The Eucharist, the Priesthood, and the Mandate to Love: A homily for Holy Thursday

HOLY THURSDAY PHOTOOn this holy night, Holy Mother Church instructs all priests to preach on three things: 1) the Eucharist, 2) the priesthood, and 3) and the mandate to love. The Church has good reason for this instruction; it was on the first Holy Thursday, during that first holy week, when Jesus celebrated the First Holy Mass, ordained his first priests, and commissioned them to go about the mission of love, the mission of service.

First, the Eucharist. There are a lot of images for the Eucharist. Wheat, a basket of loaves, fish, grapes, etc. My favorite is the pelican. It is said that when a mother pelican’s baby chicks have nothing left to eat, she plucks her own flesh and gives it to her children. She feeds them with herself. Like the Lord Jesus, she loves her own—and she loves them to the end. She would rather die that they might live, than watch her children die. This is the Eucharist. It is about love. The Eucharist is Jesus loving us until the end—that we might have life, and not just life on earth….but life in heaven. If people understood the Eucharist they would never walk away from the church. Never. If people truly understood the Eucharist, we would never have an open holy hour or an unfilled Mass. The Eucharist is Jesus Christ. Tonight we thank him for giving us himself.

Second, the Priesthood. Because of Jesus’ love and his desire from that love to pass on the Eucharist and the other sacraments, he instituted the priesthood. A man I know in Bloomington prays a rosary every day for “greater devotion to the priesthood.” That is wise. He is praying not for greater devotion to this priest or that priest, but to the priesthood. When I think about the priesthood, I think about the priests I know and how they have brought me closer to Jesus. I think of Fr. Ron Ashmore who baptized me. I think of Fr. Charlie Chesebrough who heard my first confession and gave me my first communion, and who always called me “big Mike” and made me feel special. His presence was larger than life. He was the first one to tell me: You should go to the seminary. I think of Fr. Don Davison who we lovingly called the Prince of Darkness. You’d have to know him to understand that title. His mind is a labyrinth and his every homily took me deeper into the beauty of my Christ and his beautiful church. I think about Fr. Joe Moriarty, my spiritual director, and the holiest man I know. His heart is as close to the Sacred Heart as one could ever find on this side of heaven. I think about Fr. Mike Fritsch who taught me the importance of good liturgy, Msgr. Stumpf who guided me into the seminary and still, even as vicar general, hasn’t forgotten about me. I think about Msgr. Svarczkopf, my first pastor as a priest who made me love being a priest. I think about my friends who have made me a better priest: Fr. Rodriguez, Fr. Aaron Foshee, Fr. Aaron Pfaff, Fr. Michael Cronin, Fr. Adam Ahern, Fr. Meyer, Fr. Luke Waugh. The list could go on. These men are Christ to me—they’ve heard my confessions, anointed me, blessed me, laid hands upon me, led me, nourished me, strengthened me, given me counsel, confected the Eucharist for me countless times. They have me Christ. I love them all in their weakness and in their brokenness.

Less than a week ago I found a letter in a file cabinet. I was doing some spring cleaning in the middle of the night. This letter was three pages about how evil and awful this person believed my processors here to have been. It broke my spirit to read it. It made me angry and then it made me sad. I burned it. None of those priests were perfect; nor am I. Some of them were great preachers and some terrible preachers, some struggled with demons we will never know. Some were friendly and some weren’t, some were liberal and some were conservative. Some of them think like I do and some don’t. Some made decisions I like and some did not. But all of them are forever priests of Jesus Christ who bring souls to heaven and heaven to souls. All of them gave up their lives for Jesus and his church. How dare we speak ill of any of them. I thank God for each and every one of them. And I thank God that I am a priest, that God has allowed me to stand under the floursent lights of hospital rooms and guide souls to the kingdom and comfort those who watch their loved ones fade away, that he has allowed me to stand at his altar and bring to the world his body and blood every day, that he allows me the grace to sit in the confessional in order to listen to life’s disappointments and failures and absolve sins and loosen their chains. I thank God that he has allowed me the grace to stand at the door of the church and in his place open my arms wide to receive a soul for baptism and pour the waters of salvation onto beautiful baby’s heads. I thank God that he allows me the grace to teach religion class and play basketball, help the poor, instruct RCIA and lead a youth group and visit the elderly, all in one day’s time. I love it.
Third, the mandate to love. No greater love is there than this. Our Protestant friends call today Maundy Thursday because that word “maundy” comes from the same Latin word as mandate – mandatum. Jesus gives us an incredible example of service in washing the feet of his apostles. We are to serve beyond what we are comfortable with. We are, like Christ, called to love others until the end—without condition, without reservation, just as he did.

The Eucharist, the Priesthood, and the Mandate to Serve. Those are the three reasons we are never alone. We are never alone because we always have the eucharist, we always have our priest, we always have the call to serve.

