Sunday, February 23, 2014

Be perfect as your Father is perfect

          Film (if done well) can tell us a lot about being human.  It sounds like the new movie Son of God will give us a deeper look at Jesus' humanity.  In him, we too can be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Homily: 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Cycle A
          Perhaps many of you have heard about a new film that is coming to theaters next week entitled Son of God.  It is a dramatized biography of Jesus pulled from the accounts of his life and ministry in the Gospels.  It has gotten some very positive reviews in Catholic circles and so I hope to have the opportunity to see it while it is in theaters.
          While multiple films about Jesus have been made ever since man started making films, for me the watershed film has to be Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  For those of us who grew up watching too much TV and are thus “imaginationally challenged”, this film answered a lot of those “I wonder what that was like?” questions.  I know that many people decided not to see it because the filmmakers did not hold back in depicting the violence that Jesus suffered (almost, perhaps, overdramatizing it).  But if you are an adult and you haven’t seen this film, I think that you should.  Because if you’ve never pondered Jesus’ passion as graphically as this film depicts it, then you’ve never deeply meditated on what Jesus suffered to save us from our sins.
          All that aside, however, one of the things that the film does highlight is the fullness of Jesus’ humanity.  The film begins with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane suffering in his agony over what he is about to endure.  Jesus is both fully human and divine, which means that he has both a human will and a divine will.  Although Jesus’ divine will is powerful enough to override his human will at any time, it never does.  This because, in order for Jesus’ self-sacrifice to be truly salutary for us, he had to be completely obedient to the Father’s will by using his natural human will alone.
          Thus, we see him in such great turmoil in the Garden.  His human will is resisting to its fullest extent what the Father has planned for him to endure.  It begs, it pleads to the Father that there would be some other way to accomplish his will, but there isn’t; and from there—that is, from the moment that Jesus accepted in perfect obedience the will of his Father—we see Jesus in complete control.
          When the soldiers arrived to arrest him in the Garden, Jesus offered them no resistance (and even commanded his disciples who were with him to do the same).  When they struck him, he did not strike back.  When they questioned him, he did not evade their questions, but gave them more than they asked for (that is, more than they had hoped he would in order to condemn him).  And when he was so mercilessly scourged he did not beg them stop, but remained silent through it all.  He accepted all of the evil that was done to him and, in the end, still loved those who had subjected him to it: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
          Jesus did all of this using his human will alone, for it had to be so.  In doing so, he modeled the human perfection that he called his disciples to in the Sermon on the Mount: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek,” he said, “turn the other one as well.  If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.”  What Jesus was teaching us, and what he modeled for us, is that we are to accept all of the evil that befalls us in this world; and that we overcome it, not by resisting it or by trying to destroy it, but rather by living as if it has no power to destroy us.  In other words, it seems as if Jesus is teaching us that an evil force loses its strength when the object of its attack absorbs it rather than resists it.
          Now Jesus is not advocating passivism that leads us to be perpetually abused.  Rather, he is indicating the kind of passivism that “takes the wind out of the sails”, so to speak, of those who do evil by turning around and loving them with a self-sacrificial love instead.  To turn the other cheek says to the person, “you may strike me again, but I’m not giving up on our relationship.”  To give your cloak to the one who demanded your tunic is to say to that person, “if you so desperately need clothing, here take all that I have and be well.”  And to go two miles with the one who presses you into service for one says “I hold no grudge, I harbor no rancor in my heart for you.”  To do this makes plain their wickedness and, as Saint Paul would say later in one of his letters, it “heaps burning coals onto their heads.”  This, Jesus is teaching us, is the way to “be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.”
          “Oh, but father, isn’t this kind of perfection impossible for us?”  By our own human will alone—broken as it is by sin—of course it is!  But it isn’t about that alone.  Rather, it’s about our nature and our end: our nature as creatures made in the image of God and our end which is to be one with him forever.  In other words, this is not about some moral code imposed on us from outside of us that is impossible for us to achieve.  Rather, it’s about becoming who it is that we truly are: creatures made in the image and likeness of God, destined to be perfectly united with our creator forever.
          In order for us to achieve this destiny, therefore, me must strive to conform ourselves to this image in which we have been created.  God, our creator, endures countless evils from his creatures.  And does he ever retaliate against us?  No!  Rather, what does he do?  “He makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust”, doesn’t he?  In other words, in spite of the way that he has been treated by his ungrateful creatures, he continues generously to pour down on us all that we need and then some.  Our work of perfection, therefore, is to strive to live this model.
          My brothers and sisters, by enduring his passion in perfect obedience to the Father using only his human will, Jesus has shown us the way to perfection.  In giving us the Eucharist, he has given us the spiritual strength that we need to follow him.  Let us, today, say “yes” to the grace that perfects us and thus be transformed—or rather set free—to achieve the perfection that awaits us: our perfect communion with the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 23rd, 2014

