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.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Homily for Sunday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time

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I don’t know about you, but this Gospel about the rich man and Lazarus stirs up so many emotions in me. When I think of the man Lazarus with his sores being licked by dogs, I first of course think of Mother Teresa and of her willingness to serve the most destitute in the streets of Calcutta, India. I hope you are praying, as I am, for the rapid canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa. I was pre-medicine while at KU for my undergraduate degree, so part of me likes to think that I could handle caring even for people with open sores, but this Gospel passage reminds me that most of me is like the rich man who passes by as quickly as possible. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, I am more like the priest and the Levite who pass by the opposite side of the road and try to stay on schedule than the Good Samaritan who stops and cares for the man in the ditch. In today’s Gospel there is a dramatic reversal. The rich man is paradoxically much more in need than Lazarus, but this is hidden until the afterlife. The rich man was spiritually blind, and so could not see himself within the life of Lazarus, nor could he believe that the life of Lazarus was as real or as important as his own. This disease of spiritual blindness is much more debilitating to our eternal health than the open sores of Lazarus. The worst disease from which we can suffer, my friends, is to believe that we are self-sufficient.
Abraham does not make a lot of appearances in the New Testament, but plays such a great role in today’s Gospel story. The one whose faith paved the way for Moses and the prophets is the one to announce to us in today’s Gospel story the reality of heaven and hell. Since we believe that there is no salvation except through the grace of Christ, the appearance of Abraham in heaven should get us to pause, at least for a second, to ask why He is there, since Abraham did not know Christ. In our Eucharistic prayers at Mass you and I pray consistently for all the departed, Catholics and Christians and non-Christians, and those whose faith is known to God alone. We pray that Christ’s victory over sin and death will be extended to those who did not have the Gospel of Christ preached convincingly to them, yet responded with sincere hearts to the call to live good, generous and virtuous lives. So seeing Abraham in heaven, who was not baptized while on this earth and did not receive the Eucharist, gives us hope that all men can be saved. Didn’t Jesus say as much, as He pronounced his mission to reconcile all things to the Father, and not to lose anything within that entire creation that was handed over to Him?
But at the same time that the appearance of Abraham gives us hope that all can be saved, even non-Christians, the reality that we can choose a permanent home away from God; namely, hell, is also emphasized. Abraham’s pronouncement that the chasm between heaven and hell is so great that it cannot be passed is a good news, bad news pronouncement. The good news is that our freedom is real, not an illusion, and that God will honor our choice whether or not to love Him. The bad news, of course, is that our freedom is real, and our use of that freedom today has eternal consequences. Abraham’s revelation that one who will not listen to Moses and the prophets will not listen to the resurrected Jesus either shows that the habits we form with our freedom produce lasting fruit. With every choice we make, we either are formed in virtue or in vice. Every good choice we make increases the likelihood of our choosing the good again, and every bad choice we make increases this likelihood of our choosing the bad again. This is the reality of the moral life, the formation of habits of virtue or vice. The parable of the dishonest steward last week puts it this way – one who is faithful in small matters will also be faithful in large ones, and one who is unfaithful in small matters will also be unfaithful in large ones. It is erroneous to think that given one last great chance to choose Jesus on this side of heaven, we will be able to shrug off all our habits of unfaithfulness or addictions to the things of this world in an instant. The rich man has a firm habit of choosing material things rather than using his freedom to love the things of heaven, and it is not until this habit is removed after his death that he is able to see clearly and to choose rightly. As a pastor who has visited many people in the hospital at the end of their lives, I can attest that this is true. Death bed conversions are more rare than those who change very little at the end of their lives. The choices we make today will make a permanent impact on the person we will be at the end of our lives. That is the good news and the bad news of having real freedom.
Is anyone in hell? Well, Satan surely, but after him, it is not for us to judge. Today’s Gospel is not about scaring us into being good so that we don’t go to hell anyway. The fear of God that is holy is not a fear of punishment. It is a fear that comes from having a real relationship with God, and from not wanting to damage this relationship. Especially in today’s Gospel, we are encouraged not to fall to the sin of idolatry by preferring the things that make us rich in this world to the eternal riches of heaven.

Homily for Saturday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time - Feast of the Archangels

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Admittedly, this is an emotional day for me. My first three years as a priest were at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Leawood, Kansas, and taking nothing away from my new position as Vocation Director for the Archdiocese, I miss my old parish greatly. It will get easier year after year, but this first year, as I think of all the fun the parish is having with their annual outdoor Mass and picnic celebrating the great Feast of the Archangels, it is like being away from family on a big occasion. It stinks!

All the kids at St. Michael the Archangel, of course, and all the families for that matter, are urged to memorize the great prayer to St. Michael, which is a tremendous prayer within the piety of the Church. From time to time, mothers in the parish would complain that the prayer was too heinous, and caused nightmares for their children, as they contemplated the ‘evil spirits lurking around the world seeking the ruin of souls.’ I have to admit that I love the prayer, and from a very young age, children learn about life as a struggle against evil, and so this prayer puts that struggle within the great context of our Catholic faith. It is, in my opinion, the most ‘macho’ prayer in the Church, and I love to pray it. If you don’t have it memorized, you just have to do it! I’m biased, of course, being a former associate pastor for St. Michael the Archangel Parish.

