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.