Believe

May 31, 2021 – Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. (Luke 1:45)

BELIEVE: The words above were spoken by Elizabeth to her cousin, Mary. Mary listened to the words of the Angel Gabriel – “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Luke 1:31) – and believed. She not only believed, she acted.

Today’s Gospel issues a challenge: God is speaking to us. Do we believe? More importantly, do we act upon His words?

When God speaks to us, he may not do so through his angels, but His word is still available to us. It comes to us through Scripture. It is made known to us in our interactions with others. It speaks volumes through the beauty of nature.

The message comes through loud and clear: Nothing is possible without God. Nothing is impossible with God.

If we believe, then we must act. Our actions are clear as well: Love God with all your heart, and love others as yourself.

Blessed are we if we live this Gospel message.

Homily: Embrace the Mystery

May 30, 2021 – Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

The following is a homily I delivered on this same feast day in 2018:

A priest was presenting to a group of second graders preparing to receive their First Holy Communion. He shared the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He was, of course, bombarded with questions: “Is it like magic? How does Jesus fit in the host? How is Jesus in all of the hosts at the same time?”

Finally, the priest said, “It is one of the mysteries of the Church.” He should have stopped there, but he made the mistake of adding, “Just like the Trinity is a mystery.”

This, of course, led to “What’s the Trinity?” The priest did his best to simplify the concept of the Trinity for the 8-year-olds. Hands shot up into the air: “So is that like magic? Who’s in charge when all three of them are together? How can the Father be the Son? My grandma says, ‘Holy Ghost’ – is the Holy Ghost God too?”

Exasperated, the priest did his best to return to his “mystery” response. He told them, “These are all good questions. That’s why we refer to these things as mysteries. A mystery of the Church is unable to be understood by the human mind.”

This answer seemed to impress the kids, as well as quiet them.

The priest took advantage of the quiet and attempted to end his presentation. “Are there any other questions?” he asked cautiously.

One hand went up and a boy asked, “Last week you said that Jesus was God and human, right?

The priest smiled, delighted that someone had remembered one thing he had taught them. “Yes, that’s right,” he answered. “Human – like us in all things but sin.”

The little boy asked, “So does Jesus understand the Trinity?”

**********

I remember the course we took on the Trinity during the third year of my deacon formation. At the end of the final session, the sixteen of us were dazed and confused, even disoriented. The Trinity is a mind-blowing theological concept. We had difficulty wrapping our minds around all we had read and heard. The thought that parishioners might come to us to help them understand the Trinity left us unsettled. At the conclusion of the course it remained a mystery.

There are three nuggets I’ve heard over the years that have helped me to experience the Trinity – not understand, but experience.

First, since I gave Fr. Jim a hard time a few weeks ago, I will give him credit where credit is due. And now is a great time to do that because he’s out of town and it won’t go to his head.

This came from Fr. Jim in a past homily: “The Trinity is a mystery to behold, not to be solved.”

I get a sense of relief from those words. It is like being told by a math teacher that is not important to solve the equation, the real knowledge comes from working on it.

In past homilies, I have stated that not understanding certain aspects of our faith, or even doubting or questioning them, is acceptable. I think that sentiment bears repeating.

Doubt is OK. It is a very human response. The key is in how we address our doubt. The easy path is to simply reject what we don’t understand. That is the path chosen by so many who have left the Church.

We should not stop seeking to understand, but it should not consume us. It is always worthwhile to spend time studying, digging into, and asking questions about our God and our faith. Such efforts keep us engaged and active; but we should be careful. We should not get so caught up in trying to understand the Trinity, that we do not appreciate the Trinity.

In today’s gospel, the risen Christ appeared to the eleven apostles in Galilee. The Gospel read: “When the disciples saw him, they worshipped, but they doubted.” The men chosen by Jesus to build the Church doubted. However, it is important to note that while experiencing doubt, they continued to worship.

Permission to doubt has been granted to us. However, the call to worship remains. We worship not in spite of our doubt, but in harmony with it. In doing so, we embrace the mystery.

The second Trinity nugget actually comes from the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It reads:

The Trinity is the mystery of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Trinity is inaccessible to the human mind. The revealed truth of the Holy Trinity is at the very root of the Church’s living faith as expressed in the Creed.