Satan’s best weapon against us is to desensitize us to the urgency of doing good and avoiding evil. May St. Michael protect us against this complacency, and as he drove Satan out of heaven, may he help us drive Satan out of this earth, into the depths of the netherworld. Here is the prayer for easy reference. Learn it!

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do you, O prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits seeking the ruin of souls. Amen!

Homily for Friday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time

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Who do you say that I am? How blessed do I feel as a priest to be called by Christ to contemplate this question everyday, and to be able to share my answer with others. In the context of today’s reading, Peter and the apostles are instructed not to tell anyone Christ’s identity until their understanding is deepened by the paschal events in Jerusalem, but afterwards, proclaiming their answer would become the very mission of the Church.

What a treasure we have, my friends, as our current pope, Benedict XVI, answers this question of who Jesus is for him, personally, through his new book Jesus of Nazareth. In reading the book, I get a sense that Benedict has contemplated this question – Who do you say that I am – everyday of his life, and in reading the book I am eating the fruit of his lifelong contemplation. What a gift!

Probably even moreso, my vocation to the priesthood was inspired by the centrality of this question in the life of the late Pope John Paul II. In his deep understanding of the mystery of the human person, John Paul understood that it is our answer to this question from Jesus that will determine definitively how we understand God, truth, the world, and how we should live. There have been some great religious figures in the history of the world, but none of them point to themselves like Jesus does. Jacob Neusner in his book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus is eventually turned away from Christianity because Jesus himself the person is the only new necessary thing within Christianity. Jesus forces us to make a decision everyday if we would be his disciple. Jesus does not ask us – what do you think about what I say? He says – who do you say that I am? Either He is the fullness of God’s revelation, and so everything changes based on our relationship to His person, or He is not. We must decide.

Homily for Thursday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time - St. Vincent de Paul, Priest

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St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!

One of the signs of a vocation to the priesthood and religious life is a dissatisfaction with the things of this world. A young person can see that the world is good, and enjoy the things of this world, while still longly deeply for what lies ahead, what is invisible and beyond our reach. A sign of a calling to priesthood or religious life is a desire to live as much as possible in the kingdom of heaven, even while we remain on pilgrimage here below.

The reading we have from Haggai today reminds me of the reading from the beginning of the book of Ecclesiastes, which questions whether all of life is vanity. Someone who is called to priesthood or religious life oftentimes sees a life not joined to eternal and ultimate reality as putting money is a bag with a hole in the bottom. The prophet Isaiah says it this way – why spend your money for what fails to satisfy? The reading from Haggai reminds us not to live a frivolous life, but one that has eternal consequences. What better way to do this than to pray everyday for the gift of a calling to the priesthood or religious life?

We have a powerful patron today, St. Vincent de Paul, who by his prayers is ready to help us to leave everything and to follow Christ with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Homily for Wednesday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time

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This week from the Old Testament we have heard readings of joy as the Israelites are being released from exile by the Persian kings and allowed to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. I have thought a lot this week about the construction of the new Church at St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood, Kansas, where I was assigned before being made vocation director for the Archdiocese. What a joy it will be to see a beautiful Church be brought to completion, which will give witness to the faith of the parishioners who have sacrificed to make it possible, and will remind them of the dignity they have as sharers in the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death, and as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Of course the kingdom of God is no longer simply realized as the gift of a physical homeland like the city of Jerusalem or the land of Israel. For this reason, Jesus tells his disciples as they go preaching not to worry about the roof over their heads, for the kingdom of God now exists wherever Jesus is present, and He is to be made present everywhere by the preaching of his disciples. He is most present through the sacramental life of the Church, which physically continues the mission of Christ by touching the lives of people just like our savior did 2000 years ago. The fullest physical presence of Jesus is found in the Eucharist, and this faith should be shown in the building of Churches that indicate not just the meeting place of like-minded people, but the mystical presence of Christ.

The building of a new Church and its dedication should renew the faith of the Church just as the faith of the Israelites was renewed by the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem. But even more than that, the dedication of a new Church should indicate that the good news of Jesus has reached a new place on the earth, and the people of that town have made a home in which Jesus will remain.

Homily for Tuesday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time

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My mom is deceased, but I have four brothers still living. My dad and my one sister are also doing well. Today’s Gospel explains so simply I believe, the kind of family a priest is called to build, one that hears the word of God and acts upon it. The Gospel explains simply why in the western Church the discipline of celibacy is now expected of bishops and priests. They are to give preference to building a family not here on this earth, but a family whose true and lasting home is in heaven. Diocesan priests do this by their dedication to building up both the visible and the invisible Church.

Were Mary not the paradigmatic disciple, Jesus’ ignoring of the wishes of his mother to see Him would seem flippant and disobedient. But Mary leads the Church, the eternal family of God, in hearing the word of God, and obeying it, and so is honored by her Son’s comments, even as she must wait until He is finished teaching to see Him. In the same way, a priest honors the gift of life given by his biological family by teaching them how to listen to the word of God and to act on it. The priest loves his biological family best not by passing on life biologically, but in helping his family, and many others, to lay hold of the eternal life made possible by Jesus’ resurrection. A priest is set apart to celebrate the Eucharist, so that whoever eats this flesh and drinks this blood will live forever!