Friday, February 21, 2014

If we'd only just believe...

Throw-Back Thursday on a Friday...

I was going through some old notebooks and found this reflection that I wrote during a retreat I made in 2009:

     God desires us beyond our wildest imagination.  He made us for the only reason that He wants us to live in eternal ecstasy by uniting us with Him in love.  Written in our being is a desire for God's desire to be fulfilled.  In other words, we desire what God desires, even if we don't recognize it.

     Even if we do recognize it, we often fall to fear because we think that we have to earn it.  It has already been earned, however, by Jesus.  All we have to do is let go of our pride, which we can only do by grace.  Our pride keeps us from giving our weaknesses over to Jesus for fear of shame.  When Adam and Eve sinned they hid themselves from God for fear of God seeing their weakness.  Only when we give it all to God, however, can we achieve what He desires for us.

    We must first of all believe in love if we want this to happen.  Then we can believe that we are loved and then be confident to be vulnerable in front of God.  Then, believing still, we can give ourselves over to Him completely.  Through His love we can do all things.  If we'd only just believe...

A veces, tiene que cortar su mano...

          Yo he olvido de poner mi homilia en espanol del domingo pasado.  Lo siento!  La historia de Aron Ralston es real y hecho una pelicula sobre ella se llama 127 horas.  Nos vemos en la misa este domingo!


