Monday, September 24, 2018

Participating in the mission of the Local and Universal Church

          This past weekend was our Missionary Appeal weekend and Monsignor Jerome Feudjio from the diocese of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands made the mission appeal.  He was unable to stay for our 5:30 p.m. Sunday Mass, so I preached this brief homily trying to capture his thoughts.

Homily: 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          When I was a kid back in Joliet, I remember hearing recordings of Bishop Joseph Imesh during mass.  When he had a message that he wanted to get to everyone he would sometimes make a recording and send it out to the parishes to play during the Sunday masses.  Now, I am just old enough to remember Saint Mary Nativity church before its latest renovation and I remember that one of the upgrades that they made in that renovation was to add a sound system with the capacity to play recorded materials like cassette tapes.  (Kids, if you don’t know what a cassette tape is, ask your parents about it after mass.)
          To be honest, I really had no clue who the Bishop was and why he got to have a recording of himself played in the middle of mass, but I do remember thinking that he must have been pretty important for Fr. Stalzer to give up some of his preaching time so we could hear it.  What it did help me realize, however, is that, as Catholics, we are all connected.
          I had heard in the past that one of the complaints about older Catholics is that they couldn’t see beyond the walls of their parish church: that they were too “parochial” and not “universal” enough.  Recent studies have shown that younger Catholics have trended the other direction, giving little attention to their local parish and identifying, rather, with the universal Church and the Pope.  (If you’ve ever heard of a little thing called “World Youth Day” then you know what I’m talking about.)  What gets lost in either case is the fact that we are a part of a diocese, which is under the pastoral care of a bishop, who is a successor to the Apostles, and that our mission as a parish is wholly bound up in the mission of our diocese, which is the mission of our bishop to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to north-central Indiana; and, through that mission, to support the bigger mission of the universal Church.
          A way that we show our support for that mission is through our stewardship both at a parish level—sharing our time, talent, and treasure to support the many ministries in our local community—at the diocesan level (which we do by participating in the Fruitful Harvest campaign), and by our support of the missions—work being done in places where the Gospel still hasn’t been heard by everyone—by clergy and laity who, therefore, have little resources with which to work.
          Monsignor Jerome, the Rector of the Cathedral in the Diocese of Saint Thomas and the Vicar General of the Diocese was here this weekend to speak to us about the ongoing needs of their still relatively young diocese on the Virgin Islands.  Monsignor had to leave early this afternoon to fly to Washington D.C. to meet his bishop, Bishop Bevard, as they are scheduled to meet with the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre tomorrow.  He was disappointed that he could not address you all directly here at this Mass, but I promised him that I would do my best to share his thoughts with you here this evening as he seeks your continued support.
          Monsignor limited his thoughts to two points.  First: to say thanks.  You’ll recall that, last September, two category 5 hurricanes swept through the Carribean, directly hitting a number of U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Monsignor spoke of the great damage that was done (not least of which, the roof of his rectory was destroyed…), but also of how the people of the dioceses in the United States (and our diocese, in particular) responded to provide funds to help supply them with food (as resources and supplies were thin) and the capacity to begin to rebuild.  For this he, on behalf of Bishop Bevard and all the people of the Virgin Islands, is extremely grateful.
          Second: he asks for further help.  While some supply lines have stabilized, Monsignor says that they are still in need of relief help.  The reason?  Instead of running their soup kitchens 5 days a week, as they were before the hurricanes, they are now running them 7 days a week so that some folks can have just even one meal a day.  Along with that, there are still many folks who, when they come for their meal, speak about other needs and, Monsignor relates, they cannot not help them.  Finally, one year removed, their Bishop, Bishop Bevard, is just now beginning to permit parishes to spend money on recovering buildings.  Up until now, Bishop Bevard has focused on supplying the needs of the people in their diocese.  Therefore, in spite of his great thankfulness, Monsignor Jerome needs to ask for our continued financial support so that the work of rebuilding may continue and the Church on the Virgin Islands may continue to grow.
          In our second reading today, the Apostle James tells us of how order is disrupted by selfishness and jealousy.  And in our Gospel reading, we hear Jesus’ famous instruction to his disciples: that those who wish to be acknowledged as greatest among them must be the servants of everyone.  One only needs to look around at society to see that we are becoming increasingly disordered, and at the television election ads to see that jealousy and selfish ambition are alive and well.  By responding to the needs both of those close to us, here in Lafayette and Tippecanoe County, and of those far away, like the people still recovering on the Virgin Islands, we overcome selfishness and jealousy and make ourselves the servants of all: like little children in the eyes of God who have found his favor and, thus, will receive the full riches of his kingdom.
          Therefore, my brothers and sisters, please be generous in supporting the needs of Bishop Bevard, Monsignor Jerome, and the people of the diocese of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands.  Your gift will not only be an act of service to those in need, but will also be an act of thanksgiving for the many blessings that you have received from God; and will prepare you to receive the fullness of blessedness: life eternal with God in heaven.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – September 23, 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Following our Lord to Golgotha

