Sunday, November 28, 2010

Don't Snooze Through Advent

Homily from the 1st Sunday of Advent - Year A

Before entering seminary, I worked in advertising.  One of my clients was a home security system company and one of the employees told me an interesting fact: over 90% of alarm systems are installed after a house’s 1st break-in.  Most people don't think about security until after their security is violated.

If you’ve ever had your house broken into, you know how sickening a feeling it is.  A few years ago, my dad asked me to check on his house and bring in the mail while he was on vacation.  One day I drove up and saw that the front door was busted open.  The lock had been broken, pieces of the door were splintered off and laying on the floor.  Then I went upstairs and one of my dad’s file cabinets was pulled open and documents were thrown everywhere.

A burglary like that can leave you with a very foolish feeling and you find yourself making "If only" statements: “If I had only picked up the mail everyday.”  “If I had only gotten an alarm system.”  “If I had only deadbolted the door.”

Today we are cautioned to be awake and alert for Jesus’ coming.  Don’t be caught off guard.  Jesus likens the surprise of his arrival to the unexpectedness of a burglary.  If the master of the house had known when the burglar was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into.

Every Advent when we think of the coming of Jesus, we tend to think of his coming at Christmas  But this is only his 1st coming.  Today’s Gospel warns us to be prepared for the 2nd coming of Jesus at the end of time.

We should be prepared to meet the Lord as though he could come at any moment.  Because that’s precisely how he will come – at any moment.  He could walk through that door right now.  Are we ready to meet him?

One way we can be prepared to meet the Lord at any given moment is to begin the day with a spirit and attitude of readiness for the Lord. One of my favorite Saints is St. JoseMaria Escriva who espoused something called the heroic minute. The heroic minute is that moment you wake up in the morning. And instead of hitting the snooze button, you wake up and get out of bed immediately, ready to serve the Lord and dedicate the day to him.

St. JoseMaria Escriva says, as soon as we wake up we should say the word, “Serviam” which is Latin for “I will serve!”  Now, I have to admit, when I woke up this morning, I didn't shout "Serviam!" with glee.  It was more of a mumble.  One of my spiritual directors once told me that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who say, "Good morning Lord!"  And those who say, "Oh God, it's morning!"  I'm definitely in the latter category.

Does the heroic minute sound too simple? Try doing it for all of Advent.  Begin each day, ready to serve the Lord.  St. JoseMaria Escriva says of failing to get up right away and hitting the snooze button: “Why allow the first challenge you face to be a defeat!”  The heroic minute is a simple, yet tough, discipline in which we make ourselves ready for Christ at the beginning of each day can imbue in us a spirit of being ready for him in every moment.

Another way we should prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.   Miss Wolf, our 7th and 8th grade teacher put it perfectly in religion class this past week.  She asked her students if there were having any family and friends over for the holidays.  They all said yes.  Then she asked them what they do to get ready.  They said they needed to clean and decorate the house.

We need to do the same thing too.  Because Jesus is coming.
And lastly, if we desire to be judged well by Jesus – if we wish to enter into his kingdom, then perhaps we would do well to follow the path of one who is already there: the Saints.  Read what they’ve written, get to know them.  Jesus has friends – and he wants us to be friends with his friends.  Jesus’ friends are the Saints.  We should be friends with them today by reading their works. 

Just a few suggestions: “The Interior Castle” by St. Theresa of Avila.  “The Autobiography of St. Therese of Liseux.”  “Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales.  “The Way” by St. JoseMaria Escriva.

Let this Advent be a time of real renewal - real preparation for meeting the Lord - both this Christmas and at the end of time.  Don’t let this Advent pass you by.  Don’t hit the snooze button and sleep through it.  Let us heed the words of St. Paul from our second reading: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. The night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

You Will be Hated... and Loved

Homily from the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Every summer, the seminarians get together for a week of rest and relaxation at Lake Wawasee before heading back to the seminary.  And one of my friends Drew Curry (who is now Father Drew, associate pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Fort Wayne) and I were sitting on the patio, enjoying the sun, looking at the lake; and Fr. Drew came up with a crazy idea.

“We should go on a pilgrimage,” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “Where would you like to go?”
“We should go on pilgrimage right here in our diocese,” he said.

