A Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

           In Rome, just a few blocks from the Tiber River, lies the Venerable English College. Founded as a seminary in 1579, it has formed generations of English priests for ministry in England.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, 44 former students of the English college were martyred in England during different waves of persecution. Forty of them have been beatified or canonized by the Church. The students at the English college knew that they were preparing for martyrdom. In fact, St Philip Neri, who lived near the college, used to greet the students with the phrase “Salvete Flores Martyrum – Hail, the flower of the martyrs.” And the college’s motto hangs above the door. It reads: “I have come to set the earth on fire,” and that was a desire the students made their own. They understood that God’s love passed through the Cross, and that our own love must do the same.             Therefore, they were willing to witness to God’s love even to point of giving up their own lives. The martyrs of the English college exemplify setting the world on fire for love of God.

            Today’s gospel reading is striking. Whenever we read the gospel it’s important to imagine the vocal undertone of Christ’s words. Like any other person, sometimes his voice would have been gentle and calm, and sometimes it would have been tense.

            In today’s gospel Jesus proclaims: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.” There’s a vibrant urgency to these words that must have been apparent in his voice. What does he mean? Why is he so passionate about this?

            In the ancient Jewish world, fire was generally associated with judgment. We usually associate judgment with punishment. Yet Christ himself said in the gospel of John that he did not come to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. So what kind of judgment does Jesus bring?

            He brings the judgment of the Cross. He brings the judgment that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son for us. He brings the judgment that brought St Paul to exclaim that “he loved me and he gave himself for me.”

            When we really look at the crucifix we see the judgment of God. We see the horror of sin, and the infinitely greater love of God who came to die to set us free from sin and unite us to himself.

            Christ reaffirms this in today’s gospel when he says that there is a baptism with which he must be baptized, and that he’s in anguish until it’s accomplished. The Greek verb we translate as baptize literally means to submerge. It refers to a difficult experience, and here Christ is referring to his suffering, death, and resurrection.

            Christ came, then, to set the earth on fire by his death and resurrection. That brought us into a new relationship with him, setting us free to truly love him and, in him, to truly love others. And he invites us to share in that cruciform fire, to say with him: “I also have a mission to set the world on fire with freedom and love for God.”

            The witness of others has a decisive impact. And our witness to others is a vital part of Christianity. In fact, the term “martyr” means “witness.” And we are all called to martyrdom. Most of us won’t die a violent death for our faith, but each one of us is called to set the world on fire for Christ through a little death to our own selfishness towards others. St Therese of Lisieux wrote about the hundreds of tiny pin-pricks we endure every day, which are a call to love.

            There’s an everyday martyrdom to which we’re all called. It means smiling at someone when we feel lousy. It means a kind word when we feel like biting someone else’s head off. It means refusing to give in to bitterness or hatred towards someone who’s hurt us, and instead choosing to forgive that person. Those little acts of witness to Christ’s love – of martyrdom – help to set the world on fire with love.

            St Therese of Avila said that the Devil likes to incite us to think about the great things we might someday do for God, and to forget about the good we can actually do right now. There’s one thing that we can all do that seems very small, but it makes all the difference in the world. We can invite someone else to the Sacraments.

            As Catholics we believe that the Mass renews Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus loved each one of us, personally, and died for us. He has wanted to stay with us in the Eucharist until the end of time. We’re never alone; God is near us.

            We also believe that Jesus wants to forgive our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No matter what we’ve done or failed to do, He wants to give us the tremendous joy of hearing the words: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

            If we really believe that, why not invite someone else to experience it too? Most of us know someone who has fallen away from the Church. Why not tell them about our experience of Reconciliation, and invite them to go too? Or why not invite them to come to Mass some Sunday?

            The little things make the greatest difference. A tiny spark can set the world ablaze. Now we prepare to receive a small host transformed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. God takes the little things and makes them into something unfathomably great – he wants us to share in that same power of his eternal love.

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A Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

 “Semper Paratus,” which means “Always Ready,” is the motto of the United States Coast Guard summarizes today’s gospel. In today’s gospel Christ urges us to have the same attitude: always ready. The question natural becomes, “Always ready for what?” Jesus is telling us to always be ready for the moment of death. He’s encouraging us to live each day ready to love. In that way, we are storing up treasure for the day when we will meet God face to face.

 It’s good to reflect on the question: how would I like to meet God? Each one of us is going to die. We don’t know when or how, but we will die. How ready am I to meet God? Jesus wants us to be ready for that moment. We will die as we have lived, and if we have lived by sacrificing ourselves for others, we will be ready.

