Friday, August 28, 2015

Let's change the world


Practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. You have to walk the walk. These are all common phrases that we know. There are many more like them, but they all have the same point – words are not enough. For our words to be true and be believed, they must be followed with action.

One of my favorite quotes of Pope Francis gets at this point. He said, “You pray for the hungry. The you feed them! This is how prayer works.” In our second reading today from St. James, he says the same thing this way, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Or, practice what you preach.

One of the greatest dangers for people of faith, I think, is to be enamored of Scripture, to love the teaching of the Church, to hold as precious the words of Jesus – but, to act no differently than the rest of the world when we’re outside of a church building. This is also what Jesus is tackling in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees and Scribes are obsessed with the external observance of the Law, while their actions say something different. They were obsessed with rituals, but neglected the change of heart and life that those rituals hope to bring about in people. In today’s passage, the Pharisees allow the failure to ritually wash their hands keep them from sharing God’s Good News with the people who need to hear it. Jesus points out that it is not the purification of hands that will save them, but the purification of their souls.

Now, Jesus isn’t condemning ritual or doctrine, but asking if those practices are effective. Is our practice the goal of our faith – is our faith nothing more than attending Mass or praying rosaries? Or do these practices help us become the people God wants us to be, as James says, those who “care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep [themselves] unstained by the world.” Have we become “Doers of the Word and not hearers only?”

We have been blessed in these years of Pope Francis to see someone who shows us what Christian words-in-action truly look like. For example, he doesn’t only talk about the homeless, but he opened the Vatican to them and created showers, provides food, brings in barbers to cut their hair – his faith-in-action is practical; it makes a difference to the people he encounters. A few years ago, speaking on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, he said it this way, “Jesus tells us that the path to encountering Him is to find 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 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.”

St. James and Jesus are reminding us today that our faith should be obvious in our actions. That people should see the way we act in the world and know immediately that we are follows of Christ. That our faith in Jesus has changed our lives. We are being asked to prayerfully reflect on two basic questions: Do I hear God’s Word? And, do I act on God’s Word?

James tells us, “Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you. Act on it. Because if all you do is listen, you are deceiving yourselves.” Yes, it is hard to love the way Jesus loves and the way He asks us to love others. But, in His Word and in His Holy Sacraments, Jesus gives us the strength to do what He asks. He gives us the strength to be a different kind of presence in the world – one that loves, one that shows compassion, one that reaches out – especially to those in most need; especially to those that others would simply walk by. So, let us hear God’s Word and be strengthened by His Body and Blood and truly leave this place as “Doers of the Word of God….for that will save our souls.”

Or as St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” It will not only change us and make us more like Christ; it will change the world.

May the Lord give you peace.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

To be a saint is the vocation of everyone | Solemnity of St. Clare


I'd like to start with an impromptu poll among everyone here. By a show of hands how many here would like to be a saint? And again, by a show of hands, how many think that when all is said and done, you will in fact, be a saint? Good, I was hoping to see a lot of hands go up, especially in a group of religious and those following our beloved Clare and Francis.

There is a story that you may have heard before about the great Trappist mystic and writer Thomas Merton. Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert. Robert 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. Robert 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. His friend 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.”

As we gather tonight to commemorate and celebrate Our Holy Mother Saint Clare, we are in the final months of the Year of Consecrated Life called for by Pope Francis. As he called for this year, Pope Francis put a remarkable challenge before all of us living the vowed life. He said that religious women and men must “wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in the world. It is a question of leaving everything to follow the Lord. Religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. It is this witness that I expect of you. Religious should be men and women who are able to wake the world up.”

Now this task can seem daunting if we feel that it is our job alone, or even as our small group, to wake up the entire world to the truth and reality of the Gospel. What great plan could we come up with? What big strategy could we develop for the whole world. And, that’s when we remember that we are followers of the saints of Assisi. We “wake up the world” by being simply, profoundly, and fully who we are called to be. That was the great message and awesome plan of Clare and Francis. They both held the simple proposal that the Gospel could be lived; that it was possible to live the life devoted to God that Jesus came to reveal to us in its fullness. Clare and Francis showed us so profoundly – and yet so simply – that this possible. And, I think, that is why you and I are here. We believe it too; so much so that it lead us to leave our former lives and live a life of total dedication as a consecrated person. And, following the Gospel is just another way of saying I want to be a saint. I believe I can be a saint.

Pope Francis said, “To be a saint is not a privilege for a few, but the vocation of everyone. Saints aren't supermen and they weren't born perfect. They are people who, before attaining glory in Heaven, lived a normal life, with joys and pains, struggles and hopes. But when they knew the love of God they felt it with all their hearts.”

When we feel that sainthood is beyond us, out of our reach, we are probably thinking about the legendary saints – Clare and Francis, Anthony, Mother Teresa, Mother Cabrini – we are thinking of the saints who converted crowds of thousands by their preaching, who established schools and hospitals and orphanages and more by the droves, who established religious communities that grew and expanded and covered the world. And maybe for us, that isn’t our road to sainthood. But those glorious women and men were not saints because of the quantity of work they accomplished or even the eloquence of their holy speech – they were saints because they were faithful to God and to what God asked them to do; and because they did that with all their heart and lives. And, that is our road to sainthood too. We can be like them in the way we love God, in the way we follow Him completely.

