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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Love as I have Loved You - 5th Sunday of Easter (Year C)


Deacon Pat – 5th Sunday of Easter Homily 

 Today, we are reminded of the New Commandment that Christ gave us the day before he suffered. We are brought back to that Last Supper when Jesus was gathered with his closest companions and opened his heart to them. It was the night when his heart overflowed with love as it never had before. It was the night when he revealed the secret identity of every Christian, the distinguishing mark: He said "This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another." And not just any kind of love, but Christ-like love: He added "I give you a new commandment... As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." Being a Christian is much more than being a member of a club. Being a Christian means having an urgent, important mission in life. It means being another Christ in the world. Jesus gave his very life in order to fulfill his Father's will and win salvation for sinners. Each one of us is called to reproduce in the unique circumstances of our lives that exact same pattern: dedicating our lives to discovering and fulfilling God's will and striving to help as many people as possible to know, love, and follow Christ. Yet, if critiqued honestly, how well do you think we are following Christ’s command? 

 Mahatma Gandhi, last century's leader of India's independence movement, received his education in Europe. Although he wasn't Christian, he had many opportunities to study Christianity and get to know Christians. Later in his life, he commented on this experience. He said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." 

And G.K. Chesterton, the famous British convert to Catholicism and great apologist for the faith in the early twentieth century, made a similar statement. He was responding to critics who claimed that since Christianity had been around for so long, but hadn't solved the world's problems, it must be false. Chesterton responded: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." 

These two examples remind us of something we already know: too often, too many Christians are satisfied with a mediocre Christianity. But Christ wants more for us. He wants to release our full potential as human beings. But what does that potential consist of? It consists of our capacity to love, to know others as Christ knows them, and to dedicate ourselves to their good. Christ knows that if we follow him down that path, we will be truly happy, and we will make those around us truly happy, here on earth and forever in heaven. 

 Well, by now you are probably thinking “OK, I get it. But how do I begin? How do I start?” I think Saint Teresa of Calcutta had the Right Idea of Love – She said that the One thing that can sometimes hold us back in our efforts to follow the Lord's New Commandment is a false idea of what love should feel like. We tend to think that true love is always accompanied by nice feelings, and if the feelings go away, that means the love has gone away too. That's also what radio, TV, and social media will tell us, but that's not what the Gospel tells us. Love, true love, Christ-like love, goes deeper than feelings. It demands sacrifice, self-giving, and self-forgetfulness. Christ-like love always involves a cross. That's what makes it Christ-like; that's what makes it true love. If we can get this truth to sink down from our heads into our hearts, we will be freer to love more as Christ loves, and we will lead happier lives, and make those around us happier too. 

Maybe a few more words from Saint Teresa of Calcutta can help guide us: 

"People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. 
If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. 
If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. 
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. 
 Honesty and transparency may make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. 
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. 
People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. 
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway. 

Why? Because in the final analysis, all of this is between you and God…It was never between you and them anyway." Wise words from a Holy Saint. 

In closing I have a small request for all of us here today: As we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, let's prayerfully ask Him two things: 


1. to help us to pick up our crosses willingly and to love those around us as He has loved. 
2. and to help us in accepting God’s grace to act in such a way that those around us will know we are His disciples by how we love one another each and every day. 

 Amen

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Blessed are the Poor - World Marriage Day




Today’s gospel from Saint Luke is the companion to a very similar gospel from Saint Matthew known as the Sermon on the Mount that contains the Beatitudes. Many have claimed it to be the greatest of all sermons. In the Gospel, after identifying that they came upon level ground with a great number of disciples and a large crowd of people, Saint Luke describes that Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” 

Well, right off the bat, how confusing is that? 
How are the poor blessed? 
He gives no further explanation and then goes on to state something similar about the hungry, the weeping, and those persecuted. 

I understand that Saint Luke was writing his account for an entirely different set of people than Saint Matthew, but thank goodness for Saint Matthew’s recount of the day. Saint Matthew also writes that Jesus stated “Blessed are the poor,” but also adds “in Spirit.” Blessed are the Poor in Spirit. Now we are getting somewhere. Hopefully, we can make something out of this. 

