Monday, October 28, 2013

The mercy that we need, but don't always seek

          Ah, it's always good to go back and remember how God worked in your life!  I hope that by sharing my experiences others will see some working of God in their lives.

          And please let this be a plug for our Parish Mission!  It's like a "big-tent revival" that other Christian communities celebrate.  Attending a parish mission turned me on this journey to priesthood.  God can use this mission to turn you towards his perfect plan for your life, too!

November 10-14, 2013 at All Saints Parish in Logansport.
Evening sessions begin at 6:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday.
Daytime sessions begin at 12:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.


Homily: 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          About ten and a half years ago, I had hit what I would call a “personal low-point”.  Things in my life seemed to me to be unraveling.  I had been working as an engineer for a few years and was very disappointed in the way my career was already shaping up.  I had also just been through the disastrous breakup of a relationship that had lasted nearly three years (with the disastrous part being completely my fault).  On top of that, I found myself questioning the faith I was raised in.  Basically, the foundation rocks of my future—career, marriage, religious faith and practice—seemed to be crumbling in front of me and I was in crisis.
          By God’s grace, in the midst of all of this, I was moved to participate in the mission my parish was having.  At that mission I came to recognize that the things that I thought were the rock foundation of my future were really just sand, because I had ignored God’s commandments and was building them of my own accord.  I felt ashamed and for the first time in my life truly knew what it meant to ask for God’s mercy.
          From that point on, however, I began to build.  I tried to learn more about my faith and began to study the Bible and the Catechism.  I began to attend Mass daily and started to get very involved in my parish.  I made many positive friendships with people who helped support my desire to live virtuously and, two years later, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
          At that time I also met a wonderful young woman and we began to date.  I was so excited about this relationship because I felt that it was the first time that I was truly dating according to God’s plan and not my own.  The only problem was that I had started to become complacent and self-assured in the daily practice of my faith.  So much so, that I started to exhibit some self-righteousness.  This woman who I was dating began to see through that and when she called me out on it I was shocked, then angry that she had done so, but then, once again, I found myself ashamed and in desperate need of God’s mercy.
          And so, for me, I find a lot to relate to in the Pharisee from today’s Gospel reading.  He had mastered all of the regulations in the Law of Moses, which was no small feat!  The Law contains over 600 regulations and, just to be sure that they never encroached even on those, the Pharisees added their own “safeguard” regulations on top of them.  Thus, to master all of these laws, one had to be very disciplined and conscientious.  His problem, however, was that he let all of that get to his head and his self-assuredness became self-righteousness.  And so we see in the Gospel reading how he came before God not to lay his work before God’s judgment, but rather to crown himself with a crown of righteousness.
          I relate to him because I feel like I had been acting similar to him.  I was following all of God’s commandments and often found myself judging myself righteous in comparison to others.  I boasted of always “striving to do God’s will” even though I was not actually prayerfully discerning what God was calling me to do.  I knew that I wasn’t perfect, but I had become complacent in being “better than most”.
          Nonetheless, I also find a lot to relate to in the tax collector.  On top of being a job that other Jews would despise him for doing, the job itself didn’t pay a salary; and so the only way that he could earn money would be to tack on fees to each transaction.  Well, he quickly realized that he could make a lot of money doing that and so he began to tack on exorbitant fees that were inconsistent with the taxes being paid, which he knew to be unjust.  Thus, he knew that he wasn’t perfect and so it was clear to him that only the mercy of God could earn him any semblance of righteousness.  Therefore he came before God in the Temple not to proclaim his own righteousness, but rather to accuse himself before God and to beg for his mercy.
          I relate to him because both at the beginning and at the end of this time that I have been describing, I found myself in a similar state: recognizing my own failure to be righteous and thus turning to God to beg for his mercy.  In the first instance, I could accuse myself.  In the second, however, I needed another to accuse me.  In both I either saw or came to see that I needed God’s mercy in order to earn any semblance of righteousness.
          “Ok, so I’m a little confused, Father.  Are you saying we should or shouldn’t strive for righteousness? because it sounds like you just said that the better thing is to remember our need for God’s mercy, but that when we are achieving righteousness we’re apt to forget it.”  Yes, we still need to strive for righteousness; and no needing to constantly remember our need for God’s mercy is no excuse for continuing to commit your favorite sins (useful, perhaps, but not a good idea).  What we need to do is follow Saint Paul’s example, who was righteous in every way according to the Law, following all of the Lord’s commandments, yet who never counted it to be more than rubbish compared to what God’s mercy could do (and did do) in him.  Or how about Pope Francis, who when asked by a reporter to describe himself replied firstly, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”  Yes, my brothers and sisters, we must strive for righteousness, for it is what God has made us for.  But we must also acknowledge our inability to crown ourselves: that is, that we, too, are indeed “sinners whom the Lord has looked upon.”
          Just this past week I was visiting one of our homebound parishioners.  When I arrived she asked almost immediately if I would hear her confession.  She said that she couldn’t really think of any specific sins that she had committed, but that she realized that it had been a long time since she last went to confession; and, acknowledging that God could call her home soon, she didn’t want to have to explain to God why her short memory or weak conscience kept her from receiving his mercy.  “I try to be good,” she was basically saying, “but I know that I’m not perfect.”  “You know what,” I thought, “she gets it.”  This is the humility that Jesus is talking about: the humility that, although she couldn’t accuse herself of any particular sin, nonetheless still acknowledged her need for God’s mercy.
          My brothers and sisters, we are all constantly in need of God’s mercy.  Let us, then, humble ourselves here today before the one who alone can exult us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – October 27th, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The return of the imagination...

