Sunday, June 26, 2016

Discipleship with a Heavenly Smile

This homily is from last weekend, June 26. I'm on retreat currently (allowing myself a brief moment to update the blog) and thus will not be having a homily post from the July 3 weekend. Thank you for your prayers - keep them coming!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Saving the World, One Monk at a Time

In the past I have posted information on young women seeking to enter religious life but who needed some financial assistance in order to do so. Today I'm doing the same about a young man I met last year while on retreat, Stephen Joseph Hill. He impressed me in the few days I was able to share meals  with him, as well as a lively game of Risk, offering to serving Low Mass for me while there and assuring me of his continued prayers for my priesthood. He recently announced that he has been accepted to Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma, a Benedictine monastic community. In order to do so he needs to be free of his college loans and so he has opened a 'gofundme' page to attain this end. Please keep him in your prayers and, if you are able, consider making a donation. Thank you in advance.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

...the rest of the story.

Readings for Sunday, June 19/ 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Psalm 63
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

Earlier this week I sat down and decided to look through our parish directory from the early 90’s. I looked through every page and every family, recognizing many faces and knowing that there are others not pictures and many who have gone to their eternal reward. It was neat to see everyone 20+ years ago – and not just because of the hairstyles! – because it helped me to remember that there is still much about you and this community that I don’t know.

When we get to know another person or place, we only know it from our first encounter onward and the past is but a story and not something we can experience firsthand. It can be easy to forget about all of the past things and simply see the person as the one we’ve come to know, but in doing so we necessarily miss some things. This is exactly what the Lord is helping the disciples to realize today in the Gospel passage we just heard. The disciples knew Jesus from His ministry and saw Him largely in that light. The people from His hometown, on the opposite end, would struggle to see the great wonder-worker because they only saw Him as the regular guy from their hometown. And the Lord has to provide to all of them the fuller picture. He asks who people say that He is and they respond with the answers of various great prophetic figures. Without even acknowledge the responses, He asks who the disciples say that He is. This is something every one of us must give thought to at points in our life, who is the Jesus we claim to know and serve? Peter’s response wins him a rebuke and in other Gospel accounts the note that he received this knowledge from the Father and not simply early wisdom. Not to stop there, the Lord continues with the rest of the story. The disciples would have no problem accepting the Lord as a miraculous person, a wonder-worker of the highest order who did things that none had ever seen before. They could accept Him as a great ruler, meant to save the Israelites from the opposing nations. But what they struggled to accept was the very truth of what followed: the necessity of the suffering to come. The proclamation that the Lord would soon be rejected by the rulers of the land, crucified, and be then raised from the dead was a hard pill to swallow. And what’s more, the Lord said they would have to pick up their cross daily to follow in His path.

No innocent man was meant to carry a cross. It was the condemned who carried the wood to their place of crucifixion and so the Lord invites us to see ourselves as already condemned, as already dead to this world. If we submit to this reality, then we can truly be raised up in a sense to a new life in this world that is marked by the virtues and life of Christ. And so we pick up our cross. Daily. Each day has it’s cross and the biggest of crosses that each of us has to bear is other people. And for those other people, the cross is you and me.

Last week’s tragic violence in Orlando has given our world one more opportunity among others to reject the cross and to seek shelter in our ‘safe places’. It’s a natural tendency of the human person to seek others with whom we find similarities – the people who have similar interests, similar histories, who speak the same, and believe the same things. We find what is comfortable in our circles, which is not bad in itself. The problem is that so often these differences are used to build walls around ourselves so that we become various groups of ‘us versus them’ and the difference are used to assert superiority. This is what St. Paul is writing about to the Galatians. They are beginning to squabble over groups – male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free. These would traditionally be understood as one being superior and the other inferior. In response St. Paul writes to remind them that in Christ all are one and that there is not male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free. He isn’t saying that those difference don’t exist, indeed they do, but that the differences don’t matter when it comes to equality and the charity toward others. And the same applies to us in our society today. There are so many groups that are different from one another, but we find ourselves on shaky ground when we begin to use those as indicators of superiority or as the limits of our charity. That because someone is in the group of ‘them’ regarding LGBT, muslims, guns, Trump, Hillary, or whatever that we have no obligation to love them or show kindness. And this is the cross – the obligation to love our neighbors even when we don’t agree, especially on very important things. In this we follow the example of Jesus that we heard recently as He at in the house of Simon the Pharisee – that the woman was weeping at His feet and Simon thought to himself “If he knew who and what sort of woman that this is, he wouldn’t let her do this!” ‘She’s one of the THEM!’ he thinks to himself and in doing so shows his lack of charity toward her, as well as toward the Lord. The Lord loved her, despite her sinfulness and ‘otherness’ and in doing so, drew her to Himself.

