Thursday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

“Our souls are restless until they rest in you.”  It was St. Augustine who said that, and I think those words are pretty timeless.  I was listening to the radio in the car yesterday, and heard a little news report on the happiness of people who used all the latest technological gadgets.  A new survey is out which looked at the relative happiness of 180 of the world’s nations.  Those countries who used more of the latest tech toys and gadgets didn’t do so well:  Germany takes 81st place, Japan is  number 95, and the U.S. comes in at  number 150.  The happiest nation on the planet, according to the survey, is the tiny South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, where one would be hard pressed to find an iPod or a TiVo player.  

Yet our hearts do seem to covet all this kind of stuff.  And not just stuff, but prestige, high paying jobs, and big houses.  But, our hearts are made for just one thing: unity with God, and nothing short of that unity will settle our restlessness.  Isaiah echoes that sentiment in today’s first reading:

My soul yearns for you in the night,
yes, my spirit within me keeps vigil for you;
When your judgment dawns upon the earth,
the world’s inhabitants learn justice.
O LORD, you mete out peace to us,
for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.

When we truly find happiness, we have to know that it is God who has accomplished it.  We get some glimpses of that in this life, you know.  I was looking at some pictures taken at my ordination yesterday.  You won’t be surprised to know that my ordination was the happiest day of my life.  And it was because God made it that way.  Maybe you feel the same way about your own wedding day, or the birth of your children, or some occasion like that.  It is truly God who has accomplished all we have done and has given our restless hearts true happiness.

So maybe it’s time we put down our iPods and turned off the TiVo and come to the Lord, all of us who labor and are burdened.  May we all look to God who longs to give us rest, our God whose yoke is easy, and whose burden is light.

Great birthday!

How bad can a birthday be when:

  • You get to start the day by presiding at Mass?
  • The daily Mass crowd offers a prayer for you in the Prayers of the Faithful and sings “Happy Birthday” to you at the end? (Yeah, I know it’s not liturgical, but they were free to “go in peace” at that point, so it doesn’t count.)
  • You give the staff a special indult to have birthday cake for breakfast and they do!
  • You have lunch with a friend?
  • You get to hear a confession for a person who hasn’t been to the sacrament in years?
  • You end the day with dinner with your family?

Yeah, it was a great birthday. Best one ever! I love being a priest: Praise God!

Monday of the 15th Week of Ordinary Time: Upsetting our Apple Carts

Today's readings

It seems to me that the readings this morning are pretty direct, aren't they? Isaiah makes it clear that if we pretend to worship God, no matter how beautiful our Liturgy may be, but forget about God as soon as we leave the parking lot, we might as well not worship at all. Isaiah came to prophesy that God does not want a proliferation of heartless worship or empty pomp and circumstance. No, God wants our hearts. Toward that end, we must reform our lives, clean our hands and our hearts, free ourselves from the false idols of our lives, and turn wholeheartedly and abandon ourselves to God. We must worship not just here in this Church, but in every moment of our lives.

Jesus is pretty direct too, isn't he? We might want simple words of peace – I know I could have used some today – but that isn't what he wants to offer. He wants to upset the apple carts of our lives, to afflict us in our comfort. He isn't asking us to abandon our families, but he is asking us to put discipleship on the front burner. His message is that every action of our lives must be directed toward taking up our crosses and following him. That might mean a simple glass of water offered to someone doing the Lord's work. Or it might mean answering a call we have received to be involved in a certain ministry. But whatever it means, there is nothing more important, and that call must be answered now.

But all of this comes with a promise. Whoever abandons themselves to wonderful pure worship in every moment, a worship that puts discipleship first and takes up his or her cross, that one will surely be rewarded.

Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: It’s Not About Us

Today's readings

One of my professors in seminary would often tell us that, because we had made a commitment to follow God's call, the devil would do everything possible to get us to change our mind. One of the devil's tricks would be to make us feel completely unworthy of the call, so much so that we'd abandon it. He cautioned that, the closer we got to ordination, the more intense that feeling would become. And boy, was he right! Weeks before the ordination, all of the sins of my life, along with all of my personal inadequacies and weaknesses, came to light before me in splendid fashion. I often felt so unworthy of answering the call that I wondered if I was making a huge mistake.

