Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Truth is quite often really unwelcome. Those who oppose the truth will usually do whatever they can to silence it. That has always been so, and perhaps it always will be so. The ancient Israelites were often guilty of murdering the prophets, because the truth that the prophets proclaimed was too difficult for them to live. In today’s Gospel the demons that possessed the poor man knew who Jesus was and what he came to proclaim. Those demons wanted no part of Jesus, in fact, they wanted him to go away. But of course, Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life will not let the man remain possessed, and the demon flees.

But the demons that oppose the truth remain in our world. They possess people, institutions, and social systems. They attempt to cloud a respect for life by preaching the so-called truth of “choice.” They attempt to oppress whole peoples and developing nations with the so-called truth of “free trade” and capitalism. They attempt to derail justice with corruption, peace with national interests, respect for authority with a kind of false freedom of expression.

But the truth who is Jesus will not be overcome by anything. And we do not believe that forces of darkness will ever have the last word. For the truth will overcome them like the thief in the night, and all that darkness will be put to flight in the light of truth. So may we Christians continue to sing of the Lord’s truth so that all people will continue to be amazed, just like the bystanders at the casting out of the demon. And with the Psalmist, we can rejoice that we will “see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Have you ever felt like you were in deep water? Have you taken on a project that seemed simple enough until you got into it and then you wondered what got you into this mess in the first place? Those of you who are parents, when you have had a particularly rough day, have you wondered why you became parents at all? At work, have you gotten involved in something that became bigger and bigger every time you looked at it and you wondered how it ever got that way? Those of you who are or have been students, have you wondered whatever possessed you to strive for higher education when cramming for an exam or rushing to finish a paper? I imagine all of us could think of a time when we felt like we were in over our heads, and so Jesus’ command to Peter – to put out into deep water – may have for us a rather ominous ring.

But we disciples are constantly invited to put out into ever-deepening water. I’ve said before that God never says to us “hey, here’s something easy you could do for me.” The truth is, whatever we are called to do is always going to be beyond us in some ways. If that weren’t the case, well, then we’d have to wonder if the call were really authentic. If everything comes real easy and there are never any challenges to what you’re doing, then you don’t have to rely on God’s grace, do you? That’s the truth about grace. We’re always going to need it, and if we are faithful, it’s always going to be there. So, although putting out into deep water will certainly be more than we can handle, it’s never going to be more than God can handle. All we have to do is rely on him.

Today’s Scriptures provide us with three different vocation stories. Isaiah, Paul, and the first disciples all relate the stories of their being called to put out into deep water. These stories tell how all of them were changed, little by little, so that they could become the disciples they were created to be. They all receive a call, their unworthiness is noted, grace is received, and they, well, they put out into deep water.

Isaiah’s call, from our first reading today, came in a vision. This vision takes place in the context of the heavenly worship, and is certainly awesome, or maybe even a little frightening, to imagine. Isaiah exclaims “Woe is me!” and proclaims that he is completely unworthy: a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips. His unworthiness has been anticipated and a remedy is ready: an ember from the altar is used to purify his lips. After this, the Lord asks who will go to proclaim God’s word, and Isaiah enthusiastically responds, “Here I am, send me!”

In the second reading, we hear about the call of St. Paul. As we know about St. Paul, his call came through a miraculous – and frightening – event that happened on his way to Damascus. He was struck down with a great light, and made blind. Paul’s call to be a disciple is described in our second reading as one that happened in the line of revelation. Christ is revealed as risen from the dead and appears first to Peter, then the apostles, then to some five hundred witnesses and finally to Paul himself. Paul too is certainly unworthy: he was the persecutor of the Christians and even participated in the stoning of St. Stephen. But that unworthiness has been anticipated, and God’s effective grace makes him what he is: a worthy apostle of Christ. With that grace, Paul has then toiled harder than anyone, and made Christ known all over the world.

In today’s Gospel reading, we have the beautiful story of the call of Peter, James and John, the first of the apostles. Here, the Lord comes to Peter in a boat … a symbol of his everyday life and work. The call itself takes place in a setting of Jesus’ preaching. Just like Isaiah and Paul, these first apostles are unworthy. They are fishermen by trade, and have caught nothing all night long. (Not easy for a bunch of fishermen to admit!) But their unworthiness has been anticipated, and Jesus provides for them a miraculously great catch of fish … a catch that threatens to sink two boats and takes all hands on deck to bring in. Jesus then assures them that this catch is nothing compared to the people they will be gathering in for the kingdom. They respond as enthusiastically as Isaiah and Paul: they leave everything they have known: family, work and home, and follow Jesus.

