07-02-2017 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
What informs our concept of God? Where do we find what it means to be a Christian a Catholic?
Do we get it from the world or the Church? Do we get the idea of what it means to be Christian from random people in the world or the saints? The media or Sacred Scripture? Because just floating through life and unknowingly soaking in the ways of the world, we will think that being Christian is just to believe in Jesus and to be nice to people. I think that is a fair assessment. That would be the world’s idea of a Christian. There is no requirement for weekly Sunday worship, no real moral code other than to be nice to people, especially no sexual morality, and no real doctrine or teaching to accept.
But when we look to the Catholic Church, when we look to the saints, when we look to Sacred Scripture, we get an altogether different view of what it means to follow Christ. To follow Christ is a radical endeavor. To be a Christian is extreme. To be a disciple of Christ is an all or nothing proposition.
Listen to Jesus today, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” That means nothing can take priority over Jesus. Not my dog, not work, not sports, not my children, not even my spouse. Nothing. Jesus is First. That’s all he will accept.
He won’t be a mistress, he won’t be a side project. He won’t settle for being just part of your life. He must be the priority in your life.
We can accept or reject following Christ. We can choose or not choose to follow Christ. But we are not free to decide what it means to ‘follow’ Christ. We aren’t allowed to water down Christ’s radical call to follow him. In our relationship with Christ, we aren’t the ones who get to make up the terms of our relationship. Jesus does.
Here’s the thing. You know how I love the paradox of the gospel. We have it again today in our gospel passage. When we love God above all else, when we make Christ the most important relationship, we actually love everybody else more. When Jesus is the most important person in our life then we actually love our spouse, our children, everyone else better. When we love Jesus above all else, we put other’s needs before our own. When Christ is our number one, we want Christ to be their number one as well. When Christ is greatest love, we look to him to ultimately satisfy us and we don’t put unrealistic expectations on others to make us happy.
The greatest marriages are those that put God first. The best families are the ones that put Jesus first. I think we all know this. When we love Jesus more than everyone and anyone, we actually love everyone and anyone more.
So how do we come to love Jesus more than anyone else. How do we develop that passion to radically commit ourselves to following Jesus? Because I don’t think there is anyone here who is anti-Jesus. Anyone here who hates Jesus. Anyone? In fact, I think everyone here has some love for Jesus, and even wants to love him more. They want to be more dedicated and committed to Him, but how do we grow in that love?
It has to be prayer and meditation on His love for us. St. John tells us, “We love because Christ first loved us.” We have to take time in silence every day to think about Christ’s great love for us. When we read the gospels and listen to Christ’s words as he speaks them to us, we come to know his love for us.
Contemplate Jesus’ words in our gospel today. He says, “Whoever receives you receives me.” And, “Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
Oftentimes we’ll hear this gospel and we hear it through the perspective that we are called to receive others, that we are called to give a cup of cold water to others, and while that is true, that isn’t the primary message that Jesus is telling us. That isn’t the literal interpretation. First and foremost, he is saying he identifies himself with us. That he loves us so much that what happens to us affects him.
So those who treat us well because we are his disciples, it’s as if they are treating Jesus well and therefore, Jesus will bless them. This is important. It’s as if Jesus is saying he’s got your back. He is with you. How does that make you feel? How does it make you feel that Jesus loves you that much that he is with you no matter what?
Again, that’s the nature of love. For the lover to identify himself with the beloved. Think of those you love, your spouse, your children. When you love someone, you identify with him or her. You want them to be cared for and treated well. Think of a time when your spouse maybe was slandered in the community, how it hurt you. Or think of the time when the neighbor took really good care of your son, how that made you feel good. That’s because you love them, you care for them and you want them treated well. It’s the same for Jesus and his great love for us.
I used to be really put off by all this Jesus loves me talk. And sometimes it can over done. I like the fire and brimstone, even before I became a priest preaching. I like to hear that. But the fact that Jesus loves me, is even more important than the fire and brimstone. Because it isn’t meant to be an end in itself. It’s meant for us to respond and to love Christ in return. It’s meant to inspire us to radically commit ourselves to the kingdom of God. To fight for Christ and against the evil one. Truly knowing that Christ cares for me, motivates me to love him to the point of laying down my life.