As we celebrate Clare today, we are reminded that the goal of our existence is Paradise! That is what Clare learned herself and taught her sisters and us. The documents of the Cause of Canonization for St. Clare tell us that she said this as she was preparing to meet Sister Death, “Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for He who created you has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be you, my God, for having created me.”

Following St. Clare and St. Francis is really a way of saying, this is how we will become saints. Following the Gospel, relying fully on God, devoting ourselves to prayer, to charity, to our life together, mercy, compassion and devotion to the poor – these are the ways that our beloved Founders have taught us are the road to holiness, the pathway to sainthood, the very Way that will bring us to heaven.

Clare was a saint because she recognized God’s love in her life and followed Him with all her heart without reserve or hypocrisy. She spent her life serving others, enduring suffering and adversity, spreading joy and peace. She is a saint because she did not put conditions on God in her life.

Today, through this feast, Saint Clare gives us a message. She tells us: trust in the Lord because the Lord does not disappoint! He never disappoints, He is a good friend always at our side. Through her witness Clare encourages us to not be afraid to speak about God and the Gospel – to be witnesses of the Gospel capable of waking up the world.

“To be a saint is the vocation of everyone.” “All we have to do is desire it.” Let us entrust our prayers to the intercession of Our Holy Mother Clare and ask her that our hearts might be filled with the desire to be saints.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The grace of surrender


In order to join the Navy, John first had to pass a routine physical. During the exam, the doctor discovered that, due to an abnormality, John couldn’t fully extend his arms above his head. Unsure if he should approve John, the doctor conferred with another doctor. "Let him pass," said the second doctor. "I don’t see any problems – unless he has to surrender."

Our first reading today is a story of surrender. We heard, “Elijah prayed for death saying, ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.’” This is a statement that most of us can relate to, I think. How often do we feel like we are at a point in life when we want to throw up our hands, surrender, and say “This is enough! I’ve had enough!”

So, why was Elijah so down? Well, as we pick up his story today, God has asked a tremendous amount of him. He – a man alone – was sent by God to confront Queen Jezebel who had lead Israel astray to worship a false God. Elijah had just engaged in a major confrontation with her prophets before our passage today and the result was that the Queen sent a messenger to tell Elijah that before the day is done, he will be put to death. Elijah runs in fear for his life.

At this moment, Elijah did what God asked and was worried that his reward was to be execution. He has thrown his arms up in surrender, ready to give up. He has been plunged into darkness and doubt. Wanting to quit and turn his life over to the eternal hands of God, he sleeps. But when he awakened, God sent an angel to care for him. Food and water appeared and the angel fed him. He experiences God’s care for him and through it discovers he has the strength to make his way to safety - and to begin again. When Elijah surrendered fully to God; in response God refreshed and renewed him; gave him life once again.

Elijah’s story should sound familiar to us, because there’s not one of us here who hasn’t been brought low, or felt defeated, and ready to surrender at one point or another in our lives. Whether we’re the fifth grader who feels doomed by a difficult subject; the mom slowly worn down by a long summer tending to the children she loves; the disappointed spouse who despite trying and trying again, can see no hope for the future of their marriage; the investor who made all the wrong decisions till there was nothing left; the sick person who has tried every doctor, every cure, but to no avail… and so on.

In these moments, we might also feel like saying, “I’m finished, I’m empty; I have nothing left to give, to say, to do; I am too tired to lift a pencil; too tired to hope; too tired to cry. I’ve had enough. I surrender.” And what is God’s answer? He doesn’t say, “Buck up! Be strong!” He doesn’t say, “Get over it and move on.” God knows when our strength is spent and when we are empty. Instead, our loving and caring God sends an angel to us too and says, “Be still; rest with me awhile, and wait. As slow rain fills an empty cup, I will fill you; I will nurture you, care for you, feed you and restore your strength – if you hold up your cup, and wait, and be still with me.”

He sends these angels in the form of the good and supportive friends we have; in the love that people show us in life; in the kindness of a stranger; and so importantly in moments of prayer; pre-eminently in the Eucharist. Every Mass is exactly that kind of opportunity to be still with God, to be filled up with what He has to offer, to hear the gentle words of God’s encouragement in Scripture, and to be awakened to the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation offered in every Eucharist. Jesus said exactly this in today’s Gospel, “The bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Our Gospel today is a continuation of “Bread of Life discourse.” It reminds us once again, that Jesus sustains us, lifts us up and feeds us in ways that offer newness, freshness, relief and even the promise of eternal life. “I am the bread of life,” He says. “I am the living bread come down from heaven,” He says. This message is for us a great message of reassurance; a great message of hope.

So, if you come to this place today feeling a bit like Elijah – feeling a bit wearied by life, downtrodden by challenging situations, or hopeless in the face of impossible relationships; if you come here today feeling like you could say, “Lord, this is enough.” God says to you, “Be still and know that I am God.” So, be still and wait with Me. Listen to My words. Feel My presence. Let me refresh you, renew you and make you whole, once again.

God will give you what you need to be strengthened to finish your journey. All you have to do is let Him.

May the Lord strengthen you today and give you His peace.

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