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.

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 we eagerly await God’s salvation?

As with all my homilies, this is a representative text of the homily I gave this weekend. Unlike a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t as happy with this one at first, so there was some more “tweaking” from Mass to Mass. Thankfully, as a priest, I get to deliver the same homily a few times every weekend, so there’s an opportunity to improve as the weekend goes along.

When my sister and I were growing up we would always call to find out when Dad was coming home from work. Then when we heard the garage door open, we knew he was home and would go running to greet him. We were eagerly awaiting his return. I hope that’s the case for many of you here as well. That you children here greet your parents when they come home and show they you love them.

What’s funny or ironic is that it’s not that long before the tables are turned and the roles are reversed. At some point it’s not the children waiting for mom or dad to come home, but rather mom or dad staying up late at night for their child to come, eagerly awaiting their return.

There’s lots of things we wait for all the time. This past week many of you demonstrated with all the celebrations that you’d been eagerly waiting another Royals championship for 30 years…imagine being a Cubs fan!

See there’s lots of things, maybe some of you are eagerly awaiting the new Star Wars movie next month.

Then of course, there’s Advent, which starts in a few weeks, a whole season in which we will be eagerly awaiting the Birth of Jesus.

Today’s second reading also reminds us there is something else we should be eager for…our salvation.

Hmm. We should be eager for our salvation. Unlike everything else I’ve mentioned, it seems a little harder to be eager for our salvation. We know how to be eager for all of those other things I mentioned, but how can we possible express our eagerness for our salvation? What does that look like? How do we express that eagerness?

Let me start by clearing up two extremes it is not.

First of all it is not taking a sort of doomsday approach where we are so preoccupied, think we must spend 24/7 looked in a cell praying, afraid of the world to the point we become paralyzed. Nor is it the opposite end where we say, well, the life’s short, so I might as well live it up, do what I want, with whom I want, when I want and where I want. Just do whatever, live without any consequences, because, “it doesn’t really matter.”

No, our eager awaiting of God’s salvation is somewhere in the middle. What’s missing from both extremes is an understanding of responsibility.

If we leave everything behind to go hide in awaiting God’s second coming, we leave behind our responsibilities. That’s because if you want to eagerly await God’s salvation, we do so by attending to our responsibilities. If you take the other approach it’s a life where there are no worries and no responsibilities are met either.

See if we ask ourselves the question, “How am I eagerly awaiting God’s salvation?” We start to overthink it too much, come up with all sorts of different ideas. But the path is right in front of us.

So to the children here, do we help out in the house? Do we do our chores? What about our homework? How do we treat our classmates in school?

Parents – Do we help our children when they need help? Or would we rather attend to our own needs? Do we bother to pass on our faith to our children? Make sure they are taught values and responsibilities? Or would we rather just forget about it all, do something else fun.

And fulfilling our duties and obligations when it’s easy or convenient isn’t enough. We also have to do it when it’s difficult. Listen to today’s gospel, the rich men give from their surplus, when it’s easy. But the poor widow gives from her livelihood, when it’s tough. So we too must fulfill our responsibilities not only when it’s easy, but also when it’s tough.

So doing the chores when they are easy, or because there is some obvious reward, that’s not eagerly anticipating one’s salvation. Maybe after mom or dad asks you do to something, before going back to playing your video games, you can ask, “Is there anything else I can do to help?” So if you’ve taken the trash out, you ask, “Is there anything else I can do to help?” Maybe you have to set the table, it takes two minutes, maybe she lets you go have fun. Just ask.

Parents, do we click over to the next episode on Netflix, or do you go spend time with your child? Ask them how their day went? Help them with homework or whatever else it is they need help with, even when we’re tired and would rather have some “me time.”

Another example we have here with us today is our soccer team. After Friday’s loss, and everything that happened, you didn’t give in and quit. It was difficult yes, painful, yes. But you all rebounded and gave it your all to claim 3rd place.

Why does this all matter? How does fulfilling our responsibilities help us eagerly anticipate our salvation? Because it helps us keep a proper perspective.

We have to keep the big picture in mind as we fulfill these responsibilities. That is to say we don’t freak out when we fail, and give up. No we keep trying. Nor do we seek to fulfill the responsibilities just for themselves. So we don’t just do our homework because it will get us a good grade and into a better college. No, we do it because it makes us a better person. We don’t just play sports to win championships but because they teach values, teamwork and responsibility, they make us better people. We help our children because we love them and want what’s best for them.

Perspective reminds us that at the end of the day what matters most is not what grades we get, how many goals we score, how many games we’ve won, how much money we make or whether we got the promotion or not. We will be judged on our ability to receive God’s love and our love to share it with others.

Just as we eagerly await so many good things in our life, we too must strive to keep perspective by fulfilling our responsibilities, not only when it’s easy, but also when it’s tough. In that way we will truly, eagerly, await God’s salvation.

Curing the wounds of mourning – All Souls Day

Yesterday evening we hosted a community wide (that is all 3 parishes combined) prayer service for all those who have passed away from within our Catholic community in the past year. The families of the deceased were invited to come and participate as well. We had a nice turnout. As a part of the service, I preached a short homily in both English and Spanish, as the entire service was bilingual given that we had people from both cultures present. Here’s what I had to say to them, more or less.