The call of all these men has much in common. First, their calls take place in a particular context: for Isaiah, a vision of great heavenly worship; for Paul, a setting of revelation; and for Peter, James and John, a setting of preaching. Second, God meets them all right where they are at. In the everydayness of their lives, they come to know the call to put out into deep water. Third, they are all completely unworthy of the call. The first apostles aren’t even good at their current job! But fourth, God anticipates their unworthiness and provides the grace to overcome it. Indeed, it is that unworthiness that makes it necessary for all of them to rely on God, because God’s grace is the only way to overcome that unworthiness. Finally, the call is presented and each of them responds enthusiastically, giving all they can give, perhaps getting in a little over their heads, relying on God’s grace, and doing great things for the kingdom.

We are the successors to these great disciples. We too are called out of the everydayness of our lives, with God meeting us right where we are. We are all of us completely unworthy of the call that we receive. But we are all drenched in God’s grace which more than makes up for everything we lack. The question is: will we respond as enthusiastically as Isaiah, Paul, Peter, James and John? Will we put out into deep water? Or will we hold back fearing that we will get in over our heads?

Our baptism calls us all to be disciples, brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are to grow in faith, hope and love, we must be willing to take that risk and put out into deep water – because no other response is appropriate! We must bring our boats to shore, leave everything, and follow Christ. Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.

St. Thomas the Apostle

stthomas

Today's readings 

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Thomas sometimes gets a bad rap for having said that, but if we're honest, I think most of us can understand Thomas's hesitation to believe, since we have all probably struggled with belief at some point in our lives. And Thomas had good reason not to believe: the apostles were all frightened for their lives, having seen their Lord taken away to his death. Certainly that brings some healthy wariness to one's thoughts, words and actions.

I wonder sometimes if Thomas's response was an expression of hurt. For whatever reason, he was not present when the apostles first saw Jesus. They had a wonderful experience of the Lord that Thomas didn't get to have. That wonderful experience helped them all to believe in the resurrection. It seems natural to me that Thomas may have felt a little left out, a little unjustly deprived of the Lord's presence. After all, Thomas had been with Jesus just as long as the others, so why should Jesus choose to appear to them when he couldn't be present also? We've all had experiences like that too, I think.

But Thomas need not have felt deprived, because he was given an opportunity the others didn't get: he got to reach out and touch the Lord Jesus, an experience way more intimate than just seeing him. We get to have that kind of experience too. In a few minutes, we will all get to come forward and reach out and touch the Body of our Lord, allowing the Lord to enter our lives and our selves once again to fill us up and send us forth to be his disciples.

We've been a lot like Thomas, I think. We've all struggled with our faith, we've all experienced the hurt that comes from being left out. But we're also all given the opportunity to have a real experience of our Lord by reaching out to receive him. So may we, all of us who have not seen but have believed, may we all cry out with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Caritas Christi Urget Nos

This was my first homily at my new assignment, St. Raphael. So there’s a bit more about me in here than I’d usually go for, but the nice part is that it fit in so well with the readings.

In the Deacon Chapel at Mundelein Seminary, the institution where I spent the last five years, there is an inscription over the sanctuary that reads in Latin, “Caritas Christi Urget Nos.” The translation of this Latin phrase is found in today’s second reading: “The love of Christ impels us.” I have also seen that phrase translated, “The love of Christ compels us,” or maybe even better, “The love of Christ urges us on.” And we know this is true, don’t we? The love of Christ fills us up and the love of Christ sets us on fire and the love of Christ moves us into action. The love of Christ begs to be shared because the love of Christ cannot be contained. The love of Christ, if we let it, takes over our lives and empowers us to do things that we never thought we could do.

