Sunday, December 30, 2007

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

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I don’t know many Christians other than Catholics who go to Church on New Year’s. But ironically, we do not come together as a Catholic community to celebrate New Year’s at all – our new year began with the first Sunday of Advent, when we were told to look east into a bright future foretold by the prophets, a bright new future that would find expression in a babe born in Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary. In our liturgical and devotional life, then, we do not find ourselves this morning hoping merely for God’s blessing and for a ‘good year.’ Of course we find ourselves in a much different place, in the midst of a great Christmas celebration that will continue through Epiphany to the Baptism of the Lord. Long after the lights and trees are taken down from most Christian homes, they will persist in this place, the house of God, until the Christmas proclamation reaches its full maturity!
Today is the 8th day of Christmas. As we continue to celebrate the appearance of the Savior of the World in time, we turn once again to his mother, who had been chosen to be the first to experience the presence of the Savior in her womb, and now during the season of Christmas rejoices on behalf of the world at her chance to see His face! No one can celebrate Christmas as fully and as joyfully as the mother of Jesus. Today’s important feast that coincides with the secular hope that accompanies New Year’s Day finds the Church in great celebration that the world’s greatest hopes for prosperity and lasting peace have already been fulfilled in Jesus, the King of King and the Prince of Peace. For today our Savior has appeared on earth, who is Christ and Lord!
Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, and as high as the heavens are above the earth, so much higher is this solemn celebration than any dropping of the ball in Times Square could ever be. To take nothing away from the optimism that can and should accompany the appearance of a new calendar year, so much more important is the appearance of eternity within time, made possible because Mary has been chosen to be the mother of the eternal God who has no Father. The earth on which we live is just a single thought of the Almighty, and to his eyes a thousand years are like a day. So much greater than should our solemn celebration be here tonight than any champagne, hors d’ouevres, toasts and friendships that we may enjoy later on. Because a Savior has been born of the Virgin Mother, man begins to restore to man during Christmas the gift of everlasting life, that is no longer measured in hours, weeks, months or years.
The Church never ceases to exalt this most blessed of all women. We celebrate with great consistency her role as the Mother of God, the greatest role given to any human person, man or woman, within the salvation history of any world religion. Through her, we celebrate the feminine genius of receptivity, and rehearse the truth that when God wanted to save the world, He received from this great woman the yes spoken on behalf of all humanity, man and woman alike. In salvation history, even though we know the grace of Her son’s resurrection was received in advance to prepare Her to be the mother of God, Mary’s ‘yes’ remains in many ways more fundamental than Her son’s sacrifice on Calvary. Just as Christmas is celebrated before Easter in the liturgical year, so also in our spiritual life it is our Marian receptivity to grace and to Jesus being born in our hearts that is prior to our ability to imitate Christ. Before we can serve Christ, we must know Him and receive Him as did His mother. Mary teaches us how to celebrate Christmas.
Without a doubt my own mother was the first to introduce me to Christ and to teach me how to welcome Him into my heart. My vocation comes through my own mother, and the Christian home she provided for me was my first seminary. Mary was worthy to receive Jesus, to have Him come under her roof, but because of her extraordinary humility we can ask Her to show us how to receive Jesus, especially in the Eucharist, even though we are not worthy to receive Him, nor to have Him come under our roofs. May the Mother of the God who has no Father show us how exalted is the humanity of one who allows Jesus to be born in his heart. May the Mother of God deepen and strengthen our celebration of the Christmas mystery, and help us to realize that this new year is already highly blessed because God is with us!

Christmas in Hoxie!

Alex, my oldest and only nephew, has been drafted in Jayhawk nation, as you can see. It is a bitter rivalry within the family, and there have been a few Wildcat victories within the newest generation, but we have the leader on our side! Go Alex - Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Rodney is the most religious of the Jayhawk faithful. Thomas is worried about his wedding more than the Jayhawks right now, but he will come back around in time for the NCAA tournament. And, it is hard to believe - I'm the oldest of the clan!

Monday, December 24, 2007

This post is really about the new Costello HDTV, which is fantastic, but of course it was also a night to celebrate friendship (Mike is banging his chest at this minute), Sharon's peanut brittle, and the birth of our Lord, who has fulfilled our deepest desires through the Incarnation by coming to save his beloved people! Merry Christmas to all! Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, to those on whom his favor rests!

Homily for Christmas

For daily readings, see

One of my least favorite songs on the radio goes like this – I’m only human, of flesh and blood I’m made. I’m only human, born to make mistakes! It seemed like this song was played every time I went to the health club that last couple of years. It seemed as if someone was watching from above waiting for me to enter the health club, just to make sure that they could annoy the heck out of me by playing this song – I’m Only Human. I kept saying to Fr. Bill Porter with whom I was usually working out – this song is bad anthropology – what a terrible view of the human person – born to make mistakes???
The solemnity of the Incarnation – the birth of Jesus Christ – that we are here to celebrate tonight, completely changes what it means to be a human person. The song I just mentioned implies that in order to become a person who no longer makes mistakes, we have to escape our humanity. The incarnation tells us just the opposite – our Salvation lies not in becoming something other than a human person, but in allowing the child born in Bethlehem to give a new hope and a new destiny to humanity. After the coming of Jesus, being human is not something to be escaped, but something to be embraced and celebrated.
Christmas is the season when we sense once again that everything is going to turn out the way it is supposed to. It is a season when hope is reborn. Pope Benedict wrote an encyclical to us just before the beginning of Advent – Spes Salvi – the hope of salvation. In it, Pope Benedict reminds us that if we hope in Jesus alone, everything will turn out well for us, because Jesus by his very name is the one who saves. Jesus is the one who heals us from our sins, and the futility they bring; He is the one who has power over sin and lasting death. Pope Benedict reminds us that a happy life is more than our ability to fulfill as many of our smaller desires as we can, however we can, within the context of this world. He says also that eternal life is more than just an extension of our days as we now experience them. It is more than another chance to pursue more of our smaller desires that were frustrated in this lifetime. No, Pope Benedict points us strongly toward the teaching found in the Gospel of John that this is eternal life: to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (Jn 17:3). What is the Gospel of John saying here? It says that if we are honest with ourselves, the deepest desire our hearts is to see Jesus, and beginning tonight, in the child born in Bethlehem, this gift is given to humanity.
We desire so many things, we have so many expectations of how life should go for us and for others; but on Christmas night we are to recognize through the gift of the Christ child that our deepest desire has been fulfilled, even if many of our smaller desires have not been fulfilled. Tonight is the dawn of our salvation; it is seeing for the first time through the eyes of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, this Jesus who will free mankind from his futility. Jesus is the one who saves, and He comes to save us not only from the original sin we inherited from Adam and Eve, from our endless series of mistakes. Even more importantly, Jesus comes tonight to save us from the futile condition of having to try to carve out a happy kingdom for ourselves by trying to fulfill as many of our smaller desires as we can during our brief time on earth. No, Jesus saves us from this kind of humanity. He saves us from having to become our own gods through pride, or even of having to try to make ourselves like God or to try to go to God. Instead, God comes to us to redeem and to elevate our humanity. Because of Jesus, it is now the worst sin to try to become like God, while it is glorious to allow God to come to us and to elevate what it means to be a human person. Jesus promises to be our everything, and to fulfill all our desires through a relationship with Him. The one who saves promises that if we have Him we lack nothing of eternal value. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of the human desire to live forever and to have lasting peace and happiness.
If Jesus is our hope, we do not have to hope in ourselves; much less do we have to hope in progress or material wealth. If He is our everything, then the gifts we give to each other this Christmas are filled with deep meaning. They are a reflection of the reality that we have received in the Christ child everything we have ever wanted or will ever need. Our gift giving, our generosity, is a reflection of the freedom that we have in Jesus. I don’t know about you, but in my own spiritual life I am so liable to skipping over this fundamental step of celebrating Christmas fully, of allowing Jesus to be born in my heart and to fulfill every desire I have there. In my discipleship, I can get so concerned on whether I am doing God’s will, or whether I am worthy to be doing what I am doing, or whether I have done enough to be saved. I so often skip over Christmas, and I need tonight’s celebration to remind me that before I can do God’s will, I must first receive God. This is why Mary is the Queen of Vocations – her reply at the annunciation was not to agree to do her vocation, but to receive it as a gift, to let it be done to her according to God’s word. We are to receive the Christ child tonight in our hearts with the same humility and extraordinary receptivity shown by our Blessed Mother. Our vocation in life is not to try to do God’s will first through our own determination, and then to let the chips fall where they may. No, our vocation is to receive Jesus, to let him be our Savior, to be dependent on Him for our happiness, and then to magnify the Lord and to share this relationship with Christ that has saved us in all that we say and do.
We now celebrate together Christ’s Mass; on this holy night the Lord comes to us most intimately not in the manger scene or in the nativity story, but through the gift of his body and blood. John the Baptist has challenged us through Advent that as we approach the altar tonight, we should not eat and drink judgment on ourselves. Make straight the path of the Lord to our hearts! As we receive Him tonight, may He find nothing in our hearts except a complete desire for Him! May we receive him with the same expectation and joy that were in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. And may we leave this great celebration of our faith, and our experience of the child born in Bethlehem, not afraid of Christ’s coming at the end of time, but more ready to join in his mission to save the world, and to reconcile everything to the Father. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, to those on whom his favor rests! Amen!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Homily for Dec 20, 5th Day before Christmas

