Saturday, September 25, 2010

Compete well for the faith!


A priest was standing at the Church doors shaking hands with the people as they left after Mass. As Joe tried to pass by, the priest pulled him aside as said, “Joe, you need to join the Army of the Lord.” Joe replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Father.” “Well, then how come I don’t see you in church except at Christmas and Easter?” the priest asked. Joe whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”

In today’s second reading, St. Paul gives instructions to Timothy as a soldier of the Lord, urging him to fight the good fight. Paul is not asking Timothy to wage a war against his adversaries and rivals, as one would expect. He is asking him to fight the only battle that really matters in the end – the battle of faith; the struggle of holiness. As he instructs Timothy, “Pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called.”

That statement really stands out, “Compete well for the faith.” It is a statement of the passion that God call us each of us to have for our faith. Sometimes we think that all we need to do in life is be a good person. That’s a statement we hear all the time, “I’m a good person;” as though being a good person were enough. Don’t get me wrong – being a good person is fantastic, we need good people in the world. Good people are always more beneficial to the world than bad people. But, in the quest for eternal life, being good isn’t enough. God doesn’t want us to merely be good. There are a whole lot of “good” atheists in the world. God wants us to be holy. And that takes some work. “Compete well for the faith….Lay hold of eternal life, to which you have been called.” It sort of has the ring of “carpe diem,” or “seize the day.” St. Paul is telling us “carpe fidem” or “seize your faith.”

Our world could use a little more competition for holiness. We compete all the time in life, don’t we? We sure don’t have to look much further than our good-natured Red Sox-Yankee rivalry to see a healthy and vigorous competition (Wasn’t last night’s win awesome!). Let’s say a prayer that John Lester can make it back-to-back today (Dice-K go for three). We compete in all kinds of areas in our life. How many of us compete in the workplace, trying to do just a little bit better than the next guy to put ourselves in a better position, perhaps secure a promotion, make more money, hold a more prestigious position? How many of us compete in the academic realm trying to get better grades, to secure entry into a better school, gain a scholarship, etc.  We compete for friendship, popularity, for love and so many more things? What are the results of those competitions? Things are better for us day to day; probably better for our families. But, when we complete in faith – things are better for us eternally, “lay hold of eternal life,” and things are certainly better for the world. A competition of faith leads to a more full realization of the Kingdom of God in our midst. How many of us compete for faith? Or how many of us simply take our faith for granted?

God wants to shake us out of our complacency today – He wants to get us out of the “secret service” and make us one of His foot soldiers fighting the good fight, actively pursuing our faith, being not only good, but striving for holiness.

Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was talking with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic. “I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic. Lax stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him. Lax said: “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 brothers and sisters, “Pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called.” My friends, “Carpe fidem” – seize your faith, let us all strive for holiness, to be saints!

May God give you peace.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Opening our lives to the Kingdom


An angel appeared at a faculty meeting and told the dean that he had come to reward him for his years of devoted service. He asked him to choose one of three blessings: either infinite wealth, infinite fame or infinite wisdom. Without hesitation, the dean asked for infinite wisdom. “You got it!” said the angel, and disappeared. All heads turn 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 and says finally, “I should have taken the money.”

Wisdom, in the sense of being smart or shrewd as we see in today’s parable of the dishonest servant, is not an end in itself. After all, you can be smart and use your smarts to do bad things. Many con artists and criminals are smart people who use their brains to create misery in the world. Today’s parable challenges each of us to be smart, but smart in the pursuit of the Kingdom of God; just as godless people are smart in their pursuit of selfish goals and ambitions. Jesus uses the example of a smart manager in his master’s business to teach us the need to be smart in the Lord’s service. We are challenged to imitate the manager’s shrewdness, but not his dishonesty. “The master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.”

Why did the master who had made up his mind to fire the manager now commend him? Probably the manager had been running his master’s business in a drab, routine and lifeless manner devoid of creativity and imagination. As a result the business was failing, so the master decided it was time to fire him: “Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.” The manager is facing a real danger of being dismissed from service. He knows the seriousness of the situation. He is not kidding himself. He knows exactly how helpless he is out there. He says, “What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.” He knows he is in a very difficult and precarious situation. He scratches his head and comes up with an ingenious plan to safeguard his future. And, the master praises him because if the manager had been using such smart thinking in the daily running of the business he would have made a much more successful manager rather than a failure.

In this parable, Jesus challenges us all to also be smart managers. “Me, a manager,” you say? Yes, we are all called to be managers. Do you ever stop to realize that God has entrusted the whole of His creation into our hands as His managers. Jesus, in addition to that, has entrusted the very Kingdom of God – the kingdom of love, justice and peace – into our hands as his managers. World peace and harmony, and the renewal of all things in Christ, are the business of us all, collectively and individually. Our business as followers of Christ, is to help bring about the kingdom of God starting with ourselves. We have all been given the necessary resources to do this. We have been equipped with the truth of faith, we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts, we have been strengthened by the sacraments, and we have been given time. But, sooner or later we also will be called upon to render an account of how we have invested and managed these resources entrusted to us by the Father and the Son.

