Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Community of Persons

Homily: The Most Holy Trinity – Cycle C
In my last semester of high school, I started to hang out with a classmate of mine named Bill Schmidtz.  Bill was an eccentric guy.  He had a great sense of humor, but was very intense.  It was either “off” or “on” with him, never in between.  This made him a lot of fun to hang around with because where my own inhibitions might keep me from expressing something as strongly as I might want, Bill would just let it fly!  Through our hanging out, Bill introduced me to one of his friends, Trisha, who proved also to be a lot of fun to hang out with.  Over a series of weeks leading up to our graduation—a couple of months perhaps—we spent a lot of time together: hanging out, joking, and enjoying each other’s company.
On one evening during this time, the three of us were at another acquaintance's house, hanging out.  Bill started talking about how cool he thought it was that the three of us were becoming something of an inseparable trio.  Then, in true Bill fashion, he took it to the next level, saying that we needed a name by which we would identify ourselves.  Of course, Bill had a name picked out.  He said, “We’re like a triangle.  We should call ourselves ‘The Triangle’”.  (As I said, Bill was intense... not the most creative, but intense.)  Being teenagers still and, therefore, still akin to lunging at silly things, I remember Trisha and I both agreeing to the name that night.  As the days and weeks went on, we had a lot of fun as “The Triangle”.
Soon, though, high school graduation came and went.  I would soon leave for Michigan to pursue my degree in engineering, Bill would begin his apprenticeship as a plumber, and Trisha had one more year of high school yet before she would graduate.  I’m guessing that it would surprise no one here if I told them that, as the members of “The Triangle” started down these different paths, this once-unified group of persons quickly dissolved into nothing.  24 years later, I don’t think I’ve run into or spoken with either Bill or Trisha.
So, why this story at the beginning of the homily on Trinity Sunday?  Well, because I think that Bill tapped into something fundamental when he recognized the bond, fragile as it was, that had grown between himself, Trisha, and I.  In calling us the “triangle”, he was recognizing what he thought was a completeness in us, just like a triangle is complete, in itself.  As the three points in the triangle, we had bonds of good will that, for a time, kept us together.  Those bonds proved to be somewhat superficial, however, and so they quickly dissolved once distance made it hard to stay connected.  Nonetheless, in recognizing the “community of persons” that these bonds created, Bill was projecting (somewhat unwittingly, I’m sure) an innate sense that, having been created in God’s image, we are meant to form these kinds of communities of persons: especially ones that are bonded together in deep ways.
Hopefully, at this point, you’re seeing where I’m going with this, because what I’m describing here is a faint reflection of what it is that we celebrate this Sunday: that God, himself, is a community of persons, who nonetheless remains singular in his being.  Just as the three points, bonded together by the lines that connect them, make the triangle; and just as the triangle dissolves into nothing if one of those points or bonds is removed; so God is whole and complete in himself as this community of persons, united in the bonds of their eternal outpouring of love.  If any one of these points is removed, or if the bond of love between them ceases to be, then God is no longer who he has revealed himself to be.  In fact, I’d be so bold to say that he would no longer be God, at all!
Having been created in God’s image and likeness, we are created to be a community of persons, inseparably united by the bonds of love.  This, in fact, is the reason for which we were created: to be one with God in the community of persons that he is in himself.  As little children use play to enter into the lives of the adults around them, acting as parents in make-believe homes and as professionals in make-believe offices, farm fields, and factories—instinctually knowing that they are destined to enter into that world someday—so we human beings know instinctually that we are meant to enter into that perfect community of persons in eternal life and, thus, strive to create that in this world by entering into exclusive unions with one another.  In naming our little trio, Bill was formalizing what we had done instinctually: formed a small community of persons.
Just as a child’s play in the world of adults quickly dissolves when it becomes work or simply uninteresting, so do many of these communities of persons into which we enter dissolve if there isn’t something substantial to hold them together.  “The Triangle” quickly dissolved because our bonds were our mutual enjoyment of each other’s company.  We didn’t know each other very deeply; and so, when distance meant that we could no longer enjoy each other’s company easily (that is, when it became work), we became disinterested and lost contact.
The three Persons of the Holy Trinity, however, are bonded by infinitely perfect bonds: the Father knows the Son infinitely and the Son knows the Father infinitely; and their infinite outpouring of love to each other bursts forth as a third Person, the Holy Spirit (who, himself, is infinitely known and loved by the Father and the Son and who infinitely knows and loves them each in return).  This Holy Spirit bursts forth so that the infinite love of these persons can be known and shared by all.
This last part—that who God is in himself allows that we could know and share in who he is as a community of persons—is our reason to celebrate and give thanks this day.  Every community of persons, even the community of persons that most closely resembles the Holy Trinity—that of the human family—is still, because of our limitedness as human persons, lacking the completeness that God is in himself.  Nonetheless, we instinctually recognize that we are made for that completeness.  If we could never achieve that completeness, however, then our lives would be a total frustration.  But God has made it so that we could enter into that completeness—a completeness that we lost in the Garden of Eden, but then was restored in Jesus Christ—and so, we can rejoice that the hope that we have instinctually of experiencing that completeness will not disappoint, as Saint Paul reminded us in our second reading, and thus worship God here with joy, in spite of whatever difficulties we may be facing in our lives.
Friends, this joy that we celebrate here today because of who God is in himself is the joy that we must take with us as we enter back into this Ordinary Time.  This is because, as missionary disciples of God, we must make this good news known to all: that God, perfect in himself, allows and deeply desires that we, his creatures, could know him and enter into his divine life and, thus, find our fulfillment.  And so, as we give thanks to him today in this Eucharist—itself a taste of this perfect communion with him—let us ask for the grace to make this good news known in our lives and thus make this earth a foreshadowing of the perfect community of persons we will enjoy in eternal life.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – June 15th & 16th, 2019

