Monday, June 24, 2013

What is your "one thing?"

          I'm back! Our Catholic Heart Workcamp trip was amazing!  It was safe, and everyone (youth and adults) had a great experience.  I am exhausted and thankful.  Even though we arrived home late Saturday night, I still had to work on Sunday and so (hopefully for the benefit of you all) I have a homily to share.  In it I mention the "rocks in the jar" demonstration.  Here's a link to a video that you can watch to help you prepare for the homily if you've never seen this demonstration before (and it's a pretty entertaining one, as well).

          Perhaps I'll get the chance to write more about the trip later this week.  Right now, I have some catching up to do :)


Homily: 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          Franklin Covey is a popular writer and speaker about leadership and success in business.  In his works he often speaks about how prioritization is a key to success in both business and in life.  To show this, he developed a demonstration that perhaps some of you are familiar with.  In it he takes a jar and fills it first with small rocks and says that the small rocks are the small, mostly insignificant things that fill our daily lives.  These are things like, watching TV and surfing the internet.  Then he takes larger rocks and begins to place them in the jar.  These, he says, are the bigger, more important things that we value: things like our relationships with family, friends, and with God, and our careers.  What he shows is that with the small rocks already in the jar, the larger rocks don’t all fit.  And this, he says, demonstrates that if we allow the small, insignificant things to have priority in our lives, that is, to get into our jar first, we’ll find that we don’t have room for the things that we really value; and, thus, that we will be unsuccessful and unsatisfied in our lives.  He then empties the jar of all of the rocks and begins again, this time placing the large rocks in first, showing that there is plenty of room in our lives for those things that we value.  Then he pours the small rocks over the large ones and they all fall in, filling in the spaces in between the large rocks, which shows that when we give priority to the things that we value there is still room for those smaller, insignificant things that we, nonetheless, enjoy.  It’s a very strong image that has helped a lot of people turn around their lives to find success and fulfillment.
          Recently I saw a video that applies this principle a little more radically and that uses the example that Jesus lays out for us in the Gospels to demonstrate for us how to orientate our lives in such a way so as to achieve not just what we hope for, but rather what God has promised to us.  In it the man speaks of how Jesus was able to say “no” to many things in his life and ministry on earth.  For example, he said “no” when the crowds, seeing him perform a miracle, wanted to make him king; he said “no” when the people of a town of Galilee pressed him to stay with them, even though he had plans to go on to another town; he said “no” when his disciples wanted to protect him from the suffering he was to endure on the cross, and he even rebuked them for attempting to do so.
          The man in video goes on to say that, in order for Jesus to do this, he first had to say “yes” to something.  Jesus knew what he had been sent to earth to do, which the Gospel recounts for us today.  In it, Jesus said “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”  Now because Jesus said “yes” to this, the will of the Father for him, he could then say “no” to all of those other things that attempted to take him from this mission: the mission to preach the Good News in preparation for his suffering, death, and resurrection that would win salvation for us all.  This is the point of the video: that if Jesus had not first made that radical “yes” to the will of the Father for his life on earth, he would not have been able to say “no” so definitively to all of the other things that attempted to pull him away from it.  We, too, therefore, need to discover what that “one thing” is for our lives that we must say “yes” to; for when we do, we will discover the power to say “no” to everything else that attempts to pull us away from it.
          This is exactly what Jesus is demanding of us today in the Gospel.  For right after he reveals to his disciples the “one thing” that he has said “yes” to in his life, he turns and tells them that they, too, must do the same.  For he says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  In other words, Jesus is telling them to say “yes” to the cross, and that this “yes” is a radical “yes” that will completely re-orientate their lives so much that their earthly lives will no longer seem to have value in the light of the life they are to gain by saying “yes” to the cross.  In other words, he is telling them, “say ‘yes’ to the life that you are to gain so that you can say ‘no’ to all of the things in you life that would try to keep you from gaining it.”
          My brothers and sisters, we, too, need to say “yes” to the cross that God has called us to carry—which is our vocation, that “one thing” that God has called us to do and to be in this life—and we need to do this daily, so that we, too, may say “no” to the temptations that the world offers us that would distract us from obtaining this life that God longs to give us.  This “yes”, as I’ve said, is radical.  For it means laying down our lives—that is, our dreams for personal success and comfort—so as to gain that “one thing”: which is nothing less than eternal life.
          Yet, we don’t do this, do we?  Rather, we allow ourselves to be distracted by all of the countless insignificant things that fill our days.  Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, Duck Dynasty, NCIS, two-a-day soccer practices, and more all tempt us daily to turn away from what God has called us to: from the “one thing” that gives our lives direction and purpose.  Yet Jesus calls us today to follow his example and, therefore, to take up our cross daily with our focus on the “one thing” that God has called us to: whether that’s the life of a spouse and parent, the chaste single life, or a religious vocation, like myself.
          Perhaps at this point you’re thinking, “Ok, I get that.  So how do I begin?”  Well, like all things in the spiritual life, we must begin with conversion: with taking a hard look at our lives so as to find the ways that we have failed to say “yes” to God’s plan and thus have refused to say “no” to all of those things that pull us away from it.  This, of course, is hard work.  But God hasn’t left us to do it alone.  Rather, as the prophet Zephaniah states in our first reading today, God has given us a spirit of grace and petition that will help us to recognize how we’ve failed.  It is a spirit that enables us to see “him whom we have pierced” by our sins: that is, by our failure to follow his plan.  And it is a spirit to repent, to ask for mercy, and then to commit to taking up our crosses daily—to saying “yes” to our vocation, that “one thing” that God has called us to—so as to obtain the eternal life that Jesus has won for us.
          This past week I was with some of our youth on the mission trip to Virginia and on it we all experienced what it means to say “yes” to God’s plan first—to worshiping him and serving those around us—and, thus, how to say “no” to so many other things that try to distract us from that.  Even with this experience, however, our challenge today as we return back to our “normal” lives is the same that Jesus makes to all of us today: to take up our crosses daily—that is, to say “yes” daily to God’s plan first so that we are able to say “no” to everything that would distract us from it.  My brothers and sisters, we must do this if we wish to inherit eternal life.  For Jesus says “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  Let us, then, say “yes” to the life that God has promised us; and let us each take up our cross daily and follow him.

