A Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

 Do we really know what a Pharisee was? We tend to use the term to describe someone who is rather rigid and zealous in their religious belief, and today’s parable would seem to support such a view of the Pharisees. In fact, many of us would probably feel uncomfortable to hear that most scholars would classify Jesus as belonging more to the Pharisaical branch of Judaism. So, who were the Pharisees? 

 The name “Pharisee” means “stands apart.” They were a reform movement of Judaism that began about a 100 years before Jesus, in response to the Greeks taking over much of the Holy Land after Alexander the Great. Under the Greek rule, and then the Romans, there were many political compromises made by many of the leading families of Israel who thought it would be better to become more “Greek” in their lifestyle, and discarding aspects of the Jewish religious laws. The fraction of Judaism who wanted to accommodate to the Greek and then Roman way of life came to be known as the Sadducees. The Sadducees manipulated the religious institutions, particularly the temple priesthood, for their own gains. The Sadducees also did not believe in the resurrection of the dead or angels; they thought such beliefs were too old-fashioned. 
 The Pharisees “stood apart” from the Sadducees, reminding the Jewish people of their beliefs and their customs. They did believe in the resurrection of the dead and angels. They did not believe in compromising the Jewish religious beliefs just to fit in to society’s culture. They correctly realized that God had called them to transform society, and not to be changed by society. The Pharisees made a difference and attracted many ordinary Jews to a deeper life of faith, and since their movement was not as focused on the Temple in Jerusalem, but actually started the synagogue movement, in a way, the Pharisees were the branch of Judaism which continues today.

 However, there was a dangerous temptation that the Pharisees fell prey to; their religious devotion could become a rigid formalism, and lead to pride. By the time of Jesus, many of the Pharisees thought that they were better than most people, instead of a light attracting people to God. We see this in the prayer of the Pharisee in today’s parable. He starts off by thanking God for not being like the rest of humanity. He then boosts of all the good things that he does; and they are good things. It is good not to be greedy, to be honest, and not to commit adultery. It is good to pray and fast, and to pay tithes which were used to care for the poor. The reason that Jesus judges the Pharisee harshly is because he did these things more for himself than for God; he wanted to prove that he was better than most people.

 Jesus reminds us that all prayer and worship is to recognize our dependence on God; not to make our case for divine reward or recognition. This is exactly how the publican prays. He knows that he is a sinner and in need of God. He asks God for mercy, and acknowledges that he can do nothing good without God.

 The publican’s prayer is the prayer of the “anawim.” “Anawim” was the name of the poor in Israel; those who were dependent on others for the necessities of life, particularly the orphan, the widow, and the alien (think immigrant, not ET). The anawim were, in a sense, dependents of God Himself and therefore had a special claim on the people of Israel. From being a disenfranchised segment of society, the anawim’s status gradually took on a spiritual significance as they came to represent the spiritual dependence to which we are all called. This is what Jesus means when He says in the Beatitudes, “blessed are the poor in spirit.”

 Here is a picture of one of today’s anawim.

 His name is Francis Kisakye, and he calls me his father. Francis is now 15 years-old, and lives in Uganda. We have never met in person, but he is my son. Francis’ father died a number of years ago, and he comes from a rather large family. His father was in the process of buying the land and house where they lived and farmed when he died. Since then Francis’ mother and family have tired to keep up the farm and pay the mortgage, but it looks like they are going to lose everything. They are very poor; sometimes they have to alternate who is going to eat that day.

 I learned about Francis from an organization called Yamba Uganda, and through Francis’ priest, Fr. Vincent, who is a friend of mine. Francis wants to become a doctor, and/or a priest, so he can serve his people, but he did not have the money to go to school. Fr. Vincent wanted to build a secondary school in his parish, which has 13 sub-parishes, because the only secondary school in the area is Muslim, and only takes Muslims. One of Francis’ friends went to that school, but when they saw that he was wearing a crucifix under his shirt, they nearly beat him to death. I was helping raise money for Fr. Vincent to build his secondary school when I was a high school chaplain, and then Fr. Vincent asked me if I would sponsor Francis so that he could go to school. So each month I send $30 to pay for Francis’ education, which also provides him with one meal each day.

