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.

All Saints Day

     Perhaps one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is very simply what is the meaning of life. This very deep question pulls us out of our present moment and forces us to ponder the future. Many of our lives are extremely busy, and many of us often must be focused on the present, but if we don’t stop for a moment and ponder the future, we will never get to where we want to go. Just think about it for a moment, if you are going to run a race don’t you think you better know where the finish line is and if you are going to build a bench don’t you think you better know what the bench looks like before you start to build it? Why should it be any different with our lives?

     At our baptism each and every one of us was claimed by Christ. We were adopted as sons and daughters of God and set on a path towards sainthood. The whole purpose of our life is to become a saint, which is to say to live with God for eternity. Often though when we hear this call to sainthood, we pause and think that could never be us. When we hear of saints we think of the great martyrs who died as a witness to the faith, or men and women who performed miracles or lived the beatitudes we heard in today’s reading to the extreme and we easily think that there is no way that we can become a saint. I think all of us would agree that sainthood is a noble ambition, but I think many of us must honestly ask ourselves if it is something that we can realistically attain.

     Well the answer is yes! There is no reason why each and every one of us here, with some hard work, can become saints, but after all doesn’t anything worthwhile require hard work? While all of the saints, those we that have been canonized by the Church and those countless unknown souls who now live with God forever in heaven, are the real life super heroes, they were all human like you and I. They had their strengths and weakness, they were all sinners, but all of them at one point in their life came to realize the purpose of life was to become a saint and they strove to achieve sainthood with their whole being. After all “our first step to sanctity is realizing that nothing in life is worth so much as our becoming saints.”[1]

     Becoming a saint doesn’t mean that we have to shut overserves off in a monastery for the rest of our lives or necessarily live as a priest or religious sister. No God made each and everyone one of us good and with the intention that we become saints. To become a saint all we have to do is become who God intends us to be, that is to say to become the best version of ourselves. You and I already have the potential to be saints inside of us, we must simply live the call to be blessed by following the blueprint God Himself has laid out for us in the beatitudes that we just heard in the Gospel.

     If we think that the saints were perfect people who had everything together, then perhaps we need to be reminded of our history. The history of the saints is one of great sinners who came to recognize their call to sainthood. It is a history of saints who clung to the Church, not because they had everything figured out, but because they knew they needed to be saved, after all as the popular phrase reminds us “the Church is not a museum for saints, but rather a field hospital for sinners.” St. Peter denied Jesus and went on to become the first pope, St. Augustine had a child out of wedlock and believed in a weird heretical sect that believed in a cosmic battle between good and evil before eventually becoming one of the greatest teachers of the Catholic Faith. St. Vladimir, living around the year 1,000 had indulged in human sacrifice early in his life, and I could go on for hours naming sinners who became saints.

     Friends the saints are closer to us than we may realize. They have struggled with sin and temptation, they’ve walked the journey toward holiness, sometimes stumbling, but always getting back up and moving on, resolving to do better, to be better version of themselves. All of us have our weaknesses and struggles but the saints remind us that we are called to conversion to work with God’s grace to become the best version of ourselves.

     The saints were born human just like every other person to walk this earth. They were raised to sainthood because they worked to be what today’s gospel reading is calling us to be: to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to be merciful, to make peace, for this is how we begin to become what Jesus called “blessed,” and what the Church calls saints. God calls all people to become saints, He calls you to sainthood. Today He challenges you to continue down that lifelong path of sainthood remembering “there is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”[2]

[1] Albert Joseph Mary Shamon. Three Steps to Sanctity. Oak Lawn: CMJ Marian Publishers and Distributers (1993) pg. 1

[2] Attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     Perhaps the hardest question most of us will grapple with in our faith is the age old question of the problem of evil. I’m sure we have all asked this question to ourselves at one time or another: it goes something like this. “If God is all knowing, all loving, and all powerful then why is their pain and suffering in the world?” On the surface this question may even seem like a good reason to doubt the existence of God, but the problem with this question is it seems to imply that nothing good comes from pain or suffering. Today’s readings flip that question completely upside down and remind us that as Christians, suffering has meaning and power. St. Paul, in today’s second reading, reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering. Christ Himself, God Himself, suffered and knows our afflictions. In our Gospel we are reminded that if we want to enjoy eternal company with God in heaven, we too must suffer. Jesus reminds James and John that if they want to share in eternal life with Christ they must drink from the same chalice He does. In short if we, like Sts. James and John want to rise with Christ to eternal life we must also be willing to suffer with Christ. If Christ, whom we follow had to suffer, why should it be any different for us as Christians who are followers of Christ?

