Archive for the ‘Christian Life’ Category

Homily for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 19, 2012

“Who but God alone can forgive sins?”  This statement of the scribes in today’s Gospel is true, but why is it true?  Why is it that only God can forgive sin?  Sin, at its root, is a turning away from God and a rejection of the law that He has written on my heart.  Scripture tells us that the wages of sin is death, and of course the death referred to is spiritual death, not just physical death.  Through the sin of our First Parents, physical death entered into the world, but God told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him and ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they would die on that day.  They lived for several generations after being cast out of the garden, so the death that they died that day was not physical death, but rather spiritual.  Because of the original sin, death is part and parcel of our lot as human beings.  None of us can escape death.  Even worse than that, however, is the separation from God that is caused by sin: as seen by Adam and Eve being cast out from the garden–they lost the friendship of God, they were separated from Him on account of their sin.

God desires to share His divine life with us: He created us to know Him, and to love Him and to be united with Him.  He does not, however, force us to share in His divine life.  Jesus Christ became one of us to free us from sin and death and to offer us abundant, supernatural life.  But it is an offer that we are able to refuse.  When we were baptized, we received the Holy Spirit: we began to share in God’s divine life.  When we sin we reject God, we push Him away.  Sin damages or destroys our relationship with God, depending on how grave the sin is.  Mortal sin is the spiritual death of the soul because sin is the rejection of God and therefore a rejection of His divine life within us.

To answer the question asked at the beginning, then, why is it that only God can forgive sins, it is because only God can restore His divine life to us.  When I sin against my neighbor, I act against the love that God calls me to have towards them.  Even if my neighbor forgives me, I still need God’s forgiveness: I still need to be reconciled with Him.

Jesus Christ proved His divinity by proving to have the authority to forgive sins.  In today’s Gospel Our Lord first forgave the man’s sins and then, to prove that He had this divine power to forgive sins, He commanded the man who was paralyzed to get up and walk and the man was miraculously restored to health.  Christ also shares His authority to forgive sins with His Apostles (the first leaders of the Church: the first bishops and priests) by breathing the Holy Spirit upon them.  After the Resurrection, Our Lord appeared to the Apostles in the upper room and breathed on them saying “receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive will be forgiven them.”

The Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles to give them the authority to forgive sins because through sin it is the Holy Spirit that is pushed away by the sinner.  The prayer of Absolution that the priest prays over the person who comes to Confession alludes to this: the priest says “God the Father of mercies, through the death and Resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.”  Sin damages or cuts off our relationship with God.  The Sacrament of Confession restores and heals that broken relationship.

In order to grow closer to God (which is the very purpose of our existence) we have to detach our hearts from sin.  The first and greatest commandment is to love God above all things.  When we sin, we put something or someone ahead of our love for God.  We know that we are supposed to love God above all else, and we often have the experience that sin leaves us empty and unhappy, yet it is hard for us to give up sin.  We have a weak, fallen human nature that is inclined towards sin.  We need divine assistance in overcoming sin.

Lent starts this coming Wednesday.  Lent is a time of year given to us by the Church to help us overcome sin.  During Lent the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us to grow in self-discipline so that we can overcome temptation and sin.  Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence.  Abstinence means not eating meat and it is required of everyone who is over the age of 14.  We are to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday as well as on all Fridays of Lent.  Fasting is also required on Ash Wednesday of all from the age of 18 through the age of 59.  On a day of fasting, one meal is permitted and one or two smaller meals may be taken if needed.  The sum of the two smaller meals should not be more than the full meal.  That is the minimum.  Fasting helps us grow in self-control; it is also a way to imitate Our Lord, Who Himself fasted.

Fasting from something for forty days or giving up something for Lent is probably the most widely known Catholic Lenten practice.  It is good to deny ourselves legitimate pleasures so that we can more easily say “no” to temptation when it arises.  Extra prayer is another thing that many do for Lent.  During Lent it is particularly good to meditate on the Passion of Our Lord.  Meditating on all that Our Lord suffered to redeem us reminds us that Salvation is freely offered, but it was not free: it cost God His Only Begotten Son.  Finally, almsgiving is recommended.  Acts of charity help us to overcome selfishness (which is the root of most of our sin).  Almsgiving, acts of charity help us to turn our focus away from ourselves and on to others.  Remember, Our Lord has said: “What you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.”

