Sunday, March 25, 2012

...To Life

Homily from the Life Teen Spring Retreat - Part Two

Yesterday, we heard Jesus say, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.  But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn 12:24)  And we talked about the need to die to self, to our attachment to sin, to our former ways of life.
Today, you rise to new life.  Just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, so too has he pulled you from the grave into new life in him.  Lazarus emerged from the tomb bound hand and foot in burial bands and Jesus told the people, “Untie him and let him go."  Likewise, Jesus has commanded the same be done to you.  You have been untied from the bonds of sin and you have been set free, given new life.
You’ve been given new life, live it.  Immediately after these retreats, there's a lot about the "Jesus High."  We leave the retreat filled with the Holy Spirit, set on fire with his love.  But after a few weeks, days, or even hours, the "Jesus High" seems to dim.  

Don’t treat Jesus like sugar and this retreat like Halloween.  Don’t let this be just a once or twice a year experience in which you gorge, experience the sugar high, then quickly sink into a sugar coma.  Keep the Jesus High going.  

There is no good reason for not keeping the Jesus High going.  He will constantly invite you into his life and love, everyday.  The variable will be whether or not you respond.  Nick told me last night, “Our relationship with Jesus can’t be like running into an old friend once or twice a year.  It must be a relationship with a best friend that naturally desires daily conversation.”

So, respond to Jesus' daily invitations to you to remain rooted in his life and love.  There are five things in particular I strongly urge you to be attentive to:
Sustaining / Living / Staying Rooted In the Jesus High
Our relationship with Jesus cannot be like running into an old friend once or twice a year.  It must be a relationship with a best friend that naturally desires daily conversation.
1.)  Eucharist
  • Remember the high you experienced during Mass and Adoration
  • There’s no good reason for not experiencing that on a weekly, even daily, basis
  • Attend daily Mass as often as possible.  
  • Your driver’s license empowers you to make visits to Blessed Sacrament Chapels everyday.  
  • Exposition of the Most Holy Eucharist at St. Vincent’s is Sundays from 11AM-6PM and  Wednesdays from 8:30AM-7PM.  Our Lady of Good Hope: Tuesdays 9:30AM-9:30PM.  St. Jude’s: perpetual adoration 24/7.
  • And as great and intense as Adoration, looking upon Jesus, is; be mindful of how much more great and intense receiving Jesus in the Eucharist at Mass is.
2.)  Reconciliation
  • Go whenever you need it.
  • Make it a regular habit: monthly or once every two months.
  • Confessions at St. Vincent’s are Saturdays from 8:30-??? and Wednesdays from 4:30-??? or anytime by appointment.  Our Lady of Good Hope: Saturdays 3:30-4:15 or anytime by appointment.
3.)  Personal Prayer
  • A little bit of time everyday.
  • Morning offering, nightly examen, rosary or a decade of the rosary, Lectio Divina, visits to the Blessed Sacrament chapel
  • Start small, be faithful, let God do the rest.
4.)  Community
  • Life Nights - St. Vincent’s immediately after 6PM Life Teen Mass; Our Lady: Sundays 6:30-8:30PM.
  • Ministry Hour - St. Vincent’s: Wednesdays at 7:30-9PM; Our Lady: Tuesdays 7:30-9PM.
  • Buddy up - the journey is a lot easier when you go two-by-two.  “He summoned the twelve and began to send them out two by two.” (Mk 6:7)
5.)  Evangelization
  • You came to this retreat because someone invited you: a friend, a parent or Jesus.
  • Nearly every teen witness credited their coming to their first retreat because a friend invited (EVANGELIZED) them!
  • Invite others to the next retreat, Life Night, Ministry Hour, Mass to receive what you’ve been given.  “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” (Mt 10:8)
  • You are the very instrument Jesus is trying to use to call someone into intimacy with him.
There is no good reason for not keeping the “Jesus High” going.  The Lord will invite you into his life and love everyday.  The variable is you.  Being “Rooted” in Christ is accepting his invitation daily.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

From Death...

