5th Sunday of Lent Year B

Jer 31:31-34 / PS 51: 3-4, 12-13, 14-15 / Heb 5:7-9 / Jn 12:20-33

     This season of preparation for Easter which we call Lent is quickly drawing to a close. In just one short week we will enter the holiest days of our Church’s year, Holy Week, when we will contemplate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Savior. This Sunday marks a transition in our Lenten journey. For the past 4 ½ weeks, through our fasting, penances and almsgiving, we have looked inward at ourselves to discover those areas where we need to die to self but for these next two weeks of Lent, having seen the great need we have for God’s mercy we will focus more on the events of our redemption than on our own penitential devotions.

     I don’t know about you, but the world seems to be getting darker and darker. It’s getting to the point where I dread looking at the news. The news of Christians being burned alive in the Middle East, politicians directly attacking the sanctity of marriage and the family, and confusion with some of the faithful over fundamental Church teaching is cause for great concern. Often when we are faced with evil and suffering we try to come up with an explanation or an excuse as a means of escaping the pain. We try to have the triumphant Resurrection of Easter without the Crucifixion of Good Friday. “In the face of suffering and death human beliefs and ideologies are all, more or less, explicitly doctrine of escape … No doctrine of escape is worthy of God.”[1] My brothers and sisters as we approach these most holy days in our Church let us remember that the crucifix is not a curse to run from, but a witness to hope. Let us not forget that it is our vocation to sit at the foot of the cross where we will find salvation.

     Through our baptism we were freed from sin and reborn as sons and daughters of God.[2] Through baptism we were welcomed into the new and everlasting covenant; the covenant which was ratified by the spilling of Christ’s blood on the cross so that sins may be forgiven.[3] In our baptism we were claimed for Christ, where He wrote the same covenant He promised the prophet Jeremiah on our own hearts, claiming us to be His people and He will be our God. In our own baptism, each of us has been called into a covenant with God and this covenant calls us to love, it calls us to the cross. , which is the ultimate expression of love. At our baptism we became like the seed, we died to sin and rose to new life, but now the challenge is for us to daily go to the cross to daily die to sinful ways of this world. There is no other way for the Christian who wishes to fulfill his vocation than by way of the cross. The logic of the cross, taught by Jesus that “he who loves his life must lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” is a stark warning that there is no other way to experience the joys of heaven without daily dying to oneself.

     The whole idea of a covenant seems like a foreign idea to those of us who live in the legalistic culture of contracts. In a contract, if one of the parties does something in violation of the contract then the contract is broken and it becomes null and void, because the signers of the contract did not hold up their end of the deal, but in a covenant both parties agree to uphold their ends of the deal regardless of how the other party acts. God showed us through His death on the cross that He will always be our God and we will always be His people, but do we show our fidelity to that covenant by the way we live our lives? In just two short weeks, on Easter, we will renew our own baptismal promises, we will renew our covenant with God, but in so doing we recall that “salvation is not from reciting the creed but from the cross.”[4] It is not enough for us to stand up and profess our faith in God, rather our covenant with Him requires us to live out those promises by going cross through the witness of our life.

     At our baptism the Holy Spirit came to dwell inside our heart. God changed the relationship He had with us, from one of external power to one of internal unity. If we really want to see Jesus we need to die to ourselves. Like David in today’s psalm all of us can confess our need for God’s mercy; we can confess that we have fallen, but through the ministry of Christ working through His Church we can proclaim that forgiveness is possible, not from some form of animal sacrifice, but through the blood of Christ himself, who always upholds His end of the covenant and constantly calls each of us back into relationship with Him.

     My friends, as the holiest days of the year are upon us, are we prepared to journey with our Lord to the cross in order to find salvation? What are those areas where I still need to die to self so that I may rise with Him on Easter Sunday and honestly renew my baptismal promises? If we really want to see Jesus we will run to the cross where we will see that our Lord takes the sufferings we face in this world, either those brought on by the world, or those freely undertaken by our fasting, penances and almsgiving and uses them to give us opportunities to participate with His grace in our own salvation and the salvation of others in the Church. It is only because we suffer that we can hold out hope for eternal life, for in suffering we imitate God. It was Christ’s suffering that lead to His resurrection. Why should it be any different for us? Christ freely chose to suffer for us, now we must freely choose to do the same.