And the truth is, I am unworthy of the call. Looking around at my classmates, that was true of all of us. Some of us would be more willing to admit that than others, but it was really true. The truth is that none of us is ever really worthy of doing God's work, because none of us is perfect, and nobody is holy enough to stand in the place of God. Yet that was what we were called to do. Whether or not we had ever sinned, whatever our gifts or talents were, wherever we had failings or inadequacies, none of that mattered. Why? Because it's not about us.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been able to take a look at the various people who have been called to ministry throughout history. Last week, Ezekiel was told that whatever he did, his ministry would be mostly unsuccessful. Paul, the great teacher of our faith, was afflicted with a "thorn in the flesh" – whatever that was – and no amount of prayer could get it to go away. In today's first reading, Amos, who is told that he is not welcome to prophesy in Israel, confesses that he is nothing but a simple shepherd and dresser of sycamores – completely ill-qualified for the role of a prophet, but nonetheless called to be one. In today's Gospel, the Twelve are sent out on mission to do the works that Christ himself did, and they were only to take with them the knowledge of Jesus' teachings and their memory of what he had done among them. They were simple men, called from their simple lives, not one of them qualified for the role they were to play, with the possible exception of Judas, and we know what happened to him, don't we?

The point is, that it's not about who we are or who we know or how slick our presentation is. It's not about what we have in our bag of tricks, or how much stuff we have. It's not about how developed we may think our faith life is, or how much we've studied theology. Because it's not about us at all.

We can depend on this: the Word of the Lord will continue to be proclaimed. Prophesy will still be spoken. Repentance will be preached, and all will know that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Demons will be driven out. And many who are sick will be anointed with oil and cured in the name of the Lord. And there isn't anything we underqualified, ill-prepared, flawed human beings can do to stop it. God will still use us despite our failings, and often enough even despite our own attempts to stay out of it.

I know many people, who when asked if they would become involved in some ministry or another, would say, "Oh, no, I could never do that. I'm not qualified to do it." There are people who always feel that others could do the job better than they can, and so others should do it and they should stay out of it. But if we are to learn anything from the Scriptures today, we must hear that that kind of thinking is nothing but false humility. And false humility is absolutely not virtuous! Sometimes when others call us to do something, perhaps they see something in us that we can't see, or perhaps they may see God working in us in ways we don't fully appreciate. I'm not saying we have to say "yes" to everything we're asked to do, but I am saying that we must always prayerfully consider every opportunity, and then do what the Lord wants us to do.

When I was in seminary, one of the things I heard about some of the guys doing was acting as fire chaplains. They would be on call with the fire department and would help them reach out to people in the midst of emergencies and crises. That kind of thing scared the life out of me, and I thought "I'll never be able to do anything like that." Well, of course, a couple of years later, I was asked to become a fire chaplain. My first response was, "oh no, I could never do that." My friend who asked me to do it asked me to at least pray about it, which I agreed to do. And when I did pray about it, my answer from God was that of course I couldn't do it by myself, but it wasn't about me. So I became a fire chaplain despite my promise that I would never do so, and I worked with folks whose house was burning down, or whose children had committed suicide, or whose loved ones died in an accident. I ministered to the fire and paramedic personnel who had been through some difficult times. And I was always glad I was there, letting God use me to do things I could never do myself.

So in what ways have you been called? In today's Gospel, Jesus sends his chosen Twelve out on mission. They were chosen not for their spectacular abilities or any particular quality. But they were chosen, called and gifted to do the work of God in the world. So are we all. Just as the Twelve were sent out to preach repentance, dispel demons, and cure the sick, we too are called to do those very same things.

You may not think of yourself as a preacher. But you are prophetic and a preacher of repentance when you forgive a hurt or wrong, when you confess your sins and make necessary changes in your life, when you become a member of a 12-step group to deal with an addiction, or when you leave a lucrative job with a company whose business practices make you feel uncomfortable. You are a preacher of repentance when you correct poor behavior in your children rather than place the blame on the teacher or school. You are a preacher of repentance when you accept constructive criticism in a spirit of humility and pray for the grace to change your life. Preaching repentance very often does not involve words so much as actions, and we can all do that.