If you don’t already have a plan in place for Lent, it would be good to begin thinking about it.  Use this Lent to focus in on one sin or fault that you know that you need to overcome.  Direct your prayer, fasting and acts of charity to obtaining the grace and self-control to overcome that sin or fault.  The more we rid our hearts of sin and attachment to sin, the more we make room for God.  Let us use this Lent to make of our hearts an ever more suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 7, 2012

This week, Fr. John asked all the priests here at OLGC to preach about the recent HHS mandate. He specifically asked each one of us to read the statement from Bishop Earl Boyea (the Bishop of Lansing). That statement can be found here under the heading: Diocese of Lansing responds to HHS mandate

On our parish website you can find the statement of the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan:

Our pastor has asked us to pray for our country, for our bishops, and for our elected officials. This HHS mandate is a direct attack on our religious liberty in this country. In addition to praying everyday, Fr. John has asked that all of us here at OLGC offer a day of prayer and fasting for this intention. He has asked that all of us fast and pray on President’s day, February 20th. If you are unable to fast from food, fast from something else. There will also be exposition of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day followed by solemn evening prayer and Benediction at 7:00PM.

In addition to prayer, it is also good to get involved. Contact your elected officials and let them know that this mandate is unacceptable. Here are some links to help you get involved:

On the White House web page you can find a petition to rescind the mandate; at Catholic Vote you can find an email address for Secretary Sebelius (the one who signed the mandate).  The most recent statement from our own Archbishop will be in our bulletin next Sunday, but you can also find it here.

I will close with a quote from Saint (Padre) Pio:
“Pray, hope, and don’t worry! Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer. Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s heart.”

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

January 30, 2012

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Today’s responsorial Psalm instructs us to do two things to do: we are to listen for the voice of the Lord and we are to follow His voice when we hear it. We must both hear God’s voice in our lives and put it into practice. How do we hear the voice of God in our lives?

One way in which we hear the voice of God is through our conscience. The Catechism tells us that deep within each one of us we discover a law that has been written upon our hearts by Almighty God. The conscience is that secret core of our hearts wherein we hear the voice of God. (cf. CCC 1776) Oftentimes when we are faced with a moral choice we hear two voices: in other words we experience two contrary pulls within ourselves. The Holy Spirit speaks through our conscience and calls us to avoid sin: that is the feeling that I get when I know, deep down, that I ought not do something. It is sometimes referred to as the “sting” or “pain” of conscience. At the same time I might hear another voice attempting to justify the sin that I am being tempted towards—this is the voice of the tempter, or the voice of my own fallen human nature trying to convince me that the sin is really not so bad, that it won’t hurt anyone, and so on. We need to learn to recognize the origins of those thoughts so that we can better avoid temptation. Temptation is always a lie: temptation tells me that if I sin, I will be happy. Yet sin separates me from God and apart from God I can never be happy. Sin may afford a momentary pleasure, but in the end sin always leaves me empty. Sin cannot satisfy your heart: sin is a guaranteed recipe for misery.

It is also important to remember that after a sin has been committed, the role of the Holy Spirit and the role of the tempter are reversed. Prior to committing a sin the Holy Spirit causes my conscience pain and the temptation tells me that it is “not so bad”; once a sin is committed, the Holy Spirit calls me to repentance and the tempter wants me to despair. Sometimes regret at having committed a sin can lead people to discouragement and even to despair. There isn’t a sin that you can commit that God will not forgive, provided you turn away from the sin and seek His mercy.

God has written His law upon our hearts and yet we must work to form our consciences. We must train our interior ears to hear God’s voice in the depths of our hearts and we have to make an effort to live accordingly. Our conscience must be formed: we must educate our consciences according to reason and truth. We also need to do what we know is right and do all we can to avoid evil. It is one thing to know what the right thing to do is: it is another thing to do it. In order to live an authentic Christian life, I have to prayerfully form my conscience according to the light of the Gospel and in accord with the teachings of the Church and abide by my conscience. Being an authentic Christian means knowing my faith and putting it into practice.
A large part of the Christian life is growing in virtue. Our Lord says that if we love Him we will do what He commands—and He commands us to love. The kind of love that Our Lord calls us to is a choice and it is a choice that we have to make again and again. The love that Our Lord calls us to is a choice that we make because we know that it is the right thing to do, even when that choice is difficult. Our Lord calls us to love our enemies: that is not something I do because I feel like it, I try to love my enemies because Jesus Christ, Who IS God has told me to love them. The way to grow in virtue is to exercise the virtue when I am most tempted in the opposite direction. How would you exercise bravery? Are you acting bravely right now? You might think that listening to a long homily is brave—well, it’s not. In order to do something brave, there has to be danger and would you have to choose to act bravely in the face of the danger, despite any fear that you might feel. A brave person isn’t brave because they don’t feel fear: the brave person feels fear but acts bravely regardless of their fear.