Friends, Mass ends in a different way tonight. Mass ends with a procession to this side altar, what’s called the altar of repose. Jesus will be in the tabernacle until 11pm, about the hour that he was arrested. Catholic churches around the world have altars of repose tonight because after trhe Last Supper, Jesus invited his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane to pray with him before his passion. All are invited to the altar of repose after Mass. Please pray there for your priests. Pray for me. Thank God for the Eucharist, help him to convict you more of his Real Presence. And pray that God will help you to understand where he is calling you to serve and give you the courage and heart to do it.

As always, audio is here.

2 Things that Happen after an Encounter with Jesus: A homily for the Second Sunday of Lent (B)

thToday we hear about the power of an encounter with Jesus. Peter, James and John encounter Jesus and he changes their lives.  Two big things happen because of this encounter with Jesus.  First, they began to see Jesus everywhere.  Second, they began to hear Jesus everywhere.

It’s the same with our encounters with Jesus!  Our bible readings, spiritual retreats or conferences, meals with friends of family, time in the nature, our exercising of the sacraments, and so on….these are encounters with Jesus.  And after we have them, we should SEE JESUS EVERYWHERE and LISTEN TO JESUS EVERYWHERE.

  1. When we encounter Jesus, we see him everywhere.
    • In our Gospel, it says that after this great moment, Peter James and John saw nothing but Jesus alone.  They could see only Jesus!
    • Mother Teresa worked with the poorest and sickest people in India. One day someone asked her, how do you do it? Those people are disgusting, they are bleeding. They have blisters and wounds. Mother Teresa said, “Is that how they are? I didn’t know they were that way.” She only saw Jesus.
    • There is a woman who has a baby boy, and she told how she loves to just watch him sleep. She said, “I see Jesus.”
    • Here is a beautiful poem by Joseph Plunkett.

      I SEE his blood upon the rose
      And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
      His body gleams amid eternal snows,
      His tears fall from the skies.

      I see his face in every flower; 5
      The thunder and the singing of the birds
      Are but his voice—and carven by his power
      Rocks are his written words.

      All pathways by his feet are worn,
      His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea, 10
      His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
      His cross is every tree.

    • When we encounter Jesus, we see him everywhere. And that changes our life!
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  2. The other thing that happens when we have an encounter with Jesus, is we hear Jesus everywhere. Peter, James and John….they hear the Father in heaven say, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”
    1. We hear Jesus. We hear Jesus in the bible. We hear him in prayer groups. We hear him in our families. We hear him in the songs of the birds. We hear him in the laughter of strangers. We hear Jesus in the cries of the poor, in those who need help.
    2. We hear Jesus in the sacraments–especially the Holy Mass, confession. Adoration. In the silence he speaks. We have adoration here. Mass this friday.

Folks, we need to see Jesus everywhere and hear Jesus everywhere. If we cannot see him and listen to him, how can we ever love him? And that is what we must do. Love. The first reading, Abraham is ready to give God everything…his own son. Of course, as he is lifting up the ax, God says, “Don’t you dare.”  But is our love that great. In the end, we will be judged on love–how much we love Jesus, his church, and each other. May we always see Jesus, and listen to Jesus…so that we can always love Jesus.

 

Noah’s Ark the Church: A homily for the First Sunday of Lent (B)

imagesI grew up in a church called St Charles growing up. Maybe you’ve been there. I remember I used to get a little bored at Mass, so I would count the pieces of wood in the ceiling. The roof from the inside looks kind of like a boat. It’s meant to.  It was built, matter of fact, like so many churches–in a way to look like an ark.

The Church Fathers talk about this. About how the Church is like Noah’s Ark.  It makes a lot of sense.  For a lot of reasons.

  1. For one, the ark saved Noah and his family and the animals.  The Church saves us.  We float along a tumultuous world. It is rough sailing sometimes. Oftentimes. Praise the Lord we are on the boat. The ark of the church takes us to heaven. It saves us, protects us from the enemy who prowls about the world seeking the ruin of souls. The Church is our boat.
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  2. The Church is also the source of life.  Look at our first reading today folks. We see all this life coming out of the ark. The first reading talks about “all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals that were with [Noah] and came out of the ark….”  We see this image of all this life coming out of the ark.  This is church.  From the church, from St JOe’s, should flow a lot of life, a lot of love.  It should be flooding out of here…this life.
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  3. The Church is also the body. St Augustine read about the dimensions of the ark in the scriptures…the numbers are in there you know.  He drew the thing out.  He noticed that it looks like a body.  That’s church.  We are not a building or an institution, we are Jesus…the living body of Jesus.  And we’re a part of that!!
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  4. The Church is the ONE ark.  St Cyprian noted that Noah didn’t have a fleet of arks.  There weren’t a whole bunch of arks.  There was ONE.  That’s our church friends. We are blessed to be in the barque of Peter, the Church Jesus built.

The thing is this. We need to love our Church, our Catholic Church!  Noah’s Ark prefigures our beautiful church…what a blessing!  Jesus built it, the Holy Spirit guides it. We’re all on board together.  It’s a big boat, and it is unsinkable…Jesus says the forces of the netherworld will never prevail against the church he came to build!  We’re on board together, we’re a family….we have each other.  Jesus in our Gospel is tempted, but the angels ministered to him. Our journey is much the same way. We have one another, the heavenly patrons and the angels…all around us, ushering us in to another shore….that of heaven!

