College Ministry Homilies

Mass of the Holy Spirit at Benedictine University

And first of all,

whatever good work you begin to do,

beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it…

That quote is from one of my favorite spiritual works, the Rule of Saint Benedict. I think it’s an appropriate sentiment with which to begin a school year. Education is, indeed, a good work, and like any good work, the way to do it well is with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. A Mass of the Holy Spirit is a long-held tradition for the beginning of a school year. Gathering at the beginning of a school year, we recognize that unlocking the mysteries of the universe and the knowledge of the world is a difficult endeavor, and that we are not expected to succeed in that all of our own merit. The Holy Spirit who gives all good gifts, including wisdom and knowledge, longs to pour those out on each of you as you come to this Holy Mass today.

Now I think most people who know the Rule would tell you that parts of it can come off sounding pretty harsh, but that’s only because Saint Benedict recognized well that human nature itself was harsh, and needed to be brought into proper submission in order for the human person to become what God created him or her to be. But that doesn’t mean that the Rule is nothing but gloom and doom; indeed, in its prologue, he makes the promise of living the Rule very clear:

And the Lord, seeking his laborer

in the multitude to whom He thus cries out,

says again,

“Who is the one who will have life,

and desires to see good days” (Ps. 33[34]:13)?

And if, hearing Him, you answer,

“I am the one,”

God says to you,

“If you will have true and everlasting life,

keep your tongue from evil

and your lips that they speak no guile.

Turn away from evil and do good;

seek after peace and pursue it” (Ps. 33[34]:14-15).

And when you have done these things,

My eyes shall be upon you

and My ears open to your prayers;

and before you call upon Me,

I will say to you,

‘Behold, here I am'” (Ps. 33[34]:16; Is. 65:24; 58:9). (Prologue)

Often, when we think of doing God’s will and living according to his plan for us, we are inhibiting our freedom and making our experience of life something less than it could be. That’s an incredible lie, to be honest, because real freedom consists of becoming what we were created for. God always intends the very best for us, and the real problem, the real limitation of our freedom, is that we often accept something so much less that what God wants for us. Accepting the paltry, passing pleasures of a fallen world is precisely what makes us less free: less free to become what we were meant to be; less free to enjoy the happiness God intends for us.

Well, then, does Saint Benedict, using the instruction found in Psalm 34, urge us to “Turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it.” That peace comes from following after the Lord and giving ourselves to his plan for our lives. God indeed has a plan for your life, and if you want to be successful here at BenU, and ever after, you’ll take the time that he gives you at this juncture of your life to find your way in accord with that plan and let it take you on a wild ride through your spiritual and intellectual life to become the son or daughter he has made you to be.

And I really don’t want this to sound like flowery, fluffy, religious-sounding advice that has no real significance. Saint Benedict would certainly not lead us down that path. Because, honestly, the other one who has a plan for your life is the devil, and if you don’t live intentionally and truly seek God’s will in your life, you’ll find it easy to accept that other plan. And the devil really wants you to fail; he really wants the worst for you, and delights in your suffering. But, filled as we believers are with the Holy Spirit, there’s no reason to think that the devil’s plan for you is inevitable: that one is never more powerful than Christ, that Christ who died that you might live.

So, toward the end of the prologue, Saint Benedict tells us what we who are beginning to engage in life must do:

Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies

to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands;

and let us ask God

that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace

for anything which our nature finds hardly possible.

And if we want to escape the pains of hell

and attain life everlasting,

then, while there is still time,

while we are still in the body

and are able to fulfill all these things

by the light of this life,

we must hasten to do now

what will profit us for eternity.

That’s what you’re here for. That’s why you have this amazing opportunity to further your education here at BenU: to hasten to do now what will profit you for eternity. So how do you do that? What is it, precisely, that you need to do in order to “fulfill all these things by the light of this life?” Well, I could tell you to study hard, form great relationships, take care of your health, and apply yourself. But you already know those things, and you’ll do them, one would hope, as best you can. What I want to tell you is to safeguard all that by working on your relationship with God and living your faith. If you’re Catholic, that means going to Mass, attending to your prayer life, and receiving the sacraments. If you’re not Catholic, live your faith as your tradition recommends; that will certainly lead you to the place you ought to be. Those are the ways you will receive strength and grace not only to make the most of your education, but also to reach out in service to your community and the community of humanity.