The same is true of every virtue. In order to grow in patience I have to act patiently when I don’t feel like it. If there isn’t anything challenging my patience, I am not acting patiently: I am just coasting along. We develop virtues by choosing to act virtuously when challenged. When we choose to act in a virtuous way it becomes easier to act in that good way again. If I continually choose to practice a virtue, eventually it will form into a habit and I will have grown in that virtue or developed that virtue. Sin acts in exactly the opposite way: once I have committed a sin, it is that much easier to commit the sin again. A sin that is repeated becomes a habit and a habitual sin is known as a vice. I have to be aware of the choices that I make, I have to be aware of the habits that I am forming and have formed. If I am aware of bad habits, I ought to work to break them.

Let us look to Our Lord on the Cross. He is the image of true love (cf. Col 1:15); there is no greater love, than to lay down your life for those whom you love. (Jn 15:13) Let us examine our consciences before the Cross of Our Lord; Our Lord died to save us from sin. He freely chose to lay down His life for us, so that we could have abundant life. When we look at the Crucifix we see the depth of God’s love, we also see the consequences of our sin. Let us ask Our Lord to show us what we need to change in our lives, and beg Him for the grace and the strength to be able to change it—so that we can grow in our love for Him and in our love for others. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

January 22, 2012

In the Gospel today, we hear of the call of some of the Apostles. Jesus called Simon and Andrew, James and John and they left what they were doing and they follow Jesus Christ. These four as well as the other Apostles became the foundation upon which the Catholic Church is built: that is what we refer to when we say in the Creed each Sunday that our Church is Apostolic—the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ upon Peter and the Apostles. The Church that Christ founded comes down to us today through Apostolic succession: through an unbroken chain of successors to the Apostles (what we today call bishops).

The word “Apostle” means “one who is sent” and the Apostles were sent by Jesus Christ: they were sent to teach all nations all the Jesus had taught them. Jesus did not hand the Apostles a book—He gave them authority to teach and preach in His name. He told the Apostles: “who hears you, hears me.” That is no little amount of authority, because Jesus Christ is God. He gave the Apostles the authority to speak in His name because they were entrusted with the most important message ever delivered in the history of the world: the message of the Gospel. Jesus Christ entrusted the Good News that through His death and Resurrection sin and death are powerless. The Apostles were sent to all the nations, they were to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth, so that people could know Jesus Christ and through Him have access to the Father and to Heaven. The message that the Apostles were sent to preach was so important that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. Our Lord promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. The Holy Spirit protects the Church, the Holy Spirit guides the Church—so that the message of the teachings of Jesus Christ can be correctly understood and faithfully followed.

We believe that the Church was founded by Jesus Christ, we believe the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, in the Creed we also say that we believe the Church is holy. We can say that the Church is holy because it is the mystical body of Christ and Christ is holy. The Church is holy by virtue of its union with Christ. The Church is holy and at the same time it is full of sinners. The Church continually calls us sinners to repentance, and it offers us the means to become holy (through the Sacraments).

Those opposed to the Church like to point to the scandals in the Church’s history as an argument against what we believe about the Church. There have been bad things in the Church’s two-thousand year history, and those things are certainly regrettable, and not to be lightly dismissed (although they are rarely as bad as many like to make them out to be). Scandal in the Church is a reminder that the members of the Church continue to stand in constant need of conversion. One important thing to remember is that those negative instances that are pointed to in Church history were always caused by people in the Church who have failed to practice what the Church actually teaches. The Church has never taught error, even though some of the people and ministers in the Church have acted in a less than Christian way.

When the Catholic Faith is authentically put into practice great things result. The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world. The Catholic Church has established hospitals, schools and universities, and has organizations and programs that help people all over the world. The Catholic Church has commissioned and preserved some of the greatest works of art in history. The Catholic Church compiled the New Testament and throughout the centuries has made copies of Bible as well as other great literary works so that people could have access to them. The Church and members of the Church have made great contributions to science: including inventing the scientific method. We have reason to be proud to belong to such a great institution.

Today’s Gospel is a good reminder to take time to thank Our Lord for establishing His Church upon the Apostles so that we can have access to His Teaching and to His grace. Let us also take today’s Gospel as a reminder to pray for our bishops the successors to the Apostles as they continue to lead our Church. They stand in special need of our prayers as they lead the Church in these difficult times. Two days ago, the department of health and human services passed a mandate which will require Catholic institutions to provide their employees with insurance which will cover sterilizations and contraception—some of which are abortafacients—which, of course, are all against the Church’s Teaching. Many Bishops in our country, including the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have said that this is a direct attack on religious liberty in this country and that they are committed to fighting this law. The department of health and human services have given the Catholic institutions one year to comply. I say all of this not to cause alarm, but simply so that you are aware of this threat to religious liberty. You can see the Bishop’s statement on their website: USCCB.org—it’s only a minute and a half long, but it sums up the issue quite clearly. Fr. John has also said that he is going to bring in a quest speaker to address the parish at large on this important topic: be sure to watch the bulletin for information. Please pray for our country, for our government leaders and especially please pray for our bishops that they will have the wisdom and the courage to faithfully guide the Church in our day.

