Sunday, June 2, 2013

Real Presence

Homily from The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) - Year C

Mass isn't a flashback, it's time travel.  The events of the Last Supper and Calvary aren't just "remembered" they are realities re-presented to us, here and now.

Click here to listen to this homily.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

You Will Be My Witnesses

Homily from The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord - Year C

Before ascending to his Father, Jesus told his disciples, "You will be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth."  This is our call: to be witnesses to Jesus Christ by what we say and do.

Click here to listen to this homily.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Family Meeting

Homily from the 6th Sunday of Easter - Year C

Ever have a "family meeting" to hash out house rules and restore peace and order?  The Church is a true family.  Occasionally, she calls "family meetings" known as Ecumenical Councils to restore peace and order to our lives as Christians.

Click here to listen to this homily.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Necessary Hardships

Homily from the 5th Sunday of Easter - Year C

It goes without saying that we all want to get to Heaven.  When it comes down to it, that’s why we’re all here right now.  This is part of our plan for getting to Heaven: we pray, we listen to the Word of God, we receive the Eucharist, and we do so as a family, a Church.

But there’s still one more thing we must do to get to Heaven.  St. Paul tells us what it is in today’s first reading.  And it’s difficult to hear.  It’s stark.  St. Paul says,  “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

We have been undergoing many hardships lately.  Boston... West, Texas  The other day a factory collapsed in Bangladesh; over 300 people are dead.

And we don’t have to look far and wide to see hardship.  We find it in our own families and communities.  Marriages fall apart.  Friends and relatives are stricken with illness.  The innocent lose their lives.

And we ask, “Why?  Why is there all this suffering in the world?  Why this hardship?”  We ask God that question.  And we wait for answers.  And sometimes it seems that answers don’t come.  We don’t hear an explanation.  The thing is though, the answer to our suffering and hardship doesn’t come with words.

A lady once told me about the time she was sharing the story of her hardship, her suffering with her husband.  And after listening for a little bit, the husband offered her a few answers, some advice and a possible solution.  And she stopped him and said, “I didn’t ask you to fix my problem.  I asked you just to listen.”

That’s the response of a lover.  A lover listens.  A lover empathizes.  A lover is there with you in your hardship.  This is how God answers our hardship and suffering.

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Peter Kreeft talks about this beautifully in his book “Making Sense Out of Suffering.”  He points out that in the midst of suffering, we often times desire someone there with us, rather than an explanation for our suffering.  And God is with us.

“God didn’t varnish over our sin and our suffering.  He came into it... We needed a surgeon, and he came and reached into our wounds with bloody hands.  He didn’t give us a placebo or a pill or good advice.  He gave us himself... In coming into our world he came also into our suffering.  He sits beside us in the stalled car in the snowbank.  Sometimes he starts the car for us, but even when he doesn’t, he is there.  That is the only thing that matters.  Who cares about cars and success and miracles and long life when you have God sitting beside you?”

And when we look at the Cross, that’s what we see.  We see God sitting beside us.

Peter Kreeft asks,  “Are we broken?  He is broken with us.  Are we rejected?... He was ‘despised and rejected of men.’  Do we weep?... He was ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’  Do people misunderstand us, turn away from us?  They hid their faces from him as from an outcast, a leper.  Is our love betrayed?... He too loved and was betrayed by the ones he loved.

When we feel the weight of the world crashing down upon us - we must know - that he is here with us.

“Every tear we shed becomes his tear.  He may not yet wipe them away, but he makes them his.”

And when we suffer, we can as Peter Kreeft says pretty well, “use our very brokenness as nourishment for those we love.  Since we are his body, we too are the bread that is broken for others... our very tears help wipe away tears.”

St. Paul says is even better in his letter to the Colossians: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.”  All of our sufferings are transformable into the work Jesus does from his Cross.  When we suffer for each other, we “love one another” as Christ has loved us

“In summary,” Kreeft says, “Jesus did three things to solve the problem of suffering.  “First, he came.  He suffered with us. He wept.  Second, in becoming man he transformed the meaning of our suffering; it is now part of his work of redemption.  Third, he died and rose.  Dying he paid the price for sin and opened heaven to us; rising, he transformed death from a hole into a door, from an end into a beginning."

That’s what we’re celebrating this Easter season, the opening of that door, that new beginning, that leads to Heaven.  Where “he will wipe away ever tear... and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain.”  He will “make all things new”

“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of Heaven.”  So pray, my brother’s and sisters, that Christ’s sacrifice... that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father.

