Monday, July 29, 2013

Pre-existing conditions...

          Prayer can be both an exhilarating and a frustrating experience.  Exhilarating when it seems like our hearts and our minds are so completely in-tune with God’s that he seems to respond almost directly to whatever it is we ask for: whether that be for help on a test, for wisdom to handle a difficult situation at work (or, perhaps, for that difficult situation to disappear), or for the healing and recovery of a loved one from an illness or an injury.  It can be frustrating when the opposite is true.  Sometimes, no matter how long and hard we pray it seems as if we’re speaking to a brick wall because the only response that we receive is the echo of our own voice.  This can be especially so when we are lost and looking for direction in our lives or when pleading desperately for the healing of a loved one and God doesn’t seem to respond.  For many, the experience of frustration leaves a lasting wound that unfortunately causes them to give up on the effort completely.

I took up this theme for my homily this week.  Prayer is not a task, it is a relationship!


Homily: 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          When I was still a student studying for my engineering degree, I worked at a small manufacturing plant that makes bumpers for semi-trucks.  Whenever I needed to get some maintenance work done I had to submit a “work order” that described what needed to be done and when it needed to be done by.  What I quickly found out, however, was that the maintenance crew was overloaded and that my work orders often sat on a pile of other work orders that weren’t getting completed and that the crew worked on whatever the shop-floor supervisor told them was most important for the day.  Frustrated by this, I would often forego the whole process completely.  If I could just do it myself, I would.  If I couldn’t then I would document it and move on to the next thing.
          I think, sometimes, we can see prayer kind of like a “maintenance work order” system.  We fill out our form and submit it to God and he is supposed to put his crew to work to take care of it for us.  When it works, we feel satisfied.  God is there for us and we can rely on him.  When it doesn’t seem to work, we feel frustrated.  God is unreliable and so if we want this to be taken care of we either need to do it ourselves or just accept that we’ve been dealt a bad hand and that there’s nothing we can do about it.  Of course there’s more to prayer than just making requests of God, but I think you’d be surprised to find out how many people turn away from God on account of feeling like God had let them down when they felt like they most needed him to respond.  In today’s readings, we are given a model of this type prayer that can help us understand it more deeply, which is good; because when we understand it more deeply, we are less likely to become frustrated by its results.
          In our Gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples observe him in prayer and, probably quite innocently, ask him, their teacher, to teach them how to pray.  As Jesus often does, however, when he’s given an inch, he takes a mile and he not only teaches them how to pray (i.e. the correct words and manner in which to pray), but he teaches them the pre-conditions for prayer as well.
          As presented to us today, prayer in which we ask something from God has three basic characteristics: 1) be humble; 2) ask for a just thing; and 3) be persistent.  First: be humble.  As Jesus taught his disciples and as Abraham shows us today, our first task is always to recognize who it is we are addressing and what our relationship to him is.  Abraham was bold, but before he pushed God on the issue he first acknowledged that God knew better than he and so would submit to his judgments.  When we pray as Jesus taught us and say “Our Father…” we too acknowledge our relationship to God: that is, that he has wisdom and authority that is far greater than ours and so deserves our deference to his judgments.
          Second: ask for a just thing.  Abraham was a righteous man and so he could see the inherent conflict in the notion that God—who purports to be the just judge—would destroy innocent people for the sake of punishing those who are guilty and so he pleads, in a sense, for the lives of the innocent who live there by testing the limits of God’s justice.  In the example that Jesus gives, the man, though he comes at midnight, asks for a just thing: some bread to feed his friend that had just arrived from a journey, which, on account of the customs surrounding hospitality in the ancient Jewish culture, was something that he was expected to provide.
          Third: be persistent.  Abraham rightly saw that if God would withhold his wrath for the lives of fifty innocent men that justice would demand that he do the same if the number were as low as ten; and so he asked again and again, not presuming he knew better than God, but so as to see if God’s idea of justice lined up with his.  His persistence produced a commitment from God to spare the city (of, presumably, thousands of people) if even ten innocent persons were found there.  In Jesus’ example, the man, because he asks for a just thing, and because his friend is, also (presumably) a righteous person, receives what he asks for even in spite of the inconvenience he has caused his friend.  Notice that there was no conflict with what was asked for; because what was asked for was a just thing.  Part of being humble, however, means acknowledging that what we are asking for may not necessarily be the just thing.  Therefore, we must always be open to being shown that what we’ve asked for is not what is truly needed and so be open to receiving a different response in its place.
          Be humble, ask for a just thing, and be persistent.  These are the three characteristics of prayers of petition.  What is not often acknowledged in this lesson on prayer, however, is the necessary pre-condition for making this type of prayer.  Simply stated, this type of prayer requires a pre-existing relationship.
          I have a very good friend, named Joe, who I used to work with when I worked as an engineer.  We used to car-pool to work together and through that and our work our relationship grew.  To this day I am very close with his family and am godfather to his oldest son.  Over my years in the seminary, I called on him multiple times, usually when he was not expecting it, to ask for some sort of help.  I never had any fear calling on him because I knew that what I was asking for was a good thing and that, because of our friendship, he’d be very willing to offer his help.  Even if he was resistant, at first, I knew that I could push on him for it because he could be relied upon to respond if he was able; even if it would be inconvenient for him or his family.  I could only do that, however, because I had built a relationship with him first.
          The same applies to our prayers of petition.  When we’ve spent time with God, building our relationship with him, we become much more apt to turn to him with our needs and also to trust that, even if his response seems to be long-delayed, that he will respond and give us what it is that we need (even if that isn’t exactly what we asked for).
          There’s a saying that states that God responds to prayers of petition in one of three ways: “Ok”, “Ok, but not now”, and “Ok, but I have a better idea”.  When we build a relationship with God through spending time with him in the sacraments, in private prayer, and in reading the Bible, we become both bold in bringing to God all of our needs and also open to hearing which of these three responses he offers us when we turn to him.
          My brothers and sisters, our Good God wants us to turn to him with all of our needs, big and small, because he truly is our Father who loves us dearly.  Like any good father, however, he wants even more to be in a close, intimate relationship with us, so that we may learn to trust that, even if he does not appear to respond immediately or in the way we desire, he will nonetheless respond: in the way and at the time that we truly need it.  Let us, then, renew our commitment to draw close to him today and to turn to him for all of our needs; for his promise to remain near to us—the sacrifice of his Son—is already here at hand.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – July 28th, 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