Homily for Monday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time

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The longer I am a priest, the more I wear my Roman collar. I remember early on when I was ordained, and even before then, I would give a lot of thought as to where and when I would wear the collar. Of course, whenever I was around Church or functioning as a priest, I would wear it. It wasn’t a question of that. It was that quick run to the grocery store, or a visit to the health club that I debated whether or not to present myself as a priest. What ended up sealing the deal so to speak, is even if I wanted just a little time off from being a priest, or wanted the efficiency of running my errands like a regular person, someone always recognized me as a priest anyway. The diocesan priesthood is such a public life, and people love to see you and to interact with you. Especially when you’re in a hurry! Slowly, I learned to enjoy wearing the Roman collar, even the interruptions and the many questions that come simply because you’re a priest.

It is true that a priest is entitled to a private life, but of course, not to a secret one. No one is entitled to a secret life, for there is nothing hidden that will not come to light one way or another. The priesthood especially cannot sustain secrets or compartmentalization. The priesthood is a gift Christ gives to men, and we are to be generous in sharing that gift and in serving. We are not to stuff the light Christ gives us under a bed, but to be a consistent witness to the light of Jesus’ resurrection. As Archbishop Naumann likes to put it, the priesthood is supposed to ‘shock’ people by its counter-intuitiveness. It is supposed to make people wonder why someone would stake their entire lives on the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

The more I wear the collar and the more I present myself as a priest, the more my faith grows. This is what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel. Faith that is lived only for one’s self is a faith that is useless, like a lamp stuffed under a bed. There are still times when I do not present myself as a priest outwardly by wearing the Roman collar – when I am at games or getting in some needed relaxation with friends. But the priesthood has been such a tremendous gift to me – woe to me if I hide that gift!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Pay yourself first. Any financial adviser would give this advice for one who seeks security within this world. And there is nothing wrong with this solid advice given by financial advisers everywhere, unless of course, you are a disciple of Christ who truly listens to today’s Gospel.
I submit to you that our Gospel for today says to pay God first, for you cannot serve both God and mammon. Mammon is another word for avarice, or greed, and it is personified in the New Testament as a demon that seeks to possess persons. It is true that God does not need our money; He who made everything has no use for our money. He is please not by a sacrifice of gold, but by a sacrifice of our very lives. It can be said as well that the Church does not ‘need’ our money. The Church that Christ founded is guaranteed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and is thus in no danger of extermination even if people stop giving to it. The Church is built of living stones; even our greatest physical Churches are without the invisible Church whitewashed tombs. Our greatest cathedrals serve only to make visible the dignity given to the living Church by Christ; they are in no way necessary in and of themselves.
So why pay God first if He doesn’t need our money? Well, today’s readings put it to us this way: we show whether we are children of this world only or children of light by the clever ways in which we use the resources available to us. Jesus challenges his disciples in today’s Gospel to be as clever in preserving the divine life of faith given in baptism as we are in preserving our well-being on this earth.
It is true that all of us are impressed by the cleverness of criminals. How many movies out there glamorize the life of criminals – Tony Soprano is one of the most popular icons in the country now because of his cleverness in cheating people, despite the fact that He is a murderer. I admit myself that I have watched Oceans Eleven several times and love watching the eleven criminals execute the perfect crime. The rich man in today’s Gospel admires the resourcefulness of his steward, who cheats his way into securing a future for himself. Jesus says to his disciples to be even more clever in preserving the divine life that has been entrusted to them. And He promises His disciples that if they are trustworthy in this small matter of guarding the divine light within them, He will put us in charge of much of His kingdom. And what a privilege that would be!
We are instructed this morning to stop serving two masters. One of the best ways of doing this is to give to God first, and to yourself what is leftover. This commandment of giving to God first is not based on God’s need to receive, or for that matter, the Church’s need to receive, but is based on our need to give. Since the money and material things we have no value beyond this world, and are tainted with original sin as are all things of this world, we are told to show that our hearts are truly set on the eternal things of heaven by the way we use this dishonest wealth in making friends. Whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did it for me. This is the standard set before us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, and in using the wealth we have in this world to evangelize the poor in body and in spirit, we use dishonest wealth to make friends who will welcome us into our eternal dwellings.

