24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel is the famous story of Jesus and the disciples on the way to Cessarea Philippi according to Mark. Jesus asks the disciples “who do people say that I am?” They others give give Him a variety of answers but Peter says “You are the Christ.”

The story goes on that Jesus tells them He must be killed and rise again on the third day. There’s a line here that I love. “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” Good old Peter, he’s my hero. He always manages to say and do the wrong things. Who the heck rebukes Jesus? Peter has just said that Jesus is the Christ, now he has the nerve to rebuke Him? He’s calling the Son of God a liar?

Of course Peter pays for his foolishness, just like he always does. Jesus calls him Satan. “Get behind me!” He says. I imagine that Peter knew he’d made a mistake as soon as the words left his mouth. If he was Homer Simpson he would have said “Doh!” But it was too late. I think we can all relate. How often do we say things and right away we realize we’ve made a mistake. But once the words are out there, the damage has been done.

On the other hand, Jesus tells him that he’s thinking like a man and not God. But, what did Jesus expect? Peter was a man. Jesus was God. It seems reasonable that Peter would think the way he did.

If we look at Matthew’s Gospel we find the almost identical story with one difference. In Matthew’s telling of the story Jesus also calls Peter Satan. He also tells him that he’s thinking like a human being. Everything is almost exactly the same. Almost.

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

Jesus acknowledges the fact that Peter has been blessed with knowledge that he couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Isn’t the same thing true for us? We can read all the Scripture we want. We can listen to all the learned Christian speakers of this time and all the time before. But the idea that this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, is the Messiah, the Son of God, doesn’t make sense. It’s not logical. Nothing like this ever happened before or since. Peter’s understanding comes from faith, just like our understanding comes from faith.

Jesus has built His Church on the Rock, Peter. He built it on faith. Peter wasn’t a smart man. We see throughout the Gospels that he was always messing up, saying the wrong thing. That gives you and me hope. Because, in the end, after Peter cut off the Centurian’s ear; after he denied he even knew Jesus, not once, but three times, after the resurrection He told Jesus, not once, but three times that he loved Him. And each time Peter told Jesus he loved Him, Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep. In other words, “Lead my Church.”

Week after week you and I come to church. We hear the readings and the homily. The message doesn’t change. Jesus was the Son of God. He performed miracles. He told us to love one another. But when it’s all said and done, there is no proof that He was who He said He was. We have to have faith. Like Peter, these truths are revealed to us by Jesus’ heavenly Father.

The Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus left us has to move within us or the Bible is just a nice story book written thousands of years ago. If that Spirit isn’t working within us, then we might as well be reading from the Book of Mother Goose.

Sometimes you have to wonder why Jesus didn’t surround Himself with the best and the brightest. Why did He choose tax collectors and fishermen? Why did He pick the Apostle who seemed the least likely to be a leader to be the head of His Church? It’s simple. He did it to give hope to you and me. If these twelve guys could build a church that would grow into the millions of members, they had to have help. And while we aren’t called to judge anyone, we have to feel pretty good about our own chances when we look at the men Jesus chose.

Through baptism and confirmation, we receive that same Holy Spirit. Every one of us is able to spread the Gospel just as well as Peter and the others did. That’s what we’re called to do every single day. All these saints that we venerate in this beautiful church did it, even though most of them were far from perfect Christians. They inspire us to do the same.

So, when we read the Scriptures, when we look at all these men and women whom the Church has declared to be saints, we’re inspired by the words and deeds of these holy people. But we also realize that we have the same opportunity to share the Gospel as they did. And, when we realize that they had the same faults and failings that we do, we have the hope that we can do what they did. We can use the talents and gifts that God has given us and be examples of faith to others.

When we’re tempted to remain silent, maybe afraid that we’re going to look foolish if we speak up, we need to remember that, even in the beginning of the Church, God chose flawed human beings to deliver His message to other flawed human beings. That’s His plan for humanity. You and I are just as much a part of that plan as Peter, or the other Apostles, or any of these saints.

What an awesome God we have! And what an awesome opportunity we have to tell the world about Him through our words and our actions!

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Good Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Merry ChristmasAlright, it’s time for my annual rant.  When are Christians, who happen to be a majority in the United States, going to stand up and defend the faith.  Here we are, getting ready for the birth of Christ, you know, the guy who let Himself be crucified to save us from our sins.  There has never been a greater sacrifice, yet we’re allowing non-Christians deny us our celebration of this greatest day.

