The Last Things: A homily for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

images.jpgThe month of November is a chance for us to think about the last things, the fact that we don’t live on earth forever. One day we will take our last breath. We will go to one of three places.  It is good for us to remember that life here ends, and how we live here has eternal consequences.

In the end, we’re judged on love. So says St John of the Cross, and after toda’ys Gospel, I believe it.  In the end, we’re judged on love. How well did we love God?  How well did we love his body the Church?  How well did we love the people in our lives?  That’s the final exam.

If we didn’t love well, we go to hell.  Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else in the bible.  If God talks of it, it must be real. Today’s biggest heresy is that everyone goes to heaven automatically, no matter well. Jesus has something else to say about it.  Jesus says hell is real.  It’s worth living a life of love to go there.

Those who do go there, they have made a decision against God, against love. We call it mortal sin. The Church wisely teaches that it takes only one mortal sin for hell.  It’s like walking off a tall building. It takes one step off the top, and boom.  Gone.

Purgatory is for those who die in venial sins and for temporal punishment associated with our life’s sins that have been forgiven in confession and/or the anointing. Purgatory is a great place. It is a place where we are made whole, where we are made perfect.  Nothing imperfect is in heaven….it makes sense that there be a place–or a state–wherein we are made perfect, made ready for the land of perfection.  I probably won’t be perfect when I die.

We know that our prayers on earth help those who are there in Purgatory.  It’s because we’re connected to them.

Church in heaven = Church Triumphant
Church in purgatory  = Church Suffering
Church on earth = Church Militant

We’re all tied together. You ask me to pray for you, we believe there is an effect that comes from that.  The saints pray for us; we ask them to all the time. In the same way, we pray for the dead.

We’ve been doing that for a long, long time, since the earliest Masses.  This belief in Pugatory has been there from the start of the Christian faith.  This is why we have Masses said for loved ones, why we light candles, why we have funeral Masses, etc.

When a loved one dies, it’s a work of mercy to pray for them.  It’s good not to assume they are in heaven, unless it’s a baby or little kid or someone who received last rites with the apostolic pardon (I’m giving a talk later this month on all these “last things”).    It’s good not to assume they’re in heaven, because if we do that, then we don’t pray for them.

Better to pray for them.  This month we remember the names on our board of remembrance and in the book of remembrance.

November is a time for us to reflect on our own mortality, the fact htat one day we’ll be judged on how well we loved.

Jesus says in our Gospel —  The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

If we are faithful to these two great commandments of love, we fulfill every other commandment by happy consequence.

A good thing to reflect daily:  Where did I love today?  Concretely.  Where did I love the people in my life? Concretely.  Love, to be real, must be CONCRETE!  Otherwise, it’s not real.

Some say, “I love Jesus.”   But never go to Mass, never frequent the sacraments, never pray, never serve, never treat others well.  They don’t love Jesus. I promise you.

Listen to this from Fr. Slavko – “The greater our love, the less we speak of sacrifice or what we ‘must do.’  And where there is no love, everything is a sacrifice and burden.”  Where there is true love, the sacrifice is so easy and natural!

In the end – we’re judged on love

Random thoughts: A homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

fallToday I resort to the “random thoughts” homily method that I learned from my old seminary rector Fr. Denis.  It is the homiletic approach I opt for when I have too many different things to talk about and don’t want to go to the hassle of weaving all the thoughts together.  I have five thoughts for us today:

