Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"How do you hear God?"

The following are questions from anonymous bloggers:

1) “How do you hear God? …I have heard others say that they hear God through prayer- but h-o-w does that happen?”

The fourth part of the summer Adoration series is this Friday night. My reflection will be focused on “How Do I Pray?” During the reflection, I will address your question, Anon. The answer has to do with putting ourselves in God’s presence (meditation) in order for Him to speak to us (contemplation). Because we are all different and have different personalities, contemplation occurs differently for each of us. In other words, we all don’t hear God speaking in the same way.

The general principles of how to hear God speak to us (mediation and contemplation) are captured beautifully by Fr. Thomas Dubay in his book, “Fire Within”. Of course, pray-ers should consult a spiritual director to know how to apply the principles specifically in their prayer lives as well as how to interpret what happens in their prayer.

2) “Except for the inability to forgive, aren’t anger and resentment a normal emotion, felt by some more than others? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there such a thing as justified anger? Didn’t both God and Jesus exhibit anger at the behavior of many people? Wasn’t their anger justified considering the acts people were participating in? Had they choose not to express their anger, what would have happened?”

This comment is a response to a homily I gave where I made the link between a lack of forgiveness and anger. There are those, I claimed, who “don’t forgive others or themselves as often, and so their burdens are heavier. Their resentments grow, and anxiety and anger increase in their lives.” Anon, your qualification, ‘Except for the inability to forgive’ is exactly the situation I am describing! The inability to forgive brings the negative emotions of anger and resentment.

Emotions can be good or bad. We all have passions; they are the “natural components of the human psyche” (CCC, #1764). How we direct our passions will determine whether they are good or evil. Anger, for example, is an “emotion which is not in itself wrong” (CCC, glossary). Anger which is directed toward evil or acts of injustice is righteous or justified anger. Christ himself was filled with righteous anger at least once in the Gospel.

But, when it “is not controlled by reason or hardens into resentment and hate, (anger) becomes one of the seven capital sins. Christ taught that anger is an offense against the fifth commandment” (CCC). “Everyone who is angry with his brother is liable to judgment” (Mt 5:22). The anger which leads to hate others is the type of anger to which I was referring in my homily. When we don’t forgive others, we become more and more angry with them.

3) “What about the gospel passage that says he who is without sin, cast the first stone? None of us are without sin, so how can we admonish another whether in love or not.”

As other bloggers have pointed out, the Gospel passage to which you are referring is not about the admonishment of sinners. I personally think that it has to do with capital punishment; it reveals Jesus’ opposition to it, in my opinion.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

17th Sunday - homily

Some of you have seen the pamphlet I’ve written on the Eucharist, “C.o.o.l.”. In the pamphlet, I have an exercise which I often use when I give talks on the Eucharist to groups or conferences or on retreats. In the exercise, I ask the people to make a list of the ten most important people, places, or things in their life. Once they’ve made their list, I ask them to number the items 1-10, with 1 being the most important.

One time I was leading this exercise to a group of religious leaders in parishes and schools – teachers, catechists, directors of religious education. I said to them, ‘I hope that God has made your list! If not, please add him as a late entry, and…you’re fired!’ (No one was fired that day)

Hopefully, God would make all of our top ten lists; ideally, He is #1. The exercise is a good one to see what is most important to us in life. Also, it helps us to see where God is in our list of the most important and valuable things. The point of today’s readings is that God is not only the important person, place, or thing in our lives, He is the most valuable.

Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God as a treasure in today’s Gospel which is so valuable that it is worth giving up everything to have it. There is a story which I just came across last week which is a great example of this. A young man is retiring from professional soccer in order to be a priest. Chase Hilgenbrinck is 26 and just retired from the New England Revolution soccer team so that he can enter Mount St. Mary’s seminary this Fall. For Chase, the kingdom of Heaven is such a valuable treasure that he is giving up everything in order to have it on Earth.

Why would he do this? Why would the two men from the parable give up everything to have the Kingdom of Heaven? Why would Solomon from the first reading – who could have had anything he wanted from God – choose the things of God over anything else? Why would these individuals all give up anything and everything for the kingdom of Heaven? Because the Kingdom of Heaven brings fulfillment. God’s kingdom fulfills us.
It brings great joy, a joy that lasts. This fulfillment or happiness is so great that it is worth giving up everything else to obtain it.

We look at the things that are most important to us – we look at our top ten lists – and ask, do they fulfill us? Do they bring us happiness? Do they bring a joy that doesn’t pass. If they do fulfill us, then they give us an experience of the Kingdom of Heaven. They are real treasures. If they don’t fulfill us, then they are most likely mere pleasures. Pleasure is joy that doesn’t last. The difference really is between treasure and pleasure: the kingdom of God involves treasure while the kingdom of this world involves pleasure.

In a few minutes, we will see and receive the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, the Eucharist. Hopefully, the Eucharist makes our top ten – again, it should be #1! It is the greatest treasure on Earth. It is the pearl of great price. It is more valuable than anything else on Earth. I have seen many people in our parish come to know the value of this treasure and have given up much to have it. They are experiencing fulfillment in coming to Mass or Adoration more frequently. They are experiencing happiness in the Eucharist. They are experiencing a joy that doesn’t pass. They are experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Ten Commandments of Forgiveness"

Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Summer Series continues! I will give a reflection, “Why Forgive?” Hope you can join us!
I will provide a handout tonight at Adoration which includes the following from a homily given by a priest, Fr. Brian Joyce. It is his "Ten Commandments of Forgiveness." If you would like to read his entire homily, please click on today’s title.

