Homily for the Exaltation of the Cross, 2014

Nm 21:4b – 9 / PS 78: 1BC-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38 / Phil 2:6-11 / Jn 3:13-17

     The cross of Christ understandably became a place and an object of veneration for early Christians. In response to the Jewish revolt of 70 AD the Roman emperor Hadrian leveled the top of Calvary, erected a temple to the pagan goddess Venus on the site where the true God’s blood was spilled, and destroyed the hillside where Christ was buried, building a temple to the pagan god Jupiter on that site. Ironically, the emperor, in trying to destroy these sacred sites only preserved them. In the year 313 the Roman emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman empire and in the year 326 work began to destroy the temples made to Venus and Jupiter and the emperor himself ordered that the cross be found. In a short time three crosses and a wood plague inscribed with the words Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews was found on Calvary hill. In 327 Constantine’s mother Helena made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the intention of finding out which of the three crosses was the cross of Christ. Why did the emperor order this excavation and why did Helena make the difficult pilgrimage to Jerusalem herself?

     Obviously the first answer lies in the truth that the cross of Christ held the body and soaked in the blood of our Lord, the same body and blood we will receive today when we receive Holy Communion. I think Fulton Sheen summarized best the importance of this discovery and of today’s feast when he reportedly said “keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever.” Jesus transformed the cross, a symbol of death, into a symbol of life. It was by His cross that He redeemed the world.

     Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Whether you have realized it or not we have been preparing for this feast for the past three weeks. Three weeks ago, in the Gospel reading we were asked to profess with St. Peter our faith that Jesus is the Messiah. Two weeks ago we, having accepted Jesus as our Lord were challenged to follow Him to the cross, and last week we were asked to bring others with us to Calvary so that they may obtain eternal life. So here we stand today at the cross. But why do we celebrate this feast, after all we celebrate great moments in salvation history, not objects, we honor the lives of great saints, not a piece of wood, so why do we have today’s feast?

     As Christians we should exalt in the cross of Christ because it is the instrument of our salvation. In adoring the cross we adore Christ, the God-man who suffered and died on this Roman instrument of torture and in so doing won for us redemption from our sin. The cross is the symbolic summary of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Savior.

     The cross, because of what it represents, is a powerful symbol of the Christian faithful. It should inspire both our liturgical and private prayer and devotions. Placing a crucifix in our homes, or wearing it on our persons should be a constant reminder and witness of Christ’s ultimate triumph over sin and death through His suffering and death on the cross.

     Sadly today the cross is often reduced by some people in our society to some kind of good luck charm. Some athletes make a sign of the cross when getting a base hit or scoring a touchdown, other people wear the cross around their neck simply as a good luck charm without any devotion to the cross. The irony of this is the cross does not promise us worldly success: no it promises us something far greater, it promises us that Jesus will be with us through the most difficult of times. The whole meaning of the cross can be summarized with the truth that Jesus is with us.

     While many people look to the crucifix with the hope that they will not have to suffer, the crucifix shows us that God choose to suffer with us, and if our savior must suffer shouldn’t we as well? While this suffering is not always easy there is a beauty in suffering. Christ did the hard work, He opened up the gates of heaven for us and showed us the path to Calvary which will lead to eternal life, but we too must follow after him and must suffer. You see God loves us and true love does not force itself on anyone thus Christ invites us into that love on the Cross so that we may share that eternal love of heaven with him.

     Many people looked at Christ on the cross and saw failure, but we who know of the resurrection look to Christ hanging on the cross and see victory over death. Some Christian’s today look at the crucifix with distain, preferring only to use a cross because they see defeat in Christ hanging on the cross. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christ hanging on the cross is a moment of great rejoicing; it is through the complete emptying of Himself on the cross that we are able to gain eternal life. Let us look at the crucifix with a spirit of reverence, respect, adoration and thanksgiving and work to join ourselves to Christ on the cross so that we too may enter into eternal life.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Ezekiel 33:7-9 / PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 / Rom 13:8-10 / Mt 18:15-20

     This Sunday as we continue through Ordinary Time we continue to hear from the Gospel of Matthew, who has been teaching us how to be true disciples of Christ. Two weeks ago we were challenged to profess our faith in Christ as the Son of God, last week we were challenged to make that profession of faith a reality in our life by taking up our cross and following Jesus on the way to Calvary. This week, as we continue to follow after the Son of Man on our way to Calvary we are challenged to bring others with us to the cross so that they too might rise to eternal life.