Homily: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
This past week, the 2018 Eucharistic Congress was held in Liverpool, England.  A Eucharistic Congress is an international gathering of clergy, religious, and laity to bear witness to the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  These have been held since the late 1800’s (1881, to be precise) and include talks by international leaders in the Catholic Church focused on fostering and spreading devotion to the Eucharist throughout the world, along with Masses and opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration.  Each Congress concludes with a Eucharistic procession through the streets of the city that is hosting the Congress.  The 2018 Congress in Liverpool was no different.
Typically, this procession is a bit of a triumphal affair: the Congress being gathered to bear witness to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, making a triumphal procession of the Blessed Sacrament through public streets a great expression of that purpose.  This year, however, given the current state of affairs in the Church (in the Western world, at least), the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, who was the host of this year’s Congress, spoke of a much more solemn tone.  Here’s what he told the participants in the procession:
[This Eucharistic Procession] is undertaken in a spirit of “prayer and penance …[without] one iota of pride or triumphalism in our steps… In many ways, ours is a penitential procession for we are focused on Jesus Christ, who we have crucified… Today I come as a beggar seeking forgiveness laying the load, hurt, damage and mistrust we have caused at the foot of the Cross.”
One commentator followed up to this comment and said that “This was to be a procession with only one destination in view: Golgotha.”
When I read that, I thought to myself: “Yes, this must be the sign of our time.  Not defensiveness, not politicking, not damage control, but public acts of humble faith signaling both our recognition that, by our own means, we are unable to fix that which we have broken and our humble yet confident submission to the one through whose mercy is our only hope for recovery.”  When I reflect on our readings for Mass this Sunday, it strikes me that this is exactly what they are inviting us to do.
In our first reading from Isaiah, we hear how he confidently places all of his trust in the Lord—that is, in the word of the Lord that the Lord himself opened his ears to hear—and this in spite of the fact that many come to persecute him and cause him suffering because of it.  He knows that, right or wrong, his only defense is in the Lord and so he refuses to turn to worldly advocates for help: trusting that no worldly advocate can stand up to God.  In our time, the world is coming against us, challenging us to leave the Church because of the sins of its leaders.  We, too, must stand strong in the word that the Lord has opened our ears to hear: “On this rock I have built my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  And, just as the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster has demonstrated for us, let us not seek worldly advocates to defend us in this trial, but our Eucharistic Lord, allowing him to purge from his Church all that is sinful, so that we, too, might stand in confidence before the attacks of the world.
In the Gospel, we see Jesus refusing to receive the accolades of those who recognize him as the Messiah; admitting, rather, his fate to suffer and die at the hands of impious men as the way through which he will conquer sin and death.  He rebukes Peter for thinking in worldly terms—that is, that Christ would need a worldly advocate to save him from any wicked thing that the world could throw at him—and then he demands that all of his disciples follow his example: the path that he is blazing to the Cross and, through it, to eternal life.  We, too, must remember that worldly triumph is not something that we are called to realize.  We are called, rather, to take up our crosses daily—that is, the daily sufferings that we must endure in order to live as authentic Christians in this world—and to follow Christ to Golgotha to be crucified with him so that we might also be raised with him and enjoy eternal life.  Again, the Cardinal Archbishop’s comments are true: that if we are processing with our Lord through public streets in this day, it is to declare that we have taken up our crosses and are following him to the place where his mercy flows out to us, his wounded side on the Cross.
Friends, it seems that we haven’t been doing that as well as we should; and, because of that, many people have been hurt.  I continue to pray that, as the bishops continue to seek to take responsibility for these failures—and as we (yes, we!) continue to strive to bring healing to those who have been hurt—that our bishops will also commit themselves to public acts of humble faith: demonstrating their desire to place themselves and the Church fully under the mercy of God.  We should support them in their efforts by showing them our solidarity through placing ourselves at the mercy of God so that his power might rise up again in us.  And let us not fail to take up our own crosses daily, so that each person with whom we come into contact will see the power of God's mercy working in our lives.  Then we, too, will be able to speak as Isaiah spoke: that "The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced."
Church, sometimes the works that demonstrate your faith are acts of penance, humble acts of faith: like walking in procession behind our Lord to proclaim who it is you will serve.  Let us all seek ways like this to demonstrate our faith—both individually and communally—taking up our crosses each and every day; so that, by placing our lives at the mercy of the all-powerful God, we might find that we have preserved our lives in heaven.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – September 15th & 16th, 2018