          It was one of those weeks when I didn't feel like I had adequate time to prepare for this homily.  I had an idea of what I wanted to preach about but wasn't sure that it was the right direction to go.  Then this video by Fr. Robert Barron popped up and confirmed for me that I needed to preach on this topic.  Enjoy!


Homily: 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          One of the things that I find very curious about our culture is what I am calling the paradoxical fascination that we have with violence.  Daily we are bombarded with images of real violence and the suffering that it causes in the news, on social media, and, for some of us, even in our own neighborhoods.  Yet, we continue to fill our senses with “make believe” violence in movies, television, and video games as if we were somehow fascinated with it.  Thus, the paradox is that real violence ought to cause us anguish and so it wouldn’t make sense that even fake violence would be entertaining.  But just one look at the summer movie blockbusters, the latest hit TV shows, and the most popular video games is all it takes to realize that our culture does, indeed, find fake violence strangely entertaining.
          Of course, this is not limited to our modern culture.  One can look back throughout the history of civilization and see that in every age there was some form of “make believe” violence that was used as entertainment; and that some cultures even came to thrive on real violence instead.  Even our Bible is rife with images of violence, particularly in the Old Testament.  Just look at our first reading today.  It details how Joshua led the Israelite army against the Amalekites and how he “mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”  He destroyed not just Amalek’s army, but his entire people, too.  And we read this here in Mass today as if this kind of violence is something that we are supposed to feel good about because the Israelites, God’s people, killed every person from another nation who threatened them.  Doesn’t that seem odd?  I don’t know, maybe since we’ve been so overwhelmed with images of violence, both real and fake, perhaps we’ve “switched off” our sensitivity to it, but for me an image of such violence, seemingly approved by God, doesn’t sit very well.  Perhaps some of you are like me.
          One of the things that I find myself often doing is reading the Bible too literally, as if it is scientific history.  You know, most of the stories that are included in the bible were first handed down orally, that is, solely by word of mouth.  Now you and I both know that the concrete facts of a history will often change and mutate as it is told over and over again and so the likelihood that the historical stories that are preserved for us in the Bible depict for us the exact sequence of historical events is pretty low.  Does that make them any less true?  Of course not.  But it does force us to take a deeper look at how we read and interpret these stories.
          An allegory is a story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.  In other words, it’s a literary tool that is used to express something in a way that helps communicate it in a way that just stating the facts wouldn’t be able to express.  When we read today’s first reading literally, we might conclude that God’s chosen people are superior to others and therefore that whenever others threaten the well-being of God’s chosen people, that every man, woman, and child among them should be killed.  When we read it allegorically, however, we can find a much more profound meaning that is consistent with our understanding of God as loving, merciful, and just.
          You see, allegorically speaking, this is not just a battle between two nations where the nation that is favored by God destroys the other.  No, it is a battle between Good, represented by the Israelites who were set apart for a special relationship with God, and Evil, represented by the Amalekites who were considered a force that could turn the Israelites away from their relationship with God.  Therefore, the battle is not a physical one, but a spiritual one, nonetheless represented in physical terms so that we can understand it.
          With this hermeneutic, that is, with this “lens” for interpreting the story, we see that this is not a story about God’s people conquering other nations so as to reign over them (it can’t be, because we already know that Jesus himself said that his kingdom was not of this world), but rather that it is story about rooting out evil from our midst so as not to be overcome by it.  “In those days, Amalek [that is, an evil influence] came and waged war against Israel [that is, someone part of God’s people].  Moses [who here represents the conscience of the Israelite people], therefore, said to Joshua [who represents the mind and heart of the Israelites] … go out and engage Amalek in battle.  I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand [that is, I’ll be in constant prayer while you engage this battle so that the power of God will be with us].”