The Creed, our profession of faith that we’ll pray together in a few minutes, states very clearly what we believe as a Church. Don’t mechanically mouth the words to this prayer – focus on what it is saying we believe. Pray the words. Profess the words.

Simply put, according to the Creed, we have two beliefs. We believe in the Trinity and we believe in the Church.

The Trinity: I believe in one God – the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God…the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

And the Church: I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

We profess to believe in the Trinity and in the Church.

Finally, and I don’t remember the source of this third nugget, I offer this image of Trinity: The Trinity is our creator (God the Father), our human example (Jesus Christ), and our voice (the Holy Spirit) – one God, three gifts. I think that is a beautiful expression of Trinity. It allows me to embrace the mystery.

The Trinity is the revealed truth of our faith. Mystery is the essence of our faith. After all, isn’t faith a belief in something we cannot fully understand? Something we cannot explain or prove?

When we make the Sign of the Cross, we say, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” Notice we use the singular form, “name,” rather than the plural,  “names.” One God, three persons.

Each time we make the Sign of the Cross, we allow the love of the Trinity to dwell in our hearts. We heard in our first reading from Deuteronomy: “…fix in your heart, that the Lord is God…and that there is no other.”

Fix the truth and love of the Trinity in your heart. Embrace the mystery.

Anger

May 28, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

They came to Jerusalem, and on entering the temple area he began to drive out those selling and buying there.
He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.
(Mark 11:11-26)

ANGER: There are a handful of gospel passages that make us say, “I wish Jesus hadn’t done that” or “I wish Jesus hadn’t said that.” These passages make us uncomfortable.

For instance, we wish Jesus hadn’t overturned the tables of the moneychangers and driven them out of the temple. Couldn’t he have talked it over with them first, calmly expressing His point of view? 

Why was Jesus so angry?

The temple, for the Jewish people, was the very dwelling place of God on earth, the place where heaven and earth met. It was the place where harmony between divinity and humanity was achieved, where the one true God was honored and worshipped. It was a sacred house of prayer, especially during the time of Passover, the height of the Jewish year.

Keeping that in mind, Jesus encountered not a house of prayer, not a sacred place, but a marketplace.

What Jesus encountered was not coffee and donuts in the narthex. It was sacrilegious chaos. It was not only physically dirty; it was spiritually and ethically dirty. The temple was in need of cleansing. That’s why Jesus was angry.

Let’s compare our anger to that of Jesus. We generally get angry when someone offends us or keeps us from doing something we want to do. We get angry when we want something for ourselves, but don’t get it. In other words, our anger is most often centered on ourselves and our desires.

In comparison, Jesus was angry because the actions of those in the temple offended God. He was angry because the merchants were treating God’s house with contempt. They were cheating the people who came to worship, manipulating sacrificial law to benefit themselves. Instead of a selfish anger, Jesus acted out of a righteous anger. The anger of Jesus wasn’t self-directed; he defended the holiness of his Father’s temple.

So, is it ever OK for us to get angry?

The short answer is, “Yes, absolutely!” As a matter of fact, Catholic social teaching calls us to anger – when we see God’s kingdom under attack, when we see the dignity of life disregarded, when we see those most vulnerable enduring neglect and abuse, when grave sin is flaunted before us, when we witness evil that profanes God’s holiness. Absolutely we should be angry, and we should act on that anger.

This anger should be a righteous anger focused on what offends God. It should be an anger governed by love, directed not at people, but at the actions that are offensive. We are not perfect – our actions offend God at times too – so peace and compassion must be a part of our righteous anger.

Your Faith Has Saved You

May 27, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

Jesus told him, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you. (Mark 10:52)

YOUR FAITH HAS SAVED YOU: What was it about Bartimaeus that moved Jesus to give him his sight and say, “Your faith has saved you”?

There are a few things that Jesus recognized in this blind beggar that others did not:

  • First, Bartimaeus believed. He believed Jesus was capable of giving him his sight. It is likely that he had heard about Jesus healing others. As Jesus traveled, word about the miraculous healings He had performed spread. Now, throngs of people followed Him wherever he went. Bartimaeus heard about Jesus, and believed. Without seeing it with his own eyes – unable to see it with his own eyes – he believed. He had absolute faith in Jesus. Happy are those who have not seen, and yet believe.
  • Second, Bartimaeus took action.  Jesus might never pass that way again. He knew that if he were going to receive help, then he needed to act when he had the chance. The Gospel tells us that when Jesus responded to him, Bartimaeus “threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” This blind man had a desire, and he ran to Jesus with that desire. If he had not acted right then, he would have been blind forever.