Giving 10% of what we have to the Church is a good starting point, but this is not the maximum that we are called to give in order to give evidence that our hearts are set on the things of heaven – we can give more than 10%. Much of our giving should go to our local parish and diocese – it is a sign on our part that we recognize the Church as the one Christ founded and despite the imperfections of the Church, we trust Her to complete the mission given to Her by Christ. This giving to the local parish or diocese can be harder than ever given the big payouts by many dioceses to settle sex abuse claims. The Church must continue to be purified of Her sins and to be a better steward of what is entrusted to Her, but we should not weaken the Church any further by refusing to give. We also give to Catholic schools, missions and many charities that work for justice and deliver the charity that is a constitutive element of our life in Christ, as Pope Benedict XVI explained in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est.
Some people who have debt or who do not make a lot of money use this as an excuse not to give, and point their fingers at the wealthy who do not give. It is true that prudence would have us withhold our giving at special times in order to achieve sustainability in our personal budgets, but it is more often true that the money we do not give ends up being spent in frivolous ways, and we feel even worse for withholding it in the first place. One of the greatest effects of stewardship is that giving freely helps us to concentrate even more on using well the things we already have, and buying only the things we really need. As the widow who put her last two cents into the temple treasure teaches us, those who have the least should actually lead the way in giving freely, lest one day they turn into the rich young man who walked away from Jesus because He had many possessions. As the Gospel says, we cannot serve both God and mammon, and statistics on giving clearly indicate that the more money a person has, the smaller percentage of their income they give to charity.
St. Paul in his letter to Timothy especially wishes for kings and for all in authority to be men of prayer. Let us pray also today for all those who are entrusted with leadership, that through their prayer they will be faithful in small matters, especially in their attention to the moral life, so that they may also be great stewards of the tremendout authority entrusted to them. Let us pray that the light of Jesus’ resurrection would continue to reach those areas of our world shrouded in darkness, and that many leaders would arise who know how to shrewdly use the things of this world to reveal the eternal kingdom of heaven. And may those of us still on pilgrimage in this world, who approach the Holy Eucharist today, also use every resources available to us to guard the treasure of divine life that is fed today at this holy table from the passing attractions of this world.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Homily for Saturday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time

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It is great to have the Apostles of the Interior life at the St. Lawrence Center at KU. The sisters do such an extraordinary job of teaching students how to build a life of prayer and meditation. The interior life is always given priority over one’s apostolate, for one’s good works should always be the fruit of the victory Christ is winning within one’s soul. The story of Martha and Mary, with Mary having chosen the better part, does not excuse a lack of good works in one’s life, but gives priority to listening to Jesus, who will mark out our apostolate for us. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, and appointed you to go out and to bear fruit that will remain.

The parable of the king who began to build but could not finish is also a reminder to us to give priority to the interior life. Without prayer, we do not have a chance for Jesus to purify our motives for serving Him; nor do we allow Him to give us new eyes to see how His kingdom is being built in and through us. Our enthusiasm at having been called by name by our Lord, and entrusted by Him to go out and to bear fruit that will remain, must cause us to form solid habits of the will that are stronger than the habits of distraction that inevitably threaten us. These habits of prayer are the good soil of which Jesus speaks.

If we learn how to pray, we will converse with Jesus intimately as with a friend. This is the source of Jesus' own power – that He speaks to His Heavenly Father face to face always, as with a friend. Without this interior conversation with out Lord, we will bear no lasting fruit.

Homily for Friday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time - St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist

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In the Old Testament, God was always looking for a few righteous people who were faithful to his covenant. Whether it was Noah, Abraham, Moses or David, God was always looking to get rid of those who were unfaithful and idolatrous, and to re-establish his kingdom among the righteous. These great figures like Noah, Abraham, Moses and David are a great inspiration to us to be faithful to God. They are rightfully our heroes and our fathers in the faith.
As we progress through salvation history, however, it is interesting to see that God chooses not men who are more and more righteous to further his kingdom, but those who are less and less righteous. The first thing Peter said to the Lord after the great catch of fish was this – depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. St. Paul considered himself the foremost sinner in all the world, yet by the mercy of God he was chosen to be the greatest evangelizer of all the apostles. Today we commemorate Matthew the great apostle and evangelist, who was called while still at the customs post presumably cheating people. Indeed, Matthew is not chosen to be an apostle because of his righteousness, but because Christ came to call sinners.
In salvation history God reveals himself as more and more merciful. Through Jesus Christ, He reveals Himself not as the one who wants to annihilate the unfaithful, but the one who has a priority for seeking what has been lost. Christ descends further and further into humanity to seek and to find us, so we should not be surprised that He is calling Matthew and has no problem eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. But he will descend even further into our humanity, being willing to take on not simply the jeering of those who think He is being infected with the filth of sinners, but also laying upon his shoulders the guilt of us all.

Homily for Thursday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time - Andrew Kim Taegon and Paul Chong Hasang and their companions, martyrs

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I had the benefit of going to seminary with classmates from the diocese of Busan, Korea. Since getting to know them I look forward to this celebration of the Korean martyrs. Many of the Korean martyrs were priests and seminarians who died trying to establish the Church in Korea, and the Church has grown immensely on the ground made fertile by the blood of these great martyrs. As we learn in today’s Gospel, it is the forgiveness of sins that make people suspicious of Jesus’ identity, and that leads to his crucifixion. The Korean martyrs died trying to bring this same forgiveness to the people of Korea.
Today’s Gospel from the 7th chapter of Luke is one of my favorite Gospel stories, and Luke 7:47 is the scripture verse that I chose to place on the back of my holy card that was distributed at my priestly ordination. ‘The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little!’ I remember a priest telling me that I shouldn’t have placed that scripture saying on the card, for people might think that I had a secret life and was guilty of great sins. The reality is that I didn’t care what people thought, as long as they realized that it is because I had been shown great mercy that I had any chance to imitate Christ’s love as a priest. The Gospel story today teaches us that the one whom Jesus loves is not the one who considers himself Jesus’ equal in righteousness, but the one to whom much has been forgiven. Instead of trying to earn the love of Jesus, we should strive to know more closely the meaning of the words that we say immediately before receiving holy communion – Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed! In Latin, the words are more precisely – Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed!

