God wants, needs, and calls us: A homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

maxresdefaultThe diocese has asked that I preach about vocations today. I am happy to do so; it is one of my favorite topics.  I want to think about three things — 1) God wants us and 2) God needs us 3) God calls us

God wants us.  There is an antiphon that always moves me in the Divine Office: “God loved me and wanted me as his own.”  God wants us, when all the rest of the world has little use for us, God wants us.  Even when we mess up, he wants us back. He wanted us into existence in the first place.  Ephesians 1:14 says it, “God chose you before the foundations of the world.”  Before God made the blueprints for planet earth, he had you and he had me in his mind. And in his heart.  God wanted us into existence, loved us into being.  Such that the world would not be complete if you were not in it, or if I were not in it. That speaks volumes about our worth, a worth that many people question often.  God has placed a high value on us – the blood of Jesus.

God needs us.  And maybe he doesn’t really need us; he could get along without us just fine.  But, as John Henry Newman said it, “God has deigned to need us.”  In his plan, God has determined that the way he wants to get things done is to use you and me.  I read something the other day about how beautiful a God we have – he is almighty, all powerful, but he waits to heal someone until he hears the prayer of a five year old girl.  God needs our prayers, he needs our actions, our words, our lives!!!  God needed me to be a priest in order to do something, or a thousand somethings.  He needed the couple I married yesterday to be husband and wife, mother and father.  He needed Elijah and Moses, Jeremiah and Nehemiah, Peter and Paul.  He especially needed Blessed Mother.  It is no different for us: God needs us and will change the world and build his kingdom using us just as he used our ancestors in the faith.  God needs us.

God calls us. St Paul talks a bit about a vocation today in our second reading.  He says that the vocation God has given us is “irrevocable.”  Meaning: it cannot be taken back.  It is unchangeable. It is permanent.  And sacred.  You cannot escape it; the call is there.  And he calls us to do something that only we can do, something that we are in a unique position to do.  O

And the reality that God wanted us into being, that he has need of us, and that he calls us—this is of crazy importance!  Because it means that we cannot take our lives casually, we cannot sleepwalk through life.  The fact that God made me for a purpose ought to make me think: what is that purpose!?  And then we do well to answer that question with the Lord.  Young people: take that question to God, and see what he says.

I just have to share with you: I love being a priest.  Yesterday, I did every sacrament except Confirmation and Ordination….and that’s only because they won’t let me.  I brought God to the earth at Holy Mass, I absolved sins, I brought me 30th couple together in marriage, I gave three children the chance of salvation through baptism and another one this morning, I prayed with the sick and visited some homes.  Then I ate dinner and went to the K of C, all the while entertaining our school’s adopted seminarian who is with us a few days.  Some people don’t want their sons to be priests because they don’t want them to be lonely.   My friend Fr. Peter Bucalo and I were talking about that one day. He said, “I’d give my right arm for a little loneliness!”  And that is so.  Good priests—that is what we need more of—and a good priest is never lonely, because he is always with God and His people.

In your pews are the Called By Name cards.  Write down the name of someone you think would be a good priest or nun and put it in the collection.  I think we do this for two reasons: 1) sometimes a person hears God’s call through other people telling him.  2) it is a reminder that it is everyone’s job to pray for vocations to priesthood and religious life, and it is everyone’s job to promote them.  No priest, no sacraments.  We must do all we can to promote vocations….with grandkids, kids, brothers, sisters, so on.

Thank God that he wants us, needs us, calls us.  Now it is time to help the diocese identify….who does God want to be a priest/religious, who does he need for that, who is he calling for that.

“Protect the gifts you have given him, and let him yield a harvest worthy of you”

This past weekend saw the first priestly ordination of our class.  Br. Simon Baker, OSB, of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas, became Fr. Simon Baker, OSB in the abbey church there.  I am so thankful I could be there and a part of this awesome weekend, witnessing a good friend become a priest forever.  It was such a grace. He will be an extraordinary priest. I want to reflect just a bit here on some of the weekend’s graces.

