Giving Leads Unexpectedly

In No Man Is an Island, Thomas Merton wrote:

We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others.

That last sentence has been sticking with me and worked its way into my homily last weekend. This idea, that life is a gift and is good because of what it enables me to give to others is beautiful and at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Our Lord called us to follow him and to make disciples—followers—of all nations. To follow Christ, we must imitate the way he lived. Christ gave himself to us as a gift. Good and loving in his very nature, He did not live to receive but to give.

When we seek to become closer to Christ and to follow him, we begin our journey by imitating him, by seeking to give ourselves back to God by giving ourselves to those around us. At the core of our human nature, we recognize that we need other people to complete us. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that we human beings are hard wired to give ourselves to those around us. When this giving is guided by our God who loves us, this gift of self allows us to become the beautiful saintly people God created us to be, the holy ones who will spend eternity in blissful love united with the only One in existence who can satisfy our desires.

When I reflect on my own life in the context of these ideas, I recognize that those moments where I give most completely of myself are the moments when I am most at peace with myself. Every time I have given something up, God has supplied what I need. When I was first starting to take my faith in God personally and seriously, I was not able to make many time or talent commitments due to work and, well, the fact that I didn’t really want to, but I talked myself into tithing 10% right off the bat. It stung a bit, honestly, but I never wanted for anything. I began to understand that God is never outdone in generosity, and over time became more willing to show up for things at Church, to give my time to events, to get to know my fellow parishioners. I was always busy doing something for the people around me; somehow, I always had enough time to recharge and to spend time with my friends and family too. Eventually, I realize that just giving in these ways wasn’t enough. God was asking me to dedicate my entire life to giving myself away to Him and to His people.

Reading this, you may be thinking, “Wait. Is Fr. Matt really saying that practicing stewardship led him to the priesthood?” The answer? Yes. If I hadn’t learned through the practice of stewardship that giving unselfishly of everything I could, even when it stings a little, brings about peace and contentment, then I would never have ended up where I am today. I would never have had my heart broken by the pain of a penitent I’ve never met, but who is suffering terribly from sin. I would never have experienced the absolute joy of welcoming a new child into the Church. I would never have dragged myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to go to comfort a heartbroken family who can’t bear to let the coroner take their son away. I would never have learned to love God and his children like I do now.

When I started giving back to God, I never would have expected where He would lead me.

Sacraments and Stewardship

When I talk about stewardship, I often think of the “time, talent, and treasure” formula that people my age grew learning in Wichita Catholic schools. More recently, the diocese has recognized that stewardship is “the grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor.” We can easily apply this definition to our time, talent, and treasure: After we focus our attention, we recognize the vast multitude of gifts we receive from God every day.

When we try to apply that definition of stewardship to the rest of our lives, though, it gets a little harder. Time, talent, and treasure give us a nice, clean workspace. But if we limit our stewardship to these categories, we run the risk of getting ourselves stuck in a box. In reality, the entirety of our life is a gift from God. The only worthy response is to give ourselves entirely over to God. We can’t settle for just giving God one hour of my Sunday. That’s only 0.6% of the week, for those who are counting. We can’t kid ourselves into thinking that we are giving ourselves back to God by throwing a few bucks in the collection and helping with some charitable activity every once in a while.

Our gift to God must have deeper roots. God demands and desires to be present in our lives at every moment of every day. St. Paul wasn’t joking when he said, “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5:17) He truly intends for us to lift ourselves to God at every moment of every day. In order to do this, God must be a constant companion in our hearts. His love must be the source of all our action.

This love starts and is nourished by the sacraments. In Baptism, we are reborn into the life and light of Christ. In Confirmation, we receive the love of the Holy Spirit who gives us the strength and courage to spread and defend our faith. In the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith (Lumen Gentium no. 11), we receive the love of God in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, and allow Him to transform us into the people he created us to be.

Because these sacraments are the source of God’s love in our daily life, we should take great care as Catholics to ensure we do our best to make use of them. Going to Confession regularly, participating at Mass, and following our vocational call to marriage, the religious life, or the priesthood are ways we are stewards of the life that God has given us, because we are returning to God to allow him to live more deeply within us. One of the major points of the council fathers of Vatican II was for the faithful to recognize the incredible importance of the gift of the sacraments and liturgies of the Church. In Sacrosanctum Concilium, they wrote “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations.” (no. 14)

We are bound together by our common worship of God, in which we recognize that all we have been given—our life, our time on this earth, and the salvation won by Christ—is a gift from God. At Mass, we receive this gift, share it with those around it, and offer the depths of ourselves to God in return. The sacraments are where stewardship begins. The Mass is where we learn how to practice stewardship and are gathered as a community to share the love of God. Let us not be afraid to share our gifts in service of the liturgy, whether as readers, servers, ushers, musicians, the faithful gathered in worship, or, for some of us, perhaps as a priest.