Given at All Saints Parish, Logansport, IN – June 23rd, 2013

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The priesthood and God's promises

          What an exhausting weekend for me!  After an awesome three days in Brown County, I came back to a blitzkrieg of events this weekend.  Bishop Doherty ordained three men to the priesthood on Saturday, then I had Mass and three or four graduation open houses to visit.  Today I had early Mass, Fr. Kevin Hurley's Mass of Thanksgiving in Carmel, evening Mass back in Logan, and Spanish RCIA session.  I'm exhausted, but what a beautiful weekend filled with many graces!

          I'm sure folks weren't expecting it, but what they got this week was a pretty good funeral homily.  I guess since I haven't had one in a while, my spirit was itchin' to preach about hope in the resurrection (and the readings this weekend paved the way for it) :-)

          Next Saturday, I leave on the Youth Service trip to Virginia Beach, VA (Catholic HEART Work Camp).  Thus, I won't have a homily to post.  Perhaps I'll have a chance to post some news from the trip though.  Please pray for us!


Homily: 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          Friday, I received an e-mail from my mom telling me that they had to put their cat Jeffery down.  Jeffery was an old cat.  We acquired him close to twenty years ago, when I was still in high school.  In recent months he had become very feeble and was having difficulty moving around.  Finally, this week his rear legs began to give out on him and that’s when my parents decided to put him down.  When I talked to my mom later in the day, she related to me how she had informed my six and a half year old niece, Rachel, and her almost four year old brother Luke that they were going to put Jeffery to sleep.  Now Rachel and Luke had already had an experience similar to this.  Just last year, my sister had to put down their dog Trigger, whom both Rachel and Luke had known their whole lives.  Thus, when my mom told them what was going to happen to Jeffery, she said that he would go to be in “animal heaven” with Trigger.  She then gave them both a chance to say “goodbye” to Jeffery to which they replied, “Bye bye, Jeffery.  Say hello to Trigger!”
          With my adult understanding of death, I was surprised (and, I must say, delighted) by the simplicity of my niece and nephew’s response to their encounter with the death of someone they knew.  Jeffery was going to sleep and we wouldn’t see him again, but there was no reason to be sad because he was going to “heaven” to be with Trigger and the other animals that had “gone to sleep”.  Theirs is a simple “He’ll be in a better place” kind of hope.  This is because, as kids, they just don’t have the capacity yet to consciously register what death means for them and so the death of someone loosely connected to them doesn’t cause them any great distress.  As they grow older, however, they will, of course, develop the capacity to see how it is possible that what happens to others could also happen to them; and thus an encounter with death will become a much more complex experience for them.
          Our readings today give us a couple of examples of this.  Both the widow of Zarephath and the widow of Nain are facing death on multiple levels.  As tragic as the deaths of their sons are for them, their tragedies are amplified by the fact that they’ve also lost their house and home.  Back in ancient Israel, after the death of her husband, a woman becomes the responsibility of her son and if no son is alive to provide for her, she is left poor and without means to provide for herself.  Thus the normal distress that comes with facing the death of a loved one is complicated for them by the very real possibility that each of them would be left without food and shelter and soon face their own death from starvation, illness or, perhaps, mistreatment by others.  As the Scriptures have shown us, however, God would not abandon them.
          To the widow of Zarephath God sent Elijah.  At first the widow thought that Elijah, the man of God, had come to bring a curse (because to her it was no mere coincidence that his arrival coincided with her son’s illness and death).  Elijah had great concern for this widow who had shown him such great hospitality, however, and so he prayed that God would restore this woman’s son—and, thus, her livelihood—back to her; which he did.
          To the widow of Nain the Son of God himself came.  In this case the man of God—Jesus—waits for no complaints or cries for help.  Instead, the Gospel tells us that he “was moved by pity for her” and thus offers the woman encouragement before he himself raises the dead man to life, which, in effect, gives her back her own life.
          In both cases, God restored hope to the widows by showing that he had not abandoned them and that he had the power to reverse even death.  For us Christians, this hope has been definitively established through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Nevertheless, death and sadness still exist.  Thus, at times we still have trouble finding hope.  Recently, I had my own experience of this with the death of my dear friend Fr. Scott Carroll.