Monday, June 10, 2019

A New Pentecost for a New Evangelization

Homily: Pentecost – Cycle C
As you all remember, this past week Fr. Neterer and I were at our biennial priest convocation down in Brown County State Park.  It was a lovely couple of days to be away with our brother priests.  At the convocation, there is always a speaker that speaks on some theme of priestly life and ministry.  This year, our speaker was Dr. Ralph Martin, an author and professor of theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.
I have to say that Dr. Martin was quite refreshing.  He shared with us his story of how he ended up as an author and seminary professor and I was edified that his path began in relatively normal circumstances.  For example, the Holy Spirit first touched his heart when he participated in a Cursillo weekend.  All of you who are Cursillistas, or who have been through Christ Renews His Parish or even an Antioch retreat, have had very similar experiences to the one that opened Dr. Martin’s heart to the grace of a spiritual awakening.  He spoke very plainly and humbly, and he was a great witness to us.  And, after sharing his witness, he spoke to us about the New Evangelization.
The “New Evangelization”, if you’ve never heard of it before (or, if you have, but don’t understand what it is), is something for which our Popes have been calling for the last 40 years or so.  If you think that it has something to do with going out and finding people who have never heard of Jesus to tell them about Jesus and the saving news of the Gospel, then you will have thought well, but you will have thought wrong.  The New Evangelization is not about evangelizing those who have never heard of Jesus Christ (though that work is still necessary), but rather about evangelizing those who are already in the Church.  Sounds strange, perhaps, but here’s what it means:
Since the Second Vatican Council, it seems, there has been a disconnect between the initiation of men and women to the faith and their evangelization.  In other words, we’ve sacramentalized millions of people (meaning, we’ve given them the sacraments), but we’ve done a poor job of introducing them to the person of Jesus (that is, the person for whom and through whom they have been sacramentalized).  In the past, this didn’t seem to be so big of a problem, since the surrounding culture supported and encouraged men and women to continue the practice of the faith, even if they didn’t always have an understanding of the relationship with God that their practice maintained.  Today, the cultural support for religious practice has disappeared (in fact, it has become hostile to it); and so, those who have been sacramentalized but not evangelized fall away from the faith since they see no underlying reasons to continue to practice it.  The New Evangelization calls us to take up the task of evangelizing the baptized so that the sacramental grace that they have received may become active in their lives and draw them back into the practice of the faith.
Perhaps some of you are thinking to yourselves, “surely it is not I, Father, who hasn’t been evangelized?”  Well, chances are that a number of you sitting here this morning do fall into this category.  If so, don’t worry.  It is not a sin to be sacramentalized and not evangelized, if it happened due to no fault of your own.  And most of the people who fall into this category have already left the practice of the faith, anyway, so they wouldn’t be here (and certainly not at 7:30 in the morning!).  Regardless of whether you’d count yourselves among the evangelized or the merely sacramentalized, there is a message for us here today.  That message is the connection between Pentecost and the New Evangelization.
Dr. Martin, echoing the Popes all the way back to John XXIII, said that the New Evangelization demands a new Pentecost.  Just as the first evangelization began when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in the Upper Room, so too will the New Evangelization take flight when the Church, on a large scale, calls for the Holy Spirit to descend upon her again.  This has already begun in a smaller scale as Ecclesial Movements like the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Cursillo (and all its permutations), and the Neo-Catechumenal Way have found a footing in the Church and are evangelizing the baptized: that is, helping men and women—long since baptized—to find and establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  We have these movements here in the Midwest—some right here in Lafayette—and so if something is stirring in you right now as you hear about these evangelizing groups, let me know and I’ll be more than happy to connect you to them.  All of these groups rely heavily on calling on the Holy Spirit to enlighten them, to guide them, and to strengthen them in their efforts to evangelize.
Nonetheless, you do not have to be a part of an ecclesial movement to participate in the New Evangelization; our scriptures today show us that.  In our second reading, Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth, says “to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit”.  Did you hear that?  He said, “to each individual...”  That means that each and every one of you here—if you have been baptized—has been given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  And so, there’s no one here (again, if you’ve been baptized) who can say, “Oh, that Holy Spirit stuff is for other folks, not me.”  Each of us has been given a manifestation of the Spirit, “for some benefit”.  If we don’t know what those spiritual gift or gifts might be, then our task is to call on the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to those gifts so that we can begin to manifest them for the benefit of the kingdom of God, which has, at its root, the evangelization of peoples.  If we remember the Gospel parable of the talents, we remember that the master did not look kindly on the one who hid his talent instead of trading with it so as to multiply it.  So, too, it will be with us who have been given a manifestation of the Spirit for some benefit, but then failed to discern that gift and to apply it for the building of the kingdom.
And so, how do we come to know those spiritual gifts?  Well, the simple way is to call on the Holy Spirit regularly!  “Come, Holy Spirit” is a great prayer to the Holy Spirit that anyone can pray.  In our Gospel, today, however, Jesus shows us another way to open ourselves to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  He says: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always...  The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”  In other words, if we love Jesus and keep his commandments, then Jesus himself will take care of sending the Spirit to us.  I like this method, because it keeps us focused on fostering our own relationship with Christ, which will be essential in any evangelizing work that we are given.  It also reminds us, however, that we cannot expect to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit if we refuse to turn away from our sins: that is, if we fail to keep the commandments of the Lord.  Thus, it is a constant urging to turn away from sin and be cleansed of it (especially in Confession) so as to remove all barriers to the Spirit’s manifestation in us.  Thus prayer, in which we communicate with Jesus daily, and frequent reception of the sacraments, are keys to unlocking the outpouring of the Spirit in us.
Friends, on this holy day—and at the end of this holy season—let us be bold in asking for a New Pentecost so that the work of the New Evangelization might be accomplished through us: the work of bringing our brothers and sisters to (or back to) the practice of the faith through a personal relationship with Jesus.  For it is this work that will make us saints; and it is this work that will usher in the day when Christ will return, in all his glory, to take us home to himself.  Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – June 9th, 2019

