Monday, July 31, 2006

"Ignorance of Scripture..."

"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ" - St Jerome

Sunday, July 30, 2006

17th Sunday, Ordinary - Homily

Normally, when I am giving a talk to a group about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and what takes place during the Mass, I can stump the group with one question: what is the moment of consecration? When do the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ? I will reveal the answer to this group in a few minutes. Now, when we hear this Gospel, we might ask the same question…when does the multiplication of the loaves and fish actually take place? One minute we hear that there are five loaves and two fish, and the next minute…they “have their fill”.

It’s kind of like here at Mass…the multiplication of Catholics at Mass. When we processed in, there was practically no one here. And, now, as I give the homily…poof…the place is full! Nevertheless, we see many similarities with this Gospel and what takes place at Mass.

The first reading is a preview of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. They are almost identical stories; the story involving Elisha in the second book of Kings occurred 500 years Before Christ. Like all Old Testament events, it leads to and is fulfilled in the New Testament. The events of the Old Testament spoke to the people of those times, but also to the people of later times, particularly the ones who are alive during the time of the Messiah. They prepared people to recognize the Christ, so that they would proclaim him as the Messiah.

In this Gospel from John 6, we hear phrases that remind us of Holy Mass. “A large crowd” came to Christ…we, too, come in large numbers to Christ, to his altar at Mass. They brought him “five barley loaves and two fish”…we bring him bread and wine. These are all ordinary gifts of the earth, and they represent us, humanity. In fact, barley loaves were seen as the food of the poor.

He had them “recline”; he was preparing them for a meal… we prepare for this Sacred Meal by kneeling. He “took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them”…we hear the same words from the Last Supper accounts: “he took bread, gave thanks…and gave it to them”. The distribution of the loaves and fish is a preview to Holy Communion. They all “had their fill”…whenever we receive a gift from God, we are satisfied. “Twelve wicker baskets with fragments” were left over…twelve is a significant number because it represents the twelve Apostles. They are all there for this miracle.

Also, when God gives, He gives in abundance. They collected the fragments in the same way that we collect the fragments of the Eucharist, and store any leftover in the tabernacle so that none goes to waste. Finally, witnessing this miracle leads them to have faith. They proclaim that Christ is “the prophet, the one who is to come into the world”…how much more are we who receive the Body and Blood of Christ filled with faith to proclaim him as our God?

The main difference between this Gospel and what happens at Mass is the difference between a miracle and a sacrament. In a miracle, a change in nature takes place that our senses can pick up. The people could see that loaves and fish had been multiplied…that water had been turned into wine…that a blind person could see. But, in a sacrament, we don’t see any change. It’s not a natural change, it’s a supernatural change. We don’t see a change in the bread and wine; we only know by faith that a change takes place... Jesus says, “this is my body”.

The moment of consecration, then, is when the priest says these words of Christ…”this is my body... This is my blood”. Then, it is no longer bread, and no longer wine. That is why we ring the bells at that moment; the bells say, ‘be alert…something extraordinary is happening here’.

So, as we prepare to witness this extraordinary event in a few minutes, this amazing occurrence, we prepare to be fed by our Lord. How much more do we receive our ‘fill’ when we are filled with the Body and Blood of Christ … filled with God’s love? May we know God’s love through the Eucharist this day.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

John 6:54

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" - John 6:54

Friday, July 28, 2006

"Wells stories"

Six years ago, when my good friend, Msgr. Thomas Wells, was murdered in his rectory in Germantown, it sent shock waves through our whole area. Those of us who knew him well struggled to come to terms with life without our spiritual father and good friend. He was one of the wisest, most honest, and most generous people we had known. In many ways, he was a spiritual and intellectual giant.

Also, Fr Wells ("FW") was one of the funnest people any of us had known. So, the other struggle we had was picking out our favorite "Wells stories" because there were so many! There were the golf trips, skiing trips, vacations at the beach, retreats, and various get-togethers at local establishments. While FW undoubtedly spent most of his priesthood helping people in very serious and powerful ways, the more lighthearted moments will be my focus here and in some future posts.

When I first met Fr Wells, he made an impression; I'm just not sure what kind of impression it was! I was answering phones in the evenings at Our Lady of Lourdes parish rectory in 1987. One evening, he came down to my office wearing a t-shirt and swimming trunks with a towel draped over his shoulder. He said, "Hi, I'm the new priest, Fr Wells. I'm going to a pool party. You wanna go?" I said, "Hi. Umm, no, I can't. I have to stay here and answer the phones". He said, "Ok, well, see ya later", and walked away rather hurriedly.

