6th Sunday of Easter Happy Mothers Day!

All Jesus’ talks, all His miracles, all His parables, come down to what He tells us today.“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”

Think about that.  We know, through the doctrine of the trinity, that God and Jesus are one and the same; Father and Son.  They share an intimate and infinite love.  Here’s Jesus telling us that His love for us is the same.  God the Father and God the Son love us as much as they love one another, and themselves.

But, and this is important, If we want to remain in His love, we must keep His commandments.  In other words, we can lose His love if we don’t do what He tells us.  Then, rather than give us a laundry list of things we have to do, He says, “THIS is my commandment:  love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

That’s it!  All we have to do is love one another.  But you and I both know that some people are more lovable than others.  Sometimes loving one another can be a HUGE challenge.  But this love that Jesus asks us to have for each other means a very specific thing.  In spite of what the 70’s movie said, love DOES NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry.

According to Father Robert Barron, love means willing good for the other person as another person.  In other words, love doesn’t mean hoping that you win the lottery so you can share your winnings with me.  Love means hoping you win the lottery only because I want you to be happy.  Love also means that I’m not jealous of your good fortune.

Today being Mother’s Day, it’s natural to compare God’s love to a mother’s love.  The mother’s love is unconditional, just like God’s love.  But there’s one thing missing.  On a purely physical level, a baby knows that she has an attachment to her mom.  But a baby doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand what that means.  Dogs and cats relate to their mothers just like we do.  Love between a mother and her offspring is a natural thing.

The difference between us and the animals is that as that human baby grows physically and emotionally, she begins to appreciate what this special connection means.  But, it’s a slow process.  It has it’s ups and downs.  I have five grandchildren; three of them from one set of parents.  Love means something very different to each one.  As they grow and mature, their ability to love will grow and mature.  (Until they get to be teenagers, then they’ll likely to hate their parents, but that’s just a phase.  They usually grow out of it.)  Unfortunately, for many of us, we don’t really appreciate our mom’s love entirely until they’re gone.

I think we approach God’s love in the same way.  When we’re little we know that God loves us.  How?  Because grownups tell us so.  I went to Grandparents’ Day this week at my five-year-old grandson’s school.  One of the songs they sang was

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Down in my heart to stay
And I’m so happy

So very happy

I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart

Down in my heart”

Five, six, and seven-year-olds know they love Jesus and that He loves them in a very basic, simple way.  As we grow older, we understand more of what that means.  Unfortunately, we also make it more complicated.  Remember, Jesus calls us to have a child-like faith.

Let’s get back to moms for a minute.  Jesus said that no one has greater love than to lay down their lives for their friends.  We see that in Jesus as He died on the cross to save us from our sins.  But mothers lay down their lives for their children every day.  All of you moms can testify that once you gave birth, your life was never the same again.  Some changes were small.  Some were huge.  But nothing is ever the same.

There’s a reason why men don’t have babies.  We couldn’t handle it.  A mother’s love lets her do the impossible on a daily basis.

Today as we celebrate our moms, and all those women in our lives who fill the role of mothers, it’s good to reflect on what Jesus tells us today.  A mother’s love is the closest we humans can come to perfect love.  Our mothers’ love teaches us how to love as Jesus loves.

We are our mothers’ flesh and blood the same way we’re Jesus’ flesh and blood.  We’re about to celebrate Jesus’ love for us by receiving His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  In a real way we celebrate His love and our mothers’ love with every breath we take.  When He said “love one another as I have loved you” He was telling us all we need to know.  “Honor you father AND your mother” is one of the Ten Comandments.

Jesus spoke these words just before He gave up His life for us.  They were some of His last words before the crucifixion.  The Gospel ends with Him saying, “This I command you: love one another.”  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s not something that would be nice for us to do.  It’s His commandment.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”

This monologue is the sum total of everything that Jesus taught in His earthly ministry.  This is the message that He wants us to remember.  Never forget that the whole point of His becoming a man was to teach us this one thing.  And, as we celebrate a day dedicated to our mothers, if we want an example of what that love looks like, all we have to do is think about our mothers’ example.  Remember, Jesus’ last act before He gave up His life on the cross was to give us His Mother, the most perfect example of a mother’s love in all human history.

