Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Project Gabriel

Today’s readings

Today’s Scriptures show us the importance of persistence in prayer. We all know that sometimes we come across issues in our own lives, or even in society, and when we pray, it takes a long time to see those prayers answered. We may well have experienced the exhaustion of Moses in our praying, and may have needed the help of others to stand next to us and support us in our prayer, praying with us and for us. For many of us, our prayer lists may well have grown exponentially as the years have worn on, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.

Even the dishonest judge answers the request of the widow who keeps coming to him. And we know that our God is far greater than the dishonest judge. He doesn’t answer our prayers just to mollify us and send us on our way. He hears our prayers and answers them in his way, in his time, for our benefit and his glory. We know that God often answers our prayers in ways more magnificent than we could have imagined when we offered them. Like the Psalmist today, we know that our help truly comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Sometimes God uses us to answer the prayers of others. I am preaching at all the Masses this weekend to tell you about a way I think that is happening in our parish. As you know, October is Respect Life Month. Here in Naperville, this has been particularly important this year because of the opening of the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Aurora that provides abortions among its other services. It is the largest Planned Parenthood clinic in the nation and one of five abortion clinics in DuPage County. This year more than ever, we Catholics are called upon to witness to the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, to protect the lives of all of the most vulnerable members of our society, and particularly to advocate for those whose lives are ended by abortion.

It’s one thing to say you’re pro life, to pray for the protection of life, and to vote only for people who support life. Those are important things to do, but quite frankly, if that’s all we ever do, we aren’t doing even close to enough. Studies have shown that eight out of ten woman who have had an abortion would have chosen not to have the abortion if it had not been for the lack of material resources and pressure from families or fathers. In most cases, the decision to have an abortion isn’t a “pro choice” decision at all: it is rather a decision made because these women feel they have no freedom and no choice. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must make it very clear to all the world that no woman should ever have an abortion simply because she feels that is her only option.

And so today, our parish is launching its participation in Project Gabriel. Project Gabriel is a network of parishes standing together in their commitment to answer the prayers of pregnant mothers in crisis by offering them various forms of assistance. In this area, Project Gabriel is coordinated by Woman’s Choice Services, a pregnancy center network operated in the Catholic Christian tradition, in cooperation with the Respect Life Offices of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Diocese of Joliet and the Diocese of Rockford.

Women hear about Project Gabriel through signs of life in the community, especially bumper magnets which say “Pregnant? Need Help? Please call us.” When she calls, a trained volunteer consultant will help assess her needs. Then she may be referred to a church community, like St. Raphael’s, where trained representatives called “Angels” will meet with her. Angels are friends, whose job it is to walk alongside the mother-to accompany her, pray for her and with her, and encourage her on her journey. They may also help her to meet material needs by identifying resources within the community.

At St. Raphael, Project Gabriel will help mothers to make life-affirming choices for themselves and their babies by:

” Offering friendship, emotional support and prayer.
” Providing babysitting and offering rides to medical appointments.
” Giving pastoral care and counseling.
” Identifying resources for medical and prenatal care.
” Finding resources for financial assistance.
” And by uncovering resources for housing, education, adoption and employment.

But don’t let that task overwhelm you. It is not the task of the Gabriel Project Angel to be a psychiatrist, analyst or social worker. What you will do is much the same as you might do for a niece or a neighbor. Just be there for her: Take her to lunch, pray with her and for her baby, call her each week, drive her to a doctor’s appointment or offer to baby-sit. In short, be a sister, a helper, and a friend.

We need you to get involved to make Project Gabriel a success right out of the box. We need 40-50 volunteers minimally to get started, and you can help either as an angel or in a number of other ways. You can offer as much time as you wish, a little or a lot, depending on your availability and the ways you feel God is calling you. Today, we are asking you to do three things:

First, take a bumper magnet and put it on your car so that women with pregnancies at risk will know there is a life-affirming option. Second, visit the welcome center today for more information and to make a donation to offset the costs of the bumper magnets and provide for the material needs of the mothers and families we will be reaching. And finally, fill out the forms in your pews right now, getting involved as an angel, or on our prayer team, or communications team, or material resources team, or any of several other teams on the list. Your involvement might be as simple as knitting a baby blanket or driving a woman to the doctor or collecting personal care items for expectant mothers. But perhaps you are a good listener and someone who loves companioning others on the journey; then you’d make a great angel. You can leave that filled out form in your pew, drop it in the collection basket, or drop it off in the welcome center today. If you need to pray about your involvement, feel free to take a sheet with you. But please fill one out and get involved – if not today, then soon – so that we can start helping bring life to the culture of death in this particular way.

