4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In the Archdiocese of Saint Louis we begin our Annual Catholic Appeal today.  It’s the major fund-raising activity for the many ministries the Church conducts throughout the year.  This is my homily for the beginning of the appeal. 

On Monday, we were shocked to hear the news of the bombings at the finish of the Boston marathon.  I’ve never run a marathon in my life but I have two sons who have.  In fact one of my sons, Tim, the one who just got married will be running in the Nashville marathon next weekend.  I’m more than a little concerned for his safety.


Even though I’ve never run a marathon, I’ve been at the finish line many times waiting for Tim, or his brother Patrick, or both of them to finish.  Under normal circumstances it’s very chaotic at the finish line of a big race.  You know where your runner is supposed to be, but in the confusion sometimes you just can’t find the person you’re looking for.  All the runners are wrapped in aluminum foil blankets and they all look pretty much alike.


In spite of the chaos, the scene at the end of one of these long races is one of victory and excitement.  The race may only take a few hours, but the runners have been training for months.  Getting ready for a spring race means running hours and hours in the cold, in the rain, even in the snow.  To finish the 26 plus miles of a marathon is quite an accomplishment no matter how long it takes.  It’s a happy scene even amidst all the confusion.


I can only imagine what it must have been like in Boston on Monday.  The excitement of accomplishing such a major goal was suddenly shattered by two bomb blasts.  If you saw it on television you saw the sidewalks were red with the blood of the victims.  There was mass confusion as runners looked for their loved ones and first responders rushed to help the victims.  All over America people worried about whether their loved ones who were at the race were OK.  Cell phone service was undependable as thousands of people tried to contact one another.


The news media, more interested in being first than in being right, floated all kinds of rumors.  There were more bombs that didn’t explode.  There were explosions in other parts of Boston.  They had someone in custody.  Or not!


If any good could come from such a tragedy it was the pictures of people who should have been running for their lives turning around and running TOWARD the explosions hoping to help others.  Police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, and just ordinary people were willing to risk their lives to help others.  There’s a spirit of Christian charity in this country that no amount of terrorism is ever going to snuff out.  They may crush our bodies, but they’ll never crush our spirit.


As if the Boston bombings weren’t enough bad news for one week, Wednesday evening a massive explosion in a Texas fertilizer plant killed dozens of people and injured dozens more.  Again, if you can find a silver lining in the story it’s the number of people who rushed to help.  In fact, on Thursday, officials were urging people not to come and help because they had all the help they needed.


We DO rally around when our brothers and sisters are in trouble.  Whether it’s a hurricane, a tornado, or some man-made disaster, there are always people willing to pitch in, sometimes at great danger to themselves, to help those in need.


In the Gospel today Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one can take them out of my hand.”  If we’ve learned anything this week it’s that our time on planet Earth is short and it could end at any time.  I imagine those working and living in the fertilizer plant knew they were dealing with hazardous chemicals.  They knew there is a certain amount of danger working in a place like that.  But still, I doubt that any of them thought Wednesday morning that they would be called home before the day ended.


Other than dehydration and aches and pains, running is a fairly safe activity.  Once in a while you’ll hear about a runner having a heart attack, but not very often.  Sometimes you have to dodge cars when you run on the street, but most runners don’t expect to lose their lives enjoying their hobby.  In fact, running is supposed to be good for you.  Watching other people run should be even safer.  I’ve stood at many a finish line and I never thought that what I was doing was particularly hazardous.


These are times when we really have to believe what Jesus tells us.  He promises us eternal life; not just the few years we have in this life, but ETERNAL life.  Frankly I don’t know how people who don’t believe that can get out of bed in the morning.  If this is all there is, then we should be very, very afraid.  There are terrorists who want to kill us.  There are accidents around every corner.  Storms, accidents, heart attacks, and cancer can strike at any time.


Jesus tells us not to worry.  He tells us we’ll never perish.  John writes in the second reading from Revelation that he saw people from every nation, race, people, and tongue, standing before the throne of the Lamb.  He says, “They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them.”  That’s you and me!  If we have faith in Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead, we can have eternal life.