 

Happy Mothers’ Day!

Third Sunday of Easter

In the Gospel today Jesus appears to the Apostles. This is one of six recorded appearances following the Crucifixion. It’s from Luke’s Gospel and Jesus appears to the Apostles as they’re hearing the two disciples’ story about meeting Jesus on the road to Ameus. He gives them the familiar greeting, “Peace be with you.” But Luke tells us they were startled and terrified. They thought they were seeing a ghost. He proceeds to ask them for something to eat, hoping to prove that He’s not a ghost, but that it’s really Him.

As you might imagine, even after hearing the two disciples’ story, they don’t know what to believe. In the end they do realize that it’s Him and opens their minds to understand the Scripture.

Now, let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen Jesus? I’m not talking about a picture or a statue, but have you really ever seen Jesus. If so, raise your hands. [Assume here that a few people may raise their hands, but not all.] I’m not talking about seeing His works or seeing Him in another person, I’m actually talking about seeing Him in the flesh.

[pause]

OK, let me ask you another question. Have you ever been to Eucharistic adoration? Doesn’t the Church teach us that Jesus is present in the bread and wine? If you’ve been to Adoration, then you’ve seen Jesus.

In a few minutes you’re going to line up for Holy Communion. Are you coming up here to receive a piece of not very tasty bread, or are you expecting to receive the Body of Christ? If you don’t believe with all your heart and all your soul that Jesus is present in the Eucharist then I have some bad news for you. By definition, you’re not a Catholic. You may be a Christian, but as Catholics we MUST believe that we’re receiving Jesus.

See, this little wafer is unleavened bread. It’s wheat and water. That’s all. I can eat it. I can throw it away. I can drop it on the floor and stomp on it and I haven’t committed a sin. We store them in an unlocked cabinet in the sacristy and we keep our extras in the freezer in the rectory so they don’t get stale. If you want, you can go to Catholic Supply and buy them by the box. 750 of them cost about five bucks.

Then we have the wine. It costs about $60.00 per case of twelve, about $5.00 a bottle, not exactly the good stuff. Again, we keep it in the sacristy. We have cases of the stuff. There is a difference here, and that’s that you can’t go to Catholic Supply and buy a case for yourself. Sacramental wine is a particular kind of wine and our state says only churches can buy it. It’s 12% alcohol, or just 24 proof. Back in the day, and maybe still today, altar servers would get a big kick out of sneaking some from the sacristy. But they didn’t get much of a buzz unless they drank a whole bottle. You wouldn’t win any points with your friends if you served sacramental wine at a dinner party.

But in a few minutes Father will say the words of consecration. This rather tasteless bread and cheap wine will become the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, that’s worth standing in line for. Instead of being stored in the freezer, the left-over Body of Christ is locked in a tabernacle. Through the centuries, Catholics have risked death to protected the consecrated Sacrament from desecration and destruction.

I’ll ask you again, have you ever seen Jesus? [Raise hands]

The Apostles were terrified when they saw Jesus. But once He opened their minds and they understood that it was really Him, their lives were never the same again. Jesus’ appearance was a miracle and the Eucharist is a miracle. Once we understand exactly what it is that we’re taking into our bodies, our lives should never be the same again either. We’re seeing Christ in the Flesh just as surely as the disciples on the road to Ameaus or the Apostles who saw Him six times before He returned to heaven.

If what I’m telling you isn’t true, then we Catholics are pretty silly. Our entire faith revolves around the mass and the reception of the Eucharist. If it’s nothing more than bread and wine, then our faith is a fraud. There’s no reason for us to come to mass. If we want to we can watch mass on television of just skip it altogether.

