Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Mensch, a Virgin, and a God...

Happy Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! ...and as we continue to celebrate the Octave of Christmas I shall say it again, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!  My homily for the Feast is below.  I hope it moves you to think of the Holy Family in a new and deeper way.

I also hope that your time has been holy and joy-filled (and if you've been in Central or Southern Indiana, that you've had lots of hot coffee or hot chocolate to warm you up after your hours of shoveling snow over the past 5 days!).  I had a lovely visit with my folks in Illinois and returned to a pretty low-key Sunday at the parish.  No religious ed, no RCIA, no extra sacraments... I almost didn't know what to do with myself!

In a little over a week I leave for Guatemala (Jan. 9th), so preparations are well underway for that trip.

Blessings to you all!

Homily: Feast of the Holy Family – Cycle C
            One of my weaknesses as a person is that I tend to be pretty nostalgic.  Perhaps some of you are thinking, “I didn’t know that could be a weakness, I thought nostalgia was a good thing…” and, true enough, it can be.  But what I often find that happens when I get nostalgic is that I tend to use it as a bit of escapism from dealing with whatever uncomfortable situation I may be facing.  And if you’ve ever heard yourself saying the words: “Ugh, why does everything have to be so complicated now?  It was so much simpler back then!” then perhaps you’ve unknowingly had an experience of the negative side of nostalgia.
            This is because nostalgia, in its best form, is a sort of ‘wistful’ longing for the past: for a time when things appeared to be more simple, a time perhaps best captured in Norman Rockwell paintings and reruns of Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons (…and yes, I have seen these shows… even if only in reruns).  At worst, nostalgia creates an inability to live in the present as one clings to some ideal arrangement of life that happened in the past, which, by the way, is almost always seen through rose-colored glasses so as to gloss-over the fact that those events of the past had just as much drama and complication as the present we are trying to avoid.  I would guess that most of us, however, myself included, probably tend to teeter back and forth on that edge in-between the two and know how to pull ourselves back when we’ve gone a little too far over to the negative side.
            One of the things that we all tend to be a little too nostalgic about, I think, is the Holy Family.  And why not?  To us, they seem to be the ideal trio: you’ve got Jesus, the perfect Son of God who has taken on human nature, Mary, the Immaculate Virgin conceived without original sin, and Joseph, the one Scriptures hail as righteous (which, by the way, they don’t do for just anybody).  “With such holy people making up this clan,” perhaps we think, “what could possibly go wrong?”
            Well, I think that this is an example of where our nostalgia could get us into trouble.  I think that if we let ourselves get stuck on the image of the Holy Family given to us in the hymn Silent Night, then we miss the fact that the life of the Holy Family—that is, everything that happened after they left the cave in Bethlehem—was actually rather complicated.  Let’s just take a look for a second at what we know happened to the Holy Family since Christmas day up to and including the events we read about today:
            First, of course, is that distressing birth in a cave.  Yes, we should think everything holy and pious about the birth in the cave, but we should also be appalled by the fact that any human family should ever have to be reduced, because of poverty, to giving birth in a cave on a cold winter night.
            Next, there was that flight into Egypt.  It didn’t take long for Herod to figure out that had been duped by the Magi and so, in a jealous rage, he ordered all children under two years old in Bethlehem to be killed and if it wasn’t for the intervention of the angel, Jesus would have been caught up in it.  Instead, the Holy Family had to suffer greatly as they hastily went off into Egypt, where they stayed for seven years, living as poor immigrants in a foreign land.  If you don’t think that was distressing, then just talk to one of our Hispanic families and ask them what it was like for them, or their parents, when they first moved to Logansport.
            Finally, there is today’s incident.  We call it “the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple,” but really it is “the losing and finding of the child Jesus,” emphasis on the “losing.”  While in the other two situations, the distress happened to the Holy Family, in this incident, the distress was caused by the Holy Family.
            Just like on every other trip to Jerusalem, Jesus was expected to stick close to the family and relatives as they moved to and from.  Now that he was 12 years-old, however, perhaps Mary and Joseph had decided to allow Jesus a little leeway to exercise some responsibility.  He didn’t have to stay right next to mom and dad, in other words, as long as he stuck close to his cousins.  You could imagine the intense fear and anxiety when, after traveling a whole day’s distance, Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus had not done as they had expected and that he was not in the caravan.  Just as quickly (quicker, in fact) as Mary made haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth and Joseph moved to take his family into Egypt, Mary and Joseph now sprinted back to Jerusalem to find him.  For three days, the Scripture says… for three days they looked for him, with anxiety inducing tears and teetering on the threshold of despair, until they found him.  We can all imagine the relief—and, perhaps, the anger—when they found him not having been kidnapped or lost, but rather having willfully stayed behind to debate with the teachers of the Law.  Without doubt, Mary was justified in making her gruff rebuke of the child Jesus: “Why did you do this to us!?!?”  And, like any good 12 year-old is perfectly capable of, Jesus’ response is enigmatic: “What’s your problem, mom?  You totally should have known that I would be here.”  My brothers and sisters, if you have any nostalgia remaining about the Holy Family, that is, that they lived this pious life together without any conflicts or struggles, let these stories be the ones that bring you back to reality.
            Yet, we honor this family today as the “ideal” family.  And why?  Because they always lived in perfect harmony with one another?  No!  Rather, we honor them because they show us the ideal way to live in a world that never quite lives up to ideals.  They show us that mistakes happen to everyone, even the righteous and the sinless, but that the way to respond is always with patience, love, and prayer.  Mary and Joseph didn’t understand Jesus’ response, but instead of responding in anger at him, they returned home to ponder what all this could mean for them as a family; and Jesus, for his part, never challenged them in that way again: the Scriptures telling us that he returned to Nazareth with them and was “obedient to them.”
            My brothers and sisters, as the Holy Family has shown us, life as a family is bound to be messy (which, I’m sure is news to no one here).  What they also show us is that the ideal that we strive for as families is not that we never have conflicts, problems, or mistakes, but rather that we always strive to resolve them with patience, love, and prayer.
            Songwriter Rufus Wainwright does a good job dispelling our nostalgia about the Holy Family in his song “Spotlight on Christmas,” which always gets onto my “repeat” list during the Christmas season.  In it he sings:
          People love and people hate.
          People go and people wait.
          But don't forget Jesus, Mary and Joseph
          Once were a family poor but rich in hope, yeah.
          Don't forget Jesus, Mary and Joseph
          Running from the law, King Herod had imposeth.
          And they were each one quite odd:
          A mensch, a virgin and a God.
          But don't forget that what kept them afloat-
          Floating through the desert doesn't take a boat, no-
          Don't forget that what kept them above
          Is unconditional love.
            My brothers and sisters, may the unconditional love that we receive here from this altar lead us to live our lives as the Holy Family did: in patient endurance of the conflicts and struggles that we encounter and in unconditional love for those closest to us.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 30, 2012
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So, where are you from?