I came across a quote from St. John Bosco earlier this week that has resonated with me through these recent days: “This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so He bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.”

The Lord loved everyone before Him from the sinful woman to the hard-hearted Simon and in doing so gave every person the chance to follow after Him. He acknowledged differences, but chose to love the other still. In doing so there is a great ease in ruffling feathers and causing controversy. He knew this and it was because of His humility that these things did not matter; He simply bore the daily cross, which culminated in the greatest of humiliations on Calvary. Are we willing to do the same? To recognize divisions, yet to see ‘them’ as worth loving and liking. To forgive when the other isn’t sorry. To accept harsh words and to bite our tongue instead of spouting harsh words back. When someone hurts us somehow the temptation can be to assume the worst, but it is the call of the Christian to go out of our way to make excuses for ‘them.’ “They know not what they do” the Lord pleaded to the Father in the midst of crucifixion. And so we have the joy daily of picking up our cross and following the Christ by showing love to each person before us, even to the point of death.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Why Confess My Sins to a Priest?

Readings for Sunday, June 12 / 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
Psalm 32
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

This week I was listening to a podcast on health and the podcaster was discussing scientific studies that showed that subjecting oneself to extreme heat and cold had notable health benefits. He noted how much of western culture likes to keep our temperature at a consistent level at home, in the car, at work, in stores and restaurants and more. It would seem that would be healthy but research indicated that having stresses on the body - heat and cold, specifically - made the body more versatile and adaptable, and thus healthier. He then posited such things as cold baths and going to the sauna (in Louisiana we call that simply going outside in the summer). But it intrigued me that the discomfort actually brought about health. 

In the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul addressed something that was causing some discomfort in the early Church. Some of the Jewish converts to Christianity continued to hold that one must follow the Jewish works of the law in addition to the mandates of Christ, causing much confusion to the Gentile (non-Jewish) converts who thought it unnecessary to practice the Jewish laws since Christ came to give a 'new law' in the Spirit. St. Paul acknowledges the conflict and affirms that it was not necessary to follow the Jewish works of the law, such as the ritual washings and such, because such things do not bring about justification or salvation. Those who remained attached to the works of the law were placing their trust in the actions they were doing and St. Paul unambiguously points out that if those actions were enough, then Christ died in vain. If it were possible to get to heaven simply by the works of the Jewish law, it is foolishness to have Christ come among us to die because there was an easier way. But that was not the case. Justification is not through works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, and the conflict helped to clarify that fundamental teaching of the Church.

A question that I've often heard posed is another that arises from an experience of discomfort: Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest? It's a question that is raised frequently and with much firmness in the conviction that 'I can go straight to Jesus without needing a priest.' The scriptures help us to make a bit of sense on the question. First, it's to recall that Jesus' first act after the Resurrection was to appear to the Twelve and to breath the Holy Spirit upon them, telling them "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, who sins you retain are retained." The fact that it was the first thing He did is significant. Acts of the Apostles shows us that the disciples took the Lord at His word and went forth to preach the Gospel, forgive sins, and to health. One point not often given much reflection is that our sins affect not only 'me and Jesus' but also 'me and everyone else'. The impact of personal sin cannot be underestimated in our dealing with others, especially given the fact that the majority of our sins are in direct connection with another person or group of people. At Holy Mass, the priest acts on behalf of God for the people, nourishing them with the Eucharist, and also on behalf of the people to God, to whom we offer the sacrifice of Jesus and our sacrifice of praise. He acts in both ways, as well, during confession, imparting forgiveness on behalf of both God and the community. We can call to mind also the epistle of St. James (5:16) which calls for the confession of sins to one another. These can be helpful in giving strength to the argument, but only one argument was really enough to personally convince me when I was younger: Jesus set it up that way.

