Homily for Ascension Sunday

When we recite the Creed at Mass, as we will in just a few moments, have you ever thought about the passage that states, “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”? Today, we are celebrating exactly that event in salvation history, the Ascension of Our Lord.

The feast of the Ascension is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, which happens to be forty days after Easter Sunday, but many diocese, the Archdiocese of Chicago included, have moved it back a couple more days to today, the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The traditional placement of the feast of the Ascension forty days from Easter is significant, as our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us. Following his resurrection, Our Lord spent forty days with the Apostles teaching them and preparing them for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The number forty frequently appears within the Scriptures whenever there is an event that is important within God’s plan of salvation. Examples would be the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, the forty days and forty nights that the Great Flood lasted, even the forty days Our Lord spent fasting in preparation for his ministry. All of these events were important periods of preparation for a key point in salvation history. The forty days before the Ascension is no less important. During this time, Our Lord was preparing the Apostles for the reception of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, as well as their mission to preach to the whole world, as St. Matthew records in his Gospel.

Getting back to the first reading, we hear that Jesus ascended into heaven on the fortieth day, disappearing behind a cloud. What’s the significance of the cloud? Did he just happen to pass through a random cloud as he ascended? Not quite. As I’ve mentioned in previous homilies, there is symbolism throughout the Scriptures. The cloud is more than just a convenient way for Jesus to disappear as he ascends, but is actually a symbol of Heaven itself. By disappearing into the cloud, Jesus is shown to already be in Heaven, seated at the right hand of God. In fact, throughout the Scriptures, clouds are present whenever God manifests himself, such as the Father speaking through the clouds at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River or again at the Transfiguration.

When Our Lord ascended into Heaven, he completed his saving work on Earth, opening the gates of Heaven to us who follow him. Not only does this event lift our hearts to God, as the priest exhorts us to do at every Mass, but it finishes the work that Jesus began in his passion and continued through his death and resurrection. The Ascension of Our Lord opens the gates of Heaven to allow us to enter, while also allowing God’s grace to flow through us by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon all who believe.

As believers, we all want to be recipients of that grace, and we definitely want to follow Our Lord through the gates of Heaven and receive our eternal reward. How do we do this? In order to receive these gifts from our Heavenly Father, we must prepare ourselves much as the Apostles were prepared throughout the forty days that they spent with Jesus following his resurrection. Now, many of us can’t leave work, family, and other obligations to spend forty days totally immersed in prayer and reflection, but we have the tools available to prepare throughout our lives. Most importantly, we have the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, which provide the graces that we need to overcome our sinful nature and to bring us closer to God. We also have devotions, such as the Rosary, which can aid us in developing a regular pattern of prayer. In addition, we can spend time in study and reflection over the Scriptures, allowing us to be immersed in God’s word. Many more tools are available; these are just a small sampling of the wide variety available to us.

As we celebrate this feast of the Ascension, may we imitate the Apostles in preparation, and one day follow Our Lord into Heaven after our time on Earth is finished.

Vocations and Obedience

Another wonderful post from Fr. John Speekman, the priest in Australia, this time on vocational discernment and priestly obedience. Amazing how priests who are obedient to their bishops and to the Church are also the ones who are more effective in promoting and encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Think that’s a coincidence? I don’t.

The Healing Presence in an ICU

A priest in Australia has posted a beautiful reflection on what it means to offer the Sacraments in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. Although I didn’t have the ability to offer any of the Sacraments in ICU when I did my hospital experience, I did spend two shifts visiting ICU. It scared the daylights out of me the first time, but was also the most powerful experience I had throughout that summer. Several times, I visited and prayed with someone who was unable to speak because of a breathing tube. While it was obviously frustrating to them that they couldn’t speak, the look of joy and peace in their eyes after we prayed told me everything. I wish I could have offered them Anointing, but God willing, I’ll be able to do that many times over throughout my priesthood.

Impressions on the Papal Visit

It’s been a week since our Holy Father returned to Rome. In the relatively short time that he was in the United States, I think he changed a lot of people’s opinion of him, while simultaneously confusing the mainstream media to no end. In the preparation for the Pope’s arrival, the MSM was doing it’s best to make Pope Benedict look like a German hardliner who was going to put the smack down on dissident groups. Many articles that I read made him look like an old fogey who was out of touch with the youth, with issues in America, heck, out of touch with everything in general. Were they in for a surprise.

I found the surprise of the MSM to be quite evident when looking at the reporting in the newspapers and 24-hour news stations. Instead of dropping the hammer, Pope Benedict gave a very uplifting and positive, while still challenging, series of addresses. Instead of looking unpopular and out of touch, the fact that 20,000+ youth and seminarians came from around the country to see him spoke volumes about his appeal. Instead of looking tired and frail, Pope Benedict looked enlivened and energized by the reaction of the youth. He even had a bit of a sheepish grin when he forgot to read the Spanish part of his address.