Years later, we were driving down to the Outer Banks for a beach vacation. As we got near Richmond, FW said, "buddy, get a map out of the glove box". I said, "Why? We know the way around Richmond". "Trust Father" is all he said. 'Uh oh', I thought. So, I got the map for him, and sure enough, we began taking a different route than usual. About 20 minutes later, we had gone so far off the highway that we were on dirt roads! Next thing I know, Fr Wells is clapping, hooting, and hollering: "78 cents a gallon!! 78 cents!!" He had found an old gas station that offered one of his favorite pleasures in life: cheap gas.

Now, this is one that I told in a homily a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating. Fr Wells was watching the movie, "Jesus of Nazareth" with friends of his many years ago. "Jesus of Nazareth" is a very long movie. Just as it was reaching its climax in Jesus' Passion, Fr Wells' friends noticed that he was asleep! "Fr Wells, Fr Wells, wake up. You're missing 'Jesus of Nazareth'". Fr Wells woke up, looked around rather dazed and confused, and said, "I know how it ends", and went back to sleep.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

God's dress code for Church

"Worship the Lord in holy attire" - 1 Chronicles 16:29

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Posts from teens about modest dress

Here are two posts from teenage girls from the past few days. The first one was posted over the weekend in response to questions raised about modesty from the SFA site. The second is in response to the post I made yesterday, "One's choice for clothing". Thank you, young ladies!
"hey im a female teen and this issue has definitely been brought to my attention since well i dont always dress in the most conservitive way. but after talking to some people about it and it being brought to my attention i thought about it and it definitely makes since that in church girls shouldnt be dressed as if they were on the beach trying to impress someone and since then every time i go to church i check what i am wearing and think about what others would think and if its modest enough i just hope other people start to do that too. great issue to bring up"
"I strongly agree with this blog. Its rare to find a teen such as myself agreeing to this. In my group, we're known for dressing proactivley and it gives us a name, the names usually aren't good or respectful because its true dressing like that we are only disrespecting ourselves. The boys are attracted to our physical appearence. Girls often mistake that attraction as the boy liking her that is why alot of girls dress like that. Girls often think dressing more appropriate will turn them off. It might turn the sex craved boys off, but atleast you'll have their respect. And besides its not the sex craved boys you want. Girls are so brainwashed into dressing like that to impress, but it only leads to dirty names and disrespect from your peers and the boys might call you 'sexy' or 'hott', but they'll also say hurtful things out of disprect. Boys see you disrespecting yourself, they'll do the same and take advantage of you. If you want a guy to take you seriously you have to take yourself seriously. I know I have dressed in ways I shouldn't untill I looked at what I got out of it and I wasn't happy. Dressing like that only gives you disrespect, names and guys wanting to use you. Teens really need to realize this. Thank you."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

One's choice of clothing

I would have preferred to post about chastity first, but it’s probably good to answer the recent questions on modest dress now (modesty is part of the life of the chaste person). I’ve included comments from two Catholic experts below to help answer the questions. Regarding the question someone asked about dress codes for attending Mass, my answer is, 'wear your Sunday best!' In the least, men should wear dress pants (not shorts), a dress shirt, and dress shoes; in the least, women should wear a dress that covers the shoulders or a blouse with skirt (past the knees), and dress shoes.

Jason Evert, a young, Catholic chastity speaker and author, writes about modest dress (click on the title of this post for the link to his site):
“I've read tens of thousands of pages of theology and sex ed, but I never learned how to treat a woman until I dated one who dressed modestly. It was captivating, and I realized for the first time that immodest dress gets in the way of seeing a woman for whom she is. Immodest outfits might attract a man to a girl's body, but it distracts him from seeing her as a person. As one man said, ‘If you want a man to respect you, and perhaps eventually fall in love with you, then you must show him that you respect yourself and that you recognize your dignity before God.’