That will take real work. Ora et labora, as Saint Benedict commanded: work and pray. Give yourself to God who has given himself to you. It can’t be a hastily-uttered prayer ten minutes before the exam for which you decided not to study. It has to be an authentic relationship with your God for it to make any sense.

I once heard an apocryphal story of a woman who was not religious, never prayed, never worshipped. At one point in her life, she was going through some very hard times, and decided that she should pray. Not really knowing how to pray, she reached for the dusty old Bible on her shelf that someone had given her years ago but she never really opened. She decided to open it up, point to a passage, and hope it spoke to her. So that’s what she did. Opening the Bible, she pointed to a passage and read: “And Judas went out and hanged himself.” She thought that was frightening, so she decided to try again. This time she opened it up, pointed to a passage, and read: “Go, and do likewise.”

Now obviously, the woman was reading these passages out of context. Had she read the whole story around each of these quotes, she would have been clear that neither of these brief sentences spoke to her situation. But more than that, she was praying without the context of a relationship with God. Prayer can be very effective in times of crisis. But a time of crisis is not the time to learn how to pray. It is our authentic relationship with God as his daughters and sons that makes sense of our praying and teaches us how to speak to God. So don’t wait to do that. And if none of this in in your wheelhouse, if you don’t have a religious upbringing and don’t know where to start, seek out the campus ministry here. They can get you moving in the right direction.

Today, had we not chosen to do a Mass of the Holy Spirit, is the memorial of the martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist. This is a man who gave his life in service of the Truth. He proclaimed the coming of the Lord and preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In the end, he refused to condone the current marriage of Herod to his brother’s wife, so he was imprisoned, and as a gift to Herod’s evil wife, put to death by beheading. All of us are here in service to the Truth, all of us will be called upon to sacrifice and witness to the truth. Please God it won’t be quite as life and death as it was for John the Baptist and many other thousands of martyrs throughout history, but it does require true commitment from us. It’s easier to live the Truth if you’re guided by it, so that’s just one more reason to attend to your spiritual life.

Saint Benedict makes it clear the kind of commitment we have to have for the Truth and the spiritual life. Right near the end of his Rule, he tells the monks that they are to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ.” Christ who is the Truth. If you give yourself to the Truth, to God’s plan for you, you will never be lost. If you attend to your spiritual life, you’ll have ultimate success, and will certainly find the way to academic success. May we all pray for ourselves, pray for our world, and pray for each other, and, in the words of the Rule, “may He bring us all together to life everlasting!” (Ch. 72)

Homilies Saints

Saint Monica

Saint Monica is the patron saint of persistent prayer warriors and all those who pray for the conversion of family members. This was a woman in love with God and the Church, and her family, although the latter was pretty difficult for her. But her persistent prayer won them for Christ and the Church.

Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after having been baptized.

Monica’s oldest son was Augustine. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy and was living a rather immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine probably would have liked!

Augustine, followed by his mother, eventually traveled to Rome and then Milan, where he came under the influence of the bishop, Saint Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. There Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.

She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. On Easter, in the year 387, Saint Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death.

Monica was a woman who accomplished much by her persistent prayer. It might be well for us today to ask for a portion of her spirit of prayer that we might accomplish God’s glory in our own time and place.

Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In my first priestly assignment, at Saint Raphael in Naperville, there was a huge football program for elementary school kids called Saint Raphael Football.  It was not just a team, but a league, and lots of surrounding churches had teams in the league.  You couldn’t live in Naperville and not have heard of Saint Raphael Football. So once in a while, in a social setting, someone would ask me what church I was from, and I’d tell them, Saint Raphael.  And they would say to me, “Oh yes, we go there, our son is in that football league.” I always wanted to tell them, “How nice. By the way, we also celebrate the Eucharist there.”  Maybe I should have.  Today’s gospel reading makes me think I should.

