Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We live in a world filled with noise. How many of us constantly have the radio or TV on at home? We get into our cars, and there’s the radio. We walk outside and hear the noise of vehicles, trains, other people. We’re surrounded, even bombarded, with noise constantly. This noise prevents us from hearing the still, small voice of God speaking in our hearts.

Our Lord knew the importance of silence and solitude. After feeding the five thousand, which we heard last week, Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him in a boat so that he could have some time to pray in private. These times of prayer are what fueled Our Lord’s ministry, kept him going, regardless of the demands that were placed upon him. He also made prayer a priority before any major decision or event. This time, Our Lord used the opportunity for prayer to grieve over the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus knew that he could take all his concerns to the Father in prayer, and that he would receive the grace to continue in his earthly ministry.

We need to follow Our Lord’s example. We need to bring our concerns, our challenges, our sorrows to the Father in prayer. When we make a major decision, we need to precede it with time of prayer, asking the Father to lead and guide us so that we may do his will. When we have difficulties in our lives, problems that we feel we can’t overcome, we need to bring those to prayer as well, trusting that God will provide the grace to face these challenges.

In our noisy culture, however, it is extremely difficult to bring ourselves to prayer. Because of the constant noise in the world today, it is difficult to silence ourselves and prepare ourselves to be open to God and listen to His response. While it may be difficult to enter into silence, it is all the more important, as the first reading today shows.

When Elijah, long considered Israel’s greatest prophet, reached Mount Horeb, he sought to speak with God. I think when many of us picture God speaking, we imagine something like the movie “The Ten Commandments.” We imagine that God has a deep, booming voice that shakes the rocks and causes earthquakes. When speaking with Elijah, however, God doesn’t speak that way. He doesn’t speak in a great wind, or an earthquake, or even in fire, but in a tiny whispering sound.

This is how God the Father speaks to us today. He doesn’t yell at us, he doesn’t force us to hear him. Instead, he whispers to us. He speaks softly in our hearts, inviting us to enter into silence and prayer so that we can hear his voice. God does answer our prayers, he does speak to us, but he does it so softly that the noise of the world can easily drown it out.

This is why we must allow for periods of silence in our lives. Every day, we must take time to turn off the TV or radio, get away from the noise of the world and listen to God. We need to spend time in prayer, bringing the challenges of our lives, the struggles we’re facing, the sorrows and joys of daily life to God. We also need to spend time silently waiting for an answer. It may not come right away, and it may not even be during times of prayer, but we need to have the periods of silence to open our hearts to God, and prepare them to follow his will.

How do we find this time for silence? It’s often very difficult to do, but is so important for our spiritual well-being. One option is to schedule time during the day to spend in a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. The church is always open throughout the day, so anyone can stop in and spend time before Our Lord in the Tabernacle. I realize that it is often impossible to actually spend an hour in adoration, but I wouldn’t be discouraged if you can’t do one hour. Even if you only can spend fifteen minutes in front of Our Lord in silent prayer, the graces that we receive from simply stopping by are immeasurable. Our Lord is here in the church, waiting for us to spend time with him. May we have the faith to spend time with Our Lord in silence.

New Translation of the Ordinary of the Mass

Last week, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) formally approved the new translation of the Ordinary of the Mass. This has been a long time coming, as I remember seeing a early draft almost five years ago. Today, the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship released the recently approved parts of the order of the Mass. In my opinion, the new translation will be well worth waiting for. The language is far more poetic, while also maintaining consistency with the original Latin. The imagery within the prayers is far more vivid. The Roman Canon almost looks like a completely different prayer, with a translation that seems to flow better and connects more evenly as a whole.

One example of the improved imagery within the prayers comes in Eucharistic Prayer II. In the Sacramentary, the epiclesis is translated, “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” In the new translation, the same line is translated, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” I love the imagery of the Holy Spirit coming upon the gifts like the dew on the grass, very gently and peacefully.

I’m looking forward to being able to celebrate Mass using this translation. It’s very much worthy of the dignity and beauty of the Mass, and I pray that the rest of the translations are as beautiful as this one is!

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

When we look at the feeding of the five thousand, which we see in today’s Gospel, it’s easy to focus on the surface meaning of the miracle. Our Lord was able to feed five thousand men, plus women and children who were not counted in the five thousand, by multiplying five loaves and two fishes. This in itself would be an incredible event, but there is a far deeper message within Jesus’ actions: the deep and sustaining love of God for each of us.