     In last week’s Gospel we heard Jesus warn us “what profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”[1] In that warning Jesus reminds us that the greatest good is not from this world, it is the gift of eternal life. As we follow Christ on our way to Calvary we are reminded the Jesus has done the hard work, He has opened the gates to heaven and has invited us in and only sin can keep us out.

     Our greatest and only obstacle to eternal life is sin thus we must be ready to resist sin in our life and to assist our brothers and sisters in resisting sin in their lives. St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that the whole Christian life can be summarized by the command to love our neighbor as yourself. To love our neighbor means nothing more than to wish the good for him, for his own sake. What is ultimately best for us and our neighbor is to enter into eternal life so the entire Christian moral life can be summarized by desiring salvation for our neighbor and ourselves.

     Today Jesus teaches us that if we want to help our brothers and sisters carry their cross to Calvary we must warn them if they have gone astray due to sin. We must do our best to leave no man behind on the journey to Calvary. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us “if you do not speak to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”[2] The warning of the prophet is clear: we will be responsible if we fail to call to task a brother or sister who has strayed to task. There are times in life where we must admonish the sinner because his salvation is in jeopardy and to not admonish him would be to not love him since to love him means to desire eternal life for him. If you saw your baby brother running around a busy street would you not do what you could to warn him of the dangers? Why then wouldn’t we warn our bother or sister when they are risking their eternal life by living in sin?

     In this call to love our neighbor as ourselves we must have a deep compassion and a great concern for the salvation of others. Yet even when done in the proper spirit, calling out a brother or sister is not easy because no one likes to have our sins or faults pointed out.

     Sadly in our society today the reality of sin is not as obvious as it used to be. We live in a culture that cries for the necessity of tolerance. The only sin our world seems to recognize is the failure of someone to be tolerant of someone’s lifestyle choice. Our world tells us that to truly love someone we must be loving and accepting of everything they do. Our culture, while trying to tell us to love everyone has a completely wrong understanding of love for love does not equal tolerance, it equals willing the best for another.

     This false understanding of love in our culture leads to the belief that we should not judge. Certainly as Christians we are called not to judge another, but we judge things all the time. When you drove to Mass today did you not have to make a judgment about whether it was safe or not to make a turn? In fact the decision not to judge is a judgment in itself. Regardless of our beliefs we must make judgments about actions all the time. We do not judge the person, but rather we judge their actions in an attempt to assist them on the path to Calvary. As the old adage goes we love the sinner but hate the sin. With this adage in mind we must always be careful that when we warn someone about sin in their life we do it in a spirit of charity with the recognition that we are all sinners. The warning must come from a place that recognizes we warn them because we love them and want them to enjoy eternal life, and not from a place of vengeance or attempt to judge them.

     The path to Calvary and ultimately to eternal life is not easy, but that is why Jesus left us His Church. Jesus left us the Church to watch over us but He also left us each other. We must leave no man behind, doing all in our power to bring our brothers and sisters to eternal life.

[1] Mt 16:26

[2] EZ 33:8

The Essential Link Between Adoration and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: A Brief Reflection.

A Brief Reflection on Mt 26:36-46 for Eucharistic Adoration

Presented to the Young Adults of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

     Immediately before our Lord was handed over to endure His passion, He asked His closest apostles to keep watch with Him. Having already received Jesus’ body and blood, at the Last Supper our Lord invited Peter, James and John to spend one hour with Him, to make the first Holy Hour. While the devotion of Eucharistic adoration did not develop to the way we know it today until the Middle Ages,[1] Jesus Himself teaches us the importance of Adoration. Tragically at times a tension has arisen between Eucharistic Adoration and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At times some people have tried to pit Eucharistic Adoration against the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,[2] while while at other times Adoration has been proposed as a substitute for the Mass.[3]

