Three ways to grow in humility: A homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

praying-and-kneeling-manToday our readings tell us to be humble, that the way to live a good life, a Christian life, is to be humble, to get over ourselves already. St. John Vianney said, “What sweetness there is in forgetting about ourselves in order to seek God!”  Which is to say, as the saying goes, that humility is not about thinking less about ourselves, but thinking about ourselves less. To live a good Christian life, we have to get over ourselves.

Humility is realizing that others have better ideas than I do, that, even with the opinions I am most passionate about, I might not be right–and I don’t have to be.  Sometimes I think I have the best homily ever, and then I listen to Msgr at one of his Masses and I wonder how I misunderstood the texts so horribly.  You know, the most wonderful and beautiful people I know realize and admit they are not perfect, that they are not the best.  The most obnoxious people I know think they are perfect and try to fool the world into thinking the same thing.

This morning I had children’s liturgy of the word. One kid from our school, when I asked what humility is, said, “it means you don’t have to be the best.”  That’s about the best definition of humility I’ve ever heard!  I think a lot of people waste a lot of time trying to be the best, and trying to prove to the world that they are the best. It is hard work being perfect! Our Jesus is so good that he says, “Look! You don’t gotta be the best….you can’t be, and that’s okay, because I am!”

We don’t have to be the best, we don’t have to be perfect.  Oh, we should keep on trying to get better, trying to become holier and more virtuous and more perfect, but humility is about realizing that it isn’t all about us, that we aren’t the center.  For that reason, in the Gospel, Jesus says to take the lesser positions at the table.  A lot of us want to be the center, or at the head of the table. Think even about the table of the Lord, the holy altar. Here, Jesus is the center.  Sometimes, if we aren’t careful, we can forget this and imagine the priest to be the head of this table.  The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Sarah, he’s the guy Pope Francis put in charge of safeguarding the liturgies of the holy church. He was talking recently about ad orientem worship, the ancient way of celebrating Mass where the priest faces the same direction as the people at Mass, the east (the direction from which Jesus will return says the scriptures). This is still the way Mass is done in many parts of the world–and the Missal certainly allows for it–and it was how Christians had Mass for hundreds of years. Cardinal Sarah said that ad orientem worship expresses very naturally the fact that Jesus is the center, the focal point of this table and every part of our life. Not the priest, not any nun or bishop or pope. It’s Jesus!

I just want to mention three ways to grow in humility, three ways we can grow in our not always needing to be in the center, at the head–three ways we can get over ourselves.

First, we pray.  To pray is to acknowledge that we depend on God. God is our strength. Our abilities, no matter how great, are never enough. We need God, we need his church, we need the bible, we need the sacraments. Sometimes we feel this need for God very strongly, in moments of failure. The Little Flower said, “the beginning of all holiness is humble admitting that without God we can do nothing, but that with, in, and through him, everything is possible.”  A humble man kneels every day and prays, each day, knowing that he can’t do a thing without the Lord.  A side note: I think often our prayers are very prideful, very me-centered. I know I have that problem.  A humble person spends a lot of time in prayer, and spends more time praying for others than himself.

Second, we give.  It takes a humble person to have the time of day for another person.  I think a lot of people would prefer to think that the universe depends upon them.  There is a lot of selfishness in our world.  Generosity is the antidote.  The humble man is generous with his time, with his blood, with his sweat, with his money–knowing that it’s better to serve than to be served, knowing that there is something more important than his liesure time and money.  We have a ministry fair after Mass today.  There are so many ways to give back to God here at OLG.  If you are humble, you will sign up for something.

Third, we offer thanks.  A humble person is thankful.  Perhaps you noticed in the Olympics that most of the winners are devout Christians.  I’m thinking especially of swimming champion Katie Ledecky–she went to Catholic school as a kid–and David Boudia and Steele Johnson.  They all said in their interviews, before anything else, that they are thankful to God…not to their coaches, their training regimes, their diets, their trainers: no, they are thankful first to God.  They know their strength and successes and even their crosses–they are gifts from God, a gift that deserves an offering of thanks.

There we have it: three ways to be more humble–pray, give, and offer thanks.

I will end with a nice traditional prayer called the litany of humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

 

Jesus, the way: A homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

I had an excellent monk as a professor in seminary named Fr. Guy Mansini, OSB.  The man is brilliant.  I remember mostly his side comments.  He said once, “Never trust anyone in matters of faith who has never, at least at some point in his life, feared he might go to hell.”  It is sheer genius.  Because I think there are a lot of people who think that everybody automatically goes to heaven, no matter what.  That is a misunderstanding of God’s mercy.  God is merciful because he allows us the opportunity of salvation, and because he helps us along the way, but Jesus today tells us it still takes some effort, some strength on our part to get there. “For many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough,” says the Lord.