May we love our Catholic Church more and more every day

Ash Wednesday Homily: 40 days, 40 ways

Lent is a time for three things, the things Jesus talks about in our Gospel today: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Pray. Fast. Give. Here are some ideas I handed out at Mass.  If everyone in our parish did all these things, holy smokes…what holiness we would have.

PRAY.
 Mass EVERY Sunday – no exceptions, no excuses
 Make a good confession before Easter.
 Pray nightly before bed, in your heart w/ your own words
 Read the Book of James in the bible.
 Pray the act of contrition every night – w/ family is best
 Read a Catholic book.
 Pray in the silence of the church…St. Joe side door is open 7am – 10pm every day
 Every day, pray for more holy priests.
 Attend a daily Mass each week (schedule in the bulletin)
 Pray the Stations of the Cross (every Fri at 5:30pm)
 Go to Mass on Holy Thursday
 Go to the Good Friday Service
 Watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ
 Develop your relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary: the rosary, scapular, consecrations etc.
 Go to a conference or retreat (e.g., E6 men’s retreat, youth lock in, K of C men’s retreat, Catholic Women’s Conference)

FAST.
 Cut your daily television watching in half…NO MORE
 Limit your daily smartphone time to no more than 1hr
 Having observed #1 & 2 above, spend that extra time with friends of family
 Skip the salt on the potatoes
 Skip the sugar in your coffee
 Fast from the snooze button.
 Fast from a hot shower at least once this Lent
 Fast from your bed at least once…
 Instead of secular videos for entertainment, try some videos that will enrich your spiritual life. Use FORMED (info coming soon).
 Fast from your favorite beverage.
 Fast from excessive junk food.
 Fast from complaining. Make a decision to be positive and happy. Life is too short to be angry and mean.

GIVE.
 Invite someone out (coffee? movie?) who you have forgotten about
 Invite someone to Mass…especially Easter Mass.
 Write 3 thank you letters to those who have positively impacted your life
 Donate at least ten things in your house to the needy.
 If you are not currently giving 10% of your income, do so…at least during Lent.
 Sign up to receive Fr. Mike’s blog (unendingmercy.com) in your daily email, & give two min/day to read his post.
 Call someone who would love to hear your voice.
 Give someone a hug every day.
 Drop the attitude and be good to your family.
 Sign up for a shift at the festival: stjoeshelby.org.
 Look people in the eye and say, “God bless you.”
 Give mercy. Let a bygone be a bygone.
 Make a list of things you are grateful for. Review and add to it every day.

The saddest day: A homily for Good Friday

Today, Good Friday, is the saddest day of the year. A man named Erich Fromm said that one cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often. Well, at least from time to time. Today we call good because Jesus was the most responsive a person can be to the needs of the world. Our God loved us and loved us to the end. It is sad that it had to come to that, but our Christ gives us a beautiful example: sadness should lead to responsiveness.

We are sad also because today is the devil’s day. The tabernacles of the world are empty, as he wants them to be. There can be no baptisms today, no new life. There can be no sacraments except penance and the sacrament of the sick in cases of emergency, and the devil loves this because he hates the sacraments. The crosses and statues are covered, just as he wants them. The adoration chapels around the world are empty and dark and closed, as the devil wants them. The normal happy conversation and fellowship that happen after we gather here in prayer, it should not happen today (for we disperse in silence), and the devil loves that lack of greetings and hugs and laughs that are the norm. Normally I take solace sometimes in knowing that, at any moment during the day, at least several hundred priests around the world are celebrating the mysteries. But not today. There is no Mass today. And that is what makes the devil the happiest.

Yes, today is the devil’s day. It is a sad, sad day. But the saddest day leads to the happiest day, and that is just around the corner. The devil does not have the final say. Tomorrow we will have the loudest and most glorious Masses around the world we can dream of. It will be time to feast, time to celebrate with pomp and circumstance, time to baptize the heck out of people. I can’t wait!

But wait we must, and we wait in silence and prayer and reflection. We give the devil his day. And we watch him lose.

Daily homily thoughts, 4/12

Today, Wednesday of Holy Week, we call Spy Wednesday. It is the day when Judas spies for a way to hand Jesus over. He turns his back on God for 30 pieces of silver. Esau in the Old Testament turns his back on God for a meal. Many turn their backs on God nowadays, too. Some for a football game, preferring to watch a game than attend Holy Mass on a Sunday. Some turn their backs on God because they don’t want to wait for the annulment, and others for pornography or drugs or, like Judas, money. We must be very careful.

Don’t be a bystander: A homily for Palm Sunday (A)

IMG_7949A good way to read scripture is to read a passage until a word jumps out and tthen talk to God about it. The word that jumped out at me today is one that pops up a few times in our text today. It’s “bystander.” The bystanders are the ones who sit on the side, who don’t really seem to care at all about Christ. They stand in opposition to Blessed Mother who never leaves Jesus’ side, Simon of Cyrene who carries the cross, Veronica who wipes his face, and the women who minister to him.

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