Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why would you waste your life?


In 1950, Albert Schweitzer was named the “man of the century.” Two years later, he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. All of this, because he proved himself to be a man of deep faith called to live a life of heroic action. When he was 21, Schweitzer promised himself that he would enjoy life until he was 30 and then he would get serious. On his 30th birthday, he kept his promise and enrolled in university to get a degree in medicine. He promised that he would go to Africa and work among the poor as a missionary doctor after graduating.

His friends and family all tried to change his mind. “Why would you waste your life?” they asked. Nevertheless, by 38 he was a doctor and at the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital on the edge of the jungle in Equatorial Africa. He would work there until his death at 90 years old in 1965.

What motivated him to give his life to work among the poorest of the poor? He said that it was today’s Gospel. “It struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life, while so many people around me were wrestling with suffering. I had to do something,” he said.

In today’s Gospel passage about the rich man, what was his sin? Did he order the poor Lazarus removed from his property? Did he beat him or shout obscenities at him? Did he otherwise directly harm the man? No. He did none of those things. The sin of the rich man was worse – he never even noticed Lazarus. He accepted this poor, sick, destitute beggar as just another part of the landscape. The sin of the rich man was doing nothing to help Lazarus when he should have. His sin was clinging to his personal wealth while not lifting a finger for the poor.

Pope Francis makes this point in The Joy of the Gospel. He wrote, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? It cannot be this way. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?”

I think this is, in part, why God chose to come among us as a poor, homeless person. Have you ever thought about that at Christmas time when we set up our beautiful nativity sets? These are really scenes of a poor, homeless family with nowhere to lay their heads. God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often turn a blind eye to. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we recognize them as icons of the very image of God as He was when He came to us?

We know that the poor are all around us here. Our city and region struggles with unemployment, with a heroin epidemic, with homelessness and hunger. In many places, you can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we see God present there when we see them? This is where He is present today.

I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us in a family, and one that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there too; they are not the “other”; they are our brother, our sister, our family; and to reach out to them in need.

Pope Francis reflected a few years ago on the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle where Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. He said, "Jesus reveals Himself in His wounds and so the path to our encounter with Jesus are His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because and is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. We have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. To enter into the wounds of Jesus all we have to do is go out onto the street. Let us have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness.”

So, what are we to do? Well, that will be different for each one of us. It starts with seeing the most marginalized people in our society as our brothers and sisters, as people in need of God’s love expressed through our prayers and actions. Jesus reminds us today that the only thing that is not an option is to do nothing. Our faith calls forth so much more from us. We are all called to reach out to the world around us – especially the world in need; especially to touch Christ in His wounds. If we have the courage to do it, we will be changed for the better by it; changed to be more like Christ.

May the Lord give us peace.

Friday, September 23, 2016

We can do better...

NOTE: One year ago, Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress. We need to hear those words again now as we move toward this election season. Here are some key quotes. - FT

The Role of Law and Politics
[Speaking about Congress] You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.
Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
The Sanctity of Life
The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
The Family
It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
Religion, Violence, and Freedom
Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
Political and Economic Injustice
We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.
The Role of Religion in Society
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
Politics and Economics
If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.
In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.
Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
The Refugee Crisis
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).
The Death Penalty
This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
The Role of Wealth in Fighting Poverty
The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).
The Environment
In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.
The Arms Trade
Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
The Four Americans
I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.
Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.
Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.
Four representatives of the American people.
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Take the money?

An angel appeared at a faculty meeting and told the dean that to reward him for his years of devoted service he could choose one of three blessings: either infinite wealth, infinite fame or infinite wisdom. Without hesitation, the long-time educator asked for infinite wisdom. “You got it!” said the angel, and disappeared. All heads turned toward the dean, who sat glowing in the aura of wisdom. Finally one of his colleagues whispers, “Say something.” The dean looks at them all brimming with infinite wisdom and said, “I should have taken the money.”

What a great week this has been for our beloved Red Sox! Holding on to first place in the division and how about Hanley Ramirez’ walk off home run on Thursday night against those Yankees! It looks like it will be a great post season. I am not only a fan of baseball, but I also love baseball movies. Just think of some iconic lines that come from baseball movies. “If you build it, he will come,” from Field of Dreams. Or my favorite line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” from League of their Own. I recently re-watched another great baseball move, 42, which tells the story of Jackie Robinson and how he became the first African-American to play in the major leagues.

There is a dramatic scene in the movie when Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey offers to sign Robinson. “You will have to take everything they dish out to you and never strike back,” he tells Robinson and he was right. On the field, pitchers brushed Jackie back with blazing fastballs and opposing fans and teams taunted him. Off the field, he was thrown out of hotels and restaurants because of the color of his skin.

But, through it all, Jackie kept his cool. He turned the other cheek. And so did Branch Rickey who was also hounded for signing Robinson. Together, they changed the face of baseball and professional sport for the better. Yes, Branch Rickey did a noble thing breaking down the color barrier in baseball, but the movie reminds you that he was also a smart man and not all of his motives were quite so pure. There was one scene when Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, says, “People ask me why I want to do this? You know why? Because I like money. And people will spend money to come see you play.” Even in the midst of doing the noble thing, Rickey was still a smart business man.

