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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Why Pray?

LESSON: Prayer - The Secret to Living Lent

The natural seasons of the year give a rhythm to life. Each season provides nature with something it needs to keep growing.
The same thing happens in the Church, with liturgical seasons. In each liturgical season God sends us graces we need in order to keep growing in wisdom, holiness, and happiness.
But these graces don't benefit our souls automatically, the way sunlight benefits plants. Rather, we have to take them in on purpose.
But how? How can we bathe in the supernatural sunlight that will make us grow, make us better, make us change, during this liturgical season?
Today the Church reminds us of the most effective method we have for drinking in all the graces God wants to give us during this Lent: prayer.
  • Today's  First Reading tells us that "The Lord God took Abram outside..." and had a conversation with him. That's prayer.
  • The Psalm gives us an example of King David's prayer in the face of danger, "Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me..."
  • St Paul, in the Second Reading, reminds the Christians in Philippi that while most people occupy their minds "with earthy things... Our citizenship is in heaven." Our attention is on God - that's prayer.
  • Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus leads his three closest disciples away from the hustle and bustle of life, up to the top of a high mountain, where he can be alone with them, and give them a lesson in prayer.
We have to ask ourselves: is our prayer life in good shape? Has it improved in the last yearthe last ten years? If it's out of shape, we won't be able to drink in the graces God wants to give us this Lent, the ones we really need.

ILLUSTRATION: Even Christ Needed to Pray

We often overlook one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence that shows how important prayer really is: Jesus prayed.
  • Last week we saw him go off into the desert to pray.
  • In today's Gospel passage, we see him go up the mountain to pray.
  • In dozens of other Gospel passages we see the same thing.
Let's think about what that implies.
  • Jesus Christ was God become man.
  • His human nature was infused with the power of his divine person.
  • He was perfect, sinless, without any tendencies to selfishness, laziness, or pride.
  • His character was flawless, firm as the mountains and gentle as a mother's caress.
  • His mind was beyond brilliant, filled with the radiance of divine light and understanding.
  • He had no emotional scars from a difficult family upbringing (Mary was without sin too, and Joseph was a saint), no personality disorders, no lacks, no wounds, no imperfections at all.
And yet, over and over again in the Gospels, we see him go off to be alone in prayer: "Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray."
  • Sometimes we even read about how he had to get up early to make time for prayer.
  • Other times he had to stay up late to make time for it, but he always did it.
  • Jesus needed to pray.
If he, who was perfect in every way, needed prayer in order to fulfill his life's mission, what does that imply for us, who are so imperfect, so weak, so vulnerable to every sort of temptation and wounded by every kind of sin?
Christ was a man of prayer, and, as he himself put it, "no disciple is greater than his master" (John 15:20). If he needed to pray; so do we.

APPLICATION: Daily Quiet Time

All of us have to ask ourselves about our prayer lives. We need to be honest. If our prayer life hasn't grown in the last year, we need to do something about it.
God still has so much he wants to do in our lives. Improving our prayer life will give him room to work.
One way to do that is by instituting a daily quiet time.
  • We never let a day go by without taking a shower, because we know our bodies need that cleansing.
  • We never let a day go by without eating, because we know our bodies need that nourishment.
  • Many people almost never let a day go by without exercising, because they know their bodies need that stimulation.
Why not do the same thing for our souls? That's what a daily quiet time is for. It's a one-on-one appointment with the Lord, which gives him room to refresh, nourish, and exercise our soul.
It's very simple to do.
Choose a time and place in which you won't be interrupted. Then do three things:
  • First, Remember. Remind yourself that Christ is with you and wants to be with you. Think of all the blessings he has given you.
  • Second, Read. Take out a spiritual book, a Bible, or your favorite prayer book and read a paragraph or two, slowly. No rush. [Here you can recommend your favorites and have copies available, e.g. St Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life, or Fr Thomas Williams' Spiritual Progress].
  • Third, Reflect. Think about what you read. Listen to what God wants to say to you through it. Apply it to your life.
Remember, Read, Reflect.
Before you know it the fifteen minutes will be up, and you will have received a word of encouragement from God to help you live the life he wants you to.
Prayer is the secret to drinking in all the graces God has in store for us. Today, he is hoping we'll decide to become better pray-ers. Let's not disappoint him.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Dying to Self (Homily 25th Sunday Ordinary Time Year B)

Dying to Self – Homily 25th Sunday Year B 
A Homily adapted from Christ the King Catholic Church

How loud our world has become…In the car…at home…your desk at the office...even sitting here in Church…just about wherever we are at any given time we’re confronted by sound. And it’s not just sound that confronts us either…it’s everything that takes hold of our thoughts and senses…anything that demands the attention of our eyes…our appetites…our desires. Billboards on the interstate…Pop ups on our computers…and maybe most destructive of all…the thoughts that push us into the confusing mazes of our minds. Hopes…dreams…anxieties all mixed up in a never-ending deluge of thoughts. Our time is marked with the inability to break free of the noise and arrive at any kind of silence. In the end this particularly modern reality proves to be one of the greatest obstacles in our relationship with God. 

