Sunday, December 30, 2012

What Makes a Family Holy?

Homily from the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph

The Church calls the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph “holy.”  So, what makes a family “holy?”

If your kids were to ask you why are Jesus, Mary and Joseph called the “Holy Family”, perhaps our shortcut answer would be “Because they’re Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  However, Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s holiness does not derive from their identity.  Rather, their holiness derives from what they do.

First, Joseph.  You get Joseph’s story primarily through the Gospel of Matthew.  So, what’s Joseph doing there?  Well, there’s a consistent theme for Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew:

“An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said... ‘do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.’” (Mt 1:20)  “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and he took [Mary] into his home.” (Mt 24)

Later, when Herod is threatening the life of Christ, “the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt...” (Mt 2:13)  And “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” (Mt 2:14)

And then, “When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and Egypt and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel...” (Mt 2:19-20)  And so, “He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.” (Mt 2:21)

Joseph was a dreamer.  He must have had dreams of his own - plans; what he wanted out of life.  However, time and again we see Joseph follow not his own dreams but the dreams of his Father in Heaven.

Second, Mary.  You get Mary’s story primarily through the Gospel of Luke.  So, what’s Mary doing there?  When the angel Gabriel announces to her that she is to be the mother of Jesus, she responds, “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38).  Mary must have had plans of her own.  Her own idea of what she wanted her life to be.  However, as soon as she hears the will of God, she reconfigures her life according not to her own desires, but to His: “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)

Lastly, let’s take a look at Jesus in today’s Gospel.  Jesus is 12 years old.  And Mary and Joseph lose him.  They search for Jesus for three days.  (Can you imagine?  You’ve been entrusted with the Son of God and you lose him and for three days have no idea where he is?)  

Then, they finally find him in the temple.  “And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (Lk 2:49)  Other translations have Jesus say, “Did you not know I must involve myself in my Father’s affairs?”

Jesus isn’t in the temple to show off how smart he is or how well he knows the Scriptures.   He’s not there to teach the temple elders a thing or two.  He’s there not to take care of his own affairs, but to be about the affairs of his Father.  From the very beginning of adolescence, Jesus is about doing his Father’s will, not his own.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph aren’t holy because of who they are.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph are holy because of what they do.  And they are always doing the will of the Father and rearranging everything in their life in order to do the will of the Father.

Our lives are not our own.  Our lives belong to God.  Our lives are not about us.  Our lives are about God.

Holy families are families whose members put the needs of others before their own needs.
Most especially God’s needs.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Stone & Linen

Homily from the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord - Year C

“When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’” (Lk 2:15)

Imagine for a moment, you are one of these who were the first to hear about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  Imagine that you are one of the shepherds.  Tending your flock, in the middle of the night.  Keeping warm near a midnight fire, surrounded by the smell and sound of your sheep.

And suddenly, the darkness of night is broken apart by the blinding light of the glory of the Lord in his angels.  Who announce to you that in the city of David, Jerusalem is born the Messiah and Lord.  They tell you to go look for him.  However, the only clue they give you to find him is that he will be wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

So what exactly do you go looking for?  What does a manger look like anyway?  

All of us can picture a manger in our mind’s eye can’t we?  The youngest of children could draw a picture of a manger.  The manger scenes in our homes, our church, on Christmas cards and in paintings all look the same: a wooden trough filled with straw.

A manger as it would have
appeared at the time of Christ's birth.
However, it may come as a surprise to you to learn that the vast majority of mangers in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago were not made of wood.  In reality, most mangers made of stone.  They basically looked like small stone bathtubs.  And this is where the animals went looking for food.

But one of these mangers in the vicinity of Jerusalem held not food for animals, but a baby.  A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes - strips of linen.  The shepherds must have been awfully confused.  Why in the world would the Messiah, the Savior sent by God, be found in a stone manger wrapped in swaddling clothes?

They would not know the answer fully for another 33 years.

The shepherds found the baby in a stone manger wrapped in swaddling clothes at the beginning of his life because that is the way he would be found at the end of it.