That scene came to mind as I reflected on today’s Gospel. Jesus gives us this image of the dishonest steward. We heard, “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light.” Or more simply, “People work harder for material reward than we do for heavenly rewards.” Jesus challenges us not only to strive for goodness, holiness and righteousness, but He also calls us to be smart and committed and eager in pursuing these heavenly things. He wants us to work just as hard and as smart for His Kingdom as we do to make our lives comfortable and successful.

This is also the message Pope Francis has been sharing over and over during the last three years. He wants us to think about and strive for the important things. For example, he said, “If you break a computer it is a tragedy. But poverty, and the real needs of so many people end up becoming the norm. If on a winter’s night, for example, a person dies, that is not news. If in parts of the world there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. That some homeless people die of cold on the streets is not news. It cannot be this way! In contrast, a 10 point drop on the stock market is a tragedy. A person dying is not news, but if the stock market drops it is a tragedy!” It cannot be this way.

The challenge of our Gospel, the challenge of Pope Francis, the challenge of our faith is this – can we be as vigilant for the things of God as we are for all the other things that are in our lives? Can we care as much for the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the immigrant, the refugee, and those on the margins all around us, as we care for ourselves? We are called to be recreated, made new, through our Baptism, to see with new eyes through our faith – and what we are meant to see is that we are not different, we are not separate, we are not “other”. Rather, we are connected and united; we are brother and sister to each other; we are one family of God.

Let me end with a prayer: Lord, open our eyes to your word, even when it challenges us more than we want to be challenged. Open our minds to your word, even when it disturbs us more than we want to be disturbed. Help us to put your word in practice, even when it means changing our lives more than we want to change. Above all, Lord, help us realize that you want to achieve great things through us and that we can achieve great things for you if we only open our hearts to you. Open our hearts Lord.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The End is Near!


Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They made a sign saying, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car. One driver didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!” All of a sudden the priests heard a big splash and looked at each other. Then the one holding the sign said, “Maybe it should just say ‘Bridge Out’?” Sometimes the words we choose can be shocking.

In our Gospel today, Jesus also uses some shocking language to get our attention. He says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” These are jarring words to our ears. Hate our father and mother? What about the Commandment which call us not to hate, but to “Honor your mother and father?” Of course, Jesus is not instructing us to hate our families, rather, He’s trying to get us to wake up; He’s trying to shake us up so that we might embrace the full impact of His message of the Kingdom of God. Jesus wants to get our attention and so he says these shocking words. Are we listening?

Our world is often obsessed with wealth and competition; it’s full of violence and war. We usually refer to this as the “real” world. And if someone were to suggest that instead of power, money and fame, we can live lives guided by peace, love, joy, compassion, and forgiveness, they would probably be called a religious nut. But, Jesus reminded us that the supposedly “real” world is actually an illusion; it is phony; it is full of false hopes and promises. He calls us to instead be immersed in the world that he calls so often the Kingdom of God. His strategy? Well, in today’s passage, it is spiritual shock therapy. Jesus wants to shake us out of our complacency and into a whole new way of thinking, acting, and being.

When I was stationed here, one of the great things we did was bring a group of young people to World Youth Day in Germany. I remember at that event a group of young people were passing out stickers that said, “100% Catholic.” It is such a beautiful thought, but how many of us lead lives that are more like 80% Catholic, 50%, or sometimes even less? Jesus wants to remind us today that we cannot follow Him half way. Discipleship, Christianity, Catholicism is meant to be all or nothing.

This is the point of His shocking words to us today. If we’re going to follow Jesus, He wants us to go with Him the whole way. We can’t stop at His preaching and miracles and leave Him when it comes to the Cross. We’ll never reach resurrection unless we’re along for the whole journey. We have to accept His way of seeing life and put that into practice in the way we live. Jesus and His Gospel message have to be the number one priority in our lives.

The only status that counts is our relationship with God and how we relate with other people, irrespective of their status in the world. Our real status is measured not by our rank or occupation but by the level of love and service offered to God through our relationships with those around us. What counts is not how we are looked at by others but the degree of care and compassion with which we look at them, and especially the care and compassion we show for the most marginalized people in our midst.

That is the meaning of the two parables Jesus gives today. “Great crowds” were following Jesus with enthusiasm but were they ready for His message? Did they realize what it really meant to follow Him? If not, they are like the king who goes out to war totally unprepared. They are like a man who started to build a tower and ran out of funds or material. They become laughing stocks; inauthentic. If we try to walk with Jesus without being ready to commit; we too will miss the joy and happiness of the totally fulfilled life that Jesus is offering us.

Jesus tells us today that to be his disciple is to make every other thing in life – family or wealth, prosperity or health, pleasure or fame – second to Him. He means that on the list of our goals and priorities in life, attaining the kingdom of God must come first and then everything else will follow. It is a matter of life and death. He, and only He, is the way, the truth and the life.

Today’s gospel shows us how complete the demands of discipleship are. Following Jesus is much harder than we may have thought at first. The Good News is that Jesus recognizes this and still invites us on this journey with Him. If we’re ready to go with Him, it will change our lives and change our world.

Let us make the simple, powerful words of St. Francis our own: “Jesus, You are enough for me.” Let us be His disciples – completely.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Finding Christ in the Poor


One of the first things Pope Francis did three years ago following his election was meet with the media and, of course, they immediately asked him why he had chosen the name Francis. He answered, “Some people wanted to know why I wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend [and a Franciscan, I might add]! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and leaned in and said: ‘Don't forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then, I thought of all the wars in the world, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis

is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. How I would like a Church which is poor and is for the poor!”

