On Obligation and Consistency

Yesterday I read an article online titled, “10 Reasons American go to Church — and 9 reasons they don’t.” It wasn’t just for Catholics, but nonetheless as a former journalist and a theologian I found it to be a fascinating read.

One reason included was particularly relevant for today, 31% of go to Church because, “they feel obligated to go.”

Given that the study was for more than just Catholics, and certainly not merely in reference to today’s feast, I suspect that number might be quite a bit higher for those of us gathered here on this holy day of obligation, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This poses for us two questions worthy of consideration:

  1. Why do we as Catholics have these holy days of obligation to begin with?
  2. What’s so special about this particular feast, the Assumption?

The key to understanding both of these questions is consistency, or in other words, as the Gospel tells us this evening, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

So why does the Church have this Holy Day of Obligation? The Church’s mission is help us all get to heaven. So she names these holy days, and has other “rules,” not so she can be some sort of evil controlling dictator, but rather so that she can carry our her mission in helping us get to heaven. In that regard she is being true to herself, true to her mission, she is consistent.

It’s easy for us to get busy, especially this week with school starting up again. Even I as the priest can be tempted to point out that there is the Back to School BBQ tonight and a parish council meeting, and can forget what matters most. It’s easy to get distracted from our faith with a wide variety of things that are going on in our personal lives, in our families, and even in our country or world. So many of us have been talking about how with school starting up we can get back to the regular routine. Even Sunday Mass can become a part of our routine to the point that it can begin to seem somewhat empty. So in having these holy days of obligation, while they may appear to be an inconvenience,  the Church is consistent in her taking times every so often to interrupt our routine, our schedules, our busyness and remind us of the eternal. Thus the holy day of obligation is not so much a burden, but rather a gift, which throws us off and gives us a chance to remember God, a chance to recalibrate our lives and our priorities.

In the end, the reason the Church has these holy days of obligation is so that we can grow closer to God. Interestingly enough, 81% of respondents to that survey said the reason they went to Church was just that, “to grow closer to God.” For those of you wondering 59% go for the sermons, and it was even less for Catholics.

So regardless of our motivations for showing up, how does the feast of the Assumption help us to grow closer to God? Despite the false critiques, we as Catholics do not believe Mary is God.

Rather, there is an old latin phrase which helps us understand today’s feast. Ad Iesum per Mariam. To Jesus through Mary. Mary’s role is to lead us to Christ, to God.

She is consistent in doing just that, leading us to Jesus, from her very Immaculate Conception, until now her Assumption into heaven. We teach that she was Assumed into heaven because it is consistent with her whole life, conceived and lived in purity, without sin, and pointing us to Christ. She was immaculately conceived, so that her body could give life to Jesus. Throughout her life, she is always accompanying Jesus, and leading us to him. Now as she is assumed into heaven, she once again points to where he is now, where we ought to want to go.

Even today, she brings us here in her name, so that we can receive her Son in the Eucharist. Not just because obligated to do so by the Church, but rather because we want to be closer to God. She wants us to be closer to God. There is no closer we can be to him than to literally receive him into our bodies in the Eucharist. So instead of being inconvenienced or obligated out of guilt this day, we rejoice that we have a Church who is consistent in her teaching in helping us get to heaven and Mary who is consistent in bringing us closer to Christ. Ad Iesum per Mariam.

On Imitating God

grass sport game match
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After the World Cup there was a video going on around on facebook of a young soccer team. The players were all young children, less than 10 years old I’d guess. The coach has them all line up and then start dribbling a ball. After a few seconds he yells out, “Neymar!” And all the players immediately fall to the ground and grab either their knee or ankle and start crying.

They say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

It’s in our human nature for all of us, since we were very little. As little children we try to imitate our parents. Then of course the parents are mortified when a child begins imitating a particular bad habit, only to realize where said child learned that language or behavior. Outside of this Neymar joke, kids constantly try to imitate their favorite athletes, whether it’s a particular batting stance, or the latest dunk. As adults, in our workplaces we look up to certain leaders and try to imitate their practices. The list goes on and on.

Today St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we are to, “Imitate God.” What? How is that possible? How can you or I, limited as human beings, imitate God? We are sinners, we are broken, how can we possibly imitate God?

It starts right here. At this Altar. With the Eucharist, the, “living bread that came down from heaven.” The only way for us to become imitators of God is for us first to be transformed by God himself. Receiving this Bread of Life is meant to change us. It gives us the grace, the strength and courage we don’t have on our own, so that we might truly become capable of imitating God in every aspect of our life.

