Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s readings 

Today’s readings are a reminder that we disciples have to be discerning. It is important for us to discern what the truth is so that we can be led to the one who is Truth itself. The Gentiles, who worshiped idols, didn’t have the context of monotheism – that there is one God – to help them. Paul and Barnabbas did their best to catechize them, but there was much work to be done to overcome something that had been for the Greeks so culturally ingrained. The Gentiles didn’t have a context of God working through human beings, so they naturally mistook Paul and Barnabas for gods.

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus spells out how one can discern who is a true disciple. The true disciple, claiming that he or she loves God, will be one who keeps God’s commandments. If the disciple truly loves God, keeping God’s commandments would be second nature for him or her. But if one were to see someone claiming to love God and be his disciple but not obeying God’s commandments, one could conclude that person is not a true disciple.
Discernment is important for us, because we want authenticity in our worship and in our belief and understanding. Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When we come to know the One who is Truth itself, then we will be filled with the Holy Spirit and come to know the truth.

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 Ignatius of Loyola

Today’s readings

St. Ignatius was all set to accomplish great things in the military when his leg was badly injured by a canon ball.  As he was convalescing, he asked for romantic novels to read.  But nothing like that was available, so he had to settle for books on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints.  Reading them, he noticed that those books made him feel differently than the romance novels he was used to.  He noted that the pleasure those books provided was fleeting, but that the joy he felt in reading the spiritual books stayed with him, and so he pursued the Christian life and began a process of conversion.

During this time of conversion, he began to write things down, and these writings served for a later work, his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises.  These Exercises became the basis for the Society of Jesus, which he formed with six others to live a life of poverty and chastity and apostolic work for the pope.  This was accepted by Paul III and Ignatius was elected its first general.  Ignatius’s motto was Ad majorem Dei gloria: All for the glory of God.  His Spiritual Exercises have become a spiritual classic and have provided the basis rule for other religious orders over time.

Ignatius’s major contribution to the spiritual life is probably his principles of discernment, which help people of faith to know God’s will in their lives.  Today, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God as compared to a catch of fish, which the fishermen sort through, tossing the bad and keeping the good.  We too, need to sort through the bad and good that life brings us, tossing the bad and holding fast to the Kingdom of God.  May God grant us, through the intercession of Saint Ignatius, the discernment to do just that.

School Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

One of the greatest obstacles to the Christian life is comparing ourselves to others. Because, and I’ll just say it, discipleship isn’t meant to be fair.  At least not as we see fairness.  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, 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.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s readings

When it comes right down to it, we have a choice.  We can choose life or death, blessing or curse, the way of the Cross or the way of the world.  The choice that we make has huge consequences, eternal consequences.  The stakes are big ones, and we must choose wisely.

Many of us can probably recall some point in our lives where we had to make that choice of what we were going to do with our lives, what we wanted to be when we grew up.  That choice can be so confusing, so painful, so difficult to make.  When it finally worked for me was when I finally gave it over to God and asked that he challenge me in a big way.  That’s when I felt the call to go to seminary, which really surprised me, and I really resisted that at first.  But when I finally gave in, when I finally decided to do what God asked me to do, the choice was much easier.  We all need that kind of guidance from the Holy Spirit, and that’s what gets us through those difficult choices in our lives.

The command from Deuteronomy is clear: “Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.”  The way of the Lord is life-giving, the way of the world is death.  The way of the Lord is blessing, the way of the world is curse.  The passing pleasures of the world are nothing compared to the eternal pleasures of God’s way.  The trials we may experience in this life when we choose to follow God are passing things, and give way to great grace and peace.

Jesus asks us today to make a choice to take up our crosses and follow him.  That’s not always so appealing on a day-to-day basis.  There is great suffering in the cross.  But, as he says, what profit is there for us if we gain the whole world but lose our very selves?  Blessed, the Psalmist tells us, is the one who walks in the way of the Lord and follows not the counsel of the wicked.  May we all this day choose life, that we and our descendants might live.

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today’s readings are a reminder that we disciples have to be discerning. It is important for us to discern what the truth is so that we can be led to the one who is Truth itself. The Gentiles, who worshiped idols, didn’t have the context of monotheism – that there is one God – to help them. Paul and Barnabbas did their best to catechize them, but there was much work to be done to overcome something that had been for the Greeks so culturally ingrained. The Gentiles didn’t have a context of God working through human beings, so they naturally mistook Paul and Barnabas for gods.

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus spells out how one can discern who is a true disciple. The true disciple, claiming that he or she loves God, will be one who keeps God’s commandments. If the disciple truly loves God, keeping God’s commandments would be second nature for him or her. But if one were to see someone claiming to love God and be his disciple but not obeying God’s commandments, one could conclude that person is not a true disciple.

Discernment is important for us, because we want authenticity in our worship and in our belief and understanding. Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When we come to know the One who is Truth itself, then we will be filled with the Holy Spirit and come to know the truth.