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Mary is called the Queen of Vocations for a good reason. Oftentimes we evaluate our vocation on whether we are 'doing' God's will. But Mary teaches us that before we can 'do' God's will, we must first receive God. Mary's response to the angel Gabriel is critical to understanding our vocation. She does not say - ok, I will do it - even though this would have been a good thing to say. No, Mary says instead - let it be done to me. In Mary's response, there is no denial of her freedom to act. Instead, her freedom is elevated by her extraordinary receptivity. She receives a vocation instead of 'doing' a vocation, and she reminds us that before we can do God's will, we must first be self-forgetful enough to receive God. We must let the the Holy Spirit overshadow our own expectations. This can be hard to do, especially for guys. Before we can imitate our Lord, we must first receive Him and allow Him to elevate our humanity. Mary prepares us in these final days of Advent to be ready to receive our Lord as She did, both at the annunciation and at the nativity!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Homily for Dec 18th, the 7th Day Before Christmas

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A lot of meditation on this Gospel focuses on Joseph's compassion in not wanting to expose his wife to shame, even though it was his right to do so, since through his betrothal to Mary she 'belonged' to him. Surely Joseph was a righteous and merciful man who loved his wife Mary very much. But we do not have to assume from the reading of today's Gospel that Joseph suspected Mary of adultery, as most commentators say. No, even before the angel appeared to Joseph telling him that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit, it is possible that Joseph did not suspect his wife of anything, but rather was pondering the miracle of her conception, and wondering if he should get out of the way since his wife Mary had been chosen for something special that didn't include him. As the angel announces, however, Jesus in taking up our humanity was to embrace it completely, and this included having a father and growing up in a family. And so Joseph receives the invitation to name his Son and to provide for Him. We concentrate so much on Mary's anticipation of her Son's birth. We recognize too today that Joseph was chosen for a very special role in the history of the world's salvation, and he was the second to see the newborn King! Given the truth of the scriptures, we have little choice but to ask Him to also prepare us for the coming of our Savior!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Homily for Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent

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With Jesus, there is a superabundance of life. He says to his disciples, I am the way, the truth, and the life. In today's signs, Jesus heals life and feeds life miraculously, and the crowds are amazed. But the full revelation of Jesus that is to come is that He is not merely an instrument of life, He is life itself! Pope Benedict in his new encyclical Spes Salvi shows us that the eternal life that Jesus brings is not merely a restored and well-fed version of life as we know it in this world. This is not the proper hope of the Christian. The proper hope of the Christian is not simply for an elongation of life, but for the life that comes from a relationship with the person who is life. This is eternal life, to know the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent! So let us hope to know Jesus. Jesus' signs today point toward the uniqueness of his person. It is through a relationship to this person that we are to hope for life everlasting!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Homily for Saturday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time

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Fittingly, for the last day in ordinary time, we have apocalyptic readings. Be ready. Be ready. Be ready. If we truly believe the kingdom of God has come among us in its fullness through Jesus Christ, and that He is really and fully present to us through the sacrament of the Eucharist, then this is no time to be complacent! The kingdom of God is among us, and woe to us who become drunken or drowsy in this time of grace and fulfillment! Christians who live in an awareness of the presence of Jesus in their lives always become more concerned about their sins of omission than about their sins of commission. It is true that we commit many sins, but Jesus warns us that perhaps our greatest weakness is our drowsiness, and inability to see the kingdom of God among us. Lord Jesus, make us vigilant! We want to see your face!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Homily for Tuesday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time

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If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor! (Ps 127). Jesus teaches correctly that everything that exists in parts eventually comes apart. He urges us to put our faith not in the things of this world, but to see the things of this world as a gateway to the kingdom of heaven. The man who places his trust in the Kingdom of heaven is like a man who built his house on rock, not like King Nebuchadnezzar who built his kingdom on sand. Jesus reminds us not to go looking for the coming kingdom, trying to out-predict everyone else regarding its definitive arrival. For the Catholic Christian, the kingdom of God is always near to us, and is always present through the Eucharist, which is Jesus Himself. The one who is prepared to receive the Eucharist faithfully and worthily, is also ready for the coming of Christ at the end of all time! Advent will be a season for us to become more watchful for the Lord's coming. May He not come suddenly and find us sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all - watch!

Turkey Bowl

On Saturday I played in a 5 man flag football tournament. The 'blue' team earned 2nd place, and today (Monday) I am as sore as can be! It was a miracle no one in this out of shape group was seriously injured, but we had a good time playing! These are mostly Catholic guys from Johnson county, including some of my good friends from St. Michael the Archangel Parish. I'm on the first row - the #4 second from the left!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King

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The rulers over the Gentiles make their authority over them felt, but it will not be so with you. Whoever wishes to be first among you must become the servant of all. I have given you an example, that what I have done, so you must also do.

A diocesan priest like myself makes three promises: celibacy, obedience and prayer. These three promises help a priest to keep from building his own kingdom. We all know the difference between a good king and a bad king. A good king is always seeking the good of his subjects. A bad king only serves himself. In imitation of Christ the eternal King of heaven and earth whom we celebrate today, a priest makes promises of celibacy, obedience and prayer.

Strictly speaking, because of celibacy, nobody needs a priest to preserve his life on the earth. The greatest gift a priest can give to those he is called to serve is an example of faith. He is to give them evidence that the Kingdom of heaven is greater than any kingdom that they can build on this earth. A celibate is not to have dependents, then, either a wife or children, who need him to maintain a stable kingdom on this earth. A priest through his celibacy is to imitate the words of Christ when He was questioned by Pilate. 'You say that I am a king. My kingdom does not belong to this world. If it did my subjects would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to you. As it is, my kingdom is not of this world. I came to testify to the truth. Whoever listens to the truth hears my voice.'

Because of obedience, a priest has no right to any kingdom on earth. Because of his love for his bride, the Church, a priest can and should pour out his life for his parish or for those entrusted to his care through specialized ministry. A priest can and should fall in love with his bride, and it should not be easy when a priest is reassigned by the bishop. A priest may even be allowed to stay at a parish in a single assignment for a long period of time because of his particular zeal or skill or success. Yet the promise of obedience should dissuade the priest from making himself into an idol or demigogue, and should do the same for his parishioners. He must be willing to hand any temporary kingdom over to others, just as Jesus handed His mission over to His disciples.

Because of prayer, a priest is discouraged from pride and self-reliance. It is natural to try to distinguish one's self through hard work, dedication and sacrifice, and there are in the priesthood some tremendous men distinguished for their intelligence, skill and devotion in their service to the people of God. But despite the many gifts of individual priests, all priests are expected to make a meaningful sacrifice of prayer as their first duty. For if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor. The success of Jesus' mission continued by the Church depends more on our hearing God's will and asking for His assistance than it does on the talents of the Church's ministers. Thus, a priest does not need to be perfect, but humble. Instead of putting pressure on himself to be more like God, who is all knowing and all powerful, a priest through his prayer should not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but should instead empty himself, and take the form of a slave.

In answering this call to the priesthood, I feel that I have escaped the rat-race of trying to build an impressive and lasting kingdom for myself here on this earth. This has been a great gift of God to me, and one that I am happy to share with other through my new ministry as vocation director. I am still the same guy that I was before ordination - I still want to have a successful life, to be admired by my peers, and to advance in the way of perfection. But through the promises of celibacy, obedience and prayer, it is a relief for me to know that I no longer have to make any major decisions in my life. I have handed my life back to God, trusting that He will give back to me a share in the kingdom of His Son, which is a greater, happier and more beautiful kingdom than any kingdom I could have chosen or built for myself.

A priest is entrusted by Christ to share in his kingly mission to govern His Body and His Bride, the Church, by always looking out for what is best for Her. He invites young men today to offer their lives generously in priestly service, and to receive from Him a great consolation and joy in being united to Him in an extraordinary way. We should have 50 seminarians for our Archdiocese. Right now we have 18. If young men in our archdiocese are looking to where they are needed, the priesthood is the place for them. If every young man in our archdiocese were willing to go to seminary, and to do whatever Christ and His Church might ask of them, we would only accept 1 out of 500 applications. Everyone else would be free to do something else with their lives. The problem is that less than 1 out of 500 young men in our archdiocese are giving God the benefit of the doubt in allowing themselves to be called by Christ and the Church to the priesthood. You and I both know that we as the Church of NE Kansas have more faith than this! Please join me in praying for more vocations to the priesthood for our Archdiocese!