We – as a society – have it all wrong.  Our priorities are all messed up.  I think we’re in real danger, now more than ever, and today’s Liturgy of the Word is a wake-up call for us to get it right.  We live in a society that has not just lost its moral compass, but has actually taken pains to bury it away and never look at it.  Everyone seems to think that something is okay if it works for them in their current circumstance, regardless of how it affects others, regardless of how it affects even them in the long-run.  That’s why you turn on the news and hear about shootings everywhere, and that’s why we have politicians vying with one another to see who can support abortion in the strongest possible sense.  As Saint Theresa of Calcutta once said, “And if we can accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”  In many alarming ways, our moral compass has been buried for so long that we hardly know what it looks like anymore.  

So this homily is probably going to come off sounding kind of harsh to some of you, but if I don’t say what I have to say, I’m not doing my job as your priest.  And I know, really I know, most of you get this.  So please indulge me; if this doesn’t apply to you, please pray for someone who needs to hear it, because you know someone who does.

When Jesus is asked whether only a few will be saved, he deflects the question.  His answer indicates that it’s not the number of those who will be saved – that’s not the issue.  The issue is that some people think they will be saved because they call themselves Christian, or religious, or spiritual, or whatever.  It’s kind of like the people I talked to who considered themselves practicing Catholics simply because their children played in a football league that was marginally affiliated with us.

Jesus says that’s not how it works.  We have to strive to enter the narrow gate.  So what does that mean?  For Jesus, entering eternity through the narrow gate means not just calling yourself religious; that would be a pretty wide gate.  It certainly wouldn’t mean saying that you’re basically a good person, since that criterion is pretty subjective, and so widely misunderstood. The narrow gate means actually practicing the faith: taking time for prayer and worship, receiving the Eucharist for strength, living the gospel, reaching out to the needy, showing love to your neighbor.  It means making one’s faith the first priority, loving God first, worshipping first, loving others first.  Because “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

And I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s hard to do that.  Saint Paul says today that we have to strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees; Jesus says that many will attempt to enter that narrow gate but won’t be strong enough to do it.  That narrow gate of love is hard to enter: it takes effort, it takes grace; it takes strength, and we can only get that grace and strength in one place, and that place is the Church.  That’s why Jesus gives us the Church: to strengthen us for eternal life.

That’s not the best news, however, because so many people these days settle for simply calling themselves religious, or being “spiritual” – whatever that means.  They’ll play football on the team, but won’t make an effort to come to Church to receive the strength they need to live this life and to enter eternal life.  It is here, in the Eucharist, freely given by our gracious Lord, that we receive the strength we need to love, the strength necessary to live our faith and be united with our God.  It is here, in the proclamation of the Word, that we find instruction to live as disciples and are more and more conformed into the image of Christ.  But it’s hard to get to Church because Billy has a soccer game, or Sally has a dance recital, or because Mom and Dad just want to sleep in after a really trying week.

But those decisions, friends, have eternal consequences.  So let me be clear: God is more important than soccer, or football, or cheer, or whatever sport you’re playing; God is more important than the dance recital, and as for sleeping in on Sunday, well, as my grandfather used to say, you can sleep when you’re dead.  And it’s not like it’s an either/or proposition: people don’t have to choose between soccer and Mass or dance and Mass or even sleeping and Mass.  Certainly not in our section of the world.  This parish has Mass nine Masses on Saturday evening and all day Sunday, in three languages, all the way from 4pm on Saturday to 6pm on Sunday.  If those don’t work, there are a bunch of parishes within a short driving distance that have other schedules.  There’s probably a church within a few driving minutes of every football or soccer field in the area; I know a lot of families choose to take that option when schedules are hectic.

