Reflecting like Mary

Merry Christmas! Today is the final day of Christmas, and we use it to celebrate Mary as the Holy Mother of God. The Church wants us to remember that Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is God, and so we can confidently call her the Mother of God. Mary gave God his human flesh. Her “yes” to God was the most important “yes” in human history, because Mary’s “yes” allowed God to become one of us and to save us from sin. Because of all these things, we greatly honor Mary. As if all of these things were not enough, there are even more wonderful things we can say about Mary. She is not simply the Mother of God; she is our mother too! As Jesus suffered on the Cross, he gave her to John and to all of us as the Mother of the Church. As we turn to our earthly mothers for help, protection, and unfailing love, we can also turn to Mary, the Untier of Knots, Refuge of Sinners, and Comfort of the Afflicted, for these same things.

In the Gospel today, it says that Mary kept all these things—that angels announced the conception and birth of her Son, that shepherds and magi worshipped her Son, that the angel told her that Jesus was the Son of the Most High who would take David’s throne and reign forever, that Simeon in the Temple said Jesus was a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, and I’m sure there were other things—Mary kept all of these things and reflected on them in her heart. She did not start bragging on Jesus; she did not begin worrying about how she was going to raise the Son of God. No, Mary reflected on these things in her heart.

What a wonderful example Mary sets for us by doing this! In today’s society, how often do we immediately react to, well, everything? How often do we expect an immediate response or reaction from those around us? I catch myself doing this too. Perhaps in this new calendar year, we would all do well to imitate Mary’s example, and to reflect on things in our hearts. I understand that we can’t reflect on everything. It’s probably not healthy to meditate on which socks to wear on a given day for more than about 10 seconds, but we all most likely be well served to reflect on the things that happen throughout our day. Maybe we could spend 5 or 10 minutes at the end of our day, right before we go to bed, and thank God for his gifts to us that day. We could look at how our actions brought us closer to God or led us away from him. Then, we could ask God to forgive our sins, ask him to help us tomorrow, and go to bed with a clear mind. There are many ways to live a more reflective life, and the practice I just described, called the Examen prayer, is just one.

As we begin this new year, let us strive to grow closer to God. Let us allow him to enter into all our decisions. This year, as Moses and Aaron prayed for the Israelites, I pray for you that The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! (Numbers 6:24-26)

Today’s Readings:
January 1, 2019
Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

The Temple Example

Merry Christmas! Catholics celebrate 8 days of Christmas, ending on New Year’s Day with the celebration of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Christmas isn’t over yet! During this week the Church asks us to meditate on the mysteries of Jesus’s early life. Today, on the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we hear the story of the Finding in the Temple.

This Gospel account must be terrifying for parents. Joseph and Mary lose track of Jesus. They assume he’s with relatives, when in fact he’s been teaching in the Temple. It would be something like traveling to Kansas City for a Chiefs game with some family, getting to Emporia, and realizing that Little Billy isn’t in Uncle Bob’s car, like you thought. Then you return to Kansas City, and after several hours discover that Little Billy is in the locker room, showing the Patrick Mahomes how to throw a football.

What astonishes me about this event in the Gospel is what happens at the end. Jesus returns home with his parents and was obedient to them. Jesus is teaching the teachers in the Temple—this would be something like a 12 year old teaching theology to the Pope—and then he returns home with his family and is obedient to them. God the Son, the Creator of the Universe was obedient to his human parents.

I guess God takes the 4th Commandment pretty seriously.

In case you’re a little fuzzy on the commandments, the fourth is, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12 NRSVCE) When the Israelites were first given this commandment, they understood this as physical land of Israel, and the long days meant a long life on earth. We now know more. God has promised us a home in Heaven, and those long days refer to eternal life. So this commandment could be rephrased: honor your parents, so that you may enter into eternal life with God in Heaven.