[1] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 56.

[2] CCC 1213

[3] The Roman Canon

[4] Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. Statan Island: Alba House. 2010. pg 31.

3rd Sunday on Lent Year B

Ex 20: 1-17 / Ps 19: 8, 9, 10, 11 / 1 Cor 1:22-25 / Jn 2:13 – 25

     When I was younger, Church people used to always ask, WWJD, what would Jesus do. To be honest with you, I hate that question; it’s pointless. Why not ask, WDJD, what did Jesus do? But even that question is not complete because we also need to ask why did He do it. In today’s Gospel I think it is easy to see that Jesus’ fundamental concern in over turning the money tables, was to show that the temple is to be used for its intended purpose, as a house of prayer, but St. John’s account of the cleansing of the temple speaks about much more than just the ancient temple in Jerusalem, which has been destroyed since 70 AD. Each of us who is baptized has the divine life of God dwelling within us: we are temples of the Holy Spirit[1] so this Lent were are invited to take time for daily examination and penance, to ensure our own temple is in proper order.

     Notice how Jesus cleansed the temples. He did not simply ask the vendors and moneychangers to leave; no he caused a huge kerfuffle. The practices of the vendors and moneychangers had become so commonplace, as sin often does in our lives, I doubt they would have given Jesus the time of day if He simply asked them to leave. Likewise it is not enough for us to ask those habits of sin to simply leave our temple. If we want to root sin from our lives we must, with zeal for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, take account of what is making us a marketplace and then through the sacrament of confession, and our lenten practices drive them from our temple.

     Today’s first reading gives us the guideposts for keeping the temple of our bodies pure. While the 10 commandments can been seen as harsh negative statements from a tyrannical God, if we read them in the light of today’s 2nd reading, we come to see that they are the guide to eternal life. If we pause to look at the crucifix we are reminded that the same God came into this world to suffer and die so that we might have eternal life. The crucifix clearly shows us that God only wills our good, our happiness and so we know that the commandments are not simply arbitrary rules imposed on us by God, but rather God’s plan to lead us to true freedom and happiness. The first three commandments teach us the obligation we have to God’s person, His name and His day. At their core these three commandments ask us the question “who is the Lord of our Life.”

     If Jesus is the Lord of our life, He must also be the Lord of our temple and these 3 simple commandments help us to order our temple around Him. The 1st commandment asks us what we hold as most valuable in our lives. If God is truly primary in our lives, our entire lives will be centered on Him. If we find ourselves missing Mass on Sunday for a soccer game then it is obvious that the soccer game has become primary in our lives and we have regulated God, at best, to second place: soccer becomes a foreign god in our lives. The 2nd commandment asks us to consider how we respect God, for because respect for His name is respect for His person. If we take God’s name in vein, we show disrespect to God because we use God’s name either as an insult or with no meaning. God who is the supreme good should only be spoken of for who He is, Goodness Himself. It is good to speak to Him in prayer or about him to others, but to speak about Him in any other way shows a lack of respect and reverence for our creator and redeemer. The 3rd commandment shows us that our faith cannot only be a matter of words or belief, but must be embodied. We owe God, who created us and sent His only into the world to suffer die and rise for us, an infinite debt that cannot be repaid. God gives us 168 hours in a week and asks for 1 back because it is good for us. Is it really that much? I bet if I gave you $168 dollars and then asked for 1 dollar back you would give it to me in a heart beat. Friends, intentionally missing Mass on Sunday is a sign that something is seriously out of place in our lives.

     If something is out of place in our relationship with God, we cannot have proper relationships others. The last 7 commandments rest on the first 3 because everything in life rises or falls based on our love of God. These commandments express the obligation we have towards others; the respect for proper authority, human life, the acts which transmits life, proper respect for property, and for the truth. The 9th commandment reinforces the 6th by reminding us not to even think about committing adultery while the 10th commandment reinforces the 7th, reminding us that we should be satisfied with having our needs met and not be envious of what others have.