The point is, we make time for what’s important to us.  And eternal life is the only thing that we have of lasting importance. So we have to build up the strength to get through that narrow gate one day.  We’ve got to worship God with consistency; we have to live the gospel with consistency.

We’re not going to be able to say one day: “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets and we played football on your team.”  We can’t just call ourselves Catholic; we have to live our faith.  We have to worship and pray; we have to reach out to the needy, stand up for truth and justice, make a real effort to love even when it’s not convenient to love, or even when the person who faces us is not as loveable as we’d like.

All of this requires commitment and effort and real work from all of us. We have to strive to enter through that narrow gate, because we don’t want to ever hear those bone-chilling words from today’s Gospel, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, you evildoers!” The good news is we don’t ever have to hear those words: all we have to do is nourish our relationship with Jesus that will give us strength to enter the narrow gate.  After all, the narrow gate is love, and the love of God in Jesus is more than enough to get us through it.

Homilies Saints

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Today’s readings

What tradition tells us about St. Bartholomew is that he is often called Nathanael in the Gospels. That explains why Nathanael is prominent in the Gospel reading for today. Nathanael – or Bartholomew, take your pick – is singled out of the crowd by Jesus. Nathanael is surprised at what Jesus says about him: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” We should recall that Jesus considered it his primary mission to seek out the lost children of Israel, so seeing Nathanael as a “true child of Israel” with “no duplicity in him” means that Jesus considered Nathanael a role model for his people. He was one whose faith reached beyond mere observance of the Law or the Torah, and extended into the realm of living the Gospel. This was what Jesus came to call people to do.

And that call wasn’t just for the people of that time. That’s where we are all led, of course. When it comes down to it, there is nothing more important than living the Gospel, and every one of us is called to do it. If our spiritual life is not our primary concern, then we have no eternity; nothing to look forward to. We can’t accept duplicity in ourselves if we want to go to heaven. But the good news is that our Lord has given us hope of eternal life, and we hear of that by the intercession and example and preaching of the Apostles and especially Saint Bartholomew today.

As the Psalmist sings today, “Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.” Praise God for such faithful witnesses as Bartholomew, who help us to single-mindedly follow the call of the Gospel.

Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As the current political season heats up in these late summer days, I find that it can be very easy to be dismayed. Every candidate, every bit of legislation, everything that comes at us is so disheartening. There is almost a complete rejection of the sanctity of life, there is very little concern for the poor and those in need, so much game playing and entitlement. And then add to that all the civil unrest in our society, the rampant crime, and constant threat of terror. This is most definitely a time of persecution. So it could well be that we are tempted to despair, to shake our heads and try to avoid hearing about it all.

But we are called to live differently as Christian disciples.  Despair is not an option for us; we have the hope of the Gospel, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the promise of eternity.  So the question that we have is, how do we live through all the sadness of the world around us, not to mention the sadness in our own lives, while we wait for all those promises to be fulfilled?  The virtue that gets us through that is called fortitude, something we don’t talk about often enough, but something that has real value for our spiritual lives.

The Church’s Catechism tells us that “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.” (CCC, 1808) Jesus puts it even more succinctly in today’s Gospel: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” He wants us to be a people on fire, a people who will not waver in our pursuit of living the Gospel, a people who will not back down in the face of obstacles or even oppression, a people who live their faith joyfully and with firm conviction that our God is trustworthy and faithful. The Christian believer is called to exercise the virtue of fortitude because nothing else is worthy of our God.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of fortitude today.  Speaking of Jesus, “the leader and perfecter of our faith,” he says:

For the sake of the joy that lay before him

he endured the cross, despising its shame,

and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.

Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,

in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. 

In your struggle against sin

you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.

Resisting the opposition in our society and in our lives to the point of shedding blood is the kind of fortitude that we as disciples need to live in our lives.  It’s a tall order!