I think that this can be one of the harder commandments to keep, but we must do our best. Our parents, in cooperation with God, gave us the gift of life. They raised us and taught us. For these gifts, we owe our parents a debt that we can never repay. Now, I realize that some parents are truly unfit for the job, perhaps due to mental illness or addiction, and we must protect children, and sometimes ourselves, in these cases. It’s a tragedy, really, and that’s not how it should be. In these cases, honoring our parents looks very different and can be incredibly difficult, but we can still do it. God calls us to do the hard things, and trust that he will help us. Getting back to my point, God has called us to honor our parents. They assisted God with giving us the gift of life; so, He reminds us that we owe our existence to them, and he calls us to honor them. God isn’t asking us to do something he was not willing to do, since he did it himself.

We also learn about the role of parents today. Parents have authority over their children, but we mustn’t forget Uncle Ben’s final lesson to Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Parents have responsibility to love their children, and St. Paul goes so far as to tell fathers not to provoke their children. Parental responsibility is more involved than this, though. Parents must teach their children about God. They must by their words and examples teach their children who God is and how to love him. They must teach their children God’s commandments and his Gospel. They must show their children how to pray to God and to worship him. This might mean that you have to study your faith a little bit, but it is worth it! Knowing our faith makes us better Christians, and it helps us to love God more.

When we die, we will meet God. When we meet God, he is going to ask us how we lived our lives, and how we live our lives will determine how we spend our eternity. God doesn’t make this judgment based on what other people do. He makes this judgment based on our actions. May all the parents here be able to say confidently to God, “I taught my children wisdom and love for you as well as I was able.” May all of us children here be able to say confidently to God, “I followed your example from the Temple and honored my parents.”

Today’s Readings:
December 30, 2018
Holy Family Sunday
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52 (other options are available)

Rejoice! Jesus Christ is born today!

Adoration of the Child

Note: This homily was given at the Vigil Mass of Christmas. I encourage you to read the readings of the Mass prior to reading for the homily, so that it makes more sense.

Merry Christmas! Thank you for being here to celebrate Christmas with us!

You may be wondering why I read you a huge list of names just now. If I were you, I’d be thinking: “it’s Christmas! What in the world do all these strange names have to do with that? When there is the short option that gets right to the good part, why did he read all these names?”

This is Jesus’s family tree. Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t just appear out of thin air. Jesus had a mother and a father. Jesus had grandparents, great-grandparents, and ancestors who would otherwise be forgotten in the dustbin of history if someone in the family hadn’t bothered to remember them. Jesus Christ had flesh and blood, just like you and me.

These names tell us more than that, though. The people in this list are far from perfect. If you can think of a sin, someone in this list has committed it. Every single one of God’s commandments was broken, often in combinations and with a frequency that would make you think they were getting combination multipliers. What’s worse is that the people in this list are often the kings and leaders of the Israelite people! Even David, the great king of Israel, was guilty of both adultery and murder! I won’t go through all the details, it is Christmas after all, but Jesus’s family tree is full of sinners. Yet, this is the family he chose. God, unlike the rest of us, got to choose which family he entered. He picked a family with a history: some of it good, much of it bad. God picked that broken family, and He entered it. He entered that family not just to save them, but to save the whole world. This long list of names reminds us of our history. God promised Abraham that he would save the world through the Jewish people, and so their history is the history of our salvation. When we learn our history, we see exactly what humanity is capable of doing. But we can hope, too, because we also see that God knows all of this, and he still came to save us.

This long list of names is not pointless at all. We read it because it gives us hope.

We have hope because God became one of us and showed us how to live life.

We have hope because Jesus Christ opened the gates of Heaven and saved us from sin.

We have hope because Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Church, which provides us with the sacraments to save our souls and enter Heaven.

We have hope because no matter how difficult or challenging our lives are, we know that Jesus Christ, who was fully human, experienced it too: God knows how we feel.

We have hope because no matter how awful our leaders are: in the church, in politics, in whatever, we know that God is stronger than them, and he can still save us.

God saw us struggling to find him. He saw us struggling to follow him. God saw our need for a savior. For our sake, as Isaiah said, God could not stay silent. God would not rest until we were vindicated. God will not rest until our victory over sin shines like a burning torch. He loves us too much. Even though we turn away from God, he still loves us more than we can imagine. God did not create us and this universe and all that is in it so that we would fall into sin. God did not create us to die: God created us to live! God created us to live with him. God created us to live forever, in Heaven, with Him. God does not want to be with us for just one hour a week, or for a couple of special holidays in a year: He wants us to be with him now and forever! So, God formulated a plan to save us. This plan was so incredible, so unthinkable, that nobody could have expected it. Even with a thousand years of prophecies, the Jewish people didn’t expect it to happen like it did.

