Sunday, December 18, 2016

God's Great Work For You

Today the gospel presents to us the image of St. Joseph, and I prayed with his faithfulness in fulfilling the tasks that God sent before him. HERE is my homily from today.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Helpful Friends

HERE's my homily from this morning, with the gospel about the four friends who lowered their paralyzed friend through a roof to see Jesus.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Our Identity During Advent

Today's Gospel does not feature Jesus, but rather his forerunner. HERE's my homily on our connection with John the Baptist.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christ, the King of my Heart

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King as we close in on the end of the Church year. HERE is my homily for the day.

And here is a meme I thought of that will be made a little bit clearer in the homily

Monday, November 14, 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Post-Mortem Reflections

Yesterday was the feast of All Saints Day, where we commemorate and ask for the intercession of all those saints who stand in Heaven before the throne of God. HERE is my homily from yesterday.

Today is the feast of All Souls Day, where we remember and pray for all those in Purgatory, those who have died but are still journeying towards the Beatific Vision. HERE is my homily from today.

Listening to both should definitely qualify as time off Purgatory for you.

Monday, October 31, 2016

My Election Thoughts

I spoke on the election yesterday at the end of my masses, and it's probably the only thing I'm going to say publicly about the election this cycle. Here is what I said:

I want to take this opportunity, sort of a two minute second homily, to address the election very briefly. You’re probably as sick of the election as I am, so only two minutes. I think I’ve unconsciously avoided speaking about the election from the pulpit because, and I think most of you would agree with me, the election this year is an especially unpleasant topic.

In fact, as I’ve traveled around both here in Jackson and beyond, I don’t see nearly as many presidential campaign signs and bumper stickers as I normally do in election years. I think it’s fair to say that no one is excited about either of the two candidates. They’re both deeply flawed individuals.

So, although there is much that has been said and much that could be said, I have two points, and they are exactly these, first, charity, and second, hope.

Charity. It’s up to us to heal the deep divisions that are afflicting our country right now. So whether someone else votes issues instead of candidates, whether they choose to abstain from the presidential election, whether they choose to hold their nose and vote for the other candidate while you hold your nose and vote for this candidate, you and I have to treat everyone we meet with absolute charity. Once the dust is settled after the election, charity is going to be the only thing that heals the divisions in our country.

And hope: Elections are important my friends, but we Christians do not put our hope in any earthly leader. Presidents come and go, but only Jesus remains forever. No earthly leader can provide for us the peace that only Jesus can give.

Some might want me to say more on the election, some might want me to say less. Although I certainly have my own opinions, the only things I want to encourage you towards as your priest are charity and hope. Charity towards each other, and hope in Jesus alone.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Jesus's Mission, and Ours

Are the Pharisees trying to help Jesus in today's gospel reading? Unlikely. HERE's my homily for the day.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sabbath "Oughts"

Today Jesus heals on the Sabbath, thus annoying many of his contemporaries. But what's most interesting to me is the way he describes and justifies the healing: "Ought she not to have been set free on the Sabbath?" He makes the Sabbath healing into something more than just morally neutral, but rather something good and almost necessary. HERE's my homily from this morning.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Prayer and Comparisons

We see Jesus telling parables throughout the gospels, so an important key for understanding the parables is to pay attention to who they're addressed to. When Jesus addresses a parable to the crowds, it's usually meant to comfort and bring hope, and on the other hand when Jesus addresses a parable to the Pharisees, it's usually meant as a form of judgment. Paying attention to who Jesus is talking to usually is an easy clue to understanding the point of a parable. Our parable today is sort of a catch-all. It opens by saying, "Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else." So this parable is simply addressed to anyone that needs it: whether you're a pharisee, a tax collector, or just one of the crowd, if you're convinced of your own righteousness, then this parable is for you.

Now in this parable, the Pharisee is the bad guy and the tax collector is the good guy. We've heard these stories so much we're use to that scenario, and in case there was any doubt about it, Jesus makes it clear at the end that the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, went home justified. But this would have astonished Jesus's audience: Pharisees were supposed to be the holy ones while tax collectors were the bad guys. They were generally Jews who were working for the Roman authorities, so the other Jews really didn't like them. But Jesus loves to reverse roles in the parables, and make the bad guy into the good guy.

So when we look closely at the parable, we find that each of us have a bit of the attitude of the Pharisee, but we want to have the attitude of the tax collector. So first we start with the Pharisee, and we see that the gospel gives us some interesting notes about this Pharisee. First, the gospel tells us that he spoke his prayer to himself. So from the get-go, the Pharisee gets it wrong. The object of his prayer is himself, not God. And then he turns his attention from himself, but he still doesn't turn to God, he turns to the rest of humanity. He says "I'm glad I'm not like everybody else," and then he proceeds to list their sins, "greedy, dishonest, adulterous," and then he singles out the tax collector. After this, he lists how great he is with his fasting and tithing. Rather than focusing on God while he's in the temple, he's focusing on himself and others.

But in Jesus' great reversal, the tax collector gets it right. He stands far off, wont even lift his eyes, beats his breast as a sign of repentance, and asks for mercy. This guy recognizes what he needs. This guy has real faith. This guy has a real relationship with God.

For ourselves, prayers is what makes our relationship with God. Prayer isn't optional as Christians, prayer is required. So we want to be sure we get prayer right. I don't think many of us pray as blatantly bad as the Pharisee in the parable, but I bet bits and pieces of his attitude sneak into our prayer. It's far too easy to focus on myself or others when I go to prayer. It's really easy to focus on what I've done right or on what others have done wrong. It's far too easy to fall into comparisons when I go to prayer.

The danger with comparisons, the danger with the Pharisee's attitude, is that is sets the wrong bar as the standard for our Christian life. When I compare myself to others, whether I think I'm so much better or so much worse than them, then I miss what's supposed to be my standard of Christian excellence, and that standard is God. That's what the tax collector got right. He didn't compare himself to others. His only standard of behaviour was God's law, and when he used that as his benchmark, he couldn't help buy cry out, "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

Because the truth is, both of them were sinners, but only one recognized it. The Pharisee was not nearly as justified as he made himself out to be, he was a sinner as well but he was blind to that fact because he used other people as standard. But Jesus said at another spot in the gospel, "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." So that's our marching order. That's what we're striving for. And when we look at God's perfection, we can't help but say, "Be merciful to me, a sinner." And when we ask for that in prayer, God can't help but respond. A cry for mercy is simply irresistible to God's heart. When we ask for mercy because of our sins, God gives it. He offers his forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession, and he offers his grace so that we can eventually avoid those sins in the first place.