I have to share this with you.  After watching the news from Boston all afternoon Monday I got the news that a good friend of mine has cancer….again.  The prognosis isn’t good.  We just buried my neighbor a couple of weeks ago and now another friend is in serious jeopardy.  Tuesday morning I was sitting here in church talking to Jesus.  I spent my usual time telling Him how to do His job.  You know, “Do this.  Do that.  Give me such and such.”  But then I asked Him how we’re supposed to cope with all the bad things that are going on around us.  I sat here in silence for a while then He answered me.  Nothing complicated.  Just two words, “TRUST ME!”


Not the answer I was hoping for.  I was looking for something easy.  I didn’t get it.  TRUST HIM.  That may be the hardest thing for most of us to do.  I know I should do it but it’s just so darned hard.  I want to be in control.  I want to have all the answers.  Me, me, me.  That’s where I want to put my trust.  But I should know by now, after all these years, that I’m the last one I should trust.  I’ve proven over and over again that I’m not to be trusted.  I constantly make mistakes.


But to trust Jesus means I have to turn my life over to Him.  I have to take my hands off the wheel and let Him steer.  That’s just not my nature.  But nobody ever said that this life was going to be easy.  The older I get the more frustrated I’m going to get if I don’t just put my life in His hands.


So, I got the message.  If I (and you) trust in Him, everything will be all right.  Planet Earth is NOT paradise.  That comes later.  This can be a wonderful place or it can be torture.  We may live ninety great years then die in our sleep, or we might get a terrible disease and die young.  Jesus will be with us either way.  He has a plan and you and I aren’t going to find out what it is in this life.


Earlier I mentioned that we’re programmed to help one another in times of need.  One way we do that is through the Annual Catholic Appeal.  Besides the people in Boston and in West, TX, there are people right here in Saint Louis that need our help.  When Jesus says to love one another, the ACA is one way to do it.  I have a whole list of things that the money is used for, but I think you know most of that.  If not, I’ll be glad to show you the list.  I’d just like to say that there’s not a single person in this church who hasn’t benefited either directly or indirectly from the ministries funded by the ACA.


Kenrick-Glennon Seminary gets money from the ACA.  The permanent diaconate office gets money from the ACA.  Catholic Charities receives more than a million dollars each year from the ACA.  Almost 40% of the money collected by the Annual appeal go to support Catholic education, both day schools and PSR. Right now Catholic Charities is working with families who were affected by the April 10 tornadoes.  I hope none of us is ever in need of that kind of service, but it’s nice to know that it’s there if we need it.

A lot of the things that Jesus asks us to do go against our nature.  He asks us to run TOWARD the explosion.  He asks us to get our hands dirty.  He asks us to get involved in things that we’d rather ignore, like poverty, or sickness, or crime.  He asks us to give up some of our money when we’d rather spend it on ourselves.


But if we drive, we have to have car insurance.  If we own a home we have homeowner’s insurance.  We should all have health insurance and life insurance.  We hate to pay the bills when they come, but when we need the coverage, we’re glad it’s there.


The ACA is the same thing.  God willing, we’ll never need the vital services that the ACA pays for.  But, if we do, it’s nice to know they’re there.  Besides, Jesus calls us to help one another.


We’re a small community.  Our ACA goal is very small and frankly, no one from the Archdiocese has ever said we weren’t doing enough.  But our giving isn’t between us and the Archbishop.  It’s between us and God.  Before you fill in your pledge card I’d like you to consider one thing.  This is an ANNUAL appeal.  That means that your pledge covers an entire year.  Think about your pledge.  Divide it by 52.  Is that all you can give per week?  You don’t have to write one check.  You can spread the payments out over the entire year.  Jan and I write a quarterly check.


Please give this your prayerful consideration.  I hate asking for money but this cause is too important to just let it slide.  Father and I are here because of the generosity of others who have contributed to the appeal.  If you, your kids, or your grandkids attended Catholic schools, they were helped by generous contributors to the ACA.  If you or they played CYC sports, part of that money comes from the ACA.


Remember that God can’t be outdone in generosity.  He’s given us everything we have.  How much of it we give back to Him is up to us.  When we go to meet Him face to face, will He thank us for doing all we could or will He ask us why we didn’t do more?