 Today the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday to remind us that the anawim are still among us. And like they did for the Israelites, today’s anawim remind us that all of us need to depend on God for our ultimate happiness, and we live His divine life when we love each other, especially those who are most of need. There are many organizations which help the poor and needy, both locally and internationally. They do great things, and we should support them financially. However, we need to be careful not to fall into the temptation that the Pharisee did; of doing these things more for our own reputation, than for God. It is easy to give to the “nameless” poor by giving to aid organizations, but the poor, the anawim, are not nameless. When we give to these aid organizations we need to really think about and pray for the very real people they are helping. That is why I like groups like Yamba Uganda. Yes, I give them money, but they also helped me develop a relationship with a real person, Francis, my son. We write to each other; in fact I just got a letter from him this past week. I need to write back to him, because he has been worried about me, since he heard about my medical problems at the beginning of the year. He prays for me daily, as I pray for him.

 As we acknowledge our dependence on God and thank Him for the gift of the Eucharist that we will soon receive, let us also make the prayer of the anawim our own. Let us thank God for being our Father, for providing everything we need, and let us make God’s concern for the anawim in society our own, so that we can commit ourselves to serving and loving them as our Heaven Father does.

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7 Daily Habits for the Church Militant

St. Alphonsus Ligouri once said, “Prayer is, beyond doubt, the most powerful weapon the Lord gives us to conquer evil . . . but we must really put ourselves into the prayer, it is not enough just to say the words, it must come from the heart. And also prayer needs to be continuous, we must pray no matter what kind of situation we find ourselves in: the warfare we are engaged in is ongoing, so our prayer must be on-going also.”

It is valuable to look at the saints, those heroes in the Faith, to learn how to become the best pray-ers we can be. Fr. John McCloskey did a study of the great saints to look for the common tools of these champion pray-ers, and he wrote about them in his book, Seven Daily Habits of Holy Apostolic People. Before looking at these seven daily habits, let’s look at a few key points. First, just like starting a new exercise program, we should not expect to incorporate these spiritual habits into our lives all at once. Maybe add one every week or two. Second, we need to make a firm commitment, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to make these daily spiritual habits the priority in our lives – more important than meals, sleep, work, and recreation. Third, our prayer life cannot just be “free-styling” and disordered. In order to maintain regular habits of prayer we must be disciplined, scheduling into our day at a time when we are most alert, in a place where we can be silent and free of distractions. Now let’s look at the Seven Daily Habits of the Church Militant.

Morning Offering: It is important to start our day by offering up everything we will do for the greater glory of God. Most prayer books have a few versions of such a Morning Offering. Find one that suits you, but try to do it right as you wake up. For extra credit, try never to hit the “snooze” button, but get up as soon as the alarm rings. St. Josemaria Escriva described as conquering oneself from the first moment of the day.

Mental Prayer (15 minutes): This is simply one-on-one direct conversation with Jesus. If possible, before the Blessed Sacrament.

Spiritual Reading (15 minutes): Of course the best place to start is reading the Bible, but this can also include reading the lives of the saints, as well as the writings of the saints. A visit to our St. Max Library should help you find something good to read. Remember, reading has made many saints.

Daily Mass: I know, this might be a difficult one to do because of your work schedule, but do your best to find a church where you can make daily Mass and still get to work, or where you can go to Mass after work.

Angelus (Regina Coeli during the Easter Season): Just as a good child remembers their mother everyday, we should remember our Heavenly Mother. This is a very ancient Catholic custom to stop what we are doing to greet our Blessed Mother, at 6 AM, Noon, and 6 PM. Sorry, we don’t have church bells to ring to remind you like in days of old. I have it set on my watch.

Holy Rosary: Pope Pius IX once said, “Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.” I say it as I go for a walk, and if the weather is bad, the gym in the Parish Center is open Monday through Friday from about 9 AM to 3 PM for walking; 20 laps is about a mile. Let’s conquer the world for Christ.

Nightly Examination of Conscience: Just before bed, take a few minutes to review your day by asking, “How have I behaved as a child of God?” It is also a good time to look at our dominant fault, asking our patron saint to assist us with their prayers. Conclude these minutes by praying three “Hail Marys” for purity and then pray the “Act of Contrition.”

Practice these Seven Daily Habits and not only will you be winning souls for Christ, but you will also be on your way towards becoming a saint.

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Going Weapons “H.O.T.”

Last week I reflected on how through our baptism we all became commissioned officers in the Lord’s army. That through our offices of Priest, Prophet, and King, we have been committed to proclaiming the Good News and to praying for our comrades in need.

In the military, the command “Go Weapons Hot” means to make whatever preparations are necessary so that when you pull the trigger, something happens. In other words, are we using live ammunition or are we firing blanks?