But we must spend time praying on this reality. Meditate on the suffering and death that Christ did for you. Read the gospels and listen to Christ’s words. Listen how he speaks to you and about you as his closest friends. This must be a daily practice.
My friends, being a Christian is not just a title. Don’t be a CINO. Catholic or Christian in name only. To be Christian is to radically follow Jesus. To love him above all else, otherwise we are not worthy of him. That is what it means to be Christian. We don’t make up the terms of the relationship. He does. He demands full fidelity and love because that is what he gives us. He gives us his perfect and divine love. Meditate on his love for you. Ten minutes every morning. Pray with the gospels and watch your love for Christ grow.
6-25-2017 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
How do we acknowledge Christ these days? How do we keep from denying Christ these day? Is it enough to say, “I believe in Jesus”? Is that all it takes?
I don’t think so. To acknowledge Christ means we accept and follow and live everything he has taught us through the Church. Because it means nothing to believe in our own ‘made up Jesus’ or to believe in our own ‘made up’ religion. Jesus gave St. Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. He sent his Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. He said to his apostles, “Whoever receives you receives me.” The Catholic Church is the infallible guide to all Truth pertaining to Faith and Morals and our salvation. She is trustworthy, she cannot teach error. Therefore, we can and must accept everything the Church asks of us, because if we don’t, we aren’t just denying a random teaching or even the Church, we are denying Jesus Christ himself.
This past week we celebrated the feasts of two great men who gave their lives for Christ. They acknowledge Christ before others. And now Christ acknowledges them before the Father. They didn’t fear those who could kill the body.
Yesterday was the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist. Remember how he died. He told Herod that it wasn’t right that he had his brother’s wife as his wife. Her name was Herodias and she didn’t like to hear St. John the Baptist tell her she was wrong. She had a guilty conscious. So she had him beheaded.
Then on Thursday, we celebrated the feast of St. Thomas More. St. Thomas More was the Lord High Chancellor of England in the 16th century. The King, King Henry VIII wanted to separate from his wife Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. The king petitioned Rome for a decree of nullity, an annulment, but the Vatican said that was a valid marriage and so he could not marry Anne Boleyn. This was not to stop the King though. So he decided to make himself the head of the Church of England, so that he could then make his own rules and grant himself a divorce. Many in England went along with the King because it was in their best interest. But not St. Thomas More. He remained faithful to Christ and his Catholic Church and would not approve of the King’s adulterous marriage or nor did he approve of the king making himself the head of the Church of England. It would cost St. Thomas his life.
In the great movie, “A Man for All Seasons,” which tells of St. Thomas’s life, there is a conversation between the Duke of Norfolk and St. Thomas More that testifies to St. Thomas More’s righteousness and quick wit.
Again, the Duke of Norfolk is trying to convince Thomas to go along with everyone else and approve of the king. The Duke says, “Oh confound all this. I'm not a scholar, I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not, but dangit, Thomas, look at these names!” (he points to all the people who say they approve of the King) The Duke continues, “Why can't you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship sake!”
Sir Thomas More responds, “And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing conscience, will you come with me, for fellowship sake?
St. Thomas is saying that he can’t just go along with everyone else. He has to remain faithful to the Church and to Christ because he knows his salvation rests on him remaining faithful to Christ. We must remain faithful to Christ and his Church. And I know this is difficult. It’s difficult for me. But as many people have stopped going to Mass, as many people have rejected the truth of this or that teaching, it doesn’t matter. We must acknowledge Christ before others, and he will acknowledge us before his heavenly Father.
And I think we can find some help in our readings. I think our readings have some great words of motivation and encouragement.