Listen to how St. Luke tells the story near the end of his Gospel: “Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph... He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God.  He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock hewn tom in which no one had yet been buried.” (Lk 23:50-53)

From the very beginning of Christ’s infant life, as we look upon him in our mind’s eye, laying in a stone manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, we see the reason for his birth: that this baby, wrapped in linen and placed in stone crib, one day he would  sacrifice his own life for ours, and be wrapped in linen and placed in a stone tomb.

Every child in the history of the world is born to live.  This child however, was born to die.  So that you and I might have eternal life.

And think about how Jesus gives us eternal life.  He calls to us, asking us to come looking for him.  And we find him exactly in the same way the shepherds found him on Christmas morning.  And exactly the way the women found him on Easter morning.  We find him, his Body, as they did, resting on stone and wrapped in linen.  Today, we find Jesus resting on the stone of this altar, sitting upon the linen of this altar cloth.

Just as he allowed himself to be wrapped in linen and placed in a stone manger, a feeding trough for animals; so too, again, he allows himself to be wrapped in linen and placed on this stone altar so we might come here to feed on his Body and Blood and receive eternal life.

Just as he allowed himself to be wrapped in linen and placed in a stone tomb, where he would conquer death and rise from the grave; so too, again, he allows himself to wrapped in linen and placed on this stone altar so we might come here to rise from the death of sin.

And the Good News my friends, is that because of this, Jesus didn’t offer his life for us only as a one-time event 2,000 years ago.  Neither does he offer his life for us only at these annual celebrations.  Jesus offers you and I his life every Sunday, every Holy Day, indeed every day, right here on this altar.

Let us continue to seek and find Jesus Christ, week after week, exactly where those shepherds and women found him: wrapped in linen and placed on stone.  “Let us go, then... to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’” (Lk 2:15)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fourth Ingredient: Go to Mass Weekly

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Advent - Year C

On Friday afternoon, our school children finished the semester with a prayer service in the gym.  The entire student body gathered in the gym for some prayer, scripture reading, and songs with our teachers, our principal Ms. Guffey and Monsignor John.  Some of the first graders were the first to enter the gym and as we were waiting for the prayer service to begin I asked the first graders if they were ready for Christmas.  They all nodded their heads up and down enthusiastically.  And then one student shouted out “PRESENTS!!!”

Yesterday afternoon, I heard a radio commercial (I don’t even remember what it was for)  but it was a series of children telling what presents they wanted for Christmas.  “I want a Hello Kitty bookbag.”  “I want a Transformer.”  “I want a Hobbit toy!"

Tune in TNT in the next couple of days and you’ll be sure to hear Ralphie say, “I wan’t an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle!”  To which we all respond, say it with me now: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

After hearing all that, I suppose one could cynically say that Christmas means only one thing to kids: gifts... materialism.  To which I say, “Good.”  Because that is what Christmas is supposed to be about.  Christmas in it’s deepest meaning is about gifts.  It’s about A gift specifically: the gift God gives us, His Son Jesus.  And Christmas in it’s deepest meaning is about materialism.  It’s about the spiritual becoming material.  It’s about the Word becoming flesh.  It’s about God becoming man, becoming a material man in a material world that other men and women could see, hear and touch.  Or, as St. John says in his first letter: that Jesus is “what we have heard, what we have seen with out eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands.”

As Advent comes to a close, we look forward to waking up on Christmas morning and receiving a material gift: that of Jesus Christ, given to us by the Father, in the form of a baby, wrapped not in paper and a bow, but in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

That’s why you and I are here today.  That’s why you and I come here every Sunday.  To receive this gift from the Father.  To receive Jesus Christ.

For the past four weeks, I’ve suggested that the readings for the four Sundays of Lent offer a kind of recipe for our spiritual life - for our relationship with Christ.  And they are:
  • To pray daily.
  • To go to confession seasonally (about every three months when we observe a change in the seasons).
  • To rejoice always.
  • And to go to Mass weekly, which we’re reflecting on today.

