Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wake Up! - Homily for September 18



Readings for Sunday, September 18/ 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Amos 8:4-7 | Psalm 113 | 1 Timothy 2:1-8 | Luke 16:1-13

Wake-up calls - they come in a variety of ways, and at different times. It can be a pain in one's chest, or maybe bad news from the doctor, a late night phone call or the presence of the cops at your doorstep when you don't really want them to be there (of course when would that be). But they come - these wake-up calls - as a moment that shakes us and invites us to make a decision, some conversion of our own heart. And that's what the Gospel speaks to us this weekend - of the continue call to conversion, by the form of a little wake-up.

The dishonest steward is a parable that is rather confusing. When you first look at it and read through it, you kind of wonder what in the world Jesus is talking about as he is commending someone who is dishonest and stole from their master. What does it mean? He commends him not for his dishonesty, but his prudence because he recognizes what is taking place before him and he acts. The dishonest steward had apparently been doing this for a while, it was nothing new, that's why he was being reported to the master, and he was let go - he was fired. In some places sometimes it wouldn't have been that big of a deal, you could maybe look elsewhere, look at traveling around and connecting with other people. If things get really bad in our current day, you may be able to fall back upon some government assistance program, but none of those things were present in the ancient world: if you didn't work, you didn't eat, period. And so for him to be told, "You have no job. Make an account of all your works and what everyone owes me. You're done." would have been immediate desperation. He wouldn't have had something to rely upon, necessarily. And so, he realizes he is getting a wake-up call and we hear his internal dialogue, "I know I'm not strong enough to work with my hands. I'm not a physical laborer. I've been pushing the pen a little while longer, working with the books. I'm not a laborer, so I can't do that. I'm too ashamed to beg - I've got my pride. So what do I do?". He starts to think to himself and goes, "Ah, this is what I can  do." He calls in every one of his master's debtors one by one, and to each of them he gives a little discount. "How much do you owe? 100 measures of olive oil? Write a note for 50 - wink, wink - and remember that in the future." Then invites another one, "How much do you owe? 100 kors of wheat? Now write a note for 80, and when l come knocking at your door in the future, remember my generosity." He does this all the way through - dishonestly of course - he's already been dishonest with the wealth that wasn't his and he goes even farther all for himself.

And when the master realizes what the steward has done, he commends him. "Kudos to you man. You're smart. You’re wicked, but still smart, because you needed to provide for yourself. You knew that you had to have a future, and so you went to desperate measure to do it." The actions of the man weren't exactly foolproof, it wasn't a guaranteed thing. The steward could show up at the guy's door to whom we gave a 50% discount on the olive-oil measures, and he could say, "Yeah, thanks for that. Have a good night." and shut the door in his face. It was a gamble, and yet he knew he had to do something. He had to act.

The Lord Jesus doesn't just stop there, He doesn't invite us to be prudent in our actions and daily life. He takes it even farther. As always, He takes the physical connection and brings it into the spiritual level of things - the spiritual life.

How easy it is to forget the spiritual life. We get caught up with the things of the world. Those wake-up calls that come in the flesh are easy to recognize: the chest pains, when the bank account hits zero or negative, when you get bad news from the doctor - these things are physical and clear to us. But our soul doesn't send us a statement of how things are going spiritually. We don't get something that says, "You are going spiritually bankrupt. You need to take some time and figure out what's going on." Nothing of that sort happens. It happens quietly and subtly. We get caught up in worrying about the stuff of the world, and as we begin to take care of our self - and necessarily so (we need to have a roof over our head, clothes on our back and food on the table) - but if we focus on those things too much, it's easy for us to have all of those things and in the end to have nothing. That's what the Lord says, He says that you have nothing if you gain all the things in the world, but lose your soul. If we lose our soul, we have nothing. We can have all the food we want, we can have money for days, a dozen homes all to ourselves, but if our spiritual life is not "there," we've lost everything. So today the Lord gives us the wake-up call and asks, "How is your soul? Do you love God or do you love mammon - the things of the world?" How is your soul?

The wake-up call invites us to action, and that's what the Lord praises and the master praises in the servant. The servant sees that things are about to get bad and he immediately changes course because if he waits until next week he's out of a job completely and doesn't even have the resources to tap into the people he knows, so he has to do something and has to do it now. Do we realize the urgency of our spiritual life in the same manner?