  1. Our Gospel today is about blindness.  Jesus has the power to heal a blind man!  Jesus can work miracles!  Believe it, and when you get a miracle, testify!
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  2. Speaking of blindness, sometimes we are blind to what others need.  Example: the five love languages, which I always talk to my marriage prep couples about. We humans typically show love in five ways: service, time, touch, gifts, and affirmation.  It’s good for us to know what the “primary love language” of our spouse and kids and so on is.  Sometimes a woman needs to hear affirmation from her husband, but her husband is blind to what she needs here.  Sometimes we can be blind to what folks in our lives really need.
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  3. The blind man in our Gospel, Bartimaeus, is a good example for us.  Here is a man born blind, a man with a great suffering.  When he gets his time with Jesus, he doesn’t say:  JESUS!  WHY DID YOU MAKE ME BLIND???  WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME?  Instead, he goes to Jesus, recognizing that Jesus is the source of goodness and healing and love.  We sometimes go to God with an accusing finger. WHY DO I HAVE THIS? WHY MUST I SUFFER SO?  If it’s good – it came from God.  If it isn’t, it came from the evil one. We go to Jesus knowing he has the power to fix it, and knowing the the didn’t cause it.
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  4. Courage.  Today the Gospel says: “Take courage; get up. Jesus is calling you!”  I love that.  The phrase “take courage” is a good one. I imagine Jesus with a big bucket of all we need. We just need to go there and take a little courage, a little grace, a little strength. And then we can answer Jesus’ call!
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  5. Priesthood Sunday. Today we celebrate Priesthood Sunday.  We must pray every day for more priests, not just in general, but from St. Joseph and St. Vincent.   Hebrews says: Priests come from among us. They come from our families, our parishes. They don’t fall out of the sky. We must do all we can to encourage vocations!  A priest can make a world of difference in someone’s life, even bring him to heaven.
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  6. I’m also thinking about change.  A lot of trees are finally starting to change.  I was reflecting on this.  You know – change is not only possible, it is necessary. The tree can’t say, “I’m not going to color my leaves this year.” Change is also natural, maybe even supernatural.  It is a necessary reality.  It’s a sad thing to find someone who refuses to change. Sometimes we resign ourselves to thinking: this is just the way it is, I can’t change.  But Jesus says change! And he has organized a world that is always changing to remind us to change. We should always be looking for new ways to pray, new ways to serve God, new ways to serve the parish, new ways to put love into the world, new ways to live!  The parish should change as time goes by also. Change is inevitable, and like the leaves, even beautiful.

Well, there’s my five thoughts. Mabye one will stick

God’s terms are better than ours: A homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

ob_be5efc_ob-0f2b1e6c4764bdfa1d57b78ac923332c-img-2268It’s a joy to be here at St. Alphonsus Ligori. I’m looking forward to our time together this weekend and through Tuesday. I really just have two thoughts for you today.

The first is this:  God’s terms are better than ours.  Today we see James and John telling Jesus how things should be.  “We want you to do whatever we ask you,” they announce to the Good Lord. We want it on our terms. We have thought it out and we have a plan.

I often reflect on this idea of “our terms” versus “God’s terms.”  Because a lot of times we think our plans are so much better than God’s. After I was a priest for one year, I had the perfect idea: I would stay the associate pastor at OLG but also become the chaplain at Roncalli. Roncalli is the Catholic high school nearby OLG and I had grown to love helping out there. I wanted to be the chaplain. I had lots of reasons I thought I should get that assignment. A lot of people thought I’d get it.

I didn’t.

And at first I was quite unhappy with this.  Now that I look back, though, I’m glad. Because had that happened, there’s a good chance I would never have been moved to Shelbyville a year later.  And you know what — so many people in Shelbyville have brought me so much joy!  I can’t imagine my lfie without some of them!  And I wouldn’t even know so many of these great people had my terms been the terms we went by.

Can you imagine how horrible our lives would be if all our prayers were answered as we thought they should be?  If our terms were the terms that determined things?

What’s that song by Alan Jackson — I thank my God for unanswered prayers.

Better to go by God’s terms.  That’s why we bother with confession, adoration, prayer, etc…..is becuase that’s how we come to know his terms!!!!!!!

