Friday, January 15, 2016

Sin That Cripples, Mercy That Heals

1st Reading: 1 Sam 8: 4-7, 10-22a
Psalm: Ps 89: 16-17, 18-19
Gospel: Mk 2: 1-12

Today's readings, I think, are perfect readings for the beginning of this new semester, and the beginning of the Year of Mercy. The transition between these two readings demonstrates the abundance of God's mercy, and gives us some beautiful insight into our own lives.

In the first reading, we see Israel rejecting God as their king. They say to Samuel, "We want to have our own king. We want to do it our way. We want a king like all of the other nations, but our king will be better. He will treat us fairly. He won't rule over us with an iron fist. He'll be different."

Each and every one of us has that one or two areas in our life where we reject God as our king. That particular sin that we confess over and over, and is always seeming to hold us back, keeping us from reaching the next level of our life with God; that next level of virtue and holiness. They cripple us. And I think there are three things in today's Gospel for us to learn; three words of encouragement that Jesus has for us in striving against these sins.

  1. First, we are told not to get discouraged. It is very easy for us to say to ourselves, "I'm so tired of confessing this same thing over and over again, and surely God is tired of hearing it. Surely he will not forgive it this time. But, we see in the Gospel that these are the thoughts of the scribe. "He can't forgive that sin. Who can forgive that sin?" Jesus can, and He wants to. He wants to over and over again, day after day, no matter how many times you come to confess it.
  2. A second lesson is that not only does Jesus forgive the crippled man's sins, but he also heals his cripple. Jesus doesn't want us to be crippled by these sins. He wants to bring healing to us. This is the abundance of his mercy. Brothers, go to confession. Jesus wants you to receive his healing, he wants you to stop struggling with sin, and he wants to give you the grace of loving him fully.
  3. The third lesson that comes from this Gospel is that this crippled man needed the help of others to bring him to Jesus. He had friends who wanted his healing so much, that the not only brought him to Jesus, but they climbed up onto the roof of a house and dug through the roof, so they they could get their friend to Jesus for healing. Brothers, there is a seminary full of your friends and brothers who are ready, willing, and able to bring you to Jesus. All you have to do is ask. Whether it means joining some kind of fraternal group, or maybe just a couple of close friends, let your brothers bring you to Jesus to receive his healing.

Jesus wants to heal us. Allow yourself to be healed, so that one day, we may all proclaim for ever the goodness of the Lord.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Shepherd's Voice: My Homily for July 18/19, 2015

Since I'm giving homilies and stuff now, I am gonna put up my Sunday homilies on this blog whenever I preach. So without further ado, my homily from this weekend:

