Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jesus Hands Us the Holy Spirit

Homily from the 6th Sunday of Easter - Year A

Many years ago, a mother, wanting to encourage her young son’s interest in the piano, took her boy to a concert by the great Polish pianist, Padarewski.  After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend a few rows away and walked down the aisle to say hello.  While she was gone, the son noticed a door with a sign on it that read "No Admittance."  Imagine the mother's horror, when she returned to her seat to find her young boy missing.  Imagine her further horror when the theater lights dimmed, and the curtain opened, and the spotlight focused on the grand Steinway piano, where there sat her little boy who began to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”  As you can imagine, she, and in fact the whole audience reacted with surprise.  The little boy, noticing he was somewhere he probably shouldn’t be started to panic.  It was just then that the great Padarewski came on stage, walked up behind the boy and whispered in his ear, “Don’t stop.  Keep going.”  Then, leaning over, Padarewski reached down with his left hand and began playing a bass part.  Then his right arm reached around to the other side of the boy and he added a running arpeggio.  Together, the great Padarewski and this little boy, turned a very simple tune (and a very frightening situation) into a brilliant masterpiece to which the audience roared in applause.

That’s the way the Holy Spirit works. He is our great helper, our counselor.  In the Gospel today, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “advocate.”  The word “advocate” is a legal term that means “one who pleads the cause of another.”  The Holy Spirit pleads our cause to God the Father.

You might wonder, “Why do we need our cause pleaded? Why do we need an advocate?”  The reason why we need an advocate is because we have an accuser.  In the book of Revelation, we hear about our accuser: “the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.”

Who is the accuser?  The Jews of Christ’s time had a word for accuser – Satan.  Satan is the accuser who tries to tell us that our sins make us incapable of going to the Father for forgiveness.  The Holy Spirit is the advocate who tells us that our sins make it absolutely necessary to go to the Father for forgiveness and that the Father will indeed forgive us.

Now the Holy Spirit is not going to say, “You’re perfect. You’ve done nothing wrong.” The Spirit of Truth cannot perjure Himself before God.  The Holy Spirit is not going to say, “There’s no need to feel sorry for your sins. God loves you no matter what.”  God does love us no matter what. He also loves us too much to let us remain in sin.  So the Father gives us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth to be our advocate.

And the Spirit of Truth might point out our sins to us.  But He does so in a way that leads us into light, unlike Satan the accuser who points out our sins to lead us into darkness.

It’s kind of like this: have you ever heard your mother or father or spouse say the following: “Come on, you’re better than that”?  That’s how the Advocate speaks to us – pointing us towards our better selves, our true selves.

The accuser on the other hand says, “You’re worthless. There’s nothing good about you. The Father doesn’t want to have anything to do with you. Just run and hide.”

You’re not worthless. God doesn’t make junk.

You want to know how much you are worth.  Look at the Cross.  That’s the price God paid for you.

The Advocate, the Spirit of Truth is with us always.  And He comes to us sort of how like Padarewski came to the little boy.  Padarewski put his hands over the boy and began to play a masterpiece.  The Holy Spirit comes to us through the laying on of hands as well.

At the baptism of infants, the Holy Spirit is called down upon the child as the priest lays hands on the baby’s head.  And he does this immediately after saying the prayer of exorcism in which he casts out the accuser and prays for the washing away of Original Sin.

The Holy Spirit is called down during the Eucharistic Prayer as the priest lays his hands down over gifts of bread and wine.

The Holy Spirit is called down to bring spiritual healing to the sick when a priest lays his hands upon an ill person in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

The Holy Spirit who was sent for the forgiveness of sins is called down upon the penitent in confession when the priest extends his hands over them.

And of course, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is given in the Sacrament of Confirmation, when the bishop marks our foreheads with Sacred Chrism and places his hands on our heads saying, “Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

This is what we just heard about in the first reading.  When Peter and John visit the newly baptized in Samaria, “they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Think about this, that same Holy Spirit, that Peter and John handed on to the Samarians has come to you through the laying on of hands.  Peter and John and the other Apostles laid hands on their successors, and those men laid hands on their successors, and so on and so on, to the present day, to the present bishops of the world, who lay hands on the present priests of the world, who lay hands on you.

