Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Greatest Speech of All Time

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

A couple of weeks ago, our nation had the occasion to take note of two of the most memorable speeches in 20th century American history.  As our nation observed Martin Luther King Jr. day January 17th, we recalled, of course, Dr. King’s moving “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he cried out for racial equality and an end to discrimination.  Three days later, was the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address in which he uttered those unforgettable words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

And as powerful and moving and memorable as these two speeches may be, neither they, nor such speeches as Winston Churchill’s “We Will Fight on the Beaches,” Abraham Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address," or, dare I say it, Knute Rockne's "Win one for the Gipper" can begin to approach the beauty, the importance, the magnitude, the influence or the effect of the speech whose opening words we hear in today’s Gospel.

Today, we hear the beginning of the greatest speech in the history of mankind: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  No speech has been more pondered, more influential or more quoted.  And no speech has ever been more revolutionary.

Here, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus completely turns upside down our previous ways of dealing with one another.  Gone are the days of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  Here are the days of “turning the other cheek.”  Gone are the days of “love your neighbor and hate your enemy."  Now are the days of “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Here, in the Sermon on the Mount, we hear the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

Here, in the Sermon on the Mount, we are given what are quite possibly the most frequently recited words in the history of human speech, the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father.” 

And here, in the Sermon on the Mount, we hear its beautiful preamble: today’s Gospel the Beatitudes.  And as Jesus talks about the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, he’s not just talking about us and who he wishes us to be; he’s talking about himself.

The poor in spirit are those who are detached from the things of this world and attached only to God.  Who is more attached to God than the one who is “one in being with the Father”?

Those who mourn are those who show sorrow in the face of sin and compassion in the face of injustice.  Who is more mournful than Jesus in his agony in the garden or he who wept at the death of Lazarus?

The meek are the humble and the selfless.  Who is more meek than he who opened not his mouth but was led like a lamb to the slaughter and gave his life for us?

The merciful are not just those who show pity, but those who show true empathy for another and step into the shoes of another and see with their eyes.  Who is more empathetic to you and I than the one who stepped into our shoes by becoming a man and truly entered the human condition?

The peacemakers are not just those who love peace talk about it, but those who do something about it.  And who in the whole history of the world has done more to make peace than the one who offered his life on the Cross in order to make peace between an all-loving God and a people who rejected that love through sin?

In the beatitudes we hear who we are called to be: poor in spirit, merciful, meek, peacemakers.  And we are shown how to be who we are called to be by looking at the one who is perfectly poor spirit, perfectly merciful, perfectly meek: Jesus Christ.

We become like him because he became like us.  We come to share in his divinity because he humbled himself to share in our humanity.  And we will have the grace and the courage to be insulted and persecuted and have every kind of evil uttered against us for his sake, because he was insulted and persecuted and had every kind of evil uttered against him for our sake.

Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount is the greatest speech of all time.  But to be quite honest, to qualify it as a speech, does not do it justice and is, quite frankly, a rather trite categorization.

The Sermon on the Mount is so much more than just a speech because of who speaks it.  Not a political leader or a great sports figure.  These are the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

It is so much more than a speech because of who it is spoken to.  Not just a nation or a people living in a particular century.  These are words spoken to every single human being in every nation in the whole history of the world.

And it is so much more than a speech because of what it does.  Not just inspiring people of one color to live in harmony with people of another color or asking us to ask what we can do for our country.  These are the words that tell us how to get to Heaven.  Here, Jesus tells us to “enter through the narrow gate”, to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect”, to “ask… seek… and knock.”

These are words that do so much more than amuse or inspire.  These are words that change our very lives.

For the next 6 weeks, from now until Lent, all of our Gospel readings are going to march us through a good portion of the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew.  Let us be like the disciples who climb up the mountain with him.  Let us sit as his feet and be taught by him.  Make the Sermon on the Mount, your own daily spiritual reading for the next 6 weeks and pray with the greatest speech of all time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fishers of the Fishers of Men

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Click here to watch "Fishers of Men."
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One day, very shortly after I arrived here at St. Vincent’s, one of our pastoral associates, Dorothy Schuerman, stopped by my office and said, “Father, we need to schedule a vocations committee meeting.” “Great,” I said, “when do you want to have it?” Dorothy responded, “When do you want to have it? You’re the chairman of the vocations committee.”

So we scheduled and convened a meeting and had some good discussion and planned a few things. One of the things the vocations committee has done, through the help of the Knights of Columbus, is supply me with a few hundred bookmarks to hand out to young men who express interest in the priesthood.

On the back of the bookmark are the words of Jesus that we hear in today’s Gospel, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.”

On the front of the bookmark is nothing. It’s completely blank. It’s just a plain, white bookmark.

That’s because the bookmark is my clerical collar. When a young man tells me he’s thought about or is thinking about the priesthood, I pull this tab from my collar and hand it to him. “Here,” I say, “this is a bookmark for you. And if God is indeed calling you to the priesthood, this can stop being a bookmark and can be your clerical collar.”

Their eyes light up when they get the collar. Some will press it up under their own collar to see what they would look like as a priest.