I couldn’t help but think of this story from the very beginning of this papacy, not just because I am a Franciscan, but because I think it speaks to what Jesus is telling us today in the Gospel. Jesus tells us today, “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

We know that the poor were the most beloved of Jesus. The Beatitudes are themselves a hymn of praise for the poor. Just look who are listed among the blessed. Blessed are you: who are poor, who are hungry, who are meek, who are persecuted – it is to them that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. Jesus loved the poor and spent most of His time among them. They held a special place in His heart. And Pope Francis is reminding us that love for the poor is meant to be at the heart of our call too. He is reminding us that we are most perfectly and beautifully and clearly Church when we are in direct contact with these most beloved of Jesus – with the poor.

Our Christian message is so pure when we serve the poor, isn’t it? Just think of all the times that we have to explain Catholic doctrine and dogma – whether it’s the theology of the Eucharist or Confession or our teachings on marriage – these are complex and deep and abiding mysteries that are not easily understood. But, when we feed the hungry in a soup kitchen, does that require explanation? When we house the homeless, does anyone miss the faith connection? When we give warm coats and blankets to the needy in the cold winter, do we need to write a doctrinal thesis? No, our faith and its witness is pure and powerful when we love the poor and when we show that love for the poor in what we do. This is what Pope Francis means when he speaks of wanting “a church that is poor and for the poor.” A Church that is poor and is for the poor is pure in its intent, its mission and its witness.

But, we live in a world that wants to say that the poverty around us is always someone else’s problem. President Ronald Reagan in 1986 declared the War on Poverty over. “And poverty won,” he infamously said. That is unacceptable to us who follow Jesus, the great lover of the poor.

My friends, we are called to let our faith inspire in us the same kind of love for those who are in need in our world. To develop a mercy in our hearts so that when we see someone who is homeless, someone who is hungry, someone who is in need, we don’t fall into the trap of our culture to blame the poor for their poverty, but instead to look on them as precious in the sight of God; beloved in the eyes of Jesus; and so beloved in our eyes as well. The poor are our prime constituency, they are our focus and they need to be our preferential option. And more importantly, they need to be our brothers and sisters who we seek out with joy and mercy to help in their need. When we love the poor, we do more than simply make their difficult their lives better, it is more than mere philanthropy. When we love the poor, we are loving God; when we reach out to the poor, we are encountering God; when we find the poor in our midst, we discover God in our midst. “What you did for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did for Me.”

Two years ago, for the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, the Pope reflected on the moment when Jesus invited Thomas to touch His wounds. He said, “The path to our encounter with Jesus are his wounds. There is no other. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked, because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed."

Let us allow our discovery of God here at Mass – in Word and Sacrament – be the inspiration that leads us to discover Him once again outside of this church, in all the people we meet, but especially in the poor and those in need. Truly then, we are living as daughters and sons of God. Truly, if we love to poor and reach them in their need, this will change everything for us too.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Now that is the right question!


I saw a great cartoon earlier this week. It showed a Dad knocking on a bedroom door. From inside the room, a voice cries out, “No! I don’t wanna go back to school!” The man says in reply, “I know honey. I know. But, you have to.” The voice asks, “Why?” The man responds, “Because, honey, you’re the teacher!” Maybe some of you can relate to this theme? This is indeed for many a conflicted time of year – for parents, rejoicing; for teachers and kids, dread – but I think today we can learn something valuable from it in terms of our faith.

Summer is such a wonderful time of year. Everything seems to move at a different pace. We put more emphasis on being with family and friends; on relaxing and enjoying the outdoors, good food, one another. We go to cookouts, baseball games, summer camp, the beach; we have vacation time, and so on. And especially as the days of summer begin to wane, we really want all of it to go on forever. But, the reality is that we know we must return to the orderliness, the discipline, the work of the school year. There’s just no quick or easy way around it. Despite the fact that many of us perhaps don’t want to go to school, or work, or back to the regular pace of life, we have to. We must return to gain knowledge, to learn how to live and interact in our society, to gain and perfect the skills we need in life; to earn the money we need to enjoy the pace of summer. And, no matter how much we convince ourselves that we could find an easy way around it, there simply isn’t one.

There is a similarly conflicted reality in what Jesus is telling his followers in today’s Gospel. Someone asks him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus responds, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” This is not the answer they were looking for; I’m sure it’s not the answer we wanted to hear either. We would like Jesus to tell us, “Don’t worry, be happy. Do what you want, everyone is saved!”

But, I think rather than the wrong answer in our Gospel, perhaps the real problem here is that the man in our Gospel isn’t asking the right question. He asks, “Will only a few be saved?” when what he really should have asked was, “Lord, how can I be saved?” Rather than a mere curiosity about others being saved, we need to be asking, “What do I need to do to be saved? How can I serve God better in my life today, right now? How can I make reach out and be the kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving presence God has called me to be?”

