Why is it that so often we only notice the negative in others? We miss the goodness right before us. When we look in the mirror we only see our problems, our defects, we miss that we are beloved children of God.
N.B. – I gave this homily twice this morning, while this recording comes from the version at Immaculate Conception Church, I also gave one very similar (added Instagram reference) at Helias Catholic High School.
This past week when I was visiting classes I noticed that the students are getting to the point in the quarter where they are beginning to take tests and quizzes. Gone are the fun days of August and handball, now it’s time to get to work. In many ways that dynamic is mirrored in Mark’s Gospel today. Last week we heard about Jesus healing and performing miracles. That’s the fun part, everybody loves a good miracle. Today, along the road, things get more difficult, Jesus gives the apostles a, “pop quiz.”
First there is the “multiple choice” part of the quiz. “Who do people say that I am? John the Baptist? Elijah? One of the Prophets? The Christ? Well it looks like Peter did a pretty good job with the multiple choice, he manages an “A” on that part of the quiz. However, on the second part of the quiz, the “short answer” part, he doesn’t do so well. But instead of writing, “F+” at the top of his paper, Jesus writes, “Get behind me Satan!”
Joking with the analogy aside, what does the story reveal to us about our relationship and knowledge with Jesus? By getting the multiple choice right, but not the short answer, he shows us that we all still have more to learn. As my favorite philosopher and theologian says, for every light of knowledge we gain into Christ, there is still an infinitely greater darkness. It’s true for all of us. We all have more to learn about Christ.
In terms of how to learn more about Christ, Jesus gives us a little clue later in the Gospel. He warns Peter that he was thinking “not as God thinks, but as human beings do.” Note, he doesn’t say “not as God memorizes, but as human beings do.” He says, “thinks.” This is why we must do more than just memorize the decades of the Rosary, the Commandments, the Sacraments, and the Beatitudes etc. We must learn to think deeper about these issues.
This is why when I taught high school I told the students, I don’t just want you to learn what the Church teaches, though I obviously want that, I really want you to learn how the Church thinks. I don’t want it to be well Fr. So-and-so said this, but Fr. So-and-So said that. I want you to be able to know what the Church says, and how the Church thinks. This is why they were so excited when I told them on the first day of class I would give them the final exam question. Every student, even me last year, wants to know what’s going to be on the exam. So they were thrilled when I told them I would give it to them up front. Then I told them, their exam would be just one question, “Connect the dots.” In other words, demonstrate how the Church thinks about these different issues and how they are connected by a common reasoning, a consistent way of thinking.
When adults heard about the class, they said they wanted to take it too. So in Columbia I launched an adult education class. I’m happy to announce that starting next month on October 15th, I’ll be launching the class here at IC in Jeff City, “The Church in the Modern World: Foundations of Faith.” This way you too can learn a little more about how to, “think as God thinks, not as humans do.” To that end, don’t worry, you’re not going to have to sit there and listen to me talk for an hour and a half.
For the first half hour or so, we will open up the floor for questions. It won’t be Q & A, but rather Q & Q. That is continuously asking more questions as we attempt to delve deeper into the issues, kind of like peeling back the layers on an onion. In the second half hour, I will present a summary of different Church texts, so you can see what the Church actually teaches about these issues, and not what someone says the Church teaches. In the last half hour, we’ll reopen the discussion to see how the first two parts work together, how it is that the Church attempts to answer some of the questions raised, how the Church thinks about these different issues.
This time around I’m doing seven weeks called, “Foundations of Faith,” with topics or issues chosen together with our parish education commission. In the Winter and Spring, I’ll open it up to everyone to help pick out the topics.
I want to conclude by way of a little bit of a preview of sorts, as the topic the first week will be “Faith and Reason.” I’ve been talking about learning to think, “not as God does, but as human beings do.” It’s important that in hearing that line we don’t create a false dichotomy where on one side there is how God thinks, and on the opposing side, how human beings think. Rather, we believe that human reason is a good. Furthermore, that it is a gift from God. So it isn’t about rejecting reason in the name of God, but rather allowing God, and faith rather to be infused with our reason. To allow them to elevate our reason to its fullest potential. In that way, while we like Peter, may not know everything, passing the multiple choice, but not the short answer, may begin start thinking as God does and not as human beings do.
A few weeks ago I told our students that in order to “Set an Example” they had to first follow the example of the Cross. Today as we celebrated the Feast of Exaltation of the Cross, I reminded them that the Cross isn’t just a symbol, it’s real. Just as their need to set an example isn’t an idea, but something to be lived.
Have you ever found yourself during Mass wondering what something means as you listen to the Scriptures? Perhaps something the priest mentioned in a homily was unclear? Maybe you know you’re Catholic but you’re not sure why the Church teaches what she does on a number of pressing and important issues? Perhaps you want to be better able to explain to your friends what you and the Church believe? Or maybe you’re just curious.
Thankfully there is a solution arriving here in Jefferson City, Mo. Beginning on October 15, 2018, I will be offering an adult education, faith formation, catechesis, class, seminar, whatever you want to call it, and you are most welcome to attend. The classes will begin at 6:30 PM and will be held in Kertz Hall at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
The course will be geared towards adults, that is anyone 18 & older.
I am titling the course, “The Church in the Modern World.” That is both a reference to Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, as well as something broad enough for us to cover a wide variety of topics across different sessions.
I will be offering a six week session this fall. In the future, I plan to offer more 6-10 week sessions. Each of the sessions will be based on a particular theme as requested by those attending the class. Click here to see some potential future topics.