Homily for Saturday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time - the martyrs of Vietnam

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Jesus clearly says in today's Gospel that there are some who are to become like angels, who neither marry nor are given in marriage. In saying this, he affirms that while all people may desire marriage, not all are called to it. Instead, some are called to attain to the resurrection of Christ in a singlehearted way, through celibacy for the kingdom. In accepting the call and gift of celibacy, priests and religious witness to the reality of the happiness awaiting us all in the kingdom of heaven, when our flesh will no longer have a chance to dominate our spirit.

Unlike America, which has a poverty of saints and martyrs, the tiny Vietnamanese peninsula is awash in the blood of courageous witnesses like Andrew Dung-Lac and his companions. Today's memorial marks the deaths of 133,000 Vietnamanese martyrs. These martyrs became like angels in offering their earthly lives in testament to the reality and power of Jesus' resurrection. May their witness inspire many, many vocations to the priesthood and religious life!

Homily for Friday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time - Miguel Pro, priest and martyr

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The producer of the movie Bella has plans to make another movie on the life of Miguel Agustin Pro, a 20th Century priest and martyr from Mexico. As vocation director, I very much hope he makes this movie, as I can use it to inspire vocations to the priesthood. Miguel Pro's relics are in the altar at St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood, my first parish, along with the relics of the North American martyrs. We need more American saints like Miguel Pro, for our continent is woefully short on martyrs and saints compared to other countries.

Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and must be constantly purified through the sacrament of reconciliation and the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist. Judas Maccabeus and his brothers are rejoicing at their opportunity to rededicate the temple of the Lord, and Jesus Himself in today's Gospel is trying zealously to clean out that same temple. May we never become desensitized to sin and its power to cast out the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us.

Homily for Thursday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time - St. Cecilia

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Most parishes will of course use the readings for Thanksgiving Day today, but I wanted to comment just a bit in this blog on St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. Cecelia was not necessarily a musician herself, but her virginity and her martyrdom constituted her 'song' which gave glory to God! I experienced much growth in my faith through my participation in the choirs at the St. Lawrence Center at KU. We sang for the Holy Father at WYD Denver in 2003 and again in Rome during pilgrimages in 1996 and the Jubilee Year of 2000. I hope through the intercession of St. Cecilia, to make of my life a 'song' that glorifies God.

Mattatias continues the bravery we have seen in 2 Maccabees by refusing to obey the king's orders, instead inviting all those wanting to be faithful to the covenant of Moses to leave Jerusalem and to withdraw with him into the desert. When Jesus himself arrives in Jerusalem, He weeps for her, knowing that in order to become what she is supposed to be, she must first be broken down piece by piece, and cured of her pride. Let us repent for our own pride, through which we give credit to ourselves, rather than glory and thanksgiving to God, for His presence and many blessings in our lives!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Homily for Wednesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time - Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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When a child is brought to the Church for baptism, the child's name is proclaimed at the beginning of the rite as a reenactment of the Jewish tradition of presentation. The name is pronounced in the Church as a confirmation that this child belongs not to the parents, but to God. The parents are stewards of this precious gift, and in the end, they give God the chance to name the child. In baptism, parents proclaim the truth that they are not owners of the child they present, but are caretakers of the mystery of life.

The mother is 2nd Maccabees is extraodinarily courageous in directing her son to give up his life. The mother is able to give this instruction because she knows the power of God to give and to restore life is greater than the power of men to destroy life. This woman in 2 Mac prefigures beautifully our Blessed Mother, whose presentation in the temple we commemorate today. Mary taught her son that to obey the will of God was sweeter than life itself, and He, like the son in today's first reading, was able to say to his persecutors - You do not take my life from me - I freely lay it down.

Joachim and Anne brought Mary to the temple for her presentation in order to proclaim that Mary was a child of God, and that her life had lasting value only insofar as it was received as a gift. Mary became the handmaid of the Lord, willing to give her life back to God generously accordingly to his will. She did not guard her life our of fear, like the miserly steward we hear of in today's Gospel. Because of this, she was the first to receive the gift of eternal life from Her Son!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Homily for Tuesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time

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I don't know about you, but when I read the daily obituaries, I always pay special attention to the people who died who are younger than me. On March 17th, I will turn 33 years old. 33 is the best historical estimate of how old Jesus was when He was crucified. This is a birthday I have been looking forward to for this very reason. For me, it is a benchmark of when someone should be ready to die out of witness for his faith. I know that there are many young men and women who have died at a much younger age serving our country. Some of the great martyrs and saints died much younger than 33, and were not afraid to die because of their great faith. So I regard 33 as absolutely the latest date for one to be ready to do whatever Christ would ask him to do in order to strengthen his kingdom, even if this involved great sacrifice and persecution. Eleazar is the hero of today's reading from Maccabees. He says rightly how foolish it would be for one who is 90 years old like him to worry about preserving his life, rather than giving his life freely so that those after him would have a great example of faith. And so Eleazar is martyred, and the free gift of his life begs the question as to whether you and I are willing to die for our faith as well.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Homily for Saturday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time - St. Leo the Great

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Jesus tells us to make eternal friends with finite wealth. Of course there will be no need for money in the kingdom of heaven, and so the resources we have on this earth are good insofar as we use them to bring us closer to the kingdom of heaven, and evil so far as those resources use us to get us to prefer our kingdom here on earth. Jesus says as well that the way we use the goods of this world are a good indication of how we will use the gifts of grace that He brings us through the sacraments. If we use material resources to solidify our kingdom here below, we will also use the gifts of faith, hope and love to gain friends in this world only, rather than making friends who will welcome us into eternal dwellings. We should follow the example of the saints, like St. Leo the Great, one of only two popes to be called great. They are our friends who are already in heaven, and by their example and prayers they spur us on to victory!

Homily for Friday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time - St. John Lateran

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Today’s Gospel discourages us from turning our sacred spaces into secular marketplaces, but it does not discourage us from using our financial resources to build sacred spaces. It is true that the greatest basilicas, including the mother church basilica of St. John Lateran that we commemorate today, are as nothing compared to the temple of a human body, which is to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It is sad indeed when great basilicas are empty, and are not blessed by the presence of the faithful celebrating the great mysteries of the faith. But we should have such beautiful churches in which to worship God. Oftentimes, we give in too easily to the temptation to think that we should help the poor instead of building beautiful Churches. The reality is that we should sacrifice to do both. It is not an either/or proposition but a both/and proposition. We should not steal from the poor in order to build opulent places of worship, but we should also not give less than our best in the building of a Church and then fail to give to the poor as well, which I am afraid happens more often than not.
Just as the condition of the homes in which we live, the way we construct them, and maintain them, says something about the importance of the family that lives there, so also the Churches we build should speak to the dignity of the family that God is building there. The Church building should not serve simply as a convenient and comfortable place for the faithful to gather; it should be the very best building that a community can build, far greater than any neighborhood home. It should speak to the reality that what happens in the sacred space is different than what happens outside it. Catholic Churches should be especially beautiful since they house the living presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and are the primary locations where the faithful physically encounter their Lord.

Homily for Thursday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time

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There is happiness to be had in growing in virtue, and in breaking the habits of sin that lessen our freedom to love the things of heaven. But growing in virtue is always the result not of our asserting our willpower but of our letting the Lord find us and heal us at our weakest point. Our goal is not to become one of the 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance, but to find our joy in the kingdom of heaven, where the greatest rejoicing is for the one sinner who repents. Even as the Lord accomplishes great work in us, and habits of sin are continually broken, we are not to become less dependent on the Lord’s mercy, but to find our strength and our joy in our identity as sinners who are constantly being found. As St. Paul tries to tell us, this is the only way for our lives to gain an eternal and lasting dimension; to belong to the Lord at all times. Whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.

Homily for Wednesday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time

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When I set up my 403b retirement account, my financial advisor asked me if I wanted to invest aggressively or conservatively. Of course I told him aggressively. I was in my 20s at the time, and wanted to maximize the return on my money without fear of loss in the short term. When I get in my 50s and 60s and see what I need for retirement, I’m sure I will ratchet my investments back and look for more security and less growth.
Our Lord Jesus is no financial planner, to be sure. When we sit down to negotiate with Him, He starts by giving everything that He has received from His Father to us, and then says, if anyone comes after me without hating his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Since Jesus has made the first move in losing his life for the sake of sinners, there is no response that makes any sense other than the loss of our lives.
There is no way to manage our discipleship in more aggressive or more conservative ways. We cannot make God a bigger part of our life; God’s life does not fit within our lives, any more than the Grand Canyon can fit in our living rooms. But we can and should lose our lives within the mystery of God’s life, and in response to the love revealed in Jesus Christ.