Be Lightly Clad and Jump In

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Easter - Year C (Life Teen Retreat Closing Mass)

Here's the homily from the Mass at the conclusion of the Spring Life Teen Retreat "United in the Cross."

Click here to listen.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resurrection - True Story

Homily from Easter Sunday - Year C 

My friend Mark Hart, the vice-president of Life Teen, got onto a plane one day and the guy sitting next to him asked him what he did for a living.  When Mark told him he worked in Catholic youth ministry, the man politely explained that he wasn’t a believer and it was his belief that the resurrection of Jesus was faked; that the Apostles stole the body of Jesus and what we are doing today is worshipping an ideal and not the risen Son of God.

Mark listened intently, acknowledged the man’s concerns, then took a moment to share withhim what he believed.  Namely that God did in fact become man, took flesh and built a Church to allow us to become partakers in His Divine nature through it.

Then Mark told the man that if he was right, that if Christ hadn’t risen from the dead then this man’s explanation was an even more implausible miracle.  That a handful of fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot and other uneducated day laborers invented the biggest lie in the history of the world (one that has re-shaped the world) and they were all martyred for it, all just to protect a lie.

Basically they left the comfort of their businesses, homes and families… went to the corners of the earth, were chased out of towns, spat upon, imprisoned, tortured and hunted… they were crucified upside down, burned alive at the stake, cut up by gladiators, fed to wild animals, dragged behind chariots and hurled hundreds of feet down to their deaths…all to keep their sham quiet, all to protect a lie. 

So, either God did what He said He would…took flesh and came to save us from ourselves, or, a motley crew of sailors decided to invent a Messiah and then perish without a second thought to themselves or their family, singing hymns of joy and gratitude while being brutally martyred.  

So, we have to ask ourselves - which is more implausible - God fulfilling prophecies thousands of years old out of His fidelity and great love... or tradesmen hatching a hair-brained scheme and sealing it with their blood?

I am often asked what made me want to become a priest.  And there are a number of reasons.  But, truth to be told, the real reason why I am a priest is because of the Resurrection.  Because 2,000 years ago, a man said he was the Son of God.  Then (in what must have seemed impossible for his disciples to believe) God was killed.  And then (in what was nearly impossible for his disciples to believe) he rose from the dead.

The real reason why some of us have traveled long distances to be with our families this day is not merely because we want to be close to loved ones.  It’s because we are responding to the fact that the Son of God has risen from the dead.

The real reason why you give your lives unselfishly to your spouses and children in the everyday sacrifices is not merely because it is your duty as mothers and fathers.  It’s because you are responding to the fact that the Son of God has risen from the dead.

The real reason why there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world is not merely because we have beautiful music, art, liturgy and preaching.  It’s because we are responding to the fact that the Son of God has risen from the dead.

The real reason why we the Church has fed, clothed, and housed more people in need than any other group or institution in history is not merely because we want to do good for one another.  It’s because we are responding to the fact that the Son of God has risen from the dead.

The real reason why there are institutions such as hospitals and universities in the world is not merely because it is a moral responsibility to care for the sick and to educate the young.  It’s because we are responding to the fact that the Son of God has risen from the dead.  (Did you know that?  There were no hospitals before Jesus.  The sick sat on the side of the road.  It wasn’t until after his resurrection that we decided we needed to do something about sickness in the world.

The real reason why you and I are here in this Church, right now, and every Sunday of the year, is not merely because we want to fulfill an obligation.  It’s because we are responding to the fact that the Son of God has risen from the dead.

The real reason for all our hope, all our joy, all our faith, all our love... the reason why we are alive; why our hearts beat, our lungs breath, our minds think and our souls are perpetual motion machines destined for eternal bliss in Heaven is because, as my friend Mark says, “God would rather die than risk spending eternity without you.”  That is a meditation we can reflect on all day today; indeed, all of our lives: "God would rather die than risk spending eternity without you."

The reason for all of this is because He has, in fact, risen from the dead.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Kissed by Christ

Homily from Holy Thursday - Year C

I love our Pope.  I have been fascinated with his every move since his election.  Beginning with his first action as Pope which he made before we even saw his face: the taking of the name, Francis.

As you know, he is the first Pope to take the name Francis.  So, it’s an act that carries great significance.  I recently saw a YouTube video where a Franciscan priest points out, “In taking the name Francis, the Pope wishes to evoke something in us.  He wants us to think about ‘What does Francis mean?’”

One of the things St. Francis did, which you can read about in the book “The Life of St. Francis” written by that other great Franciscan, St. Bonaventure, involves his encounters with lepers.

