Monday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Loose lips sink ships.”  That’s a saying that I learned somewhere in my early elementary school life.  I don’t think I fully understood what it meant at the time – all I appreciated was that it told me to keep my mouth shut.  But as I’ve lived and matured, I know very well that frivolous talk can be hurtful and even dangerous.  Our gift of speech is an important one: through it we communicate with each other and it is the basis of our being able to work and live in society.  But using speech in the wrong way can cause a whole host of problems.  We’ve all probably been in the midst of that in some way at some time in our lives.

And so Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians are probably good ones for us to hear today:

Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you,
as is fitting among holy ones,
no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place…

All of us, who are called to be God’s holy ones, have a very important responsibility to use our gift of speech wisely.  We must not engage in idle, frivolous, or even obscene speech, because this is out of place for those who follow the Lord.  But what I think is so important is what Saint Paul says needs to be on the lips of God’s holy ones – and that is thanksgiving.

Big deal, right, of course we can speak about thanksgiving.  But the Greek word that is translated “thanksgiving” here is eucharistia – and we all know what that means.  The Eucharist – which is our thanksgiving – is always to be on our lips.  So that’s the lens by which we ought always to view the words we say: are our words Eucharist?  Are they thanksgiving?  Because those are the only words we need to be saying.

Marriage Renewal Day Homily

Today’s readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 47; I John 4:7-12; Matthew 5:13-16

The Rite of Marriage gives us so many wonderful images for the spiritual life.  Speaking of the bride, the nuptial prayer asks that she may model her life on “the holy women whose praises are sung in the Scriptures.”  Speaking of the groom, it prays that he might remember that “she is his equal and the heir with him to the life of grace.”  And speaking of their union, the Liturgy speaks of it reflecting the marriage of Christ with his bride, the Church.

The Scriptures portray so many people for us.  Some of them are models of what not to do, but there are holy women and men that are meant to be an inspiration for us.  We remember the courage of Esther as she took her life in her hands and spoke out against the pending injustice of the extermination of her people.  We remember the kindness of Ruth as she refused to leave her mother-in-law alone in a foreign land.  We remember the holy women who attending to Jesus on the way of the cross and who witnessed the resurrection.  The wedding Liturgy prays that the bride would emulate their qualities, be devoted to the people in their lives, stand up to injustice, and always walk with Christ.

It goes on to pray that the groom would assume responsibility for leading his family in the spiritual life.  The life of grace is our goal, which is realized most perfectly in heaven, and we are all heirs to that life if we would follow our Lord and live the Gospel.  Coming together as equals, the bride and groom raise up children for the Kingdom of God, becoming a family that shines like a light in a dark place.  The love of bride and groom reflect the love of Christ for the Church.  A marriage is not a relationship meant to be kept to itself; it is meant to be salt and light, proclaiming God’s love by living as Christ has taught us: loving God and our neighbor.

So with these wonderful images to guide you, you embarked years ago on a journey of married life.  Would that every day were a moment of grace, but life gives us good times and bad, sickness and health.  Some days, it’s hard to be Esther or Ruth; some days we detour off the life of grace; some days spiritual equality isn’t foremost in our minds.  Yet that is our calling, and where sin corrupts, grace heals: the entire story of our life and relationships cannot ever be boiled down to one moment.  Thank God.

So day by day, we let God write that new covenant on our hearts.  God forgives our iniquity and sin, and we once again remember that our brokenness is no match for God’s love; that sin and death don’t follow us to the Kingdom of God, that the struggles of this life make the life of faith and grace so much more important, so much more urgent in our lives.