In his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II said, “Together we all sense our duty to preach the Gospel of life, to celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence, and to serve it with the various programs and structures which support and promote life.” Project Gabriel is a way for us to do just that. Please be sure to get involved, so that everyone will know that we are a community that supports life at every stage.

Sometimes people’s prayer needs can be overwhelming. But maybe you are being called upon today like Aaron and Hur to support the hands of a pregnant woman as she prays for the opportunity to give life to the baby she is carrying. Please be an angel, and support this parish project today.

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“The Lord remembers his covenant forever.”

That’s what the Psalmist tells us today. And the worst thing that we can do in our service of the Lord is to despair of that promise. Today’s Gospel speaks to us of the unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven,” Jesus tells us, “but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” This sounds a little curious, I think. But the truth is that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is probably the root of all sin. When we leave behind the Spirit, we leave behind the possibility of any kind of forgiveness, redemption or salvation. It’s not something we do by accident.

I had a professor in seminary who used to say, “Brothers, you don’t want to tick off the Holy Spirit!” And he is right. We are a people gifted by the Holy Spirit who inspires our relationships with God, breathes the life of God into our relationships and endeavors, and guides us sinful people to salvation through the many gifts and fruits that he brings. The truth is, we can do nothing good, we cannot be holy people, we cannot live decent lives without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was Jesus’ first gift sent to those who believe just after his ascension into heaven. The reason for that gift was that we can’t possibly live without it.

So, if we cannot live without the gift of the Spirit, it makes sense that that sin is unforgivable. Not because God doesn’t want to forgive it, but more because we have cut short the dialogue and have walked away from the very gift that reconciles us sinful people to God in the first place. All of our repentance, penitence, and reconciliation comes by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we deny the Spirit then, we have denied all possibility of forgiveness, and we don’t want to be doing that. It’s not a sin we should worry about if we are faithful. But when we begin to despair or think ourselves unworthy of God, we need to be careful. Got never thinks that way of us, and as the Psalmist says, he remembers his covenant forever.

Ss. Isaac Jogues, John de Brébeuf and Companions, Martyrs

Today’s readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 & Luke 12:1-7 | Today’s saints
Mass for the school children (Junior high)

A long time ago now, when I was your age, I used to like watching movies about the wild west, and playing cowboys and Indians. It was fun to think about our history in those days and to re-enact what we thought it must have been like. But the truth is, the history of the frontier that included our nation was pretty dark, and pretty barbaric, and quite often very sad. Just like in lots of times and places in the world and in history, men and women who were people of faith gave their lives for the faith. Life was brutal, but courageous people brought faith to this land.

St. Paul says to the Corinthians in today’s first reading, “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again. We face death every day because of Jesus.”

namartyrsSaints Isaac Jogues and John de Brébeuf knew what St. Paul was talking about. They were Jesuits from France. They lived in the seventeenth century and worked among the various Indian tribes, bringing them the Christian faith. Father Isaac worked among the Huron Indians. The Hurons were constantly being attacked by the Iroquois. Father Isaac was captured and tortured for thirteen months. When he finally managed to escape back to France, he returned with many fingers missing from his torture. Priests aren’t allowed to say Mass if they don’t have all of their hands, but Father Isaac received special permission to say Mass from Pope Urban VIII who said, “It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ be not allowed to drink the Blood of Christ.” Now you’d think that having escaped to safety, Father Isaac would have stayed put, but he didn’t. He still had a deep concern and love for his friends the Huron Indians and so he returned to the New World. But on the way, he was captured by a Mohawk Indian party who tomahawked and beheaded him on October 18, 1646.

Father John de Brébeuf lived and worked in Canada for 24 years until the English expelled the Jesuits from the land. He returned four years later, also to work among the Hurons. He composed catechisms and a dictionary in Huron, and saw 7,000 converted before his death. He was captured by the Iroquois and died after four hours of extreme torture.