          Has anyone here ever battled against sin?  Doesn’t that battle (if we engage it) always take this form?  Sin (that is, an evil influence) comes to tempt us.  Our conscience says “whoa, this is bad; you better fight this!”  And our mind and heart says… what?  “Forget you conscience, this looks fun!”  Well, I guess that happens sometimes.  But usually it says “Ok, you’re right, we need to fight this.”  And so you engage in the battle against sin.
          If you win the particular battle do you say, “Ok, that was enough, I beat that temptation”?  Probably more often than not we do.  Then, what happens next?  Well the temptation comes back again, only stronger the second time right?  And so we quickly learn that we can’t just win battles against individual temptations, but we have to root out the source of the evil influence so as to prevent all temptations from coming.  This, my brothers and sisters, is the allegorical meaning of “Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people [the temptation and the root of the temptations] with the edge of the sword.”  Is it starting to become clear yet?
          Now that we’re getting good at this, look at the part that Moses plays in the victory over sin.  There’s a direct connection, right?  “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.”  Moses was the intercessor to God on behalf of the Israelites, and so what else can this mean except that as long as Moses had his hands raised in prayer, calling down God’s power on Joshua and his men, they had the better of the fight; but when he became tired and his hands drooped, Amalek and his troops started to gain advantage.  Prayer, then, is critical in our fight against evil.  If we are fervent and consistent in our prayer, we will overcome evil in our lives and root out its influence on us.  If we become slack, evil will begin to overtake us and possibly destroy us.
          Ah, but Moses had help, right?  No, it wasn’t Moses alone, but Moses with the help of the community: his brother Aaron and their companion Hur.  With their help he was able to keep his hands raised in prayer long enough for Joshua and his men to win the battle.  So, too, do we need the help of our brothers and sisters to overcome and completely eliminate any evil influence in our lives and so we should ask for it frequently.
          You know, one of the things that is happening in our society is that we are giving up our imaginations in favor of stimulation.  With imagination we strive to interpret stories and events in our lives in order to find what meaning it has for us.  Our culture, however, is training us absorb stimulation, instead.  When all we’re doing is receiving stimulation, there’s nothing more for us to do.  It’s either there or it isn’t; and if it isn’t, we’re trained to seek more.  When we engage our imagination, however, we begin to see events in our lives in allegorical terms.  In other words, we begin to see the events of our lives through an interpretive lens that adds meaning and depth to what we experience.
          And so, what does this mean?  Well it means that we begin to see our struggle with sin in terms of a greater spiritual battle: the dramatic “Good vs. Evil” that is constantly being waged throughout the universe instead of the “self-help” exercise that society wants to reduce it to.  And I’m not just talking about the big things, I’m talking about the little things: the gossip, the jealousy, the judgmentalism that we find ourselves battling with daily.  It is not enough to win a battle on any given day; rather we must engage the war to root out its sources in our lives.
          To do so, we must pray and pray constantly.  Just as Joshua could not defeat Amalek without Moses’ prayer, neither can we hope to root sin out of our lives without the help of God’s grace in prayer.  When we feel too weak to pray, we must not give up, but rather we must ask the help of our friends, our community of faith, for together we can win the war.  My brothers and sisters, we must not be afraid to take up this battle for God will not fail to help us; because the victory… yes the victory is already ours in Jesus Christ.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – October 19th & 20th, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The grace to give thanks

          Thanksgiving is still more than a month away, but can we get on board with the idea of giving thanks everyday?  Here's to hoping that we can...


