5th Sunday of Easter–Mothers’ Day

My intention today was to talk about the first reading and I’ll get to it in a minute. But today’s Gospel is so rich that I had to dive into it a little bit first. This is part of what you might call Jesus’ farewell address. This is Jesus talking to his disciples on what we now call Holy Thursday. The discourse actually takes up several chapters of John’s Gospel. Today’s reading is just about half of Chapter 14.

 

He begins by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” This could easily be part of our daily prayers. If we have faith in Jesus, how can our hearts be troubled? We know He’s there for us no matter what. What could possibly trouble us? But we’re human. We worry. As we read on in the New Testament we see that the very people Jesus is speaking to here were often troubled.

 

This Gospel is often part of the funeral liturgy because it’s when Jesus promises to go ahead of us and prepare a place for us. Then He makes an outrageous claim. “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” This kind of talk is what got Him crucified! He’s saying that He and God are one and the same, blasphemy if it isn’t true.

 

Remember, this is new! It’s unprecedented! He’s saying that He is God. You and I know it to be true, but for the handful of people who heard Him say it, and really didn’t understand it, it must have been quite a shock. It’s going to be a while before they GET it. Remember Thomas? He doesn’t believe it and he’s one of Jesus’ closest friends.

 

But here’s the real kicker, after He claims that He is God, He tells the disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and do greater ones than these.” Wait! What? Jesus has healed the sick, given sight to the blind, turned water into wine, walked on water, and even raised Lazurus from the dead. Now He says they (and we) will do even greater things? That’s hard to believe.

 

But it’s true. Jesus never traveled very far. The biggest crowd He ever spoke to were the 5,000 on the mountain. Look at our technology today. Look at men like Bishop Robert Barron and Cardinal Dolan. They’ve been heard and seen by millions. When Pope Francis speaks, his words are heard around the world. A crippled nun in Alabama started a world-wide media network. Even a humble deacon can post something on the Internet that’s seen by hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people.

 

You and I may not be able to raise the dead, but we can carry Jesus’ message to many, many people. Remember that there are billions of Christians in the world today, but it all started with that small group of people in that upper room.

 

I said I was going to talk about the first reading today. It’s from the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and it tells us about the first deacons. The Apostles were running ragged trying to do everything themselves. Even with the Holy Spirit there just weren’t enough hours in the day. In particular, the Greek Christians were complaining. They thought the Jewish Apostles weren’t paying enough attention to the Greek widows.

 

So, they called everyone together and said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. You go find seven wise, reputable men who are filled with the spirit. We’ll anoint them and have them feed the poor widows, and maybe do some other stuff.” And that’s what they did.

 

They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch to be the first deacons. Notice that they were all Greek. It’s not a coincidence that Stephen, the guy they chose first, was also the first martyr of the new Church. They told us when we were in formation that Stephen was doing fine until he started to talk. Then they stoned him to death. So, we’d better be careful. Fifteen years later, I understand what they were talking about.

 

Today deacons do things that the Apostles never dreamed of like running churches, ministering to prisoners and hospital patients and travelers at the airport. There’s even one of us in Saint Louis who has a truck stop ministry. There is much work to be done in God’s kingdom on earth and many different callings, not just clerical, but lay as well.

 

And, finally, one of the greatest callings of all is the one we celebrate this weekend. The following quote is from Hungarian Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty who died in 1975:

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral——a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.

 

“The Angels have not been blessed with a such a grace. They cannot share in God’s Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.”

 

“What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

Happy Mothers’ Day.

 

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What makes for a practicing Catholic

I came across this post from Father Ron Holheiser O.F.M. and I thought it would be a good way to start Lent.  This is one of the best explanations on this topic I’ve ever seen.   Enjoy!

There’s a national phone-in show on radio in Canada that I try to catch whenever I can. Recently its topic for discussion was: Why do so few people go to church today? The question triggered a spirited response. Some called in and said that the churches were emptying because they were too progressive, too sold-out to the culture, too devoid of old, timeless truth. These calls would invariably be followed by others that suggested exactly the opposite, namely, that the churches are emptying because they are too slow to change, too caught up in old traditions that no longer make sense.