The bottom line of today’s Gospel is this: Jesus reminds us that worldly people are often more willing to sacrifice for worldly goals than Christian people are willing to sacrifice for Christian goals. We are being called to be as smart, as committed, to spiritual things as others are to worldly things. We are being called to make a commitment to the Kingdom of God in our midst. The grace for this commitment was given to us in Baptism and Confirmation, and it is renewed every time we gather on the Lord’s Day, around the Lord’s Table, to hear the Lord’s Word, and to share in the Lord’s Supper.

If worldly people are capable of making great sacrifices for worldly goals, how much more are we, as Christians, capable of making even greater sacrifices for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom? This is the good news that the Church reminds us of in today’s readings. This is the good news that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel. It is the good news that you and I have the power to do great things for Jesus and for His Kingdom – if we merely choose to.

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. Lord, open our minds to your word, even when it disrupts our lives more than we want to be disrupted. Lord, 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 God give you peace.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trust in God's mercy; not in your sin


After reading the story of the Prodigal Son, a Sunday school teacher asked her kids, “At the end of the story who ended up in the worst situation? The younger or the older brother?” One of the kids shot up his hand and answered, “Neither one. It was the fattened calf.”

We heard in our Gospel today, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance.” Has anyone noticed that no one sins any more? Do you know many people who would call themselves a sinner? Acknowledge the place of sin in their lives and the need for God’s mercy? It really seems to have gone out of style. We’re all now “good people” who do “good things.” “I haven’t killed anyone,” they say, as though that were the only standard. Thirty years ago, confession lines were very long every Saturday as people had a clearer understanding of their need to be reconciled to God through Confession, and wouldn’t imagine receiving the Eucharist without having first asked God for the forgiveness of their sins. Today, confessions are more likely to last about 30 minutes each week and most priests bring a book with them to stay occupied for that half hour.

And yet, our Scriptures speak so profoundly about the central reason for Jesus’ coming to us – to save sinners, to reconcile us. The prayer of absolution that the priest says during confession begins with those very words, “God, the Father of mercies…has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” And, the whole parable of the Prodigal Son that we have before us today is Jesus telling us of our need for repentance and reconciliation and God’s mercy to us when we seek it. And yet, so many of us today do not seek out this gift of healing and wholeness.

Why? My experience tells me that we are, as a whole, afraid of this sacrament. We’re afraid because of bad past experiences; we’re afraid because we don’t know what to say; we’re afraid because we don’t know what the priest will say to us. Confession is today perhaps the most misunderstood and under -utilized sacrament in the Church.

I invite you today to cast away all of your prior misconceptions about Confession and think about this sacrament in a new light. What is reconciliation really about? First of all, it is actually less about you and your sin and more about God and His mercy. Our fears are often about our sins and about what we will say, or what the priest will say to us. The reality is that reconciliation is really about God and about how loving and forgiving and merciful He is. It is about a forgiving Father who can’t wait to offer His mercy to His children who come and ask for it – like the Prodigal Son. God wants to offer to us love and forgiveness, healing and joy. God can’t wait to forgive us, to free us from sin.

Part of the problem is that we’ve come to accept the world as it is. We live today in a world of broken relationships. There isn’t one among us here who hasn’t been touched by divorce, for example – whether directly in our own families, or extended family or friends. There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t have a broken relationship somewhere in our lives – a friendship destroyed, a misunderstanding overblown, regretted words spoken and never taken back. The myth of the world is that we have to accept that brokenness and can never achieve healing. Jesus tells us something different and gives us the opportunity – in a grace-filled encounter with him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to restore, heal and reconcile the broken relationships in our lives.

And that is what the parable of the Prodigal Son is all about. It is a story of broken relationships. The younger son has severed the relationship with his father in the worst way. He comes to recognize his wrong actions and wants nothing more than to be accepted again into his father’s household – not in the status he had before, but even just as a lowly servant. That’s supposed to be us – recognizing our sin, approaching our God asking to simply be allowed to remain a member of His household; of His family. And, what is the father’s reaction to the younger son? He is overjoyed at the son’s return. He says, “Now we must celebrate…your brother was…lost and has been found.” And the real power is that Jesus tells us that God will deal with us in the same way.

The merciful, loving heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the merciful, loving heart of God our heavenly Father. His mercy tirelessly seeks out each sinner and when we respond there is happiness and rejoicing in heaven. To every sinner, in other words, to all of us, I say as simply as I can: Your sin is not the big deal you think it is; the big deal is your return to the merciful love of God. Trust in His mercy, not in your sin.

As we heard from St. Paul, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Let us approach Him and ask that He take away all that is keeping us from the grace of forgiveness.

May God give you peace.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The mosque controversy: We are not at war with Islam; we are at war with terrorists

FT NOTE: Fr. Daly says it well.