Homily for Tuesday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time

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It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that religious vocations come more often from poorer families. This is certainly a socioeconomic phenomenon – religious life represents a chance to receive a great education for very little cost, as well as security working within the mission of the Church. Thus, from a purely financial perspective, priesthood and religious life affords new opportunities for those of limited means while not holding this same attraction for wealthier people. But I think there are obvious spiritual advantages to being poor as well. There are disadvantages to being destitute, but obvious advantages to being poor. The more things that we have, the more time and energy it takes to use them. Today’s Gospel story illustrates that the more complicated our lives are, the less ready we will be to come and to dine with the Lord when He invites us. Have we ever been too busy to attend Mass, or so distracted in our lives that going to Mass is just another thing on the checklist rather than the true center of our day? Today’s Gospel encourages us to continue to simplify our lives; to use the things we have to draw closer to the kingdom of heaven rather than letting our things use us. May we seek the kingdom of heaven with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength, confident that everything else will be given us besides.

Homily for Monday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time

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Friendships are important on this earth, but having friends in heaven is better. Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost, so He was always more keenly interested in those who could not pay him back. St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans that God allowed all to fall into disobedience, so that all might receive the Lord’s mercy. As great as it is to be without the sin that damages our relationship with God and with one another, as great as was the life of Adam and Eve before the fall, St. Paul submits that knowing the mercy of Jesus is better, and the bonds of love that are forged between sinner and savior are stronger. Inspired by the example of Jesus, who came to seek and to save what was lost, may we too be most interested in those people who can not pay us back, but who are in most need of the Lord’s mercy.

Homily for Sunday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time

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Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, and the little town of Jericho was not that important of a stop. The great paschal events were to happen in Jerusalem – the trial, the way of the cross, the resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. All the most important things were to happen in Jerusalem, and by the time the Lord arrived at Jericho, Luke has told us over and over that Jesus had resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem. It is true that while in Galilee preaching the kingdom, Jesus often told his disciples when they ascertained his true identity as the son of God, not to tell anyone who He was, for He did not want to get dragged to Jerusalem too soon before He had a chance to teach his disciples about the kingdom of heaven. But Luke tells us clearly that by the time the Lord gets to Jericho, He is moving with determination; he intended to pass through Jericho, which makes his overnight stay at the house of Zaccheus all the more surprising, and all the more significant.
Jesus goes out of his way to seek out and to stay at the house of this wee little, miserable man, Zaccheus, who because of his greed had a little life indeed, a life with no friends. Everyone would see Zaccheus as a waste of Jesus’ time, given the enormity of his mission as the Messiah, and the growing anticipation of his arrival in Jerusalem. Sure, early on in Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, maybe Zaccheus would have been worth a few minutes of Jesus’ time, but to dine at his house and to stay with him overnight at this crucial juncture. It didn’t make any sense. This would be like the Jayhawks driving for a game winning touchdown against Missouri, and then calling a timeout so they could go inside and use the restroom. And yet when Jesus looked up the sycamore tree, he did not see a worthless person, he saw a child of Abraham, our father in faith. He saw in Zaccheus a mustard seed’s worth of faith, and he took the opportunity to show his disciples how to seek and to save what was lost. Zaccheus’ tiny bit of faith in climbing that tree was enough for our Lord to consider coming under Zaccheus’ roof.
Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed. I know this is not exactly what we say before we receive the Holy Eucharist, but it is what the Latin says, and what most of the world says, before receiving the blessed Sacrament. And sometime soon, we will be saying it as well in the American Church. Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed. The Lord stands ready in tonight’s Holy Eucharist to come under our roofs. And just in case coming to dine with us isn’t surprising enough, the Lord humbles himself further by not only becoming our guest, but also becoming the very food that we eat.
As we receive the Holy Eucharist tonight, we should ask that having the Lord come under our roofs would have the same effect in our lives that it had in the life of Zaccheus. Because the Lord came to visit him, Zaccheus became a righteous man, a man of charity, a man who loved the kingdom of heaven more than the kingdom of earth. The same thing is supposed to happen to us when we receive the Eucharist; we are to be blown away and transformed by the miracle and the mystery that is before us. In our first reading from the book of Wisdom, we are reminded that before the Lord, the whole universe is like a kernel of grain or a drop of morning dew. We are reminded that if the Lord ever stopped thinking of us and loving us, our lives and our universe would vanish in a second. We are so insignificant compared to the glory of the Lord, and yet that Lord comes under our roofs tonight, and becomes our food. We are reminded that the Lord who loves us beyond all imagination will do 99.999% of the work, if only we have faith the size of a mustard seed. The Lord says to us, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, I will accomplish amazing things within you.
The tremendous conversion in the life of Zaccheus reminds us that we often do not bring much faith to bear when we approach the Lord Jesus in the sacraments. Even though we know our Lord is really present through the sacrament of reconciliation, and especially in the sacrament of the Eucharist, we oftentimes do not bring enough faith to come out of the interior rooms of our pride and selfishness. Much less do we find the humility, courage, faith and curiosity to climb the sycamore tree in order to see the Lord more clearly. In Jesus’ visit to Zaccheus, we are reminded that the Lord of all the universe will go to any length to reach out and to save what is lost. Will we have enough faith to let him find us?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Homily for Saturday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time

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It is not too difficult to tell if a young Catholic is growing in faith or is losing his/her faith. The ones that are growing in their faith are those who have decided their mission is to evangelize, and to share the treasure they have received. The ones who are losing their faith are always comparing the life they could have in Christ with the life they could have without him; in other words, they are asking the question, what’s in it for me?
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans is reflecting on the reality of the Gospel message being taken from the nation of Israel and given to a nation that will bear its fruit, the Gentiles. It is not that God is rejecting Israel; no, God does not annul his covenant. He is love, and does not change. But the success of the Gospel among the Gentiles was to one day serve as a catalyst for the Israelite people to recognize the true treasure of their faith, and to see Christ as the fulfillment of the messianic promise.
Our Church has said over and over that as Catholic people, we have been given the fullness of the means of grace that Christ intended the Church to have. This is to say that the Church Christ founded subsists in the Roman Catholic Church. Because we have been given much, much is expected. But until that day when the Church fully owns her responsibility not simply to guard the faith, but to evangelize, we should not be surprised that other Christian ecclesial communities will have great success, and even share in the gift of salvation, not as a sign that God has withdrawn his love from the Church, but as motivation for us to fulfill our mission to evangelize the culture!