Homilía: 6ª Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario - Ciclo A
          El 26 de abril de 2003, amante de la naturaleza Aron Ralston iba de excursión a solas a través de Blue John Canyon en el este del estado Utah, cuando una roca que estaba bajando se soltó, causando que se cayera en el cañón en el que estaba subiendo y, posteriormente, la roca fijó su mano derecha contra la pared del cañón. No se ha podido mover la roca de ochocientos libras, Aron fue atrapado, y, después de haber dicho a nadie a donde había ido de excursión (y mucho menos, que se había ido de excursión), tenía pocas esperanzas de que alguno quiere venir en su busca.
          Durante cinco días Aron trató en vano de liberar su mano de debajo de la roca. En cierto momento, consideró el uso de su herramienta multiusos para cortarle la mano de su brazo, pero se dio cuenta de que el cuchillo no sería suficiente afilado para cortar a través del hueso y así él no intentarlo. Desesperado, deshidratados, y un poco delirante, Aron tuvo una epifanía en el quinto día. Si primero se rompió el brazo cerca del punto más remedio, entonces podría cortar con éxito su mano de su brazo usando su herramienta multiusos y escapar con la esperanza de ser rescatados. Sin nada que perder (salvo su vida), que fue lo que hizo. Sorprendentemente, a continuación, se abrió paso por el cañón y caminó a pocos kilómetros de vuelta a su coche antes de encontrarse con otros campistas que le dieron comida y agua y ayudaron a alertar a las autoridades que luego vienen y le puente aéreo al hospital. No sólo Aron sobrevivir esta experiencia terrible, pero todavía hace excursiones desafiantes a través de montañas y cañones hoy.
          Así que ¿por qué compartir una historia tan gráfica con ustedes durante la Misa? Bueno, porque creo que ilustra vívidamente algo de lo que nuestras Escrituras nos enseñan hoy. Cuando Aron cayó en ese cañón y quedó atrapado, se vio enfrentado a una elección. Probablemente nunca tan claramente en su vida, Aron sabía que lo que él optó por hacer mientras atrapado en el cañón era una opción ya sea por su vida o de su muerte. Y él sabía que no tenía otra opción de no elegir, porque sabía que no elegir en realidad era una elección para la muerte.
          En nuestra lectura del libro del Eclesiástico, el autor nos recuerda que cada uno de nosotros se nos ha dado la libertad de escoger la vida o la muerte, y que "la será dado lo que
él escoja." Al igual que con Aron, la opción de que el autor es describiendo para nosotros no es casual, sino más bien uno con consecuencias significativas. Con el fin de escoger la vida, Aron tuvo que dejar atrás una pieza aparentemente esencial de sí mismo. Y, como Jesús nos describe en el Evangelio, para que podamos elegir la vida, también nosotros debemos hacer lo mismo.
          Seguimos escuchando del Sermón de la Montaña y de hoy Jesús nos invita a ver que cada encuentro con el pecado es un encuentro con la opción para la vida o la muerte. Después de defenderse de las acusaciones de que él estaba tratando de abolir la Ley de Moisés, enseñando a sus discípulos que los malos pensamientos o malintencionadas que albergamos en nuestras cabezas y en nuestros corazones equivalen a haber cometido los pecados propios, Jesús continúa enseñando que por lo tanto, debemos cortar de nuestras vidas las fuentes mismas de nuestro pecado. Jesús quiso que su enseñanza acerque de cortar las fuentes de pecado en nuestras vidas para ser tan gráfico como la historia de Aron Ralston parece a ustedes aquí hoy. Él quería que ellos entiendan claramente que para mantener sus apegos al pecado, fue escoger una muerte segura, y por lo tanto que de escoger la vida a menudo significaría que tendrían que romper relaciones con las cosas que, para ellos, tal vez, parecen ser esenciales.