He introduces the list by saying, “Which (of these commandments) do I find most difficult to live with and to accept? I think the first five may be very hard to live with. But I think, at least up here in our heads, we accept them. I think. Here are the first five:

#1. Forgiveness is not easy. It takes time and it takes effort.

#2. Forgiveness is not forgetting. It doesn't mean a change in memory. It means a change in heart.

#3. Forgiveness does not overlook evil. In other words, it is not avoidance. It is not denial.

#4. Forgiveness is not destructive. It doesn't mean that we let hurt and damage continue and go on.

#5. Forgiveness is not the same thing as approval. In fact, the reason that we need forgiveness is that we don't approve. Something has happened that we do not approve of. We will not approve of it. What we can do is forgive.

Now, that's the first five. But then I think it gets more difficult. Think of these next five. Which of those do you not only have trouble living with, but which one would you say, for you, you are not even sure you can accept?

#6. Forgiveness is based on recognizing and admitting that people are always bigger than their faults. In other words, I shouldn't define people by just the way they have treated me. There is more to their lives than that.

#7. Forgiveness is willing to allow a person who has offended me to start over again. Or, do I say, "No room! No second chances! No, I will not ever let go and let you begin again."

#8. Forgiveness recognizes the humanity of the person who has wronged us and also recognizes our own humanity and our own shortcomings and our own contribution to what went wrong.

#9. Forgiveness surrenders the right to ‘get even.’ And, finally,

#10. Forgiveness means we wish the person or the group that has hurt us well. In fact, we wish them the best.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Called to something greater"

A St. Andrew’s parishioner sent me the following online article (espn.go.com) about a young, professional soccer player who recently retired in order to enter the seminary this Fall. Cool and inspiring stuff! Another parishioner suggested we ask him to speak to our kids at some point– good idea!

When he was playing professional soccer in Chile, Chase Hilgenbrinck would seek comfort in the churches to satisfy his spiritual needs and remind him of childhood Sundays spent at Holy Trinity in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill.

Even after moving back to the United States last Christmas to play Major League Soccer -- a dream of his, but just one of them -- Hilgenbrinck felt the pull of his religion.

"I felt called to something greater," Hilgenbrinck said. "At one time I thought that call might be professional soccer. In the past few years, I found my soul is hungry for something else.
"I discerned, through prayer, that it was calling me to the Catholic Church. I do not want this call to pass me by."

Hilgenbrinck accepted the calling on Monday when he left the New England Revolution and retired from professional soccer to enter a seminary, where he will spend the next six years studying theology and philosophy so he can be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.

"It's not that I'm ready to leave soccer. I still have a great passion for the game," he said in a telephone interview. "I wouldn't leave the game for just any other job. I'm moving on for the Lord. I want to do the will of the Lord, I want to do what he wants for me, not what I want to do for myself."

A 26-year-old defender who was the captain of the Revolution's reserve team, Hilgenbrinck will attend Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. After finishing his studies, he will report to his home parish in Peoria, Ill., for assignment.

"He said it was time for him, that he had been thinking long and hard," New England vice president of player personnel Michael Burns said. "Purely from a Revs standpoint, it's too bad. But a lot of players leave the game not on their own terms. He's clearly left on his own terms, which is great for him."

Raised in a Catholic family of regular churchgoers, Hilgenbrinck played soccer at Clemson and hooked on with the Chilean first division after he went unpicked in the 2004 MLS draft.
Far from home, he began to seek out familiar surroundings.

"I fell back on what I knew, and that was the Catholic Church," he said. "I grew up as a Catholic. I was always involved in the church, went to Catholic schools. It was when I got out on my own that my faith really became mine. I really embraced it. I didn't have to go to church any more, I was free to really believe what I wanted to believe.

"I looked to strengthen my personal relationship with Christ. And when my personal life started to flourish, I couldn't turn my back on that relationship."

Hilgenbrinck was signed and cut by the Colorado Rapids before he landed with the Revolution. He played in four MLS games for New England and started in both of the Revolution's U.S. Open Cup matches this month.

Although he has felt the calling for some time, Hilgenbrinck also knew it would be easier to continue playing soccer. He tried to convince himself that he was not ready, not deserving, or not in a hurry.

"I was putting up a bunch of barriers, saying I'm not worthy to be called to something like that," he said. "But, one by one, the barriers started to come down."

With a short window in which he will be able to play professional sports, he considered postponing the priesthood until after his career was over. But he decided with the same certainty that he could not allow himself to wait.

"Trust me, I thought of that," said Hilgenbrinck, who in his studies came across the saying, "Delayed obedience is disobedience."

"We are all called to do something. I feel like my specific call is to the priesthood. So, no, it was not possible to continue with soccer. It's absolutely inevitable."

Hilgenbrinck had his initial interview for the seminary last July, followed by a rigorous application process. There were written tests, personality screenings, background checks, fingerprinting and meetings with three different psychiatrists to make sure he had the right temperament to be a priest.