Homily for All Souls

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Why do you wear black all the time? Or do you ever get tired of wearing black? After I give one of my hundreds of presentations on holy orders or on priestly vocations in grade schools, high schools, and youth groups, and open the floor to questions, these are two questions I usually get. And as usual, when I don’t have a good answer for a question, I usually make up an answer that sounds about right. I know that is borderline lying, but we’ll get into that in another homily. As far as answering the question – what’s up with all the black, I usually end up saying that the black symbolizes for a priest the death that he shares with Christ. A priest who acts on behalf of the Church in persona Christi capitis, carries about in his person the dying of our Lord. In Africa, I have heard that priests are known as ‘dead men walking’ Because a priest is celibate, he seems like one who is dead to this world. And that of course, is the point, and so this is the answer I give when people ask me why priests wear black. We wear black because we are supposed to be people who are comfortable with death, who carry about the dying of Jesus.
But I have to admit that even though I believe I am less afraid of death than some people, that even as a priest, who does everything he can to promote faith in Jesus’ resurrection, I know that I am more afraid of death than many people. I am inspired by people who face death with courage and acceptance, who truly carry the dying of Jesus more than I do even though I wear black everyday. I know that their faith is stronger than mine. I am not afraid to go to the hospital, or to the bedside of someone who is close to death, no matter what their age. But I am still afraid of my own death; life on this earth is good, the Jayhawks are 8-0 for goodness sakes – in football! – and I would rather have eternal life added on top of my earthly life, rather than having to face the reality of my own death.
One does not hope for what one sees. This advice from St. Paul tells us that even if we have hope in Jesus’ resurrection, since we do not yet see that resurrection completely, we will still fear our death in this world. And so fear of death is not incompatible with hope. Yet St. Paul says in tonight’s letter to the Romans that hope while not seeing completely does not disappoint. Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. So even as we fear our own death, our hope in the resurrection of Jesus ensures that fear of our death does not paralyze us, and does not dominate our lives. Far from disappointing, hope in Jesus’ resurrection frees us to be people of love, and the Holy Spirit constantly brings us the love that casts out fear whenever it threatens to paralyze our lives.
Many atheists say correctly that you do not have to believe in God in order to die for a good cause. Out of natural goodness and love one may find the courage to die for another, or for a worthy cause. But the reason we are here tonight is to celebrate not merely natural human love, but more importantly we are here to encounter again the supernatural love of God, revealed to us in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul says that God proved his love for us by dying for us precisely because we are sinners. St. Paul is very clear in this point. Christ did not die for us because we are mostly good, but need a little extra help. Christ did not die for us hoping that if given his example, we might someday be able to pay him back. No, St. Paul is precise. God proved his love for us by dying for us for no good reason whatsoever. God is love; he does not need a good reason to start loving. And so Christ died for us while we were still sinners, his enemies. This supernatural love goes beyond the natural human love that can find the courage to die for a good reason. Supernatural love gives completely even when there is no reason to give; Christ gave himself up to death because it was his identity, and thus his mission to reconcile everything to the Father.
Were Christ to die for us out of natural love for us, dying for us because of our potential for goodness, then there would be reason for some of us to boast before God. There would be reason for us to compete to become more worthy of Christ’s sacrifice for us. But since Christ chose to die for us while we were his enemies, none of us has a reason to boast before God, or to compare ourselves with others. No, Christ died for each one of us at the same point; precisely at the point of our greatest failure, our greatest unworthiness, and our greatest weakness.
Were Christ to die only for those who were worthy, there would be every incentive for you and me to hide every weakness of ours from him. Sometimes we try to do this with one another; to get other people to love us by hiding our weaknesses. But since Christ died for us while we were still helpless, for the ungodly, there is no point in our boasting before God. Instead of trying to make choices that make us look more and more worthy of God’s love, we are to make the one choice of letting our lives be broken open, so that we may know Christ’s love at our weakest point, and be sure of that love at the time of our earthly death.
Tonight we commemorate the souls of all the faithful departed, those who have faced the final trial, their earthly deaths, trusting that Christ would be there to embrace them at their weakest moment. Tonight I am remembering especially my own mother, now deceased for over six years. I pray also for Ben Cote, a 7 year old boy from St. Michael parish who died this fall of cancer. I pray for Lauren Dopp, a junior at St. James Academy in Lenexa, who is facing imminent death while we celebrate this Mass. You all have similar people for whom to pray during this solemn liturgy. In commemorating the deaths of our beloved, may we be reminded of the shortness of our lives, that we may gain wisdom of heart. As we help the souls in purgatory with our prayers, may we be reminded to keep death daily before our lives, and to let Christ love us at our weakest points, so that we may hope for his loving embrace at the last moments of our earthly lives. May our reception of the Holy Eucharist tonight bring us all closer to the new and eternal Jerusalem. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace, Amen!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone! I have to admit, I've had this friendly frankie mask for way too long - almost 10 years. I enjoyed celebrating the All Hallow's Eve Mass at the St. Lawrence Center tonight and am going to catch a bad scary movie on cable before heading to bed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Benedict Groeschel at Benedictine

Bad photo, I know, but I was glad to be at Benedictine Monday to hear Fr. Groeschel in person for the first time. Honestly, I don't watch EWTN that much, so I didn't have a lot of expectations for his speech, but he was very funny and of course very convicted in what he said. He encouraged the 'John Paul II' generation to continue to overcome the odds that detract from their Catholic faith, and called on more Catholic colleges to be like Benedictine and to do all they can to teach the faith of the Church and to strengthen their Catholic identity. Apparently, a Newman Society list is coming out this week listing the top 30 truly Catholic colleges in the country, and Benedictine made the list. Go Ravens! I always have a great time in Atchison!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

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I don’t know about you, but I am so glad that after hearing about the 144,000 whose foreheads were marked with the seal, John goes on to see in his vision another multitude that no one could count wearing white robes. Just in case I don’t make the top 144,000 people of all time, it is comforting to know there will be countless others as well who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Oh how I would like to be in that number, when the Saints go marching in!
What an unbelievably great feast day this is, and not only because I have served the last three years as chaplain of St. Thomas Aquinas high school, the home of the Saints! Today is a quintessentially Catholic feast day, one that we do not share with our Protestant brothers and sisters, as we celebrate the light of Christ’s resurrection made visible by the lives of all holy men and women of history. It is true that we live in a world shrouded in darkness – a world made dark by sin – rivalry, envy, pride, violence, poverty, disease and doubt! But in all times and in all places, the light of Jesus’ resurrection remains visible as it is reflected in the lives of the saints! It is true that Jesus has his own light, a light that is powerful enough to scatter any darkness, but until the time when the ruler of this world is cast out once and for all time, he relies on holy men and women to reflect the truth that the Easter fire is still burning, and that sin and death will never have the final say.
Blessed are those men and women who have not seen, and yet have believed. Christ knew that after appearing to his initial disciples, that faith in his resurrection would not grow stronger based on his making an endless series of resurrection appearances. Instead, he ascended to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth, and to remind the Church of everything that Christ said and did. From the time of the Ascension onward, blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed, by letting the Holy Spirit guide them to believe in the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. It is because of the saints throughout history that you and I do not need to be afraid today – sin and death have only temporary power – they do not have the final say. The lives of the saints are living testimony to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, a faith that has come clearly through 2000 years of human history – a faith that helps us to set our hearts on the kingdom of heaven!
The beatitudes are the commandments of those who no longer love their life in this world more than the eternal life preserved for them in heaven. Our life on this earth, lasts but a moment, but through the sacraments Christ left the Church we begin living today the life that we will live forever with God in heaven. In baptism, our robes are washed clean of original sin and we are reborn as children of God even while we remain in this world. At baptism we are sealed on our foreheads with holy Chrism and incorporated into the body of Christ – we become one of the 144,000 foretold in the book of Revelation. Through the sacrament of reconciliation our robes are washed clean of all sin, and in the Eucharist we receive from heaven food that strengthens our souls for the battle against evil. And in the sacrament of Confirmation we are sealed again on our foreheads with the gift of the Spirit, so that we will never stray from what is true, good, beautiful and eternal, and so that we might share in the mission of Christ to reconcile all things to God!
Through the sacraments Catholic people are filled with grace and goodness, and the more we cooperate with this grace, if we ask God to touch us with his grace more than we turn away from him in sin, the more we live not by the ten commandments, but by the beatitudes that are proclaimed with such joy on this holy feast! The ten commandments, as hard as they are to follow, are not the criteria of whether we become saints, of whether we gain the kingdom of heaven. For we are not saved by the law, but by the grace of Christ! Those who use the ten commandments as the final barometer of whether or not they will get to heaven will never get there! Even as we struggle to follow the ten commandments more exactly, we are to show evidence that our hearts love the things of heaven more than the things of this earth. Even before we live the ten commandments perfectly, we are to continually ask God to fill our lives with faith, hope and love, and we are to participate as fully as possible in Christ’s paschal mystery, allowing every part of our lives in this world to be broken apart so that the kingdom of heaven may be made more visible through us!
This in the end is the gift of the saints to us, not only all those men and women who have been canonized by the Church, but also all those men and women who were never canonized but who helped to strengthen faith in Christ’s resurrection. The gift of the saints is the example of those who sacrificed building a lasting kingdom for themselves on this earth and instead fearlessly trusted in the truth of Christ’s promises. In allowing their lives to be broken open, they passed down to us a treasure more precious than any kingdom Satan could offer us. The saints teach us how to love the kingdom of heaven, and how to make that kingdom more visible and more present through the gift of their lives. We should all ask them to help us by their prayers to move beyond our fears and our attachments to this life. We should learn from their example how to begin living today the life we will live forever with God in heaven. We should share in their victory by using our lives to bring many others to faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Oh when the saints, go marching in, oh when the saints go marching in! Oh how I’d like to be in that number, when the saints go marching in!!!!

Homily for Wednesday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time

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We usually assume that Calvinists believe in predestination, not Catholics. So what kind of predestination is St. Paul talking about in his letter to the Romans? Well, Catholics believe in absolute predestination, but not particular predestination. We believe that God knows each one of us by name, and he knew us even before we were born. And those whom God foreknew he predestined absolutely to become his children. God wants all those born in this world to become not only children of this world, but children of his heavenly kingdom, and He sent his only Son so that all men can be saved. Jesus himself proclaimed his mission to not lose anything of what was given him by his heavenly Father. So God predestines all to receive the invitation to become his children, but he respects the freedom that we have to reject his invitation. Thus, Catholics believe in absolute predestination, but not particular predestination. We have real, not perceived freedom, and we can choose to live as children of this world only. That is why Jesus asks us to strive to enter the narrow gate. Many are those who love this world; few indeed are those who love the kingdom of heaven!

KU 8-0 - can you believe it!

This is starting to get weird - like most KU fans, I've never been through something like this. Even in 92 and 95 when we were good, we never really had a chance to win the Big 8 or the Big 12. This is so different! I think most KU fans are wondering if we can run the table and maybe have Mizzou lose again before we play them in Arrowhead November 24th. Wouldn't that be great it MU had nothing to play for in the Big 12? I'm sure it would still be a great game, and now it is getting so hard not to look past Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Go Jayhawks! Here is a picture with my godson Jackson before the KSU game in Manhattan!