     Jesus calls each one of us to cleanse the temple of our hearts. Do not be afraid to examine your conscience daily. God desires to heal us, not punish us. His anger is for the indifferent and the prideful who have no intention of changing, not for those who are striving to do better. This season of lent is the time for us to cast out false idols from our lives through prayer, fasting, penance and almsgiving. We are called during lent to destroy whatever is evil in the temple of our hearts so that our temple may truly be raised up on Easter Sunday. The whole goal of lent is to make our bodies pure temples where God is worshipped. To truly cleanse our own temple we need to take a deep look at our lives and see where our priorities lie. Is Jesus truly the center of my life? Is it possible that some serious cleaning needs to be done in my life? Do I need to seek that cleaning in the sacrament of confession? As we approach this altar and prepare to receive our Lord let us ask Him to enter into our hearts and overturn those areas in our lives where we make the temple of our hearts a marketplace, rather then a proper place to worship God.

[1] 1 Cor 6:19

The Crucifix is the Sign of our Hope: A Lenten Reflection

A Lenten Reflection Presented at the Conclusion of the Stations of the Cross.

     Having just celebrated the beautiful devotion of the Stations of the Cross, we have been blessed to walk the path of Calvary with our Lord while meditating on His great salvific act. This ancient devotion leaves us at the foot of the cross awaiting the resurrection on Easter Sunday. In meditating on the Stations of the Cross, I cannot help but be brought back just two months ago to when I physically walked the same way of the cross in the ancient city of Jerusalem. As I finished walking the stations and arrived at the exact place where our Lord was crucified I found myself simply kneeling before the cross. I’m not sure what kept me at the foot of the cross, after all the next logical step would have been to walk across the basilica to the Sepulcher itself, but I found myself simply drawn to stay up at Calvary. As I meditated on the biblical account of the crucifixion I realized, this is the life we, as Christians, are called to live; we are called to live at the foot of the cross, so that we too, one day, may rise with Him to eternal life.

     As luck would have it on my return flight to St. Louis from Jerusalem, my cabin was located right across from a very kind Protestant gentleman who wanted to know why we as Catholics use a crucifix and not a cross in our churches. He wanted to know why we have images of the bloody and beaten Christ while Protestants only have images of the risen Christ. If we, as Christians, are called to be an Easter people, why do we need to display the passion, why not simply display the resurrection?

     Certainly we are an Easter people, in fact this whole season of Lent concludes in the octave of Easter the greatest feast of the Church year, but we who are undertaking our fasting, penances and mortifications are well aware that there is no resurrection with out the passion and so there is no need to run from Christ on the cross. St. Paul reminds us that we are heirs to Christ and if we wish to rise with Christ we must first die with Him. St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians says he wants “to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”[1] Simply put, just as Christ freely endured His passion and death, so too we are called to endure suffering and death so that we may rise with Him. Friends “the cross alone is a symbol of absurdity: the contradiction of the vertical bar of life by the horizontal bar of death. Only by putting someone on the cross Who can make death the contradiction of life does one ever escape the absurdity of life.”[2]

     In reality there are only three possible attitudes towards the cross.[3] The first is an attitude of antipathy towards the cross, these people, like those who stood at the foot of Christ and said “let the Messiah, the King of Israel come down from the cross that we may see and believe,”[4]  want the creed without the cross. These people crying out for our Lord to come down off the cross were ready to believe, but they were not willing to embrace the cross. Sadly today many people have bought into the prosperity gospel, the belief that worldly success is the will of God for Christians and they have taken this attitude towards the cross. They are not looking for proof or an explanation of the faith, but rather are refusing to obey the command to be crucified with Christ. The second attitude is one of apathy. Like those who sat around the cross and cast lots for our Lord’s cloths[5] many people today want to be spectators to the cross rather than follow Christ to the cross. The third and proper attitude is one of empathy, which we see in the Blessed Virgin and the women who stood at the foot of the cross. Friends we have no option “everyone in the world is either on or underneath the Cross. No escape is possible. Some are on it through actual physical suffering or because they are identified with the suffering of others in Christ’s name sake … Others are beneath it, demanding His crucifixion, ridiculing sacrifice or being indifferent enough to play games under its shadow.”[6] What is our attitude towards the cross? Are we on the cross or are we underneath it?

