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Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Man Who Turned Away From God - Homily (5th Sunday of Lent – Year B)

Homily (5th Sunday of Lent – Year B) – Deacon Pat Kearns
There once was a man who had achieved much in his life. He lived in a comfortable home and was surrounded by all the things he had accumulated over the years. He had little want in his life, he had everything he needed and more. Yet, there was something missing, and he had begun to realize it. He had heard about this God-man named Jesus and felt drawn to meet him. After inquiring about him, he finally met some people who knew of him, and he had asked for an introduction. It wasn’t long and the man finally had his encounter with Jesus. Jesus welcomed him with a loving embrace and sensed that the man was desiring more in his life. The man asked, “Jesus, I long to feel peace and love in my life. What am I to do to feel complete and fulfilled?” Without hesitation, Jesus replied, “You are to purge your life of the all the things of this world, seek out and pick up your cross, and come and follow me.” The man listened intently to the commanding words. However, the words were not the words he was expecting to hear. The message was clear and simple, yet he felt somewhat confused and worried. He knew that Jesus would not give false or misleading advice, but he needed to understand what he was being told much more deeply. He was being asked to do something so radical, and so courageous, that it was frightening. He needed time to think. He didn’t want to act impulsively. This was too big of a decision to not think it through carefully. So, he separated from Jesus and returned home, and settled back into his comfortable life and familiar surroundings. He listened to the words of Jesus in his mind and pondered them over and over again. It didn’t take long and he knew that Jesus was right in saying that in order to find true meaning in his life, to feel fulfilled, and to find peace, love, and happiness, he would need to separate himself from the things of this world, and grow ever closer to God, but he hesitated to act. He began to think about how hard he had worked to acquire all the possessions he had. He thought about how important those things were to him, and what life would be like without them. He thought about how comfortable his life was, and how he had settled in his ways. He thought about the things in life that brought him pleasure, even if it was temporary and superficial pleasure. It didn’t take long and his inspiration to grow closer to Christ began to soften and fade. The more he thought about the comforts of his life, the more absurd giving it all up sounded. That initial inspiration towards holiness soon evaporated and he was once again immersed in his world of self-pleasure, self-centeredness, and self-delight. The opportunity to respond to God’s grace and to a life with Christ began to disappear from his thoughts. He had come so close to embarking on a journey with Christ, a journey that would have ensured everlasting life, a life filled with such purpose, such love, such peacefulness, yet, using his free will, and the powers of rationalization, he abandoned such a radical move. He had purposefully separated himself from Christ, and the chance to live a profoundly Christian life. He chose to return to his secular life. He had the opportunity to die to himself and become reborn, experiencing the fruitfulness of such a life, sharing the fruit, the growth of such love, forgiveness, purity, and honesty with others, yet, he threw it all away and now is heading toward a life without Christ. A life void of deep meaning, void of sincere and everlasting relationships, a life that doesn’t perpetuate life, and a life that adds no flavor to the lives of others. He had his opportunity but chose to throw it away. He will one day be judged for that act, and the repercussions might just be something unthinkable. He had chosen to separate himself from Christ, even when personally called to join Him, and now may live all of eternity in the absence of God.

All of eternity in the absence of God.

My dear friends, this man that I just spoke of is actually many of us here in this church today. We are all sinners. We have all had an encounter with Christ, and have been repeatedly asked to remove the obstacles that are in our lives and get in the way of our relationship with Him, and have been asked to join Him. Yet, even though temporarily inspired at times, many of us quickly turn away from Him and resume all of the secular activities of our lives, focusing on ourselves and losing sight of Him. We have all been drawn to Christ. We have heard his voice. We have been told what we must do if we truly desire to follow Him.
  • We are to die to ourselves, our own self-interests, our own self-desires, and live the life of Christ. 
  • We are to know and live the commandments. 
  • We are to know and the live the beatitudes.
  • We are to pick up our crosses and see Christ in all those around us and to share the good news of love, life, sacrifice, and salvation, to all those that we meet.
Failing to do so is making a choice. Let us ask ourselves, can we truly live with the choices that we are making?

