1st Sunday of Lent

 

Temptation.  It’s everywhere.  We live in a secular world that goes out of its way to discourage us from living Christian lives.  Our kids see things on television, in movies, and even in video games that tempt them to sin.  Prime time television brings things into our living rooms that just a few years ago would have been scandalous and would have never gotten past the censors.  With very few exceptions it seems like anything goes.

 

Today’s Gospel is all about temptation.   Jesus has gone off by himself in the dessert.  Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit led Him into the dessert to be tempted by the devil.  Why in the world would the Holy Spirit do that?  Didn’t Jesus have enough problems already?  But there He was and the devil was waiting for Him.

 

He told Jesus to turn a stone into bread.  But He was fasting and refused to be tempted.  “One does not live on bread alone” Jesus said.  Think about that.  During Lent there are two days when we’re not supposed to eat between meals, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Most of us, those of us 60 or older don’t even have to do that.  Some of you may give up snacking entirely during Lent.  We all know it’s not easy.  The devil tempts us just like he tempted Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will give us the strength to follow a fast if we let Him.

 

Then the devil “showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.”  “All this will be yours if you worship me”, a ridiculous statement if I ever heard one.  Who did Satan think he was kidding?  All these things were already Jesus’.  He had no need for the devil.  But Jesus’ refusal to go along with the evil one was meant as an example for you and me.  How often has he tempted us with things that have no lasting value?  Jesus said, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”  His words are meant for us.  He knew the devil was never going to worship God.  He’d already been thrown out of paradise.

 

Then the devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the temple.  “Throw yourself down from here for it is written, ‘He will command His angels to guard you and:  and with their hands they will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”  Another stupid statement from the prince of lies.  Jesus already commanded the angels.  In fact, our responsorial Psalm today makes that exact promise to you and me.

 

“For to his angels he has given command about you,

that they guard you in all your ways.

Upon their hands they shall bear you up,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

 

In the first reading today from Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people that God has saved them from their Egyptian captivity and given them a land of milk and honey.  He saved them and He saves us!  In the Gospel Jesus shows us how to save ourselves, by refusing to be tempted by the devil.

 

But Satan is no fool.  He knows what he’s doing.  He’s taking over the world by flying under the radar.  His greatest achievement is convincing so many of us that he doesn’t exist.  How many of us REALLY believe that there’s an evil spirit who wants to take us away from God?  Isn’t it just human nature?  Aren’t we tempted because we’re just imperfect creatures?  No, we’re tempted because there’s a spirit that wants to tempt us.

 

I remember growing up that sometimes in Saturday morning cartoons, a character would be tempted to do something wrong.  Remember Sylvester the cat?  He would be tempted to eat Tweety Bird.  The devil sitting on one shoulder would try to convince him to go ahead and make Tweety his lunch.  The angel on his other shoulder would be begging him to be good and leave Tweety alone.  It was cute and it was funny and the angel would always win because otherwise, there wouldn’t be any more Sylvester and Tweety Bird cartoons.  It was a morality play aimed at five-year-olds.

 

If you really think about it, we’re all Sylvester the cat.  We’re all tempted.  And we all have angels, we may call them our conscience, telling us to do the right thing.  But we’re human and we’re all subject to the temptation to sin.  We have a natural tendency to sin which is called concupiscence. It’s a ten-dollar word that means we’re going to sin unless we call on the grace of Christ to strengthen us.  We need those angels to bear us up lest we dash our foot against the stone.

 

It’s no coincidence that the Church gives us this reading from Luke’s Gospel as we begin the season of Lent.  It’s a time of penance, but it’s also a time of spiritual renewal.  Jesus spent 40 days in the dessert.  He was tempted by the devil but He stood strong.  The last line tells us that “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him FOR A WHILE.”  Even Jesus, the Son of God, was never free from attacks by the evil one.

 

How many people have fallen for the devil’s promises?  He promises them power and glory and they go all in.

 

Just this week we’ve had a wonderful example of someone who is giving up power and glory for the good of his fellow man and for the good of our Church.  Pope Benedict XVI is one of the most powerful men on earth, maybe THE most powerful.  But as he’s gotten older and his body has begun to fail him, he’s going to give it all up to live a life of seclusion because he doesn’t think he has the strength to do the demanding job of leading a billion Catholics.  He didn’t have to retire.  It’s been hundreds of years since a Pope has given up his position.  He could have hung on to the job enjoying all the glory that comes from being the successor to Saint Peter but leaving the actual running of the Church to others.  But that wouldn’t be right.  I can’t even imagine how difficult a decision it must have been.  But here, at the beginning of Lent, he made his choice setting an example for all of us.

 

Imagine giving up a job where hundreds of thousands of the faithful show up to hear you speak; to cheer every word you say, to live a life of total seclusion.

