The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

I have to tell you, we have two of my very favorite readings in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  I like them because they both show God interacting with us, his creatures, in powerful ways.  In the first reading, we see the prophet Elijah literally running for his life.  He has just embarrassed, and then put to death, the four hundred or so “prophets” of Baal – the pagan god worshipped by the gentiles.  Because of this, Jezebel, the wife of king Ahab, vowed to do the same thing to Elijah himself.  So Elijah is fleeing, and complains to the Lord God that everyone in Israel has rejected the Lord, turned to other gods, and have put all the legitimate prophets to death, and that Elijah is the only one left.  So God says that Elijah should stand on the mountain and wait, and soon the Lord would be passing by.

So in Scripture, when it says of the Lord that he would be “passing by,” it means something different than just that the Lord was out for a little walk.  Passing by means that he would be doing “a God thing,” something that God alone could do.  It’s a little like saying that God would be revealing his power to his creatures.  For Elijah, that was intended to be a consolation and a revelation that the Lord God would be with him even though things looked pretty darn bad.  And it’s interesting how it happens.  Elijah experiences some frightening things: destructive and heavy winds, an earthquake and a blazing fire.  But he did not experience God in any of those things.  He only experienced God in a “tiny whispering sound.”

And I wonder about that, to be honest.  Yes, we can take that as a revelation that we have to quiet ourselves and listen for the voice of God’s presence.  But I want to carefully note that this does not mean that God wasn’t present in those other things.  Because we often find ourselves in the midst of mighty winds, earthquakes, or fire.  Even if not literally, we experience these things all the time in the form of the crises of our lives.  And I want to assure you that God is with you in those moments.  But it may take us stepping back a bit, and listening for the whispering sound, to note that happening.

Okay, so that brings us to the second of my favorite readings today, and that is the Gospel.  Because I love Saint Peter.  He’s always making mistakes, but he is always letting Jesus take what little he can give and turn it into something huge.  I love this reading so much that I have this painting on the wall of my office.  It’s a painting that was given to me for my ordination by the seminarians of that time.  It’s even signed by our own Father David!  They gave me that painting because they know of the special place that particular Gospel story had in my faith life.

So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has just fed the multitudes, as you may remember from last week’s Liturgy.  After that, he takes some time alone to pray, and during the fourth watch of the night, walks across the water toward the disciples who were on a boat bound for the other side of the lake.  In Saint Mark’s version of this reading, it says of Jesus at this point that “He intended to pass them by.”  Does that sound familiar?  Yes, very similar to the first reading, Jesus intends to do a “God thing,” to reveal himself to his disciples this time in a very powerful way.  They think they’re seeing a ghost, but Jesus reassures them that it is he, and Peter immediately asks if he can come out and walk on the water too.  Jesus says, “come.”

So think about that.  You see the Lord walking on the water, and you actually ask if you can get out there and join him.  Who even has the nerve to say something like that to Jesus?  Well, Peter, impetuous as always, he does.  And for a while, he does okay. He’s making progress, walking toward Jesus. But then he stops looking at Jesus and starts looking at the storm, and when he sees the storm what happens?  The story tells us: “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” So let’s stop right here.  Do you see that? While he’s looking at Jesus, he is able to walk toward him, but as soon as he takes his eyes off Jesus in favor of looking at the storm, he sinks. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus asks him, pulling Peter out of the water.

We might be tempted to criticize Peter for his lack of faith.  But I’m in favor of cutting him so slack.  What I think we have to realize is that he at least had enough faith to get out of the boat.  The other eleven did not.  He got out of the boat because that’s where Jesus was – out there on the water.  Was Jesus present for him when the wind and the waves threatened to take his life?  Absolutely.  God is present for us when we are in the middle of the storm.

So I think that’s where these wonderful readings of God’s mighty power take us this week: into the midst of our storms, whatever they may be.  If we’re not going through one now, one will come our way at some point.  And, please God, may these readings help us to find our Lord in the midst of the wind and the earthquakes and the fire.  I hope that the faith these readings inspire in us will help us to step back in those storms and see our Lord passing by in power and might and lifting us up out of the waves.