First, many  of the largest retailers refuse to recognize Christmas, even though they have no problem selling us tons of stuff.  Signs and ads proclaim “Happy Holidays”, “Seasons Greetings” and other politically correct nonsense while refusing to wish us a Merry Christmas.  Next we have the relatively new phenomenon of “Black Friday” creeping into Thanksgiving.

Of course, the government has joined in the fun by refusing to allow Christmas displays on public property, though that’s been kind of hit-and-miss.  Some places allow it.  Some don’t.  But the attack are getting more serious and at the same time more ridiculous.  Here are just two examples posted by Tod Starnes of Fox News.

Georgia School Confiscates Christmas Cards.  For years the teachers at Brooklet Elementary School have posted Christmas cards outside their classrooms…..until this year.  School administrators have removed the cards calling them “offensive”.  After all some of them contained the word “Christmas” and some featured Nativity scenes

Next, homeowners in Orange County, CA have been ordered to remove their outdoor Christmas lights.  One community is known for their light displays and draw visitors from great distances, similar to “Candy Cane Lane“, here in Saint Louis.  The county claims the lights are “an obstruction” and violate local ordinances.  Give me a break!

Abraham Lincoln once said that America wouldn’t be destroyed by outside forces, but from within.  Complacency is our greatest enemy.  Every little attack on our faith that goes unchallenged adds to the total religious persecution that we’re experiencing right here in the once God-fearing United States.  We need to wake up!  Don’t just accept anti-Christian persecution.  Don’t say, “Oh, it’s just one school.”  or “Hey, it’s just one neighborhood.”  Speak up.

When a store clerk says “happy holidays” smile and say, “Merry Christmas.”  Maybe you don’t like to make a fuss.  Maybe you don’t want to embarrass someone else (or yourself).

Tell it to the Guy hanging on the cross.

Christ the King

Today is the solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year.  Next week we begin a new year with the season of Advent.  The Church calendar follows a very logical progression.  We begin Advent waiting for the coming of the Christ Child.  We follow that with the Christmas season, which begins on December 24, not on the day after Thanksgiving as the retailers and advertisers would like you to believe.

 

After a short period of Ordinary Time we begin the season of Lent, a time of penance and reflection on Christ’s life, which is followed by Holy Week and Easter.  Again, our Easter season begins on Easter Sunday and is followed by a second period of Ordinary Time.  Obviously I’ve left out some things but the point is this.  Everything leads up to this celebration.  The year ends with our recognition that Christ is King! 

 

All through His life on earth people wondered who He was.  Was He a prophet?  Was He the Messiah?  Today we announce with certainty, He is all that and more.  He’s the King of the World!  Everyone, even earthly kings and presidents, answers to Him, whether they like it or not.

 

It’s interesting that the Solemnity of Christ the King is a fairly new feast.  It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  He wanted to affirm the “Kingly dignity of Christ” and to correct the false ideologies of nationalism, materialism, secularism, and anti-clericalism.  Sound familiar?  Let me repeat them:

  • Nationalism
  • Materialism
  • Secularism
  • Anti-clericalism

When he first established this feast, Pius called on the people to boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel and to promote and defend the rights of Christ and His Church against those who were ignoring basic human rights.  Things really haven’t changed much in nearly 90 years, have they?

 

Cardinal Dolan recently wrote to his fellow bishops, “We are united in our resolve to continue to defend our right to live by our faith, and our duty to serve the poor, heal the sick, keep our apostolates strong and faithful, and to insure our people.”

 

Too many people today, just like in Pius XI’s time, seem to have forgotten who Jesus is and who they are.  Remember when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life?”  If He is the truth, then everything He said must be true.  To put it another way, if He ever said anything that wasn’t true, then nothing He said was true because He claimed to betruth.  If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, (and if you don’t, why are you here?) then you have to believe everything He said.  And one thing He said was that He would leave us a Church that’s protected from error by the Holy Spirit.  So……….if you believe in Jesus then you MUST believe in His Church and everything it teaches.  There is no such thing as a “cafeteria Catholic”.  That’s something that the media made up.

 

In the second reading, Paul’s first letter to the Colossians, he writes “He is the image of the invisible God.”   No one has seen God the father, but if you want to know what He looks like, take a good look at Jesus.  That’s what He looks like.  He does not look like George Burns.

 

“All things were created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Remember the creation story in Genesis?  He speaks everything into creation.  “Let there be light!”  Who was He talking to?  John tells us in the beginning of his Gospel.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus is the word!