One day (before he had entered into the “religious life” and formed his community of the brothers minor) he was riding a horse across the plain of Assisi and he saw this leper.  And his first reaction was one of fear and horror.  But then he remembered a resolution he had made to make himself completely obedient to the will of God.  So he got down from his horse and went to meet the leper.  And when the poor man stretched his out his hand to receive alms.  Francis kissed his leprous hand and filled it with money.

On another occasion he lived among a community of lepers.  He served them, washed their feet, bound up their wounds.  And having done this he kissed the wounds of lepers.

St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most beloved Saints of all time, not because of who he was, but because of what he did.  He once said, “Preach always.  When necessary, use words.”  His actions, such as kissing the lepers, spoke volumes more than his sermons.  Because in his actions he reflected, not himself, but the love of Christ.

And this is what we see our Pope, our Francis, do today.  We see him imitate Saint Francis' example.  We see him imitate the love of Christ.
A few days ago, at his first Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square, Francis ordered the Popemobile to stop several times.  Because parents were holding their babies up to him to be blessed.  And in addition to blessing the babies, he had his attendants take the babies from their  parents hands, and lift them up into the hands of the Pope and he kissed them.  He did this over and over again.  And a little girl was watching this with her little brother and she said to him, “When we have babies we’ll come back and he will kiss them.”

When the Popemobile drove alongside people with special needs, he again ordered it to stop.  And he embraced them, and kissed them.

Earlier today, Francis celebrated this Holy Thursday Mass at a juvenile detention center.  Days ago, when it was announced to the young people there that the Pope was coming to see them one of them exclaimed, “At last I’ll get to meet someone who says he is my father!”  And after Francis washed the feet of twelve imprisoned minors, including two girls, he kissed their feet.

We are fascinated with Pope Francis, we are fascinated with Saint Francis, because ultimately, we are fascinated with Jesus Christ.  And we long with our hearts deepest desire to be touched by Christ, to be embraced by Christ, to be kissed by Christ.

We are all infants, completely dependent upon our parent, our Heavenly Father.  And we want to be taken up into His embrace and kissed by Him.

We are all people with special needs, who desperately need the attention, the love and the care of God.  And we want to be seen by Him, to be recognized by Him and kissed by Him.

We are all prisoners, held bound by our sins and the sufferings this fallen world imposes upon us.  And we want to set free and cleansed of our sins by Jesus Christ and to be kissed by Him.

What we celebrate tonight, is the fact, that God does this.  Jesus Christ has entered into the prison of our world.  He becomes an infant, he embraces lepers and others with special needs, and he washes the feet of his disciples.

And on this night, Jesus institutes two Sacraments, he gives us two gifts, by which he kisses us: The Eucharist, in which he hands over to us, his own Body and Blood, to be touched to our lips, so that we might receive a divine kiss from God Himself; and the priesthood, in which he shares his one priesthood with his disciples so that they in turn would share it with the men who would succeed them up to the present day so that we might receive this divine kiss from God Himself.

When we come to communion tonight, let us take up as a meditation how tremendously God loves us.  That in this Eucharist, we enter into the most profound intimacy Heaven and Earth have ever known: the union of the Creator with His creation.

And as we turn to offer each other the sign of peace and as we go out into the world let us follow Christ’s command in the words he spoke to the Apostles after he washed their feet: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  Let us love one another with the love Pope Francis and Saint Francis exemplify for us: the love of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Empty Yourself

Homily from Passion Sunday - Year C

My high school football coach had a sign with quote on it hanging on his office wall and I’ve never forgotten it.  It said, "Today I gave everything I had.  And what I've kept for myself, I've lost forever."

It’s another way of saying: Put forth your best effort. Don’t hold anything back.  Because as soon as today becomes yesterday, it’s in the history books.

Another way of putting it is “Give it all you’ve got.”

This is what St. Paul is talking about in his letter to the Philippians.  You could say that today’s second reading is an ancient “Win One For the Gipper” speech from 2,000 years ago.  He’s talking about how Jesus, in his passion, death and resurrection gave it everything he had.

Imagine yourself sitting at the feet of Paul and he says these words to you about the one called Jesus:

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.

Jesus gave us everything he had.  He kept nothing for himself.  Paul uses that wonderful phrase “he emptied himself”  To continue the sports analogy, Jesus left it all on the court.  (Or all on the cross.)

And like a great coach, Paul wishes to inspire you and I to imitate the example of Christ.  Just as Christ emptied himself for us; so too we should empty ourselves for him.  Specifically, we should empty ourselves of our sin.