At first, he told no one, lest they influence him one way or the other: "I really wanted it to be a decision between me and God," he said.

There were more tests in January, and in March Hilgenbrinck learned he had been accepted to the seminary. A few weeks ago, he met with Burns and Revolution coach Steve Nicol.

"We weren't exactly sure what he was going to say, because it's not what you usually hear," Burns said. "When he said it, I was glad. I was glad for him. This is something that he clearly wants to do, and we wish him all the best."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

16th Sunday - Gospel commentary

The following is a Gospel Commentary for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, as found on Zenit.org:

Jesus sketched the situation of the Church in the world with three parables. The grain of mustard seed that becomes a tree indicates the growth of the Kingdom of God on earth. Also the parable of leaven in the dough signifies the growth of the Kingdom, not so much in extension as in intensity. It indicates the transforming force of the Gospel that raises the dough and prepares it to become bread.

These two parables were easily understood by the disciples, but not so the third, the seeds and the weeds, which Jesus explained to them separately. The sower, he said, was himself, the good seeds were the children of the Kingdom, the bad seeds were the children of the evil one, the field was the world and the harvest was the end of the world.

In antiquity, Jesus' parable was the object of a memorable dispute that it is very important to keep in mind also today. There were sectarian spirits, the Donatists, who resolved the matter in a simplistic way: On one hand was the Church (their church) made up wholly and solely of the perfect; on the other was the world full of children of the evil one, without hope of salvation.St. Augustine opposed them: The field, he explained, is, indeed, the world, but it is also the Church, the place in which saints and sinners live side-by-side, and in which there is room to grow and to be converted. "The evildoers," he said, "exist in this way either so that they will be converted, or because through them the good exercise patience."

Hence the scandals that every now and then shake the Church should sadden, but not surprise us. The Church is made up of human persons, not wholly and solely of saints. There are weeds also in every one of us, not only in the world and in the Church, and this should render us less ready to point the finger.To Luther, who rebuked Erasmus of Rotterdam for staying in the Catholic Church notwithstanding her corruption, the latter responded: "I support this Church in the hope that she will become better, because she is also constrained to bear with me in the hope that I will become better."

Perhaps the main subject of the parable, however, is neither the seeds nor the weeds, but God's patience. The liturgy underlines it with the selection of the first reading, which is a hymn to God's strength that is manifested under the form of patience and indulgence. God's patience is not simply patience, namely, awaiting the Day of Judgment so as to punish more severely. It is forbearance, mercy, the will to save.

The parable of the seeds and the weeds lends itself to a wider reflection. One of the principal motives of embarrassment for believers and of rejection of God by nonbelievers has always been the "disorder" that exists in the world. Ecclesiastes, which in so many instances makes itself the spokesman of doubters and skeptics, noted, "There is the same lot for all, for the just and the wicked" (9:2). And, "Under the sun in the judgment place I saw wickedness, and in the seat of justice, iniquity" (3:16).At all times, iniquity has been seen as triumphant and innocence as humiliated. "However," noted the great orator Bossuet, "so that the world is not believed to be something fixed and secure, note that sometimes the contrary is seen, namely, innocence on the throne and iniquity on the scaffold. "

The response to this scandal was already found by the author of Ecclesiastes: "And I said to myself, both the just and the wicked God will judge, since there is a time for every affair and on every work a judgment" (3:17). It is what Jesus calls in the parable "the time of harvest." In other words, it is a question of finding the precise point of observation in face of the reality, of seeing things in the light of eternity.

It is what happens with certain modern paintings that, seen up close, seem a medley of colors without order or meaning, but seen from the correct distance they reveal a precise and powerful design.

It is not a question of remaining passive and in expectation in face of evil and injustice, but of struggling with all licit means to promote justice and repress injustice and violence. To this effort, which involves men of good will, faith adds assistance and support of inestimable value -- the certainty that the final victory will not be that of injustice and arrogance, but of innocence.

Modern man finds it difficult to accept the idea of God's Last Judgment on the world and history, but in this he contradicts himself because it is he himself who rebels against the idea that injustice has the last word.In so many millennia of life on earth, man has become accustomed to everything: He has adapted himself to all climates, and immunized himself against so many sicknesses. However, he has never become accustomed to one thing: injustice. He continues to see it as intolerable. And it is to this thirst for justice that the judgment will respond. This will not be willed only by God, but by all men and, paradoxically, even by the ungodly."In the day of the universal judgment," says the poet Paul Claudel, "it is not only the Judge who will descend from heaven, but the whole earth will precipitate the encounter."

How much human affairs change when seen from this angle, even those that are happening in the world today! Let us take the phenomenon, which so humiliates and saddens us Italians, of organized crime. Recently, Roberto Saviano's book "Gomorrah," and later the film made about it, documented the degree of odiousness and contempt of others gathered around the heads of these organizations, but also the sense of impotence and almost of resignation of society in face of the phenomenon.