Monday, September 10, 2018

Frustration works for our good

Homily: 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
A number of years ago, while I was still in the seminary, I spent time in Guatemala in order to study Spanish and immerse myself in Hispanic culture.  I remember that one of the things that struck me about life in Guatemala was how frustrating it seemed be for the Guatemalan people.  All of the infrastructure things that make our lives here relatively comfortable—things like, good roads, new cars, convenience stores, etc.—are relatively underdeveloped there (if they’re even developed at all).  I imagined that this meant that their daily lives are probably filled with frustrations as they try to accomplish even what I might consider to be the simplest tasks; because, for example, maybe the electricity shut off, or the gas station was out of fuel, or the road washed out in the heavy rain last night.  They, I supposed, are a people very familiar with frustration.
On some level, however, all of us are familiar with frustration in one form or another.  When your pen runs out of ink, or your coupon is expired, or you leave your leftovers on the table at the restaurant… these are all examples of how we experience frustrations even in the smallest things of our daily lives. Now, while this may seem weird, I want to propose to you that all of those frustrations have a purpose.  Yes, a purpose.  Believe it or not, frustrations are meant to be a signal to us that something isn’t right.  In other words, much in the same way that the pain that we feel in our hand when we touch a hot stove has as its purpose to warn us that we are doing something to harm ourselves, so too frustrations have as their purpose to remind us that the world is “out of order”. 
Why do we need to be reminded that the world is “out of order”?  Well, because our souls long for things to be “in order”.  Let’s think about this for a second: if being “out of order” was the way things were supposed to be, then we wouldn’t get frustrated because everything would seem to be just as it ought.  For example, in a world where “out of order” is the way things are supposed to be, if I were to blow out a tire on my car during a trip I wouldn’t get frustrated because I would be able to say to myself “Well, I expected this to happen because that’s how the world works.”  But “out of order” is not the “order” of things, and so we become frustrated when “out of order” things happen.  We instinctively know that “out of order” isn’t right and so we experience discomfort when we encounter it as a sign to remind us that it isn’t right.
And this is so important for us, and here’s why.  You see, when I think about it, I find that there are two basic ways that we deal with frustration: either 1) we confront it and try to overcome it (that is, we try to put back “in order” what is “out of order”) or 2) we resign ourselves to being frustrated and thus give up on trying to overcome it altogether (in other words, we accept that being frustrated with “out of order” is the only way that it can be).  Because there are so many things that are outside of our control in this world, we more often than not deal with frustration in the second way that I described.  The danger of this is that, if we are constantly facing frustrations, we might quickly lose hope that anything really ever could be “in order” again.  This can lead us into apathy, which numbs our sense of frustration, thus causing us to forget that there is an ideal “order” for which we should be striving, and “out of order” becomes the “way things are supposed to be”.
In the first reading, we heard an encouraging proclamation from Isaiah.  In his proclamation he is talking about how God is coming to vindicate his people from their enemies and he is using terms of restoration: that is, of restoring things that are “out of order” so as to put them back “in order”.  In other words, Isaiah is saying that, when God’s vindication comes, things that had been out of order—like eyes that are blind, ears that cannot hear, legs that cannot be used for jumping, and tongues that cannot speak—will be restored to order—for the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, and the mute will speak.  He proclaimed this to them so that they wouldn’t become resigned to accept what they couldn’t change and thus become apathetic to how “out of order” everything was.  In God’s eyes, it was better for the people to have a healthy sense of frustration, for that would keep them longing for the order that he planned to restore for them; and so, would strengthen their faith.