Homily: 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          Not long before I entered the seminary, just a few months before I would leave my job as an engineer, I was on a business trip in south Texas.  At that time, I was in the throes of discerning how God was leading me to follow his call to be a priest and so I was praying and fasting a lot, asking mostly that I would be humble enough to know what God was asking me to do and to be courageous enough to do it.  It happened to be the middle of March and I was about a thirty minute drive from South Padre Island, where hundreds of thousands of college students were celebrating their Spring Break.
          I was there over a weekend and didn’t have to work on Sunday, so I decided to head over to South Padre  to spend some time relaxing on the beach.  Now, before any of you get the idea that I was going there to party, remember that I had already discerned that God was calling me to be a priest and that I was trying to discern how he was leading me to follow that call.  Thus, I went with the idea that I might evangelize some of the Spring Breakers, not party with them.
          When I got to the beach, however, I quickly understood why Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two.  Although the beach wasn’t crowded, I quickly felt overwhelmed by the task and, with no one to support me, I gave in to the idea that my impact on the beach that day would be minimal, at best.  And so, armed as I was with some pamphlets that invite people to consider God’s great love for them, I decided to enjoy the beach and pray, hoping that God would send someone my way who needed to be touched by his love.
          Not long after I took my bible out of my backpack and began to pray, I was approached by two men looking for some money for food.  One of them, the man who addressed me, was obviously inebriated.  As has become almost instinctual for us these days, I immediately said to myself “I’m not going to give him money, he’ll just spend it on alcohol.”  Even still, I did see this as an opportunity to share one of my pamphlets with someone and to pray with them, and so I offered this to them instead.  The inebriated man declined my offer, however, and the two of them moved on.
          As they walked away, I was immediately convicted that I should have offered them more.  “I should have offered to take them somewhere to eat”, I thought to myself.  Thus convicted, I sat back down and promised God with all sincerity in my heart that if I saw them again that day that I would offer to take them somewhere to eat.
          I spent a little longer on the beach praying and enjoying being near the water and then got up to return to my car.  As I was leaving the beach and heading towards the parking lot, there were these two men sitting on a bench.  When I recognized them I immediately thought “Thank you God for giving me a chance to make good on my promise.”  I walked towards them and asked them if they were still hungry.  They, of course, replied “yes” and I invited them to go get some food.
          The second man, who said nothing to me the first time we met, asked why it was that I had changed my mind.  When I explained how I felt after they left and the promise I made to God, he began to cry.  He explained that this was not the first time that God had intervened to help him.  He began to thank me profusely, even to the point of asking me not to do this kind gesture for him, so deeply he felt undeserving of my kindness.  The other man, it seemed, thanked me as a formality and was soon focused on getting back to the beach, perhaps to continue begging for money.  His companion, however, continued to thank me and asked if I would pray for him, which I did right there, and then they went on their way.
          These men were of obviously different ethnic backgrounds and the thankful man was definitely of a minority ethnic group.  I imagine that, coupled with being impoverished and needing to beg for food meant that he often felt ignored and unacknowledged.  Yet that day, by the grace of God, I saw him, acknowledged his need (both material and spiritual), and tried to meet it.  Perhaps that was the first time in a really long time that he felt acknowledged and for that he was moved to gratitude.
          In the Gospel reading today, ten lepers cry out to Jesus asking him for mercy.  They all had faith in Jesus’ power to heal, which moved them to cry out.  All of them responded to that faith by immediately following Jesus’ instructions, even though they weren’t immediately healed.  Yet only one returned to give thanks to the one through whom the healing had come.  That one was a Samaritan: a person of an ethnicity that was looked down upon by Jews.  He was not used to being acknowledged, but that day Jesus saw him and acknowledged his need (both physical and spiritual) and he met it.  And for that he was moved to gratitude.
          The question for us, my brothers and sisters, is not whether or not we can see and respond to the beggars and the lepers in our midst like Jesus did (although we are called to do that, of course).  Rather, the question for us is whether or not we can recognize that we ourselves are beggars and lepers in need of God’s mercy.  What would it be like if we wore our sin on our skin, like a leprosy that we couldn’t hide from anyone?  Would we, then, know rejection like the lepers did?  And do you think that Jesus would still acknowledge us?
          The truth, my brothers and sisters, is that when Jesus looks at us he sees our sin as clearly as if it were a skin disease.  Even so, he still acknowledges us when we call out to him for mercy.  He does not pass us by.  Rather, he says to us, “Go show yourselves to the priest.”  And what else can that mean except “Go to Confession.”  And in following his command we realize that we have already been forgiven; we have already been healed.  And thus who wouldn’t want to return to give thanks to the one who looked so lovingly on us, even in the ugliness of our sin?  Yes, the one who is truly grateful for having been seen by him returns, glorifying God for his mercy and giving thanks.  And how do we do that?  Well, we do that every time that we return here to celebrate this Holy Eucharist with joy and gratitude in our hearts.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – October 12th & 13th, 2013