I love technology - it's wonderful because it's helpful in so many ways. One of the things I love is the technology to-do list that can update, connect between my phone and my computer, the real-time updates that can remind me of things to do at certain times. But part of the problem with technology is it's easy to change it. I've had items on my to-do list for a year and a half that every single night, I go look at the list and think, "I'll do that tomorrow" and change the date. And for a year and a half - 500 days - every single day, I've taken that one little to-do item (that would probably take me 10 minutes) and move it because I don't feel like doing it right then. One more day. I'll do it tomorrow ... I'll do it tomorrow .... I'll do it tomorrow.


What's the thing you've been waiting to do until tomorrow in the spiritual life? Been meaning to go to Mass more often during the week, been meaning to make it more on Sundays, been wanting to pray the rosary a little bit more, been wanting to pray a little bit more, been meaning to go back and pick up that devotion I used to do a while back that I just let go a little bit, been meaning to pray the Bible, been meaning to go to confession, been meaning to talk to Father about that question I have about the faith. Been meaning to .... whatever. What's that thing? What's that place in your heart that the Lord is saying, "Wake up and do it! Don't wait for tomorrow. Don't wait until next week. Do it now." Because if we wait until tomorrow, next week, next month, or when we have a free moment whenever we feel like doing it, we will be here a year and a half later saying "Maybe tomorrow ..." Especially in the spiritual life - the spiritual life is everything. When we die, our soul is judge; it's our bodies that decay and wait resurrection later on. Our soul lives on. it's the most important part of us, and today we get the invitation to reflect upon the state of it. How is your soul?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Treasures in Filth - Homily for September 11



Readings for Sunday, September 11/ 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Exodus 31:7-11, 13-14  |  Psalm 51  |  1 Timothy 1:12-17  |  Luke 15:1-32

A couple weeks ago I was over at mom's house and we were going through the storage unit where a lot of our stuff was that had been affected by the flood. As we were going through and tossing a lot of stuff that couldn't be saved we came across one big plastic tote and it was full of two-week-old floodwater. Floating in that disgusting water were my keepsakes - my first baseball cap with my name written on the bill, my Baptismal garment and a few other little things from my childhood that mom had been treasuring for many years. We looked at it, and honestly it was disgusting; I didn't want to touch it, but mom was digging through it, trying to find what she could. I said, "Mom it's ok, it's just stuff, I'll put it out." She responded," No you won't! It may not mean much to you, but it means a lot to me. Give me a minute." And so she dug through it, found a hand full of things she wanted to keep and passed them off to my sister to get her to take care of them.

It was interesting because that is the basic idea of the Gospel this. It starts with the scribes and the Pharisees and they are looking at Jesus who welcomes sinners and even eats with them. They imply in their words to Him a sense of ‘don't you know that they are filthy, don't you know that this is not worthy keeping, just put them to the road, just be rid of them, cut your losses and be done.’ But it's the Lord God who looks and says, "No no no ... these are ones that are very valuable to me. They have great value. They may not have any value to you, you may not see or understand it, but they mean a great deal to me." And that's the scriptures - it's the love that God has for every single one of us as children, and to be able to receive that love.

The reading from Exodus shows us in a sense the patience of God. The passage we heard comes directly after they have sealed the covenant and received the law. Moses had gone up on the mountain and the cloud had consumed the mountain. All the people were praying during this time and Moses comes down with the law - the Ten Commandments - that God Himself has written on the tablets for the people. Moses gives them to the people sayings these are the things God has asked us to do, will you enter into the covenant? Will you enter into the family bond that we want to set? The people of God respond saying, "All of these things we will do - every one of them, we will be faithful to our God." And they were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice as a way of saying, "If I fail to keep my side of the covenant, may death come upon me. It's rightly mine. I choose it." A couple of days later, we find the people of God have already shrunk to their depravity. Rather than turning to the Lord, in their impatience they make a the golden calf from bracelets and other things saying that this is the god who has saved us, not that God on the mountain, this god that we have created with our own hands, this is what has saved us. And the Lord God says, ‘How quickly you have gone away. So quickly you have abandoned the covenant we formed a few days ago.’