Homily for Wednesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time

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The devil loves it when we are fixated on what we do not yet possess. Materialism is at its root a devaluing of what we do possess and an overvaluing of what we do not yet possess. Materialism is a lack of gratitude. It is the disease of one who has not learned how to say thank you for gifts received and how to make use of what one has before going searching for what one does not yet have. The Gospel today presents the situation of children who are never satisfied with the song that is being played, and compares these children with those who are fixated on who Jesus is not rather than on who He is. Pope Benedict gives a great indictment of such people in his new book Jesus of Nazareth, people who spend too much time fixated on showing Jesus as merely a man of history.
There is an evil more invidious than materialism and mechanism, however, and the devil is especially glad when we move toward this evil. It is the evil of being fixated on the spiritual heights that we have not achieved rather than thanking God for the wonderful work He has begun in us, and for giving us the gift of faith in His Son that is more precious than any plan of piety we can write up for ourselves. Even more joyful is the devil when he can get us to blame a person or an outside circumstance for our lack of spiritual progress, for he can easily erect new barriers to frustrate us once the current ones are gone. As long as he keeps us fixated on what we have not done, rather than grateful for what God is doing with our lives, and for the holiness that has been his gift to us, Satan is in the driver’s seat.
It was a great breakthrough in my vocational discernment when I could get up in the morning and begin not by devising ways around the obstacles that got in the way of my piety, but by thanking God for choosing a life for me so much bigger than what I would choose for myself, and for giving me the joy of serving him in the simplest ways.

Homily for Tuesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time

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The reading from first Timothy shows clearly that mandatory celibacy for bishops and priests is not a consistent apostolic tradition, but is a discipline adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in order that her clergy may give witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and may preach about the kingdom of heaven with their entire lives. The Pauline tradition gives us both these words about bishops being married only once, and words concerning the priority given to the celibate vocation (1 Cor 7:32-35). Interestingly, Paul indicates that the same gifts that make one a good husband, father, and provider for his household will make that person a good bishop and/or deacon. This indicates to us clearly that those called to the celibate vocation are not those who have no desire to be a husband or father, but those who are called to sacrifice this desire so as to be married single-heartedly to the Church, as was Christ, and to provide for a family that is destined to inherit new and everlasting life.
In today’s Gospel from Luke we have a resurrection of the only son of the widow from Nain. This resurrection is less famous than the resurrection of Lazarus in Bethany, but serves to reveal Christ’s true identity, while foreshadowing Christ’s own resurrection from the dead. The difference between these two men who were raised and Jesus is that Jesus was raised forever and was no longer subject to death. In the same way, we ask in being joined to Christ’s body in the Eucharist not for an ‘extension’ of our lives on this earth, as great a gift as that would be to receive, but to be joined to Christ’ ultimate and everlasting victory over sin and death.

Homily for Monday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time

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There is some irony between today’s two readings. The first reading from St. Paul to Timothy contains a quotation most invoked by those who find prayer to Mary and to the other saints misguided. St. Paul says that ‘there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as ransom for all.’ Catholics of course should be able to assent to this true statement of Paul. For every Christian, all prayers and answered through the grace won by Jesus Christ. The merits of Mary and the saints do not ‘win’ grace, but are the fruit of the grace won by Jesus Christ. Therefore, every prayer should be addressed through Jesus Christ, as St. Paul instructs us.
Interestingly, however, the centurion in today’s Gospel, because of his humility and his concern for Jesus’ mission, does not want to monopolize Jesus for himself but asks for a favor through the sending of ‘friends’ to Jesus. These ‘friends’ make the petition on the centurion’s behalf, and the request is granted because of the faith of the centurion. This is the proper understanding of the way in which Catholics seek the intercession of Mary and the saints. They act as our ‘friends’ and because by the fruit of their lives we have confidence that they are close to our Lord, we ask them to carry our petitions to Jesus, through whom every prayer in answered. It should go without saying that this is not an either/or scenario. We do not have to make a choice whether to pray with Mary and the saints or to Jesus. From the testimony of the Gospels, we see that it is efficacious to do both.