God’s plan to save us was this: he became a human being, one of us. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. Today, we celebrate his birth. Rejoice! Jesus Christ was born today!

Today’s Readings:
December 24, 2018
Christmas – Vigil Mass
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25

God works in little ways

Micah tells us that Bethlehem is too small for anything. It’s a tiny town. The only reason anybody cares about it is because King David was born there. Micah prophesied that a savior would come from this tiny town of Bethlehem. This savior would stand firm and shepherd his people. He would remain with his people forever. He would be peace to the people. By Jesus’s time, the only reason anyone cared about Bethlehem was this prophecy. But we know who came from Bethlehem. The smallest of towns, in God’s hands, turned into the site of the most important event in human history.

God uses small things to change our lives. If we give him a little room to work in our lives, he can make so much of it! This is how all the saints start. They give God a little room to work. Slowly, they grow closer and closer to God, and eventually they become saints! Saint Mother Theresa, for example, started out by helping the poor in Calcutta. She gave God the first couple of hours of her day. In those hours, God transformed her. Her good works transformed her. The entire world—even the non-Catholics—recognized her as a saint. The recognized that God had transformed her. She led a simple, difficult life, but she was full of love and joy.

In addition to the ordinary events of our lives, God comes to us in another “little” way. At Mass, we receive the Eucharist. The Eucharist, which looks like simple bread and wine, is so much more. All of God is present in something that looks like a little tiny piece of bread. From this “little” thing, the Eucharist, comes Communion with God Himself. God enters into us in a physical way, and He transforms us each time we receive the Eucharist.

If you think about the Eucharist, the whole idea is mind-boggling! First off, why would God come into our world as a human being in the first place? Then, why would he give us the Eucharist, which is his own Body and Blood? Why would he die for us? Why would he open the gates of Heaven and send the Spirit out to help us to change our lives? Why would God do this for us, when we are so good at turning our backs on Him?

God loves us. In the greatest love story ever, God conceived of each and every one of us here. He created the universe and everything in it so that we might have a place to live. He has adopted each one of us as his son or daughter, and he longs for us—God longs for us—to live with him as one family in Heaven. When we turned away from him, he didn’t stop loving us. What father or mother stop loving their children when they misbehave? God, the perfect Father, loves us and wants us back. He works in our lives so that we can be happy, so that we can one day live with him forever. God knew we can’t save ourselves: We need help. So, God stepped into history. He became one of us. Jesus was born. In just a few days, we make present again this great mystery. We remember that God loves us so much that he became one of us.

Let us be ready for God to come. Let us prepare our souls for Christmas. Let’s take a step back from the busy holiday schedules we’ve made for ourselves and consider what we are celebrating on Christmas. This might mean that we visit the sacrament of Confession. This might mean that we give up some time and do some charitable work. This might mean that we spend a little bit of time with Jesus in Adoration. Let’s find a small way to let God work in our lives.

Today’s Readings:
December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Rejoice! The Lord is Near!

Rejoice in the Lord always! For hundreds of years we Catholics have read this same passage from Paul on this Third Sunday of Advent.1 If we’ve been reading the same thing for so long on the same day, it must be important. What is Paul saying that the Church wants us to hear in this reading? The Gospel today gives us a clue. John the Baptist reminds us that the mighty one is coming, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, who will separate the wheat from the chaff. The people in the Gospel repeat the question over and over: What should we do?

The people knew that they had to do something to prepare for the Messiah, but they weren’t sure what to do. The people knew that they must be ready for him. Last week we heard the prophecy of Isaiah which told us to prepare the way for the Lord. It told us to straighten the road, to make it smooth and easier for him to travel. While the Jewish people would have originally understood that this is what you actually do when a king visits them, we now can take a new meaning from it. We must cleanse our hearts and our souls and prepare them to receive the Lord at Christmas. We must make a path within our hearts for the Lord, a straight and smooth path upon which he may travel. John tells us that this path is paved with good deeds. We must give to the poor, conduct our business honestly, and not extort others.