This is true for spiritual combat as well. As Fr. Heilman wrote in his book, Church Militant Field Manual: Special Forces Training for the Life in Christ, “…, are we making the preparations necessary to ensure that our efforts to combat evil and rescue souls are ignited by the fire of the Holy Spirit? As a Commissioned Officer in the Church Militant, am I imploring God to supernaturally weaponize my prayers (priest), words (prophet), and deeds (king) so that ‘I can do all things through Christ Who gives me strength’ (Phil. 4:13)? Or am I ignoring His supernatural strength and power and, therefore, firing blanks – ‘We’ve been hard at it all night and have caught nothing’ (Lk 5:5)?”

In order to be in the best position to receive God’s free offer of supernatural grace, we need to be H.O.T. = Humble, Obedient, and Trusting.

Humility: St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “There is no doubt that God will never be wanting to us, provided that He finds in us that humility which makes us worthy of His gifts, the desire of possessing them, and the promptitude to co-operate industriously with the graces He gives us.”

Obedience: St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, “The power of obedience! The lake of Genesareth had denied its fishes to Peter’s nets. A whole night in vain. Then obedient, he lowered his net again to the water and they caught ‘a huge number of fish.’ Believe me: the miracle is repeated each day.”

Trust: St. Alphonsus Liguori taught, “He who trusts himself is lost. He who trusts in God can do all things.” The confident, trusting soul is like a lightning rod for God’s mercy and grace.

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Reflections for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

It was rather fitting that on my first Sunday during my Hawaiian vacation that the reading for Mass had to deal with lepers.  The two patron saints of Hawaii are St. Damien of Molokai, and St. Marianne Cope; both worked at the leper colony in Molokai.  Like Naaman in this weekend’s first reading, and the 10 lepers Jesus encountered in the Gospel, people who had contracted Leporsy (Hansen’s Disease) were isolated away from the rest of society by sending them to colonies, and one famous one was on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.  It was not until the 1960s that a cure for leporsy was discovered, so when St. Damien and St. Marianne went there, they knew that they would end up dying there, that they would not be able to return to society.  St. Damien eventually contracted and died from leporsy himself.

Why would they go to Molokai to minister to the lepers?  I think it was because they realized that there is something worse than death of the body, namely the death of the soul.  Don’t misunderstand me; I am certain that both St. Damien and St. Marianne were motivated by a compassion for the people suffering from the horrifying disease of leporsy.  The disease would horribly disfigure the person; literally parts of the body would fall off.  Both St. Damien and St. Marianne went to Molokai to help ease the suffering of the people there.  But with no cure for the disease, they knew that the only real and permanent relief that they could offer the residents of the colony was the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel, as Jesus approached a village, the 10 lepers cried out to him.  They had heard about Jesus, and the miracles that he had done for others, and while they could not get close to Jesus, they cried out their plea for him to cure them.  Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priest, the only person who could declare them clean and able to rejoin society.  As they were going, doing what Jesus told them to do, they were made clean, they were healed of the disease.  Sadly, only one returned to Jesus to thank him for what he had done.  It is to this one that Jesus says that he has also been saved.  Not only was his body healed, but more importantly his immortal soul was now saved.

Here on vacation, I went to St. Sylvester Church.  Of course I went because of my Sunday obligation, but I went early so that I could go to the Sacrament of Confession (yes, even priests need to go to confession).  As I waited to go to confession, I read the Gospel for the weekend, and it struck me.  The 10 lepers were like all of us when we are aware of our sinfulness.  Our sins have weakened our bonds with the rest of the Mystical Body of Christ, and if we have committed mortal sin, we have been cut off from Sanctifying grace, completely cut off from the community of the Church.  When we have the humility and recognize the wretchedness of our lives, we go to the sacrament of Confession, crying out like the lepers in the Gospel for Jesus to have pity on us.  Through the sacrament, God’s mercy heals our soul, restores the gift of Sanctifying Grace, the very life of God, within us.  We are cleansed and made whole.  By confessing, that is showing ourselves to the priest, through the power God has entrusted to him, the priest declares us clean so that we can be restored to the society of the Church.

Yet, this is only part of the story.  It is an invitation.  Oh, Jesus has forgive us, just like he healed all 10 lepers.  In doing so, Jesus is inviting us to follow him more closely.  We need to say “yes” to this invitation.  The one leper shows us the way.  In gratitude, he returns to Jesus and says thank you.  In fact, in the Greek used, the leper expresses “eucharistia,” the Greek word for “thanksgiving,” from which we get the word Eucharist.  This leper, comes to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him, to share in his life.  This is why Jesus tells him that in addition to being healed, he is saved.