It would have been right for God to kill them all; it was part of the judgment, part of the covenant, that every single one of them who said they would do all these things, it would have been part of the deal to rightly deserve to be killed because they asked for it, really. If I don't keep my end, let me die. But the Lord looks upon them with mercy and says, "No no. We will keep them. We will keep trying to bring forth that which is holy which I desire for them. We will keep the promise in store for them." And He shows His patience. He showed His patience for many years as the people of God continued to break the covenant over and over again. Every single generation, every single human heart. We make our promise to God saying, "Lord I will follow you, I will do all of these things," and ten minutes later we have sunk to our depravity once more. How many times have I heard, "Father, I feel like I need to go to confession again after I just walked out of confession because someone did something that upset me."

How quick our hearts can turn, and yet the Lord is always patient with us. He is patient with us and He goes to great lengths to try and save us. A lot of times we feel like we have to try and save ourselves, that we have to try and convince God of our goodness, convince God of my holiness and worthiness of being saved, but it's the Lord who wants it even more than I do. God wants to save you more than you want to be saved. And we see a glimpse of that in the Gospel.

Jesus gives three separate parables all of which show the stupidity of God - the foolishness of God - and His love for you and I. "Who among you," the Lord says, "having a hundred sheep, and losing one wouldn't leave the 99 sheep to go and search far and wide for the one sheep until you find it." And every one of the people there would say that the only shepherd that would leave 99 perfect good sheep to leave in search of the one who has already strayed, no matter how long it takes, is a stupid shepherd because you never know what could happen. The job of the shepherd was to keep safe the flock, and so yea "I'm going to leave 99 perfectly good sheep, so I can go and search - I don't know how long - to find that one. And when I find that one and I come back and 50 others of my 99 have already scattered." It's foolishness. You cut your loses. One sheep - it's unfortunate - but we can't abandon the 99 for the sake of the one, we'll just let it go. That seems like a reasonable thing for a shepherd, it would have been reasonable at the time to do that. But that's not the heart of God when it comes to us. It would be like a family of 12 going to a theme park, and coming out with 11 and going, "Well ... close enough .... get in the car." It doesn't happen, right? If you're missing a kid you say, "Y'all get in the car, but I'm going back to find them." And the same thing with our God. He doesn't look upon us as sheep, He looks upon us as children. He's our Father. He says, "One of my children is out there. I need to go find them." To great lengths He goes, to foolish lengths He goes.

The second parable shows that even more of the absurdity of it all - the lady with the 10 coins who loses one. We lose something in the translation, as always, from the ancient language to the contemporary language, and by the coin they essentially mean the equivalent of a penny or nickel. She loses a penny in her house ... and so in response, she tears up everything; she's pulling out the couches, flipping over the beds, searching the cabinets, sweeping the entire dirt floor, cleaning everything and searching entirely for…a penny. How many times have you gone to the grocery store and while walking to your car, you look on the ground, see a penny, and keep walking because it's just a penny. It's not worth your time to pick up the penny in a sense sometimes. And yet she goes and turns over her entire house looking for it. And then when she finds it, she invites all the neighbors to come celebrate. Imagine if you were sitting at your house and you got a phone call from your neighbor saying, "Come to the house, come to the house! We got some great news! The whole street, the whole neighborhood is coming, I got something awesome to tell you." And you all get there like, "What, what, what?!" you ask and they excitedly inform you, "I found the penny I've been looking for."  "You invited us over for that? You're crazy .. you're a fool." It's a penny! And yet that's the Lord. How often whenever we are lost and we don't even know we are lost, we think everything is fine, and yet we're lost. It would've been easy for the world to look upon us, as the scriptures describe the Pharisees, and say "It's just a penny ... it's just one person. There's what, 5 billion people in the world, what's one? Just let them go." But the Lord says no.

Those are two examples of things that were "not able to go back;" the coin doesn't have a mind of its own; the coin can't seek to be found. If the sheep goes in a place or gets lost in a hole or falls off a cliff and needs help, it can cry out but it doesn't have the sensibilities to go back exactly where it was…he can't reason it that way. He simple cries out in hopes of being found. But the lost son who goes away, it makes it more personable.