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The unprofitable (yet faithful) servant

          I kind of went with the Spirit on this one, which didn't have a lot to say directly to "Respect Life Sunday", which the Church in the United States celebrates today.  I hope, however, it does help you respect your life more deeply and understand that the reward for our faithfulness will not come in this world, but in the next; and so perseverence in faith, even in the face of despair, is perhaps our most important virtue.

Hold tight to faith and keep carrying on!


Homily: 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          As an Israelite at the end of the seventh century B.C. it probably would have been pretty easy to conclude that God had abandoned his people.  The forces of the Babylonian empire were moving throughout the Middle East and the Chaldeans were knocking on Israel’s back door with an army that seemingly no one had the strength to resist.  For an educated man like the prophet Habakkuk, it might have been quite easy to conclude that God had abandoned his people.
          You see, Habakkuk was steeped in the faith of the Jewish people.  He was well-versed in the language and content of God’s Revelation, particularly in his promise never to abandon his people into the hands of their enemies.  He knew that the LORD, the God of Israel, was sovereign over all existence; and he knew that this God had chosen his people, the Jewish race, to enter into a special covenant in which he promised never to allow their enemies to overcome them, as long as they remained faithful.
          Yet, Habakkuk was also well aware of current events.  He kept his eye on CNN and MSNBC; he was reading the latest blogs and tweets were twittering into his iPhone; all conveying that this seemingly unstoppable army that was steamrolling over nation after nation on its way to conquering the entire Middle East was now barreling towards Israel with nothing, it seemed, not even God, standing in its way.  Yes, Habakkuk was a man reading the “signs of the times,” and they were all pointing to violence and strife for his people; so how could we blame him for thinking that God had abandoned them?
          *In our own struggles to be faithful disciples we frequently must endure periods of time when we feel abandoned by God.  And, while difficult under any circumstances, such times are particularly trying when we’ve been intent on serving God with genuine devotion, for no one expects that God would withdraw his consolations for those who are striving to be faithful.  Yet, at times it seems that God does exactly this and when it happens it breaks our hearts and strains our spirits until we, too, cry out to God: How long, O Lord?
          *These times of near despair know no restrictions on age or gender or anything else.  Teenagers often search frantically for meaning and identity yet sometimes come up short.  Adults in mid-life find themselves in a crisis of despair when it appears as if they’ve chosen the wrong path for their lives.  The elderly, it seems, can be in constant crisis as failing health—their own and that of their friends—begins to claim everything that they held dear.  In an instant, natural disasters wipe out everything that gave security and stability to families.  All too often, husbands and wives are betrayed by their partners and for them it seems as if the entire fabric of existence has been a lie.  Illness strikes indiscriminately, and death’s shadow looms over all.  Finally, of course, we have all felt the weariness that comes just from trying to make it all work: day after day, month after month, year after year.*  These are all moments when we cry out to God and say: “I cry for help but you do not listen!”  Yes, to us and to the prophet Habakkuk, it seems like God is silent, but the he wouldn’t remain that way…
          Soon after we hear the words of lament and despair that poured forth from the lips of the prophet, we hear the words of hope that touched the heart of the prophet and the Jewish people: The LORD answered me…  When the prophet cried out, even when he cried out accusing God of negligence, God still answered him and what did he say?  Rather, what did he tell him to do?  God told Habakkuk to write the vision plainly on tablets, in letters big enough so that even one running past it could read it.  God wanted the Jewish people to know that the Chaldean army would not be the end of Israel, that violence and strife would not have the final word.  Instead, he wanted to remind them that his promise still had time to be fulfilled, that goodness had not failed, but rather would have the final word.  In a word, God wanted to remind them to have faith.
          *Faith is a gift from God that we also have been given.  Through it we are empowered to accomplish amazing things (like ripping up deep-rooted trees and casting them into the sea with only a word).  As a gift, however, faith is not something that we can claim as our own: it’s not something that we earn.  Rather, it is only the graciousness of God that provides it to us, for we are “unprofitable servants” who have done only what we have been obliged to do.*  While these words of Jesus that we heard today may seem harsh, he is nonetheless giving us a lesson similar to the response that Habakkuk received from God: don’t worry about acquiring more faith, for even the smallest amount is enough to move mountains; rather, remain faithful in pursuing goodness and truth in your lives and you will see that goodness indeed will have the final word.
          And so what that means for us is that, whenever we find ourselves in those moments of near despair, we should take hold of the faith that we have been given and continue on, even if that faith seems to be no larger than a small seed; for even the unprofitable servant already enjoys the security of being in his master’s house, and the Father’s promise—which “still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint—will come to those who remain faithful.
          My brothers and sisters, this Holy Eucharist that we celebrate and the Body and Blood of Jesus that we receive from this altar are the first fruits of the fulfillment of that promise.  And so let us be faithful in trusting in God’s providence even when in our lives we are facing despair; for by our faithfulness we will demonstrate our thanks to God for his faithfulness to us; and by our faithfulness we will remain ready to receive the fulfillment to all our longing: the fullness of joy that awaits us in heaven.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – October 6th, 2013

