A Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (A-2016)

While obviously I do not have children, I know how protective I am of my nieces and nephews, especially when they were very young.  I can only imagine the worrying that you parents do over your children.

Keeping your children safe has to be one of parents’ primary concerns.  Parents use child safety locks, car seats, baby gates, helmets, and I have even seen parents using leases to keep their children safe.  As children grow, the dangers they face in this world are so great that many parents wish they could wrap their children in bubble wrap to keep them safe from all the potential hurt and danger that children, teenagers, and young adults often confront.

​Today’s first reading talks about a young child guiding a lion, a baby playing by a cobra’s den, and a child placing their hand on a snake’s lair.  It sounds like a tragic news story in the making!  However, God assures us that, one day, even these things will be harmless.  Pain and harm will be no more, because the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.  ​Knowing God – truly knowing Him – changes everything about a person.  Knowing God in the way that the Bible means, is to surrender oneself to God; to make a total conversion of all aspects of one’s life.  Imagine a day when everyone in the world has dedicated themselves to knowing, loving, and serving the one true God of heaven and earth.  That day will come.  Christ ushered it in when He took on our humanity, lived, died, rose, and ascended into heaven for our salvation.  That day is coming.  It is what we long for.  It is what we hope for.  It is what we live for.  Come, Lord Jesus!

​While it is true that salvation is a gift given to us by God, we still need to cooperate with the grace of our salvation.  First, this means accepting the gift.  We accept the gift by allowing the gift to transform us.  We should live, move and having our being in a different way now that we are saved.  It is not enough to just “talk the talk.”  We also have to “walk the walk.”

​This is what St. John the Baptist was talking about in today’s Gospel reading when he reproaches the Sadducees and Pharisees who come to him for baptism.  I am named after St. John the Baptist, so I have always felt an attraction to him, but I don’t think I could get away with calling people a “brood of vipers” like he does in today’s Gospel.  He tells the Pharisees and Sadduccees to “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”  In other words, “show that you walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.”

​Imagine if the deacons and I demanded proof from parents who ask to have their babies baptized that they are practicing their faith and are going to raise their children in the Faith.  How many would be able to provide proof?  Many of us consider ourselves stereotypical “good Catholics,” but how is that bearing itself out in our lives?  What “good fruit” do we have to show for it?  Do we go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, or just when it is convenient?  Do we put the Word of God that we hear at Mass into action.  Are we welcoming to people, even the stranger?  Do we recognize the needs in our community – perhaps homelessness, people in need of food, rent assistance, or addicted to drugs – and then stand up to do something to address these problems?  Or do we, like Scrooge, say “well, that is why we pay taxes,” and think we don’t need to get involved?

​Advent is a time when we should be asking ourselves how we can bear more good fruit for Jesus.  Here is a suggestion of an activity you can do with your family to help focus on the meaning of Advent.  Set up a nativity set within reach of your children (if your kids are very young, get a kids’ friendly nativity and keep the nice china one up out of reach).  Then keep a small pile of hay, or strips of yellow construction paper, nearby for the children – and Mom and Dad – to add to the manger to get it ready to keep baby Jesus warm.  Every time the child – and Mom and Dad – perform a good deed, or makes a sacrifice of some kind, or says an extra prayer, they can add a piece of hay.  This reminds everyone in the household that during Advent we make an extra effort to make our hearts and our homes a little bit warmer and welcoming for Jesus.

​So let’s get stuffing those mangers by both talking the talk and walking the walk.  Baby Jesus is waiting to be born in our hearts, and together we can all bear good fruit.

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“There’s a New Day Coming!”

As we continue our Advent journey, the theme continues to be “Get ready!” But get ready for what? Today’s readings tell us that we are to get ready for “There’s a new day coming!”

This New Day is the Kingdom of God. The Prophet Isaiah beautifully describes this New Day, this Kingdom of God. First, it will be ruled by the ideal king, a second David. This ideal king will be lead by the Spirit of God, doing only what God wants him to do, and saying only what God wants him to say. This Davidic King will be assisted by what have come to be known as the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, fear of the Lord, and reverence (the second “fear of the Lord”).