The other day, I saw an amazing video on YouTube. The video was an illustration of the connection sheep have with their shepherd. The video shows a field of grazing sheep, and a group of tourists. One by one, the tourists walk to the edge of the field and call to the sheep. First one, then another, then a third and a fourth, walk to the fence: “Tik-tik-tik-tik.” Every one of them. And after every one of them, nothing happens. The sheep stand there, grazing, not responding at all. Then, the shepherd approaches. “Tik-tik-tik-tik.” The shepherd calls to his sheep. All of a sudden, one sheep, then the other, and then more and more, all of the sheep raise their heads, turn to the shepherd, and run to meet him at the fence on the edge of the field. It was amazing! By the sound of his voice, the shepherd knew the shepherd, and came to him.
Before the Gospel today, we heard this verse from John’s Gospel: “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and the follow me.” This verse has never made as much sense to me as it did when I watched that video. When we know the voice of our shepherd so intimately that we can tell it’s him without any question or doubt and respond to him alone; that is when we are true disciples of the Lord.
Today, in the Gospel, we see something a little bit different. Rather than sheep who know their shepherd, we see sheep without a shepherd. Jesus is moved with pity for the crowds, who are lost and wandering, looking for someone to follow, something to grasp on to, somewhere to find meaning. I think this, rather than the sheep who know the shepherd, is more like most of our experience in today’s world, and even perhaps in this church today.
We wander around, looking for meaning in our lives, and we hear all kinds of voices giving us their plugs for the answer. We have advertisers telling us that if only we had “better ingredients, better pizza,” we would be happy, or asking us “what’s in your wallet?”, as if answering this question the right way would give us some sort of higher status in the world. We go from product to product, sport to sport, hobby to hobby, all the while looking for something that will fulfill us, and always we come up short, we always want something more, we are never satisfied. The only thing that will truly bring us fulfillment is hearing and following the voice of our true Shepherd, Jesus.
So, our question then becomes, how do we hear this voice? How do I distinguish between the voice of my shepherd, and the voice of all these false shepherds competing for my attention in the world today? Today’s Gospel reading gives us two hints, two pieces of practical advice for blocking out the voices of false shepherds and coming to know him intimately to the point where we know without a doubt when he is speaking to us.
First: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” In order to better hear the voice of our shepherd, we first need to cut out all of the other voices. We spend so much time bombarded by voices, whether on the radio, TV, at work, at school, pretty much everywhere we go, and we know from the story of Elijah the prophet that the Lord’s voice is not in powerful winds or earthquakes, but in the still small whisper. If we constantly have these voices in our heads, they drown out the still small whisper of the Lord’s voice. Now, I’m not saying that we need to completely stop watching TV, or listening to the radio, but perhaps even taking twenty to thirty minutes every day to have quiet and spend some time listening for the Lord’s voice would help us to hear him.
The second thing we can do comes from the last line of the Gospel: “And he began to teach them many things.” Jesus spends time with his sheep, speaking with his voice, so that they come to know him and his voice. In the same way, we must come to know the voice of the Lord in order to be sheep that know him and follow him. The best way to come to know the voice of the Lord is to read the Scriptures. St. Jerome, a great scholar of Scripture from the 4th Century, says that “Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ.” If we want to know Jesus and his voice, we must spend time reading the Scriptures and allowing the Lord to speak to us through them.
If we do these two things: spend time in quiet, and read the Scriptures, we can come to know the voice of the shepherd, and we will be more able to respond without any hesitation whenever he calls. As we approach the Lord today in the Eucharist, let us ask for the grace to be sheep who know the shepherd, and to follow his voice without hesitation among all of the other voices in the world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Saints Benedict and Scholastica, the Pharisees, and the Primacy of Love

February 10, Memorial of St. Scholastica

This morning, as I was praying the Office of Readings for St. Scholastica, I was struck by something in the second reading, and I was even more struck by its connection to the Gospel passage from the Mass for today.

The Second Reading for the Office of Readings is from a work by St. Gregory, and it describes the scene depicted above in the mural from Conception Abbey, where I was in school for four years. The story goes that Benedict and Scholastica, who were twins, lived in monasteries that were about five miles apart in Italy. Every once in a while, they would meet each other at a hut outside the gates of Benedict's monastery to speak about God and the spiritual life.

One time, as they were speaking, they were so enthralled that the sun began to go down, and Benedict needed to leave to go back to his monastery. Scholastica asked him to stay, so they could continue their conversation about the spiritual life. Benedict refused saying, "I simply cannot stay outside my cell." At this, Scholastica bowed her head and began to pray. Immediately it began to storm outside, and the storm raged so much that "neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated."

Benedict expressed his disapproval to Scholastica, to which she replied, "I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery." Against his will, Gregory says, Benedict stayed with her and they conversed about the spiritual life throughout the night.

The part of this story that really struck me is what Gregory says next about Saint Scholastica and what she was able to do: "It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more." She could do more, because she loved more. The primacy of love is a key part of my faith, and I think it is the key to the spiritual life.

There is nothing inherently wrong in what St. Benedict desired, that is, to go back to his monastery and stay the night in his own cell. However, God's call for Benedict in that moment was not to go back to his cell, but to love his sister by staying with her and growing closer to God with her.

In the Gospel from Mass today, Jesus is reprimanding the pharisees after one of them asks Jesus why his disciples don't wash their hands before they eat. "Why do your disciples," they ask, "not follow the tradition of the elders, but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?" Mark tells us that there are many traditions that the Pharisees and the Jews followed, like washing their hands and "purifying" cups and dishes.

Jesus rebukes them saying, "You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition." In other words, they took what was dictated by men, and placed it on a higher level than the command of God.

Looking back at the Office of Readings, we can see that St. Benedict was being somewhat of a pharisee in his desire to go back to his cell. He was concerned, not necessarily in a bad way, with living out the Rule that he himself wrote and gave to his monks. However, the rule is a human tradition, and love is the greatest commandment of God. St. Benedict forgot about this great commandment of love.

