Thursday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the voices that can never be silenced in us is the voice that cries out seeking to see.  We spend our whole lives crying out as Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel: “Master, I want to see.”  And just as the crowd and even the disciples could not silence his desires, so nothing will silence that desire in our own hearts and souls.  We want to see the truth, we want to see Jesus, we want to see the world as it really is, we want to see our way out of our current messed-up situation, we want to see the end of suffering, we want to see peace, we want to see wholeness, and maybe most of all we want to see ourselves.  As we really are.  As God sees us.  This is our lifelong task.

St. Augustine spoke of that very same task in his Confession.  He said, speaking to God: “I will confess, therefore, what I know of myself, and also what I do not know.  The knowledge that I have of myself, I possess because you have enlightened me; while the knowledge of myself that I do not yet possess will not be mine until my darkness shall be made as the noonday sun before your face.”  He goes on to say that he can try to hide from God if he wanted to, but it would never work.  Hiding from God would only result in hiding God from himself.  God sees the depths of our being, so if we try to hide all we really end up doing is running away from God who knows us at our very core.

The writer of our first reading had this idea in mind when he said:

He plumbs the depths and penetrates the heart;
their innermost being he understands.
The Most High possesses all knowledge,
and sees from of old the things that are to come:
He makes known the past and the future,
and reveals the deepest secrets.

God is calling us all out of darkness today.  He wants us to see him, and ourselves, as we were created to be.  He created us from glory.  And we won’t experience that glory in its fullness until we go through the rather painful experience of bringing all of our darkness out into the light.  Maybe we’re not ready for that yet.  But we can pray to become ready, and to be open.  We can pray in the words of Bartimaeus: “Master, I want to see!”

Memorial Day

Today’s readings: Isaiah 32:15-18, Philippians 4:6-9, Matthew 5:1-12a

Memorial Day originally began in our country as an occasion to remember and decorate the graves of the soldiers who died in the Civil War.  Later it became a holiday to commemorate all those who had died in war in the service of our country.  Today is, above all, a time to remember.

One of the aspects of human nature is that we tend to look for heroes.  People we can look up to, who have buoyed our spirits in difficult times, who have turned our attention to the best parts of our humanity.  These are the people we wish to emulate, the people who bring us hope in a darkened world.  The problem is, the heroes our popular culture would give us tend to be pretty unworthy of the title.  How many political heroes have turned out to be corrupt?  How many great athletes have given in to drug abuse?  How many entertainers have done horrible things to people close to them?  We need true heroes on this day, and every day.

Maybe the ones we should look to are not people who are great from afar like all those other flawed characters of popular culture.  Maybe we should look a bit closer, to loved ones or people in our communities who have done great things.  People who have sacrificed for the good of others.

On this day we especially look to those who have been heroes in war.  People who have given their lives for peace, justice, and righteousness.  The beatitudes that we just heard in the Gospel proclaim them blessed: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  We have heard these before, but it’s so important that we hear that these people are blessed, these people are true heroes because of what they sacrifice and stand for and fight for.

I am hardly the person who is going to glorify warfare.  I think our Church’s teachings counsel that war is not the way to peace and that developed societies like ours can and must use our resources to seek other ways to solve problems.  But I certainly acknowledge that there are and have been times in our nation’s history that have called on good people to fight for our freedoms and to fight for justice.  Today we honor their memory with immense gratitude, because without their sacrifice we might not enjoy the blessings we have today.

Those who have been part of our lives, and the life of our country, who have been people of faith and integrity are the heroes that God has given us.  These are the ones who have been poor in spirit, who have mourned, who have been meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, peacemaking, and all the rest.  If we would honor them on this Memorial Day, we should believe as they have believed, we should live as they have lived, and we should rejoice that their memory points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is our hope of eternal life.

The Most Holy Trinity

Today’s readings

Talking about the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is perhaps the most daunting tasks for a preacher, but also one of the greatest privileges.  Here is one of the great mysteries of our faith, one that cries out for explanation, one that has kept the best minds of our religion occupied throughout time, and one that we, very likely, won’t completely understand until that day when we see our God face to face.