Of course, we know that this ideal, Davidic King has already come, and He is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect image of God the Father, only doing and saying what His Father tells Him to do and say. Jesus is always one with both the Father and the Holy Spirit, they have one will, and it is a will for the salvation of all people.

Jesus has established the Kingdom of God, yet it is not yet completed. As His followers, His disciples, we are called to continue to build up the Kingdom of God until it is perfected at the end of time, when Christ the King will return. How do we do that?

First, we need to repent. St. John the Baptist is the very image of this call to repentance. John is something of the wildman, living in the desert. Yet, we must remember it was during the 40 years in the desert, during the Exodus, that Israel most lived a life dependent on God, allowing Him to lead them. John, even in his appearance, reminds the people of this need to repent, to return to God. Yet John makes it very clear that it takes more than just words to repent. He says in today’s Gospel, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”

What are the good fruit in our lives that is the evidence of our repentance? If our branches are rather bare, then Advent is a time for us to prune the dead branches, and ask the Lord to re-vitalize us. We need to ask for a deeper outpouring of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are permanent dispositions by which we are made docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

It is not too late to get ready for Christmas. I don’t mean getting our Christmas shopping done, and our homes decorated. Those things surely make the season festive, but they are meaningless if we do not know the reason for the season. We are getting ready for Jesus to come into our lives, as He came into the world over 2000 years ago, and as He has promised to come again when His Kingdom will be perfected. Yet Jesus is always wanting to be born into our lives, we just need to be ready to receive Him, and be Awake and Alert, so that we recognize Him when He comes into our lives.


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Order of Christian Burial

Last week I wrote in general about why we, as Christians, give such attention to remembering the dead. It our faith that God created us to be both body and soul, and therefore we need to respect the body both during life, and after death.

In order to exercise this respect for the faithful departed, the Church has a number of liturgical rites which as Catholics we should have done when we die. I want to emphasize this, because it is becoming too common for children not to have the Rites of Christian Funeral performed when their parents die. Sadly, too many adult children do not place much value on religious belief, and they want to save money by just having a wake at the funeral home, and skip the Mass of Christian Burial. I would ask that all of you make it very clear to your family what you want when you die. Burying the dead is a very serious obligation of the Faithful; it is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy.

The first of the Rites of the Church for the Faithful departed is the Vigil. This is typically done the night before the funeral Mass. It is usually done at the funeral parlor, although it can be done in the church or even at the family’s home.

This when many of the deceased person’s family and friends come to “pay their respects” to the family. It is at the Vigil that the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to God, and we seek strength in Christ’s presence. It is the first occasion to turn to God’s Word as a source of faith and hope, “as light and life in the face of darkness and death.” The Vigil is the best time to share stories and memories of the deceased, so it is at this rite that it is best to have the eulogy. The Rite of the Vigil for the Deceased is made up of the welcome/introduction, the liturgy of the Word, prayers of intercession, and then a concluding blessing. It is usually presided over by a deacon or a priest, although in times of need, a trained member of the laity may also lead the prayers.

The funeral liturgy is the central liturgical celebration of the Christian community for the faithful departed. This is the funeral Mass. The preference of the Church is always for the funeral Mass, since the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, but there may be situations when a funeral liturgy outside of Mass might be more appropriate.

The funeral liturgy is the time for the family and friends of the deceased to give praise and thanks to God for Jesus’ victory over sin and death, to commend the deceased to God’s mercy, and to seek strength in the proclamation of the Paschal Mystery. It is an affirmation of our belief that through baptism we share in Christ’s death and resurrection, and can look forward to the day when all the elect will be raised up and united in the Kingdom of God. The structure of the funeral liturgy begins with the reception of the body at the church, which is followed by the liturgy of the Word. If it is a funeral Mass, then comes the liturgy of the Eucharist, and it is concluded by the Final Commendation and Farewell.