In an age when the lines for Confession are not very long most of the time, perhaps we should focus first on getting people to realize that they are sick spiritually, because of their sins.  That sin kills the soul; maybe not all at once (well, mortal sin does that right away), but slowly.  We need to realize that our spiritual health is just as important, actually more important, as our physical health.  People need to confess their sins to the priest, to receive sacramental absolution from the priest.  They need to be made clean.

However, that is not enough.  We also need to be saved.  We need to take up Jesus’ invitation to follow him, to share in his life.  We need to express our gratitude towards God; turning to him in praise and thanksgiving as often as we turn to him when we need or want something.  We must be “eucharistia”, coming to receive worthily Holy Communion.  We need to make God THE priority of our life, offerin him our lives, our time, talent and treasure.  Even when there seems to be no cure for the larger diseases and troubles of the world, like St. Damien and St. Marianne, we need to go offer those around us hope — to see beyond the smallness of this life, so to strive for Eternal Life.  We must be willing to take up our crosses, and lay down our lives for the salvation of others, just as Jesus took up his cross, and laid down his life for the salvation of the world.

We need to reach out to those who are marginalized so as to bring them into society, the Body of Christ.  This begins with confession, receiving God’s mercy, with thanking God for his love and mercy, and by taking up Jesus’ invitation to follow him.  St. Damien and St. Marianne, help us to be healed, cleansed, thankful, and willing followers of Jesus Christ.

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A Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

The Apostles did the right thing this time.  They had been traveling with Jesus for more than a year: living with him, hearing him preach, watching him perform miracles and change people’s lives.  They had been his disciples long enough to start realizing that they weren’t very good disciples at all.  They still didn’t understand many things that Jesus said.  They still couldn’t help people as much as Jesus did.  It would have been tempting for them, at that point, to get discouraged.  But instead, they go up to Jesus one afternoon during a lull in their activities, and they ask for his help.  They ask him to increase their faith.

Jesus’ answer is mysterious.  He looks at them and smiles. He must have been glad that they had asked for help instead of abandoning the mission.  Then he tells them that they don’t need more faith, they just need to use the faith they already have.  He explains that a tiny little bit of faith, the size of a mustard seed – which is about as small as something can be without getting microscopic – is enough to do marvelous things.

We are all like the Apostles.  We know in our hearts that we are capable of doing much more, that we were made for greater things.  But we don’t realize that God has already given us everything we need to achieve them.  He has already planted in our souls the seed of faith, of divine life – he did so at baptism.  Now it’s up to us to exercise it. If we do, it will grow.  And the more it grows, the more room God will have to do truly wonderful things in us and through us.

The prophet Habakkuk, whom we listened to in the First Reading, stresses the power of faith too – but he also gives us a clearer idea of what exactly faith is.  Habakkuk lived in the 6th century BC, when Israel had been conquered by the Babylonians and the majority of Jews had been deported.  It was as if a hurricane, like Katrina, had swept over not just one city, but the entire country.  Habakkuk is in the middle of it all, he sees the devastated city and countryside, strewn with corpses, burned and barren.  He feels the pinch of poverty and destruction.  And he does the most natural thing in the world:  he complains to God about it:  “How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen!”​

This teaches us an important lesson:  a strong faith doesn’t mean we won’t suffer and be confused in life.  A strong faith doesn’t take away our crosses, but a strong faith does show us where to turn when the crosses come: to God, our all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving Father.

God answers Habakkuk’s prayer.  He promises that he will act, that he will restore Israel’s fortunes.  He doesn’t give all the details.  In fact, he even seems to imply that it may take longer than Habakkuk would like:  “If it delays,” God says, “wait for it.”

But God shows that he is not aloof from our sufferings. He is watching over us, no matter what.  He promises that if we continue to have faith in him, in spite of suffering and hardship, we “shall live”.  Faith isn’t a problem-free philosophy – that’s superficial and naïve.  Faith is strength with length – it’s the power to persevere through difficulties -the power that comes from knowing that our Father’s in charge.

​Christ wants us to experience the power of faith in our lives.  One way to nourish our faith is through reading and studying the Bible.  It is easy for us to take the Bible for granted.  We have been listening to readings from the Bible every Sunday since we could walk.  And yet, this familiarity can actually backfire – it can make us treat this treasure like a trophy: letting it gather dust in the closet.  

There is no other book in the world like the Bible.  It was written by dozens of different authors throughout two thousand years, and yet, it tells one consistent story: the story of God’s saving love for mankind.  Every part of the story, every one of the 72 books in the Bible, although it was written by a human author, was composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, the Bible is the Word of God like no other book.