For the Greater Glory of God,

Fr. Matt

Pentecost: Responding to the Holy Spirit

Two thousand eighteen years ago, maybe give or take a few, something incredible happened. All the conditions were just right for God to do something incredible. God became man. He became one of us. He was no longer content to remain on the sidelines and watch us fall into sin, so he entered into history and showed us not only his love but also what each of us is capable of being. We celebrate this event every Christmas, bringing it back into our minds and hearts, and truly entering into the event of God becoming one of us.

We humans, though, we are a “stiff-necked people” in the words of Moses. We don’t like someone coming to tell us that we’re wrong. So we rejected God’s incredible attempt to show us his love, and we demanded for Jesus to be crucified, because we didn’t understand who he was. We relived this event 53 days ago, on Good Friday.

God was not content to let that be the end of things. Even though we demanded his death, he still loved us. He showed us that death was not the end for us, and that we are called to so much more. 50 days ago we relived this Resurrection, when Jesus rose from the dead. After Easter, Jesus spent 40 additional days with his apostles and his disciples, teaching them and living with them. (40 is a really important Bible number, but I won’t get into that right now.) At the end of that time, 10 days ago… ish…, Jesus ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Jesus left his mission to his apostles and his disciples: he left it to us. At his Ascension, Jesus sent us all out to spread the Good News and to baptize all the nations, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

But he didn’t leave us empty-handed. That’s not good enough for God, because today we celebrate another incredible gift God has given to humanity: the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son now lives within each one of us. Each one of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, a temple of God. There is no need for a temple in Jerusalem, as the Jews once thought, because God lives within each of us! God lives within us, because he loves us so much that he cannot stand being separated from us! The Holy Spirit isn’t sitting in the tongues of fire above the heads of the people at Pentecost, the Spirit is inside of them. The tongues of fire come from the person being on fire with faith and love for God!

This same Holy Spirit lives in each one of us. He calls us to our ultimate goal: eternal joy with God in Heaven. He helps us achieve this goal of holiness by giving us many gifts. One gift is the gift of vocation. A vocation to married life, religious or vowed single life, or to the priesthood, teaches us how best to use the gifts that God gives us. The Bible tells us about some pretty fantastic gifts: prophesy, speaking in tongues, etc. The Holy Spirit continues to give us gifts today. Though they might seem boring, they are no less amazing: the gift of fortitude to a father defending his family, especially his daughters, from various ills in our society; the gift of patience to a mother of many children who always want attention; the gift of teaching to all who instruct our children in schools; the gift of wisdom to our grandparents. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Prayer can help us recognize these gifts if we are struggling to see them, and recognizing our gifts is crucial. When we recognize the gifts that God has given us, not only can we use them more effectively, but we are also reminded of God’s great love for us. By recognizing our gifts, we begin to recognize how generous God has been with each of us.

Prayer helps us to see all these gifts:

  • That God took on human nature, showing us the true dignity of our humanity.
  • That God died for us, destroying sin.
  • That God rose from death to show us the way to eternal life.
  • That God entrusts us with the mission: to spread the Good News to all the world.
  • That God continues to come and dwell inside each one of us.

That’s not even all of the gifts God has given us. God also gave us the life we live, the air we breath, the family we love, all of “our” possessions, the friends we’ve made, the jobs we work, and everything else. God made all of them, and he gave them to us. They are all gifts from God.

Once you and I recognize all these gifts God has given, only question remains: one question, which each of us must answer individually. Whether we want to or not, we must answer it, because our lives are how we answer. Once I recognize the gifts God has given to me, the question every one of us here must ask, what you must ask, what I must ask, what we must ask ourselves every day is this:

How will I respond to the gifts that God has given to me?

Note: this was written for May 20, 2018; however, I didn’t get it posted until June 3, 2018. I put the date for when the homily was given on the post, not the actual post date.

Today’s Readings
May 20, 2018
Pentecost Sunday
Various readings were possible for Pentecost Sunday. They are listed here.

Image of God

What if Jesus had said, “Why are you testing me? Hand me one of the children.” He held a child in his arms and said, “Whose image do you see inscribed upon this little one?”