Jesus emptied himself of his own life so that you and I might escape our death.  Conversely, you and I need to empty ourselves of our own death, the death that is our sins within us, so that we might embrace his life.

Tomorrow night, is our parish penance service.  And here we are on it’s eve, like a team in the locker room minutes before taking the field.  My Spiritual Director instructed me to pray about how this Holy Week was going to be different from past Holy Weeks.  Well, the first thing I’m going to do to is become different myself, by going to confession tomorrow night.  And I want to invite each and every one of you to do the same.

We shouldn’t keep carrying around our sins.  Let Christ carry what he came to earth carry.  Let him take your sins upon his shoulders.  Let him take them up to his cross.  Let him put your sins to death with his last breath.  And let him raise you to new life through his resurrection.

Our Church should be packed tomorrow night.  Let’s make it happen.  Let’s fill these pews.  And if the thought of waiting in line for confession seems like an imposition; all the more reason to come.  Offer your waiting in line up for the poor, the starving, the unloved.  Unite your sufferings to Christ’s.

I’ll be thinking of that quote before I go to confession tomorrow: “Today I gave everything I had, and what I’ve kept for myself I’ve lost forever.” 

Tomorrow night, let’s empty ourselves.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What I'm Reading: "The Story of a Soul" by St. Therese of Lisieux

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I can't believe I've lived 39 years as a Catholic and have not, until now, read the autobiography of The Little Flower: "The Story of a Soul" by St. Therese of Lisieux.  It is a work of beauty, by a work of beauty, for the One whose work is Beauty.

If you've only heard about Therese's "Little Way" but have not read it in her own words, make this part of your spiritual reading in the near future.

Here are just a few of my favorite excerpts:

"I saw that every flower He has created has a beauty of its own, that the splendor of the rose and the lily's whiteness do not deprive the violet of its scent nor make less ravishing the daisy's charm.  I saw that if every little flower wished to be a rose, Nature would lose her spring adornments, and the fields would be no longer enameled with their varied flowers.  So it is with the world of souls, the living garden of the Lord.  It pleases Him to create great Saints, who may be compared with the lilies or the rose; but He has also created little ones, who must be content to be daisies or violets, nestling at His feet to delight His eyes when He should choose to look at them.  The happier they are to be as He wills, the more perfect they are."

"I am daringly confident that one day I shall become a great Saint.  I am not relying on my own merits, because I haven't any.  I hope in Him, who is Virtue and Sanctity itself; He alone, content with my frail efforts, will lift me up to Himself, clothe me with His own merits and make me a Saint.  I did not realize in those days that one had to go through much suffering to become a Saint."

"My mortification consisted in checking my self-will, keeping back an impatient word, doing little things for those around me without their knowledge and countless things like that."

"The closer we come to God, the more simple we become."

"The more one advances, the further off one sees the goal to be."

"I liken you, Mother, to the more valuable brush which Jesus lovingly takes up when He has in mind some great work upon your children's souls.  I am the very little brush He uses afterwards for minor details."

"Prayer, for me, is simply a raising of the heart, a simple glance towards Heaven, an expression of love and gratitude in the midst of trial, as well as in times of joy; in a word, it is something noble and supernatural expanding my soul and uniting it to God."

"Jesus does not ask for glorious deeds.  He asks only for self-surrender and for gratitude."

"If only I were a priest!  How lovingly I would bear You in my hands, my Jesus, when my voice had brought You down from Heaven.  How lovingly I would give You to souls!  Yet while wanting to be a priest, I admire St. Francis of Assisi and envy his humility, longing to imitate him in refusing this sublime dignity."

"In a transport of ecstatic joy I cried: 'Jesus, my Love, I have at last found my vocation; it is love!  I have found my place in the Church's heart, the place You Yourself have given me, my God, Yes, there in the heart of Mother Church I will be love; so shall I be all things, so shall my dreams come true.'"

"Love proves itself by deed, and how shall I prove mint?  The little child will scatter flowers whose fragrant perfume will surround the royal throne, and in a voice that is silver-toned, she will sin the canticle of love."

And lastly, after having seen her cousin's wedding invitations, St. Therese decided to write an invitation to her own marriage to Christ, her Heavenly Spouse:

The Creator of Heaven & Earth
and Ruler of the World
Queen of the Court of Heaven
Invite you to the Spiritual Marriage of Their August Son
Little Therese Martin, 
now Lady and Princess of the Kingdoms of the Childhood
and Passion of Jesus, given in dowry by her Divine Spouse, 
from whom she holds her titles of nobility:

It was not possible to invite you to the Wedding Feast
celebrated on Mount Carmel on September 8, 1890,
only the Celestial Court being admitted.