The last rite of the Church for the Faithful departed is the Rite of Committal. It is the last act of the community of faith in caring for the body of its deceased member. It is celebrated at the grave, tomb, or crematorium. “In committing the body to its resting place, the community expresses the hope that, with all those who have gone before marked with the sign of faith, the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection.” It also expresses our belief in the communion that exists between the Church on earth (Church Militant) and the Church in purgatory (Church Suffering), and the Church in Heaven (Church Triumphant).

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Advent:  He Comes!

We all know what time of year it is. I am sure that many of you have already broken out the Christmas decorations. The lights are going up on the house, and the tree will soon be decorated. The stores will start staying open longer as we all head out to do our Christmas shopping; unless you are like me and already have your shopping finished. Presents will need to be wrapped, cards will need to be mailed out, and there seems to be a steady stream of Christmas and Holiday parties to attend. This is one of the busiest times of the year.

Are we just too busy with our lives to include Christ in our Christmas? What about in our lives in general?

The Church’s liturgical year begins with the season of Advent. It is a time when the Church asks us to stop what we are doing and reassess where we are spiritually. Is Christ the most important thing in our lives, or do we tend to just “fit Him in” when our lives are not too busy. What is more important for us; sports or Jesus? Have we fallen away from Jesus through sloth, pride, greed, or some other sin? While we are keeping busy preparing to celebrate Christmas, the memory of Jesus’ first coming, are we also preparing ourselves for Christ’s Second Coming?

Through the Advent Liturgy, the Church invites us to examine the path we are on, to perhaps redirect our focus: if our lives are not Christ centered, now is the time to get back on track. The readings of the Sundays of Advent focus on two events: the anniversary of Jesus’ First Coming, Christmas, and His Second Coming, Judgment Day. In fact, the word “advent” comes from the Latin word, “adventus,” which is the translation of the Greek word “parousia,” which is the word used to refer to Christ’s Second Coming in the New Testament. The link between the two Comings of Jesus is simple; because God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten son to be born of the Virgin at Christmas, we can trust in the mercy of Christ Jesus at His Second Coming. This gives us hope that we will have eternal life with our Savior in heaven.

On this, the First Sunday of Advent, the main message from our readings is to “Wake up! Stay awake! Get ready!” It is very easy to get lost in the busyness of our lives, even in the routine. We can get lost in the “here-and-now” and lose sight of the future, which the prophets of the Old Testament referred to as “The Day of the Lord.” Judgment Day is coming, whether we like it our not. The end of time might not happen in our life time, but our time will end in death. Are we ready for Judgment Day? If we forget about Jesus in our daily affairs, we will be left out of the wedding banquet when He comes again. We need to be intentional in our relationship with Jesus. So, WAKE UP! GET READY! Jesus is coming.

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A Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent (A-2016)

I am sure that many of you can appreciate the following story.  Judy loved waking up next to her husband during the early years of their marriage.  They would hit the snooze a few times, snuggle in each other’s arms, and gradually wake up.  After getting up and dressed, Judy and her husband would enjoy a leisurely breakfast together.  Maybe they would read the newspaper.  It was nice.​

Then they had kids.  Need I say more?  All of the sudden, waking up in the morning was a trauma scene.  

The alarm clock became the shrill cry of a hungry child in a wet diaper who clearly had no snooze button.  Breakfast, if there was one, was a rush, and there was no more leisurely reading of the newspaper.  Beautiful mornings became sleep-deprived chaos.  The baby was not the only one crying.

​There are few exhaustions in the world like that experienced by new parents.  It is so easy to ignore – or conveniently overlook – the things you know you should do when your constantly exhausted and half asleep.  Who really worries about the toothpaste stuck to the bathroom sink or that sticky spot on the kitchen floor when the baby still is not sleeping through the night?

​The same is true of being spiritually exhausted, and being on spiritual autopilot.  It is easy to ignore the things in your life that still need to be converted to Christ when you are spiritually half asleep.