We saw in the past people of the mafia accused of horrible crimes, defend themselves with a smile on their lips, defeating the judges and courts, gaining strength by the lack of evidence. As if, pretending to be candid before the human judges, they resolved everything. If I could address them I would say: Don't delude yourselves, poor unfortunate ones; you haven't accomplished a thing! The real judgment must still begin. You may end your days in liberty, honored, and finally with a splendid religious funeral, after having left hefty donations for charitable works, but you will not have accomplished anything. The true Judge awaits you behind the door, and you can't cheat him. God does not allow himself to be bribed.

Hence, what Jesus says at the end of his explanation of the parable of the weeds should be a reason for consolation for the victims, and of healthy dread for the violent. "Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with the fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his Kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father."

Friday, July 18, 2008

World Youth Day '08 - Sydney, Australia

Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Summer Series continues! I will give a reflection, “The Mass Explained” (Part II). Hope you can join us!
As you’ve probably seen on the news, Pope Benedict XVI is in Sydney, Australia for World Youth Day (WYD) which is a week-long festival for youth from all over the world. WYD began in the 1980s under Pope John Paul II as a way for youth to celebrate their faith in Christ with the Holy Father and each other. Some WYDs have drawn over 1 million youths, changing many of their lives forever.

One local priest says that his journey to the priesthood really began when attended WYD in Denver in 1993 with his girlfriend. He was so inspired hearing JP II talk about “going out to the rooftops” to spread the Gospel that he decided that’s what he wanted to do with his life.

Hopefully, the youth from St. Andrew’s will be able to attend the next WYD (we were unable to attend this time because of costs and scheduling). By the way, World Youth Day (July 15-20) is televised on EWTN.

The following are excerpts from Pope Benedict’s address at the welcoming ceremony:

"Some might ask what motivates thousands of young people to undertake what is for many a long and demanding journey in order to participate in an event of this kind. Ever since the first World Youth Day in 1986, it has been evident that vast numbers of young people appreciate the opportunity to come together to deepen their faith in Christ and to share with one another a joyful experience of communion in his Church. They long to hear the word of God, and to learn more about their Christian faith. They are eager to take part in an event which brings into focus the high ideals that inspire them, and they return home filled with hope and renewed in their resolve to contribute to the building of a better world. For me it is a joy to be with them, to pray with them and to celebrate the Eucharist with them. World Youth Day fills me with confidence for the future of the Church and the future of our world…

With many thousands of young people visiting Australia at this time, it is appropriate to reflect upon the kind of world we are handing on to future generations. In the words of your national anthem, this land 'abounds in nature’s gifts, of beauty rich and rare'. The wonder of God’s creation reminds us of the need to protect the environment and to exercise responsible stewardship of the goods of the earth. In this connection I note that Australia is making a serious commitment to address its responsibility to care for the natural environment. Likewise with regard to the human environment, this country has generously supported international peace-keeping operations, contributing to conflict resolution in the Pacific, in South-East Asia and elsewhere. Owing to the many religious traditions represented in Australia, this is particularly fertile ground for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. I look forward to meeting local representatives of different Christian communities and other religions during my stay, so as to encourage this important work, a sign of the reconciling action of the Spirit who impels us to seek unity in truth and charity.

First and foremost, though, I am here to meet the young, from Australia and from all over the world, and to pray for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all those taking part in our celebrations. The theme chosen for World Youth Day 2008 is taken from words spoken by Jesus himself to his disciples, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: 'You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses to the ends of the earth' (1:9). I pray that the Holy Spirit will bring spiritual renewal to this land, to the Australian people, to the Church throughout Oceania and indeed to the ends of the earth. Young people today face a bewildering variety of life-choices, so that they sometimes find it hard to know how best to channel their idealism and their energy. It is the Spirit who gives the wisdom to discern the right path and the courage to follow it. He crowns our poor efforts with his divine gifts, just as the wind filling the sails sweeps the ship forward, far surpassing what the oarsmen can achieve through their laborious rowing. In this way, the Spirit enables men and women in every land and in every generation to become saints. Through the Spirit’s action, may the young people gathered here for World Youth Day have the courage to become saints! This is what the world needs more than anything else."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Year of St. Paul

“Anon” wrote the following: “Pope Benedict has proclaimed June 28, 2008 to June 29, 2009 to be the Pauline year to commemorate the second millennium of the birth of the Apostle of the Gentiles. St. Paul was deeply committed to spreading the Good News to all, with a burning desire for unity and harmony between all Christians. How is St. Andrew the Apostle Church and/or the Archdiocese of Washington emphasizing the ecumenical theme that ran through St. Paul’s life?”

Thanks for raising this question, Anon. I am unaware of ways that our parish or Archdiocese is emphasizing St. Paul’s ecumenical outreach, but will post them on here if I learn of any. The following is an article (Zenit.org) which discusses Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 30):

…The Pontiff then proposed three texts from Pauline letters to look at Paul's "inner physiognomy […] that which is specific about his character."

Beloved by Christ

The first passage cited by the Pope was Paul's profession of faith in the Letter to the Galatians: "I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me."

"All that Paul does starts from this center," the Holy Father explained. "His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a totally personal way; it is awareness of the fact that Christ faced death not for something anonymous, but for love of him, of Paul, and that, risen, Christ still loves him, has given himself for him.

"His faith is having been captured by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that affects him in his innermost being and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an option about God or the world. His faith is the impact of the love of God on his heart. So, this faith itself is love of Jesus Christ."