But as Catholics we don’t do that. You’ve heard me say it before but I hate the phrase “Sunday obligation.” We shouldn’t be coming to mass because we think we have to. We should come because we want to. Jesus makes a personal appearance in this chapel and in every other Catholic church around the world every weekend. Why would anyone want to miss the chance to not just see Him, but to actually take His physical presence into our own bodies? I don’t get it.

And, if you know someone who’s not physically able to come to mass, let us know. Call the rectory and we’ll make sure they receive the Eucharist at home, or in the hospital, or in the nursing home. If they can’t come to Jesus, we’ll take Jesus to them.

I gave this homily on Saturday and Sunday.  The response was, I’m sorry to say, very apathetic.  At both masses nobody raised their hand the first time I asked the question.  And, at both masses there were still people who didn’t raise their hands the second time I asked it.  I find this very sad.  Where have we gone wrong in our teaching on the Eucharist?

Happy Easter, Everybody

My Easter homily:

THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT!

I know some of you are visiting here today.  Some of you are home from college or home from out of town to celebrate the holiday with your family.  If so, welcome home.

Some of you may be visiting as a guest of a parishioner; maybe it’s your first time here.  We welcome you too, and hope to see you again.

Then there are some of you who are here today because it’s one of the two “BIG” church days, the other one being Christmas. We want to especially welcome you and hope that maybe we can persuade you to come back a little more often.

Even though we all may have different reasons for being in THIS church, there’s one thing that brings us to A church.  It’s this day called “Easter.”  What is Easter?  It’s a day for great rejoicing!  THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT! Say it with me, THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT!

So, what is Easter?  Here’s a little story that I really like I hope you like it too. One day, during Lent, a first grade PSR teacher was teaching the kids about Easter. She asked if they knew what Easter was. A little girl in the front row raised her hand. (Little girls in the first row always raise their hands). When the teacher called on her she said, “Easter is the day when we all dress up in costumes. We go to the neighbors’ houses and they give us candy.”

The teacher said, “No, Susy, that’s Halloween. Does anyone else know what Easter is?”

Another little girl raised her hand. “Easter is when we all go to the park and there’s lots of food, and rides, and music, and when it gets dark we sit in lawn chairs and they have pretty fireworks.”

“No, Mary. That’s the Fourth of July.” Does anyone else know.”

Little Johnny sat in the back row. He was a sweet little boy, but he liked to fool around in class and didn’t always pay attention. He wasn’t very successful when it came to answering questions. But, he was waving his hand frantically. He was almost jumping up and down. The teacher wasn’t sure whether he knew the answer to the question or if he had to go to the bathroom. Reluctantly, she called on Johnny.

“Teacher, Easter is when Jesus dies and they put Him in the tomb and on the third day he comes out of the tomb.” The teacher was in shock. Johnny was actually paying attention. He knew the answer.  He should have stopped while he was ahead, but he went on, “ and if He sees His shadow, we have six more weeks of winter.”

It’s funny because it’s about a little boy, someone we can all identify with.  But little Johnny isn’t alone.  Look at today’s Gospel.  Mary Magdala was the first at the tomb.  She saw Jesus was gone and thought that someone had stolen His body.  She went to get Peter, the Rock on whom Jesus would build His Church, and John, the Apostle that Jesus loved.  Peter went in and, being Peter, he didn’t get it. Remember that just two days earlier Peter had denied he even knew Jesus.   But John saw and believed.

How many modern adults really don’t know what Easter is?  Like Christmas, it’s become a day about “stuff”:  New clothes, candy, toys, and food.  Don’t forget the food. If you were to play a word association game with a hundred random people and asked them to say the first word that popped into their heads when you said the word “Easter”, how many would answer “ham” or “lamb” or “brunch” and how many would say “Jesus” or “resurrection”?  How many would say “bunny” or “eggs”?  I don’t know and maybe I don’t want to know.  I’m afraid I’d be disappointed at the results.