​Advent is like a spiritual alarm clock.  Wake up!  Get  up and out of bed!  It is time to get ready!  As St. Paul says in today’s second reading, now is the time to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Advent is a penitential season designed to raise our awareness of the nearness and the beauty of the Kingdom of God.  It is a time for us to identify the areas of habitual sin in our lives and get rid of them through confession, prayer and the Eucharist.  Advent is a time to replace sin and vice with virtue.

​However, we must first awake from sleep, especially spiritual sleep, which is called sloth.  Marriage and parenting can be both physically and spiritually exhausting.  The continual energy drain saps our spiritual strength and can send us into spiritual autopilot.  Many spouses may find their spiritual lives to be pretty dry and uninspiring.

​In order to try to re-inspire families, the Diocese of Trenton has initiated a program called “Building Strong Marriages.”  For the coming year you will be hearing more and more homilies which try to apply the weekly readings more directly to marriage and the family.  Here in the parish we are also going to be starting to have monthly blessings for couples celebrating wedding anniversaries, and we are going to look at having some faith sharing groups for couples.

​As we begin the Season of Advent the message is to Wake Up.  Do not get caught in the trap of everyday life and not be prepared.  We have to do our best not to get lulled into complacency like the people of Noah’s time.  We do not know when Jesus will come again, so we need need to be prepared in advance in order to be ready at a moment’s notice.  Our spiritual preparation cannot be put off until tomorrow.  

​However, it is not just about being ready for Jesus’ Second Coming.  Rather it is being ready for and not missing all the times that Jesus comes to us every single day.  If we are spiritually half-asleep we will miss it.

​We must stay awake and be prepared for the Lord’s coming – today, and at the end of time.  Jesus uses the examples of women and men at work, saying that one will be ready and one will not be ready.  Jesus does not say, “Stay home from work so that you can be ready.”  The day to day routine is necessary.  In fact, it is where God comes to us and where we encounter Christ.  Rather, the challenge is to keep our priorities straight and focused on our relationship with God.  ​With work and family, it is easy to get caught up in the daily grind and neglect what is really important.  God is not a separate item on our to-do list.  Jesus should be breathing life into us and meeting us in everything on our to-do list.

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A Catholic View of Death

The month of November, as the end of the Church’s liturgical year, has us thinking about death. 

 We started the month off with the Solemnity of All Saints, in which we celebrate those sisters and brothers who are sharing in the eternal Heavenly wedding feast. They are the Church Triumphant, who have been cleansed of all stains of sin and are now the saints in Heaven. 

 Then we celebrated the commemoration of All Souls, which reminds us to pray for our beloved dead who are still going through the final purification of their sins and the effects of their sins in Purgatory. They are the Church Suffering, who have been judged worthy of Heaven, after they make final amends for their sins. 

 We, who are the Church Militant, are called to assist those in Purgatory with our prayers.

The readings at Mass also call our attention to the “Last Things”: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. It is a time for us to reflect more deeply on what the Church teaches us about death. We are not Klingons, who believe that after death the body is nothing but an empty shell. As human beings, we are created by God with both a body and soul, and both constitute our human nature. It is because of some common misunderstandings about what we as Catholics belief about death, that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently issued an instruction, “Ad Resurgendum cum Christo,” that addresses the Church’s teaching on burial and cremation.

The culminating truth of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is through His death and resurrection that Christ has freed us from sin and death. For Christians, death has a positive meaning, “for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven” (Preface for the Dead I). By death, the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will transform our body, making it incorruptible, by the reunion of it with our soul.

Because of this believe in the value of both the body and soul, the Church has always recommended that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places. Burial is the most fitting way to express our hope in the resurrection of the body. Pious burial also shows the respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the burial of the faithful departed also encourages the whole Christian community, especially the family, to pray for and remember the dead, which also has the happy effect of fostering veneration of the saints.

