The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

Today’s brief Gospel reading begins with the wonderful line, “My sheep hear my voice.” But, I wonder: how are the sheep to hear the shepherd in this day and age? There are so many things that vie for our attention, that it would be easy to miss the call of the shepherd altogether.

So that’s what I want to reflect on today: What will it take for us sheep to hear our Master’s voice? We who are so nervous about any kind of silence that we cannot enter a room without the television on as at least background noise. We who cannot go anywhere without our cell phones and/or ear buds implanted firmly in our ears? We who cannot bear to enter into prayer without speaking all kinds of words and telling God how we want to live our lives? If even our prayer and worship are cluttered with all kinds of noise, how are we to hear the voice of our Shepherd who longs to gather us in and lead us to the Promise? Yet Jesus makes it clear today that entering into the silence and listening for his voice is the only way we can survive spiritually, the only way we can come at last to eternal life.

Here’s a deeper question: how are we to hear the Shepherd’s voice if there are no shepherds to make it known? Today is the world day of prayer for vocations. And I want to talk about all vocations today, but in a special way, I want to talk about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Because these vocations, and especially the priesthood, are called upon to be the voice of Christ in today’s world. This is a special, and wonderful challenge, and I know there are young people in this community that are being called to it. We hear in today’s Liturgy of the Word that this task is not always easy because it is not universally accepted, as Paul and Barnabas found out. But it is a task that brings multitudes of every nation, race, people and tongue to the great heavenly worship that is what they have been created for. People today need to hear the voice of the Shepherd, but who will be that voice when I retire?

We know that every person has a vocation. Every person is called on by God to do something specific with their life that will bring not only them, but also others around them, to salvation. Parents help to bring their children to salvation by raising them in the faith. Teachers help bring students to salvation by educating them and helping them to develop their God-given talents. Business people bring others to salvation by living lives of integrity and witness to their faith by conducting business fairly and with justice and concern for the needy. The list goes on. Every vocation, every authentic vocation, calls the disciple to do what God created them for, and helps God to bring salvation to the whole world.

On this Mother’s Day, we can see in our Blessed Mother, the model of living our vocation. Through her fiat, she embraced the Father’s will for her, and put her life in his service.

Nineteen years ago on this very Sunday, I was struggling with my vocation. I knew that God was calling me to give up the life I had been so comfortable with, and go to seminary to study for the priesthood. But I did not want to. I was already doing what I thought I wanted to do with my life, and thought it was going pretty well. But on some level, I knew that life as a disciple required me to do what God wanted, and not necessarily what I wanted. There was an open house that day at the Diocesan Vocations Office. I wasn’t interested and I wasn’t going. And that day, the celebrant preached on vocations and made the point that living as a disciple meant that at some point we have to stop asking the question, “what do I want to do with my life?” and start asking, “what does God want me to do with my life?” And I already knew the answer to that question: God wanted me to go to that vocations open house that day, and so I did. Four months later, I was in seminary.

What about you? Are you doing what God wants you to do with your life? Maybe your answer won’t require such a radical change as mine did. Maybe it means you renew your commitment to your family, your work, your life as a disciple. But if you’re a young person out there and have only been thinking about what’s going to make you successful and bring in lots of money, maybe God is today asking you to stop thinking only of yourself and put your life’s work at the service of the Gospel. Maybe you’ll be called on to be a teacher, or a police officer, or a health care professional. And maybe, just maybe, God is calling you to enter the priesthood or religious life. On this day of prayer for vocations, I’m just asking you to pray that God would make his plans for your life clear to you, and that you would promise God to do what he asks of you. I can tell you first hand that nothing, absolutely nothing, will make you happier.

So I ask you all to join me in prayer for all holy vocations:

Faithful God,

You sent your son, Jesus,

to be our Good Shepherd.

Through our baptism

you blessed us and called us

to follow Jesus who leads us on the path of life.

Renew in us the desire to remain faithful

to our commitment to serve you and the Church.

Bless all who dedicate their lives to you

through marriage, the single life, the diaconate,

priesthood, and consecrated life.

Give insight to those

who are discerning their vocation.

Send us to proclaim the Good News

of Jesus, our Good Shepherd,

through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You may have heard the saying that “If you want to hear God laugh, just tell him your plans.” It’s so easy for us in our arrogance to think we have everything all figured out. And then maybe God taps us on the shoulder, or whispers into our ear, and sends us in another direction. We’ve all had that happen in our lives, I am sure. And if we’re open to it, it can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be a wild ride at the least, and possibly even traumatic. This is the experience Paul is getting at when he says in our first reading, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”

Simon and his fellow fishermen must have been thinking that Jesus fell into the foolishness category when he hopped into their boat, after they had been working hard all night long (to no avail, mind you!), and said, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” What foolishness! But something about Jesus made them follow his instructions, he tapped on their shoulders, whispered into their ears, and they did what he said.