All of us need to help the young men in our parish see what they would look like as a priest. Helping a young man consider and discern the priesthood is not just the job of your parish priest. And it isn’t the job of a few people on the Vocations Committee. It’s the job of all of us. All of us are on our parish’s Vocations Committee.

The first seminary is your own home and parents are the first seminary professors and spiritual directors. Vocations are born in the homes of faithful Catholics. Now, this doesn’t mean parents have to have doctoral degrees in theology or be great spiritual masters in order for their sons to hear the call to priesthood. However, you do in fact teach the most fundamental building blocks of theology everyday.

The three most important theology lessons you teach your sons are the same first three lessons you taught them when they were babies: how to talk, how to eat, and how to clean up after themselves.

When they were babies, you looked your sons in the eyes and repeated again and again, “Mama… mama… Dada… dada.” You wanted them to know you; to say your name out loud. And what a joy it was when they said it for the very first time, right? You taught them how to talk to their mother and father. Teach them how to talk to their Father in Heaven. Give thanks to God before meals. Say prayers before going to bed. Bless them as they leave the house for the day.

When they were babies, you sat your sons in their high chairs and spooned pureed peas and carrots into their mouths. You wanted them to grow up and grow strong. You taught them how to eat. Teach them to eat the Eucharist. Without Jesus, the Bread of Life, we cannot grow up or grow strong. Make sure they are going to Mass each and every Sunday.

And as they grew a little bit older, you taught your sons how to clean up, how to brush their hair and teeth; how to put away their toys and make their beds. You taught them how to clean up after themselves. Teach them to clean up after themselves by bringing them to Confession. And, when you are there to pick them up and brush them off after they’ve fallen down; when you bandage scrapes and bumps and bruises, and when you show forgiveness for hearts that are sorry, they will know more readily the importance of going to see Jesus in the confessional when the soul is in need of repair.

These are the three most important things a man needs to know in order to discern a vocation to the priesthood: how to talk, how to eat, how to clean up – prayer, the Eucharist and frequent Confession. You see… you parents are the first seminary professors and spiritual directors.

But this is not the task of parents alone. As I said, every single one of us is on the Vocations Committee. Today’s Gospel is not just for those who are being called by Jesus, it’s also for all of us who help young men hear the voice of Jesus. You and I repeat Jesus’ words, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men” when we say to a young man, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?”

Think about this for a moment… and let this idea burn itself into your mind… you might be the very instrument Jesus is trying to use to call a young man to the priesthood. You are the fishers of the fishers of men.

A couple of years ago, the US Bishops put together a very powerful video about priestly vocations called “Fishers of Men.” This video will be shown in our gathering space immediately following this Mass and I strongly encourage you, our parish Vocations Committee, to watch it. You will enjoy this video and you will be touched by it. And it will help you in your vocation as a fisher of the fishers of men.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vocations - God is Calling

Homily from the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord - Year A

When I was 7, our family took a vacation to Washington D.C. We drove 12 hours from South Bend to D.C. These were the days before DVD players in the cars so my family kept me occupied with activity books for those 12 hours.

However, these weren't your regular, run of the mill activity books where you do word searches or crossword puzzles. These activity books had puzzles and games with invisible answers and you had to use a special invisible ink pen to reveal the right answer.

You'd be going through a maze  and you'd scribble your invisible ink pen over the path you wanted to take and if you went the wrong direction you'd reveal a picture of an angry dog that wanted to bite you. If you went in the right direction, you would unveil a pot of gold. Stuff like that.

Our lives are kind of like those activity books. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We don't know the answers to all our questions. We discover God’s will for our lives each and every day. And we do this by using the metaphorical "invisible ink pen" God has given us: the Sacraments, prayer, and being a disciple of Christ.

Now, I could have used a Sharpie and written down whatever I wanted. But then I’d never know the answers that were hidden on the page waiting for me to discover.

Likewise the authentic life is not so much what we choose as it is following what God calls us to.

On this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, in which we celebrate the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, we also begin National Vocations Awareness Week.

Click here to visit
 The word "vocation" comes from the Latin word "vocare" which means "to call." And that's what a vocation is: not something I choose per se, but rather the life God is calling me to live.

We often ask children, "What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to do with your life?" It's a fair question. But the real questions we should be asking is "What does God want you to be when you grow up? What does God want to do with your life?"

For many, it’s a call to the vocation of marriage. For some, it’s a call to the priesthood or religious life. For those who are still awaiting the answer, know this: God is calling you each and every day. You may not know it, but He is preparing you.

I wanted to be an actor. So I took part in every play and musical my school offered. I got very comfortable standing in large groups of people.

I wanted to be the Leprechaun. I got very comfortable at getting people excited about something we had in common: Notre Dame football.

I wanted to be a disc jockey. Got very comfortable listening to the sound of my own voice.

I wanted to be in sales. I got very comfortable discerning the needs of people and offering solutions.

It wasn’t until after all this that I started to grow in my faith and started to pray more, read about my faith, go to confession more regularly and Mass more often than just on Sundays. It wasn’t until long after all this that I realized God had put me in those positions to train me for a particular kind of work in his vineyard.