     Cardinal Ratzinger, in his 1980 homily for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, warned against these two extremes and drew a middle ground by remarking “only within the breathing space of adoration can the Eucharistic Celebration, indeed be alive.”[4] Cardinal Ratzinger explains that Communion and Adoration are intimately connected. Without the fruitful reception of Holy Communion, Adoration makes no sense and with Adoration the reception of Holy Communion is a impersonal act. He says, “adoration is simply the personal aspect of Communion.”[5] Adoration is essential if we want to fall in love with Christ because “love carries within it an impulse of reverence, of adoration.”[6] Thus those of us who want to have a personal relationship with our Lord must follow the example of the apostles, we must participate in His sacrifice on Calvary by participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and we must “gaze on Him, allow Him to gaze on us, listen to Him and get to know Him”[7] in Eucharistic adoration.

[1] Certainly the Church from her earliest days hand an understanding of Eucharistic adoration, reserving the Eucharist in tabernacles for the sick, but it was not until the Middle Ages that Eucharistic adoration became a popular devotion.

[2] I am thinking here of times when Eucharistic adoration was considered “cookie worship” and a waste of time.

[3] I am thinking here of times in the middle ages when the faithful saw adoration as their participation in the Mass.

[4] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. “The Immediacy of the Presence of the Lord.” In God is Near Us, The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, ed. Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzez Pfnur. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003) 96.

[5] Ratzinger “The Immediacy of the Presence of the Lord” 97.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Jer 20, 7-9 / PS 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 / Rom 12:1-12 / Mt 16:21-27

     My grandparents deeply believed in the American dream. They believed that if they worked hard they could make a better life for themselves and their family for generations to come. I remember one of my last conversations with my grandmother before she passed away. I was in a car with her, my dad and my brother, and she repeatedly asked us, a symptom of her dementia, what we wanted to be when we grew up and then went on to tell us we could be anything we wanted to be.

     Now my grandmother meant well and my parents did work hard to put us in a position to succeed. By my senior of high school I had worked hard and put myself in a position to attend a great university and do what I wanted with my life. It was just at that moment when I thought I had my life in the place I wanted it to be that I had my Peter moment and realized that while the American dream is alive and well if we take it too far there is a lie beneath it that can lead to destruction.

     For some reason, in His Divine Providence, God decided to use that moment when I thought I had my life planned out to put the thought of priesthood on my heart and like Peter, in today’s Gospel, I said to the Lord “ no that can’t be right, I already have another plan.” As the Lord continued to tug at my heart to be a priest I found myself in a crisis of faith; I laid awake at night asking myself the same question Jesus asked each and every one of us in last Sunday’s Gospel “who do you say that I am?”[1] I wrestled with my belief in Christ and the Catholic faith for a while both in prayer, asking God to give me a greater gift of faith and through study, coming to understand our faith, and by the grace of God I was finally able to say, like St. Peter, with my whole being “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[2] No sooner had I made that profession of faith then the blinders fell from my eyes and the message of today’s Gospel that I must take up my cross and follow after Christ[3] became clear.

     Today’s Gospel definitively shows us that Christ knew the plan; He knew that He would freely consent to die the horrific death of the crucifixion for you and I. It was this revelation that helped me see who Christ truly was and made it possible for me to make my profession of faith. Coming to realize that Jesus came to freely die and rise from the dead greatly helped me assent to he faith. You see while there have been many religious leaders and thinkers who have promoted different ways of life and like our Lord died, unlike our Lord their bodies stayed dead. I don’t know about you, but I would rather follow Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. If only it was so easy. Certainly following of Christ sounds easy, but we all know it can be hard. It is hard because following Jesus requires just that following. In today’s Gospel Peter tries to be the to take on the role of Christ the teacher by telling Jesus He will not die, but Jesus puts him in his place as the disciple and reminds Peter and all of us that if we want to rise with Christ we must go to the cross with Him. If we want to enter eternal life perhaps it is time for a little Chinese fire drill allowing God to take the driver seat.

