Friday, March 30, 2012

Pilgrimage to Ghana - Day 1 The flight from Dayton to DC left a little early and it was very smooth. I boarded the plane for Ghana at about 10:30 PM. It seemed to take forever for all the people on the full 767 to get bags stowed and get seated. After leaving the gate a little late, the captain assured us of an early arrival at Accra. As I was sitting right over the right wing, I noticed the usual testing of the flaps as I heard the hydraulics working right beneath me as we taxied toward the runway. But then we stopped right at the beginning of the runway and the testing of the flaps continued over and over. Eventually the captain told us of a flap indicator issue. We taxied back to the gate where the mechanics could better look at it. Every half hour they gave us an encouraging update. Finally at about 2:20 AM, we were told that the flight would not happen until 8 PM. Over 100 Ghanaians sighed in disappointment. Some were very angry. I waited in line for about an hour to get my vouchers for taxi, hotel and food. All the while there was much commotion among the Ghanaians eager to go home. I finally checked into the Hilton near Dulles airport at 4 AM. Not only was my big bag with all my clothes checked under the plane, but they also "gate checked" my carry-on. So, I had to ask for toothbrush, etc. at the hotel. All I have is a Roman Missal, head phones, camera, iPad and breviary. What else does a traveling priest need?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Homily - 5th Sunday of Lent - Year B

Our readings today remind us to live so closely to Jesus that we become identified with Him, just like his first disciples were.
People came to Philip saying, “We would like to see Jesus.”
As our relationship with the Lord progresses, we begin by seeking Him.
Then we find Him.  We get to know Him and this leads us to love Him.

In our first reading today, the Lord says he will make a New covenant – “All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, say the Lord.”
In the Gospel Jesus says: “I will draw everyone to myself.”
This is starting to be fulfilled even before he goes to the Cross.
We hear today that the Greeks are now coming to him.

After the resurrection, we’re going to hear the story of the amazing catch of fish.
And St. Peter drags the net to shore with supernatural strength.
This is the same verb being used in both these cases.
Jesus drags or draws everyone to himself.
St. Peter drags or draws the net with supernatural strength.
What does this have to do with us?
Jesus uses us to draw everyone to himself.
And that is important because He is the Living God.
The Father says “I have glorified [my Name] and will glorify it again.”
His name is glorified as he takes on human flesh in the Incarnation.
And it is glorified once again in the Resurrection.
Both of these show us the fullness of divinity in Jesus.

And Jesus says the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
How was he glorified?
By a gruesome tortuous death like we see on the cross.
Jesus tells Philip and Andrew that the grain of wheat must die in order to produce fruit.
Can you imagine what these guys are probably thinking?
What does that have to do with you being glorified?
We know how it ends: The Resurrection
But there’s more:
By virtue of our baptism, we are also promised the resurrection.
Jesus wins over death.
And because of his victory, we win over death.

The dead wood of the cross becomes a living tree.
Living trees bear fruit.
This one bears the greatest fruit – eternal life for us.
He has changed death to life, and suffering to redemption.
We still suffer as we embrace our crosses.
But now our suffering has greater redemptive meaning.
Our suffering is now a communion between us and Christ, and between each other.
Since we are in communion with Christ in our suffering,
All suffering brings about healing and redemption.

We all have our crosses to carry.
Some are more obvious than others.
But we never carry our crosses for ourselves alone.
All our crosses are beneficial for the healing of the whole world.
The Christian should see every type of suffering and contradiction as a sharing in the Cross of Christ.
It is through the Cross that we are redeemed and ultimately exalted.
Just like in Christ, humiliation leads to his glorification.

In that victory, the ruler of this world will be driven out.
The Lord has won the war with His death and resurrection.
It just has to be played out in time.
And notice how arrogant and consumed with pride the evil one is.
Even though he has lost the war, he is still going to take as many souls to eternal death as he can.
The victory has been the Lord’s since he walked in the earth.
In the Gospel today the Father speaks in the thunder.
Thunder accompanies the hour of victory.