So when you pray, let the focus of your prayer be on God alone. Certainly ask for what you need, certainly pray for others, but be very careful of comparisons and prideful attitudes that sometimes sneak their way into our prayers. Let prayer be the lifeblood of your relationship with God, and let that relationship become stronger each and every day. In our prayer, his grace and forgiveness is strong enough to overcome any trial, it's even strong enough to bring us to eternal life.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Advance Preparation

I'm sorry for my silence here on the blog lately. The past month or so has been crazy. In fact, I've driven 5,000 miles in the last month. Life is trending towards settling down a bit, so hopefully I'll be posting more homilies here.

Over the last couple of days, Jesus has been pretty intense in the daily gospel readings. HERE's my homily from daily mass this morning.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Good Samaritan

HERE's my two-minute homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Don't blink!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Faith and Humility

HERE is my homily from today, where Jesus talks about how our faith could be stronger. And for reference, here's the Collect that I quoted in the homily:

Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Friday, September 16, 2016

State of the Mission

There are several things we can pull from the Gospel today. HERE's my homily where I talk about a few things that caught my interest.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Our Lady of Sorrows

Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, where we honor the pain and sorrow that Mary went through as she herself experienced her Son's Passion. HERE's my homily from the day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast commemorates Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, finding the True Cross of Christ. On this feast we honor the Cross not as a means of torture and execution, but as the means of our salvation. HERE's my homily from this morning's mass.

Monday, September 12, 2016

I Received What I Handed On

I LOVE the first reading from today's Mass. It has done a lot to help me appreciate how awesome and ancient the Eucharist actually is. HERE's my homily from this morning.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Awesomeness of Vocations

Today we hear about Jesus's famous call of Peter. Peter, rightfully, was scared out of his mind at the call that Jesus put into his life. HERE's my homily for the day.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Today is the memorial of the Death of St. John the Baptist, the only saint outside of the Holy Family to get two feast days in the general calendar. The subject of today's feast has also been a common theme in classical art, leading to some beautiful yet morbid renderings of the event. Regardless of how you feel about the art, HERE's my homily for the day.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Getting Humility Right

I know I've been pretty quiet on the blog lately. I got to chaplain a backpacking trip for Wyoming Catholic College that had me away from technology for eight blessed days. Hopefully I'll be able to share a few pictures from that soon. In the meantime, it's also a joy to be back in Jackson and preaching regularly again. HERE's my homily from this Sunday, and here's the Litany of Humility that I talked about in the homily:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus. 
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. 
That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What Really Matters

I just realized I never posted Sunday's homily, and this one was actually asked for after Mass! So sorry for the delay! HERE is my homily from this Sunday.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Persistence, But Trust

Sorry the homily is a day late, but yesterday Jesus gave us one half of his teaching on prayer. The other half of his teaching he demonstrated later. HERE's my homily from the day.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Walk Humbly with your God

The message of Christ, both in our day and in Jesus's day, is very similar to the call of the prophets through the generations of ancient Israel, summarized well by the prophet Micah in today's first reading:
You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.
HERE's my homily from this morning.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The One Thing Needed

We all identify to some degree with either Martha or Mary in today's gospel, and most people I meet say they identify with Martha more than Mary. It's important to note that Jesus doesn't condemn Martha or her activeness, he points out that Mary is doing the one necessary thing, being with Jesus. HERE's my homily from this morning.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Silence and Carmelites

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. For many years now, I've loved Carmelite spirituality but I could never quite figure out why until recently. I was recently pointed to a Carmelite author who wrote:
"If the impossible were to take place and the past were suddenly obliterated and tradition no longer existed, and the call of the living God were to sound for the first time in a soul, this call would carry with it the spirit of Carmel in all its freshness, its newness, its eternal richness. Because it is of God and is pure reference to God, this spirit is distinguished by a clarity, a simplicity, and a limpidity that are absolute. It has nothing to do with techniques. It fears more than all else material and spiritual encumbrances, multiplicity of means, devotion, and spiritual exercises. It is God just as God is that it seeks and desires: God, for the mind all mystery, but for the soul light and delicious knowledge." 
Basically, what I realized is that Carmelite is an utterly simple focus on God. Anyway, HERE's my homily from today, although it is far less eloquent than that quote.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Who Works on the Sabbath?

In today's gospel, the Pharisees rebuke the disciples for plucking heads of grains on the sabbath, and Jesus in turn rebukes the Pharisees for being jerk-faces, or at least that's how we normally read it. It turns out Jesus had a higher purpose, HERE's my homily on it.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Little for the Kingdom

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and in the readings for today, Jesus is talking about the sort of people he calls to himself. Coincidence? Perhaps, but probably not. Anyway, HERE's my homily for the day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Father is Love

Today Jesus that the only way to know the Father is through the Son. HERE's my short homily from today.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Identifying as Sinners

The main church
Sorry for being so quiet on the blog. I've been in the middle of the move to Jackson. The move happened successfully: all 700 books made the transition and so did all the brewing supplies. I've been settling in Jackson bit by bit, but it's kept me busy. When I moved to Sheridan, the pastor had already been there four years so he was able to quickly explain everything I needed to know, but here in Jackson the pastor is also brand new, so he and I have been very busy trying to get up to speed with everything happening in the parish.

The mission church
I'll get back to more homily-posting soon, but right now life is pretty busy. But I still managed to record this weekend's homily about the Good Samaritan [CLICK HERE]. Keep praying for me as I settle into this new parish, and pray for the good people of Jackson and Star Valley.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fathers and God's Love

I've been wanting to preach on Father's Day for three years or so and it's never happened. On this 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I finally got to do it. HERE's my homily for the day. Happy Father's Day, dads!!!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Salvation, and How We Get It

Today's readings present important lessons on faith/justification/salvation, which in the end is really the question of how I get to heaven. We want to avoid the simplification of, "Well, as long as I'm a good person," and actually understand the issues at play, as presented by the Bible and the words of Christ himself. HERE's my homily for the day.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Jesus and the Widow of Nain

HERE is my homily for this Sunday. Augustine sees an interesting analogy in the readings for today, which really helped me to organize my thoughts.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

St. Alexius and the Fall of Rome

If you've never checked out Joseph Sciambra's blog linked on my blogroll (desktop version of my blog), I highly recommend you check out his LATEST POST where he teaches about St. Alexius. Joseph is well acquainted with the horrors of "gay" culture, having sought happiness there for many years before returning to the Catholic Church. In this article, he compares our western culture to the decline of the Roman Empire, where both are utterly fixated on issues of sexuality. Experts on Roman history will balk at some generalizations he makes, and indeed they've already done so in the comments. But even acknowledging those, he lays out a pretty desperate scenario, so I recommend a stiff drink if you take the time to read the article, but I think he's spot on. He doesn't end without hope though. Hope lies in a radical return to Christianity, as highlighted by the counter-cultural examples of St. Alexius and St. Francis.