Jesus today tells us again that the gate to paradise is narrow and that it takes some striving on our part to get to and through it.  The image of the narrow gate does not mean, as the early church gnostics thought, that only certain people are eligible for heaven.  No: the whole world is invited, all nations, all languages as our first readings says, and from the north and south and east and west as our gospel says. But the narrow gate does mean that only certain people care enough to make the effort to get there and get through it.

Here’s the thing: Jesus is the gate, he is “the way” as our alleluia verse reminds us.  Jesus, when he came to earth, did not say that he had come to give us the directions to the Promised Land.  He did not say that he came to show us the way, to give us a map.  No.  He told us, I AM THE WAY.  God invites us today to live deeply immersed in the Lord and his body the church.   We have an opportunity this weekend to immerse ourselves more in the Good Lord and next week, too, with the ministry fair.

May God bless us and give us each day a stronger thirst for the Lord and his kingdom–here and in in heaven.

Assumption of Mary

Fly, my soul, with Mary fly,
Soar beyond the golden sky,
Mount to Mary’s throne on high.

Bright the queenly crown she won,
Sweet the reign she has begun,
As she stands beside her Son.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

How endure this long delay?
Living here how can I stay
From such beauty far away?
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Sad my lot is here below;
Who can hope or life bestow?
Who will help or pity show?
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

But though far away from me,
Still our sovereign Queen will be
Full of love and clemency.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

With a mother’s loving care
She will lift those hands so fair,
And will save us by her prayer.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Mother’s heart can ne’er forget
That we are her children yet,
By such dangers fierce beset.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Gently, still, she bends her eyes
On the soul that longs and sighs
For her love, the heavenly prize.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Blest the soul who, like the dove
Borne upon the wings of love,
Follows her to heaven above.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori
Grimm, Eugene, editor. The Glories of Mary. New York: Redemptoris Fathers, 1931.

The Race to the Promised Land: A homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

plI was reading recently a sermon from my childhood priest, Fr. Charlie. He wrote, “Our life of faith is a journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.” It’s true: Saint Augustine says that, in baptism, we leave Egypt. And we begin a journey to heaven. Our reading from Hebrews uses a similar image, but bumps it up a notch, in saying that our life is like a race, a race towards the destination that is the Lord.

Jesus in the Gospels is always telling us to get moving, to be on our way–or on his way. In today’s Gospel, he tells us that when we follow him, sometimes people won’t like it. Either people will accept our journey of faith or they won’t, and when they won’t, divisions will enter in and that’s okay. Often it happens that, when people enter into the Holy Church and become Catholic, or when they take the step into seminary or religious life, or when they marry this or that person, or when they have a large family–often there are people in their families or friends or offices who have a problem with it. I have a friend whose parents didn’t come to his ordination to the priesthood, so mad were they. When we follow God down the right road, it is true that perhaps someone will no longer want much to do with us. But that’s okay: God is better.

But this race of faith, Hebrews has some good wisdom here.

First, Hebrews tells us that we are meant to keep going. There aren’t many armchairs along the Christian race towards the Promised Land. Some people get lazy, some forget they have a place to go, some walk around aimlessly, some quit when it gets hard. But Hebrews tells us to persevere with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Second, Hebrews tells us that God is so good that he doesn’t expect us to make our race to the Promised Land alone. We have our families, our friends, our teachers, our priests. And we have the saints, the cloud of witnesses as Hebrews says it, helping us. The saints clap every time we do something good. And they boo when we do something bad.

I want to ask: how is your relationship with the saints? Do you pray with your confirmation patron every day? I have a recommendation: Go to americancatholic.org and register your email to receive an email each day with the saint of the day, only a couple paragraphs. I believe that if we read about the saints each day, they can inspire us to be better men and women, saints ourselves. It is a good tradition in our church to name your child after the saint of the day. Today is the feast day of St. Maximilan Kolbe, so if a baby were born today, it’d be nice to name him Max. Bottom line: we need to foster as best we can a relationship with the saints, for we need them for support and inspiration as we make our race towards the Promised Land.