When it comes to confessing our sins to a priest, many conveniently forget just how physical was the ministry of Jesus and the worship of our Jewish ancestors before Him. It was eminently physical because we aren't angels. We're not purely spiritual beings. We are human, which means we are composed of both spirit and body. Both are important and the Lord's connection to us honors that point. In the first reading from 2nd Samuel we hear how it was a prophet of God who proclaimed the mercy of God. Prophets weren't just good preachers, they were men chosen by God and anointed with holy oil as a sign of consecration to be the voice of God. When they spoke they began "Thus says the Lord..." because they spoke on behalf of God to the people because the Lord knew the needed to hear it. The priests of the Jewish faith were anointed with holy oil as well and integral to the spiritual life of the people. The ritual washings and purifications were done by the priests to make people 'clean' who had become 'ritual unclean' in some way. Jesus affirms this practice when the 10 lepers come to Him to be healed and He commands them to go show themselves to the priest. He acknowledges the physical need we have to connect to God in the many accounts of His ministry. Today we hear Him speak to the woman at His feet to tell her that her sins were forgiven and to go in peace. He didn't have to say it for it to become reality; as God He could have simply willed it to be and it would be. But for her sake and for the sake of those others at table, it was spoken aloud. Other times in His ministry He was even more clear, saying to the Father in John 11:42 'I know that you always hear me, but I say this for the benefit of those standing here with me, that they might believe.' The One who knit us together in our mother's womb and knows us better than we know ourselves over and again drives home the point that our faith is not simply spiritual or invisible, but is necessarily physical and tangible. That's part of the beauty of the sacrament - we can hear and receive the touch of mercy that we need. 

As I was reflecting on the letter to the Galatians in light of this question, though, it helped me to clarify why I feel a bit of sting when the need for a priest to receive forgiveness is rejected. And it comes down to this: if justification and salvation were possible by the works of the law, then Jesus died in vain. And if the forgiveness of sins can happen anytime with no need for a priest, what am I doing here? Why have I given up 12 years of life already and consecrated the rest of my life for the service of God, giving up wife, children, my own home, certain freedoms, and ability to shape my own future if you can just as easily receive mercy without my presence? The whole mission of the consecrated priest has one single goal: to remove the one thing that separates us from heaven, that thing being sin. The mission of Jesus was to reconcile the world to the Father by the destruction of sin. The priest follows the same path. Is it uncomfortable to confess one's sins to a priest? Absolutely! There have been many times where I intentionally went out of my way to go to a different priest simply so that I wouldn't have to confess to the priest the same things I confessed to him the week before - and I was a priest then! Being a priest doesn't make it easier to humble myself and admit my sins, unfortunately.  I, too, need that verbal assurance that brings about the tangible lifting of the weight on my heart that sin brings, to be told "I absolve you from your sins" and to be able to say it to others in the same manner as Jesus - I absolve you, I forgive you, your faith has saved you, go in pace. So, while it might be comfortable to think that we can simply go 'straight to Jesus', it is when we become a bit uncomfortable we become healthier - and that doesn't apply only to the body.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Where's Your Coffin?

Readings for Sunday, June 5/ 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
1 Kings 17:17-24
Psalm 30
Galatians 1:11-19
Luke 7:11-17

It’s nice to be back in green! I don’t know about you, but one of the things I enjoy about the liturgical year is that each season goes on just long enough to make me look forward to the next one. And so it is with joy that I vest today in the vibrant green of ordinary time. We pick up, and will continue until November, reading the Gospel of St. Luke. He is the only Gentile (non-Jewish) writer of the four Gospels and so he focuses often on the outreach of Jesus to those who were on the periphery of society, the outcasts, and the most vulnerable. This would have included the Gentile peoples, but also included women in general, widows, orphans, and those with disease or major affliction. So it is appropriate that we pick up here this weekend with the story of Jesus raising up the son of a widow. And it is appropriate, too, that it is prefaced with the story of Elijah.