The last one is the son who goes off, and he receives the father's inheritance first. Basically he says, "Father I wish you were dead, so I could have my part of your stuff." What a great son, huh? Everybody wants a son like that. And so the son takes it and immediately leaves. Imagine the sorrow in the father's heart. The son goes off and he spends it on prostitutes and all these sorts of things. He's working among the pigs which would have been completely contrary to the faith, they didn't touch pork or deal with pigs - it was "unholy" and "unfitting", and yet he was longing to eat pig food. That tells you the lengths to which he had gone in his faith, and he realizes it and decided to go back, thinking he'd at least be a hired hand at the house. And when he goes back, the father does - again - the most foolish of things. Who among us would take the son - who took half of our belongings, went and spent it on sin, and wants to come back - who among us would give him the finest robe, put a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet, and slaughter the best animal we have, and throw a party? The fool. Instead, at best, you would welcome him back as a hired hand; at worst, you would slap him in the face and tell him to get out of here. That would've been normal, the normal response of the days ... "You wanted me dead? I'm dead. Go away." That would've been acceptable, socially reasonable, and yet the father does the exact opposite. He gives him even more riches on top of what he has already wasted.

And its the Father who does the same for us. No matter what filth we may find ourselves in, no matter what it is that we are "floating in" in a sense, God our Father looks at us and goes, "This is one that I treasure. This is one that I created Myself and love, that I want to keep. I know how bad it looks, how disgusting it looks, how useless it may seem, but this is one that I treasure." Every single one of us. The person that we think is the easiest to dismiss, who ever that person might be for you, that person is so deeply loved by God that He is willing to go to any lengths to save him. All the people that we meet, every person we see - today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives - God longs for them to be sitting right next to you in the pews. He longs to have His children to come to Him. It's not that He will accept us back reluctantly - He is actively seeking every single person. Every single one of us. Some of us respond and come back. Sometimes we don't know that we are lost - we're like the coin that's just there, it doesn't know. But every single one of us, God calls. Every person - treasured, loved, valued and longed for.

Brothers and sisters we are much more than coins and we are much more than sheep. God calls us to Himself. We are the sons and daughters of His who can turn away or can draw close, and we can bring the same with others. We can bring others close to Christ and let them know that no matter what, they are loved, because there are many people around us who don't know they are loved, who don't know they are worth saving, who don't know they are worth anything. They have never been told that, but it's we who can share the good news. It's we who can share the gospel of the love of our God which is so powerful that He calls every one of us to Himself. He seeks that all might be saved, and it is for us to respond, to be willing to be found. And so we pray through the course of this Mass, pray for the grace of the Lord Jesus to be with us, especially in this Eucharist, to help us to become even more deeply aware of our sinfulness so that we can become aware of the gift of our Savior and the gift of the God who loves us, who longs for us, who has come to seek and to save sinners.


We see Paul as the perfect witness who says, "I am a blasphemers, a persecutor." He tried to actively killed Christ and stands here as a witness. How much can we say the same for others? We are all sinners, and there is place for more here in the Church of Jesus Christ. And so we pray for His grace to be with us again, to help us become aware of our sinfulness, but also the joy of a Savior. That we might be able to experience the joy of this Mass, the peace of His mercy, and the grace of coming to rest in the heart of Christ that comes to seek us out and to save us.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Welcoming the Slave - Homily for September 4



Readings for Sunday, September 4/ 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Wisdom 9:13-18  |  Psalm 90  |  Philemon 9-10, 12-17  |  Luke 14:25-33

Yesterday, September 3, was the feast day of Pope St. Gregory the Great - one of the few saints in the church that has that title "the Great," added on to his name on account of the number of gifts he brought to the church and the profound impact he's had on the life of the Church since his reign as the Holy Father. He himself was a man who knew his weaknesses. He was raised in the world, and then left to join the monastery became a Benedictine monk and enjoyed living a life of quiet prayer and simple labor until he was elected as the Holy Father. He was in the world, then removed from the world, and then thrust back into the world. In one of his reflections on the prophet Ezekiel, he lamented the fact that how so often he was easily caught up in prayer in the monastery, and yet when he was busy about the things of the world he often found it easier to sin than to be caught up in the things of prayer, to be consumed of the stuff of the world than the things of God. In that same reflection, he also mentioned the fact that every church, every community, has a watchkeeper, one who is supposed to be set on the heights and who is able to see the whole terrain so as to guide the flock most effectively. He said in proclaiming that I automatically condemn myself because I, the leader of the Catholic Church, myself fall short of being a good watchkeeper.