     Sadly today there are many Christian preachers out their preaching what has been called the Prosperity Gospel. This notion which became popular in the 50’s very simply says that if you are living a life pleasing to the Lord, God will bless you with great earthly riches and comforts, but if you are living a bad life, God will punish you with pain and suffering. Yet we must never think that any suffering, disaster, or misfortune that comes our way, is a punishment from God for our personal sin. If suffering was God’s punishment for personal sin, Jesus, God who became man and never sinned, would not have experienced suffering. We need to look no further than the crucifix to see that He suffered more than most of us ever will. Certainly suffering is due to sin in general, but God never punishes us for committing a specific sin by bringing disaster into our life, just as He does not bless our good actions with financial gain. There are certainly natural consequences for our actions. If I go out and gamble away all of my money, I may find myself knee deep in debt and living on the streets and if I work hard I may find myself having financial success, but in both of these cases my fate is a consequence only of my actions and not a punishment or reward from God.

     We all know that at times in this life we will have to endure suffering and we can often be tempted to ask ourselves why does God permit this suffering, didn’t He come to heal the sick and cure the wounds of sin and division?Jesus did not come into this world to simply make us healthy, wealthy and wise. No, He came to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven and to raise us up to eternal life. Jesus came into this world and freely took on our suffering to raise us up to eternal life. While God certainly has the power to remove all suffering from our life, in fact that was His plan before the sin of Adam and Eve, if He removed suffering from our world, He would take away our ability to choose, which would also take away our ability to love Him and others, so God did the next best thing, He made suffering the means of our salvation. “Christ took our painful condition and made of it the way of true life.”[1] While we can often be tempted to fall into the trap of believing that suffering is a bad thing, today’s readings remind us that our Lord has transformed suffering into the means of our salvation. The fact that God allowed His son to die “shows two things very clearly. The first is that suffering and even total ruin do not signify a lack of love on the part of the Father. The second is that suffering is not in vain; it bears fruit and has redeeming power.”[2]

     You see “ultimately, far from ruining Christian hope, suffering is advantageous for it; it is even necessary. Without it, hope would be vague, an ill-defined yearning for happiness.”[3] It is only because we suffer that we can hold out hope for eternal life for in suffering we imitate God who “is a sufferer because he is a lover; the entire theme of the suffering God flows from that of the loving God and always points back to it.”[4] It was Christ’s suffering that lead to His resurrection. Why should it be any different for us? When suffering comes into our life we must turn to the Lord and ask Him to give us the grace to endure that suffering and trust that He who suffered even greater sufferings than ours is with us in the midst of our suffering.

[1] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 20.

[2] Wilfrid Stinssen. Into Your Hands, Father Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2011. pg 15

[3] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 57.

[4] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Behold The Pierced One. San Francisco: Ignatius. (1986) pg 33.

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     The last conversation I had with my grandmother before she passed away was a simple one. My grandmother, who at this point in her life had very severe dementia, kept asking my brother and I “what do you want to be when you grow up.” Since I was only in 7th grade I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so my brother and I would politely tell here we did not know: to which responded by encouraging us that “you can be whatever you want to be when you grown up.” Due to her dementia, we must have had that conversation 50 times in a row, and while I’m sure it wasn’t her intention, that conversation forever drilled into my mind, the important lesson of the American dream; the belief that this great country affords anyone who works hard enough the opportunity to succeed. While the American dream is one of the things that makes our country great, as with anything if it is abused, it can lead to the deadly conclusion that each of us has the power to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and succeed simply on our own. The problem with taking the American dream and making it a spiritual principle is the American dream promises worldly success, but we were not made for earthly success but for eternal success. When we fall into the trap of making the American dream a spiritual principle do we not say that we don’t need a savior? Do we not then say I can get to heaven on my own, I don’t need Jesus?