A woman who dresses modestly inspires a guy in a way that I'm not ashamed to admit I cannot explain. I suppose it is safe to say that it conveys your worth to us. When a woman dresses modestly, I can take her seriously as a woman because she isn't preoccupied with clamoring for attention. Such humility is radiant. Unfortunately, many women are so preoccupied with turning men's heads that they overlook their power to turn our hearts”

Rev. Thomas Morrow has written “A Modesty Proposal”, a leaflet which can be read in its entirety at Here are some excerpts:
“I think we would have to be deliberately naive in this age of psychological sophistication to ignore the fact that certain visual stimuli are objectively and normally provocative to the sex drive of the ordinary male. We might close our eyes to this, but the merchants don't. And the fortunes they make by putting their theories into practice prove they know what they are doing... Whether the women and girls of our culture know or do not know what is going on, they lose by it all the same...

A good Christian woman has so much going for her, that even if short skirts and other ‘in’ fashions were a benefit–which they aren't–they would be of minimal importance. A woman living in the state of grace has a bit of an aura which far exceeds any fashion statement. Christian women sometimes underestimate their inner beauty, perhaps because the fashion designers have such a strong influence, placing so much stress on the exterior.”

And, the Catholic Catechism teaches (# 2521, 2522): “Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden…Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love… Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing...”

Monday, July 24, 2006

John 6:53

"...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (Jn 6:53).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

16th Sunday, Ordinary - Homily

Well, in about a week, it all starts. That’s right….training camp for the Washington Redskins! When Joe Gibbs came back as coach of the Redskins a few years ago, I imagined that he found a group of men who were lost. They didn’t have a leader. They were like sheep without a shepherd. I bet that one of the first things he did was to teach them. Teach them about football, about playing as a team, and about being like a family. The primary task, then, of a shepherd, is to teach…to lead others and show them the way.

It is a sad situation when we encounter a group of individuals who are lost…who don’t get it…who are ignorant. The prophet Jeremiah says that they live in “fear and trembling”. Jesus saw this when he saw the great crowds who were lost. They appeared “as sheep without a shepherd”. Christ was “moved with pity” when he saw this. What was the first thing he did? He began to teach them. He began to give them a clue.

He began to teach them about the way. He showed them the way…the way to go…the way to live. He is the Way. He began to teach them the truth….the truth about God, about life, and about us. He is the Truth. He began to teach them the life…the life of the Gospel…a life in love…what real love is. He is the Way.

So, my primary job, as one of your shepherds, is to teach. That is the first task of any priest. I will teach you about Christ. How do I know that what will I teach you will be the Truth? Well, Christ does say in John 14, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (v. 6). But, I look at the Resurrection. No one has ever risen from the dead except Jesus Christ. He is God. He is the Messiah. Everything he says is true. He is the way to heaven….the way to happiness, to peace, to joy, and to love.

Once we get it about Christ, we get it about life. He is God and we are not! Until we see that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we don’t know the way. We don’t know the truth. We don’t know the life. We are like sheep without a shepherd, and it is very sad.

The thing that will probably cause me the greatest sadness as a priest will be when people don’t get it about the Eucharist….when they don’t get it that it is really Him! That it is really His risen Body and Blood under the signs of bread and wine. That God loves us so much that He wants to be in us…in our bodies and in our souls. So, as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist in a few minutes, let each of us pray, “Lord, show me the way. Show me the truth. Show me the life. Show me the love of my heavenly Father.”

Saturday, July 22, 2006

1 Cor 6:19-20

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you...therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:19-20).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sex: A Beautiful Gift from God

One of the most beautiful gifts God has given us is our sexuality. He has given us this great gift for two main reasons: life and love. From the very beginning, we see how this is lived out specifically. 1) Life - "Be fertile and multiply" (Gen 1:28); 2) Love - "that is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one body" (Gen 2:24). We understand, then, that God has given us sex for procreation and union between husband and wife.

This is a HUGE responsibility that God has given us! He calls husband and wives to be open to continuing His act of creation through the sexual act; He calls them to "pro-creation". Every new baby continues God's creation through the parents. Also, He calls them to unite their total and complete love for one another in the conjugal act. In this act, they give themselves totally to one another...their bodies and souls. This is the most complete way that they mirror the love between Christ and the Church (see Ephesians 5:21-33).

We can live great holiness through our bodies, then, if we treat the gift of sex as God has intended. However, we can commit great evil if we misuse the gift, and don't approach sex as God intends. ANY SEXUAL ACT OUTSIDE OF PROCREATION AND THE UNION BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE IS SINFUL. Christ himself teaches that fornication is among the most serious sins (see Mk 7:21). St Paul writes that those who commit sexual sins will not inherit the Kingdom of God (see 1 Cor 6:9-10). The Church consistently reminds us to 'do good and avoid evil' through our bodies.

