Mice & silence: A homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (C)

downloadThis year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the song Silent Night. It was written in just a few hours–both the words and the tune. A man from a little church in Austria composed it in 1818 because the church organ cords had been chewed apart the night before….by mice.  What a story!  Three thoughts about this tune and its story.

  1. We should thank God for the mice in our lives. The song Silent Night has touched athe hearts and souls of so many.  We wouldn’t have the song today had the mice not done their work. There are people in our lives that drive us crazy, they annoy us, frustrate us, disappoint us, etc.  There are situations in our lives that are mice like.  But folks, on the other side, if we’re patient through it…is something beautiful, as beautiful as the song Silent Night.
  2. The song Silent Night tells of how God came to us.  Union with God has always been a desire of the human being.  Fulton Sheen points out that there’s only two possibilities as to how this can happen: either we go up to God, or God comes down to us. Christianity, Sheen notes, is the only religion to say that God comes down to us. The other ones, they insist that we humans must do this or that, and THEN we can be with God.  Christianity claims the opposite: it’s God who takes the initiative and comes down to us.  Now we have to RESPOND to this of course, but what a relief that the burden isn’t on us!
  3. Silence.  We all need silence.  JEsus was born in the silence; he entered the scene in silence.  He still enters our lives in silence.  From 2pm today until 2pm tomorrow (Christmas Eve), all are welcome to come to St Joe for adoration.  The trees will be lit, the lights nice and dim, and Jesus will be exposed. Drop by for some silence. I’ll be hearing confessions from 2pm until 9pm today, too.

Some things we know about Jesus’ Kingship: A homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King

thA few things to note on this feast of Christ the king!

  1. Jesus is a permanent king.  All the other kings of this world have fallen away. Some have been tyrants and some have been considered gods, but all fall away. Except Jesus is different.  His reign lasts forever. Davidic Covenant.
  2. Jesus is the universal king.  Jesus IS the king — and not just of the Jews, but of the entire universe. First reading–all nations, languages,peoples. Jesus came for all! That’s why we’re the CATHOLIC (universal) church
  3. Jesus is a supernatural king. He is king here, but also a king of heaven. The kingdom is ultimately not of this world… His kingdom should help to shape our kingdom here. The world shouldn’t shape the kingdom; the kingdom shapes the world.
  4. Jesus is a legitimate king. Because he’s God.  As such, he has authority over us. We are meant to obey him. Now a word about authority and obedience.  We don’t much like these words these days. It strikes us as politically incorrect to say that we must be obedient to anyone or anything. I decide what is right and wrong, thank you very much – it’s not for anyone else.  Freedom in our day is described as license …. the right to do whatever you please.  Prodigal son understood freedom that way – and he was left miserable and bankrupt.  But that is how our culture tends to think these days. No one can limit me – no restraints, no boundaries, no limits!

    But let’s analyze that way of thinking for a minute.  Because I think we do understand it in different contexts.  We know there are rules, there are certain things we really should obey.  Example: my fish tank.  The glass are the rules, the boundaries; inside the thing, the fish live happily and safely.  Without the glass walls, the water would be everywhere and they’d die.  Another example: Basketball – how could you play a game without lines on the court?  It’d be impossible.  BUT!!  There are also lines on the moral field too!  boundaries within which we are meant to live life.  We call them a lot of things – the teachings of the church, the ten commandments, the precepts of the church…the basic lines on the field, the requirements ………  BTW – let’s review those precepts!  The precepts are the minimum requirements for the moral life–
    1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.
    2.You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
    3.You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least once during the Easter season.
    4.You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
    5.You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.

    But of this I am sure:  Life is infinitely better when we live as Christ invites us to live.  Jesus’ kingship is not of oppression, but freedom!  I wonder if any of my fish every think: maybe I should jump out.  But then they’d die — and that’s what happens to our souls when we jump out of God’s ways.

  5. Jesus is also a personal king.  Which means we have to say it:  JESUS IS KING OF MY LIFE. Pilate says to Jesus today, “So you‘re the king!?” And Jesus to Pilate:  “Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” (John 18:34)  Msgr Pope notes that we must acknowledge PERSONALLY that Jesus is MY king.  He isn’t just king of the universe out there, but he is king of my life. It isn’t enough to say that, “My mom believes he’s the king” or “my priest believes Jesus is king.”  No….Jesus looks us in the eyes and says:  Do YOU acknowledge me as king???!!   If so……your life will prove it.   When JESUS is my personal king, he king of everything!!  My calendar, my family, my checkbook, my friendships, my Friday evenings, the books I read, etc.

Viva Cristo Rey! Que Viva!

The inner snooze button: A homily for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

hand-hitting-snooze-button-GettyToday’s readings remind us that there will be an end time. A lot of people spend a lot of time thinking about these type of things–the end times.  In the Monday morning Bible study I lead every week, we’ve been focusing on the Book of Revelation and the “end times.”  We’ve dealt with topics like the rapture, the second coming, the final judgment, the tribulation, etc.  If you want to know more about all that come to the bible study.

Now while we Catholics wisely don’t get obsessed with that type of stuff as some do, we of course agree that there will certainly a time when history as we know it will end.  The world will end one day….and we hear this theme in our readings today. We also recognize as Catholics that each of us will face the end of our time on earth, and that this should, in many ways, concern us more than the end of the world.

Our readings suggest a sense of urgency in this. “But of that day or hour, no one knows….” There is a sense in which we better get our act together.  And now.

Many of us have good intentions about this. The Holy Spirit enters in, and we have an idea.  But then we hit the snooze button.

We all have an inner snooze button

  • “I should really get more involved in this ministry…..maybe tomorrow”
  • “I should really go to confession……later”
  • “I will be a good CAtholic…when I’m older.”
  • “I should volunteer more at church….but not now.”
  • “I should get married by the Church…..once things settle down.”
  • “I should do a holy hour in church….but I have the kids, God forbid I bring them in front of Jesus.”
  • “I should donate a bit more….but once I’m more secure.”
  • “I will sing in the choir again, once there is a director I like.”

God gives us so many dreams, so many ideas, so many things to do……..but we hit the snooze button.

Jesus help us.

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!
  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.
  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.
  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!
  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.
  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.