Monday, June 3, 2019

Our noble and necessary bodies

Homily: The Ascension of the Lord – Cycle C
          Friends, today we celebrate this great feast of the Ascension: the final, culminating act of our redemption. This is not, of course, the crucial act: that was Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  Rather, it is the culminating act: the ultimate reason for which Jesus took on our human flesh; and that is, to re-unite our humanity to God. This, of course, is a joyful thing. I mean, just think about your humanity for a moment. Think about what happens when you don’t take a shower or a bath for a couple of days. Think about changing diapers on babies or when they spit up on your shoulder. Our humanity—as we experience it in this world, at least—is a messy (and, quite frankly, often gross) thing. Yet the Divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, took on our humanity, in all its grossness, suffered all of the worst things that it can experience in this world, and glorified it in his resurrection so that it could be restored to its perfect communion with the Holy Trinity: which is to say, into an existence of perfect and eternal bliss.
          This is something astounding!  And if you aren’t astounded by this, then you should be!  In the early centuries of the Church, Christians argued about the true nature of Jesus’ humanity: Did he truly have a human nature, alongside his divine nature, or did his divine nature simply “reside” in a human body while he walked on earth?  The fact that, after his resurrection, Jesus still had a human body, made of flesh and bone, and that he took that body with him as he ascended into heaven shows us, those early Christians argued, that Jesus’ divine nature was truly united to a human nature; and that this human nature, while always remaining distinct from his divine nature, can never be separated from him.  It’s truly mind-blowing to think about this because, even with all of our scientific achievements, we have no way of conceptualizing how our human bodies can exist outside of space and time.
          Nevertheless, what Jesus proved for us when he ascended in his human body is that our bodies are noble, and that they have a noble purpose.  In fact, I would say that our bodies are truly sacramental, in nature.  If you remember your catechism well, you’ll remember that a sacrament is an “efficacious sign of grace”: it’s something perceivable by our senses that makes imperceivably things happen.  For example, in baptism, the person is washed with water while invoking the Holy Trinity, which effects the grace of the cleansing of the person’s soul from sin (Original Sin and any personal sin) and marking it permanently for God.  In other words, the physical, perceivable washing makes a spiritual, imperceivable washing happen.  Thus, another way to define a sacrament is to say that it is “a visible sign of an invisible reality.”  A sacramental, in this sense, is something that does a “sacrament-like” thing.
          Our human bodies are sacramentals in that they are visible signs of invisible realities.  What is that “invisible reality”?  The presence of a human soul.  Subconsciously we get this, because whenever we see what appears to be a human body without a soul, we know it’s something less than human, a monster, right? (Any “Walking Dead” fans out there? Zombies are monsters because they are human bodies without souls.) Our bodies are more than just signs, however, they are integral parts of who we are as human persons.  This we also understand, fundamentally, because when someone does violence to our bodies, we rightly see it as an attack on the person, who cannot be known except through his/her body.
All this is to remind us today that the restoration of our communion with God could not be accomplished through spiritual means alone: it had to happen with our bodies.  This means that, any restoration that could have been effected without bodily communion would have been incomplete.  Jesus came, however, to restore our communion with God completely: thus, the Incarnation; the Passion, Death, and Resurrection; and, now, yes, the Ascension.  Real communion with God requires our bodies, as well as our soul.
          This message is also why, I think, that the Church has transferred the celebration of this great feast to Sunday.  Technically, 40 days after Easter happened last Thursday, but we celebrate the Ascension on Sunday so that the vast majority of us might be able to celebrate this important feast.  It is the feast of the culmination of our salvation and a reminder that our human bodies have a noble purpose.  The world tells us that our bodies are something to be used and thrown away.  Through Jesus, God reveals that our bodies are valuable and necessary.
          These valuable bodies are not meant to be static, however.  Rather, they are meant to move.  In Luke’s Gospel “movement” is the sign of a disciple: that is, someone responding to grace.  If we think about the parable of the Prodigal Son, we see that the prodigal responds to grace and moves to return to his father, and the older son stands still—he will not move—and refuses his father’s graces.  This is a common theme in Luke’s gospel.  Thus, it feels a little weird when, at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke writes that Jesus told the disciples to “stay and wait”.  This, of course, is only to prepare them for the next big movement that will come with the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: then they will move—and move big time—to take the Gospel message to the ends of the world.  We, who celebrate this feast, must be ready to move when the Spirit comes to us.
          Friends, Let’s use this time to meditate this week on this great mystery of the Ascension: that through Christ’s body, which has entered the eternal sanctuary in heaven on our behalf, we too will one day ascend bodily into full and perfect communion with God in heaven.  As we do, let us also pray and prepare to use these bodies that we have been given not only to be outward expression of ourselves—the visible signs of our invisible souls—but also to be expressions of God’s love that has been poured into our hearts: in other words, the visible sign of that invisible reality.  In doing so, we will be proclaiming God’s kingdom: the kingdom of heaven to which all men and women are invited and over which rules Christ, our risen Lord and king.  Alleluia!
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – June 1st & 2nd, 2019