     When we as Catholics take the attitude of empathy towards the crucifixion the problem of pain and suffering no longer seems like a problem. Suffering came into the world as a result of sin,[7] and while God could have left us alone to our own devices, He does not stand off in the distance and watch mankind suffer; rather He enters into our suffering. Christ experienced the many hardships of man, suffering with us, even to the point of death on a cross. The image of the crucifix thus invites us to enter into suffering for our own salvation and reminds us that even in the midst of our suffering Christ is their present with us.

     While the crucifix may appear to be a moment of weakness for God it is not. A closer look shows us that Christ transformed what appeared to be the moment of His greatest physical weakness into His greatest act, the act of redemption. This paradox applies to us as well. Even in our greatest sufferings we can offer them to God and they can become the cause of our redemption. While we may be called to endure many hardships we can have confidence that if we enter them in faith with Christ we will be victorious because Christ has already won the battle through His resurrection from the dead.

     St. Paul reminds us that we are to glory in the cross. “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”[8] When we unite our sufferings to the suffering of Christ on the cross we are blessed to participate in the crucifixion of Christ and can cooperate with His suffering for the salvation of souls. St. Paul is clear “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”[9]

      I don’t know about you, but the world seems to be getting darker and darker. Now I’m not one who tries to predict the future but if I was one of those people, I think my crystal ball would be telling me the end of the world must be near. As we pray the Stations of the Cross and kneel before our Lord exposed in the Blessed Sacrament I cannot help but once again realize the great sins that are present in our world and even in our Church. It’s getting to the point where things are so awful in the world today that I dread looking at the news. The news of Christians being burned alive by Islamic terrorists, politicians directly attacking the sanctity of marriage and the family, and confusion with some of the faithful over fundamental Church teaching is cause for great concern. God certainly has the power to remove all suffering from our life, but if He removed suffering from our life, 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.”[10]

     Christ’s great act of love came at the price of the greatest human suffering. The crucifix teaches us to love one must suffer. The crucifix is a stark reminder that “God 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.”[11] “While we can often fall into the trap of believing that suffering is a bad thing, our Lord has transformed suffering into the means of our salvation for 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.”[12] This understanding of the truth of the crucifixion makes it clear that to reject the image of the crucifix is to radically change the meaning of Christianity.

     While suffering is by its very nature painful, we must realize the necessity of suffering. We are called to be people of hope, yet without suffering we would not know what hope is and a superficial desire for hope is a superficial desire for happiness. Through suffering we can learn to place our complete trust, not in the things of this world, but in God. As we journeyed the way of the cross we commemorated the truth that the crucifix is the seed of the tree of life which leads to the blossoming of new hope. It seems that through suffering greatness shines through. God permits suffering then works greatness through it. “Suffering is never a reason for discouragement or lack of confidence in God since it proves the truth of his love for us.”[13]

     Our Lord takes the sufferings we face in this world, either those brought on by the world, or those freely undertaken by our fasting, penances and almsgiving and uses them to give us opportunities to participate with His grace in our own salvation and the salvation of others in the Church. 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.”[14] It is only because we suffer that we can hold out hope for eternal life for in suffering we imitate God. Since God came into this world to suffer for us we need to follow His example and rigorously undertake acts of fasting, mortification and almsgiving. It was Christ’s suffering that lead to His resurrection. Why should it be any different for us?

     Often when we are faced with evil and suffering we try to come up with an explanation or an excuse as a means of escaping the pain. We try to have the triumphant cross of Easter without the crucifixion of Good Friday. “In the face of suffering and death human beliefs and ideologies are all, more or less, explicitly doctrine of escape … No doctrine of escape is worthy of God.”[15] My brothers and sisters the crucifix is not a curse to run from, but a witness to hope so as we continue this season of lent rather than run from the crucifix, let us run towards it through our fasting, penances and almsgiving.