And not only were they rewarded with a great catch of fish, but they were also called to catch people for God’s reign. Talk about God laughing at your plans! They had only ever known fishing, and now they were evangelists, apostles and teachers. And we know how wild a ride it was for them. They never expected the danger that surrounded Jesus in his last days. They never expected to be holed up in an upper room trying to figure out what to do next. They never expected to be martyred, but all of that was what God had in mind for them. And all of it was filled with blessing.

So what foolishness does God have planned for us today? How will he tap us on the shoulder or whisper into our ear? Whatever it is, may he find us all ready to leave everything behind and follow him.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Vigil Mass)

Today’s readings

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.  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.”

And so we have gathered here this evening to celebrate the life of Mary, Mother of God, the first of the disciples of Jesus her son.  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, the sting of death will be completely obliterated, as St. Paul tells us today.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus seems to cast his mother to the side.  But what is important for us to see in this short little passage is that he is rather extending the blessing to all those who believe.  Saying, “Rather, blessed are those
who hear the word of God and observe it” includes his own mother since, obviously, she heard the Word of God – the voice of her own Son – and observed it to the point of accepting a life of hardship as she gave her Son to the world.  In fact, she leads us into blessing by being the first and best example of living the Word of God.

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.  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.

Mary’s life was a prophecy for us.  Like Mary, we are called to a specific vocation to do God’s work in the world.  We are called to make sacrifices so that God’s work can be accomplished in us and through us.  We can be joyful because God is at work in us.  We are called to humility that lets God’s love for others shine through our lives.  We are called to lives of faith that translate into action on behalf of others, a faith that leads God’s people to salvation.  And one day, we hope to share in the glory that Mary has already received in the kingdom of God.

And so as we gather for this holy feast day, we should be encouraged to strengthen our devotion to Mary, the holy Mother of God, whose life was meant to foreshadow the life of the Church.  This feast celebrates the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary, a devotion that I would encourage us all to pray each day.  Having recourse to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a privilege for all Christians.  She is the one who can intercede for us in good times and in bad, who can be our model in living the life of faith, who can stand by us as we strive to give our own fiat, saying yes, to God’s call, who, having crushed the serpent’s head, can help deliver us from every evil. Praise God for the grace of such a powerful and glorious intercessor!

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

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Jesus uses an image in today’s Gospel that would have been very familiar to his hearers, and with it, he illustrates the significance of following one’s vocation in life. In a basically suburban place in the modern world, this image loses some of its immediacy, but I still think Jesus’ illustration is a good one.

We know basically what a shepherd does, right? He cares for a flock of sheep. The shepherd has an important task: he must keep the flock healthy and safe, so that the flock’s owners will be able to get a good price for them at market. He has to find good grazing grounds so the sheep can be fed, must see that they stay together and get to market, and has to keep them safe from predators. Jesus makes a distinction between good and bad shepherds: those who actually care for the sheep as opposed to hired hands who don’t really care. When a predator comes along, the hired hand takes off, leaving the sheep in harm’s way. But not the good shepherd: that shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Of course, Jesus illustrates this beautifully in his own life, and we’ve seen that in these Easter days. The sheep are God’s people, the danger is sin and death, the hired hands who didn’t really care about the sheep were the religious leaders of the time, and the Good Shepherd is Jesus, who laid down his life for God’s people in his crucifixion. That’s what good shepherds do: they give their lives for the flock.

So here’s the take-away: we are all called to be good shepherds. We all have a flock. For a priest, that flock is his parish. For a religious brother or sister, that flock is the community in which they live. For parents, it’s their families. You get the idea. But the important detail is that the task is the same: to save their flock from all danger of the foe. The foe remains sin and death, brought about by the predator who is the devil. The vocation of us shepherds is to get the sheep of our flock to heaven, which is a participation in the vocation of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Which means we have to be true to our promises. For priests, that would be preaching the Gospel faithfully, not just telling people what they want to hear, but challenging them to grow in their relationship with Christ. For parents that means being faithful in their marriages and diligently bringing their children up in the practice of the faith, as they promised at their child’s baptism.

What’s important to know is this: all of our vocations work together. If we’re all faithful to our promises, God can do his work in us and through us. For example, when parents faithfully bring their children to Mass, and priests faithfully preach the Gospel, then children can grow up with a relationship with our Lord that will see them through whatever life throws at them, and can bring them one day to their goal of eternal life.