Monday, May 27, 2019

Our noble duty.

Homily: 6th Sunday in Easter – Cycle C
This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day.  Although this commemoration began as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the American Civil War, it has come to be recognized as a memorial for all who have died in service to the United States of America, particularly through the armed forces.  It’s original name, Decoration Day, points to the primary activity that marks this day: the visiting of cemeteries and decorating the graves of fallen service men and women with flowers or flags as a sign of honor and remembrance.  We will all do well to pay attention to this primary point as we embrace our activities this weekend.
I have to say, though, that I really appreciate this holiday.  As human beings, we recognize that the sacrifices that men and women make to defend our nation and our freedoms is something extraordinary; and that to have suffered death because of it is more extraordinary still.  In many ways these men and women are like martyrs: those who confront challenges to that which we value most (in this case, our nation and our freedoms) and who lay down their lives in defense of them.  These men and women exemplify the truth that Jesus spoke to his disciples the night before he died: “no one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  The men and women we honor this weekend loved us, as fellow citizens of this nation and, thus, friends, when they chose to serve our nation at the cost of their own lives.  Therefore, I appreciate this holiday because it honors something truly noble and worthy of remembrance.
In our second reading today, and over the last weeks of Easter, we’ve been hearing from the visions of John the Apostle while he was in exile on the Greek island of Patmos.  Although many over the centuries have called these visions a view of what Jesus’ second coming would look like, many more have said that these visions were given as prophecies of what the Christians in those days (and, really, Christians of every age following) would need to hear to strengthen them in faith so as to deal with the challenges that they will inevitably face to live the faith and to proclaim Jesus to others.  In these visions, John is often given a vision of a large multitude of men and women who stand before the throne of God in brilliant white robes.  These men and women are described as those who have “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb”.  In other words, these are the martyrs: the ones who have suffered persecution for the faith and who have remained faithful to Jesus, to the point of dying for him.  In all of these readings, these are the ones who have an honored place in heaven.
In today’s reading, which is from the last chapter of this book (and, thus, from the end of John’s visions), it is Christ himself who speaks to John and, thus, solemnly declares the following: “Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates.”  Again, “those who wash their robes” are the martyrs who have handed over their lives in the imitation of Christ.  Their reward is the very thing that was taken away from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: access to the tree of life.  Thus, we see that, through Christ, we have been restored to the paradise lost by our first parents.  The martyrs seemed to lose everything in this world when they handed over their lives to death on account of their faith in Christ, but that same Christ reveals that, in reality, by handing over their lives, they have gained eternal life.
Of course, we recognize the extraordinary nature of this giving of life, also, and so we regularly honor the martyrs for their witness to the faith.  Like the honoring of our fallen military men and women, the honoring of the martyrs is a truly noble thing to do.  The honoring of the martyrs should also be a reminder for us, however.  A reminder that every Christian is called to be a martyr in some way: that is, one who gives witness to Jesus Christ in his/her life.  This is epitomized in the title given by the Church to Christians still living in time (a title that those who are old enough will remember learning in their early catechism classes), and a title that is fitting to be reminded of on this Memorial Day weekend: for we are called the Church Militant.
Although the term “militant” translates somewhat literally to mean something like “marching”, as in “walking around in space and time”, we should, nonetheless, allow ourselves to think of the term in the sense that it invokes: that we are God’s “armed forces” here on earth, sent into battle to proclaim and defend the name of Jesus and his kingdom here on earth.  We are God’s foot soldiers and we have a noble duty.  When Christ returns, as he revealed in the reading today, we will receive “recompense” for our faithfulness to that duty.  Notice, that I didn’t say “success”.  God won’t measure our success, as if we somehow earn our reward in heaven, but rather our faithfulness to the duty, thus demonstrating our love for him and our faith in the fact that he has already won the reward for us.  In our faithfulness to the duty—faithfulness, that is, without compromises—we demonstrate our love for Christ and, thus, our willingness to lay down our lives for him so as to have our robes “washed in the blood of the Lamb”.
We would do well, my brothers and sisters, to reflect on our faithfulness this weekend as we honor those who were faithful to us: our nation and our freedoms.  Are we giving ourselves as fully as we ought to Christ and his kingdom?  Or are we making compromises and, thus, shirking our noble duty?  My guess is that the answer for most all of us is that we can still give ourselves more.  And so, let’s let the inspiring example of those who gave their lives for our nation and freedoms point us to the inspiring example of the Christian martyrs; and, thus, lead us rededicate ourselves to fulfilling our noble duty to Christ and his kingdom.  For it is Christ himself who, out of love for us, first laid down his life for us; and it is Christ himself who, out of love for us, continues to give himself for us in the Eucharist; and it is Christ himself who, out of love for us, will one day return to take us home to himself in the glorious kingdom of heaven.  “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
Given at St. Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – May 25th & 26th, 2019