FoMo and a Three-Ring Circus

          Sorry it's the middle of the week before I am posting last weekend's homily, but it has been that kind of week already :)  Perhaps it will help get you through the "hump"!

Homily: 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          This past Tuesday, I attended the Peru amateur circus for the first time.  As a matter of fact, it was my first circus of any kind, ever and so I was very excited to have the opportunity to experience a real, live circus.  Overall, I found it to be very entertaining and was so impressed by the talent and the courage of all of the young performers.  I have to say, though, that it was all a bit disorienting at first.  I mean, there was just SO MUCH going on at any given time that it was a bit overwhelming.  If you’ve never been then let me just say that it is not for nothing that we call a chaotic situation a “three-ring circus”.
          For most of the evening, all three rings of the circus had performers in them and many times, they weren’t all doing the same things.  I started to get overwhelmed as I was trying to shift my attention from the one act that was right in front of me to the other acts in the other two rings so that I didn’t miss anything (and, having a bit of a “parent streak” in me now, I wanted to be sure that I was giving applause to everyone so that none of them would feel unappreciated).  After three hours of doing all that I was exhausted!  As I reflected on the evening, what I realized was that I was experiencing something that I think a lot of people in our day and age suffer from, which is what I call “the fear of missing out”.
          This “fear of missing out” is a peculiarly modern condition that many of us suffer from in which we feel the need to fill our days with doing or experiencing every possible thing that we can because we are afraid that if we didn’t we’d be “missing out” on something.  All you have to do is watch a few commercials on TV and you will quickly find that advertisers are intently focused on engaging this fear in each and every one of us.  “Don’t miss out!  Sale ends Friday!  Only two days to save!  Get yours before they’re gone!”  This doesn’t apply only to the stuff we consume, though.  It can happen when we make decisions about our careers and our family lives, too.  A friend of my agonized over choosing to take the job that she knew was right for her because she was afraid of what she might miss out on by not taking the other job that was offered her.  And how often have we heard about people putting off marriage or parents putting off having children because they’re afraid that they won’t be able to take that “dream job” if it happens to get offered to them: they’re afraid of missing out on it.  These people are reacting to their “fear of missing out.”  The result of all of this reacting, of course, is that we become much too focused on what we are “doing” instead of being focused on how we are “being.”
          In our Gospel reading today, we are presented with a case study of these to modes of living in the persons of Martha and Mary.  Obviously, Martha is the one who becomes too focused on “doing” while Mary is the one who remains focused on “being”.  Now, it would be pretty easy for me to stand here and say that “Jesus commended Mary for ‘choosing the better part’, so start being more like Mary than Martha”, but I think that would belittle the point.  Notice that in the first reading Abraham and Sarah went wild with work to serve the three strangers that came upon them and that for all of their “doing” they were blessed with the announcement that within a year, Sarah (who was thought to be barren at that point) will give birth to a son.  Hospitality was an important value for the peoples of the Ancient Near East, and thus we see both Abraham and Martha responding as was expected of them when unexpected guests came to their homes.
          And so, why, then, did Jesus commend Mary, who wasn’t doing anything, over Martha, who was working so hard to be hospitable?  I believe it is because he recognized that Martha was so focused on “doing” all of the right things that she forgot to notice who she was doing it for.  It’s not that Jesus wouldn’t have delighted in whatever food and refreshments that Martha would have provided, but he came to see them and to “feed” on their company, rather than just to have a good meal.  Martha, it seems, was reacting to a fear of not doing something—that is, of leaving something left out—and so was chastised a little by Jesus, while Mary focused on what was more important—that is, enjoying the company of their guest and allowing the guest to enjoy their company—and so was commended for it.
          And this, of course, continues to be a temptation for us all.  I mean, how often during holidays or other special occasions do we get so caught up in the preparations and executions of our celebrations that we fail to enjoy what it was that we were doing it all for in the first place: to delight in the company of family and friends?  Or how about with our stewardship?  How often do we get so caught up in the “doing” of our service that we forget to connect with those whom we are serving?  The best part about the “Loaves and Fishes” lunches is not the number of people who have a good, hot meal that day, but rather the number of people who walked in as strangers and left feeling like they had been seen and cared for.  This is the balance that this case study shows us: our work, even our hospitality, is not an end in itself; it is always a means to the end of growing in communion with one another.
          You know, every week, through his Church, God prepares a banquet for us and a lot of people do a lot of work to make the banquet special.  If all of our work is only an attempt to “do something pretty (or entertaining… or whatever)” then we’ve missed the point of why God prepares it for us.  God prepares the banquet for us because he delights in our company and he wants us to delight in his.   Thus, the focus of the Liturgy is on “being” together—that is, Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus—more than it is on “doing” something for the Lord—that is, Martha obsessing over serving.
          My brothers and sisters, Jesus invites us to be with him today.  And so if you are feeling burdened with trying to do it all or trying take it all in, then just stop a while and enjoy this time that we have with him each and every week: this time at the feet of Jesus; because when you do that then you’ll see what’s truly important and you’ll never regret what you’ve “missed out” on because you’ll have already done the one thing that is truly valuable: you will have seen Jesus and you will have been seen and felt cared for by him.
          You know, our lives, often times, can feel like a three-ring circus (and perhaps even more so when we are trying to live our baptismal call to give loving service to God and our neighbor).  Jesus reminds us today, however, that he never desires us to be so preoccupied with our serving—that is, with “doing”—that we miss out on the opportunity to be with him: both here at Mass and in the encounters we have with him in our daily lives.  Let us, then, pray for the grace to abandon our fears for what we might “miss out” on in this world, so that we don’t fail to enjoy the one thing that truly matters: the love and fellowship of Jesus.

