Before Choosing a “Side”…

July 4, 2020

As we celebrate July 4th and the birth of our nation, a few thoughts for your consideration:

I have tuned into the nightly news and followed social media ad nauseam in recent months, watching events in our country unfold: the ups and downs of the pandemic and the arguments and conflict that have ensued; the passionate fight for the rights of all Americans; and the organized effort to address the issue of systemic racism in our country.

It seems that it is human nature to quickly choose a “side.” These types of challenging situations are very seldom viewed objectively, as topics to be presented and discussed. Society instead views tough situations subjectively; strong emotions and the intense desire to be right overrule any inclination toward open dialogue. Continue reading

Pope Francis on Prophecy

July 2, 2020

On Monday, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis offered a thought-provoking homily focused on two key points: unity and prophecy. 

Yesterday, I shared the first half of that homily (unity). Today, I will share the second half, centered on prophecy.

Pope Francis’ homily (Part II):

The second word is prophecyUnity and prophecy. The Apostles were challenged by Jesus. Peter heard Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I am?” (cf. Mt 16:15). At that moment he realized that the Lord was not interested in what others thought, but in Peter’s personal decision to follow him. Paul’s life changed after a similar challenge from Jesus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). The Lord shook Paul to the core: more than just knocking him to the ground on the road to Damascus, he shattered Paul’s illusion of being respectably religious. As a result, the proud Saul turned into Paul, a name that means “small”. These challenges and reversals are followed by prophecies: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16:18); and, for Paul: “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Prophecy is born whenever we allow ourselves to be challenged by God, not when we are concerned to keep everything quiet and under control. Prophecy is not born from my thoughts, from my closed heart. It is born if we allow ourselves to be challenged by God. When the Gospel overturns certainties, prophecy arises. Only someone who is open to God’s surprises can become a prophet. And there they are: Peter and Paul, prophets who look to the future. Peter is the first to proclaim that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). Paul, who considers his impending death: “From now on there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will award to me” (2 Tim 4:8).

Today we need prophecy, but real prophecy: not fast talkers who promise the impossible, but testimonies that the Gospel is possible. What is needed are not miraculous shows. It makes me sad when I hear someone say, “We want a prophetic Church”. All right. But what are you doing, so that the Church can be prophetic? We need lives that show the miracle of God’s love. Not forcefulness, but forthrightness. Not palaver, but prayer. Not speeches, but service. Do you want a prophetic Church? Then start serving and be quiet. Not theory, but testimony. We are not to become rich, but rather to love the poor. We are not to save up for ourselves, but to spend ourselves for others. To seek not the approval of this world, of being comfortable with everyone – here we say: “being comfortable with God and the devil”, being comfortable with everyone -; no, this is not prophecy. We need the joy of the world to come. Not better pastoral plans that seem to have their own self-contained efficiency, as if they were sacraments; efficient pastoral plans, no. We need pastors who offer their lives: lovers of God. That is how Peter and Paul preached Jesus, as men in love with God. At his crucifixion, Peter did not think about himself but about his Lord, and, considering himself unworthy of dying like Jesus, asked to be crucified upside down. Before his beheading, Paul thought only of offering his life; he wrote that he wanted to be “poured out like a libation” (2 Tim 4:6). That was prophecy. Not words. That was prophecy, the prophecy that changed history.

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus prophesied to Peter: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church”. There is a similar prophecy for us too. It is found in the last book of the Bible, where Jesus promises his faithful witnesses “a white stone, on which a new name is written” (Rev 2:17). Just as the Lord turned Simon into Peter, so he is calling each one of us, in order to make us living stones with which to build a renewed Church and a renewed humanity. There are always those who destroy unity and stifle prophecy, yet the Lord believes in us and he asks you: “Do you want to be a builder of unity? Do you want to be a prophet of my heaven on earth?” Brothers and sisters, let us be challenged by Jesus, and find the courage to say to him: “Yes, I do!”

Source: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200629_omelia-pallio.html

Pope Francis on Unity

July 1, 2020

On Monday, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis offered a thought-provoking homily focused on two key points: unity and prophecy. 

Today, I will share the first half of that homily – centered on unity. To allow time for self-reflection for all of us, I will wait until tomorrow to share the other half (prophecy) of the homily.

Pope Francis’ homily (Part I):

On the feast of the two Apostles of this City, I would like to share with you two key words: unity and prophecy.