This faith and love, the Bishop of Rome continued, were linked to truth."The truth was too great for [Paul] to be ready to sacrifice it in view of an external success," he said.

"The truth he had experienced in his encounter with the Risen One merited for him struggle, persecution and suffering. However, what motivated him in the depth of his being was being loved by Jesus Christ and the desire to transmit this love to others. Paul was someone able to love, and all his work and suffering is explained from this center."

With this foundation, the Holy Father suggested, it is easy to understand the concepts in the Pauline proclamation. He used as an example one of Paul's key words, freedom.

"The experience of being loved to the end by Christ opened [Paul's] eyes about truth and the path of human existence; that experience embraced everything," he said. "Paul was free as a man loved by God that, in virtue of God, was able to love together with him. This love is now the 'law' of his life and, precisely thus, was the freedom of his life. He speaks and acts, moved by the responsibility of love; he is free, and given that he is one who loves, he lives totally in the responsibility of this love and does not take freedom as a pretext for pleasure and egoism."

Identified with Church

Benedict XVI offered as a second text Paul's conviction about Christ being identified with the Church, a conviction that arose from his conversion experience on the road to Damascus.

The Holy Father recalled how Paul responded to the voice that asked him, "Why do you persecute me?" with the question, "Who are you, Lord?""And he received the reply: 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.' By persecuting the Church," the Pope said, "Paul was persecuting Jesus himself. 'You are persecuting me.'"

He explained: "Jesus identifies himself with the Church in a single subject. In this exclamation of the Risen One -- which transformed Saul's life -- is contained the whole doctrine of the Church as Body of Christ. […] The Church is not an association that wishes to promote a certain cause. It is not about a cause. It is about the person of Jesus Christ. […] He is personally present in the Church. 'Head and Body' form a single subject, said Augustine.

"So Christ becomes one spirit with his own, one subject in the new world of the resurrection. In all this, the Eucharistic mystery is visualized, in which Christ constantly gives his Body and makes of us one Body."

The Pontiff said that now, Paul and Christ address us with the question, "'How were you able to lacerate my Body?' Before the face of Christ, this question becomes at the same time an urgent appeal: Bring us together again from all our divisions. Make this again a reality today: There is only one bread; therefore, we, despite being many, are only one body."

Ready to suffer

Finally, Benedict XVI offered as a third citation one of St. Paul's last exhortations, written from prison where he was facing death: "Endure with me sufferings for the Gospel."

"The task of proclamation and the call to suffering for Christ are inseparably together," the Pope affirmed. "The call to be teacher of the Gentiles is at the same time and intrinsically a call to suffering in communion with Christ, who has redeemed us through his passion.

"In a world in which lying is powerful, truth is paid for with suffering. He who wishes to avoid suffering, to keep it far from himself, will have pushed away life itself and its grandeur. […] There is no love without suffering, without the suffering of denying ourselves, of the transformation and purification of the 'I' for true freedom.

"Wherever there is nothing worth suffering for, life itself also loses its value. The Eucharist -- center of our Christian being -- is based on the sacrifice of Jesus for us; it was born from the suffering of the love that found its culmination on the cross. We live from this love that gives itself. This gives us the courage and strength to suffer with Christ and for him, thus knowing that precisely in this way our life becomes great, mature and true."

It was Paul's suffering that make him "credible as teacher of truth," the Holy Father proposed.

And he concluded with a prayer: "At this hour in which we thank the Lord for having called Paul, making him the light of the Gentiles and teacher of us all, we pray: Give us also today the testimony of the Resurrection, touched by your love, and [make us] able to carry the light of the Gospel in our time. St. Paul, pray for us. Amen."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

15th Sunday - homily

I would like to offer a guided meditation on today’s Gospel almost as if we were on retreat and taking a step back on our relationship with God. This parable – the parable of the sower – is often used on retreats as a way to look at our relationship with God and see where we are and have been. Whenever we come to Mass or even enter into prayer, it is like a retreat in the sense that we take a break from the busy-ness of our everyday lives. We see if we’ve been hearing what God has been saying to us or if we’ve ever heard him speaking to us. If we haven’t, then we try to see why not. It is an opportunity for us to see if we are doing God’s Will which is we are here in the first place.

The parable of the sower helps us to see if we hear the word of God and understand it. The sower is God, the seed is the word of God, and the soil is us. The parable teaches us that God speaks to all because his seed goes to all areas. So, He is speaking to me to each one of us; the question is, then, is each one of us hearing Him? If not, why not? Jesus offers three reasons why not.

First, it could be the Devil or demons who have stolen the word of God from our lives just like birds would steal seed from a path. Second, we might be careless or uncommitted in hearing the word of God like someone who is careless in allowing soil to become rocky ground; we just might not care about hearing the word of God. Third, thorns might choke the word in our lives; Jesus says these are worldly anxieties or riches. Are there thorns in my life? If so, what are they?