All those who followed Jesus would have considered the gift of bread and fish in today’s miracle as a great gift indeed, but few, if any, realized the deeper gift that Our Lord was preparing for his disciples: the Eucharist. Even in his great sorrow over the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus was willing to give of himself to care for the those who followed Him. He knew the faith of those who followed him, and was able to work with that faith to feed them.

Much as Jesus fed the five thousand, Our Lord is also able to feed us through his gift of himself in the Eucharist. This is not merely a physical feeding, as he was able to do with the five thousand, but a spiritually fulfilling meal. Just as Jesus was able to take five loaves of bread and give them to everyone who was present, Our Lord is able to take simple bread and wine and change it into His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity at every Mass that is celebrated throughout the world. Instead of feeding just five thousand, He is able to give himself to all those who follow him throughout time and space.

Just as Our Lord willingly gave to those who followed him out of love, He gives Himself to us out of the same love. Even with his sorrow, Our Lord had compassion on those who followed him, and willingly healed the sick and fed the crowds out of His love. When we receive the Eucharist, we are also receiving the benefit of His love for us.

As Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, God loves us so much that nothing outside of us can separate us from him. Even when Our Lord was in need of solitude, he did not allow that desire to come between himself and His people, but he reached out in pity to those who had traveled far to follow Him. In the same way, Our Lord does not allow anything to come between us and Him, but is constantly reaching out to us in love, constantly sending us the grace to respond to His love and turn to him.

While we can never be separated from God’s love, we can still turn our back on Him. Instead of responding to God’s love with joy and our own love for Him, we can instead refuse His love and ignore him. God loves us so much that He is willing to allow us to refuse his love and ignore Him. In effect, the only way that we can separate ourselves from God is through our own actions. God will never abandon us, but He will allow us to abandon him.

So how do we respond to Our Lord in love? First and foremost, we need to realize that when we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the greatest gift that Jesus can give us: himself. We need to approach the Eucharist with devotion, and receive it with true joy and a desire to unite ourselves with Him. We need to make sure that we’re receiving the Eucharist out of true love for Our Lord, and not merely because it’s what Catholics are expected to do when we come to Mass.

As St. Jose Maria Escrivá wrote, we must prepare to receive Our Lord as if it were the only time that we would be able to receive Him. I would venture to say that if we were only able to receive the Eucharist once in our lives, we would prepare for the event much like many people prepare for graduations, weddings, and baptisms. Very few people take these major events for granted, with good reason. In the same way, we should not take the Eucharist for granted.

When we receive the Eucharist, Our Lord reaches out to us in love and feeds us with himself. May we never turn away from Him, but always respond to His love.

Twitter vs. blogging

Well, the inner geek in me finally won out, and I’ve signed up for a Twitter account. For those who are not familiar with Twitter, it’s a “microblog” that allows entries of 140 characters or less. It’s meant to show those who follow you what you’re up to. For example, someone could post “Going to the grocery store. Back in an hour.” or “I’m about to pick up the newest book by John C. Wright.” (P.S.: Check out his blog on the left.) It’s also good for posting quick quips or thoughts. Either way, I’m going to be posting there a lot more than I do here, I promise.

Spreading the Gospel through mission statements

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become increasingly uneasy with a lot of mission statements that parishes and diocese have adopted. Most of these statements sound good, talking about walking the Gospel walk and talking the social justice talk, but there always seems to be something missing. For a while I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I realized this weekend what seemed to be missing: many of these mission statements don’t have any sort of evangelization aspect. These statements are often filled with statements like: “We are committed to living the Gospel values”, “We will work for justice and peace”, and so on. What these statements often don’t have is a clear indication of any desire to spread the Gospel: “We commit to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world, both in our words and actions.” Here’s a rough draft of how I think a truly Catholic mission statement should be written:

As members of the Catholic Church, we believe in all that has been revealed to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ, whether through Scripture or Tradition. We are committed to fulfilling Our Lord’s commands by spreading the Gospel to the whole world, inviting all peoples to receive Our Lord’s gift of salvation, both within the Church and outside of her. We do this by gathering as a community for worship through the Holy Mass and regular devotions, through our commitment to social justice, and by living the Gospel values in our daily lives.

Now, this probably needs a lot of work, but I hope this draft can be a starting point for further discussion on a framework on a truly Catholic mission statement. Then again, maybe we can just use Mark 16:15 as mission statement: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (RSV:CE)

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.