Second thought.  if you really want to be great, you gotta get over yourself.  James and John want to be great– and maybe that’s an good desire, but theirs as tainted quite a bit by pride.  So is ours oftentimes.  They want to be Jesus’ “favorites.”  They thought they were all that and then some.

We tell our kids from day one how wonderful and great they are.  That’s ok I guess, but sometimes it’s a helpful project to discern: how am I not great?  Because when we tell our youth or ourselves that they are so very very great, we can fall into this trap that we can do everything ourselves. Pelagius is a heretic who got into trouble because he thought he could become great, and get to heaven, all on his own. For that we deem him a heretic.

In order to be truly, authentically great, we need each other!  We need Blessed Mother! We need God!   Reflecting on how we are NOT great enables us to go out and search for others who can supply for what we lack!

These 40 hours that lie before us…..they are an opportunity for us to seek God’s terms and to receive the graces we need for greatness from him.  When we approach Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we plug into the ultimate power source. Please come and take some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament during the 40 hours devotion. It will change your life!

Why we love Mary: A homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Tmary.jpgoday our Gospel tells us something interesting: we can’t take our salvation for granted. Jesus assures us that it takes work to be faithful, to get to heaven. Jesus opened up the doors to heaven – he made it possible that we might get there – but it still takes our cooperation to walk through those doors, to live a life that goes there.

Today we see this rich young man in the gospel – he wants to go to heaven, a good desire. His problem is he wants to know the bare minimum. What do I HAVE to do to get there? What are the requirements?  And Jesus spells out the commandments as a starting point, to which the guy says, I already do that pretty much. Then Jesus says, Ah yes, but you haven’t given me everything. That’s what I want.  I don’t want the minimum, the leftovers. I want it all.  Jesus wants it all.  The rich young man leaves Jesus, thinking his possessions matter more.

The rich young man gives us an example of what NOT to do.  But in this month of October, we honor a woman who shows us very much what TO DO.  October is the month of Mary.  We Catholics love Mary — and so did the first Protestants by the way (read Luther and Calvin and Henry VIII).  We have statues in and outside our churches and schools, in and outside our homes, we have images of her everywhere, votive candles in front of her, we have rosaries and pictures. We love Mary.  That’s why I’ve put a big statue out front on Broadway, why we’re getting votive candles here, and all kinds of things.

The Angel told Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary into your home.  Jesus from his cross told John and by extension all the disciples to follow:  BEHOLD YOUR MOTHER.  He says YOUR mother, not MY mother, though she was his mother too.  Jesus is telling us: Mary is your mom!  Look at her! Cherish her! Keep her ever in your mind!

And why these messages from God??   Why all the “Mary stuff” in our homes and churches???  Because Mary is someone who GAVE GOD EVERYTHING.  And maybe – just maybe – the more we look at a woman who gave Jesus everything, the more we might do the same.  When we look at Blessed Mother, we see someone who, unlike the rich young man, gave Jesus everything.

The more we look at Mary, the more generous we are with our lives.  Sometimes people say, how late can I come to mass and it still count?  how early can i leave? how many times do i have to go to confession? how much do I have to give?  How many volunteer hours do I have to do?  etc etc etc

But all these questions fade when we give Jesus everything.

This consecration bracelet that I wear – it is a reminder that I am consecrated to Jesus through Mary.  We’re going to start a consecration group soon, details after Mass. But the point is that we are consecrated to Jesus – set aside for the holy – through Mary, the model of perfect discipleship.   I can’t wait for this!

We go through Mary for a host of reasons.  The biggest one – just look at Jesus’ first miracle in the gospel.  The wine runs out at Cana, and Mary intercedes.  Jesus works the miracle, but only after Mary intervenes.  If you ever need a miracle, to Mary and she’ll take it to Jesus.

We can go to Jesus directly of course, but why avoid Blessed Mother?  When God wanted to come to earth, he didn’t avoid her; he came through her!  It’s the same in reverse folks!  When we want to go to heaven, we shouldn’t avoid Mary; we go through her!