[1] Phil 3:10

[2] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. pg. 102

[3] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. pg. 100 – 101

[4] Mk 15: 32

[5] Mt 27:36

[6] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. pg. 101

[7] Rom 5:12

[8] Gal 6:14

[9] Gal 2:20

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

[11] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Behold the Pierced One. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (1986) pg 33.

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

[13] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 56.

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

[15] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 56.

2nd Sunday of Lent Year B

Gen 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13,15-18 / PS 116: 10, 15, 16-17, 18-19 /  Rm 8:31b-34 / Mk9:2-10

     In the summer of 2013, Archbishop Carlson sent myself and two of my classmates to the picturesque city of Villa de Leyva in the beautiful country of Colombia. The city, at the high elevation of 7,000 feet, is surrounded by mountains which peak out another 5,000 feet above us at 12,000 ft. Coming from St. Louis it took me a couple of days to adjust to the 6,500 ft altitude difference, but once I did it was easy to climb the first 500 feet up a mountain to a statue of the Sacred Heart that overlooked the city. As we grew in confidence with the trek to the statue of the Sacred Heart we resolved to climb the whole mountain. While we had no problem with the initial 500 foot trek, as we climbed higher it became much more difficult to breath and we found ourselves stopping frequently to catch our breath. In the midst of the trek I felt like I was getting nowhere but when we stopped and looked out from the mountain I saw not only how much further we still had to go but I could also look down and see how far we had come. In life it can be easy for us to put one foot in front of the other day in and day out and continue to ascend the mountain without stopping to look at where we have come from and where we are going, yet if we constantly keep our head to the ground and simply pound the path it becomes very easy for us to get lost. Today we are invited to pause and look back at where we come from and look forward to where we are going.

     Today we hear Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of the mountain where He showed them where they have come from and where they are going. In the presence of Moses and Elijah they see God’s plan which began with Abraham, continued with Moses, the lawgiver, passed through Elijah, the prophet, and was brought to fulfillment in Christ. As the apostles stood there in awe with their forefathers they were given an understanding of Jesus divinity and the hope of the resurrection. In today’s Gospel Jesus shows us that our earthly pilgrimage leads to our own resurrection into eternal life. Just as Isaac and Jesus before us had to carry the wood intended to be the means of their death up the hill, so too do we need to carry our own pains and sorrows up the hill so that we can lay them at the foot of the cross. Just as God provided a substitute for Abraham, so he would not have to sacrifice his son, so too He provides us with a substitute, His only Son who died on the cross for us and now sits at the right hand of the Father where He continues to intercede for us.

     During this season of Lent we are invited to stop on our journey up the spiritual mountain and look back to see how God has been at work throughout history and in our own personal lives, and then to look forward up the mountain towards eternal life. As we look back we should see God’s providential hand at work throughout history culminating in the sacrifice of His only Son on Good Friday. Even though Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, He did not leave us orphans. No our Lord who intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father left us His Church whose central action is this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which makes present in all times and in all spaces the sacrifice offered on Calvary. Yes, you and I come to Holy Mass to offer praise and worship to God, but as we come we too stand at the foot of the cross. “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice. ‘The victim is one and the same: … only the manner of offering is different.’ ‘And since this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner … this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”[1] Our Lord was sacrificed once and for all on Good Friday, but at every Mass that same saving sacrifice is made present for each and everyone of us and we are invited to participate in that sacrifice so that we too may too be glorified for all eternity in heaven. In just a few moments the gifts of bread and wine will be brought forward, symbolizing our offering for the sacrifice. Why not take a moment to make that offering your own by prayerfully offer to God all of your joys, sorrows, worries or anxieties and ask Him to transfigure them at the foot of the cross.

     Last Sunday we heard St. Mark recount the temptation of Jesus in the desert, showing us that Jesus is truly human and today in his account of the transfiguration He teaches us that Jesus is truly God. In these two short biblical passages the past, present and future are summarized in Christ, who is both fully God and fully man and His mission is made clear; He was sent by the Father into this world to suffer, die and rise so that we too, following after Him, may also die to ourselves and rise with Him. Friends Christ’s coming into the world to be scarified for us should give us hope to endure even our darkest trials for “if God is for us, who can be against us?”