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, esta es la misma enseñanza que Jesús nos da a nosotros hoy: tenemos que escoger. En otras palabras, la elección para la vida o la muerte se ha dado a nosotros. Dios no va a elegir por nosotros y, como Aron Ralston, para elegir “no escoger” es elegir la muerte. Esto, por supuesto, no es fácil. Antes del pecado, no tuvimos que luchar tanto contra nuestras pasiones. Después del pecado, sin embargo, nuestras pasiones se han convertido desproporcionadamente fuerte, lo que nubla nuestro juicio y hace que sea muy difícil escoger lo que es correcto, es decir, de escoger la vida. (Esto es por qué incluso San Pablo pudo escribir: "No entiendo mis propios actos: no hago lo que quiero y hago las cosas que detesto." Hay muchas aquí que pueden relacionarse con eso, ¿no?)
          Dios, por supuesto, lo sabe también. Es por eso que envió a su Hijo, Jesús, para salvarnos. Dios sabía que, después del pecado, nunca podríamos superar nuestras pasiones y totalmente escoger la vida una vez más. Y por lo que envió a su Hijo para ser uno de nosotros, una persona humana que experimentar todas las debilidades de la naturaleza humana, que sin embargo poseían el poder divino para vencer nuestras debilidades con el fin de elegir la vida.
          En el Jardín del Getsemaní, Jesús se enfrentó a la elección final de la vida o la muerte. Sabía, sin embargo, que cualquier decisión que preservaría su vida, pero que estaba en contra de la voluntad de su Padre, era realmente una opción para la muerte. Por lo tanto, él entregó su vida por completo y, al hacerlo, hizo posible para nosotros recibir la gracia que necesitamos para cortar los lazos del pecado y así escoger la vida también. La gracia que la elección de Jesús ganó para nosotros recibimos por primera vez en el bautismo, y que continúe recibiendo la gracia cada vez que recibimos su Cuerpo y su Sangre de este altar.
          Esta gracia, sin embargo, no es efectiva si nos negamos a utilizarlo para liberarnos de nuestra esclavitud al pecado. Más bien, debe ser el cuchillo afilado que utilizamos para cortar cualquier parte de nuestra vida que sigue nos dejes caer en el pecado. Con la misma energía desesperada que Aron Ralston utiliza para cortar su mano y escapar así de ser salvos, debemos atacar nuestros apegos a lo que está en nuestras vidas que nos lleva al pecado con la gracia que recibimos de este altar con el fin de romper nuestros lazos con ellos por completo y así escapar para salvarse.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, todos los días nos encontramos con la opción para la vida o la muerte cada vez que nos encontramos con una tentación a pecar. No tenemos que tener miedo, sin embargo, porque se nos ha dado la ayuda que necesitamos escoger la vida: el sacrificio que Jesús, nuestro Señor y nuestro hermano, escogí para nosotros.