Is Pope Benedict as lively and dynamic as Pope John Paul II was? No, it’s still obvious that Pope Benedict is a German theologian, which is not a bad thing, just different from JP2. It was also obvious that he truly loves the People of God and wants to reach out to each and every one of us. That’s what I feel this visit was all about. This was his opportunity to personally reach out to the Church in the United States and to be present to as many people as possible. He requested the youth rally, and it’s obvious that he found great joy in being able to spend time with the youth and seminarians. It’s obvious by the reactions that I saw that the youth and seminarians enjoyed his presence just as much.

The trip was long and tiring, but it’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was a wonderful opportunity to praise God and see the Church in all it’s glory. Our Pope came to see us; the least we could do is return the favor.

Bible Study Recordings coming soon

Over the past 5 weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to lead a Bible study on the Acts of the Apostles at St. Raphael’s, the parish that I’ve been assisting at. With the exception of the first class, I’ve been recording the sessions on a digital recorder, so I’m considering posting these lessons through a podcast. This may even be an opportunity to continue these Bible study sessions in a more distance-learning format. I’ve really been enjoying teaching the classes, and those who attend seem to be really enjoying it as well (they keep coming back, so I must be doing something right!).

Here’s the outline for the classes:

Session 1 – Introduction – “What is this Bible thing?” (The recording was corrupted 🙁 )
Session 2 – Acts Ch. 2 – “The Third Glorious Mystery”
Session 3 – Acts Ch. 9 – “Conversion of Saul”
Session 4 – Acts Chs. 10-11 – “Peter and the Gentiles”
Session 5 – Acts Ch. 15 – “Council of Jerusalem”
Session 6 – Acts Ch. 13-28 – “Journeyman Paul”

Please let me know in the comments for this post if there is some interest in listening to these classes.

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

In the Gospel today, Our Lord promises us that he will send an Advocate who will be with us always to lead, guide and protect us. This Advocate will be a Spirit of truth, and will help us to live that truth in our lives, bringing us to Christ. Through the work of this Advocate, we will be able to love Jesus and follow his commandments. In return, Jesus promises that he will love us, and that God, our Heavenly Father, will also love us and we will reside in Jesus, and Jesus will reside in us. This Advocate which Our Lord promises to us is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity, who came down upon the Apostles at Pentecost, and continues to come down upon us today in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

In the first reading, we see the importance of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Crowds of Samaritans had begun to believe in Jesus, and were baptized, but it wasn’t until the Apostles Peter and John came to the Samaritans and laid hands on them that they received the Holy Spirit. Through the laying on of hands, Peter and John confirmed the belief of the Samaritans and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Holy Spirit comes down upon the baptized believer, completing the process of initiation which began in the Sacrament of Baptism and is continued through the reception of the Eucharist. When we were confirmed, we received the Holy Spirit, which tied us more closely to the Church, uniting us more intimately to the Body of Christ, which we entered at our baptism. It also more strongly obliges us to spread the Gospel throughout the world, while also giving us the obligation to defend the Gospel against those in the world who would attack it.

Among Catholics, there tends to be a common misunderstanding about the Sacrament of Confirmation. For many Catholics, especially those who are in preparation for the Sacrament, there is a tendency to view reception of Confirmation as a “graduation” from religious education. With this view, the newly confirmed feel that they are no longer obligated to attend any religious education program. This, of course, is an inaccurate understanding, as we should be open to any opportunity to grow in our understanding of the Christian faith, allowing ourselves to draw closer to Jesus by learning about him. Only through growth in our faith can we more powerfully and effectively fulfill Jesus’ command to preach the Gospel to all nations.

So, how do we preach this Gospel? As we heard in the second reading today, St. Peter tells us that we must “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” By growing in our faith, both spiritually and intellectually, we are able to explain our faith with greater clarity and true desire to share the faith we hold. By sharing our faith, we are fulfilling the commandment by Our Lord to spread the Gospel to all nations. All of us, through our baptism and reception of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation are obligated to preach the Gospel. We do this mainly by living our lives as Jesus commands us: to love God with our whole heart, soul, and being; and to love our neighbor as ourself. By following these commandments, we are able to show how much we love Our Lord. In return, Our Lord promises to love us, and that God, our Heavenly Father, will also love us. Likewise, Jesus promises to be united with us, and we will be united with him. Through our examples when living out our belief in the Gospel, others will be drawn closer to Christ, while we ourselves will also be drawn closer to him.

As we come closer to the end of this Easter Season, may the Holy Spirit guide us into loving Christ and following his commands, and may we experience the depth of Jesus’ love.

Homily for Monday in the Fifth Week of Easter

At Mundelein Seminary, each deacon is required to preach one homily to the seminary community. This was my opportunity, so it’s obviously geared more towards seminarians than my usual homilies. Of course, it came the day after we returned from the Papal Youth Rally, so I had to throw a little of Pope Benedict’s address into this homily. Hope you enjoy.

In the Gospel today, Our Lord gives us not only one, but two great promises. First, he promises that those who love him will dwell with Jesus and his Father. Second, he promises to send the Holy Spirit to teach and guide. For those of us who are called to the ordained ministry, these promises can be, and should be, very comforting, but they also provide a sense of direction for our lives and ministry.