Sorry it took me an extra day to get it up here, but for those of you who need a little 'shot' to keep you Christmas minded, perhaps this is it!

Homily: Christmas – Vigil Mass

            Having been here for close to six months now, I have been asked a lot of questions by many of you as you all try to get to know me a little better.  Many of those questions centered around my family, my interests, where I went to seminary, my life as an engineer before entering the seminary and—much to my delight—what types of food are my favorite to eat.  The one question that I feel like I most often received, however, is one that is probably the most complicated for me, or anyone else for that matter, to answer: “So where are you from?”

            Looking just at the bare facts, answering that question really isn’t that complicated at all.  For many of us here, in fact, it is rather simple: “I’m from Logansport.  I was born and raised here and I’ve lived here all my life.”  For folks like myself, that answer gets a little more complicated, but it is nonetheless still digestible: “I was born and raised in Joliet, Illinois, I went to college in Flint, Michigan and then moved to Indiana, where I’ve lived for the past 12 years.”  But even this bare-bone answer contains indicators that reveal other things about me, that is, about “where I am from.”  Almost to the person, once someone hears that I grew up near Chicago they assume that I am a Cubs fan (which, of course, is the only valid assumption to make, since being a Cubs fan is the only morally correct choice for any Christian to make: for it is a sign that one is in possession of the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, without which it would be impossible to remain a fan of the Chicago Cubs).

            If we start to ask questions beyond that basic question, however—such as those I’ve already mentioned: how big is your family, where did you go to school, did you play sports—we begin to find that the answer to the question “where are you from” is far more complicated and nuanced (and, perhaps, embarrassing) than we might be ready to share.

            Today, we, as the Church, celebrate God’s coming to us as a human person.  The absurdity of that statement is so great that we could stay here until Midnight Mass trying to talk ourselves into a way to rationalize why God—who is without limits—would ever want to put on this limited human nature, but you all would never allow me to do that, so I suppose we won’t try.  No, today we acknowledge—and celebrate—that the eternal God entered time and, thus, that God, who has no beginning or end, no past or future, but only an eternal present, now has a history.  In other words, in celebrating that the Son of God has come to us in the flesh, we are celebrating—at least in part—that he came from somewhere.

            In our Gospel reading today, we hear where that somewhere is.  And much like our own answers about “where we are from,” the Son of God’s newly-acquired history is complicated.  Taking a look back at his genealogy, we find that Jesus’ heritage contains not only shining examples of righteousness and faith, but also men of whom it is safe to say that most followers of Jesus would have rather left out.  In between are men whose lives were a complicated mix of righteous deeds tarnished by poor decisions and others who, quite frankly, were so unremarkable that they’d be all but forgotten if they weren’t part of this lineage.  I’d venture to say that these very same descriptions could be applied to each and every one of our family trees.

            At the end of this line comes, however, Joseph, the poor carpenter from Nazareth.  Although it is noted that he is a righteous man (and rightfully so, for he should be noted for that), if it wasn’t for his role in giving the Son of God a history—that is, a heritage—Joseph would otherwise have been one of those unremarkable names on this list (that is, if it would have even gotten there in the first place).  Notice, we didn’t hear Mary’s genealogy, but rather Joseph’s.  And why?  I mean, isn’t Joseph just a ‘fill-in’ so it doesn’t look strange that the Son of God is raised in a single-parent home?  I mean, can’t we just drop Joseph out of the picture all together?  No, we can’t.  To understand why, we have to go back to the beginning.

            In the Book of Genesis, right after our first parents, Adam and Eve, committed the first sin, God condemns them to a life of suffering: the man must labor to bring forth food and the woman will suffer pain in childbirth.  But then, he makes a promise: that an offspring of the woman (that is, Eve, the mother of all mankind) will one day crush the head of the serpent—that is, the evil one, who tempted Eve into sin.  And so we see that the Son of God who was to come and redeem all of human kind needed to be born of a woman.  Thus, we see Mary’s indispensable role.  As the years went on, the prophets of Israel began to reveal God’s plan that the Messiah—that is, God’s Son who would come to crush the head of the serpent—would emerge from the royal lineage of King David.  Thus, we see now Joseph’s indispensible role: for it is through him that the Son of God received his heritage as a “Son of David.”  And so, while Mary gave God his humanity, Joseph gave God his history.  And the parallels don’t end there.