I'll let Joseph lay out his case for himself, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Battle Against Sin

In my prayer this morning, I was praying about habitual sin and how the devil continually attacks us with the same old things, hoping that we give up and stop fighting back. I was also thinking about geek stuff, which is never that far from my mind, even in prayer.

And so, for a cheesy analogy in my personal battle against sin, I pictured the devil like this:

And then I pictured me, with the grace of God and the help of Confession, like this:

A bit cheesy, I know, but it's been surprisingly fruitful in my prayer today.

[Also, sorry for comparing Iron Man to the devil. He's not really that bad, it just worked for the analogy]

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Trinity and the Priesthood

This weekend, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, I had the great joy and privilege of preaching at Fr. Andrew Kinstetter's first mass of thanksgiving. HERE is my homily from that mass. Full disclosure: I pulled a lot of material from this video:

And because it never gets old, congratulations again, Fr. Andrew!!!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

More on Identity

Almost on cue, Msgr Charles Pope, who I referenced in yesterday's post, wrote an article on the malaise of Descartes's (also referenced in yesterday's post) influence on the west. If you were confused by what I was saying or you liked it but thought it was a bit unclear, please read his ARTICLE. He's a much clearer thinker and writer than I feel I am, and reading him helps me to organize my own thoughts.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Obedience and Identity

I've been thinking a lot about obedience lately, especially in the context of my pending move to Jackson and all the joys and sorrows that brings with it. I go out of obedience to the will of God as spoken to me by my bishop, and I trust that in this obedience I will be blessed. Once in a while, as my move and my pastor's move draw closer, people have half-jokingly commented that, "The bishop never asked me if it was ok to move you, Father," and this set me thinking and praying. In my prayer, it's occurred to me that only in obedience can I expect to experience God's blessings. If we could picture a Church where priests chose their own assignments, I never would have left Cheyenne, because it was safe, comfortable, and would have required no risk. But by being obedient to God's will, I have experienced unbelievable blessings over the last two years in Sheridan, and it is only by being obedient to God's will that I can expect those blessings to continue.

Sheridan, WY: The location  of untold blessings for me
But through reading yesterday's gospel and praying over it, I realized there was something not quite right in my way of thinking. Yesterday we heard, "Jesus said to his disciples: 'Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.'" As I was reading about this passage, Msgr. Charles Pope pointed out that, "Love enables us to keep His Word, to live it and to love it." I realized that I had started to get things backwards, I had started to think that the first thing was my obedience, and from that, God's blessings followed, but my obedience is not the first thing. God's love is the first thing. First God loves me, and that enables me to obey his will in my life. But God's love is always primary.

By virtue of our baptism, God has taken up the central place in our heart. The second half of the gospel quote above, "[A]nd we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" points to this. God dwells within us, but we spend our whole lives searching for him. This was Augustine's realization in the Confessions when he wrote, "Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you." While we seek God all over the world, he actually dwells within us.

And because he dwells within us, we have to make sure he is the central actor, the primary player in our life. I don't think that the best way to pray as a Christian is to pray, "Jesus, help me," but rather, "Jesus, take care of this for me." He is the source of all our strength, and so it's his strength and his power that get us through the day. He is the center of our existence, he's the only center that can hold. He is the source of our identity, the source of all that is true and reliable in the world.

Descartes: Brilliant mathematician, terrible philosopher
But our world doesn't like that. Our world has been striving for centuries to boot God out of the center of existence and replace it with the self. It started, largely, with Descartes's famous "Cogito, ergo sum," "I think, therefore I am," By this, Descartes was declaring the Self to be the source of existence, and therefore the center of existence, rather than God, and now Descartes is known as the father of modern philosophy. And if the Self is declared to be the center of existence, then the Self is the source of truth.

I think the latest manifestation of this way of thinking is the bathroom wars, which is of course just one symptom of gender ideology. It is a sad comment on society when the bathrooms of Target cause such controversy and vitriol. But it is the ultimate triumph of the Self when even such a thing as gender becomes a choice (or a felt and deeply believed thing, I acknowledge), and the real world, the world "out there," is expected to conform to this decision of the individual that has no bearing in the world as it actually exists.

The Self has truly replaced God as the center of existence. The only antidote or solution is to let God have his central spot in our identity. He is the source of everything, including our identity, so we want to receive even our identity from him. No matter how many titles we apply to ourselves-spouse, parent, child, doctor, lawyer, etc-we need to receive our fundamental identity from God. Before I am any of those things, I am God's beloved son, I am God's beloved daughter. First I must know myself as loved by God. This enables me to be obedient to his commands. This is the center that holds.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The World Hates You

In today's gospel Jesus is talking about how hated you will be by the world and why. Here's my HOMILY on the matter.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Heaven and Hell

Have you noticed the second reading throughout the Easter season? The second reading all through the Easter season is from the book of Revelation. You know, that strange last book of the Bible that some Protestants take literally so we respond by ignoring the book completely. So the Book of Revelation was a series of visions given to John when he was exiled on the island of Patmos, a Greek island in the Mediterranean Sea near Turkey. So he was exiled there, he was given this series of visions, and he was told to write them down. Now, many of the images are just downright strange: multi-headed beasts and mountains falling out of the sky and lots of other stuff. Some Protestants try to interpret it as a literal explanation of what will happen at the end of the world, but the truth is that we simply don't know what to make of much of the imagery. So a lot of the Book of Revelation is indeed strange, but parts of it are beautiful. Parts of it have these beautiful visions of what heaven will be like after the trials of this life are over, and that's what I want to focus on today.

It occurs to me that we don't think enough about heaven and hell, and when we do, I think our vision of what they might be are a little underwhelming. So the Church traditionally teaches the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell, and each of us will experience three of them. We'll all experience death. We'll all experience judgment. Then some will go to heaven, and some will go to hell.

I think we all understand death, it's what comes afterwards that's important. If a person dies in unrepentant mortal sin, that person's soul goes to hell. If a person dies with no sin and no hurt from sin on their soul, that person is welcomed immediately in heaven. If I person dies with venial sin or the hurt from sin still on their soul, then first that person is purified in purgatory before being welcomed into heaven.

So let's talk about hell first. I worry that when we think of hell, we only think about a cave with flames in the distance where the thermostat is turned up a bit high. And we make all these jokes about hell, and I've done it too, like "if I end up in hell, that's ok, because at least all my friends will be there" or we like to say hell is going to be like a traffic jam or a DMV waiting room. I make these jokes too, but the danger is that we become numb to the real horror of hell. Because here's the thing: you are created for just one purpose: to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next. So hell is a complete separation from God. You missed the whole point for which you were created. This isn't eternal unpleasantness, this is eternal agony, and the worst part would probably be knowing that you did it to yourself. God doesn't really send people to hell, they choose it for themselves by their actions.