Homily from Life Teen Spring Retreat - Part One

So far, we've been talking a lot about identity.  Who am I?  Who am I really?  We've been talking about the need to strip away the masks we sometimes put on and pull down the obstacles that keep us from being our true authentic selves.  Stripping away the persona and letting the person God made us to be shine forth.  This morning we were given the opportunity to have our masks of sin stripped away in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Yesterday, Sarah talked about how the externals we use to sometimes hide ourselves do not amount to much.  It's not the clothing or shoes we wear that matter.  It's who we are inside that truly matters.

So its very appropriate to consider this as we approach this next Sacrament, the Eucharist.  Because perhaps better than any other thing on earth, the Eucharist teaches us that its what inside and not outside that matters.

Thousands of years ago philosophers said that things are basically made of two components: accidents and substance.  Accidents are those external qualities that can change without changing the nature of the thing itself.  For example, my hairline and waistline are my "accidental" qualities.  My hair has grown thin and my waist has grown thick, but neither of these have changed the person Andrew Budzinski.  Who I am, deep inside, the "substance" of Andrew Budzinski has remained the same and will continue to do so.

The Eucharist however, is the complete opposite.  In just a few moments, ordinary bread and wine will become the very Body and Blood of Christ.  The "accidents" will remain the same: it will still look, smell, taste, feel and decompose like bread and wine.  However, the "substance", what it is deep inside will change completely.  The substance of bread and wine become the substance of Christ's Body and Blood.  It's what inside, not outside that matters.

Today's readings talk about the need for us to have our "insides" changed; the need for internal conversion.  In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah communicates God's desire for this conversion of our hearts: "This is the covenant I will make... I will place my law within and write it on their hearts." (Jer 31:33)

And in our second reading, we hear that this conversion of heart takes place via suffering in imitation of Christ: "Son though he was, tea learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him." (Heb 5:8-9)

We too are made perfect by suffering loss.  God perfects us when we suffer the loss of being the center of attention, when we suffer the loss of our pride and ego, when we suffer the loss of anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, gossip, slander; when we suffer the loss of our attachment to material things, addictions, alcohol, drugs, pornography, popularity; when we suffer the loss of our superficial spirituality and lukewarmness; when we suffer the loss of the false notion that Jesus is just a good idea instead of a real person, the Son of God, with whom I have a real relationship and am called to follow in discipleship; and when we suffer the false notion that I am only what others think of me.

You must die to these false ideas and false loves.  You must die to yourself so that Christ may live in you.  This is after all what Christ did for us: he died so that we might live.

In our Gospel today Jesus says, "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." (Jn 12:24)  This is what Jesus did.  Like a grain of wheat, he falls.  He, the Eternal Word, "fell" from heaven by becoming man and making his dwelling place here on earth with us.  He died and was "planted" in the earth as he was buried in the tomb.  And he rose to new life producing much fruit.

You are all "grains of wheat"  And you must fall down to the ground and die to those things which are not you.  As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, "You cannot rise to a higher love without first dying to a lesser one."  In a few moments, we will worship Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration and you'll be given the opportunity to come forward to pray with him, by kneeling in front of him and taking in your hands an end of one of the stoles that hangs from the monstrance.  As you do so, and as you fall to your knees before him, bring to him those lesser loves you wish to die to.  And as you hold his stole in your hand, as you pray hand in hand with your Lord, ask him for the grace to die to those lesser loves so that you might rise to the highest love which is his love for you and your love for him in return.