Most of us were raised Catholic. We heard the word of God growing up from our parents, priests, and teachers. And, we lived it; even if it was by rote, we lived the word of God. Then, as we got older, we met the world and its riches. In high school, it was popularity or acceptance. In college and in the business world, it was success, money, power, fame, possessions, or pleasure. Have these things choked the word of God in our lives? If we doubt whether the things of this world are opposed to Christ, then we only need to look at one image from our Lord’s passion: the world choked the head of Christ with a crown of thorns. The riches of this world can choke the word of God like thorns in our lives.

The only option for us to bear fruit in our lives, Jesus says, is to hear the word of God and to begin to understand it. It’s the only way to do God’s Will and to find happiness. I’ve known many people who have gone on retreat and heard the word of God with regards to the Eucharist for the first time. They heard the teaching and understood it, and it changed their lives. They understood that the teaching is for real. They understood that the Eucharist is for real. They understood that our faith is for real. The teaching on the Eucharist is a great starting point for us to hear the word of God and to understand it.

When we hear the word of God and begin to understand it, it takes root and bears fruit. This is how we do God’s Will. The first reading says that this is the purpose of our lives on earth. We have been sent to bear fruit. When we hear the word of God, we bear fruit, do God’s Will, thus achieving the end for which we have been sent.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Outdoor weddings?

Eucharistic Adoration tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Summer Series begins! I will give a reflection, “The Mass Explained” (Part I). Hope you can join us!
“Anon” posted the following question: “Someone was telling me that her daughter and future son-in-law, who are planning to marry outside, cannot be married by a priest because they must have a consecrated altar. So, I was wondering, when we have masses outside, the Blessing of the Animals, for example, what is used for the altar?”

Good question, Anon. I’ve never heard the need for a consecrated altar used as a reason why Catholic weddings can’t be celebrated outdoors. The implication to your question is correct: in some extraordinary circumstances (Mass with the Blessing of the Animals, e.g.) we use simple tables to serve as altars. In its treatment of the issue of the location of where weddings are to occur, Canon Law makes no mention of the need for a consecrated altar. The following canons address the location of weddings:

Can. 1115: Marriages are to be celebrated in the parish in which either of the contracting parties has a domicile or a quasi‚domicile or a month's residence or, if there is question of vagi, in the parish in which they are actually residing. With the permission of the proper Ordinary or the proper parish priest, marriages may be celebrated elsewhere.

Can. 1118: ß1 A marriage between Catholics, or between a catholic party and a baptized non-Catholic, is to be celebrated in the parish church. By permission of the local Ordinary or of the parish priest, it may be celebrated in another church or oratory.

ß2 The local Ordinary can allow a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.

ß3 A marriage between a catholic party and an unapprised party may be celebrated in a church or in another suitable place.

So, the question is, when the Church says that weddings can be celebrated “elsewhere” and “in another suitable place”, why can’t this mean outdoors? And again, I would say, good question! Some dioceses in the United States allow outdoor weddings, but most do not. I can’t speak for the bishops of the different dioceses, but my guess is that outdoor weddings are prohibited because the sacredness of a church is greater than the sacredness of nature. Marriage is a sacred act! The real symbolism of the couple bringing their relationship to God in His House is greater than the symbolism involved in wedding in a garden or on a beach. As the Diocese of Wilmington (DE) explains on their website, “While no one can deny that the outdoors is created by God and reflects His glory in both the Old and New Testaments, there is reference to certain places set aside for God's action with His people and the sacred setting of the Church - center of the parish family - helps us emphasize that closeness to God”.

Finally, here are some thoughts from a priest, Fr. Rob Ruhnke , whose website I came across this morning. To view his full article, please click on today’s title.

“Outdoor weddings have been more and more discouraged (and most dioceses in the USA do not allow them) because the Catholic bishops are very concerned about the sad state of marriage in most modern countries. They have seen the divorce rate continue to escalate in the 20th century, and they have seen too many silly stunts (people getting married as they jump out of airplanes, or hold their breath under water). Thus, the bishops are trying to help couples understand the seriousness of Christian marriage and think that, if they require them to be married in churches, they will be more likely to think they are doing something serious and important.

So, while bishops can and do grant exceptions (e.g. if your mother is an invalid and confined to bed, it is easy to get permission to have the wedding in your mother's home so she can be present at the wedding), they are not likely to give permission for a "garden wedding" out of this concern that such settings give the wrong message about the seriousness and sacredness of the vows."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fraternal correction

Welcome to our summer seminarian, Anthony Lickteig, who will be with us until the end of August. He may be making an occasional post on here while he is with us.
The following is an anonymous comment to my post on May 20, “How to be a Better Catholic”, which laid out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (one of which is the admonishment of sinners):

“On the admonishment of sinners- When you know a person is:Committing a sin, over and over, weekend after weekend (the same self focused behavior) setting what I believe is a very poor example for his/her teenage children and friends, attends church and accepts the Eucharist weekly, knows and understands the Ten Commandments (in my opinion), is not real gentle, forgiving, understanding or welcoming of criticism, is an acquaintance you will have to "chit chat" with from time to time (job related, kid related), is it really our place to admonish them for their sin? I discuss my viewpoint on the behavior with my own kids, but also say, “To each his own, it’s not our place to judge.” If I were to admonish the sinner, I feel as if I am being judgmental and am teaching my children to be judgmental. Even if admonished in my own silence, or within my own home, Who are we to judge? God is the ultimate judge, knows all and is the person a sinner is ultimately accountable to. It’s their conscience, their choice and their eternal salvation that’s at stake. It’s simply a matter of time, on God’s clock. Thoughts anyone?”