And so it went on, caller after caller, until one man phoned in and suggested that the real issue was not whether the church was too progressive or regressive. Rather, in his view, less and less people were going to church because “basically people treat their churches exactly the way they treat their own families; they want them around, but they don’t go home to visit them all that much!” The comment reminded me of Reginald Bibby, the Canadian sociologist of religion, who likes to quip: “People aren’t leaving their churches, they just aren’t going to them – and that is a difference that needs to be understood.”

Indeed it does. There is a difference between leaving a family and just not showing up regularly for its celebrations. This distinction in fact needs to shape the way we answer a number of important questions: Who belongs to the church? What makes for a practising Christian? When is someone’s relationship to the church mortally terminated? What does it mean to be outside the church? As well, this distinction impacts on the question as to who is entitled to receive the rites of baptism, eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and Christian burial.

People are treating their churches just like they treat their families. Isn’t that as it should be? Theologically the church is family – it’s not like family, it is family. A good ecclesiology then has to look to family life to properly understand itself (the reverse of course is also true). Now if we place the questions we just posed within the context of family life, we have there, I believe, the best perspective within which to answer them. Thus, inside of our families: Who is in and who is out? When does someone cease being a “practicing” member of a family? Does someone cease to be a member of a family because he or she doesn’t come home much any more? Do we refuse to give a wedding for a son or daughter just because he or she, caught up in youth and self-interest, hasn’t come home the last couple of years for Easter and Christmas? Not exactly abstract questions!

Many of us have children and siblings who for various reasons, at this stage of their lives, largely use the family for their own needs and convenience. They want the family around, but on their terms. They want the family for valued contact at key moments (weddings, births of children, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays, and so on) but they don’t want a relationship to it that is really committed and regular. A lot of families are like that. They understand this, accept it, swallow hard sometimes, and remain a family despite it. In any extended family, it’s natural that, while everyone is a member of the family, there will be different levels of participation. Some will give more, others will take more. Some, by virtue of maturity, will carry most of the burden – they will arrange the dinners, pay for them, keep inviting the others, do most of the work, and take on the task of trying to preserve the family bond and ethos. Others, because of youthful restlessness, immaturity, self-interest, confusion, peer-pressure, laziness, anger, whatever, will carry less, take the family for granted, and buy in largely on their own terms. That describes most families and is also a pretty accurate description of most churches. There are different levels of participation and maturity, but there is only one church and that church, like any family, survives precisely because some members are willing to carry more of the burden than others. Those others, however, except for more exceptional circumstances, do not cease being members of the family. They ride on the grace of the others, literally. It’s how family works; how grace works; how church works.

Church must be understood as family: Certain things can put you out of the family, true. However, in most families, simple immaturity, hurt, confusion, distraction, laziness, youthful sexual restlessness, and self-preoccupation – the reasons why most people who do not go to church stay away – do not mortally sever your connection. You remain a family member. You don’t cease being “a practicing member” of the family because for a time you aren’t home very much. Families understand this. Ecclesial family, church, I believe, needs to be just as understanding.

4th Sunday of Easter–Good Shepherd Sunday

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear one of the shortest Gospel passages of the whole reading cycle; just five sentences. But, even though it’s short, it says an awful lot. We call it “Good Shepherd Sunday” because Jesus begins by telling us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

 

We HEAR Him. He speaks to us. We recognize His voice, just as the sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. That’s important. Sometimes we Catholics get a bad rap because we don’t read the Bible as much as some of our Christian brothers and sisters. The thing is, we don’t read it as much as we hear it. Every Sunday when we come to mass, we hear three readings, a Psalm, and parts of scripture that are repeated in every celebration of the Eucharist, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer. Every three years we pretty much hear the whole Bible.

 

There’s a reason why Father doesn’t just say the opening prayer and then ask us to sit down and read the readings assigned to that day to ourselves. Jesus wants us to HEAR Him. He wants us to listen to the readings, not just to read them. It’s especially true of the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus speaking to us and He wants us to hear Him. How do we know? Because He just told us. 4-legged sheep follow their shepherd because they recognize his voice!

