Memorial Day

Today’s readings: James 3:13-18; Psalm 72; Matthew 5:38-48

I was talking to one of our parishioners today who is on a local board that, among other things, hires police officers for their municipality. He was telling me how hard it is to find qualified people willing to serve these days. I wasn’t surprised to hear it. I’ve read a lot over the last several years about how people are not going into service-related professions any more. The priesthood is, of course, no stranger to that phenomenon.

So maybe it’s a little ironic that we spend today honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country. It’s a little like we’re saying “thanks for doing that, but please don’t ask me to serve.” And our Lord would admonish us for that kind of societal attitude; he didn’t give us the Gospel so that we could do nothing about it.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the famous “but I say to you” sayings of Jesus. He takes very familiar religious practices of his day, and then cranks them up a notch. Believers are not supposed to be on autopilot; we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves for the salvation of others. If we’re asked to give, we have to do it expecting nothing in return. When we love, we are called to do it when it is completely inconvenient, and toward those who we might not prefer to love.

Service is not optional for the Christian disciple. Laying down our lives is simply doing what our Lord has shown us how to do. If he could die on the cross for us, we can die to ourselves and give our lives in service to others, so they might know God’s love and mercy.

We truly honor today those who have given their lives for our country. Without their sacrifice, we might not have the freedoms we enjoy today. If we would truly honor their service and their selflessness, then we have to set aside our selfish ambitions as Saint James encourages us in our first reading. To truly honor our fallen heroes, we have to make use of the freedom that they fought for in a way that frees others as well.

Most of all, we have to work to change the attitude of our society. We have to earnestly set aside selfish ambition and entitlement or become a society that is not truly free. If we’re slaves to ambition, then we will accomplish little individually or as a society. We have to pray for religious vocations and also vocations of service to our country and community. We have to encourage our children and grandchildren to give of themselves in their profession. That is what will make us truly free.

And that is what would honor our fallen service men and women most of all.

The Solemnity of Pentecost

Today’s readings

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. That line from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians at the beginning of our second reading today says more about the Holy Spirit than we might catch at first.

Words contain a lot of power. We know that well, because lots of times we say the wrong things and we see how it upsets people we love. And equally we experience the power of someone saying just the right thing at the right time and we see how that expression of love changes everything. Words can convey a range of emotions from love to hate, and everything in between. Words can start an argument, but the right words can diffuse a really bad situation. We’ve seen it thousands of times.

Most of us receive the gift of speech at birth, and come into it during our childhood. We develop the gift of speech throughout our lives, perhaps learning foreign languages, or become skilled speakers. Speech is crucial to living in society.

But it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to say anything really good. The only way that we can say “Jesus is Lord,” as Saint Paul tells us, is by the Holy Spirit. The only way that we can witness to the faith, is by the Holy Spirit. That was true of the first Apostles. Remember what happened to them right after the events of Good Friday. They scattered. When they did speak, they put their foot in their mouths. Peter used his gift of speech to deny that he even knew the Lord, let alone witness to the Lord’s power to save. At that time, the Apostles couldn’t even wrap words around what was going on in their own minds, so they were never going to be able to spread the Gospel.

Until Pentecost. Receiving the gift of the promised Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus promised to send them, they are able not only to preach the Gospel, but to preach it in a way that people who spoke different languages were all able to understand it. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit brings everything together for them, and now, only now, are they able to say that Jesus is Lord!

The absence of the Holy Spirit is unparalleled sadness. We can’t say – or do – anything really good without the advocacy of the Holy Spirit to inspire – literally breath into us – the goodness for which we were created. The sequence today proclaimed it well:

Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

So when we receive the Holy Spirit, we are inspired to say and do good things too. The Holy Spirit will inspire us to speak many kinds of words in many situations. We can depend on the Spirit to give us the words when we don’t have them. Saint Paul teaches that the Spirit even prays in us when we can’t pray, expressing our needs in groanings when we can’t find the words to say. So the Holy Spirit will inspire us to speak…

  • Words of comfort to those who are going through difficult times. Maybe just by being with them and saying nothing at all.
  • Words of challenge when we are in a situation that is veering off course, and others are urging us to go the wrong way.
  • Words of correction when a child is acting out or not living up to their full potential.
  • Words of reconciliation when we seek to heal a broken relationship.
  • Words of vision when we are part of a group that is seeking to do something new.
  • Words of healing when we comfort another person who has been wronged by others.
  • Words of change when we stand up for what is right in a society that wants to do what it wants to do.
  • Words of mercy when we let go of a grudge, or forgive someone who has hurt us.