As I look forward to my own ministry as a priest in a year and a half, I found myself asking the Lord, as a Spiritual Director once suggested, to make my life interruptible. If I ignore love for the sake of keeping up with my routine, my goals, my plans, my will, etc., then how can I minister to people the way they ought to be ministered to. I cannot be a priest who tells someone, "Sorry, I just started my Holy Hour, can you wait for an hour and come see me again?" If I am five minutes into my holy hour, and God places someone in front of me for me to love, than that person is the way that I express my love to God. Loving that person becomes my prayer to the Lord.

Perhaps this is something we can all afford to reflect on. How often do we ignore love for the sake of our own plans and routines? Do we allow ourselves to love God in other people, even when it breaks the rules we set for ourselves? Are we Scholastica or Benedict?

Lord, make our lives interruptible...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Reflection on Meaning

The content of this piece of reflection is mostly the fruit of prayer I did during a 30-day Silent retreat according to the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. This retreat took place in May-June of 2012, in Griswold, Iowa. It was the most intense spiritual experience I have ever had in my short twenty-three years of life. In this Year of Faith, in the spirit of Evangelization, I decided to write this all down and let other people see it, so that God may be glorified.

Mankind is constantly searching for meaning. One of our greatest fears is that we fall into meaninglessness and obscurity. The crisis in our culture is a crisis of meaning. We argue about the meaning of so many things: truth, sex, morality, and the list goes on and on. So, if we want to have a peaceful society, we have to resolve these questions that have plagued our world since the beginning of history.
In John 1:1, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Greek word ‘logos’, here translated as ‘Word,’ has two meanings. The other meaning of ‘logos’ is ‘meaning.’ So, if we use the other translation of ‘logos,’ we could translate the passage like this: “In the beginning was meaning, and meaning was with God, and meaning was God.” Our constant search for meaning is a search for God. Only in God can we find our meaning, because when we find meaning, we will find God.
Now, let’s take it a step further. Tradition teaches, and all Christians agree on this, that ‘logos’ is referring here to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ. Therefore this meaning we search for is Jesus Christ. When we find Christ and live in him, our lives gain meaning. Only when we have meaning in our lives are we truly happy.