One Catholic author and speaker, Christopher West, argues that the Church's "strict" teachings on sexual morality are signs that She sees sex as a sacred gift. "If the Church's teaching regarding what we should and shouldn't do with our bodies here on Earth is 'strict', this is not because the Church devalues the body, but because she values it so highly. The typical sentiment goes like this: if the Church says you can't do this and you can't do that - everything it seems that people want to do - then the Church must think sex is bad.

Hold on a minute. 'Handle with care' - or even 'handle with extreme care' - in no way means 'this is bad'. What are those things in life that we handle with the most care? Are they not precisely those things that have the most inherent value?

There's a parallel here with the Eucharist. The Church has many 'strict' teachings about who can and cannot receive the Eucharist, how it's to be received, and with what spiritual dispositions. It would be absurd to conclude that the Church is therefore 'down with the Eucharist'. It's no less absurd to conclude that the Church is down on sex. No, both the Eucharist and the union of man and woman are sacred mysteries of the highest value".

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Matthew 28:10

"Do not be afraid" - Mt 28:10

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Matthew 21:22

"Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive"-Mt 21:22.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Trust in Christ

Recently, a blogger wrote a deep couple of questions: "My question is how does totally surrender to God really letting go? I know its all about faith but how do we build that and not have it shatter in our face the moment something goes wrong? Please answer this-this is really important for my spiritual life."

Regarding total surrender to God, please keep in mind what Jesus says about giving up everything for God and his kingdom. For example, he tells the parable of the person who finds a great treasure (which represents the kingdom of heaven) buried in a field, and "out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Mt 13:44). While it is not always easy, it should bring us great joy to give up everything for the kingdom of God. It the greatest treasure on earth.

We don't build up our own faith; Christ does. He nourishes faith through us. Again using a parable, we look at the mustard seed (Mt 13:31-32). The mustard seed cannot grow on its own. With the help of water, the Sun, and air, it "becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come to dwell on its branches'". Our faith cannot grow on its own. With the help of the water of Baptism, the Body and Blood of the Son, and the air of the Holy Spirit, our faith can grow large enough to move mountains (see Mt 21:21).

With this in mind, then, I would suggest three ways** to allow Christ to build up your faith:

1) Open yourself to his Grace
Our job as believers is to be open to Christ and his Grace. If we remain open, he will give us faith that won't shatter when times get tough. He will bring us closer to Himself, the Prince of Peace. He is the One we need when life gets rough. His Grace will get us through whatever curveballs life throws us: "if God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31).

2) Frequent the sacraments
The sacraments are where we receive Sanctifying Grace (the life of God dwelling within us)...where we receive faith. Faith is given in Baptism, nourished by the Eucharist, sealed in Confirmation, restored in Confession, etc. Daily Mass (whenever possible) and monthly Confession are highly recommended for those who wish to go deeper in their relationship with Christ.

3) Pray your tail off
Talk every day to Christ, preferably in his Real Presence in the Eucharist (in a Church or chapel where the Blessed Sacrament dwells). Read Scripture every day (one chapter of the Gospel a night works for many folks), pray the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, etc. Just as a disciplined athlete exercises every day, so we should work out every day spiritually (see 1 Cor 9:24-27).

Finally, to be a real believer is to trust in Christ. "Fear is useless; what is needed is trust" (Mk 5:36). If I totally surrender to Christ, I give him my life...I give him my fears... my worries. "Do not worry about your life...your Father knows (the things) that you need" (Lk 12:22,30).
** Are there other ways that Christ builds up our faith?
Other Scriptural passages/quotes that speak of this?

Monday, July 17, 2006

SAA Flag Football!!

We had our first SAA Summer Flag Football games yesterday, and had a great turnout of youth! Almost 30 teens (along with about 20 adults who watched) braved the afternoon heat to enjoy a few hours of friendly competition and fellowship. What good athletes we have in the school and parish! Both boys and girls impressed the onlookers with dazzling moves, nifty plays, and great effort and enthusiasm!

Thanks to all the teens who came out, our referees, the parents who helped, George Gillespie and the Stifters for the photos, and our seminarian, Dan, who assisted me immensely. See you all next Sunday at 4 pm for more fun!

