Monday, April 29, 2013

Have we outgrown ourselves?

The Easter Season always has a way of reminding me that the whole reason we are here (we, that is, the Church) is to evangelize the world.  I know that Pope Francis has been saying a lot about that recently and if we look to our own parishes, I think that we would be hard pressed to say, without exception, that our particular parish was more focused on spreading the Good News than on maintaining our "status quo" as a religious body.  Thus, I felt a little discussion about that was in order...


Homily: 5th Sunday of Easter – Cycle C

You know, I have to say that I love the Easter season.  Nevertheless, there is something about it that always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.  You see, we spend a lot of time in Easter focusing on readings from the Acts of the Apostles, many of which recount how the Apostles were harassed, oppressed, and even persecuted by the Jewish authorities: all for preaching the Good News about Jesus.  This makes me uncomfortable because when I look at the state of Christianity today—being splintered and divided as it is—I start to wonder if we Catholics haven’t fallen into the same trap: focusing more on religion than on proclaiming the Risen Christ.  Perhaps I can try to explain.

Jump back with me, if you will, to a little more than four hundred years before Christ.  The land of Judah was being threatened by the Assyrian empire.  The Assyrians eventually conquered Judah, capturing its king and sending all of the Jewish people into exile among the different nations that made up its empire.  For the Jews this was devastating.  The land of Judah was part of the land that God had promised would be theirs forever and now they had been exiled from it.  Still further, the sign of God’s presence (and thus his power to protect them) was the Temple in Jerusalem.  The king of the Assyrians, Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed it, however, seemingly leaving the Jews with nothing.

Many scholars believe that it was at this time that the Jewish synagogue emerged.  In order to preserve their faith, the Jews, although in exile, gathered together in homes or other spaces to study Scripture and to pray.  It was to these small communities of Jews that the Good News came: that God would send another king—King Cyrus of Persia—to emancipate them and allow them to return to the land that God had promised them.

Even though they were allowed to rebuild the Temple, the Jews maintained the practice of meeting in synagogues to study and to pray after they returned from exile.  Because the prophecies before the exile warned of failures to follow carefully the Mosaic Law, the Jewish religious leaders made sure that synagogue teaching ensured that the people were closely observing the Law’s precepts.  As a result, by the time of Jesus Jewish leaders had become literally intolerant of any person or movement that threatened to turn people away from their careful observance of the Law.  Thus, they persecuted Jesus and had him killed; and when Jesus’ disciples began to bring the Good News of his Resurrection into the temple of Jerusalem and into the synagogues, the Jews began to persecute them as well.  In other words, they were so focused on right observance of religion and maintaining the “status quo” that they failed to recognize both God Incarnate in their midst and then his Spirit working within his disciples.

In spite of these persecutions (or, more correctly, on account of them), the Church continued to grow.  And in 313 when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, it suddenly became possible for the Christian Church to fall into the same trap as their Jewish ancestors did and become more concerned with maintaining the religious “status quo” than with proclaiming the Good News.

From the 12th to the 16th centuries this was actually quite a big problem in the Church.  During that time the hierarchy of the Church had become corrupt and it was using its authority to manipulate and persecute seemingly authentic movements of renewal in the Church.  As a result, it caused some believers to break away from the Church.  This “dispersion” of Christians—which we know today as the Protestant Reformation—started to look a lot like the synagogue movement of the Jewish exile.  Simply stated, the hierarchy of the Church had failed to respond to a desire for an authentic example of living the Gospel and Christianity has been splintered ever since.

In our own day we have all seen family members, friends, and neighbors who have left the Church to join one of these small Christian communities, in part because they are seeking a community that is focused more on mission than on religious observance.  In fact, what they want is a community whose religious observance impels them into mission: that is, an observance that equips them to preach of the Good News to those around them.  What makes me most uncomfortable, however, is the fact that they felt like they couldn’t find that experience here in the Catholic Church.

My brothers and sisters, our Liturgy is—quite literally—meant to be a synthesis of the ancient Temple worship and the synagogue experience which impels us to our mission and equips us to complete it.  And if our fellow Christians are not finding that in us then we are doing something wrong.  I worry that we’ve become so focused on our religious observance that we’ve forgotten about our mission to be evangelizers: that is, to bring the Good News of the Risen Christ to those who have been dispersed.

This is why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI opened the Year of Faith.  You see, the Second Vatican Council was an authentic movement of renewal in the Church.  Fifty years later, he saw it losing its effect because too many people wanted either to resist the authentic renewals that it called for or to distort them for their own ends.  When you boil it down, however, what the Second Vatican Council really called for was a New Evangelization.  It declared that all believers were to take up their baptismal call to preach the Good News, because God “had opened the door of faith” to all them, just as he did for the Gentiles when the first Apostles announced to them the Good News.