Who are you to drive out demons? How is that even possible? But I am here to tell you that volunteering as a catechist or a mentor in a school or a homework helper is a way to drive out the demons of ignorance. Going to a Protecting God's Children workshop so that children in our schools and religious educations programs will be safe is a way to drive out the demons of abuse. When you speak out to protect the environment, you help to drive out the demons of neglect and waste. Volunteering to be part of a pro-life group helps to drive out the demons of death and promote a culture of life, protecting the unborn and the aged and infirm. Working at a soup kitchen or food pantry drives out the demons of hunger and poverty. Helping at shelters for battered families drives out the demons of violence and isolation. The demons at work in our world are legion, and every one of us is called to drive them out, not like "The Exorcist," but more by our simple time and talent according to our gifts.

How is it possible for you to cure the sick? You anoint the sick every time you remember them in prayer, or visit them in the hospital or at home. You anoint the sick when you volunteer as a minister of care. You anoint the sick when you bring a casserole to provide dinner for a family who are so busy with sick relatives that they have little time to prepare a meal. You anoint the sick when you drive an elderly friend or neighbor to a doctor's appointment or to do the grocery shopping, or pick them up on the way to Mass. Heal
ing involves so much more than just making a disease or injury go away, and all of us can be a part of healing in so many everyday ways.

We absolutely must get from today's Scriptures that God calls everyday people to minister to others in everyday ways. If people are to know about God's Kingdom, we have to be the ones to proclaim it. If people are to reform their lives, we have to be the ones to model repentance. If people are to be released from their demons, we have to be the ones to drive them out. And if people are to be healed from their infirmities, it is all of us who have to reach out to them with the healing power of Christ. We who are called to live as disciples do not have the luxury of indulging ourselves in misplaced false humility. If we and our families and our communities are to grow in faith, hope and love, we have to be the ones to show the way and encourage as many people as possible to walk in that way.

Saint Paul makes our vocation very clear in today's second reading:

In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.

It's not about us. We who first hoped in Christ exist for the praise of his glory. Let it be then that we in the everyday-ness of our lives would have the courage to preach repentance, drive out demons and heal the sick.

Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today's readings | Saint of the Day

Saint Bonaventure was born in central Italy in 1221. As a boy, he was cured of a serious illness through the prayers of St. Francis. St. Francis was an inspiration to Bonaventure and because of that, Bonaventure entered the Franciscan order and later became a professor of theology at the university in Paris. He later became Minister General of the Franciscan order was made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano. He died at the Council of Lyons in 1274.

Bonaventure was a Franciscan, theologian, and doctor of the Church; a learned and holy man. In fact, he was known for his ability to unite theology and spirituality. He was a great mystic while remaining an active teacher and preacher, all of which shows the best of the Franciscan order.

Today's Gospel says that no disciple is above his teacher. Bonaventure was ever mindful of this, and took great inspiration from his teacher, St. Francis. The inspiration of Francis was what led him to study philosophy and theology, and to enter the Franciscan order. In Bonaventure's writings, we learn that he had many other teachers as well. This comes from his writing, Journey of the Mind to God:

Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strengthy of my heart and my heritage for ever. Blessed be the Lord for ever, and let all the people say: Amen. Amen!

So Bonaventure had many teachers: St. Francis, St. Philip, St. Paul, and even King David the Psalmist. And in his pursuit of study and holiness he strove to become as much like them as he could. The example we receive from him is to find who our teachers may be. Who is it who has instructed us in wisdom and holiness? Who has led us closer to Christ? Who has taught us to pray in our bad times as well as our good times? These people have been teachers to us. They may be parents, loved ones, teachers, friends, co-workers, priests, deacons, or catechists. Whoever they were, Bonaventure would have us become like them, so that others might grow in the ways that we have and become God's holy people.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin

Today’s Readings | Saint of the Day

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Christian Algonquin woman. Her parents died in a smallpox epidemic – which left Kateri herself disfigured and half blind – when she was four years old. She went to live with her uncle who succeeded her own father as chief of the clan. Her uncle hated the missionaries who, because of the Mohawks’ treaty with France, were required to be present in the region. Kateri, however, was moved by their words. She refused to marry a Mohawk brave, and at age 19, was baptized on Easter Sunday.