Why do we have to go to church?  We come to Church to receive the gift God wants to give us.  We can’t get it at the lake house.  We can’t get it at Notre Dame stadium on a Saturday.  We can’t get it at a party.  The only place we can get this gift is from this altar.  What God most wants to give us is Himself.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author of that letter is painting, if you will, an image of Jesus, the Word of God, becoming flesh, becoming man.  And he portrays Jesus as saying these words of the 40th psalm to the Father in Heaven: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.”

Meaning that, instead of offering external offerings of the flesh and blood of bulls and goats, the Father in Heaven asks for the internal offering of Jesus Christ himself.  “A body you prepared for me.”  Jesus is saying to the Father: “You gave me this body, to offer back to you as a sacrifice.  You gave me this material thing: this flesh and blood to be given as a gift.  To you and to your children" (us.)

That’s why you’re here.  To receive a Christmas present from the Father.  A sacrificial offering: the Body of Christ.  Jesus gives you his whole being: his body and blood, soul and divinity.
So, what should we give back to Christ who has given us himself?  Copy his idea.  Give him yourself.  And just as he gives you himself in the Mass, give yourself to him in the Mass as well.  Just as Christ pours his whole being: his whole body and blood, soul and divinity into the Mass; we should do the same.  We should “get into it” and give our whole selves over to him through our worship of him.

So, I want to conclude with a few practical ways in which you and I can make of ourselves a total gift back to Christ through the Mass.

Get Ready For Mass
Read the Sunday readings and pray with them sometime during the week.  You can find them on the Bishop’s website at  There are smart phone apps.  Get a subscription to Magnificat or Word Among Us.

Arrive on Time
In fact, get here early and spend some time in prayer.  Bring an intention to the Mass: keep in mind a person or a situation that you want to offer your coming to this Mass for.

Be Here
Mentally be here.  Don’t get freaked out and scrupulous about normal distractions.  But don’t deliberately bring any distractions with you.  Turn the cell phone off.  Please don’t text during the Mass.  And if you need a bathroom break, you know the best time to go?  Right now, during the homily.  Trust me, what I’ve got to say is far less important than the Word of God and the celebration of the Eucharist.

Pray the Mass With Me
We’re all in this together.  Even though I’m the one saying many of the words, you should be praying them with me, especially the Eucharistic Prayer.  Although you don't pray it out loud  pray them out loud with your heart.  Listen to the words being said and pray them with me to the Father.

St. Augustine once said, “He who sings, prays twice.”  Frankie and the Holy Rollers have a shirt that says, “He who rocks, prays thrice.”  Don’t be afraid to sing.  Where else in the world do you get to sing publicly?  This is the place where your soul should cry out in song to the Lord for all that He has given you.  If you’ve got a good voice, thank him for that gift by praising Him with it.  If you’ve got a horrible voice, protest to the Lord for depriving you of that gift by letting Him hear it.My dad has a horrible voice.

By this, I mean not just with one another, but with God.  And not just through responses and prayer, but with the highest level of communication possible: communion itself.  The two becoming one.  When you come up here to this altar, God is going to be placed in your hands or on your tongue.  As you receive him, you might just pause for a moment of adoration, and then become one with him.  That’s the ultimate communication: becoming one with the other.

Give Thanks
After you’ve received communion, say thanks to God for giving you this gift: the gift of Himself.  That’s what we’re doing in the silence after communion.

Don’t Leave Early
Please don’t leave before the final blessing.  Sometimes there may be a valid reason for leaving early such as if you have an appointment to donate a kidney.  Beating traffic isn’t one of them.  If you want to avoid the rush of traffic, stick around and pray.  Give thanks to Jesus for giving his life to you so you could have eternal life and offer your time in prayer for someone who needs it like the soul that’s been in purgatory the longest.

Live the Gospel
Let the Gospel message that you’ve prayed on before coming to Mass, and heard here, and the Body of Christ that now dwells in your body actually turn your life around.