Too often, we turn our faith into a matter of comparison. In other words, as long as there is someone else worse than me, then somehow I’m okay. But, our faith in Jesus isn’t comparative, it is personal. It is a one-on-one relationship with the very means of our salvation – Jesus Himself. Jesus shows us in Word and Sacrament everything we need to know for our salvation. The gate is indeed narrow and we have to do the hard work to be ready to walk through it. But, the gate is open and it is the right size for each of us to walk through. All we have to do is follow the person ahead of us through that gate; and that person is Jesus.

We can feel like those who were turned away who said, “But, we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We might feel the same way, “Lord, we have eaten Your Body and we drank of Your Blood and You taught in our Church. Isn’t this enough?”

To this Jesus says: “Eating and drinking beside Me is not the same as eating and drinking with Me. You can be near Me and not a part of Me. You can hear Me without ever listening to Me. You can know Me and still not accept Me. You can wink at Me while never loving Me. You see, I am not the one that is locking you out. You are locking yourself out. I’m not closing the door on you. It is you who close the door on Me. Acknowledge Me, accept Me, love Me and then follow Me through the door that leads to My Kingdom.”

This is how we pass through the Narrow Gate – by allowing God to change us, to form us, and transform us. Remember, Jesus tells us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” My friends, let us ask today, “What must I do to be saved?” And may God give us the strength to follow.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The day is today, the hour is now!


A priest walked into a bar and made an announcement. He said, “Anyone who wants to go to heaven, please stand up now." Everyone there stood up except for one man who continued to sip his drink at the bar. The priest said to him, “Sir, don't you want to go to heaven when you die?” The man looked up and said, “When I die? Yes. But, I thought you were gathering a group to go right now.”

We heard in our Gospel today, “You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." I had a chance last year to spend a month in Italy doing some work at our Franciscan sites in Assisi. It was a great experience to be in our Franciscan homeland, but also a great chance to experience Italian culture. One of the wonderful aspects of this culture is that Italians are known for their relaxed approach to life. For example, an afternoon siesta is a must, and they take the whole month of August off for vacation. Sounds pretty good. But, they are also fond of frequently responding “Domani” to many requests. Domani is the Italian word for “tomorrow.” So, can you help me today? Domani, come have some wine; domani, have some prosciutto; have a little pasta. It is a domani culture. For those who don’t know, the word “domani” means “tomorrow.” In most ways this is admirable. It’s an approach that places family and friends and engaging the other first over the more mundane and tiresome aspects of life. But, as we are reminded today, there is one area of our life that we cannot take a domani approach and that is in our life of faith.

“At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." Today’s Gospel challenges when it comes to our faith life, not be people of tomorrow, but, instead, to be people who are filled with the love of God, who live lives dedicated to Christ, who are ready for his return - today.

There’s a bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming – look busy.” My friends, if Jesus were to come today, right now, here during this Mass what would He find? Would He find in us a people who had prepared themselves for His return? Ready for His judgment? Or would He people who have said, Domani, tomorrow Lord; tomorrow I will get my relationship with You in order. Tomorrow I will work on my sins. Tomorrow I will say “I’m sorry”. Tomorrow I will right that wrong. I do love you Lord, and dedicate myself to You, but not today – tomorrow, domani.

“At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." Jesus is right, we do not know the day or the hour that He will return, but we do know the day and the hour that we can get ready – the day and the hour are right now. Jesus wants us to live completely and fully in His love; to be freed completely and fully from our sins through the gift and grace of Confession; to be filled with the power and holiness that comes through His Body and Blood. He wants us, quite simply and quite profoundly, to be the people that He created us to be. And, He wants us to be that today, not tomorrow. And all we have to do is choose it. Choose Christ. Choose holiness. Choose goodness and kindness and compassion.

Pope Francis said recently at World Youth Day in Poland, “I ask you: Are you looking for empty thrills in life, or do you want to feel a power that can give you a lasting sense of life and fulfillment? To find fulfillment, to gain new strength, there is a way. It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive. His name is Jesus Christ. All together, then, we ask the Lord: Launch us on the adventure of mercy! Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. The Lord does not keep his distance, but is near and real. He is in our midst and he takes care of us.”

So my friends, today is the day for us all to cast off our fear, to cast off our lack of trust, to cast off whatever it is that has kept us up until this point from living fully and completely for God.

In fact, we do know the day and the hour of our faith. The day is today and the hour is now. Let us be the ones who are ready for the Savior’s return. Let us surrender our hearts and our lives to Him. Let us ‘put on Christ’ and live for God alone and our lives will be full and happy and holy and fruitful. Let us all be able to say: Jesus is coming, I am ready!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

What can I give today?


With the conventions just completed, this is a season that brings to mind some of the most famous political slogans we know, “Morning in America,” “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” among them. A number of years ago, I heard a speaker who was trying to motivate people to make a difference in the world. His words reminded me of these type of slogans. He said, “Instead of asking, ‘What do I want today?’ ask ‘How can I serve today?’ Instead of asking, ‘What can I get today?’ ask, ‘What can I give today?’ It’s no longer, ‘What’s in it for me?’ rather it’s, ‘How can I help?’” But, more than a slogan, I think this is exactly what Jesus was getting at in our gospel today.

This shift from focus on the self to focus on others is at the heart of our Gospel message today. We heard proclaimed, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.” A simplistic reading of this passage can lead us to the conclusion that if you are rich, Heaven will be difficult for you to attain; or if you are interested in living a comfortable life, having a nice car or house, then the Kingdom is far from you. But, I think this superficial reading of the text misses the bigger point that Jesus is making today.