And as you fall before him, you will fall as grains of wheat, and die to those lesser loves.  And you will become Rooted in Christ, the highest love.  And you will produce much fruit.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Christ is the Cure

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Lent - Year B

There’s a small, roadside billboard on US 31 just south of South Bend which offers a brief, yet pointed, commentary on the meaning of life.  Perhaps you’ve seen its message elsewhere.  It goes like this:  “Life is short, death is sure, sin is the cause, Christ is the cure.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as the cure.  Jesus is the cure of the greatest of all illnesses - death itself.  Today we hear the verse known well to football fans everywhere: John 3:16 which reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
What aren’t so well known however, are the verses immediately prior: John 3:14-15.  The beginning of today’s Gospel: “Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
This verse requires explanation.  What is Jesus talking about?  What is this serpent that Moses is lifting up in the desert?
It comes from the Book of Numbers, chapter 21, verses 4-9.  As the Israelites are being led by Moses through the desert, they complain against God and Moses about their lives:  “Why have you brought us from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?  We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
Then, as usually happens to the Israelites when they turn their back on God, they are left without His protection and left vulnerable to danger, as they are bitten by poisonous serpents in the desert and some of them die.
Then, as usually happens to the Israelites when they are faced with grave danger, they turn back to God and Moses and ask for forgiveness and healing.  “Then the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you.  Pray the Lord to take the serpents from us.’”
Then, as usually happens with God, he offers the forgiveness and healing that is asked for.  God tells Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and to mount it on a pole.  God then promises Moses that anyone who looks upon the bronze serpent will be cured of their snakebite.
This, by the way, is one of the explanations as to why the medical profession uses the symbol of a snake wrapped around a pole as a sign of healing.  Look for it the next time you see an ambulance.
Jesus tells us that just as Moses lifted up a serpent mounted on a pole to be the cure for those in danger of death so too, Jesus is mounted on a pole and lifted up.  He is mounted on the pole of the cross and lifted up on Calvary.
And God makes the same promise to us that He made to the Israelites.  Whoever, among them, looked upon the serpent mounted on the pole would be saved.  So too, whoever looks to Christ on the Cross and believes in him will be saved and have eternal life.
St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians:  “God is rich in mercy”  He has great love for us.  And even when we turn away from Him through our transgressions, He brings us back to life through Christ.
This Lent, look to Christ and his cross for the healing you need in your life.  And I urge you to allow Christ to heal you of whatever wounds you might be suffering by coming to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Our parish penance service is next Monday night at 7PM.  

It does not matter how long ago you’ve been bitten by the serpent.  It does not matter how many times you’ve been bitten.  It does not matter how deep the wounds go.  It does not matter how much venom has been pumped into you.  Christ’s passion and death on the Cross cures all.  Come receive this cure in Reconciliation.
One of the prayers we would say before the beginning of Latin class was one called the “Anima Christi” which means “Soul of Christ.”  It is a prayer which gives thanks to Christ for the saving, healing power of his passion and death on the Cross.  It is a popular prayer among priest’s after saying Mass and I’d like to share it with you.  At the beginning of the year, Deacon Jim encouraged us to learn a new prayer every month.  Perhaps you’d like to learn the “Anima Christi” this month.
Anima Christi
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strenghten me.
O good Jesus, listen to me.
Within Thy wounds, hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malicious enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee,
that with Thy Saints I may praise Thee
forever and ever.  Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Beautiful Cross