Bring a Journal
Write down some of the things you here so you can remember them later.  And I’m not talking about the homily.  But rather, your reactions to the Word and the homily and prayer.

Pour your whole self into the Mass and make of yourself a gift to Christ.  Because, that's what Christ does for us; as we'll hear him say in a few moments: "For this is my Body, which will be given up for you."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Be Helpers

Teaching from XLT

This afternoon, I caught the tail-end of Meet the Press.  And as they were ending their coverage of current events, they shared some words of comfort and hope they had found trending in social media.  They were the words of Mr. Rogers who once said,  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’  To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.”

That’s what John the Baptist is calling us to be in today’s Gospel: He, who is the advance spokesperson for Jesus Christ, is calling us to be helpers.  Helpers to those in need in dark places and dark times.

“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”  John the Baptist is calling us to be generous givers.  He is calling us to have charitable, loving hearts.  He is urging us to be attentive to the needs of the poor and the lowly.

If you want to change the world we live in... If you want to put an end to evil... If you want to being more light into this dark world... Be helpers.  And remember that God helps those who help themselves; and begin with the person you have the most control over: yourself.

Speak words of love to one another and about one another; and let those words of love push words of judgment, gossip, and hatred out of your vocabulary.

Reach out to your brother or sister in Christ who isn’t included in the group.  God willing, we’re all going to spend eternity together.  Let’s get started now.

Live virtuous lives.  Walk along the pathway that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Put aside abuse of alcohol and drugs which distort our humanity.  Make your bodies a gift that, from this day forward, you will give to your future spouse and them alone.
And when moments come in which you fall short of being the helper God wishes you to be, remember that He restores you through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Yesterday, I saw The Hobbit.  And my favorite quote of the movie comes at a point where Gandalf the Wizard is talking with Galadriel the Elf.  And they’re basically talking about how to solve the world’s problems.  And Gandalf is reflecting on Saruman’s philosophy on the matter.  (For those of you who have seen The Lord of the Rings, you remember that Saruman is the White Wizard who eventually becomes a servant of the evil Lord Sauron.)

Gandalf says to Galadriel, "Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small  everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.”

Let the gift Jesus has given you at this Mass: the gift of himself in the Eucharist, and your prayer in his presence, change your life.  Let it change your life for the better.  And allow yourself to become his helper in this world.  

Third Ingredient: Rejoice Always!

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) - Year C

Two weeks ago, I told the teens at the LifeTeen Mass, that the readings from our four Sundays of Advent reveal a kind of recipe for the spiritual life. A recipe that consists of four ingredients:
  • To pray daily
  • to go to Mass weekly
  • to go to confession seasonally
  • and to rejoice always.

Today is what is known as “Gaudete Sunday” in the church.  “Gaudete” means “rejoice!”  It’s called “Gaudete Sunday” because the first words of today’s entrance antiphon (which is something that is chanted at the beginning of Mass in lieu of an entrance hymn) go like this: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.”  Which are the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians which we heard in today’s second reading: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice.” (Phil 4:4)  And in our first reading, the prophet Zephaniah, tells us to “shout for joy,” to “sing joyfully,” and to “be glad and exult with all [our] heart[s].” (Zep 3:14).

So this is the weekend we are reminded to rejoice.  And not only that, but to rejoice always.

Honestly, of all the weekend’s of 2012, this is most likely the last weekend we Americans feel like rejoicing.  Certainly, it’s the last weekend, the citizens of Newtown, CT feel like rejoicing.  And for the sake of the youngest pairs of ears in our congregation today, and out of respect for you as parents to explain yesterday as you see fit, when you see fit; I am going to be purposely vague and deliberately veiled in my comments.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!  Have no anxiety at all.”  It seems like an absurd suggestion when we see so much evil in the world.  We hear St. Paul say these words, “Rejoice in the Lord always” and perhaps our reaction is to say back to him, “You know what Paul?  You rejoice.  How can you possibly expect us to rejoice today?”