And in just the same way that we don't recognize the full horror of hell, I don't think we recognize the full glory of heaven. Sometimes we have this really underwhelming idea of heaven where it's going to be just harps and clouds, or we come up with these really hedonistic visions of heaven, where heaven is where I can eat all the cookies I want and not get fat. And while that may be a very real desire, heaven is what we are made for so it's going to be the fulfillment of our deepest desire. We can't recognize what our deepest desire is because we're so mired in sin, but the deepest desire of our heart is God himself, so heaven is going to be perfect communion with him. It's what we are made for.

I think I understand why we make cheap jokes about heaven and hell. I think we do it because these realities of heaven and hell are so far beyond our comprehension and our day to day life that we try to put them into terms we can understand. We cant understand pure agony or pure bliss, so we compare them to the DMV or to cookies. But we want to make sure that we don't lose sight of the realities that we're talking about. Once in a while we have to affirm for ourselves that heaven is going to be so much bigger than our tiny vision of the world can even begin to acknowledge.

St. John in today's second reading is describing his vision of a new heaven and a new earth. He's describing what he's seeing at the end of time, after the earth is no more and all there is is heaven and hell. This is what the souls in heaven are already experiencing, where John says, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away." This is what we want. This is where we want to end up.

So spending a bit of time thinking about the reality of heaven, this place that we're aiming for, should do a couple of things for us. It should make us a bit more serious about the way we live our lives when we recognize that the decision that I make in life have eternal repercussions. And it should also give a lightness to our lives, because we know that this life of toil and drudgery is not the end. So if you don't ever think about or pray about heaven, go ahead and give it a try. It helps to put this whole life in perspective, to help us realize exactly what will get us there and what won't. Our God has a place prepared for us which is so much greater than we could ever ask for or imagine.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I'm Offended! Becoming Un-offendable

In today's first reading we hear about Paul and Barnabas. They were unshakable in their service to the Lord, despite being constantly abused by those who disagreed. Here's my HOMILY (about 8 minutes) on how I think they did it (hint: they didn't call the ACLU).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I'm going to Jackson

click for larger view
For those that haven't heard yet, the bishop has appointed me to be the parochial vicar (assistant priest) at Our Lady of the Mountains in Jackson, Wyoming starting in July. This will also include the mission of the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Grand Teton National Park and Holy Family Catholic Church in Thayne, Wyoming.

I am very sad to leave Sheridan County but also excited to minister in Teton and Lincoln Counties. The people of Sheridan County have been very good to me, and I am a better priest and a better person because of what I have learned from them.

I spent some time assigned to Jackson as a seminarian in the summer of 2010, so I already know the area and some of the people there. Hiking, climbing, rafting, and skiing opportunities abound, so I'm sure I won't waste getting to live in such fantastic surroundings. I won't get tired of this view, only about fifteen minutes from the parish:

Monday, April 11, 2016

Our Higher Calling

Please enjoy today's sub-three-minute HOMILY where I remind the people that in the great tradition of St. Stephen, St. Stanislaus, and by the current example of the Little Sisters of the Poor, kings and Presidents and Supreme Courts aren't nearly as important or scary as they think they are. We follow a higher calling, and we cannot be stopped.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Book Review: St. Therese of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations

The stack of books I'm trying to read is much larger than what my calendar allows for. When I do actually finish a book though, I want to use the blog to tell you what I thought about it. I'm happy to lend this or any other book in my library if you live near me and don't look like a hooligan.

I just finished reading St. Therese of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations, and it was marvelous. Full disclosure: Therese is one of my favorite saints of all time, so I was biased going in. But this book is a collection of the conversations that her sisters in the Carmel of Lisieux had with her during her final months. Recognizing that they were in the presence of a living saint, the nuns of Carmel had the foresight to record their conversations with her during her final illness. Because they presumably were writing after the conversation or were writing and talking, this book is not a collection of sustained dialogue but rather just snippets of conversation. Because it's in this form, I found it incredibly fruitful for prayer and meditation and so I took a long time to savor this book.

At this stage of Therese's life, the Little Way she had spent her life developing is nearing perfection. She has the remarkable ability to look at her suffering (she was slowly suffocating from tuberculosis) and see it for the horror that it really was, commenting at one time that this would be impossible to endure without faith and at another time that poisonous materials should be kept well away from the suffering because of the temptation to kill themselves. Yet through all this, she repeatedly affirmed that she would endure it as long as God willed, as long as His will was done. During her final agony on Septemper 30, 1897, she said, "I would never have believed one could suffer so much...never! never! O Mother, I no longer believe in death for me...I believe in suffering! Tomorrow, it will be worse! Well, so much the better!" Her ability to accept everything out of her control as God's will for her and therefore her path to sanctity is truly her gift to the world.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Receiving and Giving

Our gospel takes us to Easter Sunday evening. It follows shortly after the gospel from last Sunday. In the morning, Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb and found it empty, so she went and got Peter and John. They found it empty, and they walked away in wonder. This story today is the evening of that same day, and it's the apostles' first encounter with the risen Lord.

So picture yourself in the scene. You've staked your life on Jesus, but just three days ago one of your own had betrayed Jesus and had him arrested. You all fled in fear. You thought he was Israel's messiah, yet all of Jerusalem had screamed for his death, and so his execution by the authorities had become a bloody spectacle. Did you have it wrong all along? Was Jesus just an imposter? That was three days ago, but now there's a rumor that his body has disappeared. You're scared and confused, and so now you're hiding, just in case they start coming after Jesus's friends.

And then, while you're hiding, Jesus just appears. As soon as you process that it's really him, what's going through your mind? In an instant, you'd recall every time he foretold his passion and you ignored him, you'd recall when you argued about who was the greatest instead instead of receiving his lesson on humility, you'd recall your constant doubt at his many miracles, you'd recall your cowardice of the last three days and how you abandoned him in his hour of need.

All of these memories happen in a moment, and instantly you brace yourself for the rebuke that you know is coming, maybe even being dismissed from the apostles, and then he opens his mouth. And he says words that seem impossible. After everything I've done, he says, "Peace be with you." Not, "Depart from me," not, "How could you be so weak," but, "Peace be with you."

Receiving Jesus's forgiveness, this complete and unqualified forgiveness, prepares them for what happens next: receiving the Holy Spirit and equipping them to forgive the sins of others. The Church has always seen in this passage the foundation of the sacrament of Confession. Jesus gives this specific power to forgive sins to his apostles. He doesn't tell them to go out and have all the world confess their sins to Jesus in their hearts, he specifically tells these his priests to share in his power to forgive sins. First these apostles, these priests, experienced and received Jesus's forgiveness for their own failings, then they received his very power to forgive sins in his name. They received this power not because they were awesome, but specifically because they were not awesome, and because they were really bad at their jobs. And priests have continued this tradition down to the present day.