Our current worldview or cultural perspective tells us that death should be something clean, sterile, and kept at a distance. We try to remove ourselves from death. Yet all of us are here tonight because we know that’s not true. We know that death is real. The pain and hurts we feel are real. The wounds we feel in our hearts are not clear and sterile, but rough and dirty. So what do we do with this real pain, this real hurt?

Pope Francis tells us that the Church is to be a field hospital for the weak and suffering. But who is the Church? What’s she made up of? It’s no accident that yesterday we celebrated All Saints day, and today, All Souls Day. This reminds us of the three-fold make up of the Church. It’s not just us here gathered together. There’s us here on Earth, the souls in purgatory and the Saints in heaven. In our time of weakness and suffering we ask the saints to intercede before God on our behalf. We pray for the souls in purgatory, that they too may experience the glory of God.

The world tells us death is the end. That we are now separated from our loved ones. In the Church we believe that’s not true! Death is not the end, but a new beginning. We are not separated at all, but rather are united in prayer and love. In this way, the whole Church, us, the souls in purgatory and the saints, united by our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior, can become the field hospital which cures our painful wounds brought about by mourning the loss of a loved one. For we are not separated, but are united through prayer and love.

Is your goal to be a saint?

As promised here’s my homily from this past weekend on the Feast of All Saints. As always, I do not use a text during the actual delivery of the homily. With several Masses in a weekend, there’s always some variation, but this text is certainly representative if not a 100% verbatim of what I said at any given Mass.

Who are your heroes? Who are the people you look up to in your life? Who do you admire? There are so many people that we look up, that we consider our heroes. They come from so many different places. We have our favorite athletes, musicians, artists, actors and actresses. Then are various political and business leaders both from history and the past. We also have many fictional characters from books, movies and tales that we consider heroes. If they are from comics, then we even call them superheroes. I imagine many of our young people here dressed up as some of these figures last night for Halloween.

Yet, we don’t all wear the same costume every year. If nothing else, they won’t fit anymore after a few years. Beyond that, our interests change, we grow up. The music we listen to at one age is not what we are listening to 10 years later. We no longer care about our favorite superheroes. We read new books, learn more. Our favorite players get traded away and retire. I know after my sister’s favorite players got traded from the Cardinals I gave her a list of who could and couldn’t be her favorite player, lest they be traded too. For various reasons, these heroes don’t endure, they don’t last for ever.

Last week I was talking with a young mother and somehow Elvis came up in conversation. Her daughter asked, “Who’s Elvis?” Then we said, “A famous singer from a long time ago.” She replied, “Oh so like the 80’s?” See folks, even the great Elvis doesn’t endure!

This phenomenon has been true throughout history. In 1521 the great St. Ignatius of Loyola was a young soldier when he was injured in the battle of Pamplona. He was forced to stay in bed for months as he recovered. He didn’t have Netflix, so he couldn’t binge watch his favorite TV shows. Instead he read books. So he read all the tales of Knights and Ladies, Wars, Kings, Queens etc. Then finally once he had finished all of those, he began reading a book on the lives of the Saints. What he found was that when he read their stories, they left a burning feeling in his heart which endured. The stories of knights would pass, but the saints endured. So it should be for us as well.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints. We remember not just the saints whose names we know, who get their own feast day, today we remember ALL the saints in heaven. They remind us that we are all called to be saints. Not only is it a call, it should be our goal. Yes we set goals in life like wanting a good job, family etc. But do we have the goal of being a saint? It should be the first and foremost goal of our lives. St. John Paul II and Vatican II both talked about a “universal call to holiness.” This means we are all called to be saints.

But what does being a saint look like? How does one become a saint? St. Francis de Sales writes that this does not just mean praying in the Church several times a day. He says to a mother who is busy raising children, “that is your path to holiness!” “That’s how you’ll become a saint! Through loving your children and being a good mother! That’s how!”

How do we know the right way for us to become a saint? How do we go about realizing our goal of being a saint? I could stay here for hours talking about many different ideas, but for today, I’ll stick with just two words.

The first is discernment.

When we hear this word in the Church, we often associate it with young men and women who are considering a call to the priesthood or religious life.  We turn it into a noun and say, “oh I hear she’s a discerner, or he’s a discerner,” as if it’s some sort of dirty word. Just because I was ordained a priest 4 month’s ago does not mean I’m done discerning. To discern is to include God in our decision making process, in this sense we are all meant to discern, and we never stop our entire lives. We tell children to think before they speak and act, but what about praying before we act? What about including God in those decisions.

This week the Church holds national vocations awareness week. To the young people here, I simply encourage you to consider a vocation to the priesthood and religious life. Another rule we teach children is to look both ways before you cross the street. So this must be true for discernment as well, that is to consider all the signs around you, to include God in our decisions, before we step out into the street. In a particular way with vocations, do we only look the way of marriage, just assuming that’s for us? Or do we at least look the other way and consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life? It doesn’t hurt to look! In fact if you do, maybe you’ll find that’s the way for you. If you don’t look then you might miss something. So we must begin by including God in the little decisions of our everyday lives so that we can make the big decision about being married, a priest or religious.