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth has traveled over 2,000 years through time and halfway around the globe; to be your Advocate, to plead your cause before God the Father, to cast out Satan the accuser, and to remain with you forever.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Familiar Voice of the Good Shepherd

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Easter - World Day of Prayer for Vocations - Year A 

Deacon Ben Muhlenkamp
Our diocese has great reason to celebrate today.  This weekend at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend, two men from our diocese were ordained transitional deacons.  And in one year, they will be ordained priests.

Some of you might know one in particular, Ben Muhlenkamp.  Ben was assigned to St. Vincent’s last summer.  And he spent many years involved in our LifeTeen program as a teen and serving on the Core Team. 
Ben, and our other brand new deacon, Jacob Meyer, discovered God’s will for their lives, their vocation, by listening to the familiar voice of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Deacon Jacob Meyer
Deacons Ben and Jacob, as well as Deacons Matt and Tink Coonan, who will be ordained priests on June 11th, and Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick and Mr. Jerry Kohrman, two men from our parish who will be ordained permanent deacons, listened carefully to the familiar voice of Jesus.

They heard the familiar voice of Jesus here in the Church.  They heard his voice by receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist and Reconciliation.  They heard his voice through prayer and the reading of Sacred Scripture.  They heard his voice in the time they spent in youth groups such as LifeTeen.

And these men also heard the familiar voice of Jesus in their homes during times of family prayer.  And through the Christian example of their parents.

More men from our parish continue to listen to the familiar voice of Christ the Shepherd.  Next year, God willing, Chris Lapp will be ordained a deacon.  And we continue to pray for the other men from our parish who are discerning the priesthood: Matt Soberalski, Joe Trout, Spenser St. Louis and David Huenick.

We must continue to pray for them every day.  And we must pray for more men to follow in their footsteps.  And, we need to pray that the young women from our parish will consider becoming a religious sister.

Today, the Church throughout the world is celebrating the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  And I would encourage all of you to make a visit to our Blessed Sacrament Chapel tomorrow/today to pray for vocations.  The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed until 6PM Sunday.

And I would especially encourage young people who think God may be calling them to a vocation to the priesthood or religious life to make a visit.  If you don’t have a driver’s license yet, tell mom and dad you’d like to visit the chapel to pray for your vocation.  Better yet, parents, ask your children if they’ve ever thought about becoming a priest or sister, and then you bring them here to pray for their vocation.

I will often ask your sons and daughters if they are going to be a priest or a sister.  I’ll say, “Joe, are you going to be a priest?’  You know what answer they give most often? “I don’t know.”  And I say, “Perfect answer.”

They don’t know… yet.  And the beauty of their answer is that it reveals that they’re not closed to the vocation of being a priest or a sister.

I remember one year at the Youth Mass and Rally at the March for Life in Washington D.C., Cardinal Wuerl asked if there were any young men our there who have ever considered the priesthood to please stand.  Likewise, he asked if there were any young ladies who were thinking about becoming a sister to please stand.  And when these dozens and dozens of young, high school men and women stood, the place went nuts with applause.

We need to encourage very strongly our sons and daughters who are thinking about being priests and sisters.  We should support them with so much love and encouragement that they would feel no shame to tell someone they are thinking about being a priest or a sister.

We need to get priesthood and the religious life on the radar of our young people.  Because the familiar voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is trying to speak to them.

However, we know all too well that there is a lot of noise in the world that is trying to drown out the voice of Christ.  In the Gospel today, Jesus speaks about the voices of strangers who try to lead us away from him.

What are these strange voices?  I think the loudest voice out there that is drowning out the voice of Christ is the super-abundant excess of media and entertainment.  Our ears are filled with iPod buds, our eyes are glued to Facebook and our fingers and constantly twitching out text after text after text.

Now I’m not saying these things are all bad.  I have an iPod and I text.

And the Pope himself said we should use social networking sites like Facebook to evangelize and connect with one another.  But internet connections can never replace the face to face connection of another human being.  And iPods can never substitute for the still, small voice of Jesus who is calling out to you in moments of silent prayer.