            In the Annunciation to Mary, the angel waited for Mary’s response: for the Holy Spirit would not overshadow her unless Mary gave her consent, and she had every right to say no.  As we read today in the Gospel, the Annunciation to Joseph by the angel in his dream holds the same suspense.  Joseph had every right to divorce Mary.  He even had the right to divorce her publicly, inducing even greater shame on her.  Because he was a righteous man, however, he had decided to do it quietly, knowing that, although he couldn’t rightfully take her into his home, she would be shamed enough just by being a single mother.  This is when the angel bursts onto the scene and says, “I know that this goes against every righteous bone in your body, but go ahead and take Mary into your home anyway, because God has a plan.”  And so, just as God asked Mary to make space for him in her life, so, too, did he ask Joseph to make space in his.  And just as Mary reversed Eve’s sin of disobedience by listening and responding to God’s will, so, too, does Joseph reverse Adam’s sin of consenting to Eve’s disobedience by consenting to Mary’s obedience and thus receiving her into his home.

            My brothers and sisters, I don’t think that it would be a surprise to any of us if I said that our world has become increasingly hostile to God.  Day after day, it seems, the media culture is closing itself off from God and we are so afraid of being left out that we are rushing to get in with it.  Packed in like sardines, there is, it seems, no more room for God in our lives.  Yet, we are here, aren’t we?  Many of us have been here all year and some of us haven’t been here since last year, but nonetheless we are all here.  Perhaps that means that there is still room for God in our lives.  If so, then there is a message for you here today.

            Now, I cannot know what it was that motivated any of you to come here today, whether you came by your own free choice or out of obedience to a parent, grandparent, spouse or fiancĂ©e, but I can tell you this: If you are here today it is because God wanted you to be here.  And if you can hear my voice then I can tell you assuredly that God wants you to hear this message: Do not be afraid to take God into your home, for it is by the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of goodness, righteousness, and truth—that he comes to you.  God wishes to bless you with his presence—his healing, consoling, and strengthening presence—if only you would make a space for him.

            Perhaps, however, we are afraid.  We’re afraid that if we give him a little space, that he’ll take over everything.  Don’t worry, though; just like with Mary and Joseph, he won’t take more than we give him.  He doesn’t need much to start out, anyway: perhaps just a wood box out back with some straw to sleep on.  And if we’re afraid that we won’t know what to say to him when he comes, well, then, why don’t we just start with a simple ice-breaker: “So, Jesus, where are you from?”

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 25th, 2012

Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord

Monday, December 24, 2012

Make haste to waste the rest of Advent

Ok, so it is literally only a couple of hours before my first Christmas Mass as a priest, but here is my 4th Sunday homily... in case any of you are waiting until tomorrow to begin celebrating Christmas :)

Homily: 4th Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
            “Haste makes waste…” or so they say.  And what does that mean?  Well, this saying—or ‘proverb’, if you will—is simply stating that, for most people, most of the time, when one moves too quickly from thought into action it often times results in something being left undone or forgotten, and that one then must waste time and energy either to redo what wasn’t done or to return to retrieve whatever was forgotten.  Now I know that I’m not alone when I say that I can speak to the truth of this, for I often find myself making haste to leave the office or the house because I’ve tried to do one too many things before leaving and then realize that I’ve either left something undone or forgotten something that I needed.  And so I waste time (and make myself late) because I left in haste instead of taking some extra minutes to think about what I needed to do or retrieve before I left.

            Yet, in spite of the truth that rings out from this saying, over these past four weeks or so, we’ve all been bombarded with messages telling us to make haste.  All the way from the buildup to Black Friday to the days and weeks that followed, every outlet of media has been filled with messages urging us to make haste: “Sale ends…” “Three days only…” “Hurry before they’re gone…”  In contrast to the age-old proverb, retail businesses seem to be saying to us “Make haste so that you don’t waste a perfectly good opportunity to get what you want.”  Yet all the while the Church has been telling us to watch, wait, and listen.

            In our Gospel reading, the Virgin Mother makes haste to the hill country, to a town of Judah so small and insignificant that the Gospel writer didn’t even bother to name it, in order to visit her cousin Elizabeth: the barren one who was now in her sixth month of pregnancy.  Her hasty departure (the Gospel tells us that she left soon after she heard the announcement from the angel) probably meant that she left many things undone.  It is believed that she was about 15 years old when she conceived Our Savior by the Holy Spirit, and so it was likely that she was responsible for many things around the house.  Thus, it is very likely that the Virgin Mother’s haste made waste for others who needed to do what she left undone.  And would that be ok?  I mean, even though she is the Virgin Mother of God, does that mean that she could impose on her parents and their household so she, in her exuberance, could visit her cousin?  Perhaps, however, the blessing that the Virgin Mother was to bring to her cousin was more important than the cost of the journey and of what was left undone?  I guess, however, that since this is how the Scriptures have recorded it we just have to believe this to be so.

            But what if it really wasn’t waste at all?  You know for years, Mary waited, watched, and listened for the coming of the Messiah, God’s chosen one who would redeem his people.  Then, at the announcement of the angel, she was ready to move.  And so what looked like haste was probably not waste because she had already prepared herself to respond to whatever God’s call might be, and whenever (and however unexpectedly) that call would come.

            And so the question, then, comes to us: This Advent, have we been so hasty to get to Christmas that we’ve wasted our chance to prepare for his coming?  Have we been so focused on wrapping presents, sending cards, baking cookies, and decorating yards, trees, windows and (in some cases) cars that we’ve forgotten to wait, watch, and listen?  In other words, have we been so focused on getting to the red and green that we’ve failed to notice the violet?  …We’ve failed to notice the violet, haven’t we?  We’ve done it again, haven’t we?  We’ve wasted another Advent.

