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.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Becoming Trinity


Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – the mystery of God as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet one God. It is perhaps one of the most challenging mysteries of the faith to understand from an intellectual perspective. How can three things be one? St. Patrick famously tried to explain this using the image of the shamrock – three leaves, yet united as one. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the Trinity, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself…The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to people.” Does that clear things up for you? Probably not. And yet, I think that this feast and this reality can speak to us deeply.

Trying to dissect the Trinity in its parts like a science experiment will get us nowhere, but instead asking what the Trinity has to say to us is a profoundly interesting question. Understanding that God is a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit tells us that the Trinity is all about relationship. Right from the beginning of the Bible, we hear God say, “Let us make human beings in our likeness.” And, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” We know that loneliness is one of the most painful things we can experience – now, this is different than enjoying good, renewing alone time – I’m speaking of the sense that we are alone in the world and that perhaps no one cares for us or knows us intimately. We thrive when we are in good, healthy, loving and intimate relationships with one another – whether it’s the devout love of family, or the deep, abiding bonds of friendships; the loving and romantic ties we find with a spouse, the love of our children, or so many more – we are meant to be in relationships.

This desire comes to us from the God who in the heart of His very nature is a loving relationship – Father, loving Son, loving Spirit in eternal perfection. This loving relationship is so perfect and so powerful that it overwhelms us. In the Trinity is a God who loves us so much that as God the Father He created us. Who loves us so much that He became one of us, as God the Son. A God who loves us so much, that He never wants to leave us and so remains with us, as Holy Spirit.

Love is what the mystery of the Trinity is all about. When we receive and offer love, we most profoundly show our created likeness to God. The First Letter of John reminds us that, “God is love and all who dwell in love, dwell in God, and God in them.” We could replace the word Trinity for God in this passage and know that when we love, we are in the Trinity and the Trinity is in us.

The Trinity tells us that God wants to share Himself with us. He wants to give to us all that He is. It tells us that God is so generous that He gave us Himself, in flesh, to suffer with us and die for us. It tells us that God so generous that He continues to give us Himself in the Body and Blood of Jesus at each Mass. It tells us that God is so generous that He shares with us gifts: wisdom and understanding, courage and piety, knowledge and counsel and awe.

The Trinity tells us that we have a God who loves us beyond our wildest dreams as three distinct persons with limitless possibilities. And He wants us to not only know that deeply, but more importantly to imitate it in our lives. “Let us make human beings in our likeness.”

We know that we area least godlike when we limit our love, when we are filled with anger, hatred or prejudice towards other people. We fail to live up to our godly image when we are isolated and isolationist; when we care more about our own accumulation than about another’s need. But, we are made in the likeness of a God who is Trinity. Our call is to love like the Trinity. To have a love that is creative like the Father – one that brings forth life into the world; whether literally through our children, but also in the way in the way that we encourage and lift up one another – give them life – especially those who are in need of affirmation and friendship. It can be in the way that when faced with the prejudice of another, we respond to lovingly to remind them of the dignity of everyone, even if we don’t agree. Our love can be in the flesh, like God the Son, when we treat the homeless or the hungry person as a real person and reach out to them in their need. Our love can be abiding, as with the Spirit, in the ways that we make commitments of love to one another, commitments that are willing to weather the storm and find the path of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Let us today learn from God’s example of limitless, loving relationship to reflect the same to the world around us. Let us find our God in the world around us, and let us be the generous presence of God to the world. “God in three persons, blessed Trinity!”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Let the Word go forth!


“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; a generational shift. Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.” Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth. In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word go forth. And it did. The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and even, eventually, in succeeding centuries, right here to America.

What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth. The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions-upon-billions of people. And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.

Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural picture. The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover. For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, what were different tribes of Israel entered into a covenant with God and with one another and became the People of God. Pentecost for the Jews celebrated the birth of this new people. We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways. It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world. And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; as the Church. And we, too, are part of that miracle, called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.

It is said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, but that the Mission has a Church. Jesus didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization. Instead, Jesus gave us a task to accomplish. The institution of the Church came about not to serve itself, but to serve that mission; to help organize that work of God.

So what is that work? Jesus tells us Himself, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.” The mission that the Father gave to the Son is the very same mission that the Son gives to all of us who follow Him. So just as the Son came as the full Revelation of God to us, His people, we are to continue that Revelation, we are to continue to spread the Good News of God’s love and care for us. Just as Jesus came to show us how to live, we are called to be the example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus was rooted in Scripture and its life-giving Words for us, we are called to do the same. Just as Jesus reached out to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today. In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born. Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us; that we might give birth to that Presence in our world.

