Baptism of the Lord 2016

     Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but to say I’m not the biggest fan of current pop music, would be an understatement. Yet unfortunately for me, pop music is so ingrained in our culture it is simply impossible to avoid it.  No matter how hard I try, it is impossible to avoid Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. Since I can’t run away from today’s greatest hits, I’ve found myself wondering what it is about today’s pop artists that brings young people to tears and the edge of hysteria.  Listening to their lyrics I have come to realize that almost all of them revolve around love.  These modern songs touch so many of us so deeply because they tap into a deep longing inside each and every one of us that wants to love and wants to be loved. The irony is these songs only tell us about a view of love, while doing absolutely nothing to actually satisfy that inner desire, but the good news is there are no lonely girls and every human person has his or her own love story.

     While I really don’t like sappy love stories in today’s gospel we hear the greatest love story ever sung, a love song that I could sit and listen to all day. After Jesus was baptized the heavens opened and the Father proclaimed “you are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” My friends, that same statement was made about each of us at our baptism. At our baptism original sin was washed from our souls and we were adopted as sons and daughters of God. In descending into the waters of baptism, you and I died to our old selves and were reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, into the love of the Father.

     Today as we recall the baptism of our Lord we are challenged to ask ourselves how do we relate to God.  Do we truly believe that we are beloved sons and daughters of God? Can we humble ourselves to recognize that Him who made us also loves us and is calling us into a loving relationship with Him? Sadly while many of us can come to recognize the love of God on an academic or a mental level very few of us are able to get that head knowledge to our heart.

     If you are anything like me we can find ourselves at times feeling like we need to earn God’s love. We become afraid that He might decide He doesn’t really love us any more, or that we might do something to lose his love. Sure we may know in our minds about God’s unconditional love of us, but for various reasons it doesn’t make it down to our hearts. We know that God love us unconditionally and even when we reject His love through sin, He is waiting with open arms to welcome us back, yet for various reasons their seems to be a disconnect between what we experience in our hearts and what we know in our minds

     Perhaps this disconnect is because of what we experience in our world. Sadly we live in a world of imperfect love, a world where love so often becomes cold. A world where love often comes with strings attached. Yet conditional love is something that we as human people inflect on each other, but it is foreign to God. While you and I don’t deserve the Father’s love, it is freely given to us. In fact there is nothing in the world that we could ever do to deserve the love of God. Think about it. Is there really anything that we as mere mortals can do that can in anyway impress Him who created us. Yet how often do we interact with God as if it were up to us and our actions to make Him love us? How often do we go through our lives believing that we have to convince God to send love our way.

     Friends today’s feast challenges us to see our relationship with God in a new way. How differently would our lives be if we truly believed that God loves us unconditionally? How would it change our outlook on life? Would it embolden to live out our faith, knowing that we always have God at our side to walk this life with us? How different would our lives be if we truly believed that we could not lose the love and approval of God, regardless of our success and failures? How differently would we treat other people, if we realize that the one who is madly in love with you is also loving everyone is the same way?

     Whether we recognize it or not, we are alive because God loves us, thinks of us, and will that we move around. Every moment of every day He is thinking of each of us specifically, He is smiling and crying and feeling everything we do. There is nothing we could have done to earn this type of love, yet God came into this world as a little baby and dying for us on the cross, showing his love for as, after all “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[1]

     My friends we can search everywhere in this world for the inner desire to love and be loved, but until we are willing to surrender and let God love us with His unconditional love we are only going to feel the momentary satisfaction of today’s pop hits.  As we close out this Christmas season, I invite you to join me in making a resolution, to get out of the way allow that child we discovered in the manger on Christmas to love you like He wants and then to share that love with the rest of the world.

[1] Jn 15:13

Feast of the Epiphany 2015

     I have always been very intrigued by the magi. Why would these rich people in the east leave the comfort of their home to follow a star? What was it that prompted them to take such a dangerous journey? While they were not Jewish and perhaps they were not religious people all, they were searching for the truth, which ultimately lead them into an encounter with Him who is Truth itself, Jesus.

     These wise men were not satisfied with superficial answers, no they truly wanted to discover answers to life’s deepest and most challenging questions. They were men of courage and humility. We should admire their humility to seek the truth over the pleasures of this world and their humility to submit to Him who is the truth when they discovered Him. We should also admire the courage they needed to set out to follow after a star, to set out on a journey into the unknown, even if other people thought they were crazy for searching after a star.