            My brothers and sisters, there is still time.  There are only a few hours of Advent remaining, but there is still time.  Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that the supposed end of time never materialized, the time that remains to prepare is short.  And so, my brothers and sisters, now is the time to make haste to wait, watch, and listen.  Now is the time to turn off the Christmas songs, to take off the red and green (and the jingle bells that inevitably go with it) and to welcome silence.  Now is the time to make haste to slow down your heart: to wait and listen for the sound of Mary’s greeting to hit your ears, announcing the arrival of her Son.  Now, my brothers and sisters, is the time to accept that everything that has ever needed to be done has been done: for Jesus has come, he is with us now, and he is coming again.  Let us, therefore, make haste to waste these next days in prayer, to look with anticipation to what is yet to come, and so be ready, when he comes, to leap for joy.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 22nd & 23rd, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hope in the Horror

It's been a crazy weekend, so I don't have much more to add than to say that this one was also a difficult one to write.  Blessings to all of you.
Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
            I had been preparing a homily for this weekend in which I would play off of the fact that coming up in the next week is the day in which the ancient Mayan calendar ends, which many have believed to be a signal that the world itself would end.  Although my intent would have been to invite you all to ask yourselves serious questions about how ready you would be for that day, if it were to happen, I re-thought my plans after hearing of the horrific events that occurred in Connecticut this past Friday.  It just didn’t seem appropriate for me to be lighthearted in light of such a serious event.
            One does not need pictures or descriptions to describe what a horrible scene it must be in that school, and what horrible suffering the people of Newtown—and the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School—are experiencing as the reality of this tragedy continues to unfold.
            None of us even wants to imagine what such an experience would be like.  Yet, I suppose that for many of us those thoughts have come anyway.  “Schools are supposed to be safe places,” we say to ourselves.  Yet, we continue to see violence infiltrate even there.  I don’t think that any of us could be blamed if we’ve felt a little bit insecure—a little bit vulnerable—over the past day or so.  When violence hits a place of such common experience among us, we cannot help but recognize the unsettling truth that we, too—however unlikely it may be—are vulnerable to experiencing the same thing.
            And so we come here this weekend with heavy hearts for our brothers and sisters in Connecticut, perhaps hoping we’d receive some words of consolation from the liturgy.  Yet instead of words of deep consolation, the Church—as if she had just come down off of Mount Oblivious—says to us, Gaudete! (that is, Rejoice!).  She even calls us to break our more sober manner of preparation by encouraging us, for a moment amidst this season of Advent, to remove our somber violet and put on a more festive rose, as if this were not a time of tragedy, but a time of celebration.
            We live at this moment in the context of great tragedy and the liturgy tells us to rejoice.  What, then, can that mean for us?  That we should rejoice at tragedy?  Of course not!  We do not rejoice in tragedy.  In what, then, do we rejoice?  My brothers and sisters, we rejoice in hope: for Christ, our hope, is not only coming, but has already come, and he is here with us as we journey towards him, even in the midst of sorrows.
My brothers and sisters, the liturgy reminds us that the lens with which we must interpret every event of our lives—both individually and communally—must be the Paschal Mystery of Christ: for in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension he radically transformed the meaning of human suffering and infused it with hope.  Hope that suffering and violence and sadness and pain are not all that we can look forward to in this world.  Hope that a life of peace and joy and communion awaits us…  And so we live in this tension: the tension between the “already is” and the “not quite yet”.  This beautiful, yet painful, tension of grasping with whole hearts at the life that has been promised us while at the same time we are being bruised and battered by the storms of life that surround us.  The tension that today makes us cry out with full-throated authenticity, COME LORD JESUS!!!
            My brothers and sisters, it is tragedies like this that remind us that the mystery of life is still far beyond our ability to penetrate it, and thus that we need the help of Another to save us from despair.  And so we come here today to remember.  We remember that this Other has come: Jesus Christ our Lord.  And we remember the hope of the Cross: that when all seemed lost, it wasn’t.  And we remember that our Other is still yet to come to rescue us and bring us home.
            “But what,” perhaps you are want to ask, “then should we do?”
            Well… we pray.  We pray for those who have lost loved ones in this attack.  We pray for the community of Newtown that has been rent asunder by this violation.  We pray for the family of the attacker, and for the attacker himself… that’s God’s mercy would be upon them all.  Let us also pray for ourselves, that would have the grace to reconcile ourselves to God and one another without delay: because regardless of all of the reasons people will conceive as the reason for this violence, the foundational problem underneath it all is our inability to be reconciled.
My brothers and sisters, Saint Paul reminds us today that “the Lord is near.”  As this Advent season continues, let us not fail to seek reconciliation, and care for one another: for although today we may not be joyful, we can still rejoice in God’s mercy.  If we can do this, then, as Saint Paul also says, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord;
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.
May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 15th & 16th, 2012

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What would "mountains laid low" look like?

Sometimes homilies come smoothly.  Other times, I feel like I've had to climb over mountains and trudge through valleys to get one done.  This weeks was the latter.  Here it is, though.  The Holy Spirit is in there somewhere :)

In other news, I (literally) just booked my flight for Guatemala in January.  Didn't know that I was going to Guatemala in January?  Well, I am!  I'm going back for three weeks to do some intensive work on my Spanish and hopefully take it to the next level ( the "I'm-ready-to-break-up-with-Google-Translate" level) :)  I'll also get to travel to the village where many of our Guatemalan parishioners in Logansport grew up... during their patronal feast day (St. Sebastian)... That's right.  It's party time ;)


Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
            Having grown up in a suburban area southwest of Chicago, I’ve come to appreciate much of the wide open spaces that I’ve often encountered since living here in Indiana.  I mean, we had parks and other open spaces where I grew up, but nothing like the expansive farms of corn, wheat, and soybeans like we enjoy here in Indiana.  And, as I drive through different areas of the state, I enjoy taking in these great open spaces that go on for as far as I can see and which often make me wonder about just how much more there is that I don’t see.
            Having grown up here in the Midwest, however, where the land is mostly flat, I am unable to appreciate what it means to live in the midst of mountains and valleys.  Only by way of vacations or other short trips have I experienced what it means to have to drive over or around a mountain to get to the next town or city or to have to climb down into the valley in order to find the road that will take you to the market.  As a result, I am unable to truly appreciate the difficulties associated with living in areas like these.  Perhaps many of you are in the same boat.  Thus, our ability to appreciate what the prophets speak about in today’s readings is also, perhaps, somewhat limited.
            In the first reading, from the prophet Baruch, we find the people of Jerusalem in mourning for their children who have been exiled by foreign invaders.  As such, they have clothed themselves in the traditional garb of mourners.  The prophet has come to announce that, by God’s mercy, the children of Jerusalem are about to return and so he joyfully announces that the inhabitants of Jerusalem are to throw off their garments of mourning and are to put on festival clothing.  Then, they are to go to the highest place and look off in the distance.  What they will find is that every mountain has been flattened and every valley has been filled in in order to make a straight and wide way for the triumphant return of their children, thus signaling a bright future for their nation.
            For those of you who may have lived among mountains, I suspect that this image of mountains that have been flattened and valleys that have been filled in would seem to be very vivid as you imagine what life could have been like had the same happened in the area in which you lived.  Those of us who have spent most of our lives in Indiana, however, are probably more apt to focus on that image of a wide, flat space, and what that would look like from a high place (though it wouldn’t have to be too high around here).  Imagine how incredible it would be to see a whole nation of people traversing some of these expansive farmlands as if they were returning to their homeland.  Well, perhaps you’re not impressed, but nevertheless it is exactly these Scriptural images that the Church gives us this week in order to help us understand what God is calling us to do during this Advent.
            What we see in that first reading is that the prophet is calling for two movements: one, that the people must first prepare themselves, removing their garments of mourning and putting on festival garments, and two, that the way must be prepared for the one who is coming, making it level and smooth.
            Then, in the Gospel reading, John the Baptist turns this call inward as he calls the people to a “baptism of repentance.”  As the herald of Jesus, the Messiah who was about to reveal himself, John was calling the people to prepare not only by outward appearances, but also by inward dispositions as well: thus making their hearts ready to receive the Messiah that they had long waited for.
            A line from one of my favorite Advent hymns states: “make straight the way of God within.”  John was calling the people to prepare the way for the Messiah to enter into their hearts.  Thus, it was not enough to cleanse their hearts from sin by a baptism in the Jordan River, but rather they also needed to prepare a way for the Messiah to enter into their hearts by true repentance: that is, by truly changing their lives and leaving behind their sinful ways.
            My brothers and sisters, we recall John the Baptist’s words today in order to remind us that God calls each of us to prepare our hearts to receive him.  God wants to come to us and to dwell in us and to lead us to our heavenly homeland, and, although we have already been baptized by water and the Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism, we are still constantly in need of a “baptism of repentance” like the one John called for in the Gospel reading: for when we examine our hearts we discover that the way into them is neither straight nor smooth; rather it is obstructed by ‘mountains of sin’ and ‘valleys of despair’ and self-pity.  Far from being straight and wide, the way into our hearts is narrow as it twists and turns around these mountains and valleys: a result of rationalizing our behavior instead of correcting it.
            Our Advent task, therefore, is to knock down the mountains of sin and fill in the valleys of despair and self-pity, thus straightening the way for God into our hearts.  The best way that we can do this is to return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for it is there that we can face the mountains that our sins have erected between ourselves and God as well as the ever-widening valleys of despair caused by our broken relationships with those around us.  And then we can watch as the power of God’s grace flattens the mountains and fills in the valleys, thus making the way between us smooth and easy to pass.  (Hmm, what a Christmas gift that would be: reconciliation with God and one another…)
            You know, it’s a shame for us that we are unable to celebrate the feast day of St. Juan Diego this year, since today, his feast day, falls on a Sunday.  It’s a shame for us because he can be for us a great example of one who, with the help of God’s grace, was able to flatten the mountains of doubt and fill in the valleys of fear in order to bring Our Lady’s message to the Bishop in Tenochtitlan, thus making the way smooth for Christ to enter the hearts of millions of people in Mexico and beyond.  Perhaps, in that same spirit, we, too, could “make straight the way of God within” and do the same right here in Indiana.
Given at All Saints parish: Logansport, INDecember 9th, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Humble Wake-Up Call

Ok, so it's been quite some time since I've posted and I have a feeling that anyone who was following this blog has long since abandoned it, but it's the liturgical new year and I am making a resolution to at least start posting my homilies again.  Advent is a great time of renewal and this being the Year of Faith makes this the perfect Advent to renew one's effort to engage the New Evangelization.

While I won't guarantee it will happen, I'll also try to start posting some reflections from my first six months of priesthood ( feels like it's been a lot longer than six months!).

For now, just a prayer that this time will be a time of grace for each of us as we prepare for Christ's advent among us.

Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent – Cycle C

I don’t know about all of you, but I am pretty tired.  I’ve been here for five months now and have found that “priesting”—that is, fulfilling the ministry of the priesthood—is a lot of work.  And I mean that in the very literal, scientific sense: for work is energy expended over time and I know that I have been expending a lot of energy over extended periods of time in the last five months.

I would guess that it’s pretty safe to say, however, that I’m not the only one who is feeling this way.  Let me ask, how many here have a new baby?  How many of you have more than one kid under 7 years old at home?  How many have moved sometime this year?  How many have either lost or switched jobs?    And how many of you are working and going to school at the same time?  I’m guessing that this pretty much covers everyone here.  But, even if I didn’t mention part of your situation, I suspect that all of us could identify some things in our lives that are causing us to expend a great deal of energy: either just to keep up or, perhaps, to cope with the stress of transitioning into something new in our lives.  Regardless of what it is, all of us can probably admit that we are feeling a bit worn down by it all: that we, too, are tired.