There is a war for souls in our midst.
And this war is fought on many fronts.
Pope John Paul II coined the phrase: “Culture of Death”.
The culture of death begins with individualism and selfishness.
I do whatever I want for myself right now no matter how it affects others.
This leads to horrible things like murder and abortion.
It leads to robbery and assault.
It leads to things like contraception and sterilization that weaken the family, which is the basic building block of society.
The evil one knows that if he weakens the family, he weakens society.
In a weakened society, without moral character, one that rarely acknowledges the living God, the evil one is easily able to take away souls.
Now many people, who even call themselves Catholics, are willing to trade religious freedom so some can people can have free contraceptives.
If they only knew the damage that it causes society.
A few weeks ago, I gave a homily explaining how that damage happens so I’ll spare you the details once again.
Pope Paul VI predicted way back in 1968 what would happen in a contraceptive mentality.
All his predictions came true.
There would be a general lowering of moral standards.
There would be a rise in marital infidelity.
Men would become more irresponsible.
Women would be used for their bodies.
Divorce would increase.  Out of wedlock births would increase.
This country was founded for religious freedom.
And now many are willing to throw it all away because of a particular ideology.
In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in regards to our religious freedom.
We must fast and pray in these last weeks of Lent.
We must also be people of action.
It is difficult but the things that are worthwhile usually are.
To be supernaturally effective, we must die to self forgetting our own comfort and selfishness.
Earthly prestige is not important but acceptance by God is.
We are challenged to rejoice in accepting the burdens of others and our own.

In Jesus’ humanity, he did not want to suffer and die.
He prays to the Father who gives him the strength.

But we might acknowledge some fear or hesitation to accept our crosses daily.
The Lord gives us the grace we need to take up our cross daily, to take the leap of faith, and trust.
As we enter into the mysteries of the Eucharist, the Lord offers us an abundance of grace to accept our crosses with joy.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I heard this song by Matt Maher called "Your Grace Is Enough". I highly recommend it. But what is grace? One definition is that grace is the life of God. It's like a slice of God's life active in our lives. So we could also say to God: "Youe life is enough." and isn't that exactly what he gave us? During this season of Lent, we focus on that gift of God's life given to us freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully in the person of Jesus Christ. Another line in Maher's song hints at the Channels of this grace, which are the Sacraments: "Heaven reaching down to us..." All the Sacraments are acts of worship that strengthen our communion with God and each other. I heard a priest tell a story about a trip to the grocery store. A child, who was shopping with his mother, spotted the priest and said, "Hey, you're the communion guy!" He is exactly right. The job of the priest is to build communion within the community of God's people. That communion is like the glue that holds the community together. Notice how all the Sacraments are very strong on communion. Baptism brings us into the largest and greatest community in the world, the Church. We become members of God's family. What a communion! In Confirmation, the gifts of the Holy Spirit strengthen community. When that communion is fractured because of our sins, we have the Sacrament of penance to heal that fracture. Anointing of the sick brings many sick and dying to a great sense of peace. Some who are dying feel a sense of "permission" to let go and die. The families of the dying have great peace knowing that their loved one was fortified with that Sacrament. In the sacrament of Marriage, spouses share a bodily communion in the sexual act that mirrors the love of the Trinity. Holy orders is where more "communion guys" are made. The lifelong task of the ordained is to nurture communion. Finally, the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament we call "Communion" regularly, is the source and summit of the Christian life. It's a real intimate communion with God and his Church that we experience by consuming the flesh and blood of Christ. Many have taken up the practice of basking in that communion with Eucharistic adoration. Families build communion by visiting and spending time at the table long after the family meal. We can also build our communion with God by visiting and spending time. For further meditation on this I recommend Fr. Stan Fortuna's song "School of the Eucharist". Both songs I mentioned are available on iTunes...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Homily - 4th Sunday of Lent - Year B

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
The serpent was a sign of death.
People were bitten and they died.
But in God’s wisdom, a sign of death becomes a sign of life.
The cross is a horrible instrument of torture and death.
But in God’s wisdom, that sign of death becomes an even greater sign of life, eternal life.