You may have heard me tell one of my favorite stories about Saint Augustine with regard to the Trinity.  The story goes that he was walking along the beach one day, trying to figure out the nature of the Holy Trinity.  As he walked along, he came across a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand right next to the shore.  With his little hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?”  The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.”  So St. Augustine asked him, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?”  And the child asked him in return, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?”  With that the child disappeared.

We know, of course, the essential teaching: that we acknowledge and worship just one God, who embodies three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  What that means for us as believers, though, is something that truly takes a lifetime, and then some, to figure out.

Just like any of the mysteries of our faith, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is not one that can be appreciated in a vacuum, outside of relationship with the God we worship and adore.  And that’s just as well, I think, because, as Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, the Trinity can perhaps best be described as a relationship.  The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son.  And this makes sense to us on some levels, because we all have been taught, and we all accept, that God is love.  And not just the kind of paltry love that our pop culture and society calls love, but love in the deepest of all senses, the kind of love that is self-giving and that intimately shares in the life of the other.  God is love, but God is better than the best love our feeble human minds can picture.  The love that is God is a love so pure that it would wholly consume us if we gave ourselves to it completely.  Just as difficult as it is for our minds to describe the Holy Trinity, so that love that is God is impossible for our minds to grasp.

But it is a love that can be experienced and lived.  We have seen, in the recent observance of Lent and celebration of the fifty days of Easter, that our God won’t stop at anything to be love for us.  Our sins were obstacles, horribly offensive to God, cutting us out of that intimate relationship and destining us for eternal destruction.  But God wasn’t having any of that.  No, instead he gave his Son, his only begotten One, to be our Savior, to pay the price for our sins, to die our death and to rise to new life so that we could have that too.  That is the love of God so deeply expressed in our religious experience.  And it’s a love we’re called to share, as we lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, renouncing selfishness and allowing ourselves to get caught up in the lives of others.  I’ve experienced that over the last two and a half years that I’ve been here at Notre Dame, and I rejoice everyday at being part of this community.  It’s a feeling that I have for my family, of course, and I pray that you all experience it in your relationships as well.  Love is who God is and love is what we are called to become.

God as a relationship is a convenient concept for us, because our needs change during our lives, depending where we are on the journey.  Sometimes we need a parent.  And so relating to God as Father reminds us of the nurturing of our faith, being protected from evil, being encouraged to grow, and being corrected when we stray.  If you’ve had difficulty with a parent in your life, particularly a father, then relating to God as Father can also be difficult.  But still, I think there is a part of all of us, no matter what our earthly parents have been like, that longs to have a loving parental relationship.  God as Father can be that kind of parent in our lives.

And sometimes we need the Son.  Relating to God the Son – Jesus our brother – reminds us that God knows our needs, he knows our temptations, he’s experienced our sorrows and celebrated our joys.  God in Christ has walked our walk and died our death and redeemed all of our failures out of love for us.  God the Son reminds us that God, having created us in his own image and likeness, loves what he created enough to become one of us.  Our bodies are not profane place-holders for our souls, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that very body was good enough to become the dwelling place of God when he came to earth.  Maybe you’ve never had a brother or sister or never were close to yours, but in Christ you have the brother above all others who is present to you in all your joys and sorrows.

Sometimes, too, we need a Holy Spirit.  Because we often have to be reminded that there is something beyond ourselves.  That this is not as good as it gets.  As wonderful as our world and our bodies can be, we also know they are very flawed.  The Holy Spirit reminds us that there is a part of us that always longs for God, no matter how far we have strayed.  The Spirit reminds us that our sins are not who we are and that repentance and forgiveness are possible.  It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to do the really good things we wouldn’t be capable of all by ourselves, the really good things that are who we really are before God.

It might seem like this mystery of the Trinity is a purely academic discussion. Does the Trinity affect our daily lives or make a difference in our here and now?  Is all this discussion just talk, or does it really make any difference?  Obviously, I don’t think it’s just talk.  Instead, the Most Holy Trinity must be shared with people in every time and place.  God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit wants to relate to all of us, be present to all of us, and call all of us to discipleship through common baptism, and it’s up to us to point the way to that Trinity of love that longs to be in loving relationship with all people.