2nd Sunday of Easter–Divine Mercy Sunday

Poor Thomas.  Here it is more than 2,000 years later and we still use his name to identify someone who refuses to believe something.  He’s a doubting Thomas.  But was Thomas really so different from the other Apostles?  The other guys all saw Jesus.  Thomas didn’t.  The idea of Jesus rising from the dead was pretty outrageous.  No one had ever seen such a thing.  It had never happened before.  It’s never happened again.  I’m afraid that if I’d been in Thomas’ shoes, I wouldn’t have believed it either.  Even though the others had seen Jesus, it’s not so outrageous that Thomas would have his doubts.


Let’s put this story into historical perspective.  Jesus had died just four days before.  His Apostles were locked up in a room, fearing that the Jews were going to crucify them too. Suddenly, Jesus appears in the locked room and says, “Peace be with you.”  Remember all these men had run away.  Not only were they afraid of the Jews, they were full of guilt because of the way they had acted at the crucifixion.  They had run away.  Peter had denied Jesus three times.  But here He was wishing them peace, not once, but twice.  He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  By doing this, He was forgiving them.  And that’s what Easter is all about.


Blessed John Paul II declared this second Sunday of Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday.  In one moment, Jesus forgave the Apostles for running out on Him and gave them the ability to share that Divine Mercy with others.  “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”  In order for the Apostles to give mercy they first had to receive it.


Let’s go back to the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles.  The book is about exactly what the name implies, the Acts of the Apostles.  In this passage, “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the Apostles.”  They’re following up on the commission that Jesus has given them and they were adding great numbers of new followers.  But, remember, these new followers weren’t believing just because the Apostles had a great story.  They were believing because the Apostles were doing signs and wonders.  Without those signs and wonders, they would probably have been doubting Thomases too.


So, we have all these new followers and people are coming from all around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those disturbed by evil spirits hoping that Peter’s shadow might fall on them.  They believed that just his shadow had healing powers.  All because Jesus had given the Apostles the Holy Spirit.


Fast forward to 2013.  You and I are in this beautiful, historic church to worship God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is the same Holy Spirit that we all received in baptism.  We received Him again at our Confirmation.  Father and I received the Holy Spirit again in ordination.  It’s the same Spirit that the Apostles received directly from Jesus so many centuries ago.


Does that mean you and I can heal the sick?  I don’t know.  Does it?  Jesus said that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed we could move mountains.  A mustard seed is pretty small.  We’ve heard that with God, nothing is impossible.  But who has that kind of faith?


Do I believe that God can heal the sick?  Of course I do.  Do I believe He can do it through me?  That question makes me a doubting Thomas.  He’s never done it before.  Why should He start now?  The problem’s not with God.  The problem’s with me.  Like many of you, and like Thomas, I want to see some proof.  But proof is the enemy of faith.  If I have proof, I don’t need faith.


And there’s the problem.  It’s the twenty-first century.  We’ve traveled into space.  We have cures for many diseases that we thought were incurable.  New ones are being discovered everyday.  We have instant access to news, even from the opposite side of the world through satellites and the Internet.  We’re barraged with news and information.  But what’s that do to our faith?


Have we become so jaded by our secular society that we don’t have simple faith?   Do we believe what’s written in the Scriptures when the so-called news media try so hard to discredit it?


Last weekend this church, and every other Christian church in the world was full.  Easter is a big deal to most Christians.  But you know what?  Other than the extra candles, and the flowers, and the Easter decorations, nothing happened in any of those churches last weekend that isn’t happening this weekend.  The same miracle of Jesus turning the ordinary bread and wine into His Body and Blood happens every weekend, in fact it happens every day in the Catholic Church.


No, we don’t have weekday masses anymore at Saint John’s.  But if you want to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood every single day, it’s readily available.  That’s what our Church is all about.  Of course, we do lots of other things, but it’s in receiving God’s Divine Mercy, in receiving His Body and Blood, that we center our faith.


Being a Catholic without receiving regular communion is like trying to drive a car without putting gas in it.  Jesus is the source of our spiritual energy.