Jesus is trying to lead us from ‘What can I get today?’ to ‘What can I give today? The question isn’t about whether or not possessions or wealth are good or bad, the question is what is our relationship to these things and how do they effect the way we relate to others, to the world, and to the most needy in our midst.

Things, of course, are nice and even necessary for life. But possessions can assume such an importance in our lives that they become obsessions. When we are so concerned about the things that we can have, so much so that we no longer hear the urgent call of God, then we have got our priorities all mixed up. Such is the man in today’s Gospel who asks Jesus to come and make his brother give him his share of the family inheritance. Jesus isn’t against him having more wealth, nor is he against justice being done between him and his brother. But Jesus is disappointed that after listening to all His preaching, the man’s concern is still about his money. The very Words of Life were falling on deaf ears.

Jesus, fearing there could be more people in the crowd like this man, turns and says to them, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.” To illustrate His point Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool. Now when you read the parable you might ask, “What wrong did this man do?” Think about it. He did honest work on his farm and the land gave a bumper crop, so he decided do build larger storage so that he could live the rest of his life on Easy Street. Only he did not know that the rest of his life was less than 24 hours. Jesus uses him to illustrate greed in its many forms. The man did not take from others. In this sense, he didn’t do something wrong. His greed lies not in what he did, but in what he failed to do. Instead of using his material wealth for the good of the world, to do the things that God calls us to do – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, etc. – he used it only to better himself.

Pope Francis has talked about this same theme calling it the Cult of Money in our world. He has said, “Today, and it breaks my heart to say it, finding a homeless person who has died of the cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals – that is news. But the many children who don't have food - that's not news. This is grave. We can't rest easy while things are this way. Today, if investments in banks fail, it is a ‘tragedy’ and people say 'what are we going to do?' but if people die of hunger, have nothing to eat or suffer from poor health, that's nothing. This is our crisis today. A Church that is poor and for the poor has to fight this mentality."

There is a quote that says, greed is “the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can, while we can, however we can, and then hold on to it hard.” The rich man in our Gospel – and many people in our world today - qualify as examples of this greed. That’s why Jesus was so hard on greed. That’s why the Holy Father, so often in his papacy, speaks about this.

Today’s Gospel invites us to ask the fundamental questions that I began with: “‘How can I serve today?’ ‘What can I give today?’ ‘How can I help?’” Do we use what we have to make the world a better place? Or do we use what we have merely for our own pleasure? God calls us to realize that the most valuable possession in the world is faith in His Son; and He wants us to be rich in what matters to Him. God wants us to realize that the greatest thing we can do is to work every day – through the gifts of our time, talent and treasure – to make the world a better place; a more Christian place; a more caring, loving and compassionate place. That is the truest measure of success.

So, let us all pray today that we might become rich in the Words, in the Will and in the Way of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And let us ask: what will we give today?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Make America KIND again


If you’re like me and millions-upon-millions of other people of a certain age, you grew up each day listening to Mr. Fred Rogers sing a little song that went something like this, “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” Every day, Mr. Rogers would invite his viewers to please be his neighbor as he took us to the land of Make-Believe or taught lessons on how to be peaceful people or how to deal with difficult situations or just to meet the many different people in the neighborhood. Everyone was a neighbor in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.

This idealized, halcyon memory came to mind as I have been praying about the violent and deadly events of the past week, month and year here in our country – the most recent being the horrific and tragic deaths of five police officers in Dallas this week. With the constant barrage of bad news that fills the newspapers and airwaves, we can begin to believe that violence, death and killing are out of control in our midst. We live in an extraordinary time of terror, of violence, of division and polarization and of fear. And to all of that our God says to us over and over again – in fact more than 300 times in the Bible – “Do not be afraid.” Love conquers all.

It amazes me, as God so often does, that as we gather today in the wake of all of these tragic stories, our Scriptures speak so perfectly to this moment. As always, God is once again reminding us of what He wants of us in the midst of so much rancor. He wants us to remember that we are not at odds, we are not in conflict, but that we are all neighbors – even if we thought we were divided.

Jesus proclaim again to us today the Christian Golden Rule, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Nearly every religion and culture in the world has a Golden Rule in one form or another. For example, in Judaism, they say, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.” In Buddhism, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” In Hinduism, “Do nothing unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” And in Islam, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

When we look at the violence of this week and wonder what we can do, the answer lies in not adding our voice to the chorus of negativity drowning out the world. Our response should me, must be, one of tenderness, kindness and compassion. Robert Kennedy, who also knew very violent times, said, “Each time we stand up for an ideal, or act to improve the lot of others, or strike out against injustice, we sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Or more simply, won’t you be my neighbor?

Jesus proclamation of the Christian Golden Rule insists that all humanity is really one big neighborhood. Jesus broke down the walls of division and the borders of prejudice and suspicion that humans have erected between “us” and “them” throughout time. To bring home this point He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. This man regarded as Enemy Number One by the establishment for no other reason than that he is a Samaritan, is ironically the one who truly proves himself to be neighbor to the Jewish man in need. Thus to the question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus offers new and challenging answer to His hearers: Anyone and everyone is your neighbor – without exception.