As you may recall, the Jewish people was a faith but also an ethnic group – their faith was the nationality – and their oral culture was steeped in the telling of their stories. The people were so well-versed in their history that, despite the lack of books, they knew the major people of their culture and the stories that accompanied them. The Church gives us the reading for Elijah to help us prepare ourselves for the encounter with Jesus. Elijah, we hear, goes to stay at the home of a widow in Zarephath. The prophets were not desirable folks to be around because their presence often was accompanied by great works but also terrible trials. The prophets very frequently bore bad news to the Israelites since the people often fell away from the Law of God, and this was not well received. It is with this stigma that Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, comes into the scene. He stays at the widow’s home and right on cue, the terrible things begin to surround him in the form of the sickness and death of the son of the widow. She immediately arrives at the conclusion that it is because Elijah has come that her son has died and tells him such rather bluntly. In response Elijah takes her son, goes up to the room where he stayed, prayed three times as he extended himself over the boy in prayer, invoking the Lord to bring the boy back to life. In response to his prayer, the boy is revived and he is brought back to his mother and she exclaims joyfully that Elijah is truly a man of God, that rather than a curse, he has brought great blessing.

With this as our backdrop, we return to the story of the Lord. We see Him into the city of Nain with a large group following, when He comes across a funeral procession. A funeral procession was something of great importance in that time, with many people joining in the journey and even professional ‘wailers’ who would come to lament and cry out in sorrow on behalf of the deceased and their family. Unlike the majority of such scenarios, when a person from the crowd approaches Him with some plea for help or a disciple makes someone’s need known to Him, here the Lord sees the woman in great sorrow and His heart is pierced with pity for her. He knows that she is a widow and that this is her only son. She would now be completely vulnerable and unable to care for herself, requiring others to provide for her for the rest of her days. It would have been kind of the Lord to go up to her and to assure her of the salvation of her son, or to call to mind the life of the world to come, or to give some charitable donation to her from his pocket. And yet He doesn’t. He tells her “Do not weep” and proceeds to the coffin, where He touches it and says to the young man, “I tell you, arise!” The boy rises and begins to speak and the Lord gives him back to his mother. Instead of a kind word or some assurance of faith, He raises the son from the dead! The people respond with two different acclamations. The first recalls the story of Elijah, as the crowd says “A great prophet has arisen in our midst.” They acknowledge the similarity between the two occasions and connect the dots that Jesus is a great prophet, one who speaks the word of God. But the difference between the two is in the second response: “God has visited his people.” Elijah had to call out to the Lord to ask for the boy to be raised but Jesus simply commands it. Elijah is a man of God, but Jesus is God himself – the God who has visited his people. The people see it and are in awe.

The occasion is one in which the Lord shows mercy to a widow as well as reveals Himself as God and man. He showed the people that God was with them, walking among them. Furthermore, He walked up and touched the coffin, which was something that was not to be done. To touch the dead was to be rendered ritually unclean and thus unable to enter the Temple and worship, as well as unable to touch others, lest they too become unclean. And yet He reaches out to that thing which ought not to be touched and with his presence He brings the boy back to life. And He wants to do the same to us.

So the question is: where is your coffin? Where is that place in your life that Jesus ‘shouldn’t touch’, that place where Jesus ought not to go because He’s not supposed to. A place of pain, shame or fear, that thing which we wish would be revived in us but that we don’t even normally think to bring before the Lord Jesus. That’s the place the Lord wants to come to touch when we come to Mass. He does just as He did in the Gospel and comes to us on the altar and then descends to us without being called upon in order to touch us, to raise us to life. So ask for the grace to know where it is that you need the Lord’s touch today, where we need new life, new hope. And bring it before Him today, that we too might be able to rejoice and say that truly “God has visited his people.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Papal Intentions for June 2016

Papal Intentions for June 2016

Universal Intention: That the aged, marginalized, and those who have no one may find–even within the huge cities of the world–opportunities for encounter and solidarity.
Mission Intention: That seminarians and men and women entering religious life may have mentors who live the joy of the Gospel and prepare them wisely for their mission.

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.