* Portions of these paragraphs were either paraphrased or directly copied from the Scriptural commentary "Preaching the New Lectionary: Year C" by Diane Bergant with Richard Fragomeni, published by The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, copyright 1999.  The selection can be found on pages 383-384 of the book.

50 years of love

          This past Saturday, I had the joy of celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving for my Aunt Fran and Uncle Dick on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.  50 years for any couple is an amazing achievement, but when it happens in your own family it is something special.  It was great to see so many of my cousins and their families, whom I rarely see these days, and to be able to offer Mass in thanksgiving to God for the grace that has sustained Aunt Fran and Uncle Dick these past 50 years.  Below is the homily I gave for the Mass.

Here's to many more years of faithful perseverance in love!


50th Anniversary Mass Homily: Richard and Frances Hakey
Gn 2:18-24; Eph 5:2a, 21-33; Mt 19:3-6
          Now I suspect that I might surprise some of you here when I say that, even after 50 years of marriage, Fran and Dick have what I would call a “modern” marriage.  Yeah, I know that they got married at the time when the Mass was still in Latin and that I seem to remember them having dinosaurs for pets (oh wait, that was the Flintstones).  No, even knowing that, I’d still call their marriage “modern”.  Because, you see, Fran and Dick, I would guess, married each other for love; and “marriage for love” is, actually, a somewhat modern thing.
          Just take a look at any ancient account of marriage.  What were they done for?  They were done to create political alliances between nations/kingdoms; or they were done to help bolster a family economically; which, of course, meant that they were almost always arranged and, thus, that the bride and groom almost never married because of love.  In the 19th century, however, the “modern” period of history emerged: ushered in by the Enlightenment and a new focus on the liberty of the individual.  One of the consequences of that focus was that men and women now saw marriage as primarily for themselves, instead of being a way to advance one’s family or kingdom.  Thus, “marriage for love” also emerged.
          As human persons, we all know love in some way, and we know that love always involves at least two things: someone who loves and an object being loved.  Further, I would guess that most of us can tell the difference between the superficial love we have of things, such as coffee, chocolate, or a delicious steak, and the love that we have for other people.  I would even venture to say that those of us self-styled as “pet lovers” would still be able to distinguish between the love we have for Snoopy, Rufus, Fluffy, and Mr. Pickles and the love we have for our wives, our husbands, our children, and our close friends.  We recognize that the deepest, most authentic love is something that is shared equally, and that even the most loyal dog or loving cat, or even the most decadent slice of Ghirardelli chocolate cheesecake, cannot return our love to us as equally as we can give it.
          Thus we hear in the reading from the book of Genesis that the “suitable partner for the man” was not found in the wild animals and birds of the air, but in the woman, who was “bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh”—in other words, his equal—and that it is for this reason that “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife…”  And so, perhaps “marriage for love”, even though it has emerged only recently in history, was how God meant for it to be all along?