Unity. We celebrate together two very different individuals: Peter, a fisherman who spent his days amid boats and nets, and Paul, a learned Pharisee who taught in synagogues. When they went forth on mission, Peter spoke to Jews, and Paul to pagans. And when their paths crossed, they could argue heatedly, as Paul is unashamed to admit in one of his letters (cf. Gal 2:11). In short, they were two very different people, yet they saw one another as brothers, as happens in close-knit families where there may be frequent arguments but unfailing love. Yet the closeness that joined Peter and Paul did not come from natural inclinations, but from the Lord. He did not command us to like one another, but to love one another. He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike. He unites us in our differences.

Today’s first reading brings us to the source of this unity. It relates how the newly born Church was experiencing a moment of crisis: Herod was furious, a violent persecution had broken out, and the Apostle James had been killed. And now Peter had been arrested. The community seemed headless, everyone fearing for his life. Yet at that tragic moment no one ran away, no one thought about saving his own skin, no one abandoned the others, but all joined in prayer. From prayer they drew strength, from prayer came a unity more powerful than any threat. The text says that, “while Peter was kept in prison, the Church prayed fervently to God for him” (Acts 12:5). Unity is the fruit of prayer, for prayer allows the Holy Spirit to intervene, opening our hearts to hope, shortening distances and holding us together at times of difficulty.

Let us notice something else: at that dramatic moment, no one complained about Herod’s evil and his persecution. No one abused Herod – and we are so accustomed to abuse those who are in charge. It is pointless, even tedious, for Christians to waste their time complaining about the world, about society, about everything that is not right. Complaints change nothing. Let us remember that complaining is the second door that closes us off from the Holy Spirit, as I said on Pentecost Sunday. The first is narcissism, the second discouragement, the third pessimism. Narcissism makes you look at yourself constantly in a mirror; discouragement leads to complaining and pessimism to thinking everything is dark and bleak. These three attitudes close the door to the Holy Spirit. Those Christians did not cast blame; rather, they prayed. In that community, no one said: “If Peter had been more careful, we would not be in this situation”. No one. Humanly speaking, there were reasons to criticize Peter, but no one criticized him. They did not complain about Peter; they prayed for him. They did not talk about Peter behind his back; they talked to God. We today can ask: “Are we protecting our unity, our unity in the Church, with prayer? Are we praying for one another?” What would happen if we prayed more and complained less, if we had a more tranquill tongue? The same thing that happened to Peter in prison: now as then, so many closed doors would be opened, so many chains that bind would be broken. We would be amazed, like the maid who saw Peter at the gate and did not open it, but ran inside, astonished by the joy of seeing Peter (cf. Acts 12:10-17). Let us ask for the grace to be able to pray for one another. Saint Paul urged Christians to pray for everyone, especially those who govern (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-3). “But this governor is…”, and there are many adjectives. I will not mention them, because this is neither the time nor the place to mention adjectives that we hear directed against those who govern. Let God judge them; let us pray for those who govern! Let us pray: for they need prayer. This is a task that the Lord has entrusted to us. Are we carrying it out? Or do we simply talk, abuse and do nothing? God expects that when we pray we will also be mindful of those who do not think as we do, those who have slammed the door in our face, those whom we find it hard to forgive. Only prayer unlocks chains, as it did for Peter; only prayer paves the way to unity.

Today we bless the pallia to be bestowed on the Dean of the College of Cardinals and the Metropolitan Archbishops named in the last year. The pallium is a sign of the unity between the sheep and the Shepherd who, like Jesus, carries the sheep on his shoulders, so as never to be separated from it. Today too, in accordance with a fine tradition, we are united in a particular way with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Peter and Andrew were brothers, and, whenever possible, we exchange fraternal visits on our respective feast days. We do so not only out of courtesy, but as a means of journeying together towards the goal that the Lord points out to us: that of full unity. We could not do so today because of the difficulty of travel due to the coronavirus, but when I went to venerate the remains of Peter, in my heart I felt my beloved brother Bartholomew. They are here, with us.

Source: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200629_omelia-pallio.html

Are You the Calm in the Storm?

June 30, 2020

Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the seas, and there was great calm. (Matthew 8:23-27)

Even the staunchest believers experience doubt, don’t they?