To all of this, there are many distractions, wolves that threaten to scatter and destroy the flock. But if we are good shepherds, then we can count on the guidance of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to bless our efforts and lead us all to life.

At this time, I ask you all to join me in praying together our vocation prayer, which you can find on your worship aid:

Almighty God,

You have given us the gift of life,

and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Deepen within us a desire to do your will.

Help us to hear and answer your call to serve you.

Guide us to the vocation you have chosen for us,

as a loving spouse and parent in the Sacrament of Marriage, as a single person living a life of generous service, or through a special call to serve you in Religious Life or the Priesthood.

May your Holy Spirit keep us always close to your Son Jesus, and help us to say yes to Him

with the gift of our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Easter Friday

Today’s readings

“Come have breakfast.”  These are some of my favorite words of Holy Scripture!  I say that in jest, but I truly think these are significant words in Scripture.  Here Jesus appears to his disciples, and just like the appearance on the way to Emmaus, the disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread, as he is feeding them.  Jesus’ preferred way to be present to his people is by feeding us in our hunger, and that is truly something to celebrate in these Easter days.

It is always interesting to me that the disciples, who, we are told, were trained fishermen, never catch anything unless they are with Jesus.  Go through the Gospels and you will see that this is true.  Their nets always come up empty until he gives the command to cast the nets.  Then they can hardly bring in the catch because of the sheer number of fish they have caught.  Today’s episode finds the disciples dejected, not sure where to go, ready to return to their former life and their former career.  They had not yet made sense of the whole Jesus event.  Just when they thought things were going well, he is betrayed by one of their own brothers, arrested, killed on a cross.  And now he is appearing to them here and there.  They have no idea what to do so they do what they always used to do … they go fishing.

And it is Jesus once again who not only gives them the fish, but cooks breakfast for them.  They were hungering for wisdom, for some way to make sense of everything they had experienced.  And Jesus provides that by breaking bread with them, and helping them to see that it is only in him that their life makes any sense.  They’re not going to find it in their former work, they’re not going to find it in their pre-conceived notions about the Messiah.  They’re only going to find it by taking up the cross themselves, dying to what has made them feel comfortable, and rising to a freedom that nothing can match.  Then, in their relationship with Jesus, they’ll really be able to go fishing and will produce a catch that no net can contain.

We too, are called to go fishing for the Lord in some way, but we’ll never catch anything if we go off on our own.  Praise God that he is always willing to go fishing with us!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Jesus uses a very familiar image today to illustrate the significance of following one’s vocation in life.  He talks about a shepherd, which in an agrarian culture like his own, would have immediately made sense to his hearers.  In a suburban place in the modern world, it loses some of its immediacy, but I still think Jesus’ illustration is a good one.

We know basically what a shepherd does, right?  He cares for a flock of sheep.  The shepherd has an important task: he must keep the flock healthy and safe, so that the flock’s owners will be able to get a good price for them at market.  He has to find good grazing grounds so the sheep can be fed, must see that they stay together and get to market, and has to keep them safe from predators.  Jesus makes a distinction between good and bad shepherds: those who actually care for the sheep as opposed to hired hands who don’t really care.  When a predator comes along, the hired hand takes off, leaving the sheep in harm’s way.  But not the good shepherd: that shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Of course, Jesus illustrates this beautifully in his own life, and we’ve seen that in these Easter days.  The sheep are God’s people, the danger is sin and death, the hired hands who didn’t really care about the sheep were the religious leaders of the time, and the Good Shepherd is Jesus, who laid down his life for God’s people in his crucifixion.  That’s what good shepherds do: they give their lives for the flock.
So here’s the take-away: we are all called to be good shepherds.  We all have a flock.  For a priest, that flock is his parish.  For a religious brother or sister, that flock is the community in which they live.  For parents, it’s their families.  You get the idea.  But the important detail is that the task is the same: to save their flock from all danger of the foe.  The foe remains sin and death, brought about by the predator who is the devil.  The vocation of us shepherds is to get the sheep of our flock to heaven, which is a participation in the vocation of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Which means we have to be true to our promises. For priests, that would be preaching the Gospel faithfully, not just telling people what they want to hear, but challenging them to grow in their relationship with Christ.  For parents that means being faithful in their marriages and diligently bringing their children up in the practice of the faith, as they promised at their child’s baptism.
What’s important to know is this: all of our vocations work together.  If we’re all faithful to our promises, God can do his work in us and through us.  For example, when parents faithfully bring their children to Mass, and priests faithfully preach the Gospel, then children can grow up with a relationship with our Lord that will see them through whatever life throws at them, and can bring them one day to their goal of eternal life.
To all of this, there are many distractions, wolves that threaten to scatter and destroy the flock.  But if we are good shepherds, then we can count on the guidance of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to bless our efforts and lead us all to life.