Cremation has been acceptable in the Church since the 1960s. Of course, the reasons for choosing cremation must not be at odds with the Church’s teaching. In other words, it must not be against the explicit desire of the deceased person, and it must not be done because of a belief that the body has no value.
It is always the preference of the Church, that the body of the deceased be brought into a church for a funeral Mass, and that if cremation has be chosen, it is done afterwards. Like a body, the cremated remains of the faithful departed must be buried in a cemetery or other sacred place.
It is NEVER permitted to scatter the ashes in the air, on land, nor at sea. The ashes may NOT be divided among family members, nor turned into jewelry. They also cannot be stored in a person’s home.

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A Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus defends the truth of the resurrection against the Sadducees’ attack for two reasons.

First, because it is true. There is life after death. Heaven is real, and so is hell. Jesus taught this many times. The New Testament teaches it many times.
In fact, the entire Christian faith hinges on it: if there is no resurrection, then Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and Christianity is nothing more than a pipe dream.

But there is also another reason that Jesus defends this teaching. We live in a fallen world. Sin, self-indulgence, and self-glorification are natural tendencies in this world – even for Christians.
But true happiness, true and everlasting life, is incompatible with sin and selfishness. Therefore, in order to begin experiencing true life now, and to enter into it after we die, we have to go against some strong natural tendencies. That is not easy – as the seven brothers of the First Reading found out.

This fallen world tries to break down our friendship with God. It tries to make us conform to worldly standards and give into our selfish tendencies instead of following Christ. At times, the fallen world actually makes it painful to follow Christ. We are lied about, laughed at, pressured, demoted, and in some parts of the world today, faithful Christians are even imprisoned, tortured and killed, just for being Christians.
How can we possibly persevere in following Christ when we are surrounded by such difficulties and opposition? 

One of our best weapons is the Resurrection. Keeping the bigger picture in mind can, just as it did for the seven brothers in the First Reading, give us the courage we need to resist temptations and stay faithful to Christ – no matter the cost.

All the saints are remarkable for their vibrant hope, their ability to keep the bigger picture in mind, but St Maximilian Kolbe stands out even among saints. He was a brilliant young scholar who earned his first PhD by the time he was 21. During his seminary years, he studied science on the side, and was even designing space travel mechanisms long before World War II. 

 As a young priest, he put his notable talents to work by beginning an Apostolate called the Knights of the Immaculata, dedicated to spreading the Gospel through mass media.
When the Nazis conquered his native Poland at the start of World War II, St Kolbe’s publications vociferously denounced Nazi errors and crimes. And so the saint found himself arrested, threatened, released, and, when he continued to publish criticism of the Nazi regime, arrested again. This time he was sent to forced labor at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

To be able to help his fellow prisoners, he publicly acknowledged that he was a Catholic priest. As a result, he received special treatment from the guards: beatings, attacks by dogs, the dirtiest and heaviest work, the carrying of the corpses… Through it all, he kept encouraging his comrades. He told them: “No, they will not kill our souls… They will not be able to deprive us of the dignity of being a Catholic. We will not give up. And when we die, then we die pure and peaceful, resigned to God in our hearts.”
Eventually, he offered his own life in substitution for a young man who had been randomly chosen for execution. And so he died – a bright beacon of Christian hope in one of history’s darkest moments, all because he was able to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Where did these brothers from the First Reading get the courage to stay faithful to God in the face of torture, abuse and a gruesome death? Courage in dramatic moments is born out of courage in un-dramatic moments.
These martyrs had been courageous and persevering in their small, everyday commitments and responsibilities, and as a result, they were able to be courageous when the salvation of their souls was at stake. They followed the Old Testament laws about eating and keeping the Sabbath, even when it was inconvenient. They strove to follow the Ten Commandments, even though the society around them had given up on the Ten Commandments long before.

Like St. Maximilian Kolbe, they prayed each day; they studied the Scriptures; they didn’t undermine their conscience with little compromises that no one else could see; they said grace before meals even when they went out to restaurants; they didn’t join in gossip sessions at the coffee shop, or at ShopRite; they didn’t forget about their sick and lonely neighbors.
Those God-centered patterns of behavior gave God’s grace room to work in them,
to give them a clear vision of life’s meaning, and to strengthen every virtue, especially wisdom, courage, and a mature, self-giving love.