Remember, the Apostles had been in hiding.  They were afraid that, as followers of Jesus, they were doomed to crucifixion too.  They didn’t understand what was happening.  Jesus was gone.  One of their number had committed suicide.  But when they saw what had really happened, you couldn’t shut them up!  They had no fear of death because Jesus had defeated death.  They had the hope of eternal life.  In fact, they would all die, some of them violently, because they were preaching the Gospel of Christ.  But it didn’t matter because they knew now where they were going, and there were lots more believers to take their place.

Here we are, in this historic church, 6,471 miles from Jerusalem, on a beautiful spring morning, more than 2,000 years later.  In spite of all that distance, and all that time, we share the same hope of eternal life.  Just like that first Easter morning, there are people today who either don’t understand, or don’t believe what happened that day, or don’t understand what it means to each and every one of us.  But we do.  Or I hope we do.  By dying on that cross and then rising from that tomb, Jesus gave us the ultimate gift, the gift of hope.  Not some phony-baloney small-h hope promised by some political candidate, but real, true Capital-H Hope for eternal life.

Like the bumper sticker says, “Stuff happens.”  OK, that’s not exactly what the bumper sticker says, but you get my drift.  Stuff does happen.  Great stuff and stuff that’s not so great.  Sometimes really terrible stuff happens.  No matter what happens in this life, we’re assured of eternal bliss when God calls us home.  In the mean time, Jesus is there for us, helping us endure.  Whether we get sick, or lose our jobs, or lose all our physical possessions, we have hope.  No matter how many things go wrong in this life, nothing compares to being beaten, then having our hands and feet nailed to a cross, then being left to hang there in the dessert sun for three hours waiting to die, especially when you’ve done nothing to deserve it.  Whatever bad things happen to us, we can always know that it’s nothing compared to what Jesus did for us.

Maybe we’re not “overwhelmed with hope.”  Maybe we’re overwhelmed with something else like money worries, or sickness, or any number of things that can “cover us up”.  But that’s our fault, not God’s.  He hasn’t changed.  History hasn’t changed.  Jesus’ resurrection means just as much to you and me as it did to Peter, Mary, John, and all the others.  The hope that overwhelmed them is there for us, too.  The more space Jesus takes up in our lives, the less space there is for anything else.

That’s why we’re gathered here today, and every Sunday, to give thanks and praise to God’s only son who did and still does so much for us. Say it with me again, “THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE!  LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT! “

Good Friday

Yesterday morning, I was at the Cathedral Basilica for the annual Chrism mass. It’s the mass where the Archbishop blesses the holy oils for the coming year and it’s the mass where the priests renew their priestly vows. As you can imagine, there are a lot of priests and deacons at the Chrism mass.

Seating at the Cathedral is priests in front, deacons in the back, which is as it should be.  The only problem with the setup is that during the Consecration of the Eucharist, the priests stand while the deacons kneel. All the deacons can see is the backs of chasubles and a lot of bald heads.

As I knelt there yesterday morning, I wondered, as I often do, just what I was doing there. I know a lot of priests and deacons and most of them are good, holy men. The deacon who was sitting next to me is one of the holiest people I know. Then there was me, a sinner of the first order. Why would God choose me to be in this group?

But, you know what? I do belong in that group and here’s why. I don’t and can’t know what’s in someone else’s heart. I believe most of the men sitting around me at the Cathedral yesterday are more holy than I am, but I can’t know for sure. We’ve learned in the past few years that a lot of men we all believed were saints are actually pretty serious sinners. We don’t know. Only God knows.

Could it be that they have the same doubts and fears that I do?

Scripture tells us not to judge others. Is judging someone else to be good just as dangerous as judging them to be bad? Maybe so.

Think about what failures the Apostles were?  Judas sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter denied he knew Him three times.  The other ten ran off and left Him when He needed them the most.  The only ones who stood by Him were the women.  You don’t have to be perfect to serve Jesus.

If Jesus only called perfect men to be clergy, think how frustrating that would be for everyone else.  They’d think they didn’t have a prayer (prayer, get it?  Jesus does have a sense of humor.) Plus, there wouldn’t be very many priests and deacons. Maybe none.