     Today the Church holds up the magi for our admiration and imitation. She calls us to become magi by becoming men and women of courage and humility. She invites us to set out on the quest of faith to discover Him who is the truth. During Advent we were reminded that God would come to us and on Christmas He came as promised and now with this feast of the Epiphany we are invited to seek out the God who has come to us.

     The wise men are truly models for our time. Today we seem to live in a world that puts too much emphasis on our own thoughts, feelings and desires and seems to forget about the truth. I don’t know about you, but I personally want to rise above my own thoughts, feelings and desires, which are prone to mistakes, to live in conformity with the truth. Like the wise men, I want that courage to set out on the journey of faith with the humility to accept where the truth leads me, trusting that the truth will lead to a life of peace and joy.

     As we start out on this journey of faith we are invited to look to the Church as our star. While there have certainly been many great thinkers and founders of religions none of them hold up against the Catholic Church, which was founded by Jesus, who being both God and man, died and rose, while all other founders of religions and great thinkers were merely men and woman who died and remained dead. I don’t know about you, but I would rather place my faith in Jesus who proved himself by rising from the dead.

      Now our Church does not advocate a blind faith. No God gave us our minds to comprehend Him and so we are encouraged to use of our mind, after all “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”[1] Since both faith and reason come from God, they have the same starting point, they cannot contradict each other.

     While our minds can help us comprehend the answer’s to life’s deepest questions, it is also prone to make mistakes. When we find ourselves disagreeing with the Catholic Church, I think we need to ask ourselves two simple questions: namely what and why. I think first we need to find out what the Church actually teaches. Sadly, today there is allot of misinformation out there and so it can be easy to have a mistaken notions of what the Church actually teaches and often we can find ourselves disagreeing with what we think the Church teaches and not what she really teaches or if we do know what she teaches, we often disagree because we don’t know why she teaches what she teaches.

     I think we also have to ask ourselves why we disagree with the Church. Often we can be tempted to disagree with the teachings of the Church because we feel a certain way. While our feelings are important we shouldn’t base life decisions on a feeling. I can feel like only eating pizza every meal, but that doesn’t make it the healthiest choice for me. I can feel like I’m going to win the lottery but that doesn’t mean I’m going to win. Or I can feel that it is ok to go out in the street and kill someone, but it would still be wrong. Often times when we disagree with the Church we feel passionately about our reason, but does that really make it true? I can passionately believe I can fly but when I jump out of an airplane without a parachute guess what happens? I passionately die! I don’t know about you, but I want the courage and humility of the magi to come and experience Him, not some notion of whom I think He should be.

     My friends, the magi saw that shining star and desired to pursue the truth and so were lead to a deep and personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Herod and his wise men were given the same invitation but feared surrendering their wills to the truth and thus missed the opportunity to have that life changing relationship with Jesus. Just as the star in the sky, invited the magi to seek after Him, who is the way to truth and the life, so too, our Church is that star beckoning us to come and find the little child in the manger. That child in the manger has something He wants to tell each and every one of us. Are we willing to be seekers and journey with the magi to find the Truth, which will ultimately lead to peace and joy?

[1] Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on the relationship between faith and reason Fides et Ratio. 14 September 1998. Preamble.

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God 2016

     Today, as the world celebrates a new year, we as Catholics pause to remember the Mother of Him who created time and space. While often non-Catholics accuse our Marian Piety of being an attempt to worship the Blessed Virgin, the reality is this feast worships only our Lord while honoring her who brought our savior into the world.  After all “Mary is one of the human beings who in an altogether special way belong to the name of God, so much so, in fact, that we cannot praise him rightly if we leave her out of the account.”[1] From the earliest times the Blessed Virgin has been honored under the title of Mother of God, because in honoring her under her proper title, we honor not only her, but we recall the truth that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

     St. Paul reminds us in today’s 2nd reading that Jesus, the Son of God, was “born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”[2] In this last day of Christmas, as we honor the Mother of God, we are reminded that God became man not only to teach us and to inspire us but primarily to save us. He was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was born in the manger of Bethlehem, to die for us and in dying to destroy Satan’s age-old grip of sin, so that in rising He might empower us to truly live as He created us to live.