 Meister Eckhart…the great German Dominican from the 1300s said… “Nothing resembles the language of God so much as does silence.” If this is correct…and I think it is…then we are living in a time where the language of God is almost inaudible. This grappling with sound and silence is what I kept thinking about as I read and re-read this passage from Mark throughout week. Just listen to the passage…What were you arguing about on the way…he asked…they were silent…then he spoke…if anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all. So here’s the message…we need to stop talking so much…to stop trying so hard to tell God and everybody else what should be going on in our lives…we need to stop discussing among each other…or more commonly in the privacy of our own thoughts… we need to stop trying to figure out who’s the greatest among us… and work on silence… silence of voice…but even more importantly…the silence of our thoughts. 

This calls to mind a story I once heard from a wise man. It’s the story of one of my favorite spiritual writers Fr. Henry Nouwen. Fr. Nouwen was definitely an intellectual. He had three doctorates from major universities…Harvard, Yale and Notre Dame. He was a sought after Spiritual Director and Retreat Master. He could’ve held any post he wanted in really any university in the world. Instead he chose to go to work as the Spiritual Director at L’arche…a home for mentally handicapped people in Toronto. He recalls one evening at dinner with his new housemates…at L’arche they all ate dinner together…staff with residents…one evening at table Fr. Nouwen tried to pass the meatloaf to the person next to him to which a very confident young man from across the table interjected…no, no, no Father…don’t pass him the meat loaf…he doesn’t eat meat…he’s a Presbyterian. It was at this point that Fr. Henry realized he had truly arrived at a place where his PhD’s didn’t matter…the fact that people from all over the world called him to lead retreats didn’t matter…the fact that he could speak multiple languages didn’t matter to any of his new housemates. He had finally arrived at a place where there was no need to assert his own agenda…to talk about his own accomplishments…to market his resume…it wouldn’t matter to them anyway. He explains that this was when he finally became free. Fr. Nouwen had experienced the need to Die to self…remember Jesus said…whoever wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever is willing to lose his life will save it. 

 Dying to self is what we heard in last week’s Gospel and this week is the second course of the same meal. If anyone wishes to be first…he shall be the last and the servant of all. The fact remains that we have this innate…almost unquenchable…need to assert ourselves…to interject our thoughts…feelings…opinions.. onto the world so that we have some proof that we are in the game…that we are important…that we are essential to whatever is going on around us at a given time. We are afraid that somehow if we’re quiet…if we die to self…if we humble ourselves to be last rather than first we might not be happy…we’re secretly afraid that we might not get what we so desperately want in life. And so we are driven to make something of our lives. We grasp for any sort of way to leave our mark on the world so that we will be known and valued. Yet, we are missing Christ’s teaching and his way of life by doing so, especially when it comes to faith. Faith is the antidote to the dysfunction of needing to assert oneself upon the world…upon our community…and upon our closest family and friends. Faith invites us to believe that our real significance is not to have our name put up on billboards but rather to have our name written in heaven for eternity. And that’s the beginning of sainthood. 

 I think about two particular saints for whom this kind of faith was totally evident. St. Joseph and St. John the Baptist…both undeniably vital in salvation history. St. Joseph…had he not said yes…had he not taken in the Virgin Mary…had he not died to self…you and I might not be sitting here today. He said yes…he protected Mary and Jesus…he provided for them…it is because of him that Jesus was able to do his work. And yet…after the flight into Egypt and the brief mention of Joseph when Jesus was teaching in the temple we hear nothing more of him. He completely melts into the background. And John the Baptist…his whole purpose was to announce the arrival of Jesus onto the scene…he prepares the way then points him out…after the baptism of our Lord John exits stage left. He even says so… “I must decrease and He must increase.” There’s no doubt about it…John the Baptist was not some weakling without a healthy ego. It was in his strength that he was able to be last and a servant to all. 

 And finally, in closing, and possibly to sum this all up, I refer to Fr. Thomas Merton who says life is a battle between our real and false selves. Our false selves are the identities we cultivate in order to function in society with pride and self-possession; and our real selves are a deep religious mystery, known entirely only to God. The world cultivates the false self and ignores the real one and therein lies the great irony of our human condition: the more we try to make of our selves the less we actually exist. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever is willing to lose his life will save it. And If anyone wishes to be first he shall be the last of all and servant of all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Have I walked away? (Homily 21st Sunday, Year B, Ordinary Time)

Have I walked away? (21st Sunday Year B)

My name is Deacon Pat and I am visiting your parish from Idaho.

Some of you might know that we had a Men’s Retreat today where a large group of men spent the day learning and reflecting on their spirituality and their relationship with God.

In the retreat we discussed:

  • how to develop and maintain a masculine prayer life,
  • how to navigate our spiritual journeys, and
  • how to hear God’s voice and know how and when to act upon it.
Many in the group shared that they struggle with the distractions of the world, with temptations, and at times find themselves drawn away from God and spiritual things.

I believe that today’s gospel speaks to some of what the men shared at the retreat, and I believe it has a strong message for many of us here today.
But to understand the depth of the message we must first recall what Jesus said last week.