There is no sweeter sound on this earth than the familiar voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who calls out to us, His sheep, by name, and leads us where He wishes us to go.  If you don’t know what His voice sounds like, turn everything else down and listen.  He speaks to us in the silence of prayer.  He speaks to us in the sublimity of the Sacraments.  He speaks to us through priests and sisters.  And he speaks to us through parents and friends.

Remember that. He speaks to us through parents and friends.  And consider this: you might be the very instrument Jesus is trying to use to call one of his future priests or sisters.  Talk to your sons and daughters about the priesthood and religious life.  Because they need to hear the familiar voice of the Good Shepherd.

In the Breaking of the Bread

Homily from the 3rd Sunday in Easter - Year A

First of all, let me say congratulations to our First Holy Communicants gathered here today.  It is a tremendous joy to have you join us at the altar for the very first time to share in the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  I congratulate all of you and your parents, teachers, family and friends who have given so much time and prayer to help you prepare for this blessed day. Welcome!

If you lost something; for example, if you lost your favorite book, if your favorite book suddenly disappeared, and mom and dad were there, what do you think you might say? What question might you ask mom and dad?  You’d probably ask them, “Where did my book go?”

In today’s Gospel, two of Jesus’ disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus.  And they are very sad because they’ve lost something.  They lost Jesus.

Just 3 days earlier, Jesus was crucified, hung upon the cross, died and was buried.  And so the disciples think Jesus was gone forever.  They are so sad at the loss of Jesus that they do not recognize him when he appears to them on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday.

However, Jesus slowly begins to reveal Himself to the disciples.

The first way Jesus reveals Himself to the disciples is by telling them about how the Sacred Scriptures talk about Jesus.  In the Gospel today, Jesus interprets the sayings of Moses and the prophets, showing the two disciples that Moses and the prophets were speaking about Jesus.  Jesus shares the Word of God with the disciples.

Have you ever noticed how the Mass, what we are celebrating right now is divided into two halves?Right now, we just finished the first half?  What was the main thing we did in the second half of the Mass?   That’s right we listened to the Word of God.

Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we listened to the Word of God. We hear about God’s plan for our lives. And we hear about Jesus too.  Jesus reveals Himself to us at every Mass through the Liturgy of the Word.

In a few moments, we will begin the second half of the Mass?  What is the main thing we get ready for and do in the second half of the Mass?  That’s right, we get ready for Holy Communion.

That’s what Jesus does for the two disciples too.  In the Gospel, the sun is starting to go down, it’s close to dinner time, so the disciples ask Jesus to stay and eat with them.  And Jesus does some amazing things during the dinner.  The Gospel says, “while He was with them at table, He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.”

When was another time we heard about Jesus taking bread, saying the blessing, breaking the bread and giving it to people?”  The Last Supper with the Apostles on Holy Thursday.  The multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  And at this Mass!

In the second half of the Mass, Jesus will reveal Himself to us in the breaking of the bread, just like he did for the two disciples in the Gospel.  In just a few moments, Jesus will take bread, say the blessing, break the bread, and give it to all of you for the first time.  He does this through the priest.

Now, in the Gospel today, when Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to the disciples, something really amazing happened to Jesus.

Do you remember what happened to Jesus?  That’s right, he disappeared.  Doesn’t that sound strange?Why do you think Jesus would disappear like that?

How about this: maybe Jesus disappeared because He was still there in the bread!  The host you are about to receive isn’t bread – it’s the Body of Christ.  And what you are about to drink from the chalice isn’t wine – it’s the Blood of Christ.

When Jesus disappeared from the disciple’s sight, they don’t say, “Where did He go?”  They say (in a manner) of speaking, “Wow! That was awesome!” They say, “Were not our hearts burning within us when while he spoke to us… and opened the Scriptures to us?”

The disciples are no longer sad. Instead, they are the happiest they’ve ever been in their life.  Because they realize they didn’t lose Jesus.  Jesus remains with them in the Eucharist.  Jesus remains with them in the breaking of the bread.  And it wasn’t until Jesus broke the bread that they finally saw Jesus and recognized Him.  When Jesus breaks the bread, they see Jesus, they recognize Him, they know Him better than they’ve ever known Him before.  And in just a few moments, you will know Jesus better than you’ve ever known Him before.