We say we trust in Jesus. We say we are committed believers. We say we will put our lives in His hands. But when all of the stresses (winds) and doubts (seas) of life mount up (violent storm), we panic. We are afraid. We go frantically searching for Jesus when He is right there with us all along.

Are you someone who chooses to live in stormy waters, because you are unable to trust in God and relinquish control to Him?

Or are you the calm in the storm, knowing He is ever present in your life?

I’m not completely there yet, but that’s my goal!

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

June 29, 2020 – Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

On June 29 the Church celebrates the feast day of Saints Peter & Paul. Together, the two saints are the founders of the See of Rome, through their preaching, ministry and martyrdom there.

Peter, who was named Simon, was a fisherman of Galilee and was introduced to the Lord Jesus by his brother Andrew, also a fisherman. Jesus gave him the name Cephas (Petrus in Latin), which means ‘Rock,’ because he was to become the rock upon which Christ would build His Church.

Peter was a bold follower of the Lord. He was the first to recognize that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and eagerly pledged his fidelity until death. In his boldness, he also made many mistakes, however, such as losing faith when walking on water with Christ and betraying the Lord on the night of His passion. Continue reading

Homily: Serve, Pray, Repeat

June 28, 2020 – Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

I delivered the following homily on these same readings at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis this weekend in July of 2017:

I had the honor of speaking to the Serra Club of Indianapolis on Monday evening. The topic was, Our Work is Never Done. The central message of that presentation was – no matter how much you did one day to serve God and others, you are expected to get up the next day and do it again.

One of the reasons many people stray from the Church, or lapse in their faith, is that the role of disciple is demanding and relentless. By nature, human beings are self-centered. To focus on Jesus is hard work and cramps our style. Continue reading

Despite Our Unworthiness

June 27, 2020

The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. (Matthew 8:5-11)

These words, spoken by a Roman centurion and used as a part of the Communion Rite of our Catholic Mass, convey a powerful statement of faith. The centurion does not feel worthy of having Jesus come into his home, but trusts that Jesus can heal his servant simply by saying the words. He believes that it is possible.

These words are certainly memorable, and teach a great lesson on faith, but how do they fit into the Mass? Why include them as the words the faithful proclaim prior to receiving Holy Communion?

If you think about it, we are expressing a faith similar to that of the centurion. We are not worthy of receiving so precious a gift as the real presence of Jesus in Holy Communion. By saying these words, we are admitting our unworthiness. We are also saying, “We believe!” We are expressing a firm belief that all things are possible with God. Jesus does not have to be with us in human form for us to recognize His presence.

It is a bold statement.

When we receive Holy Communion the Eucharistic Minister says, “The Body of Christ.” We respond by saying, “Amen.” This puts an exclamation point on our belief in His presence. By saying, “Amen” we are saying “I would stake my life on it.”

None of us are worthy. God’s gift is that He comes to us anyway.

Unrelenting Faith is Rewarded

June 26, 2020

When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And then a leper approached, did him homage, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I will do it. Be made clean.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

If I had been a witness to the event in today’s Gospel, I am not sure what would have amazed me more – a leper approaching Jesus or Jesus touching the leper. Both of these actions would have been unheard of. Lepers were forbidden to approach others. As a matter of fact, they were required to call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” if anyone came near them, to warn others of their condition.

And yet, we have this leper engaging Jesus. Showing his tremendous faith, the leper said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” He expresses no doubt as to Jesus’ ability to heal.

Jesus rewarded this faith in two ways: First, He healed the leper of his affliction. Second, and just as powerful, He offered the leper human contact, something the leper would not have experienced for years.

With that simple touch the leper learned that he was worthy of love and that his unrelenting faith would be rewarded.

When we consider ourselves unworthy, when the shame of our sins make us feel like lepers, we must have faith. We must remember: There is nothing we could ever do to make God love us less…nothing.

Daily Prayer for Support

June 25, 2020

I have had several requests for the daily prayer I quoted in my most recent homily. I am happy to share it:

Walk with Me Today – Daily Prayer for Support

My God, walk with me today.

When I am on the right path, affirm me.

When I come to a fork in the road, guide me.

When I am lazy and unmotivated, push me to move forward.

When fear stops me in my tracks, assure me of your presence.

When I fall, help me up.

And when I am so tired I cannot take another step, carry me…

until I am once again renewed in Your love.

Let all things I do today be done to glorify You.

Amen.

 Written by Deacon Rick Wagner