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

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Let's do something

          Another great weekend!  A big thanks to Fr. Don Eder (the retired priest who lives in Logansport) who made it possible for me to concelebrate at my friend Christine Shaffner(now Jones)'s wedding!  He heard two and a half hours of confessions and then celebrated Mass at 4:30 p.m. for me so I could spend the afternoon and evening with friends celebrating such a joyous occasion.  I owe him big time.

          I had to bust my tail today, though.  Three Masses in two different languages and a marriage preparation meeting (in Spanish) thrown in for good measure.  What a great day!

          Here's today's homily.  To all my engineering buddies, remember "K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)"?  If you read this, you'll definitely think about it :)


Homily: 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          A few weeks ago, around the time of the anniversary of my ordination, I was thinking about how what it was like when I was discerning what God was calling me to do, but didn’t yet know that he was calling me to be a priest.  I remember it being a very difficult time.  Every day I felt like I was giving all of my energy striving to hear God speaking to me so that I could know what it was that he was calling me to do.  I remember at one point feeling very frustrated, because I knew that it couldn’t be as difficult as I seemed to be making it.  I even joked with my friends that it was as if God was right there in my face, screaming what it is he wants me to do and I was just staring right past him as if he wasn’t even there and saying “God, where are you?”  It wasn’t until a priest stopped me in my tracks and said very plainly: “Dominic, you know what God wants you to do, now just do it!” that I finally woke up to see what had been right in front of me.
          You know, I don’t think that this is a very uncommon experience.  In our lives we oftentimes get distracted or we get so mired in something that our minds and our hearts get cloudy and it becomes difficult to get clear about what it is, exactly, that we are supposed to be doing and why it is that we are doing it.  In other words, we lose sight of how we got to where we are at and where it was we were going.  This can be in our family life, our career, or in our spiritual life.  What happens is we get anxious about feeling lost and, instead of looking for the answers that are right there in front of us, we start striving to look beyond our situations and beyond ourselves to find a way out.  As it turns out, the answer was usually right in front of us; but because of our anxiety “we couldn’t see the forest for all the trees”, so to speak.
          Moses understood this pretty well.  He had spent forty years in the desert with the Israelite people and multiple times they became frustrated at the long journey, which clouded their vision about where they were going, and they started demanding some new way to live: something beyond themselves and God’s promises that would help alleviate their anxiety.  And so, now that they were about to enter into the land that God had promised them, Moses reminds them that they don’t need to go beyond themselves when, after they’ve settled in the land, they begin to feel lost or so mired in their daily lives that they don’t remember what they were there for and who had brought them there.  Rather, he says, “heed the voice of the Lord and keep his commandments”: the same ones that you learned about in the desert and that you are so familiar with that they are literally “on your lips and in your hearts.”  In other words, he was saying, “You already know what God wants you to do, so just do it.”
