11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This weekend’s homily:

We walk by faith and not by sight. That’s what Saint Paul says in today’s second reading. And, he’s right. And not just in the spiritual sense that you might be thinking. When we physically walk, when we put one foot in front of the other to get from here to there, we walk by faith. We have faith we won’t fall on our faces. We have faith we won’t get struck by lighting or hit by a car. Without faith we couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Faith is crucial to our existence.

Of course, Paul IS talking about spiritual faith. Our faith, which we call the Catholic faith, expects us to believe a lot of things that we can’t believe by sight. Last week we celebrated the Body and Blood of Christ as we receive them in the Eucharist. They look like bread and wine. They smell like bread and wine. They taste like bread and wine, but our faith tells us otherwise.

Two weeks ago we celebrated the Holy Trinity, one God, three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can’t understand that intellectually. We must have faith.

In just a little while I’ll be marrying a couple here at Saint John’s. I’ll remind them that a sacramental marriage isn’t just permission for them to live together. We believe that there will be an actual change in them, making them one. It’s another one of those things that we have to see through our faith. They won’t look any different. They’ll still be the same people, but there will be an actual change and the longer they’re together, the more obvious that will be. Those of us who have been married for a long time know it’s true.

There are some other things that our faith teaches. Some are hard to accept just using our puny human minds. Some are a little more obvious. Here are some things that our Church teaches us.

  • Abortion is ALWAYS wrong.
  • The use of artificial birth control is a sin.
  • Cohabitation outside of marriage is a sin.
  • Marriage is only to be between a man and a woman.
  • Homosexual acts are always sinful.
  • You’re supposed to go to mass every week.
  • You should receive the sacrament of reconciliation on a regular basis.
  • The Ten Commandments are not suggestions.

I could go on, but here’s the thing. You can attend mass every week at a lot of Catholic parishes and you would never know these things are part of the faith. Why not? Easy. A lot of priests and deacons don’t like to talk about sin. We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. We don’t want to make anybody mad. God forbid you should stop giving to the church because the truth hits too close to home. Of course, we also don’t want to face our own sins.

All these things are like the mustard seeds that Jesus talks about in the Gospel. They can start small but they can grow very large. See, there’s this guy called Satan. You may remember him. You used to hear a lot about him. But he’s clever. He’s managed to convince a lot of us that he’s not around anymore. Trust me, he is. And like that little mustard seed, once he gets into your life, he’s hard to get rid of. A good public relations man will tell you that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but in Satan’s case he’s done an amazing job of keeping himself out of the limelight. Evidence of his work is all around us, but so many of us just don’t believe he exists. But, I digress.

Jesus didn’t tell this story to teach us about agriculture. He told it to teach us about faith. We have to have it. Everybody has it. Even atheists have faith. It may be misguided, but it’s THEIR faith. They have faith that this life is all there is. Lucky for them, God still loves them like He loves each one of us.

So these seeds we have can be good or bad. Whatever they are, by living our lives we sow these seeds. What we have to ask ourselves is whether we’re sowing good seeds or bad. What kind of faith are we showing to the people around us? It’s not an easy question to face and even harder to answer.

 

 

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19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The following is the homily I gave this past weekend.  Enjoy.

Poor Elijah.  He’s not having a good day.  He’s tired.  He’s discouraged.  He just doesn’t want to go on.  To appreciate how he feels, we have to backtrack a little in his story.  Elijah is the only true prophet in Israel at this time.  In the episode that comes before today’s reading he’s come across 450 false prophets of Baal.  Baal was the god of the Queen, Jezebel.

 

Elijah challenges the false prophets to a kind of barbeque cook off.  Each side would sacrifice a young bull.  Whichever side’s god sent down fire for the sacrifice would be the winner, the true God.

 

Each side got a young bull and began praying to their god to send down fire.  Evidently Baal’s lighter was out of gas, his wood was wet, or he couldn’t find any newspapers to use for kindling because his bull just lay there like a sack of wet laundry.  Meanwhile, Elijah’s bull was consumed by fire.