First, we hear in our Second Reading, “But the gift is not like the transgression.” The transgression is original sin. The transgression is all the brokenness found in the world. The transgression is sin, suffering, and death. Yet the gift is not like the transgression. The gift is Jesus himself. He is justice. He is goodness. He is life. St. John speaks of Jesus as an advocate before the Father. An advocate is a counselor, someone on our side. Jesus is like a top-notch trial lawyer defending us against the judgment we deserve because of our sin. Jesus is our Savior. He stands in the breach between us and what we deserve. “For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” Christ and the salvation won for us is so much greater than the judgment we deserved.
Second, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” This means that all will be known in the end. The truth will prevail. Justice will win. Goodness will triumph. This is so comforting. Knowing that we will be vindicated in the end. I am not naïve, I know that evil often has the upper hand in this life. It seems that being deceitful, greedy, selfish does pay. Many times being faithful to Christ doesn’t seem worth it here on earth. Ohh, but in the end, all will come to light. You will be vindicated.
The prophet Jeremiah speaks of this vindication in our first reading, “But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure, they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.”
Third, “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Being faithful to Christ and his Church can bring awkwardness, humiliation, persecution, loss of friendships, it even can bring torture or death as it did St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas More. These are all difficulties for which we need courage to overcome. And as difficult as they may be, they cannot destroy our soul and body in Gehhenna. Therefore, do not be afraid of them!
My friends, I know it’s difficult being a faithful Catholic these days. It seems like everyone is jumping ship, but we must persevere. We must stay faithful. I want you to imagine what it will feel like when you meet God the Father face to face and Jesus is there with you. And Jesus says to his Father, “Jim or Mary here. She remained faithful, she acknowledged me before others. Therefore, my heavenly Father, I acknowledge her. She is worthy of you and heaven. I acknowledge her.” Think about Jesus saying that about you at the end of your life and have it motivate you to keep the faith and acknowledge Christ before others today. Because the words of Christ are quite clear, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Be not afraid! Keep the faith!
6-18-2017, Corpus Christi
Why are non-Catholics not able receive Holy Communion? It seems non-welcoming, exclusive, and divisive that non-Catholics are not able to receive the Eucharist at Mass. And that would be true, if Holy Communion was simply about sharing a meal together. But Holy Communion is not just about sharing a meal together, rather it is much more than that. It is an expression that one is in Communion with Christ and his Catholic Church.
There were many times that Jesus ate with sinners, tax collectors, non-Jews. Jesus was famous for allowing everyone and anyone to spend time with him, to eat with him. But when it came to the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the night that he gave us the sacrament of Holy Communion, it was only his closest twelve disciples there. When it came to the intimacy of Holy Communion, only those ‘in communion’ with him were present.
As Catholics, we were joined to Christ and the Catholic Church at our baptism or if we are converts, when we were received into the Church. That was when we entered into Communion with Christ and his Church. And the most true, the most beautiful expression of our communion with Christ is when we receive Holy Communion. Receiving Holy Communion is the consummation of our relationship to Christ and his Church. It is when, we make present, we enflesh, our communion with God. As deep, and as intimate, and as profound as the union is between husband and wife in the marital act…that is how deep, and intimate, and profound the union is between Christ and us when we receive Holy Communion. Holy Communion is a big deal!
But in the same way that sex outside of marriage, is inappropriate, it is a mortal sin. Because the man and woman are saying something untrue with their bodies. Their bodies are saying they are in communion with each other, but in reality they are not in communion with each other. They aren’t in communion because they haven’t been joined in the Sacred Covenant of Holy Matrimony.
In the same way if a non-Catholic receives Holy Communion, they are saying something untrue. The act of receiving Holy Communion expresses, it says that I am in full communion with Christ and his Catholic Church, when in reality they are not…So it’s not about not being welcoming or mean, it’s that, we don’t want them to express something that isn’t true. And in fact, even if we are at non-Catholic Church and even if we are invited to, we still shouldn’t receive the bread at their Church because we would be saying something untrue as well. Because we aren’t in communion with that Church.