We know that the Father wants all men and women to love him and to spend eternity with him. We also know that this will not be forced on anyone, but must be a free response on the part of the individual person. This is very comforting for those of us who have responded and continue to respond positively to God’s invitation for love, but it also provides the challenge to show God’s love to those around us who may not have responded in the same way. In the first reading, Paul and Barnabas were in the midst of their ministry proclaiming the Gospel and showing God’s love to all they encountered. While we may not be required to walk the countryside healing the lame, as they did in today’s reading, we still have the obligation to visit the sick, comfort the sorrowing, and all the other corporal and spiritual works of mercy. By performing these works not for show, but through a sincere love of God and neighbor, we will show the love of God and guide others to loving him.

This is where the second promise comes in. Those of us who are called to enter into the ordained ministry are to be conduits through which the Holy Spirit will be able to teach us and remind us of all that Jesus told us. For this reason, we must be open to the work of the Spirit within our lives. We will be called to preach the Gospel, and must spend time in prayer and reflection on the Scriptures to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our words. We must continue to study, spending even just a few minutes every day reading a book that will help us grow theologically and spiritually. We must be open to ministering in places and situations that we might find personally uncomfortable or beyond our abilities. We must open ourselves to the guidance of the Spirit, both for ourselves and for those we serve as ministers.

If we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, we will show the love that we have for God and will lead others to experience God’s love for themselves. As Pope Benedict reminded us at the youth rally on Saturday, “Remember that what counts before the Lord is to dwell in his love and to make his love shine forth for others.” May the Holy Spirit come down upon us to allow God’s love to shine through us.

Liveblogging from Papal Youth Rally

Right now, I'm crowed in with over 20,000 youth and seminarians. Fr. Stan Fortuna was just on, Third Day was on earlier, and a group of three beautiful women called the Three Graces are performing now. The weather is perfect, sunny and warm. Papa Benedict will be here soon.

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

“The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” Psalm 23 is probably the most recognizable of the Psalms, and definitely the most popular. It’s easy to see why, as the Psalm evokes a very peaceful scene of a beautiful, grass covered landscape with sheep peacefully grazing and a shepherd calmly watching over his flock.

Today, on this Fourth Sunday of the Easter Season, we celebrate what is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In addition, this Sunday is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It’s no coincidence that we celebrate both on the same day, as the two are intrinsically linked. Our understanding of Christ as the Good Shepherd influences our understanding of religious vocations.

In the passages we just heard, we see Christ symbolized as a Good Shepherd, who leads, protects, and guides his flock. As Christians, we are members of this flock. I once heard someone say that it was an insult to be called sheep, as sheep are usually portrayed as slow, stupid creatures that follow their shepherd blindly. This isn’t the case, however, as sheep are actually quite intelligent, as far as animals go. As the Gospel tells us, they can recognize the voice of their shepherd and follow him, while shying away from those whose voices they don’t recognize.

In our world today, many voices try to draw us away from the Good Shepherd. Popular media, such as movies, television shows, and music, try to draw us one way. News channels and programs bring another call. Even the day-to-day demands of life provide an alternative message. Through all this noise, how can we hear the voice of our Good Shepherd calling us to him?

To help us to follow him, we have the Church, which is symbolized as a sheepfold, a fenced-in pen used for protection of the flock. The sheepfolds were used by shepherds to corral the sheep every evening so that they wouldn’t wander away while the shepherd slept, but it also protected the sheep from predators and those who would try to steal the sheep from the shepherd. The teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium, keeps us from wandering away from Jesus and falling into error, but is also called to protect us from those who would cause our spiritual lives harm.

Christ has also given us earthly shepherds to lead and guide us to him. Bishops and priests are members of the Church called to act on Jesus’ behalf. In fact, when the Pope visits the United States next week, his aircraft will be known as “Shepherd 1”, a recognition of his role as earthly shepherd serving the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

All of us have a vocation that we’re called to. For most Christians, indeed the great majority of Christians, the call is to live in the world, whether in the married or single state. This is a highly important vocation, and should not be minimized by anyone. Some men and women are called to enter into a religious vocation, giving up everything to spend their lives working and praying for the coming of the Kingdom. Other men, such as myself, are called to enter the ministerial priesthood, serving the Lord and his people by preaching the word of God, administering the sacraments, and reaching out to those in need.

In the United States, there is a concern within the Church regarding the number of vocations. Many diocese, my own included, are either facing a priest shortage, or will be soon. Many religious orders are also having problems with lack of potential vocations. How do we overcome this problem? First, we must pray for those who are in a religious vocation, those who are discerning a religious vocation, and those who may be called, but haven’t answered yet. Second, we must be willing to ask if a young man has considered the priesthood, or if a young man or woman has considered religious life. Chicago’s Called by Name program is an excellent opportunity for this. In my own life, I had someone tell me three times (not ask, mind you, but tell me) that I was going to be a priest. At first, I said no, but her words came back to me several years later. Without that seed being planted, I may never have considered entering the seminary.

Today, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us pray for those men and women discerning their vocations, and let us also pray that more young men and women may hear the call of the Good Shepherd and answer willingly.