St. Catherine of Siena

Today’s readings: 1 John 3:16-18 | Psalm 34 | Luke 12:32-34
Today’s saint
This Mass was with the school children.

Saint Catherine was born at Siena, in the region of Tuscany in Italy. Catherine was the youngest in a family of twenty-five children.  Can you imagine having twenty-four brothers and sisters?!  When she was six years old Jesus appeared to Catherine and blessed her. Her mother and father wanted her to be happily married, preferably to a rich man. But Catherine didn’t want that, she wanted to be a nun.

And so, to make herself as unattractive as possible to the men her parents wanted her to meet, she cut off her long, beautiful hair.  Her parents were very upset and became very critical of her.  They also gave her the most difficult housework to do.  But Catherine did not change her mind: her goal was to become a nun and give herself entirely to Jesus.  Finally, her parents stopped bothering her and allowed her to become a nun.  Her father even set aside a room in the house where she could stay and pray.

St. Catherine was very honest and straightforward with Jesus and sometimes she even scolded him when she thought he was not around to help her in her struggles and temptations.  Jesus told her that because he was in her heart she was able to win her struggles by his grace.  That’s important to remember because Jesus is always around, in our hearts, to help us with our struggles and grace too.

So eventually Catherine did become a nun.  When she was eighteen years old, she entered the Dominican Third Order and spent the next three years in seclusion, prayer and works of penance. Gradually a group of followers gathered around her—men and women, priests and religious.  They all saw that Catherine was a holy woman with a special relationship with Jesus.  During this time she wrote many letters, most of which gave spiritual instruction and encouragement to her followers.  But more and more, she began to take note of public affairs.  She would speak out on many topics and would stand up for the truth.  Because of this, many people began to oppose her and they brought false charges against her, but she was cleared of any kind of wrongdoing.

Because of her great influence, and that she spoke out fearlessly to defend the truth, Saint Catherine was able to help the Church during a very difficult time.  During this time, the Church had many problems. There were fights going on all over Italy.  There was not just one, but actually two and then three men who claimed to be the pope!  Catherine wrote letters to kings and queens.  She even went to beg rulers to make peace with the pope and to avoid wars.

At one point, Saint Catherine asked the real pope to leave Avignon, France, where he had been staying in exile, and return to Rome to rule the Church, because she knew that this was God’s will.  The pope listened to St. Catherine and did as she said, and even though it was difficult and there was still a lot of fighting to do, this eventually led to peace in the Church.

Saint Catherine never forgot that Jesus was in her heart.  Through her, Jesus helped the sick people she nursed and comforted the prisoners she visited in jail.  Even though she spent a lot of time in prayer, she was still able to reach out to those who were hurting so that they too could know that Jesus loved them just as much as he loved her.

Catherine is one of our most revered saints, because she wrote great works about the teaching of the Church and the spiritual life.  She once wrote that coming to know God was like trying to see the entire ocean, because every time you go a little deeper, there is always more to see.  God is like that too.  Every time we see a little bit more of who God is, we know that there is still a whole lot more that we have to come to know.  She wrote, “You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you.  But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more.  When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light.  I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.”

Saint Catherine is one of the most important saints of the Church.  Besides being a nun, she has also been named a Doctor of the Church.  This doesn’t mean that she cured people who were sick.  That’s not the kind of doctor she was.  The kind of doctor that Saint Catherine was is the kind of doctor who is very smart and has great insights and writes important things.  Saint Catherine’s writings are still very important to the Church today.  So that is why she was named a Doctor of the Church.  There are about 33 Doctors of the Church, and just three of them are women, including Saint Catherine of Siena.

One person, boys and girls, can make a huge difference.  Saint Catherine made a huge difference in the Church, helping to get through a very difficult time.  She made a difference in the world, because she wrote to kings and princes and tried to help them make peace.  She made a difference in people’s lives because she reached out the sick and those in prison to help them to know how much Jesus loved them.  She still makes a difference for us today, because we can read the beautiful things she has written about God and help us to come to know him better.

Saint Catherine is a wonderful saint, because she loved Jesus and loved people and wanted to help people know God.  We are all called to be the same kind of person that she was.  We are called to love Jesus and love people and help people to know God too.  That’s what God wants us to be, and we have Saint Catherine to show us how to do it.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Jesus tells us in the Gospel today that he did not “come to condemn the world but to save the world.”  His implication here is that being condemned is our choice.  God’s choice is that all of creation would come back to him, and be one in him.  It is us – sinful men and women that we are – who can choose the wrong path and turn away from God.  But even then, condemnation is not automatic because our God is incredibly forgiving.  We can choose to return, and once again walk with God.  We should never presume God’s mercy, but we have to do an awful lot of work to merit condemnation.  It seems to me that condemnation is just not worth the trouble; maybe we can instead put all that hard work into building up the Church and God’s people.  Why would we ever want anything else?