 

Over the years I’ve discovered that I almost always get something different from the readings when I hear them read out loud as opposed to just reading them out of the book. The spirit works through the lector, the deacon, or the priest, to give them the gift of inflection. The way the words are said convey a different meaning than the way the words are presented on the page.

 

Here’s something you may have never thought of. The Gospel readings are in the Sacramentary, along with the other readings. But we proclaim the Gospel from a separate book, the Book of the Gospels. The deacon, or some other minister, carries the Gospel into church as part of the opening procession. We give the Book of the Gospels much more respect than paper and ink alone deserve. We’re bringing Jesus’ words into the church.

 

Did you ever wonder why we don’t carry it back out? It’s because you hear His words and you carry them out of church, in your minds and hearts. Again, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.”

 

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote down anything. God the Father inspired all scripture, but Jesus wasn’t into writing. He was into speaking. “My sheep hear my voice.” He didn’t say anything about His sheep reading His blog, or following Him on Facebook or Twitter. And He handed His teaching authority on to His bishops at Cesarea Philippi when He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

 

But, here’s our challenge. When Jesus spoke, people listened. There was no television, no radio, and no Internet. His listeners were just that; LISTENERS. Our Gospel readings usually begin, “Jesus said to His disciples….” He didn’t have to say “please turn off your cell phones and other electronic devises.” They hung on every word that He said.

 

Today, there’s just so much competition for our attention. We’re inundated with constant noise. Even the Son of God has a hard time getting through to us. That’s one reason why we need to come to mass. At least for these few minutes each week, we’re away from outside distractions and free to listen to God’s word. For the other 167 hours per week, not so much. Let’s not waste this valuable time.

 

We’re also living in a time when we’re surrounded by false prophets. We may want to listen, but maybe we’re not sure which voice is actually His. During this election season we’re constantly told conflicting things. Do we welcome everyone into our country or do we build a wall? Should we encourage hard work or should we focus on giving people free stuff? I’m sure all these people mean well, but they can’t all be right. We have to discern the truth.

 

In matters of faith, there are a lot of people who claim to be speaking for Jesus. Again, they can’t all be right. How do we decide? For me the answer is simple and I already gave it to you earlier. Jesus told Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me.” He left us one Church with one teaching authority. Lucky us; it’s the Church we all belong to.

 

What else does He tell us in this short Gospel. He promises us eternal life. He promises us that we shall never perish. “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hand.” That’s some serious stuff.

 

You and I can live forever if we follow Jesus. The only person who can take us out of Jesus’ hands is ourselves. We have to follow Him. We have to listen. We can’t just go off on our own. We all know what happens to a sheep when he leaves the flock. The wolf has a nice dinner. Jesus closes by telling us that He and the Father are one.

 

In five short sentences Jesus has given us everything we need to know. Listen to Him, follow Him, and we’ll go to heaven. That’s it. It’s so simple. Yet, it’s so difficult.

2nd Sunday of Easter–Divine Mercy

Mother_AngelicaMother Angelica died on Easter Sunday. I’m sure most of you know who she was, but just in case….She was the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Starting in a garage, she grew EWTN into a worldwide media network reaching more than 250 million people. Even though she’s been unable to do TV work since 2002, her programs are still the most popular on the network.

 

Mother was quite a character. Her down-home style and her sense of humor attracted millions of people to her, and to Jesus. She was a nun of the Franciscan order of Poor Clares and was devoted to Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration.

 

She wasn’t afraid to be outspoken when it came to her love of Jesus. She once said, “Do we love Jesus enough to defend Him?” What a great comment!

 

Mother Angelica was 92 years old and had been sick for a long time so her death wasn’t a surprise. In fact, her community in Hanceville, AL, had been planning for her passing for a long time. They had prepared a week of liturgies to mark her death. But, being the person she was, she died on Easter. We’re not allowed to pray the Office of the Dead during the Octave of Easter, so all the services that had been prepared for so long had to be scrapped and a new series of services had to be prepared on very short notice. I’m sure the cantankerous nun is smiling in heaven, seeing so many priests and religious scrambling to prepare for this week.