Her baptism meant that she would be treated forever as a slave. Since she refused to work on Sundays, she was not given anything to eat on those days. She eventually took a 200 mile walking journey to the area of Montreal, and there grew in holiness under the direction of some Christian women in the area. At age 23, she took a vow of virginity.

Kateri’s life was one of extreme penance and fasting. This she took upon herself as a penance for the eventual conversion of her nation. Kateri said: “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me. All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I’ll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.”

Kateri knew what it was like to be sent out like a sheep in the midst of wolves, as today’s Gospel says. She lived a very courageously Christian life in the midst of a culture quite hostile to our religion and way of life. The witness of her life, a life of virginity, penance and poverty, inspired many who knew her at the time, and continues to inspire us today. She never worried about what words to speak, because her life spoke volumes, and all of that was given her by the Holy Spirit.

We too are called to speak through our lives and our lips in witness to the Gospel. Let us all pray for the grace to speak courageously, in our words and actions, and to rely on God to give us what we need to speak in every situation.

Let’s get some of this grammar stuff straight…

You should literally read this immediately. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

This literally drove me nuts when I was working in the corporate world. I wish every mid-level manager would literally read this and then literally send me a quarter everytime they literally misuse the word. I’d literally be a millionairre literally next week…

Sorry. That was a little overkill, wasn’t it?

Thursday of the 14th Week of Ordinary Time: Freely Give

Today's readings

Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is free grace. And today Jesus reminds us that free grace is exactly what we have been given. It's good on occasion to stop and take an account of all the grace in our lives. We all have problems at any given time in our lives, but we have to stop and take a look at the many graces that outnumber and overtake them all.

There is an ancient Jewish prayer called the Dayenu prayer. In it, the pray-er is enumerating how blessed he or she is, and noting that God did not have to go to all the lengths he does to bless us. The prayer is based on Jewish history and it goes like this:

How many levels of favors has the Omnipresent One bestowed upon us:
If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them-Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols-Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If He had destroyed their idols, and had not smitten their firstborn-Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If He had smitten their firstborn, and had not given us their wealth-Dayenu, it would have been enough!
If He had given us their wealth, and had not split the sea for us-Dayenu, it would have been enough!

The prayer goes on like this for a while, but you get the idea. The Israelites were delivered from the slavery of Egypt to the grace of the present time, and they never forget that. We could all write our own Dayenu prayer, I think. In fact, if you would like to do a little homework today, that would be it! The reason to stop and recite our dayenus and number our graces is not simply to feel superior, or even to be thankful (although being thankful is good, too!). The real reason, and the reason Jesus gives us in today's Gospel, is that, knowing hour graced we are, we can go out and be grace to others.

As you go, make this proclamation:
'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse the lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.

Grace is a great gift to us, but it's never meant only for us. As much as we have been given grace, we're expected to be sharers of that grace with others. The grace in our lives never decreases as we share it; in fact, it grows all the more.

Without cost your have received; without cost you are to give.

St. Benedict, Abbot

stbenedict

I would be remiss if I did not observe with great fondness this feast of St. Benedict, abbot, and father of western monasticism. My Benedictine roots stem from my college days at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL (then called Illinois Benedictine College), and I have a deep fondness for the monks of St. Procopius Abbey, who staffed the college, and in whose monastery I made my Priesthood retreat earlier this year. Benedict’s motto, Ora et Labora — Prayer and Work — are a constant reminder of the balance we are called to have in life. This motto is the name of my forthcoming personal website. A wonderful source of inspiration to me while I was working in the corporate world was a daily reading from The Rule of St. Benedict, which is a great reflection on the balance we are called to in life.

Admirable Saint and Doctor of Humility, you practiced what you taught, assiduously praying for God’s glory and lovingly fulfilling all work for God and the benefit of all human beings. You know the many physical dangers that surround us today, often caused or occasioned by human inventions. Guard us against poisoning of the body as well as of mind and soul, and thus be truly a “Blessed” one for us. Amen.

St. Benedict, pray for us.

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