 The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that when we die, we will each be judged on our lives. “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ . . . each will be rewarded immediately after life in accordance with his works and faith.”

 That means that when we die we meet Christ face to face, and we will see the effects of the good and the evil we have done. We will also see the effects of the good we have failed to do.
 St John of the Cross put it well: “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.”  Christ’s message today is to live each day as a preparation to meet Him with joy. Semper paratus, always ready.  

 Mike Monsoor, US Navy SEAL and posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor is a good example of this. On September 29, 2006, Monsoor, a Catholic, attended Mass and then prepared for a mission in Ramadi, Iraq. His small team was besieged by insurgents on the roof of a building, and retreated to a corner partition to avoid the worst of the gunfire.

Suddenly one of the enemy fighters tossed a grenade over the parapet which landed in the middle of the three SEALS. Monsoor was closest to the door of the partition, and could easily have jumped to safety on the other side of the concrete wall. Instead he yelled “Grenade!” and dove on top of it just as it detonated. His heroic action saved his teammates’ lives, and cost him his own. Mortally wounded, he lived long enough to receive the last rites from the Catholic chaplain, Fr. Halladay. In 2008, President George Bush posthumously awarded Mike Monsoor the Congressional Medal of Honor.

 You do not improvise that sort of heroism. Mike Monsoor was someone who lived always ready: in fact, his friends say that he constantly made little sacrifices so that others would not have to, and, when the great moment came, he simply continued what he had been choosing to do all along.

 Shortly the preparation of the altar will begin. First the deacon lays out the white corporal on which the paten and chalice that will hold the Body and Blood of Christ are to rest.
 Then the priest receives the gifts of bread and wine and brings them to the altar. These gifts carry with them our whole lives; we bring them to God so that He can transform them into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. 

 In other words, there’s a preparation of the altar before the consecration. And our lives are also meant to be an altar of praise to God, an altar prepared and made holy right here, in the Mass. In the Mass we receive the strength and the courage to live always ready. In the Mass we receive the assurance that God is close to us, and that He wants to help us to truly love. In the Mass we are brought into unity with others, and we recognize that they are worthy of our love and sacrifice.

 Today, Christ wants to prepare our hearts to love more. And in that preparation, He wants to prepare us for that day, known only to God, when we will go home to meet Him face to face.

Let’s pray for each other that on that day we may hear the Lord say: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come into the joy prepared for you from all eternity.”

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A Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

 Jesus always tries to open our eyes. He does this because we need to see things as they really are. He wants us to judge everything by the light of eternity.  And today’s readings illustrate that point.​

In the first reading we have Qoheleth’s famous phrase: “Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity!”  What does he mean? That life is brief, and that if we put all our trust and effort in the things of this world they will leave us empty. 

​ This is not a rejection of creation: the world is good, and work is a portion of our participation in God’s creative goodness. But we need to remember that this world is passing away, and that our final destination is heaven.

​ In the second reading, St Paul exhorts the Christians in Colossae to seek what is above. In other words, we are citizens of heaven, and it’s crucial to remember that fact.  “Think of what is above,” he tells them, “not of what is on earth.” 

​ Again, that does NOT mean that we should ignore the good things of this world. Too much other-worldly focus could actually be a vice, if it led us to neglect our current duties.  But St Paul knows the human heart well, and he knows that most of us tend forget about heaven in favor of more temporary plans.

​ And in the gospel Christ makes the same point. He gives us the striking parable of a wealthy man who had a bountiful harvest.  It’s important to remember that in Jesus’ time the land, produce, and livestock signified wealth. So this man was sitting pretty, so much so that he decides to tear down his old barns in order to build new ones for his vast wealth.  In modern terms, he’s taking his investments to the most aggressive hedge fund he can find. Yet he forgets about eternity; he puts all his hope in his wealth and forgets that we can’t take it with us. And so he hears these sobering words: “You will die tonight, and to whom will all this wealth belong?” 

 Christ wants to encourage us to remember that our lives are brief, and that eternity is closer every day. He wants us to live with our eyes fixed on heaven, where we will see him face to face in joy everlasting. Christ wants us to live today in such a way that we’re ready for the eternal tomorrow of God. 

​ This past week we had a powerful witness of someone who had given all he had when he found the pearl of great price.  I am speaking of Fr. Jacques Hamel, the 85 year-old French priest, who was martyred this week as he celebrated Mass.  I am sure that all of you heard the news, while Fr. Hamel was celebrating the daily Mass two ISIS terrorists came into the church taking hostages.  They force Fr. Hamel to his knees and then slit his throat.