In our own world today – so especially today – we need to be reminded that everyone is our neighbor – even the enemy; even the immigrant; even the person who is different than us; even the person we don’t like or who doesn’t like us. They are our neighbor and we must offer them mercy. We must overcome the tendency to think in terms of “us” and “them” and instead heed the command of Jesus to, “Go and do likewise” – to offer mercy, to treat everyone with respect, to be neighbor to the world.

The Christian understanding of “neighbor” has no borders or boundaries. Today we are called to identify and tear down all the walls we have erected between those who belong to us and those who don't belong to us. The Gospel today challenges us all to dismantle these walls. This way we work with Jesus to realize His dream of the world as a neighborhood without borders or boundaries.

As we gather once again today, on this the Lord’s Day, we look for answers. We come to church for some comfort, we come to church for a measure of peace, we come to church to hear what word God has to speak to our pain. But, we also come to church to be sent back out. “Go and proclaim the Gospel,” “Go and glorify God by your life.” We come to be healed, strengthened, renewed and sent once again to be that peaceful presence in our world. Jesus, today, sends us to “go and do likewise” and to be neighbors to the world.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Vocations are for us all


“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” When we hear this quote from today’s Gospel, we are usually quick to interpret in light of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life. That makes a lot of sense to us. After all, we know that fewer men and women are pursuing these ways of life in our times, and so the natural temptation is to preach today about the need for more men and women to take up the call to a life dedicated in service to God, humanity and the Church. And, all of this would certainly be a valid way to go with this passage. After all, we do need a renewed desire for people to pursue the ordained and religious life.

But, I was thinking about this passage recently and a thought dawned on me. When Jesus said these words, of course, we did not have the developed structures of ordained and consecrated life as we do today. There were no Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of Mercy, Jesuits or Franciscans running around Jerusalem when Jesus sent out the 72 disciples. So, who are these words directed to? And, of course, these words are directed to all of us – certainly to priests and religious, but the call to be “sent out” for the harvest, is the call Jesus gives to every single believer; every last one of us.

It reminds me of the old Baltimore Catechism. When it came to vocations, the Baltimore Catechism used illustrations to make a point about vocations. On one page there were two men side-by-side, one was dressed in an ordinary business suit, the other was a priest. The caption under the business man read, “This is good.” And under the priest, “But, this is better.” The next page had a woman in a dress with children at her side, and next to her was a religious sister, a nun. The captions again, under the Mom, “This is good,” and under the nun, “But, this is better.” I don’t think this is quite how Jesus would explain vocations. One is certainly not better than the other, rather we are all called to be witnessed of Jesus wherever we find our calling. The caption should have perhaps read, “These are both good, but they are different ways of serving God and the Church. Which one is God calling you to?” The danger of focusing only on the ordained and consecrated as those “called to the harvest” is that we think it let’s the rest of us off the hook. They’ll bring in the harvest, I don’t need to worry about that.

Jesus, then and now, intends to call each and every last one of us who believe in Him and in His message to be the laborers who spread His message around the world; no matter what it is that we do in life. What Jesus means when tells us, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few,” is that the world is full of people in need. Whether it is people in the third world or the homeless and drug addicted on our city streets, or even members of our own families – people are looking for help; looking for connection; looking for compassion; looking for God. The problem is that there are too few people willing to offer those things. All we have to do is turn on the TV to see how people respond to the need all around them. The too often respond with anger, with accusations, we prejudice, or the worst of all, with complete indifference. Never before has there been such a need for compassionate people – people like you and me – to step forward and help Jesus with the harvest.

Pope Francis reflected a few years ago on the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, whose feast day is also today. It was the Gospel passage where Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. Reflecting on that, the Pope said, "Jesus reveals Himself in His wounds and so the path to our encounter with Jesus are His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because and is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. We have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. To enter into the wounds of Jesus all we have to do is go out onto the street. Let us have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness and thus we will certainly have the grace to worship the living God.”

My friends, our Gospel today reminds us that it is the responsibility of us all – whether we are priests, deacons, religious, popes or any of the myriad of beautiful, wonderful Baptized members of the Body of Christ – we are all called; we all have that vocation to reach out to the world around us – especially the world in need; especially to touch Christ in His wounds. If we have the courage to do it, we will be changed and changed for the better by it; changed to be more like Christ.

The Lord once again sends each of us today to proclaim the Kingdom of God; to live the Kingdom of God; to be the very Kingdom of God in the midst of our world; to enter His wounds. It is the call – the vocation – of us all.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Thoughts, prayers AND actions! | #FriarFriday

NOTE: This originally appeared as part of the #FriarFriday series at

In the wake of last Saturday’s tragedy in Orlando that took the innocent lives of 49 people enjoying a night out at a bar that caters to the LGBTQ community, it is hard to find the words to express the sorrow, the anger, the hopelessness, and the desire for change that all swirl around together in the minds and hearts of most of us.

What people come to quickly, myself included, is a desire to express “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, and for all of their loved-ones who now carry a burden of loss and grief that I’m sure feels too heavy to bear.

This tragedy brings up within us a visceral reaction to the event itself, but unfortunately in our country, it also brings up the cumulative feelings of events like this that take place far too often here. There have been 182 mass shootings this year alone (and we’re not half way into the year). These shootings have taken the lives of 288 people and injured another 673. Six of these shootings have taken place since Sunday’s shooting in Orlando alone. And, we as a society have become numb to it all. We throw up our hands and wonder what can be done?