     I think it is safe to assume that all of us want to go to heaven when we die, which is why I assume most of us probably squirmed a little when we heard Jesus tell the man in the Gospel that it is not enough to simply obey all of the commandments, but to truly inherit the kingdom of heaven we must go sell what we own, and give the money to the poor and only then will we have treasure in heaven.” If you are anything like me, when you hear today’s Gospel you find yourself tempted to just throw your hands in the air in defeat and disgustedly ask yourself, what am I supposed to do? From today’s Gospel it seems that unless I become like a St. Francis or a Mother Theresa I have no hope of eternal life. All of us are good people, we try our best to follow God’s will and we give what we can to those in need, but doesn’t it seem like, in today’s Gospel Jesus is asking too much for the normal person, like you and I, to obtain eternal life. Well He is, because heaven isn’t a prize that nice people win, it is living in perfect union with God, a union that requires both God and us.

     The simple reality is that we cannot earn heaven. While God desires that you and I spend eternity with Him, and we certainly must cooperate with His graces to achieve eternal life, we cannot buy our way into heaven by fulfilling our end of a contract. After all “heaven means that man has a place in God,”[1] and only God Himself can give us that place. We must remember that what is impossible for us, is possible for God. It is Jesus Himself, God, who sacrificed Himself so totally on the cross— giving everything He has, even His life. It is His death on the cross that opens the floodgate of grace making salvation possible. Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection, accomplished for us what is not possible for us to accomplish on our own: He opened the gates of Heaven to those who truly desire to live with Him for eternity.

     We must remember that we do not make ourselves holy we only cooperate with God’s grace to achieve the plan He has for us. If holiness, is becoming like God, we must strive to remove all of those things that prevent God, from entering into our lives. “Holiness does not stem so much from the effort of man’s will, as from the effort to never restrict the action of grace in one’s own soul.”[2] Holiness is not about following a simple set of rules and checking things off this get to heaven list, but rather about entering into so deep a union with Jesus, who alone can save us. “Christian holiness is simply the obedience that makes us available where God calls us to be, the obedience that does not rely on our own greatness, but allows our God to bestow His greatness upon us and know that only in service and self-surrender can we truly find ourselves.”[3] My friends, “Jesus always has victory when He has your abandonment He needs nothing more than that to bring about the Divine wonders that His Heart has prepared for you from all eternity.”[4] “Our first step to sanctity is realizing that nothing in life is worth so much as our becoming saints,” [5] and then working to remove whatever distracts us from Jesus Christ, who alone can bring us to eternal life.

[1] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal.Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg. 313

[2] Karol Wojtyla. The Meaning of Vocation. United States: Scepter Publishers, 1997. pg. 10

[3] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal.Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg. 367

[4] Fr. Jean CJ D’Elbee. I Believe in Love. Manchester: Sophia Institute Press. (2001.) pg. 89.

[5] Three Steps to Sanctity pg.1.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     People often claim that the Catholic Church is simply not relevant in the 21st century, yet Pope Francis’s visit to the United States clearly shows that She is just as relevant as ever. What other leader’s presence causes most news outlet to change their normal programing to catch his every word, or brings the president to publicly declare on the White House lawn the greatness of the Church in the United States, or moves lawmakers to tears and moves millions of everyday Americans flocking to Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia, braving long lines and tight security for the hope of simply catching a glimpse of the Vicar or Christ on earth? Anytime a Pope visits it is truly a time of special blessing and there is a reawaking of the faith for many who have fallen away, a deepening of faith for those who are practicing and an invitation for all people to discover the beauty of the Catholic Church. Wherever you find yourself, if Pope Francis’s visit has moved you to deepen your faith please know you are most welcome here and I am always here to talk with you.

     While Pope Francis has certainly taken the world by storm, he is not without controversy for some. Politicians, media pundits and even Catholics seize his words to push their agenda, leaving some to ask if the Pope is a socialist, if he is really prolife, and even if the Pope is really Catholic, but this line of questioning is too political and completely misses the point. Pope Francis does not think in political terms, he doesn’t think as a conservative or a liberal, rather Pope Francis thinks in terms of the person, what he calls the “theology of encounter.”