Third, Hebrews says that as we make this journey, we have to eliminate all the sins and dirt that clings to us. Often in life, we collect dirt and junk around us. There is a character in Peanuts, the cartoon strip, named Pig Pen. Everywhere Pig Pen goes, a cloud of dirt follows him. This is true for us: we carry around resentments, anger, bitterness, many things. God says: get rid of these things. They are slowing you down, they are too heavy and you don’t need to carry them any longer. Shed them all so you can run the race to the Promised Land. The good news is that God can take care of this. Jesus tells us in our Gospel: I want to burn all the dirt away. I came to set you all on fire, he says. When we burn something, we can arrive at its core, at its essence. Most of us, our hearts are good. We just have to allow the Lord to burn away all the junk that is around us. The Holy Spirit (who is represented by fire) does that in the sacraments, and he also does this after we die. For that reason, we have purgatory. Very few of us are perfect when we finishes our earthly race, but in purgatory God burns all the junk off of us. (That is why we pray for our dead). It is the happy flames.

And then, pray God, we arrive in the Promised Land, our race having been completed. And then we join in the stands of the saints as we cheer on our great great grandkids on their own race.

“Brothers and sisters: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus….”

Homily for Mrs. Suttner’s funeral

groundbreaking2Among the gifts that I received on the occasion of my ordination were some binders of sermons of Fr. Charlie Chesebrough. I treasure them. Every now and again, when I am in a pinch, I open the binder and “cheat” a little. I usually credit him. It takes a lot of time and patience to read the things; his handwriting was at once amazingly beautiful and yet amazingly hard to read. I took the sermons with me on my annual retreat this past year back in February. I stumbled upon one that I would like to share. It is titled, “Life without a map.” In parentheses at the top, it says, “For Ginny.” Though he never mentioned her name in the sermon, it was written with the woman we celebrate today in mind. I must add here that Fr. Charlie and Mrs. Suttner were dear friends, and they, together with several other characters, like Fr. Don and my mother and many others, made St. Charles the most wonderful place for a kid to grow up in.

But in that sermon, which Fr. Charlie delivered in 2005 right around the time of Mrs. Suttner’s first fight with cancer, he said that, when we were younger, we tended to think that the first half of our lives would be the hardest, only to discover later that it is often later in our lives when we feel the heaviest force of the cross. We have unexpected detours and difficulties. Like cancer.

But, he wrote, all of our life is lived between Egypt and the Promised Land. That is honest to God truth. In baptism we leave Egypt, as St. Augustine said, and we Christians have a destination set before us, even if we don’t always have a full view of the map that would get us there. Fr. Charlie warned against our becoming settlers on this journey, settlers instead of pilgrims. It’s a sorry thing, he said, to be a settler—for a settler forgets that he or she has a mission and is on a journey, a journey home, a journey to the promised land, to heaven.

Mrs. Suttner was never a settler. She knew her mission on life was one so exciting she couldn’t stop, and she didn’t want to. I remember hearing that she was retiring in 2003, only to learn the next month that she had stepped up to serve on an archdiocesan level in helping other schools become as good as St. Charles. Likewise, her journey as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a disciple—it was never over. She was always moving in the direction of the Lord in the midst of all her vocations, and in that she offers us an important example.

And Mrs. Suttner, I think, knew something of the wisdom of St. Catherine of Sienna, who said, “all the way to heaven is heaven” for the Christian who lives his life right. Meaning that, yes, our lives are a pilgrimage to the Promised Land, but if we do it right, we can bring down a little heaven wherever we go as we make that journey.  Mrs. Suttner brought down heaven right here at St Charles.

All of this is a way of saying that, it seems to me that Mrs. Suttner spent her life doing three important things: 1) teaching people about the Promised Land, 2) guiding people to it, and 3) giving people a taste of it. Let me share some of my memories of this, knowing that everyone here and thousands of others has their own set of memories.

I remember so many things about Mrs. Suttner. I remember how she would sing “I’m Getting Nothing for Christmas” each year in December and how she would frolic around with her Christmas light antlers. She could dance. I remember the day she went chasing after Fr. Charlie, who had driven his Mustang on to the school playground while we were out there for recess. I remember the anger in her face that day, probably because that was the only time I ever saw it.  I remember my Mom taking my brother and me to her house one day to set up her computer….She had a hard time finding the on switch. I remember seeing her every single Sunday at 8am Mass and where she would sit. I remember seeing her in the confession line. I remember how she would periodically send me emails when I was in seminary, telling me she thought I was going to be a good priest. One time she said she thought I would be as good a priest as Fr. Charlie, and I took that as one of the highest compliments I’d ever received. I remember the cars she drove and the day she bought the fourth grade pizza. I remember how special we all thought it was when we got to go to her office to get something special out of the birthday box. I remember how good of a friend she was to my mother and how much Mom loved going to work. I remember how she smelled. She had the most wonderful smell.