Here are some photos from the action:

Matthew 18:3-5

"Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me." - Mt 18:3-5

Sunday, July 16, 2006

15th Sunday, Ordinary

Fr. Mike is away this week; he’s on vacation until next week. So, if you hear any loud noise coming from the rectory late at night, it’s probably seminarian Dan and his friends. You know how those seminarians can be… crazy!? Of course, I would never do that! But, back in the day, probably.

It’s funny, when I tell my stories from high school and college to young people, they often say, “wow, you used to have a normal life”. I tell them, ‘I wasn’t always a priest”. It’s like the prophet Amos in the first reading who said, “I wasn’t always a prophet”. Actually, the first twenty years of my life were kind of the opposite of priesthood. Priests live for others; I was living for myself. I wasn’t always a priest.

Without going into detail, let’s just say that I was a great sinner. I didn’t know Christ. I was ignorant. I didn’t know the Gospel. St Jerome said that ‘ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’. I didn’t know that the Eucharist is really Jesus’ flesh and blood. I didn’t know the dangers of mortal sin, how I need to be in a state of grace when I die if I want to get to Heaven, and that Confession restores me to that state if I've left it. I didn’t know much about the sacraments at all. Many people helped me to know Christ and the Church, but it was mainly priests who helped me to know Him.

This led me to pray …really for the first time in my life at age 21. I began to say, “Lord, show me your Will…I will do it”. It led me to enter the seminary at 23. Now, the seminary was a good time, and I enjoyed my years there. But, it was also a great struggle for me. The whole celibacy thing was huge! It was all so new, after the life I had led. For about 10 years, I ran from it, leaving the seminary twice. It wasn’t until two years ago that I finally realized that celibacy is a gift that God is offering me, and I embraced it. Now, the joy of living this gift as a priest is indescribable!

I said the first weekend I was here that I am PSYCHED to be here. If you start to understand the struggles that I’ve had…that for so many years I was begging God to show me His Will. If God doesn’t make His Will very clear to us, trying to discern It can be the hardest thing in life! I prayed, “Lord, show me my bride. Whether it’s a woman and family in marriage or a parish family as a priest, just show me the one to whom I’m supposed to give my life”. So, the day that Cardinal McCarrick told me that I was coming to St Andrew’s is the day that God showed me my bride! To be here with you and to see your faces brings a happiness that I can’t describe!!

Christ has sent me here to you just like he sent the Apostles. He has sent me here like he sent so many priests to me…to help you to know Him. He has sent me here to preach the Gospel of repentance…change your lives! He has given me the power to cast out demons, to cure the sick, to consecrate the Eucharist, to forgive sins, etc. He worked great miracles through the first priests, the Apostles. Hopefully, he will do great things through me in your lives.

Above anything else, Christ has sent me here to show you the love of the Father. Christ is the visible sign of God’s love for us. So, his priests now present the love of God the Father; that is why a priest is called ‘Father’. Please pray for me, Fr. Mike, and all priests…that we may show you God’s love. God sent me here to say to you time and again, “I love you”. He has such great love for each of you! May you know his love this day, and every day of your lives.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Jeremiah 3:14

"Return, rebellious children, says the Lord, for I am your Master" - Jer 3:14.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Confession: an encounter with the God of Mercy

Confessions tonight, 7 pm. I will be hearing Confessions tonight (7/14) in the Confession booths in the back left of the Church starting at 7:00.
We've had an excellent, ongoing discussion this week about Confession. Some great comments and questions have come in. One blogger wrote, "I was wondering one thing. How often should people go to confession? I know A LOT of people who don't go to confession because they find it too embarrassing".

If we think in general terms of what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about, what do we think of? Forgiveness ...confessing sins...reconciling with God...changing our lives. These are all true and good. But, I need something concrete that I can point to that will motivate me each time to swallow my pride, get over my embarrassment, and go before the priest to confess my sins. Is there one thing that will do that for me?

The Cross.

Jesus gave his life so that our sins would be forgiven: "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28). He suffered tremendously for each of us. He shed so much blood. He endured serious humiliation and mockery. He was spit on, whipped, slapped, and ridiculed by many people. He let himself be embarrassed for us.