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

“It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.”

You know, I think the name Christian is so common to us that we take it for granted.  For those first disciples, there had to be a mix of emotions that came with being called Christians for the first time.  They may have been a bit fearful, because we know what happened to Christ, and so going about doing works in his name and being seen as his followers could certainly be dangerous for them.  But they were probably also deeply honored to be called Christian.  Being seen as his followers and people who did what he did was exactly what they wanted to happen, and because of that, we are told that many more people were added to the flock.  So there had to be a little joy in that mix of emotions too.

So what about us, what does it do for us to be called Christian.  For some people, it probably seems like Christians are a dime a dozen, and most of them are not nearly as zealous as were those first Christians.  So being called Christian isn’t probably a complement or an accusation so much as it’s a way to categorize us, or even bracket us so that others can ignore our message.

But our objective has to be the same as those first disciples.  We have to want that many would be added to the Lord after they see what we do and hear what we say.  In order for that to happen, we have to walk the walk and talk the talk as they say.  We have to be people of integrity.  Our worship can’t end when we say “thanks be to God,” but instead must continue into our living, into our daily lives.  We have to be people who stand up for life, who live the Gospel, who reach out to the poor and the marginalized, who earnestly seek to bring souls to Christ.  I think the world is aching to see that kind of authenticity in us.  And we have to love them enough to bring them to our Savior.

When we are called “Christian,” it should stir up in our hearts a little fear and a little joy too.  The fear should be that we would in any way neglect the mission, and the joy should come when we realize that people see Christ in us.  The Psalmist today says “All you nations, praise the Lord.”  And that’s what we want to happen, to have people of every nation praise the Lord and call themselves Christian too.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

Today’s brief Gospel reading begins with the wonderful line, “My sheep hear my voice.” However, I have two problems with that. First, who wants to be compared to sheep? Sheep are not the brightest of animals, and they must remain in their flock to defend themselves against even the most innocuous of predators. Second, how are the sheep, if that is how we are to be called, to hear the shepherd in this day and age? There are so many things that vie for our attention, that it would be easy to miss the call of the shepherd altogether.

So let’s look at these issues. First, many who raise and nurture sheep would perhaps disagree with my assessment that they aren’t very bright. I have been told that sheep do have the innate ability to hear their master’s voice, which helps them to survive. Add that to the fact that they also innately wish to remain part of the flock, and we can see that sheep seem to know what it takes to survive. And maybe we don’t know that as well as we should. How often do we place a priority on being within earshot of our Master? How willing are we to remain part of the community in good times and in bad? Yet Jesus makes it clear today that this is the only way we can survive spiritually, the only way we can come at last to eternal life.

So what will it take to overcome my second objection? What will it take for us sheep to hear our Master’s voice? We who are so nervous about any kind of silence that we cannot enter a room without the television on as at least background noise. We who cannot go anywhere without our cell phones and/or iPods implanted firmly in our ears? We who cannot bear to enter into prayer without speaking all kinds of words and telling God how we want to live our lives? If even our prayer and worship are cluttered with all kinds of noise, how are we to hear the voice of our Shepherd who longs to gather us in and lead us to the Promise? Yet Jesus makes it clear today that entering into the silence and listening for his voice is the only way we can survive spiritually, the only way we can come at last to eternal life.

The real question, though, is this: how are we to hear the Shepherd’s voice if there are no shepherds to make it known? Today is the world day of prayer for vocations. And I want to talk about all vocations today, but in a special way, I want to talk about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Because it is these vocations, and especially the priesthood, that are called upon to be the voice of Christ in today’s world. This is a special, and difficult challenge, and I know there are young people in this community that are being called to it. We hear in today’s Liturgy of the Word that this task is not always easy because it is not universally accepted, as Paul and Barnabas found out. But it is a task that brings multitudes of every nation, race, people and tongue to the great heavenly worship that is what they have been created for. People today need to hear the voice of the Shepherd, but who will be that voice when I retire? Who will be that voice when there aren’t enough priests in our diocese for every church to have one?

We know that every person has a vocation. Every person is called on by God to do something specific with their life that will bring not only them, but also others around them, to salvation. Parents help to bring their children to salvation by raising them in the faith. Teachers help bring students to salvation by educating them and helping them to develop their God-given talents. Business people bring others to salvation by living lives of integrity and witness to their faith by conducting business fairly and with justice and concern for the needy. The list goes on. Every vocation, every authentic vocation, calls the disciple to do what God created them for, and helps God to bring salvation to the whole world.