But after we receive the Eucharist, how are we to go about imitating God? St. Paul tells us that first we must remove, “all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling.” And that then it must be replaced with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. He then goes even further by encouraging us to, “live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us, as a sacrificial offering to God.”

If we want to be imitators of God, then we are called to imitate his sacrificial love for us. In the Eucharist we receive his body, which he gave up for us on the Cross. Christ’s death on the Cross was the greatest act of sacrificial love ever. When it transforms us, then we become capable of imitating and living that same kind of sacrificial love.

This sacrificial love is not the love of good feelings. It’s not the love where you do something for someone else because it makes you feel good inside or later they will do something else for you. Rather, it is sacrificial because it is completely for the other, not concerned at all with oneself.

So in your homes, when you are tired, frustrated or annoyed, but your husband, wife, child, parent or sibling need your help, do it out of sacrificial love. Don’t make excuses, complain or expect anything in return. Love them by offering yourself in service to them. In that way you will be able to imitate God in your home.

Then when you leave your home and go out into your neighborhoods, places of work and schools, keep living that sacrificial love for others around you by helping those in need without counting the cost or worrying about what’s in it for me.

It’s easy to make excuses about why we aren’t good enough, we have our own problems, we are broken and limited too, why whatever little help we can offer won’t be enough etc. That’s why we receive the great gift of the Eucharist transform us into being capable of imitating God through sacrificial love.

Why should we even bother trying to be imitators of God?

The most direct answer is that St. Paul tells us to do so, but I know you’re probably wanting something more.

Beyond St. Paul’s command, we can return to our Gospel for more answers.

Firstly, we are called to imitate God in order for the salvation of our own souls. Christ tells us that we who believe, we who receive this living bread from heaven, we who imitate God, will have eternal life, will live forever.

Secondly, we imitate God in order to evangelize. To draw others to God. In the Gospel, the Jews couldn’t recognize Jesus as God. How many people in our community and society today fail to recognize God? It can be so difficult for any number of reasons. Our job is to be imitators of God through sacrificial love, so that others may come to know God too. When others see true, authentic acts of sacrificial love, it is attractive, it draws them into the mystery of God. This isn’t just my job as the priest. I can’t possibly be everywhere at once. This task of evangelization is on all of you to carry out, as imitators of God, in your homes, neighborhoods, the store, school and work.

We spend so much time imitating others. In sports, school, work, dance, play etc. Do we also spend time imitating God? It’s not easy, but God gives us the great gift of his very son to us in the Eucharist so that we might be made capable of imitating his same sacrificial love. By imitating God in this way we can enjoy eternal life, and hopefully, draw others to God as well.

 

On Chairs, Gucci Bags, and the Eucharist

green wooden chair on white surface
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When I taught high school I used to have the students bring in news articles about the topic of the week. The week on the Eucharist, one student brought in an article about Eucharistic miracles. The article spoke about the historical miracles, such as Orvieto, but also contemporary cases under scientific study.

This led one student to proclaim, “Whoa! If that happened in front of me, I would totally believe! It would be the only thing I would ever want! Like I would go to Mass every day!”

She reminds me of the disciples in today’s Gospel, who after having been present at the feeding of the 5,000 turn to Jesus and ask, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?”

I told her, “but it has happened in front of you! At every Mass the bread and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ. And these other miracles have happened, they’re real, what difference does it make if they happened in front of you or not”

This of course led the class collectively to point out that, “yeah, but at your Masses it doesn’t turn into the actual Body and Blood of Christ, like in the miracles, it still tastes and looks like bread and wine.”

Ahh. Good. Now we are getting somewhere. They had correctly pointed out one of the biggest mysteries and most difficult things to understand about our faith. One that many of us wrestle with our entire lives.

Now to help, I want us all to engage in a little exercise. Don’t worry! It’s not physical. I want you all to think of a chair. Perhaps this morning in your house you sat a chair in the kitchen at breakfast. Perhaps you went out to lunch and you might have sat in a low chair or a high chair. Maybe you’re aiming for or have already earned the proverbial corner office, with it matching big chair. At school you have different kind of chairs too. Kindergartners sit in smaller ones than the seniors. Maybe in your tv room you have a favorite chair? When we go outside we have folding chairs. Those of you at least as old as me remember those really hot chairs at Cardinals games at Old Busch when they still had astroturf, they were so hot you could fry an egg, or yourself in them? I suppose at Royals games you could actually fry an egg, because they seats are empty!”