Now let’s try a little prayer experiment.  I’m going to ask you to close your eyes.  And with your eyes closed, I invite you to think about a crisis you’ve been in recently, or even one that’s still going on.  It might be little or big, but whatever it is, bring it to mind.  That crisis is the waves in the story.  Now you get to be Saint Peter.  You’re on the boat, that safe refuge that is leading you to the place that Jesus has in mind for you.  Only on the voyage, your crisis begins a storm that tosses you around so badly that you can’t even see your destination anymore, and you fear for your life.  But you see Jesus out there, on the water, in the distance.

You call out to him and he calls back for you to come to him.  You think about it for a minute, but you realize you have to give it a shot: after all, you want to be where Jesus is, and Jesus is not in the boat.  So you get out of the boat, that safe refuge that gives you some comfort even in the storm, and you start to walk toward Jesus across the stormy sea, with the wind and the waves of your crises swirling around you.  And you do okay for a while, looking at your Lord, but then you wonder if your prayers will ever be answered, or if you should even bother God with your little prayers, or if there is any hope for your situation at all.  You feel the wind pushing at you and notice that the waves of your crisis are a lot uglier than you thought they were.  And you begin to sink into them, despairing that there is no hope for your situation.  At this point, Jesus reaches out his hand to you, pulling you up out of the stormy sea.  The storm is still raging, but with Jesus’ help, you get back into the boat, and the waves calm down, and you continue the journey to the place where Jesus wants you to be, having made just a little bit of progress, confident that he is with you even in the storm.

That’s a prayer exercise that you can come back to.  Maybe you don’t have a crisis now to bring to that prayer, but when you do, you can pull this out of your prayer toolbox.  Whether we are experiencing wind, waves, earthquakes or fire, we can be confident that our Lord is with us.  We might still have to experience all those things, but we can go through them with hope that comes from the presence of our God, who is with us in our darkest times, whispering to us, or calling out to us from the water.

Monday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What I think the folks in our first reading need to learn – and maybe us too – is that the spiritual life is always about the big picture.  The Israelites in today’s reading have completely rejected the God of their salvation.  God had taken them from abject slavery in Egypt, in which they were oppressed beyond anything we could possibly imagine – let alone endure – and led them through the desert, through the Red Sea (covering the pursuing Egyptians in the process), and into safety.  He is going to give them the Promised Land, but they, thank you very much, would prefer to return to Egypt so that they no longer have to sustain themselves on the bread that they have from the very hand of God himself.  They would rather have meat and garlic and onions, and whatever, than freedom and blessing from God.  What a horrible, selfish people they have become.

And Moses is no better.  He alone has been allowed to go up the mountain to be in the very presence of God.  No one else could get so close to God and live to tell the story.  God has given him the power to do miraculous deeds in order to lead the people.  And yet, when things get tough, he too would prefer death than to be in the presence of God.

And aren’t we just like them sometimes?  It’s easy to have faith when things are going well, and we are healthy, and our family is prospering.  But the minute things come along to test us, whether it is illness, or death of a loved one, or job troubles, or whatever, it’s hard to keep faith.  “Where is God when I need him?” we might ask.  We just don’t often have the spiritual attention spans to see the big picture.  We forget the many blessings God has given us, and ask “Well what has he done for me lately?”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus feeds the crowds until they are satisfied and have baskets of leftovers besides.  God’s blessings to us are manifold, and it is good to meditate on them when times are good, and remember them when times are bad.  God never wills the trials we go through, and he never forgets or abandons us when we are in the midst of those trials.  God feeds us constantly with finest wheat.  That’s the big picture, and we must never lose sight of it.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

I think most of the time, we really need to be reassured that we are in the hands of God.  Things here on earth can be pretty uncertain on a daily basis.  The state of the economy, wars being fought all over the globe, terrorism and natural disasters, the disrespect for human life, antagonism toward Christ-like values, all of this makes us feel pretty uncertain, at best.  Add to that the stuff that affects us directly: illness, death of a loved one, unemployment, family difficulties, our own sins – all of this may find us asking the question from time to time, “Where is God in all this?”