But it isn’t just non-Catholics who are unable to receive Holy Communion. Catholics who are not in right relationship with Christ should not receive Communion. That means those who are conscious of mortal sin should not go to Communion. If we commit a mortal sin. An offense that rejects God’s love and life. Then we rupture our relationship with him. We are no longer in Communion with him. Therefore, we need to reconcile with God in Confession first before receiving Holy Communion. Otherwise, once again we would be lying.
If we could see what happens to the body and soul of a person who receives the Eucharist worthily, we’d be blown away. How it shines brilliantly as a sign of the love shared between God and us. The soul is filled with God’s very own divine life. We’d also be blown away if we could see what happens to the body and soul of a person who receives the Eucharist unworthily, how ugly and disfigured the soul becomes.
And this isn’t my teaching. I only preach the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. And I preach on this because it is important, our salvation rests on it.
This is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion” (CCC 1385).
And then St. Paul. He writes this in the chapter following our second reading. He writes, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29).
St. Paul would go on to say that some people because they were receiving unworthily, were getting sick and some were even dying. Listen to St. Paul again, “That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying” (1 Cor 11:30).
If we miss Mass, we are saying there is something more important than God. Or if we have committed another mortal sin, this breaks our relationship with God and we need to go to confession before we receive Communion again. We have the Sacrament of Confession available every day and before most Masses. So there is really no excuse for receiving Holy Communion in a state of sin.
And if for some reason we can’t make it to Confession, there is no shame in not going up for Communion, in fact it expresses a deep faith in the Eucharist not to go to Communion. It says, “Jesus, I believe you are here present in the host. I want communion with you, but I know I am not ready, so I will wait until I make a good confession.” It expresses a deep faith not to go to Communion, if we know we are not right with God.
I think knowing this teaching can help us. Because when we know that if choose to not to go to Mass, or if I commit another serious sin I’ll have to go to confession before going to Communion. Then when I’m tempted in such a way we’ll have a little more umphf, courage to stay faithful to persevere and not sin.
Many of you here have a profound faith in the Eucharist. Many of you spend hours in adoration. You cherish receiving the Body and Blood, the Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. You relish that Communion with God. It is the most intimate and personal communion with God possible this side of heaven…But I want to share a story of one young Chinese girl’s extreme faith in the Eucharist.
When the Communists took over China, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory near the Church. After they locked him up in his own house, the priest was horrified to look out of his window and see the Communists proceed into the Church, where they went into the sanctuary and broke into the tabernacle. In an act of hateful desecration, they took the ciborium and threw it on the floor with all of the Sacred Hosts spilling out. The priest knew exactly the number of Hosts in the ciborium; thirty-two.
When the Communists left, they either did not notice, or didn't pay any attention to a small girl praying in the back of the Church who saw everything that had happened. That night the little girl came back.
Slipping past the guard at the house where the priest was imprisoned, she went inside the Church. There she made a holy hour of prayer, an act of love to make up for the act of hatred. After her holy hour she went into the sanctuary, knelt down, bent over and with her tongue received Jesus in Holy Communion.
Because of her faith and love of Jesus, the little girl continued to come back each night to make her holy hour and receive Jesus in Holy Communion on her tongue. On the thirty-second night, after she had consumed the last and thirty-second host, she accidentally made a noise and woke the guard who was sleeping. The guard ran after her, caught her, and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle. This act of heroic martyrdom was witnessed by the priest as he watched grief-stricken from his bedroom window.
My friends, this young Chinese’s girl’s faith should inspire us. This should inspire us to deepen our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It should inspire us to share our Eucharistic faith with others. It should motivate us to reject sin especially mortal sin, and most of all may we never again receive Holy Communion in a state of sin.
6.11.17 Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
In the early 1960’s during the Second Vatican Council, the bishops of the Church were discussing what should be in a document concerning Divine Revelation. It was titled, Dei Verbum. Latin for the ‘Word of God’. For many years, when a person thought of revelation in the Catholic Church, they thought of the content of the faith. The emphasis was on ‘what’ Christ taught us and what was passed on through the Catholic Church. Revelation had been focused on the ‘what’ of the faith. In the end, the bishops of the Second Vatican Council decided to go in different direction.