 

Two things Mother said, among the thousands of quotes attributed to her, will always stay with me. She once said, “When I think of all He’s done for me and how little I’ve done for Him, I could cry.” Here’s a woman who’s taken the Gospel to millions of people around the world in spite of her many physical challenges, and she doesn’t think she’s done enough! How insignificant our contributions are by comparison. “When I think of all He’s done for me and how little I’ve done for Him, I could cry.”

 

She often said, “We’re all called to be saints”. As you and I sit in this beautiful chapel surrounded by statues and images of great saints, her words should be a constant reminder to all of us of what God’s calling us to be. She said her greatest fear was not to do God’s will.

 

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Our readings remind us of just how merciful God can be. In the Gospel, the Apostles are gathered in a locked room “for fear of the Jews”. He stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Think about that. Think about what’s just happened. Jesus was tortured and killed and these guys ran away. They hid. They deserted Him when He need them the most. Peter, the one chosen to lead His new Church even denied that he knew Jesus, not once, but three times! And Jesus’ first words to them were “Peace be with you.” He forgave them. That’s Divine Mercy.

 

All the Apostles weren’t there. Thomas was missing. When he came back, he refused to believe. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and pub my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

 

A week later, Jesus returns and this time Thomas is with the others. Again Jesus wishes them peace and offers Thomas the proof that he said he needed. Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas. His mercy extended even to “doubting Thomas.”

 

If Jesus could forgive them, why wouldn’t we think that He’d forgive us for our transgressions.

 

In the first reading, Peter and the others have been doing signs and wonders. Not only did Jesus forgive them, He gave them power to do wondrous things so that people might believe. They believed so strongly that they thought even Peter’s shadow falling on the sick would heal them. More proof that no matter how sinful we might be, we can do great things with the help of the Holy Spirit.

 

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, when we realize that a crippled nun could start in a garage and build up a massive communications network reaching millions of believers and nonbelievers, we should realize that we can do great things too. Maybe we’ll never reach millions of people, but we can spread the Gospel to everyone we meet. That’s our mission. That’s our calling. As Mother Angelica said, “We’re all called to be saints.” Our only fear should be not to do God’s will.

 

 

Holy Trinity Sunday

This is the homily I preached on Sunday, May 31, Holy Trinity Sunday.

+ In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen!  Do you see what you did there?  I made the sign of the cross and you did it too.  You didn’t have to do it.  We don’t normally make the sign after the Gospel.  It’s not in the book.  But, as Catholics, we’ve been taught that when someone else, especially someone standing at the front of the room signs themselves, we’re supposed to follow along.  It’s a Catholic thing.

In fact, + (sign) is probably the second-most recognized hand gesture in the world.  The peace sign might be first.  I’m not sure.  But, like I said, it’s a Catholic thing.  If you see someone crossing themselves, they’re probably Catholic.

So……the sign identifies us as Catholics.  It also tells anyone who knows our faith what we believe.

That IS in the book.

I believe in one God, [not multiple gods like the Romans of the Greeks, I believe in the one and only God.  I don’t worship cats, or the sun, or the earth.] the Father almighty,maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.  My God isn’t part of nature.  He created nature out of nothingness.

If that were all there was, things would be very simple.  But, like they say on the infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!”

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.

 

This word “begotten” must be important.  We say it twice in one paragraph.  See, there was a guy running around in the 4th century saying that Jesus wasn’t really God.  He was just some “super” angel, better than us, but not as great as God.  The Church held a council and promulgated this creed, establishing once and for all that God and Jesus are one and the same.

According to the new translation of the Creed that some of us are still learning, Jesus is CONSUBSTANTIAL” with the Father.  Remember, we used to say “one in being with the Father”, which isn’t enough to describe who Jesus really is.  You and I are one in being with the Father because everything in the world is created through Him.  Consubstantial sort of means “of the same substance”.  God IS the Father and the Son.

The Creed goes on to tell us what Jesus did, how He suffered and died and rose again on the third day to save us from our sins.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

 

When Jesus returned to heaven he left us an Advocate, His Holy Spirit.  In last week’s Gospel He said He would send the Advocate “whom I will send you from the Father.”  Notice the words.  Jesus would send the Spirit from the Father.  He proceeds from the Father AND the Son.