     Our own journey up the mountain is a journey with Christ to the cross and ultimately to the resurrection. As we continue this season of Lent let us pause and recall how God has been working through the prophets, in His son Jesus and in our own lives and take courage and strength so that we can continue climbing in confidence with His assistance towards eternal life. As we gather around this altar, at the foot of the cross, with all of the saints who have gone before us let us ask them to pray for us that we might follow our Lord’s example and at the end of our earthly pilgrimage our lives may be transfigured by the light of His presence.

[1] CCC 1367

On Divorce: An Introduction

So what does the Church really teach on divorce?

     Sadly an estimated 28% of Catholic marriages end in divorce and just over 15% of Catholic marriages end with a petition for an annulment.[1] Unfortunately in the past year, as the Synod on the Family is Rome was watched with great interest by people throughout the world, their was much confusion about what the Church teaches with regards to divorce. This short response seeks to clarify the Church’s teaching on divorce.

     Any discussion on divorce must first properly begin with a discussion of what the Church believes about marriage. Following the teaching of Jesus “what God has joined together, not human being must separate,”[2] the Catholic Church clearly teaches “the Lord Jesus intended on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissolvable … Between the baptized a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.”[3] In short, the Church, following the teaching of Jesus which was evangelized by St. Paul[4] teaches that anyone who was properly married cannot break the promise of faithfulness till death do they part.

     The Church, in Her wisdom, does recognize there are certain circumstances where spouses can live separately while maintaining the marriage promises and “if civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the case of the children or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.”[5] Anytime there is marital conflict the Church is interested in the spiritual, physical, and psychological well being of the spouses and children. While under perfect circumstances the husband and wife have a moral obligation to maintain a common life, if the well being of the spouses or children is at risk it is permissible for the spouses to separate.[6] Certain conditions like spousal abuse, a spouse who doesn’t act responsibly due to and addiction, mental illness, or personality disorder could be just cause, as could one of the spouses living a criminal lifestyle, a spouse committing adultery, or even if one of the spouses is not willing to promote a religious atmosphere in the house. While these may seem like cut and dry cases, separation is serious and anyone contemplating separating from their spouse should seek the counsel of their parish priest.

     Divorce is serious and can be gravely wrong, but the Church maintains genuine care concern and compassion for divorced Catholics. Those who are validly married, but divorced should not shy away from the Church. As long as one is remaining faithful to their marriage vows (they have not remarried and are not illicitly pursuing another exclusive relationship) they should frequently approach the sacrament of Penance and frequently present themselves for Holy Communion.

     If a divorced Catholic wishes to remarry he should consult with his parish priest and seek an annulment. Contrary to popular opinion an annulment is not a Catholic divorce, but rather a declaration from the Church that a marriage, which was thought to be valid, actually did not meet the requirements of one of the essential elements of marriage. The Church does not simply grant a divorce, but rather after due investigation comes to the conclusion that one of the five elements of a Catholic marriage, ( 1. the spouses were free to marry. 2. They freely exchanged consent. 3. They intended to remain married and faithful to each other for life and were open to the possibility of children. 4. They intended the good of each other. 5. Their consent was given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.[7]) was not present. There are all kinds of reasons that a marriage, may have appeared to be a valid Catholic marriage but in actually was not. Anyone seeking an annulment should contact his parish priest to discuss his particular case.

     The Church has genuine car and concern for men and women who are struggling with their marriage and seeks to bring healing and forgiveness into the darkness. She extends to all people the pastoral care of her priests and fellow parishioners available at any parish and prays that those struggling with their marriage will find clarity and mercy from the Church through the ministry of Her parishes.

[1] Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) Nineteen Sixty-four Research Blog. http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.ca/2013/09/divorce-still-less-likely-among.html

[2] Mt 19:6

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 2382.

