Monday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time 

Today’s readings 

One of the most important aspects of the spiritual life is the knowledge that we can’t hold on to everything all at once. If we’re holding on to the stuff of this world, we have no way of taking hold of the blessings God wants to give us.

The rich young man in today’s Gospel has to answer the question that really confronts all of us, especially considering the affluent area in which we live. That question, of course, is what is most important in life? Do we continue to strive to have the most stuff, the best stuff, the cutting-edge stuff? Or do we give that up and go all in for the kingdom of God? Because we can’t have both; that doesn’t work. If our hands and hearts are filled with the stuff that we have, then we have no room for God and his love, and everything else he wants to give us.

We don’t know how the rich young man answered the question. He walked away sad, but we don’t know if he decided to live with the sadness, if the sadness gave way to despair, or if the sadness moved him to make radical changes in his life. But we do know that the ball is in our court. Do we experience that sadness? And if so, how will we deal with it? Please God let us let go of what we have been grasping so that we can grab hold of God’s hand offered to us in love. What is it that we will be letting go of?

The Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings
For the Rite of  Acceptance Into the Order of Catechumens

Worry will absolutely kill us, if we let it.  As a pastor and confessor, I hear worry from people all the time.  Worry about job issues or money in general, worry about illnesses or the grieving of loved ones, worry about children and other family members, worry about relationships gone wrong.  Then you could also worry about crime and war and terrorism and the economy and just about our country or world in general.  There’s plenty to worry about, and most of us worry about something, sometime, maybe even all the time, in our lives.

But Jesus tells us today to cut that out.  Worrying does not solve our problems.  And what we worry about is so often not the most important thing in the vast scheme of things.  What I love in this passage is that Jesus provides us with the antidote to all that worry: We don’t need to waste time on worry because God’s providence is infinitely greater than our worry.  We are worth far more than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.  God takes care of them, and he will take care of us.  Maybe not in the exact way we would pick, but always with love and his strong, abiding presence.  Even if a mother were to forget her child, as Isaiah reassures us today, God will never forget us.

So now that we have the worry out of the way, what do we do?  I think sometimes that’s why so many of us hang on to worry – because that’s the only thing we know.  But Jesus says that we should put an end to the worrying so that we’ll have time for the one thing that really matters: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”  Because when we possess the kingdom of God, brothers and sisters, we possess everything we could ever possibly need.  More than the birds of the air have, more than the lilies of the field possess; the kingdom of God is the pearl of great price.

Today we have the opportunity to focus on that.  Jordan and Clinton have come here seeking the kingdom.  In the midst of those things that are going on in their lives, they have realized that there was something they were lacking and that could only be filled up by the presence of God.  In our gathering today, we pledge to support them in prayer and to walk with them on the journey.  Even better, their journeys give us pause to look at our own journeys of faith and maybe give us the encouragement to take a step closer to the cross if we have be lax or have laid it down.

So now they have been admitted to the Order of Catechumens, and I’d like to say a word or two about what that means.  Catechumens are those who are preparing for baptism and are not infants.  Non-baptized people ordinarily do not have rights within the Church, but catechumens, even though they are not baptized, do.  Catechumens have the right to the Sacraments, particularly and firstly baptism, of course.  They also have the right, even before baptism, to be married in the Church if they are preparing for that.  And finally, they have the right, God forbid, to a Church funeral and Christian burial.

They won’t be catechumens long, however.  Because next week, they will go to the Cathedral in Joliet to be chosen for the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation by Bishop Conlon.  Then we will call them “the Elect.”  They have all the same rights, and election signals that they have entered into the final, more intensive, preparation for the Sacraments, which is called the period of “Purification and Enlightenment,” and focuses on their spiritual preparation for the Sacraments.

All of these leads to the Easter Vigil, in which they will enter the waters of Baptism for the cleansing of their sins and their joining to the Body of Christ and His Church.  I hope that you will continue to keep them in their prayers, along with Jett Davis and Sylvia Spangenberg, who are also catechumens at this time.  May God bring them closer to himself as they approach the Sacraments, and may God bring us all together one day to eternal life.