David Didion
Just over a year ago, I was ministering to a young man from our parish and his family.  Some of you know him, his name is David Didion.  David was 27 and dying of cancer.  And he was going to leave this world and leave behind a young wife and two young daughters ages 3 and 1.  David was a faithful Catholic who attended Mass every Sunday.  However, as his illness grew more severe, he was unable to continue coming to Church to receive the Eucharist.  So, one Saturday evening, shortly before he died, David, his family and I gathered together in  his hospital room.  We set up an altar on his food tray at the end of his bed.  And there, in his hospital room, we celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The time came for the readings and I had forgotten to ask someone beforehand to be the lector.  So I asked if anyone would like to read.  As you might imagine, David’s family was hesitant to read the readings.  But not David.  “I’ll read” he exclaimed.  Then he read these words from the prophet Zechariah: “Thus says the Lord: Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king shall come to you;”  And you know what?  He read them with more enthusiasm and joy than I just did.

And I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me? How is he doing this?  How can he have such joy when he is about to face the pain of death and leave his family behind?"

St. Maximilian Kolbe
He was able to rejoice because he knew that Christ was with him.  He knew that rejoicing doesn’t mean being jolly.  Rather, he knew that rejoicing means knowing, for a fact, that even in the face of death and loss and evil, Jesus Christ is with us, always, until the end of time.

This is what all the Saints know.  Over and over again we hear the stories of the Saints, especially the martyrs, who in the face of death and in the midst of Hell on earth, they still rejoice in the Lord.

Like St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who was a prisoner in Auschwitz.  Who, when he and his fellow prisoners awaited their death in a starvation bunker, spent that time giving thanks to Lord by singing hymns.

St. Paul
This is what St. Paul knew as well.  For he didn’t write this letter to the Philippians from the comfort of his home.  Rather, he wrote it from prison where he awaited death by beheading.
In the face of his own death, St. Paul wrote the words: “Rejoice in the Lord always!  I shall say it again, rejoice!”

St. Paul was able to rejoice before his beheading, St. Maximilian Kolbe was able to sing before his execution, and David Didion was able to proclaim the words “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion; shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!” before leaving his family behind, because they, like countless other Saints knew what we often times forget: What the prophet Zephaniah promises us in the first reading today: That “the Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior”

That is what we are getting ready to celebrate this Christmas.  That the Lord, our God is in our midst.  That when He foresaw all that would happen to us, God would not leave us abandoned.  So He sent His Son to be born a helpless babe in a manger.  So that He could become forsaken for us on the Cross.  And in the moments of our lives when we feel like crying out, “God, where exactly are you in all this?  What are you doing?” we would hear his Son say basically the same thing, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  So that we would know we are not alone in our suffering, we have Jesus, Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.”

Thank God we have the Saints.  And thank God we have shining examples like David Didion, who remind us, when we forget, that God is indeed with us, in everything.  And because of this, we too, with them, should rejoice always.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Second Ingredient: Go to Confession Seasonally

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Advent - Year C

Last week, I told our teens at the Life Teen Mass, that like a good meal, there’s a kind of recipe to the spiritual life.  A certain regimen that should be followed to exercise our souls, make sure we are in good spiritual shape, and well-prepared this Advent, not only for the coming of Jesus this Christmas, but more importantly for when he comes at the end of our lives.

And like a good stew which is enriched and flavored with a variety of ingredients that complement and build upon each other, a recipe for the spiritual life could be said to contain four basic ingredients:
  • Pray daily
  • Go to Mass weekly
  • Go to confession seasonally
  • And rejoice always!

And as it turns out, the readings for the four Sunday’s of Advent this year dovetail with those four ingredients.  Last week, we talked about the first ingredient: to pray daily.  This week, the ingredient the readings point to is to go to confession seasonally.

What is meant by going to confession “seasonally”?  Quite simply, go to confession once every fall, winter, spring and summer.  Well truly, go to confession when you need to.  If you know you’ve committed grave sin, get to confession.  But otherwise, to go to confession every season, every three months is a good rule of thumb.