          Unfortunately, our human urge to complicate things is pretty strong and so we see that by the time of Jesus the Israelites had set up a whole complicated system of laws and regulations that were intended to ensure that they always “kept the commands of the Lord”; so much so that they weren’t accessible to everybody, but rather needed scholars who could interpret it for people.  One of these scholars came to Jesus today to test him, to see if he was truly a teacher of the Law or if he was some quack trying introduce some new law or teach something contrary to it.  Jesus, however, didn’t fall for it and he turned the test back on the scholar.  “What do you have to do?  You tell me.  You’re a scholar of the law; what does it say?”  Amazingly, this scholar doesn’t begin to rattle off every one of the more than six hundred regulations that were included in the Mosaic Law, but rather he states the obvious: love God and love your neighbor.
          Contrary to what the scholar was expecting, Jesus takes the wind out of his sails and says, “Well, you got it!  Do this and you will live.”  Hoping that there still might be a chance to get Jesus into a debate, the scholar then asks him, “but who, then, is my neighbor.”  This, of course, was a much better question and Jesus gives him a better answer: there’s no complicated list of rules and regulations for deciding who your neighbor is; neither politics, nor race, nor land of origin has anything to do with it.  Your neighbor is whoever, at any given moment, happens to be right in front of you.
          Yet, we still fall into this same trap, don’t we?  We allow ourselves to get so bogged down trying to do things better that we forget why we were doing it in the first place and we end up frustrated, thinking it’s too complicated and so we give up (or at least we’d rather give up).  I mean, how often does a simple household project turn into something five times more complicated once we get into it?  How often, then, does that project go unfinished because we didn’t feel like we had the expertise to complete it?
          Perhaps we don’t think of it this way, but the same thing happens in our spiritual lives.  We think, “Oh, I’m struggling to be holy, well then maybe I need to start praying more rosaries or novenas or chaplets” and we bog ourselves down with trying to do so much that we forgot what we were trying to do it for: to grow closer to God!  Or perhaps the opposite happens.  We think, “Well, I tried praying the rosary once and it didn’t work.  Holiness is too complicated, so I’m just going to give up.  I’ll show up for mass on Sundays, but that’s it.”  Holiness isn’t complicated; we make it complicated when we get anxious because we find ourselves stuck in a rut.
          Holiness, my brothers and sisters, is not about the multiplication of prayers and devotions (not that there is anything wrong with them).  Holiness is about living the commandments of the Lord that are right here in front of us: love God and love your neighbor.  What are some ways we love God?  We pray daily, we actively participate in the Mass, we read the Bible, and, when we realize that we’ve offended him in some way, we come to Confession to clear the air between us.  And what about loving our neighbor, how do we do that?  We get involved in peoples’ lives, helping them out when and where we can and we allow our plans to get interrupted by the needs of our brothers and sisters around us, regardless of who they are or where they came from.
          My brothers and sisters, as you can see, this is not complicated: but it isn’t easy, either, is it?  God did not make getting to heaven complicated, but by sinning, we made it difficult.  Therefore, we need grace if we even want to have a chance to get there; and we get that through baptism.  Then, we have to keep ourselves in grace: which we do when we love God and love our neighbor.  And if we ever find that we’re in need of more help to stay in grace, don’t worry because God hasn’t left us hanging.  This is why he gave us the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  And that’s it!  We get into grace and then we strive to keep ourselves in it (including getting back into it when we’ve fallen out of it) for the rest of our lives and, boom, we inherit eternal life.  No complex spiritual programs or scrupulous conformance to minute letters of the law: just unflinching devotion to God, in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and unhesitating generosity, in the ways that we are able, to the needs we encounter daily is all we need to do to become saints.  It’s that simple.  You got it?  You get it?  Good!