My parents’ marriage was inspirational to me.  Dad always worked so hard for our family, but was never an absentee father.  He was there for mom and for all of us, every day of his life.  He and mom were great partners; they always did everything together; unfortunately even to the extent of being diagnosed with cancer a month apart.  Dad has been gone for five years now, but mom continues on, being the source of wisdom and common sense, and love that she always was.  Their marriage nurtured them both and helped them to be a source of love and grace for us, and for so many others that God put in their lives.  They taught religious education to high school kids in their home for years, and those men and women, grown up now, still have a fondness and respect for both of them.  My vocation as a priest grew out of their vocation as parents.  I am called to Fatherhood in a way similar to my dad’s vocation, and as a Father I am called to shepherd and love my family – this parish – into heaven.

Your lives and marriages have their own story.  Times of challenge build character and endurance.  Times of grace give us strength to journey on.  The ups and downs of married life, lived faithfully and intentionally, have brought you here today.  Your marriage is a sign that God’s love never ends.

And so it goes: our lives are bound up together in the love of our bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  We live our vocations shining as a light in the dark place this world can be sometimes, seasoning a society that has grown bland with apathy and sadness with the love of Christ.  Today we pray for all holy vocations, of whatever station in life, that they might be lived with faithfulness and love poured out in great abandon, confident that we never run out of love because God is the source of that love.  May God’s grace continue to call men and women into vocations to priesthood, religious life, and married life.  May God help us all to love as perfectly and freely as he loves us!

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Tme

Today’s readings

Some people would say that Jesus was a peaceful man.  Saying that is really misunderstanding Jesus and who he was.  Because peace wasn’t necessarily his primary interest, at least not peace in the way that we often see it.

Because sometimes I think we misread what peace is supposed to be.  We might sell peace short and settle for the absence of conflict.  Or even worse, we may settle for peace at any price, swallowing our disagreements and never coming close to true healing in our relationships.  There are families in which never a harsh word would be said, but the underlying hostility is palpable.  There are workplaces in which there are never any arguments, but there is also never any cooperative work done.  Sometimes there are relationships where fear replaces love and respect.

And this is not the kind of peace that Jesus would bring us today.  This is the One who came to set the earth on fire, and his methods for bringing us to peace might well cause division in the here and now.  But there is never any resurrection if we don’t have the cross.  And so there will never be any peace if we don’t confront what’s really happening.  The fire may need to be red hot and blazing if there is ever to be any regrowth.

And so today we have to stop settling for a peace that really isn’t so peaceful.  We may just have to have that hard conversation we’ve been trying to avoid.  Of course, we do it with love for our brothers and sisters, but out of love we also don’t avoid it. We have to work for true healing in all of our relationships.  May all of our divisions lead to real peace!

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It has often struck me that, the economy of our nation and the world being as precarious as it is, that being rich in what matters to God is more important than ever.  With all the bad financial news out there, who among us hasn’t had the sinking feeling that this world’s riches are nothing at time but straw?

So you’d think that in this time of uncertainty, and on the brink of a pivotal election, people would be coming to Church, reconnecting with their God, and drawing strength from their faith, building up those riches that are from God.  But you’d be wrong.  All you have to do is look around and see that Mass attendance is nothing like it was in the past, that there are too many empty spaces in the pews.

In some ways it strikes me that we are quickly losing our faith, or even worse, that we as a society are becoming indifferent to faith, seeing it as irrelevant or ultimately meaningless.  At a time in our history when we should be returning to God in droves, people instead are staying away in droves.

And it’s hard to live through uncertain times without faith.  How can we ride the ups and downs of life with anything close to tranquility without the rock that is our faith?  Instead we as a society seem content to look to the government to save us, while we continue to practice unprecedented greed.  And to all of that, God warns us: we may just

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time: Day of Service

Today’s readings

Our Gospel today warns us of coming persecutions.  At some point, we will all be dragged before synagogues and rulers and authorities of some sort, and we will have to give an account of what we believe.  Now for us, it’s not going to be so literal, obviously.  But we may have to give an account of why we believe in Christ or why we follow a religion that inconveniently speaks out against threats to life and family.  We may have to tell others why it is that we would give up some of the first non-rainy day in the last few to sort food for the food pantry or dig a trench outside the church or clean the pews.