          Anyone who has been married for 50 years can tell you that love of this kind—that is, true, authentic love—is not a feeling, but a choice: the choice to do whatever is truly good for another even when there seems to be no advantage in it for one’s self (or even, perhaps, when it seems to be detrimental to one’s self).  With this understanding, then, “marriage for love” is to feel so strongly a desire for another person’s happiness that one is willing to make a life-long commitment of working towards that end and, thus, that “marriage for love” is most perfect when that desire is shared by two persons who hold that desire for each other.
          And so when Saint Paul says that wives should be subordinate to their husbands, he’s not saying so because he’s trying to uphold some unequal cultural power structure between men and women, but rather he’s instructing them on how best to love them.  In other words, wives love their husbands best when they get behind and support their husband’s “program of life.”  And what is that?  Loving their wives as Christ loved the Church.  And how did Christ love the Church?  By handing his life over completely for her so that she might be made holy: “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing”.  (Wives, doesn’t this sound like a project that you could get behind?)  Therefore, the husband is to hand his life over—that is, to sacrifice all of his personal ambitions—so that his wife will become holy; and the wife is to get behind this project, thus sacrificing all of her personal ambitions as well so that she can be made holy; and in doing so she in turn supports her husband’s own path to holiness, for no one can hand over his life for the good of another without himself becoming holy.  And isn’t sainthood—that is, eternal holiness—what we’re all here for?  (This truly is a “great mystery”, isn’t it?)
          Fran and Dick, I hope that I am correct in stating that you indeed did marry for love; and that the love for which you married resembles in some way what I’ve described here.  If so, and even so, I would say that, while you married for love, you remained married for these past 50 years by grace.  True love, as I’ve described it here, is hard and so God’s grace is needed in order to persevere.  Your faith in God, and in his abiding love for us in Jesus, his Son, and your fidelity to the sacraments, most especially to the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation, have provided the grace to remain faithful throughout these 50 years and thus to celebrate the fruits of this grace: being surrounded by your children and your children’s children.
          And so you come here today surrounded by loved ones to give thanks to God for the grace that has worked in and through you and to ask for his continued blessings on you in the years to come.  On behalf of everyone here, let me say “thank you” to you for your great witness of faith and love over these past 50 years.  May this witness, strengthened by this Eucharist, inspire each of us to be faithful to our vocations to love so that when our Lord Jesus returns he will find us holy and thus ready to be welcomed to the eternal banquet he has prepared for us in heaven.

Given at Saint Patrick’s Parish: Joliet, IL – October 5th, 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Good King Wenceslaus

          King Saint Wenceslaus' commemoration was last Saturday.  When I pondered the readings for Mass I couldn't help but think of the old song Good King Wenceslaus.  It actually fit quite well, so I went with it.  

          This week I'll return to Joliet to celebrate my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary!  Then, following this weekend, the priests of the Lafayette diocese will be on retreat.

          Happy Saint Terese of Liseux feast day!