I was once told that the “poor in spirit” can be looked upon as someone who realizes that they are missing something and also has a desire to gain what they do not have. So, someone who is Poor in Spirit is someone who realizes that their relationship with God or with Christ is lacking and they possess a desire in their heart to grow that relationship. It is in that understanding of the lack of closeness and their desire to rectify the situation that their true blessing comes about. Because not knowing that you are lacking something, or having no desire to do anything about it, both bring you to the same place. Nowhere. But knowing that there is more out there that could be had and knowing that we can do something about it can be the catalyst to a life-long journey toward happiness. We can commit to building and growing that relationship. We can pray more regularly and more fervently. We can embrace the Sacraments more devoutly, especially confession or reconciliation. We can study the faith more. We can read about God’s heroes, the saints, and see how they were able to grow so close to God. We can put our talents and gifts to use in serving others. We can ask our Mother Mary to help us by asking for her intercession, praying the rosary, and participating in Novenas. We can truly prepare ourselves for Mass each week by pre-reading the scriptures, praying before Mass, and worthily receiving Jesus in the most Holy Eucharist. We can listen intently to the scriptures being read, the Gospel proclaimed, and to the homilies with an open heart and desiring to have the word of God transform us. We can desire the Holy Eucharist to transform us. And always seeking to hear God’s voice in the quiet of our hearts and in the encounters of our lives. Also, seeking to not only improve our relationship with God, but with others as well, especially those within the Body of Christ, our Catholic and Christian family. 

And speaking of relationships, this ties in nicely to National Marriage week that we are currently in, and today as World Marriage Day. Did you know that it has been said that the closest thing we have here on earth that represents the Love and relationship that God has for us, is represented in the love that a man and wife have for each in the union and Sacrament of Holy marriage and that relationship? That relationship of unconditional love, generosity, forgiveness, courage, hope, mercy, and so much more. The same message holds true in the message from “Blessed are Poor in Spirit” as in “Blessed are those in marriage” who know that there could and should be more and that they desire it. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to find the perfect marriage. I have seen some pretty good ones, but perfect, no. I have also seen some pretty struggling and even toxic marriages. Yet, a marriage that has within it a realization that it could be more, could be better, could be healthier, and could be more loving, and having the desire to make it so is a blessing for sure. There are many ways to help a marriage. 
• One can just begin to be nicer to the other person. 
• Trying to see things from their perspective. 
• Forgetting about who is doing more for the other. 
• Communicating more directly and not assuming things. 
• And Praying together would be a great start. 

I remember quite a few years ago a young man came to me for spiritual direction. He stated that he was getting angrier and angrier with his wife and that she was doing less and less for him. The marriage was falling apart. He shared that he kept track of the nice things that he did for her and he counted how many things she did for him and the amounts didn’t match. After another 20 minutes of further sharing, I posed this question to the young man: What do you think would happen if you stopped counting and comparing and for the next 30 days just focused on serving your wife in a selfless and sacrificial way and ask for and expect nothing in return? At first, he looked at me as if I was crazy, but something must have sparked within him, probably God’s grace, and he threw his arms up in a semi-defeated way and said, “I have no idea what that would do, but what do I have to lose. I do it.” 30 days later he returned. He looked different. He looked relaxed and peaceful. We sat down and he stated: “I didn’t really think it was going to work, but I did as your suggested. I not only did the things she asked of me, but I looked for things to do for her without her asking. I also was just nice to her. I didn’t expect anything back. I think at first, she thought I was sick or something, but she liked it. It took about a week and my tendency to track favors disappeared. I just kept telling myself “I am here to serve you as a good and faithful husband.” He then paused for a moment, tried to catch his breath, and tears began to roll down his face. Now mind you, this was a rough and tough guy, a manly-man, these were life-changing tears. After a few moments, he regained composure and said “I have never been closer to my wife than I am now. I don’t count favors anymore; she probably does more for me and my happiness now than ever. I was such a jerk.” I saw him a few more times over the next few months, we focused more on his prayer life than his marriage, and each time he stated a similar statement, “I am happier now than I have ever been.” This was clearly a success story and God’s grace helped a man who knew he wanted something more in his marital relationship and was willing to do something about. 