But, we always come back to thoughts and prayers. And this is a good thing. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, there have been numerous sentiments expressed through social media saying things like, “No more thoughts and prayers.” The thought behind these posts is that thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need action if things are going to change. And they are right.

However, I think these statements create a false dichotomy. The reality of what we need is not a decision between “thoughts and prayers” OR “action”. What we need is thoughts and prayers AND action. Thoughts and prayers, if authentic, will lead to the best action.

Thoughts are an important first step because these lead us to be focused on people, to be focused on compassion, to focus on doing what is truly best for the safety in our world. We keep the victims and their family and loved ones in our thoughts, because in that way we share some small measure of the burden of their loss and grief. Our thoughts tell those who remain that they are not alone; that we are with them in their pain. Saying “you are in our thoughts” is a way of saying, I stand with you in solidarity in this tragic moment.

Thoughts lead to prayers. Pray for those who have died and for those who grieve. By connecting our thoughts in and through prayer, it brings us to a very different interior space. It brings us into a space that is God-centered and God-focused. When we bring these thoughts to God, we are more likely to be rooted in the best of who we are – in compassion, in kindness, in solidarity, in sorrow, and in a desire for healing and authentic change.

When we do not connect our thoughts to our prayers, we are lead to the worst side of who we are; a road of irrationality and vengeance fueled by our anger. Our “solutions” will more likely be temporary and designed to make us feel like we’re doing something, but which actually won’t solve the problems we face. It brings us into a space of accusation, and prejudice and name-calling – which cloud our vision from real solutions.

Prayer places us in a balanced space which allows a thoughtful process so we might enter into the complexity of these issues. This tragedy in Orlando isn’t about terrorism, or mental health, or gun laws, or immigration, or religion, or prejudice towards the LGBTQ community. It isn’t about any one of these things. It is about all of these things in a complex mix that will take time to unpack, and a one-size-fits-all solution will not make things better. From thoughts and prayers, we can find the courage to act.

So what can we do? Our actions can begin by seeking unity and rejecting the division that unbridled anger call forth. We can, and must, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in solidarity. They need us now more than ever. They need us to weep with them, to comfort them, to be angry at the situation with them, and to hear that we love them and that God loves them.

We can seek to advocate for reasonable, sensible gun reform. No one is coming to take all of the guns. But, surely there are sensible first steps that we can take to live in a safer world. Reforms could include background checks and bans on weapons that are needed only by the military in a war zone. This will mean putting aside the political divisions on this issue that are so entrenched that we have all stopped listening to each other.

And we can stand up and demand of our leaders every effort to assure that this never happen again. We have to shake ourselves out of the numbness or helplessness that has overtaken us; the sense that this won’t change, that this can’t change. It can change and we need to be the ones holding our leaders to task to make sure that it does.

Let us never again have to add another community to the heartbreaking list that includes Columbine, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Newtown and now Orlando.

Let us pledge, especially we who follow St. Francis, to truly be instruments of peace in a world full of violence. Let us offer our thoughts and our prayers – and then, let us act.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Defined by glory, not sin


One Saturday afternoon, a group of boys went to confession. Curiously, one by one, each of them ended their confession the same way, saying, “I threw peanuts in the river.” The priest thought, if that is a sin, it really is a strange one. The last to come in was the smallest boy of the group. The priest expected to hear the same sin he heard from the others, but the boy didn’t mention it. So the priest asked, “Is that all? Did you forget something? Did you throw peanuts in the river?” The boy looked shocked and replied, “Father, I am Peanuts! They threw me in the river!”

My friends, our Scriptures today want to remind us of a humbling truth – that we are all sinners. No one of us is immune from sin – not even the greatest and holiest among in our midst. In our first reading, we hear of the sin of King David. Despite having it all, he still wanted Bathsheba, and in order to have her, he arranged the death of her husband by sending him to the front lines of battle. Worse yet, David remained oblivious to the seriousness of his sins; blinded by his own power. So God sent the prophet Nathan to shake him out of his spiritual coma and only then did he repent and seek forgiveness.

And, in our Gospel today, we hear of a woman who lived in sin for far too long. But, fortunately, she had a personal encounter with the merciful and forgiving heart of Jesus. That unique experience opened her eyes and led her to a profound change of heart. Grateful for forgiveness, she went to see Jesus at dinner in a Pharisee’s house and tearfully showered Him with acts of gratitude and love. Both King David and the woman were sinners. But they were made aware of and had sincere sorrow for their sins. And they received tremendous forgiveness from God.

God’s message for us about sin today is as simple as that – we should be aware of our sin, sorry for it and turn to God for forgiveness and when we do, everything changes. The problem is that we know this isn’t the way it usually goes. In our world today, we are more likely to justify our sins, or simply be unaware of our need to seek God’s forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest spiritual danger facing us today is that we have become insensitive to sin, not aware of our need to seek forgiveness. Yes forgiveness is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Pope Francis repeatedly reminds us that, “God never tires of forgiving us.”

The Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” This really gets at the heart of the issue. What keeps many of us from an awareness of our sin is that we get stuck there; we get stuck on sin. When we think about sin, and we think only about sin. We let sin stick. We let our sin become our label. We define others and we define ourselves by our sin. We say, “You know Joe, he’s a drunk.” “You know Mary, she cheated.” “You know Bill, he’s such a gossip.” And so on. The Pharisee does this in our gospel today when he says, “He would know what sort of woman this is.” He has defined the woman by her sin.

But Jesus defines her, and us, in a very different way. Jesus defined her by her goodness and her glory and by what she can be. Jesus sees not the sum of her sins, but her potential for holiness and goodness and love. Jesus doesn’t apply labels. He recognizes our failings, our sins, our shortcomings. But he also sees something more. He sees beyond those things. He sees not just what we are, but what we can be. We are more than the sum of our sins. We are better than the sum of our sins.

Deacon Greg Kandra puts it this way: “We are the alcoholic determined to stay sober—and attending AA meetings five nights a week to make that happen. We are the husband neglecting his family because of his job, or his ego, or his own selfishness, and deciding to rearrange his priorities so that he can attend his son’s little league game. We are the woman who hasn’t been to confession in 20 years, quietly slipping into the pew on a Saturday morning, waiting for the chance to reconcile with the Church and finally, at long last, come home.”

Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk, was talking with a friend shortly after his conversion to Catholicism. The friend asked, “Now that you are Catholic, what do you want to be?” Merton said, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint! All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My friends, God wants us to see our sins – not so we will beat ourselves up or feel bad or define ourselves by the bad things we’ve done. We are not the sum of our sins – we are the sum of our Grace; we are the sum of our Salvation purchased with the Blood of Jesus on the Cross. God wants us to be aware of our sins so that we can seek forgiveness, move beyond them and be the people He has created us to be; and He has created us for greatness.

Every sinner has a future and that future is holiness; that future is sainthood – that future is ours. God knows what we can be – all we have to do is desire it.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bringing what we have


During a celebration of First Holy Communion, a priest was trying to help the children understand what Holy Communion is all about. He said, “Holy Communion is a ‘joyful feast’. So, what does that mean? Well, ‘joyful’ means happy and a feast is a meal. So a ‘joyful feast’ is a ‘happy meal’.” Turning to the kids, he asked, “So, who can tell me what we need at Mass for a happy meal?” One boy chimed in and said, “I know, a happy meal includes a hamburger, fr

ies, a regular coke, and a prize.”

Today, of course, we commemorate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often called simply Corpus Christi. This feast invites us to reflect on the tremendous gift of the Eucharist and what it means in our lives. We could view this in many ways – how the Sacrifice of the Cross is related to our celebration; what it means to say that Jesus is truly and fully present in this bread and wine made Body and Blood; or how we need a greater devotion to the Eucharist today.

In my preparation for today, I was reading the homily of Pope Francis for today’s feast. In his homily, the Pope focused on our part in this miraculous exchange. We often focus on what the bread and wine become, or the way Jesus established the priesthood to continue this miraculous presence for all time. But, Pope Francis reminds us that the Eucharist requires something from us, too.

The Pope said, “Jesus says to the disciples in front of the tired and hungry crowds: ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’. Indeed, it is Jesus who blesses and breaks the loaves and provides sufficient food to satisfy the whole crowd, but it is the disciples who offer the five loaves and two fish. Jesus wanted it this way: that, instead of sending the crowd away, the disciples would put at his disposal what little they had…This needs always to happen through those two small actions: offering the few loaves and fish which we have; receiving the bread broken by the hands of Jesus and giving it to all.”

This is the intended goal of the Eucharist – that we will bring whatever we have to the Lord and allow Him to bless it and consecrate it and make it holy – and then, we go out to the world as His presence to feed, house, forgive, heal and transform what we find there. We might find this thought overwhelming and near impossible. We might feel like the disciples who, when Jesus asked them to feed the more than 5,000 people, said, “Five loaves and two fish are all that we have.” How could what they ever do what Jesus asks, given the little they bring?

And yet, this is how sacrament always works. We bring something to God and He transforms it into His real presence in us and through us to the world. What we bring is usually meager. In baptism, we bring simple drops of water, and God transforms that into belonging and membership in His family, wiping away the stain of original sin. In confession, we bring the absolute worst parts of who we are, we bring our deepest sins, our greatest mistakes, our painful experiences, and God transforms even those scarlet sins into the bright whiteness of forgiveness and healing. And here in the Eucharist, we bring simple bread and mediocre wine, and God transforms that into Himself for us. Don’t worry about what you bring to God – He only asks that we offer what we have, no matter how seemingly inadequate; and He will transform it into joy and healing, into compassion and peace – into Himself for the world, through us.

Today reminds us that our devotion and love of the Eucharist has to be more than a static appreciation of what happens on the altar. We are reminded that we are integral to its effectiveness – both by bringing who we are and allowing God to transform us as he transforms the bread and wine – to be His presence healing the wounds of our world.

A few years ago, speaking on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, the Pope spoke of being that healing presence. He said, “We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy – giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked, because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. We need to touch these wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed.”

So, what does it take to make this happy meal today, this joyful feast, this Eucharistic banquet? It takes you and me and the powerful work of God and our willingness to change our lives and change the world. As God, today, once again changes this bread and wine into His very presence, let us also place ourselves on the altar and ask that He change us so that we might bring his love and joy, healing and forgiveness to our broken world.

May the Lord give you peace.