Solemnity of Christ the King

November 22, 2011

This weekend brings to a close the liturgical year, and next weekend starts Advent, the beginning of the Church’s liturgical calendar. This is also the last weekend/Sunday in which we will use the current translation of the Mass. Next Saturday evening we will begin to use the new translation of the prayers at Mass. Today, being the end of the liturgical year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King: in the new translation, by the way, it will be called the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. (It has always had that name in Latin, as well as in other languages.)

Today’s Solemnity is relatively new on the calendar: Pope Pius XI established it in 1925. Pope Pius gave us this liturgical celebration as an antidote to secularism, which he already saw creeping into the lives of many in his day. He saw that people were beginning to think and live as if God did not exist. This feast was intended to remind people that Jesus Christ wants to reign over us as individuals, He wants to reign in our families, over society, over the world. As we shall see Christ is, in fact, Lord of everything, but He wants us to freely choose to allow Him to reign in our hearts in order to build up His Kingdom.

Although the feast of Christ the King is new, the idea that Jesus Christ reigns as King is not foreign to the liturgy. It is mentioned all of the time and in prayers that are ancient. Christ’s reign is brought up so often in the liturgy, that we can easily not even notice it. Many, many of our prayers at Mass end by invoking Our Lord and then adding the ancient conclusion: “Who lives and reigns . . . forever and ever.” Who lives, and reigns. Christ reigns at the right hand of the Father. He is Master and Lord of the universe.

Let’s look at the various ways that Jesus Christ is King of the universe. Jesus Christ is God; Saint Paul says that all things were created through Him, all things were created for Him. Together with the Father and the Holy Spirit Jesus Christ created everything that is. Without Him nothing was made that was made. He reigns, first and foremost, because He created us: He is our Creator, we are His creation. As Creator of the universe He holds supreme power over all things. In Him all things live and move and have their being. We are dependent upon God for our existence and everything that we have that is good comes to us from the hand of God; as a result we owe Him our thanks and praise.

Besides reigning by virtue of His Divine nature, Christ is also our Redeemer: He purchased us by His Precious Blood. The Eternal Son of God set aside the glory that He had from all eternity, emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, Saint Paul says. The One Whom the Angels adore, humbled Himself to be born of a Virgin in a cave because there was no room for Him in the inn: He came to His own and His own received Him not. He became a man, like us in all things except for sin, to fully reveal God to us and we, His creatures, put Him to death for it: He was Crucified to save us from our sins. He willingly laid down His life for you, and for me. He died so that we might have eternal life. By pouring out His Precious Blood on the Cross, He purchased us for God. Jesus Christ has purchased you back from the devil and the price that He paid for you was His own life. The life that you live is not your own: you have been purchased by the Blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ laid down His life for us and gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist; He wants something in return: our heart. God desires that we love Him, that we allow His will to reign in our hearts. Jesus Christ is King of the universe by divine right, be He wants your permission to reign in your heart and in your life.

Faith is an individual matter, it is my choice, it is up to me to faithfully follow Christ, or not; but we must also remember that faith is not merely a private matter. There are many in our society today that would hold that it is ok to worship in whatever way that I want so long as I don’t bring my faith into the public sphere. That reduces faith to something which is pointless. We are not just to be Christians in Church on Sunday and then park our religion at the door until next week. If I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, if I know that He has purchased me with His Blood, it has to make a difference in the way that I live my life everyday. Being a Christian means more than simply showing up at Mass on Sunday: being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ all the time, always everywhere. All time belongs to Christ. Following Jesus Christ means living, thinking, making choices in accord with what Jesus Christ has revealed to us about God. If we believe that our faith is true, it has to have an effect on us. We don’t have to stand on soapbox on the street, but we do have the right and the duty to defend our faith, and to share our faith with others. Faith is a gift, and it is a gift that has been given to us, for ourselves but also for others. If Christ is to really reign in my heart, He has to reign in every part of my heart: He wants all of your heart. We are to love God with all of our heart, with all of mind, with all of our strength. That is the greatest commandment, and that commandment cannot be lived out in one hour a week, one day a week.