My brothers and sisters, for far too long we have allowed our non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters to criticize us for having a faith that is somehow defective because it seems to be mired in worn-out rituals and religious observances, while theirs is somehow superior to ours because it flows more directly from the Scriptures.  Our task then in this Year of Faith is to reclaim this evangelical authority that is properly ours.  And we do this by spending this year learning about our faith.

Long gone are the days when believers had only the Baltimore Catechism at their disposal to learn about their faith.  Today there is an abundance of resources for groups and individuals to learn about and grow in the faith of the Church.  As we do this, our next task becomes to go out—like the first Apostles did—to the dispersed believers through our land—to Vineyard, Revolution, Life Gate and any of those other “modern day synagogues”—not to criticize them, but rather to bring to them this Good News: that not only can they find the Scriptures opened up for them and offer to God prayers of thanksgiving and praise within the Catholic Church, but they can also encounter him physically and even consume him—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—in the Blessed Sacrament.

This, of course, is not easy.  It takes work and sacrifice on our part.  And, like Paul and Barnabas on various occasions, we will probably not be accepted for the message that we bring.  But didn’t they exhort and encourage the disciples in Antioch that “it would be necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”?  More than that, however, if we have truly experienced the joy of receiving the Risen Christ in both Word and in Sacrament, then are we not obliged to go out into the streets and invite others to do the same?  Yes!  Of course, we are!  And this invitation is truly a great act of love, because it invites them to know and experience the incredibly deep communion with God that impels them to seek him in these other places.  And besides, as Jesus reminds us today, to have love for one another is the unmistakable sign that we are his disciples.  Let us, therefore, not be afraid to go and bring this Good News to everyone around us; for the kingdom of God—the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven—anxiously awaits us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 27th & 28th, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fr. Barron comments on Pier Giorgio Frassati!

Watch "Pier Giorgio Frassati: A commentary by Fr. Barron" on YouTube

What an excellent commentary on the saint-to-be who has inspired me to always strive "to the heights". Please take a look and start reading about him. I promise he will inspire you to greater things in your life.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!

Whose hands are you in?

Sometimes I struggle with finding that "one idea" to jump on and form a homily around.  This week, though, with all of the tragedy and drama that took place, it took pretty much one reading through the Scriptures for it to show up.  The world is an insecure place.  Whose hands are you in?


Homily: 4th Sunday of Easter – Cycle C

One of the very human needs that each of us experiences is our need for security.  From the moment that we first touch our hand to a hot stove, we realize that the world can be a dangerous place.  As we grow older, we come to acknowledge that it’s not just things in the world that can harm us, but that people around us can be dangerous, too.  Thus, we engineer safety features into our cars and appliances and develop best ways to handle dangerous objects like knives and guns; but we have also developed whole systems that make it harder for men and women with bad intentions to be able to follow through with those intentions to harm us, our family members or our friends (we even call them “security systems”).  One industry in particular has been built from the ground up to give us a sense of security in a seemingly unsecure world and that’s the insurance industry.  From health, to auto, to life insurance, this industry has been built around the idea that the world is an insecure place and that investing some money over time can minimize the loss that you experience if one of these unfortunate insecurities happens to you.

If you take a look at most of the current insurance company commercials, however, you’ll find that they pretty much focus on cost.  It seems that most are taking for granted that each of us senses this need for security and so they focus rather on selling the fact that you can get a “greater sense of security for less money” if you go with their insurance policy.  One company, however, continues to sell “security” instead of “insurance” and it’s all because it has the perfect slogan: “You’re in good hands with… (congregation responds)”.  Exactly.  It’s brilliant, really.  What place do you feel more secure than when you know that you are in the hands of someone who has the strength to withstand all of the tribulations of life?  That’s exactly what they are selling.  They might not be the lowest cost insurer, but they are banking on the fact that what we need is more than insurance: we need a sense of security—a sense that we don’t have to fear the world’s unknown calamities.

Unfortunately for the first Apostles, insurance hadn’t been invented yet.  Thus, they had to go out to preach the Good News without much of a safety net.  Today, in particular, we heard of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch having a little run-in with the authorities.  They were having great success with the people but apparently they were ruffling a lot of feathers within the religious elite.  And so when Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly against those religious leaders, the leaders turned and incited the prominent members of the society in Antioch to begin putting political pressure on them and eventually they ran them out of town.  This somewhat violent persecution left them with nothing, not even a place to stay, and they had no insurance policy to call on to give them some security in the face of this calamity.