Saint Polycarp, bishop and martyr

Today’s readings 

Saint Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of the apostles. He is known to have accompanied Saint Ignatius of Antioch to Rome to confer with Pope Anicetus concerning the celebration of Easter, which was quite a controversy in that time. He was known to be a man of faith and wisdom, and who lived by the injunction found in our first reading today: “Rely not on your own strength…”

Because he lived that way, he was able, at the age of 86, to accept martyrdom with the peace of a life lived with integrity and in the faith of Jesus Christ. Having been placed in the pyre for his execution, he prayed: “I bless You because You have granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of Your Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Your presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You did prepare and reveal it beforehand, and have accomplished it, You that art the faithful and true God. For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through Whom, with Him and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and ever and for the ages to come. Amen.”

It is said that the flames did not even scorch him, that instead they formed a dome around him, and from it there was a pleasing aroma, like fine incense. He was later executed by being thrust through with a lance, with the praise of God on his lips. He could do that because he trusted in God’s promises, those promises of which the Psalmist sang today: “For the LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.”

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There’s been a lot of arguing in the Gospels these last couple of days.  Yesterday, the disciples were arguing with the scribes when both groups found they were incapable of casting a demon out of a person who was ill.  Today, we have the disciples arguing among themselves because they find they don’t understand Jesus’ message.

All of this arguing betrays a real lack of growth in faith among those disciples.  They probably felt like, since they were in Jesus’ inner-circle, they should have the answers.  And perhaps they should, but to their defense, they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit yet.  In a real sense, they were still in formation, and they shouldn’t have been so afraid to ask Jesus for clarification.

Jesus’ lesson to them then comes from him putting a little child in their midst.  Receive a child like this in my name, he tells them, and you receive me.  What’s the point of that?  Well, receiving a child in Jesus’ name is an act of service, because a child can do nothing but receive at that point in their life.  So serving others in Jesus’ name is what brings us to the Father.

I think the take-away for us is that trying to be smarter than everyone else isn’t what shows that we are faithful people.  Instead of arguing our point, we need to ask God to help us get the point.  And we have to be ready to act on our faith, instead of arguing about it.

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.

I often wonder, with more than a little fear, how many demons I could have cast out – in myself and in others – if I had a little more faith, if I prayed a little more than I do.  There are, of course, all sorts of demons: demons of illness, demons of cyclical sin, demons of impure attachments, demons of homelessness, poverty, and marginalization, and so many more.  Think of all the demons we could cast out if we just had more faith, if we prayed more fervently.

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 so much more effective to first turn them over to our Lord.  We can’t just cut God out of the picture and rely on our own strength; that never works – our own strength is so fiercely limited.  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.”

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews sums up for us this notion of faith, which can be so difficult to wrap our minds around.  What I love about the definition of faith that comes to us in this passage is that it seems to be telling us what we at some level already know: faith is a heritage.  The passage speaks of the faith of Abel, Enoch, and Noah, all stories we can readily read in our Old Testament, stories of men who had to really take a leap of faith because what they hoped for was unseen.  Only God could fulfill all their hopes and longings.

The same, of course, is true for us.  We are living in difficult times.  There is uncertainty in the world, with wars being fought almost everywhere we can think of, and especially our own men and women fighting in the middle east, and in countries all over the world.  Our state and nation have political issues to the point that it’s hard to know which politicians are honest and which are not, and we almost hate to turn on the television and what’s happening today.  We have our own personal family uncertainties, maybe loved ones are sick, or are suffering from depression.  Maybe relationships are strained.

For all of us who live in these uncertain times, Jesus offers us hope.  We get a glimpse today at what we hope for and cannot now see: Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John.  This is a foretaste of the glory of the Resurrection, a glory that Jesus knew when he rose from the dead, and a glory that we yet hope for.  It’s not pie in the sky: we know that our promise in Christ is greater than any of the difficulties our time can bring us.  We know that faith is our heritage, and that that faith has led all of our forebears through times as difficult or more difficult than this.  Today, we have the promise of things hoped for and evidence of things unseen: Christ is our hope, yesterday, today and for ever.