And this applies to Thomas too, even though he wasn't with the apostles when this power was given, because the power was given to all priests for all time. Now, we always love Thomas, and we call him Doubting Thomas because of this incident. I, for one, hope for a better nickname after I die. But look at the lack of evidence he had in these apostles. They tell him Jesus is alive, they tell him that Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins, and yet a week later they haven't moved an inch. No one is being told the story. No sins are being forgiven. One week later, and they're still gathered in the upper room with the door locked. Thomas could rightly expect that if Jesus came back from the dead and appeared to his friends, that it would have changed their lives and they'd be out doing something about it. But a week later, and they're still scared and locked away.

So Jesus comes again, appears to them all again, and this time he shows them his wounds, the very proof of his love, and finally they started to get it. And then, we can presume that he gently kicked their butts out the door and told them to get to work. But before this episode, the way the apostles weren't living and using the grace they had been given was an obstacle for Thomas's belief. He couldn't believe in the Resurrection until he saw proof of it in the way the apostles lived.

And we have the same challenge. Each of us may truly believe in Jesus, each of us may truly believe that he's the only hope for the world, but as long as we keep it to ourselves, how is the world ever going to hear about it? How will the world ever come to believe in Jesus if not through us? Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed," and this only happens through witness. If we keep our faith to ourselves, if we fear that Jesus is not polite to talk about in mixed company, then how can the world ever come to know and believe in Jesus?

So we have to do two things. First, we have to let Jesus be the absolute center of our lives. We have to receive his forgiveness regularly just as the first apostles did. We have to know that we are loved and forgiven by him. This in itself should change our lives and our disposition. We want a relationship with Jesus where he's the center of our life not out of obligation, but out of pure joy. This is that personal relationship with Jesus that evangelicals talk about so much, but it was our idea first. And when we start to have that personal relationship, when he starts to occupy that center spot in our life, when he starts to actually make a difference in how we live and how we view the world, that leads to the second thing we have to do.

We have to share him with others. Jesus loves each and every person in this world. Your family and friends who you love: Jesus loves them more. As much as you may want them to have a personal relationship with Jesus, he wants that relationship even more, and he wants to use you to make it happen. So the second thing we have to do is witness to the difference he has made in our lives. Jesus will do the rest, Jesus will convert the world to himself, but first the world has to know who he is, and that falls to us. So our job is this: receive his forgiveness, let it change our lives, and then share that change with the world.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Faith in the Resurrection

It's an interesting gospel the Church gives us for this Easter Sunday, because here on the day of the Lord's Resurrection, we have a gospel that doesn't actually have Jesus in it. We have an empty tomb, but we have no Jesus (it turns out this is the gospel for every Easter Sunday, I'm just slow to catch up).

John the gospel writer does this deliberately. He wants to show us how different disciples slowly came to a belief in the Resurrection at different speeds. Despite what Jesus had told them repeatedly throughout his ministry, they still didn't get it. They didn't look at this empty tomb and exclaim, "He has risen!", no, they looked at the tomb, examined it closely, and just wondered. The beloved disciple may have gotten it, but Peter and Mary Magdalene, they just wondered.

The gospel gives us some clues and symbols to understand how the disciples were feeling. First off, it tells us that Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark. This darkness symbolizes her own desolation, since she had seen Jesus die on the cross three days prior. Immediately we see that she doesn't get it yet, she thinks the body has been stolen.

But then with Peter and John (beloved disciple=John) having this footrace to the tomb, the gospel writer though it was important enough to give us this race report about John being faster than Peter. Why? Again, this gospel is full of symbolism. Peter represents authority, but John, being called the beloved disciple, represents love. John was faithful through the Passion, he was the one standing next to mother Mary when Jesus said, "Behold your mother." So John's love propels him to the tomb first. But then he pauses. He doesn't enter the tomb. Even though his love propelled him to the tomb first, he yields to Peter's authority. He naturally understood that Peter should investigate first. John follows Peter in, and it says that John "saw and believed." The gospel doesn't tell us that Peter or Mary Magdalene quite believed yet, we'll see that happen in the next couple weeks. But John's exceptional love prepared him to believe when no one else quite could yet.

And the gospel goes to great pains to make us see even in this passage that Jesus has indeed risen, his body hasn't been stolen. By describing the burial cloths, the fact that they were still there and the fact that they seemed to be somewhat organized, tells us that this is not an act of theft, nor is it a resurrection like Lazarus, who came out of the tomb still tied in the burial cloths. Something completely unique happened here.

But again, most of the disciples come to faith in the Resurrection slowly. Over the next couple weeks, we'll see Jesus's initial encounters with his disciples unfold. With our twenty centuries of hindsight and reflection, it's easy for us to see Easter Morning bursting upon the disciples with some sort of magnificence, but the reality is that he rose in secret. No one saw it. And then at the first evidence of the Resurrection, they responded with still more doubt.

What does this say about the disciples? Quite simply, it means that they were human. If you and I stumble upon an empty grave, our first thought would still not be, "He rose from the dead and has destroyed death forever," even though we have seen it happen before. So with the apostles, who have never seen this new Resurrection, we can take hope in the slowness of their faith, because if Jesus could still love them, then he'll probably be patient with us as well.

Over the next couple of Sundays, were going to see Jesus actually meet his apostles and move them into a more solid belief in the Resurrection. Their belief wasn't solid on Easter morning. Nor was it totally solid on the evening of Easter Sunday, when Jesus's first appearances took place. Faith in the Resurrection was a lifelong process. In this empty tomb, this Resurrection, Jesus has offered them a new way of living. He showed them a life that doesn't actually end at the grave, and then he offered that life to them. And he offers that same life to us, a life that doesn't end at the grave, but stretches beyond it. For all of us, this very idea takes some getting used to. We have to consider faith in the Resurrection to be a lifelong process for each of us.

So once we have experienced the mystery and the glory of Easter Sunday, once we've experienced the empty tomb and the Risen Lord, we have to figure out how to let this event make a difference in our lives. And here's the trick for doing that, best I can figure out: we have to keep revisiting Easter Sunday. It is the most sublime and magnificent thing to ever happen to the human race, so we do ourselves a great disservice if tomorrow we act like it never happened.

So how do we revisit Easter Sunday? How do we revisit the empty tomb and the Risen Lord? We revisit and stay connected to these events first and foremost by staying connected to his Church. At the very least, this means going to mass not just on Easter Sunday, but also on the Sunday after that, and then the Sunday after that, all the way until the next Easter Sunday. If we do that, great! What next? The Resurrection is a radical event, and it requires a radical response. None of us are ever done in our growth in the Christian life. There's never a point where we can say our faith is, "good enough." Jesus is always calling us to new and deeper things. So where is Jesus inviting you, personally, to live more truly in his Resurrection? Is he calling you back to confession? (yes!) Is he calling you to pick up a Bible and learn about him and make your faith personal (yes!) Is he calling you to serve in the Church in some capacity or to serve his beloved poor? (yes!)