          Perhaps many of you have heard or read about Fr. Scott.  He was the man from Ohio who was very sick from cancer and who was ordained to the priesthood two days before he died.  Fr. Scott and I started seminary together, but his diocese required him to spend a year working in a parish and so he fell a year behind me in studies.  We remained close, however, and I was greatly looking forward to his ordination on the twenty-second of this month.  When it was found that the cancer that was first detected and treated in 2011 had returned, the prognosis wasn’t very good.  Nevertheless, Fr. Scott entered treatments at the beginning of this year, hoping to make it to June 22nd.   The cancer, however, was moving faster than the treatment could handle.  For weeks his bishop encouraged Fr. Scott to allow him to ordain him early.  On May the 8th Fr. Scott agreed to be ordained and was made a priest at his home, surrounded by his family.  When I saw the picture of Fr. Scott with his bishop after he had just been ordained, he looked weak and thin and it was obvious from the picture that he hadn’t gotten out of his hospital bed for the ordination.  I was immediately struck with sadness to see my friend in this state.  That, coupled with his bishop’s move to ordain him early, and I knew that he was not going to live much longer.  I made plans to travel to Ohio to see him on the 10th, but received a call that morning saying that he had died overnight.  Of course, I was deeply saddened by this and this sadness persisted through the weekend and came to a peak at the viewing, when I knew I must say goodbye.
          The funeral, of course, was beautiful.  During it I gradually felt my sadness opening up to hope: the hope promised us in the Resurrection.  Although my sadness did not disappear, it was now being infused with hope: and not a shallow, “he’s in a better place” kind of hope, but rather a deep hope, founded on true faith in the promise of eternal peace that awaits those who remain faithful to him.  My friends, this is the true Christian hope that Jesus gives us: not one that tells us not to be sad, but rather one that infuses that sadness—that true sense of loss—with the faith to trust in God’s promised presence, even when all seems lost.
          Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I think that the lesson for us today is to remember that we are all widows in one way or another; for we will all suffer (or, perhaps, have suffered) great losses in our lives that leave us feeling like we’ve just lost everything.  But we don’t have to deny our sadness in order to experience hope.  In fact, it is when we most deeply experience sadness that God is most “moved with pity” for us, and thus disposed to act in our lives in a way that infuses our sadness with hope: the ultimate hope that he will one day restore life to all those who’ve remained faithful.  Let us, then, abandon ourselves to hope: for God has promised us (and Jesus has shown us) that he will never abandon us to death.

          Now, since today is also the first weekend of the seminarian appeal and the weekend that we celebrate three new priests ordained for our diocese (and I celebrate my first anniversary as a priest, and Fr. Mike celebrates his 20th anniversary as a priest, along with many other ordination anniversaries), I’d like to make one last comment about the priesthood.  Fr. Scott was ordained a priest about 40 hours before he died.  Many might stop to ask why his bishop ordained him.  As I reflected on that, I came to realize that what he did was show us that the priesthood is more that what we priests do, it’s about who God has called us to be.  In our second reading today, Saint Paul speaks about how God had “set him apart from his mother’s womb” to call him by a special grace to be a witness.  In a very real way, every priest had been set apart by God from his mother’s womb for this special grace to be a witness—solely by their very presence on earth—of God’s promise to never abandon us to death.  Some of us priests do this by meeting the widow in her sorrow and infusing it with hope.  Others, like Fr. Scott, do so solely by witnessing that hope through remaining faithful to following God’s call, even to the point of death.  Let us, then, give thanks to God for our new priests and let us pray for them; for they are God’s promise to us that he will not abandon us.  And let us also respond generously to the seminarian appeal and thus show God our faith in his never-failing promise.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – June 8th & 9th, 2013

Sunday, June 2, 2013

An invitation to the feast

          This week the priests of the Diocese of Lafayette will be on convocation in Brown County.  I'm greatly looking forward to it as there are still many priests from this diocese that I do not know.  This will be my first opportunity to spend some time with them.  Then we return to celebrate the ordination of three more men to the priesthood for our diocese next Saturday.  Finally, on Sunday I celebrate my first anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.  It ought to be a pretty "vocation affirming" week!