St. Gregory the Great is my patron saint. I took him as my confirmation saint when I was in eleventh grade because he is the patron saint of musicians and I wanted to be a rock-star, so I figured the patron saint of musicians could help me reach that end. Little did I know that I would take a different route in following him and become a watchkeeper myself, a watchman in the pulpits, and to be able to be called by Christ as a priest, to watch the terrain and see where it is that the flock is called to go. Much like St. Gregory I am condemning myself because I stand here every day and proclaim to you the things of God, knowing good and well that I don't fulfill them perfectly myself. So, if ever my homilies seem a little bit harsh and a little bit hard, you're in good company because I'm preaching to myself. And I said that especially in regards to the homily this weekend.

The Letter of St. Paul to Philemon is a beautiful and striking letter. If anyone has ever had a desire to read a whole book of the Bible, you should read Philemon - it's one single chapter. It'll make you feel good about things ... "I read a whole book of the Bible today!" I encourage you to go read it even though we have a good portion of it here and get the main part of it in what we just heard, how Paul is in prison writing a letter to Philemon. Philemon has sent one of his slaves, Onesimus, to Paul in his imprisonment to help him and to care for him for a short time. Maybe he brought him letters, correspondence, or something of that nature. Maybe he sent him some bread and wine so he could offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice in prison. We don't know. But Onesimus went to go serve Paul, and Paul says: I wish I could keep him here for myself, I wish I could keep him because he's like a son to me now, a brother, a friend. I love him with all my heart, and I wish I could keep him here with me, but I'm not, I'm sending him back to you Philemon, but I'm sending him back a little bit different. He gives Philemon a challenge. He says I want you to receive him back not as a slave but as a brother. He says if you regard us as friends, receive Onesimus your slave, as if he were me, your father in faith. It's quite a challenge - to receive a slave as if he was his father in faith, as if he was the one who gave us life.

Whenever I came here to our community, I was warmly welcomed. There was little signs at the rectory, little balloons and all kinds of things. We had the reception and cake, and more cake, and more cake ... the cake hasn't stopped in two years much to my frustration. But there is a very warm welcome I received, and was glad to receive. That's one of the trademarks of parish, also of our local community - being welcoming to others. Whenever people come from other places, they are warmly received and welcomed, and rightly so - they should be. But the question the Lord invites us to reflect upon, especially with Onesimus and Paul, is: How do we receive those not who are coming from far away, but those that are right here in our community but haven't been here in Church in a while? How do we welcome them? How do we welcome the ones who maybe have strayed from the faith for a little while, gone away for a few years and we haven't seen their face? What about the ones that have done or said something or committed some sin that we have deemed unforgivable and we hold it against them, and we know it, we know what they have done? What about those that simply are here, but not here, that are in and out at times, inconsistent? Maybe that them is me. Maybe it's that I hold myself to those things. How do we respond when people we know and love come to church when we don't expect them to?

A lot of times whenever we see it, it can that response of Onesimus; we have that response of either we can keep in slavery or we can unbind in freedom and welcome as a brother. Sometimes it's those things, it's other stuff, maybe it makes us uncomfortable, maybe it's someone who is a little bit different from us. How easy it can be for us to hold something against someone else and make them as a slave. Again, it can be the sins of the past, the absence from Mass, it can be characteristic flaws that we don't like in them. Whatever it may be, we allow it to be a binding force that separates us, that excludes them and doesn't welcome them. In fact, Christ calls us to freedom - all of us.