Do not leave here today without seriously confronting this question: How do I need to grow in my faith of the Resurrection? If Jesus really rose from the dead, then he really is God and I can't hold anything back from him. Growth in faith is a lifelong process, so it's always good to have before your eyes the specific thing you're trying to grow in. So ask Jesus today at this Mass how he wants you to grow and change. Ask him, and then with the grace from this Easter Sunday, make that change to grow closer to our Risen Lord.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

In any other year, March 25th would be the feast of the Annunciation. Nine months before Christmas, we celebrate the archangel Gabriel appearing to Mary and Mary saying yes to God's great invitation. This year, the feast of the Annunciation has been the first available day after the Easter octave, so it'll be celebrated on April 4th. This is a rare convergence of these dates: although it happened as recently as 2005, it won't happen again until 2157. The rare convergence of these dates can be a fruitful time to meditate on the beginning and end of Christ's life, and on Mary's role in it.

At the beginning, Mary gives us Jesus when she says, "Let it be done unto me according to your word," and at the end, Jesus gives us Mary when he says, "Behold your mother." Twice we see Mary say yes to something she cannot understand: yes to the Incarnation, and yes to his death. Twice we see Jesus humble himself, first by becoming man, and then again by giving up that manhood and undergoing death. When these two dates converged back in 1608, the poet John Donne wrote a poem in which he said, "Death and conception in mankind is one:/Or ‘twas in Him the same humility."

This should help to illustrate for us that everything Christ did was about humbling himself. In becoming a man, he humbled himself. In undergoing death, he humbled himself. The whole Paschal Mystery is about Christ humbling himself in order to experience our lowly and miserable condition, in order to be exalted on Easter and take us with him.

The humility of the Passion is expressed in many ways through the silence of Good Friday. The silence of this day has always been very powerful for me. We started this service in silence. This is a prayer service, not a mass: during this time when we wait with Christ at the tomb, the normal exultation of the Church ceases, and we wait in silence. We will depart in silence, and hopefully we've found some way to make this day special through silence.

The day is silent because the sinful world couldn't endure the just man. Throughout Jesus's trial with Pilate and Caiaphas, the silence of Jesus, although it leads to his death, is really more convicting of the loud, sinful world that condemned him. Jesus, the perfectly just one, sat silent in the face of the unjust accusations. "Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth." The philosopher Plato, who lived 400 years before Jesus did, once wrote about how the world would treat a perfectly just man if ever they met one. He said, "The just man will have to endure the lash, the rack, the chains, the branding iron in the eyes; and then, having endured every extremity of suffering, he will be crucified." Plato said this 400 years before Christ, because he recognized what would necessarily be the human fate of a truly just person.

But what Plato could not possibly see was the Resurrection. The silence and suffering of Jesus the just one leads to the grave, but then it leads to the Resurrection. Wait in silence with him. The Resurrection will come, but for now, just wait. Wait with Mary. Wait at the tomb. Soon a new and glorious day will dawn, but for now, we wait, we trust, in silence.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

St. Joseph

Today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Awesome (not an official title...yet). HERE'S my short homily for today's feast.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

See, I Am Doing Something New

This set of readings was my first homily three years ago. Huzzah! (I didn't actually say the word "huzzah" in a homily. That's for the internet congregation only). These are excellent readings for the end of Lent. Because at this point, hopefully, we've confronted our own sin and our own weakness, and now God says, "It's time to move on, I'm doing something new."

Let's look at the first reading: "Remember not the things of the past, I'm doing something new." And he even mentions good things from the past: how he led Israel through the sea, destroyed the armies of Egypt before them, but he says forget it all. I'm doing something new. A way in the desert. Rivers in wastelands. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it.

Now we start looking ahead, we don't look to the things of the past. It occurs to me that this gospel reading is really about looking ahead. So we have this woman caught in the middle of a very serious sin, with a very serious punishment attached to it. But the Pharisees, they don't care about her, they don't really even care about the punishment, all they care about is trapping Jesus. Because Jewish law said that if two people were caught committing adultery, both of them were to be put to death by stoning, but the man is nowhere to be found here, so clearly the authorities aren't interested in justice according the law. This woman is just a pawn that they're using to try to trap Jesus.

But Jesus refuses to play their game. Side note, scholars have never known what to make of Jesus writing in the dirt. Some suggest Old Testament references, others suggest he's ignoring the Pharisees. But no one really knows. For me, this points to the reality of the story. If Jesus was a myth, if someone was just making up the story to try to create a cult, then details like this don't help. You can imagine someone asking the apostles, "Yeah, but why did Jesus write in the dirt," and they have no profound answer. All they have is, "I dunno. He just did." Details like this that you can't explain don't help the story, and so the only reason they would be here was if it actually happened.

But back to this woman. This woman was in fact caught in a very serious sin. The line that she "was caught in the very act of committing adultery" leaves no question as to her guilt. And in her obvious guilt, she needed help, not condemnation. This woman is the same as each of us. Each of us have been this guilty of awful sins, and when that happens, we know that we need forgiveness, not condemnation.

And that's what Jesus offers her. He encourages her to look ahead, not to the past. But this last line is crucial. "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more." The famous line, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" is not the end of the story. If that were the end, we could all just go on sinning and no one could say anything about it because hey, you're a sinner too. But Jesus doesn't leave it there. Jesus suggests a new path, a new way in the desert of her life. "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore." It's like he's thinking of the line from the first reading, "Remember not the events of the past. See, I am doing something new." He wants this woman to experience something new, something completely different from her old sin.

And he wants us to experience something new as well. At the beginning of the homily I mentioned that we've confronted our own sin and weakness this Lent, and I use those two words to point to two different realities that Jesus wants to make new. Sin refers to the things I do wrong that keep me from God, but not all of our difficulties in the Christian life are limited to just sin. Many of us deal with weaknesses, you could also call them imperfections, that aren't sinful but they still get in the way. Things like depression and anxiety, while very real problems, are not sinful. And yet they can keep us from God. Even these things that are not sins, Jesus wants to take them and make something new out of them. He doesn't want to just leave you in your sin or your brokenness. No, he wants to take all this mess and do something new with it.