 

Soon a younger man will take Benedict’s place and he’ll live out his life in peace and quiet, spending his days in prayer for you and me.

 

You and I will never have to make such a difficult decision, but we WILL be tempted and we will have to draw on the strength of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t be fooled by Satan who has done a great job of convincing us that he’s not around anymore.  He’s here just a surely and you and I are here.  God promises us an eternity of good things, but the really good things have to wait until we leave this life.  Satan promises us good things too, things that we can enjoy right away.  That’s the trouble with sin.  It’s always disguised as something good.  And it offers immediate gratification.  You and I have to be strong enough to forgo those things that will make us feel good today for a life of never ending bliss that is to come.

So, for the next 40 days we’ll exercise our will power.  We’ll do our penance to remind ourselves that sometimes we have to give up something now for something that is to come.  That’s when we rely on the Holy Spirit and those angels who will bear us up.  Man DOESN’T live by bread alone.  “It is written’ You shall worship the Lord, your God, and Him alone shall you serve.’”

40 Myths About the Catholic Church

Last year during Lent I published a series of posts on 40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic.  It was part of my Lenten penance and if you read all 40 of them, then I suppose it was part of your penance too.  I’m continually surprised when WordPress tells me that people are still reading those posts nearly a year later.  I remember from my secular blogging days that people love lists, so I guess the one-post-per-day format for Lent must have been a success.

“Here’s the thing.  Today is Ash Wednesday and I have a decision to make.  Should I try it again?  If so, what forty things can I write about that people will find interesting, keeping in mind that I’m going to have to keep it up for six weeks?
This Monday, when our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to retire at the end of this month, I noticed that the Catholic-bashers came out in full force.  I also noticed that the justification for their hatred of all things Catholic has little or no basis in fact.  As our beloved Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “No one hates the Catholic Church,  But millions of people hate what they think the Catholic Church is.”  (This is a paraphrase because I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but it’s basically what he said.)

There is so much misinformation out there about Catholics, even among Catholics themselves, that I think this will be a timely and useful series.  I hope you agree.  If you don’t, feel free to comment.  After constructive criticism is why God gave us the “delete” button.  (Just kidding.)  I enjoy the conversation and appreciate the opportunity to learn something.

Stay tuned.

A Pope Retires

benedict eucharistI’ve been watching today as the “experts” come out of the woodwork with their commentaries on Benedict XVI‘s retirement.  It’s amazing how many Kresgin wannabe’s think they can read the man’s mind.  “He’s retiring because the job’s too hard.”  “He’s retiring because of the child abuse scandal.” How about this:  The man is 85 years old!  He’s suffering from the effects of old age.  He wants to spend his remaining time on earth getting ready for the life to come.  I’d like to suggest that the so-called experts get back to us when they’re 85 and let us know if they still want to hold a 24-hour a day job.

The logical next step is for the pundits to make their predictions about who the Cardinals will select to replace Benedict.  It’s amazing how many people think they have some insight on how 120 or so men from all over the world are going to vote.  The common denominator of almost all popes has been that everyone was surprised that they were chosen.  Stop wasting your time trying to predict what the Holy Spirit is going to do!  You’ll just look foolish.

The next big issue is whether the new Pontiff will be “liberal” or “conservative”.  This drives me crazy!  This isn’t politics.  This is the Church created by Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.  When it comes to the teachings of the Church there is no such thing as liberal or conservative.  As  Catholics we have two choices.  We either accept everything the Church teaches or we don’t.  If we choose not to accept 100% of what She teaches, we’re not “liberals”, we’re heretics.  If we choose to override Jesus’ teachings, Jesus’ Church, then we’re trying to make ourselves gods and what that leads to isn’t going to be pretty.

One of those things that we must accept as Catholics is that the Holy Spirit will guide our Cardinals in making the correct choice.  As my son pointed out on facebook today, the Catholic-bashers are already making their presence known.  This (the Pope’s resignation) is just one more excuse for them to hurl their anti-Catholic venom in our direction.  These people are so blinded by hate for what they think the Catholic Church teaches, that they’ll completely miss the  beauty and dignity of the replacement process.  I feel sorry for them.

This is a time of great challenges and great opportunities for the Church.  In the weeks ahead the Cardinals are going to get together and decide who our next Holy Father will be.  Instead of wasting our time reading and listening to people who haven’t the faintest idea what they’re talking about, how about you and I spend some  time on our knees asking the Holy Spirit to guide our Cardinals in making the best choice.  Pray, too, that Benedict XVI will live the remainder of his earthly life in peace, tranquility, and good health.  And pray that whoever the new Pope may be, that we will have the grace and wisdom to listen to what he has to say and give him the respect that his holy office deserves.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Love

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I have no official statistics, but based on my own experience I’d say that at least two out of three couples choose our second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for their wedding ceremony.  And, why not?  It’s the ultimate definition of the word “love”.  But if you read Paul’s letter in context, he’s not writing about married love, or even male/female love.