The Ascension of Jesus to Heaven that we celebrated last week can leave us with a false impression that God is no longer on the scene. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a strong reminder to us that God is still right here, in our midst; that God is still truly present to us. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us; He dwells in us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”

And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; on the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness. That we will go forth to be the gentle and compassionate presence of God in our world.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.” And let the Word go forth.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Living and working for Heaven!


Going through my desk earlier this week, I came across a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s oldest sister and she passed away a few of years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters, my cousins, gave me this prayer card, which they had found in her well-worn Bible. The card contained a well-known poem often read at funeral’s called “Safely Home.” But, in the margins my Aunt had handwritten two notes. One said simply, “Please read this at my funeral.” But on the other side she wrote, “My last prayer is that you all get right with God, so I’ll see you all again.” Aunt Pat, especially as she was nearing her own death, had a mind and a heart that was fixed firmly on Heaven – and she wanted the same for everyone she loved.

Now, while I would bet that we all want to get to Heaven, I’d bet we don’t think about it every day. Normally, our attention is focused on the things in front of us – the concerns of work, or family; the challenges or joys that we experience in relationships; the things happening in the world like this negative election cycle; or the challenges of homelessness, or poverty, or violence. There are so many, many things that keep our eyes focused right here where we are.

But, Jesus came to earth for one amazing reason – to show us the way to Heaven, or as we’ll pray in our Eucharistic Prayer today, “He ascended, that we might be confident in following where He has gone.” The Easter and the Ascension are all about reminding us of this eternal reality; this destination and purpose of our lives. Heaven is our goal; Heaven is the destination of our lives. So, how important it is for us to pick our heads up from the daily cares and be focused on our heavenly home.

I think there’s also another reason we don’t give much thought to Heaven: because picturing eternal life is difficult. This is where Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are helpful. He said, “As you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us…I wish that where I am they also may be with me.”

We all know that the great joy in life is so clear in the loving relationships we enjoy. What would all of the most beautiful things in the world be – the wonders of nature, the joy of children and family, beautiful works of art, even nice homes and cool cars – what would these be without others to share them with? Loving relationships make life enjoyable and meaningful. Jesus is telling us that Heaven is the ultimate, perfect relationship of love and union with God. And it will last for all time because God and His love are infinite.

You are probably familiar with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. Lewis was a strong Christian, and in Narnia has a beautiful way of explaining the reality of our Heavenly relationship with God. Narnia tells the story of English school children who find their way into another world where they have many adventures and go on special quests to defeat the forces of evil. All the children love Narnia, and their adventures there; and are always sorry to have to go back home at the end of each adventure.

At the end of the last book, however, it turns out that they don’t have to go back. They are permitted to stay in “Aslan’s Country” forever. Lewis describes what their lives were like from that moment on. He writes, “For the children, the end was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the title and the cover page. Now at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the great story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Lewis explains that compared to life in Heaven, absolutely everything that had come before, all the amazing adventures and thrilling experiences, both in this world and in Narnia, were nothing more than a hint; barely a faint idea of how wonderful the rest of the chapters were. And life in Aslan’s Country was always getting better and better, like a book with an endless amount of chapters, each one better than the last.

My friends, this is the eternal life that Jesus promises us – an everlasting adventure that only gets better and better. One of the worse things we can do is to not think about Heaven enough. After all, the less focused we are on our destination, the more likely we’ll be to make a wrong turn along the way. Imagine a baseball player who never thought about the game; an actor who never thought about the performance; a writer who never thought about the story. A Christian who never thinks about Heaven is equally absurd.

Let us keep our eyes on the prize because where Jesus has gone, we hope to follow. Where Mary has gone, where countless saints have gone, where my Aunt Pat has gone – we all hope to follow. As St. Bernadette Soubirous put it: “Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.”

My friends, St. Bernadette and my Aunt Pat had it right: let us get ourselves right with God so that in the glory and complete and perfect joy that is Heaven, we will see each other again. Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Anticipating sainthood


There is such a beautiful symmetry in our celebration today of the Ascension of Jesus. As we gather in this Church tonight, it has been 40 days since we gathered to celebrate the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead – 40 days. Think about that for a moment. We know that God does great things in 40s. The world was renewed through the 40 days of the flood. God’s Chosen People were prepared to enter the promised land after 40 years in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. We just spent 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter and now today, 40 days later, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As a side note, is it just me or do the 40 days of Lent feel so much longer than the 40 days from Easter to Ascension?

Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days after rising from the dead. Forty days of teaching them, 40 days of being with them, and now He has returned to be seated at the right hand of His Father. And because Jesus likes to spoil us there is still more to come; 10 more days of the Easter season; 10 more days to sit and pray with the wonder of Resurrection; 10 days to ready ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost which will then bring our Easter season to a close.

First a word on ascension. In the Church year, we celebrate two feasts that sound similar – the Ascension of the Lord, and in August the Assumption of Mary, when she returned bodily to Heaven. So, what’s the difference between Ascension and Assumption? Well, it all comes down to who does the heavy lifting. Since Jesus is God, He does not need to be taken up – or assumed – into Heaven. He has the power to do this on His own, so under His own power, He simply ascends to Heaven. Mary of course, is not God, and does not have that power. Someone else must bring her to Heaven and so God assumes her body and soul into Heaven. The same activity, but a different active party. But, in a way, they both point to the same reality – that we are all destined for Heaven; that Heaven is our truest home; that when we are saved, when we are free from sin, when we achieve the Kingdom that God has prepared, we will all be re-united in Heaven.

There is a story about the famous Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton. After his conversion to Catholicism, a friend of his asked a simple question, “Now that you are a Catholic, what do you want to be?” A bit confused, Merton said simply, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint!” Merton said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to. 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, we don’t gather here tonight to simply remember and commemorate Jesus journey to the Father. We gather tonight in anticipation of our own sainthood. In one of his last statements before retirement, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us of just this. He said, “You were made for greatness!” And Pope Francis has also picked up the theme, saying, “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness.” If we believe all that we have heard these last 40 plus days – the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus – if we believe that He did those things for us then we must also believe that as He returned to the Father in Heaven, we will too. And if we believe that we will return to Heaven; then we believe that God desires to make us saints because that is all that a saint is – someone who’s worthy of eternal life in Heaven. Let us desire to be saints!

Jesus shows us what is possible if we live in His love, live in His ways. He gives us a command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” It is as simple as that. Our mission is to bear witness to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every creature. We’re called to remember that commission; we’re called to be renewed in that mission today. We’re called to evaluate our lives in the light of that mission. After all, that is the only criteria for a successful life that matters. It doesn’t matter how much money we make or things we accrue. God’s only question will be how have you loved? How have you lived the Gospel, preached the Gospel in word and in deed; have you desired to be a saint? Let us walk with determination on the path of holiness so that where He has gone, we too may follow.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Love like Jesus loves!


A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

The artist Paul Gustave Doré once lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name, Doré hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be someone else, but Doré insisted. So the official said, “We'll give you a test. If you pass it we'll allow you to go.” He handed him a pencil and paper and told him to sketch some people nearby. Doré did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His actions confirmed his identity.

Jesus said in our Gospel passage today, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or, as the famous hymn says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Jesus challenges us to ask whether people can tell that we are His followers by the way we act. Think about that for a minute – how does someone know who you are? Sometimes a uniform can help – we can pick out a policeman or a fireman quickly. We can pick out a priest in his collar, or a member of a religious Order in their habit - like the Franciscan habit that we wear. But, a uniform doesn’t make the person, or in the words of Shakespeare in Measure for Measure, “The hood does not make a monk.”

Don’t get me wrong, uniforms, clerical garb or religious habits all have their place – especially if you need that police officer. And Jesus Himself wrestled with the question of how to distinguish His followers from the non-believers around them. But His answer is very different than mere externals. It’s not enough to wear a cross or claim the name of Christian or Catholic. For Jesus, the essential mark of distinction between Christians and non-Christians is not in the way we dress; not in the way we describe ourselves; but in the way we live - and most importantly in the way we love. Just think of one of the dismissals we use at the end of Mass, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life!”

We heard today from Jesus, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or to phrase it just a bit differently, Love is the Christian identity. Love is the Christian uniform. Love is the Christian habit. Love is the Christian calling card.

You see, Jesus wants the world to recognize us as Christians. As it was said in the earliest days of the Church is should be said today of us, “See how those Christians love.” And yet, how often is the Gospel, the Good News used, as a weapon, as something to keep people away or excluded; made to feel outside of that love. How often do people know we’re Catholic because we “oppose this” or are “against that”. Being contrary has become the Catholic identity far too often in our world.

