heaven we join with the angels in adoring God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in an eternal act of praise and adoration.  When God spoke to Moses in the Book of Exodus, God gave Moses a pattern by which Moses was to make the ark of the covenant, the meeting tent (where the ark was, and where God dwelt).  The Temple of Solomon was built to represent the universe as it should be, with waves of the sea, oxen, and fruit, all symbolizing paradise and the Garden of Eden, with the ark of the covenant in the middle, and incense offerings and bread offerings before the presence of God.  Our churches, though some do this better than others, are meant to be patterns of heaven, drawing our hearts to the things that are above, as St. Paul says, not the things of earth.  Earth is fallen; heaven is perfection.  But all of these are patterns for heaven, with Christ at the high point in the sanctuary, especially represented by the altar, as well as His real presence in the tabernacle.  And our angels and saints are meant to remind us that we do not worship alone.  
Revelation teaches us that heaven is a place of reward for those who have followed Christ, where there is no more sorrow or tears, no extremes of weather, no need for any earthly food or drink.  We worship God and He satisfies all our needs.  Coming to Mass each Sunday and Holyday is not about being forced, or making us feel good about ourselves, or getting anything (though God does provide for us to hear His Word and receive the Body and Blood of His Son).  Coming to Mass is about preparing ourselves for eternity.

There may be lots of other things that sound more enticing, that sound more enjoyable than heaven.  There are many shepherds that want to lead us to their goals of happiness.  But, as the sheep of the Good Shepherd, the only truly Good Shepherd, Jesus, we are called to follow Him to eternal life.  If we are honest, we have all listened to other shepherds, who sounded like what they were offering us was what we wanted.  But only the Good Shepherd leads us to heaven.  We cannot get there by any other guide.  Only Jesus welcomes us into the verdant pastures of eternal life.  Only Jesus leads us to heaven, which the Book of Revelation describes as perfect happiness and justice, where sin has been fully defeated, and death and sorrow are no more, where we join with the angels in worshipping God forever in an eternal act of adoration, in the place where God provides perfectly for all our needs.  May we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd so that we can follow where He leads His sheep.  

05 May 2019

If You're Happy and you Know It, Tell Your Face

Third Sunday of Easter
About two months ago, the priests of the Diocese of Lansing met to, among other things, talk about how to increase vocation to the priesthood.  There were lots of ideas shared, some big, some small, some more helpful, some less helpful.  But the advice of one of our senior priests really stood out: if you’re happy and you know it, tell your face.  That was his pithy way of saying that happy priests lead others to consider the priesthood.
But besides being good advice for priests trying to encourage vocations to the priesthood, it’s good advice for all Christians, especially during this Easter season.  If you’re happy and you know it, tell your face!  We have been given the gift of new life in Christ, the opportunity to live for ever in heaven with God, the Blessed Mother, and the angels and saints.  That’s good news!  Sin has been defeated, and Christ has given His Church a way to forgive sins in His name and with His authority (remember that Jesus gave the apostles that authority in last week’s Gospel account).  That should lead us to be joyful.  
Joy doesn’t mean that everything is going to go right in our lives.  St. Thomas Aquinas describes joy as a passion which is caused by love of being in the presence of that which is loved, or by the goodness of the thing loved that lasts.  And, of course, spiritual joy, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, is caused by being in the presence of God and by the goodness of God that endures forever.  Therefore, especially when dealing with the goodness of God itself and how much he loves us, joy and sorrow cannot be mixed up.  We should, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
But, St. Thomas also admits that we do not always participate in the goodness of God, or recognize God’s presence, and that can cause us sorrow, because we don’t see the love of God active in our neighbor, or even active in ourselves.  And we see that sadness in our Gospel today.  St. Peter forgets that Jesus has risen.  He has seen Jesus, but Jesus has gone elsewhere.  And because St. Peter forgets about the abiding presence of the risen Jesus, St. Peter abandons his responsibility of sustaining the disciples in the faith, and decides to go back to his old life of fishing.  
Now, when St. Peter recognizes Jesus on the shore, that joy returns, and so much so that he jumps out of the boat to swim to shore to see Jesus, rather than waiting for the boat to go ashore.  It is then that Jesus asks St. Peter about his love, the threefold profession of love making up for St. Peter’s threefold denial that he even knew Jesus.  And Jesus entrusts to St. Peter the role of feeding the lambs, tending the sheep, and feeding then sheep.  St. Peter is entrusted with taking care of the flock that belongs to the Good Shepherd.  And the joy of loving Christ is meant to keep St. Peter going.
A statue of Jesus at Peter at the
Sea of Galilee
St. Peter had that joy, maybe not always and not exactly as God wanted St. Peter to, but still, St. Peter had the joy of the Resurrection, and we heard about that in the first reading when St. Peter rejoiced “that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” of Jesus.  Even though they were being persecuted, St. Peter (and the other apostles) had joy because they knew they were in the presence of God and that they were able to suffering for God in imitation of Jesus.
So how about us?  Do our faces show that we have the joy of the Resurrection?  As a priest in seminary once told us, this isn’t the smile of someone who just passed gas and then walked away.  This is the joy that gives us peace through all of life’s circumstances, good and bad.  If we recognize the presence of God in our life, then nothing can take that joy from us.  God’s love is always active in our life and sustains us every day.  Even when there is something sad or even horrendous going on in our life, if we know the love of God, then we can still have the joy that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  