 I did not know Fr. Hamel, but I have been reading what I could about this brother priest. From all accounts, Fr. Hamel was a humble man who was always available to the people of the parish.  A priest friend of his commented that obviously Fr. Hamel could have retired many years ago, but when asked why he didn’t retire, Fr. Hamel replied, “Have you seen retired priests?  I experience more life serving Christ than I could in retirement.”  He had obviously found that Christ Jesus was the most important thing in his life, and so he wanted to pour out his life following Christ.  He loved Christ with all his heart, and this love was manifested in his service to the people in the parish.  He died while celebrating the greatest gift of love we have, the Eucharist.  I pray that my love for Jesus will be as constant as Fr. Hamel’s.  He kept his eyes on the prize, and he did not fear.   

​ What we focus on impacts the outcome.  For example, if a basketball player isn’t focused on the hoop when he’s shooting the shot is far less likely to go in.  In our own lives, how much do we focus on heaven?  We believe that we’re created to be with God for all eternity; do our lives show that focus? Do we ever think about heaven?

​ The more we focus on that, the more our actions will have a tint of eternity to them. The Catholic author Matthew Kelly says that our actions flow from our last, most dominant thought; so if our last most dominant thought is about heaven, doesn’t it stand to reason that our actions will begin to be worthy of heaven?

​ Here are two practical recommendations on how to do this.  First of all, read a book about heaven. A very good choice is Peter Kreeft’s Heaven, the Heart’s Deepest Longing.  And secondly, come to visit Christ in the Eucharist. Heaven is God’s eternal presence, so the tabernacle is heaven on earth. Every time we come here, we’re stepping into a foretaste of heaven.

​ Here at Resurrection Parish we are blessed to have a perpetual Adoration Chapel we can keep our eyes on the goal of life, especially eternal life.  Whether we make a weekly Holy Hour, or just stop by for a short visit, spending time in God’s presence in the Eucharist will increase our desire for heaven.  Starting in September, we will have another opportunity to keep our eyes on God.  On First Fridays, we are going to have a Eucharistic Holy Hour with Exposition and Benediction.  It will start at 5 PM at St. Casimir Church.  After the rite of exposition, there will be a sharing of the Word of God and a brief reflection.  Then we will have an extended period of silent prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.  It will end with Benediction.  Please plan to make this a way of deepening your desire for heaven.

​ We prepare our hearts to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, who comes to fill us with a treasure more precious than silver or gold. He comes to give us his own Body and Blood, and to prepare us to see him face to face forever.  

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A Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Among the many lessons Jesus teaches in this speech about how to be a Christian, the last one is often overlooked. After encouraging them to work hard, because the harvest is ready, after encouraging them to be ready for difficulties, because there are wolves out there, after encouraging them to put their confidence in God, not in money or in their own strength, after encouraging them to stay focused on their mission and not be distracted, after all of that, he finishes his instructions by telling his disciples how to react when they are rejected, when their efforts appear fruitless, when they seem to fail in their attempts to win people over to Christ. When that happens, they are simply to shake the dust from their feet and move on.
Jesus is telling his disciples – and that includes all of us – to expect failures as we try to live out and spread the Gospel, and not to let it bother us. We need to reflect on this lesson. Everyone remains free to accept or reject God’s grace. Christ himself couldn’t convince the Pharisees to follow him. Should we expect anything different?

 St Paul certainly didn’t. This is why he lays so much emphasis on the cross in the Second Reading. He writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The cross. Christ’s greatest glory, because on the cross he showed that his love for us and for the Father has no limits. But at the same time, the cross was a sign of the stark reality of sin, of people’s free rejection of the Gospel.

 Are we ready to face rejection for Christ’s sake? Jesus wants us to be.

 Soon after the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan was named Coadjutor Bishop of Saigon, in Viet Nam, the Viet Nam war came to an end, the American soldiers went home, and the North Vietnamese Communist party took over the entire country. As the communists consolidated their power, Bishop Van Thuan became a rallying point for Catholics being persecuted by the atheistic government. The bishop was such an effective religious leader that the communists ended up arresting him.

 He was imprisoned for 16 years. Part of that time he spent in what were called “re-education camps”. But he tended to have more influence on the re-educators than they had on him. They put him under house arrest. But from there, he was still able to communicate with the faithful of his archdiocese. In fact, he was able to write three books on scraps of paper that he would smuggle in and out of the house. The books inspired and encouraged his persecuted people. Finally, they had to put him in solitary confinement, in a tiny vermin-infested cell with no windows.