You are nevertheless invited to the Bride's RECEPTION
tomorrow, the Day of Eternity, when Jesus, the Son of God, 
will come in splendor on the clouds of Heaven to judge the 
Living and the Dead.

The hour being uncertain, please hold yourself in readiness and watch."

Now, I'm on to "The Life of St. Francis of Assisi" by St. Bonaventure to learn more about this great Saint after whom our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has taken his name.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Lent - Year A Readings

A couple of weeks ago Matthew Kelly spoke at the Diocesan Men's Conference about his research on engaged Catholics and the four signs they have in common.  You may have heard of the 80/20 rule that says 80% of effects are produced by 20% of causes.  Matthew Kelly's research revealed that 80% of a parishes volunteer and financial resources from from 7% of registered parishoners.  This is something we can, and must, change.

Click here to listen to this homily.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Holy Is His Name

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Lent - Year C

Why is it, the name of the Lord is literally the only name that is used as a curse?  Answer: it's a diabolical attack.  If Satan can get use God's name "in vain" or in an empty or useless way, he can get us to see God as empty and useless.

Click here to listen to this homily.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Final Words From Our Pastor

One of the best ways to understand and fall in love with our Catholic faith is to listen to the words of our pastor.  And not just the pastor of our local Church, but the pastor of our one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, the successor of St. Peter, chief of the Apostles: Pope Benedict XVI.

Think about it.  Our Church isn't just St. Vincent de Paul or St. Charles Borromeo.  These are just particular gatherings of members of the Church.  In reality, the Church has over 1 billion visible members.  We can't all fit into one building.  So, we gather where we are.  But we do have one head, one shepherd, and one true, high Priest: Jesus Christ; who gives others a share in his ministerial priesthood.  And to one in particular, through the Holy Spirit, he elects as his Vicar: the Pope, the pastor of our Church.

So, our Church will soon have a new pastor, a new Pope, I would like to recommend reading the Pope's words from his weekly general audiences every Wednesday and his weekly Angelus message every Sunday.

Here is the text from Pope Benedict's greeting to the English speaking pilgrims at today's Wednesday general audience, his last:

Saint Peter's Square
Wednesday, 27 February

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer a warm and affectionate greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors who have joined me for this, my last General Audience. Like Saint Paul, whose words we heard earlier, my heart is filled with thanksgiving to God who ever watches over his Church and her growth in faith and love, and I embrace all of you with joy and gratitude.

During this Year of Faith, we have been called to renew our joyful trust in the Lord’s presence in our lives and in the life of the Church. I am personally grateful for his unfailing love and guidance in the eight years since I accepted his call to serve as the Successor of Peter. I am also deeply grateful for the understanding, support and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also throughout the world.

The decision I have made, after much prayer, is the fruit of a serene trust in God’s will and a deep love of Christ’s Church. I will continue to accompany the Church with my prayers, and I ask each of you to pray for me and for the new Pope. In union with Mary and all the saints, let us entrust ourselves in faith and hope to God, who continues to watch over our lives and to guide the journey of the Church and our world along the paths of history.

I commend all of you, with great affection, to his loving care, asking him to strengthen you in the hope which opens our hearts to the fullness of life that he alone can give. To you and your families, I impart my blessing. Thank you!"

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Lent - Year C

Jesus' transfiguration reminds us of the continual conversion we must undergo to be made ready for the glory that is our destiny.

Click here to listen!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How a Pope is Elected

Click here to start the presentation.

Here is a fantastic and fun Flash presentation of how a Pope is elected. 

On Wednesday night, our high school teens enacted a Conclave and Caleb Cardinal Cruse was elected and took the name Pope Lando II.

On Monday night, our 7th and 8th grade students will enact a Conclave at Edge.  The gathering space will be turned into the Sistine Chapel and one of our students will be "elected Pope!"

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Call of Duty

1st Sunday of Lent - Year C

Jesus faced temptation by Satan during his 40 days fast in the desert.  By saying "no" to temptation, his "yes" meant more.  Let's ask the Holy Spirit to lead us through the wilderness of temptation and say "no" to all that desensitizes us.

Here's the podcast of my homily.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Are You Letting Go of This Lent?

Homily from the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

Lent is just days away.  Many of us will give something up for those forty days, a noble practice.  At the same time, we may want to use this Lent as an opportunity to let go of something for good that stands in the way of our relationship with Jesus.