And what he wants to do with it is pattern it after his own life. That's what he did with St. Paul. Paul had great zeal for God's law, but it was misdirected in his zeal so that his zeal, his enthusiasm was actually leading him away from God, so God basically said to Paul, "See, I am doing something new here." And now, Paul's life has been so transformed that he can consider the loss of his old life as so much rubbish. Rubbish is a very clean euphemism for dung. That's what his old life is in comparison with what new things God has done. Jesus patterned Paul's life on himself. Paul is sharing in Christ's suffering by being conformed to his death, if somehow he may attain the resurrection from the dead. Everything we suffer in our own lives is a share in Christ's suffering, and every victory in our life is a share in Christ's resurrection. Through the regular rise and fall of our own lives, we share in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is the new thing that Jesus has done in the world. He has conformed our lives to be like his, because he lived a life like ours.

So next week is Palm Sunday, and then we rapidly approach the pinnacle event of human history, the death and resurrection of God. Conform your life to his. See in every suffering of yours a share in his death, and in every victory of yours a share in his resurrection. By patterning your life after Jesus's, he will make something new spring forth.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Getting Relationships Right

Elisha the Prophet
The way Jesus used Old Testament stories (which we saw in today's readings) to try to reach the hearts of his audience has always fascinated me. I preached [HERE] on how his Jewish audience had a wrong idea of God in their minds, and if you approach any relationship with a misconception of the other person, you're going to experience headache and heartache. That's exactly what the Jews were experiencing.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Jesus Through My Failures

How my cheeks feel
After having all four wisdom teeth out on Monday my mouth was still a bit sore, so I preached an abbreviated homily [HERE] this weekend. The Gospel and Collect suggested to me this theme of the importance of being lifted up by God, rather than by any merits of my own. Here's the Collect:
O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness,
who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness,
that we, who are bowed down by our conscience,
may always be lifted up by your mercy.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Persevere in your Lenten resolutions, but don't let your failures draw you away from Jesus!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Faith of Abraham

Every year in Lent, our readings for the first couple Sundays follow a pattern. On the first Sunday of Lent, we always hear about Jesus's temptation in the desert. And then, on the second Sunday, we always hear about the Transfiguration. This Transfiguration story is always coupled with a first reading about Abraham, demonstrating his faith. So together, the first couple Sundays of Lent always sum up what Lent is about: it's about going into the desert in order to increase our faith. It's about leaving the comfort of the world, entering into the desert, and coming out the other side with greater faith.

But faith is a tricky thing. How do we often treat faith? I fear we often treat faith as just ignoring the problem. You have cancer? Your kids are going off the rails? You're frightened about the direction of the world? Just have faith. That's what we so often tell people. And if this is faith, the danger is that it looks a whole lot like sticking your head in the sand. When confronted with that age old question, "Why does a good God allow suffering?", we often say, "Have faith," or, "It's a mystery," when we really mean, "Just ignore the problem."

But what Abraham learns and what Jesus's apostles learn in the sufferings that they are dealing with is that faith means dealing with this present reality head on. What's interesting about this Abraham story and this Transfiguration story is that they are moments of doubt or questioning, on the part of Abraham and on the part of the apostles. But God doesn't condemn them for their questions or reject their questions. He accepts the questions and doubles down on his promises.

Not a common scene in art, I had to resort to Legos
The first thing we notice when we turn to Abraham in our first reading, well, is that it's strange. With these animals split in two and fire pots and flaming torches, this is all just weird. So, context. At this point in Abraham's story, God has already called him out of his old land and he promised him countless descendants, a great land, and a great nation. Yet Abraham, still called Abram, doesn't even have a single child. So countless descendants, but still not a single child, and Abram is over 75 years old. Abram sees the obvious problem with this, so just a few verses before our reading today he gently tries to ask God about this. He didn't stick his head in the sand and ignore the obvious contradiction in God's promise, he tries to deal with it. So what does God do? He reaffirms his promise by comparing Abram's descendants to the number of the stars, but then he takes it one step further with this ceremony with the animals and the fire pot. It's a lot of ancient near east symbolism, but the basic meaning in this: God is saying, "May I be like these animals if I fail to keep my promise to you." And that's a big deal. God is entering into some sort of agreement with Abram where he treats Abram like an equal. Now obviously they're not equals, but God loves him enough to treat him that way.

And then in the gospel, just a few verses prior to today's Transfiguration, Jesus had prophesied about his coming suffering, death, and resurrection, and then he told them to take up their own crosses and follow him. And they weren't getting it. So Jesus takes a few of them up the mountain to witness this transfiguration as a way of bolstering their faith, to prepare them for the coming trials. Like with Abram, he doesn't condemn their weaknesses in the faith, but he doesn't excuse it either. He uses it as an opportunity to explain just how serious he is.

And what's interesting is that Jesus uses this Transfiguration as an incredible teaching moment. To the Jews, Moses represents the Law since God gave him the 10 Commandments, and Elijah represents the prophets. And that's basically the Old Testament: the law and the prophets. So Jesus is demonstrating that all of Jewish scripture points to him, that the Death he has prophesied will lead to a Resurrection, and that he is reliable in his promise. And Peter's response, "Let us build three tents," no, he didn't want to go camping. Peter was referencing the Jewish Feast of Booths, which was a feast where the people would go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and stay 7 days in tents to recall the flimsy dwellings they had during the desert wanderings. Peter was trying to give this Transfiguration a religious context.

What the apostles came to understand was that their faith wasn't so much in a thing or even a promise. It was in a person. Same thing with Abraham. We see is that Abraham's faith isn't in a thing, his faith is in a person. So Abraham can question what seems to be a contradiction in God's promises, not from a position of doubt, but from a position of curiosity that seeks understanding. There's a wonderful Latin phrase made popular by St. Anselm (bishop and scholar living in the late 1000's): Fides Quaerens Intellectum, Faith Seeking Understanding. That's what Abraham did, that's what Anselm did, and that's what we're called to do. This means that I first believe what God has revealed, and only then do I seek to understand it. This is how we approach any number of situations when we're seeking information. When you open up the newspaper, you have faith that the authors and editors have a message to convey, even if you don't believe they'll be honest, before you ever to seek to understand what their message is. With God we go a step further. We believe he has conveyed something, and we believe he is honest and good in that message, before we ever seek to understand it.

So, as opposed to some sort of pseudo faith that causes us to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the trials that surround us, Christian faith calls us to stare down the problem and believe anyway. When confronted with the sufferings of this world and of our own lives, we are not called to ignore the sufferings, but to deal with them head on. Whether it's poverty in the third world or our own private sin that continues to plague us, the world tells us that this is a sign that there is no loving God. But we also don't want to discount the role of the devil in this. The devil hates you, he hates the faith he sees in you, and he is more clever than you or I will ever be. He will twist things so that faith looks like the stupidest thing in the world, he'll make it look very reasonable and very attractive to abandon faith in God when the going gets tough.

