St. John Bosco, Pray for Us

Today I’m preaching at the seminary. Talk about a rough crowd; definitely the most critical of audiences. I’m preaching on the feast of St. John Bosco and here’s what I’ll say…

St. John BoscoReadings: Phil. 4:4-9 Matt. 18:1-5
St. John Bosco Biography

“Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Someone once told me that you can only be a child once, but you can be childish your whole life long. I think he meant “childlike,” or at least that’s what I prefer to think.

Jesus tells us we have to turn and become like children: that we must turn away from what we are like now, to become the way children are. So what are children like? One might think of children as innocent and pure … unless, of course, one has been a substitute teacher for a sixth-grade religious education class. I don’t think innocence Jesus is going for here.

Children are also completely dependent on their parents for everything. They need a roof over their head, clothes to wear, food to eat; they need to be educated and socialized and taught to pray. Jesus was calling his followers to turn away from thinking they had everything figured out and taken care of and to realize that they needed God, that they needed God’s wisdom, and needed God’s grace and forgiveness.

St. John Bosco is a very compelling figure for me. Having been a youth minister, I am drawn to his concern for youth. And I have been very moved by the obedience he shows in his vocation and his spiritual life. We can see John Bosco in this Gospel in two ways. First, he was one who helped poor children who very literally had nobody they could depend on. He taught them, and brought them to Mass, and fed them and sheltered them. He was able to reach out to ruffian boys who everyone else had given up on. I guess that makes him the patron saint of cam priests and formation contact people.

But even more than that; more importantly, he was childlike in his obedience to God’s will. For example, most of the priests who tried to help him for a time eventually fell away; many of them because they were put off by John Bosco’s efforts to help these poor children while himself not having even a penny to his name. He had grand plans but no obvious means to achieve them. But Bosco was confident in what God could do in him when he had absolutely nothing. In his childlike dependence on God, he was able to build houses and schools for poor children, several churches, and even found a religious order, the Salesians of St. John Bosco. We should all be so childlike.

I find it so easy in my life to be filled with delusions of self-sufficiency: those sins, as Rolando mentioned yesterday, are legion. As we come to the Eucharist today, would that we could turn away from any of that in our lives, and reach out our hand, in childlike faith, to receive our Lord who longs to be our strength and our sufficiency. “Whoever humbles himself like this,” Jesus tells us, “is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Which Spongebob Character am I?


Okay, enough of these little quizzes. But I couldn’t resist the one about spongebob, mostly because my niece and nephew love it, and well, secondarily because there’s a character with my name in it. Turns out I’m him, but I take the “complete idiot” thing as an insult. I’m not a complete idiot, after all! That, and I’ve never really known any jellyfish.

You scored as Patrick. You scored as Patrick. You love to jellyfish and you are a complete idiot.

Which_Spongebob_Character_Are_YOU?
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Would that my final exams were this easy…

I took this quiz to find out my theological worldview and found out that the worldview I have is 96% Catholic. What a relief! 96% is still an “A” … too bad I can’t use this for my finals! It’s always good to have standardized quizzes tell you you’re on the right track….

My theological worldview:

You scored as Roman Catholic. You are Roman Catholic. Church tradition and ecclesial authority are hugely important, and the most important part of worship for you is mass. As the Mother of God, Mary is important in your theology, and as the communion of saints includes the living and the dead, you can also ask the saints to intercede for you.

What's your theological worldview?
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Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Quiet! Come Out of Him!

This is my homily for this Sunday. In paragraph three, the regular reader might notice a similar thought from a homily two weeks ago. But I was preaching to a different congregation that week, so I’m not doing reruns just yet. This week what really gets me is the whole idea of demons coming into Church with us. Has that ever happened to you?

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

One of the earliest Scripture texts that I can recall knowing is the antiphon to today’s psalm: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” I kept thinking this week as I was praying over the readings that maybe if I had listened to that a little better, I might have been ordained a lot earlier in my life. But then again, if I hadn’t listened to that verse, maybe I wouldn’t be standing here now.

I think that’s the point, though, of today’s readings: we need to listen to the voice of the Lord, and when we hear it, do what he asks, hardening not our hearts. But will we hear the voice of the Lord today? The question is not whether the Lord will speak to us, but more whether we will hear his voice. I’ve heard God’s word compared to radio waves: they’re always there, but you have to turn on the radio to hear them. And God’s presence is that way too: God is always with us, but we have to tune in to realize it.

And that can be hard to do in today’s noisy world, right? There are so many distractions that keep us from tuning in to the voice of the Lord. We have radio, television, cell phones, iPods, email, text messages, and so much more. Sometimes we can barely concentrate on driving our cars, let alone listening to God. And even if we find time to sit down and concentrate on even just one of them, they will ultimately fail to meet our needs. Dr. Phil, Oprah and Martha Stewart may all be interesting, but they can’t give us the unconditional love that only comes from God, nor can they bring us to salvation and the union with God for which we were created.