As a result, I think that a lot of us hope that we could come here and hear a word of comfort.  Perhaps we’ve come here hoping that the Gospel reading for the day would be something like: “Well done, good and faithful servant, come share in your master’s joy.”  Instead, we walk into this season of Advent and are greeted with an exhortation from Saint Paul saying, “The good that you’ve already been doing, you should do more!”  Then, on top of that, Christ tells us to “be vigilant at all times,” that is, not to take a break.  And, as if that wasn’t enough, he prefaces that statement by saying, “You know, everything is actually going to get a lot worse before it gets better!”  Thus, when we hear Christ’s instruction to us—“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy…”—it really doesn’t seem all that helpful.  And what we come to realize is that our hearts, indeed, have become drowsy.

In many ways, however, we are not unlike the ancient Israelites.  For centuries, they waited for the Messiah—the one promised them by God who would redeem them and free them from all of their oppressors.  Yet, their hearts had become drowsy from waiting as they endured exile away from their homeland, and then occupation of their homeland by foreign invaders after their return.  And so, even though God had sent them prophets throughout these times to remind them of his promises—like the prophet Jeremiah, who we heard from in the first reading today—many of the Israelites still failed to see in Jesus the coming of the One that they had longed for.

Perhaps to us it seems as if Christ’s return is also long delayed.  And perhaps, therefore, we’ve allowed our focus to drift away from our eternal destiny, our anticipation of his coming to become dulled, and our discipline in prayer and good works to lapse.  In other words, perhaps we, too, have allowed our hearts to become drowsy from the anxieties, the worries, the stresses of our daily lives.  We’ve lost sight of the goal, it seems, and, thus, feel a bit lost.

At the end of each calendar year, we all somewhat instinctively assess where we’ve been throughout the year.  For some, this is a time of great anxiety as we look back at what we desired to accomplish in the last year and see what remains undone.  For others, the stress comes from seeing how, though great efforts were made, circumstances meant that there was little to show for it.  Still for others, it is a time of despair when we see that, through fear or lack of self-confidence, another year has passed and we have not made any moves to improve a difficult situation in our lives.

This is why the Church, in her wisdom, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us this season of Advent at the end of the calendar year.  She knows how easy it is to get bogged down by the work of daily living and so She offers us this season as a “wake-up call” and a reminder to us that the promise of Christ’s second coming—the promise that there is something greater yet to come—is still before us.  Advent, therefore, is the great season of detachment: of letting go of those things that tie us to this world and its anxieties, lest we be caught off-guard, cowering in fear after the days of tribulation, when Christ will come.  It is also the season of remembering that we can never accomplish our fulfillment alone: for Christ came to us specifically because we could not effect our salvation on our own.  Rather, we needed the help of Another—who is God made man, born in a cave outside of Jerusalem.

Brothers and sisters, our Christian faith tells us that we have been made for greatness and that our work in this life is to strive for that greatness always.  It also reminds us, however, that our ability to reach the heights of that greatness is limited and that we can never achieve it on our own.  Advent is the season in which we are reminded to rejoice, regardless; because in Advent—which, literally translated, means “the arrival”—we remember that God himself has come, as a human person, in order to overcome our weaknesses, and that God himself will come again to fulfill his promise to end our anxieties and to draw us into himself: the place of our eternal rest.

And so, my brothers and sisters, if your hearts have become drowsy, then let this be your wake-up call.  Because our hope, Jesus Christ our Savior, is coming—and has already come—to relieve us and to lead us home.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 1st & 2nd, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Race for Vocations: Accomplished!

"I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."
- II Timothy 4:7

Although the trip was only for a good 26 hours, I feel like so much was accomplished.  Friday night's Mass for Vocations at St. John the Evangelist Church in downtown Indy was awesome.  We had many priests and seminarians, religious sisters and one Franciscan Friar, lots of married folks and folks living out the vocation of sacred single life.  The big pasta dinner afterwards was delicious and there was a lot of beautiful sharing between the various vocations we were honoring!

And, this morning was the big race.  I was really worried that I might not be able to finish it because of soreness that I had been having in my left hip.  To add to that, it was very humid this morning and I really hadn't done any training in humid conditions.  So I didn't know what to expect from my body going into the race today.

Given last year's experience, I was able to get downtown and parked plenty early enough so that I could get to my starting corral (what are we, cattle?) and focus before the race began.  The start felt really good.  It took no time for the soreness in my hip to go away and I was running a great pace at the start (probably a little fast, but I didn't feel like I was pushing myself).  Even though I knew that it would slow me down, I didn't pass up any of the water/Gatorade stations.  I wanted to be sure that I didn't dehydrate before the end.  I was still going pretty strong when I entered the track, but that's when I started to fade.  It can get very crowded when going in and out of there and so it makes it difficult to keep a good pace, which can also be frustrating/discouraging.

Coming out of the track we wind through a couple of side streets which have the same effect and so by the time that I got out of all of that, I was a little frustrated and had completely lost my early stride.  By that point, I was also facing the sun, making it more difficult to focus.  In mile 10, I ran by a couple of people who went down and were receiving medical attention.  By mile 11, I had convinced myself that I just needed to let my legs rest a bit to be sure I could finish the race.  My pace at that point wasn't good enough to beat my two-hour goal, so I decided to be conservative and walk a little.  I did the same after crossing mile 12, but only so I could push for that last mile (I had passed four or five more runners receiving medical attention at that point).

I picked it up for that last mile, however, and finished strong with a time of 2:08:03, which was three and a half minutes faster than last year (in which the temperature was much cooler).  Even though I didn't meet my goal time, I did meet my goal again this year of completing my training and offering up tons of prayers for vocations.  Win one for God and for vocations!

Thanks to all who supported me in prayer throughout my training and especially today!

Verso l'Alto!

P.S. Just think, next year I'll be a priest and I can guilt all of my parishioners into running, too :D

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Race is on!

Hey... remember this post?

Well, let's just say that I received NO e-mails from anyone who signed up as a result of my wicked-awesome post.  (FAIL BLOG FOLLOWERS!!!)