     We live in an exciting but dangers country. We live in a country where it seems possible for us to earn the whole world for ourselves, but in so doing we risk loosing eternal life. Last week’s Gospel challenged us to accept the Lord for who He truly is, the God-man who in a pure act of love suffered His horrific death and rose to bring us to eternal life. If we truly believe Jesus to be who He claims to be how can we not follow after Him. This week we are challenged to take the next logical step in the profession we made last week and follow after Him. How will we go forth today, having received the graces of this Mass, and focus on truly following after Him who is the way the truth and the life.[4] Perhaps this week we may need to fall to our knees asking for greater faith, perhaps this week we need to begin to study our faith by perhaps coming to a bible study or other faith formation program. Maybe we need to do some reordering in our lives so we can allow Jesus to lead and allow ourselves to become the disciples. Wherever we may be our Lord invites us this week to come and follow Him to the cross so that we might rise with Him.

[1] Mt16:15

[2] Mt 16:16

[3] Mt 16:25

[4] Jn 14:6

Crisis of Identity

     I don’t know about you but it seems to me that today more and more our world is quickly going to shambles. In our country nearly 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce (and that number shoots to 67% for the second and 73% for the third.)[1] 16,799 people were murdered in our country last year and over 8% of the labor force in our country is out of work. Yet even as our world seems to be falling apart around us we continue to put on a fake smile and go on with life pretending that everything is going just fine. Well IT IS NOT FINE. WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

     People pretend things are okay in our society in an attempt to numb the pain from the disaster that is our world. Last year America spent more than 10 billion dollars on cosmetic procedures and the porn industry rose to almost a 14 billion dollar a year industry all over 39,000 people committed suicide in our country.[2] People are turning anywhere they can to try to find happiness, often turning to passing pleasures like pornography and cosmetic procedures to numb our pain and as we see by the huge amount of people committing suicide the method of the world has proven a failure.

     Last year a high school student asked me if I had ever seen the show Dr. 90210. I don’t know if any of you have seen it but I logged onto Netflix, started watching, and was appalled to watch woman after woman come into the doctors and request breast augmentation and tummy tucks all because they felt it would give them self confidence and self worth. You, and I like those patients on Dr. 90210 and like all people are seeking a deep peace and joy. Before we can find this peace we must know who we are, what our identity is. I believe this is the heart of the problem. WE HAVE AN IDENTITY CRISIS. We place are identity in passing things because we don’t actually know what our identity is.

Let me pose the question to you. What is your identity?

     We often place our identity in all the wrong places. In fact we often place our identity in places we don’t even realize we are placing it. When we say we need the perfect model body we place our identity in our bodies. When we say we must become the CEO or get all A’s on every exam we take or make millions of dollars we are placing our identity in our success. (Now don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with working hard to get straight A’s or to become the CEO or to work out to have a healthy body but when that becomes our purpose in life we have lost our identity.) When we place our identity in these things we are trying to create our identity; after all it is the American way. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps; if we want something bad enough and are willing to work hard enough for it we can have it because after all we are Americans. The reality is this American dream is a lie. We don’t create our identity rather we receive it as a gift from God and are called to embrace it realizing God knows us even better than we do and only wants what is best for us.

     I have found one of the easiest and most eye opening ways to see that you and I cannot create our identity is to go to the beginning and end of our life. If we look at the beginning and end of our life from a purely secular view we would say we came from just a set of particles and return to a set of particle. If this is true that we are just some composition of matter that happens to be formed together by chance then we should put our identity in ourselves because after all that is all there is. But now if we look at the beginning and end of our life through our Christian lenses we see that we come from God who created us and are returning to Him. If we stop and recall that our life is a pilgrimage coming from God and returning to Him we realize that our true identity can only come from God.

     You and I were created out of love by God. We are not accidents. God wills for us to be here and it is in this supreme love of God that you and I will find our true identity. At our baptism we were called into the body of Christ. We are claimed for Christ. We have become heirs to the kingdom of God. We are not servants but rather children of God.

     At Jesus’ baptism the heavens opened and Jesus said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Likewise God the Father looks down on us and says “This is my beloved son or daughter with who I am well pleased.” My brothers and sisters we are beloved sons and daughters of God the Father. THIS IS OUR TRUE IDENTITY. It is in this and only in this supreme love of God that you and I will find true peace and joy, that we find who we really are, our identity.