Homily for Tuesday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time

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In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he contemplates the gift that death is as a just punishment for sin. On the surface, of course, death seems like the worst punishment we could imagine, and what is more, it is a punishment that each one of us inherits before we ever commit a personal sin. But Paul’s letter gives us pause to consider what it would be like if we were able to sin an infinite number of times, doing damage to God and to ourselves and to our neighbor. This, in Paul’s estimation would we worse than death; it was be a life of slavery to corruption. Through Jesus, however, the Christian has hope of escaping this slavery to corruption, even if the Christian must first face his own death trusting in the truth of what Jesus says to us. Yes, for a time we must fight the good fight, and even face our own death, but Jesus has already given us the firstfruits of his resurrection by filling us with grace, and being our constant companion even unto our death so that we may face every human situation with faith, hope and love. Because of his faith, Paul is able to consider the sufferings of the present time as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed in us. Faith in Jesus’ promises is like that mustard seed and that yeast; a little bit of faith completely changes who we are, how we live, and what we believe our final destiny to be!

Homily for Monday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time

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The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Pope John Paul II wrote a beautiful letter Dies Domini about five years ago reminding us to keep holy the Sabbath. In writing this letter, the Pope reiterated the importance of Sunday as a retreat day, a day for prayer and for focusing on the protection of the eternal life given by our Lord through his resurrection from the dead. Jesus himself today tells us that the Sabbath is a gift for doing good, and what is important about Sunday is not simply the religious obligations attached to the Sabbath, as important as these are, but that we pay attention to healing what is broken in our souls. Thus, Sunday is not simply a day for hitting Mass and then trying to fit in the recreational activities that we couldn’t fit into the other days, it is a day to live to the fullest as people who are destined for the kingdom of heaven. Thus, Sunday should be a day when we can focus completely on our status as children of the spirit, as St. Paul says. As a priest, I need to remember specifically that Sunday is not just my most important workday, it is also my chance to celebrate with the people I serve that eternal life is not some distant reality, but is made present here as we become together the body of Christ through our weekly reception of the Eucharist.

Bella the movie

I saw Bella Saturday with a great group of high school kids. I thought the movie was great but a lot of emotional work for me! I thought Jose embodied the beatitude - Blessed are the poor in spirit, or Blessed are the sorrowful! His sorrow gave him the heart of Jesus, who was more attracted to those in distress than those who felt they were self-sufficient. There were some great characters in the movie, all important in one way or another to its pro-life message. The movie really 'served' the pro-life movement without ever having to argue a point - just in showing the fragility and the beauty of human life. Go see the movie! It is showing on the Plaza, in Olathe and in Independence, I think. I hope it does well!

Homily for Sunday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time

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Both the Pharisee and the tax collector went to the temple to pray. Before we turn today’s Gospel story into a debate between whether it is better to be religious or not to be religious, it is important to see that both the Pharisee and the tax collector went to the same place, the temple, to pray, although they took up different positions within the temple. Today’s Gospel, I submit, is not really a discussion of whether it is better to be spiritual or religious. Many people who have fallen away from organized religion and Catholics in particular who have stopped availing themselves of the sacraments describe themselves as more spiritual than religious, and identify organized religion with hypocrisy, intolerance, and of course, as always asking for money. But it is important, I think, to see tonight’s Gospel not as a comparison between someone who is religious and prays in the temple, i.e. the Pharisee versus someone who now finds God in nature. No, today’s Gospel is not a debate between religion and spirituality; even the tax collector in today’s story is religious; he goes to the temple, respectful of his responsibility to pray to the God who has revealed Himself and done great things for his chosen people, Israel.
But now to the Pharisees of today’s time – those Catholics, shall we say, who perhaps attend daily Mass, go to confession once or twice a month, pray the rosary daily, do a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, and tithe on all their income. If there are Pharisees who exist among us today, certainly they include these kind of people who live their Catholic faith to the nth degree. What would Jesus think of such Catholics today? Let’s consider the other angle – what about those Catholics who attend Mass haphazardly, do not have a meaningful prayer life, go to confession once a year or less, and who spend more on themselves than they give to the Church – what would Jesus think of such Catholics today?
I think the question is easily answered in today’s scriptures. Just as a parent can’t be bribed into liking one child over another, nor can a parent be discouraged from loving one of his or her children because of their mistakes, so also God our loving father cannot be bribed into loving us more, nor put off by our sins into loving us less. God is love, and we cannot change who God is. By definition, God is one who constantly makes a complete gift of himself for the good of the one he loves. This constitutes God’s inner Trinitarian life, but also it explains the mysteries of creation and redemption in Jesus Christ. God is love, and is always in search of us, His beloved. He cannot be anything else.
Today the mistake of the Pharisee is highlighted, but this of course, is no reason to be any less diligent in the practice of our faith. The Pharisee is to be greatly commended for taking the moral life seriously, and for doing good and avoiding evil, so that He neither harms God nor his neighbor. The Pharisee is to be greatly commended for honoring God with a daily routine of prayer and by the sacrifice of his income. The only thing that needs to be corrected in the life of the Pharisee is that He must do his religious observances with greater humility. It is human nature for us to compare ourselves with others – we must do this if we are to surround ourselves with good people and limit our exposure to bad people who will lead us astray. But our judgments are never solid, but temporary, and we are to look forward to other people growing in goodness and virtue, and should do our part to help them. The Pharisee in his prayer in today’s Gospel of course makes the mistake of trying to convince himself that maybe He had done enough to serve God, that perhaps He did not need God’s help as much as the next guy. This of course, was a lack of gratitude on the part of the Pharisee, for He saw his own virtue as his own accomplishment, rather than the work of God within Him. And so to remain a good person, the Pharisee no longer needed God’s help, so long as the tax collector and those like him remained sinners in comparison. Today’s Gospel, then, is not about becoming less of a Pharisee in our religious practice, but is a reminder to thank God more and more for his presence in our lives, and to invite him to continue to come closer and closer and to touch our lives more and more, and especially to continue healing us at our weakest points.
The tax collector, on the other hand, because of his humility, is the hero in today’s story. What is highlighted is his humility in knowing that He is not righteous through His own willpower but needs God’s help and has the humility to ask for it. What is hidden for the tax collector in today’s story is his new responsibility to use the forgiveness given Him to go and to bear fruit. It would be a pity, wouldn’t we all agree, if the tax collector took God’s forgiveness for granted, and did nothing to turn away from sin. That is why Jesus always told those He forgave to sin no more, and why we all pledge to avoid the near temptation of sin during our act of contrition before we are absolved of our sins.
We all would like to get to a place where we avoid our sins more easily and do the good we know we should do. But it is more important, we learn in today’s story, not to rely completely on our own willpower, as strong as it may be, to become righteous. If we rely only on our own willpower, not only will we risk not becoming righteous, but we may attribute any progress that we make to ourselves, and not to God, and so reduce our dependence on Him. God is like our parent, He will love us no matter what, and so we do not need to be afraid of Him, but can rely more and more on Him and less on ourselves. Instead of continuing to be people who turn away from Him 100 times before we ever ask for His help, let’s instead be people who ask for His help 100 times more than we turn away from Him!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wednesday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time

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How can this be? This is Mary’s response, albeit a response of great faith and readiness, to her being pulled into a mystery that was beyond her comprehension. How can this be? This question is an important sign of our vocation, of being asked to do something by God that we can never be qualified to do. In the same way that a lowly handmaid was called to be the Mother of God, so each one of us should expect to one day be chosen to move out of our lowliness to a place where we are entrusted with much more than we could ever deserve or imagine.

Finding our vocation in life, of course, is much more than just matching our gifts and our desires with the appropriate job description within the Church. It is more than figuring out our preferred way for building God’s kingdom. More important than this matchmaking process is a willingness on our part to be pulled deeply into a mission that will constantly both astound and confound us. Rather than planning for a successful life working within the Lord’s vineyard, we are let God call us to something that goes far beyond any plan we could devise, but instead charges us with doing something that we would never choose for ourselves.

Allowing God to entrust us with all his property, with a greater portion of his kingdom than we want or could ever be qualified for, forces us to be the slaves of grace that Paul envisions us to be in the reading from Romans. We either choose or are chosen; there is no middle ground, and in allowing ourselves to be chosen by Christ, we will fill up what is lacking in his suffering, and be led precisely where we do not want to go. In all this, Christ does us the tremendous favor of not allowing us to measure the worth of our lives by our own expectations. No, the Lord who puts us in charge of his property, will forever work to save us from the pride of self-reliance. We should always be echoing the question of Mary – how can this be?