Saints Cyril and Methodius

You might have been expecting to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day today, but we don’t have Saint Valentine’s day on our current liturgical calendar.  Instead today we have the feast of two brothers: Saints Cyril and Methodius.  They lived in the ninth century in an area of Greece inhabited by many Slavs, and eventually they became missionaries to the Slavic people.

Cyril was known as Constantine until he became a monk very late in life.  Cyril and his followers invented an alphabet, known as the Cyrillic alphabet, which is used in some form in modern Russian language.  Together with his followers, he translated the Gospels, the psalter, Paul’s letters and the liturgical books into Slavonic, and composed a Slavonic liturgy.

Cyril’s work was not universally accepted.  He faced opposition from German clergy in the area who denounced the Slavonic liturgy and their use of the vernacular language in preaching.  More than once, they went to Rome to answer charges of heresy and were exonerated every time.  While in Rome, Cyril became a monk, and fifty days later, he passed away.

His brother Methodius, however, kept the mission work going for another sixteen years.  He became the papal legate for all the Slavic peoples, was consecrated as a bishop and given an see in what is now the Czech Republic.  When much of their former territory was removed from their jurisdiction, the Bavarian bishops retaliated with a violent storm of accusation against Methodius.  As a result, Emperor Louis the German exiled Methodius for three years, at which time he was freed by Pope John VIII.  Legend has it that Methodius translated the whole Bible into Slavonic in eight months.  He died on Tuesday of Holy Week, surrounded by his disciples, in his cathedral church.

Cyril and Methodius worked long and hard, and in the face of much opposition, to make the faith known.  They made the faith accessible by inventing an alphabet and preaching in the language of the people.  We too are called to make the faith known, meeting people where they are, and explaining it in a way that makes it accessible.  The most honest way to do this is by living the Gospel so that we can be a witness for all to see – being people of integrity in our work, in our families, and in our communities.

Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We’re still in the opening chapters of human history in our first reading, and in these opening chapters we see some of the less beautiful parts of human nature. The first reading reads like an exposition of deadly sins, and these sins have continued to plague humanity ever since.

We start with envy, as Cain laments that his offering was not accepted with the same favor as was his brother, Abel’s. We move from envy to murder, with Cain committing the very first fratricide, killing his very own brother. From there, we go to apathy, as Cain rejects the opportunity to be his brother’s keeper. And then we meet false witness, as he lies about the murder that he committed. And if all of that isn’t enough, Cain then complains about his punishment as if it was something he didn’t deserve. If he’d only tried repentance, or expressed sorrow for his sins, or even accepted responsibility for what he’d done, maybe things would have turned out differently.

But, in this opening act of human history, we see God’s mercy. God does not remit the entirety of Cain’s punishment, but promises that even his death would be unacceptable. Maybe we should think about that in regard to the death penalty: if even God doesn’t condone the murder of a murderer, then who are we to do that? So God marks Cain, as we all are marked with God’s presence at our baptism. So even in this very early story of our history, we can see that baptism was always intended for our salvation.

The Psalmist this morning says that we absolutely cannot profess God’s commandments and sing his praises, without also accepting God’s discipline and following God’s word. A sacrifice of praise is a life lived with integrity, and that is the sacrifice that God wants of us in every moment.

The Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings
Today’s homily is lectio brevis because our parish mission speaker presented the first of his talks at Mass today.

Today, very briefly, I want to talk to you about our need for repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness.  Jesus makes it very clear in today’s Gospel that the spirit of the law is worth focusing on, because it is that spirit that will get us into heaven.  This, quite frankly, is a frightening Gospel reading, because in it, Jesus raises the bar.  We can’t just skate by if we’ve never murdered or had an abortion, and we’re liable if we have hated or refused to forgive.  Even if we think we’re okay because we’ve never had an extramarital affair, every occasion of lust in our hearts has made us unfaithful.  And just because we’ve lied under oath, we’ve still broken that commandment if we haven’t stood for the truth and made it our care to be known as an honest person with utmost integrity.

The grace is that we’re not lost in despair, even looking at these daunting rules.  Living the Gospel is possible because of grace.  Forgiveness is possible because of the Paschal Mystery.  All we have to do is repent, to turn back, to seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to pray for the grace to be lovers of the Gospel.

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