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Lent - Year A

The earliest known depiction of Christ’s crucifixion is not a beautiful painting or icon meant to honor the Lord.  Nor is it a carefully carved crucifix depicting the sacrificial love of Jesus.  Instead, it is a crude piece of graffiti, scratched into a piece of plaster in a guardroom on the Palatine Hill in Rome, left there sometime between the 1st and 3rd century.  It is known as the Alexamenos graffiti.  
The graffiti shows a man, named Alexamenos, who stands with his hand raised in adoration, before a figure of a man hanging on a cross.  However, it is not a savior that is depicted on the cross.  Instead, the man hanging on the cross has the head of a donkey.  The caption scrawled into the graffiti reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”
This is hardly the exaltation of the Cross.  This is hardly Christ the King, raised up upon his throne.  The man hanging on the cross in the Alexamenos graffiti is hardly someone to be worshipped.  According to the graffiti artist, the cross is a lie… a sham… something ridiculous… utter foolishness.
This is the problem Paul is dealing with in our second reading today.  Paul writes to the church in Corinth, that the Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23)
Among the Gentiles Paul speaks of were the Romans, who used crucifixion as the preferred execution for the lowest of criminals, rebellious slaves, or defeated and humiliated foes of the empire.  They looked upon the victims of crucifixion with utter contempt and the suggestion that such a person should be revered, let alone worshipped, was the object of Roman mockery as evidenced by the Alexamenos graffiti.  For Romans, the cross was not a sign of wisdom; the cross was stupid.  The man hanging on it had done a very stupid thing, and he was being punished for it.  How in the world could anyone look at that cross and see God’s wisdom?
First century Jews looked upon the crucified with even more contempt.  For the Jews, the crucified was much worse than a criminal, slave, or defeated foe of the Roman empire.  No, they were cursed by God Himself.  Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “God's curse rests on him who hangs on a tree.”  For first century Jews, the cross was not a sign of power; the cross was the ultimate sign of failure.  The man hanging on it was cursed by God and could not possibly be his son.  How in the world could anyone look at that cross and see God’s power?
What about us Christians?  How do we look upon the cross?  I’m sure none of us, if asked to create some artistic rendering of the cross, would draw something like the Alexamenos graffiti.  And I’m fairly certain all of us would confess a great love and devotion for the cross.  After all, the cross hangs in our homes, churches, schools, and so on.  It’s the sign of our salvation.
But the cross is difficult to look at, isn’t it?  Perhaps, at times, the cross indeed appears, even to our eyes, as foolishness and a stumbling block.  It’s a natural reaction to the cross.  Think of the inquiring minds of your own children.  Did they not, when they were very young, ask you the question, “Mommy, why did Jesus die on the cross?”
The cross is difficult to look at and difficult to comprehend not just because it shows us something violent.  The cross is difficult to look at because it shows us something of ourselves.  When we look upon the cross, we say, “My sins put you up there Lord.  My sins nailed you to the tree."  But, our sins are not strong enough to keep Jesus nailed to the tree and buried in the tomb.
When we look upon the cross, certainly we see the nails, we see the thorns, we see the lashes of the scourging, we see the wounded heart of Jesus pierced by a spear.  Is this perhaps how we look upon ourselves as well at times?  Do we only see our wounds, our fallenness, our sins?
If so, we should be reminded that just like the cross, we too are a paradox.  Sure, we have our dark side.  Just as the cross has it’s dark side.  Sure, we have our ugliness.  Just as the cross has it’s ugliness.
But, the cross, ultimately is not dark and ugly.  The cross and the Savior who hangs upon it is the light of the world and a sign of beauty, hope and salvation.
Likewise, we too, ultimately are not dark and ugly.  We are created in the image and likeness of He who is the light of the world and we too are beautiful.
That cross is beautiful.  Why else would we display it so.
You are beautiful.  How else could God have created you? 
Ultimately, when we look upon that cross, we see the empty tomb... the resurrection... our risen Lord filled with light in his glorious Body.  Ultimately, when you look upon yourself, see the same.  This Lent, let Christ reveal to you your true beauty.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Contraception and It's Empty Promises

Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Lent - Year B

For the last several weeks, the issue of religious freedom has been front and center in the social and political spheres of our American culture.  And the question of whether or not the federal government can force religious institutions to purchase health care coverage from insurance companies who will offer services against our religious beliefs is at the center of this discussion.  At the same time, this unfortunate turn of events also offers us the great opportunity to examine and discuss God’s plan for the human person, especially with regards to human reproduction.

Earlier this week, someone brought to my attention a homily given last week by a good friend to many of us here.  Fr. Mark Gurtner was an associate pastor here at St. Vincent’s for 9 years and is now the pastor at our neighboring parish, Our Lady of Good Hope, and Judicial Vicar for our diocese.  Fr. Mark’s homily from last Sunday was reprinted in Saturday’s Journal Gazette.  And I found it to be so darn good, I’d simply like to share it with you today.