When we read it with that in mind, reflecting on it, studying it – it feeds our faith.  We get to know God better; we learn how to follow him; we find light and strength for our lives!  Each one of us should have a favorite book, chapter, and verse in the Bible.  Each one of us should know the Bible story as a whole. We should constantly be digging into it.

Here at Resurrection Parish we subscribe to FORMED, and online resource that has numerous Catholic movies, eBooks, mp3s, and programs for enriching our faith.  FORMED has two Bible study programs which any member of our parish can use, for free, with our parish code PP2KZG.  One is called “Lectio” and is more themed based, covering topics such as “Evangelization,” “St. Peter,” “The Eucharist,” “Prayer,” and “The Virgin Mary and the Bible.”  The other program is called “Opening the Word,” and reflection on the Sunday Mass readings with ways to keep the Word alive throughout the coming week.  Either program can be done on your own, or even better get a couple friends together to do the study together.  If you are forming a study group, let us know in the Parish Office and we will be happy to publicize it in the bulletin and on the parish website so you can get even more members.

The Bible is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  It is an inexhaustible fountain of supernatural wisdom.  And it’s right at our fingertips.  Today, when Christ comes to us again in Holy Communion – another one of his magnificent gifts – let’s thank him for this gift, and let’s promise that this week, we will start using it better.

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Being a Commissioned Officer

Continuing our reflections on Spiritual Combat and being Strong in the Faith, the question may arise, “When did we enlist in the Lord’s army?” Some of us who are older may be tempted to say, “at Confirmation,” for the preparation for that sacrament used to talk a lot about becoming a “soldier of Christ.” In fact, during the Confirmation rite, the bishop used to give each person being Confirmed a light smack on the check as a sign of needing to be tough.

However, it was through our baptism that we became enlisted in the Lord’s army. In fact, we are not merely an enlisted person, but are a commissioned officer. To be “commissioned” means to be “with a mission,” and we have already mentioned that as a disciple of Jesus we share in His mission, to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth so to make disciples of all women and men. To be an “officer” means to have an office. In baptism we were given not just one office, but three. We were made Priest, Prophet and King. St. Faustina, in her diary, says that these three offices are really three ways of exercising mercy toward our neighbors: by prayer, word and deed.

To be a Priest means to pray for, intercede for, and make sacrifices for others. A priest walks on the border between heaven and earth. They are friends of God, and friends of the human race. Recall that the last line in the Warrior Ethos is, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” We all know loved ones who are “dead in sin.” They may have become so far removed from God that they no longer even seek God in their lives. They are trapped behind the enemies lines. As a commissioned officer in the Lord’s army, as a Priest, we have a responsibility conduct some kind of “search and rescue” mission for these comrades. Our Lady of Good Help, the only approved apparition of the Blessed Mother in the United States, said in her message of October 9, 1859, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” Clearly, praying for poor sinners and lost comrades must rank among the highest priorities in our devotional life.

A Prophet is someone who speaks the word for God, whether it is popular or not. Pope Leo XII said, “Christians are born for combat. It is part of their nature to follow Christ by espousing unpopular ideas and by defending the truth at great cost to themselves.” St. Peter charges all Christians to be able to “give a reason for the hope that is in you.” Are you ready to give a reason for your hope? This office requires us to be prepared to address people’s questions about our Faith. We should have short but impactful statements or quotes that will leave a spiritual mark on people. Yes, this means we need to read about our Faith; catechesis does not end once we are Confirmed. We should always be learning more about Jesus and His Church. We should never allow fear from keeping us from proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. Before we speak we should take a deep breath and ask the Holy Spirit to speak through us in love.

Finally, a King is someone who leads others to God, and a good King is someone who leads by the example of their deeds. A true King puts the welfare of those in his charge ahead of himself, just like Jesus did on the Cross. Jesus told the Apostles, “You want to be great? Then be the slave of the rest” (Mt 20:27-28 and John 13:4-5). Pope St. Pius X, when asked what was needed most to save society, said, “The most necessary thing of all, at this time, is for every parish to possess a group of laymen who will be at the same time virtuous, enlightened, resolute, and truly apostolic.”

You are a commissioned officer. Are you ready to do your duty?

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Warrior’s Ethos

Last week, I began to talk about the long tradition in our Catholic Faith to view our life as a disciple of Christ in terms of spiritual combat. In order to be Strong in Faith – Fortes in Fide – we must go “all in” for Christ. A former Navy SEAL described being a warrior in this way, “One of the things that makes a warrior into a warrior is that they are dedicated to developing their strength in service to others.” As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are also called to develop and use the gifts and talents which God has given us to “build up the Kingdom of God” by serving those around us.