For this initial session I consulted our parish education commission and came up with the theme, “Foundations of Faith.” Our class topics will be:
October 15: Faith & Reason
October 22: Faith & Science
October 29: Revelation
November 12: Origins of Sacred Scripture
November 19: Scripture & Tradition
November 26: Jesus
December 7: Mary (N.B. – This is on a Friday as a part of the parish Advent Soup Supper)
It will not be a linear course in the sense it will not be necessary to attend every week, you can come and go as you please. I will also post readings and resources on this web site, though it will not be necessary to review them beforehand. Even if you can’t make it a given week, you’ll still have access to all of the resources found at this hub.
I look forward to seeing you on October 15th, let me know if you have any questions. Please help me spread the word. Below is a printable flyer you can print.
If you already know you want more information, click here, to send me an e-mail, and I’ll add you to the e-mail list.
We need to continue to do some form of penance on Friday’s because it reminds us of both our sinfulness and that Christ died on the Cross for those sins. This isn’t just during Lent, but all year long.
When we face our own sinfulness, failures, shortcomings etc. we can sometimes feel unworthy for Christ, so we want him to depart, to be far away from us. In actuality, it should be the exact opposite. We need to follow him because we are sinful, because we need his grace and his mercy. We need him not to depart, but to be close. He is close in the Eucharist.
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?
Tell me the story of the holiest person you’ve ever met
It’s not an easy question, because I believe I’ve been blessed to meet so many people from all over the world who are quite holy. It was so hard to chose just one, but at the end of the day I had to “trust my gut.” So in trusting my gut, I don’t intend to speak ill or lesser of anyone else, but rather to highlight some of the most intense expressions of holiness I have experienced.
To me this person is Sr. Loreci. She is a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who, if I was allowed, I would have chosen as a whole group. They are my dear friends, but they also challenge and inspire me to more fully live out my vocation everyday.
I first met Sr. Loreci when I spent the summer doing missionary work in Albania. Sr. Loreci, originally from Brazil, worked as the head nurse in their health clinic. I served as her assistance and pharmacist, or on a second trip, deacon. I have told many stories about Sr. Loreci in my homilies over the years all around the world, from Rome, to Connecticut.
What in my gut leads me to name Sr. Loreci? In short it’s her capacity to integrate her prayer life with her apostolic work in the face of great injustice and suffering, all while still maintaining a cheerful disposition.
A few stories to bring that bold statement to life (warning – some of them are medically gross):
In her examination room in the clinic, she did not have the typical posters of human anatomy you might find the doctor’s office. Instead she had an image of Christ on the cross. While carefully removing bugs from holes in a man’s infected feet, she invited him to look up at the image of Christ crucified and to unite his sufferings to Christ, even going to the detail of pointing to the nail through Christ’s feet. This encouraging patients to understand their pain through the suffering of Christ was a daily practice. It was a beautiful way for her to care not only for their physical wounds, but also their spiritual ones.
The day before my second visit to Albania, Sr. Loreci had suffered a great tragedy. Back home in Brazil two men broke into her sister’s home and killed her brother in law, in cold blood, in front of his children, her nieces and nephews. Now I don’t know about all of you, but if that was me, I’d be pretty angry and would want come back and at least comfort my sister, if not go after the guys who did it. But what did Sr. Loreci do, she got up in the morning, prayed morning prayer, went to Mass, and then off to the homes, to imitate Christ. She wasn’t superhuman or immune to suffering from this terrible incident, there was time for mourning and sadness too, but the faithfulness in her response to keep doing what she was called to do in that moment remains so inspiring to me.
Then there is story that tops them all. I’m not sure words can ever do it justice, but I’ll try.
One morning we received a phone call at the health clinic. We were told that this man’s cousin, 33 years old was suffering from extreme internal and external burns as a result of an electrical accident. He was so badly burned, he could not come to the clinic. So we went to his house. When we arrived the man was lying in bed in only a pair of boxers as his entire body from shoulders to toes was covered in third degree burns. Most would want to turn and run away at the sight. It was truly horrific. His vocal cords were damaged so you could see his neck strain, and his toes curl, as if he was crying out in pain, but no noise came out. Instead of turning away from such suffering, Sr. Loreci went right to work, so carefully tending to each and every single one of his wounds. We ended up there for hours.
I sat at the end of the bed attempting poorly to console the mother of the man, his wife and his little daughter. As I noticed the most profound wound on this man was on his torso near the heart, it occurred to me that as I sat at his feet, with his mother, it was like being gathered at scene of the crucifixion. Furthermore, I was watching this sister, an Apostle of the Sacred Heart, curing the gash in his side. His accident was only made possible by the economic injustices and poverty present in his country.
That evening, after we had returned home and made our evening holy hour, after dinner I asked Sr. Loreci a question, “Sister, how do you do it everyday?” She looked at me and said, “If it weren’t for Jesus, I couldn’t do anything.” More specifically, she added, “If it weren’t for Christ in the Eucharist, I couldn’t do anything.”
That level of integration between the sacraments, the spiritual life, and service is holiness to me. It’s what I want. What I strive for. It’s what I’ve seen in others as well, but perhaps most concretely in Sr. Loreci. So for now, that’s the story of the holiest person I’ve ever met.
What about you? Feel free to write you own post and join the link up. Don’t forget the hashtag #HolyPeople, and to link to Liz’s post.