Anyway, so many different kinds of chairs. Some are made of wood, metal, plastic. Some have cloth cushions, others don’t. They come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors. But all of them have something in common, their, “chairness.” While they might have different attributes or qualities, none of them is more or less of a chair. It’s not more or less of a chair because it’s at the Cardinals or the Royal stadium, you might get to enjoy a better product at one, but the chairs are equal in their “chairness.” You can even change or modify some of those characteristics, for instance, add a cushion, paint it a different color, re-stain the wood on an old chair from the thrift store, reupholster a chair, add wheels etc. No matter what, the “chairness” doesn’t go away.

When it comes to Mass, and the changing of bread and wine, the big word, transubstantiation, it’s the opposite. The characteristics of the bread and wine, its color, shape and taste, don’t change. Rather its “breadness” or its “wineness” change into the Body and Blood of Christ.

So what? Why does that even matter? Why does the Church insist on this teaching and make such a fuss about it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just say that it’s symbol or a reminder of Jesus’ body and blood? It seems like a lot of extra hassle for the Church, like she could just save her time and focus on something else instead.

After further discussion, the same girl who made statement about the Eucharistic miracles added, “wait so the reason the Church teaches it’s not just a symbol, but the real deal, the body and blood of Jesus is because that would be like me wanting a knock off instead of a real Gucci bag?”

While I’ll admit it wasn’t the analogy or explanation that first came to my head, I was left to agree with the student.

At every Mass the priest, repeating the words of Christ at the Last Supper says, “Do this in memory of me.” He doesn’t say, do a knock off of this in memory of me, or do a symbol of this in memory of me. He says, do THIS in memory of me. When the Apostles heard those words, they in the early Church began do just this, the Mass, what we are doing right now. There are accounts from the time of the formation of the Bible describing the Mass, with all of the same elements we have today. So when they heard Christ say those words, this is how they understood them, this is how the Church has carried them on through the years.

Furthermore, in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to seek after the food of eternal life, not a symbol or a knock off, the store-brand imitation of that food, but THE food of eternal life.

At the end of the Gospel he says, I AM the bread of life. Again, not a symbol of me or a knock off of me, but I AM. That is why it matters that the Church continue to teach this hard and difficult mystery.  In the Gospel Jesus tells us that the he will give us this food of eternal life. The Church is continuing the mission of Christ on Earth by bringing us his body and blood.

I am not pretending that it’s easy to understand, grasp or believe. In fact if you think about it, almost all of the recorded Eucharistic miracles took place when the priest had doubts about the true presence. It’s a challenge for us as individuals, but a gift that Church continues to provide nonetheless.

So each time we come to this altar it is an opportunity to enter deeper into that great mystery of the Eucharist, in that way to grow in relationship with God. He doesn’t give us anything less than his very self, so that we may have eternal life. Every time we approach this altar it’s an opportunity for us to be nourished by the bread of life, to strive for the food of eternal life.

How Do I Talk to My Kids About Why We Make the Sign of the Cross?

Earlier this year I teamed up with Peanut Butter & Grace to launch a new series for Catholic parents, “Brick by Brick with Fr. Brooke.”

In the series I attempt to help parents teach the Catholic faith to their children.

In the fourth episode I wrestle with the following question:

How Do I Talk to My Kids About Why We Make the Sign of the Cross?

Here’s the video answer:

Here’s an accompanying article I wrote as well.

It’s still a new project, so it will take time to grow and develop. If you found this answer useful, please consider sharing the video.

In case you missed one, check out this page to see all of the episodes together.

On Giving Thanks

bread in brown wicker basket
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My freshman year of college I signed up for a brand new Bible study at the Newman Center. It was me and an seven or so seniors. They all graduated, so by default, I was the leader my sophomore year. At first we had a few people showing up, but pretty quickly it was just me and this freshman girl who I didn’t know at the time. The whole year it went on like that, the door was always open, it was in the bulletin, Facebook, E-Mails, Mass announcements, and so on but the rest of the year, no one else ever showed up.

From the outside this program looked like a flop, a failure. In the first year there were only eight students, and now it was already down to just two. It wasn’t going anywhere, so you might as well just give up and shut it down. There didn’t seem to be any point in continuing the program.

That would be the same kind of response as that of the Apostles in today’s Gospel. They look out at the starving crowd and only see the negative. Too many people. Not enough food. Not enough money. They are focused on the problem. All they say was problem, problem, problem.

Then the entire story hinges on just one key word. Gave Thanks. After Jesus gave thanks. Everything changed, no longer is there a problem, but now there was an abundance of food and all were satisfied. The entire Gospel story shifted because Jesus gave thanks.