We may not have to face physical torture because of our religious beliefs – though plenty of Christians throughout the world do. However, without a doubt, we will have to face temptations. To be strong then, we must prepare ourselves now, as we are doing today through prayer and the reception of Holy Communion.
When we receive Jesus today, we should renew our commitment to being courageous in the little things of every day, so that we will give him glory and receive our reward on the Last Day.

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Solemnity of All Saints

What is the unique characteristic common to every saint?

It certainly isn’t intelligence. You don’t have to be super-smart to be a saint. 

 St. Christina the Astonishing was developmentally impaired, and yet she became a spiritual adviser to rulers and peasants alike. St. Joseph Cupertino needed a literal miracle to pass his theology exams.

It certainly isn’t good looks.

St. Rita of Cascia, a widow who entered the convent, was given a mystical vision of Christ’s passion. Afterwards she experienced on her own forehead one of the wounds caused by Christ’s crown of thorns. She bore the open wound on her face for the last decades of her life, and it was ugly and smelly. And yet, her spiritual beauty spread like sunlight all throughout Italy and down through the centuries.

The unique characteristic of saints isn’t even a great personality.

St. Pio of Pietralcina was ornery and temperamental. He used to be harsh and demanding even when he was hearing confessions. And yet, sinners from all over the world were drawn to his confessional.

The unique characteristic isn’t wealth and worldly success – we do have canonized saints who were empresses, but we also have those who were hermits and beggars.

The characteristic shared by all the saints, the one sure sign of mature holiness, is none of those things. Rather, it is the truly amazing ability to experience deep joy even in the middle of terrible sorrow. This is what Jesus means when he says that those who are poor, in mourning, and persecuted are blessed.
Holiness is a mature friendship with Jesus Christ, a friendship so deep and strong that it allows us to experience the joy of eternal life even while still fighting the painful battles of our earthly exile.

During the second half of the twentieth century, countless Christians in Eastern Europe suffered injustice, persecution, torture, and even martyrdom under Soviet communism, which tried to eliminate religion from culture. One of the many heroic bishops who continued to preach the Gospel under these conditions tells the story about how he first discovered his vocation.

He was orphaned at a young age and lived with his grandmother. She was the housekeeper for his uncle, a parish priest. Soon after the communists took power, they arrested this priest, leaving the grandmother and the young boy to fend for themselves. About a week after the arrest, soldiers came to the rectory to search for documents and other incriminating evidence. While they searched, they confiscated every religious image they could find. When they finally finished, the grandmother and her grandson (the future bishop) were standing outside the front door as the last soldiers were leaving.
One of the soldiers laughed and sarcastically said to the woman, “Well, do you have any more religious pictures or crosses that we can take with us?”

The woman smiled at the young communist and said, “Actually yes, I do have one more, but you can’t take it away from me.” And then, still looking him in the eye, she made the sign of the cross. The soldier’s face went white and he left without another word.

The serenity and strength of that woman, that saint, in the midst of such injustice and hardship, inspired her grandson to make Jesus Christ his closest friend, and to dedicate his life to serving the Church.

Every single one of us is called to experience true joy even in the midst of life’s harshest sufferings, because every single one of us is called to holiness, to mature friendship with Jesus Christ. In fact, this is what we were created for.
The happiness we all yearn for can come from no other source: not from money, success, fame, popularity, pleasure, not even from falling in love. As the Catechism reminds us: “Man is made to live in communion with God, in whom he finds happiness” (#45).

To help us renew this friendship, which we have all begun, Jesus gives us two things in today’s liturgy: hope and advice. He gives us hope by reminding us that this level of spiritual maturity is really possible, because he is the one making it happen. As today’s Second Reading says: “Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” It is God’s grace that transforms normal bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. So too God’s love and grace will transform us from selfish sinners into stout-hearted saints – if we let him. 