The challenge for each of us today is to witness to the people around us; the people we encounter every day. But effective witnessing usually has less to do with how eloquently we speak and more to do with how faithfully and lovingly we live. As St Francis of Assisi told his brothers, “Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” And, I think we have such a powerful example of exactly what this looks like in Pope Francis.

The impact of his papacy has been tremendous in the three short years since his election. And the greatest effect, I think, has been through these continuous examples of way he loves. Pope Francis has set the Church and the world on its head with his simple form of humble and loving leadership. His greatest teaching has been his big and easy smile; the heart-felt embracing of so many – especially the most marginalized; his literal washing the feet of the poor, the refugees, Muslims, the elderly, and so many more.

“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” We shouldn’t look at Pope Francis with amazement and awe; grateful to have such an example. We should look at him and be inspired to do the same. As I look back on the papacies of the last 30 years, I am amazed at the intellect and charisma of St. Pope John Paul II, I am grateful and appreciative of the tremendous teaching of Pope Benedict; but I want to be like Pope Francis. And, that’s another way of saying, I want to show the same love that Jesus showed. As my little joke said, “You be Jesus!”

You’ve heard the statement before, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The way to be a convicted Christian is by living and loving so that through us people begin to have a glimpse of the unconditional love that God has shown us in Christ. The best habit we can wear is to love everyone the way Christ loves – without restriction, without judgment, without condition. The love of Christ, leads us to passionately proclaim His message, to feed those who are hungry without thought, to give shelter to the homeless, to reach out to the lost and forsaken, to welcome the stranger, the marginalized. Let this be what identifies you as a follower of Jesus more than anything else.

I’ll end with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa which capture well the love of Christ. She wrote, “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway! If you are kind, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway! The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway! Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway! What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway! People really need help but may attack you if you try to help them. Help them anyway! Give the world your best and it will hurt you. Give your best anyway! In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” My brothers and sisters, You be Jesus!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Do you love me?


There is probably no greater question ever asked than “Do you love me?” It is a question that is full of anxiety, full of hope; it is tinged with vulnerability and speaks of our hopes and dreams. We hear this poignant question echo out from the Gospel today not once, but three times. “Do you love me?” Why does Jesus ask Simon Peter this question and why three times?

Certainly the three questions are a counter balance to the three times that Peter denies Jesus on the night of His Passion. But, there is much more going on in this passage. Simon is not merely overcoming a denial, but Jesus is both reconciling him and drawing him more deeply into the mystery of His love. If you didn’t pick up on all of that, part of the reason is some of the detail lost when translated from Greek to English.

In English, when Jesus asks “Do you love me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, I love you,” it all sounds the same, an even a bit redundant. But in Greek we find that Peter is not exactly responding to the question Jesus is asking him. In Greek there are many words that can be translated into “love” in English. There is eros, which refers to sexual or erotic love. There is philia, meaning pragmatic love, like the admiration and devotion we have for a worthy person or thing, such as love for a hero, love of parents, and love of art. Finally there is agape. This is the height of love. Agape is self-sacrificing, completely unconditional love, even for a person who may not deserve it and when there is nothing tangible to be gained. The clearest example of the self-sacrificing and unconditional love we call agape is found in the love that Jesus has for us, which made him give up his life for us on the Cross.

In our passage today, Jesus asks Peter, “Agapas me?” meaning “Do you love me in the complete and sacrificing way that I love you?” Peter knows that he has failed in this standard. He knows that he disowned Jesus in order to save his life. So, Peter does not answer in kind to Jesus. He answers, “Philo se” meaning, “Yes, Lord, you know how much I deeply admire you and how devoted I am to you.” This seemingly simple exchange is really a confession. Peter is saying to Jesus, “Yes, I love and admire you, but I have failed in loving You the way You love me.” So Jesus asks him a second time, “Agapas me?” and again Peter replies that he has philia love for him. Finally, Jesus asks, “Philas me? Do you have philial love for me?” And Peter answers “Yes, I have philia for you.” Jesus meets Peter where he is. He accepts what Peter can do understanding that this is a start.

We see in Peter we a wise, and humble man who doesn’t claim more than he can deliver. Peter's confession here can be likened to that of the father of the possessed boy who confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” What Peter is saying is “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love the way you love; help me have to completely giving love that you have.”