However we need to relate to God right now, the good news is that he is there for us, giving us that relationship.  God is Triune because he wants to encompass our lives from beginning to end, from conception to life eternal.  Getting caught up in the relationship that is God is the project of our lives, and enables us to cry out with the Psalmist today, “O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!”

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s reading from the book of Sirach lays down the basis of all biblical wisdom literature.  The basic premise is that we have been created good by God, who gave humanity everything necessary for survival, created and shared the wisdom to know and love God, and opened up the nations for their inheritance.  Humanity was given every possible advantage and blessing.  And so it is wisdom to cooperate with all of this grace, and to remain connected to God.  This God notices everything, “their ways are ever known to him.”

When you think about it, this is an incredible honor for us profane creatures.  We have been created in the wisdom of God, whose foolishness, we are told, exceeds our human wisdom.  So even on our worst days, we are still part of God’s wonderful creation, and we are always called to relationship with God who gives us everything we need.

Everything we need includes salvation, paid for at the price of the life of his only begotten Son, on whose body, blood, soul and divinity we are fed.  The strength of this heavenly food draws us more deeply into Christ who keeps us close to him.  The Psalmist sings of this wisdom: “The Lord’s kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.”  How blest are we who fear and love our God who made us to participate in his divine wisdom!

School Graduation

Today’s readings: Acts 4:32-35 / 1 John 3:18-24 / John 15:1-8

As we gather tonight for your graduation, I can imagine that you are feeling all sorts of things.  You’re probably excited, knowing what you’ve accomplished and looking forward to what lies ahead.  You may be relieved, having come through good times and bad, perhaps having learned things you never thought you would grasp.  Perhaps you’re a little nervous or fearful, thinking about high school and entering into the unknown after all these years.  And you may be a little sad, since you’re gathered here as a class for the last time.  All of those feelings are normal and part of the experience tonight.  Moving forward is always exciting and scary and sad all rolled up into one.  That’s life!

Your parents and teachers and all of us who have been part of your lives have a lot of mixed emotions on this occasion as well.  It’s hard to see our children move to the next phase of life sometimes, but it’s also exhilarating seeing their accomplishments and celebrating the young men and women they have become.  For me, it’s hard to say goodbye to all of you, because I’ve known you all for the last two and a half years; I’ve seen you grow, and so many of you have been great altar servers.  You’ve stirred my heart and given me renewed faith in young people and hope for a world in the future being guided by people of faith.  But however we all feel about you moving on, move on you must.  That is what life is all about: growing and learning and becoming and going forward.  We all want that for you, and hopefully that is what you want for yourselves.

So on this graduation day, I want to take a moment to talk to you about where you should go next.  Having come through as many as ten years at our Catholic School, you have open to you a wide range of paths and opportunities.  Many of them are good ones, some will be incredibly great.  You will have to make some hard decisions in the days and years ahead as you carve out your niche in life and continue to become the people God created you to be.  Now I’d never presume to tell you each what to do and to become and what path to follow.  But I do want to leave you tonight with some principles for making these hard decisions.  And nothing I will tell you is my own invention; these principles of discernment have long been part of the teaching of the Church and the living of our faith.

The first principle is to pray a lot.  God has a plan for each of us in our lives.  Maybe we are meant to become priests, or sisters or brothers in a religious order, or parents.  Perhaps we are to become teachers or doctors or lawyers or public safety first responders.  God wants us to use the gifts he has given us to glorify him.  But we have to figure out exactly how to do that.  And the only way we can do that is to pray.  We have to ask God, every day, to reveal the part of the plan that he wants us to see.  We have to trust that God will give us what we need to do what he wants us to do.  We have to know God well enough to recognize the answer to our prayers and the call that he is giving us.  That’s prayer.  Some days, we will have a crystal clear answer, but the truth is, most days, we will have more questions than answers.  But being people of constant prayer will serve us well over the long haul and teach us what we need to know to keep growing.