Jesus endured all of this because we cannot bring about the forgiveness of sins on our own. In other words, it was necessary for God to become man and sacrifice himself on behalf of humanity for sins to be forgiven. The Jews tried for thousands of years to atone for sins by making sacrifices; Christ's sacrifice on the Cross is the only sacrifice acceptable to the Father for the forgiveness of sins.

Whenever we go to Confession (once a month is recommended), we say, 'thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice'. We humble ourselves in front of Him because "he humbled himself for our humanity". He hung on the Cross for at least three hours so that, among other things, we would go to Confession.

Plus, when we go, it is Christ in the Confessional. We see the priest but it's really Jesus - he is the real minister of all the sacraments (see Mt 28:20). He knows all of our sins, and wants to free us of our guilt, shame, and slavery to sin.

He treats us as he did the (embarrassed) woman caught in adultery: "neither do I condemn you. Go [and] from now on do not sin any more" (Jn 8:11). This encounter with the God of Mercy changed her life! She went through a few moments of embarrassment and then experienced a joy she had never known. She experienced the joy of Christ's love and forgiveness... a lasting joy! If we risk a few moments of embarrassment, then we, too, will receive the reward of heavenly joy.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Psalm 51:3

"Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness" (Ps 51:3).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"I will give you rest"

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, ad I will give you rest" - Mt 11:28

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Rejoicing in heaven"

A woman who lived near the parish died suddenly at the age of 49. I was especially saddened when I got the call about her death from the funeral home because the next of kin is her 17 year old daughter. When I offered the vigil prayers at the viewing, I asked the many friends and family to continue to pray for and support this precious girl much in the coming days and weeks. Having lost my own father to a sudden death when I was 17, my heart went out to the daughter in a special way.

The next day, we celebrated a beautiful burial service at the cemetery in the hot late morning sun. Many people turned out to honor and pray for the repose of the soul of this God-fearing woman. Afterwards, the family was generous enough to invite me back to their home for the reception where the scores of family and friends gathered.

Many of the daughter's friends were playing basketball in the street shortly after I arrived. At one point, I walked over and asked how much they would wager that I could drain a 20-foot shot. One guy said, "$20". My first shot fell short, and I was in the hole to the young lad. "Double or nothing", I said, to which he agreed. Then, as I lined up the next shot, one of the girls said, "I didn't know priests could play basketball" to the group of about 20 who had gathered. Whoosh! The second shot was good, the kids went nuts, and the guy was shaking his head.

Some time later, I was talking with some of the good folks back in the house. A family member asked for a blessing. Minutes after the blessing, she asked to go to Confession which we did on the side porch. Another beautiful woman of faith! When we walked back in the living room, another woman asked to reconcile with God (and the Church) in Confession.

By the time I left, three people had made beautiful Confessions; what an awesome gift for this new priest! And, it had been many, many years for some. I was reiterating to them how great it was that they came back to the Sacrament, and how much it pleased God. I told them that there was great rejoicing in heaven, just as Jesus has said: "There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance" (Lk 15:7).

Monday, July 10, 2006

"My grace is sufficient"

"My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness" - 2 Cor 12:9.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

14th Sunday, Ordinary - Homily

One of the greatest examples of faith that I've seen involves a friend of mine who recently became Catholic. She is about my age, so she is a young woman… She was Greek Orthodox which is a very cultural faith. If one leaves the Greek Orthodox Church, it's as if you're not even Greek anymore. And, for my friend, this has been the reaction of her family. She has truly believed for a few years now that Christ is calling her to a deeper relationship with Him… in the Catholic Church. But, she has received little or no support from her family. It has been very hard for her to receive such criticism from those who are closest to her. And yet, she has continued to grow closer to Him. While it has been very hard, she has shown such beautiful and powerful faith.

We have heard much about faith in the Gospels the last couple of weeks. We heard about the lack of faith of the Apostles in the boat with Jesus. Then, last week, we heard about the great faith of the woman with the hemorrhage. Today, we hear that Jesus was amazed at the lack of faith of his own people. So, what does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to lack faith? As Christians, it comes down to the question of Jesus Christ. If we have faith, we believe in Him. If we lack faith, we don't believe in Him.

Now, the story of faith begins in the Old Testament. We see how God sends men and women to be his prophets. Holy men and women like Ezekiel from the first reading were sent by God to bring His message of love to his people. But, the prophets were rejected! God's people didn't believe that they were sent by God, and didn't listen to them. The story leads to Christ…God sends his only Son to his people so that they might believe in Him. And, as we just heard in the Gospel, Christ is rejected! He is rejected by his own people, the people from his hometown. They represent the people of Israel, God's people. God's own people don't believe in Him.