Father Isaac and Father John were two of eight Jesuits who gave their lives for the faith in North America. They were canonized – made saints – in 1930. They knew what Jesus meant in today’s Gospel when he said, “Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” Those eight men lived during very dangerous times. They had seen a lot of violence in the New World, but they were not afraid. They gave their lives willingly so that people would come to know the Lord Jesus who gave his own life for all of us.

You probably won’t ever have to decide whether to keep believing in Jesus and die or renounce him and live. But you absolutely will have to decide to keep believing in Jesus even when it’s unpopular. Even when your friends want to do something wrong. Even when you are tempted to cheat in school, make fun of someone because everyone else is doing it, or try drugs, or look at things on the Internet you’re not supposed to, or hang out with the wrong crowd. It’s going to be hard and maybe even a little scary to say no to those things and yes to your faith in God. But that’s what Jesus is asking you to do today. And he is telling you not to be afraid to do that, not to be afraid to stand up for your faith. Because he will help you do the right thing. And saints like Isaac Jogues and John de Brébeuf will intercede for you and will be your guides. All you have to do is to decide to do the right thing. Remember, Jesus tells you today, God takes care of even the little sparrows. And you are worth more than many, many sparrows.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

margaretmary“I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.” St. Margaret Mary spoke these as her dying words, while being anointed at the age of 43. Margaret was a simple woman and a Visitation nun. She worked as an assistant in the convent infirmary, but God had other plans for her. After being a nun for just three years, she began to receive revelations in which Christ called her to make his love for all humanity known. His human heart was to become the symbol for this divine and human love for all of us. He called her to frequent Holy Communion, especially on First Fridays, and to spend Thursday evenings in an hour’s meditation on the agony at Gethsemane. This devotion eventually spread to the entire Church under the name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I have two Margaret Marys in my own life: my sister and my grandmother on my father’s side. My grandmother was one who was a great model of faith for me. She and I would often sit together and talk about her childhood in Ireland, and all the problems of the world. She was one of my best friends until her death shortly after I graduated from college. She too had a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and her love for Christ and the Church helped stimulate my vocation throughout my life.

St. Paul says to the Romans today, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” If we were simpler in our faith, like St. Margaret Mary, maybe we too could catch the holy from what is out there in creation. Maybe we would be more able to see the love of Christ in our brothers and sisters and become devoted once again to his Sacred Heart. We tend to be a people so focused on the task at hand, that at times we might be really able to get through an entire day, even a day of service, without ever once thinking about God in a significant way. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not supposed to be that way. With St. Margaret Mary, we need to say, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

Youth Reconciliation Service

As you get ready to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation less than a month from now, the Church gathers you together to celebrate another Sacrament: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. How long has it been since you’ve celebrated that sacrament? People used to go to Confession every week back in the day, but maybe you’ve been someone who has gone to confession a few times a year. You might go with your family during Advent and Lent, and maybe you’ve been to Confession on a retreat or something. But maybe you haven’t been to Confession in a long, long time. Maybe this is even your second Confession ever, the first one being way back in second grade.

Whether you’re a regular participant in this sacrament, or if this is your first one in a long time, we are glad you are here. We’re here this evening because the Church knows that all of us are a long way from being perfect. As important as our relationship with God may be, as much as we might want to live good lives and get along with our parents, brothers, sisters and friends, we sometimes mess up. Sometimes we mess up a whole lot. And sometimes messing up a whole lot makes us feel so bad about ourselves that we mess up a whole lot more. It’s a kind of vicious circle, and we might have a real bad time getting out of it.

Maybe your relationship with your parents is pretty horrible. Maybe you haven’t spoken to some of your family in a long time. Maybe you don’t have the friends you would like to have any more, and the people you’re hanging out with are only making you feel worse. Maybe some of those relationships have turn sexual or are pretty inappropriately close to it. Maybe some of those relationships lead you to victimize others as a bully. Maybe you’ve done something to someone that seemed funny at the time, but you had no idea how hurtful it would become. Maybe gossip is so much a part of your life that you don’t even stop to consider the consequences of it.

Maybe you have the beginnings of some addictive behavior. Maybe you’ve tried drugs, or alcohol, or are spending too much time on the internet. Maybe you’ve been surfing the internet and found things that don’t make you feel too good about yourself or others. Maybe you’ve wanted to stop it but you haven’t been able to do that.