Homily for Sunday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time

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The Bible can be read, and probably should be, not as man’s search for God, but as God’s search for man. In his search for us, God goes to more and more drastic means in order to show the depth of his mercy. Take for instance, Moses’ conversation with God in our first reading from Exodus. Anyone reading the story would agree with God that people who have become so depraved so as to worship a molten calf instead of the living and true God who worked such great wonders in their midst deserved to be annihilated. There is a reason, my dear friends, why the commandment against idolatry is the first commandment; idolatry is such a powerful temptation; our desire to make God in our image and likeness so that we can manipulate Him. Just as He did with Noah, God had found a righteous man, Moses, and was ready to clean the slate and to try again to build a faithful people through the offspring of Moses. But Moses, knowing our human nature, calls upon the mercy of God, and in doing so, actually reveals to us what is in God’s own mind. It would be a sad story indeed if the history of the covenant between God and man was no more than a series of natural disasters and annihilations. But this is not God’s ultimate plan. This is not how God’s name was to be glorified among the nations.
Although the story of the Old Testament is a repetition of exiles and punishments in response to unfaithfulness, the Lord’s relenting of his extreme punishment that was imminent for the people led by Moses previews an increasing revelation of God’s mercy throughout salvation history. Indeed, by the time we get to St. Paul, an extraordinary witness to the Gospel, we see that God who has now revealed himself as a loving Father no longer chooses righteous men like Noah and Moses with whom to prolong his covenant. No, instead, God the Father specifically chooses people like the prodigal son to give witness to the greatness of His mercy and love. St. Paul puts it this way: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost (sinner) Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example.”
It is clear from Paul’s proclamation that if we want to be a part of the kingdom Christ establishes through His cross, we will desire not to be a righteous person, at least not by our own power, but will seek to be the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Because the 99 sheep who were not lost did not need a shepherd to find them, the 9 coins that were not lost did not need anyone to look for them, and the older son did not need anyone to love him; he relied only on his own merits. But my dear friends, we are a people who are not self-sufficient – we are in need of the love of God; indeed, we thirst for it! Today’s parables show us that God’s power is most clearly shown not through great floods, but through human weakness. It can be one of the greatest mistakes of the spiritual life to try to reach a place in life where we are not so dependent on God’s mercy. Yes, it is true - we would love to be able to show God how much we love Him through the assertion of our willpower against sin. We want to show God how much progress we can make toward holiness. But the secret to the spiritual life is to let ourselves be found by God, to let ourselves be loved by Him, and to find strength not in our own willpower but in allowing God to heal our deepest wounds by not hiding them from Him.
Because Paul was found by God despite his obvious sinfulness, He was no longer tempted to make the mistake of relying on Himself, but was instead grateful to the One who had strengthened him, Christ Jesus His Lord. Paul is not considered trustworthy in the same way Noah and Moses were. Noah and Moses were considered trustworthy because of their righteous deeds, and these should not be taken from them. But after the revelation of the mercy of Jesus, one becomes trustworthy not because of his righteous deeds, but because He has let himself be healed of great sins. (Lk 7:47) The saints who have gone before us, my dear friends, knew this wisdom well. They considered themselves the most lost, not because they were overly scrupulous, but because their greatest strength came from being found by Jesus at the point of their greatest need.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Homily for Saturday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time - Our Lady of Sorrows

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I have never explicitly asked God for a miraculous sign other than the ones already all around me that testify to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. I did receive a special grace, however, during a mission trip to a girl’s orphanage in Santa Rose de Copan, Honduras. I have not made trips to Lourdes or Fatima or Medjugore in search of additional private revelation, but the one private revelation I have been most privileged to witness was the weeping of a Marian statue at the entrance of the Catholic University in Santa Rosa de Copan. If I was more organized I would have a picture handy to place on this blog for you to see for yourself. Considering I am one of the biggest doubters (Thomases) out there, it is really unusual for me to be writing about this special experience.
If I never have another private revelation, I do not think I will lose my faith in Christ or my devotion to the Blessed Mother. But if I never have another experience like this one, I will always wonder why I was granted this vision of Mary crying – Our Lady of Sorrows. For me this experience creates a desire to have a contrite, or a sorrowful heart. Mary as the first member of heaven fulfills all the beatitudes; today, we especially honor her blessedness in mourning the scourging and death of Her Son. The great saints who have gone before us had contrite hearts; they never wanted to become desensitized to the damage inflicted by their sin to the body of Christ. Just as Mary could not become any less sorrowful over the suffering of Her son, so may we everyday grow ino a sorrow like unto hers!

Homily For Friday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time - Exaltation of the Holy Cross

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"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

Pope Benedict XVI in his new book Jesus of Nazareth speaks at length about the mystery of Jesus’ identity. The Pope states that what makes Jesus a completely unique person within the salvation history of man is that Jesus always speaks to God face to face, as with a friend. The pope makes such a convincing point and teaches us how to read the Gospels and to distinguish the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history. I enjoyed the book so much, and will read it over many times, but I look forward to the next volume when the Pope will meditate on Jesus as He hangs from the cross. Jesus’ famous statement – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? – shows the human nature of Jesus in such stark contrast to his divine nature. Maybe I am wrong in saying this, but our understanding of Jesus as the one who constantly speaks to God face to face is suspended during his final moments on the cross, when Jesus seems to have no awareness of the presence of His heavenly Father.

I think Jesus’ statement from the Holy Cross is meant to show us that even if our human nature is unable to behold God face to face, at least on this side of heaven, it is possible for us through an act of the will to fulfill the commandment of love – to empty ourselves for the good of another. Jesus tells his disciples that He loves them more than He loves His own life, and has handed over to them everything that He has received from His heavenly Father. It is on the cross that his love becomes most accessible to us, for He not only offers us His very lifeblood, but even empties Himself of the assurance of talking to God face to face. On the cross Jesus comes most fully in human likeness and in human appearance. It is no wonder that the crucifix will always be our favorite image of Jesus, and our greatest consolation in this life.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Homily for Thursday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time - St. John Chrysostom