This time of Lent is a time to open our eyes to the reality of how we have been living our lives. To stop making rationalizations and excuses, and to decide if I am willing to make those radical choices, and to be courageous enough to do what Christ is asking of me. We must never forget that there will be a day when we will see everything as it truly is, and how our decisions have shaped our lives and the lives of others. Are going to be happy with what we see?

Most certainly, we need to humbly ask ourselves these questions:
  • Have I been the man or woman that God created me to be?
  • Have I been the friend that I was called to be?
  • Have I been the brother or sister that God and others needed me to be?
  •  Have I been the husband or wife that God longed for me to be?
  •  Have I been the Father or Mother that the children desired me to be?
For many of us, the answers will be no. We have failed ourselves and others incredibly. We have caused damage that is unbelievable. By not acting, we have allowed evil to flourish in the world around us. Yet, there is still time to act if we begin today. Let us begin today to stop making excuses and to embrace the opportunity to follow Christ. The hour has come to die to ourselves, and to live in Christ. Being Catholic is about being humble, asking for forgiveness with a sorrowful and contrite heart, and using the Sacraments given to us by Christ himself to heal, inspire, and nourish us. We are to be continually improving our prayer life, and our relationship with Christ. We are to be reacting to the prompts of the Holy Spirit and growing in union with our Lord. We are to become holy and to be a radical presence in this world. Christ did not fit into this world, and neither should we.  We are of this world, but we belong to another kingdom, the kingdom of God. Let us begin today, to live as we were created to live, as children of God. Remembering that dying to self, means, living in Christ. Let us authentically, and radically, live in Christ, beginning now.

As Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “You must never be afraid to be a sign of contradiction to the world.”

Jesus has called you. He has shown you the way. Now it’s your turn, the choice is yours.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent - Waiting and Watching and Preparing Ourselves

Deacon Pat - 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B
Adapted Homily originally written by Msgr James P. Moroney.

I remember the day that Jerry died, as Mary held his hand. She wept. Oh how she wept as she clung to his body in the hopes of somehow not losing the 57 years of married life they had lived and loved together. The kids tried to console her, but it was of little use. She just needed to cry until she couldn’t cry anymore. The pain and the emptiness were much deeper than what I could ever have imagined. She spent the next days and weeks longing for Jerry more than she had ever longed for anything in her entire life. She so wanted him to come back that every creak of the floorboard, and shadow around the corner, made her heart leap in hope.

Regrettably, I lost track of Mary, but did bump into her again about a year later. She was still sad, but not as desperate as the last time I had seen her. I inquired how she was doing and she told me about the day that made all the difference. She said she had gone to Church and she was sitting all alone in the pew staring at the crucifix above the altar. When all at once it occurred to her that it was not actually Jerry for whom she longed, but God. The God who she prayed would forgive Jerry’s sins. The God who would keep her in his grace until the last day. The God who had gone to prepare a place for Jerry, and for her, and for all who loved others as he had loved them. And her waiting for Jerry was just a shadow of her deepest longing for God, her desire for love, and her desire to live in God and to know peace with him forever.

Don’t we all ache for God? Don’t we all wait, waiting for something better, just like: The addict in the alley behind the Gas station who waits for a God who will come and remove all that enslaves him. How about the single mother who waits for a day when she no longer has to work fifty-four hours a week, a night when she can sleep 8, a life when she will finally know the kids will be ok. What about the soldier in the Middle East who waits for a morning when there are no more explosions, and every look is not feared as the precursor to an assault, and when he doesn’t have to bury his new best friend. Or the old man in the nursing home who waits for the day he will no longer be alone, when pain will no longer be his most constant companion, and when he can once again rest in the embrace of her whom he loved. What about the prisoner on death row who waits for a place where he will no longer be seen as evil, for a life that makes sense, for a time when love can be given and received, for the coming of a God who will love him. What about the investment banker who waits for the day when he’s not gripped by the fear that he’s about to lose everything, for the day when he can count his value in the quality of his love rather than the size of his profit. Or what about the little child who waits within her mother’s womb for a world that will welcome her, and parents that will love her, and a country who will protect her.