This dedication to Christ and to others is revealed in the Warrior Ethos:

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Reflection on this Warrior Ethos for a few minutes. Think of it in terms of our being a Christian. What is our mission? Well our specific role we need to discern through prayer, but the general mission of all Christians is to go and make disciples of all the nations. In other words, we are all called to be witnesses of the Gospel to everyone we encounter in life. This means putting Christ first in our lives, so that in everything we do and in everything we say it is for Christ and for building up His Kingdom. Yes, I did say everything – even the littlest thing we do should be done in, with, and for Jesus Christ.

“I will never accept defeat.” The world thought it had defeated Jesus by nailing Him on the Cross. However, three days later Jesus rose victoriously. He conquered sin and death. Christ Victor! As a Christian, we believe that Jesus is victorious, so no matter what we encounter in life, we should never accept it as a defeat. A set-back, maybe. A challenge to change our ways, a possibility. A defeat – NEVER. As long as we follow Christ Jesus, as long as we stay united with Him, we can never be defeated; we will share in His Victory.

“I will never quit.” This is closely related to never accepting defeat. During His public life, Jesus must have shaken His head a lot. No matter what He said and did, the disciples so often just did not get it. But Jesus did not throw up His hands and say, “It’s no use, I’m going back to being a carpenter.” No, Jesus kept proclaiming the Good News that His Father sent Him to proclaim. He kept doing the work that His Father gave Him to do. Even when He was carrying His cross, He fell three times. Yet He never quit. Each time, He got back up and continued on. As soldiers in Christ’s army we can never quit. We will experience failures, times when it seems like the good work we are doing just is not making a difference, times when we will sin. But we cannot quit. St. Paul experienced this himself. He once wrote, “Why do I fail to do the good things I want to do, but do the evil things I do not want to do?” Yet he never gave up, he never quit. We must dedicate ourselves to never quitting. When we fall, we must get back up.

“I will never leave a fallen comrade.” In Christ, through our baptism, we are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ. We are all comrades. Our spirituality can never be just “me and Jesus.” It must always be “we and Jesus.” We need to support each other as we follow Jesus. We need to pray for each other, we need to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, instruct the ignorant, visit the sick – all those corporal and spiritual acts of Mercy. True charity is helping our comrade achieve their ultimate destiny, and that ultimate destiny for each of us is Heaven.

We are called to be Warriors for Christ Jesus. We must dedicate ourselves to His mission, we must never accept defeat because Jesus has been victorious, we must never quit for Jesus is our constant companion, and we just never leave a fallen comrade behind. We are our brother’s, and sister’s, keeper. Onward Christian Soldiers – Heaven awaits us.

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Fortes in Fides

“Fortes In Fides” is the Latin phrase for “Strong in Faith” Just like the US Army wants you to be “All that you can be – Army Strong,” and the US Marines are “looking for a few good men,” the Church also has its rallying cries, like “Fortes In Fides.”

The traditional way of looking at the Church is to see (a) the “Church Triumphant,” or those who are in Heaven, (b) the “Church Suffering,” or those who are in Purgatory, and (c) the “Church Militant,” which is all of us here on earth. Just this past weekend at a picnic, someone wondered if they were validly confirmed because they were not slapped on the cheek (they are). Because the sacrament of Confirmation was seen as making us “soldiers of Christ,” the bishop would lightly slap (really tap) the person being confirmed on the cheek, and a reminder that they were to be “Fortes in Fides” – Strong in Faith. While the slap no longer part of the Confirmation Ritual, all of us are still suppose to be Strong in Faith.

Earlier this year, I read a book by Fr. Richard Heilman, Church Militant Field Manual: Special Forces Training for the Life in Christ, which takes up this theme of how can we prepare ourselves to be soldiers of Christ. For those who might not like such a military view of being a follower of Christ, such language has a very long history in the Church. Jesus says, right before His Ascension, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Building on this command of the Lord, St. Paul wrote, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in Him mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

So, I am not calling for a new crusade to take up rifles, guns, or even swords to fight ISIS or any other group. Rather, we must recognize the spiritual warfare that is going on, and take up the spiritual weapons to fight for freedom – the freedom that Christ Jesus won for us. The greatest evil that we are facing in our times is the tsunami of secularism which argues that “god is dead,” or at the very least that God does not matter. However, we would be foolish if we cling to the belief that we can defeat these spiritual forces of evil relying only on our own power.