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It is one of the graces of the sacrament of reconciliation that a priest does not really have an option to be merciful or unmerciful. I suppose on those rare occasions someone may come in who is not contrite, and thus could be denied absolution, but it is much more likely that the proud will never venture near a confessional. I suppose also that a priest can make things difficult by failing to listen or by being lukewarm in the way he celebrates the sacrament. But by a large, a priest is in the confessional for one reason, and for one reason only, to give the gift of forgiveness. The priest does not have a decision to make with every penitent – whether to be merciful or unmerciful. He can only be merciful.
Jesus tells his disciples that the Lord is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked. In the same way, there is no way for a priest to judge who deserves forgiveness, and it is not his job to pronounce a sentence that is adequate punishment for the crime committed. The priest has only one gift to give – the mercy won by the cross of Christ.
St. Paul tells the Colossians to be thankful, and to show this gratitude by saying and doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. The way we can be thankful for Christ’s ultimate gift of healing to us – his forgiveness of our sins and his victory over death – is to be as generous as He is. He is not stingy with His gifts, but hands over to us everything He has received from His heavenly Father. In giving thanks to Christ, we hand over our ability to judge whether another person is worthy of our love and forgiveness. Instead, we hand over to them everything we have received from our heavenly Father, and most especially the forgiveness we have received. Instead of judging others, let us pray that others will become holier than us, provided we become as holy as we should be!

Homily for Wednesday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time - Holy Name of Mary

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The beatitudes are the commandments of the new and everlasting covenant offered to us today in this Holy Eucharist. When we hear the beatitudes, we see that the Decalogue given to Moses is just a starting point. The Decalogue was given to restore right relationships. It was given so that those damaged by original sin would know how to do good and avoid evil while on this earth. But the beatitudes pertain to a happiness not confined to this life only; the beatitudes point toward a happiness that is in store for those who truly love the things of heaven more than the things of earth.
Paul reminds us that in baptism, we have all died to things of this world. Instead, we are now to use our freedom not to choose things that will make us comfortable for a lifetime, but to choose things that will make us happy for eternity. The difference between a lifetime and eternity is great, and so is the difference between the Decalogue given to Moses and the Beatitudes taught by Christ. Through the Decalogue, we live in right relationship to each other while on this earth. Through the beatitudes, we make visible the divine life that is hidden with Christ in God.
The more we are willing to be poor, hungry, weeping and insulted, the more we will be willing to love the kingdom of heaven more than the kingdom of this world. This is how we teach others to trust God’s promise of eternal life – by living not on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Homily for Thursday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time

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It is natural for us to think that we will never be ready to see God face to face. How could we ever be ready for such an encounter? Intuitively, we think our survival is dependent upon our keeping a safe distance between ourselves and God. Sometimes, even our piety is our way of pretending to draw closer to God, when in truth we are more interested in keeping him at a safe distance. Since the fall, it is part of original sin to fear God as a slave fears his master. Indeed, before the arrival of Christ it was accepted that no one could see the face of God and live, so overwhelmed would we be by such an encounter.
So it is natural for Peter to be afraid when he realizes that the Almighty has drawn much closer to his life than he was ready for, much closer than he had wanted the Almighty to come. But in the person of Jesus, the Almighty makes himself known to us as one who is meek and humble. Jesus, though all-powerful, comes to us as one who is ready not to overwhelm us with his power, but to put his entire life in service of us. Jesus came to heal that well-founded fear that we have of the Almighty. He heals it by restoring, and even improving, that original relationship of trust and goodness with His Father that was lost through the sin of Adam.
Jesus must say over and over to his disciples – Be not afraid! He wants to free us from the fear of punishment, death and hell, for this fear is not the mark of the new and everlasting covenant that Jesus offers. Instead, Jesus offers us the fear of God that is holy – the fear that a Son has for a Father – wanting only to please Him and to respond to His will, trusting that God’s will is directed toward our eternal happiness.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Homily for Wednesday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time

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After many years of reading and studying the Gospels, and now having the opportunity to preach on them, I’m finally starting to get the hang of the messianic secret. Most prevalent in Mark, the messianic secret shows up in the other synoptic Gospels as well, as it does in Luke today, as Jesus rebukes the demons and does not allow them to tell others that He is the Christ.

It is characteristic throughout the Gospels that Jesus wants not simply to command faith from the top down to his disciples, but to elicit it from within their hearts. He knows how badly the disciples will need this faith after Pentecost. Jesus wants his disciples to trust their faith, for it is important for every disciple of Jesus to not just believe in Him because they are told to, or because everyone else does. No, every disciple of Jesus must answer the question that Jesus puts to his disciples, ‘Who do you say that I am?’

I’m so thankful to have been called a priest since in a sense, everyday I must give my answer to this question to those people I am called to serve. Hopefully people will come to faith in Jesus not because they are obedient to me, but because they will see in the witness of my life the truth that is written on their own hearts about the identity of Jesus. Jesus thus rebukes the testimony of the demons for several reasons. First, because demons are not trustworthy, although they are right in this case about his identity. Second, because He has not yet reached Jerusalem, where His identity will be put on trial and not before then. Thirdly, and most importantly, because Jesus wants to elicit faith from his disciples, and He wants to do it in the context of His entire mission of proclaiming and establishing the kingdom of God.