You know, children watch things. I used to volunteer in the library each morning in my middle school years with Mrs. Gleason. I remember how Mrs. Suttner would walk the hallways each morning at St. Charles and unlock each classroom and turn on the lights. It was like clockwork: every morning at 7:20, she made her rounds. I think she did it so that no student or teacher ever had to arrive to a dark school. And I remember noticing more than once that, as she made her morning walk, she would look at the students’ artwork and math tests and third grade essays in the hallways. It usually took her a while to get all the way down the hallway. One time, as I remember now, my math test was hanging in the hall. My grade was an 87%, which did not merit a sticker. She came to me and said, “Michael, what happened?” And I knew I had to do better—for Mrs. Suttner. She was always raising the bar.  But as she made her morning rounds, she would come into the library, where I was, and say good morning to me and ask how my classes were going. I think she even knew which girls I liked.

What I’m saying is this. Mrs. Suttner taught us about the Promised Land, led us to it, and somehow turned the school across the parking lot into a slice of it. For Mrs. Suttner, that is the mission of the Catholic school. I wouldn’t trade my days here for anything. After I heard the news of her passing, I spent some time looking at my old yearbooks. I cried. Because my years growing up here, along with thousands of other students, were filled with joys overflowing. It was because of people like Mrs. Suttner who made the atmosphere at St. Charles….heavenly.

Mrs. Suttner spent her life instilling the Catholic faith into thousands of students in this school and into her own family. Many will at least in some way owe their salvation to her. She was an amazing principal and teacher and wife (as our first reading described) and mother and grandmother and friend—all of that—because of her faith, because of Our Christ. She spent her life building up the church in our archdiocesan school and her family, and we are all the better for it.

Dr. Suttner, Lisa, Lori, Jennifer, and Jim, you all have the condolences and more importantly the prayers of this church. But we celebrate today a woman who lived her life well, whose example in faith will inspire us all for years to come. Now Mrs. Suttner finds herself in the Promised Land, in the halls of heaven. As our Gospel assures us, a room has been prepared for her and Jesus has turned on the lights and unlocked the door. And she is praying with us from there.

The power of faith: A homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

faithAs you know, I have just returned from a few weeks away.  I was in Mexico for three weeks.  There I learned more Spanish and also served at a few parishes there. Then I led a pilgrimage to the holy lands of Canada and visited many shrines, basilicas, cathedrals, and incredible churches there.  I didn’t realize there was so much in Canada!  It was an amazing trip.

You know, I visited a lot of incredible places, both in Mexico and in Canada.  We are talking about some incredible churches.  Santa Prisca in Taxco was built in gold before the US was founded, and it still stands beautiful today.  The cathedral in Cuernavaca is in the center of the city and takes up three buildings.  The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was flooded with 150,000 people the weekend I went, and there are about 10 majestic churches all in a one mile radius around there.  In Canada we visited the largest building built in honor of St Joseph in the world. We visited Notre Dame, Saint Anne’s, and the resting place of several saints.  These places, their beauty is beyond the telling of it.

I got to thinking while there about the faith that built it all.  Can you imagine how difficult it must have been, simply to lay the bricks?  And yet it was done. People sacrificed more than we could imagine for it to happen. The churches were built with their blood and sweat. And they stand today.  It was amazing.

While in the midst of such great sites, I got to praying: Lord, give us just a portion of the love and the passion those people had for their church and for their God!  Can you imagine how strong our church would be if we had just an ounce of that love and passion our ancestors had which built all these incredible places?!  My God it would be amazing!

The power of faith–to construct buildings, but more importantly lives and families–it is an incredible thing!  Hebrews tells us the same today in our second reading.  It has this beautiful litany of what happened for Abraham by the power of his faith…By faith, it says, by faith…..

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place
that he was to receive as an inheritance;
he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country,
dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise;
for he was looking forward to the city with foundations,
whose architect and maker is God.
By faith he received power to generate,
even though he was past the normal age
—and Sarah herself was sterile—
for he thought that the one who had made the promise was
trustworthy.

I wonder, at the end of our lives, what that litany might look like.

By faith I followed God into places that I did not know, in directions I never imagined I would go
By faith I overcame this or that addiction
By faith I raised my children to be good men and women
By faith I volunteered at church and made a difference
By faith ….. by faith….

Faith is powerful!  Today we pray for an increase in our faith. We pray that we will be driven by the same love of God and his church that inspired the greatest saints to do all they did. We pray that our faith will move mountains and build up our families, our church, our country, our world.