Let us renew our commitment to Christ that we will strive to follow Him ever more faithfully: Loving Lord Jesus, Redeemer of the entire human race, and King of the universe, look down upon us humbly present before You. We are Yours and we desire to belong ever more completely to You. We consecrate ourselves to Your Most Sacred Heart this day. Give us the grace to faithfully follow You, that we may be with You forever in Your Kingdom, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit: One God forever and ever. Amen

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 12, 2011

The Parable in today’s Gospel is focused on a topic that can be difficult to hear about: judgment. The point of Our Lord’s Parable is that we will all be judged by God based on what we have done (or not done) with the graces that He has given to us. Our culture doesn’t like the idea of judgment because judgment is generally perceived only as a negative. Judgment is often thought to be a harsh concept. In reality, we have to make judgments everyday; judgments are not always easy to make, but they are necessary.

We have to keep in mind that judgments are not only negative; we also make positive judgments. When we choose something or some course of action above another, we are saying that it is better than the other possibilities. When we give an award to someone, we are saying that we judge them to have done well. In the Parable today, Our Lord gives two examples of positive judgments before the negative one. Sometimes we can forget the positive judgments and focus solely on the negative, but if we forget focus only on the third servant and forget the first two, we will have a distorted notion of judgment. The first servant, who had received five talents, and the second servant, who had received two talents, both came to their master and said: you gave me these talents, see what I have done with them: I have doubled them. Those servants knew that they used the talents given to them well and they were proud of their accomplishment. They did not fear having to make a report to their master; they did not fear his judgment because they knew that their master would be pleased by their actions. And the master praised them: well done, good and faithful servants, share in your master’s joy.

When we do well, we like being praised for it. When a student gets a good report card, or when a sports team brings home the trophy, that is a judgment: it is a judgment that that person, or that team has done well what they set out to do. They excelled: they exhibited excellence. Only when we know that we have done poorly do we dread judgment. The servant who did not use his talent well, knew that he did not make good use of what his master gave to him: and as a result, he feared his master’s judgment.

Notice that all three servants were judged based on what they had been given. Each of the three freely received the talents according to his ability, and each was expected to do something based on what was received. Each servant was given what he needed to succeed; even the servant who only received one talent could have been successful, if he had been a faithful servant. Everything that we have that is good has come to us from the hand of the Lord. God has given us all the gifts that we have for our own enjoyment, but also so that we can build up His Kingdom. Each one of us has freely received and we will all be judged based on what we have done or not done with the gifts that we have received. We all have what we need to labor faithfully in the vineyard of the Lord: the question is whether we will use the gifts we have received wisely, or will we squander them.

It is good to examine our hearts: to ask ourselves what we have done with the gifts that God has entrusted to us. God has given us the gift of life: every breath is a gift from God. We can ask ourselves: What have we done with our lives? Have we lived good lives? Do we strive to put God first? Do I try to love our neighbor, or do I always put myself first? Have I tried to imitate Christ? As a Christian, I am supposed to be a follower of Christ: to follow Christ means to imitate Him. Have I tried to develop the virtues?
Besides the gift of life, we have also received many spiritual and material blessings. I have to ask myself: am I attached to material things? In other words: do material things hold the first place in my heart: are they more important to me than other people; are they more important to me than my relationship with God?
God has given each one of us many spiritual blessings: we have been given the gift of faith: we are able to know and love God because He has revealed Himself to us through Sacred Scripture and through His Church. Have we studied Scripture? How well do we know our Catholic Faith? Do we try to learn about our faith/do we study and pray with Scripture? Are we able to share our faith with others/are we able to defend our Catholic Faith? Our Lord said that we are to be light in the world: we are to help others come to know and love God and His Church.

God has given us access to His grace: He shares His divine life with us through the Sacraments. Do we appreciate these gifts and receive them with reverence and devotion? Do we do what we can to prepare our hearts to receive the Sacraments worthily? Do we thank God after we have received Him in Holy Communion; do we thank God after we have received Absolution in the Sacrament of Confession?

These are some of the talents (some of the gifts) that we have received from God. It is good for us to remember that one day we will be called upon to give an account of how we have used those gifts. Let us use well the gifts that God has given to us: if we do, we will have no fear of God’s judgment. Let use the gifts that we have received in a way that deserves praise: may we live our lives in such a way that when we come to the end of our journey, we may hear Our Lord say to us: well done, good and faithful servant: share in your Master’s joy.

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 6, 2011

In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass there is a line addressed to God which says: “We do well always and everywhere to give You thanks”. Each and every week at Mass the priest says to you: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” And you respond each week: “It is right to give Him thanks and praise.” “It is right” . . . in other words, you are saying that it is a matter of justice: it is the right thing to do to offer God our thanks and our praise. Then the priest says that we do well always and everywhere to give God thanks: always and everywhere.