This sounds like a lot of work, and it definitely doesn’t seem to be something over which we would normally rejoice. But this work of preparation is just the beginning! John the Baptist was the last of the prophets. He never saw the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord. He was not blinded by Jesus like Paul was. John the Baptist never heard the Good News of the New Covenant: he only had half the story!

Paul knows the whole story. He knew that yes, we must repent of our former lives. He knew that we must die and rise again in Christ. Paul knew that we must always remember the presence of the Lord in our new lives as Christians. The first step to remember the Lord’s presence is to rejoice in the Lord always. We cannot rejoice when we are burdened by our sins and our anxieties. Instead, we must give these up. We must rid ourselves of sin and anxiety and give everything over to God. Paul knew that the world wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. He knew that there were hard times in store for each of us. In fact, in this part of Philippians he is trying to resolve a disagreement between two of his former co-workers and evangelists! This doesn’t stop Paul, though. He tells us to turn everything over to the Lord, and he promises us that the peace of God […] will guard [our] hearts and minds, which Paul knows will help us to press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14 NRSVCE)

During this time of year, the Lord is calling us to be near to him in a special and unique way. We are quickly approaching the celebration of our Lord’s birth. Jesus’s birth reminds us that God became a human being, just like you and me. He had a mom, just like you and me. He had an earthly father, just like you and me. He walked and talked and worked just like you and me! God knows how hard it is to be human. That is why he came to help us. God wants us to live forever with him in Heaven. We were struggling to live the lives necessary to join God in Heaven, and because God loves us, he came down to us and showed us how to do it. This is what the Church reminds us every year when we celebrate Christmas.

But it’s not quite Christmas yet. We still have a little over a week before it gets here. Why is the Church calling us to rejoice now, instead of waiting until Christmas? We must rejoice, because we know that our Lord is coming, and we know why our Lord is coming. We know that he is coming to save us. We know that he is coming to take away all those anxieties that we give him. He is coming to help us to live the good and moral lives that we struggle to live every day. Jesus is coming, and he’s coming very soon. We rejoice because we are nearing the end of our preparation time. If we have been using our time in Advent well, then we have begun to live our lives in a new and better way. We have begun to cast out all our fears and doubts and pains and struggles, and we have begun to give them all back to God. Not only is the Lord coming closer and closer to us in the celebration of Christmas, but he is coming closer and closer to us because we our lives are better reflecting him to others. We are becoming more able to receive God’s love and to enter his Kingdom at the end of our lives. This is cause for rejoicing!

Rejoice! The birth of our Lord and Savior is near!

Today’s Readings
December 16, 2018
3rd Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

Hear, O Israel!

The Wailing Wall

Shema Israel Adonai elohenu Adonai echad!

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

While we may not be very familiar with this passage, the Jewish people of Jesus’s time knew this particular passage of scripture intimately. The Jewish people—to this very day—recite it multiple times a day. This is the scripture passage that they put in their phylacteries. (What is a phylactery? It’s a little boxes Jewish people strap—again, to this day—to their forehead and left arm when they pray.) The Jewish people would know that the passage continues, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.”

Jesus tells us that this is first and greatest commandment, it is the most important instruction Jesus gave us. And what is this instruction? Love God alone. Don’t just love God partially, though, love God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength. Don’t just love him totally but let these words—the words of God’s love—be written on your heart, and let these words write the love of God on the hearts of your children. Don’t be content to teach just your family to love God but teach people in your home town and abroad to love God. Don’t just limit this teaching to special teaching moments but teach people about God’s love, and how they can love him back, every moment of your lives. God loves us more than we could possibly imagine, and today Jesus teaches us that we must love God in return. God has given us so many gifts! The only way we can respond to God’s love is to give him everything we have.

After I completed my engineering degree and had been working for a few years, a nagging question formed in my mind. It was this question of how I could thank God for all he had given me. I had a great job that paid well. I had great friends. I was not in need of anything. I gave my time and money to the church, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite figure out what that was. The question of how I can give back to God kept coming back. It finally dawned on me that the only way I could respond adequately to all the gifts God gives me is to give him everything. God had a plan that he was asking me to follow. I was loving him in many ways, but not fully.