Today’s Gospel is so well-timed that it can’t be a coincidence. Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation on Friday called, “The Joy of Love.” It is long and fruitful exploration of love and family, but at the heart of it, I think the Holy Father is giving us a message similar to what we see in this Gospel exchange. That the ideal of love is powerful and godlike, but Jesus meets us where we are and encourages us forward. The Pope writes, for example, “Few human joys are as deep and thrilling as those experienced by two people who love one another and have achieved something as the result of a great, shared effort.” [#130]

We often profess our love for God; our love for Jesus. But, Peter challenges us today to realize that professing our love is only half of the story. The other half is the recognition that our love cannot reach its height and be a most powerful force in our lives, unless we invite and allow God to fill up in us what we lack. The Pope writes, “If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us.”

Today, we are invited to join St. Peter in his confession: “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love completely.”

Jesus tells Peter how to fill up that lack of love. “Feed my lambs...tend my sheep...feed my sheep.” Caring for others; expanding our own circle of love especially to those who need it most will help us love as Jesus loves. The more we do the things that Jesus does – without counting the cost - the more we will love like Jesus loves. We can learn to love more.

Jesus asks us today, “Do you love me?” What will our response be?

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Living in Hope | Pope Francis


Vatican Basilica
Holy Saturday, 26 March 2016

“Peter ran to the tomb” (Lk 24:12). What thoughts crossed Peter’s mind and stirred his heart as he ran to the tomb? The Gospel tells us that the eleven, including Peter, had not believed the testimony of the women, their Easter proclamation. Quite the contrary, “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (v. 11). Thus there was doubt in Peter’s heart, together with many other worries: sadness at the death of the beloved Master and disillusionment for having denied him three times during his Passion.

There is, however, something which signals a change in him: after listening to the women and refusing to believe them, “Peter rose” (v. 12). He did not remain sedentary, in thought; he did not stay at home as the others did. He did not succumb to the somber atmosphere of those days, nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts. He was not consumed by remorse, fear or the continuous gossip that leads nowhere. He was looking for Jesus, not himself. He preferred the path of encounter and trust. And so, he got up, just as he was, and ran towards the tomb from where he would return “amazed” (v. 12). This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made room for hope: he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it.

The women too, who had gone out early in the morning to perform a work of mercy, taking the perfumed ointments to the tomb, had the same experience. They were “frightened and bowed their faces”, and yet they were deeply affected by the words of the angel: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (v. 5).

We, like Peter and the women, cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope. Let us not stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord – each of us knows what they are – so that he may enter and grant us life. Let us give him the stones of our rancour and the boulders of our past, those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls. Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish. This is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves. May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the centre of our lives.

We see and will continue to see problems both within and without. They will always be there. But tonight it is important to shed the light of the Risen Lord upon our problems, and in a certain sense, to “evangelize” them. To evangelize our problems. Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control us; we must cry out to them: the Lord “is not here, but has risen!” (v. 6). He is our greatest joy; he is always at our side and will never let us down.

This is the foundation of our hope, which is not mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous. Christian hope is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves and open our hearts to him. This hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). The Paraclete does not make everything look appealing. He does not remove evil with a magic wand. But he pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, conquered death and conquered fear. Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from his love (cf.Rom 8:39).

The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the living. After having found him, each person is sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. There is so necessary today. However, we must not proclaim ourselves. Rather, as joyful servants of hope, we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love; otherwise we will be only an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs.

How can we strengthen our hope? The liturgy of this night offers some guidance. It teaches us to remember the works of God. The readings describe God’s faithfulness, the history of his love towards us. The living word of God is able to involve us in this history of love, nourishing our hope and renewing our joy. The Gospel also reminds us of this: in order to kindle hope in the hearts of the women, the angel tells them: “Remember what [Jesus] told you” (v. 6). Remember the words of Jesus, remember all that he has done in our lives. Let us not forget his words and his works, otherwise we will lose hope and become “hopeless” Christians. Let us instead remember the Lord, his goodness and his life-giving words which have touched us. Let us remember them and make them ours, to be sentinels of the morning who know how to help others see the signs of the Risen Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! And we have the possibility of opening our hearts and receiving his gift of hope. Let us open our hearts to hope and go forth. May the memory of his works and his words be the bright star which directs our steps in the ways of faith towards that Easter that will have no end.