Dado en la Parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN - el 16 de febrero, 2014

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sometimes, you just have to cut off your hand...

          When I read the Gospel for this week's Mass I got to thinking about the story of Aron Ralston.  He was somebody who was forced to face the physical reality of what Jesus speaks about in the Gospel today.  They even made a film about his experience called 127 Hours.  It won a few awards and although I haven't seen it yet, I think that it is one worth watching.  Let us pray for the grace to see that the reality of sin in our lives is the same reality that Aron Ralston faced in that canyon in Utah and for the courage to respond as he did (and as Jesus instructs us).


Homily: 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          On April 26th, 2003, outdoorsman Aron Ralston was hiking alone through Blue John Canyon in eastern Utah when a boulder that he was climbing down came loose, causing him to fall into the slot canyon in which he was climbing and subsequently pinned his right hand against the canyon wall.  Unable to move the 800 pound boulder, Aron was trapped and, having told no one where he had gone out hiking (let alone, that he had gone out hiking), he had little hope that anyone would come looking for him.
          For five days Aron tried to free his hand from beneath the boulder to no avail.  At one point, he even considered using his multi-tool to cut off his hand from his arm; but he realized that the knife would be too dull to cut through the bone and so he didn’t attempt it.  Desperate, dehydrated, and a little delirious, Aron had an epiphany on the fifth day.  If he first broke his arm near the pinch point, he thought, he could then successfully cut off his hand from his arm using his multi-tool and escape in the hope of being rescued.  With nothing left to lose (except his life), he did just that.  Amazingly, he then made his way out of the canyon and hiked a few miles back towards his car before encountering other campers who gave him food and water and helped alert the authorities who would then come and airlift him to the hospital.  Not only did Aron survive the ordeal, but he still makes challenging hikes through mountains and canyons today.
          So why do I share such a graphic story with you during Mass?  Well, because I think that it vividly illustrates some of what our Scriptures are teaching us today.  When Aron fell into that canyon and became trapped, he was faced with a choice.  Probably never so clearly in his life, Aron knew that whatever he chose to do while trapped in that canyon was a choice either for his life or for his death.  And he knew that he had no choice not to choose, because he knew that not to choose was actually a choice for death.
          In our reading from the Book of Sirach, the author reminds us that each of us has been given the freedom to choose life or death and that “whichever he chooses shall be given him.”  Just as with Aron, the choice that the author is describing for us is not a casual one, but rather one with significant consequences.  In order to choose life, Aron had to leave behind a seemingly essential piece of himself.  And, as Jesus describes for us in the Gospel, for us to choose life, we too must do the same.
          We continue to hear from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and today Jesus is inviting us to see that every encounter with sin is an encounter with the choice for life or death.  After defending himself against accusations that he was trying to abolish the Law of Moses by teaching his disciples that the evil or malicious thoughts that we harbor in our heads and in our hearts are tantamount to having committed the sins themselves, Jesus goes on to teach that therefore we must sever from our lives the very sources of our sin.  Jesus meant his teaching about cutting off the sources of sin in our lives to be every bit as graphic as the story of Aron Ralston seems to you here today.  He wanted them to understand clearly that to maintain their attachments to sin was to choose certain death; and thus that to choose life would often mean that they would have to sever ties with things that, perhaps, seem to them to be essential.
          My brothers and sisters, this is the same teaching that Jesus gives to us today: we have to choose.  In other words, the choice for life or death has been given to us.  God will not choose for us and, like Aron Ralston, to choose not to choose is to choose death.  This, of course, is not easy.  Before sin, we didn’t have to struggle so much against our passions.  After sin, however, our passions have become disproportionately strong, which clouds our judgments and makes it extremely difficult to choose what is right: that is, to choose life.  (This is why even Saint Paul could write, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  Can anybody here relate with that?)
          God, of course, knows this too.  This is why he sent his Son, Jesus, to save us.  God knew that, after sin, we could never overcome our passions and fully choose life once again.  And so he sent his Son to become one of us—a human person that would experience all of the weaknesses of our human nature—who nevertheless possessed divine power to overcome our weaknesses so as to choose life.
          In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was faced with the ultimate choice of life or death.  He knew, however, that any choice that would spare his life, but which was outside of the will of his Father, was really a choice for death.  Thus, he handed over his life completely and in doing so made it possible for us to receive the grace that we need to sever our ties to sin and thus to choose life also.  The grace that Jesus’ choice won for us we first received in baptism; and we continue to receive that grace whenever we receive his Body and Blood from this altar.
          This grace, however, is ineffective if we refuse to use it to free ourselves from our bondage to sin.  Rather, it must be the sharp knife that we use to cut off any part of our life that continues to lead us into sin.  With the same desperate energy that Aron Ralston used to cut off his hand and thus escape to be saved, we must attack our attachments to whatever it is in our lives that leads us to sin with the grace that we receive from this altar so as to sever our ties to them completely and thus escape to be saved.
          My brothers and sisters, every day we encounter the choice for life or death whenever we encounter a temptation to sin.  We need not be afraid, however, because we have been given the help that we need to choose life: the sacrifice that Jesus, our Lord and our brother, chose for us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 15th & 16th, 2014

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The world needs some salt

          Again, what a great week I had spending time with my folks in Illinois and being on retreat.  I've been back long enough to celebrate Masses this weekend, then it's off to Indy for another installment of our Leadership Formation for Priests this coming Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  With all the busyness of our lives, we cannot forget that, wherever we are, we are called to be salt and light to those around us.  May God bless your week!