I was not following the command to love God with my whole heart, whole soul, whole mind, and all my strength. How do I love God with my whole heart? Every decision I make should be rooted in my love for God. For example, if by some miracle the Bears went to the Super Bowl, but I had somehow not been to Mass yet that Sunday, how would I decide? Would I watch the amazing new Doritos commercial, or worship my God who gave me everything… including Doritos? How do I love God with my whole soul? The soul is what makes us who we are. It is the core of our being. When Jesus asks us for this, he is asking for us to be willing to give up everything for him. By asking for our soul, Jesus is asking us to live our lives for him, not for money, power, or any passing thing. How do I love God with my mind? Our thinking must be imbued with love for God. We love God with our minds by learning about him, by reading the Bible and good books. We love God with our minds when we marvel at and explore this amazing universe and remember that God built it for us. How do I love God with all my strength? I love God with my strength when I’m willing to do the hard things. When we endure persecution for living our faith, for proclaiming the Good News to the world when they don’t want to hear it, this is loving God with all our strength. Sometimes, it literally means with all your strength. The March for Life, for example, is exhausting. I’m entirely drained when it is over, but I go on it, because God and human lives are important, and this is a way I can show my love for God and neighbor.

How do we begin to love God more? Start small. Ask yourself, how am I giving back to God now? If I volunteer at a homeless shelter, maybe I can spend a little more time there. If God has blessed me with a well-paying job, perhaps I can give a little more to my parish or to a charity like Food for the Poor. If I attend Mass most Sundays but occasionally miss, maybe I can love God by simply making sure I’m at Mass every Sunday. I recognize that there are limits to our time and resources, and I recognize that we all have different talents, but I truly believe that if we really think about it there is something each one of us can do to love God a little more. For me, I think this might take the form of me only watching 13 episodes of Parks and Rec tonight, so that I can get to bed at a decent time. (Kidding!)

In Deuteronomy, this passage ends with, “Take to heart these words I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” God calls us to allow these words to be written on our hearts: the words of God’s love for us and our love for him. These are the words of the New Covenant which was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper. This is the New Covenant we celebrate at every Mass, when ordinary bread and wine become the Real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through the Eucharist, we renew the New Covenant relationship with God that our Baptisms established. The Eucharist strengthens our love for God, because when we receive the Eucharist God Himself is entering into our bodies and transforming us. He transforms us into better people, people who are more fully alive and loving. In the Eucharist, we share in God’s life and love for us.

God loves us. He gives us everything we have. Every time we receive the Eucharist, he gives himself to us in a life-changing way. Let us commit ourselves to loving God every moment of our lives and never allowing anything to come between us and God. Let us live out the words Jesus said in Gethsemane, “Father […], not as I will, but as you will.”

Today’s Readings
November 4, 2018
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28b-34

Made for relationship

God said that it is not good for הָֽאָדָ֖ם (hā-’ā-ḏām) to be alone. That word, האדם, is often translated as “the man,” but the Hebrew meaning is really more like “the human.” God did not create humanity to be alone. He did not want us to be alone. He created us to be in relationship with him. He also recognized that we would need help in learning how to do this. God recognized that other humans, people like us, people made of the same flesh and bones that we are teach us relationship. How we relate with each other affects our relationship with God, and it directly impacts our happiness. The first relationships we encounter are within our families, and they form our understanding of relationships. The foundation of our families is the relationship between the husband and wife. “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The love between a husband and wife is also an image, an example, of God’s faithful love for us.

Unfortunately, sin got into the mix. Men did not understand the dignity of women and treated them as property. Moses saw this hardness in the hearts of his people, so Moses tolerated divorce. Sin further corrupted men and hardened hearts. By Jesus’s time, the major debate was no longer, “How can we overcome sin?” but, “What is the minimum bar for divorce?” Many Jewish rabbis taught, essentially, that no-fault divorce was permissible. When the husband was tired of his wife, he could get rid of her. After Rome took over, the wife was permitted to do the same. Sin has a way of multiplying that.