     When I first realized I was a beloved son I knew it was true but did not know how to accept it. My mind was clearly aware that God called me to be His son but my heart was not in a place to receive that gift. Our world is so messed up we have forgotten how to receive. We live in the American Dream “if you want something go get it.” We don’t live in a world where receiving things is looked upon too favorable. Yet we cannot go and get our identity. It is freely given to us by God the Father, we need to accept it rather than earn it.

     This is the crisis of our world. We all want to feel the love but we think we have to go out and earn it. So we go out and we try to buy it in all kinds of ways, but the truth is it is already given to us by the Father we just have to stop doing and receive. We can try all we want to create that love but it will only be a passing love. Pope Benedict said it best when he said “Love finds its guarantee ultimately only in him who is essentially love: he who not only has love but is love.”[3] My friends only He who is love can satisfy our deepest yearnings for love and He who is love is reaching out for us and wants us to simply grab a hold of him. When we go out and try to create that peace we become workaholics, or addicts to drugs and sex, or worse we end up committing suicide and if we are spared these we become cynical or just deep down unhappy because we can never find that true peace unless we are willing to receive it from the Father.

     Many of us desire to live our life as a beloved son or daughter of the Father but don’t know how or if we don’t have the desire we would if only we understood what it means to be a beloved son or daughter. In many ways being that beloved son or daughter is like ridding in the car with God. I don’t know if you have a really close relationship with your father or if you have very close friends but if you do you may have had an experience where just being with someone is enough.

     You and I need to be with God everywhere we go. The silence at first may be odd but our Father loves us so much and all He wants is to be in that car with us. To see this we need look no further than the crucifix. When I look at Christ hanging there and imagine the torments he went through for me I cannot help but feel loved. To look at Christ suffering and realize the Father sent His Son, Christ to this earth to suffer that horrific death for me immediately puts into perspective how much the Father loves me. Once I have entered into that realization of love I immediately desire to thank the Father for that gift. If God was willing to send His only Son into the world to die for me what else would He not provide for me that I need?

     After coming to a realization of His great love for me I desire to enter into a relationship with Him. Just contemplating Christ’s death on the cross draws me into the desire to be in the closest relationship I can be with the Father, that of the son He calls me to be. I cannot think of a deeper connection then that between a father or mother and a son or daughter.

     If you are anything like me you are at the point where you want God to ride in the car with you but you want to drive the car. In everyday life I don’t like to be the passenger. When I go out with my friends I always want to drive because I like to have the control. Just as I like to drive when I am with my friends I like to drive the car I like to drive the car in my relationship with God. I like to have God besides me so He can protect me, give me gifts and so I can turn the wheel over to Him when the storms come or when the road gets rough. What is wrong with this picture? Well what am I doing driving the car when God who is perfect and thus is the better driver is sitting right beside me.  When you and I agree to get in the car with the Father we have taken the first step but we soon recognize that we are driving and if we ever recognize this, we need a Chinese fire drill. We need to get out and give the wheel over to the Father.

     All of us need to learn and be reminded of what the bible makes very clear. “Without me you can do nothing.”[4] While it is hard for us to imagine it is true without God you and I can do nothing. We are so small that if God simply ceased to think about us for a second we would cease to exist. When we step back to look at our world we realize we are only a spec in this vast universe. This image of us as a spec in the universe reminds us just how helpless we are without God and how much he loves us to allow us to achieve all that we do. If we realize that without God, who loves us more than we can imagine, we can do nothing, allowing ourselves to be in the passenger seat is easy. The problem is we often don’t realize the necessity of God and believe we can do it ourselves.

     Often you and I surrender only when things get difficult. God wants more. God wants us to surrender everything to His will the good, the bad, and the in between. This is not easy because we have an interior desire to do things ourselves, to live that American dream. But that American dream is a lie.