Homily: 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          Many of you, perhaps, noticed my absence last weekend.  I took some time away to visit my family in Illinois and to rest a little.  I then spent the majority of this past week on retreat at a conference center in Valparaiso.  It was a great time to spend some time renewing my relationship with the Lord.  It was also nice to have a break from worrying about preparing my own meals and all that goes along with that (grocery shopping, washing dishes, etc.).  I was especially (and pleasantly) surprised by just how flavorful the food was at the conference center.  When I cook for myself I don’t often add any salt to my dishes (it’s well established, right?, that too much salt in one’s diet is bad for a person).  And so when I eat somewhere where the food is professionally prepared, using fresh ingredients, and just the right balance of salt, I am usually blown away by the flavor of the food because of how the salt makes the flavor of the food so much bolder.
          This is why we use salt, right?  It’s not the taste of salt itself that we crave (just take a drink of salt water… I mean, we can barely swallow it, right?), but rather it is what salt does to the food it interacts with that makes it a valuable ingredient.  Salt, used proportionately, takes on the flavor of the food it interacts with and makes it bolder, so that you get “more of” (so to speak) the flavor of the dish that you’ve prepared.  We all kind of know this instinctively as we became accustomed to using salt as we each grew up.  Jesus, of course, knows this, too, and, being the consummate preacher, he uses it in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount to make his point.
          Before I get too far into that, however, I think we need to pause for a second to reflect on how Jesus directed this instruction.  In instructing his disciples, he speaks to them about their “new state of being.”  The Scripture reads: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world.’”  Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “You will be the salt of the earth” or “You should be the salt of the earth”; rather he says “You are…”  In other words, he is making it very clear that if someone considers him or her self to be his disciple, who that person is changes.  A disciple of Jesus is salt and light.  What he or she does from that, then, will determine his or her worth as a disciple.  Thus, the metaphors of salt and light.
          We’ve already talked about salt and what it does.  A disciple who acts from this state of being goes out and mixes in with others.  If his or her deeds are positive (that is, if he or she does good deeds), then the “flavor” of those with whom he or she mixes is enhanced and there is a positive effect on the community.  If his or her deeds are negative, however, (that is, if they are bad deeds)—or, if he or she decides not to mix in at all—then the flavor is turned sour (or, at least, left bland) and the community spirit is diminished.  Notice that there is no neutral ground here.  Either one is salt with taste, which adds something positive to the community, or one is salt without taste (or with bad taste), which thus hurts the community that it mixes into.  Thus, Jesus says that salt without taste is worthless, good for nothing except to be thrown out on the path to be trampled on; and, thus, he implicitly instructs his disciples to be salt with taste so that the good flavor of the earth can be brought forth.
          The metaphor of light is equally as simple.  As Jesus’ disciple, one is light: he or she has no choice in the matter.  The choice for the disciple, rather, is whether or not he or she is going to let this light shine, so as to give light to all those around him or her, or if he or she will conceal the light, as if he or she had placed it under a bushel basket.  Jesus’ instruction is clear: his disciples must let their light shine before others, so that their good deeds may be seen and God the Father may be glorified as a result.
          My brothers and sisters, this is the work of our common priesthood that we share through baptism.  We have been made to be Christ’s light in the world, a world in which darkness constantly threatens to overcome all; and we have been made to be salt for the earth—the seasoning that pulls out all that is good in the world and enhances it— on an earth in which insipidity and decay threatens to spoil it rotten.  No, there’s no free ride here.  If we have received Christ’s light and been made salt by God’s gracious gift, then these must be shared with all around us; otherwise we will be judged as worth nothing but “to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
          So, how do we do this?  Well, Isaiah’s prophesy seems to be a good place to start.  Speaking on behalf of the Lord he said, “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…”  Ok, so if I take care of the physical needs of those around me, my light will shine forth, as if it was the sun rising at the dawn.  Exactly.  Isaiah goes on to reaffirm this by saying that “if you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech” that light will also rise.  In other words, by removing our negativity—that is, our criticisms and our judgments—we enhance our flavor as salt, thus making us more effective in drawing forth the goodness of the world.
          My brothers and sisters, Jesus is not asking anything extraordinary of us.  Rather, he is instructing us—his disciples—to strive for holiness in our everyday, ordinary lives.  Thus, when we prepare a meal, wash the laundry, do our homework, shovel snow, stamp out parts, file paperwork… in short, when we do whatever it is that we do at home, school, or work—with prayerfulness and striving for excellence—we are salt and light in the world.  And when this everyday holiness spills over into help that we give to our neighbor, our salt and light spreads even further into the community.
          “But Father, I’m afraid to go out and share my faith with others…”  Well, so was Saint Paul.  What did he say to the Church in Corinth?  He said “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom…”  Paul was a tentmaker, not a classically trained orator.  He did not rely on persuasive arguments to be salt and light in the world; but rather he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit working through him.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, baptized into his grace, we too have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to use our ordinary everyday words and actions to be salt and light to all those around us.
          Remember, my brothers and sisters, God always take the ordinary and makes it extraordinary.  Just look at what we do here at the Mass.  We take ordinary bread and wine and we offer it to God here on this altar.  Then, by his extraordinary power working through the ordinary words that I speak, they become something extraordinary: the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  God wishes to do the same with each of our lives.  He wants to take the ordinary events of our days, offered to him as if on this altar, and make them extraordinary instruments of his grace.  Thus, by making our daily work the opus dei—that is, the work of God—God’s light and grace will conquer the darkness and bitterness of the world; and all his children with glorify him with the same glory that we offer him here today.  My brothers and sisters, as baptized Christians it is already in us to do this good work.  Therefore, let us not be afraid to let our light shine for all to see.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February, 8th & 9th, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Retreat Photos