Many people fear their true vocation because of the truth of today’s Gospel. Once you start, you cannot stop, and in this, of course, lies salvation, a chance to forget ourselves within a mission so big that we will never give ourselves a pat on the back, but only receive the consolations of the one who has chosen us and guides us on our way! Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Homily for Sunday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time

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When the Lord comes, will he find any faith on the earth? As Vocation Director for the Archdiocese, this question from our Lord at the end of today’s Gospel can easily be distilled to a question about religious vocations in general, and vocations to the priesthood for our Archdiocese in particular. When the Lord comes, and He does come to us for a living encounter right now in the scriptures we have heard and in the Eucharist that we are about to share – when the Lord comes, will he find men of faith who are willing to leave everything to follow Him? When the Lord calls men to be priests, will He find anyone with enough faith to answer His call?

Winning the battle for vocations, for discernment of God’s will and for the courage to follow the Lord wherever He may lead us, is a matter of prayer. This weekend’s scriptures plead with us to be vigilant in prayer, and we see clearly that it is when we stop praying that the battle for vocations will be lost. As long as Moses was vigilant in prayer, the Israelites had the better of the fight against the Amalekites. But when his vigilance waned, the enemy advanced. As Christian people who know that holiness is a true battle, and who know that the determination of the enemy is relentless, today’s first reading is an encouragement for us to be prayer warriors if we are to have any chance to know God’s will clearly in our lives and to sustain the courage to answer His call.

As vocation director, I experience many great Catholic families and young people who are open at least in principle to God’s call in their lives. Rare, however, are those families and young people who pray fervently asking God to call them to be different, to be saints, and to set them apart to teach people how to love the kingdom of heaven. It is natural for us, I guess, and part of my own story, to want first to be normal, and to pursue some sort of kingdom on this earth, while theoretically remaining open to God’s calling us to something different. We figure that if God wants us to be a priest or a sister, He will let us know by confounding our plans for marriage or for a career. We wait until life does not meet our expectations before asking if God wants us to do something different. Rare, however, is the Catholic family or the young person, who prays unceasingly that they will be given the gift of a religious calling, the chance to work singleheartedly their entire lives bringing people to love the kingdom of heaven and the eternal life that has been given through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There are two ways that we can pray unceasingly for an increase of vocations to religious life, and especially for vocations to the priesthood for our Archdiocese. The first is to make a petition everyday that God will give the Church more priests, the priests she needs to build up the body of Christ and to be spiritual fathers protecting God’s people from the power of the enemy. I hope we are all doing this in our personal prayer, storming heaven asking the Lord for more priests, and we should do this unceasingly at Mass as well. In this, the annoying widow in the Gospel is our model and heroine, as she asks and asks and asks for what is so important to her well being. Our motto should be this: God wills absolute things absolutely and contingent things contingently. We are not praying trying to change God’s mind into giving us more priests, but if it is his will that the current shortage of priests is allowed as a means of stretching our faith and forcing us to pray, then I hope all of us here are up to meeting the challenge and will double our efforts to pray for more priests.

Just as important as this prayer directed to heaven, however, is the way that we teach each other to pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. As I said earlier, it is one thing to pray that we remain open to whatever God might ask of us – this is a good and holy prayer. But this is not how Moses and the widow prayed in today’s scriptures. They did not pray simply for the grace to accept whatever outcome was inevitable, as good of a prayer as that might have been. No, they prayed for victory, for a decision in their favor. In the same way, our prayer for vocations is not simply a prayer for openness in case God might call us to be priests and religious; no, our prayer for vocations is a prayer asking God specifically to receive the gift of a calling to the priesthood or the religious life. It is a prayer asking God to choose me and not someone else! It is a prayer that priesthood and religious life will not be a vocation of last resort, but a vocation of first preference.

St. Paul says in our second reading that reading the scriptures will equip us for the work that God has marked out for us. Reading scripture before the Blessed sacrament, and engaging in daily mental prayer, will strengthen our will and determination to allow God to call us to something extraordinary. Going to confession regularly will release us from discouragement and weariness, and assure us of the Lord’s constant help. And praying the rosary will allow our Blessed Mother to help us more and more, for she was Jesus’ first and best disciple, and she did not hesitate but responded in faith when she was asked to do something extraordinary for God. Please join me and Archbishop Naumann and all my brother priests in praying more and more for vocations to the religious life, and especially for holy priests for our Archdiocese. Jesus tells us that we must pray always without becoming weary.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Homily for Sunday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time

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The interesting thing about the healing of Naaman the leper is that he was not an Israelite. The miracle worked through the prophet Elisha led to the conversion of Naaman. Before the miracle, Naaman was not a man of faith, at least not in the God of Israel. Afterwards, Naaman loaded up two mule-loads of earth from the land of the Israelites, as a reminder that he was now a person of faith, and would worship no god except the God of Israel for as long as he should live, as a means of giving thanks for his healing.
The presence of miracles, however, does not always elicit faith, and so today’s readings are more about thanksgiving than about conversion. Because the healing of Naaman was so unexpected, what is highlighted through the healing was the extreme gratefulness showed by Naaman. Naaman did not believe that he was entitled to a healing; in fact, even though he had the faith to plunge seven times in the Jordan, he was doing so mostly because nothing else had worked. His plunging into the Jordan was more of a desperate last resort, than it was an act of faith. But the result is this; because Naaman did not think he was entitled to a healing because of his faith in the God of Israel, he is doubly thankful once the healing is surprisingly given. Ditto for today’s Gospel. Only the foreigner, the one who supposedly had the least amount of faith in Jesus, an Israelite, returned to give thanks to God.
Now probably all of us who have come to Mass this morning will offer some prayers to God for healing, either for ourselves or for someone we know or love or have promised to pray for. We bring so many prayers to this altar today – prayers for healing in mind, body or spirit. We present our prayers in confidence because we know that Jesus hears us and does what is best for us. Hasn’t Jesus taught us that whoever asks, receives, whoever seeks finds, and whoever knocks, the door will be opened? Doesn’t he say that since we who are evil know how to give good gifts to one another, how much more will our Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks him? Doesn’t Jesus tell us in the context of the Eucharist that He always gives to us everything that He has received from His Heavenly Father? Do we not profess the reality of the healing we receive at the Eucharist when we say to the Lord that we are not worthy to receive Him, but only say the word and we shall be healed? In all this, we profess the healing that is present to us in this Eucharist, for whoever eats this bread and drinks this blood will never die.
We know that the prayers we offer today are heard and answered, and yet there are times when we leave the holy Eucharist feeling like we have received less than Naaman the leper. And this is where today’s theme of gratitude comes in. It is true that I can be jealous of the healing received by Naaman today, because I believe my faith to be stronger than his, because I have prayed for many cups of suffering to pass me by and they have not passed me by, because I have prayed for many people to get well while still on this earth and they have not gotten well. Even though I have been healed of all of my sins through the blood of Jesus, even though I am healed by having a chance to eat the bread of life, to be physically joined to my Lord who lives forever through the miracle of the Eucharist, I can find myself jealous of Naaman, who was healed from his leprosy for a time that he might come to faith, but who had to face death again. I who have received a miracle a thousand times greater than anything received by Naaman can find myself jealous that he seems to have won the lottery, and I have not, even though I am more deserving. This, my friends, is the epitome of the lack of gratitude that is challenged by today’s Gospel.
During my third year of seminary I remember my spiritual director telling me that the main problem in my vocational discernment was my lack of gratitude. Even though I was getting closer and closer through the power Christ gave to his Church to be able to forgive sins and to consecrate the Eucharist, I would often find myself not excited for this, but full of resentment and self-pity at what I had to leave behind in order to answer this call to be a priest. It was silly, really – to be able to forgive sins one time, or to celebrate the Eucharist one time, was worth the sacrifice of my entire life, since my faith was sure that these sacraments bring the healing that lasts unto eternity. And yet I had a hard time saying thank you to God for these gifts, until my spiritual director pointed this out to me.
The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. If nothing else this weekend, may we grow in thankfulness for the miracles that are present here through the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. No, we may not win the lottery like Naaman and the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus, but we and those we love will indeed be healed, not in this world only, but forever through the mystery of the Eucharist present here. For whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will never die, but will live forever.

Homily for Saturday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time

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Normally, when I give someone a compliment, I expect them to say thank you, not to correct my compliment. For example, if I would tell someone that they look beautiful today, I would not expect them to reply; rather, shouldn’t we say that the flowers are beautiful instead. Normally, it is rude to disregard a compliment, and in today’s Gospel, it at first seems rude that Jesus would not honor his mother by receiving a compliment on her behalf. But of course, just the opposite is true.