They did speak about the ‘what’ of the faith, but first and foremost, and the most fundamental point of the document Dei Verbum, was the ‘who’ of Divine Revelation. You all know how much I love the ‘what’ of the Faith. How committed I am to preaching the teachings of the Church. But more important than all the ‘what’ of the faith is the ‘who’. Because ultimately Revelation isn’t about what is revealed, but who is revealed. Divine Revelation is all about God revealing to the world who He is.
In just the second paragraph of Dei Verbum we read, “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself.” And, “Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself.”
This is the reality we celebrate today on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, That God who is Father, Son, and Spirit, chose to reveal himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit.
Why did God do such a thing? God by definition is perfectly complete in Himself. He doesn’t need us. Because if he did need us, he wouldn’t be God. So why did God choose to make himself known? Why did he reveal himself?
He revealed himself because of love! It is the nature of love for the lover to make himself known to his beloved. As we heard in our Gospel, “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son!” He wanted to unveil, he wanted to reveal himself to us.
Think of those movies or shows that have the Masquerade balls. Or maybe you have been at one yourself. And the woman is in love with this man and finds him at the ball. She knows who the man is behind his mask. But he doesn’t know who she is. So at the end of the night, she takes off her mask, revealing who she truly is. She wants to make herself known to him. Or think about your own courtship and marriage to your spouse. Think of the love you have for your spouse and how you want to make yourself totally known to him or her. You want to share with your spouse your fears, your desires, your hopes and dreams. That is the nature of love, for the lover to reveal himself to his beloved.
And then it is the case that the lover reveals himself to his beloved not only to make himself known, but also in hopes that they will share a life together. The lover wants to be with the beloved and have a life together.
In the book of Genesis, we hear “That a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife and they become one flesh.” Becoming one flesh is primarily about their bodies being joined, but the one flesh union more significantly represents that their whole lives are one. They are on an adventure together. That they are sharing a life together. That’s what lovers want. They want to share their lives together.
It’s the same thing with God. He reveals himself so that we will live with him. He reveals himself so that we will share life in the communion of the Most Holy Trinity. God wants us to be a part of his very own Trinitarian life.
St. John says, “Anyone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God” (1 Jn. 4:15). Speaking even more clearly of sharing Gods divine life, St. Peter says, “Through grace, we may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). The Church Fathers, those earliest Christians called this divinization. They said, “God became man that man may become God.”
St. Catherine of Siena spoke of this sharing in the life of God similar to full immersion in water. She said, “You, O Eternal Trinity, are a deep ocean, into which the more I penetrate, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you.”
Friends, God revealed himself and continues to reveal himself to us personally so that we may share in his divine life, the life of the Most Holy Trinity. He offers us his own divine, supernatural, eternal life. God offering us his divine life would be like us offering a cockroach our human life. It is absolutely extraordinary what is being offered to us, what is being offered to you. And he offers it to you because you are so worth it. He created you so good and you are so worth his life. Each and everyone here, you are lovable, you are worthy, you are good. And never believe anything to the contrary. You are so worth his love. He wants YOU!
Let’s not leave him hanging. Let’s respond wholeheartedly to his offer. Let’s ponder and meditate and reflect on what sharing in the life of the Blessed Trinity would be like. Let’s have it motivate us to race forward towards God. Let’s have it convict us to no longer be indifferent or lukewarm to the things of God but recommit ourselves to loving and serving him with all our heart, soul, and mind.
Most Blessed Trinity, we come before you as your sons and daughters. You reveal yourself to us out of love, as it is the nature of love to reveal oneself. You want us to know you and know you as a Trinity of Divine persons united in love. And ultimately you revealed yourself because you want to share a life with us, eternal life, your very own Divine and Trinitarian life. Help us to grasp the greatness of this offer, allow us to meditate on this profound mystery, and immerse us in the ocean of your divine love and life. Immerse us in the life of the Most Holy Trinity!