I was confused. “A pilgrimage to our own diocese?  Can't we go to Rome instead?  They have spaghetti in Rome!  Spaghetti is good."

“Well,” he said. “People go on pilgrimages all the time to holy sites. Our diocese is a holy site.”  Plus, that year was the 150th anniversary of our diocese.

I was still confused. “How do you propose we go on pilgrimage to the place we already are?” I asked.

Then Fr. Drew dropped the bomb: “We should walk from St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.”

And that’s what we did. About 20 seminarians and other men from the diocese walked from South Bend to Fort Wayne.  We left in shorts, t-shirts, our best walking shoes, a hat to protect us from the summer heat and canteens to quench our thirst. 

Some nights we slept in church basements. Other nights, parishoners from the churches we visited that day would take us in and let us use their shower, fix us dinner and give us a bed to sleep in.  We started each day with Mass, we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and a Rosary along the way, and we set aside an hour each day for sacred silence. 

We even had a minibus travel along with us that carried a few provisions as well as a trailer that carried the most important necessity of our trip: the Port-a-Potty.

And as we walked for nine days from South Bend to Fort Wayne, we all took turns carrying a processional cross and a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It was Jesus who lead us on our journey and we, along with Mary our Mother, followed.

Something interesting happened on that first day. 

We were walking through Mishawaka, making our way to the day’s destination: the convent of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration where we would have dinner with the sisters and stay for the night.  And as we were walking down a street in Mishawaka, a car drove past us coming from the opposite direction. And when the driver caught sight of us, he slowed down and stared.  Then, after he had passed us, he made a U-turn and pulled up alongside us.

He asked me, “What are you guys doing?”

I answered, “We’re seminarians for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and we’re on a pilgrimage to our Cathedral in Fort Wayne.”

“Why are you doing that?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “It’s the 150th anniversary of our diocese and we’re praying for all the people of our diocese and for vocations too.”

He stared for a moment. Then he said, “Well, that’s a lot of hatred you’re spreading around.”

I was stunned. I certainly didn’t see this coming.

Then he said, “Don’t you know the Catholic Church is responsible for pretty much all the evil in the world?”

It was at that point that I realized this was going to be a quick conversation that wasn’t going to go very far.

“Well sir,” I said. “I disagree with you. You’re wrong.  God bless you and I have to go.” Then I continued with the group.

Now, my walking away wasn’t exactly the most impressive defense of the Catholic Church.

As I thought about it as the day went on, I thought maybe I should have engaged the guy in a little debate and stood up for the Church.  But to be quite honest, I was a little concerned for my safety.  This guy was clearly angry and looked a little disturbed.  I doubt there was much I could have said to change his mind.

Then it occurred to me... this guy stopped to confront us for one reason and one reason only: because we were following Jesus.  Had we not had the crucifix leading us, we would have looked like any other group of guys walking down the street.

But we were following Jesus.  And this guy hated us because we were witnesses to our Catholic faith.

There are people in this world who hate you because you are Catholic.  And sadly, there are people in this world who hate Jesus and his Church.

We shouldn’t be the least bit surprised because Jesus warned us that this would be the case.  Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, that before the end times come, we will be hated.  “They will seize you and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.  You will even be handed over,” Jesus says, “by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  You will be hated by all because of my name.”

The persecution of Christians isn’t something that went out of style with the closing of the Coliseum. Recently, a group linked to al-Qaida stormed the Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq and gunned down 58 Catholics including 2 priests  This happened just 2 weeks ago.

Here in America, the persecution of Catholics may not be as dramatic as in Iraq, but it still happens.  It's much more sublte and sneakier.  We are persecuted in the political arena for our beliefs.  We are mocked on late-night television shows.  And, unfortunately, we sometimes attack ourselves through indifference to our faith and its teachings

But persecution is fertile ground for courageous witness  Do you remember how patriotic the country was after 9/11? Every house on the block was flying the American flag

As disciples of Christ, when the Body of Christ comes under attack, we must respond with courageous witness.  And the end result of persecution is not destruction and death.  It is, as Jesus tells us, an opportunity for witness.  "It will lead us to giving witness... but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

Something interesting happened on the last day of our pilgrimage too.

As we were taking our final steps towards Fort Wayne, a car drove past us coming from the opposite direction. And when the driver caught sight of us, she slowed down and stared.  Then, after she had passed us, she made a U-turn and pulled up alongside us.  Without saying a word, the driver handed us grocery bags filled with Gatorade, fruit and sandwiches.