We are a people who need to hear the truth. Whether or not we’re conscious of it, I think we yearn for that truth. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t spend so much time tuning in to the people I just mentioned. If it weren’t the case, most of the books at Barnes and Noble wouldn’t be selling right now. If that weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be the hunger for spirituality that we see in the New Age movement and even various fundamentalist religions. We are a people who have always wanted to know what it’s all about, why we are here, and, by the way, what’s the meaning of life?

The people of Israel had that same hunger in today’s first reading. As they prepared to enter the Promised Land, it was clear that Moses wouldn’t be going with them. Moses had been the voice of God for them, especially since they were literally scared to death to hear that voice or look on the face of God all by themselves. If they were going to enter the land of milk and honey, they would need someone to walk with them so that they would know the will of God. The good news for them is that God promises to provide such a voice: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he hall tell them all that I command him.” The people are commanded to listen to the prophet’s words, and are promised that those words would always be spoken to them.

The people were still looking for that word when Jesus walked into the synagogue at Capernaum. The tradition of the time was that the male members of the synagogue would take their turn teaching at the service, and it was Jesus’ turn this particular day. The people recognized a difference in Jesus’ preaching and that of the scribes. The scribes dutifully quoted predecessors and based their teaching on what was spoken before them. But Jesus spoke on his own authority, and that for them was astonishing.

It was so astonishing, in fact, that it even caught the attention of demons possessing one of the men in the synagogue. While the people were still wondering who this Jesus was and what his source of authority could be, the demons possessing the man addressed him by name: Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy one of God! They knew who Jesus was and why he came, and based on Jesus’ authority, and on the one command Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel reading, “Quiet! Come out of him!” the demons leave the man, and everyone in the synagogue continue to wonder at Jesus’ authority.

This is an incredible Gospel passage for us, I think. We don’t very often get to hear demons interrupting the celebration of Mass, and still less often see the presider rebuke the demon and cast it out. But I think that demons come into Church with us all the time. If we’re honest, each of us has a demon or two that from time to time distract us from the worship of God and our own prayer. That demon can be some kind of addiction of substance abuse or unhealthy behavior. The demon can be a pattern of sin that has us in a grip that we just can’t escape. The demon can be indifference or hard-heartedness that has its origin in real hurts or abuse. There are probably demons among us now, and probably some of us feel guilty about that – maybe we have all felt guilty about that from time to time.

And that’s where I think today’s Gospel is very good news for all of us. We see that Jesus wasn’t put off by the demon or angry at the man who was possessed. So we can be sure that he has certainly seen our own demons before, and still loves us despite their grip on us. Even more than that, we can see that he longs to silence those demons and cast them out of us, so that we can worship God in spirit and truth. Today’s Gospel reading shows us what may be the most important message in all of Jesus’ ministry: that God loves his people and deeply desires that they be freed from the evil, sin and death that have so long kept us from unity with Him.

Listening to these demons all the time can certainly harden our hearts. That’s why they are so hard to get rid of. Demons don’t respond to our limited authority. But we don’t have to drive them out on our own. Because we know that the demons certainly respond to the authority of Jesus, the ultimate prophet. And Jesus will cast them out for us, if only we would tune in, if only we would listen and hear his voice.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Repent and Belive in the Gospel

Here’s my homily for this evening and tomorrow. This is my first weekend at the parish I’ve been assigned to as a deacon: St. John the Baptist in Winfield. I’m excited about beginning there, and I hope I have a word or two here that will speak to their hearts.

The call to repentance runs all through today’s readings. When we think about what repentance means, we usually think about turning away from sin. Well that’s about half right. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus’ call to repentance means a turning away from sin, or at least from a way of life that is not ultimately satisfying, and toward the way of life that God wants us to live.

Jonah’s repentance was all about turning away from his idea of who could receive salvation and toward God’s call that he be the messenger of repentance to the Ninevites. You might know that we don’t have all of Jonah’s story in today’s first reading. Based on today’s first reading, we might think Jonah heard God’s call and went forth and did it, and all worked out well. But that’s not quite true; Jonah’s first response to God’s call that he go preach to the Ninevites was that he didn’t want to do it and there was no way God could make him. You see, the Ninevites were an extremely evil people who were incredibly cruel to the Israelites, so Jonah quite rightly feared for his life. And Jonah felt justified in letting God destroy the city and rid that evil people from the face of the earth. To get away from God’s call, Jonah boarded a ship headed to Tarshish, but that wasn’t far enough to get away from God – when we try to flee from God we’re never going to be successful. The story goes that God whipped up a storm that threatened the ship and everyone on it. Jonah knew the reason for the storm, so he convinced the crew to throw him overboard. And maybe you know the story here: when he hit the water, he was swallowed up by a big fish and lived in the belly of the fish for three days before he was coughed up on land. Today’s first reading, then, is Jonah’s second response to God’s call, and it was all about him turning away from his fears, away from his prejudices, and toward the mission that God called him to do.