 

Our reading today is the third in a series from the 14th Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  Remember, two weeks ago we learned that the community was divided.  The people were arguing with one another about who had the greatest spiritual gifts.  “My gift of healing is greater than your gift of prophesy!”  “No my gift of discernment is better than either of your gifts.”  And on and on.

 

Paul reminded them that each gift came from God and that no gift is more important than any other. That was verse 4-11 of the 12th chapter of Paul’s first letter to them.

 

Then last week we read verses 12-30.  Still trying to get them to stop arguing Paul uses the analogy of the body.  Each part of the body makes its special contribution.  The hand isn’t better than the foot and the eye isn’t greater than the ear.  All of the parts have to work together.  If any part suffers, the whole body suffers.  “If one part is honored, all parts share its joy.”

 

In our reading today, Paul wraps up the series by telling them that there is one thing greater than any of the other spiritual gifts and that’s love.

 

In spite of the fact that this is such a popular wedding reading, the kind of love Paul describes isn’t necessarily married love, though the definition fits the love between a man and wife perfectly.  But, notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about holding hands, or sending flowers, or spending the rest of your life with the same person following the sacrament of marriage.

 

No, he’s talking about the kind of love that we’re all supposed to have for one another.  Remember that Jesus told us in the 15th Chapter of John’s Gospel that the greatest love of all is to lay down one’s life for his friends.  He gives us His two great commandments:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  In this passage Paul tells us what Jesus meant.

 

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”   When I was in high school I was in the band.  I was a drummer.  We used gongs and cymbals for marches and big dramatic music.  When we played a ballad or a love song, we put the cymbals away.  Cymbals were loud.  They were noisy.  They only played one single note and that note was always brash and emphatic.  When you play the piano, you tickle the ivories.  You toodle a flute.  You stroke a violin.  But you beat a drum.  Gongs resound and cymbals clash.

 

In other words, no matter how great your gifts, if you don’t have love they’re just so much noise.

 

“If I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”  He’s telling them that none of their gifts are worth a darn without love.  Even if he “gives away everything he owns, and if he hands his body over so that he may boast, but does not have love he gains nothing.”

 

Now comes the good part.  This is the part that the wedding couples really like.  But think of it as not so much about married love but more about this love that Jesus calls us to have for Him and for our neighbor.  It sounds really good but if you think about it, it’s really hard.

 

“Love is patient.”  If you’re married you know this is true.  Jan and I have been married almost 45 years.  She must be the most patient person on earth.

“Love is kind.”  OK, it’s easy to be kind to your wife or your kids.  It may not be so easy to be kind to the homeless person who asks you for money.  Do they really need it or are the running some kind of scam.  Maybe they want the money to buy booze or drugs.  Maybe when you pull out your wallet they’ll pull out a gun and rob you.  No, kindness to strangers isn’t always easy.

“It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude.”  Can any of us really say that we’ve never been jealous, pompous, inflated, or rude?  We may not even mean it.  You may have noticed that I have kind of a dry sense of humor.  Sometimes I say things that I think are funny but that people take the wrong way.  They think I’m being rude.  And frankly, I’ve learned that my being a member of the clergy makes some people think it’s OK to be rude to me.

 

“It does not seek its own interests, Let’s be honest.  Why are we all here today?  We come to mass to praise God and to receive His Body and Blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  But why do we do that?  Because we want to go to heaven.  We’re definitely seeking our own interests by coming to mass.  For mass to be really meaningful for us, it has to be in the context of loving God, not in fulfilling an “obligation” so we can get to heaven.

 

[Love] is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.”  Every time I receive the sacrament of reconciliation I have to confess that I have a quick temper;  EVERY TIME!  I confess it and I sincerely mean to be better but then something happens that set me off again.  I think I’ve gotten better, but I’m beginning to wonder, at 64 years old, if I’ll ever master my own temper.

 

“Love never fails.”  Paul goes on to explain how the other gifts will fail. Basically he says that as a grown-up he’s given up childish things.  At present, we can’t see clearly.  We only understand partially.  Someday when we meet God face-to-face we’ll understand it all.  But for the time being “faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

 

So, kudos to the young (and not so young) people who choose this reading on their special day.  I hope and pray that they’ll practice what Paul says in their married lives.  But, Paul is really talking to you and me.  You can give your entire fortune to charity but if you’re doing it for the tax deduction and not because you love your fellow man, it’s a hollow gesture.

 

If I have the gift of prophesy but delight in telling people that bad things are coming, I’m a clashing cymbal.  If I have faith to move mountains but don’t have love…….I’m nothing.