Jesus stated to a large group of his followers and disciples the following:

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."

And then he said:

"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day. 
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink."

And in today’s gospel when Jesus finishes speaking about himself as the “living bread that came down from heaven,” many people reacted with disbelief and disapproval.

They said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
While we might have expected those who were critical of Jesus to respond in that way, we would have never assumed that his followers, those who had just seen Jesus feed thousands with a few loaves and fish, wouldn’t have accepted his teaching.

Instead we are told that many of the disciples of Jesus reacted negatively as well.

Instead of applauding their teacher, they were murmuring about his message.

“Who can accept it?”

As a result of the words that Jesus spoke “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

Jesus was abandoned by a good number of his disciples on that day.
That may have been a surprise to his apostles, yet apparently not to Jesus.

He knew that his message would be rejected by many.
As John tells us in his Gospel, “Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe.”

Is it any different for us today?

I don’t think so, even today many of his disciples, those that have called themselves Christian walk away from him.

They no longer gather with their fellow Christians to hear his word proclaimed and preached.

They consider his voice just one voice among many vying for attention.
They see the Eucharist as something far less than his very Body and Blood and not worth their attendance at Mass.

They allow their moral standards to be set by a changing society with fluid definitions of right and wrong.

They forget that the Cross of Jesus calls us to sacrifice for others and to put the will of God before our own.

Many Christians are walking away from Jesus since they find his teachings increasingly hard to accept and to live out in a society that keeps sinking deeper into sin, self-centeredness, consumerism, and immorality.

A society that Pope Francis describes as having a “throwaway culture” where all things are considered disposable even the unborn, the poor, the powerless, the elderly, and the sick.

The more our society becomes post-Christian, the more it becomes secular, materialistic, narcissistic, and addicted to sensual pleasure, and the more the teachings of Jesus and of his Church seem out of step and suited for another age.

As this happens, more and more people who claim to be Christians do the unexpected.

Like many of the disciples of Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel, they will walk away.

They no longer accompany Jesus.

They decide to embrace the values of the society around them and reject those of Jesus Christ.

You and I might say “Well, I am not one of them, I am in church aren’t I.”
Well, I can remember some time ago a wise man sharing some advice with me.

He said, “Sitting in my garage an hour a week doesn’t make me a car, and so is it with sitting in a church one hour a week, it doesn’t magically make me Christian.”

The serious questions we need to ask ourselves are:
Am I a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ?
  • Am I fervent in my prayer life? Do I even know who Christ is?
  • Do I serve those around me or do I only serve myself?
  • Am I here today cleansed of sin by the use of regular confession?
  • Can others see the love of Christ in my actions and behaviors?
  • Do I turn to the Church for guidance in my life, or do I let the world guide me?
  • Do I believe in all that the Church teaches, or just some of it?

For many of us the answers will be less than a resounding “Yes.”

Maybe some of us are at best Luke-warm in our faith and we are now just beginning to realize it.

So, what do we do about it?

The first thing is to realize that God is working in you right now with his grace.

Recognizing our faults, our limitations, our “Luke-warmness” is purely a gift from God.

It is with this gift that he is asking for us to respond.

Recognizing that our life is less than full provides an opportunity to turn toward the one, the only one, who can fill us and make us complete.

Maybe Jesus is asking us right now to make a choice just as he asked Peter when Christ asked if he would also leave.

And what did Peter share when asked such a question, “Master, to whom shall we go?

You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

God has given us a free will and he will allow us to make our own decisions in life, just as he allowed all those disciples to say:

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
“Who can accept this?”

He also allows us to question our faith and our Church as some do?

“But why can’t I have premarital sex?”
“What is so wrong with living an active homosexual life?”
“Why can’t women be ordained?”
“Why can’t I use birth control?
“Why can’t I pick and choose what I want to believe?”

The Church is very clear on her teachings, and anyone who desires an answer can pick up the catechism to see why the Church believes what she believes.

Yet, many will struggle and reject the teachings of Christ’s church, often without any effort to see why the church teaches what she does, and many will walk away, some physically, and some mentally.

They might be present in Church, but their hearts are not.

So what is the point that I am trying to share?

Being Christian is more that claiming to be a Christian.

It isn’t as much a title as it is a way of life, fully committed, and fully engaged.

It has a lot to do with self-reflection and being humble and honest enough to see yourself in the truth and light of God, to see yourself as God might see you.

Let us begin today to sincerely reflect upon our relationship with God, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit.

Let us each reflect upon just how engaged we are with being a Christian and better yet, with living a Catholic way of life.

Let’s God’s voice speak to you in the quiet of your heart and be ready for what he will say.

Spend time in holy adoration in the presence of God.

Speak to him daily and throughout the day, and most importantly listen.

Listen to him in the quiet of your soul.
Listen to him in the people and events he places in your life.
Listen to him in your celebrations and also in your sufferings.
Listen to him as you receive him today in the holy Eucharist.
Listen to him as he asks “Have you left me too?”

I hope and pray your response will be:

“Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
You are the Holy One of God.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sunday, March 25, 2018