I reflected on why Cardinal Mundelein would have put those words over the sanctuary of the Deacon Chapel at the school. I think it’s there as a reminder of what brought us there and what we were there to do. For those of us studying to be priests, it’s good to remember that it wasn’t our own initiative that brought us to the seminary. Sure, we had to cooperate with God’s grace, but it was that love of Christ that moved us to be there in the first place. And, coming to the chapel, we were there to celebrate the great power of Christ’s love in the sacrificial meal that he left us as a remembrance of him. We were there to remember that Christ died for all of us, as St. Paul tells us today, and that because of that we are made new creations.

On the inside of my door at Mundelein Seminary, posted so that I could see it on the way out each and every day, was an 8 ½ by 11 inch sheet of paper that bore that same inscription: Caritas Christi Urget Nos. That sheet of paper wasn’t posted by Cardinal Mundelein or anybody else. I’m the one who put it there. I put it there as a reminder, too, of what it was that brought me to seminary. Because, in all honesty, some days I needed to be reminded of why it was I was doing what I was doing. Why was I studying a particularly difficult piece of theology? Why did I need to immerse myself in formation? Why did I need to do more to enliven my prayer life? Why was I studying for the priesthood at a difficult time in the Church’s history? Well, because the love of Christ impelled me to do it. I’ve found that’s the only reason that is ultimately satisfying, and that it’s only by going where the love of Christ takes me that I’m ever really happy.

Today’s Scriptures paint a picture of a God completely in control. God is the one who sets the boundary for the sea and clothes the sky in the garments of the clouds. God is the one who overcomes death through the death of Christ and God is the one who creates the world anew through his Resurrection. God is the one who pilots the voyages of our lives and God is the one who calms our storms. If even the wind and the sea obey him, then we who are filled with his love are certainly impelled to do his will.

Because the love of Christ impels all of us to do whatever it is we are called to do. The love of Christ impels some of us to raise children and create families where faith and love are priorities. The love of Christ impels some of us to live single lives with purity as a witness to the Gospel. The love of Christ impels some of us to be business men and women of integrity as a witness to God’s justice. The love of Christ impels some of us to priestly and religious vocations as a witness of faith. All of us are impelled by the love of Christ to do something to share that love with others and to show that love to a world which desperately needs to see it.

We all could take a lesson from that inscription over the sanctuary of the Deacon Chapel at Mundelein and somehow put those words where we will see them each day. Because we all need to be reminded from time to time why we give of ourselves or deny ourselves or do more than what we’re expected to do. We need to remember that it is the love of Christ that impels us to live as examples and witnesses of the faith, so that others might see and believe. We need to remember that it is only by giving ourselves to our Lord, and trusting him to calm our storms, that we can ever be truly happy. The ultimate fulfillment in life comes from doing what Christ’s love impels us to do.

As I begin my time here at St. Raphael, my prayer is that we will all use this time to grow in holiness together. We are all a people created by God and baptized into his Church. We are all a people of talents and gifts and faith. We are all a people loved by God and urged by that love to do great things in the name of God. We will do that by supporting one another, by praying for one another and by praying together, by celebrating the Eucharist and the sacraments together, and by sharing our faith and our lives together. I look forward to the time that we will spend together and pray that it will be a fulfilling time for all of us. I am grateful for the welcome you’ve already shown me in many ways, and for all of your prayers and support. Please know that you will be in my prayers every day. Let us rejoice in our being together, and let us all, as the psalmist tells us today, give thanks to the Lord, whose love is everlasting.

Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

I should begin with at least an acknowledgement that this reflection is late. That had something to do with getting ordained to the diaconate on Friday, preaching on Saturday, and baptizing my niece on Sunday. More on all of that later. But when I preached on Saturday, I preached on this very text. So without further ado…

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.

First, we have to understand the parable. Wedding customs in first century Palestine were a little different than those we know today. The wedding was a drawn out affair, beginning with the betrothal. After that, the couple was married but would not live together until the complex negotiations regarding the dowry were complete. When that was done, the bridegroom would go to the bride’s house and bring her to his own house. Then there would be a splendid feast that would go on for several days.

So the parable happens just as the negotiations are complete and they are expecting the bridegroom to go to the bride’s house. He is delayed a bit, and they all fall asleep. But that is not the problem. The problem is that half of them were unprepared.