     Pope Francis is teaching us that Jesus came not as a philosophical idea or political system, but as a person. He is showing us that God became man to have a relationship with us as persons. He is reminding us that we are not ideas, categories, or political alliances. While we can often identify ourselves as Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, white or black, gay or straight, pro-life or pro-choice, etc. behind the label or idea is a person: a person with a life story and an eternal destiny. Pope Francis is reminding us that the teaching of Jesus calls us to put aside these labels and to come person to person with our brothers and sisters recognizing that we are all children of the same God who is our Father. He is challenging us to defend the teachings of Jesus Christ while reminding us to ask ourselves how do I encounter a person. Do I truly meet the person or do I label them? His visit to the United States invites us to pause for a moment to strip away the emotionalism and ideology and to ask: who are the people in this hot-button “issue”? Have I allowed for a heart-to-heart encounter with a person? Can I look beyond the labels and name calling to see a person? While the Church, unabashedly upholds the dignity of every human life and the intrinsic evil of abortion she knows that often times many women feel trapped in their situations or feel forced into an abortion. This is why, we as a Church, work to provide resources for women in difficult and crisis pregnancy’s, why we work to bring lasting changes to social structures that leave some women feeling like abortion is their only option and why the Archbishop has a standing promise to any woman that our Archdiocese will provide any funds necessary to help a woman raise her child.

     We as Catholics cannot preach that abortion is wrong and then fail to help those who feel like they have no other choice. We must also work to help men and women who have had an abortion and are struggling with the consequences of their choice because we know that God’s mercy is truly boundless, and His hope is available to all people, regardless of the mistakes we have made.

     If we truly want to be prolife, we must recognize that the culture of death goes deeper than just abortion and we must examine ourselves and how we have contributed to the culture of death in our society remembering that anytime we deny someone the rights and dignity that is due to them as a person, we contribute to the culture of death. Have I, by my words or actions, supported or encouraged abortion? Have I, by my thoughts, words, or actions, treated someone as less than equal? Have I treated someone as less deserving of respect and dignity because of their race, their socioeconomic situation, their age, their beliefs, their ability to work, their mental or physical abilities, or the choices they have made? In what ways have I contributed to the idea that some people are less worthy of rights and respect than others? As a Church, we work to protect not just the rights of the unborn, but of all people, certainly by our words, but most importantly by our actions.

     There is great evil in our society today and we cannot remain silent. We must speak out to defend the unborn and in defense of marriage, but we must speak not only with our words but with our actions, striving not to debate with philosophies or political alliances but rather searching out opportunities for encounters with human people, created in the image and likeness of God, remembering that “the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity. Man is the source, the focus, and the aim of all economic and social life.”[1]

[1] Pope Benedict XVI Caritas In Veritate par. 25.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     Is 50: 5-9 / PS 116: 1-6, 8-9 / Jm 21:14-18 / Mk 8:27-35

     “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a question that all of us either have had to answer or will certainly have to answer in our lives. That most fundamental question stared me straight in the face at the end of my junior year of high school, when seemingly out of nowhere, while I was on a retreat, the idea of becoming a priest popped into my mind. To be honest, I was looking forward to college and a successful career, so priesthood was about the last thing I wanted. Yet the more I tried to dismiss the idea of becoming a priest, the stronger the call became. With the idea of priesthood refusing to leave my mind I found myself in a very similar position to the apostles in today’s Gospel.

     I grew up in a very Catholic family, my parents took me to Mass everyday, we prayed together as a family every night, and it was just taken for granted that we would be faithful Catholics. Yet I have to admit that while I grew up in a Catholic family I had never really truly answered Jesus’ most basic question, “who do you say that I am.” I believed Jesus was God, I believed the Church and the basics of our faith, but it was at the moment when I was facing the idea of becoming a priest that I was first truly challenged to move from complacency to firm resolve, in answering that most basic question. You see while I didn’t want to be a priest, I knew deep down that if Jesus was really the Son of God, who came to suffer, die and rise that you and I might have eternal life then the only logical choice is to follow the call of Him who loves me so deeply.