I think Jesus wants His clergy to let people see that they’re sinners, just like they are.  Judas didn’t have to turn Jesus over to the Jews, but somebody had to fulfill the words of the prophets.  Jesus knew He’d do it, even before he chose him to be an apostle.

Peter didn’t have to deny him three times, but He did, just as He knew he would. He even told him he would do it.  He knew the others would run away.  But he chose them anyway, just like He chose you and me, sinners that we are.

So, today we mark the day when He died a painful death on the cross for you and for me.  If we were sinless He wouldn’t have had to do that.  But we aren’t and He did.  In effect He told us that He’d like us to live a sinless life, but He knew that we couldn’t.  So, He let Himself be crucified so that we might be forgiven.

As painful as that was for Him, He knew it would be even more painful to sit back and watch us destroy ourselves.

Without Good Friday, that’s exactly what we’d do.

Eulogies

After assisting at my third funeral in a week and suffering through my FIFTH dreadful eulogy (Yes, some funerals have more than one) I was wondering why the funeral liturgy is the only mass where lay people are allowed to speak.  If family members have something to say at a wedding, that’s what the reception is for.  If someone has something to say at a baptism, they save it for the after party.  Imagine how long first communion, first penance, or confirmation would take if every parent got up to talk.  Only at the funeral liturgy, when family members are in a poor emotional state, do we allow them to speak.

Here’s what Catholic Answers says about eulogies:

According to the Order of Christian Funerals, there is never to be a eulogy at a funeral Mass (OCF 27), although the celebrant may express a few words of gratitude about the person’s life in his homily, or he may allow a relative or a friend to say a few words about the deceased during the concluding rite (GIRM 89). The remarks must be brief and under no circumstances can the deceased person be referred to as being in heaven.  (emphasis mine) Only the Church has the authority to canonize.

Contrary to common assumption, the purpose of the funeral Mass is not to celebrate the life of the deceased but to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort the mourners with prayers, and to pray for the soul of the deceased. Relatives or friends who wish to speak of the deceased’s character and accomplishments can do so at a prayer service to be held in a home or funeral home or at the graveside following the rite of committal.

Here’s what typically happens.  The priest or deacon homilist has done exactly what the rite calls for us to do, that is to offer comfort to the mourners, to celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, and to pray for the soul of the deceased.  Having done that and offering Holy Communion to the Catholic’s in attendance, the rite calls for silent reflection followed by the final prayers.

Sadly, at many funerals, family members think it’s a good thing to stand up before those assembled and to try to speak.  Often they end up making fools of themselves, becoming a teary mess.  Who ever thought this was a good idea?  Besides making themselves look foolish, they destroy the moment.  Whatever peace Father or Deacon has brought to the family is replaced with sadness and sympathy for the eulogist.  We humans are a sympathetic bunch.  When the speaker breaks down, chances are we’re going to do the same.

If a person has been a faithful Catholic all of his (or her) life, shouldn’t their last interaction with the Church on earth be the best it can be.  We have professional clergy who have been trained to do the job.  Let’s save amateur night for some other occasion.

One last thought, notice the sentence in the Catholic Answers quote that I put in bold type.  Without getting into too deep a theological rant here, the Church teaches that when we die in a state of grace we will go to heaven after a period of cleansing which we call purgatory.  We have no idea how long this period is, it could be minutes or it could be years. We just don’t know.  That’s why we pray for the dead.  If we thought that our loved one went directly to heaven, what’s the point of praying for them?

While we don’t want to talk about grandma being on the outside looking in, it’s not accurate to just assume she’s in heaven.  Father Benedict Groschel once said, “The worst day in purgatory is better than the best day on earth.”  Plus, once we’re in purgatory, we know we’re going to heaven.  That’s what the Church teaches.  That’s what we believe.

Our HOPE is that we will get to heaven one day.  There are no sure things.  In fact, (gasp!) some of us aren’t going to heaven.  Sorry, but it’s true.  It’s just another reason why it’s best to leave these things up to the pros.