Just today (yesterday) nine men were ordained to the Permanent Diaconate at the Cathedral Basilica.  The Archbishop laid hands on them, just like he laid hands on me ten years ago next week, and he said, “Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.” 

 

 

Of course we all receive the Holy Spirit at baptism and at confirmation as well.

That’s it.  That’s what we believe about God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Our problem as humans is that we want to understand things.  We want proof.  But there are just some things that are beyond our understanding.  Saint Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, each leaf representing one of the three persons.  Since he’s my patron saint, I’d like to say that it was the perfect analogy.  Unfortunately it wasn’t.  That’s why God has given us this thing called “faith”.  As Christians we have to believe some pretty unbelievable stuff.  Jesus turned water into wine.  Jesus turned bread and wine into His body and blood.  Jesus died and was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  God is one but He exists as three different persons.

Don’t try to figure it out.  Just accept it.  He’s God.  He can do anything.  He’s our Father, our Brother, and our Advocate; He’s existed since the beginning of time and He made everything in the universe out of nothing.  I know you believe it because I hear you say it every week.  Don’t question it.  Just be thankful that it IS.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel we learn something very important about Jesus. It’s important to all Christians, but especially to us Catholics. He’s teaching in the Synagogue. But the people who’ve gathered to listen to Him will learn that this isn’t just some ordinary teacher, some ordinary Rabbi. Teachers in Jesus’ time, just like today, taught based on someone else’s authority. Father Paul and I don’t just make this stuff up. We rely on someone else’s teachings. We have the Scriptures, we have the words of religious scholars, we have the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, and we have the Holy Spirit. If Father, or I, or anyone else who assumes the role of teacher stands up here and makes stuff up, you have every right to complain.

If any of us comes up with some new, radical teaching of our own invention, you should get on the phone to the Archbishop and tell him that we’re preaching heresy. Then the Archbishop will call us in and demand to know what’s going on. It won’t be pretty. We may even lose our faculties to preach or worse. We’re not allowed to preach anything that isn’t the truth, as it’s been passed down over the centuries.

In Jesus’ time, Rabbis taught from the Torah. That was the Word of God and that’s what the people wanted, and deserved to hear. But, here’s this Jesus teaching something new. His message was extremely radical for the first century. And, as Mark says, ”the people were astonished at His teaching.” They said, “What is this?”

One man even speaks up and says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” But to get an idea of what’s going on, we have to look back at Moses’ words in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” Jesus is that prophet, but the people don’t realize it yet. God promised Moses that He would put His words into His, this new prophet’s mouth. God goes on, “Whoever will not listen to my words which He speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”

 

Jesus is that new prophet. This man who challenges Jesus is possessed by an unclean spirit. Here’s the evil one, Satan, challenging Jesus in the Synagogue, the very house of God. Jesus rebukes the man and says to the unclean spirit, “Quiet! Come out of him?” And the spirit, with a loud cry, comes out of him.

Naturally, the people are amazed. “They asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” Satan has made a huge mistake. His attempt to discredit Jesus backfires and the people understand. Jesus is teaching with authority, not human authority, but with the authority of God the Father. For the first time in history, someone other than God the Father, has the authority to speak on His behalf. Up to this time, every teacher has taught strictly from the Torah. As Mark says, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”

 

Today, Christians rely on both the Old Testament word of God, and the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ. But, why is this more important to Catholics than it is to other Christians? To find the answer we have to turn to Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tell the disciples that whoever hears them, hears Him and whoever rejects them, rejects Him. And whoever rejects Him, rejects the One who sent Him. This is the beginning of the teaching authority of the Church.

This begs the question, “Do we always like what the Church teaches?” Not necessarily. Do we have to believe it? We do unless we want to reject God, and that’s dangerous territory. As faithful Catholics, it’s up to us to learn what the Church teaches and to know the difference between Church doctrine and discipline.