By Father Peter J. Daly
September 8th, 2010 | Catholic News Service

There is a mosque in my town, located less than a mile from our parish church. Its members are good neighbors; peaceful, hard-working and patriotic.

I have a cordial relationship with the local imam (leader). He is also a physician. We serve on the board of our community hospital together. I see him at meetings several times a month. He is a gentleman and a friend.

We have exchanged gifts. I have a set of Muslim prayer beads and a Quran, the Islamic holy book, which he gave me. He has a rosary and a Bible that I gave him.

Our faith communities live in peace.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the women of our communities started a group called Daughters of Abraham to foster dialogue between Christians, Muslims and Jews, the three Abrahamic faiths.

Catholics who are opposed to the building of mosques in New York City and elsewhere should recall our own troubled arrival on the shores of the United States.

In the 19th century, angry mobs burned Catholic churches in major cities throughout the Northeast, including New York. People accused Catholics then of the same things they are saying about Muslims today: They said we were loyal to a foreign power (the pope). They said we were seeking to institute Catholicism as the official religion of the nation and establish our law. They said we were disruptive of the public peace.

In the 1830s and 1840s, the Know Nothing party spread vile rumors about Catholics, inciting mobs to burn Catholic churches and convents.

In 1834, a Know Nothing mob burned the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Mass. The local police and volunteer fire brigade looked on, giving tacit approval. The nuns and their students were forced to flee for their lives into the woods.

After the fire, the local bishop, considering the failure of the police to stop the arson as governmental approval, made application to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for reimbursement.

A state legislature commission responded, saying “that Catholics, acknowledging as they do, the supremacy of a foreign power, could not claim under our government the protection as citizens of the commonwealth.”

In the 1850s, the New York papers editorialized against the building of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. It offended their sensitivities.

After the Civil War, the American Protective Association spread throughout the Midwest. Formed in Iowa in 1887, it had thousands of members. They were required to swear an oath not to hire Catholics or aid in the building of any Catholic institution or support any Catholic for public office.

As such, Catholics above all should support the religious freedom of Muslims. We have been where they are today.

And Catholics should not buy into this argument about “sensitivity.” They made the same argument about our churches once. Our mere presence offended others.

If Muslims cannot build a mosque on their private property two blocks from ground zero, then where can they build it so they don’t offend? Is five blocks away enough? How about New Jersey?

The clear implication of this sensitivity argument is that all Muslims are somehow responsible for the atrocities of Sept. 11. This is absurd.

We are not at war with Islam; we are at war with terrorists.

I do not want to be made to answer for the behavior of the billion Catholics around the world. Should Catholics be labeled terrorists because some bomb-throwing member of the IRA uses our religion as a cover?

Sensitivity is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution; religious liberty is.

Catholics who oppose the building of the mosque near ground zero may have forgotten our own history. In view of our past, we should be the strongest supporters of religious liberty.

Father Peter J. Daly is a pastor in Maryland and writes a column for Catholic News Service.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Can you hear me now?


Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They thoughtfully 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 who drove by didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted at them, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!” All of a sudden they 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 today’s Gospel, Jesus is also using 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?” Well, 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 to listen to the full, radical 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 obsessed with wealth, competition; it’s full of violence, war, and so much more. We call this the “real” world. And if someone were to suggest that we can live in radical non-violence, love, 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; full of false hopes and promises. He calls us to instead be immersed in the new world that he calls so often the Kingdom of God. His strategy? 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 attended World Youth Day a few years ago, there was a group of young people passing out stickers said, “100% Catholic.” We like that sentiment, but how many of us lead lives that are more like 80% Catholic, 50%, or even less? Jesus wants to remind us that we cannot follow Him half way. Discipleship is an all or nothing deal.

And this is the point of His shocking words to us today. In following Jesus, we have to go with Him the whole way. We can’t stop at the preaching and the 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 totally and then put that into practice in the way we live. There cannot be, as is too often the case, a compromise, trying to have our cake and eat it. Jesus tells us that if it is a choice between even our families and living His ways, we must choose His ways. Jesus and His Gospel message have to be the number one priority in our lives.

Most of us follow a lifestyle dictated by our culture and our goals are the goals of the culture and, somewhere on the side, we try to fit in some aspects of Christian living. Too often, we do not want our Christianity to get in the way of our lifestyle. But this is precisely what Jesus is asking of us.

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.

That is the meaning of the two parables, which Jesus gives as illustration. “Great crowds” were following Jesus with enthusiasm but were they ready? Did they realize what it really meant to follow Him? If not, they are like the king who goes out to war totally unprepared to deal with the opposing side. They are like a man who started out to build a tower and then ran out of funds or material. The become laughing stocks; inauthentic. If we try to walk with Jesus without being ready to commit to it; 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 absolute and how radical the demands of discipleship are. Following Jesus is much harder than we perhaps thought at first. The Good News is that Jesus recognizes our weaknesses; and still invites us on this journey with Him. Does He have our attention? Are we ready to go with Him?

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

May God give you peace.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...