Nobody says fortitude is easy. Jesus himself was very realistic about this, and warns us today that fortitude in living the Christian life can be a very divisive way of life. The disciple can and will run into all sorts of oppression, and can even lead to broken relationships with those who are close to us. If that Gospel calls upon us to take an unpopular position, and speak up on behalf of the poor, the alien, the prisoner, or a pro-life issue, we may find that even some of our friends or family cannot go there with us. Being a Christian can make us feel like foreigners in our own land. And we are foreigners, because for those of us who are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom, Jesus’ vision and values come first. All because Jesus has come to set a blazing fire on the earth and that fire, to some extent, already burns in us.

Today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that we aren’t running the race alone. We have at our disposal the support and encouragement of a “great cloud of witnesses” which the Church calls the Communion of Saints. They may be the official saints of the Church, or other saintly people we have known or do know who intercede for us in our struggle of faith.  These are men and women who have suffered much and overcome much in pursuit of the kingdom of God. This great cloud of witnesses cheers us on, is an example for us, and is part of God’s way of helping us to live lives marked by fortitude.  If we didn’t have the example of that great cloud of witnesses, the call to fortitude would surely be insurmountable.

Very often on the journey of discipleship, we may find that the oppression and division that the Gospel causes casts us down.  Think about the loved ones you have called to live the faith, come to Mass, make good decisions, and have rejected that call.  Like poor Jeremiah in today’s first reading, maybe we find that we have been thrown into a cistern of despair or hopelessness. All that sadness I mentioned in the beginning of my homily can be like that. Fortitude is the virtue that helps us in the midst of all that, to wait with faithfulness on someone like Ebed-melech the Cushite to come to our rescue and draw us up out of the pit.

The truth is, today’s Liturgy of the Word can come across as very negative. Who wants to hear about being cast into a cistern? Are we eager to find that we are going to be in angry division with people close to us? The temptation to let all of this go in one ear and out the other, remaining instead in the comfort of our luke-warmness is almost overwhelming. But that’s just not good enough. We can’t live that way and still call ourselves disciples. It is not enough to love God in our heads. We need to be on fire, actively living the graces of baptism that we have received – to live with fortitude, integrity, conviction, fervor, and burning zeal. We have to be willing to live in the shadow of the cross, where we resolve all our divisions and receive the baptism that promotes Gospel peace.

Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

God never forgets how much he loves us.  If this weren’t so, none of us would be in existence.  God loves us into life and loves us through our life and one day, if we let him, will love us into eternal life.  The people of Israel had to know this better than anyone.  In today’s first reading, Joshua gathers the people for a reminder.  God had called and given them the promise through Abraham.  Throughout the years, he dispelled all their enemies and especially the Egyptians who subjected them to abject slavery.  He also gave them a future and a city to dwell in: land they had not tilled and cities they had not built.  All of this because he loved them.

The question the Pharisees asked Jesus in the Gospel today had nothing to do with love, which is odd because it was a question about marriage.  Or, actually, the converse of marriage: divorce.  They were asking not because they wanted to know about how to love better in their relationships, but rather because they were trying to trick Jesus into some Moses-bashing.  But Jesus has none of that, reminding them of the indissolubility of love.

Many things can be forgotten.  God forgets things all the time – namely, our sins when we confess them.  But love can never be forgotten.  God never forgets how much he loves us because God is love itself, and we dare not forget how much we love him, and because we love him, how much we love one another.  That love may require all kinds of forgetting: forgetting past hurts, forgetting resentments, forgetting what we think we deserve.  

May we all forget what we have to so that love is the only thing we can remember, and may we all go together, one day, to eternal life.

Blessed Virgin Mary Homilies

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

In every age of the world, people have needed hope.  Because in every age of the world, there has been unbelievable hardship.  There has always been war, and disease, and poverty, and oppression, and alienation, and all the rest.  There has always been sin, and broken relationships, and impure desires and that feeling of emptiness that hardens our hearts.  Evil has run rampant from the fall of humanity and ever onward. And the weight of all of that could be crushing – if we didn’t have hope.