Maybe school isn’t a good place for you. Maybe the only way you can get through it in the way that meets the expectations of your parents, or your teammates, or your friends is to cheat. Maybe you have no idea how you’re going to get out of the rapidly-developing hole that is developing because you are so far behind in your studies even in October that you’re just lost.

Maybe you’ve completely turned away from the Church and have no idea why you’re going to be Confirmed. Maybe you haven’t gone to Mass on a regular basis in years. Maybe the only time you’ve been recently is in your small groups. Maybe you don’t know how to pray, or you don’t even have a sense of God enough to know why it’s wrong to use his name in vain.

Maybe you’ve taken something that was not yours to take. It could have been something that belonged to one of your siblings that you took without asking. Or maybe it was bigger, something from a store or the place where you work. Maybe you’ve stolen money from your parents to buy stuff they’d never let you have voluntarily.

And this is just the beginning of the many ways that we can mess up in our world today. The temptation to go in these directions is so strong, and most of the world has given up trying to discourage us from seeking these things. But the Church is here to say that the cycle of our sinfulness doesn’t have to be endless. We are not what we do, or what we have become. And we don’t have to be that way forever.

A popular Christian song right now says,

Turn me around pick me up
Undo what I’ve become
Bring me back to the place
Of forgiveness and grace
I need You, need Your help
I can’t do this myself
You’re the only one who can undo
What I’ve become.
(“Undo” by Rush of Fools)

And right here tonight we have the way to undo it. We are asking you to come to one of the priests here for Confession. We know that this might be your first time in a long time, so if that’s true, tell us that, and ask for help if you need it. Confessing your sins to God and doing the penance is our way of turning to God for his mercy. And on his part, God always grants that mercy.

We may have lied, but we were never created to be liars. We might have stolen, but we weren’t meant to be thieves. We might have been hurtful, but weren’t made to be inconsiderate and uncompassionate. We might have addictions but were never intended to be enslaved to something that is not God. And tonight’s confession might be the first step for you in receiving the mercy it takes to undo all that. Because God is the only one who can undo what we’ve become.

Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time: A People of Gratitude

Today’s readings

“Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

Today’s Gospel is a reflection on our need for healing, our need for God’s presence in our lives, and perhaps most especially, our need for gratitude. Not gratitude for what we have done; rather, gratitude for what we have received, for what has been done for us, and for the many graces and blessings that we have in Christ Jesus. The Christian disciple is called to be a person of gratitude.

Jesus is on a journey, and he enters a town where he is met by a group of wandering lepers. It’s important to know why they would be out wandering around. As you may know, leprosy was thought to be a horribly contagious disease which made the person with the disease completely unclean. That person could no longer remain with his or her family nor worship in the Temple. So this was a disease that not only made the person suffer physically, but also cut them off from the community and left them with no means of support, nor a place to stay. They had to be out wandering around.

A Maryknoll priest who was in Korea about 40 years ago tells the story of lepers who were in the area where he lived. They were not allowed to be with their communities or families. Once a year they went to a playing field. Two ropes were stretched across the field about 50 yards apart. The lepers stood at one rope and their families at another and they called out to each other-across the erected chasm that separated them-it was their annual “family visit.” So you can see that being healed from leprosy was no small salvation.

But we are not so different from this group of lepers, I think. The lepers in today’s gospel story are an unusual group. They consist of Jews and Samaritans, two groups that didn’t mix in usual society. But misery and affliction had united them. As someone once said, “Whatever our social ranking, we all shed the same tears.” We too are aware of our need for God, who alone can help us. We all have had our missteps and regrets and can feel separated from others. Our presence at Eucharist today says that we want Jesus’ company with us on this stage of our journey. We want him to show us the next steps and we want to stay close to him and one another as we travel through life’s journey.

What’s very important for us to get, then, is that our gratitude must be the natural reaction that we have to that presence of God as we travel the journey. As we gather here for the Eucharist, we know that the word “eucharist” is Greek for “thanksgiving.” Our very gathering every Sunday is a celebration of thanks to our God who walks with us through the good times and the bad and sees us through the perils of this world to the joy of everlasting life. Our celebration must always overflow with gratitude for the salvation we have in Christ.

But when we stop to think about it, how often are we really grateful for our gifts? Do we sometimes miss noticing the good things God has given us, simply because we forget to take the time to be grateful? What are the joys that God intended for us that we never had the opportunity to know because we did not have an attitude of gratitude? Are there times when we have not seen God’s hand at work in the hard times of our lives because we are not a basically grateful people?