This is the situation in which we find Jesus today. He gets right to the point. Hardness of hearts—sin—is why Moses tolerated divorce, but God did not create us this way. God created us to love and to be loved by him. Marriage is an image of the always faithful love of God. God loves us so much, he is so faithful to us, that he became one of us and entered into our fallen condition, into the muck of sin, and accepted the punishment that we deserve for our sins in order to repair the relationship between God and us. Jesus came to destroy sin. Divorce existed because of sin. Since Jesus came to destroy sin, he had to destroy divorce also.

Jesus teaches us that two people joined together by God in marriage can never be separated. The question cannot be, “What is the minimum standard for divorce?” but must instead be, “How can we help Jesus destroy sin?” To destroy sin, we must recognize that marriage must always be true and faithful, and that it lasts until death. When a man and a woman say “yes” to each other at marriage, they must mean it. They must remember that “yes” every day of their lives. To deny that “yes” through divorce and remarriage allows sin to win. There are certain situations in which separation and civil divorce is still tolerated, such as abuse, but even in those situations the marriage still exists. Unless we can prove that the marriage didn’t actually happen through what we call the annulment process, Catholics are not allowed to marry again. This prohibition against remarriage can cause deep pain and suffering. We all know someone who has been through a divorce, and we know the pain and suffering involved in the wake of such a tragedy. We might wonder why the Church insists that remarriage is not possible after divorce, why can’t we let someone “move on” with their life? Jesus made it very clear in today’s Gospel reading. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” This is a hard teaching, but God is the one teaching us, so we must follow this teaching.

This teaching is hard to accept in our society. It seems unfair. How can we tell someone that they aren’t allowed to get married again? How can we prevent someone from loving someone new? Unfortunately, our society has a mistaken understanding of happiness. We no longer place Heaven and eternal life as our highest goal. Our society has placed “me” and “right now” as our highest goals. What makes me happy right now? What makes me feel good right now? We have forgotten that we are all in this together. We have forgotten how important relationships are to our happiness here and now, and how important relationships are at bringing us to eternal happiness. We have forgotten that sometimes God does allow us to go through pain and suffering, but I can also tell you that God knows our pain. God became one of us. God, who made us, became incarnate of the Virgin Mary: God became a human being who was named Jesus. For our sake, he suffered. He was crucified by Pontius Pilate. He died and was buried. Then, something amazing happened. He rose from the dead. Jesus showed us that suffering, pain, and, ultimately, death are passing things. Suffering, pain, and death lost. In the end, we can unite all of our pain and suffering with Jesus’s pain and suffering, and he will transform it into new life. The pain which we suffer because of the breakdown of marriages must be united with the pain Jesus felt when his disciples turned away from him and left him. We can take all of that pain and give it to Jesus, and he will transform us. Yes, Jesus asks us to do hard things, and he demands that marriage be faithful for life, but he does not leave us without hope.

At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that we must become like children to enter Heaven. When a child is hurt, who is the first person they run to? They run to someone who loves them unconditionally. Let us be like children. Let us run to the person who loves us more than anyone in the entire universe. Let us run to Jesus. When our relationships are struggling, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When someone hurts us, run to Jesus and ask him to help. When absolutely everything goes wrong, and the world crumbles around us, let us run into the arms of Jesus, who will always say to us, “I love you. I am glad that you are here.”

Lucas Cranach the Younger, Christ blessing the Children, Erfurt Angermuseum
Lucas Cranach the Younger, Christ blessing the Children
Today’s Readings:
October 7, 2018
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

Faith and works

The second reading ends with the line: Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. But I think this is one sentence too early. The next line reads, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” We must have faith to be saved, but what does it mean to have faith?

Having faith is so much more than the simple ability to say, “Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior.” It’s so much more than saying, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” The words are important, don’t get me wrong, but to truly mean those words we say: that is faith. To truly mean those words we say, not only must believe those words in our minds, but we must show that believe those words in our actions.

If I have faith and believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, that should show in how I live my life. Jesus Christ cared about the poor and the lonely, and he helped them when they allowed him to do so. Jesus Christ taught those around him the truth, even when his life was threatened because of it. Jesus Christ showed compassion to the sick and the lame. Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers, and He admonished those who were persistent in sinning. Jesus Christ looked at people, and He loved them. Jesus Christ lived the Gospel. If I believe that he is my God, then shouldn’t my life resemble his? If I believe that he is my God, do I have any right to decide that one of these aspects is more important than the others? Perhaps my natural abilities lead me to teaching others and showing God’s love to people, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore the sick or allow sin to go unchallenged. Jesus did all these things. We aren’t God, so we can’t do everything, but we should at least try!