There are other ways to get help other than spiritual direction. There are marriage retreats, marriage encounters, and workshops. We are even preparing to offer an marital workshop called “Enrich” later this year in our parish. There are also podcasts and videos. And there are many good books for advice and guidance. Regrettably, some relationships and situations are more severe and serious than others. And although good spiritual direction is always helpful, it is not the same as professional counseling. We are very lucky to have on our parish campus, “Rejoice Counseling,” catholic counselors that one can make an appointment with. Our Archdiocese also offers on their website an online course called “Breakthrough” which is a series of videos the couple can watch together or separately to better understand their conflict triggers, how to process resentment, and tap into their natural ability for forgiveness and joy. There is also Retrouvaille, a weekend retreat, known as a lifeline for married couples in trouble. This has been a very effective retreat and program for many who had just about lost all hope. The Archdiocesan Website also offers help with connecting with Catholic Councilors. 

So, to sum it all up, In just those first few words of the Gospel – “Blessed are the Poor” • Gives us hope when we realize that our relationship with God, our spouse, our children, and anyone else important to us, could be better • And gives us assurance for a better tomorrow for all of us who possesses a desire to work to grow those relationships, Yes, we might just be temporarily poor, but we are surely blessed, and we can begin our journey today toward a life of growing happiness, peace, and joy. Blessed are we who are poor, for the kingdom of God is ours.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Epiphany and the New Year - What we can learn from the Magi.

 

The Gospel today is rich with symbols:

• The Journey,

• the Personalities from distant lands,

• the star, its disappearance and reappearance,

• the gifts,

• the difficulties,

• the dream….

 All have a unique meaning, especially for Christians, and if contemplated can lead us to where it led the Magi:

To Faith in Christ.

Faith is indeed a long journey, a life-long one.

This Faith journey leads us from the security of the “Lands” we are familiar with, to a far-off place where the rules of the game are very different.

It requires courage to set out on such a journey when we could stick to the comfort and security of home and do “just what everyone else does.”

It requires us to persevere and continue the journey, especially when it is not clear where we are going…. because with all real journeys of faith, more often than not, the specific route and destination is unclear.

But where does such faith come from?

I think we all understand that it can’t be purchased, or even earned.

Faith in Christ is a grace; or rather it is the grace of all graces.

A gift given to us.

But this gift is not to be kept for ourselves, it comes with responsibility.

I was once told that to whom much had been given, much is expected.

We are all called to share this gift.

And in sharing this gift, this gift of faith, our primary responsibility is to be a personal witness of what it contains.

We are responsible for doing what we can in the sphere of our own lives so that the light of Christ shines through us to others.

• However, someone who is constantly bad-humored, or self-centered, or continually sad, is not a sign that God lives within them.

• Nor someone whose behavior and conversation is coarse and lewd and who profanes everything he sets his eyes upon or turns his tongue toward, he is not a sign that the sacredness and the beauty of God is within him.

• Nor someone who destroys her neighbor’s reputation on a daily basis; She will not inspire others to say, “Look how they love one another.”

• Nor will someone who lives only to have more of the “stuff” of this world, be likely to make people catch a glimpse of the world to come.

We must honestly ask ourselves: “What or who do I represent to those around me? 

And am I, a transparent window into what can be seen as the City of God?”


Today’s readings also show us that Christ is for all, for everyone.

And that the church must be a city placed on a mountain top so all can see and all can come.

This church involves each of us.

Every Christian, and more so, every Catholic is this church.

Each one of us is the church in the sense of being the place where Christ dwells and is to be revealed to those who do not know him.

So let us ask ourselves,

“Do I really believe that I am the dwelling place of God?”

“Do I have such faith?”

Many of us were born into a Christian family and it is difficult to appreciate how great the gift of “Faith” actually is.

It is easy to take for granted, and we often fail to exercise it.

And as we fail to recognize and utilize this gift, it can grow weak, and then we are only capable of short journeys with few or no difficulties.

Perhaps we can’t even travel past the everyday obstacles to find Christ our Lord.

Whether it is due:

• to a health problem, an addiction?

• or that difficult sister-in-law, or brother-in-law?

• or that particular habit your wife or husband has?

We have such little “strength of faith” that we can so easily lose our way.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Many people think of the New Year as a time for a new start, and for some it is, but in reality, we have all been on a journey for years,

• and we choose who or what we are searching for,

• who or what we follow,

• and who or what we desire.

The Magi have shown us through example, that when Christ calls, and we focus on Him rather than on ourselves, we can persevere.

Even at times when the star seems hidden, with faith it will reappear, and as we journey in faith we will come upon –

“The Savior of the World.”

So, in conclusion……this gift of faith that has been given to each and every one of us awaits a response.