St. Peter implored us to be fortes in fide, strong in faith, because the devil is prowling like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8-9). When a lion hunts, it first sizes up the herd, and then isolates the weakest and easiest target. When we detach ourselves from God and His supernatural gifts of grace, we become powerless to defend ourselves from the devil.

We are being summoned to allow God’s powerful, supernatural graces to surge through us to a waiting world. Our Catholic ancestors could not imagine going as much as a day without “being in a state of grace.” They understood that, without grace, they were vulnerable to every whim of the devil, and powerless to assist those who had lost their way.

Recognizing these ancestors, these warrior saints who went before us as the heroes of our faith, Fr. Heilman encourages us to study their ways of becoming “Fortes in Fides” – Strong in Faith. Drawing from Fr. Heilman’s book, over the next couple of weeks, I am going to share some of what these heroes of faith can teach us about spiritual discipline and the vital daily regimen of prayer.

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A Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

 I do not have much of a green thumb, so I do not know if the Easter Flowers have just been planted someplace or if they are long dead, but they are not in the church. In fact the spring lilies have been replaced by the fall leaves. I am sure all the Easter candy has been eaten a long time ago. But when was the last time that you thought about the Resurrection? Another way for me to ask it is how does the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and His victory over sin and death impact your life?    

Sadly, too many people live as if the Resurrection never occurred. Oh, they might not deny that Jesus died on the Cross and then rose from the dead three days later, but that reality really does not change how they live their lives. They still go to work with little to no thought about Christ Jesus. As they pursue wealth, possessions, power, and prestige, they rarely if ever give a thought to the four “last things”: death, judgment, heaven and hell.

 This was the problem with the rich man in today’s parable. He has become complacent. On the outside, probably kept the duties of the Law of Moses: he likely went to synagogue on the Sabbath, and may even kept the Sabbath fast. He probably made the trip to Jerusalem a couple of times a year for the required sacrifices in the Temple. I am sure that he contributed to the Temple and his local synagogue, although probably not as much as he could have – certainly not in a sacrificial manner. There is no mention of him being a murderer, thief, abusive to people, or any of the “really bad things.” He was successful in his career. He probably worked hard to be successful, so he “deserved” to live a good life, enjoying himself with his friends.

 But his spirit was complacent. He gave no more thought to God than he had to, and he was so lost in his wealth and comfort that he scarcely notices the beggar at his doorstep. It is not that he does anything bad to Lazarus to make his life worse, but neither does he do anything to help Lazarus. The rich man had no fear of the Lord; the type of fear that makes us want to desire God alone and thus opens our hearts and eyes to the people in need around us.

 Unfortunately, the rich man reflects the attitudes of our modern society. We do not want to notice the poor, the homeless, the sick, the dirty, and ignorant. We want them out of sight. Like Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken’s A Christmas Carole, we think “don’t we pay taxes so that we do not have to do anything more, so that the government can deal with ‘those’ people?” Our culture has no fear of God; we hardly ever think of heaven.

 Unless we open our eyes to those in need around us, unless we open our hearts to God and put Him first in our lives, then we will suffer the fate of the rich man. Yes, hell is a reality. It is for those who have rejected God by their actions and thoughts. It does not have to be an explicit “I reject God.” We can express it simply by our actions, by not allowing the event of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to completely change our lives. It should be the destination towards which we direct our entire lives. As we might talk about an upcoming vacation, so we should talk about, dream about heaven, all the time.

 To open our hearts and eyes we can learn a lesson from the Boy Scouts. One of their sayings is “Do a good turn daily.” Boy Scouts commit to keep on the lookout for an opportunity to do at least one voluntary, selfless act of service every day. All of us should make such a commitment.

 There is a group in our parish who commit to keep their hearts and eyes open to the Lord by being aware of and caring for those in need. I am speaking of the Confraternity of St. Vincent de Paul. The chapter here at Resurrection Parish is very active. I will allow them to tell you how many calls they receive each year from people in need. They then go out, two-by-two just as Jesus sent out the disciples, to meet with these people in need. Some are unemployed and homeless, not sure where their next meal is going to come from. Some of people who do work, but they just cannot seem to pay all their bills. The members of St. Vincent de Paul, help them find shelter, they help pay utilities, rent, medical bills. It is not simply a handout; they try to help the people they minister to find a way out of poverty. The main tool of the Confraternity of St. Vincent de Paul is prayer: each month they gather as a group to pray the Rosary, not just for the poor, but so that their hearts will always be open to the poor. Each meeting begins with a prayer, and I am sure that many prayers are made as they visit the poor. They know that without Christ Jesus they can do nothing. Like what St. Paul wrote to Timothy in today’s second reading, the members of St. Vincent de Paul “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” In doing so, they help the Lazaruses in the world to live a little be better, but more importantly they bare witness to Jesus Christ and the power of His Resurrection.