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

Sunday, July 7, 2013

All Hail our Alma Mater!

          I had a wonderful 4th of July at home with my family, celebrating my nephew's fourth birthday (his birthday is actually on the 16th, but we celebrated it on the 4th).  I couldn't have asked for better weather for it all.

          This weekend also marks the completion of my first full year at All Saints Parish.  What a crazy year full of blessings and challenges!  Now that I have for sure experienced a whole year's worth of liturgies, events, and meetings that I can begin to settle in :)  I'm looking forward to another great year!

Here's my homily from this weekend.  Enjoy!


Homily: 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          One of the promises that priests make at their ordination is to pray daily for the Church.  We fulfill this obligation by praying what is called the Liturgy of the HoursThe Liturgy of the Hours are prayers structured around the Book of Psalms from the Bible.  Over a four-week period, at five different “hours” each day, every priest and religious prays through the Book of Psalms.  These hours also include various “canticles” – which are songs from the both the Old and New Testaments.  One of these canticles is the one that we heard in our first reading today and appears in Morning Prayer of Thursday in the first week of the four-week cycle.
          As seminarians, we pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer – which are the “core hours” of the Liturgy of the Hours – together as a community in the chapel.  When we pray, we recite the psalms or canticles alternating stanzas from one side of the main aisle to the other.  And so, certain parts of each psalm or canticle always end up on one side of the aisle.  Now, as you may be able to imagine, gathering a hundred or so young men together in a chapel to proclaim the words “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts” could create some embarrassment for some (and I can admit to feeling a bit uncomfortable saying it at first, myself).  In my first year in the seminary, I heard one of the seminarians express this outright when on one Wednesday evening, as we were about to retire for the night, he said: “Well, tomorrow is Thursday of week one; which means I have to sit on the right side of the chapel.”  In other words, he was saying that he was embarrassed to proclaim these words and so he was going to be sure to sit on the side of the chapel that wouldn’t have to say them out loud.
          While certainly there’s a level of maturity that all seminarians need to obtain in order to overcome our embarrassment at speaking these words, I think that there is another part of this that we can ascribe to how our oversexualized culture has distorted the way that we look at women, because the image of a woman that we are given in the first reading today is that of a “nourshing mother”, which contradicts the way our culture invites us to think of women and their bodies.  If you think that this image is strange, however, let me just ask if any of you have ever called the college or high school that you graduated from your “alma mater”?  If you have, then you are already invoking this image.  That’s because alma mater is actually a Latin phrase meaning “nourishing mother”.  And why do we call our schools alma maters?  Well, because they are places where we find nourishment: not only intellectually, but also emotionally, as we form friendships that will last well into the future and are cared for by teachers and staff who help form us to be good persons once we are “sent out” into the world.
          For the Israelites, Jerusalem was this “nourishing mother”.  The canticle from the first reading today was written during their exile in Babylon and it is a song of hope proclaiming that the Lord will return prosperity to Jerusalem and that all of the Israelites will return to enjoy the nourishment and comfort that will be found in her: the milk that will flow from her abundant breasts and the arms that will comfort them like a mother comforts her little child.  In the minds and hearts of the Israelites it would also be the place where they would find strength as a nation to stand strong and faithful to the commandments of God, no matter where life’s journey would take them or what challenges they might face.  Thus, the Israelites longed for this while they were in exile and through Isaiah the prophet they heard this hopeful proclamation that God would indeed restore Jerusalem so they could again enjoy it.