          Below is my homily for the Feast of Corpus Christi.  Enjoy!

Homily: Corpus Christi – Cycle C
          Last Sunday, the Church gave us the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, where we were invited to consider the mystery of who God is in himself.  Many of you are probably still digesting my homily from last week (and, perhaps, you still have some in-digestion along with it).  This Sunday, however, the Church offers us the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: something, I would say, that is a little more… please pardon the pun… digestible.
          In this feast—also known as Corpus Christi—the Church invites us to consider the mystery of who God is for us.  In this feast, we celebrate that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, left for us a memorial of his Sacrifice on the Cross: a memorial that allows us to participate in that same sacrifice—and the salvation that it won for us—by re-presenting it to the Father in the form of the bread and wine, offered from our hands and then transformed by the words of the priest into the Body and Blood of Christ, and then by partaking in those gifts when we receive from the altar what God has blessed and made abundant for us.
          We also celebrate, of course, that the Body and Blood of Christ represents for us the enduring, physical presence of Jesus among us: that in churches and chapels around the world men and women can come and be in the physical presence of God, to commune with him in silent adoration and to be strengthened in faith.  This is a rich mystery for us to consider; one we should contemplate regularly.  For our purposes here today, however, I’d like to offer three things that this feast should inspire in us in our daily lives.
          First, this feast should inspire in us awe and wonder.  The disciples in the Gospel today were amazed that the five loaves and two fish that Jesus blessed were miraculously multiplied and that they not only satisfied the five thousand men (not to mention any women and children who were there) but that there was left over enough to fill twelve wicker baskets.  Jesus performs another miraculous transformation for us when, through the hands and words of the priest who stands in his place, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the meager gifts of bread and wine have their very substance changed and become Jesus’ Body and Blood, his real presence, right before our eyes.  That this presence endures—and that we can not only receive him into our bodies, but also remain in his presence long after the Mass has ended—is something that should amaze us as well.  For this is only possible by God’s grace and through his great love and care for us.  That God would consider us, his creatures, so… loveable that he would deign to share this with us is truly an awesome mystery.
          Thus, the second thing that this feast should inspire in us is thanksgiving.  Just like in our first reading when the priest Melchizedek made an offering of thanksgiving that God had allowed Abram to conquer all of his enemies, so we, too, come here to offer thanks that God, through the sacrifice of his Son, has conquered our greatest enemy: sin and death.  Yet we go even further and we give him thanks that he has left us the Body and Blood of his Son to be a memorial for us of this great gift of victory; a gift which is ever present and available to us to strengthen us and to inspire our daily lives.  This is a true gift: one that we should be humbled by daily.  And the only appropriate response to this gift is to give thanks, which we do most perfectly when we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
          True, authentic thanksgiving, however, always leads us to respond in kind, that is, to pay it forward.  Just as Abram responded to the thanksgiving offering of Melchizedek by offering ten percent of everything he had, so we, too, are called to respond by making a generous offering of ourselves, pouring out our lives in service of God, Our Father, who so generously fills us with his gifts.  Yet, how often do we fail, like the disciples did in the Gospel, and convince ourselves that our meager gifts, our talents, aren’t enough to make a difference?  How often do we say, “I’m not really that good at anything” or “I don’t have much to give, so why bother?” when what we should be saying is “Here, Lord, it isn’t much, but it’s what I have.”  We forget, don’t we, to give what little we have to Jesus.  We think that we have to prove something to him and so we assume that our little bit won’t go too far.  But when we give it to Jesus, what happens?  He multiplies it, of course!  So much so that it spills over to become more than is needed.
          My brothers and sisters let us not lament our small gifts, but rather our small faith!  Better yet, let us bring our small faith to Jesus, even if we have doubts, and place it in his hands.  Because when we do so, like he did with the loaves and the fish, he will bless it and multiply it so much that it fills baskets with what is left over: even after countless others have been nourished by it.
          This, my friends, is our invitation today on this feast of Corpus Christi: an invitation to be amazed that the God who created the universe would come to us, his creatures, under the appearance of simple bread and wine—gifts that we can consume; an invitation to give thanks for this awe-inspiring gift; and an invitation to respond, offering our meager gifts to Jesus so that he can multiply them for the good of many.  The Good Lord never ceases to invite us.  Let us, then, respond with the same “yes” as Mary did, a “yes” filled with awe and wonder, so that we, like her, may produce a great harvest through the grace of God working in us—the grace that we receive when we receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ from this altar.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – June 1st & 2nd, 2013

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