As Christians we know that God sent his Son Jesus to vindicate us from our enemies and thus to restore order to the world; and the stories recorded for us in the Gospels are meant to support this claim.  Today we heard of how Jesus opened the ears of a man who was deaf and of how he freed the tongue of that same man who also had a speech impediment.  This was a sign that Jesus had come to vindicate God’s people as he put back “in order” that which was “out of order” in this man.  When he suffered and died on the cross Jesus made atonement for our sins; and when he rose from the dead he put back “in order” that which was most “out of order” in us: as he restored mankind’s ability to be in communion with God, which is the very reason for which man was created.
Friends, none of you would be surprised if I told you that we are walking around in a world that is still gravely “out of order”; and none of you would be surprised if I told you that the Church has, in many ways, become “out of order”, too: this, in spite of the fact that Jesus left us the Church precisely to be the place in which we might experience the world put back “in order”.  I believe that God is permitting these scandals to come to light so that we might become highly frustrated once again and, therefore, by cooperating with his grace, put things back “in order” in his Church.
If we are going to do so, we have to pay attention to one extremely important thing.  Brothers and sisters, we cannot put the Church back in order if we are walking around deaf to God’s word.  In other words, God’s Church will never be restored to be the sign of a world put back “in order” as long as her members continue to ignore God’s Word—the Logos, the eternal Truth by which “order” is possible.  The “Ten Commandments” are known in the ancient Greek as the Decalogue—literally, the “Ten Words” of God: commands given to us to show us what the world looks like when it is “in order”.  Given the fact that 75% of Americans who identify as Catholic don’t attend Mass on a weekly basis and that a significant percentage of American Catholics have divorced and remarried without an annulment or have married outside of the Church, it should be pretty clear that a great majority of us are walking around deaf to these Ten Words of God.
Thus, the challenge for us is this: Ask Jesus to open your ears to hear these Words and then ask yourselves, “Am I truly (and I mean truly, without excuses) following them?”  If not, we must repent, confess our sins to a priest and receive absolution, and then strive with all our might to order our lives according to these Words once again.  Brothers and sisters, without your striving—without my striving, without Bishop Doherty’s striving, without Pope Francis’ striving—the Church—God's sign of a world “out of order” put back “in order—will continue to be an ineffective one that people ignore.  By our living witnesses, however, (imperfect though they may be) Christ’s power to open ears to hear his word and loosen tongues to proclaim his praise will flow through us; and the world, with all of its frustrations, will begin to look more and more like the kingdom of God: a place of order, harmony, and peace.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid to allow the Holy Spirit to illumine for us all that is “out of order” in us and then to bring those things to Jesus, who will forgive us and restore them to order for us.  And let us hold on to hope: the hope that we have in the fact that Jesus has vindicated us; and that the world of perfect order that our hearts long for—the kingdom of God—will come to us when Jesus himself comes again to make all things new.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – September 9th, 2018