Let the change outside be a reminder of the change we want to experience inside; the continual conversion and transformation that the Lord invites us into all our lives long as he molds us into Saints.

It is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that the way of the Lord is prepared within our hearts.
Through confession, the Lord wishes to enter our hearts and have our hearts enter freely and without encumbrance into his.  As we heard in the 1st reading and Gospel:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth.

In confession, the valleys, mountains, winding roads and rough ways of sin are filled in and made straight.

In the Gospel, we hear a solemn introduction to the appearance of John the Baptist.
Listen to this very formal, regal, and precise language:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

The reason why St. Luke is so detailed in his description of the historical situation into which John the Baptist arrives is because he wants us to know, that this event and the events of the life of Jesus Christ, are not mythology, but historical fact.  It’s as if he’s saying “John the Baptist began his preaching at exactly this time in exactly this place.  Go ahead look it up.”

Because he wants to make it very clear: this Jesus, of whom he is about to write, isn’t a fairy tale.  He is a real man, the Son of Man, the Son of God, who walked among us at a particular point in time, in a particular place, and did particular things.  Not least of which was his passion, death and resurrection.  

He wants us to know that Jesus is real and did all these real things for our salvation so that we might know that our salvation is real; our destiny for Sainthood is real.  Becoming Saints isn’t a fairy tale.  It is the real plan of God for us.

Part of how God wishes to make us Saints is by the forgiveness of our sins.  And God wishes to forgive our sins right here on earth and right now in our lives.  He wishes for the forgiveness of our sins to be a real, tangible event we experience in the history of our lives.

You might imagine for a moment, St. Luke the Evangelist writing an account of God calling you to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Perhaps it would sound something like this:
In the seventh year of the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI,
When Barak Obama was President of the United States,
and Mitch Daniels was governor of Indiana,
and Tom Henry was mayor of the city of Fort Wayne,
and Kevin Rhoades was Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend,
during the pastorship of Monsignor John Kuzmich at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church,
the word of God came to you, and called you to receive the infinite and blessed mercy, love and forgiveness of God, the Almighty Father, Creator of the Universe, through the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation.

A good recipe for preparation to meet the Lord, both at Christmas and at the end of our lives, includes the ingredient of going to confession seasonally.  Throughout this Advent season, there are a great number of opportunities for you to do so.  We hear confessions every Saturday at 8:30AM and Wednesday at 4:30PM.  And there are a number of Advent Penance Services being held at our area parishes.  Our Lady of Good Hope - this coming Tuesdaym St. Charles - this coming Wednesday, Ours is next Monday, December 17th.  And St. Jude’s - next Thursday December 20th.  Full schedule in the bulletin.

Let it be a full and complete Advent with all four ingredients of daily prayer, weekly Mass, seasonal confession, rejoicing always.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Where Would We Be Without Mary?

Homily from the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception - Year C

Does anyone here have a birthday very near Christmas?  My friend Tony was born on December 24th.  As it so happens, his parents’ names are actually Mary and Joseph.  For those of you who have a birthday very near Christmas, do you ever feel gypped out of presents?

Well, here we are on a Saturday, celebrating the Solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.  And we’ll be right back either tonight or tomorrow night to celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent.  Naturally, the question has been asked a number of times if one Mass can count for satisfying both the Holy Day of Obligation and Sunday.  However, the answer is “no.”  Just as one’s birthday is a distinct day from the Lord’s birthday, so too the Immaculate Conception is a distinct celebration from Sunday.  And we don’t want to gyp Mary out of her day.

We have a lot of days on which we honor Mary.  There’s today, the day in which she was immaculately conceived in her mother Anna’s womb.  In just four days, we’ll celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas.  There’s her birthday, her presentation in the temple, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, commemorating the grief she bravely endured as she stood by the Cross of her son, the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, January 1st - Mary, Mother of God, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, The Annunciation, The Assumption, The Queeenship of Mary, and many more.

We make a big deal about Mary.  Why?  The simple answer is, without Mary, we’d all be in Hell.