Let us model our discipleship after the example of Our dear, dear mother Mary.

“Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness”: A homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Rectopofmind_gratitudeently, in the course of praying the Divine Office, I stumbled upon the text of St Paul to the church in Colossae in my midday prayer. St. Paul tells the Colossians: “Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness” (Col 3:15b).  Then we were talking in Bible study the other day about Paul’s spirituality of gratitude. It seems that no matter what Paul went through–separation from those he loved, jail for long periods of time, hunger, the sword–no matter what he faced, he remained thankful to God.  We were looking at that theme in the letter to the Philippians, how he penned that letter of joy and gratitude while sitting in a jail cell with nothing.  Friends, that must be us, too.  We are to be thankful, to have a spirituality of gratitude.

I had a friend in college who was a Jew. I learned some things from him. Apparently there is an adage among the Jews: “A good Jew thanks God 100 times a day.”  This should be true of us Christians, too!  We should thank God, even in passing, at least 100 times a day for all our blessings.  There’s the story the Chinese philosopher Confucius told, of course, of the man who was complaining about having no shoes.  Then he met a man who had no feet.  Meister Elkart said that if the only prayer a man ever utters is “thank you,” it might just be enough.

Gratitude.  This morning I would like to take a bit of a different tactic as we seek to understand and implement a spirituality of gratitude in our lives.  I’d like to reflect on this: What am I thankful for in my life as a priest?

I’m very thankful for our youth.  Our first reading today tells us how the Spirit fell upon Moses and all these other people — Eldad, Medad, and many elders.  The spirit fell upon them and they began to spread the message.  Some didn’t like who God picked to descend upon–Eldad and Medad weren’t models of holiness, after all–but then Moses yells out: “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!”  Everyone should be a prophet. Almost 60 youth were confirmed from our parishes this past week.  The Spirit fell upon them.  I wish you all could know how wonderful they are.  They are sinners and they make mistakes – but, o my, there is so much good in them.  I hear their confessions, I see them on mission trips and at youth group, I read their letters to the archbishop. I am deeply thankful for them and I want you to know how much faith and goodness they have in them, and how blessed we are to have them as members of our family here. Archbishop noted in his homily at Confirmation that these days, there are a few things wrong with the churc, but the youth of the church give witness to what is right with it.

I’m also thankful for confession, that God has a way of dealing with our sins that doesn’t involve the chopping off of limbs as described in our gospel today.  I went to confession the other day and gave over my failings and my sins.  It’s one of those things: you know it’s true, that it works, because you can feel its truth, you can feel it working. The priest gave me my penance, I swore to avoid praying half-heartedly and rapidly in the future, and I went on my way.  It dawned on me that our sins are largely tied up to our state in life.  So is our sanctity.  Sin for me is neglecting my priesthood, and sanctity is fully living it. That is the same for a husband and wife–sin for them is neglecting their marital vocation, or vocation as parents, and sanctity is fully living it. It is true for all the people in our lives that we have been called to serve and love–the more we are thankful for them, the better we will be to them.

I’m thankful for the gift of time.  The reading at Mass the other day was from Ecclesiastes:  “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance….”  There is time, but it is short.  We had better fill our time pursing things that matter most — love, faith, family — and not waste it pursing the things that James mentions today in our second reading.  As he notes,  “wealth rots away, clothes become moth-eaten, your gold and silver corrode..”  Every moment is a gift. If we’re thankful for each moment, we tend to use our time better.