What a blessing it was to be able to spend four and a half days on retreat this past week.  The retreat was at Shellbourne Conference Center in Valparaiso, Indiana.  It is a retreat center run by the Opus Dei Prelature.  The retreat was specifically for diocesan priests and there were priests from as far away as Seattle and Washington, D.C.  It was a silent retreat, however, so I didn't get to know many of them.  That was fine by me, though, because I was really in need of some quiet time.

The grounds were very nice (and, obviously, completely covered with snow!).  Throughout the buildings there were various images of Our Lady, too, and so I took to snapping some pictures of them before I left.  I hope that you enjoy them!

And then here are some images from around the grounds of the conference center.

More homilies to follow!

Monday, February 3, 2014

What season is it again?

          This weekend I had a break from All Saints Parish and was able to spend some time with my family in Joliet, Illinois.  This meant that I also had an opportunity to celebrate Mass at Saint Mary Nativity Parish: the parish in which I received my Sacraments of Initiation and where I went to grade school.  Here's the homily that I preached at Mass this last weekend.


Homily: Presentation of the Lord – Cycle A
          It is true that the Mass we celebrate is something that transcends time.  When we come together to celebrate the Mass, we are truly experiencing the fullness of the Communion of Saints: that is, the Saints in heaven, the faithful in purgatory, and us here on earth.  Because of this we know that, when we celebrate the Mass, the past, the present and the future all merge into one.  In a way, this is why the Mass is celebrated the same basic way every day and everywhere, because what we’re doing is something eternal, something unchanging.
          Our Liturgical Calendar is meant to accentuate that.  While the Mass is indeed eternal, it doesn’t change the fact that we live in time and so at different parts of the year we take time to emphasize different seasons; which highlight different aspects of salvation history and our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ here on earth.  Thus, when we are following the Liturgical Year, we are really entering into “God’s Time” in the midst of worldly time.
          A “happy coincidence” this year is throwing a bit of a wrench into all of that, however.  This weekend, we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  It is the feast in which we celebrate the consecration of Jesus in the Temple as the first-born son of Joseph and Mary.  Traditionally, it was the feast that marked the close of the Christmas Season; falling, as it does, 40 days after Christmas.  Since the revision of the Liturgical Calendar after the Second Vatican Council, however, it no longer serves that purpose (the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord now marks its close).  Nonetheless, we still celebrate this feast.  But, unless you come to daily Mass throughout the year, you probably wouldn’t know much about it as we only celebrate it on Sunday when February 2nd actually falls on Sunday (like this year; thus, the “happy coincidence”).
          So here we are, three weeks into Ordinary Time, and the calendar throws us a curve ball hurtling us back into a reflection on Jesus’ infancy, which we placed so much focus on in Christmas time.  I think that even the most “die-hard” fans of Christmas would be hard-pressed to not feel a little off-kilter by this jump.  Nonetheless, I think that this feast does still have some important things to say to us here today.
          First is a reminder that Jesus took on the “full-experience” of humanity.  Mary and Joseph were observant Jews.  This meant that they were careful to follow the precepts that the Law of Moses had laid out for them.  Thus, they observed the prescribed time of purification after the birth of Jesus (for coming into contact with blood and other bodily fluids made them ritually impure).  Then they brought the infant Jesus to the Temple to be consecrated to the Lord.