Perhaps this sounds shocking.  Like we’re heaping too much credit on her.  Of course, we know that to Jesus Christ alone goes the credit for our salvation.  However, the Lord has an interesting way of saving us.  Certainly, God could have simply snapped his fingers and wiped away the debt of man’s sin and rebellion against Him.  However, its amazing that God chose not to save us without getting us involved in the process.

How did He do it?  By asking permission.  By sending His angel Gabriel to “propose” to Mary if you will.  To ask if she will be the spouse of the Holy Sprit and the mother of His Son.  And she said, “Yes.  Let it be done to me according to Your word.”

Without her “yes,” Jesus would not have been born.  
Without his birth, Jesus would not have died.  
Without his death, Jesus would not have risen.
Without his rising, we would not be saved.
Without his saving us, we would all be in Hell.
Without Mary’s “yes,” we would all be in Hell.

So we gather, with joy, to celebrate the moment Mary entered the world.  The moment she was conceived, free from Original Sin, within her mother’s womb.

She is free from the finger pointing and blame shifting we hear of in the first reading.  When Adam is asked why he sinned, he does what every man does: he blames his wife.  “The woman whom you put here with me - she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.”  And when Eve is asked why she sinned, she does what every woman does: she blames the devil.  “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

Mary does not point a finger of accusation, she does not blame, she does not pass the buck.
Rather, she lowers herself in humility, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”  And like an authentic human being, created in the image and likeness of God, she says not: “The devil made me do it.”  But rather, “God made me do it.”  The fullness of grace, given to her by God, from the moment of her immaculate conception, compels her complete obedience to the Father and empowers her to exercise her free will to say “Yes.  Let it be done to me according to your word.”

And this is the greatest virtue of Mary and why we look to her and celebrate her so much.
Because even when, it would seem, so much credit should go to her, she points us away from her and toward the Father.  From her very beginning, her immaculate conception this Saturday, she points to the Father on Sunday.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Ingredient: Pray Daily

Homily from the 1st Sunday of Advent - Year C

Last week our Life Teen youth minister, Sarah Hill, asked me what was my favorite dish for Thanksgiving?  Without skipping a beat I said, “tarhonya.”  Does anyone in this room know what tarhonya is?  If you’ve never had tarhonya, you aren’t living a complete human life.
Jesus eats tarhonya in the Kingdom.

Anyway, this is tarhonya.  This is dried tarhonya.  You have to cook it, kind of like rice or pasta.  It’s a Hungarian dish.  My family is Polish, but my mother grew up in a Hungarian neighborhood in South Bend so we ate a lot of goulash and tarhonya growing up.  Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter simply don’t happen without tarhonya.

So, basically it’s a very tiny bead of pasta.  And there’s a very simple but very important recipe for tarhonya.  First you brown it in some melted butter.  Then, when it’s nice and golden brown, you add boiling chicken stock.  While it absorbs all that chicken stock, you keep stirring it so it doesn’t stick.  Then when it gets tender, you add a jar of chicken gravy.  Like I said, Jesus eats this in the kingdom.

I promise there’s a homily in here somewhere.

The reason I bring this up is because lately I’ve been passing along advice in the confessional and in conversation that I think is a pretty simply but very important recipe for our spiritual preparation.  And like tarhonya that has four ingredients of tarhonya, butter, chicken stock and chicken gravy, my little recipe has four ingredients as well.  These four ingredients are: pray daily, go to Mass weekly, go to confession, seasonally and rejoice always.  And as it turns out, the readings for the next four weeks of Advent focus on each of these four ingredients.

So, the first ingredient is pray daily.  

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to “be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are immanent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

I’m reading a gem of a book called “Prayer for Beginners” by Peter Kreeft.  It’ s easy to read, to the point, and very helpful.  I strongly recommend you read this book this Advent.  As much as I’d like to disagree with Mr. Kreeft, he makes the point that prayer is more important than eating.  When I read that sentence I wanted to burn this book, but I decided to read on.