Monday, May 20, 2019

¿Es nuestro amor super-natural?

Homilía: 5º Domingo en la Pascua – Ciclo C
          Me atrevería a decir que la mayoría de nosotros sabemos cómo se ve el amor abnegado. Esto se debe a que la mayoría de nosotros hemos tenido la oportunidad de ejercer este tipo de amor en nuestras vidas. Si ustedes son padres, saben que, para darles a sus hijos las mejores oportunidades en este mundo, tienen que hacer sacrificio tras sacrificio: tanto en cosas pequeñas como en cosas grandes. Si está casado, lo sabe, para darle a su esposa o esposo la felicidad que él / ella merece, usted también tiene que hacer un sacrificio tras otro: otra vez, tanto en las cosas pequeñas como en las grandes (y lo reconoce incluso cuando no lo haces... y a veces especialmente cuando no lo haces... ¿verdad?). Los mejores amigos también saben que muestran su amor más cuando hacen sacrificios el uno por el otro.
          Ahora bien, estos sacrificios del uno mismo se llaman amor porque están hechos para el bien del otro y no para el bien del que hace el sacrificio—sino puramente porque el que hace el sacrificio desea el bien del otro. Aunque a menudo consideramos a este tipo de amor como heroico, el hecho es que es muy natural para nosotros. Cuando sentimos una afinidad por o con alguien, estamos dispuestos a sufrir muchas cosas por ellos.
          Como cristianos, sin embargo, estamos llamados a llevar este tipo de amor al siguiente nivel. Se nos pide que amemos a todos—incluso a aquellos con quienes no tenemos conexión—y nos llaman a amarlos como si fueran nuestra esposa, nuestro hijo, o nuestro mejor amigo. Este es un nuevo tipo de amor: un amor que va más allá de nuestras inclinaciones naturales (más allá, al menos, de nuestras inclinaciones naturales debilitadas por el pecado). Este es un amor, por lo tanto, que está más allá de la naturaleza: un amor que es verdaderamente súper natural.
          Los apóstoles Pablo y Bernabé nos muestran un ejemplo de este tipo de amor súper natural en nuestra primera lectura de hoy. Para ver esto, primero debemos observar de cerca una parte de la lectura que podríamos ignorar si no conociéramos el contexto. Por lo tanto, echemos un vistazo más de cerca al comienzo de la lectura. La lectura comienza diciendo: "En aquellos días, volvieron Pablo y Bernabé a Listra, Iconio y Antioquía". Ellos fueron en una ciudad se llama Derbe, a la que huyeron Pablo y Bernabé después de haber sido expulsados ​​de la Listra, que era la ciudad a la que huyeron después de haber sido expulsados ​​de Iconio. Las Escrituras nos dicen que los judíos y gentiles en Iconio conspiraron para apedrear a Pablo y Bernabé, pero que Pablo y Bernabé descubrieron el complot y huyeron a Listra. Mientras proclamaban las Buenas Nuevas allí, los judíos de Iconio aparecieron, incitaron a la multitud y lograron apedrear a Pablo; después de lo cual lo arrastraron fuera de la ciudad, suponiendo que estaba muerto. No estaba muerto, pero al día siguiente, Pablo y Bernabé dejaron Listra para ir al Derbe y proclamar la Buena Nueva allí.
          Bueno, esa primera línea parece mucho más significativa, ¿verdad? De nuevo, dijo: "volvieron Pablo y Bernabé a Listra, Iconio y Antioquía..." ¡Volvieron al lugar donde la gente los quería muertos! ¿Y por qué? Bueno, las Escrituras no lo dicen claramente, pero creo que es por el amor que tenían por la gente de esas ciudades. Ellos no eran personas que conocían. Más bien, eran personas que necesitaban recibir la Buena Nueva de la salvación a través de Jesucristo; y Pablo y Bernabé no serían detenidos hasta que la gente de estas ciudades recibiera esta Buena Nueva. Sus esfuerzos no tuvieron ningún beneficio para ellos mismos; las Escrituras nos muestran que no les trajo más que amenazas de muerte. Más bien, sus esfuerzos fueron puramente para el beneficio de quienes los recibieron: el signo del verdadero amor de sacrificio en el nivel super natural. ///