 And that’s where the advice comes in.
In today’s Alleluia verse Jesus tells us our part in the process: “Come to me all you that labor and are burdened.” To find joy of holiness, we must “come to Jesus” in the midst of our trials and crosses, staying close to him through prayer, confession, and the Eucharist. Only then will we learn how trustworthy he is, and discover the secret to joy amidst sorrow.

Today as Jesus comes close to us again, let’s promise never again to let selfishness, sin, or discouragement lead us away from him. It’s a promise he died to help us keep.

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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

Christ’s encounter with Zacchaeus is rather remarkable considering what occur in the previous chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel. In that chapter, St. Luke tells us about the Rich Man who comes to Jesus asking what he must do to be saved. He assures Jesus that he has kept all the commandments since he was a child. Then Jesus, looking at him with love, tells him that he must give his possessions to the poor and follow Him. Of course we know what happens to the Rich Man; he walks away from Jesus sad, because he had many possessions. 

 Contrast this with Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus most likely did not obey all the commandments since he was a child. He was a tax collector, a public sinner, who most likely exhorted money from people. He collaborated with the dreaded Romans who were occupying Israel. Zacchaeus was a rich man, yet he wanted more. His heart was yearning for something “more” because he knew that his possessions were not making him really happy.

 Zacchaeus hears about Jesus, and what he hears stirs his heart. He really wants to see Jesus, and he is willing to do whatever it took to do so. He wasn’t concerned if he might look silly climbing a tree because he was too short to see Jesus. People already said unkind things about him. He wanted to see Jesus. And then Jesus looks up and sees Zacchaeus. Jesus tells him to come down from the tree because He wants to dine with him. Zacchaeus’ life is changed. By welcoming Jesus into his home, he knows that he must change his life. He promises to give half his possessions to the poor, and to repay back four times whatever he cheated people of. Unlike the Rich Man from the previous chapter, Zacchaeus is willing to change his life to follow Jesus.

 Jesus’ encounter with Zaccaeus illustrates the whole meaning of Christ’s incarnation: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Christ’s whole life on earth was dedicated to bringing people back into friendship with God, and to establishing His Church to continue that mission throughout history.

 It seems so obvious. But we forget about it so easily! This is the Good News of Jesus Christ: that in Him we can once again live in friendship with God, our sins can be forgiven, we can become what we were created to be: children of God, members of God’s family.

 There is no doubt that Zacchaeus found more satisfaction in giving back the money he had extorted through unfair taxes than he had found in taking it. Jesus wants to do that for all of us: to bring us back into a right relationship with God, to give us the courage to live as we ought to live, so that we can experience the satisfaction we were meant to experience.

 The power of Christ’s grace was able to change this evil and greedy man, who had spent his lifetime consciously developing his selfish tendencies. If Christ was able to do that, He can certainly change us, who actually want to follow Christ more closely.

 A nun relates the following story. In her class of eighth-graders was a girl who through the years had given nothing but trouble. She was unruly, lazy, loud, rude, and constantly acted out. Teachers were not only annoyed with this girl; they were afraid of her.

 One day Sister noticed a complete change in the girl. She was quiet and attentive. She put her mind to her schoolwork. She became polite and considerate. What could possibly have brought about such a transformation? Maybe the girl had ADD and the guidance counselor had put her on medication? Maybe she had been depressed because of a bad atmosphere at home and the school doctor had given her some tranquilizers?

 Sister watched closely. But the only thing she saw was that now and then the girl put her hand to her chest. Sister waited for the right moment, then asked her, “Why do you put your hand to your chest? Do you have a pain of some kind?”

 “No, Sister,” the girl explained, as she pulled a small crucifix from the neck of her dress. “Remember on Good Friday when Father uncovered the crucifix at the altar? He told us to hold our crucifix and to look at it when we are tempted. That is what I am doing when I put my hand on my chest; I am feeling my crucifix. Please, Sister, don’t tell anyone.”