The Eucharist is a perfect example. In a few minutes, Father will take the bread and wine, which will be presented to him by members of the congregation representing all of us. The bread and wine are your gifts to God. Then he’ll turn that bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s God’s gift to you. It’s scriptural and has been taught by the Church since the very beginning. If you don’t believe it, then you’re not a Catholic. It’s a core belief and it’s non-negotiable. In fact, according to Saint Paul, if you partake in communion without believing it is what it is, then you’re guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ.

On the other hand, the Church calls us to fast for an hour before we receive His Body and Blood. If you forgot and ate a donut 59 minutes before communion, are you committing a sin? No, that’s a discipline. It’s something we should do, not something we have to do. It can change and it did change after Vatican II. Remember, you used to have to fast for twelve hours. Under certain circumstances, for example, if you’re a patient in the hospital, you can receive the Eucharist at any time.

Disciplines can change, doctrine can’t. Remember when you couldn’t eat meat on Friday? It wasn’t that long ago.

Recently our former Archbishop, Cardinal Burke, has been in the news for things he’s said that aren’t in agreement with Pope Francis. You may wonder, how can this be? Who are we supposed to believe? If you study what both men have said, they don’t disagree on Church doctrine. The disagree on disciplines. Male alter servers aren’t Church doctrine. If the good Cardinal thinks servers should all be altar boys, that’s his opinion. Again, it’s something that has changed over the years. Given the power of the feminist movement, it’s not likely to change back, but it could. In fact, there are still some dioceses where they don’t allow female servers. But, remember that here in Saint Louis he did allow girl servers when he was Archbishop. Frankly, it’s not that big a deal.

To wrap this up, today’s readings remind us that Jesus has a special kind of authority and He shared that authority with His Apostles and their successors, the Pope and the Bishops. It was unique. It was radical. It was outrageous! It’s no wonder that the Jewish authorities didn’t want Him around. His authority was a challenge to their authority.

Make no mistake, there are people alive today who hate Jesus and His Church. Why? For the same reason. Jesus’ authority, and by extension the authority of His Church, is a challenge to them. If I’m in the business of selling sin, our course I’m going to hate the Church. If the Church challenges my political authority, I’m going to hate the Church. If I represent a religious denomination that doesn’t accept the Church’s teachings, I’m going to hate the Church. If I suddenly decide to divorce Jan and marry another guy, I’m probably going to hate the Church. Any time the Church challenges anyone on anything, there’s going to be a backlash. Remember that there were enough people who hated Jesus that they tortured Him and killed Him.

As Catholic Christians, we have a responsibility to know what the Church teaches, to accept those teachings, and to share those teachings with others.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 

The world-famous high wire walker stood on the banks of Niagara Falls. A steel cable was strung from one side to the other and a huge crowd had gathered. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, today I am going to walk this thin cable across these mighty falls. But, in order for me to do it, I must know that you believe I can. Do you believe??”

 

The crowd yelled out, “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!”

 

So he jumped up on the cable and began to walk. Slowly he proceeded to the other side and when he reached the other side, the crowd went wild. Then he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, now I’m going to perform an even greater feat. I’m going to cross the falls on this thin cable blind-folded. The crowd gasped and he said again, “In order to accomplish this amazing feat, I need to know that you believe I can do it. I draw my strength from your belief in me.” Again the crowd went wild. “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!” they yelled, even louder than before.

 

With that, the daredevil put on his blind-fold and proceeded to cross the falls again and again the crowd went wild!

 

Then he said, for my third and final act today, I’m going to cross these mighty falls on this thin cable, blind-folded and pushing this wheelbarrow with someone sitting in it. Once again, I must ask, do you believe I can do it?” Again the crowd yelled, “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!”

 

Then the daredevil said, “I need a volunteer from the crowd to sit in the wheelbarrow.” And they all started walking away. The only sound was the roar of the falls.

 

See, there’s a big difference between saying you believe and actually believing. Saint John tells us in today’s Gospel, possibly one of the most famous of all the scriptural passages, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” You might say to me, “Deacon, I believe in Jesus so I’m going to go to heaven when I die.” But hold on. Do you believe like the crowd at Niagra Falls? Do you believe as long as there’s no personal risk? Or are you willing to risk your earthly life to gain eternal life?