And as this kind woman drove away, it occurred to me, in the same way it had occurred to me on that first day of the pilgrimage: this woman showed charity to us for one reason and one reason only...because we were following Jesus.

Had we not had the crucifix leading us, we would have looked like any other group of guys walking down the street.

But we were following Jesus.

And this woman loved us because we were witnesses to our Catholic faith.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In Order to Form a More Perfect Union

Homily from the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

Our readings today correspond with the fact that we’re coming to the end of the liturgical year.  In just a couple of weeks, we’ll begin a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent.  And as we come to the end of this year, we hear about the last things: such as death, the resurrection and life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us some very interesting things about the life we have to look forward to in the Kingdom.

The Sadducees were a group of people who did not believe in the resurrection.  They thought Jesus’ preaching about the resurrection was ridiculous.  So, they wanted to prove him wrong with a logical argument.  They asked, if a woman marries 7 different brothers, whose wife will she be?  You’ll remember that the Gospel pointed out that according to the law of Moses, if a husband dies, leaving a wife childless, the brother of that husband would take the woman as his wife and raise up children for his brother.

Jesus tells the Sadducees, you’ve got it all wrong.  “The children of this age marry and remarry…”  But for those who are resurrected, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage.”

So Jesus is telling us, there is no marriage between husbands and wives in Heaven.  Why?  Why would such a beautiful union not exist in the Kingdom of God?  The reason is this: We have marriage, here on earth, “in order to form a more perfect union” if you will, in Heaven.

Our destiny, if and when we reach the Kingdom of Heaven, is perfect union with God, and all the Saints, and one another.  So, God has given us the institution and Sacrament of Marriage, to get us ready for that union.  It’s God saying to husbands and wives, “I want you to get ready for union with me, by entering into union with one another as husband and wife.”

The vocation of marriage, the union of man and woman, is a sign that points to our union with God.  It’s like a sign we see on the side of the road as we’re driving to our vacation destination that reads “Florida – 500 Miles.”  We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.

Now there’s another vocation that points to the union that awaits us in Heaven: the vocation of celibacy; the vocation of priesthood and the religious life and the dedicated single life.  Those who are called by God, and voluntarily choose, to forego marriage as a sign of their dedication to God.

Jesus talked about this vocation too.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says there are those who voluntarily forego marriage, “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”  And since, as Jesus says, there is no marriage in Heaven, these celibate people, reveal what life will be like in Heaven.

Marriage is a life of exclusive love: between one man and one woman as husband and wife.

Celibacy is a life of inclusive love in which the priest, the sister or the brother imitates the life of Christ who gave his entire life and love, not just to one, but to all.

The celibate man or woman lives today, here on Earth, how we will all live one day in Heaven.  And, to continue my analogy from earlier: if the vocation of marriage is a sign of our future union in Heaven, like a sign that says “Florida – 500 miles”, then celibacy is like a Floridian who is living right here in Indiana.  The celibate man or woman: the priest, sister, brother or dedicated single person, says, “I want to be a living example right now, here on Earth, of what citizenship in Heaven will be like.”  A life and a love given to all.

Tonight, our teens will get to meet a number of these “Floridians living in Indiana.”  The Franciscan Brothers Minor and Franciscan Sisters Minor of Fort Wayne and the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration of Mishawaka will be here to talk about their vocations as celibates for the kingdom of heaven.  And I encourage every one of our teens to come back to St. Vincent’s tonight at 5, to learn about their lives.

If these two vocations, the vocation of marriage and the celibate vocation, are preparations for our life in Heaven, we, who have discerned our vocations, have to ask ourselves: what is the “state of our unions”?  How do my spouse and I prepare each other for union with God?

And if you are still discerning which of these two vocations God is calling you to, you have to ask yourself: how am I living today in preparation for my future spouse?

If these questions stir you to move in the faith, then I encourage you to attend "Catholicism Revealed" here at St. Vincent de Paul where, for the next three Monday evenings, November 8th, 15th, and 22nd, at 6:30PM, we will explore Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body.  Our first speaker is Dr. Perry Cahall, professor of Theology of the Body at the Pontifical College Josephinum, where many of our seminarians currently study for the priesthood.