The Ninevites, then, had some repentance of their own to do. Jonah’s mission to them was incredibly successful. He was only about a third of the way through this massive city, when they heard his announcement and determined to reform their lives. They put on sackcloth and proclaimed a fast, and we get the idea that they truly reformed their lives because God did not, in fact, destroy their city.

St. Paul’s message in today’s second reading is another call to repentance. Paul thought that the return of Christ would happen in his lifetime, so he did not want people to get too attached to life in this world. Even though he was wrong about Christ’s return, he was still quite right, I think, about not being too attached to this world. Because we have been created for life with God, and ultimately that means life in heaven. But if we’re too attached to the limited life that this world allows us, we’ll never get there. We need to turn away from getting too attached to life in this world, and instead to turn our attention toward life with God in heaven.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to turn away from fishing and to turn instead toward a life following him. Fishing was the only way of life these men had ever known. Their families had probably been fishermen for generations, and James and John even left their father on the boat, along with the nets and the hired hands. They gave it all up at once to become fishers of men, something they had no idea how to do.

This is Respect Life weekend, and respecting life involves repentance for all of us. It’s easy enough, I think, for us to be proud of our efforts to respect life when we haven’t murdered anyone and don’t support abortion. But the Church teaches that respecting life involves far more than that. Respecting life also means that we must have a preference against capital punishment, against war and terrorism, against euthanasia and assisted suicide, against racism and prejudice in all of its forms, against gossip and scandal – in short, against anything that de-values human life. The principle of respecting life is grounded in the fact that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and that each person needs to be for us a reflection of God in our world. Therefore, we are called to treat each person accordingly. Today, I think, it would be good for all of us to reflect on the ways in which we need to repent of our life-destroying attitudes and behaviors, and turn instead toward God, the giver of all life.

We are still more or less at the beginning of Ordinary Time today, and I think the Church begins Ordinary Time with a call to repentance because Christ began his ministry that way. For us who would be followers of Christ, repentance needs to be a way of life. It’s not something that happens once and for all, and then we’re done with it. Every day, we are confronted by attitudes that are not life-giving, and tempted toward behaviors that turn us away from the God who made us. If we would believe that we are called in the same way Peter, Andrew, James and John were called, then we must remember that we are also called in the same way the Ninevites and the Corinthians were. We have to give up our sinful attitudes and behaviors, and our attachments to the world which is passing away, and turn instead toward God’s will and our true calling in Christ.

Again, this is a decision that we must make every day. And maybe a good way to do that is to begin every day with the prayer of today’s responsorial psalm: “Teach me your ways, O God.”

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time: Speak Lord, Your Servant is Listening

1/21/06: Once again, it’s been tooooo long since I’ve posted, so I’m posting this one a bit late, and it’s the homily I preached on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 14-15. It reflects on the readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, but also reflects on vocations since it was the end of National Vocations Week. Warning: Reading this blog entry does expose you to my vocation story. Remember… you’ve been warned.

I haven’t made any New Years resolutions yet, at least not formally. But after living with these readings for the last week, I think I know what mine will be. I’d like to start every day with Samuel’s prayer in today’s first reading: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Then of course, I’ll have to listen; and I don’t know how it is for you, but I know that, for me, more listening in my prayer might be a good thing.

Because it’s easy, isn’t it, to say all kinds of things to God in prayer. We have no problem telling him our needs, praising him, even giving thanks. And all those things are good, of course, but we’re supposed to listen too. And that can be the hard part in today’s noisy world. Our world has lots of ways to speak to us: television, radio, cell phones, text messaging, email and the list goes on. We’re a culture that likes to say a lot of stuff and make a lot of noise. But for prayer to really work, there has to be silence, we have to listen. So we might do well to pray the way Samuel did: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

To say that in our prayer shows a strong openness to God’s will. The implication of saying “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” is that, as God’s servants, we will do what he asks of us. Samuel did that, we know, because the end of the reading tells us that he grew up and the LORD was with him. Andrew, Peter, and the other disciple had that kind of openness in the Gospel reading, since they were willing to drop everything and respond to Jesus’ invitation: “Come, and you will see.”

Jesus says that same thing to us today, and every day: “Come, and you will see.” Do we want to see what Jesus is doing in the world today? Do we want a world of justice and peace? Do we long for a prayer life that guides us through life and sees us through good times and bad? If so, “come, and you will see.” Having that openness to God’s will is a way of life that Jesus offers to all of us.