And I don’t need to be abstract about this.  All we have to do is turn on the news or pick up a newspaper and see mass shootings all over our nation, violence in our cities, families broken apart, the flaunting of pro-abortion rhetoric among political candidates, and you could probably name still more.  In our own lives we have the illness and death of loved ones, family members alienating one another, loss of employment, and that’s just to name a few.  There’s no way we could live with all that – if we didn’t have hope.

And I don’t mean hope in the naïve sense.  I’m not going to tell you, “don’t worry – everything will work out all right” because, honestly, some things just don’t.  The hope that I think we can find in today’s Liturgy is the theological virtue that reminds us that this life is not all there is; this is not as good as it gets. Our readings remind us that there has been and still is incredible evil in this world, but evil doesn’t get the final say – not for Jesus, not for Mary, and not for us.  One look at the way things work in our world and in our lives could convince us that this has all been an unbelievable failure – if we didn’t have hope.

The tradition of the Assumption of Mary dates back to the very earliest days of the Church, all the way back to the days of the apostles. It was known that Mary had “fallen asleep” and that there is a “Tomb of Mary” close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 tells us that, after Mary’s death, the apostles opened the tomb, finding it empty, and concluded that she had been taken bodily into heaven. The tradition was spoken about by the various fathers of the Church, and in the eighth century, St. John Damascene wrote, “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay . . . . You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.” The current celebration of Mary’s Assumption has taken place since 1950, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus, saying: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.”

The hope that we find in the doctrine of the Assumption is summed up in the Preface to today’s Eucharistic Prayer, which I will sing in a few minutes.  Listen to the beautiful words of that prayer:

For today the Virgin Mother of God

was assumed into heaven

as the beginning and image

of your Church’s coming to perfection

and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people…

The Church knows well that our pilgrim way would be filled with evil.  But the Church courageously believes that this world’s experience isn’t the beginning and end of our existence: we have much to look forward to in the life to come.  Our Savior himself foretold as much in John’s gospel when he said, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)  This, brothers and sisters in Christ, is our hope, and this is the hope that we celebrate today.

The reason the Church reveres Mary as much as she does is because Mary’s life is the icon of the Church. What is important for us to see in this feast is that it proclaims with all the joy the Church can muster that what happened to Mary can and will happen for us who believe. We too have the promise of eternal life in heaven, where death and sin and pain will no longer have power over us. Because Christ caught his Blessed Mother back up into his life in heaven, we know that we too can be caught up with his life in heaven. On that great day, death, the last enemy, will be completely destroyed, as St. Paul tells us today.  That is our hope: our unbelievably gracious, completely unmerited, lovingly-bestowed hope.

Mary’s life wasn’t always easy, but Mary’s life was redeemed. That is good news for us who have difficult lives or find it hard to live our faith. Because there are those among us too who have unplanned pregnancies. There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger. There are those among us who have to watch a child die. But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.  We can and do hope in this salvation every day of our lives.  It’s what makes our lives livable; it’s what gives us the strength to keep on keepin’ on in the midst of so much difficulty.

Today’s readings can seem pretty fantastic, in the sense that we don’t know what to believe about them.  The reading from revelation has a dragon sweeping a third of the stars from the sky, and a child being caught up to heaven.  But really, I don’t think that’s too hard to grasp.  We have all been through things in our lives when it felt like a third of the stars had fallen out of the sky.  There is that evil dragon that seeks us out and wants to devour the hope that we have, but the child of that hope has been taken up to heaven, and we can go there one day too, if we believe, and repent, and cling to Christ who is our hope.

Mary’s song of praise in today’s gospel reading, which the Church prays every evening in Vespers, echoes the hope we have in this feast of the Assumption:

He has come to the help of his servant Israel

for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

the promise he made to our fathers,

to Abraham and his children forever.

Life is hard.  It always has been, and probably always will be. But this life is not all there is. As we walk through this life on our pilgrim way to God’s kingdom, we walk always in the presence of our God who sees us, who notices our pain and sorrow, who grieves with us and laughs with us, who never lets go of us, and who gives us hope beyond anything we deserve. Where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Homilies Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I once heard it said that you’re only a child once, but you can be childish your whole life long!  I don’t think that Jesus wants us to be childish today, but certainly he is calling us to be more child-like.