     For nights on end I laid awake at night asking myself the most fundamental question of our faith, who is Jesus. I knew Jesus claimed to be God, but did I believe Him? As I wrestled with that question I realized either Jesus must really be who He says He is or this is the world’s greatest fraud. I then asked myself is it really possible that 11 simple village people could somehow start a religion based off of some crazy son of a carpenter? Could a religion with that grounding really immediately spread across the globe, through the witness of people who were willing to die for the faith? If Jesus was not who He said He is, how could the Church have survived over 2,000 years, outliving many powerful empires that sought to destroy her and today boast over 2 billion believers? Friends I could go on hours explaining how I was able to come to answer with Peter, you are the Christ, the son of the living God, but the real challenge came only after I answered that Jesus is the Christ the son of God, because confessing Jesus’ divinity requires that our lives reflect that statement.

     While I had come to believe Jesus was who He said He was, living my life with faith seemed impossible. Sure I had a head knowledge of who Jesus was but I could not find a way to transfer that knowledge to my heart. It was only when I finally let go and simply said, if my mind has come to this knowledge then I need to just live my Christian faith, that my faith really became integrated into who I was as a person. I learned the simple less, that if we want to have that faith we have to just go for it.

     When I was in first grade my swim coach decided it was time for me to learn how to swim the fly events. Now for those of you who are not familiar with swimming, swimming the butterfly stroke legally requires that your feet stay together as you kick for the whole race. Well to teach me how to keep my feet together these coaches pulled me out of the water, sat me in a chair, tied my feet together then threw me off the chair into the deep end of the pool. While it was not the most pretty sight [I don’t suggest you use it as a teaching method], and I bobbed up and down for a while, with the help of the coaches in the pool I survived and went on very quickly to learn to how swim with my feet together. So too in our faith life; sometimes we just need to jump off the deep end. Will we bob up and down for a while? Perhaps, but the Church and our parish will be there to help keep us from sinking and in no time at all we will be moving forward with a life of faith at lightning speed.

     Friends Jesus puts a very simple question to us today when he asks us who do you say that I am. The evidence is overwhelming, but are we willing to profess with St. Peter, that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. You see once we make that profession, we have to then jump in the deep end and begin to live out our faith, recognizing that “one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standard, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being and aided by that light to find the right path.”[1]

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth Part II. San Francisco: Ignatius Press,2011. Pg. 67.

Pope Francis, Abortion and the Year of Mercy

     If you have been listening to the news this week I’m sure you heard that Pope Francis gave priests the authority to absolve the sin of abortion. Sadly, as often happens when the secular media tries to report on the Catholic Church without first checking with the Church, there was much confusion. Many Catholics, not being told the whole story, stopped and said “wait I thought if I confessed my sins with contrition they were forgiven, why is Pope Francis just now letting priests absolve the sin of abortion.” Any priest in good standing in his diocese has the authority to offer the absolution of Jesus, yet there are some sins which because of their seriousness carry with them a penalty which the bishop or in some rare cases the Pope himself must lift before the person can receive absolution.[1]

     Due to the seriousness of the sin of abortion, anyone who participates in the act of abortion is automatically excommunicated,[2] that is to say the person should not seek to receive any of the sacraments, have any ministerial participation in the Mass, such as a reader of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or to hold any governing offices in the Church, for example to sit on the parish council,[3] until they have sought reconciliation with the Church. By imposing the penalty of excommunication the Church is not intending to keep the person from the mercy of God, rather “she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.”[4] Under normal circumstances one who has been excommunicated, would come to the sacrament of Confession and express contrition for their sin and the priest would petition the Bishop anonymously on behalf of the penitent to remove the excommunication and after hearing from the Bishop’s delegate that the excommunication was lifted he would offer absolution to the penitent. With this new ruling Pope Francis is instructing priests to skip the red tape and is giving them the authority to not only absolve sins but also to lift the excommunication which is automatically incurred when someone participates in an abortion. Practically in our Archdiocese this ruling has no effect because for decades every Bishop has already extended this invitation to the priests of St. Louis, thus if someone confessed the sin of abortion in St. Louis they can be assured that their sin was forgiven and the excommunication was lifted. While abortion is a very serious sin, no sin is too great for God’s mercy. If you or someone you know has participated in an abortion I beg you to come to seek God’s mercy and healing in the Sacrament of Confession.

[1] It should be noted that if a person is near death any priest (even one who has been laicized) can absolve any sin and remove any penalty because the Church wants all to be able to receive God’s mercy before their death.

[2] Code of Canon Law par. 1398

[3] Code of Canon Law par. 1331

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 2272