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.

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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.”