Living our faith is always going to cost us something and that something is likely to be status or popularity, or at least the wondering glance from people who aren’t ready to accept the faith.  But the volumes that we speak by living our faith anyway might just lay the groundwork for conversion and become a conduit of grace.  We are told that we don’t have to hammer out all the words we want to say; that the Holy Spirit will give us eloquence that we can only dream of.  And it’s true, if we trust God, if we live our faith when it’s popular or unpopular, we will have the Spirit and the words.  God only knows what can be accomplished in those grace-filled moments!

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

Today’s readings
Mass for the school children.

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 dangerous and brutal, but courageous people brought faith to this land.

Saints Isaac Jogues and John de Brébeuf 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 people converted to the faith 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.

Now, 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.  To believe 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!

Saint Teresa of Avila, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings: Romans 8:22-27; Psalm 19:8-11; John 15:1-8

Saint Teresa was a virgin, mystic, nun, reformer of the Carmelite order, and, with Saint John of the  Cross, foundress of the Discalced Carmelites. When she was a girl, her father sent her for a time to live in an Augustinian convent, until she became ill about a year or so later.  During her illness, she began to contemplate the prospect of living a religious life, and eventually decided to join a convent of Carmelite nuns, which her father strongly opposed.  After she turned twenty-one, she did join, and her father gave up opposition to it.  She was known to be a woman of prudence, charity and personal charm, and so many people came to be devoted to her charism.

Teresa struggled, though, with personal prayer until her early forties.  Persevering in prayer, she found that she more and more enjoyed being in the presence of the Lord, and really began to grow in friendship with him.  This is the message of today’s Gospel: “Remain in me,” Jesus says to us.  The way that we do that is by persevering in prayer, whether it is difficult or easy.  The saints all tell us that staying with prayer, even in the hard times, is the key to a fulfilling spiritual life.  Sometimes it may feel dry or unfruitful, but the Spirit continues to work in us as we continue to pray.

Saint Paul tells the Romans the same thing today: “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”  So today we trust that, just like for Saint Teresa, the prayer of our hearts would find expression in whatever way God wants for us, and that we might always remain in Christ.

Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time [B]: Time, Talent & Treasure

Today’s readings

I’m speaking at all the Masses this weekend, and I know what you’re thinking: here comes the money talk.  All he ever does is talk about money.  I hope you don’t really feel that way, because we do try to keep all the money talk to a minimum.  We do, however, want to keep you in the loop and so on occasion you’ve had updates from Tim French, the chairman of our Finance, Facilities and Administration Commission, and most recently from Scott Marshall, the President of our Parish Council.  I am grateful to both of them for the work they and their peers have done in keeping us on point financially, and helping to steer our parish in the right direction.  As for me, this is the only time I will be coming to you to talk about money, except for the Diocesan Appeal in the winter.

But I’m not even just talking to you about money today, because quite honestly, I am asking for something a whole lot more valuable.  And that’s in the spirit of today’s Gospel.  Jesus wasn’t as interested in the rich young man’s money as he was in his heart and soul.  And he asked for that in exchange for something much more valuable than anything we or the rich young man possess: eternal life.  That, after all, was what the rich young man wanted, right?  I mean, he asks Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel reading what he has to do to inherit it.  And it’s actually a good question.  I don’t know if it’s because we take salvation for granted or if we can’t really see past the next big thing happening in our crazy lives, but I sometimes think we’re not as zealous about inheriting eternal life as we should be.  So we could all – myself included, by the way – learn a little something from the rich young man’s question.

So today I’m asking you to give up whatever it is that may be holding you back – riches, status, anything – and go all in for the prize of eternal life.  Just like Jesus, I am asking for your hearts and souls, so that you might have the great gift of eternal happiness in the life to come.

