19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Two readings today, one from the book of Kings and one from Matthew’s Gospel speak about wind. In the first the Lord tells Elijah to go outside and stand on the mountain. “The Lord will be passing by.” Elijah was taking shelter in a cave from a heavy wind. From the description this wasn’t just a little breeze. This wind was rending mountains and crushing rocks. But Elijah knew that the Lord wasn’t in the wind.

 

There was also an earthquake and then a fire but the Lord wasn’t there either. But then Elijah heard a tiny whispering sound and hid his face in his cloak because he knew that that was the Lord.

 

We’ve heard this story a hundred times. We could almost repeat it from memory. But what does it mean to us today? The wind and the earthquake and the fire represent all the things the secular world throws at us. Television, movies, the Internet—these are all things represented by the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. They’re loud. They’re intrusive. If we let them they drown out the voice of God.

 

If we’re going to be disciples, and remember disciple means student, then we have to find a way to drown out all the distractions. We have to take time to listen to that tiny, whispering voice.

One way to do that is what most of us are doing right now. We come into God’s house to listen to his word. I say most of us because some of us have our minds a hundred miles away. We’re distracted by a lot of different things and we need to learn to focus on what’s right here in front of us. This hour is God’s time. “This is my beloved Son! Listen to Him!”

 

The chapel is usually open at 4:00. If you need some quiet time in the presence of God come early. Sit and pray on whatever’s bothering you or just reflect on the lives of the saints depicted in our statues. There are more than forty of them so you’ll have material for a lot of Saturdays. The rest of promise to be as quiet as we can.

 

Then we have to make quiet time the other six days to listen to His Voice. Set aside time each day to pray. And when you pray, don’t treat God like some supernatural Santa Clause. “Give me this! Give me that! Give me patience and do it NOW!” Sometimes we have to shut up and listen. Remember that Jesus taught us to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread and deliver us from evil.” The rest of Jesus’ prayer focuses on God, not on stuff.

 

In Matthew’s Gospel we find the wind analogy used in another way. The Apostles are in a boat and the wind is tossing it one way and then another. The men were afraid just like you and would be in the same situation. Picture yourself in that boat and imagine how afraid you would be.

 

But, then, here comes Jesus strolling across the water. That scared the Apostles even more. They thought He was a ghost. Remember that every time Jesus did something amazing it was something that had never been done before. So again, put yourself in that boat. There’s a raging storm and some guy is walking across the water toward you. Who wouldn’t think it was a ghost? But Jesus calls out to them, “Hey, guys! It’s Me Jesus, not a ghost.”

 

So then Peter, good old goofy Peter says, “Lord, if it’s really you, command me to walk on the water, too.” Jesus tells him to come on, and he actually does walk on the water for a little while. But then he gets scared and starts to sink. He calls out to Jesus to save him. “Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter and said to him, “O you of little faith why did you doubt”

 

He’s talking to you and me. With Jesus’ help we can do anything. But aren’t we like Peter sometimes? We know we can do something with God’s help but we get scared and wimp out. Faith is belief in something when we have no proof. We have faith in God. At least we say we do. But when we’re faced with a challenge, do we have faith that He’ll see us through or do our doubts and get the better of us, like poor Peter.

 

Alcoholics Anonymous has cured millions of hopeless drunks with their twelve step program based on faith. Face it, when most people show up at AA’s door they’re not carrying a Bible and quoting scripture. They’ve hit bottom and may think God has abandoned them. But AA has shown over the years that the person most likely to help an alcoholic is another alcoholic. And no matter how little faith the new person may have in God, the evidence of his or her sponsor will eventually lead them to faith. For many AAs, the road to a cure is like walking on water. With faith it can be done.

 

Some of us have more faith in the local baseball team than we do in God. Weren’t we all sure when the Cardinals were struggling that they’d find a way to come back? Now they’re just a game out of first place. Was it Rally Cat? Maybe. A few years ago it was a squirrel. Don’t we sometimes put our faith in the strangest things?

 

Put your faith in God and you can do anything, even walk on water.

Happy Birthday, America!

This is the homily I gave this weekend.  Enjoy!  And, enjoy your holiday!