When my friends have a baby, it’s common to hear “she looks just like her mom!” or “he has his father’s eyes!” The baby is, in a very true way, an image of his or her parents. They look like one another! What’s more, parents bestow a name upon their child. This name is emblazoned on the child throughout his or her life. This name is how we tell one person from another, and it was given to them by their parents.

But there is another who has given us a name, even if we do not know him. [God] called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew [him] not.1 He has not only called each one of us by name, but he has given each of us a title—a title unique to us. Each of us is unique, each of us is special. None of us are the same. We are each called to reflect God’s glory in a different way, in a way that no one else can. Not only did God call us by name, and not only did he give us each a title, but the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible tells us that God created humankind in his image.2 Each one of us is a unique reflection of the image of God.

I reply to Jesus, “Yours! I see your image in this little one!” Jesus says, “Then repay to Washington and Hamilton and Lincoln what belongs to them, and repay to God what belongs to God.”

God’s image is inscribed on me, how am I to repay God what belongs to him? When we pay our taxes to the government, we give a part of our money back to the government that issued it. How do we give a part of ourselves to God? We can’t, but that doesn’t stop us from trying, does it?

There are days when I want to try to put God in his silo. In college, I would go to Mass and then think, “God, you’ve got your hour for the week. Now it’s time to go have some fun.” Even now, I catch myself saying, “God, I said my prayers for the day. I’ve been to Mass. Now it’s time for me to get some real work done. Come back tomorrow.” As if we could limit our response to God to a certain day or time! One of the names given to Jesus is Emmanuel: God is with us. God is always with us! When we recognize his image in ourselves and in others, we are reminded that God is always with us.

When we recognize God, and all the gifts that he has given us, can we honestly sit back and do nothing? God has given us our lives, our families, our friends, our talents, everything. How do we send God a thank you note for all he has given us? We dedicate ourselves to him. We give of our resources to support his work on this earth. We spend time with him in prayer. We live virtuous lives. We always strive to remember that God is with us!

Today’s Readings:
Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21

Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

“Abram went as the Lord directed him.”

I am often tempted to think that life would be so much easier if God would just come down and tell me what to do. The Old Testament seems to be full of these stories, where God simply dictates commands, laws and prophecies to people like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, and Isaiah. If God was willing to tell these guys what to do, why won’t he just come and tell us what to do? Again, I am tempted to think that if God would work some spectacular miracle, and through some miraculous appearance witnessed by millions announced his will, the whole world would change.

But it wouldn’t.

After realizing this, I also remember something critical: God did tell us what he wants us to do. He didn’t just send a prophet to tell us, either. He sent Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity to tell us. God Himself came to Earth, and He told us what to do to have eternal life with Him. Not only did he tell us how to reach paradise, Jesus offered up his own life as a sacrifice to redeem all of us.

In today’s psalm, we pray, “Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.” We have put our hope in God, to lead us and to guide us. The Jewish people were waiting for the Lord to bring his mercy to them. They had no idea of the extent to which the Lord would go to shower his endless mercy upon us. His mercy delivers us from death, and preserves us always, fulfilling everything for which the psalmist prayed all the years ago—and for which we still pray today. God’s mercy has not dried up! He still showers it upon us every day.

The grace and mercy of God was “made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,” Paul says. Jesus saved us from death and opened the gates of Heaven for all who love God. Paul reminds us that our journey will be difficult—just as Abraham’s was. We, however, will not be alone. Paul reminds us that God will give us the strength that we need for the journey. This journey, to a holy life, is what we are called to do in this part of our lives. God calls us all to himself, and while we are alive on this earth and in this way, he desires us to live holy lives, to live our lives devoted to God and all those things which are good. We are called to love our neighbor, and to love our enemy. We are called to offer up our time, our talents, and our treasures not just to serve our God, not just to serve our neighbor, but to serve all people. We are called to be good stewards of this planet, good stewards of our countries, good stewards of our communities, and good stewards of our lives. Everything we have—even our body—is a gift for God himself!

Transfiguration - Raphaelthese gifts, of which we are called to be stewards, pale in comparison to the greatest gift God gave humanity. Through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed death. The effects of this are enormous! The Transfiguration in the Gospel today gives us a tiny glimpse into what this means. Our God is a God not of the dead, but of the living. The prophets of the Old Testament are alive with God, who in his glory shines as brightly as the sun!

Such an idea, such a sight can be frightening. Especially when a voice from Heaven accompanies it, says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But Jesus tells us not to be afraid.