 

After Baal’s no-show, Elijah had all 450 false prophets put to death.  Needless to say Queen Jezebel wasn’t happy and ordered that Elijah be killed.  The prophet runs for his life and that’s where we pick up the story today.

 

Elijah’s gone a day’s journey into the desert and we find him sitting under a broom tree.  He’s praying for death.  Then he lays down and goes to sleep.

I think at one time or another we’ve all felt like Elijah.  We get tired and discouraged.  We’re surrounded by negativity.  TV and the newspaper are full of bad news.  The economy’s in the dumps.  Unemployment is at record highs.  People are dying in wars and at the hands of ruthless dictators.  Hurricanes and tornados are destroying lives and property.  Who wouldn’t be discouraged?

Crazy people are going on shooting rampages in movie theaters and houses of worship.  Earlier this week, a mosque in Joplin (as if Joplin doesn’t have enough problems) was burned to the ground.

 

As Catholics our faith is constantly under attack.  Our own government is telling us what we should believe and how we should practice our faith.  Just up Broadway a group of religious sisters is meeting to decide whether or not they should obey the Holy Father.  In Friday’s paper, the GOSSIP COLUMNIST posted an editorial on the sisters’ meeting, as if she knows anything about it.

 

Then there’s the child sex abuse scandal, a story that just won’t go away.  No matter how much good the Church does, no matter how many people we help, the media always come back to the abuse scandal.  Somehow, 40-year-old cases make front page news, meanwhile other cases of abuse involving non-priests get little or no coverage.

 

Things happen in our own lives that can be even more discouraging.  Maybe you, or someone close to you has lost their job.  Maybe you can’t make the mortgage or the car payment.  Maybe your grown children have stopped coming to mass.  Maybe you’re having a hard time praying.  Maybe you don’t think God’s listening to you anyway.

 

It’s enough to even make you want to sit down under a broom tree and pray for death.  I think we can all relate to this reading from the 1st Book of Kings.

 

God answered Elijah’s prayer, but not in the way he expected.  An angel touched him and said “Get up!”  and left him a hearth cake and a jug of water.  But he wasn’t going to be discouraged from his discouragement.  He ate and drank and then lay down again.  But the angel came back and ordered him again to get up again and eat, otherwise the journey would be too long for him.  So, he did as he was told and walked 40 days to the mountain of God.  Notice that the angel didn’t suggest he get up and eat, he (or she) wasn’t giving advice.  The word used in the reading TWICE is “ordered”.  God was demanding that Elijah continue his journey.

 

OK, deacon.  That’s all well and good for Elijah, but what about me?  What do I do when I get discouraged?

The answer to that question is in John’s Gospel.  Jesus tells the Jews, “I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

 

The Jews didn’t understand how this Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, could be the bread that came down from heaven.  It defied everything that they knew.  They knew the story of our first reading.  They had no problem with an angel bringing Elijah food and drink under the broom tree.  The knew all about their ancestors eating the manna that fell from heaven.  But this was something new; something unheard of.  How could this man, whom they had watched grow up in Joseph’s carpenter shop, somehow be bread!?

 

You and I know the answer.  We can sit under a tree for the next month and an angel isn’t going to bring us anything to eat and drink.  We can stand in the desert until the cows come home and manna’s not going to fall from the sky.  If we want to receive nourishment for our journey, all we have to do is walk up to this altar.  God gives us everything we need to make the journey.  It’s called the Eucharist.

 

That’s how we deal with discouragement.  That’s how we face the realities of living in the 21st century.  That’s how we get the strength we need.  Just walk down this aisle.  When Father or I say to you “The Body of Christ” and you say “AMEN”, you’re acknowledging that Christ is truly present in the consecrated host.

 

Now I’m going to say something that may seem as outrageous to you as Christ’s words may have seemed to the Jews. But it’s true.  It’s Church teaching and it’s sound theology.  If you don’t believe with every fiber of your being that the consecrated bread is really the body of Christ; if you don’t believe there’s a very real difference between the hosts in this chalice and what’s in the tabernacle, if you don’t know it to be absolutely true, then stay in your seat.  When you respond to the words “The Body of Christ” with the word “AMEN”, if you don’t really believe it, than you’re lying to yourself, and worse, you’re lying to Jesus.