     Even after seeing how God has worked wonders in my life I still frequently put confidence in myself. I think one of the reasons for this is because I don’t want to be let down and I know others can let us down. It is part of the human condition that human beings let us down, but just as others let us down, we are also humans and let ourselves down, so why not put your confidence in the Father who is perfect who cannot let you down. It may not be the outcome that you envisioned but since He loves us unconditionally He cannot let us down if we just surrender to Him. If you are anything like me it is only easy to let God drive that car when things look dreadful. Friends, God is like a river that wishes to take us down the river to heaven guiding us along the way. Unfortunately we often remain like the little child who is standing on the banks too scared to jump in. WE NEED TO JUMP INTO THE RIVER AND LET THE FATHER TAKE US.

     Jumping in to the river or letting the Father drive the car is not easy. If we are going to enter into a relationship with the Father we have to take time daily to spend with Him. The highlight of my day comes first thing in the morning. I wake up early and get to the chapel to spend an hour with God and then follow that hour with mass. It is in this hour of prayer that I find the greatest peace. I find that peace amidst often a very crazy schedule not because of anything I am doing but rather because I am coming to my father who looks at me and says I This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Sure I don’t always feel like going to the chapel and at times it is not all calm in my time of prayer but I know the Father is their constantly loving me and I need to spend time returning that love. Now it is not enough to spend time with him in the morning and forget about Him throughout the day. No I constantly must take small moments and at the very minimum recognize him at work in my life. Now everyone must appropriate prayer into their life in a way that suites their life style. To beginners I say pray as you can, not as you can’t. Do not be afraid to go to your priest and ask to meet with him. He will be happy to guide you in your life of prayer.

     I know you will find that as you spend more and more time in prayer you will find yourself falling more and more in love with the God. As we begin to fall more and more in love with God our identity as His son or daughter becomes more and more real. As we continue to see ourselves as the beloved son or daughter our outlook on life changes. As we begin to fully integrate that identity in our lives our life changes forever. We begin to get out of the driver seat and allow the Father to drive. We live our lives recognizing that the Father, who loves us as his son is at work in our lives and provided that we are cooperating with that grace at work in us we can be sure we are doing the will of the Father.

     When we see ourselves all the time as beloved Sons of the Father we will begin to experience an interior peace. Even when we are mad, upset or bad things happen to us we turn to the Father and not to passing pleasures. We will desire to run to our Father with our pains and sorrows rather than to pornography, cosmetic surgery or whatever your vice is. When presented with the temptation to sin we will not give into the sin nor will we run from it as though we are running from the wrath of God, but rather we will desire to avoid the evil because it hurts our Father. This does not mean that I always succeed in realizing my identity. Like you I often fall into sin. But when I finally re-realize my identity as a son of the Father I run back to the Father and am received just as the younger son in the prodigal son ran back to his Father and was welcomed back with open arms.

     Friends we have enough problems in this world, we don’t need to add to them. If we are to be the light to the nations that will bring change in our society we must let the light of Christ shine through us because our own self-created light is not strong enough. If we are going to change the world we need to start with ourselves. We need to live out our identity as beloved sons and daughters of the Father. When we live out that identity we will radiate God’s love and the world will be attracted to us and then the world will be change.

     Realizing and living out our lives as daughters and sons of the Father will affect more people than just us. How can you love your spouse if you first have not experienced love? How can you be a loving mother or father to your son or daughter if you first have not experienced what it is to be a beloved son or daughter of the Father? It is only when we realize that we are sons and daughters that we see each other as brothers and sisters and then and only then can we treat others with the respect they need. I bet if everyone saw themselves as a beloved son or daughter of God and thus brothers and sisters with each other it would be hard to rape the other, it would be hard to look at a man or woman with lust and we would do what we could for the betterment of the other. See the effect an understanding of our identity can have?

[1] http://www.divorcestatistics.org

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm

[3] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Theological Highlights of Vatican II.  New York: Paulist Press (1966) pg 235.

[4] Jn 15:5

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

IS 56: 1,6-7 / PS 67,2-3, 5, 6, 8 / Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 / MT 15: 21-28

     Like all of you I have been greatly disturbed seeing the images of our Christian brothers and sisters being murdered for their faith in the Middle East. While the images are chilling I find myself inspired by their heroic actions. Anytime someone is killed for their faith it is a horrific injustice, but amidst the injustice we are invited to learn and be inspired by their witness. Our persecuted brothers and sisters are daily making a bold statement; they are saying their faith, their love of Jesus Christ, is the most important thing in their life. Their faith is their pearl of great price for which they are willing to sell everything, including their life, to obtain it.