Homily for Tuesday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time

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Today we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of our Archbishop, Joseph Naumann, the 4th Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas. Archbishop Naumann was originally ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, but for the last three years, he has been Archbishop of our Archdiocese. Archbishop Naumann ended his homily asking us to pray that he would be the shepherd that we deserve and that the Church needs. It is certainly a privilege for us to pray daily for this successor to the apostles, who has great responsibilities within our diocese. I trust that he has been given these responsibilities because of his courage, humility, and faith, which continue to bear fruit. To the one who has, more will be given, and he will become rich!
The people in today’s Gospel were amazed at the ‘authority’ of Jesus’ word. Indeed, late in the Gospel for today, they ask ‘What is there about his word?’. Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth has a beautiful section regarding the power of Jesus’ word. Jesus’ word is more powerful than that of the prophets who have gone before Him, because Jesus, like Moses, speaks to God face to face, as with a friend! Moses spoke with God as a friend intermittently, and saw God only as He passed by the cleft of the rock. Jesus, through His prayer and His divine relationship as Son, speaks to the Father continually, and always sees His face! The word He speaks is the word He receives from His Father. Thus it is unlike any word that has been spoken or that will be spoken afterward! Not surprisingly, this word that Jesus speaks has the power to cast out physical demons. More importantly, Jesus’ word, which is also his very life, came down from heaven to cast out the power of sin. Healing people of their physical demons gained Jesus interest from the crowds, but it was not for these miracles that Jesus was eventually crucified. No, it was His power over sin that led people to follow up their questions about the power of His word with questions about his true identity. For who but God alone can forgive sins?

Homily for Monday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time - St. Gregory the Great!

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Popes Leo and Gregory are the only 2 popes to date in history who have earned the title ‘the Great.’ Many of us who have been inspired by the pontificate of John Paul II are already calling John Paul ‘the Great.’ Time will tell if the name will stick in the heart of the Church. Certainly his reputation for holiness is widespread, and his canonization is expected by many. There are those also, who think his contributions to theology, especially in the area of the theology of the body, are as monumental as were the works of Augustine and Aquinas. Again, time will tell. I for one am rooting that through the intercession of St. Gregory the Great, John Paul II will reach sainthood quickly and be known as John Paul II the Great! It gives me great joy on this memorial of St. Gregory to think that the impact St. Gregory had on the Church of the 6th Century was perhaps even greater than the impact of the papacy of John Paul II on our modern age. What a great pope Gregory must have been!
In today’s Gospel, familiarity breeds contempt. To be a disciple of Jesus, one must have a childlike faith, and be ready to see and to hear and to understand new things. Those in the synagogue at Nazareth are impressed with Jesus at some level, but they are more interested in His entertaining them and in testing the limits of his power than in allowing Him to convert their hearts to the kingdom of God. Isn’t it true that we tend to see the flaws and the intractable annoying habits of those close to us more than we see their ability to change? And yet Jesus hopes that as we draw in deeper communion with each other, we are able not simply to see the limitations of people but to see how God is at work in their lives. We are not to be focused on people’s inability to change, but are to celebrate with them the changes they are able to make. Change is hard. Seeing people differently, especially those closest to us, is hard! Yet we must do it! For being human is not being born to make mistakes. We should not be skeptical of those whom we think lack the power to change themselves, for in handing their lives over to Jesus, and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, we know all things are possible for them. Yes, we may not change as fast as we want, but we should not transfer any of our frustrations to someone else. Instead, we are to celebrate that for those who hand their lives to Jesus, all things are new!

Homily Sunday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time

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Fr. Justin DuVall, OSB, then the vice-rector of St. Meinrad School of Theology and now the Abbot of St. Meinrad, had some simple but good rules regarding eating together. Within the seminary community of which I was a part, the dining room was not to be used as just a place to grab a bite. There were no newspapers allowed in the dining room. Gym clothes, especially smelly ones, were forbidden so as not to ruin the appetite of those dining around you. The last rule was probably the best. Once fellow seminarians started filling a table, it was considered impolite to start sitting at a new table until all the seats at the first table were taken. In other words, you should not pass by a table nearly filled with people you didn’t like in order to start a new table with your friends. Thus, even if you went through the buffet line with your friends, there was a chance you would end up seated next to some people that you did not plan to dine with. And you had to make the most of it.
It is true that there is a lot of diversity among people. We love different things, and our friends are those who tend to love the same things we do. As far as hobbies go, it is hard to spend time fishing with someone who would rather be golfing, and vice versa. But eating together is different. Eating is not a hobby, at least not as Jesus thinks of it. Eating together should be a time when we practice who we are becoming as the family of God, and family destined to eat together forever in heaven. We may not want to spend a couple of days traveling with a particular person, for various reasons, but Jesus instructs us that for at least the duration of a meal, we should be able to eat and to converse with anyone. In fact, the kingdom of heaven demands that we not dine simply with those who can pay us back. Instead, we are to spend at least a significant amount of time dining with those who are unlike us in someone way.
As Catholics, we practice this first and foremost at Mass. At Mass, we are all invited by Jesus to sit in the front row, whether our habit is to sit near the front of Church or in an obscure place in the back. At the Eucharist, Jesus humbles himself to serve us and to offer a marriage proposal to his bride, the Church. We know that He is ready to wash our feet, and even more, to offer Himself as food. Because of his extreme humility, no one at the Eucharist is left in the back row.
During the course of our lifetimes, we will have the chance to eat thousands of meals. Jesus invites us to take each occasion to build up the kingdom of heaven, and to do so in an even more intense way each time that we receive the Holy Eucharist with whomever Jesus has invited to this marriage feast of heaven. Let us not simply eat mechanically to feed our earthly lives, for Jesus reminds us, that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.