Here is the audio from my homily this past Sunday.  I want to thank Frankie Strzelecki and Bob Nicola for making these audio clips possible.

Fr. Andrew's Homily Podcast - Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What is Love?

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

By a show of hands, as you heard today’s second reading, how many of you thought of, or were reminded of, a wedding?  That reading is easily, the most popular reading at weddings.
I’ve only been a priest for a couple years.  If I’ve done 50 weddings, that reading has been read at over 45 of them.

Appropriately so, right?  Because young couples on their wedding day are so intensely in love.  They love their spouse.  They love the fact that they’re beginning their life together as husband and wife.  They love that they’re in love!  There’s no greater feeling than love.

And newlywed couples want to get it right.  They want to keep that love going and keep it on fire.  So, in St. Paul’s words they hear a prescription of love.

They hear what love is: “love is patient, love is kind... it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”  And newlywed couples say, “Yeah, we wanna do that!”

And they hear what love is not: “It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude”  And the couples say, “Yeah, and we wanna avoid all that; all that bad stuff.”

So what is love?  It’s one of the most overused words in the English language.
We use it for everything.  “I love God... I love my mother... I love my baby’s laugh... I love coming home... I love my computer...  I love my car... I love the Super Bowl... I love bacon.”

How can “love” be an accurate word in all those instances?  I mean can we really use the same word to describe how we feel about both God and a material thing like bacon?  As tempted as I am to say “yes” right now, I won’t blaspheme.

The dictionary defines “love” in part as: “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties... warm attachment, enthusiasm or devotion."  That definition stinks.  Those are just warm fuzzies.  Jesus says, “love your enemies” (Mt 5:44)  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mean “have warm fuzzies for your enemies."  I’m sorry, but I don’t have, and I’m not going to have “strong affection” for my enemies.  I’m not going to have “strong affection” for terrorists.

Love isn’t affection.  Affection is one of the many forms love takes.  So is suffering.  So what is love?

St. Thomas Aquinas
I think there are two really, really good definitions of love.  The first is by St. Thomas Aquinas, who says, love is “to will the good of the other.”

That makes sense.  I love my family.  I want the good for them.  I love you.  I want the good for you.  And according to this definition, I can love my enemies.  I can want their good.  Sometimes, what is good for my enemies (such as terrorists) is that they go to jail so they can’t harm anyone.  

What is also good about Thomas’ definition is that it focuses on the other and not on the self.
And St. Paul defines love similarly.  “Love is patient, love is kind.”  Those are attitudes one has when one is concerned for the other.

The ego has no place in a heart full of love.  St. Paul says this too, right?  Look at all the things Paul says love is not: they all have to do with focusing on one's self.  Love is not jealous - not caring if someone is outshining me.  Love is not pompous or inflated - there’s no ego directing attention to one's self.  Love does not seek it’s own interests - it seeks the interests of the other.  Love does not brood over injury - the ego is very attentive to how one has been hurt

St. John
The other really, really good definition of love is a perfect definition of love.  It’s by St. John the Evangelist who says in his First Letter: “God is love.”  Make’s perfect sense when thinking about St. Thomas’ definition right?  For who wishes the good of the other, the good of us, more than God?

“Love is patient, love is kind” - who is more patient, who is more kind than God?  He is so incredibly patient and kind with us despite how we repeatedly sin.

Love “is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude.”  God is none of these things.  God has no ego.  He is infinitely concerned with us.

Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  Well, that’s what God does for us.  Jesus bears and endures us.  He puts up with us in our sin.  He bears the cross and endures his passion and death

“Love never fails.”  God never fails.  God always wins.  No one is ever going to defeat God.  He even defeats death.

Sometime very soon, break open your Bible and read this passage again: 1 Cor 13.  While you read it, look upon the Crucifix and look upon the definition of love.  And as you do so, look upon your God who wills the good of the other, who wills your good.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Practicing the Presence

Talk from XLT

Brother Lawrence
When do you feel the presence of God?  Where do you fell the presence of God?

I recently finished a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God.”  Its considered a spiritual classic.  It was written by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.  He was a lay brother who lived in a Carmelite monastery in Paris in the 17th century.

He spent most of his life within the monastery.  He didn’t have a lofty title or important job.  He spent most of his life working in the kitchen and repairing his brothers’ sandals.

However, he possessed a holiness that drew many people to seek his spiritual guidance.  And the wisdom he passed on to them in conversation and letters became the basis for his book, “The Practice of the Presence of God.”

Spending all that time working in the kitchen helped him develop a spirituality that was deeply intertwined with work and the simple tasks of everyday life.