 

“He is the head of the body, the Church.”

[pause]

In Luke’s Gospel the rulers, the soldiers, and even the thief being crucified along with Christ question Him.  “If you are who you say you are, why don’t you save yourself?”  That’s a good question.  A king should be able to save himself but Jesus didn’t.  Why?  It’s what an earthly king would do.  Because, in addition to being King, He was also an obedient Son.  He knew from the very beginning that this would be His fate.  He was born so He could die for our sins.  But He also knew that this world, as good as it is, is nothing compared to Heaven.  He was the only person who ever walked the earth who knew what heaven is like.  And, He knew that by going back to heaven, He could take us with Him.  Now, that’s a benevolent King!

 

Sadly, as Pius XI recognized in 1925 and as you and I recognize today, some people never learn.  Remember those four things:

  • Nationalism
  • Materialism
  • Secularism
  • Anti-clericalism

They’re even worse today than they were in Pius’ day.  Why?  Because too many people fail to realize that Christ is still King.  He’s King whether we know it or not; whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not.  It doesn’t matter.

I may not believe in the law of gravity.  I may not like the law of gravity.  But if I jump off the roof of this church, I’m going to smash into the concrete sidewalk.  Truth is always truth.  It has nothing to do with my opinion.

 

Remember, Jesus is the truth.  He can’t lie.  And it’s a good thing.  He promises us some pretty good stuff and I, for one, am looking forward to meeting Him face to face.  Long live the King!

 

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #2 The Eucharist


“Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”  John 6:53

I think Jesus is speaking very clearly here even though many of those who heard Him speak didn’t know what to make of this statement.  More ironic is that, twenty centuries later, so many people still don’t get it even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.  Let’s look at the rest of the passage:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

What happened next?  Many of those who heard Him speak walked away from Him.  This was too hard for them to understand; too hard to accept.  Even today, knowing what happened on Holy Thursday, many non-Catholic Christians believe that Jesus was speaking figuratively.  The same people whose faith teaches that everything in the Bible must be taken literally refuse to accept the Real Presence of Jesus Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

But, look at the context.  Jesus had been sent by His Heavenly Father to establish a Church.  Beginning with just twelve Apostles He was gaining a following.  By His words and by His actions, He was gaining new followers every day.  Then He tells them they must eat His flesh and drink His blood and He begins to lose them.  They’re walking away.  If He’d been speaking figuratively wouldn’t it have made sense for Him to say, “Wait!  I didn’t mean you really have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.  It was just a metaphor; a figure of speech.”?  Read on.  He stands by what He’s said and then asks the twelve if they want to leave Him too.  Of course, they say “no”.

Even though the Apostles have faith in Jesus they still must have wondered exactly what He meant by drinking His Blood and eating His flesh.  It had to be the subject of a lot of conversation around the campfire when Jesus wasn’t there.

Fast forward to the feast of the Passover.  Jesus is about to clear up the mystery.  With His Apostles gathered around Him at the Passover table

 He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you. Luke 22:19-20

Aha!  That’s it!  He doesn’t want us to actually bite into His holy flesh and drink the blood that flows from the wound.  He’s created the Eucharist and given the Apostles the ability to turn bread and wine into His Body and Blood.  That ability still exists today in our bishops and priests.  You and I can partake of the Eucharist, His Body and Blood.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  “

As a deacon, I prepare the altar for the priest and stand by his side as he turns ordinary bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood.  I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the elements of the Eucharist look exactly the same after consecration as they did before.  They also taste the same.  Yet you and I know that they’re different.  How do we know?  Because we have faith.  Our understanding of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection tells us that Jesus was incapable of telling a lie.  If we don’t believe everything He said, then we can’t believe anything He said.  If we catch Him in even one lie, then our faith is destroyed.

When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we take him into our very selves.  It’s great to read the Bible, to go to mass, to pray privately, and to do any number of other things that bring us closer to Christ.  But when we receive the Eucharist we aren’t just close to Christ, Christ is within our very bodies.  No one can come closer to God than that.  Frankly, I can’t imagine why anyone would even consider leaving the Catholic Church and giving up such an amazing gift.

Having Christ’s actual presence  circulating in our own bodies is beyond cool.  It’s so awesome that it’s almost indescribable.

[Side note.  If you believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, please show Him the proper respect.  Think about what you’re about to receive.  Follow the Church’s minimal rules on fasting.  Don’t chew gum.  And come to church dressed appropriately.]