Our hearts were made for God. Many things in this world can easily come between us and Our Lord, but that is not the way that we were made: we were made for union with God. He is the source of our life: He shares His divine life with us; and He is our ultimate goal. We were created to be with God forever in Heaven. In order to attain our goal, we have to follow God faithfully. We are commanded to love God above all things. God does not take away our free will, we are perfectly free to choose God or choose to turn away from God, but when we turn away from God by sin we turn away from the very purpose of our existence and if we turn our backs on God, we turn our backs on true happiness, peace and joy.

In today’s Gospel, Saint Peter walked on the water. When we meditate on this Gospel passage we might be tempted to only think about the fact that Our Lord saved Saint Peter from drowning, but we should also think about the fact that before he turned his attention away from the Lord, Saint Peter walked on the water. Saint Peter did what is humanly impossible, so long as he kept his trust fixed on Jesus. Only when he wavered and lost that trust did he begin to sink.

Walking with Our Lord, putting all of our trust and hope in Him, does not mean that there will not be storms in our lives. Yet the strength to weather the storms comes from the Lord. While Saint Peter was walking on the water there was a strong wind, there were probably waves and he was outside of the boat. When he shifted his attention away from the Lord and became fearful, he began to sink. Of course as soon as he called out to the Lord, the Lord immediately stretched out His hand to save Saint Peter. We should learn from Saint Peter and try to put all of our confidence in God. When we begin to fall, we should call out to Our Lord immediately.
Those words of the Preface teach us an important lesson: we do well always and everywhere to give God thanks and praise. We need to keep God at the center of our lives. When we fail to keep God in mind, we tend to sink into our difficulties. The storms of our lives can overwhelm us if we forget to seek the Lord’s assistance. When we focus on the storm, instead of on God, we lose hope and become fearful. We need to learn to trust God. We should get into the habit of recalling God’s presence to our minds often throughout the day. God is always present to us, we are just rarely aware of it. If we could get into the habit of turning our attention to Him, thanking Him, praising Him, calling upon His assistance throughout the day, focusing on Him during the storms would come that much more naturally to us.

Recognizing God’s presence in our lives takes practice. God does not usually communicate to us in loud, dramatic ways. Our first reading today illustrates this point: Elijah was in a cave on mount Horeb and was told that the Lord would be passing by. There was a strong and heavy wind, which was crushing rocks; there was an earthquake and a fire; yet the Lord was not in those things. The Lord appeared to Elijah in a gentle, whispering breeze. Many times we do not recognize God’s presence in our lives because we are too busy to notice. God speaks in the silence: He does not usually force His way into our chaos: He waits for us to quiet ourselves down before He speaks to our hearts. Often, we can recognize God at work in our lives when we look back on various things that have happened to us. If we practice being mindful of God, if we practice living in His presence, we will begin to recognize Him more and more. He is always with us: let us try to be more aware of Him.

Lord Jesus Christ, we know that you are with us always. Help us, Lord, to be more mindful of You throughout the day. Give us the grace to remember to call upon You often and give you thanks always and everywhere. Amen.

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 1, 2011

In today’s Gospel we hear of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand from five loaves of bread and a two fish. This miracle performed by Our Lord teaches us a few things: it reminds us of God’s loving Providence. God provides all that we need: physically, as well as spiritually. We may not receive everything that we want, we may not receive everything in the way that we want, but God does provide for us: He pours out His blessings upon us in great abundance and we owe Him our gratitude. Saint Paul reminds us that everything that we have that is good comes to us from the hand of God: and if we stop and reflect upon it, we have many good things in our lives. Indeed God provides for us in abundance. God wants us to have abundant life: here and in the life of the world to come. This super-abundant generosity of God is symbolized in today’s Gospel by the amount of food left over after the multitude had been fed: all ate and were satisfied and there were twelve baskets of fragments left over.

The multiplication of the loaves was also a prefigurment of the greatest of all gifts that Our Lord has ever given to us: the gift of the Holy Eucharist. Just as Our Lord provided physical food for the people in the wilderness, Our Lord He gives Himself to us as spiritual Food for our journey to our heavenly homeland. God does not abandon us to walk alone in this valley of tears, but He provides spiritual sustenance for us: He walks with us. We receive from the altar the Author of all grace: and Our Lord desires to pour out abundant graces into our souls each time we receive Him in Holy Communion. Grace is our share in God’s own divine life: grace gives us the strength, the courage, and the wisdom to be able to love as we were created to love. The graces that we actually receive from Holy Communion are only limited by our openness to receive His grace. The more we free our hearts from sin and open ourselves to receive grace, the more grace we will receive. The thing that keeps us back from becoming Saints is our unwillingness to surrender ourselves completely to God.