In order to find Christ, and therefore our meaning, we need to look at where Christ’s meaning is found. Christ was a man who lived a meaningful life in everything he did. In the 3rd Chapter of John, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night and says to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs you do, unless God is with him.” There was something about how Christ lived that drew Nicodemus to him. The “signs” that Christ did showed his meaning. So the question becomes: What are these signs that Nicodemus saw?
The two previous stories to this part of the Gospel are the Wedding at Cana, and the driving out of the moneychangers from the Temple. In these two stories, we can find the heart of the meaning of Christ, which ultimately is our meaning. If we look at these two stories, we see that Christ is living not for himself, but for others. He doesn’t necessarily want to change the water into wine, but he does it, not so that he can draw attention to himself, but so that the wedding guests might have wine and so they might have increased joy. He doesn’t drive the moneychangers out of the temple so that he could be seen as a great leader, but to keep the house of God holy, and not allow it to be defiled by everyday, profane things.
In further reflecting on all these things, I came up with three ‘aspects of meaning’ that we find in the life of Christ. These are things we look to Christ as our model in. You can find these three aspects illustrated throughout the Gospels and throughout the whole of Scripture. These aspects are 1) Humility, 2) Relationships and 3) Total gift of self in love. We’ll look at these three aspects in the life of Christ.
First, let’s look at the aspect of humility. What is humility? Humility in the Christian sense means that you know who you are, and you don’t think too highly of yourself, sometimes even lowering yourself below where you are in order to build up others. This sure sounds like Christ. Even in the fact that Christ came as a man is an act of humility. In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we hear that “he humbled himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.”
Furthermore, after many of Christ’s miracles, he tells the recipient of the miracle to not tell anyone about him. Telling about him would bring glory to himself, instead of to God the Father. Humans have this crazy way of forgetting that the power of miraculous events comes not from the person who performs them, but from God the Father. We see this in the lives of saints who perform miracles. People try to put them up on a pedestal, and the saints constantly re-direct the glory away from themsleves to the true source of power, God Almighty.
Relationships are paramount in the life of Christ. He has relationships with his Mother, His apostles, his disciples, Mary and Martha, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and many others. Everything that Jesus does is oriented toward authentic relationships with other people, and with God his Father. We often see him taking time alone to pray. He needs to foster His relationship with His Father. Whenever Jesus performed a miracle for someone, he always accompanied the miracle with a forgiveness of sins. He took the opportunity of healing their physical ailments to also restore their relationship with God the Father.
His relationships with other people are also very important. He spends much time being with people at their houses, eating dinner, mourning the loss of life and other things. As he hung on the cross, he gave John and Mary to each other as Mother and son, in order to establish a relationship between the Church (His beloved disciple) and his Mother. When he is offering his High Priestly Prayer to the Father in John’s Gospel, he prays “that they may be one.” He wants all of his people to be of one heart and mind, truly in holy relationship with our fellow men.
Finally, we look at the total gift of self in love. It is fairly obvious that Christ gave himself totally in love to his beloved people. In dying on the cross, he holds nothing back, using even his life to bring us to redemption. But even before this, we can see Christ giving totally of himself. In his miracles, he holds nothing back. He does not just change a little bit of water into wine. He changes six stone water jars of water (120-180 gallons) into wine. When he heals peoples physical ailments, he also forgives their sins. At the Last supper, he holds nothing back in giving his own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to us for our food. Christ is the Bread of Life, and he gives himself to us so that he may become part of us, both spiritually and physically, and thus strengthen us for our journey to Him in heaven.
Now that we have seen meaning in the life of Jesus, we see what we need in our lives to find this meaning. We are all called to holiness; to live like Christ and find our meaning in him. How much of our lives are rooted in humility, relationships, and a total gift of ourselves in love? These aspects are intimately connected to our holiness, and interestingly enough, the three main types of sin are opposed to these three aspects.
Pride, Power, and Pleasure. These three things are the root of all sin. Name a sin, and I will guarantee you it has its root in one of these three things. The seven capital sins have their root in these: Pride and envy in pride; sloth, lust, and gluttony in pleasure; greed and anger in power. Pride, Power and Pleasure are opposed to humility, relationships, and total gift of self in love.
The opposition between pride and humility is pretty obvious. When someone is proud they think themselves to be better than everyone else, and seeks to show their importance to other people. When someone is humble, they think of themselves in the right way, not nearly as important as other things, like God. Humble people also do not seek attention. In fact, they often try to draw attention away from themselves.
Power is opposed to good, healthy relationships. When someone seeks control over another person, the relationship becomes distorted, and the person controlled loses their human dignity and freedom. Someone with good relationships always seeks the good of other people, and never presumes to control people or to do anything that might make oneself “higher” than anyone else.
Pleasure opposes a total gift of oneself. When one seeks only to do what makes them feel good, they do not care about giving of themselves. They do what is best for them, without being concerned for the needs and feelings of others. If Christ had given into his bodily “needs,” the Gospel would have ended at the Garden of Gethsemane, and our faith would be in vain.
This is the heart of the Christian Life. Our Relationship with the Lord, poured out in our relationships with others, in humility and a total gift of ourself in love. When this is lived out to its fullest, saints are made.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Habeo Papam!!!

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything, but I figured with the events of these past few days, I would give some reflections that I have had about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. I will forever remember the events of that day when Pope Francis was elected and became Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

Disclaimer: All of my information about him has come so far from wikipedia. I'm sorry if it's untrue, but I am pretty sure it's reliable.

First, a pet peeve of mine. Our Pope's name is Francis...not Francis I. He is the only Francis. Until there is a second, there is no first. Sorry, I had to get that out. Now, on to the real reflections...

You may have noticed that the title of this post is, "Habeo Papam!!!" instead of, "Habemus Papam!!!" This is not a mistake. Which leads me to my first reflection. When I was born, a wonderful, saintly man was pope. He has been one of my biggest heroes in life, and will always be an inspiration to me. However, I believe I was too young at that time for my heart to really see him as my Holy Father. I just didn't understand. I will also always remember in High School, sitting in Latin class, watching Pope Benedict XVI walk out onto the loggia to greet and bless the city and the world. However, at that time, I was also too young, and I was told that he was "really conservative." At that time it sacred me, because I associated it with the liturgy, and I didn't want to "go back" to the "Old Rite." Finally, when Pope Francis walked out onto the balcony, with his simple cassock and small little wave, I realized, in the bottom of my heart, "I have a pope." The more I read about him, the more I realize that this is a pope that I truly love. Every day I discover more and more an affection and a love for him that I have for very few other people.