     Today we celebrate the truth that Jesus is truly our savior because of His mother Mary. Jesus can truly save us because as man, He can justly atone for the sins of mankind and as God He has the power to bridge the divide that sin wedges between God and humanity. Mary then is the linchpin, which unites us to our salvation. Jesus, the saving link between God and humanity, the one who “invisible in his own divine nature, has appeared visibly in ours; and begotten before all ages has begun to exist in time,”[3] was born to the Virgin Mary and so it is only right to call her the Theotokos, the Mother of God. This title of Theolotokos, which dates to the mid 200’s, must be true, because if Jesus Christ is God, how can our Blessed Mother who gave birth to him not be the Mother of God. And if she is the mother of God, does she then not have a special role worthy of praise? Is she then not a mother whom we should turn to and ask to intercede for us? After all, what son would not listen to the request of his own mother? My friends if we believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man, we cannot be troubled with the virgin birth for “he who believes our Lord is true God and true man is never troubled with the Virgin birth,”[4] because “throughout all history, the Blessed Mother has been the link between two contraries: the eternal punishment of hell for sinners and the universal unlimited redemption of her Divine Son.”[5] Come then, let us turn to the mother of our savior, the Mother of God and beg her to intercede for us, trusting that anyone who fled to her protection, implored her help, or sought her intercession was left unaided.[6]

[1] Joseph Cardinal  Ratzinger  and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Mary the Church at the Source. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005. Pg 63

[2] Gal 4: 4-5

[3] Preface II For the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord.

[4] Sheen, Fulton. The World’s First Love Mary, Mother of God. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg 65.

[5] Sheen, Fulton. The World’s First Love Mary, Mother of God. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pgs 233-234.

[6] Memorare.

Christmas 2015

     Tonight, as we gather to celebrate the birth of a seemingly unknown child, born over 2000 years ago to poor parents in a stable in the insignificant city of Bethlehem, I can’t help but ask myself what is it about this child that has captivated the hearts of most of humanity for over 2000 years. Regardless of where we find ourselves, we seem to pause year after year to come and adore this little child in the manger. We come on this night because God determined that He would give His very self to us as a gift. Tonight “God is no longer separated from us by the iron curtain of His inaccessible other worldliness; He has crossed the dividing line to become one of us.”[1]  “For Christmas says to us, amid all our doubts and bewilderment: God exists … as One who is able to be concerned about us; He is such that everything we are and do lies open to His gaze. But that gaze is the gaze of love.”[2] Tonight as we gather before the manger, we are reminded that Jesus is not simply a figment of our imagination, He became man and walked this earth living in a specific time and place to bring us from slavery to freedom.

     Tonight the world stands still in the midst of two extremes. At one end we have humanity enslaved by its own sinfulness and lost in the darkness which results from it, and at the other, humanity free and empowered by God’s grace to worship and serve Him and thus enjoy eternal happiness with Him. Tonight we celebrate that turning point in history because the angels proclaim, a Savior is born for us, who is Christ the Lord. That’s the story that our Catholic Church has been passing down uninterrupted for 2,000 years from those who witnessed it all first hand, to the earliest martyrs, to the great saints, to all the baptized. And we here today, tell it yet again. It is this story which is the reason for our Church, for our being here. The story of God, the Almighty Creator of all things, the Supreme Being – taking to Himself the nature of one of His lowly creatures: becoming man. It’s a story which any reasonable person could easily recognize as simply too incredible to be true. Yet as people of faith we know that what we celebrate tonight isn’t just another story, some myth, or fairy tale, but truly history. – Salvation history.

     As people of faith we know that God truly did become man. And that the great event which we celebrate tonight looks forward to an even greater Feast; the Feast of His Resurrection on Easter. For God became man not only to teach us and to inspire us but primarily to save us. He was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was born in the manger of Bethlehem, to die for us and in dying to destroy Satan’s age-old grip of sin, so that in rising He might empower us to truly live as He created us to live. But that saving story is not just a story of history, no that story traces right down to our own day, where the power of Christ’s death and resurrection is given even to us every time we attend Mass. You see when we come to Mass our lives are swept up into this great drama. While this story continues to play out in our lives that we know the ending of this story, and we know that it’s a happy one. That those who, by the power of God’s grace, worship and follow Christ in this life will spend eternity with Him in the next life.

     Tonight as we gather before the manger Jesus gazes on us and we gaze on Him. As that child gazes on us, He sees a reflection of His own image and wills to save each and every one of us. He begs each and every one of us not only to believe in Him, but truly to follow Him, through whatever joys or troubles life may give us. For the story which we celebrate today is the beginning of our story; the story of our salvation. Because on that first Christmas, the whole history of the world was turned on its ear and our lives can never truly be the same for we no longer have to walk in the darkness of our sins because that chubby little baby that was born is truly our God and He has come to save us. That gaze of the innocent child begs us to come near and know the peace and joy that comes from having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That gaze of Christ begs us to come and rediscover Him.