Of course, recent events in the life of our nation certainly bring into question just how secure we all are.  Although a sense of security can be gained from knowing that the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing are no longer at large, the unanswered questions about the reasons for the bombing still leave us feeling somewhat insecure; and this while we are still trying to answer many of the questions about how to keep our children in schools secure after the events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.  While we can do (and have done) a lot to increase our security—building bigger bunkers, adding more patrols and creating new laws—it nevertheless seems like it’s never enough to make us completely secure.  We acknowledge, of course, that we can’t stop living our lives, and so it leaves us feeling a bit like Paul and Barnabas: kind of out there on our own without much of a safety net to catch us.

One of the things that I wondered about with Paul and Barnabas is why we don’t hear anything about them grumbling against God?  I mean, they are out there, following God’s will and doing his work and here they are getting thrown out of Antioch and left to fend for themselves.  The ancient Israelites, when they were wandering through the desert after leaving Egypt, wasted no time before they began grumbling against God when the going got tough.  Yet these men (and the other disciples as well), instead of turning against God, defiantly “shake the dust from their feet” and march on to the next town.  What is it that they had that those ancient Israelites were missing?  Well, I think that it boils down to two things: 1) they had heard Jesus’ promise and 2) they had seen his victory.

Paul and Barnabas had heard Jesus’ promise—which is the same promise that we heard in the Gospel reading today—that “no one can take them out of my hand.”  That promise alone, however, wouldn’t be enough.  Jesus, rather, needed to back it up with something.  He did this when he rose from the dead and this is the victory that Paul and Barnabas had witnessed.  How could they not feel secure knowing that they were in the hands of the one whom even death could not conquer?

My brothers and sisters, we are afforded this same promise and this same assurance here today.  In the midst of the darkness of these most recent tragedies—and the lingering darkness of the tragedies of the recent past—Christ’s promise breaks through: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.”  And the assurance of this promise is the fact that we are here celebrating today: that God’s Chosen One—Jesus, the Christ—although overcome by death was not conquered by death, but rather arose by his power, destroying death forever and promising life eternal to all those who follow him.  There can be no greater security than this: that we are in the hands of the one whom even death could not conquer.

Does this mean, however, that we will never again suffer hardships or that we are now somehow protected from all of the unknown calamities of the world?  Unfortunately, no.  What we are assured of, however, is that these hardships are never the end.  Thus we can stand in defiance of them, like Paul and Barnabas did, shaking the dust from our feet and marching onto the next place, knowing that Christ has won the ultimate victory and that we, indeed, “are in good hands.”

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 21st, 2013

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Your fruitful Easter garden

So the beautiful thing about preaching is that I have to sit down and really think about what is going on in the life of the Church throughout the year.  What I am finding is that I am coming to a deeper understanding about how the liturgical year can truly be lived in our lives.  This homily is one fruit of that realization.  Enjoy!


Homily: 3rd Sunday of Easter – Cycle C

You know, I haven’t spoken much about my experience of learning Spanish during my time in Guatemala this past January.  I feel like I can sum up my experience, however, in just a few words that another student at the school where I was studying had said to me after I told him how long I would be studying.  He said, “Oh three weeks is the perfect amount of time to forget both how to speak Spanish and English!”  For those of you who have heard me speak Spanish since I’ve returned, however, you know that he wasn’t completely right.  I can tell, though, there was a lot of truth to what he said.

In particular, I remember feeling very frustrated during my last few days there.  When I arrived in Guatemala, I thought that I had already been speaking Spanish pretty well and that this time was just going to reinforce what I had already been doing.  What I found, however, was that I had been hacking things up pretty bad and, thus, I spent much of my time in lessons being corrected by my teacher.  After a couple of weeks, this began to wear on me.  By the third week, I began to feel like I never really knew how to speak Spanish in the first place and that I certainly didn’t know how to speak Spanish anymore.

One evening, however, as I was trying to process this frustration, I realized something.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t been speaking Spanish; but rather that I had been speaking it poorly and so I had developed some bad habits.  What I came up with that night was the image of a garden that isn’t tended through a summer.  Now many of you are gardeners and so you know that if you don’t tend to a garden throughout a whole summer what you’ll end up with is mostly weeds.  Thus, if the garden was my ability to speak Spanish, then by this past January it had been completely overgrown with weeds: the bad habits I developed trying to speak it without practicing the proper form.  Thus, the hard work of receiving correction was the hard work of weeding out that garden.  In the end, it didn’t look like I had much to show for it.  In reality, however, what I had was a garden that was weeded and cultivated and thus ready to produce more fruit, even though it looked like just an empty space of dirt.