 

Paul doesn’t really say anything in this reading about prayer.  But we know that the greatest thing we can do for our neighbors is to pray for them.  Prayer is our best and most important expression of love.  I mentioned in today’s bulletin that our US Bishops have issued a call to prayer for life, marriage, and religious freedom.  Our secular society and even out government are attacking our core beliefs on these issues.  And it’s not just a “Catholic thing”.  It’s a Christian thing.

 

Abortion, same sex “marriage” and the HHS mandate are critical issues in our today.  Every day we kill thousands of babies in this country and no one raises an eyebrow.  Friday the government issued a so-called compromise on the HHS mandate that changed nothing at all.  It seems like every day we see something in the news that undermines the sacrament of marriage.

 

I don’t think most of us are inclined to join marches or protests.  It’s just not our style.  But we can all pray.  At the bishop’s request, we will be having a monthly holy hour, maybe an even longer period of Eucharistic Adoration every month.  But even if you don’t attend, you can still pray for our country.  Pray for an end to abortion.  Pray for the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage.  Pray that common sense and decency will prevail and religious institutions will not be forced to provide services that violate our beliefs.  Most of all, pray for the courage and the conviction to speak out against evil every chance you get.  And most of all, as Saint Paul tells us, do it with love.

 

 

I Don’t Need to go to Mass

It seems that we hear this comment more and more often.  Sadly the people claiming they don’t need to go to mass call themselves “Catholics”.  What they don’t realize is that they’re harming their own souls and they’re harming the Church they claim to belong to.  “OK, deacon, I can see how they might be hurting their souls, but how are they hurting the Church?”

Let’s start with the fallacy of their reasoning.  The Ten Commandments tell us to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  For the Hebrew people for whom this commandment was intended, that meant much more than our current Christian practices.  For them the Sabbath began at sundown the night before and ended at sundown of the Sabbath itself.  For the Jews that meant no work of any kind and a lot of time spent in the synagogue.  Our measly one hour mass on your choice of days (Saturday or Sunday) seems rather pitiful by comparison.  But, for now, that’s what the Church asks of us.

“But who died and left the Church in charge of my life?”  Simple:  Jesus died and left the Church in charge.  He said to Peter, “You are rock and on this rock I will build my church.”  Then He said to Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you hears me.”  Some critics will say that Jesus was speaking only to the twelve and that this authority doesn’t apply to today’s church.

Well, take a look at what the eleven remaining Apostles did after Judas’ and Jesus’ death.  They were alone and afraid.  They were hiding out because their lives were in danger.  Yet they took time to appoint another Apostle to take Jesus’ place.  Clearly they had the authority to do that and they felt that it was an urgent need.  There had to be twelve.  It was the beginning of Apostolic succession.  New Apostles (bishops) are appointed and ordained by existing bishops.

I wrote this just the other day, “If you don’t believe everything Jesus said then He’s a liar and you can’t believe anything He said.”  I’d add to that that if you don’t believe everything He said, then you shouldn’t call yourself a Catholic.  Doing so makes you a liar because you don’t believe what Catholics believe.  You can paint white stripes on a black horse but it doesn’t make him a zebra, even if he says he is.

Here’s another thing that these so-called Catholics overlook.  Jesus left us with the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus’ very body and blood.  There’s only one place you can get it (with a few exceptions like hospitals and prisons) and that’s at mass.  You must attend mass to put yourself in the proper frame of mind to receive the gift of Jesus Christ both in the Word and in the Eucharist.  If you don’t see the value of that, or if, God forbid, you don’t believe He’s really there, then there is a serious gap in your Catholic education.

Here’s the thing.  If Jesus came back.  If He made appearances on television and invited you to come to Him, what would you do?  If you knew that He was going to show up at a local stadium and save everyone in attendance wouldn’t you put on your best clothes and go to that stadium hours early to be sure you got in.  Even if He was going to be 100 or 200 miles away, wouldn’t you make the trip?

Yet He does show up every Sunday in your local parish church.  You don’t have to drive 200 miles.  You don’t have to get there hours early.  You don’t even have to dress up (though that would be nice).  Jesus has made this salvation thing so easy it’s not out of the reach of anyone.  Yet 70% of the people who call themselves “Catholic” can’t be bothered to show up at His house for one hour once a week.

I want to go to heaven.  I want you to go to heaven.  I want everybody to go to heaven.  Jesus has given us this gift.  Does it really seem like such a burden to show up at His house once a week and say “thank you”?

Believe me, I’ve heard all the arguments.  In fact, for several years I used them myself.  “I don’t need to go to church.”  “I can talk to God anywhere I am.”  “Why do I have to go to a special building?”  You can’t kid me because I’ve been there.  Besides, you don’t have to kid me.  I’m not the one who’s going to be there at the final judgment looking you in the eye and asking “Where were you?”  Fortunately for me, I woke up before it was too late.