Jesus tells us today that we must become like children if we wish to enter the kingdom of heaven. Now when I stop to think about that, I wonder what it is about children that makes them so eligible for the kingdom. Anyone who’s spent quality time with a bunch of three year olds, or has been a substitute teacher for some sixth graders, knows that children aren’t righteous in and of themselves. So if it’s not that they are so pure, what is it that makes them heirs of the kingdom?

One thing about children – at least before they become teenagers – is that they are absolutely dependent on their parents or guardians. They can’t do much of their own power, so they depend on adults to give them what they need. I think this is the crux of what Jesus is getting at today.

Because so often we adults feel like we are supposed to handle everything ourselves. And we need to come to two very important realizations. The first is that we can’t do everything ourselves, and the second is that we’re not supposed to. We can’t because we simply don’t have the power. And that’s not a defect, it’s by design, and that’s why it’s important to realize that we’re not supposed to do everything ourselves. Only when we come to this point can we then turn and become like little children before our God who longs to nurture us into the kingdom of heaven.

God refuses to let any of his little ones to be lost. No shepherd worth his salt would leave 99 sheep alone to go out in search of one. But God does, because every single one of his little ones is important, every one of them was created for the kingdom of heaven. He goes out to look for those who are lost, and when they are lost they are most like children, needing God to show them the way. And he does show them the way. What is it in us that needs to change so that we can become more like children before our loving God?

Homilies Ordinary Time

The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Wow.  If ever there was a frightening Gospel reading, I think we just heard it!  All this talk about beating the menservants and the maidservants, and the hope of being beaten “only lightly.”  Yikes.  Even the whole notion of the Son of Man coming at an hour we do not expect is pretty concerning.  We almost want to close the cover of the book, back away slowly, and say, “then who can be saved?”  But I promise this reading is really good news.

I think we need the good news that this Gospel reading brings us these days.  With major mass shootings happening so very often – two of them last weekend, with families ripped apart as we struggle as a nation with defense of our borders versus welcoming those in need, with politicians vying with each other to see who is the most pro-choice, pro-abortion candidate, with the very dire effects of climate change that we are seeing lately, well, again, we almost want to turn off the television, close the newspaper, back away slowly and say, “then who can be saved?”  In these days we need the good news that there is something eternal and awesome and worth living for.

Listen to the opening line of the Gospel again: Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”  That is a revelation so glorious that it should have us up dancing in the aisles, praising God, and throwing a huge party.  Think about it: the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom.  The whole thing.  Doesn’t cost us a cent.  All of it is ours!  If there was ever any good news to share, this is it.  It’s better than a huge promotion at work, it’s even better than winning the lottery.  All those things last but a moment, but the kingdom, well that’s for eternity.

And it’s an eternity that we need to keep in mind these days.  Life on this earth is hard, so what is there to live for?  Well, we know it: we have the promise of the kingdom, and our Father is pleased to give it to us!  So now that we know that the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom, I’d like to explore two questions. First, are we pleased to receive the kingdom? And second, what on earth do we do with it?

Okay, so are we pleased to receive the kingdom?  Well, the obvious answer is “yes!” I mean, the kingdom is the great promise that brings us here to church today.  Inheriting the kingdom means we are not going to hell; indeed, we will have everlasting happiness.  But I wonder how readily we receive this gift of all gifts – and let’s be clear: this is the best gift we’re ever going to get.  But there are so many other things out there, and we want to keep our options open.  We’d rather pursue the big promotion, the latest and greatest shiny gadget, and so much more.  Lots of things tempt us and look better than the gift the Father is pleased to give us.