 We should never underestimate the power of Christ, who has come specifically to “seek and save what was lost.”

 We all want to experience more deeply this transforming power of Christ’s presence in our lives. And the best way to do that is by helping others experience it. That’s what Zacchaeus did.

 Jesus reached out to him; He came into his life. Jesus has also reached out to us. He has made us Christians, members of his Church.

 And Zacchaeus responded by welcoming Jesus into his home. We have also welcomed Jesus. We welcome Him into our lives whenever we pray, whenever we come to Mass, and especially when we receive Him in Holy Communion, as we will do once again in just a few minutes.

 But the encounter didn’t end there. Salvation had not yet come to Zacchaeus’ household. The full power of Christ’s grace had not yet been unleashed in his life. Only after Zacchaeus promised to spread his wealth to those around him instead of hoarding it for himself, to turn his selfishness into self-giving, to let God’s goodness towards him affect his actions towards others,
only then did Jesus say, “Today salvation has come to this house.”  

 This week, let’s spread whatever wealth we have received in life – our time, talents, and treasure – to those around us; let’s combat our selfish tendencies by turning them into self-giving actions. When we receive Christ in the Eucharist, let’s humbly ask Him to show us how we can let His goodness affect our actions this coming week, and when He tells us, let’s promise to follow through.

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From Fr. JC Maximilian’s Desk : “Faithful Citizenship”

The American patriot, Samuel Adams once wrote, “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.”

I am not sure about all of you, but to me it seems that we are far from the virtue that Adams says we need in order to secure our liberty and happiness. It seems that for the two major party candidates for the highest office in the land have reduced themselves to basically name calling, and both seem to have scandals hovering over them. What is a faith Catholic to do?

I am not going to tell you who to vote for or who not to vote for. Rather I am going to remind you that voting is a moral action, and like any moral action we must base our decision on a well-formed conscience. At the start of such a well-formed conscience is remembering that while we are citizens of the United States of America, we are first and foremost citizens of Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom, and the values of that kingdom should take priority in our decision making. This is what St. Augustine wrote about in his classic book, The City of God.

While I will recommend reading St. Augustine, it is a very long book so you would not likely be able to read it before Election Day to help you form your conscience. Fortunately, there is a shorter and much more relevant document that you can read published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “Forming Consciences for a Faithful Citizenship.” I have attached a PDF of that document on the parish’s website, www.resurrection2.org, if you would like to download and read it, which I strongly recommend. I just want to highlight a few general points that the Bishops talk about in forming one’s conscience.

First, the Bishops remind us that as Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion… a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support (no. 42). As Catholics our first loyalty is to God and his Church, not to any political establishment.

“Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil” (no. 17). The Bishops go to say, “The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to
embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics, this begins with a willingness and openness to seek
the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as
contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and
background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern
the will of God. Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their consciences in the
light of the truths of the faith and the moral teachings of the Church they can make erroneous
judgments” (no. 18).

The Bishops then discuss the 4 Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: the Dignity of the Human Person, Subsidiarity, the Common Good, and Solidarity. I do not have the room to explain each of these so let me just provide how they are defined in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

  •  Dignity of the Human Person: Human life is sacred, as it is made in the “image and likeness of God.” Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. 
  •  Subsidiarity: The principle of subsidiarity reminds us that larger institutions in society should not overwhelm or interfere with smaller or local institutions, yet larger institutions have essential responsibilities when the more local institutions cannot adequately protect human dignity, meet human needs, and advance the common good. 
  •  Common Good: The common good indicates “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 26). 
  •  Solidarity: Solidarity highlights in a particular way the intrinsic social nature of the human person, the equality of all in dignity and rights and the common path of individuals and peoples towards an ever more committed unity. . . . Solidarity must be seen above all in its value as a moral virtue that determines the order of institutions. On the basis of this principle the “structures of sin” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, nos. 36, 37) that dominate relationships between individuals and peoples must be overcome.
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