We can look to the three legs (Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium) of the chair of our faith to know that admonishing sinners is an act of charity and mercy. First, there are many instances in Sacred Scripture that speak of fraternal correction – e.g. Lev 19:17, 2 Kings 12:1-14, James 5:20, 2 Tim 4:2. In the Gospels, Christ commanded us to rebuke our brother if he sins (Lk 17:3, Mt 18:15). Christ is Love, so it is a command from Love to rebuke our neighbor who is sinning. He warns us in Mt 25:45 that what we don’t do is a sin of omission: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me”. Second, our tradition reveals many instances of the saints who advocated the admonishment of sinners – St Paul, St James, etc. Finally, as I indicated in my post, the Magisterium of the Church lists the admonishment of sinners as a spiritual work of mercy.

You are certainly correct when you say that it’s not our place to judge people. We can judge actions, but not people. And as Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium teach us, we are called to approach people with charity about their sinful actions. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is one of the guiding maxims of our faith. You obviously love this person and hate what he (or she) is doing because you care enough to write a comment about him. If you didn’t love him, you wouldn’t care!

So, the question is should you say something to him. I discussed your situation with our seminarian, Anthony, who has offered two main points to consider. ‘Will this be best for the person’s salvation’ and ‘will this be done in context of a real friendship’? Good points to consider. After that, we’d recommend that you have to think and pray if the person will react well to fraternal correction and if you are the right person to do this. Is there anyone else who can point out his errors? Does anyone else know that what he’s doing is wrong? Probably yes. But, please keep this mind: you may be able to inform his conscience in ways that no one else can. In other words, his conscience may be misinformed about what’s right and wrong, and your admonishment could set the person straight. I think one of our bloggers wrote about that experience where someone corrected them; it’s often a correction to the conscience. His conscience may not know! Your role would then primarily be as a teacher.

If you discern that you are one who is to say something, then please don’t let the fear of appearing judgmental stop you. (I thank God that the people who have corrected me in my life weren’t too worried about their images). If you are the right person to say something, then that means that God is calling you to talk to him about his sinful behavior. It won’t be easy, but God will be with you. And remember, it is an act of charity and mercy.

Please keep in mind that your kids – whether they say this or not – will judge your reaction to the situation of this person (or anyone like him or her), if they know about it. They will judge that you either have strong convictions or you don’t. If they know that you already have strong convictions, then they will judge that you either are not afraid to speak the truth or you are. It may seem like an unfair deal, but kids see and hear everything that we adults do and say. Even in a culture which religiously preaches “To each his own, it’s not our place to judge”, our youth internally judge us every day. Ultimately, it’s a judgment about whether or not we take seriously our Christian faith and live it out.

Finally, it’s a great teaching moment with your kids. You can teach them what God’s love is and that it involves speaking the truth to those we love, even if it’s tough to do so. If you discern that you are supposed to speak to this person, then you can teach your kids that it’s not an act of judgment, it’s an act of love.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

14th Sunday - homily

“My yoke is easy, and my burden light”. How many times have we heard this saying of our Lord’s and wondered, ‘what is a yoke?’ Is it an egg yolk? No, it’s a harness which joins two animals together, mainly oxen. We are familiar with a harness for a horse; well, this is for two animals. I was hoping to use a yoke as a prop and do a little show-and-tell, but I didn’t know where the nearest yoke store is. So, I guess just describing it will do! So, it’s a harness that joins together two animals, mainly oxen. We know that oxen are called “beasts of burden”. Why does Jesus use the image of a yoke and it’s burdens?

In biblical terms, “yoke” referred to the Mosaic Law. The Law of Moses consisted of 613 laws! It could have presented a burden for people to live. On top of that, the Scribes and Pharisees had very strict interpretations of the Mosaic Law. They placed great burdens of people with the law and didn’t help them. Jesus says in Matthew 23 that the Scribes and Pharisees laid many burdens “on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them” (v. 4). Jesus is different in that while he does have a demanding law – he fulfills the Law of Moses – he helps people to live the law. He is the King and Savior who is meek that the first reading describes. His yoke is easy and his burden light because he is with his people to help them with their yokes and burdens.

To understand how this applies to our lives, I’d like to go through three situations with the example of forgiveness. The first situation involves someone who has given control to Christ; they have “let go and let God”. Christ is with them in their yoke and is steering it and bearing most of the weight. They go to Him regularly in prayer and in the sacraments. They regularly experience forgiveness. They receive His forgiveness in Confession and regularly forgive others and themselves. It is really Christ who is forgiving through them; it is His grace, strength, and Spirit. That experience of forgiveness removes much burden from their heart. He lifts a great burden from them. They truly experience that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

The second situation involves someone who has not given total control to Christ. They are with Him in his yoke, but want to steer it and take more of the weight of it. They don’t go Him regularly in prayer or in the sacraments. They don’t forgive others or themselves as often, and so their burdens are heavier. Their resentments grow, and anxiety and anger increase in their lives. Their yoke is harder because there is tension. They are taking more of the burden themselves, so it is heavier.