But this is all if I have faith. This is all if I believe in Jesus Christ. It all depends on how I answer one question. It depends on how I answer the question Jesus asks the disciples today: Who do you say that I am? If Jesus was standing in front of you, and he asked you this question, how would you answer? Think about it. How would you answer the question? Say it to Jesus in your mind and be honest. Jesus doesn’t want to hear what your spouse or religion teacher says about him. He doesn’t want to hear the preconceived notions you have of him. Jesus wants to hear who you say that he is. Is he your friend? Is he the one who will always love you? Jesus can handle whatever you say to him. Let’s take a few seconds, right now, and answer Jesus.

Did you tell him? Were you honest to him?

No matter what you just told him, I think Jesus would say to each one of us, “my child, I love you. I love you so much more than you can imagine. I did not come into this world to condemn you, but so that you may have eternal life, and I have so much more I wish to teach you about myself. You have to take the initiative though.” Then Jesus says to as, as he did to his disciples in the Gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Pope Saint John Paul II said that, “These words denote the radicality of a choice that does not allow for hesitation or second thoughts. It is a demanding requirement that unsettled even the disciples and that, throughout the ages, has held back many men and women from following Christ. […] Even today these words are regarded as a stumbling block and folly (cf. 1 Cor 1: 22-25). Yet they must be faced, because the path outlined by God for his Son is the path to be undertaken by the disciple who has decided to follow Jesus. There are not two paths, but only one: the one trodden by the Master. The disciple cannot invent a different way.” 1

We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, because only this path leads us on the road to eternal life. Only Jesus can offer us Heaven and eternal happiness. Following money, prestige, power, worldly pleasures, or anything that is not Jesus else will result in precisely the opposite: eternal misery and separation from God. Self-denial is hard. Any cross given us is hard. Following Jesus is hard. All those things that Jesus does in the Gospel, and then asks us to do: they’re hard. They are exhausting. They tax us. Flannery O’Connor wrote that “people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it if the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”

Following Jesus is hard. It is taxing. It depends that we do God’s will instead of our own. But we are not alone when we follow Jesus. God is on our side. He will never let us lose our way, as long as we follow his Son as well as we can. Pope Emeritus Benedict says that we have been “created for greatness—for God himself; [we were] created to be filled by God. But [our] heart[s] [are] too small for the greatness to which [they are] destined. [Our hearts] must be stretched.” 2 Because our hearts must be stretched, “the ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.” 3

Friends, let us do the hard things, let us do the great things. We have God on our side, the same God who calls us to be lights to the world. Let us follow Christ, so that he can lead us into eternal life. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

Today’s Readings:
September 16, 2018
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 50:4c-9a; Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

Be prepared

“OK, Jesus. Got the message loud and clear. Be prepared. How should I do that?”

Paul tells us that Christ crucified is a stumbling block. Instead of trying not to stumble on the Passion, why not move forward and stumble on it? When we stumble upon Christ’s Passion, we are forced to ask ourselves the question, “How much must our sin offend God that he had to die for us?”1

In the Office of Readings today, St. Jerome writes, “I bid you not to tend tear your garments but rather to tend your hearts which are laden with sin. Like wineskins, unless they have been cut open, they will burst of their own accord.” We rend our hearts when we experience grievance and disgust over our sins and the offense against God that has been committed.

The consequences of sin should grieve us, but they should also show us God’s love. As we continue to stumble upon Christ’s Passion, after being grieved by the consequences our sins have wrought, another question wells up inside of us: “How much must God love us that he was willing to suffer this Passion for us?”2 God’s love is what put our heart and soul back together, allowing us to grow.

In our act of grief, we give God an avenue through which he can love and heal us. Like physical exercise breaks down our muscles, this spiritual exercise breaks down the sinews of our heart and soul.3 Through our recognition of God’s love for us and our subsequent contrition, confession, and repentance we allow God to rebuild our souls. As God love heals us, we become stronger, faster, and more capable in our own love of God and neighbor.