As Christians we should all realize and recognize that we wait in joyful hope, with baited breath, as we gaze toward the Eastern skies in expectation of the one who rises with healing in his wings…But Exiled in a Babylon of our own selfishness, we cry out: “Rend the heavens, O Lord, and come down to us!” Yet he patiently waits for us in that confessional, ready to embrace us, pick us up on his shoulders, and carry us home to himself.

Still longing to be loved, orphaned by our infidelity and broken promises, we cry out, “Why do you let us wander and harden our hearts?” Yet he patiently waits on that altar, to feed us with himself and to make us sons and daughters of his Father, to live in us that we might live in him.
Still frightened that we have been abandoned, strangers in a strange desert, we cry out: “Let us see your face and we will be saved!” Yet he patiently waits for us in the poor, the sick, and the old, ready to console our frightened spirits.

Let us be honest, We all wait in joyful hope. The part of us that is afraid to confess that secret sin. The part of us that doesn’t think it’s possible to forgive what ‘that one’ did, or that God could really forgive me. The part of us that cries in the middle of the night. The part which feels empty and alone. The part that’s overwhelmed and confused. The part which amidst all the din and doubt waits…waits in silence for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ upon a cloud in all his glory.
My dear brothers and sisters: This is a time for all of us to Wake up and to Get ready. We are to be watchful and alert! We are to go to confession, We are to celebrate the Holy and Sacred Mysteries like never before, and we are to pray; to pray deeply and honestly!

Also, we cannot forget about those around us. We are to feed and care for the poor. We are to go visit the prisoners and the old people in nursing homes. We are to find the ones we have not yet forgiven and call them right now. This is what the season of Advent is all about. Making our hearts into mangers to receive our king, for He is coming. There is but one ultimate question that we need to ask ourselves and ponder: Am I ready…to stand before the One who is Truth Himself, the One who knows my heart completely, the One who has seen everything? Am I ready to meet the Creator of the world, the creator of my soul? Am I.. Truly.. Ready?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Matthew 21:33-46, Parable of the Wicked Tenants 

A homily adapted from one written by Father Michael Marsh

Jesus said to them “Listen to another parable.” He could have just said, “Get ready for another confrontation between the Pharisees and me.” Regardless of what you think about the Pharisees you’ve got to give them some credit today.

· They got it.
· They understood the parable.
· They heard Jesus.

“They realized he was talking about them.” Jesus held before them a truth they didn’t like and they wanted to put a stop to it. They wanted to arrest him. This is neither Jesus’ first nor his last confrontation with the Pharisees. Unlike most of us who tend to avoid those with whom we have conflict and confrontation, Jesus doesn’t. He just keeps on coming. At every turn he is offending, aggravating, and confronting the Pharisees.

· He eats with the wrong people.
· He won’t answer their questions.
· He taunts them by breaking the law and healing on the Sabbath.
· He calls them hypocrites and blind leaders.
· He escapes their traps.
· He leaves them speechless.
· He rattles off a string of “woes” against them.
· He even compares them to a disobedient son who will not work in the vineyard.

They just can’t catch a break with Jesus. He never lets up. So what is this really all about?

· Why can’t He just let go of them?
· And what does this have to do with us?

Is Jesus looking for a fight?

· I don’t think so.

Is his primary motivation to expose and condemn those who do not follow him?

· I don’t think so.

Is he keeping score and naming all the attitudes and behaviors of the Pharisees that he considers wrong? Is Jesus trying to exclude from the kingdom of God the religious leaders of his day?

· I don’t think so

Here’s what I think these confrontations are about.

· Jesus is unwilling to give up on the Pharisees, or anyone else for that matter.
· Jesus is unwilling to give up on you or me.
· He just keeps on coming.

That is the good news, hope, and joy in today’s parable.

This is not so much a parable of exclusion or condemnation as it is a parable of Jesus’ unwillingness to give up. His unwillingness to give up on us often confronts us with truth about our lives that is almost always difficult to hear and accept. We might hear his words but do we realize he is taking about us? This parable and the confrontation this parable provokes are like a mirror held before us so that we might see and recognize in ourselves what Jesus sees and recognizes. This is not to condemn us but to recover us from the places of our self-exclusion, to call us back to life, and to lead us home.