Click here to buy this book.
Once, in conversation with a visitor seeking his wisdom, Brother Lawrence said that  “we should establish ourselves in the presence of God by continually talking to Him... That we should feed our souls on lofty thoughts of God, and so find great joy in being with Him.  That we should surrender ourselves in things temporal and in things spiritual, entirely and with complete abandonment to God...” (PPG p. 24)

He seems to have taken St. Paul, literally, when the Apostle said to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks...” (1 Thes 5:16-18)

However, Brother Lawrence’s ceaseless prayer wasn’t done on the knees of his body.  But rather, on the knees of his heart, his will, and his spirit.

He told one of his directees that practicing the presence of God “consists of renouncing once and for all everything that does not lead to God, so that we might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him, a conversation free of mystery and of the utmost simplicity.  That we needed only to know God intimately present in us, to address ourselves to HIm at every moment, to ask His aid, to discern His will in doubtful things, and to do well those things we see clearly He is demanding of us offering them to Him before doing them and giving Him thanks for having done them for Him after we have done them.”  (PPG p. 37)
And that’s basically it.

It’s a method of simply being aware of God’s presence that is already there, simply waiting for us to engage the Lord in conversation.  It seems too simple right?  I have to admit, when I read the book, I thought to myself, “Really?  So many people came from all over just to hear Brother Lawrence say that?”  And the truth is, it is extremely simple.  But simple doesn’t mean “easy.”  To live as Brother Lawrence did, seeing God in every task of every day of our life, is a challenge.  But a challenge that, if undertaken, will bring us into greater intimacy with God in precisely those moments where He belongs.  Which is simply, every single moment of our lives.

Although it is a challenge, Brother Lawrence reminds us that God gives us everything we need to practice his presence at all times.  He says that God “does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration... the least little remembrance will always be most pleasing to Him.  One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”  (PPG p. 51)

Your presence here right now is a sign that you know something about practicing the presence.  You know quite a bit about it because you’ve come to be here where He is so profoundly present to us in the Eucharist.  What Brother Lawrence suggests is that our experience here won’t end in an hour.  But can be taken with us after we walk out those doors and be sustained by God’s grace until we meet again.

He says, “It is not necessary to be always in church to be with God, we can make a private chapel of our heart, where we can retire from time to time to commune with Him, peacefully, humbly, lovingly... offer Him your heart from time to time during the day in the midst of your work, at every moment if you can; do not burden yourself with rules or particular devotions but act with faith, with love and with humility.” (PPG p. 52)

Practicing the presence of God, which we do now, is pure joy.  Because it is the closest thing to Heaven when will not merely practice the presence of God, but actually live within His presence eternally.  You and I can experience right now, at this very moment, a foretaste of Heaven when the Father will drown you with His love.

“This King,” Brother Lawrence says, “filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite.  He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways;  He forgives me and relieves me of my principal bad habits without talking about them” (PPG p. 55-56).

An Accurate, Orderly and Certain Gospel

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

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Caravaggio
I have here before us a painting.  Without me offering any explanation of it, you can tell me a number of things about it.  You can tell me what you see.

You can tell me who is in the picture.  The man on the left is obviously Jesus.  He has the usual Jesus haircut and beard, the white robe, and you see the wounds of his crucifixion: the holes in his hands and his pierced side.  The man on the right is obviously Thomas.  His finger enters the pierced side of Christ.  And he is amazed by what he sees indicated by the exaggerated furrrowing of his brow.

You can tell me about other things that you see: the other men in the painting, the color of their clothing, or the stark black background.

But there other things you can tell me about this painting.  You can tell me things about this painting you don’t see, but nevertheless can be certain about.

For instance, on the back of the painting is a well worn hanging wire.  Even though you’ve never seen this picture hanging on a wall, you can certain though logical deduction that it has hung on a wall somewhere.

Another thing: this painting is matted and framed.  Even though you’ve never seen the act of this painting being matted and framed, you can be certain through logical deduction that at some point in the past someone chose a matte, frame and glass, cut them all and fitted the painting within it.

Lastly, and quite simply, it is a painting.  Meaning that it has a painter.  This painting didn’t just come into existence on its own.  Even though you’ve never seen him face to face, you know that this creation has a creator.  He’s one of my favorite painters and his name is Caravaggio.