God will use the good events (as well as the bad), your good qualities (as well as the bad) to shape you in formation for your vocation. You might look at some of the bad events of your life or some of your sinful tendencies and say, "I could never be a priest. I’m too much of a sinner. I’m not worthy."

No one is worthy! I am not worthy to be up here and do what I do. But I'll never forget something Monsignor Bernie Galic our diocesan vocations director said to me when I told him the idea of being a priest was attractive to me but I didn't think I was worthy. "Andrew," he said. "Jesus doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called."

God didn’t call one single saint to be a priest or religious. He called and continues to call sinners to be priests and religious. Just as he calls sinners to the vocation of marriage or the dedicated single life. Then, God makes you a Saint.

The reason why Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was baptized was so that he could stand on the shore with sinners. Jesus didn’t need baptism. But he did it to show us the way to salvation which is through baptism and his cross.

Jesus stands on our shore today, right in our midst. And he calls us sinners to follow him, to discern our vocation, and to begin to uncover his plan for our lives.

I suspect very strongly, that some of you, are being called, right this very moment, by none other than God Himself to the priesthood or religious life. Maybe he wants you to talk to a priest or a sister in the next few weeks. Maybe He’s still preparing you and will urge you to talk to a priest or sister in a year, or 5 years, or 10. Pick up your invisible ink pen – the Sacraments and prayer – and start uncovering God’s vocation for your life.

For more information about discerning a priestly vocation, visit the vocations page for the Dioces of Fort Wayne - South Bend or check out  You can also call Monsignor Bernard Galic, Vocations Director for the Diocese of Fort Wayne - South Bend at 260-622-4491 or Father Andrew at 260-489-3537.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Door of Humility

Homily from the Solemnity of the Epiphany - Year A

There is a Church in Bethlehem, built over the site, where tradition holds, is the spot where Jesus was born: the Church of the Nativity.  If you wish to visit the spot of Christ’s birth, you must first walk through the main entrance.  Unlike the doors of the main entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome which are 25 feet tall, the door of the main entrance of the Church of the Nativity is only about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide.  It was built as a very small entrance in ancient times to keep people from driving their carts or riding their horses into the Church.

These days, the caretakers of the Church of the Nativity don’t really have to worry about people trying to drive carts or ride horses into the Church.  However, the tiny doors still help to keep something else from entering the spot where Jesus was born: our own pride and egos.  Today, the main entrance to the Church is called “The Door of Humility” because when you pass through it, you must bow down to enter.

And when you walk through the Church and approach the main altar, you find beneath the altar a cave.  You descend a flight of steps to enter the cave and on the floor, you see a silver star with an inscription around it which reads: “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.”  Everyday, pilgrims visiting this site will get down on all fours and kiss the spot where Jesus was born.

Whenever we approach Jesus, we must do so with great humility.  This is what the Magi do in today’s Gospel.  The very reason why the Magi travel from the far East to see Jesus, is so they can bow down in humility before him.  The Magi came to King Herod and asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

When we think of the Magi, we often think of the gifts they bring of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  But we often forget about their humility.  Before the Magi offer Jesus their gifts, they offer him their humility.  The Gospel states, “On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

We must approach Jesus with humility because he is, as St. Thomas stated, “Our Lord and our God.”  Jesus is our friend, but he is our Lord and God first.  Before we can approach Jesus as a friend, we must first approach him as our Lord and God.

We approach Jesus in humility because he is our King.  And he is a benevolent King, not a ruthless tyrant.  He, who asks for our humility, is himself a humble king.  In fact, Jesus is humble before we are.  Before the Magi humbled themselves before Jesus, Jesus, who is God, humbled himself by being born as a man.  Born in a cave, into a poor family.  Having as his bed the manger, a feeding trough for animals.

There was a British admiral during the Revolutionary War named Lord Nelson, who was well known for treating his vanquished opponents with the greatest kindness and courtesy.  One time, after one of his great victories, a defeated opponent was brought aboard the deck of Lord Nelson’s flagship.  Knowing Nelson’s reputation for courtesy, the defeated opponent walked briskly across the deck towards Nelson with his hand outstretched to shake hands in friendship.  Nelson’s hand remained at his side and he said, “Your sword first, then your hand.”

Jesus wants us to embrace the virtue of humility so that he can take away our aggression.  And while we may not carry a sword at our side, ready to use against God and neighbor, we do carry a weapon of another sort: our sin.  By humbling ourselves before Jesus, we allow him to disarm us of our sin.

Of course, the ordinary way Jesus disarms us of our sin is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But in a few moments we will demonstrate our humility in another way.  As we approach Jesus in the Eucharist, immediately before stretching out our hands or our tongue to receive Jesus, we offer him a simple bow of the head.  Before I receive Jesus in the Eucharist, I must genuflect before him.  In this simple, yet sincere gesture, we acknowledge that Jesus is our Lord and God.  And in giving himself to us, Jesus welcomes us as his friend.

So, as we approach Jesus in this Eucharist, let us bow down and enter through a door of humility.  With a simple bow of our heads, let us offer Jesus our sword first, then our hand.