We are, at times, tempted to think that if we lived in other circumstances that we would become holy. Sanctity is not achieved by doing great things, we become holy by doing the little, day-to-day things in a great way: with great love. Do not wish that your circumstances were different so that you could become a Saint, become a Saint in the midst of your circumstances. By faithfully fulfilling our daily duties in life, out of love for God and love for others, we will grow in holiness. It is not a question of how much we are able to give Our Lord, it is a question of giving to Our Lord all that we have and all that we are and all that we do: however great or insignificant we think that offering is. The disciples in today’s Gospel gave Our Lord five loaves of bread and two fish. That little amount of food was next to nothing compared with the size of the crowd that needed to be fed. Yet they gave Our Lord all that they had and He was able to use it. When we do all the little things that we do out of love for God, our lives will become very pleasing to Him and He will make great use of all that we offer to Him for our own good and for the good of others.

There are many discouraging things in our culture around us these days. Perhaps you have family members or loved ones who are suffering. Perhaps you are carrying a heavy cross. Whenever we are faced with trials, especially trials or sufferings that are borne for many years, we might be tempted to become discouraged. Do not give in to despair: do not waste time worrying, and worry is a waste of time: it does not achieve anything. Do you want to see things around you changed? Pray, root sin out of your life, offer yourself completely to God, Who gave His Son for you. Be leaven in the world. It only takes a small amount of yeast to leaven an entire loaf of bread: it only took twelve un-educated men from Galilee to change the entire world. Perhaps you are thinking that you are not called to be an Apostle to the nations. That is probably true, but you are called by God to fulfill your place in the mystical Body of Christ. Sin is not merely a personal reality: sin has a negative effect on the entire mystical body; the same is true of holiness. Your personal sin or holiness has an effect that goes well beyond you: whether you are aware of that fact or not. We are all called to holiness; we are all called to give everything (all that we are and all that we have) to Jesus Christ. He will do the rest. Let us offer ourselves wholly and completely to Him: not holding anything back and let us put all of our hope and all of our trust in Him.

Lord Jesus Christ, You completely poured Yourself out upon the Cross for us and You give us Yourself to us in Holy Communion. Give us hearts that are open to receive all the graces that you desire to give us in Holy Communion today. Help us to imitate You and pour ourselves out for You and for others. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, on fire with love, enkindle our hearts with love. Amen.

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 16, 2011

“Those who are just must be kind.”  That is what our first reading tells us this afternoon.  We are created in the image and likeness of God and we are called to imitate God in our daily lives: we are called to be channels of God’s love to others.  God is love, and we are called to love.  God is merciful and we are commanded to be merciful.  In the Psalm today, we hear that God is abounding in kindness.  Kindness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  The fruits are those things which are produced in us by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence within our souls.

We also have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and work to cultivate those fruits in our lives.  Our Lord has said that Christians should be different from non-Christians: they ought to be recognized by their love.  You and I are to show God’s love to those that we encounter.  Our first obligation is to love God, but the second command Our Lord tells us is like the first: we are to love our neighbor.

Love of neighbor can manifest itself in many different ways.  We are not called to like everyone; we are not called to have a close relationship with everyone.  There are likely certain personalities which we find more agreeable and those which we find more challenging: yet, whether we like someone or not, we are called to love our neighbor.  Who is our neighbor?  Everyone we come in contact with is our neighbor.  Our Lord calls us even to love those whom we might consider enemies: those who have hurt us.  We can stand up for what is just, of course, yet we must always do so with charity in our hearts.

One of the ways in which we express our love for others is by treating them with kindness.  We may not always feel like treating someone with kindness.  True charity is not necessarily connected with warm, fuzzy emotions.  We can feel irritated with someone and continue to act kindly toward them.  That might sound like hypocrisy at first, but all virtue is exercised in the face of opposition.  The truly brave person, for example, does not act bravely because they do not feel fear: the brave person feels fear but acts courageously despite the fear that they feel.  We do not have to act on every feeling that we experience: in fact it would be bad if we did.  When someone annoys us but we continue to treat them with patience and kindness we are acting, not hypocritically, but with true charity.

It is true, at times we are called to correct others.  We cannot judge hearts, but we can know a tree by its fruit: and when we a brother or sister in the Lord falling into sin, it is charitable to call them to repentance.  Yet even in correcting others, we must keep charity and kindness in our speech and in our actions.  We are called to love others and one of the ways that we show love to others is how we treat them: trying to keep charity in our actions and in our speech is a little way that we can imitate God and allow His love to flow through us in the world.