Another obstacle to receiving the kingdom is maybe we feel like there’s always time to receive that gift.  We’re going to live a long time, right?  So why deny ourselves so many passing things in favor of receiving the kingdom?  We can always receive the Father’s gift later. Except for the fact that none of us knows how much time we have in this life.  Procrastination is our enemy, because some day could well turn into never.  Not only that, but Jesus came to clearly proclaim that the kingdom is now, and why would we deny ourselves the pleasure of receiving the kingdom now and latch on to so many easily-tarnished things?  Now is the time, and there’s no gift greater.

And that’s what I think Jesus is addressing in the scary-sounding parables that follow.  We don’t know when our Master will return, so best to be always ready. It’s not that we should fear being beaten – severely or “only lightly” – we should fear something far worse, which would be missing out on life in the kingdom of God.  Jesus came to proclaim very loudly that the kingdom of God is at had – he says those exact words all through the Gospels.  Friends, the kingdom is what happens while we’re busy with all the things that consume us day and night.  If we don’t live like we’ve inherited the kingdom now, we’ll never get it, because we will have lived somewhere else all our lives.

So if we receive the kingdom, what are we supposed to do with it?  Well, just like all of God’s gifts, it’s not just for us.  We’re supposed to share it.  We’re supposed to live like we are part of it.  We’re supposed to live in the kingdom so that others will want to join us.  So this gift of the kingdom calls us to greater integrity, greater love, greater mercy, greater holiness.  This may well seem like hard work, and that’s because it is.  Jesus made it clear at the end of today’s Gospel: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

So does that make the gift of the kingdom seem like a burden?  Well, maybe.  But it’s a happy burden, a glorious burden, a sweet burden.  All the saints tell us as much.  Even Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)  But we’ll never realize that until we go all in and receive the gift the Father is pleased to give us today.  It’s kind of like that project that seems daunting, but once we get into it, is actually kind of fun.  That’s the burden of the kingdom.

Jesus brings us the best of all Good News today: the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom.  So what do we have to do, what do we have to let go of, in order to receive it?  How do we live with to greater integrity, greater love, greater mercy, greater holiness, so that when people see it in us, they will want what we have more than anything?  That’s what should be our to-do list this week.  Put aside the despair of the daily news, receive the Father’s gift of the kingdom, then live in such a way that we share that gift with everyone and brighten our own corner of the world.  We have to live like that’s our job.  Because it is.

Homilies Saints

Saint Dominic, Priest

On a journey through France with his bishop, St. Dominic came across people who espoused the Albigensian heresy. The Albigensians believed in just good and evil – there was no middle ground. For them, anything material was evil, which meant that they denied the Incarnation and the sacraments. On the same principle they abstained from procreation and took a minimum of food and drink. It’s important to see that while the ascetic practices they undertook were good, their ultimate conclusions were deeply flawed.

St. Dominic sensed the need for the Church to combat this heresy, and he was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against it. He saw immediately why the preaching was not succeeding: the ordinary people admired and followed the asceticism of the Albigensians. Understandably, they were not impressed by the Catholic preachers who traveled in luxury, stayed at the best inns and had servants. Dominic therefore, with three Cistercians, began itinerant preaching – living simply and depending on the goodness of others to support them – according to the gospel ideal. 

One of the ancient histories of the Dominican order says of him, “Two or three times he was chosen bishop, but he always refused, preferring to live with his brothers in poverty. Throughout his life, he preserved the honor of his virginity. He desired to be scourged and cut to pieces, and so die for the faith of Christ. Of him Pope Gregory IX declared: ‘I knew him as a steadfast follower of the apostolic way of life. There is no doubt that he is in heaven, sharing in the glory of the apostles themselves.’” (Office of Readings) 

Dominic continued his preaching work for ten years, being successful with the ordinary people but not with the leaders. Eventually, he founded his own religious order, the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, that was dedicated to preaching the Gospel to ordinary people. 

We too are called to preach to every person. We do that not just in words, but mainly by the way we live. When people see our faith at work in our actions, they may well be moved by our example to draw near to God who longs to draw near to them. As we approach the Eucharist today, may we all turn to God for the words to speak and the actions to do, that all the world may come to know that our God is merciful and the source of all grace.