Jesus doesn’t exclude us or anyone else from the kingdom of God. He doesn’t have to. We do it to ourselves and we’re pretty good at it. That’s what the Pharisees have done. The Pharisees have excluded themselves. “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you,” Jesus says to them. This is not so much a punishment for failing to produce kingdom fruits. It is, rather, the recognition of what already is. They were given the vineyard and failed to produce and share the fruits of the kingdom. Jesus is just naming the reality, the truth. They have excluded themselves. In the same way, the kingdom of God will be given to those who are already producing kingdom fruits.  This is not a reward but a recognition of what already is.

Where the fruit is, there also is the kingdom. If you want to know what the fruits of the kingdom look like then look at the life of God revealed in Jesus Christ. What do you see? Love, intimacy, mercy and forgiveness, justice, generosity, compassion, presence, wisdom, truth, healing, reconciliation, self-surrender, joy, thanksgiving, peace, obedience, and humility. I’m not talking about these things as abstract ideas but as lived realities in the vineyards of our lives.

We’ve all been given vineyards. They are the people, relationships, circumstances and events of our lives that God has entrusted to our care. That means our spouse and marriage, children and family, our work, our church, our daily decisions and choices, our hopes, dreams, and concerns are the vineyards in which we are to reveal the presence and life of God, to produce the fruits of the kingdom.

The vineyards, our work in those vineyards, and the fruit produced come together to show us to be sharers in God’s kingdom; or not. To the degree we are not producing kingdom fruits we have excluded ourselves from and rejected our share in the kingdom. We are living neither as the people God knows us to be nor as the people we truly want to be. In some way we have stepped outside of ourselves and sidestepped our own life. That’s the truth with which Jesus confronted the Pharisees. It’s the same truth with which Jesus confronts us.

You might ask How does this happen? And What does self-exclusion really look like? Here’s what I’m wondering. 

· Do you ever struggle with perfectionism, self-condemnation, and the question of whether you’re enough? Maybe that’s self-exclusion.

· Do you ever feel like you have to be in control, be right, have all the answers? Maybe that’s self-exclusion. 

· Are you carrying grudges, anger, and resentments?

· Do you look at others and begin making judgments about their beliefs and choices?

· Are there people in your life that you have chosen to let go of rather than do the work of reconciliation and heal the relationship?

· Do you go through life on auto-pilot, going through the motions but never really being present, never showing up?

· In your life is there more criticism and cynicism than thanksgiving and celebration?

· Are you hanging onto some old guilt that you believe could not be forgiven?

The antidote to our self-exclusion from God’s kingdom begins with first recognizing that self-exclusion. That means we must look at the vineyards of our lives. And when we do What do we see?

· How is our garden growing?

· Is there fruit?

· Is there life?

Are we sharing in God’s kingdom? These are all questions that we should and must ask ourselves, and more importantly, we need to honestly answer them. Recognizing how and when we self-exclude ourselves from God and His Kingdom, and then making honest and sincere changes in our lives is the most important thing we can do today to save our lives: our present life, our future life, and most importantly our Eternal Life. (Pause)

Knowing that we are all sinners, Let’s take a moment and ask God to open our eyes, our hearts, and our minds, allowing His grace to enter into us, and pray that He helps us to see, like the Pharisees, just how we have been separating ourselves from the Kingdom of God! Yet, at the same time, we must never forget just how truly loved and desired we are by Christ, and that no matter how many times we fall, no matter how many times we have turned away,

He never gives up! He is always there.

And that my friends, is, the very good news of the Gospel today!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Forgiveness - 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Deacon Pat Homily - Gospel of Matthew 18:21-35
(24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A)

· Just how good do I need to be?
· Just how many times do I need to be kind?
· Do I really need to forgive when they truly did me wrong?

Aren’t these the type of questions we just heard Peter asking Jesus in the Gospel? And what did Jesus reply: “I say to you that you are not to forgive 7 times, but 77 times.”

Forgiveness, for Jesus, is not a quantifiable event.

It is a quality; a way of being, a way of living, a way of loving, a way of relating, and a way of thinking and seeing.