Whenever we welcome somebody in church we haven't seen in a while, there's a number of responses we can have. And one of the things that I think is natural in us, there's a difficulty sometimes in how to respond. What do we say? There's a sense in which we have to acknowledge that we are happy to see them, rightly so. I think we usually are. Most of us are not upset when people show up to church. So we are happy to see them. But I think sometimes there is that difficulty of how do I address the fact that I'm happy to see you and yet I haven't seen you in a while, where have you been. And when we say that, we try sometimes to break the ice a little bit with humor, but the humor sometimes comes with a little dagger in the back of it. "Wow I haven't seen you here in awhile! Who let you in this place? I hope the walls of the church don't fall in. Did the holy water sizzle when it touched your head?" We laugh, but these are the things I've heard from the lips of people as I've stood at the entrance of the door of the church, sometimes at our own parish. And I've known people who've told me that exact same thing - that they went to church for the first time in a long time, and they felt like the Lord was leading them back to church, and they were welcomed with one of those greetings, and they turned around, walked out the door and never came back. Never came back. How much are words can have an impact. I got an email this week from a young man I ministered to in a youth group, and I thought I was doing well, I thought I said the right thing, and he sent me an email this week saying, "Fr. Brent, I haven't been to church in several years on account of you." Something I said. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was saying the right thing. He hadn't set a foot in the church because of me. Our words have great power - for ill, but also for good. When someone comes through the door that we haven't seen in a while, whats the proper response? "Good morning!" .... "Hey! How's the kids? How's the family? How about those Tigers ... the Saints" ... pick a more pleasant topic to talk about ... anything ... Anything. Be able to simply love the person who came in. It's a temptation sometimes because the tension in us wants to resolve, but everybody knows it's there. It's just to show love - to love the other person. Period.

This morning the Holy Father celebrated the canonization of now St. Teresa of Calcutta - Mother Teresa. St. Teresa is also someone who provides us with a little extra encouragement this weekend in that same regard - to welcome the other, to love the other, even when they may be entirely different from us, even entirely unlovable in a sense from a worldly view. She shows us how to love.

In the community of the Missionaries of Charity that Mother Teresa founded, each morning they would have a holy hour in community and then they would have Mass offered.So every day, they would spend an hour in prayer in their chapel before the Blessed Sacrament, and then they would have Mass, then go off and do their work serving whoever it was, whatever mission it was that they went to go out and serve that day. And on several accounts, various sisters came to forward to ask her different scenarios saying "Mother we spend so much time in the chapel. What if we cut that time in half - maybe to 30 mins in prayer, then did Mass and then went out, we would be able to serve that many more people. We would be able to be that much more effective in our community." Mother Teresa wisely responded, "It's only because we know the Lord Jesus here in our time of prayer, in our Mass - it's only that we know Him and love Him here  - that we can see Him out there and serve Him. If we lose Him here (the chapel), we can't find Him there." So the Lord invites us the same - that whenever we come to Mass, whenever we find ourselves with an opportunity to pray in church, to know that there we can find our Lord. We can come to know Jesus, to love Jesus, to be loved by Jesus. And only in doing those things can we go to the doors of the church and beyond and see Christ in other people. Until then, we will only be able to be bind up in chains. But in Christ Jesus we can bring freedom.

So we pray the grace of the Lord to be with us today through the intercession of St. Gregory the Great and St. Teresa of Calcutta, that we will be able to draw close to the Lord Jesus in this Mass, that we may be able to know Him a little bit more, to be able to love Him more deeply, to be able to go forth to see Him, to serve Him, and to bring freedom to our brother and sisters around us.




Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Papal Intentions for September 2016

Papal Intentions for September 2016

Universal Intention: That each may contribute to the common good and to the building of a society that places the human person at the center.
Mission Intention: That by participating in the Sacraments and meditating on Scripture, Christians may become more aware of their mission to evangelize.

Prayer for the Pope

V. Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.
R. May the Lord preserve him, give him life, 
and make him blessed upon the earth, 
and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

Our Father... Hail Mary...

O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Francis, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Foundation of the Christian Life - Homily for August 28




A few years ago a trilogy of books was put out and movies subsequently made about them titled Divergent. It was set as a future of America, more or less, where society had kind of crumbled and they were living a completely type of different state than what we would be used to. Rather than individuals being part of a complex social system, society was divided up into five specific groups. There were individuals who kind of represented five essential characteristics or virtues of the human person. But it was a taken to an extreme, and each of those individual groups were called to live out that extreme to the highest. There were the Dauntless who embodied the virtue of courage to an extreme of craziness, such that it was almost a rule for them to have tattoos and wild hair and had to jump off of trains as their mode of common transportation - it was kind of bizarre. There the Erudite whose entire life was consumed with knowledge and education. There were other groups as well, and then there was one group called the Abnegation. They were the extreme embodiment of selflessness or humility. They were required to wear drab gray clothing, rather than bright colors that might indicate something special. They were required to have a certain hairstyle, not to have fancy things, nice things or many things, but rather to be abundantly simple. You were unable to express your gifts and to use the good things that were part of your own natural life because you were Abnegation. You had to necessarily quench and reject all of those things. Whenever you were in the presence of members of the four other branches of the society, the Abnegations were always the ones who had to had to step back and defer to the other groups. 