But we know better, we know to deal with the trials of the world head on the way Abram dealt with his trials head on, and we just say, "How?" How, God, will your goodness shine through in this situation? How will your faithfulness shine through today? How will this Passion lead to a new Resurrection? If we end this Lent with a faith more ready to see the Resurrection present in every Passion, then it will be a successful Lent indeed.

Scalia Funeral

Yesterday, at the funeral for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I thought that the Catholic Church really put her best foot forward. Whoever watched or attended that funeral got to see beautiful liturgy with the politics absolutely removed. Fr. Paul Scalia, Justice Scalia's son, delivered a moving, unapologetic, Christ-centered homily. I highly recommend you listen to the homily, it starts at about 1:32:30. It's pretty common to greet the ecclesiastical dignitaries by name, which Fr. Scalia did, but I loved that he summed up the entire Supreme Court, the Vice President, numerous Senators and Congressmen, and presidential candidates with, "distinguished guests." This funeral wasn't about them, it was about Jesus, and that was made evident with the real money quote from the sermon:
We are gathered here because of one man -- a man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

The way we approach Lent in the social media age is...weird. I appreciate the efforts of the #ashtag phenomenon to draw more people into basic Christian concepts and make it less scary, but I can't bring myself to participate because it's a pun (shudder). But the Instagram and Facebook pictures of smiling people with black smudges on their foreheads is...weird. Not good. Not bad. Just...weird. We are strange people. In the Old Testament, ashes would be accompanied by sackcloth and weeping. But we are a redeemed people, so smiling as we confess our sins and our need for a Redeemer can't be entirely inappropriate.

But I think what I fear is that we often approach Lent with a New Year's Resolution or Fad Diet sort of mentality, and it looks like this: "Give up chocolate for forty days, dust off your Bible, and all the problems in your life and your walk with God will just disappear." This comes with exceptions of course: only give up chocolate when you want to and don't worry about it if it get's really hard, and don't actually ready the Bible, just take it off the shelf, put it on the table, and dust it off. Somehow, this is is supposed to make us saints or fix what's wrong in our lives.

But the Collect for Ash Wednesday really helps to highlight what this season is all about:
Grant, O Lord,that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
This season is about doing battle against evil, and self-restraint is our weapon. So we want to start taking seriously the distance, the depth of the chasm, between us and God. We have to start taking very seriously the sins that divide us from God. I can almost guarantee that chocolate isn't what divides you from God. Sin is. And so sin is what you need to do something about.

Sin is a tricky beast. For myself, I have to admit that the reason I sin is because I love my sin more than I love God. Now, I repent of it afterwards and I go to confession, but in the moment, yeah, I love the sin that I commit more than the God who offers the grace to overcome it.

So we need to approach Lent with the Cross and Resurrection in view. We're trying to do something, however pitiful, to bridge the gap between ourselves and God. Ultimately, we cannot bridge the gap on our own, but God rejoices in the slightest effort on our part and rushes into our lives to do the rest. Keep the Cross and Resurrection as the real focus this Lent and every season of your life, make some meaningful effort to eradicate sin, and God will rejoice to draw you to himself.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

God: Bigger Than Expected

Our gospel today is a direct continuation of last week's gospel. So think back to last week: Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, proclaimed a scripture passage that prophesied about himself, and then declared that, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing. " That's exactly where this gospel picks up today, with repeating that line. And today we get to see how this line played out.

Now, according to the other gospels, Jesus had already been traveling throughout the Galilee area where Nazareth is for some time before he came back to Nazareth. He had already been preaching and performing miracles, particularly in Capernaum, so word of him had reached Nazareth long before he got there. And the people are divided on how they feel about him. And the way this story sounds to me, it doesn't sound like some people like him and some don't, it sounds like the same people both like him and don't like him. The story says that "all spoke highly of him," and they also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?", which basically means that he's nothing special. They're human, and so they don't always make sense. Just like you and I, they can say yes and no at the same time.

So Jesus reads their hearts and says out loud what they're all thinking. They're thinking, "If you really can do these awesome things over in Capernaum, then surely your own people deserve the same thing." And Jesus says no. That's not the kind and welcoming Jesus we know, so what's going on here?

With what the people were saying, "Isn't the son of Joseph?", they were acting as if they knew him and as if, in knowing him, they could contain him. And it's this sentiment that Jesus says no to, this idea that God can be comprehended or limited.

Jesus demonstrates that the power of God is not predictable, that it can't be limited or controlled, by these two examples he mentions of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. These two stories are examples of times when God used a prophet of Israel to minister to people outside of Israel. And if you were outside of Israel, then you were outside of the covenant and outside of God's love, so these were difficult stories for the Israelites to reconcile with, when God showed love and mercy to those outside of the covenant. They were difficult stories for Israel to reconcile with, because they wanted to put the love of God into a box that they could understand. "God's love exists inside this box but not outside it." In a similar way, the folks in Nazareth wanted to claim some sort of understanding or control over Jesus when they said, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?"

But look at what happens when they realize that Jesus can't be controlled or limited, that he doesn't simply exist to do his bidding. At that point, they tried to kill him. They recognized this power, and they only saw two option. With this awesome power, which is really just God's love put into action, they wanted to either control and understand it, or they wanted to eliminate it. But to allow Jesus to be bigger than they could understand was something they just couldn't tolerate.

Now what this is, is a really dramatic example of something we all do pretty regularly, because the love of God us just as unpredictable and just as uncontrollable for as as it was for them. And we constantly try to fit God into a box, to try to understand God who is flawless love in terms of flawed human love. And that can lead us to decide, perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously, that God can't love that person, that person is outside of God's love, the same way that these folks that Elijah and Elisha were sent to were supposed to be outside of God's love.

Many of us make one of two errors. We think of God as this overly permissive guy who doesn't really care what you do, as long as you're happy and you don't judge, or we think of God as a strict authoritarian figure who is never actually pleased with our efforts. Neither one is actually God, because neither one is actually love. Love is somewhere in the middle. God's love makes demands, yet God's love is genuinely pleased by the efforts we make in this life.

God's love can't be contained or comprehended by our minds. As soon as we think we fully grasp or fully understand, we can be sure we've missed it entirely. So in order to not make the same mistakes as the townspeople in Nazareth, we have to be ready to trust a God who is way bigger and way cooler than we could possibly imagine. If we are only willing to accept a God we can understand, then we'll be amazed at his gracious words one minute and ready to hurl him down headlong the next. But if we accept God love which is both demanding and delightful at the same time, then that opens us up to that love working in our lives.

So ask God today what errors you've made in trying to understand his love and what new piece of his love he wants to show you today. Don't ask yourself, because you'll just come back and say, "none." Make an act of faith, an act of the will that says you're open to whatever new thing he wants to show you, and ask him what new piece of his love he wants to show you today. He won't disappoint.