I know that I’m preaching to the choir here.  I doubt that anyone who reads this blog isn’t a regular church-goer.  But the statistics tell us that someone you love who has stopped going to mass.  You can give them a great gift by encouraging them to come back to the Church.  Feel free to share this post with them.  Maybe if they won’t listen to you, they’ll listen to a third party.  Whatever we do, it’s vital that we reach the ones we love before it’s too late.

Now to the second question, “How are these nominal (name only) Catholics hurting the Church?”  That’s simple.  Jesus didn’t just tell us what to do, He led by example.  Non-Catholics, especially those who have an axe to grind with the Church, look at everyone who calls themselves Catholic trying to catch us doing something wrong.  When people who don’t go to mass, people who say abortion is ok, people who constantly criticize the Church claim to be members it gives our enemies the ammunition they need to attack the Church.

You’ve heard the statistics.  “Most Catholics don’t support the Church’s position on ___________________ (fill in the blank).”  If that’s true then the Church must be wrong.  The trouble is that pollsters ask respondents to self-identify their religious affiliation.  If they phrased the question differently, asking if the person was a regular mass attendee the results would be much different.  Sadly, many of these former Catholics have a problem with the Church.  To tell an interviewer that they belong to the Church but disagree with its teachings may be their little act of defiance.

Bottom line, from a former nominal Catholic, nothing can substitute for attending mass and receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  Thats where Jesus is and that’s where we should be.

See you in Church!

Follow Up

musialYesterday I posted a homily about being a great Catholic.  Yesterday Saint Louis, and all of America, lost one of the greatest;  Stanley Frank Musial.  Stan was a man, no he was The Man, who used the gifts that God gave him and never was willing to accept the praise that he received.  Everyone who knew him says he was a humble man, a considerate man, and a man of faith.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan tells us that one of Stan’s greatest thrill in his amazing life was being able to meet his fellow Pole, Pope John Paul II.

I never had the privilege of meeting The Man but I know people who did and the reaction is always the same.  He was a great human being. He carried a box of autographed memorabilia in the trunk of his car which he handed out freely to anyone he met.

I was blessed to see him play on television and in person.  He was my hero.  In fact, when I was a kid I used to play baseball in the back yard with my neighbor, Freddy Vincent.  He was always Kenny Boyer and I was Stan.  I even batted left-handed, and I can’t do anything left-handed.  Of course, I wasn’t very good batting right-handed either.  You might wonder why I always got to be Stan.  That’s easy.  It was my yard and my ball.  Freddy’s yard wasn’t big enough to play even two-player baseball.

Our city, and much of Major League Baseball will be in mourning for quite a while.  We share a great loss.  But Jesus’ baseball team has just gotten a huge boost.  The only question is whether he’ll play first base or in the outfield.  One thing is for sure, his beloved wife of 70+ years, Lillian Musial,  will be in the stands cheering him on.

RIP, Stan the Man.

Here’s an interesting footnote.  Last night the Saint Louis Blues opened their shortened season at home.  There were a lot of baseball people at the game, in town for the Cardinals winter fan event.  Musial wore number 6.  The Blues beat the Red Wings 6-0.  Coincidence?  What do you think?

perfect warrior

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time–Thou Shall Not Kill

If you pick up a newspaper or turn on the news on television, you can’t help but be a little dismayed; a little frustrated.  The problems in the world, and here in the United States, seem to be so big and complicated that they can never be fixed.  How do you deal with TRILLIONS of dollars of debt?  How do you resolve the problems in the middle east that were going on even before Jesus walked the earth?  How do you stop crazy people from shooting school children?  What’s an individual like you or me supposed to do?

 

I think we start by doing what Father Paul suggested last week.  You and I have to become great Catholics.  As Matthew Kelly says in his book, Rediscovering Catholicism, we have to become the best version of ourselves that we can be.  But the $64,000 question is what does that mean?  What are you and I supposed to do?

 

Here’s what it doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean trying to be a copy of someone else.  We’re surrounded by great saints in our church.  It’s good to study them for inspiration.  But we can’t BE them.

 

All the way in the back are Saint Louis IX and Saint Wenceslas.  They were kings.  I hate to burst your bubble or shatter your dreams, but I can almost guarantee that none of us is ever going to be a king, or queen.

 

Some of our saints were martyrs, including our patron, Saint John Nepomuk.  Martyrdom is kind of an express lane to heaven but chances are that none of us is going to be murdered for the faith.

 

Saint Albert and Saint Ludmilla were also martyrs.  Agnes of Bohemia helped establish the Poor Clares.  Every one of these saints has a story and none of us will ever be them.  If we try, we’ll just be a poor imitation.  It’s very seldom that we recognize the SECOND person to do anything.

 

OK, that’s what it DOESN’T mean but the question is still on the table.  What DOES it mean.   Maybe the answer’s in today’s readings.