If you and I believe what Jesus told us; if we believe it with all our hearts; we should want to receive the Eucharist so badly we can hardly stand it.  You should be thinking, “shut up, deacon, let’s get to communion.  I want to see the miracle.  I want to receive Jesus into my own body.”


That’s not all.  If you and I really believe Jesus, we should be lined up at the confessional every single week.  We should want to receive Jesus’ divine mercy, not just in His body and blood, but we should have an uncontrollable desire to receive the sacrament of penance as often as possible.  That’s the way it used to be.  What happened?  I don’t know.  That’s a subject for people a lot smarter than I am.


The lesson of Easter and of Divine Mercy is this.  Jesus died for our sins.  We know that.  He came back to the Apostles the very day after Easter and forgave them for their sins and gave them the ability to forgive others for theirs.  All He asks from us is that we believe.  We must have faith.  Nothing is impossible with God but we have to believe that with all our hearts.



40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Excommunication

Note: This series of posts was intended to coincide with Lent. 40 days = 40 myths. Clearly, I didn’t do as well as I might have. Lent is over and I’ve only posted 27 myths. I’m left with two choices; continue the series into the Easter Season or go back and re-title all 27 posts “27 Myths About the Catholic Church”. I hope my loyal readers will recognize my failure to complete my Lenten penance. Feel free to use me as a bad example and to learn from it. Sometimes we set our goals too high and sometimes we just come up short.

Moving on, why does the Church excommunicate people?

To answer this question, first we have to understand exactly what excommunication is, and what it isn’t.  The word itself has two roots:  ex which means out of and communion which means being part of a community.  The excommunicated person is no longer part of the believing community.  The penalty of excommunication does not mean that the person is no longer a Christian.  Christianity is imparted by baptism and that can never be taken away.

The biggest mistake that most people make about this subject is that somehow the Church uses excommunication as a punishment.  With a few exceptions the Church doesn’t excommunicate anyone.  A person separates him or herself from the Church by his or her own actions.  There are countless Catholics who have excommunicated themselves who are never called out by a bishop or pope.  With over a billion Catholics in the world, it’s not surprising that some folks can fall away from the Church and stay under the radar.

If someone decides that they aren’t bound by the teachings of the Church, they have separated themselves from the community.  A good example would be Catholic politicians who support abortion.  Deep down they know that what they’re doing is wrong.  We don’t need a bishop to declare that they’re excommunicated though it would be nice if that happened once in a while.

The Church refers to excommunication as a “medicinal penalty”.  The idea isn’t for the person to be run out of the Church.  The purpose is to show them the error of their ways in hopes that they will repent and come back into full communion.  When a bishop  declares someone excommunicated, he is merely informing the rest of us that the person has fallen away.  The excommunicated person is excluded from all of the sacraments except reconciliation.

One example is a parish here in Saint Louis that refused to follow the Archbishop’s instructions.  The pastor and  the lay members of the parish board were clearly in schism with the Church.  Our Archbishop declared that these people had automatically excommunicated themselves.  The priest was also laicized.  Two of the board members have since reconciled with the Church, which is the preferred result.  The pastor, other board members, and the members of the parish have not reconciled and they and the parish are no longer considered Catholics in good standing.

In the history of the Church, formal excommunication has been pretty rare.

Surprisingly there’s a very good, simple of excommunication at the “For Dummies” website.  They list the following automatic causes:

  • Procuring of abortion
  • Apostasy: The total rejection of the Christian faith.
  • Heresy: The obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth, which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.
  • Schism: The rejection of the authority and jurisdiction of the pope as head of the Church.
  • Desecration of sacred species (Holy Communion)
  • Physical attack on the pope
  • Sacramental absolution of an accomplice in sin against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments
  • Unauthorized episcopal (bishopconsecration
  • Direct violation of confessional seal by confessor

Excommunication can be reversed in most cases simply by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.  In my research for this post I found a surprisingly large number of web sites with advice on how to get excommunicated.  Apparently it’s a popular form of recreation for former Catholics who have decided to become atheists.  You would think that if you don’t believe in the Church, you wouldn’t be too concerned about this, but I guess some people are so mad at the Church that they want to be taken off the mailing list.

There are a number of good references on this subject including the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Code of Canon Law.