The third situation involves someone who has given no control to Christ. They are steering the yoke by themselves and carrying all of its weight. They don’t go to Christ in prayer or in the sacraments. It has been years since they have been to Confession. It has been years since they have reconciled with God or others. They don’t experience forgiveness on a regular basis. Relationships have been ruined in their family, marriage, and with friends. They have a huge burden in their hearts; it is the burden of pride. It is really living “according to the flesh” as St. Paul writes in the second reading. Their yoke is very hard and their burdens are very heavy because of pride, resentments, and unforgiveness. These may be the greatest burdens on the human heart.

Wherever we are in our relationship with Christ – whether we have given total control to Him, partial control, or no control – He calls us to come to Him. “Come to me all …who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest”. Come to me in Confession. Come to me in the Eucharist. I will lighten your load. “I am meek and humble of heart…my yoke is easy and my burden light”.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The United States: A "great country"

1) Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. Please join us after your barbecues and before the fireworks!
2) Adoration summer series ’08 begins next Friday, 7 pm. Please spread the word! Here are the topics for the series:

July 11: “The Mass Explained” (Part I)
July 18: “The Mass Explained” (Part II)
July 25: “Why Forgive?”
August 1: “How Do I Pray?”
August 8: “Why Does God Allow Suffering?”
August 15: “Heaven, Hell, & Purgatory” (Part I)
August 22: “Heaven, Hell, & Purgatory” (Part II)
Happy Independence Day!! We celebrated Mass for Independence Day this morning which was very well attended. I began my homily by saying that the United States is a great country. When he visited our land in April, these are the words that Pope Benedict XVI used to describe our nation. I asked how he could say that the U.S. is a “great country” given the fact that we initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to which the Pope is vehemently opposed, have legalized abortion and other life issues that are odds with the Holy Father’s teachings, and actively promoted a secularism that he ardently attacks.

Pope Benedict can say that the United States is a great country because it is a country of freedom. The Holy Father focused on freedom so much in his talks during his visit here because he knows the absolute value of freedom. He recognizes that the United States is a land where freedom can reign: national and communal freedom as well as personal freedom. He extolled our tradition of freedom at many points and in many ways; here is an excerpt from his address at the welcome ceremony at the White House:

“Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.”

Freedom allows us to be the people we truly want to be. Put in a better way, freedom allows us to be the people God intends us to be. This occurs for us as American citizens and as Christians. With moral choices, freedom means choosing the good. Each of us truly desires to choose what is good; none of us desires to choose what is bad. Evil often disguises itself as good and attractive (e.g., pornography). Freedom helps us not only to see good as good and evil as evil, but also to choose the good.

God truly desires us to be free as a nation and as individuals. He has given us the sacraments which are fonts of grace leading us to freedom. In particular, the Eucharist and Confession can help us immensely to be free. Many people began celebrating freedom today by receiving the Eucharist at Mass. Some took advantage of the experience of freedom in Confession after Mass. Some will come to adore the Eucharist and go to Confession tonight in the midst of our nation’s celebration of freedom. Whether it’s in Adoration, Confession, or a simply prayer of thanksgiving, let us all American Catholics at some point today go to the source of our freedom: Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dying with dignity

At the end of March, I asked for your prayers for my Aunt Ellen (the sister of my mother) who was battling cancer. After a long battle, she went home to God last Friday. My family and I are very grateful for your powerful prayers. I wholeheartedly believe that they were extremely efficacious because Aunt Ellen showed extraordinary strength and courage in the last few months of her life. It was a remarkable and profound experience of someone dying with great dignity.

Aunt Ellen had a great love for Pope John Paul II. She used to go out of her way to talk with my Mom about things he had said or done and how moved she was by his life. It now appears that she was also moved by the way he died because she imitated the dignity in which he approached death. From what my Mom has told me, she didn’t complain in her final days and showed more concern for those around her than for herself. She accepted her suffering in faith and love which is a sign of great holiness.

She said on occasion that she did not live a holy life (the holy ones usually do!) and there was no real way to convince her otherwise. Well, having gone before the Judgement Seat of Christ and seen her life through God’s eyes, I think she has now been convinced otherwise. Holiness is living for others and she lived this, especially in her suffering. She suffered tremendously. We are reminded of what Mother Teresa said that the best way to imitate Christ is through suffering and that those who are closest to Jesus on Earth are those who suffer the most. There was great holiness and grace in her suffering.

That showed up the most during the final days: she died a holy death. She accepted her extreme suffering and grave situation with humility and faith. More than that, though, she expressed a deep desire to be with God. It really was an incredible thing that at the climax of her suffering, she reached out to God in an extraordinary way. When many people would have been too spent physically and personally because of all the pain, she actually showed great spiritual strength. It has been a source of tremendous inspiration to hear of the deep conversations about faith that she and my Mom had in her final days.

Again, thank you for your prayers – you see how fruitful they have been. Because of your prayers, God’s grace, and her openness to His grace, Aunt Ellen died with great dignity and faith. While it’s very difficult for our whole family, we find much consolation and comfort with the way that she left us. Because of her heroic strength and faith amid great suffering, we are very confident that she is with Almighty God and all the saints and angels in the peace and joy of His kingdom.

Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.