The first reading is from the latter part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.”  How does this passage apply to us today?

Further on he says, “no more shall people call you ‘forsaken’ or your land ‘desolate, but you shall be called ‘my delight’ and your land ‘espoused’.  Most of us are old enough to remember when the United States was the moral leader of the entire world.  It wasn’t that long ago.  We were “one nation under God” with liberty and justice for all.  Our ancestors, including the people who built the church you’re sitting in today, made dangerous, treacherous, trips across the ocean to come to America.  They didn’t come here for the food.  They came here because this was a place where they could live and prosper.  I wonder what they would think of their new home today?

“I will not be silent…..I will not be quiet.”

 

In the second reading Saint Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth.  The Corinthian community was bitterly divided.  They were divided on the economy, on whether or not they had to follow Jewish dietary laws, even whether women should cover their heads while they prayed.  Like the United States today, there was no middle ground.  Everybody was fighting with everybody.

 

The biggest issue for the Corinthians was about using spiritual gifts.  “My gift of healing is greater than your faith.”  “My mighty deeds are greater than your gift of prophesy.”  “My gift of discernment is greater than your gift of speaking in tongues.”  And on and on.

 

What Paul is telling them (and us) is that every gift from God is equal in His eyes. After all, He’s the one who gave them to us.  And He gave them to us for a reason.  If you have the gift of healing, that’s great.  Use it!  But just because you’ve received this gift from God doesn’t make you better than anyone else.  If you’re a prophet, then prophesy.  It’s a great gift, but that’s what it is; a gift.  The prophet is no more or less important than the speaker of tongues.  Stop being divisive!  Work together! “One and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as He wishes.”

 

Last, but definitely not least we have the famous Gospel story of Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana.  It’s His first miracle.  It’s a good lesson in humility for all of us sons and daughters.  Jesus wasn’t ready to enter public life.  “My hour has not yet come”, He says.  So, why does He perform the miracle.  Because his mother told him to.  He was the Son of God, the third person of the Trinity.  He was there when the world began.  But like any obedient son, He listened to His mother.  What does Mary say to the servers?  “Do whatever He tells you.”  Exactly what she says to us.

 

So, there’s our answer.  Be the best Catholic you can be.  Don’t try to be some kind of “super Catholic”, just be the best you can be with the gifts that God has given you.  He gave us our gifts for a reason.  Use them.

 

Don’t be silent.  Don’t be quiet.  Build up the kingdom one person at a time.  It may seem like an insurmountable task but remember that there were TWELVE Apostles.  Today there are over a billion Christians.  The Apostles had no television.  They had no Internet.  Just twelve guys traveling around the Middle East telling Jesus’ story.  And look at what they accomplished.  I don’t know if the Apostles were so successful because of the works that they did, or if it was because of their prayer.  I suspect it was a combination of the two.  They didn’t do anything that you and I can’t do.

 

Use your gifts, whatever they are.  Paul tells us that every gift is equal in the eyes of God.  Whatever you do, don’t be envious of someone else’s gifts.  We’re all better at some things than at others.

 

Finally, “Do whatever He tells you.”  That’s what’s wrong with the world today.  Too many people, including so-called Christians, have forgotten what He told us and continues to tell us.  There’s a great debate right now about guns.  Should we have them?  Shouldn’t we have them?  Are there some kinds of guns that nobody should have?  By way of full disclosure, I belong to the NRA.  I enjoy going to the range once-in-a-while to blow holes in paper targets.  I actually find it relaxing.  But I don’t hunt.  I don’t see the enjoyment in killing other creatures for fun.  I don’t care if you do.  In fact I applaud you for helping control the animal population.  If you kill an animal for food, there’s no problem with that.  If God didn’t intend for us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them taste good. Hunting’s just not my thing.

 

But, I also believe in a God who told us “Thou shall not kill.”  If we all believed that, then it wouldn’t matter if nobody had a gun or if everybody had a gun.  With very few exceptions it’s NEVER OK to take a human life.

 

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the tragic Roe vs. Wade decision. More than one million unborn children are killed in the United States every year.  There are no guns involved; just medical tools.  By comparison, there are about 16,000 homicides each year, about 11,000 involving a gun.  If you do the math, that means that for every person shot to death in our country, 91 unborn children are killed before they have a chance to draw their first breath.  Maybe we need to teach people to value EVERY human life before we attempt to solve one particular form of murder.  Do you really think it’s just a coincidence that most of our national problems have come about since we made abortion the law of the land?

 

There are nine other commandments that, if we all followed them, this would be a much better world.  That’s where we have to begin.  We have to live the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and the Beatitudes ourselves.  Then either by word or by example, we need to pass those values on to others.