No worries, that didn't stop me from training and preparing, praying for men and women to have the courage to discern God's call for their lives.  And now, the time has come.

Saturday is the 5th annual Race for Vocations and my second race.  Training was harder this year, but I think I am better prepared than last year.  I've been battling some soreness in the last few weeks and so I am going to need extra prayers to meet my goal of running in under two hours (taking nearly 12 minutes off of last year's pace or nearly one minute per mile).  Please pray for me and for all of the runners/walkers this Saturday and, if you can, please support me with a prayer pledge and post your pledges to the Race for Vocations blog

Together, we will own Indy on Saturday!!!

Verso l'alto!
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thunder Over Louisville

Dominic: "So, have you ever been to Thunder Over Louisville?"

Deacon Clay: "No, I've never gone to it."

Dominic: "You mean to tell me that you've been here five years and have never been to Thunder Over Louisville, the biggest fireworks show in the country!?!?  That seems like something you would definitely have to do before you left here!"

This was a real conversation that I had six years ago with a (then) deacon here at Saint Meinrad.  It was inconceivable to me that someone would spend multiple years here and have never seen what is this country's largest fireworks show.  Here I am, six years later, and it almost happened for me.  Thankfully, I scheduled myself to preach in Jeffersonville this past weekend (before I knew that it was Thunder weekend), so I had a great opportunity to finally see it.

One of the seminarians studying at Saint Meinrad is from Jeffersonville.  His father happens to be the Clark County Sheriff.  I (and many others from Saint Meinrad) were invited to enjoy the "law-enforcement hospitality tent" throughout the evening, after which we would be allowed to go up onto the I-65 bridge into Louisville (closed for this event) to watch the show.  Seeing as the show is launched from the river, this was one of the best vantage points (and I didn't have to spend all-day there "saving" my spot!).

The show is an intensely choreographed display set off from two barges "parked" in the river on either side of the 2nd street bridge into Louisville, which was also shut down and utilized as a fireworks launching pad.  It is all computer controlled and is set to coordinate with music, though none of us had the music playing during the show.

It went for about 20 minutes of near constant displays, finishing with a "finale."  Then, after about a minute, it launched into an "encore," which lasted about five minutes and finished with an incredible flurry of fireworks that made you feel like you'd been used as a punching bag by about 15 different boxers at once.  Here are some images and video to help give you a feel for what it was like.

Louisville skyline from the I-65 bridge into Louisville (notice the barge in the river)
I also got a free "Clark County Sheriff" hat, courtesy of Sheriff Rodden!
Close to the beginning of the show...
and it continued...
and continued... (here you see the setup on the bridge)
And then the videos

From the early part of the show...

and closer to the first end.

Needless to say, I'm glad that I got to do this once in my seminary career (and that I didn't have to deal with the crazy crowds getting out of town... thanks again Sheriff Rodden!).  If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it.  Peace!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A noble title

            This was my last weekend in Jeffersonville.  But this was just the end of an incredibly busy weekend.  On Thursday evening, we had our second Around the World Party at Saint Meinrad, were seminarians prepare different foods from the home cultures (some as close as Louisville and as far as Vietnam).  Friday night we enjoyed the performance of The Taming of the Shrew by The National Players (with the subsequent "after party" at the UnStable).  I celebrated the ordination of my friend Julio Barrera to the diaconate in Bowling Green, KY on Saturday morning.  Then to Jeffersonville where I preached the Saturday evening mass before enjoying the nation's (and possibly the world's) biggest fireworks show, Thunder Over Louisville (and from one of the best spots, on the I-65 bridge going into Louisville).  Finally, I preached the masses on Sunday morning, the second of which I also baptized a little girl, Alexandra Grace.  Lot's of joy was experienced and a lot of calories were burned!  Only three weeks of seminary remain...

            Here is my homily from this weekend.  In reality, it should be experienced live because the whole idea is that the preaching of it itself is supposed to model the witness that it calls people to give.  Hopefully you will find some insight in it, however.  Enjoy!

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Easter – Cycle B
            In its most basic definition, a witness is someone who sees an event take place.  Typically, we associate a witness with legal proceedings.  Because of this, we all generally recognize that being a witness carries with it responsibilities, specifically the responsibility to recount what it is we have seen or experienced.  Here in the United States, one can only be demanded to “give witness” in a court of law.  Otherwise, we have the “right to remain silent.”  For Christians, however, this right doesn’t necessarily exist.  Certainly, our freedom to remain silent can never be taken from us.  Nevertheless, as Christians we believe that an encounter with the risen Christ demands a kerygmatic response.  It is in fact a response commissioned by Christ when he told his disciples, “You are witnesses….”

            Now I know many of you are probably looking at me and saying, “I was with you right up until that “K”-word.  Right, kerygmatic.  First let me tell you that it is not important that you know how to say this word and it is even less important that you know how to spell it (if it wasn’t for spell-check, I would get it wrong every time).  Now let me tell you what it means.  It’s a Greek word that means a convincing proclamation of what one has seen and heard.  For Christians, kerygma is a proclamation that the crucified and risen Jesus is God’s final and definitive act of salvation.  Imagine for a moment that someone would stand up in this assembly and say: “Brothers and Sisters, you remember this man, Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet mighty in word and deed, who worked many signs and wonders in our midst and whom we lauded as our king as he entered this city; this man whom we then watched as he was condemned wrongfully and led off to be crucified.  I stand before you today and tell you that he has been raised to life and that I have seen him.  And not only me, but these other men, too.  We have seen him face to face.  We have heard him talk and have seen his hands and his feet.  We have even seen him eat and so are assured that it is no ghost that we have seen, but a living man.  Truly, we tell you, this Jesus, whom you have crucified, has been raised to life.”  You can imagine that this kind of a witness would be pretty powerful.  This is exactly the witness that Peter gives in our first reading today.