I’m for so many things–our heavenly patrons (yesterday was my feast day, then we had St Vincent de Paul the other day, Mary’s October month starts tomorrow), for this weather, the Fall, Oktoberfest, and so on….but I suppose the last thing I’ll reflect on is this. I’m thankful for being a priest and for this parish and its people.  The other day, a second grader came up to me at recess and hugged me.  Then he said, “I’m so glad you’re a priest.”  It was the most wonderful thing. I’m glad for this, too.  There is so much joy in this life, even with the blah that is a part of every life–there are those who let me down, difficult moments, etc….but most nights, as I rest in bed, my heart smiles — just as St. Paul’s must have–because there are so many people in this world to love, and so many to be loved by.  God has given me a vocation that gets me out of bed at 6:00 and has me praying and running and talking and anointing and teaching and lecturing at Marian and joking and belly-aching all day long until about midnight, and he has made me love it.  He has made me love him through it.

There are so many blessings in this life.  A spirituality of gratitude recognizes that. This type of spirituality, it’s a way of looking at life, a way of life, where thanking God 100 times doesn’t seem near enough….and it’s simply automatic, part of our character, who we are.  The opposite of gratitude is probably complaining about everything.  We seem to live in a culture that promotes that.

This reflection on thankfulness leads well us to the primary act of worship we have as Christians, the Eucharist.  That word of course comes from the Greek word meaning thanksgiving. Of all our gratitudes, the greatest must be the Eucharist….because it is Christ and his atoning sacrifice, made present at every Mass, that is the center of everything for us. So let us go to his altar with gratitude in our hearts.

Kill your pride: A homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Todascreen-shot-2012-10-04-at-1125382.pngy in our readings, there is a lot of fighting going on.  In the Gospel, we hear about how the disciples were fighting about who was the greatest among them.  In the second reading, James is writing to his community and he notes the same thing — a lot of fighting is happening — and he muses, “Where does all this war come from anyways?”  He says a lot, but starts out with what summarizes all of it: “selfish ambition….”  And finally, even in our first reading, we see a group of people intent on “tearing down” another group of people….why? Because they are making them look bad by their virtuous lives.

All this strife, all this disagreement, all this discord.  And all of it comes from pride!

The thing that makes us argue, and fight, and wind up in tantrums….it’s pride!

The thing that leads people to get in a huff and make bad decisions….it’s pride!

We want things this or that way, things don’t go our way — and of course we know what’s best — so we get cranky and unhappy and pick a fight …. or walk away

Pride.

We need to do a few different things today…….

  1. We need to acknowledge that we all have this pride. I’m included!
  2. Ask God to get rid of it, to help us grow in humility.
  3. Lastly, we need to be servants….Jesus sits the proud disciples down in our Gospel today and says, ““If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
    1. SERVICE KILLS PRIDE
    2. a servant doesn’t push his own way. He serves. And not to be noticed, appreciated, etc….sometimes people are happy to serve only on their own conditions, and then the moment something happens the don’t like, they announce: “I’m not doing this stuff anymore”
    3. A servant realizes there is something bigger than me and my own thoughts and feelings, there is something larger here that I’m serving….especially the faith community

Servants.  The more we serve, the more our pride goes away!

Let’s pray God for humble, servant hearts!

A heartfelt lesson from King Josiah that speaks to our present mess: A homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Mahqdefault.jpgny of you are aware of the recent news with Fr. Maung. Some have asked for me to comment on the situation.  I do not know anything beyond the contents of the statement made by the diocese.  A claim against Fr. Maung was made in recent days of a situation that the claimant says happened decades ago. The diocese immediately suspended Fr. Maung’s faculties and the civil and ecclesial investigations commenced.  Fr. Maung denies the claim. Because I don’t know anything about this, I withhold my judgment until the process is complete and truth is found. I think we all must do the same.

In our first reading today, Moses tells the people that if they follow the commandments and decrees of the Lord, they shall live — and live well. Jesus in our gospel adds a twist: he says we must follow the commandments and decrees of the Lord with our hearts. External observance is not enough; Jesus wants the heart.