 

American Flag“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

 

This line is from the Declaration of Independence.  We all know it, but do we ever really think about it?  This weekend we celebrate the birthday of our country.  A lot of us will go on picnics, or go to ballgames, or go to the lake.  There will be barbecue, and everything that goes with it, and a lot of beer.  There will be days off work. There’s nothing wrong with that.  Except for the lake and the beer, I plan to do some of these things myself.

 

But what about the meaning of Independence Day?  We’re living in a time when so many people take our freedoms for granted.  The Declaration ends with the words, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

 

This small group of men was setting about an almost impossible task.  We were going to war with Great Britain, the most powerful military force on the planet.  If we had lost, and without the protection of Almighty God we almost surely would have lost, these men were pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.  They would certainly all have been killed.  Their families would have been killed.  Their property would have taken away.  And, instead of being remembered as American heroes, we’d remember them as British traitors.

 

But they had faith.  Don’t let anyone tell you they didn’t.  God’s name is all over the writings of these men.  

 

Speaking about our Constitution, James Madison wrote, “It is impossible for any honest person not to be astonished (that the Constitution had been created in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles).  It is impossible for the religious man not to once again perceive the finger of that Almighty Hand that so frequently and notably extended relief to us during the critical stages of the Revolution.”

 

No reasonable person, religious or not, could believe that this handful of farmers and businessmen could create the greatest form of government in the history of the world on their own.  They were blessed, and we’re blessed by a God who wanted us to be an example to all the world.

 

This handful of men from all parts of the colonies, with diverse backgrounds and religions, were actually able to agree on this thing.  There were no filibusters, no demonstrations, no walkouts.  They just did it.  The Holy Spirit had to be involved.  Today’s politicians can’t even agree on when to go to lunch.

 

Sadly, we’re living in a time when so many people take our freedoms for granted.  People from all over the world are literally dying to come here.  Many of them can’t even comprehend our lifestyle.  We can go wherever we want.  Do whatever we want (within reason) and say just about anything we want.  We may not realize it but that’s not true in a lot of other countries.    Sadly, it’s those freedoms that may be our undoing.

 

In Christian charity, we have welcomed people from all over the world to join us.  Now many of those people are attacking our Christian principles.  We can’t have the Ten Commandments in our courthouses.  We can’t have Nativity scenes on public property.  People who work in retail stores aren’t even supposed to wish us a Merry Christmas.  Where’s it all going to end?

 

As Catholic Christians, we belong to one of the few minorities that can be ridiculed without fear.  People can say whatever they want about us and it’s OK.  

“Catholics are all child molesters.”  “Catholics don’t care about anything but abortion.”  “Catholics worship statues.”  “Catholics are cannibals because they eat the Body of Christ.”  The more ridiculous the anti-Catholic statement is, the more people want to chime in.  And, we let them do it.  Look at how Muslims react to anti-Muslim rhetoric.  

They won’t stand for it and we shouldn’t either.

 

The Fourth of July is called “Independence Day” for a reason and it’s not because we get the day off work.  God has made us free.  God has blessed the United States with the most abundant natural resources in the world.  This place couldn’t have happened any other way.  But now, we’re being told that “one nation under God” is discrimination against atheists.  

 

If I go any further, I’m going to really go off on a rant, so I’ll stop now.  I just want to urge you to take some time this weekend to give thanks to God for making you an American.

 

Our ancestors made a terrifying journey across the Atlantic and up the Mississippi to settle in this neighborhood so they could enjoy the freedoms that they didn’t have in their home country.  When they got here they found prejudice against them from the locals who were former immigrants themselves.  Yet this was still way better than they left behind.  Like our founding fathers, they risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

 

While we drink our beer, and eat our barbecue, and watch our ballgames this weekend, let’s not forget the brave men and women who made it possible.

fireworks

 

The Lord’s Prayer

Today’s Gospel introduces us to the Lord’s prayer (if we’ve been living in a cave or on another planet.)  Jesus tells His disciples not to “babble” when they pray.  Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  This is how you pray”

‘Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.’

Since this prayer was given to us by the Lord, we call it “The Lord’s Prayer” or we may call it the “Our Father).  Whatever we call it it’s truly a universal prayer, a catholic prayer.  (catholic with a small “c” means universal.)

It’s often considered a Catholic prayer (capital c) because Catholics are known to memorize certain prayers and trot them out when the occasion calls for them.  More about that in a minute.