The martyrs are the best example of this.  Throughout the centuries there are stories of martyrs who died very painful deaths, but had joy that they were laying down their life in imitation of Jesus.  From the Apostles, to the early Roman martyrs, to the Japanese martyrs in the sixteenth century, to the North American martyrs in the seventeenth century, to saints like Maximilian Kolbe in the twentieth century, they didn’t enjoy being put to death, but they did have joy to suffer for Christ.  And many of their writings testify to that.  So for us, who probably aren’t being covered with tar and lit on fire, having boiling water poured over us to mock baptism, having our fingernails pulled out and our fingers chopped off, being crucified, or being given poison, then hopefully we can recognize the abiding presence of God and live in that joy of Easter.  If you’re happy and you know it, tell your face!

19 April 2019

Live the Resurrection!

Easter Sunday
As I composed this homily, the news reports were updating hour-by-hour about the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  I saw videos of the smoke, the flames, the collapse of the spire.  I saw news that the Blessed Sacrament and the crown of thorns, as well as artwork, had been saved, which was great news.  Notre Dame, the building, is itself a work of art of Gothic architecture.  It was begun in 1160, and most completed by 1260, though it was desecrated during the French Revolution, and then had to be restored beginning in 1845.
The collapse of this building reflects the collapse of the soul of France, once referred to as the Church’s eldest daughter.  According to a 2011 study, only 11% of Frenchmen attend church weekly.  I remember a British professor I had at college, who attended a Church of England boarding school during his childhood, and told us that he asked a classmate if he was going home for Easter.  His classmate asked why?  What was so special about Easter?  
Now, since you’re here today, I’m sure you know what’s so special about Easter.  This is the quintessential description of preaching to the choir.  You chose to get up this morning and come to Mass.  Some of you I see every weekend.  Some of you are visitors.  But you’re here to celebrate Easter, which doesn’t celebrate bunnies, or peeps, or even pretty flowers.  We celebrate Jesus risen from the dead, the Resurrection of Jesus, and the new life that He gained for all of us.
A tapestry of the Resurrection from the Vatican Museums
But I think that we, even as Catholics, even if I am preaching to the choir, have lost our identity, much like the people of France, though maybe not as badly.  Now, a 2014 study found that 47% of Christians go to Church weekly, but a 2018 Gallup poll put that number for Catholics at around 39% for the years 2014-2017.  That’s only 4 out of every 10 people.  
Easter, I think has become like the 4th of July.  It’s important, we celebrate it in some particular way, but it doesn’t change our lives.  It’s a day to think back, maybe even be grateful, but nothing beyond that.  Maybe we get together with family; maybe we cook out.  If we’re here at church, we might even get the family picture that at least one of the family members doesn’t really want (maybe all of them, except, of course, mom).  But then, tomorrow’s just another day, another 24-hour period in the monotony of life.