I mention that because this weekend we hear the words of scripture inviting us to reflect upon humility, and often time when we hear "humility" we think the "abnegation" - we have to have the drab gray clothing, a sense of unable to be .......*TRAIN!!!*....... Anywho, when we think about humility, we often think of that extreme version. "O yea ... you know ... I'm not really good at that. I don't really have that gift." It's this false humility that basically is a lie. When St. Benedict - the founder of Western monasticism of the great Benedictine monasteries - was writing his rule on the monks and their gifts, he said it would be a shame, even more a sin against God if a monk who had a good voice intentionally neglected it because he didn't want it to stick out. It would be a sin for one to reject their gifts that were rightfully given to them by God. And unfortunately that's what we can think humility is - a rejection of the gift that is something that could lift us up, that could exalt us. 

St. Thomas Aquinas said to recognize truth and to live truth was humility; to be humble was to recognize that every single one of us was created in the image and likeness of God - that we are created for heavenly life. But at the same time, on account of our sins, we deserve hell. But on the other hand, Christ has saved us and redeemed us. And by the gift of Baptism we are heirs to the kingdom of God, but we have to work and labor for it. So it's recognizing the truth that I am a sinner who is called to be a saint. 

St. Theresa of Avila, when she was in her own convent with the Carmelites, she was struggling with how to live out humility herself as a religious sisters. One day she asked the Lord point blank in prayer, "Lord, what is humility?" and the Lord Jesus responded to her, "Knowing what you can do and knowing what I can do." Knowing what you can do - and the limits thereof - and knowing what I can do and the fact that there are no limits to it. That's humility. It's knowing that in our weakness, we have many great gifts that come from God, but they rely upon Him. Everything is reliant upon the Lord Jesus. That's humility - not this false humility that rejects all of the goodness in us, but a recognition of the good and where it comes from.

Humility is very important in the Christian life. It's not one of the virtues that's taken among all the virtues. It's the most important virtue of all. Today is the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo, a great doctor of the Church. He was a man who lived a life of revelry, of partying, of debauchery. But he was converted. He became a great priest and bishop of the Church, one of the most profound bishops. He was a writer that was absolutely incredible at his writings. Sixteen hundred years later and we still haven't translated them all into English, so prolific was he. A profound writer. And as he was reflecting on the spiritual life, he came to the understanding in his prayer and said that if we don't have humility, every other virtue that we appear to have is a lie. Because every other virtue I appear to have, if I don't have humility, ultimately is just about me. It could look really good on the outside - it could look positively saintly on the outside - but without humility, it's really about me. 

That's humility - the call to us to be humble before the Lord. It's the foundation of the Christian life. It's our everything because it's the first place that Christ comes to redeem us. In the Fall, their first sin was a sin of pride, the sin of exalting themselves, and it's the Lord who came and humbled the Lord. But in response, the Lord Jesus comes to undo that same sin, and what is the remedy? Humility and obedience to the Father. He comes, empties himself and takes on our flesh, and saves us. Without humility, we are lost, and only with humility are we saved. So we must have it, but how do we get it? How do we grow in this virtue that's the foundation of everything that we do and are as Christians. 

St. Benedict has this nice little 12 step approach where you can climb the ladder of humility. I have a hard time remembering three points quite often, so I don't expect you to remember twelve points, so if you want to find them out, you can find it HERE. I'd like to bring what he says and that part of the rule, as well as other writings, and it's emphasized in three main points. 

The first point is to pray for humility. To pray for humility is immediately to recognize that I can't do it myself. If I'm pretty sure I can make myself humble by my own will and my own choosing, I am at the height of pride. It's only the Lord who gives us the grace to be humble; it's only He who allows us that virtue to be alive in our hearts. So the Lord Jesus comes and He gives us the graces as we ask them. Pray for humility, seek it out, ask for the gift - to seek, to ask, to knock - and to know that it will be given to us. If you want a specific prayer, I encourage you in praying the Litany of Humility (found HERE), a wonderful prayer composed by a cardinal about a hundred years ago. The Litany of Humility is a profound prayer; it strikes at the root and it hurts a little bit whenever you pray it. The first time I prayed it, I felt pretty rough afterward like "Lord, we got some work to do!" The priest who first introduced me to it said that when he was given the Litany of Humility, he read through it and was so afraid to pray it that he gave it to a religious sister and asked her to pray it on his behalf. He became a good and holy priest, so apparently her prayers were effective. But it's first and foremost to pray for humility. 