So what does that even mean?  What does it look like?  To get there, I want to focus on the three traditional areas of time, talent and treasure.  Treasure we’ve been talking about for a little while now.  Scott gave you an overview of the parish’s position a couple of weeks ago, and the financial report was in the bulletin.  If you missed that, it is also published on our parish website.  The budget this year calls for a 3% increase in operating expenses.  That amount covers anticipated energy and environmental costs, keeping our buildings in good repair, salaries and benefits for all of our parish and school employees, and the expenses of our parish ministries.   Your generosity helps us to reach out to those in need, touch the lives of those who are hurting, and teach the faith to people of all ages.

I am appointing a buildings and grounds committee to work with our Finance, Facilities and Administration Commission.  Their task will be to assess the needs of our parish facilities.  They will help us to plan for repair and replacement of various resources of our campus.  Our goal would be to have a surplus in the budget each year so that we can put money aside for those expenses, something we have not been able to do in recent years.  Another goal would be to finish the basement project in order to provide space for our teens, a good facility for our food pantry, rehearsal space for our choirs, and meeting space for all our ministries.  That is something that was part of the original vision of our new facility, something we have not as yet been able to accomplish, although we have been saving money toward it.

Over the past year, we have replaced air conditioning compressors in the parish offices and in the school gym, have completed a large upgrade on our parish’s computer network and the school’s computer lab; we have repaired and maintained the parking lot with the goal of keeping it intact for at least another decade, and many other smaller projects.  Your generosity and the hard work of staff and parishioners alike have made all this possible.

But there is so much more to do, and I ask that each of you discern how you can help us to meet our increased budget needs through your offertory support.  While we all have different resources to draw from and commitments to fulfill, we can each give something in support of our parish family.  We are doing our best to use modern conveniences to assist parishioners in their giving.  We have electronic giving options to help meet the demands presented by the fast pace of our lives.  Details are in our bulletin and in the letter from me which you should have already received, or will receive in the next few days.  You can always give online at givetond.org.

So now I want to ask for something more, and that is your time and talent.  One of the greatest strengths of Notre Dame Parish is the outreach to those in need.  We are blessed with volunteers and staff who minister tirelessly to the hungry, the homeless and those who are struggling with life challenges.  We also have strong programs in our school and religious education programs, youth ministry and Confirmation preparation, and adult education and RCIA programs.  In addition we are always trying to build on our strong worship, improving how we come together to celebrate the Eucharist, and to make our time worshipping our God a top priority.  We also make time to come together at wonderful events like the Oktoberfest, the Dinner Dance, the Italian Dinner and Saint Patrick’s Day Party – just to name a few.

But as many wonderful volunteers as we have to make all of that happen, we could always, always use way more.  Every one of our volunteers who head up our ministries would tell you that they could use more help.  And some of our volunteers are getting up there in age and cannot do what they used to do.  We’ve recently buried good people like Marty Rock and Eileen Thome who served our parish so faithfully for many, many years.  Who is going to take their place?  And so many of our volunteers are pulled in all sorts of directions, some of them taking on what is quite honestly too much.

This is our community; it’s not an auditorium where we come to see a show or a shop where we go to receive a service.  This is a family where everyone needs to take part to make the community vibrant and active.  If you’re not already active in ministry around here, I am asking you to prayerfully discern how God is calling you to serve.  What are your special talents?  What are the activities here that energize you or stir up your passion?  Those are ways that you can serve, and be part of the mission of our parish.

In all honesty, we have not been good about soliciting volunteers in past years.  We are looking for new ways to do that and will roll some things out in the next year.  But in the mean time, there are three ways you can help.  First, you can respond prayerfully to the questions I just asked, and if you discern a talent or passion that you’d like to share, let us know.  If you don’t know who to contact, tell me or Father Steve and we will put you in touch with the right person.  Second, watch the bulletin and our electronic newsletter for volunteer opportunities.  And third, be part of our Second Annual Parish Service Day next Saturday.  I promise that you will find being an active part of the parish rewarding, and even more, I proclaim the promise of eternal life that Jesus wants to offer to the rich young man – and to us – today.