This is not unlike the seasons of Lent and Easter for all of us.  As you all well know, Lent is a time of penance: of prayer, fasting, and giving alms—and the goal of those works is never penance itself, but rather the weeding out of sin from the gardens of our souls, thus preparing them to bear fruit once again.  Just like my work in Guatemala, Lent is a lot of hard work and at the end it doesn’t seem to result in very much: just an empty space of dirt.  The first part of Easter, then, is about planting the seeds of new life—the life of the Resurrection—so as to cultivate the beginnings of new growth.  If we are doing this, then by Pentecost our garden should be ready to burst forth with flowers or vegetables… the fruit of the Resurrection that has been planted in us.

This is the work that we see both beginning in and being completed by Peter and the disciples in the readings today.  In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the disciples after Pentecost, reaping the fruit of the Holy Spirit that was planted within them.  They were out in the streets and in the temple area teaching about Jesus, healing in his name, and calling all persons to be saved by his name through baptism and many persons were quickly joining the Church.  These disciples were making such a stir that the religious authorities questioned them and ordered them to stand down, but they wouldn’t.  The power of the Resurrected Jesus had blossomed in their souls and it could not be contained.

In the Gospel reading, however, we see them just days after Easter.  They had been following Jesus for about three years, leaving off everything from their past: that is, rooting out every weed that had grown up in the garden of their souls and kept them from being committed disciples of Jesus.  But Jesus’ death had shaken their faith.  The news of Easter Sunday, however, had amazed them and already Jesus had appeared twice before them.  In spite of this, they were still unsure of what to do with this incredible news.  In other words, the ground of their souls had been prepared and the seed—which is the joy of the encounter with the Resurrected Christ—had been planted, but it hadn’t yet begun to sprout.

The ever-impulsive Peter gives in to his need to do something and tries to go back to what he did before—fishing—and the other disciples join him.  What they find, however, is that there’s nothing in that: they spend all night casting their nets in darkness and come up with nothing.  Then Jesus breaks into the scene to begin to show them what his Resurrection means for them.  He shows them—and Peter in particular—that they will continue to be his followers, but now is the time when they will begin to lead others to him.  And in the days and weeks that followed this, Jesus continued to appear to them so as to complete these preparations for the work that he was going to send them forth to do.

So it is with us.  After our forty days of Lent—that is, after these forty days of clearing out our gardens from all of the weeds of sin—we now find ourselves in Easter, ready to cultivate the seed of new life within us.  It may look right now that there isn’t a whole lot to show for it and, like Peter, we may be tempted to go back to what we were doing before.  To do so, however, would be fruitless.  The fruit of the Easter season comes, rather, from our continued encounters with the Risen Christ who comes to us to show us what it is that he is calling us to do now that we are ready to bear fruit.  And all of this is so that on Pentecost we will be ready to receive the Holy Spirit anew and to be sent forth into the world to pour out the fruit of what has been planted in us.

My brothers and sisters, this means that we still have work to do.  Just as much as I have to continue to work on the fundamentals of Spanish to keep the garden that I had cleared out in Guatemala free from the weeds of bad habits and poor speaking, so do each one of us need to continue to work on the fundamentals of faith—prayer, good works, and active participation in the sacramental life of the Church—if we want to see the gardens of our souls bear the fruit of Easter within us and around us.

Let us take up, then, this good work of building virtue and fighting off vice (which, by the way, is a work that knows no age limits) so that God’s Spirit will be able to produce its fruit within us: the fruit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—the signs of the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom!—and let us never fail to trust in the Risen Christ, who waits to meet us in the darkness so as to bring forth light and who invites us ever anew with those same words he said to Saint Peter… follow me.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 13th & 14th, 2013

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Have you been hurt? There's mercy for that...

My first Octave of Easter as a priest!  What a joy to celebrate with my new family in Logansport.  What a great grace is God's mercy!  I hope that you all can see and experience God's mercy in your life.  Please enjoy my homily and I hope that it can bring you closer to God and his great mercy.  Peace!


Homily: 2nd Sunday of Easter – Cycle C

Over the years as I have been striving to live this Christian life well I’ve found that I’ve come to appreciate more and more those persons that I’ve met or read about who have provided a “lived example” not only of achieving holiness in their lives but also of the struggle to arrive at faith and to maintain that faith throughout one’s life.  This is why I’m enjoying Pope Francis so much already.  He has been providing us with a different perspective on the Christian life.  While Pope Benedict XVI invited us to know Christ in prayer, especially with the Scriptures, Pope Francis is inviting us to go out and find Christ in the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering.  With both of their lived examples, we are getting a fuller, more rounded, perspective of how to live the Christian life.