     Tonight, as we visit that child lying in a manger, who do we gaze our eyes upon? Do we recognize Him to be the Son of God, the savior of the world, our Savior, the one who comes to have a relationship with us? Can we allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart? Can we allow even the darkest areas of our heart to be transformed by the power of His love? Tonight then, Jesus gazes on us and we gaze on Him. His gaze invites us to set out on a lifelong path of rediscovering Him, of starting anew in our relationship with Him. Come then, let us behold Him, let us come and find Him in the manger, be transformed and then leave and like the angles on Christmas night depart and spread the message of Christ’s coming into our hearts and indeed the whole world.

[1] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg. 333.

[2] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg. 338.

4th Sunday in Advent Year C

     Perhaps it is because we are in the midst of a presidential election, but it seems to me that we are living in a world, which is becoming more and more divided. While we are going to have our differences, it seems that as a society we have begun to lose the ability to find common ground with those whom we disagree with. It seems like our world is becoming too black and white. Either you agree with me or you are my enemy. While there are certainly a great number of things that many of us disagree about, there must be a common ground. As I watch this childish political notion begin to permeate our culture I find myself asking is their really something that unites us.

     At our core, I believe that while we may disagree on things, all of us are ultimately searching for true and lasting joy, and while we may not realize it, I think we are all ultimately searching for God. Now I’m sure many of you are asking how can that be, there are countless people who don’t seem to care at all about God. While people may not think that they are searching for God they are searching to be fulfilled and as St. Augustine famously surmised “our hearts are restless until they rest in you O Lord.” If we look at the world around us we see this endless pursuit for lasting happiness in our desire for material pleasure, in the explosion of addictions and in the rampant consumerism that plagues our country. Yet, no matter where we look, no amount of material pleasure will bring any of us lasting joy because material things can never satisfy spiritual needs.

     As we move into the last week of the Advent season, and prepare for Christmas, the thought of Christ, the God – man coming into our world should fill us with Joy. As we prepare to gaze upon the little Christ child laying in the manger, we should find ourselves asking why would God come down to earth to become man. My friends the whole Christian way of life is rooted in the truth that God became man. That child laying in a manger and the man hanging on the cross both boldly proclaim that God cares. He came into this world in less than ideal circumstances out of love, to live for us. Regardless of the situations we find ourselves in we can rejoice because God shared it all, even His own son. Simply said “With Him everything. Without Him nothing. He is the Lord.”[1]

     While the Christmas season should be about joy, for many it can be hard to be joyful. We find ourselves running from party to party and buying gifts for loved ones. Perhaps we have lost a loved one this year, and this holiday season causes us to miss them more than ever. This season, can so easily become about stress and anxiety. So to experience that joy we need a radically new of looking at life, we need to look at life through the lens of the Christmas story, because Christmas demands a radical reorientation of our personal lives. When we look at the child in the manger we cannot help but recognize that He came to live for us, so now we must live for others. Just as Christ emptied Himself completely for us, so now we must empty ourselves of any self-seeking and imitate His example of living for others. Joy is not something we have only when our lives are in order, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which springs from a relationship with Christ, but that relationship with Jesus requires effort on our part.

     If we want to experience the true joy of Christmas we must live our lives like Jesus. We must imitate Christ who calls us friends. We must imitate Christ by laying down our lives for others, after all no one has greater love than this, to lay down, one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus shows us by the example of His life that the key to true joy is to keep His commandment, to love one another as He has loved us.

     Before we can truly imitate Christ and live for others we must first have a relationship with Him, who no longer calls us slaves, but friends. We have done nothing to earn friendship with Christ, yet He freely chooses to be our friend, so we must work to nourish that relationship. All relationships require that we communicate with the other. If we want joy we must take time to be alone with Jesus in prayer. If you don’t know where to start perhaps start small, make a concrete resolution tonight to improve your relationship one small step at a time and if you struggle with that make it your resolution to simply ask Jesus every day for the desire to deepen your relationship with Him. Talk to Jesus, listen to Jesus and allow Him to make you a man or woman of joy.

      When we make time with Jesus a daily priority our own priorities will sort themselves out. We will find the void in our life and fill it with what we were made for, a relationship with Jesus, rather than other superficial band aids like food, drink, complaining, or the many addictions that plague our culture. Even when all of the trials of life seem to be swelling up around us let us look to the child in the manger and be patient with hope for we know the dark night will give way to the light of true beauty. While no material success can lead to true joy, time with Jesus means joy, a joy that is addictive and will attract new followers to Christ and lead to peace on earth. Our “faith is joy, therefore it makes beauty.”[2] “Our faith, too begins with wonder at the very fact of creation and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.”[3] Friends, when we have a personal encounter with the Lord in the Nativity scene our lives can never be the same, for we become men and women of joy.