 There the future Cardinal had his most difficult trial. His love for the people entrusted to his care seemed completely frustrated. He could do nothing for them. He felt like an utter failure. He didn’t understand why God allowed him to be made helpless when God’s people were in such need. For months all he could do was weep and pray. For a long time he was on the verge of breaking down. Finally, God comforted him with an insight from the Holy Spirit. God allowed him to see that what mattered weren’t the works that he was able or not able to achieve, but the One for whom he was working: God. With that, peace invaded his soul. He began to see failure and success in an entirely new light – God’s light.

 Our culture today, in many ways, is equally hostile to Christ and the Christian way of life. When we try to live out Christ’s teachings, defend our faith, and build up the Church, we often run into resistance, mockery, and humiliation.

 Jesus knew we would; but he wants us to be his courageous ambassadors anyway. He told us that we will sometimes be rejected because of our faith. And that’s OK. We just shake the dust from our feet and move on, trusting that he can turn failures into successes. This is the secret to dodging discouragement, one of the Christian disciple’s greatest enemies.

 When we try to follow Christ conscientiously, and obstacles spring up, and failures plague us, the first temptation we face is discouragement. We think we have done something wrong. We think we are good for nothing. We think Jesus is disappointed with us. When we let these evil thoughts take root in our hearts, they stifle us. They make us settle for comfortable mediocrity. The devil loves that. He loves filling Christian hearts with paralyzing discouragement.

 But the truth is that discouragement is just the result of unfulfilled expectations. And Christ has now reminded us of which expectations we should have as we strive to follow him. We should expect rejection, persecution, and obstacles. Now that we know this, we don’t have to be discouraged anymore. We can be humble, trust in Christ, wipe the dust from our feet, and move forward.

 As we continue with today’s Mass, let’s reflect on the moments when we tend to give in to this temptation of discouragement, and let’s put them in Christ’s hands, shaking the dust from our feet and trusting in the power of his grace.

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A Homily for the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

 All joy wills eternity: wills deep, deep eternity. Pope Benedict XVI, picking up on this, said that the fact that joy ends in death, and seems like it can’t last forever, is the real sadness of human existence. In today’s gospel we encounter that sadness. Jesus meets a funeral procession. Ancient funeral processions in Israel were led by professional mourners. They played flutes and cymbals, and filled the air with cries of sorrow.

 The dead man was his mother’s only son. In the ancient world, the son took care of his parents in their old age. Not only had this mother lost her only son, she had lost all security. Her heart must have been broken with grief and fear.

 Jesus sees this, and He is moved with pity. And then St. Luke tells us that Jesus went up to the coffin and touched it. God is not stand-offish. He enters into every human situation. He wants to be present with His love and with His power. He touched it. Jesus isn’t afraid of death. He isn’t afraid of sin. His mercy wants to touch our hearts and heal us. He commands: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And the young man sits up, and Jesus gives him back to his mother.

 So Jesus has the power to raise the dead to life. He has the power to give us joy and peace, if we allow him to draw near to us too.

 There is a story about the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (a Trenton boy). It was a spring afternoon some years ago, and he was attending church services, sitting in a back pew, holding his prayer book in his hands. The Mass had ended and most people had gone. He was still saying prayers, alone in the back pew. He finally got up and began to walk out. There were no reporters, nobody watching. There was only a woman who had been attending the same services.

 What was a bit unusual about this woman: she had lashing sores on her face and hands. They were open sores. There was some disease, and not just physically. She behaved strangely, a troubled person that you meet in large cities and quickly walk away from. A person to avoid and certainly never touch. For whatever reason, she walked up to Justice Scalia, who was alone. He took her hands, though they were full of sores. She leaned in to say something, and she began to cry. He held her face next to his, and she talked beneath her tears that were now streaming down his suit. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t try to get away. He just held her while she spoke. This lasted for perhaps more than 5 minutes. He closed his eyes while she spoke, gripping her back with his hand. Finally she was finished. What he said comforted her, and she gained composure. She pulled away, ready to go. He held her rough, sore-filled hands and had a few final words. He gave her some money. And then she walked away.

 He must have seen God in her. That day, Justice Scalia allowed God to draw close to him through a person in need.

 Allowing Christ to draw near isn’t that hard. Actually, it’s what we do in every Mass. Whenever a priest says the words “This is my Body… This is my Blood,” the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. GOD is present! And not only is He present, but He wants us to receive Him in the Eucharist. If we’re prepared, if we’ve gone to confession to confess any serious sins, we’re invited to receive God!

 This is the ultimate closeness of God. We are drawn into the life of God. St Augustine put it very beautifully when he said that after we receive communion: “You are the Body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the Incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vessels of Eternal Love. Behold what you are. Become what you receive.”

