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

Order this book from Amazon
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.