The Church teaches that, in living the Gospel, we are to strive for reasonable happiness in this life, and eternal happiness in the life to come.  That’s what today’s readings teach us.  We pray for wisdom, which puts us on the path to eternal life.  We zealously seek eternal happiness.  We put our lives and our resources at the service of the Gospel.  We contribute our time, talent and treasure to the mission of the Church.   We beg God, with the Psalmist today, to prosper the work of our hands for us!  Prosper the work of our hands!

Committing ourselves to this great endeavor of grace, let us take the Stewardship Prayer Cards from the pew racks, stand, and pray together:

Generous God,

We give you thanks for all you have given us:
our families, our homes, our community,
our parish.

You have walked with us as we grow together in faith;
You speak through us when we teach and witness to the Gospel;
You work in us when we reach out to those in need.

Help us to grow in faith:
May we never be in distress when we are in need;
May we never be indifferent when we have surplus.

Teach us how to be a generous people,
freely pouring out the love you daily give us;
confident that the store of that love has no end
because its source is always You, God.

Renew Your Spirit in us;
help us to be One Body, One Spirit in Christ,
and help us to create the world anew in You.

Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Yesterday, the fiftieth anniversary of the calling of the Second Vatican Council, marked the beginning of a Year of Faith that Pope Benedict called for in his encyclical, Porta Fidei.  In that document, he calls on all of us Catholics to throw open the doors of faith, to rediscover who we are as the People of God, and to underscore the grace that comes through living our faith.

Saint Paul all this week has been trying to convince those “foolish Galatians” that they should abandon the nonsense that they have been fed by other preachers.  These men apparently had been convincing them that they had to accept all of the precepts of the Jewish Law in order to be Christians.  Saint Paul points out that faith in Jesus Christ frees them from all of that, and he tries to get them to instead live the precepts of the Gospel.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has been driving out demons from those who had been possessed by them.  But the crowd is not accepting his miracles in faith, rather they assert that only a devil could cast out a demon.  Just like the Galatians, they refused to put their faith into practice and instead insisted on clinging to what they know.

Jesus, however, is doing a new thing.  He’s doing a new thing among the people of his day, he was doing a new thing among the Galatians, and he’s doing a new thing in us.  We have to be ready to let go of some of our pre-conceived notions and renew ourselves in the Gospel.  During this year of faith, let us make it our prayer that all God’s people come to know the faith in new and proper ways.

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Go and do likewise.”

What a wonderful instruction for Jesus to give us this morning.  “Go and do likewise.” Jesus is telling us that those who hear the Gospel must also live it, or it is useless.  Those who do not go out and do likewise are like the foolish Galatians in today’s first reading who seem to be abandoning the Gospel and replacing it with all kinds of other rules, including circumcision, that are mere appearances of holiness.  Those of us who would call ourselves disciples of the Lord must do better than that.  We must indeed “go and do likewise.”

We’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan umpteen times so it may all too easily go in one ear and out the other.  But we really must hear what Jesus is saying in this parable if we are to get what living the Christian life is all about.  As an aside, I must say it is extremely humbling to me personally that the priest in this story was not the good guy.  The good person in the story is one that Jesus’ hearers would have expected to be anything but good: the very name “Samaritan” was synonymous with being bad.  So for the Samaritan to come out as the good guy was something that made his hearers stand up and take notice.  Think of a group of people that our society tends to bracket as evil; then think about Jesus calling one of them “good.”  That’s what this was like for them.

Yet it was this person, who was considered to be less-than-good, that knew instinctively the right thing to do.  He was the one who bound up the victim’s wounds and led him off to safety and healing.  Compassion for others is part of the natural law, something that every person should possess, Christian or not, and for Christians it is certainly foundational to living the Gospel.  Turning one’s back on those in need is reprehensible and any who do that are not hearing what the Gospel is teaching us.

The Gospel is not merely for our edification; it is for our instruction.  Those of us who would dare to hear it must be willing to go and do likewise.