The Holy Spirit will give us the right words for all of this at the right time, and we will be able to speak them in a way that everyone who needs to understand them can understand them. We may never be able to speak multiple languages – God knows I can’t! – but in the Holy Spirit we will be able to proclaim that Jesus is Lord in our words and actions and no one will be able to miss the significance of that – everyone will understand it.

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

One of the greatest obstacles to the Christian life is comparing ourselves to others. The Fathers of the Church all warn against that practice, and urge us to keep our eyes on our own relationship with God.  The essence of discipleship is doing what we were put here to do, we ourselves.  We discern that vocation by reflecting on our own gifts and talents, given to us by God, by prayerfully meditating on God’s will for us, and then engaging in conversation with the Church to see how best to use those talents and gifts.  That’s the process of discernment, which is always aided by the working of the Holy Spirit, and a worthy exercise on this eve of Pentecost.

What causes us to get off track, though, is looking at other people and what they are doing, or the gifts they have, or the opportunities they have received.  We might be envious of their gifts or the opportunities they have to use them.  We may see what they are doing and think we can do it better.  We might be frustrated that they don’t do what we would do if we were in their place.  And all of that is nonsense.  It’s pride, and it’s destructive.  It will ruin the Christian life and leave us bitter people.

That’s the correction Jesus made to Peter.  Poor Peter was getting it all wrong once again.  He thought Jesus was revealing secrets to John that he wanted to know also.  But whatever it was that Jesus said to John as they reclined at table that night was none of Peter’s business, nor was it ours.  Peter had a specific job to do, just as John did, and so do we.  If we are serious about our discipleship, then we would do well to take our eyes off what others are doing or saying or experiencing, and instead focus on the wonderful gifts and opportunities we have right in front of us.  As for what other people are up to, as Jesus said, “what concern is that of yours?”

And so we pray this morning for the grace of discernment, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of being able to mind our own business, spiritually speaking.

School Graduation

Readings: Proverbs 3:13-35; Psalm 145; Philippians 2:1-5; Luke 6:27-38

Tonight as we come together to celebrate the Eucharist as a class for the last time, I would imagine you are experiencing a great many emotions. You may be feeling happy, even relieved, as you come to this milestone. Many of you have been at Notre Dame School for as many as ten years, and so this accomplishment has been a long time coming. You might also be feeling sad that you’re leaving behind some friends as they go to other high schools, or even uneasy because you’ll be heading into unknown territory. I’m sure you’re also feeling proud of the success you’ve had here at Notre Dame, particularly proud of the success that has led you to graduation this evening.

Success is the thing that everyone wants for you. Your parents want you to be successful, your teachers will be proud when you are successful. Even God wants you to be successful. But all those people may have different ideas of what success looks like. Some might see success as getting into a prestigious college. Others measure it by how much money you’ll eventually make. Maybe you will want to be the famous athlete, or the President of the United States. You might find success in inventing some new technology, or finding a cure for a disease. Success looks like a lot of different things.

Many people have written on what success is. Dale Carnegie wrote, “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.” Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.” I could go on and on quoting all sorts of famous people who have given their opinion on how to be successful, but I thought I might stop there and instead focus on what success looks like for disciples of the Lord.

Take a look at the Cross. Because 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. He laid down his life for us, and we are called to do the same for others. 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.

And so for the believer, success might look like becoming a missionary to bring God’s love to people in faraway lands. Or it might look like finding the cure for a disease without harming the unborn. Believers in Christ could become politicians too; helping to make the world a better place by standing up for what is right. Successful believers could become priests or religious sisters or brothers. They might even be parents who raise their children to respect others and have a strong relationship with God. They could be owners of businesses that practice their trade with integrity and a concern for those in need.

One thing is certain: successful believers will always have to sacrifice. Selfishness does not have a place in the life of a disciple and it will never even lead to real happiness anyway. A successful disciple might have to pass on a business deal because it looks shady, and trust God to give them something way better. Or she might give up a couple of years of her career in order to devote some time to working with the poor. A successful parent might have to put some of his or her plans on hold in order to raise a family. But successful disciples aren’t doormats either; they merely give of themselves and trust in God to give them real happiness.

And God does want you to be happy. In fact if you’re ever finding yourself unhappy in life – and most of us will be there at some point or another – stop and see if maybe you’re not doing what God wants you to do. Because, in my life, I will absolutely witness that the happiest times have been the times when I’ve stopped doing my own thing and listened to God. God is love, God is mercy, God is truth and beauty and grace, and he never wants anything for his children but the very best – just like any good parent.

Our Gospel tonight makes this all very clear. Jesus tells his disciples, which you well know includes every one of us here, to do everything I just said: love your enemies, do good to everyone, give when you don’t have to, love the people that are hard to love, give expecting nothing back. All of this stuff is sacrifice beyond belief. But then he makes a promise: “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing…” When we give of ourselves and let go of the things that hold us back, then our hands are empty and ready to receive the enormous good gifts that God has in store for us. That, my friends, is real success.