[4] 1 Cor 7:10-11 and Eph 5:31-32

[5] CCC 2383

[6] CCC 2385

[7] For Your Marriage: An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Annulments. http://www.foryourmarriage.org/catholic-marriage/church-teachings/annulments/

1st Sunday of Lent Year B

Gen 9: 8-15 / PS 25: 2-5, 6-7, 8-9 / 1 Pt 3:18-22 / Mk 1:12-15

     In the bible the dessert is a place of encounter with God. It was in the desert that God first revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, where God formed His people the Israelites into a nation as He lead them from Egypt through the desert to the Promised Land, it was in the desert where God first revealed the identity of Jesus as the Son of God when He was baptized by John the Baptist and many early Christians, living as monks, went into the desert to seek an encounter with God. Throughout the Bible people go into the desert for a while, have an encounter with God and then return to life in closer union with God. The desert really is the precursor to the Catholic season of Lent.

     For people of biblical times the desert was a place of special closeness to God. When they journeyed into a desert they were surrounded only by the vast dry sand around them and the sky above. They had no secure place to seek refuge, no place where they could retreat and hide from earthly dangers. In the desert man is exposed to emptiness and the unknown which provides him with the perfect opportunity to turn to God who “holds the whole world in his hands and who can be everywhere present with men and knows them and is able to help them with his creative power, no matter where they are.”[1] The desert teaches us the first lesson of conversion, namely that we must recognize that we are mere creatures and are utterly dependent on God. “No one is strong enough to travel the entire path of salvation unaided. All have sinned, all need the Lord’s mercy, the love of the crucified one.”[2]

     In today’s gospel Jesus goes out into the dessert, a practice that He would repeat time and time again. Throughout His lifetime Jesus went into the dessert to be with His heavenly Father and then returned to minister to His people. Yet as we hear in today’s Gospel when Jesus goes to the dessert He is left vulnerable. We can easily ask why was Jesus, who is God, tempted by the devil. The answer is simple, because while He is fully God, He is also fully man and thus vulnerable to temptation. In allowing Himself to be tempted He reaches out to us and shows us the path through temptation to eternal life. It was through His temptations that He shows us a basic foundation of the spiritual life, namely if we walk with Him, if we trust Him, we can overcome any temptation.

     In this season of Lent our Lord invites us to follow after Him into the desert, that sacred place which is the university where God teaches His people. While most of us will not find ourselves going out into the hot desert for 40 days, the Church invites us to enter into the spiritual desert by fasting, performing penances and giving to the needy. Through faithfully undertaking our Lenten practices we too in some sense go out into the desert where we can encounter God and He will teach us the way to true earthly fulfillment and the path to eternal life.

     The Holy Spirit dwells inside of you and I who are body, soul composites. What we do to our bodies has an effect on our soul and our relationship with the Trinity. The acts of fasting, penance and almsgiving should exercise our heart to recognize what is absolutely essential and they should teach us how to share with others.

     This life we live is a battle where we are challenged to prefer heaven over earth and to prefer eternal values to the passing values of this world. No solider goes into battle unprepared. He spends months preparing for the battle through intense training. Now is our time to train. Through works of fasting, penances and charity we strengthen ourselves to fight the battles of own temptation. While we all face our own personal battles with the devil our Lord has made these temptations the means of our salvation for they “give you a chance to show God your fidelity.”[3] Fortunately our Lord does not leave us alone in this personal battle with the devil. He gives us the sacraments to fortify us and the lives of the saints who have gone before us as the battle plan, but we must engage those tools to help us overcome our own personal temptations. Why not make a resolution to attend the sacrament of confession this lent or perhaps find time to attend Holy Mass during the week, or even read a good spiritual book to help guide you through the season of Lent?