And like the Magi, God speaks personally to us as well, if only we will listen and believe!

 

Now that the scriptures have been reflected upon more deeply, this short passage from today’s reading might now make a little more sense and inspire us:

 

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!

Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.

See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples;

but upon you the Lord shines,

and over you appears His glory.

 

Amen

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Cost of Being a Christian (28th Sunday Ordinary Time - Year B)




Twenty-Eight Sunday Ordinary Time – Deacon Pat

One of the many struggles of sharing the gospels, the good news of becoming a Christian with someone, is getting them to see that there is a cost of making the decision to become a disciple of Christ.

So often, the focus is more on the reward that awaits them, and they never stop to think about what this decision will cost.

When someone does not understand the price to be paid when choosing to become a Christian, difficulties will arise when they find themselves in situations that are demanding, situations that can eventually cost them a great deal.

It is in such times that one’s faith is put to the test.

In these circumstances, some disciples turn from the path of righteousness and head back into the world from which they had escaped.

 

In the Gospel today, we can see just such a situation when Jesus is approached by a young man who seems to be interested in doing what is right in regards to salvation.

Jesus tells the young man that there is a price to be paid if he chooses to take the path he is seeking, and in the end, we see that the young man was not willing to make the sacrifice necessary to inherit eternal life.

In this story, we learn that being a disciple of Christ will cost us everything that keeps God from being first in our lives.

We also learn a lot about the man who approached Christ.

We learn that he was following the rules, but that he probably did not truly understand what was beneath the rules, the reason for the rule.

He runs up to Jesus and says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

He did not say, “Who must I become to inherit eternal life?”

Perhaps, this young man already felt that he was doing all that was required of him by following the rules, and he only wanted Jesus to confirm what he was already doing.

He did not actually expect Jesus to tell him to do anything beyond the law, beyond the rules.

In addition, when Jesus asked more of him, he refused because that was not what he wanted to hear.

How many of us are just like this young man?

We do what we think is expected of us, we follow the rules, or maybe most of them, but don’t let Jesus ask anything more of us, or we too might refuse.

Didn’t Christ tell us that to be a Christian we cannot serve two masters, we serve either God or mammon, but we can’t serve both.

In the Gospel, the young man had two masters speaking to him:

·       God in the flesh told him to sell everything;

·       Mammon (The World) told him to hold onto what he had.

He couldn’t do both, so he chose to submit to the one he valued the most.

The man went away grieved.

As far as he was concerned, the choice to follow Christ was just too costly.

 

Many of us come to Mass to hear the word of God and focus on the promises of eternal life.

Most of us see ourselves as basically good people, believing our lives are morally good, and when we pray to God, we often ask for guidance and direction to make our lives better.

Yet, we are often caught off guard when we find that Jesus desires more than we are giving, that he desires all that we have, all that would stand in the way of serving God.

So, what do we do?

Some of us, many of us, turn away from what He is asking.

In other words, is it not true that many of us really are not seeking to change much in our lives at all?

We seek God to only confirm what we are already doing, maybe only to have Him acknowledge the rules that we have followed.

Are not many of us just like the young man in the gospel message?

 

But what is Christ trying to teach us?

What is the message for us today?

Isn’t he trying to say that our faith is much more than just following a set of rules?

Being a Christian will actually cost us everything that keeps God from being first in our lives.

As with the young man, it was not his wealth that was the problem, but rather the value he placed on it.

Jesus never said it was sinful to be wealthy, but he did warn us of what riches, or the pursuit of, might do.

What Jesus did, was simply state that there was one thing this young man lacked:

Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing, Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasures in heaven: then come, follow me.

Consider this, to lack something means something is missing, but Jesus tells him to get rid of something.

Yet, it is in the getting rid of something that Jesus says he will find the means to get something.

What this young man needed was to love God above all other things.

It was here that he would find eternal life.

How many of us need to get rid of something to get something?

Confusing, isn’t it?

How many of us completely understand Christ and his teachings for us?

Can we rightly say that we understand our faith as well as we should?

How many of us know not only what the church teaches, but also why it teaches what it does?

I believe that if more of us knew the “why” of what our church taught, and not just the “what”, our catholic church especially here in America would look much different.

So where do we begin to grow in our understanding of the faith?

Well, we have many options.

We can read the church documents, such as the documents from Vatican II, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

We can visit trusted internet sites, listen to podcasts, or we can attend classes.