We might look at this story, and think, 'how could they reject Jesus? How could they not believe in Him?' But, we ourselves reject Christ in our own lives. We reject Him whenever we reject Scripture…or Tradition…or the Magisterium of the Church. We reject Christ whenever we don’t believe in the Sacraments…and the grace and power that they contain, especially the Eucharist. Whenever we don't love our neighbor or serve the poor, we reject Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 25 that "whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me".

Now, if we look at our lives of faith, and we see that we have been lacking faith, can God forgive us? Absolutely, in the Sacrament of Confession. It is the Sacrament of mercy. God forgives our lack of faith and restores our faith. He gives us a new life of faith! A life that is centered on Jesus in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is c.o.o.l.: center of our lives. When we receive the Eucharist, we are filled with faith; our faith is nourished and strengthened. It gives us the strength and courage to be like my friend who made Him number one in her life!

It helps us to believe that He is the Risen One…the Son of God…our Savior. We believe that He has power over all things in our lives. We believe that He is with us, helping us tackle all of our problems. We believe that He creates us, saves us, and can change us. We believe that He loves us with an unending love. God's love for each one of us does not end!

So, this day and this week, may we put our faith in Christ. Let us be men and women of faith this week. May we be open to Him and believe in Him this day. May we know His great love for us this day.

Friday, July 07, 2006

"This is a hard teaching"

Mass and Adoration tonight! All bloggers are invited to join me tonight (7/7) in St Andrew's Church for Mass (7 pm) and Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist (7:30-8:30). We'll have some prayerful music and I'll offer a spiritual reflection. These are two great ways to be with our Lord, but especially on First Friday (of the month).
Recently, a SAA blogger wrote the following about the Eucharist: "I JUST DON'T GET IT!!!! I can't really explain but I try to believe that it's God but somehow I just can't. That's a problem that sometimes occurs. The ENORMITY of it all just overwhelms me that I am scared to even try to understand the Eucharist fully. I'd feel safer thinking that it's just a symbol."

This is really good stuff! I don't mean to belittle the anonymous blogger's struggle at all because "this is a hard teaching" (John 6:60). But, this is what faith is all about. A connection has been made for "Anon": he/she has heard the Truth about the Eucharist. For that reason, Anon, you do get it!! You are so right to say that the ENORMITY OF IT ALL IS OVERWHELMING. It is. But, so many Catholics never even approach that point because it never registers with them that it's anything more than bread.

Now, a few practical points, to help you and all those who struggle with the Real Presence in your faith:

1) Trying to understand the Eucharist is like trying to understand the Trinity: 'not gonna do it'. We believe THAT transubstantiation occurs (the substances of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ while retaining their qualities) but we don't understand HOW it happens; it's a mystery.
2) Please read John 6. This is where Jesus teaches about the Eucharist. Neither in this chapter nor in any of the Last Supper accounts does Jesus use the word 'symbol'. The word symbol, in relation to the Eucharist, was first used in the 1500s by the Protestant Reformers.
3) To use an analogy, monopoly money is symbolic only; it means nothing in the real world.

Martin Luther was a Catholic priest who helped start the "protests" against the Church 500 years ago. He changed "this is my body" to "this symbolizes my body" in his biblical translation in order to meet the new theology of his movement. 'The Eucharist is a symbol only' is man-made; the Church has condemned it as heresy (denial of a truth that must be believed in faith). It doesn't appear anywhere in Scripture, Tradition, or in the teachings of the Magisterium. It is not safe at all, then, to believe that the Eucharist is symbolic only; in fact, heresy puts one's soul in REAL DANGER!

The Church has believed for 2000 years that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ- Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity - because of 4 words: "This is my body". Jesus said these words at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharist (and the priesthood). Before that, he spoke in real, literal terms to thousands of Jews when he taught about the Eucharist: "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal flesh is real food and my blood is real drink" (John 6:54,55). Almost all of them rejected his teaching and left him that day. He didn't stop them, and say 'hey, you all misunderstood me'. They understood him correctly, and didn't believe him.

The Apostles also understood him correctly, but they DID believe Him even though they didn't understand. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we believe" (Jn 6:68).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Birthday, U. S.!