However, it’s not enough to just say we will discern if we want to be saints. We also need fidelity. We need to be faithful. That is to say, God, I’m going to include you in my decisions, but I’m going to make mistakes. However, I’m not going to let those mistakes turn me away from you. I’m going to keep you trying, I’ll never give up. Sometimes we get this idea that the saints were somehow perfect in their lives. No! They were sinners too, they sat in the pews or celebrated Mass just like you and me. But they were faithful, and they always kept trying to be saints.

While our heroes may come and go, the example of the saints endures for us as a reminder that we too are called to be saints. If we discern more, include God in the decisions of our lives, and remain faithful to him, despite our failings, then we can strive to realize our goal, our goal to become a saint.

On the Mass as sacrifice, not entertainment.

Here’s my homily from this weekend. As always, I type (most of) my homilies out, then memorize them and deliver them without anything in front of me. Thus there are a few variations from Mass to Mass. I think these texts are certainly wholly representative if not 100% verbatim what I said in the actual delivery.

While I was gone I had the chance to catch up with many friends. Many would ask about my new assignment. One of the things I consistently mentioned was how much fun I’ve been having working in the school.

So this week when I got back I made sure to get back to the school as well. There was one class I still had not been able to visit with, so they were wanting to get to know me a little bit. One of them asked me, “Father, if you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring?” We all laughed but then I answered the question.

I told him, “bread, wine and a chalice.” Once they all figured out the reason I had suggested those items was so that I could offer Mass, this raised another question.

“but father, you’d be alone…who would you offer Mass for? No one would be there.”

Bingo. Great question!

Listen to St. Paul today, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.”

So whether I’m on a deserted island, or here with all of you, there is something in common, the Mass is offered to God. Not to you or to me. It is offered for your sins and mine. But what matters most is not who is or isn’t here. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a million people with Pope Francis in Philadelphia, or a priest on a deserted island, Mass is offered to God.

This is why the priest used to face the other direction when celebrating Mass. Often people say, “when the priest turned his back on people.” I don’t like that because it makes it seem like the priest doesn’t care about the people. No, it’s because he’s leading the people to God. Note, this homily is not about saying that’s how we should celebrate Mass, it’s about the fact that Mass is always about God.

What’s behind the question, “Well father, what if there’s no one there?” is an assumption that makes me not a priest but an entertainer. I’m sorry folks but I’m not here to entertain you. I’m not seeking a grammy, a tony or an oscar. If want to be entertained, go home. Turn on the radio or the television. Go to a game or a concert. I am not an entertainer, nor is the Mass to be entertainment.

This is why there a big fat book with a fancy title, Roman Missal, not missile. Because the Mass is not about me, nor is it about you. It’s about him. It’s not my Mass, nor your Mass. It’s Christ’s Mass. Through his Church he has passed down these texts and rituals. It it was mine or yours, we could make it up, and we’d be out of here in half an hour. Instead we follow the Missal. It’s not some sort of secret recipe book, where if we just do this or that, then poof, magic happens. No, it helps us to stay focused on Christ. If we start changing it around, or making it up, then it becomes about us, the Missal keeps us going in the right direction, towards God. If we start changing it, it is not longer Christ’s Mass, but ours. It becomes entertainment not worship and sacrifice.

If it’s not entertainment, then what is the Mass? It’s a sacrifice. Maybe when you hear that word you think of some weird cult in the woods, or historically of indigenous groups. But what sacrifice is the Mass about? It’s the sacrifice of the Cross.

In every Mass, we enter into that very same sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. That’s a big deal! It’s crazy! Not only does God send his only Son for the forgiveness of sins, but he even invites us to enter into that same sacrifice. That’s why the priest says, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

When I was in college some friends of mine and I were invited to a party. When we got there, the host was smoking a brisket. My friends said, “hey you’re on the BBQ team, you should go help.” So I did. Then I realized what a jerk I had been. Here I was invited to this guy’s house, telling him what to do. So why should it be any different with God?

Back to the original question, “why offer Mass without any people on a deserted island?”

If Mass is entering a sacrifice and not entertainment, then it is about glorifying God. But God already has everything. He doesn’t need our glory. But we need him. That’s why we come to Mass, and we bring to this sacrifice all our doubts, fears, worries, struggles, failures, weaknesses and sins. We place them before God and say, “I can’t do this on my own.”

It’s hard to do that if Mass is entertainment. We are too busy wanting to receive, to be entertained to enter into the sacrifice.

Just because Mass is so special and unique, unlike anything else we do with our lives does not mean that it belongs in some secret or special corner of our lives. If we really believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist. If we really believe that the celebration of Mass is entering into his sacrifice on the Cross. If we really believe that Jesus died for our sins, then that should transform us. It should change the way we think, the way we see, the way we speak, the way we act. That’s why at the end of Mass, the priest says, “Go Forth!” not “hang out a while and do nothing.” But to do that we must come to Mass, not to be entertained, but to enter into the sacrifice of Christ’s love poured out for us upon the Cross, so that love will transform us.