I was captivated by the beauty of the abbey’s property the moment I set eyes upon it.  The monastery operates a college by the name of Benedictine College.  It is a college for happy Catholics.  As I walked the campus, students would look at me and greet me, “Good morning, Father,” or, “Hi Father.”  I popped into the Marian Grotto to light some candles, and several students popped in while I was there.  Before Mass, all four confessionals were being used, and each had a line.  On Saturday evening, as usual, there was a holy hour for vocations at 8pm. Many students were there. What an incredible campus!!! Would that all Catholic colleges had such a nice feeling.

In any event, the monks were true to the Benedictine charism of hospitality.  I enjoyed getting to know the monks. I discovered that one of them was baptized at my own home parish, St Charles in Bloomington.  He went through RCIA there.  Funnily enough, the same priest baptized him that baptized me!  Go figure.

The ordination itself was simply incredible.  Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann had such a compassionate, merciful presence.  He is one of those men in and through whom it is easy to see Christ.  He delivered the most beautiful homily. He spoke, looking directly at Br. Simon the entire time, about the current Year of Consecrated Life and the role of St. Benedict’s Abbey in general as an overflowing source of grace, but also about the individual priest monk that will be Fr. Simon.  He spoke, too, about the upcoming Year of Mercy, and he said to Fr. Simon: “You will be on the frontlines of mercy!”  What a powerful line.  I wish I could remember the entire homily. I hope someone recorded it and posts it online.  I do remember that he preached quite a bit about the Gospel, which I proclaimed, from Mark 16.  Verses 17 and 18 outline the powers of the new apostles: “Using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.'”  Archbishop noted that even greater powers than enduring poison and being multi-lingual were soon to be bestowed upon Br. Simon: he would receive the power to bring Christ in the sacraments and in his person to a hungry lot of people. He would receive the power to love as Christ loved, to forgive as Christ.

Fr. Simon’s First Mass was also something else. I am tired and will therefore write only about one part, the part that moved me the most.  During the Eucharistic prayer, Fr. Simon was at the altar, of course, and in this church the crucifix hangs right above the altar. There was the new priest with his hands in the orans position, wide open, and just four feet above him was Christ in the orans position, arms wide open.Please join me in praying a prayer of thanks for Fr. Simon and his vocation, and a prayer of petition that he might always be a good, holy priest. I believe he will.

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Vocations gathering

I had the joy of being on a panel for a vocations gathering today in Indy about how parishes might promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life. 

It was a wonderful event.  Let us continue to pray for vocations–especially from our own parishes.

My cup overflows

Homily for All Souls Day (Year A)
2 November  2014 – 7am, 8:30am, 10:30am, 12:00pm
St. Jude Catholic Parish – Indianapolis, IN
Wisdom 3:1-9  |  Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6  |  Romans 5:5-11  |  John 6:37-40
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Good morning. My name is Deacon Mike Keucher, and I’m in my sixth and final year of seminary at St. Meinrad Seminary, so I’ll be a priest in June.  I’m so happy to be here today.

Today we celebrate two things: All Souls Day and Vocations Sunday.  These two celebrations come together nicely in the story of David.  Many scripture scholars believe that when David wrote that psalm we sang this morning—Ps. 23, the Lord is my Shepherd—he was nearing his death.  I imagine an elderly David, lying on his bed and remembering the vocations God had given him and the joy he found in them. He remembered that day that he was anointed king. He remembered learning that his wife was to pregnant with his tenth son. He remembered what it was to be a husband and a father to so many. He probably turned his mind back to those days of shepherding as a young man. He remembered that first poem he wrote.  And the more he reflected, the fewer words he could find. He ends up summarizing his life with these words: “My cup overflows.”