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, because I really don’t want this to be goodbye.

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word represents a kind of wrap-up to the lives of St. Paul and Jesus, respectively. They both have completed the mission for which they had been sent, and both are now giving the mission back to God who would continue it as He alone saw fit. Paul’s mission had been one of conversion, beginning with his own, and then reaching out to the Gentiles he met traveling far and wide. Now he did not know what would happen to him, only that the Holy Spirit kept telling him it was to be an end filled with hardship, from which Paul refused to shrink.

Jesus, one with the Father from the beginning, had come from the Father and was now going back to the Father. He brought God’s love to bear on the aberrations of sin and death and had drawn disciples into the mission to continue the work. It could not continue unless he returned to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit upon them. Doing that has brought the Gospel into every nation and into the lives of millions. He too faced an end filled with hardship, from which he refused to shrink.

We disciples will come to our own ends as well. Will we too be able to give the mission back to the Father, confident that we’ve done it as best we could, and confident that it would be continued as God saw fit? Have our days sometimes been filled with hardship, and if so, have we also refused to shrink from it? We disciples are part of the mission that God has in the world. We take it for a time and will eventually have to hand it back over. Please God, may we all be able to do so with confidence that God’s will has been done in us!

The Ascension of Our Lord

Today’s readings

When I was on my pastoral internship in seminary, my supervisor and I talked about the fact that our Liturgy is very wordy. Think about it: all of the prayers and readings and songs – it’s a lot of words to take in in an hour or less, but we do it all the time. So once in a while, I like to reflect on what are the important words in the Mass. We have the words of institution of the Eucharist – those are extremely important. The proclamation of the Scriptures, especially the Gospel, well we can’t discount those either. And let’s not forget the Creed, the words of which were the cause of many arguments and literally fights over the centuries – those words are very carefully chosen.

But there is one word that I think is the most important, and I bet it’s going to surprise you. Because that word is “GO.” Go: we have to wait all the way to the end of Mass to hear the deacon or priest say it. “Go in peace.” Because it’s way at the end of Mass, I wonder if some people ever get to hear it. But whether we hear it or not, it’s kind of a throw-away, or it seems so. But it’s not. It’s not just a word of dismissal kind of like “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.” It’s not just a word to get us out of the church and on to the next thing in life.

I think it’s a word of mission. We’re singing a hymn with “Go” in the title today, and I think it catches the spirit of what the word “Go” means in our Liturgy. And we hear that spirit in our Gospel today. Jesus tells the disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” That was what the disciples were to do. They weren’t supposed to just stand there staring up into the sky: they were supposed to GO and do the work of salvation until Jesus returned in glory.

Obviously, the command that was given to those first disciples is one that we are supposed to get as well. We are supposed to GO and preach the gospel in what we say and what we do. We are supposed to GO and baptize people by leading them to the faith in our witness. We are supposed to GO in peace, glorifying the Lord by our lives. We are supposed to GO and announce the gospel of the Lord. We do that by volunteering at the parish, looking in on a sick or elderly neighbor, living lives of integrity in the workplace. We do that by striving to be Christ-like to every person we meet.

So I hope that you’ll hear that word “GO” at the end of Mass differently now than perhaps you have before. I hope that you’ll hear it as a calling, as a challenge, and as a sacred duty. I hope you’ll take up the call to GO and make the world into the Kingdom of God among us.

Saint Matthias, Apostle

We don’t really know much about St. Matthias.  We have no idea the qualifications  that led to his being nominated as one of two possibilities to take Judas’s position among the Twelve Apostles.  But clearly, they would have nominated a holy and faithful man, and then they left the deciding up to the Holy Spirit.  Praying, they cast lots, and the lots selected Matthias, who then became one of the Twelve.  He is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, so we don’t know much about his ministry.

What is striking about the selection of St. Matthias though is that this is the first of the disciples or Apostles that was not selected directly by Jesus.  Jesus selected all of the original Twelve, but Matthias is the first to be selected by the fledgling Church on the authority passed on by Jesus himself.  They act not on their own, but on the authority of Jesus, being led by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God the Father.
A similar process has been repeated through the ages, over and over again, to select men to be popes, bishops, priests and deacons, and men and women for religious communities.  The process begins with prayer and ends with thanksgiving and glory to God.  People propose the candidates as being noted for holiness and ability, but it is God who makes the final choice.
Today we praise God for the Twelve Apostles, of which Matthias was one.  We praise God for the authority of the Apostles which has echoed through the ages giving guidance to the Church.  We praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit who is active in all our decision making.