This is why I also enjoy encountering persons like Saint Thomas in the Scriptures.  I think that it is easy for us to step back and say “Oh yeah, there’s that ‘Doubting Thomas’ again” and fall into the trap made by the Pharisee elsewhere in the Gospel who said: “I’m glad that I’m not like him, doubting the Lord’s Resurrection and all.”  It’s certainly easy for me to stand here and say, “Now don’t be ‘Doubting Thomases, but believe!” (and, if that’s all that I had to say, then I might as well just sit down, because you’ve heard all of that before).  I have a great sympathy, for Thomas, however, because there seems to be something going on with him that is deeper than just a stubborn resistance to believing that the Lord had risen.  I think that Thomas was really struggling with something deeper.

For years, Thomas had been following Jesus closely.  He had gotten to know him and certainly he had bonded with him.  No one can be that close to Jesus—God… love incarnate—and not feel a sense of intimacy with him.  Thus, Thomas had made himself vulnerable both to him and for him: “Ok, Jesus, I believe that you are the Christ and so I am willing to proclaim this to others, even if that means that I will be ostracized and persecuted by family, friends and the people of my nation.”  Thomas was convinced that Jesus was the one whom he had been waiting for and he put all of this trust in him.  And so when Jesus appeared to be defeated—when all seemed to be lost because Jesus had been put to death—that hurt Thomas deeply.  He loved Jesus—which was perhaps something difficult for him to admit—and Jesus seemingly let him down.  It wasn’t that he was resistant to believing, but rather that the wound was still fresh and demanded a personal encounter before it could begin to be healed.

You know, I think that this is an experience that we see both in ourselves and in one another.  Not just the experience of being disappointed or let down by someone we’ve come to love and trust (though that experience is common enough), but also the experience of being disappointed and feeling let down by Jesus (or, at least, by his Church).  A few years ago, I shared a table at a wedding reception with a woman who had a lot of negative opinions of the Church.  Being a seminarian at the time, the woman felt free to express her thoughts and we had a lively, but respectful discussion.  I of course gave her (as best I could) all of the reasoned arguments about why the Church teaches this and why it can’t change that, but she didn’t seem to be buying much of it.  Finally, I realized that there was something else going on with her—that this wasn’t just a philosophical struggle with principles—and so I stopped and gently asked her: “You’ve been hurt by the Church, haven’t you?”  “Yes”, she replied.  She, like Thomas, wasn’t necessarily doubting Jesus, but she needed more than intellectual arguments and the testimony of witnesses to resolve the hurt that she was feeling inside of her.  She needed, rather, an encounter with the one who had hurt her, who had let her down, so as to reconcile that hurt before she could move forward.

I would guess that many of us know somebody in a similar situation: somebody who has left the Church for reasons unbeknownst to us and who has strong feelings about why he or she refuses to return.  And I would guess that most of these persons have some sort of hurt or disappointment that they have experienced with the Church and that only a personal encounter with the one that has hurt them can resolve.

In the Gospel today, Thomas receives that encounter.  Notice, however, that it wasn’t immediate.  Thomas had this news for a whole week before Christ would return to reveal himself to him.  And what a blessing it was that Christ gave him this chance to have that personal encounter that he needed to reconcile this hurt within him.  And what mercy Jesus showed him.  For he could have easily chided Thomas for his unbelief, but instead he tried to remove all barriers to his believing—to his reconciling himself to him: “Peace be with you… Come, touch my hands and put your finger into my side… do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

My brothers and sisters, this is exactly the mercy that we commemorate today on Divine Mercy Sunday.  This is the eighth day of the Lord’s resurrection: the day when he mercifully appeared to Thomas so as to reconcile him to himself.  And so today we too are reminded that Christ offers us the same opportunity to encounter him and to reconcile our hurts with him.  He comes to us, immolated for us on this altar so as to say “Come, see my hands, touch my wounds—the wounds that I received for you—and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  “Come,” in other words, “and be enfolded in my mercy.  I know that you’ve been hurt and I want you to be healed.  And so, whatever it is, just come: come and see my sorrow for your pain and let my mercy wash over you to bring you healing and peace.”

And so my brothers and sisters, how good it is that we are here to celebrate this great mercy.  May our hearts be open to his heart today so that we, too, may believe and, thus, may have life in his name: the life of the Resurrection… the life of mercy.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 7th, 2013
The Sunday of Divine Mercy