It is nothing less than “The Way of Christ.”

If we are to follow Christ then it must be our way as well.

“Not 7 times, but, I tell you, 77 times.

· Does that mean the drunk driver? Yes.

· The rapist? Yes.

· The cheating spouse? Yes.

· The lying friend, the bully, the abusive parent, the greedy businessman, and even the imperfect priest or deacon? Yes!

Today we stand at a difficult, seemingly impossible, place.

We stand at the intersection of our perception of life’s realities and Christ’s teachings.

As we look at the history of the world we see the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, perceived discriminations, economic oppression, and wars and torture in the Middle East.

As we look at our own lives we find broken promises, hurt feelings, betrayals, harsh words, and physical and emotional wounds.

Every one of us could tell stories of being hurt or victimized by another.

Yet beneath the pain, the wounds, the losses, and the memories, lay the question of forgiveness.

Everyone, I suspect, is in favor of forgiveness, at least in principle.

“Everyone,” C.S. Lewis writes, “Say forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something or someone to forgive”

What do we do then?

What do we do when there is someone or something to forgive?

Some will strike back seeking revenge.

Some will run away from life and relationships.

Some will let the darkness paralyze them.

I don’t say these things out of criticism or judgment of someone else, but out of my own experience. I’ve done them all.

I know how hard forgiveness can be.

Like you, I too, struggle with it and often avoid it.

I also know that none of those answers are the way of Christ.

All of them leave us stuck in the past, tied to the evil of another, and devoid of the future God wants to give us.

Forgiveness is the only way forward.

That does not mean we forget, condone, or approve of what was done.

It does not mean we ignore or excuse cruelty or injustice.

It means… that we are released from them.

We let go of the thoughts and fantasies of revenge.

We look to the future rather than the past.

We try to see and love as God sees and loves.

Forgiveness is a way in which we align our life with God’s life.

To withhold forgiveness is to put ourselves in the place of God, the ultimate judge to whom all are accountable.


A few days ago I returned from walking the “Camino de Santiago” or also known as “The Way of Saint James” in Spain.

For those of you who are not aware of what this is, it is an ancient pilgrimage where one walks across the country of Spain and ends the journey at the Cathedral where Saint James’ body rest.

250,000 people from all over the world make this journey each year.

We began our journey in France and walked over the Pyrenees Mountains, through the Basque country, across the flat lands, and later through the western mountains.

While walking those hundreds of miles through the beautiful forests and small hamlets I had a great deal of time, without distraction, to think about life and the Christian journey.

I came to realize that God’s forgiveness and human forgiveness are closely intertwined.

And in today’s Gospel Parable I feel that Jesus is trying to teach us this lesson.

As you recall the King forgives his slave a huge amount and it seems that there is no debt too large to be forgiven.

The man, the debtor, was completely forgiven.

That’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

That’s how our God is!

Yet, this slave refused to forgive his fellow slave a much small debt.

Too often that’s what our world is like.

Frequently, it is how we are.

It that refusal the forgiven slave lost his own forgiveness.

This concept should not be news to us.

We know it well.

We acknowledge and pray it every Sunday and I’ll bet most of you pray it every day.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Sound Familiar? (Repeat verse)

We pray those words with ease and familiarity but do we live our prayer?

Do our actions support our request? Not 7 times, but, I tell you, 77 times.”

That’s a lot of forgiveness, but the pain of the world, our nation, and individuals is great.

We need to forgive as much, maybe more, for ourselves as for the one we forgive.

Forgiving those who trespass against us is the medicine that begins to heal our wounds.

It may not change the one who hurt you but I promise you this:

Your life will be more alive, more grace-filled, more whole, and more God-like for having forgiven another.

Forgiveness creates space for new life.

Forgiveness is an act of hopefulness and resurrection for the one who forgives.

It is the healing of our soul and life.

Forgiveness takes us out of darkness into light, from death to life.

It disentangles us from the evil of another.

It is the refusal to let our Future be determined by the past.

It is the letting go of the thoughts, the hatred, and the fear that fill us, so that we might live and love again.