          For us Christians, God has given us the Church to be our “alma mater”, that is, our “nourishing mother”.  She is the “New Jerusalem” that God has established through Jesus to be our place to find nourishment and comfort and, thus, the strength to go out into the world.  It is here that we come when we are weary from the difficulties that we suffer in the world and it is here that we find the strength to go back out into the world and to be faithful to all that God has commanded us and to be witnesses to his love for all of mankind.  Thus, if we consider our schools “alma maters” because they have been places of nourishment and strengthening so that we can go out to successfully complete some work in the world, then so, too, must we recognize how the Church is our alma mater par excellance, in whom we find nourishment and strength to go out and complete our mission from God.  And the Church, my brothers and sisters, is nothing less than Jesus himself.
          In our Gospel reading today, Jesus sends his disciples out to reap the Lord’s harvest.  Up to this point, Jesus had been nourishing his disciples with his word and his fellowship and he strengthened them by giving them his power and authority to work mighty deeds.  Then he sent them out to bring the Good News to all of the cities and towns that he wished to enter.  The disciples went out and did, indeed, do mighty works in Jesus’ name and, thus, brought many to believe in Jesus.  Then they returned to him to celebrate what had been done and to be nourished and strengthened once again so as to continue this work in Jesus’ name.
          But just as Jesus was, in a sense, that “nourishing mother” for his disciples, who strengthened them with his word and gave them his power and authority to go out and do mighty deeds in his name so that the nations would come to know that he had come to save us, so, too, did Jesus establish the Church to be our “nourishing mother” to do the same for us.  And so, just like those first disciples who went out to the towns and villages that Jesus wanted to enter, so we, too, must go out to the towns and villages that surround us – to the people who have not yet received the “light of faith” – to show them the mighty power of God: that is, the faith that has the power to transform their lives in positive ways.  Then we must return, like the first disciples did, to share and celebrate our successes and to be nourished to go out and do it all again.
          And this is radical, isn’t it?  Radical because it requires us to give up some of the things that we want to do in our lives, so as to be about the work of bringing forth God’s Kingdom.  But this, nonetheless, is what we are being called to do and, quite frankly, if we wish to call ourselves Christians, we must do it.
          “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few,” Jesus told his disciples.  My brothers and sisters, the same is still true for us.  One of the shocking statistics of our diocese is that it is only about 8% Catholic.  That means that only 8% of the people who live in the 24 counties that make up our diocese are Catholic.  Perhaps an even more shocking statistic is that nearly half of our dioceses’ population is completely unchurched!  (And I would guess that those same percentages apply to us here in Cass County.)  Thus, the harvest is, indeed, abundant and, sadly, it appears that the workers have been far too few.
          First, however, we must be nourished: we must bask in the “light of faith” ourselves.  In other words, we must first find nourishment in our alma mater, the Church, by dwelling in the Word, which she safeguards, and by being fed from this Eucharistic table, which she never fails to prepare for us.  And this is exactly what we do in the Mass each and every week.  We come together to give thanks to God for all of the blessings that he has bestowed on us throughout the past week.  In the Mass we are nourished with God’s Word and receive spiritual strength when we receive Christ’s Body and Blood from this table.  Then we are sent out to do it all again when, at the end of Mass, the priest says “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
          My brothers and sisters, if you are struggling to find that nourishment and strength here in the Church, then please ask for help.  That is what we are all here for, to help each other and strengthen each other in faith and discipleship.  If you are apathetic about it all, then please pray to God for the light of faith.  I promise you that it will not be time wasted, because God will never fail to respond to that prayer.  Whatever you do, do something and the light of faith will be given to you and God’s power will shine through you, like it did through those first disciples.
          Let us, then, be renewed today by our “alma mater”, the Church, and be strengthened by the food she provides, and thus go forth to reap an abundant harvest for the Lord.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – July 6th & 7th, 2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Stay Calm and Keep Bringing Forth the Kingdom