Our parish offers a variety of opportunities just look in the bulletin or listen to the invitations shared in the announcements.

There is also ACTS for men and women.

And for the men especially of the parish, we have “That Man is You” which has been life-changing for thousands across our nation.

 

In closing, I have two final questions for all of us to prayerfully consider. They are:

·       What must I do to inherit eternal life?

·       And Who must I become to inherit eternal life?

I challenge you as I challenge myself to honestly and humbly ask Christ these two important questions and then to listen to his response in the quiet of our hearts?

Once the response is heard, we will then have a choice to make.

·       To act with all of our heart and soul?

·       Or to be like the young man in the gospel message today, ask the question but find Christ’s response to be too costly, and just walk away?

The Choice is ours..... It’s called, “OUR FREE-WILL.”

 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Hearing Jesus' Voice - 4th Sunday of Easter

As I read and re-read the gospel in preparation for this Sunday I identified a variety of topics that we could explore: 
  • The idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and what that actually means. 
  • How a Good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. 
  • How a hired man doesn’t see the sheep as his own, and runs away and abandons them at the first sign of trouble. 
  • How Jesus made it a point to mention that there are sheep outside of his fold, but that he needed to care for them too. 
  • And that he needed to lay down his life only to take it up again. 
But there was something else contained in the Gospel that seemed to stand out from the others, at least to me, it was when Jesus said: I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.

This sentence intrigued me and I knew there was something special about it. I began to investigate what this might have meant at the time of Jesus and found this out. It was very common in the afternoon and before nightfall for shepherds to bring their sheep down from hills where they had been grazing so they could be protected and away from danger while in a shelter. During the night the sheep from different flocks would intermingle and by the time morning came, it would be difficult to know which sheep belonged to who. Yet, each morning the shepherds would call out to their sheep and recognizing the unique voice of their shepherd they would go to them. The sheep recognized their shepherd and the shepherd knew his sheep. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that He is the Shepherd and that His sheep know His voice. We are to be His sheep. 

Now knowing the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, I then began to contemplate what it meant to hear God’s voice and to be able to recognize it, and I pondered what might keep me from hearing it. Then I thought of our contemporary world – especially this last year during the pandemic. We constantly hear many voices speaking to us through the television, the internet, Twitter, and text messages. We are bombarded with the voices and ideas of politicians, celebrities, athletes, journalists, lawyers, and newscasters. We are smothered by messages and ways of looking at the world that may or may not be very Christ-like. Yet, Jesus teaches us that to follow Him we must recognize His voice. And since most of us will never hear His voice audibly, we should learn to identify the other ways He speaks to us. 

The ordinary way that most of us will hear and recognize Him will be in our prayers. So, we must ask ourselves: have we developed a prayer life that will allow us to hear Him? So often He speaks in the quiet of our heart and our mind. Have we developed a method of prayer that also allows our mind and our heart to rest in peaceful quiet? If our life is in a state of constant distraction, constant stimulation, and endless external activities, how will we ever hear His voice? I have come to know that to hear His voice and to hear it clearly, it is in the quiet that it can be recognized. And since God often uses situations, events, and encounters to speak to us, we should reflect upon our daily events each night. It is in that prayerful reflection, that meditation, that examination of conscience, that He so often speaks to us, guides us, and inspired us. I was once told that we should imagine Jesus walking slowly through our minds and holding a candle. That He will gently point the candle toward a thought or an idea, illuminating it, and drawing quiet attention toward it. However, if we aren’t paying attention, it will go unnoticed and His voice will never be heard.

I couldn’t help but reflect again on that small portion of today’s Gospel: I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; So how is it that one truly gets to know another? It is through spending time together, openly sharing our thoughts, our dreams, our inspirations, our trials, our troubles, and our fears. It is through having a relationship. The question we must ask of ourselves is “How much am I investing in this relationship with Christ?” Is it enough? Has it been enough that He will know me and recognize me? Do I truly know Him? Can I recognize His voice as my shepherd? Do I truly know who to follow in this world? All very meaningful and important questions that we should be asking of ourselves. And in doing so, I have a challenge for each of us here today: Why don’t we begin today to set aside some time each day or night to sit in quiet? To pray, To talk, To reflect, To listen, And to deepen our relationship, and our friendship with Christ. I want to be able to recognize His voice, don’t you?