That’s why it’s so good to hear Jesus say today:

My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.

This does not, of course, mean that life is going to be easier for us, or that we won’t still be challenged in this world. But it does give us confidence that we are on the right track, and that our ways are being guarded.  With this confidence, we are expected then to be disciples.  We are expected to go forth and do what God asks of us, ministering to those in need, reaching out to the broken, preaching the Good News just by the way that we live our life.

We can live and preach the Gospel with confidence, we can be called Christians as our brothers and sisters in the first reading were for the first time, knowing that God has our back.  Whatever we may suffer in this life for the sake of Christ will more than be rewarded in the life to come.  And the good works we do here on earth, as small as they may seem to us in the face of such adversity, are never for nothing: God takes our efforts and makes them huge advances in the battle for souls.

Jesus says that the Father is greater than all, and that all of us, safe in the Father’s hands, can never be taken from him.  Praise God for his providence and mercy and protection today.

The First Sunday of Lent: Remembering Who We Are

Today’s readings

The devil wants more than anything for us to forget who we are.  He really didn’t care if Jesus ruined his fast by turning some stones into bread, or if he killed himself trying to test God, and he certainly had no intention of making him king of the world.  What he wanted, what he really wanted, was for Jesus to forget who he was and give himself over to him.  And we see in the first reading that that’s how it all started.  The serpent didn’t care what tree Eve ate from, he just wanted her, and Adam, to forget who they were, to forget that they were beloved children of God and that God would take care of them.

So if I could suggest a theme for us for Lent, it might be “Remembering Who We Are.”  That’s why we have the Cross up here, front and center.  I want us to see that in the Cross, God gave us the very best he had, and that when we take up our own cross, God sustains us and makes us more than we could be on our own.  Just as Jesus remembered that he was God’s Son and that he came here for a reason, and that reason was to save us from our sins, so we have to remember that we are sons and daughters of God, and we are here for a reason.  The devil will try all sorts of tricks to get us to forget that.  He will throw at us job difficulties, serious illnesses, the death of loved ones, family strife, and the list goes on and on.  He will tempt us with the latest gadgets, the job promotion, the opportunity to get rich quick, and that list goes on and on too.  He wants us to forget who we are.

Because if we forget who we are, the devil’s job is an easy one.  If we forget that God made us and redeemed us out of love for us, then he’s got his foot in the door.  Once that happens, hell looks like something glamorous, enticing and exciting.  It feels like living on our own terms, looking out for number one, and doing what feels right to me.  And that’s awesome, except of course, that it’s hell.  And the glamour fades and the excitement turns to rancor, and we’ve wasted our lives chasing after stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The antidote to this hell of our own making, is letting go – giving what might even seem to be necessary to us, and trusting that God will give us what we need.  That can be the treasure of Lent for us.  In fasting, we can let go of the idea that we alone can provide what is necessary for our survival.  God can feed our hungers much better than we can.  In almsgiving, we can let go of the idea that everything is ours if we would just worship the one who cannot give us what we truly need.  God gives us what’s really necessary in life, and also life eternal.  And in prayer, we can let go of the fading pleasures of this world and of Satan and take on the enduring luster of a life lived as a son or daughter of God.

And so I would like to suggest a program of retreat for these forty days of Lent.  It’s nothing new; I didn’t create it.  It’s what the Church gives us every Lent, and I feel like if we want to remember who we are, we should take it on in its entirety.  So this retreat consists of the three things I just mentioned: fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  And our parish gives you so many resources for choosing something to do for each of them.  You may have seen our Lenten tear-out sheet in last week’s bulletin.  If you missed it, we will be mailing it to each house in the parish in the coming days.  Take a look at it, post it on your fridge, and plan to make this Lent a good one.

For fasting, we have our day of Fasting and Reflection on April 1.  It’s a day that you do independently with some input from us.  Fast that day from 6am to 6pm, attend 8am Mass and pick up the reflection guide, attend Adoration from Noon to 1pm, then end the day with Mass and making lunches for PADS at 6pm.  It’s a day of making sense of fasting, and letting God give us what we need while we hunger for him.