          Sorry it is mid-week that I am posting this.  I didn't quite to get to it on Sunday and it got completely lost in the busyness of Monday.  I'm almost (kind-of) feeling recovered from the mission trip.  I'm greatly looking forward to 4th of July home with my folks to celebrate my nephew Luke's 4th birthday (he was born on the 16th, but we celebrate on the 4th, because it's easier).

          There is so much going on here at the parish that it is sometimes difficult to keep focused on what it is that I'm doing here (and have been doing here for nearly a year now).  The mission trip has definitely given me some focus, however.  Regardless of what happens in our lives or what society around us is trying to do to us, we need to stay focused on the "one thing", the bringing forth of God's Kingdom here on earth.  God calls, we respond and the Kingdom appears.  If one of those pieces is missing, the result will not happen.  Let me guarantee you, God never fails to call.  Let's open our hearts to hear him calling us once again!


Homily: 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          One of the joys of Spring and Summer for me is that, because the sun rises earlier in the morning than in the fall and winter, the birds also “wake up” earlier and begin their daily routine.  It is a joy because, even though I’m still waking up earlier than I would prefer to most days, at least I know that there is someone else who is awake with me.  One of the things that I notice in those still morning hours is that there seems to be a pattern of communication among the birds.  If you listen to the birds singing, you’ll often pick up on an almost rhythmic “call and response” pattern happening.  One bird will chirp out a couple of notes and a second or two later another bird will repeat it, seemingly in response to the first bird.  I won’t venture to say what that communication is all about, but what struck me about it is that this “call and response” pattern seems to be a very natural form of communication.
          Just think about how we communicate.  When we want to speak to someone in the room, we call out their name and when they respond we then offer our message.  Even when we complicate our communication through technology and various forms of media the same pattern applies.  We send an invitation and we await a response.  We send an e-mail or a text message and we expect a response.  And this is all very natural for us.  One calls out, another responds and communication, dialogue, and relationship happens because of it.
          In our Scripture readings today, we find another lesson about discipleship.  This week, in particular, the readings focus on how discipleship follows this “call and response” pattern.  In other words, they show us that discipleship is a response to a call from God.  Not only that, however.  The Scriptures this week also show us what the response of a disciple ought to look like.  Thus, if we are serious about being followers of Christ (and not just professors of faith in Christ), then we ought to pay close attention to what the Scriptures teach us today.
          In our first reading, we see how the Man of God, Elijah, responds to God’s call to go to Elisha and, thus, call him to succeed him as a prophet.  Elisha’s response was immediate.  After Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha, Elisha knew that he had been called to leave everything behind and follow Elijah.  Although his response was immediate, he still had strings attached.  “Let me go say goodbye to my family”, he asks.  Elijah’s responds somewhat harshly and says “Go!  Do what you feel you have to do; but I’m not going to wait for you.”  Elisha then goes and literally destroys all of his attachments to his former way of life by slaughtering the oxen and using the plow equipment to make a fire to cook the meat over.  After leaving that with his family, he turns to follow Elijah and never looks back.