This is Vocations Awareness Week, and today’s readings really speak to us about our vocation to follow Christ. As baptized People of God, we all have a vocation to follow Christ in whatever way God has led us. Some of us live our vocation in marriage and as parents, others live it as single people serving Christ in the world, and others live it as priests, deacons, and religious men and women. God has something specific for each of us to do, and we will see what it is if we open the door and say “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Five years ago on the occasion of Vocation Awareness Week, I was co-directing the contemporary choir at St. Petronille. At the homily time, I sat in a pew next to my mother, who happened to come to that Mass. During the homily, one of our parishioners who was a seminarian gave his talk about Vocations. And my mother, in her not-so-subtle fashion, elbowed me in the side and said “you should listen to this.” Well, I said something like “not gonna happen” … I had long since put the idea of a religious vocation aside, having looked at the possibility not once, but twice, and both times feeling that I was not in fact being called to a priestly or religious vocation.

In fact, in college, I had received a degree in religious studies with a minor in philosophy, and the diocese was ready to send me to seminary as soon as I graduated. But at the time, I felt that I needed to do some work, and so I did that, working as a youth minister at St. Petronille. After that, I worked in the business world for about ten years. At one point, I spent some time with the Benedictines at St. Procopius Abbey, and eventually found I wasn’t being called to that either.

So when I heard the seminarian’s talk that year, I was very happy with my life. I had a good job, and worked mostly with people that I liked. I had good friends and a wonderful family. I had some ministries in the Church, including the choir, that came out of my spiritual life. My prayer life was good. I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and I was happy about that.

But sometime later, my prayer life became stale, as prayer lives will do on occasion. So I prayed about that, and realized that God was trying to move me in a new direction. Of course, I had no idea what that direction was, so just before Lent, I prayed that God would give me a big challenge. And I remember saying to God, “I don’t care what it is, just help me to know what it is and I’ll do it.” In some ways, this was my way of saying “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

And here’s a little spiritual hint. If you pray a prayer like that, God will answer it, so make sure you’re prepared. I wasn’t, but don’t let that happen to you!

I continued to pray about it during Lent, and eventually started to consider going back to school. That’s an idea I had toyed with a lot over the previous few years, but could never decide if I should go and get a computer-related degree, which interested me, or a church-related degree. As I looked into it, I became aware that God was calling me to go to seminary. I remember protesting in prayer that going to seminary wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I also remember God saying “you said you’d do anything.” And so, several months later, I was at Mundelein Seminary for the first of five years of priestly formation there.

During my time at Mundelein, I have grown in my vocation, and God has continued to encourage me to “Come and you will see.” In addition to receiving a wonderful education, I have also had the opportunity to minister in a nursing home, at a parish for a six month internship, as a hospital chaplain and as a fire chaplain. I’ve discovered that God calls me to do all sorts of things that I never thought I could do or would want to do, and those experiences have been great.

That’s my story, and every one of us has a story about how God is calling us to live our vocation. You may not know what it is yet. Some people know what they are called to do right away. Others, like me, take some time to figure that out. There is no one, right, way to follow Christ. But it always starts out with “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

If you feel like you have been called to a priestly or religious vocation, I’d be glad to talk with you about that. Our diocese has a good number of seminarians, but not enough to serve our Church well in the future. This year, in fact, I will be the only one ordained to the priesthood, and there’s a need for many more than one new priest in a diocese that is growing every day.

I would like to ask all of you to do three things. First, if you know someone who you think would make a good priest or religious man or woman, tell them. I know that’s a risk and it’s hard to do, but they aren’t going to be offended by it. And I pray that all parents would encourage their children to consider priestly or religious vocations and support them if that’s what they choose to do. When we encourage people to consider that kind of vocation, they may or may not respond right away, but even if they don’t, you’ve planted a seed that God can water and care for.

Second, open yourself up to live your own vocation – whatever it is – well. When we all live our vocations well, following Christ with open hearts, we create a community where jobs are not just jobs, and relationships are not just give and take, but where all of life is an opportunity to live fully and freely as followers of Christ. That kind of community will generate the people we need to serve the Church as priests and religious.

And finally, pray for vocations. Pray for all vocations. Pray that married people would be models of Christian love for everyone. Pray that parents may have the strength they need to raise their children in a challenging world. Pray that men would be open to priestly vocations. Pray that men and women would follow Christ in the religious life. Pray that priests would be strong disciples that lead people to Christ. Pray that we would all be a community open to God’s will and to following Christ in the way we have been called. Pray because prayer is effective and transforming and prayer works.

This new year, let us all resolve to begin every day and all of our prayer with the words of Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”