When Fr. Bergoglio was a young priest, he suffered from severe pneumonia and cysts, and doctors removed part (I'm not sure how much) of one of his lungs. This is fascinating. Our pope does not have two full lungs. However, as a predecessor of his, John Paul II, said, we need to breathe with both lungs...East and West. As a young priest, he was mentored by a Greek Catholic Priest and as the Archbishop of Buenas Aires, he was named the Ordinary for Eastern Catholics in the area, something very rare in the Church. I have developed over my years in seminary a certain affection for the Byzantine Liturgy, and the fact that our Holy Father is well-versed in this beautiful part of our tradition is a very exciting thing. This could also help to advance the dialogues with the Eastern Orthodox, and perhaps finally bring them back into full communion with Rome.

Another striking thing about this pope is the congregations he was a member of as a cardinal. I know that he wasn't in charge of them, and I know that he wasn't intimately involved in everything about these congregations, but there has to be a reason that he was a member of them. He has a certain expertise and particular gift for these areas. The congregations were:
       Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
       Congregation for the Clergy 
       Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
       Pontifical Council for the Family
I think many of the problems facing the Church of today have to do with these four areas. Our greatest divisions are either liturgical or stemming form the priest sex abuse scandals. Our world is struggling with broken families. He brings a tremendous ability to deal with these problems, and to address the issues that face our Church and the world.

One final reflection. The humility and simplicity of Pope Francis is very striking. It is wonderful to see a pope who is so simple and a servant of all people in both word and action. He is a tremendous example for me and for all those who are or are studying to be priests.

This is a wonderful time to be a Catholic, and a wonderful time to be a seminarian. I hope that our Lord  guides our Holy Father and helps him to bring about a New Evangelization in our world.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Finals Week

Finals week is always, it seems, the most stressful time of the year for pretty much anyone...unless they don't have school. If I don't do wel on my finals, my grades will drop, I'll fail out of school, I'll never find a job...or love...or happiness...and so we go down the slippery slope. Let's be honest with ourselves, though. What will actually happen if I don't do well on my finals?

  • The world will still turn
  • I will continue to breathe
  • I will still be capable of loving
  • God and my mother will still love me.
  • I will most likely not starve to death
  • I will still have my good friendships and important relationships

The list could continue for pages. The point is, is it really a life or death issue if we don't "do well" on our tests. Our Lord tells us in the Gospel of Matthew: "Do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?' All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek First the Kingdom of God and his righteousness -- and all these things will be given you besides."

As we near Christmas, preparing our hearts to seek the Lord, let us recall what is most important to us? At the end of our life, are we going to regret not getting an A on that final I took fifty years ago? Probably not. Will we regret not spending as much time with those whom we love as possible? Probably. Let's remember what our lives are really about. Love. Love of God and love of our neighbor.

DON'T WORRY!!!!!!!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Happy New Year!!!!

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the New Liturgical Year in the Catholic Church. In honor of the New Year, I have decided to start this blog. I will be posting reflections on here about many things. I hope you all enjoy this blog. I will try to post on here at least once every two weeks, hopefully more frequently.

Today's reflection is on the season of Advent. Advent is my favorite liturgical season, mostly because of the music. The music of the Advent season has so much anticipation and looking forward. My favorite hymn is an Advent Hymn. It dates back from the 6th or 7th Century AD. I sang this hymn last night when I prayed Evening Prayer I of the First Sunday of Advent.

Most people in today's world skip Advent and go right from Thanksgiving (or even Halloween) to Christmas. This is a mistake. Advent is a time of penance given to us by the Church in order to prepare for the coming of the Savior. It is alomst like a miniature Lent. Perhaps we can all give something up for Advent, like we do for Lent, and use this time truly as a spiritual preparation for Christ's coming. Not just the commemoration of his coming into the world two-thousand years ago, but also his second coming, when he will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.

As we prepare for Christmas, lighting the candles on the Advent Wreath, let us remember to live by the Virtues of Faith, Hope, Joy, and Love whic these candles represent. When we go to Mass, let's remember that it is not Christmas yet. This is a season of great anticipation. Let's keep the anticipation in it and not jump ahead to Christams.