Nine years ago on this very Sunday, I was struggling with my vocation. I knew that God was calling me to give up my comfortable life and go to seminary to study for the priesthood. But I did not want to go. I was already doing what I wanted to do with my life and thought it was going pretty well. But on some level, I knew that life as a disciple required me to do what God wanted, and not necessarily what I wanted. There was an open house that day at the Diocesan Vocations Office. I wasn’t interested and I wasn’t going. And that day, the celebrant stood right here and preached on vocations and made the point that living as a disciple meant that at some point we have to stop asking the question, “what do I want to do with my life?” and start asking, “what does God want me to do with my life?” And I already knew the answer to that question: God wanted me to go to that vocations open house that day, and so I did. Four months later, I was in seminary.

What about you? Are you doing what God wants you to do with your life? Maybe your answer won’t require such a radical change as mine did. Maybe it means you renew your commitment to your family, your work, your life as a disciple. But if you’re a young person out there and have only been thinking about what’s going to make you successful and bring in lots of money so you can retire at age 35, maybe God is today asking you to stop thinking only of yourself and put your life’s work at the service of the Gospel. Maybe you’ll be called on to be a teacher, or a police officer, or a health care professional. And maybe, just maybe, God is calling you to enter the priesthood or religious life. On this day of prayer for vocations, I’m just asking you to pray that God would make his plans for your life clear to you, and that you would promise God to do what he asks of you. I can tell you first hand that nothing, absolutely nothing, will make you happier.

So I ask you all to bow your heads now and join me in prayer for all holy vocations:

Faithful God,
You sent your son, Jesus,
to be our Good Shepherd.

Through our baptism
you blessed us and called us

to follow Jesus who leads uson the path of life.
Renew in us the desire to remain faithful
to our commitment to serve you and the Church.
Bless all who dedicate their lives to you
through marriage, the single life, the diaconate,
priesthood, and consecrated life.
Give insight to those
who are discerning their vocation.
Send us to proclaim the Good News
of Jesus, our Good Shepherd,
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Saul is proof that God’s ways are not our ways.  How is it that God would pick for one of his chief Apostles a man who imprisoned and murdered the followers of the Christian Way?  That had to surprise even, and perhaps especially Saul, whose life was turned completely upside-down.  Poor Ananias had to be quaking in his boots to carry out this command of the Lord.  But thankfully both Paul and Ananias were obedient to the Lord’s command, and we are the ones who have benefited from that.  Not only has the Word of God been passed on through their faithfulness, but we see in their lives that obedience to God’s will, while it may not always make sense, is the way that true disciples live.

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Being in the right place at the right time isn’t usually a coincidence.  Far more often than we realize, I think it’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly that has to be the case in today’s first reading.  How else would we explain an angel directing Philip to be on a road at the very same time as the Ethiopian eunuch passed by, reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah that referred to Jesus?  Seizing the moment, Philip explains the Jesus event to him in a way that was powerful enough and moving enough that, on seeing some water as they continued on the journey, the eunuch begged to be baptized.  Then, as the Spirit whisks Philip off to Azotus, the eunuch continues on his way, rejoicing in his new life.

The same is true for those who were fortunate enough to hear Jesus proclaim the Bread of Life discourse that we’ve been reading in our Gospel readings these past days.  Having been fed by a few loaves and fishes when they were physically hungry, they now come to find Jesus who longs to fill them up not just physically but also, and more importantly, spiritually.  Their hunger put them in the right place at the right time.

Maybe what’s important for us to get today is that we are always in the right place at the right time, spiritually speaking.  Wherever we find ourselves is the place that we are directed by the Holy Spirit to find God.  Wherever we find ourselves is the place that we are directed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim God.  And so we may be called upon to find God in the midst of peace, or chaos, or any situation.  We never know how God may feed us in those situations.  And we may indeed be called upon to proclaim God in those same peaceful, or chaotic, situations.  Because we never know when there will be someone like an Ethiopian eunuch there, aching to be filled with Christ’s presence and called to a new life.

It is no coincidence that we are where we are, when we are.  The Spirit always calls on us to find our God and proclaim him as Lord of every moment and every situation.

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

As Catholics, we believe that opposite things don’t necessarily cancel each other out.  For instance, we believe, as our first reading today illustrates, that we can have joy in the midst of sorrow.  The early Community found themselves severely persecuted.  Saul, for whom God had future plans, was currently doing his best to destroy the Christian Way, and he was not alone.  Many suffered and died as St. Stephen did in yesterday’s reading, and others were exiled from their homes.  But even in the midst of that, St. Philip was doing Christ’s work quite successfully in Samaria.  There was great joy in that city.  To some, that would seem so contradictory and out-of-whack.  But for us, we know that this is how life is.  There is sadness, and there is joy, and all of it is a gift in some way.  Even today, some of us may have sadness, and others joy.  May we experience it with peace as the early Community did.