          Este tipo de amor supernatural es el tipo de amor que Jesús manda a sus discípulos cuando les da el "nuevo mandamiento" de amar los unos a los otros. Y para estar seguros de que sus discípulos sabían que él quería decir algo más que nuestra habilidad natural de amarnos unos a otros, siguió este mandato diciendo: "como yo los he amado". ¿Y cuál fue el acto super natural de amor de Jesús? La cruz, por supuesto. Allí, él entregó su vida completamente para todos—todos los que alguna vez existieron, todos los que existían entonces o existen ahora, y todos los que existirán—sin importa de si lo aceptan o no. Y no lo hizo por ningún beneficio que obtendría para sí mismo—es el Hijo de Dios, no necesita nada—sino por el beneficio de todos los demás, simplemente porque lo deseaba esto para ellos... es decir, para nosotros. Este es el mismo amor súper natural que llevó a Pablo y Bernabé, llenos del Espíritu Santo, para regresar al Listra y Iconio; y este es el mismo amor súper natural que todavía estamos llamados a ofrecer en nuestras propias vidas hoy. ///
          Hace algunos años, Penn Jillette (que es la mitad del dúo de comedia "Penn & Teller" y que es un ateo declarado) grabó un pequeño video que describe cómo un hombre se le acercó después de uno de sus programas de comedia y le dio un pequeño libro del Nuevo Testamento y los Salmos. Dijo que le gustaba recibirlo. Como ateo, elogiaba a este hombre por hacer proselitismo porque, según él, le parecía que era una consecuencia lógica de la creencia y de ser una buena persona. "¿Cuánto tienes que odiar a alguien", dijo, "para creer que la vida eterna es posible y luego no decirle [sobre eso]?" Me atrevo a decir que su pregunta es una pregunta difícil para todos nosotros. ¿Amamos realmente con el amor super natural que Cristo nos manda tener si creemos lo que profesamos creer, pero luego decidimos no compartirlo? Mis hermanos, la respuesta es "no".
          Por lo tanto, me alegro de que estas lecturas nos lleguen hoy, durante esta temporada de Pascua, porque nos recuerdan que la Pascua no se trata solo de "aleluyas", sino que también se trata de inspirar nuestro apostolado—es decir, cómo vivimos como Apóstoles: aquellos enviados para proclamar esta Buena Nueva. Aquí, en la Eucaristía, nos encontramos con el amor sobrenatural de Jesús—la re-presentación del sacrificio de su cuerpo y sangre por nosotros—y en la despedida al final de la misa, somos enviados a salir de aquí y dale ese amor a todos los que nos rodean: ambos proclamando estas buenas nuevas a cualquiera que nos escuche y luego caminando con ellos hasta que conozcan el amor de Cristo por sí mismos.
          Por lo tanto, hermanos y hermanas, no permitamos que nuestra celebración aquí sea incompleta: es decir, algo que disfrutamos para nosotros mismos y luego salimos de aquí. Más bien, pidamos en esta Eucaristía la gracia de salir de aquí con los corazones llenos de amor—el amor verdadero y super-natural—listos para sacrificar nuestras propias vidas para que otros puedan vivir; y para que la visión de Juan de "un cielo nuevo y una tierra nueva"—hecha nueva por la muerte y resurrección de Cristo—nos sea conocida ahora, en nuestro tiempo.
Dado en el retiro “Profetas de Esperanza” del Pastoral Juvenil: West Lebanon, IN
19 de mayo, 2019

Is our love super-natural?