            Taking a look at that reading again, we see that we are not given the context of Peter’s speech.  Why do you think that is?  Why do you think the Church cut out the parts that give us the context of Peter’s speech?  It is because the Church wants us to recognize that Peter is not only speaking to those people who were present at that historical point and time, but rather that he is also speaking directly to us today.

            And so when we read that Peter said that God “has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence…” we can recognize that his plural “you” means all of us and hopefully we can also recall our experience of Good Friday, when, during the recounting of the Passion of our Lord, we shouted as the crowds did when Pilate wanted to release Jesus, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  And when Peter says “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you” hopefully we will recall how we, too, chose Barabbas over Jesus.  We are called to feel convicted of our sins, which Peter intends when he says, “The author of life you put to death…” and then to feel the power of his next words: “…but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.”

            By leaving out the context, the Church calls us to acknowledge that Peter is announcing the conviction against us, reminding us that our sins, too, were what nailed Jesus to the cross.  Yet, Peter doesn’t condemn us, does he?  No, he doesn’t.  Rather, he speaks words of mercy.  First he calls us brothers.  In spite of our culpability, he reminds us that we are still family.  Then he speaks words of consolation.  “I know that you were unaware—that you were ignorant—of what it was you were doing.  God used your ignorance to fulfill his great plan.  Now, be ignorant no more.  God’s mercy is available to you.  Repent and the sins of your ignorance will be wiped away.”  In other words, he is saying that God has looked with mercy on our ignorance, but that he stands before us to tell us that we no longer have that excuse.

            My brothers and sisters, as sinners, we deserve Peter’s judgment, for it is our sins, too, that crucified Christ.  Yet, as baptized Christians, we find that we also stand in the Upper Room, where Christ appears and opens the Scriptures for us and declares to us that we, too, “are witnesses of these things.”  My brothers and sisters, we are witnesses.  We have encountered the risen Christ.  In fact, we encounter him every Sunday, here at this altar. Peter and the other disciples knew that once they had encountered the risen Christ, they could not remain in the Upper Room, but had to go forth from there to proclaim what they had seen and heard.  And so it is with us.  As much as we can no longer claim ignorance of our sins, no longer can we stand idle, either.

            Ite. Missa est.  Those old enough will recall that these are the words of dismissal from the mass as it was celebrated in Latin.  Ironically, even though the new English translation of the mass was intended to more closely emulate the Latin, the dismissal seems to have somehow escaped that treatment.  Literally (and somewhat slavishly) translated, the Latin phrase means “Go.  It is the dismissal.”  However, the word “dismissal,” in the sense that it is used in Latin, means something more than “you are free to go” like it does in English.  It means, rather, “you are sent forth” and it is understood that this “sending forth” involves some sort of mission.  Missa.  Dismissal.  Mission.  Those words all sound related, don’t they?

            Every Sunday we participate anew in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; we encounter again the risen Lord in Word and Sacrament.  My brothers and sisters, we are witnesses.  Therefore, the dismissal at mass is never the end of our Christian obligation for the week, but rather it is just the beginning.  The privilege of being a witness—and it is a privilege—brings with it the responsibility to proclaim what we have seen and heard in every place where we live.  Just listen to our late Holy Father, Blessed Pope John Paul II, who said at the beginning of his pontificate, “Do not be afraid to go out into the streets and the public places—like the first apostles!—to preach Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities.”  If we are to be authentic witnesses then we must take seriously this “sending forth” that we receive today and every Sunday.

            Does anyone know what the Greek word for “witness” is?  It’s martyr.  May our kerygma, our witness, of the risen Christ whom we encounter here at this mass earn us so noble a title.

~ Given at Sacred Heart and Saint Augustine parishes, Jeffersonville, IN: April 21-22, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

7 Last Words: "It is finished."

Here is my reflection on one of what is traditionally known as "the seven last words of Christ".  This reflection is on his last words, "It is finished."

            Although it’s difficult for us to forget something that we already know, let’s imagine for a moment that we are hearing these words for the first time.  Let’s imagine that we don’t know, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

            Imagine a mother and a friend, looking up on the one they love so dear now horribly disfigured—and how their own countenances have been disfigured by their sorrow.  Intense fear and agony overwhelm them, yet we can imagine that there was still hope: hope that in spite of all the mocking and jeering he may yet work a miracle that would save him from this death.  “It is finished.”  Even for these, the ones who were closest to Christ’s heart, as the resurrection was yet unknown to them, these words must have cast a shadow of doubt on their hope in the fulfillment of all that God had promised them throughout the ages.

            Imagine also a crowd of priests and soldiers, looking with anxiety to ensure the execution is completed.  As the intensity of their fervor diminishes—as the intensity of their mocking and jeering subsides— imagine that a certain uneasiness crept into their hearts.  “It is finished.”  Outwardly, they agree and are satisfied; yet inwardly their consciences continue to question.

            Imagine the disciples who didn’t follow their master to that hill, those who were afraid and hid away.  Imagine their questions to those who returned.  “What happened?”  “Did they kill him?”  “Did he say anything before he died?”  “It is finished.”  The intensity of their fear spikes as they hear these words.  Immediately they are flooded with confusion and doubt about their future, about what it will mean to be a follower of his way.  In the days following, fishermen will return to their nets, women will prepare the final burial spices, and pilgrims will walk the long road back to their homes questioning how this could have been the end.

            It is only the light of the resurrection, however, that can reveal that what is finished—that is, what has ended—is not our hope in one who can save, but rather our slavery to sin.  Christ proclaimed these words as a definitive statement to the evil one that his reign had ended and that death—Satan’s last power over man—had been forever destroyed.

            Friends, listen closely to these words of Christ.  In these words he says to each of us, “Your life of sin is over.  It is finished.  May this end that we remember today lead us to begin anew our lives in Christ.

~ Given at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Carmel, IN - April 6, 2012