 

Our greatest mission in life should be to take others with us to heaven.  The government isn’t going to do it.  The Church has to do it and the Church is you and me.  If just twelve men could grow the Church in spite of huge opposition, there’s no reason why we can’t do the same today.  There are more than twelve of us here today.  We have to remember that anything is possible with God.  If we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in a better world, it’s up to us to get the ball rolling.  We owe it to them and we owe it to our ancestors who built this church for us.

Epiphany

Epiphany!  The dictionary defines it as a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.  That’s definitely what we have today.  The Magi came from a far land to worship the newborn king, the Baby Jesus.  A star led them to Bethlehem and to the manger where Jesus lay.

Every year we put up the crib before Christmas.  Then we symbolically place the figure of the baby in the manger on Christmas Eve.  Today we complete the picture with the arrival of the figures of the three kings.  There’s one more week of the Christmas season which ends with the baptism of Jesus.  Next Sunday we’ll take it all down.

There’s a ton of symbolism in the way we celebrate the birth of Christ. We spend four weeks getting ready for Him to come.  Then we have the glorious celebration of His birth on December 25.  On the following Sunday we commemorate the Holy Family.

This one’s a little strange.  All of a sudden Jesus is twelve years old.  He’s separated from Mary and Joseph and they look for Him for three days.  When they finally found Him He said the words that must have broken Joseph’s heart, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?”  The lesson we learn is that apparently Mary and Joseph still weren’t quite sure what to make of this

“Son of God”.  If they did, wouldn’t the temple have been the first place they looked?  Where else did they look for three days?  But I digress.

Getting back to our Liturgical calendar, on January 1 we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  Jesus is a baby again. Sometimes this is called the feast of the circumcision, because that’s how the day’s Gospel ends.  But the emphasis here should be on Mary.  “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”.  Imagine how overwhelmed this young girl must have been.

That brings us to today, the Epiphany; a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.  Seeing a tiny newborn lying in a feeding trough for animals, about as simple and homely an experience as anyone is likely to have, the Magi suddenly, intuitively perceive the reality of what they’re seeing; the Son of God.

We know that the shepherds have seen the child but these men aren’t shepherds.  They’re not even Jews!  They’re powerful kings from a foreign land and they’ve been called by God, led by a star, to be witnesses to the birth of the Messiah.  The Gospel ends with them departing for their own country to deliver the good news of what they’ve seen.

Here’s the thing.  Jesus wasn’t sent just for the Jews.  Paul tells us in the second reading that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.”  He may have been the Messiah that the Jewish people had been waiting for but He was our Messiah too.

You and I can have an epiphany just like the Magi did.  Jesus reveals Himself to us in many ways, usually in ways that we’ll miss if we’re not paying attention.  Someone says or does something that touches your heart.  You pick up a book and something in its pages seems to speak just to you.  Maybe you see a small child or a homeless person and you feel the need to do something.

The other day there was a dog on Telegraph Road.  He must have been hurt because he was running back and forth from one side of the street to the other.  There was a major traffic jam because everyone stopped not wanting to hurt it.  I thought at the time that there was still goodness in the world.  So many people were willing to be late for work rather than take a chance on hitting someone’s pet.

Your epiphany may come in church.  It may come at work.  It may come while you’re driving your car.  You never know.  We have to be paying attention.

Next Sunday we’ll take down the Christmas decorations and return to Ordinary Time.  But even in the taking down there’s symbolism.  The trees and the lights and the manger may be gone, but Jesus remains with us.  We just have to look a little harder to see Him.  Finding Him in the ordinary things of our daily lives is our Epiphany.

This ends my homily but I was listening to Cardinal Dolan’s homily for Sunday and he made an interesting point.  The Magi  were looking for an adult king.  Imagine how surprised they were to find an infant!  You can listen to the Cardinal’s homily here.

4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent

You know that when the characters in Scripture talk to one another, they’re also talking to you and me.  Today’s Gospel is a good example of that.  In the very last line Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

 

Think about that for a second.  Mary is blessed because she believed.  Doesn’t that apply to us?  Aren’t we blessed when we believe.  Think about the famous passage; John 3:16.  “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.”

 

Mary believed.  And you know what?  She gave her only Son too.  You have to think that Mary, like all young women and men, had plans for her life.  There’s no mention in Scripture of Mary having any friends, but you know she did.  They probably giggled and talked like all young girls, planning what their lives would be like.  But Mary was blessed because she believed.

 

How was Mary blessed?  She was blessed to have only one Son who would leave home at the age of thirty and in three short years would be humiliated, tortured, and executed.  The first inkling she would have of all this was when she and Joseph took Jesus to the temple.  Simeon told her that her heart would be pierced.  I don’t think she planned on that.

 

Mary was blessed to never be intimate with her husband.  Blessed Mary, ever virgin.  That had to be an adjustment for Mary AND Joseph.