The Campus Minister at Mizzou didn’t take the perspective of the Apostles and only focus on the negative, the problem that the bible study was seemingly fizzing out. Instead she was grateful that we at least had the program at all. So she didn’t shut it down. Like Jesus, she had gratitude, and it changed everything. You see 7 years later, I was ordained a priest and that other freshmen girl made her first vows as a nun. Pretty good percentage. Numbers like that get you in the Hall of Fame. But it gets even better, this year, now 10 years later, there are over 300 students participating in multiple small group bible studies. Think about it. If she had the perspective of the Apostles, maybe she would have shut it down when there was just two of us, and those 300 students wouldn’t even be doing a Bible study this year, growing in their faith.

What are the so-called “problems” or “failures” or where things just aren’t going the way you want in your life? Where are you only able to see the negative? The lack of possibilities for change or growth? Today’s Gospel is a challenge, or rather an invitation for us to examine our attitude. Where is there more room for gratitude?

Yes, change is difficult. Giving thanks is not an instant guarantee of growth and success. But the ability to look at a situation or “problem” in your life a little differently, with a little more gratitude might just be the breakthrough you’ve been waiting for.

Ultimately the challenge is for each of us to examine our lives to figure out what part of our life we need to look at differently, where there is more room for gratitude. Maybe it’s a relationship with a friend or coworker, or maybe even in your own home.

To the kids here, sometimes it seems like Mom and Dad are only here to boss you around with chores. Do this. Do that. Do this. Or tell you no. No tablet, No video games etc. So the challenge is to be grateful to God that you have parents, for all that they do and that they love you.

Likewise to the parents, raising children can present it’s challenges, it’s not easy. Negatively one can be tempted to see that as a burden. Instead be grateful for your children and strive to see them as a sign of God’s love.

But how do we go about cultivating this gratitude? Where or to whom am I supposed to direct this gratitude?

When we’re talking about developing gratitude here, we’re not talking about your garden variety Hallmark card “don’t take things for granted,” kind of gratitude. We all know after some tragedy or traumatic experience we say, “I won’t take things for granted any more,” but two weeks later we’re back to normal.  No, this giving thanks has a direction. Like Jesus in the Gospel, it’s about giving thanks to someone, to God. But just how do we go about giving thanks to God?

You might have noticed earlier I mentioned the entire Gospel passage hinges on just one word, but then I said “Gave Thanks.” So you’re probably thinking, “Wow, our new priest can’t even count to two.” Fear not! For while in English it is two words, Gave Thanks. In the original language, Greek, it is just one word. Eucharist.

That’s it, that’s the key. That’s the hinge. Just as in the Gospel, Eucharist was the hinge between problems and blessings, so too it is the same for you and for me.

We come here and we learn to give thanks to God in his house. We give him thanks for the greatest gift we can ever receive, the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, present in the Eucharist. We allow this act of giving thanks to God to transform us, so that when we go back out into the world we can continue to develop gratitude in our lives.

No, this doesn’t make the Eucharist some sort of magic pill that guarantees happiness and success. We still face immense struggles and challenges in our lives. Rather it is here that we cultivate an attitude of gratitude in giving thanks to God so that we can more easily give thanks to him in every other aspect of our lives. This way we can face the challenges that come and even get rid of the negative attitudes, like those of the Apostles, that hold us back from growing and flourishing. That way a failing Bible study of two college students who didn’t know a thing can turn into 300. Who knows what areas of your life can grow and be transformed by just learning to change perspective and giving thanks?

Immaculate Conception Church
July 29, 2018 A.D. – 17 Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

*As always these homily texts are representative, as I deliver my homilies without text or notes, and naturally there are variations from Mass to Mass.

On Enmity

As always these homily texts are representative, as I deliver my homilies without text or notes.

white and red structure photo during day time
The Quad at Mizzou / Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

November 24, 2007. The day Mizzou beat Kansas to become #1 in the country. The greatest sporting event I’ve ever had the privilege of attending. The next day a bunch of friends and I piled into a car to drive back to campus in Columbia. One of these friends admitted that when she was in Kansas she wasn’t sure if she should have gotten out of her car in her Mizzou sweatshirt when filling up for gas. Whether or not to show off or to be afraid for her safety. This sparked a great debate amongst us. It was decided that I as the lone legacy, a third generation Tiger, should consult a higher source. My father. When we called he simply asked, “Why is she even filling up with gas in Kansas?”

Today’s second reading includes a word we don’t hear often in the Bible and certainly not in our everyday speech. Enmity. It means being hostile towards one another, it is the opposite of being friends, enemies, anti-friends, if you will. I think it’s fair to say there’s a good deal of enmity between Mizzou and KU.