Let us do all that we can to allow God’s light to shine through our lives.  May we bear witness to the love of God in our speech, in our actions and in our lives.  Lord Jesus Christ, help us to imitate You in all that we do.  Give us the grace that we need, Lord, to keep charity with others so that they may see You at work in our lives.  Help us to follow You ever more faithfully in all that we do.  Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like Yours.  Amen.

Homily for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 16, 2011

[I just realized that I haven’t posted last week’s Sunday homily . . . if anyone has been looking for it, sorry about that!]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares us to dirt—well, actually soil.  In the rather lengthy Gospel parable that we have just listened to, the seed is the Word of God which is sown into our hearts through our hearing of the Gospel; our hearts are the various kinds of soil described.  Jesus uses four figures for what happens to the seeds, but there are essentially three possible responses that we can have to the Word being sown within us: first, we can hear and yet not understand God’s Word; second, we can hear and understand yet not persevere in living out God’s Word due to trials and persecutions, worldly anxieties or the lure of riches; third, we can put God’s Word into effect in our lives and bear fruit.

Simply knowing about God’s Word is not enough.  If we stop and think about it, even the Devil knows Sacred Scripture: when Our Lord spent forty days in the wilderness, the Devil put Him to the test and the Devil quoted Scripture to Our Lord in order to tempt Him.  We must go beyond simply knowing about Scripture.  It is important to know Scripture; Bible studies can greatly help us in our spiritual lives: the more we understand Scripture, the more it helps us to grow in our faith.  Yet we cannot stop at merely studying Scriptural texts: Scripture is not a textbook meant to be studied, Scripture is a living Word and we have to let that Word penetrate our hearts and shape the way that we live our lives.

How do we avoid being in the first category that Our Lord described in today’s Gospel?  How do we avoid hearing but not understanding?  This first place where the seed of the Word is scattered is not soil at all: the first seeds described by the Lord fall, not upon soil, but upon the path.  Presumably the path is not made of soil, but stone.  The seed cannot take root because the path denies the seed access to the soil.  In order to allow the Word to enter, we must have hearts that are open to hearing God’s Word.  God will not force His way into our hearts.  We have to be open to believing.  Saint Augustine said that we have to believe in order to understand and then our understanding will help us grow in our belief.  If we are not open to faith, we will not understand.  It would be like trying to see something while refusing to open our eyes.  A heart that is open to God is a pre-requisite.  Then we need to learn about Scripture and pray with God’s Word.  Fr. John often says that the Bible is God’s love letter to you.  The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture thousands of years ago, yet the Bible is not irrelevant or out-dated.  The same Holy Spirit Who inspired the authors of Sacred Scripture to write wants to speak to your heart through Scripture.  We believe that it is the Holy Spirit that speaks to us through the Scriptures.  Every Sunday we pray together in the Creed that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life; Who Proceeds from the Father and the Son; Who is worshipped and glorified; Who has spoken through the Prophets.  Every week we all profess that the Holy Spirit inspired the Prophets to write what they wrote in Scripture: that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Prophets; who does the Holy Spirit speak to through the Prophets?  He speaks to you, and to me through the Prophets.  Do you want to hear God speak to you?  Listen to Him: read His Word.  Study it to learn what it means, but more importantly pray with Scripture: God will speak to you through it if you allow Him to.

The second and third categories mentioned by Our Lord in today’s Gospel is the seed sown on rocky ground and the seed sown in thorns; Our Lord explains that these are those who receive the Word yet do not persevere in it.  The Word is received, but then difficulties or worldliness creep in and withers or chokes out the Word.  How do we avoid falling into these two situations?  We avoid it by our day-to-day fidelity.  Our Lord calls us to be faithful to Him: “Take up your cross and follow me,” Our Lord says.  A cross is not a pleasant thing to bear.  Bearing witness to our Catholic Faith in a culture that is so hostile to any religion is not easy: it takes courage.  Fidelity to the daily duties of our state in life is not a glamorous, sensational experience.  Yet that is what God asks of us.  We are called to love; we are called to love God above all things and to love others as ourselves.  We are called to bear witness to God in our lives; regular contact with Scripture not only instructs us how we are to live it also communicates the grace and strength to us to do so.

Only when we hear the Word of God, understand it (through prayer) and bear fruit by living the Word out in our lives can we say that we are rich soil that Our Lord calls us to be.  Let us not only be hearers of the Word but also doers.  May God help us to have hearts that are open to receiving His Word and may we put it into practice each and every day.  Lord Jesus Christ, we believe, increase our faith.  Give us ears that are open to hear and minds that are open to understanding Your Word.  May Your Word instruct us and inspire us that we may follow You ever more faithfully.  May Your Word bear abundant fruit in our lives.  Amen.