The second principle is to learn everything we can.  Follow your passions and absorb everything that interesting people are showing you.  Never stop learning about the world, and never stop learning about your faith.  Whether you go to Catholic high school or public, whether you attend a Catholic university or not, you still have so much to learn about your faith.  If Father Steve and I stopped growing in our faith, our parish would die.  If Pope Francis stopped growing in his faith, the Church would be irrelevant.  If you want to become the best you that you can be, then you have to continue to see who Christ is.  You have to continue to understand what living the Gospel means.  Because it is faith that truly makes sense of everything we learn about the world.  If we truly want to know Truth, then we have to constantly evaluate everything we learn in terms of what we know about God and who he is and what he gives us and what he wants for us and the world.  Learn everything you can and grow in your faith.

The third principle is to love before we do anything else.  Whatever we think we have to do in any situation, it’s important that we first love the other people involved.  To truly become the people we are meant to be, we have to love others in the same way that God has loved us.  Pope Francis said recently, “To live according to the Gospel is to fight against selfishness.  The Gospel is forgiveness and peace; it is love that comes from God.”  The world wants us to live for ourselves, to take care of ourselves first, to live according to what we think.  But that only leaves us unhappy and alone and unfulfilled.  If we want to become great people, we have to love unconditionally and sacrificially, just like Jesus loved us when he took our place up there on the Cross.  Because it’s only in laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters – as he did – that we can rise to new and glorious life.

And finally, the most important discernment principle is what Jesus tells us in the Gospel tonight: that we have to remain in him if we want to be truly successful.  Listen to what he says again: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  Nothing.  Nothing really good will happen apart from our life in Christ.  And so it’s important that you continue to do what you’ve learned here at Notre Dame: pray every day, go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation and even during the week when you can, receive the Holy Eucharist and go to Confession often.  Stay connected to Christ, remain in Christ, and you will truly become the person God created you to be.

Take a look at the Cross.  That’s what success looks like for us believers in Christ.  It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams.  It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return.  That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too.  We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.

For all these years, we have tried to give you the tools to grow into the people you were meant to become.  If you remember these things and use them and grow in them, you will be successful, happy and blessed.  The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, we have done our best to give you what you need to get there, because getting to heaven is the ultimate badge of success; it’s the greatest measure of our having become who we were meant to be.  I hope that you will be reasonably happy in this life, but I really want you to be eternally happy with Christ in heaven one day.  I look forward to seeing the great people you will surely become as you continue to be involved here at Notre Dame in the years to come.  May God bless you in every moment of your lives.  And don’t ever forget where your spiritual home is: right here at Notre Dame.

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This morning’s readings give us a sense, I think, of the urgency of repentance and the real need for discipleship.  The first reading from the book of Sirach reminds us that God’s patience should not be mistaken for apathy.  Just because God does not strike us down on the spot for a transgression does not mean that it our transgressions are not offensive to God.  In fact, they are incredibly offensive, which is why the price of our sins was so great.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus encourages us disciples to rid ourselves of everything that serves as an obstacle to living our call.  If even some member of our body causes us to sin, we should part with it!  That’s an incomprehensible directive, and it serves to illustrate the focus that we disciples have to have.

The Psalmist sings “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.”  Amen to that.  As we turn up the fire in our spiritual lives in these post-Pentecost days, it would be well for us to remember that our repentance and discipleship are not optional, that they cannot wait for a more opportune time, that we can’t let anything get in the way of our relationship with God.  Blessed are we who hope in the Lord!

Monday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So the disciples are waiting for Jesus to come down the mountain after the Transfiguration.  They have attempted to cure a man’s son from the hold of a demon, but they were apparently unable to do so.  This seems to have led to an argument between them and the scribes.  You can almost feel Jesus’ exasperation.  Both the disciples and the scribes should have been able to do something for the boy, but they couldn’t.  Why?  Because instead of praying, they argued about it.  “This kind can only come out through prayer,” Jesus tells the disciples when they ask why they were ineffective.

Sometimes, when we are trying to overcome some problem, the last thing we think to do is pray, when it should absolutely be the first.  The disciples were guilty of it, the scribes were, and we are too sometimes, if we’re honest.  And all of us should know better.  I know that I myself can think of a number of problems I’ve tried to solve all by myself, when it would have been much easier to have God’s help.  We can’t just cut God out of the picture and rely on our own strength; that never works.  We have to turn to the tools we have been given: faith and prayer.  And we can start by saying with the boy’s father: “I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”