Don’t our loved ones deserve the best sendoff we can possibly give them?  I think they do.

The Racial Divide

Bishop Edward Braxton

Bishop Edward Braxton

I was speaking today with my friend, Franciscan Friar Ed Mundwiller and he called my attention to a document written by Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, called The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015.  

First, let me say that I think Bishop Braxton is a brilliant man.  If you’re not from the midwest you may not be familiar with him, but I first met him when he was Auxiliary Bishop of Saint Louis.  The good Bishop is a rarity in the U S Catholic Church.  He’s one of just a handful of black Bishops.  He has his share of detractors, most likely because he is an African American and because he is extremely intelligent, a combination that’s not necessarily popular in our lily white Church.

Let’s be honest, racial prejudice is not unknown in our Church in spite of Jesus’ teachings against it.  His current assignment in Southern Illinois puts him in the heart of “white country”.  He points out in his letter that there is only one African American Catholic church in the whole diocese.

Given his background, this pastoral letter, dealing with the subject of race, is extremely even-handed.  He details the recent history of young Black men being killed by white members of law enforcement, but he does it in a way that doesn’t place blame or call for vengeance.  He outlines steps that we can all take to work toward a solution to our racial problems.

I’m not going to attempt to dissect the document, mostly because I know when someone is smarter than I am and there is no reason to think that I can add anything to what he’s said.   What I am going to do is urge you to read the document and draw your own conclusions.

He begins by asking his White readers to imagine ourselves in a Catholic church where all the statues are depicted as African Americans and most of the parishioners are African American as well.  Would we feel welcome in such a church?  I know I wouldn’t.

Infant of Prague

Statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague

Having said that, we have historical evidence that Jesus wasn’t Black.  On the other hand, He wasn’t European with light brown hair and blue eyes as He is most often depicted in our churches either.  We don’t know exactly what He looked like, but we know He was a Jew, as were Mary and Joseph.  He may have looked more like George Castanza.  We just don’t know.  In my church we have a great devotion to the Infant of Prague.  One look at the image of the Infant should cause all of us to say, “Wait a minute!  Is that what the Infant Jesus really looked like?”  I don’t think so.

Like I said, I’m not going to attempt to analyze the good Bishop’s letter or to point out the one or two minor points where I don’t agree with it.  Again, I urge you to take a look at the document.  It’s kind of long, about 25 pages.  It is very readable.    But it’s well worth your time, especially during Lent.  Read it.  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Then ask yourself what you might do in your corner of the world to effect change.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Here’s the link again:  The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015.

 

A Proactive Lent

In today’s 1st reading (Isaiah 58:1-9) , the prophet Isaiah describes a proper fast.  He points out that lying in sack cloth and ashes is not the way to go.  Instead, he calls us to be proactive.  “Release those bound unjustly!  Set free the oppressed, breaking every yoke!  Share your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless!  Clothe the naked!”  In other words, “don’t just sit there, do something!

Giving up your favorite food (or drink) or fasting from too much television are good things, especially if they make you a better version of yourself (thank you Matthew Kelly).  But what we’re really called to do is to be active, not passive.  Share your faith with others through your words, and your actions.  If you’ve decided to give up candy for Lent, then take the money you would have spent and give it to a worthy cause.

Spend the time you normally spend in front of the television and volunteer at a local food pantry or homeless shelter.  If your circumstances don’t allow you to make such an active time commitment, then spend the time in prayer.  Pray for those less fortunate than you, or pray for someone you know who’s fallen away from the faith.  Better yet, invite that person to come to mass with you this weekend.  Imagine the potential good you can do if you invite a different person to mass each week of Lent.  That’s six potential disciples you could create!  What an exciting possibility!

The point Isaiah is making is that, while our faith is a private matter, it’s meant to be shared.  Jesus told the Apostles, “Go and make disciples of all lands, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  He calls us to do the same.

Have a blessed and proactive Lent!

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