     I pray that the witness of our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East resonates with each and every one of us. I pray that their suffering brings us into a deeper relationship with our Lord. Rather than sit here and question our faith asking why God would allow such atrocities to occur I pray we take a moment to look at our faith and ask ourselves if we have gotten into the bad habit of seeing God as the “slot machine God.” Have we begun to believe the lie, that our faith is simply demanding and expecting that God will bend to our will, that somehow I put a coin into the slot and receive a pay out?

     In today’s Gospel Jesus encounters a woman who is seeking after faith. The Canaanite woman shows us that faith requires perseverance. Three different times in today’s Gospel the Canaanite woman was turned away by Jesus and it would have been very easy for her to simply walk away, but she stays with our Lord and begs for even the scraps of the table. The Canaanite woman knows Jesus can transform here. She knows Jesus alone will satisfy her deepest desires and so she continues to go back to Jesus. She shows us faith requires work.

     Pope Benedict, long before he was pope, summarized the need for true faith best when he said “we will know God to the extent that we give Him room to be present in us.”[1] If we want to have faith, which Pope Benedict says is “first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus,”[2] we must give Him room to be present in us. Often however we don’t give God that room, rather we interpret His apparent silence as Him being distant from us and we turn to other people or things in an attempt to break through the silence of God. We either turn to resenting God or we try to punish God by giving into destructive addictions.

     While I know encountering silence in our prayer can make us nervous, is silence really such a bad thing after all? Last spring I was flying to New York City to visit a high school and my dad was kind enough to take me to the airport. We had a discussion for a while and then things went silent in the car and that was just fine, my father and I have a very good relationship and I was very comfortable being in the same place with him in silence. There was just something enjoyable about sitting in silence with my dad. Fast forward to arriving in NY where someone who I didn’t know picked me up and after exchanging pleasantries the car went silent, and it was really awkward. What was the difference between those two car rides. While they both had some talking and then silence, I was comfortable with my dad because of the relationship we have. The same is true with God. Shouldn’t we who know that God loves us and wants a deep personal relationship with us be comfortable just sitting in silence with the Lord?

     A silent God does not mean a distant God. Simply because God does not appear to answer our prayers does not mean our faith is weak, or we haven’t put enough money in the slot machine yet to receive the payout, but rather just as with the Canaanite woman He is working in the midst of that silence to strengthen our faith. For I know that a silent God purifies and strengthens our faith.

     The Canaanite woman challenges each and every one of us to deepen our faith. We are challenged to grow from seeing our faith as simply a slot machine to see it as it truly is a relationship with Jesus. If God feels distant we should be like the Canaanite woman and be persistent in asking for greater faith. Even when God seems silent we should enjoy the car ride in silence with God. As we approach the altar to receive Lord let us surrender ourselves and offer our entire lives over to Him. Let us invite the Lord to deepen our relationship with Him so that in complete faith and trust we can say Thy will be done.

[1] Dogma and Preaching pg 325.

[2] Church Fathers and Teachers pg 160

Response to Incident in Ferguson

Protesters gesture as they stand in a street in defiance of a midnight curfew in Ferguson        Like all of you I do not know what happened at that scene but as I have seen the events unfold I am reminded of just how precious life is. I am reminded with the great theologian Garrigou-LeGrange, that “pain invites us to have recourse to Him who alone can restore peace and give Himself to us.”[1] I do not know what happened but I do know life is precious and regardless of what happened I am deeply sadden to see the violent response of a few people and I ask you to join me in praying firstly for peace, for Michael Brown and his family, for Officer Wilson and his family, for the City of Ferguson and our entire community and I ask you to join me in entrusting Ferguson and all those involved in this case to Our Blessed Mother with the sure and certain hope that peace and justice may once again come to our community.

[1] Garrigou-LeGrange, Reginald O.P. Everlasting Life. Rockford: Tan Publishing.(1952). Pg. 31.