Click here to buy this book.
Peter Kreeft says,  “Eating keeps your body alive, and prayer keeps your soul alive.  Prayer is more important than eating because your soul is more important than your body.  Your soul is more important than your body because your soul is you, your personality, your self.  You will get a new body after death, in the resurrection at the end of the world.  But you will not get a new soul; you will only purify and sanctify your old one because you are your soul.  Prayer keeps your soul alive because prayer is real contact with God, and God is the life of the soul as the soul is the life of the body.  If you do not pray, your soul will wither and die, just as, if you do not eat, your soul will wither and die.”

There are countless ways to pray.  For the sake of simplicity, I’ll suggest just one for you to do this Advent.  A few weeks ago, a number of our teens heard a talk from Mark Hart, the vice president of Life Teen, whose also known as “The Bible Geek.”  And he pointed out that if we want to get to know Jesus, we have to get to know his Word, especially in the Gospels.
Well, beginning today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year.  And our Sunday Gospel readings for most of the year will come from the Gospel of Luke.

I would like you to pray through the entire Gospel of Luke this year.  A little bit everyday, from beginning to end.

How do you do this?  Quite simply, you begin at the beginning.  And you read a little passage.  No longer than what you would hear in the Gospel reading at Mass.  You read it slowly and carefully, taking your time, not rushing, listening to what Jesus is saying specifically to you.  You listen to his words, you meditate on them and then you say something back.

This is an ancient prayer practice called “lectio divina” which means sacred reading.
When we pray with Sacred Scripture, we train ourselves to listen to the voice of God in every aspect of our life.  Because unlike petitionary prayer which brings to the Lords our wants and desires, lectio divina brings to us the Lord’s wants and desires.  For when we pray with Sacred Scripture, we let the Lord do the talking first through his Holy Word, to which we listen, understand, respond and make resolutions and are thus, transformed.

So beginning tonight, do this:  Read the first section of the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.  Listen to what the Lord is saying specifically to you.  Meditate on it in silence.  Then say something back to the Lord.  Take 15 minutes everyday to do this.  Depending on how you break up the passages, it could take you anywhere from 6 months to a year to pray through the Gospel of Luke.

Imagine what that would do for your relationship with Jesus Christ.  To prayerfully walk with him through one of the Gospel accounts of His life. 

And the Gospel of Luke is such a beautiful account.  This is the Gospel that shows in a special way Jesus’ love for the outcasts of society.  St. Luke was a doctor, so there’s also special attention to Jesus’ miraculous healings.  Only in the Gospel of Luke do we hear about the Annunciation, the presentation of Jesus in the temple, the finding of Jesus in the temple.  Only in the Gospel of Luke do we have Jesus’ two best known parables: The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan.  The Gospel of Luke also pays special attention to the role of women in Christ’s ministry.  And the Gospel of Luke is filled with lots and lots of meals.  So I’m terribly interested in the Gospel of Luke.  

In fact one year, during one of my summer assignments, we took the youth group on an all-day canoe trip.  And throughout the day, we stopped every so often to read one of the meal stories from Luke and we ate snacks and meals each time.  We called it “Meals With Jesus in the Gospel of Luke While Riding in a Canoe.”  We ate like hobbits!  First breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper.  Start praying the Gospel of Luke and we’ll canoe, pray and eat some day this summer.

Also, at the end of your pews, you'll notice a piece of paper with instructions on how to do lectio divina.  These are your bookmarks as you do lectio.  Stick in your bible at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke tonight and start praying your way through it.

Lastly, share your thoughts and reflections with one another.  After you’ve done your lectio with Luke for the day, if you feel so inclined, tweet your thoughts to one another and add the hashtag: #lukelectio.  Sharing your inspirations with one another will open your hearts, minds and souls more and more to God’s Word.

I look forward to praying the Gospel of Luke with you this year, to hearing your inspirations, to sharing my own with you, and to eating tarhonya on a canoe ride this summer!

The first ingredient of the spiritual life: pray daily.  Next week: confess seasonally.