Monday, September 3, 2018

Church thrives through true disciples

Homily: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

          Friends, today our scriptures all point to what it means to be a disciple.  Being here in a “college town” I would guess that most of us have a good sense of what it means to be a student of a particular subject... or even of a particular teacher.  It means that you study, you learn what you can, and you then decide what you are going to do with it.  A disciple is something more, however.  A disciple is one who listens to a teacher and then seeks to apply that teaching to his/her life.  Perhaps an example from my own life.  At one point I was a student of engineering.  I studied engineering and learned the particular aspects of mechanical engineering.  I didn’t become an engineer, however, until I started to apply all that I had learned to my life and work.  In other words, I didn’t become a “disciple” of engineering (as strange as that sounds) until I began to observe what I had heard.  It is in this sense that I see our scriptures speaking of being a disciple.

          In our first reading today, Moses is speaking to the Israelite people who had been wandering through deserted lands for 40 years during their exodus from Egypt.  He is going to remind them of the Law that God had given to him on Mount Sinai many years ago.  Moses knows that he will not cross into the Promised Land with the Israelites and so he urges them to hear and observe the laws that he will give to them so that they might have a prosperous life in the land into which God is leading them.  Moses instructs them that it will not be enough to be a student of these laws—that is, to study and memorize them only—but rather that they must observe them: allowing them to shape and form the way that they live, both as individuals and as a nation.  By this—by being disciples of the Law—Moses said, they will be esteemed as a people: noted as truly wise and intelligent among other nations.

          Our second reading, from the Letter of Saint James, one of the Twelve Apostles, is even more clear.  After reminding his readers that everything good comes from God, he exhorts them to receive humbly the teaching that comes from God; but then he goes further, stating that it isn’t enough to be a student of this teaching, but rather one must also be a “doer”: making it clear that it is not enough to simply acknowledge the importance to serve the poor and remain unstained by the world, but that one must also do it if one is to be considered a true disciple.  This, he said, is the demand of “religion that is pure and undefiled”, meaning “of right praise and worship of God”.  In other words, Saint James is saying that we worship God falsely if we hear God’s word only and do not observe it in our daily lives by conforming our actions to it.

          This teaching, of course, comes to a concrete example in our Gospel reading in which Jesus—always critical of the Scribes and Pharisees—again criticizes them for their misunderstanding of “religion that is pure and undefiled”.  They criticize Jesus’ disciples for not observing the ritual washings which the Law (by their study) demanded of them.  Jesus corrects them by reminding them that the ritual washings are of no value in themselves, but rather only when they act as an outward sign of and inward purification do they have value.  Here, therefore, is an example of people who were trying to observe the law without truly having heard it (that is, without having taken it to heart).  “Religion that is pure and undefiled,” Jesus seems to say, “comes from a heart that is first pure and undefiled.”

          Friends, as all of the events in the news have reminded us, simple observance of the outward rituals is not enough to ensure a religion that is “pure and undefiled”: that is, that one is in right relationship with God.  Rather, one must have allowed the law—that is the word that comes from God—to sink into the deepest part of one’s self and to purify it, before the outward observance will truly become worship.  Every priest and bishop, including myself, has failed in some way to hear and observe fully God’s command.  Some priests and bishops have been grossly negligent to do so, which led them to commit horrible crimes against the very people for whom they were called to care.  These men continued to preach and teach and to fulfill the outward rituals demanded of them—and demanded the same observance from their people—while the deadly sins of greed, lust, and pride defiled their hearts and led them to mar the word of God and the holiness of God’s Church.  Jesus, if he would appear to us again today, would certainly speak much more harshly against them than he did against the Scribes and the Pharisees.

          Therefore, it is understandable if we, for our part, are caught up focusing on the sins of these men as we seek clarity about what has transpired and accountability for those responsible—and if we find ourselves questioning the institution of the Church itself.  I would caution us to remember, however, that the holiness of the Church doesn’t rise and fall based on the holiness (or lack thereof) of any one particular member (even if that member is the Vicar of Christ himself, the Pope!), but rather that it is holy, in and of itself, because Jesus Christ, present within it, is holy and thus makes it so.  Our task is to show that holiness to the world by how well we embody a “religion that is pure and undefiled”, that is, by how well we are disciples.  Blessed Pope Paul VI once said “The world more readily listens to witnesses than to teachers; and if it listens to teachers, it’s because they are first witnesses.”  The great social activist Mahatma Gandhi, when asked why he refused to become Christian said “I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

          Friends, the Church will survive this crisis: the Holy Spirit guarantees that.  The way that it will begin to thrive again, however, is to purge this evil that has embedded itself into its institution, of course, but will also be when its members “humbly welcome the word that has been planted within them” so as to be authentic disciples: doers of the word, not just hearers of it.  In this way—through the apostolic witness of its members—trust in the Church will be built up once again, and more and more of our brothers and sisters will return to this altar of grace to receive the Bread of Life, the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord.

          And so, let us pray today for the grace not to allow these scandals to pull us away from our efforts to be more authentic disciples of Christ, so that the work of restoration—the healing of those who have been so grievously hurt and the building up of the Body of Christ—might begin with us.  May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception and Mother of the Church, guide and protect us by her intercession, so that we might weather this storm and emerge, purified by grace, to enter God’s kingdom of light.

Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – September 1st & 2nd, 2018