The beginning of today’s Gospel reading are the very first words of the Gospel of Luke.  Listen again to St. Luke’s words, particularly the claims, the bold claims he makes: “I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” (Lk 1:3-4)

What are the bold claims Luke makes at the beginning of his Gospel?  Three words in particular stand out:  That he has investigated everything accurately.  That he has written down his findings in an orderly manner.  And that we may be certain of it.  Luke claims that what we read in his Gospel is accurate, orderly, and certain.  In other words, it’s true.

How Do We Know?  How Can We Be Certain?  Like a painting, we can be certain that Luke tells us, not only by what we see or hear, such as the words of his Gospel which he pledge is accurate and orderly, but we can also be certain about the claims of Luke, the claims of the other Gospel writers, Saint Paul, and the Church by what we can deduce, by those things we can know without seeing.  Because there are effects of the truth of the Gospel.  There is evidence of the truth of the Gospel.

We as Christians believe that there is a God.  But how can we be certain?  Well, consider His effects, His creatures.  Everywhere you look, you see something; you see creation.  You see trees, little rivers, mountains Gandalf, mountains!  We’re looking at God’s painting.  Just as we can say with confidence that this painting has a painter, likewise, we can say with confidence that creation must have a creator.

St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas called this his argument for the existence of God based on contingency.  In it, he says that all things come into being and pass out of being.  In his documentary series, Catholicism, Fr. Robert Barron uses the example of a summer cloud to illustrate the point.  A summer cloud will come into being in the sky and just as easily pass away.
So you ask yourself, where did it come from?  How did it get there?

Now, someone who is a skeptic of God’s existence might say that the cloud was formed by moisture, the wind and the atmosphere.  But these too are contingent.  Where did they come from?  Well, someone may argue that they come from the jet stream and the movement of the planet.  But likewise the planet is contingent.  Where did it come from?  Someone might argue that the earth came into existence by the great events and structures of the universe.
But still, scientists say that even the universe came into existence 13 billion years ago.  Where did it come from?

Eventually, St. Thomas says, you must finally admit to a reality that does exist through itself.  We must come to some necessary being whose very nature is to be.  This is what people mean by God.  This is what God Himself says He is, when Moses asks Him HIs name: “I am who I am.”

When we look at the world, when we read the Sacred Scriptures (the Bible), when we see the witness of the martyrs, we are looking upon the effects, the evidence, of a God who really exists.  We are looking upon a painting that has a real painter behind it.
"The Conversion of St. Paul" by Caravaggio
Consider just one of the effects of God.  This past Friday was the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  You’re all familiar with the story: before he was known by the name Paul, the man named Saul was a devout Jew.  And being a devout Jew, he thought this new religion known as Christianity was gross blasphemy.  And so he made it his mission in life to put Christianity to death by throwing its members in prison and standing by while others were stoned to death.

Then, all of a sudden, his life does a complete 180.  He becomes a Christian and it’s greatest promoter traveling the known world; proclaiming the Good News and establishing Churches in the name of Christ.

How?  Why?  We’re told, in St. Luke’s sequel to his Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, that Saul met Christ on the road to Damascus, was blinded by Christ’s light and heard the voice of Jesus which asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (cf. Acts 22:6-9)

Well, that’s what Paul says anyway.  How can we be certain that Luke’s investigation is accurate and orderly?

Well, if Jesus doesn’t really exist and if Paul made it all up, it doesn’t make sense.  Because Paul was not looking for Jesus.  Paul hated Jesus. He hated the followers of Jesus.  He hated the Christian Church.  He was a Jew and also a Roman citizen who enjoyed all the privilege of that citizenship.  His life was great before he met Jesus.  And from an earthly point of view, his life got incredibly worse after meeting Jesus.  Five times at the hands of the Jews he was whipped 39 times, three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, 
three times he was shipwrecked.  Finally, he was beheaded with a sword.

Why would Paul leave his former life and choose this new one?  Because he met someone he wasn’t even trying to find.  He met Christ.  And Christ was real.  And meeting him changed Paul’s life forever.  Paul is just one corner of the great painting of Christianity.  And God is the painter.  No man could make this up.  No man would make this up.  Paul wouldn’t choose his life on his own.  He chose it because Christ is real.

God is real.  Just look at the world around you.  Christ is real.  Just look at his Church, his martyrs, his Saints.  The Eucharist you are about to receive is real.  Just look within your own heart and your own faith.

What St. Luke tells us today, and what he will continue to tell us all year long is real.  God has sent us His Son. “to bring glad tidings to the poor” “to proclaim liberty to captives” to give “sight to the blind” “to let the oppressed go free” “and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (cf Lk 4:18-19)

It is accurate.  It is orderly.  It is certain.  It is true.