     As we enter into these 40 days of lent we must too go out into the desert to be taught at the university of the Lord, through our prayer, fasting and works of charity. As we begin this Lenten pilgrimage why don’t we create the desert environment in our lives by slowing down, making time for silence, allowing God to speak to us. Let’s make a concrete plan, perhaps to attend Mass sometime during the week, or to spend some time daily reading the Bible, maybe reducing distractions by eliminating TV or social media. Certainly these resolutions will not be easy, but whatever your resolutions are, undertake them out of love for God knowing that He will use those acts to transform your relationship with Him because “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]

     To truly be a Catholic requires us to live the life of Christ. During this holy season of lent the Church invites us to live with Jesus in the desert. She invites us through our acts of fasting, penance, and charity to undergo trials with Him and at the end of these days to come out of the desert ready to share the joy of the Easter season with Him, but the choice is ours, we can freely go to our Lord’s university in the desert, be challenged and come out stronger or we can choose to simply let this season of lent pass by. Perhaps the biggest temptation of this lent will be to remain where we are because we are comfortable, but Our Lord makes His will clear in today’s Gospel, when He tells us to repent and believe in the Gospel. His will is clear, but the choice is ours, will we go into the desert to encounter Him or will we just lent pass by?

[1] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg 285

[2] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth Part II. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg 151 – 152

[3] St. Faustina Kowalska. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011). pg. 279

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

Why celibacy for me.

     At the 10:45 Mass on Sunday, Fr. Gerber, the associate pastor at St. Joseph parish, rhetorically asked me in his homily “why I would want to sign up for living a life of celibacy.” The truth is on May 3rd, 2014 I stood before the Archbishop and promised to live a celibate life. Since Fr. Gerber publicly asked me the question, so following the command of St. Peter to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15) I feel it my duty to answer his question, in as public as a forum as I can. (While a more refined answer could certainly be given I have simply decided to answer off the cuff in the same manner that the question was asked.)

     The answer to Fr. Gerber’s question is actually very simple; God made me for celibacy. God made each and everyone of us in love and for love. He created every one of us for a purpose and He has a plan for each and every one of our lives. Ultimately we will be most fulfilled in this life if we live out His plan for us. God is truly generous and can fulfill our lives in many different ways. Both celibacy and marital chastity are goods in and of themselves but are ordered towards different ends.

     While I can easily say I am celibate because that was God’s plan for my life, that simple answer misses the point. You see, when I give that simple answer I am often asked by people “but what about all the things you are missing.” The truth is I am missing many goods, like a wife and a family, but that is still the wrong question to ask. Can’t we just as easily ask married couples what they are missing? Are they not missing many of the goods that I receive in my life of celibacy? Rather than ask what I am missing, perhaps we should ask what God is giving me in my promise of celibacy.

     In my 8 years in the seminary I have discerned that I can love best as a celibate. In living out a life of celibacy I find fulfillment both by turning inward to my personal relationship with the Holy Trinity and drawing on that relationship to turn outward to serve God’s people, just as Christ did. Through living out my promise of celibacy I am freed to love and serve in ways that give me great joy.

     In my life of celibacy, God has given me countless opportunities to form a deep relationship with Him in prayer and has given me the ability to give myself completely to God’s people wherever He decides to place me. While it is true I will not have a biological family, God makes up for that by giving me countless spiritual children. I am called to be a father to every single one of my parishioners, and in a particular way I am blessed to “father” new children into the Church through administering the sacrament of baptism (yes I do keep a list and I pray daily in a special way for all 19 children I have been blessed to baptize to date.) God called me to the gift of celibacy so that I can be of service to His Church and I am privileged to meet people at their most intimate times: at joyful occasions like births, marriages and moments of great success as well as at life’s most difficult moments, death, breakups, after grave sins and moments of great failure. This truth humbles me, for I know that I am charged with a sacred trust. I am charged to be Christ to those who come to me seeking Him.

     Living a celibate life, like living a married life, is not always easy, but God has given me the gift of many good priest friends and many others from all different walks of life to help support me in God’s plan for my life. All vows, married or celibate, are acts of faith, hope and love, and no one said these struggles are easy, but it is those struggles that helps make me more compassionate to the struggles of others.

     While living a celibate life appears so radically different, in many ways it is perfectly analogous with marriage. In fact much of what we can say about celibacy can properly be said about a couple presenting themselves for marriage. In a spiritual sense I can say I am married to the Church, because she is the entire focus of my life.

     I simply can’t imagine trying to love both a biological family and my parish family at the same time without failing both of them. My heart is filled to capacity and there simply is not room for a biological family because I have so many people in there right now. My life of celibacy is a full and free life, and I can’t imagine it any other way.