 

The Holy Family was forced to flee to Egypt and live in exile while Herod tried to find Jesus and kill Him.  Then when they were settled into their new home, the angel came and told them to go back.  Another blessing?

 

Remember when Jesus was twelve years old?  Mary and Jesus took Him to the temple and lost Him.  It was a big caravan and Mary thought He was with Joseph and Joseph thought He was with Mary.  All of us who are parents have probably been separated from one of our kids at one time or another.  Total panic!  Imagine how Mary must have felt losing the Son of God.  I guess that’s another way she was blessed.

 

The point of all this is what it means to be blessed.  We may have a tendency to think of the blessings of this world.  And that’s ok.  I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife, four great kids, and four and a half great grandchildren.  Those are major blessings but they’re also worldly blessings.

 

The blessing we’re all looking for is the blessing of eternal life.  That’s the big one and it doesn’t necessarily come from worldly blessings.  In fact, one man’s blessing may be another man’s curse.  The guy who lives in the big house with the $2,000 suits and the Mercedes Benz in the garage may be miserable.  And, the things he did to get all that stuff may be what keeps him out of heaven.  Blessings we create for ourselves aren’t blessings at all.  Blessings can only come from God.

 

On the other hand, the guy who lives in the mobile home in Jefferson County and drives a beat-up pickup truck, but who goes to church every Sunday and shares what little he has with others is probably on the express train to eternal life.

 

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

 

Here’s the thing.  If we believe anything the Lord tells us then we have to believe everything the Lord tells us.  If anything He says isn’t true then He’s a liar.  And if He’s a liar, then we can’t believe anything He says.

 

In just a matter of hours we’ll begin to celebrate the birth of the Savior.  God sent His Son to save us from our sins.  In His three short years of earthly ministry Jesus gave us some instructions.  His instructions were much simpler that the hundreds of Jewish laws that the people were used to.  Basically He told us to Love Him and to love one another.  He told us He had come to build a Church and Peter would be the rock; the foundation.  He left the Apostles to run the Church.  He told them, “Whoever hears you, hears Me.”  That’s this thing we call the Catholic Church.  He left us the beatitudes and the golden rule.  He left us the Lord’s Prayer.

 

So, as we get ready for the celebration of the greatest event in the history of the world, the almighty God being born as a human baby in a manger in Bethlehem, let’s take Elizabeth’s words to heart.  We may be blessed with great families, or good looks, or great minds.  We may be blessed to live in a nice house and drive a nice car.

 

Or, maybe not.

 

But we’re all blessed with the ability to believe what the Lord has told us.  Whether we believe or not is up to us.

 

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

 

 

 

 

Abortion

OK, I have to do this.  I’ve been thinking about it for several days but today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-45) made my decision for me.  The story is about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  The presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb makes John in Elizabeth’s womb “jump for joy”.  Two unborn infants:  one the Son of God and one the prophet who would go before the Lord to prepare His way.  We’ve heard this story countless times and it may never occur to us that this story could have ended differently.

ABORTION!

Think about it.  Mary was a young girl.  Although she was engaged to Joseph, clearly this wasn’t his child.  “Modern society” would council Mary to terminate the pregnancy.  She was too young to take on such responsibility.  Planned Parenthood would have the “solution” to her “problem”.

Then there’s Elizabeth.  She’s an old lady.  Surely delivering a baby at her advanced age would be very dangerous.  She might even die.  Even if abortion were illegal,  she would fall under the so-called “exception” for danger to the mother’s life.

I’m not saying that anyone is walking around today with God in their womb, or even a prophet.  But who else have we killed?  Maybe the person who would have found the cure for cancer.  Maybe the person who could broker peace in the Middle East.  Maybe the person who could save Twinkies.  We’ve killed millions of children in this country since Roe vs. Wade became law.  If just one percent of those children, and they were children regardless of what the abortion-rights folks call them, if just one percent had been men and women of great promise, imagine what a difference that would have made in the world.  Ten percent or twenty percent?  Who knows?

People ask what’s wrong with this country?  That’s easy.  We’re killing our potential.

What I’m about to say may offend you, but please hear me out.  The tragedy that took place in Newtown, CT is beyond belief.  I can’t begin to imagine how awful that must have been and will continue to be for the parents and loved ones of those who were senselessly murdered.  The outcry has been world-wide as it should be.  Even one child is too many to lose to violence.  But, in the week that’s passed since the Sandy Hook massacre, hundreds of babies have been killed by abortionists and no one bats an eye.  It may be a bit of a stretch, but what if one of the millions of children we’ve killed by abortion was meant to be the person who would have stepped in and prevented the killings at Sandy Hook?  Just a thought.

Where’s the outrage for those children?  Many of the same people who are demanding that the government do something about mass murders support the extermination of millions of kids and call it a “woman’s right”.  Sorry, it just doesn’t make sense to me.