Like the lepers in today’s Gospel, we have been healed of lots of things. We have found ourselves healed when:

  • A person who loves us tells us a hard truth we need to hear about ourselves.
  • We experience, in a long relationship, opportunities for growth in generosity, forgiveness, patience and humor.
  • Parenting teaches us to give our lives for another in frequent doses of our time, energies, hopes and tears.
  • We suffer a broken relationship, go for counsel and the guidance we receive gives us hope for our future.
  • We seek help for an addiction and the group members offer us wisdom, support and helping hands when we fall and support us “one day at a time.”
  • We suffer the death of a loved one and family and friends are there to grieve with us and eventually there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Not every gift of our lives is something that at first glance seems like a good thing. Sometimes the fact that God has helped us through a bad situation is grace enough to celebrate. Back when I was in my second year of seminary, just before Christmas, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We got her through the surgery and started on chemotherapy and eventually managed so celebrate Christmas. Just after I returned to the seminary in January, my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I have to tell you, I didn’t know how to pray any more at that point. I didn’t have words to say to God. But some of my brother seminarians came to my room one night and sheepishly offered to pray over me. They had no idea how important that offer was to me. I invited them in and we talked, and they prayed over me. From that point on, I was able to pray again, for my parents and for myself, because they had been God’s grace to me. I’ve never stopped being thankful for that – not for the situation, but for the grace and for my friends, both of which were a gift from God.

I want to offer you two gratitude tools, and I hope that you’ll use one of them in your prayer life. The first is the idea of a “gratitude journal.” Some of you may already be doing this. Basically, every time you find something to be grateful for, you make a note of it in a journal. It doesn’t have to be a long story, just a few notes about what you’re grateful for. And the idea is that you go back every so often and look at the entries to see how you have been blessed, and the many ways that God has been working in your life. There’s no way you can not be more grateful and more joyful when you do that.

The second tool is a tool that I am borrowing and slightly modifying from St. Ignatius of Loyola. It’s called the “Evening Examen,” and St. Ignatius has required all of his Jesuit and Jesuit-influenced followers to pray it every evening. The way I do it is to ask myself three questions at the end of every day. It takes maybe five minutes, maybe an hour, it depends on the day. But If you do it every day faithfully, you will again see the grace of God at work in you and I believe you’ll find more joy in your relationship with God. Those three questions are:

1. What are the blessings and graces I have received today? (Then give thanks for them.)
2. What are the things I have said or done today that have not been a source of grace to others or to myself? (Then ask God’s forgiveness.)
3. In what way or ways has God been trying to get me to move, or what has God been trying to do in me these days? (Then ask for whatever grace you need to move in that direction.)

So just three things: How have I been blessed? How have I sinned? What has God been trying to do in me? That prayer has been a source of growth for me as a disciple, and I hope you’ll try it and keep it in your prayer toolbox for the future.

Let us not be a people who leave the giving of thanks to others, like the Jewish lepers left the Samaritan to do in today’s Gospel. May we instead be a people marked by an attitude of gratitude, giving thanks for the many ways that God sustains us and blesses us. Then we can be a people, when asked, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” can truly respond…

“It is right to give him thanks and praise!”

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

Ouch. Jesus has just been given a great complement and he responds to it kind of brusquely. Earlier in this eleventh chapter of Luke, Jesus has taught the disciples to pray, teaching them what has become known as the Lord’s prayer. Then there is the discourse on the need for persistence in prayer that we heard on Thursday. Then a teaching on demons. And now this. From this point on in the chapter, Jesus will turn up the heat on the people’s prayer life. Nothing less is effective. Nothing else is acceptable.

And so we hear the same invitation: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” We have been taught how to pray. We have been given tools in Scripture and in the Church. So the question is, have we observed that teaching? Has our prayer become persistent? Is it the life blood of our relationships with God and others? Does prayer sustain us in bad times and give us joy in good times?

Observing the word of God takes many forms. Most likely, we think of the service we are called upon to help bring about a Godly kingdom on earth. And that is important, make no mistake about it. But that same word calls us to a vital relationship with our God, a relationship that raises the bar for all of our other relationships. That relationship with God can be a blessing to us and to our world. But we can only get there by prayer. We have to make time for the one who made time for us.

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”