That enmity is nothing new. The MU-KU rivalry doesn’t own enmity. We first hear the word used in Genesis. When God says that as a consequence of original sin, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” So we see that it’s something that’s been around for a long time.

It’s so easy to look around and see how divisive our current climate or society has become. There is so much division, so much enmity.

We could take the defeatist attitude and say that enmity will never go away, and that since none of us are perfect, our broken and flawed humanity will allow it to continue. In contrast, the question arises of what we are called to do as Catholic Christians?

Do we continue to perpetuate that enmity, division and hostility? How easy it is to go on Facebook or twitter and get sucked into an angry debate that solves absolutely nothing and just gets you even angrier and creates more division. I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand up for the Gospels, I’m just asking can we do so in way that doesn’t promote enmity. Perhaps even worse, unfriending someone just because they think differently than you. That’s right, now because they think differently than you, you don’t even want to know what they ate for dinner last night. Even off social media, the way that we hold onto grudges at work, or even in our own homes and families, allows for enmity to grow. Think about those small things that over time become giant wedges and separations, keeping us apart.

A few years after that famous Mizzou-KU game, I was moving into my dorm at Conception Seminary College. At the time everything that I owned was black and gold. (Now I just stick to the black). I noticed as went back and forth from my room to my car that everything the guy next me was unloading was blue… Eventually we looked at each other with fear and dared to ask the question, “Did you go to Kansas? Did you go to Mizzou?” So we sat down and talked and we had remarkably similar stories. We were both high school athletes, we both wanted to be sports reporters. So much was the same except for that one, very important detail.

We said, “Look, I’ve pretty much been raised to hate your guts. But I recognize we are both here for the same reason. To discern our call to the priesthood and follow Christ. So we can spend the next two years hating each other, or we can help each other to grow.” So we came to an agreement, “Only on game-days!” By the grace of God, Six years later we were both ordained priests, in part because of our support of one another.

When St. Paul uses the word enmity in today’s second reading, he doesn’t use it the same way as it’s used in Genesis. So instead of God placing enmity between us, Paul says that Christ has come to tear down the walls of enmity and to bring peace. This is why Christ is called the New Adam, because he destroys, he undoes, the enmity brought about by Adam and Eve in Genesis.

Christ came to take away enmity, so we could have peace. How are we living up to that standard? Certainly none of us are perfect and the enmity will persist, but shouldn’t we be striving to get rid of it from our lives and promote peace on social media, in society, our workplaces and our homes? Is there a grudge with a friend or family member we’ve been holding onto for too long? Christ died on the cross so we can let go. Or do we let enmity continue? We are called to promote peace, not enmity. But how?

The easy answer is, “Don’t do it!” Yet we all know that’s easier said than done. St. Paul tells us that it is through the Cross that Christ destroys enmity. When we gather here at the Altar, we gather at the Cross. Perhaps in the Eucharist today you might find the courage and the strength to tear down the walls of enmity that exist in your life. For Paul tells us that it is by flesh that the dividing wall of enmity is torn down. That same flesh we receive in the Eucharist. Have the courage to seek reconciliation and peace. The Eucharist can give you the courage you need to pick up the phone and call that person you’ve been avoiding for so long. Likewise, it can give you the strength to resist the temptation to dive into an argument on Facebook the next time the temptation arises. It’s why Christ died on the Cross. I know you may think that the wounds are too deep, the grudges held too long, the divisions too wide. Remember God’s love is infinitely greater than any enmity that we place between one another. Anything is possible for God. He even got a Mizzou and KU fan to get along and follow the call to the priesthood.

How Do I Talk to My Kids About the Church and Politics?

Recently I teamed up with Peanut Butter & Grace to launch a new series for Catholic parents, “Brick by Brick with Fr. Brooke.”

In the series I attempt to help parents teach the Catholic faith to their children.

In the third episode last month I wrestled with the following question:

How Do I Talk to My Kids About the Church and Politics?

Here’s the video answer:

Here’s an accompanying article I wrote as well.

It’s still a new project, so it will take time to grow and develop. If you found this answer useful, please consider sharing the video. It’s also on Facebook, FYI.

CNS Examination of Conscience for Graduates

accomplishment ceremony education graduation
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Earlier this spring I wrote another column for Catholic News Service. This time it wasn’t so much of a column or reflection, but rather a guide for prayer and reflection. It is meant to specifically guide recent graduates (from high school or college) through there experiences of transition and to understand the role their faith life and God play during those moments.

Check it out here via the Diocese of Wilmington’s newspaper, The Dialog.

Examination of conscience for graduates