If you’ve ever attended a “mixed marriage” between a Catholic and a Protestant you’ve surely noticed that the bride’s family and friends are on one side and the groom’s are on the other.  Of course, if you ever find yourself in such a predicament the first thing to remember is NEVER MAKE EYE CONTACT with anyone on the other side.  But soon you may notice that we’re not all that different.  In fact, at some point in the proceedings both sides will begin saying, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Wow!  We say that prayer too.

The trouble comes when everyone says “but deliver us from evil” and you say “amen” and start to sit down,.  But before your bottom hits the pew you go “Wait a minute!  They’re not stopping!”

So you jump back up and wait for them to finish.  The conclusion is known as a “Doxology” and is not part of the original prayer.  In fact, in the Catholic liturgy, at the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, the priest gives an extended Doxology which concludes with the words (accompanied by the faithful in the pews) “for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.”

But, that’s not what’s important.  What is important is that all Christians pray the same essential prayer, as Jesus taught us.  The Holy Father says the Lord’s Prayer.  Kings and presidents say the Lord’s Prayer.  Ordinary people say the Lord’s Prayer.  And even down-and-out drunks hold hands and recite it at the end of every Alcoholics Annonymous meeting.  It is indeed universal.

Now, about those memorized prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the meal prayer, the bedtime prayer and others.  Catholics are often criticized for our dependence on these “canned” prayers.  Now, there’s not a thing wrong with good extemporaneous prayer.  I know people who can make a meal prayer last fifteen minutes.  But Jesus just told us not to babble.  God knows what we want.  “Bless us O Lord and these gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord” pretty much covers it.

Here’s the thing.  We begin to memorize all these prayers as small children (at least those of you who are cradle Catholics).  They become part of us.  They’re so ingrained in our subconscious that we’re praying them even when we’re not aware of it.  We become the prayer.

When I was in hospital ministry, it wasn’t unusual to have a Catholic patient, near death, maybe even comatose who would move his or her lips when I prayed the Our Father.  Sometimes they would even try to make the sign of the cross.  Their parents had no idea when they taught them those prayers eighty years ago that those prayers would carry them into the next life.  This is pretty strong stuff.  So never be embarrassed by all those prayers you learned as a child.  Someday they will come in handy.

Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent

Help us this Lenten season to listen more frequently to your word, that we may celebrate the solemnity of Easter with greater love for Christ, our paschal sacrifice.

This is one of the petitions from this morning’s Liturgy of the Hours.  While it’s a short prayer, it certainly gives a lot to think (and pray) about.

Whatever our Lenten penance, we don’t do it just for the sake of doing it.  Even the traditional  “giving up chocolate for Lent” is supposed to remind us each time we crave chocolate that we are preparing ourselves for Christ’s death and resurrection.  In praying for God’s help to listen more frequently to His word, we aren’t just doing penance.  We are actually preparing ourselves to celebrate Easter with greater love.

There is no shortage of God’s word, especially during Lent.  You don’t have to devote long hours to reading scripture or to sitting in church.  In fact (and this is just my opinion) I believe frequent, short exposure to His word may be much more effective.

Thanks for coming to our blog and have a blessed Lent.

The Lord’s Prayer

Today’s Gospel reading may well be one of the most significant passages in all of Scripture.  Jesus tells His disciples how to pray.

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Then He teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.

When you talk to God, don’t babble.  Too often we treat God like Santa Claus.  Give me this! Give me that!  Give me patience, Lord!  DO IT NOW!

The Lord’s Prayer can be dangerous in that we ask Him to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, but Jesus tells the Disciples this.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

If you’re not ready to forgive then maybe you shouldn’t ask God to treat you the same way.  I’m just sayin…….

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.

4th Sunday of Lent

Laetare—Rejoice!

 

Today we take a break from the more solemn Sundays of Lent and say “rejoice!” For this one day we put away the the purple and bring out the rose. It’s a symbol of the joyful nature of our Catholic faith.

 

Today we hear the famous parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son. It’s a familiar story. We’ve heard it hundreds of times. What can I possibly tell you about it that you haven’t heard before? Probably nothing. But, hey, it’s my job so I’ll give it a try.

 

Starting at the beginning, before we even get into the story of the father and his two sons. Luke tells us that Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and the scribes don’t like it one bit. The tax collectors and sinners are like the Prodigal son and the Pharisees and scribes are like the son who stayed home. We may miss this first paragraph, but it’s the whole reason for the parable. He wants to teach them, and us, an important lesson. The story of the Prodigal son, and his father, and his brother is a story about prayer.