The person you want to know better than anyone else in your life is Jesus.  And you will get to know Jesus the best through the Eucharist.  Like the disciples, you will come to know Jesus through the breaking of the bread.  Get to know Jesus more and more every single Sunday of your lives!

Touch Jesus' Divine Mercy

Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) - Year A

We have a great deal to celebrate this weekend, both in our parish, and in the Catholic Church throughout the world.  This weekend (and next) over 140 of our young men and women will receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist as they make their First Holy Communion.

This weekend, we also celebrate the beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
And this Sunday we celebrate a day institutued by Blessed Pope John Paul II, Divine Mercy Sunday, a day in which we give thanks to Christ for the mercy He pours out upon us.  In the 1930’s, a Polish nun, Saint Faustina Kowalska, received visions of Jesus in which he asked St. Kowalska to spread the message of His mercy.  She did so by writing about her visions in a diary.  And she also had a painting made of her vision of Christ, the Divine Mercy image.

When you look upon an image of the Divine Mercy, (and we have one in the gathering space as well as one in the alcove of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) you’ll notice two rays emanating from the heart of Jesus: one white and the other red.  These two rays represent the water and Blood which flowed from the pierced side of Christ.  And of course, the water and Blood which flowed from the side of Christ represent the waters of Baptism and the Precious Blood of the Eucharist.

Today, the Divine Mercy of Jesus, the water and Blood from his pierced side fall upon us and touch us.

Our Mass today began with a sort of “baptism” as we were touched with Holy Water from the Baptismal Font.

And the Mass today will end with another Sacrament: the Holy Eucharist as we are touched with the Blood of Christ.

And the message I want to pass along to you is really quite simple. Jesus wants us to stay in touch with Him. Jesus wants intimacy with us. Again and again and again.

Every time we walk into the church, we bless ourselves with Holy Water, making the Sign of the Cross, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  This isn’t just an empty ritual gesture.  Every time we touch those Baptismal waters, we are renewing the promises we made at our Baptism: to reject Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises; and that we believe in God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit and the instrument for doing His Divine Will here on earth: the Holy Catholic Church.  Through this simple action, we are saying “Lord, You are on my side and I am on Yours; and I will follow You and You alone and I will faithfully follow all that You teach through Your Church.”

Every time we walk up to this sanctuary to receive the Eucharist, we are entering into Divine Intimacy with Jesus in which He hands over to us His very own Body and Blood.  Jesus’ love and mercy for us is so great and so intense, that He desires that we not just know Him, not just admire Him, not even to just follow Him, but to truly become one with Him.  And today, a number of our children will enter into this kind of union with Him for the very first time as they make their First Holy Communion.

As I began this homily with an image, the image of the Divine Mercy, I’d like to conclude with another; the episode we just heard in today’s Gospel: the image of the Apostle Thomas touching the pierced side of Jesus.

In his doubt, in his disbelief, in his despair; in his refusal to accept that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, and was indeed still with us;   Thomas said, “I will not believe unless I touch Jesus.”

One week later, Jesus answered Thomas’ prayer.  Jesus said, (in a manner of speaking) “If seeing is believing, then here am I. If touching is believing then touch my pierced side.”

I want to urge our children making their First Holy Communion today, as well as their parents, and really all of us gathered here today to stay in touch with Jesus and His Divine Mercy.  Make that blessing with the Holy Water and receive His Precious Blood again and again and again each and every Sunday.  Grow in intimacy with Jesus.

Do not let doubt, or grief, or temptation, or unbelief, or uncertainty about your future, or what seem to be unanswered prayers trick you into thinking that Jesus isn’t real or that Jesus doesn’t care about you or isn’t listening to you.  Jesus is real, He does care about you and He is always listening to you.  Do not be like Thomas: do not doubt.

And at the same time, be like Thomas and touch the pierced side of Jesus.  Touch His Divine Mercy.  And receive His Divine Mercy.