I think we bristle a bit at the wise virgins’ refusal to share their oil with the foolish. Jesus was always for sharing and charity, so what’s the deal here? Well, since we know Jesus regularly encourages such sharing, I think we can safely conclude that is not the point of the parable and move on. The point of the parable then, may well be the oil itself. Of what is this oil symbolic?

The Church Fathers help us a bit there. They talk about the oil as the oil of salvation. This would be an oil that can only be had in relationship with Jesus. It’s an oil that can’t be begged, borrowed, stolen or bought at an all-night Walgreens. We fill the flasks of our lives with that oil through daily prayer, devotion, the sacraments, and a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior. So the foolish virgins were looking for oil too late — too late not just because it is midnight, but too late because they should have been filling their flasks with this oil all along. It’s not the wise virgins’ fault they did not share: indeed this is an oil that cannot be shared, any more than one could live another’s life for that person.

What gets me is that five of these virgins showed up unprepared. We may not be familiar with first-century Palestinian wedding customs, but they certainly were. So they would have known the wedding would go on for some days. How is it, then, that they forgot extra oil? Even if the bridegroom had not been delayed, they certainly would have needed it! What was so important to them that they forgot to attend to the most basic part of their job in preparation for the wedding banquet?

Just so, we certainly have nothing more important to do than to show up at the wedding feast of heaven with our flasks filled with the oil of salvation. No other concern should distract us for our most basic job on earth, which is preparing for our life in heaven. We must not be deterred from prayer, devotion, good works of charity, fasting, and zealous reception of the sacraments lest we hear those awful words the bridegroom spoke to the foolish virgins: “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

When we get to the feast, if our flasks are not full, it is already too late. As we approach the immanent end of this Church year (there’s just less than three weeks left), let us look back and see how well we have filled our flasks in the last year. And let us steadfastly resolve to fill those flasks to overflowing in the year ahead. The only way we can do that is by zealously seeking our God, praying the prayer of the Psalmist:

O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Conflict is one of the hardest things for me. When I am presented with an issue of conflict, my own Irish Catholic heritage says, “we shall never speak of this again.” For me, being silent in the face of conflict is a way of hardening my heart.

Because sometimes when we hear God’s voice, that voice tells us to speak out and say things people may want to hear. But as difficult as that call can be, we must never turn away from that call — and it’s not easy. Because conflict is the least of our problems. Not mentioning what God calls us to say results in not only the death — spiritual or actual — of others, but in our own death as well. So what’s a little conflict in the face of that?

Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The truth is sometimes difficult, but as Christians we are always “on for” the truth, to use the words of one of my moral theology professors. We are called on — mandated, as this quotation from Sunday’s Gospel tells us — to speak the truth, proclaim the truth, insist on the truth, and live the truth. We are called to bind each other to the truth, and loose each other from the other nonsense to which this passing world would bind us. Indeed, only by binding one another to the truth can we truly loose each other from sin.

Lord, grant that when we speak, we may always speak the truth. Grant that when we hear your voice, no matter how difficult the call, we would never harden our hearts.

Fear: The Beheading of John the Baptist

Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man,
and kept him in custody.

The Beheading of St. John the BaptistI wonder if we would have any martyrs in the Church at all if it were not for fear. Today we celebrate — yes, celebrate — the beheading of St. John the Baptist. Like all martyr’s feasts, John’s beheading is a celebration because it points to the sure knowledge that fear doesn’t win the day. Though in Herod’s fear he was beheaded, yet John was never intimidated by Herod to refrain from speaking the truth.

In John the Baptist, we see that the real fear is fear of the truth. The light and life that comes to us in Christ is terrifying to a world content in darkness. It is this kind of fear that led to John’s — and countless martyrs’ after him — imprisonment and death. Yet because of the light and life that comes to us in Christ, these martyrs were able to overcome their own fear of death, knowing that the really frightening thing would be to allow the darkness to overcome the world. In Christ, that never happens.

Our own reflection today has to be a reflection on where the fear is. Are we afraid of some truth in our world or in our life? If so, we must put that fear to death and shine the light of Christ on it. Our we afraid of the impact our witness to Christ may have in our world? If so, we must put that fear to death and pin our hope on the life that only Christ can bring.

Blessed St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, who points to Christ and shares in Christ’s own suffering, death and resurrection! Blessed the Church for the witness of the martrys, led by St. John the Baptist!