Homily: 5th Sunday of Easter – Cycle C
          I would dare to say that most of us know what self-sacrificial love looks like.  This is because most of us have had opportunities to exercise this type of love in our lives.  If you’re parents, you know that, to give your children the best opportunities in this world, you have to make sacrifice after sacrifice: both in little things and in big things.  If you’re married, you know that, to give your wife or husband the happiness that he/she deserves, you, too, have to make sacrifice after sacrifice: again, both in little things and in big things (and you recognize it even when you fail to do it… and sometimes especially when you fail to do it… am I right?).  Best friends, too, know that they show their love most when they make sacrifices for each other.
          Now these sacrifices of self are called love because they are made for the good of the other and not for the good of the one making the sacrifice—but rather purely because the one making the sacrifice desires the good of the other.  Although we often look at this type of love as heroic, the fact of the matter is that it is quite natural for us.  When we feel an affinity for or with someone, we become willing to suffer many things for them.
          As Christians, however, we are called to take this kind of love to the next level.  We are asked to love everyone—including those with whom we may have no connection—and we’re called to love them as if they were our wife, our son, or our best friend.  This is a new kind of love: a love that goes beyond our natural inclinations—beyond, at least, our natural inclinations weakened by sin.  This is a love, therefore, that is beyond nature: a love that is truly super-natural.
          The apostles Paul and Barnabas show us an example of this kind of super-natural love in our first reading today.  To see this, we must first take a closer look at a part of the reading that we might just ignore if we didn’t know the context.  Therefore, let’s take a closer look at the beginning of the reading.  The reading opens by saying: “After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.”  “That city” is Derbe, which is the place to which Paul and Barnabas went after they had been driven out of Lystra, which was the city to which they went after they had been driven out of Iconium.  The Scriptures tell us that the Jews and Gentiles in Iconium plotted to stone Paul and Barnabas, but that Paul and Barnabas discovered the plot and so fled to Lystra.  While they proclaimed the Good News there, Jews from Iconium showed up, stirred up the crowds, and actually succeeded in stoning Paul; after which they dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead.  He wasn’t dead, but the next day Paul and Barnabas left Lystra for Derbe to proclaim the Good News there.
          Now, doesn’t that first line seem much more significant?  It said, “They returned to Lystra and to Iconium…”  They returned to the very place where the people wanted them dead!  And why?  Well, the Scriptures don’t say it plainly, but I believe it is because of the love that they had for the people of those cities.  These were not people that they knew.  Rather, they were people who needed to receive the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ; and Paul and Barnabas would not be stopped until the people of these cities received this Good News.  Their efforts were of no benefit to themselves—the Scriptures show us that it brought them nothing but death threats.  Rather, their efforts were purely for the benefit of those who received them: the sign of true self-sacrificial love on the super-natural level.
          This kind of super-natural love is the kind of love that Jesus commands for his disciples when he gives them the “new commandment” to love one another.  And just to be sure that his disciples knew that he meant something more than our natural ability to love one another, he followed this command by saying, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another”.  And what was Jesus’ super-natural act of love?  The cross, of course.  There, he handed over his life completely for everyone—everyone who ever existed, everyone who existed then or exists now, and everyone who will ever exist—regardless of whether they accept him or not.  And he did it not for any benefit that he would gain for himself—he is the Son of God, he has no need of anything—but rather for the benefit of everyone else, simply because he desired it for them… for us.  This is the same super-natural love that led Paul and Barnabas, filled with the Holy Spirit, back into Lystra and Iconium; and this is the same super-natural love that we are still called to offer in our own lives today. ///
          A few years ago, Penn Jillette (who is one half of the comedy duo “Penn & Teller” and who is an avowed atheist) recorded a little video describing how a man approached him after one of his comedy shows and gave him a little book of the New Testament and the Psalms.  He said that he appreciated receiving it.  As an atheist, he was commending this man for proselytizing because, he said, it seemed to him to be a logical consequence of belief and of being a good person.  “How much do you have to hate somebody,” he said, “to believe that everlasting life is possible and then not tell them [about it]?”  I dare say that his question is a challenging question to us all.  Do we really love with the super-natural love that Christ commands us to have if we believe what we profess to believe, but then choose not to share it?  My friends, the answer is “no”.
          Thus, I’m glad that these readings come to us today, during this Easter season, because they remind us that Easter isn’t just about “alleluias”, but that it’s also about inspiring our apostolate—that is, how we live as apostles—those sent to proclaim this Good News.  Here in the Eucharist, we encounter the super-natural love of Jesus—the re-presentation of the sacrifice of his body and blood for us—and in the dismissal at the end of Mass, we are sent to go forth from here and to give that love to everyone around us: both by proclaiming this good news to anyone who will listen and then by walking with them as they come to know the love of Christ for themselves.
          Therefore, my brothers and sisters, let us not allow our celebration here to be incomplete: that is, something which we enjoy for ourselves and then leave here.  Rather, let us ask in this Eucharist for the grace to go forth from here with hearts full of love—true, super-natural love—ready to sacrifice our own lives so that others may live; and so that John’s vision of a “new heaven and a new earth”, made new by Christ’s death and resurrection, may be known to us now, in our own time.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – May 19th, 2019