Yet, we must understand that Forgiveness does not originate is us.

It begins with God.

That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand.

It was not about him.

It is about God.

We do not choose to forgive.

We only choose to share the forgiveness we have already received.

Then we choose again, and then again, and then again.

For most of us, forgiveness is a process that we live into.

Sometimes, however, we just can’t.

The pain is too much, the wound too raw, the memories too real.

On those days we choose to want to forgive.

Some days we choose to want, to want to forgive.

But we choose because that’s the choice Christ made.


Finally, and in conclusion I would like to share that at the end of our recent time in Spain, my brother and I realized that we had a few extra days before we were to return home, so we rented a car and drove the 5 hours it took to arrive in Fatima, Portugal.

As we knelt down directly on the spot of the most public miracle of all times, we pondered the question of the real meaning of life, at least the life of a Catholic Christian.

Sorting and sifting through an abundance of thoughts, memories, and ideals, it seemed, as inspired by the faith and life of the Shepherd children: Jacinta, Lucia, and Francisco, and understood with a simple and childlike understanding:

We are to love as we are loved.

That we are to forgive as we are forgiven.

And that true humility means, knowing our proper relationship to God

And that one day we will be judged for how we have lived, loved, and forgiven.

We must ask ourselves these questions before it is too late and while we can still change our ways:

Am I truly living the Christian life?

Have I applied Christ’s teachings to my life?

Am I living a daily and constant life filled with compassion, patience, understanding, kindness, and love?

And if not, am I willing to change?
And if not, do I truly understand what to expect for the eternal future,

My eternal future….and Your…Eternal…Future!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Transfiguration of our Lord

Deacon Pat - A Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration August 6, 2017 

Today we celebrate the great Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor. The Transfiguration is and was a glimpse of the Glory of God. Yet, in addition to seeing Moses and Elijah, and the Glory of God shining through the face of Jesus, something else of great importance occurred on Mt. Tabor that day. The three Apostles heard the voice of God the Father say, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Let me say that again: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” It seems like such an easy, straight-forward command, yet it seems so very difficult for so many of us much of the time. Listening seems like one of the easiest things for us to do. After all, God gave most of us two good ears, and as my father used to point out, we should listen twice as much as we speak since we only have one mouth. However, truth be told, many of us are not very good listeners; and not because we are hard of hearing or deaf. 

Before becoming a deacon I studied for years to become a psychiatric nurse, and much of that training was so that I could become an “effective listener,” and any therapist will tell you that listening effectively can be a lot of hard work. So why are many of us not good listeners? One reason might be because we are too busy doing all the talking. We just talk and talk and many do the same to God, or maybe at God, without letting God get a word in. God is not the ultimate “customer service department” whom we call whenever we are in need. God is the Creator of all, and our loving Father. He wants a relationship with us. He knows what is for our best, even when it looks not so good to us. We need to listen to Him, for doing so will lead to both psychological and spiritual growth, which will allow us to become more aware of reality and to deal with it more effectively. “Listening makes us open to Christ, the Word of God, spoken in all things: in the material world, the Scriptures, the Church and sacraments and, sometimes most threateningly, in our fellow human beings” (Benedict Groeschel, Listening at Prayer, Paulist Press, 1984, p. 3). Listening, however, is more than just the perception of sound with our ears. There are so many sounds in our world that while we may perceive them, we do not listen to all of them. Most we simply ignore. True listening requires a response. This does not mean we need to say something. Rather it means attending to what was said, recognizing its meaning, and making it part of our inner, conscious experience. The same applies to the listening that does not come to us via our ears. God speaks to us in so many ways. One person may barely notice a patch of blue sky, whereas the person of prayer, who listens to God, sees in it the dome of heaven. Or how often do we come to Mass and are more aware of the person coughing, the kid banging their toy on the pew in front of us, and just wishing it would be over soon. The person of prayer, however, is aware of all these same things, and is not only attending to what is happening in the liturgy, but is also aware of something much more important. They are aware of participating in the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Kingdom of Heaven with all the saints. For one, they are surrounded by distractions, while for the other they are surrounded by saints and angels. 