  So let’s prepare our hearts to receive Christ. As we’re in the communion line walking up to receive communion, let’s pray: “Lord, thank you for drawing near to me. I want to receive this great gift.”

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A Homily for Corpus Christi (2016)

 Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ. Looking at the history of this feast, I wonder if it was left up to people today if we would be celebrating the Body and Blood of Christ.  Pope Urban IV instituted this Solemnity in 1264 for the universal Church, but it had been celebrated in some dioceses before that. In fact, Pope Urban instituted it because of the large popular piety surrounding the Blessed Sacrament, and he asked St. Thomas Aquinas to write the Office and Mass parts for this feast so to further the piety and understanding of the people about the Blessed Sacrament. The hymns, “Adoro te devote”, “Pan Angelicus,” and “Pange lingua glorisi” are from that Office that St. Thomas wrote.

 In the first centuries of the Church, the Blessed Sacrament was reserved so that Communion could be taken to the sick and to those in prison awaiting martyrdom. Over time, however, the faithful believing with all their hearts that Jesus was really and truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist caused them to make both public and private devotion to the Holy Eucharist far richer. They realized that God continues to “dwell among us”, especially in the the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. This veneration for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was expressed in many ways – Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, processions, prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacraments, and genuflections before the tabernacle that were real acts of faith and of adoration. There are many accounts of ordinary Christians willing to lay down their lives in order to protect the Blessed Sacrament.

 So, with the long, rich history of Eucharistic devotion and piety, why would I have doubts about whether we would be celebrating the Solemnity of Corpus Christi if it was left up to Catholics today? Because, sadly, for the majority of Catholics today there is very little devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. According to surveys, two thirds of American Catholics today do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Most think it is just a symbol. Before starting a chorus of “surely it is not I” like the Apostles at the Last Supper, think about how you prepared yourself for Mass. Did you take time to carefully examine your conscience to determine if you are in a state of Grace to receive Communion? Did you honor the Eucharistic Fast of not eating or drinking for an hour before receiving Holy Communion? Did you spend time forming an intention for Mass? When you arrived for Mass, were you on time or running late? Before entering the pew, did you make a reverent genuflection or solemn bow to the tabernacle, recognizing the presence of Christ our King in the tabernacle, or was it a quick, half effort of a genuflection? If you arrived before Mass began, did you take time to speak heart to heart to the Shepherd-King, praising Him and thanking Him, or did you start reading the bulletin or talking to the people around you? When you come up to receive Communion do you have gum in your mouth, have dirty hands, hold your hands down at your waist, or do you approach with love and devotion, if you are going to receive in your hands making a throne for the King of Kings near your heart? After Communion, and after Mass, do you make time to really give thanks to Christ for giving Himself to us as food, so that we can be transformed, sharing in His Divine Life?

 Any spiritual renewal, whether personally or as a parish, must begin and be centered on the Eucharist. Our parish is blessed to have a perpetual adoration chapel; I am sure that there is always room for more adorers to commit an hour a week before the Blessed Sacrament. If you cannot commit a regular hour, perhaps making an effort to make a visit once a week. As I prayed over what to say in this homily, I thought that as a parish we could restore some of the traditional Eucharistic devotions. I am going to discuss with the deacons and the Pastoral Council of perhaps having a monthly parish Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on First Fridays. Of course we will need parishioners to come to it. Maybe in a few years, as our Eucharistic devotion increases, we could have a 40 Hours Devotion.

 My great dream is for starting next year, for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi we will have an Eucharistic Procession. By solemnly processing the Blessed Sacrament through the streets we give public testimony of our faith and love for the Blessed Sacrament, and we remind our neighbors that Christ is always passing by. He wants us to follow Him, just like so many of the “ordinary” people did when He was walking the dusty roads of Galilee and Israel. Can you imagine walking down the road with Jesus, sharing with Him our sorrows, our struggles, our hopes and our dreams? Praising Him in song for all the world to see. Maybe we could work with Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish; one year processing from St. Casimir’s to St. Peter’s, and the following year from St. Peter’s to St. Casimir’s. To make this dream a reality, I will need help. I will need people to step forward to help plan and organize it. Will you join me? Or more importantly, will you join Christ?

 Today is a day of great rejoicing. Christ our King gives His Body and Blood to us for our salvation. Let us praise Him with all our hearts, and let us commit ourselves to deepening our belief and devotion to His Body and Blood.