Today’s Readings:
August 31, 2018
21st Friday of Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 1:17-25; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 10-11; Matthew 25:1-13

The Way, With You

We are already nearing the end of summer. In just a week and a half, I’ll be driving back to school. Going back to school is not exactly my favorite thing to do. I leave my family and friends behind, which is always hard. I leave Wichita and Kansas behind, which, in my opinion, is the best place to be. While I do, actually, kind of like Chicago and my school is pretty decent too, it’s not home. The worst part of it all, though, is that 12-hour drive back. That’s a long drive. I usually make 3 or 4 stops, depending on road condition, how tired I am, how many coffees and/or pops I drank to deal with how tired I was, and how hungry I am… I am always hungry on road trips. Something about driving always makes me hungry. I used to always need a big ‘ole bag of sunflower seeds with me on road trips. Even then, every time I would stop, I had to fight “The battle of the Candy Bars.” Do I buy one? Or do I buy 3?

I might be wrong, but I suspect I’m not the only person who has to fight the battle of the candy bars on road trips. Long trips seem to make us hungry. Perhaps this hearkens back to the days when a journey was something much more treacherous and difficult, when it was harder than jumping into the car or hopping on a plane, when people had to walk the whole way, or, if you were lucky, when you had to ride in ox-pulled wagons down a muddy trail. You would need to eat every chance you got on that sort of trip. If you didn’t bring enough food or couldn’t find more, not only would you never complete your journey, but you could very likely die on the way.

We find Elijah in this situation today. He was frustrated, tired, alone, and ready to quit. He told the Lord, “I’m ready to go, take me now!” What was God’s answer? “It’s good that you’re ready to go, because you’re going on a journey.” God sent an angel with bread and water. The angel wakes Elijah up twice and tells him he must eat to have strength for the journey. This wasn’t just any journey, it was a journey of 40 days. Sidebar: Any time we run into 40 in the Bible, something big is about to happen. It rained for 40 days while Noah was on the ark. Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert after leaving Egypt. Jesus fasted 40 days before beginning his ministry. Big things happen when we se a “40.” What was the big event Elijah was preparing for? Elijah had been sent to Mount Horeb. On that mountain, in a cave on that high place, he encountered God in the faintest whisper.

God calls each of us to make our own journey to listen to him speak to us in the faintest whisper. Our lives on this earth are the first part of this journey. In this life, we learn to hear God’s voice and to follow it, we learn to love God and our neighbor, and we learn to live a life full of the virtues—virtues which reflect God to those around us. In a very real way, we are on a journey to living the Christian life. Also in a very real way, God gives us food for this journey. This food sustains our souls and makes the journey possible. This food is the Eucharist, the Bread of Life. God himself is our food for this journey: God personally sustains each of us on our journey to him. Jesus sustains us on our journey to the Father, because only through Jesus can we reach the Father.

Jesus says that “whoever believes has eternal life.” Whoever believes in Jesus, whoever believes that we must live a life following Jesus’s example, whoever believes that Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist, whoever believes Jesus when he says, “I am the Bread of Life,” and then receives Him, will have eternal life. If we do not believe Jesus, and we do not receive the Bread of Life, we cannot live. If we do believe him and do receive him, we receive eternal life. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the way to eternal life.

Jesus, though, is so much more than simple food for the journey. Jesus is also the way, the path, we must follow to eternity. Jesus desires to be our Viaticum. Viaticum, which is what we traditionally call the Eucharist when someone receives it for the last time in preparation for death, literally translates from Latin to mean: the way, with you. Jesus wants to be our way, and he wants to go on that journey with us. Jesus wants to be our guide and companion every day of our lives on this earth. He wants to be our guide and companion as we die and pass on into the next life. He wants to be our guide and companion after this life, so that he can lead us to his Father. Jesus wants to be our Viaticum, the way, with us, every day of our lives. He wants to fill our hearts with his love and with faith in him. He wants show us the road to eternal life: Jesus wants to be our way, and he wants to travel it with us.

Today’s Readings:
August 12, 2018
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalms 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 4:3-5:2; John 6:41-51