 

If you’re not in a state of grace, if your soul isn’t free from sin, stay in your seat until you’ve taken advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation.  Otherwise, you’re just piling sin upon sin.  As Saint Paul said, anyone who receives the Body of Christ unworthily is guilty of the Body of Christ.

 

If you had a cheeseburger ten minutes before you came to mass, stay in your seat.  You’re supposed to fast for one hour before you receive the Lord into your body.  Considering the pre-Vatican II regulations about receiving the Eucharist, an hour really isn’t much to ask.

 

If you and I are going to survive in a world that offers us very little encouragement, we NEED the Eucharist.  It IS the true Body and Blood of our Savior and He gave it for you and me.

 

 

 

 

 

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #25 We ARE the Body of Christ

Everyone likes to belong to a group.  As Catholics, we belong to the largest family of all, the body of Christ.

There are over a billion Catholics around the world and we all pray together.  And that’s not all!  There’s more???  Yes there is.  Not only do we pray with all those other Catholics, we pray with “all the angels and saints.”  That’s HUGE!  Think about what we say in the Penitential Rite:

Therefore I ask blessed Mary, ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord, our God.

In one simple sentence, we’re flooding heaven with prayers.  Every Sunday hundreds of millions of Catholics are making that same prayer.  When we ask our brothers and sisters to pray for us, our prayer isn’t limited to just those people who surround us in the physical dimensions of our local church, we’re uniting our voices with every Catholic, in every church in the world;  PLUS all the angels and saints.

I feel sorry for people who say they can worship God without going to mass.  “I can speak to God anywhere, not just in a particular building.”  They’re right, but only up to a point.  Which is better, to pray to God all by myself, or to pray to God along with the entire Church?

Having the entire Body of Christ joining in my prayer makes me a part of the largest family, not just in the world, but in the entire universe.

Isn’t that cool?

The Body and Blood of Christ

Today we celebrate Christ’s greatest gift to mankind, the gift of His Body and Blood that we Catholics receive every time we go to mass (assuming we’re in a state of grace).  Jesus wanted to be a part of us and have us be a part of Him.  Since He knew that He must die for our sins and return to heaven, He left us several means to be with Him in spite of his physical absence.

First was the Church.  He said to Saint Peter at Caeserea Phillipi, “On this rock I will build My Church”.  That church continues to exist today with more than 1 billion members.

On Pentacost He left us the Holy Spirit, our advocate.  We receive this spirit at baptism, at confirmation, and in the anointing of the sick.  Priests and deacons receive the Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.He’s also available to us at any time and any place, waiting to answer our prayers and give us strength.

And He gave us the Eucharist.  In today’s Gospel He told the Jewish crowds that He was the Living Bread.  “Whoever eats this blood will live forever.”  It was at this point that many of his followers turned and walked away.  Many of our protestant brethren will say that Jesus was only speaking symbolically.  He didn’t really mean that His Flesh and Blood were real food and drink.  Even those who believed didn’t run up to Jesus and start gnawing on His arm.  What did He mean?

He tells us what He means at the Last Supper.  He holds up first the bread and then the wine and says “This is my body.”  and “This is my blood……Do this in memory of me.”  This was no “symbol”.  It was the real deal.  What He was saying was, “You eleven men, my Apostles, have the power to turn ordinary food and drink into my body and blood.”  As Nike would say, “Just Do It!”

My fellow Catholics, you and I have the opportunity to become one with the Body of Christ at each and every mass.  That’s what we celebrate today.

I have two questions for you to ask yourself.  Number one, do you appreciate the miracle that takes place at every mass?  Are you in awe of this amazing mystery that we celebrate in our presence.  Two, do you receive Christ’s Body and Blood with the reverence and joy it deserves and three (oops) When was the last time you invited someone to join you in this miraculous meal?

You know the right answers so you can score this little exam for yourself.  The scoring is simple.  If you got all three right you get an A.  Anything less, your faith could use some work.