 

This is where a lot of us get it wrong. We say, “of course I believe. I go to mass every weekend.” That’s all well and good, but what else do we do? We may never be called on to actually risk martyrdom, but how do we act when someone challenges us? Do we risk embarrassment by defending the Church? Are we willing to do something as simple as making the sign of the cross and saying grace in a restaurant with our friends? Are we willing to call out a friend or family member when we see that they’re doing something sinful? Will we even do something as simple as inviting a friend or family member to come to mass with us?

 

You tell me you believe. PROVE IT! Get in the wheelbarrow. Turn your life over to Jesus, not just for one hour out of 168 each week, but every minute of every day!

 

A lot of us who wear this Roman collar are even more guilty of this phony belief stuff than any of you are. We’ve been called to preach the Gospel but when push comes to shove, we’re afraid to get in your face and ask the hard questions because we don’t want to make you mad. We want everybody to like us. We don’t want to hurt your feelings. And, God forbid, you should stop giving money because of something we said. So, we don’t challenge you. We don’t stand up here and point out your sins or warn you of what might happen. We’re happy with the status quo.

 

But, where would we be if Jesus had been happy with the status quo? If He avoided hurting people’s feelings? I think you know where we’d be. Jesus let Himself be hung on the cross that we exult today, to save us from our sins; to save us from ourselves. But we have to do our part.
I started my sales career selling life insurance more than 40 years ago. Believe me, that’s a tough sell. For one thing, nobody wants to think about their own death. And they definitely aren’t inclined to give up money today for something that’s going to come in the future, especially when they don’t know when that future date is. No young father wants to think that he’s not going to be around to see his kids grow up. He thinks he’ll always be here to provide for his family. It’s just human nature. But the fact is, we’re all going to die sometime. And we have to prepare for that day.

 

Here it is, 2014, and I’m still trying to convince you to prepare for that day that will come. I’m selling eternal life insurance.

 

Here’s the thing. When you and I stand before Jesus for that final judgment, He’s not going to ask us how many friends we had. He’s not going to ask us how much money we made. He’s not even going to ask us how many times we went to mass. He’s going to ask us how many people we helped get into heaven.

 

He’s not going to care how many years we were an altar server, or how many years we sang in the choir. He’s not going to ask me if the people I served liked me or not. All He’s going to look at is how we served Him. Whatever He asks us, He already knows the answer.

 

In the first reading today, the people complained against God and against Moses. He had brought them out of captivity. He had saved them from slavery. What were they saying. They didn’t like the “wretched” food. And the Lord punished them by sending snakes. Then they changed their tune. “Wait a minute, Moses. We’ve sinned by complaining. Take away the snakes and we’ll be good.”

 

Does that sound familiar? How often have we been ungrateful to God? Some of you, not many, but a few, sound just like those Israelites. You know who you are. Things may not always go the way we want them to go. Sometimes we have to look at the big picture. Maybe the food isn’t great, but it’s better than what Pharaoh gave us in Egypt and we’re free! Maybe Saint John’s isn’t a parish anymore, maybe we don’t have a resident priest, maybe you don’t like me, but we’re still open!

 

If we’re going to stay open, maybe we have to do some things differently. Take a look around at all the empty seats. Obviously what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Change is hard. It makes us uncomfortable. But it’s also inevitable. Like any organism, if we don’t grow we die. In 1896 this church, which the people had built with their own hands just 26 years ago was destroyed by a tornado. I’m sure there were people who were angry. I’m sure there were some who cursed God for their misfortune. Some of them probably even blamed the pastor. But the majority of them rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt this church, bigger and better than it was before. Those were the people who got into the wheelbarrow.

 

Today, we’re faced with an even bigger challenge. It’s hard work, but rebuilding a physical church is not nearly as hard as rebuilding a church community. That’s what you and I are called to do. Like the daredevil at the Falls, I’m asking you, “do you believe?” Are you willing to trust God to do what’s best for all of us and to sacrifice your own ego to gain eternal life?

 

Jesus died on the cross but He also asked us to take up OUR crosses and follow Him. Are we willing to get into the wheelbarrow? It’s a question we all have to answer.