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A Homily for Pentecost (2016)

One of more memorable aspects of the Easter Vigil is the beginning, when the church is dark, and the new Easter Candle is brought in with the announcement, “Christ the Light!” Then, the congregation have their candle lit from the Easter Candle and the whole church gets brighter, symbolic of the light of Christ enlightening the whole world. For the past seven weeks we have kept the Easter Candle here in the sanctuary, lighting it every time we celebrate Mass. The living flame of the Easter Candle reminds us that Christ is alive, that He rose from the dead. The tall, white candle with a burning flame on top reminded us of God’s faithfulness throughout all of history. The Easter Candle symbolizes the two miraculous pillars – fire by night and smoke by day – that guided the Israelites out of Egypt, through the desert, and into the Promise Land. Now the Easter Candle symbolizes Christ, the Risen Lord, our sure guide out of the slavery of sin, through this world of trials and temptations, and into the Promise Land of Heaven.

 Today, however, we will remove the Easter Candle from the sanctuary. It will be moved next to the baptismal font, and from now until next Easter it will only be lit at baptisms and funerals; the beginning and end of our journey as Christians. Does this mean that Christ Jesus is no longer with us?

 No! The sanctuary lamp beside the tabernacle that Jesus has not gone on vacation. Rather, today is Pentecost, the day Christ Jesus’ risen life was entrusted to the Church by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who descended like tongues of fire on the Apostles nine days after Jesus ascended into heaven. This new season in the life of the Church is paralleled by our new liturgical season, Ordinary Time, when we take the Easter Candle out of the sanctuary, because we ourselves become living Easter Candles, burning flames of wisdom, pillars of Christian love and faith spreading Christ’s hope in the world.

 And Christians have been doing a pretty good job at doing just that. Before Pentecost, the followers of Jesus could fit in one, large room. Today, Christians are found in every corner of the world. There is no natural explanation for this, because on the merely natural level, Christianity has relatively little to offer. Jesus promised His followers that they would have to take up their cross, daily; that they would be persecuted, as He was; that they would have to strictly govern their impulses for money, sexual pleasure, power, and self-indulgence; that they would have to actively serve and be generous to their neighbors; and would have to love and forgive their enemies. Following Jesus means following a narrow and steep path through life on earth.

When the Holy Spirit came down upon the Church at Pentecost, the Apostles did not receive a clever, man-made philosophy; they received the real seed of divine life. That life grew in their souls, and produced fruit, and that fruit in turn carried the divine life to other souls, who welcomed it, nourished it, and produced more fruit.

Our faith is not a new philosophy; it is a new life! And we are meant to pass it on to others until it fills every human heart, family, and society.

 How can we follow this call to be Easter Candles for the world? Most importantly, we have to make sure we keep the flame burning in our hearts. If we do, it will give light and warmth to those around us without our even realizing it. Too many Christians have let the flame die out. They call themselves Christians, but they live mediocre lives. They have none of Christ’s wisdom, courage, virtue, or joy, so they can give none of it to those around them. And I am not talking just about those Catholics who are not here at Mass on Sunday. There are mediocre Catholics who come to Mass every week, but the life of Christ has little to no effect in their lives outside of Mass.

 Today, Pentecost, God will renew the flame in each of our souls, and it will be up to us to keep it burning, to feed the flame. We can do that in two ways.

 First, we have to make sure that prayer is our highest priority in life. What oxygen is for a flame, prayer is for our Christian identity. If you take away the oxygen, the flame will sputter and die. If we don’t make an effort to pray each day, we will become joyless, mediocre Christians. Here at Resurrection Parish we are blessed to have a Perpetual Adoration Chapel, so we have a special place we can go to spend quality time with Jesus. But we also have the “Formed” website access which has a number of Bible studies available, for free, to any of our parishioners. Perhaps you would be interested in starting a small faith sharing group, using one of these Bible studies; if so just let me know and I will do all I can to promote and advertise it for you.

 Second, this year we can make better use of the sacrament of confession. When a candle is lit for a long time, excess wax can accumulate and start to stifle the flame. That wax has to be poured or cut away so the flame can thrive again. When we go about our lives in a selfish world, we inevitably do all kinds of selfish things, and that stifles the flame of Christian wisdom in our lives. Confession is how God cleans away the stifling wax.

 Today, let’s pray for a new Pentecost in our lives, our parish, and our world, and let’s promise to do our part to make that prayer come true.

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A Homily for the Ascension (C-2016)

I am sure that many of us have seen the movie, “Forrest Gump.” There is a scene in that movie, when Forrest is feeling rejected by many of the people he cares for the most, and he decides to just start running. When he gets to the Atlantic Ocean he just turns around and starts running west. Over the course of several years, Forrest runs back and forth across the country several times, and he becomes something of a national phenomenon. People want to know why he is running across the country. They ask him if it is for world peace, equal rights, or a number of other causes. And Forrest says, “I am just running.” He even gathers some followers who run behind him.  One day, while they are in a desert, Forrest just stops. All of his followers get quiet because they know that he is going to say something. Forrest turns towards them and says, “I’m rather tired. I’m going to go home.” And off he starts home. His followers are stunned, and one cries out something like, “Now what are we supposed to do?”