St. John of the Cross once pointed out that many of the people who think they are listening to God are actually only listening to themselves. 

There is so much that could be said about listening, especially in prayer, but let’s keep it simple for today. I am going to share with you a few ideas borrowed from a wonderful little book by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, called Listening at Prayer. First of all, we need to learn to listen to what life is saying in the present moment before trying to shape our prayer. Too often we make the world just a projection of our own desires and fears. We can get so wrapped up in deciding what advice to give God about how to run the world, especially to meet our “needs,” that we are unable to listen to any of life’s real messages. To grow in the Christian life we must have an openness to the true and living God. We need to divest ourselves of preconceived expectations of life, and take life as it comes. Secondly, when life gives us its message, we should make the understanding of that message the first object of our prayer. At the foundation of the prayer of life is the virtue of hope, and “hope is the grace to believe that whatever events occur, they will contain the necessary ingredients of our salvation” (Benedict Groeschel, Listening at Prayer, Paulist Press, 1984, p. 18). This is often the really difficult part in listening at prayer, because often the most important lessons in life come from listening to God speaking to us in the tragic circumstances of our lives. God does not want evil in the world; it is the result of sin, of our refusing to let God’s love into certain parts of our lives. It is because of the disobedience of our first parents that a strain of disorder has infected, like a virus, all of creation. Yet God offers us the grace to see His order of love even in the disorder. 

Fr. Groeschel, in his books, tells of meeting a man terribly afflicted with leprosy which had destroyed his hands and most of his face, yet the man was grateful to have contracted the disease because prior to his illness he lived a wild, godless life. His disease allowed him to see the real emptiness of his life without God, so now he was at peace because he was seeking God and was in relationship with Him. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that it is better to enter the Kingdom of God maimed or lame than to have all our limbs and be cast into the fires of Hell. Thirdly, once we have received the message of life we must attempt to integrate it with our efforts to live by the Gospel. The Gospel must be the focal point of our lives, and not just something relegated to an hour a week at Mass. It is often rather shocking for people as they become more effective listeners at prayer to discover that many of our values and desires are quite pagan in light of the Gospel. “The prayer of listening will help us confront precisely those areas needing conversion if we do not allow discouragement and worldly values to take over.” As our prayer life improves so will how we live life. 

And Finally we need to pray that we may pray. God has no need of our prayer, in fact the very desire to pray is a gift from God. St. Paul noted in one of his epistles that often we do not know how to pray as we should, thus it is important to ask the Holy Spirit for the grace of prayer. All of this requires effort on our part. We need to make time and space for prayer. Fr. Groeschel suggests that we start by first offering to the Lord some prayer that we know by heart – say the Our Father or Hail Mary – and include a petition, either for ourselves or a loved one. But then we should just relax and ponder what we have just done. We, a finite being, have just spoken to the infinite and living God. (Repeat) Wow! What an incredible thing it is to pray. Did you know that our church and the chapel that we have in our parish, is open daily for our use, and is a valuable gift that we have. It is a quiet place where we can go and just listen to God speaking in our lives. It is a place where we can pray without words. Where we, finite creatures that we are, can marvel at the infinite love that God has for us, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). And Jesus loves us so much that He not only suffered and died for us, but He further humbled Himself to remain with us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the appearance of bread and wine. How awesome is that! We can sit in the presence of the Lord housed in the tabernacles pretty much whenever we want. And better yet, in just minutes many of us with receive him in the most intimate way, through the Eucharist. He that is everything will be united to us and us to him. Take a moment and ponder the power of that act. It is overwhelming and unexplainable. (Pause) 

Yet, The real message of today’s gospel is to LISTEN TO HIM! Really listen to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – speaking to us in the Scriptures and the sacraments, and in the ordinary moments of our lives. Listen to Him, and God will help us “surrender our preconceived notions and fantasies, to go beyond our defenses and shallow expectations, to be lifted on the eagle wings of grace” (Benedict Groeschel, Listening at Prayer, Paulist Press, 1984, p. 24). Jesus promises that “the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt. 7:8), and for the disciple who makes the effort to listen, the Kingdom of God will be revealed. The three Apostles heard the voice of God the Father say, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”