Happy 4th of July!! We get together every year to celebrate the anniversary of our country's independence, and this is a great day. A holiday is always a nice break! But, to enjoy good times with family and friends and celebrate what it means to be an American is something special. Happy Birthday, United States!

If you're like me, it's been a while since you read the Declaration of Independence which was written and signed on or around this date two hundred and thirty years ago. It is an impressive document which reveals so much of who we have been, are, and should be as a united people. Let there be no doubt of the firm foundation of faith on which the United States of America has been based. Here are some excerpts of the Declaration:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness...

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America … solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown … And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor"

Our Founding Fathers believed firmly that GOD GIVES EVERY AMERICAN THE RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS? Do we share the Founders' faith and live it? Do we defend the rights of all of the young, the elderly, the immigrants, the unborn, the handicapped, and the poor as being God-given rights? Also, do we firmly rely on the protection of Divine Providence on our great land?

In the United States, has faith increased or decreased since July 4, 1776?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

13th Sunday, Ordinary - Homily

A St Andrew parishioner has asked me to post my Sunday homilies. I don't write them out, so I'll make my best effort to remember what I said!
We don't hear the story of the woman with the hemorrhage very often in the cycle of Lectionary readings at Mass. It is a powerful story. This woman suffered for twelve years from hemorrhaging (bleeding) and went to many doctors. None of them could heal her. Then, she just touched the garment of Jesus, and immediately, the bleeding stopped. She was healed.

We use this story many times on retreats, especially with youth. What we do is bring Jesus out of the tabernacle and onto the altar in the monstrance. Then the priest puts on this garment called a humeral veil. Now, our parents and the older generation grew up on Benediction, where the priest gives the Benediction with the monstrance while wearing the veil. The understanding is that with the garment over his hands, the priest is taken out of the equation. It is really Jesus (in the Eucharist) who is giving the blessing.

So, what we do is have the priest bring the monstrance from the altar to where the youth are. He processes to where the kids are, and walks slowly around them. Holding the monstrance with the veil, again it is that he is taken out of the equation. It is really Jesus walking through the crowd of youth just as walked through the crowd in the Gospel. Using this Gospel story as the backdrop, the kids reach out and touch the garment of Jesus. Now, these kids are dealing with so much in their lives…I've seen it time and again where they experience real healing by touching the garment of Christ. It is very powerful.

We all are dealing with a lot. We all have wounds like the woman with the hemorrhage. Our wounds may go back twelve years, maybe longer. Our wounds may be sins…habits…vices…maybe problems with family or friends…maybe hatred…anger… rejection…loneliness…tragedy…illness. Whatever our wounds are, we can be healed… by Christ.

Are we like the woman with the hemorrhage, and have gone to many doctors to be healed. Do we go to counselors or therapists with our wounds? None of them has the power to heal us like Christ has. He is the Divine Physician who can heal our souls… mainly through the Eucharist and Confession. And, he has given his power of healing to his priests. I know possess his power to heal. One therapist told me and a group of priests, "we don't have the tools and power that you guys have."

But, why is it that we all have wounds? Why do we all suffer? Where did suffering come from? Did God make suffering? No. From our first reading, Wisdom Chapter 1, "God did not make death" (v. 13). God did not make suffering. "Death entered the world through the envy of the devil" (Wis 2:23), through sin. Suffering, then, is a natural result of sin. That means that all of my wounds are caused by own sins or the sins of others.

Now, what if my wound is cancer, or depression? It doesn't seem fair because I've done nothing wrong. Well, we look at the Cross, and see the ultimate Innocent Victim. He did nothing wrong, and suffered tremendous wounds for us. St. Peter writes in his first letter, chapter 2, "by his wounds you are healed" (v.24). Christ took on all of our wounds so that we might be healed. He knows the pain of all of our wounds, and can heal them.

So, we come to this Eucharist today to be healed. It is the same Christ that will be present on the altar and in Holy Communion who healed the woman with the hemorrhage. It is the same Jesus, the same healing power. If we come to Him with the same faith as her, hopefully He will say the same words to our hearts: "your faith has saved you" (Mk 5:34). Your faith has healed you. May we all be open to the healing power of Christ this week. He has such a great desire to heal each one of us. He has such great love for each of us. A deep, passionate love. May you know His great love for you this week.