Monday, May 13, 2019

Remain faithful to the grace of God

Homily: 4th Sunday in Easter – Cycle C
Friends, this weekend we are celebrating a number of wonderful things: namely, the World Day for Vocations and Mother’s Day.  We also call today “Good Shepherd Sunday”, since the Gospel reading for the day, regardless of which year in the three-year cycle of readings we are in, is taken from the “Good Shepherd” discourse in John’s Gospel.  Certainly, there are many great things to preach on today, but I am going to focus in on a phrase from our first reading that, hopefully, will give us something to take home with us to ponder and to work on this week.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of Paul and Barnabas making their way to Antioch to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the community there.  Being Jews, they went straight to the synagogue to proclaim to God’s chosen people that the long-awaited Messiah had come: Jesus of Nazareth, who was persecuted and put to death, but rose from the dead on the third day and now lives, having taken his place at the right hand of God in heaven.  They came to proclaim to the Jews in Antioch that it is only in the name of Jesus that they can find salvation.  From the sound of it, they found a positive reception that first sabbath day as it says that many who were there began to follow them.
To those who began following them, Paul and Barnabas spoke to them and urged them to “remain faithful to the grace of God.”  This phrase—remain faithful to the grace of God—struck me as important.  Of all of the things that Paul and Barnabas could have told the ones who were beginning to follow them—for example, “go learn to pray”, or “go study the scriptures”, or “go serve the poor”—they chose to urge them to “remain faithful to the grace of God”.  I think that this is a great Easter message for all of us and it’s a theme that connects with our other readings today.
In the second reading, we continue to hear of John’s visions, recorded for us in the book of Revelation.  In this vision, we see a great multitude of people, too many to count, who are identified as “the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”.  This description is “New Testament speak” for the martyrs: those who have shed their blood for Christ.  And what does “having survived the time of great distress” mean, except that they “remained faithful to the grace of God”?  These who are identified as martyrs—and who, therefore, stand before the throne of God (that is, who stand in heaven)—are the ones who have remained faithful to the grace of God and, therefore, enjoy the reward for their faithfulness.
In the Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish”.  He continues to say, “No one can take them out of my hand.”  This is a beautiful truth about Jesus as the true Good Shepherd.  What isn’t revealed here, however, is that, while no one can take one of Jesus’ sheep from him, his sheep, nonetheless, can wander away on their own.  Jesus’ promise is amazing and should give hope to everyone who comes to him; but it should also stir in us a desire to “remain faithful to the grace of God”, so that, having become a member of Jesus’ flock, we don’t find ourselves having drifted away from him and no longer able to hear his voice.  For when we can no longer hear his voice—that is, when we have failed to remain faithful to God’s grace—then we are no longer protected by his promise.
Friends, this really is the ongoing message of this Easter season.  Having feasted on the joy of Jesus’ resurrection, we perhaps find ourselves like those first followers of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch: excited but not quite sure what to do next.  To us the same instruction is given: “remain faithful to the grace of God”.  What does this mean for us?  Surely it means “Do not return to your life of sin”.  Sin is incompatible with the grace of God and so for us to return to the sin that we strove to leave behind during Lent would be an infidelity to the grace given to us by God (which, in point of fact, helped us to break free from that sin in the first place).  I would say that it also means to be docile to the Holy Spirit.  The grace of God, which we received at baptism, is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit dwells in us to guide us and point us to God’s will for our lives.  He is not forceful, however.  We may choose not to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, but rather choose to follow our own will: in which case we stray from Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and make ourselves vulnerable to being overcome by the Evil One who seeks to separate us eternally from God.  If we make ourselves docile to the Spirit, however, we remain faithful to the grace of God and, thus, close to the protecting hand of Jesus.  Thus, enabling us to walk more confidently: ready to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to anyone who will listen.
Finally, I might also add, on this World Day for Vocations, that “remaining faithful to the grace of God” is also the way that we come to know and follow our vocation: whether that be to the priesthood or the diaconate, to the consecrated religious life, to marriage, or to the consecrated single life.  We cannot expect to know God’s will, which is made known to us through grace, unless we remain faithful to God’s grace throughout our lives.  Oh, and by the way, holy vocations foster other holy vocations!  Therefore, if you want to promote vocations to the priesthood, then remain faithful to the grace of God in your own vocation!  When young people see others leading joy-filled lives while following God’s will, it will inspire in them a desire to know that same joy in their own lives and they, too, will begin to discern God’s call.
Therefore, friends, let us spend some time this week reflecting on whether or not we have “remained faithful to the grace of God”; and, if we haven’t, to turn back to our commitment to do so.  In this way, we will stay attuned to the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd who leads us to eternal life, and we will also be great witnesses—that is, martyrsto the joy of a life united to Christ, which will lead others to him, so that there may truly be “one flock” and “one shepherd” throughout the world.  May God bless us all in this good work.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – May 12th, 2019