Homily: 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          King Saint Wenceslaus was born in the early 10th century near Prague to a Christian father and a pagan mother.  This was a time of instability and unrest in the area of Europe known as Bohemia.  On account of his grandmother, Saint Ludmilla, Wenceslaus received a good Christian upbringing.  After his father died, his mother became regent and began to implement many anti-Christian policies.  Thanks, again, to his saintly grandmother, Wenceslaus was encouraged by the people to take reign of the government from his mother and even though his grandmother Ludmilla was murdered for her efforts to promote her grandson, Wenceslaus eventually did become king.
          As king, Wenceslaus worked for unity and peace throughout the region.  He strenuously promoted Christianity, even bringing priests from neighboring Germany when there were not enough native-born priests in Bohemia.  All of his work, however, only increased the fervor of the anti-Christian population in Bohemia.  This faction even recruited his brother, Boleslaus.  In September of 929 Boleslaus invited Wenceslaus to the town of Alt Bunglou to celebrate the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian with the intention of murdering the king.  On the morning of the feast, as Wenceslaus was making his way to the cathedral for mass, Boleslaus and a band of others ambushed him on the front steps of the church and murdered him.  Thus, the Church celebrates King Wenceslaus as a martyr and his feast day falls just two days after those great martyrs of the Early Church, Cosmas and Damian.
          Of course, to be such a virtuous leader, Wenceslaus must also have been a virtuous man; and that he was.  His legend recounts how he paid particular attention to the poor.  Perhaps he had read the prophesy of the prophet Amos that we read today and knew that he could not allow himself to become complacent in the comforts that being king afforded him.  Or perhaps his saintly grandmother had read him Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus, which we heard in our Gospel reading today.  And perhaps that reading awakened in him a holy fear of suffering the same, sad end of the rich man.  Either way, Wenceslaus knew that if he had, indeed, been trusted with much, that it was not for his comfort alone, but rather that he might serve the common good of the people over whom he ruled.
          Many of you, at this point, might be remembering the traditional Christmas carol entitled “Good King Wenceslaus”, which is good, because that is exactly who we are talking about.  And you know it’s really not a Christmas song at all, but since the story it recounts takes place on Saint Stephen’s feast day, which is December 26th, it is traditionally sung during Christmastime.  The story is of how the king, seeing a peasant man gathering sticks in the snow to make a fire in his home, loads up his own sled with wood for a fire and food for cooking and walks with his page through a winter storm to provide this peasant man and his family a feast, literally fit for a king, for it was eaten with his king, and it shows us plainly how this saintly king remained a humble servant of the people over whom he ruled.
          So, was it for virtue alone that Wenceslaus did all of these things?  I would venture to say “no”.  Rather, I believe Wenceslaus could see in his own state of life an image of Jesus, who, though he was lacking in nothing as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, nonetheless was not complacent in his “comfort” and, when he saw us languishing in sin, responded to the prompting of the Father and left off his comfort to come among us—amidst the winter storms—to bring us warmth and nourishment.  No, I think Wenceslaus knew that this was the way that God had called him to be united with Jesus—and not just Jesus, but Jesus crucified—as the particular way that he could “lay hold of eternal life”, in those great words from Saint Paul that we heard in our second reading today.  “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness … compete well for the faith … lay hold to eternal life, to which you were called…”  No, Wenceslaus didn’t do it because he wanted to be better than all the other kings in Europe; but rather because he saw the special opportunity to draw closer to the “King of all kings”, our Lord Jesus Christ, and so he left the comfort of his palace to serve the poor man so that he might not feel alone. ///
          Yesterday I heard the confession of a young person that impacted me.  In it, this young man confessed having not reached out to some students at his school who seemed to be marginalized.  Once I heard that I thought, “Man, this kid gets it.”  He gets right to the heart of what this week’s readings are talking about.  In fact, he gets right to the heart of what Pope Francis has been talking about in his first six months as pope: that we need to go out to the margins of our communities—that is, out from our “comfortable spaces”—in order to draw in those whom we find there.  Why?  Because that is exactly what Jesus did for us.  And that is exactly where we will find Jesus. 
          The last phrase of the carol “Good King Wenceslaus" sums this up beautifully.  It says:
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.
          Let us, then, my brothers and sisters, heed the words of that beloved carol and, strengthened by this Eucharist, let us “seek the Lord where he may be found”: in our brothers and sisters who long to feel that sense of belonging; and we, too, will find that, in bringing the love of Christ to others, we will receive that love in return.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 29th, 2013

The Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael