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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A Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

 Jesus is making two things clear to us today.

​ First, he wants us to have no illusions about following him.  His path is a hard path.  Our nature is fallen, and to get back up again, even with his grace helping us, is going to be hard.  It will involve self-sacrifice and suffering: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot by my disciple.”  That is the obvious lesson in this Gospel passage. We can never let ourselves forget it.

​ But there is another lesson too, equally worth our attention.  Jesus is teaching us that following him involves more than feelings and vague inspirations.  We are supposed to use our minds, to put our creativity and intelligence to work in the adventure of following Christ.  This is clear from the examples Jesus uses.  The builder and the warring king had to channel their enthusiasm through the cool filter of reason.  

​ Christians must do the same. The emotional excitement that comes from a retreat or a pilgrimage or a special grace-filled encounter with the Lord is like the blossoms on a cherry tree.  They bloom quickly and fill our souls with a sweet aroma, but then the long summer comes, and we have to persevere patiently, following an intelligent plan of spiritual and apostolic work, before the fruit matures.

​ Love, even the lasting love that comes from friendship with Christ, is often born amidst intense emotions, but it matures through sweat and suffering, and those can only be endured with the aid of reason and conviction – both of which go deeper than mere passing emotions.  Following Christ is more than following a whim; it is a long-term project that deserves and engages the whole person.

​ There is a song from a famous Broadway musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” that gives a great insight into this truth.  The musical is about a poor Jewish family living in Russia in a small village in the early 1900s.  The parents, Tevye [TEHV-yeh] and Golde [GOLD-eh] are in the middle of seeing their five daughters marry and go off to start their own families.

​ One day Tevye and Golde are alone in the house.  Tevye, the husband, in the midst of his nostalgia at saying goodbye to his daughters, asks Golde, his wife, if she loves him.  She is exasperated by the question and tells him to go inside and lie down.  But he insists, he keeps asking: do you love me?  But she won’t give him an answer.  Finally she sings:

 ​”For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes, Cooked your meals, cleaned your house, Given you children, milked the cow, After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?”  Then they banter back and forth, and he keeps insisting, and finally she muses to herself:  “Do I love him? For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him… If that’s not love, what is?”  It’s an entertaining song, but it contains a deep truth. True love is more than feelings, true love is about giving oneself.

​ The same goes for our love for Christ.  If we want to become mature Christians and grow in wisdom and grace, it needs to become a real friendship that engages and affects our whole lives.  To follow Christ means to work hard building up his Kingdom.  To follow Christ means to work hard conquering our selfish, self-indulgent tendencies.  To follow Christ means to roll up our sleeves and get down to business.

​One area where we often fail to utilize our reason and creativity is our own growth in holiness.  Doctors are always reading up on the latest medical research.  Athletes are constantly striving to maximize their performance.  Professors never tire of refining their expertise.  Can we say the same about Christians striving to be more like Christ?

​ Too many of us, unfortunately, are satisfied with what we have already achieved in the area of holiness.  But Christ has so much more for us to discover and become. He just needs us to do our part, and that includes using our intelligence and creativity to identify the habits of mind, heart, and body that are inhibiting our spiritual growth, and to work on replacing them with habits that will spur our spiritual growth.

​ One tool for this purpose that spiritual writers and directors have developed over the centuries is called the “program of life”.  It’s like having a customized game plan for spiritual growth.  It has three parts.  First, we identify the root of most of our sins and failings. Usually this is one of the seven capital sins.  Second, we identify the most common manifestations of that root sin in our daily lives.  Third, we choose particular habits to form that will reverse those manifestations and gradually loosen our root sin’s grip.

​ The program of life is one tool, not the only one.  The point is that the Lord doesn’t want to do all the work for us.  He wants us to do our part too.

​ Today, when he comes once again to do his part in Holy Communion, let’s promise him that this week we will apply our intelligence and creativity to being a better Christian.  All he needs is for us to do our sincere best; he’ll take care of all the rest.

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A Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C-2016)

 Jesus is a King, and kings rule their kingdoms with laws. One of the most important laws in Jesus’ Kingdom is the law of humility. This law says that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted”. In other words, greatness in His Kingdom comes not from outdoing other people, outperforming them, and outdistancing them.   Greatness in Jesus’ eyes comes from serving other people, from elevating them, helping them advance, and keeping oneself in the background. In His very first sermon, Jesus had taught the same law with different words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

 It’s the same law stated so directly in today’s First Reading: “conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved… Humble yourself… and you will find favor with God.” This law goes directly against everything this fallen world teaches us. It’s extremely hard for us to swallow, which is why Jesus explained it by using this unambiguous parable.

 However, even the parable wasn’t enough. This law is so fundamental, that Jesus also taught it to us by living it out in an extreme way: through His passion and death. Jesus, the Lord of heaven, came to earth and purposefully took the lowest place possible – that of a condemned criminal. He freely took on the most humiliating form of death – crucifixion. He allowed Himself to be stripped of every honor. He allowed His reputation to be dragged through the mud by the lies and corruption of His enemies. Yet, because He humbled Himself so thoroughly, He has been glorified so magnificently. Such is the law of His Kingdom.

 The Law of Humility doesn’t mean that we should sit around and do nothing, it simply means that we should remember that we are not God, that God is God, and we are dependent on Him.

 This is harder for us to remember than you would think. After the construction of the Titanic, a reporter asked the man who had built it how safe the ship would be. “Not even God can sink it,” he answered. Well, God didn’t have to sink it; an iceberg was sufficient.

 When Jesus taught us that to enter His Kingdom we have to become like children, this was one of the characteristics He had in mind. Children tend to remember more easily that they are not God. They know that they are dependent on their parents for food, shelter, and everything else, so it’s natural for them to accept being dependent on God as well.

 However, it’s not a sad, pessimistic dependence. True humility is joyful, because it opens the door to a real relationship with God, something arrogant self-sufficiency doesn’t allow.

 A couple years ago at a Catholic summer Bible camp, one of the seven-year-olds won the silver medal in the mini-soccer competition. He was so happy that he wore it around his neck all the time. On the last day of the camp this boy left one of the counselors a note. It mentioned that he had left his medal in the chapel. The counselor went to the chapel but couldn’t find it. When the campers had gone home and the counselors were taking one last look around to gather up any left over items, the same counselor went back into the chapel and found the medal somewhere he would never have thought to look: it was on the crucifix. The boy had stacked up three chairs so that he could reach high enough and put it around Christ’s neck.

 Who do you think was the happier person, the little boy or the man who built the Titanic?

 Following the Law of Humility leads to interior peace, joy, wisdom, and a greater share in God’s glory, this is what Christ wants for us. The more we grow in humility, the more we will experience those things. So how can we grow in humility? There are two things every single one of us can do in order to grow in humility. Two things that we can do today, tomorrow, and every day this week.

 The first is to pray. Every time we pray we acknowledge God’s greatness and our dependence on Him. Every time we pray, we are exercising the virtue of humility, whether it’s a short prayer or a long prayer, a good prayer or distracted prayer. If we want to get humble, let’s pray more, let’s reactivate our commitment to a decent life of prayer. Prayer is the perfect workout for strengthening humility.

 Second, we can stop talking so much about ourselves. Our fallen nature is always pushing us to be the center of our conversations. But our Christian nature is always reaching out to take an interest in our neighbors. This week, let’s give our Christian nature a hand. Choose one relationship, and this week, make a concerted effort to be more interested in knowing what the other person is going through than in telling them what you’re going through.

 Today, Jesus will humble Himself again by coming to us in the Holy Eucharist, reminding us that humility is the secret to a fulfilling and fruitful life. Let us thank Him for that, and when we have Him in our hearts, let us ask Him for this favor, which He is so eager to give us: Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts more and more like yours.

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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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