 This weekend members of the Confraternity of St. Vincent de Paul will be at the exits asking all of us to share some of our wealth so that they can help the poor. Any amount that you can give them would be greatly appreciated. However, they are looking for something more. They could always use more members. Some of them are getting up in age, so they could use young blood. They are inviting you to join them in a marvelous spiritual journey. To fall in love with the poor Christ, and to love Him in the poor.

 Whether as a member of St. Vincent de Paul or one of the other organizations we have in the parish, we are being invited and challenged to give up our complacency. Will you do your good turn daily?

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A Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

 The Parable of the Prodigal Son is like a kaleidoscope: it offers countless beautiful insights into what it means to follow Jesus. One of the insights we often overlook has to do with the greatest danger we face as so-called “practicing Catholics”: the danger of living our faith only on the surface, of not letting it penetrate the depths of our hearts.  

This parable teaches us that it is possible to live “in the Father’s house” without really getting to know the Father. The younger son didn’t really know his father. He didn’t know how much his father loved him and how eagerly his father wanted to bequeath him prosperity and joy. As a result, he paid his father a colossal insult by demanding his share of the inheritance while his father was still alive. It was a way of saying that his father would be of more use to him dead than alive.

 The older son was no better. On the surface he seemed to do everything right, but he had no idea about how much his father cared for him, and so he resented the celebration at this brother’s return.

 Although they had lived their entire lives under the same roof, the two brothers had never opened their hearts to their father; they had closed themselves into the petty little world of their egoism.

 We can easily do the same: spend our whole lives as “practicing” Catholics, going through all the right motions and looking great on the outside, but not opening our hearts to God, not getting to know him on a personal, intimate level.

 That’s a risky way to live our faith: we could easily end up separated from the Father for good, eating corn husks and missing out on the joyful celebration of the Father’s love.

 In 2007, a group of Christian sociologists published the results of a study that they had been conducting over a five-year period called, “The Obstacles to Growth Survey.” It was conducted on 20,009 Christians with ages ranging from 15 to 88 – the majority of whom came from the United States. The survey found that on average, more than 4 in 10 Christians around the world say they “often” or “always” rush from task to task. About 6 in 10 Christians say that it’s “often” or “always” true that “the busyness of life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God.” According to the study, professionals whose busyness interferes with developing their relationship with God include lawyers (72 percent), managers (67 percent), nurses (66 percent), teachers (64 percent), salespeople (61 percent), business owners (61 percent), and housewives (57 percent). Even 65% of the pastors reported that the busyness of their lives got in the way of developing their relationship with God.

 The authors of the study concluded that the accelerated pace and activity level of the modern day is distracting us from God. Here was their line of reasoning: Christians are assimilating to a culture of busyness, hurry and overload, which leads to God becoming more marginalized in Christians’ lives, which leads to a deteriorating relationship with God, which leads to Christians becoming even more vulnerable to adopting secular assumptions about how to live, which leads to more conformity to a culture of busyness, hurry and overload. And then the cycle begins again.

 It is possible to ascribe too much weight to sociological studies, but this one certainly harmonizes with the experience of the two sons in the parable. Something made them so self-centered and distracted that they were never able to get to know their father. Maybe it was busyness, maybe it was something else. If nothing else, the survey gives us food for thought.

 There is one simple way we can be sure to avoid living in the Father’s house without really knowing the Father: communicating to others what we know about God. St. John Paul II used to say that there is no better way to grow in our faith than by giving it away. Well, our faith tells us that God our Father loves each one of us with an everlasting love. It tells us that he loved each one of us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. It tells us that God is always watching over us, especially when we stray from the flock or get lost in a dark corner. Our faith tells us that God never gives up on us.

 If the brothers of the parable had formed strong convictions about these qualities of their father, they would never have fallen into their joyless and fruitless rebellions. We have an opportunity to learn from their mistake. If we make a conscious effort to tell others about this God who is pure goodness, untiring mercy, and all-powerful wisdom, we will be sure to deepen our own knowledge of him. And the devil won’t have a chance to plant lies in our minds, because our minds will be constantly full of the truth that we are trying to communicate.

 Strengthened with the grace we will receive during this Mass, let’s promise Christ today that this week we will take advantage of every opportunity he gives us to share with others what God has told us about himself. If we do, we will be sure to stay not only safe in the Father’s house, but eternally safe in the Father’s heart.

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