In the coming weeks we’ll get a vivid reminder of the horror of the Cross.
We’ll get a reminder of how the Lord brings about our salvation through his gruesome death.
But today’s Gospel tells us who and why.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Do we realize how awesome that is?
Everything Jesus does is because God so loved the world.

This is a very popular Gospel verse.
Most of us have seen the John 3:16 signs at sporting events.
Many times, the person holding the sign will be wearing some very loud clothing or a colorful rainbow wig in order to be noticed.
And the reason people hold the sign at sporting events is that this verse could be seen as a summary of the Gospels.

In our second reading today from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he shows us that God is rich in mercy.
We have proof in John 3:16
He sent His Son.
We are dead in our sins and Christ brings us to life.
He is the ultimate Gift from God.

When we look at the culture around us or perhaps at our own lives, we may feel like those described in our first reading today from the 2nd book of Chronicles:
A culture full of infidelity and abominations
Many mocked the messengers of God.
Many despised his warnings. 

In our culture and perhaps in our own lives, the compassion of God is taken for granted.
We prefer darkness to light.
We prefer captivity to freedom.
But let us not lose hope.
The Lord is still immeasurably rich in mercy. 

Here’s a reminder:
Today, we anticipate the joy of Easter in the middle of the penitential season of Lent.
We can wear rose vestments for Laetare Sunday.
That word Laetare is the first word of the Mass today in the entrance antiphon: Rejoice Jerusalem

So just in case we are too wrapped up in our Lenten penances, today is a nice refresher.
We can lift up our heads and notice that the joy of Easter is not far off.
Yes, we are exiled in the world like God’s people were exiled in Babylon.
It’s a nice reminder that this is not our true home.
We are pilgrims passing through.
We can rejoice because we have the perfect guide – God’s only Son.

 But we might acknowledge Jesus persevered through all these horrible things, but how does that help me?  Jesus is God.
Jesus has taken on being human.
He takes on the human senses of the body and the affections of the soul.
Fully human, he was despised in our lowliness.
He was saddened in our human sorrow.
He was crucified with real human pain.
One way we know he experienced all this real human anguish is because in the garden, he asked the Father to let the cup pass by him.

 He did it all in mercy for us and because of the perfect love he has for the Father.
We’re on a collision course with death, eternal death.
And that is unacceptable to the unfathomable love and infinite mercy of our Heavenly Father.

In the coming weeks, we will remember more and more how God gave his Son over to death to bring about our redemption.
His death opens the gates of Heaven for all of us.
But the reason we are Christians is that we know the story doesn’t end there.
We know that on the third day,
Jesus conquered death forever when He rose from the dead.
And by virtue of our baptism, we get the promise of the resurrection also, the eternal life Jesus promises us in John 3:16.

Even though John 3:16 is a nice summary of the great things God does for us, it doesn’t say it all.
John 3:16 tells us that anyone who believes might have eternal life.
Notice it doesn’t say, “will have eternal life.”
It says, “might have eternal life.”

A few verses later, John 3:21 tells us that belief leads us to practicing good works.
Our good works are our response to God’s gift of His only Son.
If we hold this belief in an authentic way,
We will be compelled to do good things.
If we believe that God gave his holy Son to save the world, including me,
We won’t be able to help doing good works.
As we anticipate the joy of Easter in the midst of Lent,
Perhaps we can take another look at our lives and see how we are compelled to do good works because of our faith that promises us eternal life.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The priest is leading the faithful in a procession to the Father. Since he is leading the procession, his face cannot be seen. Furthermore, in this perfect act of worship, the priest represents Christ the head as the faithful assembled represent Christ the body. We have no photographs of Christ but we know he is a man. Thus the priest, a man, is the symbol of Christ leading us in a procession to the Father. In persona Christi, the personality of the priest matters little. He is the faceless man, not drawing attention to himself but leading the faithful to the One being worshipped..