 

So, we begin the actual parable and the younger son says to his father, “Give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” “Me, me, me. It’s all about me.” Admit it. Isn’t this how we pray sometimes? “Give me this. Give me that. Me, me, me.” We’re like the seagulls in the Disney movie who keep saying, “Mine, mine, mine.” All the young son is thinking about is what he thinks he has coming.

 

To our modern ears this young man seems to be just a little greedy. But, in Jesus’ time, his attitude would be considered much worse. In that culture, what the young son is saying to his father is “You’re dead to me. You might as well go ahead and give me my share of the inheritance now.” It was about as hurtful a thing as anyone could say to a parent. But the father, being a good dad, says “yes” and the kid packs up his stuff, takes the money, and leaves home. His prayer has been answered. But, as most of us know, you’d better be careful what you pray for.

 

The kid blows all the money on wine, women, and song. He ends up broke and alone, doing about the worst job any Jew could think of, taking care of pigs. He’s so low,he wishes he could have some of the food that the pigs are getting. He’s hit rock bottom.

 

In modern-day twelve-step programs that’s considered the turning point. When an alcoholic or an addict hits that bottom, then he or she is ready to ask for help. In this young man’s case he realizes that he belongs at home. Maybe dad will treat him as well as he does the hired servants. That’s all he wants. So he heads home. In his mind he practices what he’s going to say. His prepared speech sounds an awful lot like confession, doesn’t it. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. Please take me back.”

 

For the next point we have to shift back into first-century mode again. While the young man is still far off his father sees him coming. That means the wise older man isn’t surprised to see sonny coming back. He’s been waiting and watching for him, just like God waits and watches for you and me when we’ve strayed. He knows we’ll be back eventually. What does the father do? He ran to his son!

 

That was not the protocol in those days. Even the most compassionate father would have seen the boy coming and waited for him, maybe with open arms, but he would have made the son come to him. Not this guy! He ran to meet his son, again just like God runs to meet us when we call out to Him.

 

We know the rest of the story. Father rolls out the red carpet for younger son. Older son is jealous. “When YOUR SON returns you slaughter the fatted calf!” He can’t even bring himself to call the other son his brother. Take that Pharisees and scribes! In your face!

 

This parable has been the subject of several books, probably the best by Henri Nouwen called, surprisingly, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” It’s a good read and sheds more light on this story than I ever possibly could. You should read it.

 

But, here’s what I take from it. The Prodigal son’s prayers are all about himself. “Give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” Sadly for him, he gets what he asks for. When he hits bottom his prayer suddenly changes. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. Please take me back.”

 

When the young man’s prayer becomes focused on his sinfulness, rather than what HE wants, the outcome is a whole lot better. That’s how it works. God answers our prayers when we focus on Him and on others. Not my will, but thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Very simple but very difficult.

 

By now you should have all received your Beyond Sunday information. Please prayerfully consider what you can do to help educate our kids. They’re the future of the faith and they need our help. Every one of us had some kind of Catholic education, either in Catholic school or in PSR. Someone had to pay for that and chances are it wasn’t us. Our parents, our fellow parishioners, and people we didn’t even know made sacrifices so we could get that education. Now, we’re being asked to pay some of that back.

 

In today’s bulletin there’s a list of employers who will match your contribution to Beyond Sunday. Maybe the company you work for or are retired from is on that list. If so, be sure you check the matching gift box on your pledge card.

 

If not, it’s still important to realize that so many big companies, many of them not based in Saint Louis and not run by Catholics, recognize the importance of Catholic schools in our community. They know that our schools produce well-educated, moral young people who make their companies more successful. Hopefully, as Catholics, we recognize the same thing.

 

God told Saint Francis to build His Church. Being a deacon, Francis didn’t quite get the message straight and started hammering nails and cutting boards, actually building church buildings. After a while he realized that that wasn’t what God meant. Build the Church was something entirely different.

 

Over a century ago, Bohemian immigrants started building this church, this physical building so that you and I would have a place to worship in 2016. Today you and I are being asked, like Saint Francis, to build the church, not by physical labor, but by our prayers and our contributions. Let’s not be like the Prodigal son, praying only for ourselves.