          Now, with all of the work that angels were doing up to and immediately after the birth of Jesus, it seems to me that it would have been just as easy for one to send a message to Mary or Joseph (in a dream, perhaps) that it wasn’t necessary for them to fulfill the precepts of the Law for Jesus because he was the Son of God and thus was exempt from them.  That didn’t happen, however; which I think is another example that shows us that Jesus didn’t come to help us escape from all of the trappings of our humanity, but rather to redeem it all: that is, to make all it is that we do and experience in this world profitable for our salvation.  This is why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews can say: “Therefore, [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.”
          Jesus was showing us that it is exactly through our humanity that we will come to our salvation!  In other words, following the way that God has marked out for us is the path to purification and holiness—and, thus, readiness to receive God’s gift of grace—and so we should not be too quick to cast off the rules and guidelines that the Church gives us.  They are the roadmap to our salvation!
          The second thing that this feast reminds us of today is that Jesus reveals himself to those who are lowly.  Notice that in Luke’s account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple it wasn’t the High Priest who recognized Jesus for who he was, but rather an unknown man and a poor widow.  Simeon, we are told, was a righteous and devout man.  “Pious” is another word we could use for him; and by “pious” we don’t mean someone who puts on a “religious show”, but rather someone who truly understands his place and what he was called to do and who, thus, fulfills that duty faithfully.  As a reward for this, we are told, the “Holy Spirit was upon him” and thus he was given the grace to recognize in Jesus the Promised One of the Lord.
          Anna, we are told was a prophetess who, having been widowed at a young age, spent the remainder of her years in the Temple, fasting and praying—that is, offering her life in sacrifice to God.  When she saw the child she, too, was given the grace of recognizing him; and she went off to do the thing that prophetesses do best, she went around telling of the child to “all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”
          Both Anna and Simeon were waiting in anticipation for the Holy One of the Lord: God’s anointed one who would redeem the people of Israel.  In other words, they were living Advent!  And when they saw him, they rejoiced to finally have seen the one that they had long awaited for.  And so, in a way, we celebrate today too another Epiphany!  (Is anyone not confused about what Liturgical Season we are in yet?)  But what a great reminder this is that we ought to be living Advent all year long!  Jesus has come and he will come again, but if we are consumed by our worldly pursuits (even if those pursuits are religious ones), instead of living in anticipation of his coming, then we may miss him when he appears again in our midst.  To do this, we must be lowly: that is, living upright and devout lives, which always have space in them for Jesus, should he appear.
          And that brings us to our last reminder: that only the pure will enter the presence of God.  You know, Mary and Joseph needed to be purified before they entered the Temple.  We, too, need to purify ourselves so as to be ready to stand in God’s presence when he appears.  This purification is the work of Ordinary Time.  It is the hard work brought forth by Christ.  Because to pursue the righteousness brought forth by Jesus is to stand in the refiners fire—the fire which the prophet Malachi spoke of—which purifies precious metals of impurities and makes them fit for their honored uses.  It is a hard work, but it is the work that purifies us and makes us ready to recognize Jesus when he returns.
          And so, perhaps our celebration of this feast today isn’t such an odd coincidence after all.  Perhaps it is exactly the reminder that we needed now that the energy of the new year has died down a bit.  Perhaps, then, we can take this opportunity to give ourselves a fresh perspective on our work of growing in discipleship during Ordinary Time.  If so, then let us not be sad at the work that lies ahead of us, because, as Simeon expressed as he held the infant Jesus, “God’s Word has been fulfilled.”  In other words, our success is guaranteed, for God has said so, as long as we give ourselves to the work.  Let us, then, give ourselves over to this work so that we, too, can proclaim the fulfillment of God’s promises to us, like Simeon did, and also proclaim the joy of having encountered him, like Anna: the encounter we experience in sacrament here in this Eucharist.

Given at Saint Mary Nativity Parish: Joliet, IL – February 1st & 2nd, 2014