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I always think it’s interesting that whenever we see Peter and the others doing what they grew up doing – that is, fishing – they are never doing any good at it unless Jesus is around.  Today’s Gospel is no different.  Here Jesus comes along and sits in his boat, and tells Simon to put out the nets for a catch.  I can almost feel him thinking “Put out my nets?  What do you think I’ve been doing all night long?

But when he gives in to his curiosity about Jesus, he is rewarded beyond anything he can possibly imagine.  The catch fills, and more than fills, two boats!  This great abundance foreshadows they way that Jesus will fill their lives and give them purpose beyond anything fishing can do.  Yes, they will be catching people, not fish, and winning hearts for the kingdom, but they will also find their true calling and be fulfilled in ways they could never have imagined.

Of it all, Peter feels unworthy:  “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  We might all feel that way when Jesus fills up our lives and reveals our true calling.  But we will never be truly fulfilled unless we leave everything and follow him.

The Epiphany of the Lord: Journey and Vocation

Today’s readings

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”  This was the question those magi asked after their long and harrowing journey.  They had observed the star at its rising and were proceeding to pay tribute to the newborn king.  They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  We know the story well enough; we’ve heard it so many times.  But maybe this time, we can make a resolution not to lose sight of this wonderful event in the year to come.

We celebrate Epiphany today, and Epiphany is a revelation, a manifestation of God here among us earthly creatures.  Epiphany is God doing a God-thing so that we will sit up and take notice.  But it takes some awareness to perceive such an Epiphany, such a wonderful event.  We, like the magi, have to ask the question, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

To answer that question, we well might look toward our manger scenes, or assume we’ll only find him in church or in our prayer books, or in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  And, of course, we will find the Lord there – those are wonderful places to start.  But the event of the Epiphany of the Lord reminds us that God wants to do a God thing in us in all sorts of circumstances.  So now we have to find God at work, at school, in our homes, in our community.

Can we see the Lord in the demanding customer, the needy co-worker, the sulky teenager, the hovering parent, the snippy public servant?  We have to.  We dare not ever miss the opportunity to seek out the newborn King in every situation!  How could we ever turn up our nose at an opportunity for grace?  Why would we ever knowingly miss a situation that could help us grow in holiness?

Finding the Lord is a journey that we all must make, at every stage of our lives.  God wants to do God-things in us all the time, leading us this way and that, helping us to know him in more profound ways and more relevant ways at all the stops and starts of our life-long journey of faith.

For all of us, as we pursue the question of where is Christ in our lives, and as we make the journey with him, we are called also to discern our vocation.  Everyone has a vocation: some as parents, some as single people, some as ordained priests or consecrated religious.  God has a plan for all of our lives, and it is up to us on this Epiphany day, as well as every other day, to continue to seek clarity of that plan and to be certain we are following it as best we can.

Where is the newborn king for us?  Are we ready to make the journey?

The Epiphany of the Lord

Today’s readings

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”  This was the question those magi asked after their long and harrowing journey.  They had observed the star at its rising and were proceeding to pay tribute to the newborn king.  They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  We know the story well enough; we’ve heard it so many times.  But maybe this time, we can make a resolution not to lose sight of this wonderful event in the year to come.

We celebrate Epiphany today, and Epiphany is a revelation, a manifestation of God here among us earthly creatures.  Epiphany is God doing a God-thing so that we will sit up and take notice.  But it takes some awareness to perceive such an Epiphany, such a wonderful event.  We, like the magi, have to ask the question, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

The journey of the magi was undoubtedly long and arduous.  T.S. Eliot hints at this in his poem, “Journey of the Magi:”

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

It is well for us to pay heed to this poem.  Because we too make a journey to the Epiphany of the Lord.  We too are seeking the newborn king.  It is the goal of our lives to be seekers, to find Christ in our world: to meet him in the poor and marginalized, to feed him in the hungry, to minister to his needs as we give of ourselves to others.  Some days, the journey might be joy-filled and glorious, other days it may be long and difficult.

For all of us, as we pursue the question of where is Christ in our lives, and as we make the journey with him, we are called also to discern our vocation.  Everyone has a vocation: some as parents, some as single people, some as ordained priests or consecrated religious.  God has a plan for all of our lives, and it is up to us on this Epiphany day, as well as every other day, to continue to seek clarity of that plan and to be certain we are following it as best we can.

Where is the newborn king for us?  Are we ready to make the journey?

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