“Last Saturday (2/25/12) a political cartoon was featured in the Journal Gazette which showed a husband holding a newspaper which said “Santorum: America is at War with Satan” and the husband says to his wife “Yes, and apparently the front line is your uterus.” While crass in its wording, I could not help but think that there was an ironic truth expressed.

In many ways, the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s was built on a premise of giving new freedom to women. Childbearing came to be seen as a kind of shackle, especially keeping women from pursuing the same sorts of career opportunities that men seemed to have. The solution that the culture offered to women, the savior meant to liberate women from the shackles which childbearing perceivably imposed on them, was contraception and abortion. No more would women be enslaved by their biology. They were now free to control their lives without unwanted pregnancy getting in the way.

Some years later, after the use of contraception and abortion became mainstays of our culture, Pope John Paul II asked an important question, “These things which were meant to liberate women, have they liberated her? Or have they not rather made her a slave?” (to the Bishops of the Midwest, ad limina visit, 1987). What did the Pope mean by this?

I would offer these thoughts. In marriage, contraception has a way of divorcing sex from love. When sexual relations between spouses loses part of its full power, that is, the ability to procreate, what is also lost is the power to communicate “I love you, and I give my whole self to you.” When this happens, rather than a spouse who is embraced and loved as the person that she is, more and more the woman becomes simply the object of sexual pleasure for the man. By God’s design, women are especially sensitive and perceptive to this reality. A woman intuitively knows when she is being used. So the use of contraception in marriage has not liberated the woman, but rather leads her to enslavement, leads her to being an object to be used, even by her husband.

This enslavement becomes an even starker reality when abortion becomes involved. Again, touted as a liberator of women when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, in reality it rips at her motherly heart, enslaving her in a reality of regret and sorrow at her lost child. Abortion’s ready availability also only expands the ways in which the woman can become enslaved by men as access to abortion makes it even easier for men to use women without the thought of any consequences.

Indeed, Pope John Paul’s question has become as poignant today as ever: has the woman really become liberated or has she not rather become enslaved?

It is not hard to see the hand of Satan behind this, tempting women with the promise of freedom when in reality she is being offered enslavement. And Satan knows what he is doing. To enslave the culture of our age, it is enough to enslave the woman. Pope John Paul II also pointed out that the culture flows through the heart of the woman so important is the role of the woman in family life, in raising children, in society in general (see On the Dignity of Women, #30). If the woman is enslaved, the result is death, death of the culture, death of marriage, death of true love, the death of life itself.

Satan is on the attack in our age, and the battle line is indeed the heart of the woman.”
I think Fr. Mark hit the nail on the head.
I would like to add on to Fr. Mark’s words by sharing with you some words of the late Pope Paul VI.  On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the Papal Encyclical “Humanae Vitae” which presented the Church’s teaching on contraception.  And 44 years ago, the Pope prophetically made three predictions of consequences that would result from contraception.  And I would ask you to consider if he was right and if we are better or worse off as a society because of contraception.

First, the Pope stated that contraception “could open the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.  Not much experience is needed to by fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings - and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation - need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.” (HV 17)  

Second, the Pope predicted that “a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and... reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” (HV 17)

And lastly, the Pope foresaw the grave danger of government interference in such affairs.  He said, “careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law."  And he warned that we as a people, in an attempt to avoid God’s plan for our lives and human reproduction, “may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.” (HV 17)  

So, I ask you: over the last 40 years, have we seen a general lowering of moral standards?  Do men reverence women as we should or have women been reduced to an object for selfish desires?  And, are public authorities seizing control of your intimate responsibilities?  

Was Pope Paul VI wrong?  Or, was he right?  Is our society better off because of contraception?  Or, has contraception placed a shackle on our freedom to truly love one another?