          In the Gospel reading, we see how Jesus, when the time had come for him to fulfill what God the Father had sent him to do, “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem”.  By resolving to fulfill God’s plan, he responded to God’s call; and he would not be deterred from it even when his way was blocked by his enemies (the Samaritans who would not allow him to pass through their town).  Instead of losing focus by engaging those who wronged him, Jesus remained focused on responding to the call to go to Jerusalem, where he would fulfill that which God had sent him to accomplish.
          Then, when along the way Jesus encountered various “would-be” disciples, he makes clear both the cost of being his disciple and what the response of a disciple must look like.  To the one who was exuberant about following him Jesus replies “Beware!  My disciples must relinquish everything, even the security of a place to call ‘home’.”  And to the ones who wanted first to “tidy up” things in their former lives before following him, he responds, echoing Elijah, “There is no time to ‘tidy up’.  The Kingdom of God will not wait for you.”  What these examples are showing us is that when we receive the call to discipleship our response must be immediate and total, leaving all of what binds us to our former ways so as to be about the business of God, which is to bring forth his Kingdom.
          But isn’t this “being about God’s business just a different form of slavery?  No!  Saint Paul reminds us today that Jesus has called us, and that he demands this total, immediate response from us, so as to set us free from our slavery to sin and the things of this world.  Perhaps an example.  Who among you, upon going into your refrigerator to reheat that delicious dish from the restaurant two nights ago and finding it with mold growing on it, would still eat it?  Wouldn’t you, rather, count it as lost and throw the whole dish out?  Thus, when Jesus says “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God”, this is what he’s saying.  He’s saying that if you have dedicated your life to following me, that is, to eating fresh, healthy food, but then turn and maintain your desire for sin, that is, your desire to eat moldy leftovers, then you are not fit for the Kingdom, because you are still tied to your disordered desires from the past.
          To be a disciple, then, is to respond to God’s call to freedom: that is, to determine wholeheartedly and resolutely to fulfill his call, which is your vocation.  This, of course, is not easy.  Just as the Samaritans obstructed Jesus’ path towards Jerusalem, so too does our modern secular culture obstruct our journey.  When sports or work or projects around the house obstruct us from fulfilling our third commandment duty to honor the Sabbath, that is, to rest and give honor to God, do we resolve to find ways around them or do we give in to their pressures and deny the gift of rest and regeneration that God has offered to us?  My guess is that, more often than not, we give in; and, thus, that we often feel enslaved by these “idols” that have arisen in our lives.
          Now it’s no secret that our government is erecting barriers against our ability to live out fully our response to Jesus’ call in the public square.  And even though, as our bishops have said, we must speak out against injustice in our land and, thus, engage in this political dispute, I believe that a more complete response is to maintain our resolve in bringing forth God’s Kingdom here on earth.  For when we focus on bringing forth this Kingdom in our families and in our community, instead of focusing on winning political victories or exacting revenge on the “Samaritans” of our day, then we will see a change in our world, because God’s Kingdom, when it appears, cannot be resisted.
          My brothers and sisters, God has called us to be about his business of bringing forth his Kingdom and Jesus has shown us that we must resolutely dedicate ourselves to this work; for it is our only path to true freedom.  Let us, then, stand strong in the strength that we receive from this Eucharist and, thus, live by the Spirit, so that we may be true followers of Christ - men and women who are truly free - and, thus, make ourselves ready to inherit the Kingdom that God has promised us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – June 29th and 30th, 2013