St. Peter didn’t see it that way.  In our first reading he talks about the power of the Resurrection of Jesus, and talks about the power of forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of the Chosen People, the Jews, to whom all the prophets bore witness.  And it changed Peter and changed the way he lived his life.  Certainly, he was still Peter, still sometimes a bit impetuous and talking before thinking, but converted, changed, for the better by a man that he knew had died, but whom he had also seen risen from the dead.  
It didn’t start that way.  St. Peter and St. John ran to the tomb that first Easter Sunday morning.  They had been told by St. Mary Magdalene that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, and so they both ran to the tomb.  They went in, saw the burial cloths, and the cloth that had covered his head in a different location.  But “they did not yet understand the Scripture that [Jesus] had to rise from the dead.”  And then, that evening, in the Upper Room, Jesus appeared to them, and to all gathered there, and said, “Peace be with you.”  And 50 days later, those same followers of Jesus would be filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim that Jesus is Lord and Jesus is alive, with all that that message entailed.  And every day thereafter, Peter lived with hope that if he continued to follow Jesus’ teachings, that new life would await him, too, a life eternally happy with Jesus in heaven.
Did he do it perfectly?  St. Paul had to confront him about being inconsistent when it came to requiring others to follow the Law of Moses.  And even at the end, St. Peter at first ran away from being martyred.  But in the end, he was faithful to Christ, so much so, that he also was crucified, but upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to die like his Master.
Today changes everything.  Life after the Resurrection is different.  But sometimes I think we live like it doesn’t matter, like Jesus is dead.  If we have faith, if we truly follow Jesus, then we do all we can to treat others the way He did; to be faithful to the will of God the Father and to the truth like He did; to sacrifice for others like He did.  It’s not possible on our own.  We cannot do it without the grace of God.  And even if we try to be open to the grace of God, we may not do it perfectly, but it’s the all-encompassing goal of our life.  And we celebrate that Resurrection as often as we can, not simply because we like celebrating, but because it’s a reminder of who we’re called to be.  
Each Sunday we celebrate the Resurrection.  Each Sunday is called a “little Easter.”  It gives us grace to live like Jesus, and it reminds us that we should want to live like Jesus.  Each day I put on a small piece of cloth around my neck called a scapular.  It’s in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it reminds me that I belong to her and her Son, Jesus.  Some of you are married.  Suppose that you took off your wedding ring at the end of each day.  If you didn’t put it on each day, it would be harder to remember that there is a person to whom you are committed for life.  You belong to each other and to God.  Coming each Sunday is putting on that scapular; it’s putting on that wedding ring.  It reminds us to whom we belong.  Can you still belong to Jesus even if you don’t come to Mass each Sunday?  Sure!  But what belonging will mean for you will be far lesser than what Jesus intends it to mean.  

Don’t let the Resurrection be just another day.  Don’t let Easter be a once-a-year celebration.  Live the Resurrection each day of your life, as one who belongs to Jesus.  Live in the new life that Jesus won for you by His Blood when He died and rose from the dead.