Why should we not be afraid? Through our Baptism, we have become sons and daughters of God. God loves us, and desires that we join him in Heaven for eternity. This will happen if we follow the will of God and live holy lives. We can do this because God gives us the strength to endure hardship so that we may do what is just and right. When we trust God, as Abram did, he does not abandon us. Just look at what happened with Abram. God says to him

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”

God eventually made the Israelite nation from Abraham’s descendants, which was great and very blessed, until they turned away from God. While Abraham’s name was still great, the people had ceased being a blessing. They did not go out and spread their blessings to the other communities of the earth. The Israelites had become a curse unto themselves. Then Jesus came. He took the curse onto himself and brought the Kingdom of God onto the earth in the Church. The Church, now, takes the place of the Israelite nation. Abraham is known as “our father in faith.” The Church has been blessed throughout the ages, because God has protected it from the assaults of the enemy. All the communities on earth have been blessed by the Church, because that is her mission: to be all things to all peoples, and to go forth to all the nations, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Readings: Gn 12:1-4a; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9

Reflection for the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A

Today’s Readings: Is 49:14-15; Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Cor 4:1-5; Mt 6:24-34

We can have only one master. Who is our master? God wants to be our master, but do we let him?

The Gospel today lists many other masters people can have throughout their daily lives: what to eat, what to drink, what to wear. All these things come from the material world. They are things that we think that we can control. We go about thinking that clothing, food, status, wealth are the most important things. They aren’t. Is it important to have adequate food, clothing and money? Yes. But when it becomes the focus of our lives—that’s when we run into problems. Why do we think that these things are important? Perhaps we think that because we can control these things, they are a measure of our self-worth. When we have these things, maybe we think that it shows what kind of job or career that we have: another modern measure of self-worth.

What about other people? Do we try to emulate the right people? Do we want to be like the rich and famous? Why is that life style so attractive? The rich and famous always look happy on the outside, but are they? I think not. The number of celebrity divorces, suicides, and the general malaise around Hollywood is a pretty good indication that something is wrong. But they have everything—why aren’t they happy? They have made power or fame or money or pleasure into their master. And if we want to emulate them, then we will do the same. And we will be unhappy.

There is a better way.

DaisiesJesus reminds us to look outside at the world around us. The flowers—what person is clothed so beautifully as a flower? The birds—are they not able to find food? But we worry about all of these things, and we don’t realize that God will work with us to make sure that we have what we need. Jesus asks, “Are not you more important than they?” Indeed, we are. Jesus promises us that if we seek the Kingdom of God, all that we need will be provided. The Lord has not forgotten us, and he never will. The first reading, in just a few sentences tells us that this is impossible!

“Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Is 49:14-15)

The Lord wants to love us, but to do this we must be open to this love. By serving the Lord, we are opening ourselves to his love, because we only truly serve those that we love. We may have a job where we “wait on” or “serve” somebody, but we aren’t really serving those people because we desire to do so. We are serving them for the sake of something else—to provide for ourselves or our families. By following the Lord’s commands and laws, we serve him. By stewarding the gifts that God has given us, we are serving him. God knows when we are serving him and when we are not, St. Paul reminds us that “he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.” We cannot trick God, but we can serve him. We can serve him because we desire to love him. When we serve him, we open our hearts to him and allow him to love us.

So let us remember we can only have one true master: God. But he is a loving master, who rewards us endlessly when we serve him.

Reflection for the Sixth Monday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Gn 4:1-15, 25; Ps 50:1 & 8, 16bc-17, 20-21; Mk 8:11-13

In the first reading, God prefers Abel’s sacrifice. A close reading shows that Cain eventually brought some of the fruits of his labor, while Abel immediately brought the best of his labor to sacrifice to the Lord. Cain is jealous. God asks Cain “Why are you so resentful and crestfallen?” God tells Cain that he must try harder and his sacrifice will be accepted, otherwise evil will overtake him. Cain decides to take option two, and kills Abel. God condemns Cain’s action, and further condemns anyone who might attempt to kill Cain. Already in the fourth chapter of Genesis, we are learning that God is a God of Life—not of death!

Today’s psalm ties in to the Genesis reading very wonderfully. The Israelites do not understand that God does not desire disingenuous sacrifice. We must offer our sacrifices to God because we love Him. The final verse of the psalm is, perhaps, the most poignant. “You sit speaking against your brother; against your mother’s son you spread rumors. When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? …” This strongly echoes the first reading, where Abel’s blood “cries out” to God, except in this case it is not even physical death. Attacks on a person’s reputation are condemned. Our words matter, and a verbal attack can be just as strong or as painful as a physical attack.

So let us be like Abel, offering our best to God out of love, and trusting in God to provide for us.

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