[1] St. Faustina Kowalska. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011). pg. 161.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (2010) pg. 31.

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (2010) pg. 103.

2nd Sunday of Advent Year C

     It seems to me that as the days are becoming shorter our world is growing darker and darker. Just last week a gunman surrendered to police after killing three people and wounded another 9 in Colorado Springs, this past Tuesday a gunman killed 10 people and wounded another 7 in Oregon and just 1 day later two people opened fire in San Bernadino California killing 14 people before being killed themselves. It seems to me that with all of this darkness in our world, St. John’s message from the desert, which we just heard in the gospel needs to be heard in our day. We need to make way for the Lord in our lives because as we make way for Him, our lives will be filled with hope, which will illuminate the darkness of our world. This season of Advent calls us to be filled with hope, or as the prophet Baruch reminds us, in today’s first reading to take off our robe of mourning and misery and put on the splendor of glory from God. We need to look east to the coming of Christ and be filled with hope.

     It is precisely in these darkest moments that the candles of the advent wreath call us to hope. These two purple candles remind us of our need to discover the infant Jesus in the darkness of this world. But how? I believe we can find Him by “being liberated from what is anti-divine, the quest for pleasure, enjoyment, passions, gain or in a word ourselves.”[1] This season of Advent beckons us to see Christ, the light of the world, even in the darkness of our world, by coming to know him more personally. “We will know God to the extent that we give Him room to be present in us. A person can spend his life seeking God in vain if he does not allow God to continue in his life the presence begun.”[2]

     In a world of increased darkness our world needs the hope found in the baby Jesus. It’s the beautiful thing about Christmas; namely that it reminds us that in the midst of darkness God does not stand far off. Rather God became man; He came into this world of darkness to bring light. It is Jesus who beckons us to come towards a personal relationship with Him, the Light of the Nations.  As this personal relationship with our saving light grows we come to realize that while there is darkness in our world there is true peace in our hearts because we come to know that anything we experience, He has already experienced. It was God Himself who came and experienced every pain and torment that we can imagine. “There is no fear, no emotion, no worry, no anxiety, no obstacle, no adversity that He didn’t face before we did, and in fact, much more so.”[3] It is the paradox of Jesus, that out of the greatest darkness He brings blinding light and as we come to experience that hope in our lives it brings lasting peace. After all “true peace is realizing that it doesn’t matter what’s happening in your life. Peace from faith in Christ is in knowing that God will give you what you need to get through adversity”[4]

     For the past two weeks Msgr. Breier and I have been holding listening sessions with any parishioner who wants to come. They have been remarkable experiences as we learn about how great our parish is and some of the challenges we face going forward. In each of those meetings, many of the participants have asked how do we bring people into our Church? It is certainly a challenging question that most parishes face. While I don’t claim to know the complete answer, and I think it must be a multifaceted answer, I believe it calls us to be witnesses of the Hope of Christ. You see when the light of Christ is burning inside each and every one of us, it shines ever more brightly in the darkness of our world. That interior peace which springs from the hope of Christ will radically transform the way we look at the world and the way we live in this world of darkness. When we live with that hope and peace, people cannot help but notice that light shining through us. The light of Christ, alive in our hearts will draw others to want what we have, it will invite others to investigate the source of that hope and peace and ultimately lead them to an encounter with the light of Christ, which will then transform their life.

     Even if the world appears to be getting darker, this season of Advent compels us to look forward with hope to the coming of Christ. It challenges us to look inward on ourselves to see what is preventing the light of Christ, which dwells in our hearts, from shinning outward to be the bright beacon of hope in a world of darkness. My friends, with hope in Christ, let us open our hearts to Him this Advent, so that when He comes to us this Christmas, His light shining from our hearts can illuminate our dark world.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011) pg. 325.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011) pg. 325.

[3] Senator Marco Rubio. Address To Pastors in Iowa 2015.

[4] Senator Marco Rubio. Address To Pastors in Iowa 2015.

Response to the terrorist attacks in Paris

Like all of you I am deeply shocked and saddened to see the reports of such a great tragedy in Paris. God is the author of life and so any action that takes innocent lives cannot be of God and is certainly not pleasing to God. Seeing this tragedy unfold I am reminded that “pain invites us to have recourse to Him who alone can restore peace and give Himself to us.”[1] I am deeply saddened to see the violent response of a radical extremists and I ask you to join me in praying firstly for peace, for the victims of this heinous attack, for Parisians and the city of Paris. May our Lady and St. Denis bring comfort and peace to Paris and swift justice for all those people and organizations that supported these attacks.

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