Somehow, David had come to realize that he felt most blessed, that his cup felt most filled when he was pouring himself out. He uses that image of a cup to describe his soul—and so it’s a beautiful image to consider on this, All Souls Day.  Imagine a cup and an endless pitcher of water flowing into that cup. That’s what it is like for us with God.  The beauty of God is that there is always more—and he is always pouring that “more” into our lives even into the deepest parts of our souls.  He pours to the point that it spills over and we find ourselves like David, pouring ourselves out in the vocations, the callings that he issues to us.

I was invited here to tell a bit of my own story.  I will give you a small chapter of a larger book. I want to take you back to my junior year of high school. My class left early for the Confirmation retreat at St Meinrad–way early. It had been snowing and we’d been praying for a cancellation.  But alas.  That afternoon, we were given some time to do whatever at St. Meinrad. I went for a walk. I got lost.  I remember looking up into the snow as it came upon my face. I saw no vision, heard no voice, but I had a strong sense of God’s presence and peace and love at that moment. I also felt a sense in me: “You will be back here one day.”  And I knew it was a seminary, a place where men go to become priests.  It’s something like David’s story.  At that moment, my soul, my cup felt like it was being filled to the brim and more.  And at the same time, I felt like I was coming to know a bit more of how God wanted me to pour myself out in response with my life.

And you know what? God keeps filling my cup to the brim and keeps calling me to pour myself out. Anyone who follows a vocation knows this.  God has given me a vocation that has put me to work in over a hundred hospital rooms, in Guatemalan slums, in classrooms around the diocese and in retreat houses; a vocation that has me sitting around countless dining room tables and in chapels and in the rooms of the forgotten about in nursing homes. My vocation has had me baptizing children, preaching the word, and burying the dead. My vocation has given me six happy years of seminary life at the most beautiful place in the world, St. Meinrad. My vocation keeps me busy. Just this week I was at a Halloween party on Friday night, leading a Confirmation retreat all day yesterday, preaching here, and the off to ICYC this afternoon. I will return to the seminary at 11pm, and will begin my paper due tomorrow. Like yours, my vocation keeps me a bit busy sometimes.  But you know what? God has filled my cup with the greatest joys in and through it all—he has made my cup overflow.  To quote my rector: God has made me love everything my vocation demands, and he has made me love him through it.

That’s not to say all is perfect or should be.  The thing about an overflowing cup is that it spills, it gets messy.  Following a vocation doesn’t mean all will be perfect or neat or in order.  Anyone who has followed a vocation—to priesthood, religious life, married life, sacred single life—knows that while it brings countless blessings to the deepest parts of our souls, messiness is a part of it. Angelic babies are perfect to gaze upon, what a blessing, but they leak all over: they poop and fart and slobber and drool, and they turn into children who get in playground fights and adolescents who slam doors and adults that make mistakes. Marriages get messy too, and so do priesthoods.  But the cup still overflows, in and through it all.  That is God’s promise to us.

Soon we will receive to overflowing God’s presence out of those cups and into our own, our souls.  One sip, one drop of his Precious Blood is enough to fill us to overflowing. Let us pray that every soul in this church, every soul in purgatory, every married soul and every soul in the seminary and priesthood and religious life might be filled with God’s overflowing Goodness, and that all souls might discern well how God wishes them to pour themselves out for the sake of the Kingdom—so that everyone might praise God at this moment, on their death beds, and forever in heaven—echoing those words of David:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
beside restful waters he leadeth me;
he refreshes my soul.
You spread the table before me…
my cup overflows.

"Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters"

So says St. Paul to us today in our first reading.

Today, three Dominican friars of the Province of St. Albert the Great, having considered their callings well, are, as I write this, making the solemn and final professions in St. Louis. 

What a happy and joyous day for the Church!

Br. Patrick Hyde, OP, did a year at St. Paul Catholic Center, which is how I know him.

Let us pray for these men in particular today as they freely and joyfully sign their lives away!

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