The second thing is to allow humility to come forth in our speech, to allow our conversation to be marked by humility. Archbishop Fulton Sheen was remarking that in a particular chapter of one of the letters of St. Paul the words "I," "me," and "my," were a litany, where it seemed like every fourth word, something to the effect of over 30 times in a single chapter. He said these words over and over again, and at the end of the chapter he paused to reflect upon the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and how that was His glory. Archbishop Sheen said it's interesting to note the next chapter of the letter doesn't mention "I," "me," or "my" once. How often in our conversation it can turn to "I," the focus upon myself. But as we turn to the Lord and allow Him to increase humility within us, as we allow Him to convert our hearts, it becomes more about the other than about myself. And that's what the Lord calls us to - to be conscience of our words and to focus on asking the other things - to focus on you rather than I. Simply that practice trains our mind, thoughts and speech to focus on the other, but not just in those types of things but even in the midst of conversation how easy it is for our conversations to be for a purpose of us gaining something for me, and not always in a positive sense. To gain knowledge, wisdom or spiritual insight is good, but to gossip for the gain of power and authority over someone else, because you know what they did or didn't do, is not good. So to gain for ourselves in a wicked sense, an evil sense, is not of God. So the Lord too invites us there too to seek humility, to humble ourselves and focus on others that they might be exalted.

The last thing is to do things that humble us. The Lord Jesus says explicitly in scripture to go take take the lowest seat so that whenever the host comes they can say to take the higher seat, rather than to take the higher seat and have the host come and say "Hey, you're not number one, sorry," and have you move down. What a tragedy that is, what shame is experienced, humiliation, embarrassment. And so the Lord invites us to be humble, ourselves. And here's the catch, no matter what, the Lord will always allow us to gain graces of humility; it’s just a matter of whether we gain them by choosing to humble ourselves or Him sending humiliations our way. Personally, I'd like to have a little say in how I get humbled - maybe that's my pride - so I can choose the situations rather than to be unexpectedly publicly embarrassed. So for us to take up those actions of humility, so that we grow in it ourselves by our own choosing and desire, rather than to wait for someone else to knock us off our horse. 

The Lord calls us to humility in a great way, but He also shows us here at Mass. That's something that I think we can reflect upon much more deeply - the humility the Lord expresses here in this offering. He does each of those things: the prayer of humility, the words of humility, the actions of humility. The Lord Jesus invites us to come here; it's incredible in itself. Our first readings says that you're not coming to something that you can simply touch and experience. You're coming to the dwelling place of God. You're coming to the Holy City - Zion. You're coming to meet our Lord. By the simple fact that we are here today should bring us to our knees in humility, and indeed it does in various parts of the Mass. To be humbled to come and to speak with our God - to love Him and to be loved by Him. 

The prayers in the Mass, as I spoke about last weekend, invite us to humility. Lord have mercy ... Lord I'm not worthy ... Thanks be to God ... these sorts of things are the words that we speak that the Lord gives to us. I think one of the things most often and easily overlooked because it's so normal to us, regretfully, is the humility of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. St. Peter Julian Eymard, in his reflections on the Eucharist, says the fact that Jesus comes among us in the Eucharist is the highest expression of His humility. It was incredible that He came among us as flesh, but in His own flesh and blood. He could walk away, He could go away, He could do all these things whenever people came to attack Him. He could've left. But in the Eucharist, anything that happens to Him, He humbly submits. He chooses obedience to the Father, and to us. We could take the Host and toss it in the yard, throw it in the street, use it for target practice, and the Lord would not once stop us. Not once. It would be a sacrilege and very serious sin, but He wouldn’t stop us. That's the humility of Christ Jesus who loves us, who came to sacrifice Himself for us. That's the humility of Christ, and it's that humility that he invites us to - to be able to draw near to Him, to allow Him to teach us by words and by deeds, what it is to be humble, what it is to know the truth and to live it. What we can do and what God can do.