 All people are looking for the answers to life’s deepest questions. However, since our thirst for truth and happiness is infinite (because that is how God made us) no finite worldly thing can satisfy us. The characters following Forrest in the movie personified that search, that thirst for meaning. The fact that their hero abandons them without any explanation illustrates the inability of the things of this world (money, fame, politics, pleasure) to provide that meaning; eventually, we get tired of them; they let us down.

 It would be easy to imagine the Apostles feeling something like that when Jesus ascended into heaven. They had left their jobs and families, and had followed Jesus for three years as He walked around Israel and Galilee. They survived the crushing blow of Jesus’ crucifixion, and for the past 40 days have been living the exhilaration of Jesus’ resurrection. Now Jesus was going away again. OK, the Ascension is much more glorious than dying on a cross, but still it is His going away, and they knew it would be for much longer than the three days He spent in the tomb.

 Yet at the Ascension, the Apostles are not like the characters in the movie. They are not feeling lost and confused about what they are to do now. Why? Because they had come to know that only Jesus is infinite goodness, power and wisdom, only He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” And Jesus had told them what they were to do, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus had even told them that He would send them the Holy Spirit to be their advocate and helper. The Apostles knew that Jesus would provide all that He said He would.

 Today, as the Church invites us to reflect on the great mystery of Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, we should feel our confidence in God renewed and strengthened. Jesus is ruling history right now. None of the difficulties, injustices, and problems that we are facing as individuals, families, and societies are outside His knowledge or power. Jesus is working in all things, even if it is sometimes difficult for us to see exactly how.

 How can we express this hope, this confidence in God? St. Ignatius of Loyola had a phrase that can guide us. He used to say that we should pray as if everything depended upon God, and work as if everything depended on us.

 Each of us has projects, dreams, goals, problems, and challenges in our lives. This week, encouraged and strengthened by Christ’s ascension into heaven, let’s pray each morning for God to send His grace and blessing upon them. Then, trusting that God will always do His part, let us roll up our sleeves and do our part. We should pray for a sick relative to be comforted and get well, but we should also go and visit them, bringing them flowers, reading to them, encouraging them….

 When Jesus ascended into heaven, He didn’t take the members of His Church with Him. Instead, He entrusted His mission to their care. That mission, to follow Christ and help others do the same, is still in full swing today. It’s in our hands, and if to fulfill our part we do our best, surely God will do the rest.

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A Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter (C-2016)

I once heard a story about a Roman soldier from the first century of Christianity. He had to go off on a long military campaign, leaving his wife, who was pregnant with their first child, home. While he was away, his wife gave birth to a son, and shortly afterwards she converted to Christianity, and both she and her son were baptized.    Meanwhile, the Roman soldier also met some Christians while he was on his campaign, and he was very drawn to this new faith. However, before he could be baptized, he was shipped home.

 When he returned home, his wife was overjoyed to see him, but she was also very nervous because she did not know how he would react to the news that both she and their son were now Christians. She decided to break the news to him gradually. While he was holding his son, she just happened to mention in an offhanded way that she had had the boy baptized as a Christian. The soldier looked shocked, and became very quiet. He put his son back into the crib, and then knelt down beside the crib. The soldier bowed his head, and then silently began to pray. His wife was puzzled, and knelt down next to him and asked him what he was doing. The soldier looked at his wife and said, “I am praying to the one, true God, for if our son has been baptized, he himself has become a holy place. Christ the Lord, his Father the Creator of all, and the living Holy Spirit have made their home in his heart, so we can pray to God there.”

 The Roman soldier had learned one of the great mysteries of the Christian life. When we are baptized, God Himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – come into our souls and take up residence there. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” This is something very new in the history of humanity. God is no longer merely present to all things in a generic way as Creator and Sustainer. Now, in every soul that is united to Christ Jesus in faith and grace, God is present as friend, guide, and personal companion. Every Christian soul is a temple where God truly dwells.

 This is the gift Christ has given us, the prize he won for us on Calvary: the transforming, renewing, life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Unfortunately, we often forget about this. We often live as if our Christianity were something outside of us, like a membership in a club. That forgetfulness handcuffs God’s power in our lives.

 The Holy Spirit is polite. He respects our freedom. He chooses to be a guest, not a dictator. He sits in the living room of our souls, eagerly waiting for us to put away our cell phone, shut down our computer, and pay attention to him for few minutes, to ask him for guidance and strength. And whenever we do, he is able to increase what is good in us, and cleanse what is bad.

 There is another way – a very intimate way – in which Jesus comes and dwells within us: in Holy Communion, when we receive His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Today, some of our children will be receiving Jesus in this most special way as they make their First Holy Communion. I know that all of them are very excited, and I pray that they will also be this excited about receiving Holy Communion. But that depends on making sure that they are excited today for the right reason. While I am sure that all of you will have a party after Mass, and receive some presents, that should not be the reason why you are excited. All of you look wonderful in your beautiful dresses and suits, but that should not be the reason you are excited. You should be excited because today you receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in Holy Communion. This is the most precious gift that any of us can receive. God gives Himself to us. He gives Himself to us as food so that we will have the spiritual strength to follow Jesus, on easy paths and on difficult roads. And we need to follow Jesus for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, only He can lead us to eternal happiness.

 So boys and girls, always maintain your excitement about receiving Holy Communion. Jesus is always excited to come to you in the Eucharist. And the rest of us, who have been receiving Holy Communion for many years, do we still get excited about receiving Holy Communion, or has it become routine? If it has become routine, pray to the Most Holy Trinity who dwells within each one of us, and ask to restore our faith and excitement in the Eucharist.

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A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter (C-2016)

The Church, like a very wise mother, gives us seven weeks of the Easter Season. We need this extended time to reflect on the lessons that Jesus taught us in His Passion and Resurrection. Our souls have to spend time basking in the light of Christ’s revelation, so that we can absorb the grace God wants to give us.

In today’s Gospel reading, we are reminded of the New Commandment that Jesus gave us the night before He died. We are brought back to that Last Supper, when Jesus was gathered with His closest companions and opened His heart to them. It was the night when His heart overflowed with love as it never had before. It was the night when He revealed the secret identity of every Christian, the distinguishing mark: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples,” He said, “if you have love for one another.”

And not just any kind of love, but Christ-like love: “I give you a new commandment… As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

Being a Christian is much more than being a member of a club. Being a Christian means having an urgent, important mission in life. It means being another Christ in the world.

Jesus gave His very life in order to fulfill His Father’s will and win salvation for sinners. Each one of us is called to reproduce in the unique circumstances of our lives that exact same pattern: dedicating our lives to discovering and fulfilling God’s will, and striving to help as many people as possible know, love, and follow Christ.

One criticism of Christianity is that after being around for over 2000 years Christianity really has not changed the world much: there is still war, crime, poverty, injustice, and hatred. G.K. Chesterton, the famous British convert to Catholicism and great apologist for the faith in the early twentieth century, responded to such critics by saying: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

This remind us of something we already know: too often, too many Christians are satisfied with a mediocre Christianity. But Christ wants more for us.

He wants to release our full potential as human beings. What does that potential consist of? It consists of our capacity to love, to know others as Christ knows them, and to dedicate ourselves to their good. Christ knows that if we follow Him down that path, we will be truly happy, and we will make those around us truly happy, here on earth and forever in heaven.

How can that happen? It has to start right here – right in our hearts. Christ has already shown us the way. Christ has promised to give us the grace.

But none of that will matter unless each one of us makes a firm decision to have one goal in life: to take up the difficult but sure path of knowing, loving, and following Christ. Only then will we have an answer for critics, because only then will we, Christians, become like Christ.

One thing that can sometimes hold us back in our efforts to follow the Lord’s New Commandment is a false idea of what love should feel like. We tend to think that true love is always accompanied by nice feelings, and if the feelings go away, that means the love has gone away too. That’s what radio and TV tell us, but that’s not what the Gospel tells us.

Love, true love, Christ-like love, goes deeper than feelings. It demands sacrifice, self-giving, and self-forgetfulness. Christ-like love always involves a cross. That’s what makes it Christ-like; that’s what makes it true love.

If we can get this truth to sink down from our heads into our hearts, we will be freer to love more as Christ loves, and we will lead happier lives, and make those around us happier.

Maybe the words of a real expert in Christ-like love will help convince us of this. Here is a profile of real Christian love from Bl Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.
Why? Because in the final analysis, all of this is between you and God…It was never between you and them anyway.

Today when Jesus comes to renew His commitment to us in Holy Communion, let’s ask Him to convince us once and for all that Christian love doesn’t mean nice feelings, but self-giving, self-forgetting, and going out of our way to help our neighbors, just as He went out of the way to help us.

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