For almsgiving, I’d like to encourage us to help with the 40 Cans for Lent.  Our parish food pantry is in need of restocking right now, and so your donations of a box or can of food each day of Lent help so much.  You can also help our Knights of Columbus in this effort by distributing food bags on March 4th and collecting them on the 11th.  And that’s just one example of almsgiving that will really make a difference.

And for prayer, our parish is doing the “Living the Eucharist” series this Lent.  This is an opportunity for us all to come to a greater understanding and love of the Eucharist that we share each week here at Mass.  So you can pick up a copy of the individual reflection booklet at the information desk today.  I’ve been using them for prayer the last few days and they are really good.  We also sent a family activity book home with each school and religious education family, so if you have one, please take some time as a family to work through it.  We also have a weekly reflection each Sunday of Lent in the bulletin.  And finally, it’s not too late to sign up for one of our “Living the Eucharist” small discussion groups; you can do that at the information desk today.

Fasting, almsgiving and prayer remind us that we are beloved sons and daughters of God who are always taken care of by God, if we let Him; that when we give of ourselves, we all become more; and that as we become more our prayer leads us into the life of God himself.  May we have a blessed, and joyful Lenten retreat, all of us, sons and daughters of God.

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.

Monday of the First Week of Advent

Today’s readings

Could you do that? You have someone close to you at home, and you know Jesus is near and one visit could heal her or him. Yet, you realize the unworthiness that you have, that we all have, for him to come under your roof. Would you have faith enough to tell him not to come, but just say the word? Would you be confident enough that his word would heal your loved one? I think that’s an important question for us, because we are often completely solid in our faith until something happens, and then we tend to fall apart. But faith is so necessary, especially in those trying times.

We pray the centurion’s iconic words just before we all receive Holy Communion. We acknowledge our unworthiness, and we also express our desire that our Lord would say the word so that our souls would be healed. And then he does, by feeding us on the Eucharist, giving us grace and strength to live the Gospel and live our lives.

So that’s the faith we are called to have, and I wonder if we have that kind of faith when we pray. Do we trust God enough to let him “say the word” and then know that we don’t have to set “Plan B” in motion? Today’s Scriptures call us to greater trust as we begin this Advent journey to the house of the Lord. In what way do we need to trust God more today?

Monday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time: What Do You Want Me to Do for You?

Today’s readings

“What do you want me to do for you?”

I think that is perhaps the important question in the spiritual life. In fact, when I begin working with someone for spiritual direction, I usually have them spend some time reflecting on this Gospel reading. When I myself go on retreat, I reflect on it too. Because unless we’re clear about what we want God to do for us, we won’t ever see any change in our spiritual lives.

I think that question – “What do you want me to do for you?” – is especially important in our world today. Too many people don’t think God does do or can do very much in our world today. We in particular are from a society that prizes its independence and can-do spirit, and so that starts to seep into our spiritual lives. Or perhaps we don’t think we should bother God by asking for what we truly need, as if he had better things to do than deal with us. Let’s be clear: he made us in his image and likeness, breathed us into life, and so he certainly has concern for our welfare.

But maybe the most prevalent reason people don’t ask enough from God is that they don’t think about him very often. Maybe as a last resort, yes, but not so much that there is that ongoing conversation and relationship with God which enables us to ask whatever we need in his name and trust we can get it, as Jesus famously promised.

Honestly, I’ve struggled with this question at various times in my own life. Because to really answer that question, you have to get over the struggle of asking for what you think he wants to hear. You have to get past the embarrassment of asking for something you think you should be able to get all on your own. You have to truly acknowledge where you are in your relationship with him, and ask for what you need. It’s not easy, but it’s a question we should ask ourselves often.

We’re coming to the end of the Church year. We’ve lived another year in his grace. It’s time for us to reflect on where we are, how far we’ve come, and what we still need.

What do you want Jesus to do for you?