The Whole World Is Changed

Easter Sunday–At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter
Tonight the whole world is changed.  Tonight we participate in the most wondrous, unexpected, joyful event ever: the Resurrection.  We keep watch, or vigil, with Jesus, knowing that at some point, during the night, the tomb which had sealed Jesus was broken, the guard scattered, and Jesus went forth from the tomb, not dead, but alive.  The holy women went to the tomb at daybreak on the first day of the week, on Sunday, and the stone had already been rolled away.  They see two men in dazzling garments, who tell them that Jesus has been raised.  And the whole world was changed.
The Aediculum, the place of the Resurrection of Jesus
in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Nothing like this had ever happened.  Sure, people had been raised from the dead before.  Elijah and Elisha both raised a boy from the dead; Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  But no one had ever risen from the dead on His own power.  And that is what Jesus did.  Jesus, who had no sin, took upon Himself the penalty for sin, and because He suffered willingly for a crime He didn’t commit, sin itself was defeated, and with it death.  And the world was created anew.
We heard about creation in the first reading tonight.  God ordered the chaos.  He separated light from darkness, day from night, earth from water, animals of different kinds, and crowned His creation with man and woman, made in His image and likeness.  But tonight, the night of the Resurrection, God created the world again, no longer under the burden placed upon it by Adam and Eve and their disobedience, but liberated by the Son of Adam and His obedience, even when this meant death, death on a cross.
Abraham showed us a prefigurement of the sacrifice of Jesus in his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved son.  Isaac carried the wood upon the mountain, Mount Moriah; he willingly let himself be bound to it when his father was about to sacrifice.  But at the last moment, God stayed Abraham’s hand.  Yesterday, Jesus carried the wood of the cross up Golgotha, the place of skull, so named because it was, by tradition, the place Adam died.  It was the place of his skull.  Mount Moriah is also, according to some, the place where King Solomon built the temple a thousand years later.  And so Jesus would have died somewhere around that mountain.  But no ram took the place of Jesus, as it did for Isaac.  Jesus suffered the fate that the angel of God stopped when it came to Isaac.  And because of that death, life, eternal life, became possible.

From the pierced side of Jesus, blood and water flowed.  The water flows from the side of Jesus, which quenches the thirst of all who approach it.  The Blood is the Eucharist; the water is Baptism; both are essential to the life of the Church.  The water renews the covenant God made with David, and makes the new creation fertile and fruitful.  It is the clean water that Ezekiel prophesied, which cleanses us of our impurities and false gods.  It is the water which gives us a new heart and a new spirit, so that we can live by the statutes of God, and become truly His people, His children by adoption.
Tonight the whole world was changed because of what one Person did.  And tonight, the whole world is changed because of what two people are doing.  Tonight, Bilal, with your new baptismal name, Maron, and Mikayla, you two are changing the world.  You are dying with Christ in the waters of baptism, and rising with Him to new life.  You are becoming a part of that new creation, no longer weighed down by the slavery to sin and death, but called to live in the freedom of the children of God.  And it is by people such as yourselves that the world is changed.  
Tonight you become children of God, whereas before you belonged only to your parents.  Tonight you become friends of God, though before you were at enmity with Him.  And that friendship and that identity as a son and a daughter of God in the Son of God will allow you to make the life of Jesus your own in your day-to-day lives.  You may not look different, but you will be different.  The Spirit of God will dwell in you, to help to you love God and love your neighbor; to help you to choose good and avoid evil; to be the light of Christ in a world surrounded by darkness.
People wrote off Jesus when He died on the cross.  Even the holy women, with the exception of Mary, the Mother of God, expected only to anoint Jesus’ body, which they were not able to do on the day before because of the solemn Sabbath of Passover.  They did not expect to see Jesus raised.  But Jesus outdid their expectations.  So you, too, may not seem like much.  You’re only two young people.  But if you stay faithful to Jesus, then you have the same power in you that Jesus had, to change the world, not by force or violence, but by grace and love.  Jesus now shares with you the power to help re-create the world according to the will of God, not the reign of Satan.  
Tonight, we, too, already baptized in Christ, stand with you, assuring you of our support, but also recommitting ourselves to be that new creation in Christ.  As we wait for Jesus to return to put an end to all sin and death and usher in the fulness of His Kingdom, we sometimes forget that we have the power to change the world for Christ by His grace.  We become complacent.  We write ourselves off.  Tonight, we are reminded, as we are every Sunday, that Jesus is alive, not dead; that life conquers death and holiness conquers sin; that God can change the world by His grace active in us.

Tonight, the whole world is changed through Christ.  Tonight, the whole world is changed through God’s grace in you, Maron and Mikayla.  Tonight, the whole world is changed through God’s grace in us.  Tonight, the whole world is changed.