If we give Jesus the heart, the external actions take care of themselves. Sometimes people try to stop this or that sinful habit, and they fail. Because they’re focusing on the bad habit and not on the heart.  “Love and do what you will” says Augustine.  On Tuesday last week we heard from Jesus in Matthew 23: “You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”

Clean the inside says Jesus, and what flows from the inside will also be clean. Fix the heart and the actions will be follow.  We need to give Jesus the heart. It isn’t just about saying the right things; it’s about meaning what we say as our second reading from James insists.  It isn’t about just “doing the right thing”; we must want to do it, not reluctantly or begrudgingly. It’s not about just believing the right teachings; we must love the teachings, even if we struggle with them. It isn’t about saying prayers; we must mean the prayers, with all our hearts. It isn’t just about tolerating people; we must love them — in concrete ways.

This is what is needed in our church today — local and wide.  The problems facing the church are real. They must be addressed and changes need to happen. But no amount of new procedures or protocols, no amount of increased transparency or lists — I’m not against those things and they probably are necessary—but none of that can fix what is ultimately a heart problem.  The problem is, people in all ranks fall out of love with Jesus, and in their wretchedness pick something else instead. (This is why we strike our hearts at the confiteor.)

Sometimes what people pick instead of Jesus is horrific, repulsive, and even criminal.

I was praying about the state of things the other day. At a loss, I said, “Lord please help” and turned my bible to a random page. He answered my prayer! I turned to 2 Kings 22, the story of Josiah. Josiah became the king of Judah in 640 BC. His father was Amon and his grandfather was Manasseh. Both his father and his grandfather made more mistakes than you can count. They reigned a combined 57 years, and each year was filled with idolatry and infidelity, and scandal of every kind.

Josiah was 8 years old when his dad was killed by his own servants. Josiah became king as a little boy….and it was a very dark hour in judah’s history indeed.

Josiah’s ancestors had destroyed more than you could possibly imagine by their sins. Everything was in ruins. Trust in leadership had been broken. Josiah took the throne and everyone wondered if he would be the same. Most probably suspected he was the same kind of monster. He proved them wrong.

And it was Josiah’s heart that fixed everything. 2 Kings mentions Josiah’s heart many times — the love he had for God and his people.  The long abandoned temple was falling in on itself, and Josiah commissioned the forces to rebuild it. As they were doing so, Hilkiah found the scroll, from which our first reading comes. They found the rules of the Lord. It had a lot of dust on it.  Josiah famously brought everyone together and had the scroll read out loud by Shaphan, the scribe. Everyone listened and came back to the Lord—though it took some time.

After all was said and done, 2 Kings 23:25 shares this about Josiah: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.”

I just want you to know that I’m trying to be like Josiah.  And not just me–loads of other good priests and seminarians. We’ve inherited a mess from a few rotten priests and bishops and cardinals who made horrible mistakes, unthinkable ones. These men have inflicted so much pain, brought so much grief. Now we’re not perfect–far from it–but, like Josiah, we’re standing in the ruins some corrupt ancestors have left behind for the rest of us to deal with. May we never forget just how deadly, how destructive the deadly sins are.

And we all must be like Josiah. The devil goes around destroying things, leaving a disaster behind him, and our job is to heroically clean it up. Josiah didn’t throw up his hands in defeat, he didn’t walk away, he didn’t give anger the final word. He did cry. And he worked to fix things and put the kingdom back together again. What he did most of all—was to give God his heart: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might.”  The fruits of Josiah’s decision to put give his heart to the Lord?  Thousands upon thousands came back, virtue took hold of the kingdom, and the depravity went away.  No wonder Jesus wants the heart!

When we were batpized, the priest anointed our hearts.  Consecrated, set aside — for the purpose of love!  If our hearts are right, so will our actions be.  What would it be like if we….

Really prayed with the heart
Confession with the heart
Receive communion with the heart
Service with the heart
Treat everyone we meet with the heart
Prepared dinner with the heart

Ours would be a story like Josiah’s, that’s what would happen

May God give us strength and hope…and strong, faithful, soft hearts