Jesus gives greater honor to His mother by revealing Her to be not only the descendant of Eve; one who gives life on this earth only. Jesus reveals his Mother as the new Eve; the mother of all those who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Jesus in redirecting a compliment regarding the breasts that nursed him reminds us that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Jesus tells us how to love his mother, by reminding us that without the Annunciation, there would be no eternal significance to the womb that bore him and the breasts at which he nursed. But because Mary heard the word of God and observed it, She became the mother of us all. May Mary help us by her powerful intercession to be people humble enough to hear the word of God and to observe it, so that our lives may bear fruit that will remain.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Homily for Wednesday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time

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God had made a false prophet out of Jonah, and so Jonah was angry. Jonah was told to go and tell the city of Ninevah that a God he knew to be merciful would be unmerciful, and that the city of 120,000 would be destroyed in 40 days. So Jonah was angry that God forced him, against his will and better judgment, to prophesy to Ninevah, and then doubly crossed Jonah by not carrying out the evil that He had threatened. Jonah believed that He had reason to be angry, angry enough to die.

It is hard enough to be a prophet and to live a counter-cultural life in faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is harder, probably, to do so without concern with how God chooses to use our prophetic service. Without cost we have received, without cost we are to give. Our service to God is not based on our control of the outcome; it is a response to divine love. Jesus says to us today in the Eucharist: I have handed over to you everything that I have received from my Father. We are to say to God, however He uses our service, the same thing at the end of our service. We are unprofitable servants; we have only done what we were obliged to do.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Homily for Saturday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time

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A priest especially should constantly rejoice in sharing Christ’s power over demons. The power to forgive sins that Jesus handed to His Church is of course a greater miracle than being able to tread upon scorpions and serpents, as impressive as the latter might be. The miracle of the Eucharist, which heals a person to the point of preparing them to inherit eternal life, is likewise reason for great rejoicing on the part of those priests who are configured to Christ so as to make this saving sacrifice present.

Having names written in the kingdom of heaven is of course a greater cause for rejoicing than having power over the demons who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Jesus invites his disciples through Him to enter into the reality of the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom that far surpasses life as we know it on this earth. Because that kingdom is fully revealed and fully present in the person of Jesus, He is the wisdom that has been sought by kings and prophets in all ages. Seeing Jesus is definitive for knowing ultimate and eternal reality. By seeking His face we advance toward the kingdom of heaven from which Jesus was born in the Incarnation and to which He returns at his Ascension. Trusting him with a childlike faith is greater knowledge than all human wisdom combined from the beginning until the end of time.

Homily for Friday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time

We must be willing to preach and to be preached to. Through our baptism, we enter into the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ. Through Confirmation, especially, we join in the mission of evangelization, of proclaiming who Christ is to others and the abiding presence of the kingdom of God through Him by the witness of our lives. Why does Jesus trust ‘goofballs’ like you and me to represent Him and to continue His mission? I guess because He knows our faith will only become real to us insofar as we are courageous enough to teach it and to share it with others. His message to those who proclaim the kingdom of God in his name is very straightforward in today’s Gospel. Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me and the one who sent me. These are strong words concerning our responsibility to preach the kingdom.

I have to admit, however, that when I hear this Gospel I usually spend way too much time thinking about how I have failed to preach the kingdom, and very little about how I have failed to listen to the kingdom being preached to me. Now I, like everyone, am looking for people who can inspire me or give me new insight into the mysteries of the faith. But what I lack is the ability to give to most ordinary people that I meet the chance to proclaim the kingdom to me. Instead, I usually am intent on sharing with them what I think they need, and then moving on to the next prospect. But woe to me if I fail to see within the lives of others the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the mighty deeds He is working within the hearts of his faithful.

Homily for Thursday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time - Francis of Assisi

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We can tell how much we love something by how much we miss it when it is absent from our lives. I love the Kansas City Royals, and I can tell anyone whenever they ask the last game I went to, and I can speak of excitement about my next opportunity to go watch a game. I can do this mentally, of course, but even my body ‘pines’ for watching baseball; there is a physical or kinesthetic or ‘heart’ knowledge of the thing that I love. I love being in the presence of baseball – Kansas City Royals baseball, specifically.

As Eucharistic people we can tell whether or not the Eucharist is our favorite food by how much our minds and our hearts thirst for the Eucharist, especially when we are absent from the sacrament. Our hunger for the Eucharist even exceeds our hunger to hear God’s word through Scripture, since Jesus Himself in the Eucharist is that definitive word of God. But we get a glimpse of how much we should love the Eucharist by hearing what is was like for the Israelites who returned from exile to be able to listen to the scriptures openly proclaimed once again. They wept for joy, so much did the precepts of the Lord gladden their hearts.

Francis of Assisi taught his followers how to imitate Jesus in poverty – how to follow him without money bags, sacks or sandals. In contemplating the life of Francis, we should realize that our failure to hunger fully for the word of God or for the Eucharist can usually be attributed to our being already ‘filled’ with other things of this world. Francis teaches us through his example of poverty that the things we have take time and energy to use, and it is hard to draw the line between what we own and what owns us. Francis teaches us that the only necessary thing to possess in order to have a good life on this earth is the opportunity to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven with all of our hearts, all of our minds, and all of our strength.

Homily for Wednesday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time

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In today’s Gospel we see why celibacy has become a valuable discipline within the priestly and religious life of the Church. It was one thing for the first apostles to leave their job and whatever families they had to follow Jesus when He called them, but those called to priesthood and religious life today are asked to leave in the beginning even the possibility of a natural family and other careers in order to enter into formation and to try to follow Jesus with singleness of heart.

Even as a celibate, which disposes one favorably to seeking first the kingdom of God, there are challenges to single-heartedness. It is human nature to constantly compare the life one has been given through a priestly or religious vocation with the life one could have built for himself. If thinking about this ‘fantasy’ life consumes too much energy, the celibate will find themselves full of resentment and self-pity rather than joy and gratitude. In this case, the celibate seeks ways to fulfill his desire for intimacy other than wholehearted service to the family of God.

Singleness of heart is a tremendous gift. Finding the one necessary thing is difficult. Everyday we should remind ourselves to seek first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness, confident that everything else will be given to us besides. If we are always looking to what is left behind, there is no way we can say to Jesus – I will follow you wherever you may go.

Homily for Tuesday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time - Memorial of the Guardian Angels

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After visiting Vacation Bible School at St. Michael’s parish one morning, I remarked to Fr. Bill the pastor that there seemed to be an awful lot of activity, but that I wasn’t sure the kids were learning that much about the Bible. I’ll never forget his response – learning the Bible is just an added benefit of having all these people here. The most important thing is that they are here, that the Church is their home, and that they enjoy coming here to see their friends. If that foundation of friendship is established, there is no limit to what you can teach them about the Bible and about their faith.

It was the wisdom of bishops in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas that whenever a new parish was established, the Catholic school was built prior to the permanent Church being built. The idea is that if you start serving the children, a strong parish community will follow. After being in a parish for three years, I can really see the truth of this. People care about their kids; they want the best environment for them and will invest in their futures. So a parish that celebrates its youth is a vibrant parish.

Jesus asks us to regard children as gifts from heaven, and to learn from them how to be trusting and dependent. So many of us spend our best energies trying to be independent; the unfortunate result is that our lives become smaller. Children create dependence in a good way. We must always guard against creating a culture where sacramental marriage is rare, and children are welcomed only at the convenience of those who desire them. Jesus warns us against harming children, for their guardian angels always gaze upon the face of his heavenly Father.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Homily for Monday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time - St. Therese of Lisieux

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I was in Paris for the World Youth Days in 1996, and I’ll always remember the huge picture of St. Therese that covered a large part of the fa├žade of Notre Dame cathedral for those pilgrims in Paris at that time. Thanks to Msgr. Krische, the director of the St. Lawrence Center ( at that time, I was selected as one of two delegates from the United States for the World Youth Days. I’ll always remember the evening when all the delegates from every Episcopal conference from around the world spent a night in celebrating the life of Therese, and seeking her intercession. Her memorial is also special to me in that my first pastor, Fr. Bill Porter, loves St. Therese very much, and always insisted that we pray a novena leading up to October 1st. Then in each of the three years I was in the rectory, I would receive a red rose on the morning of October 1st, a sign that the favor for which I prayed was being granted.

By the world’s standards, Therese lived such a small life, and her early death from tuberculosis would presumably have diminished the significance of her life even further. But anyone who reads the diaries of her soul ends up feeling sorry not for Therese, but for one’s self. Because of her childlike faith, the life of Therese was so big and ours in comparison are so small. Therese, despite her crosses, was able to find a childlike freedom in her relationship with Jesus, and the simplicity of her love allowed her heart to stretch out to all souls in the world.

My favorite part of her diaries is the part where Therese asks Jesus to play with her life like he would play with a red rubber ball. Therese was afraid of trying to become by her own piety that perfect figurine that was doomed to sit on the shelf forever because it is too delicate and too valuable to actually use. No, Therese wanted to be the toy that Jesus played with most often, that toy that he threw around, and got dirty, and left in less that ideal places, but that toy that He used everyday and that brought Him great joy. Through the intercession of this great saint, may we have the grace to ask for this same kind of relationship with Jesus.