It was his faith that allowed him to take action.

  • Third, Bartimaeus spoke with confidence. Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied, “Master, I want to see.” He did not say, “I hope you can do this for me” or “Could you try to give me my sight?” He simply stated his desire to Jesus – “I want to see.”

It was his faith that allowed him to speak with confidence.

  • Finally, Bartimaeus followed through. Throughout Scripture we read about others who were healed. Often they ran away to spread the news to their family and friends. Some simply disappeared without even a thank you. Not Bartimaeus. Jesus opened the door for him to walk away, saying “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

However, he saw that the way of Jesus was a far better way than his own. The Gospel tells us: “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way.”

It was his faith that allowed him to follow through.

Servants

May 26, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

“Hear the prayer of your servants, for you are ever gracious to your people; and lead us in the way of justice.” (Sirach 36:10-17)

SERVANTS: We hear it over and over again throughout Scripture: We are called to serve others. There is no mistaking that very clear message. If words are not enough, Jesus lived it for us. God, in His human form, got down on His knees and washed the feet of His disciples. Pretty direct message, don’t you think?

Unfortunately, the world sends us a much different message. It is a world focused on fulfilling our own needs. It is a world which calls us to seek immediate gratification. It is a me-centered world, where power and possessions are the measure of our success.

God gave us free will. We have a choice on how we live our lives.

Serving others should be part of our daily lives, not just something we do on a mission trip or after an earthquake. We serve when we treat others with love and tolerance. We serve when we consider the impact of our actions on others. We serve when we spread the Gospel message in word and deed.

We serve when we follow the example of Jesus.

Generous Spirit

May 25, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

In a generous spirit pay homage to the Lord… (Sirach 35:10)

GENEROUS SPIRIT: Scripture reminds us today to “Do it like you mean it!”

Pray with an open heart, with gratitude, and with conviction. Serve others with love, with humility, and with pure intentions. Approach the Eucharist not only with reverence, but also with joy and excitement.

God does not want lip service. Prayer and worship are more than recited words. They are an attitude, a way of life. They should reflect a generous spirit.

Behold, Your Mother

May 24, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”

Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

BEHOLD, YOUR MOTHER: John’s account of Jesus’ death is highly symbolic. When Jesus gives the beloved disciple to Mary, we are invited to appreciate Mary’s role in the Church: She symbolizes the Church; the beloved disciple represents all believers. As Mary mothered Jesus, she is now mother to all his followers. Furthermore, as Jesus died, he handed over his Spirit. Mary and the Spirit cooperate in begetting new children of God—almost an echo of Luke’s account of Jesus’ conception. Christians can trust that they will continue to experience the caring presence of Mary and Jesus’ Spirit throughout their lives and throughout history.

Source: https://www.franciscanmedia.org

Homily: Gift Chosen Just for You

May 23, 2021 – Pentecost Sunday

I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Parish today:

Ten-year-old Tommy unwrapped the birthday gift from his parents and was delighted to find the newest Pokemon video game. He was beyond excited since he had been hinting at this gift for several months.

Tommy’s dad was also pleased as he considered himself quite the gamer and looked forward to playing the new game with his son.

Tommy’s younger brother, Nicholas, was equally excited. Tommy had told him that if he got the new game for his birthday, he would give the old Pokemon game to Nicholas.

Tommy’s mom may have been happiest of all. She knew that with all her boys tucked away in the basement with a new video game, she would have a few hours of peace in the house.

The family dog even found enjoyment as she played with and chewed on the box the game had come in.

One gift with varied benefits to all.

***************

The liturgical seasons are marked by gift-giving. On Christmas, Christ was born; he was God the Father’s gift to us. Jesus served as an example of how to live a life of holiness and directed us to a love of God and others. It was a gift given freely to us, with no obligation attached, simply a willingness to receive it.

Continue reading

Without Hindrance

May 22, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

“He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:31)

WITHOUT HINDRANCE: The scripture passage above is referring to Paul, the most prolific messenger of all of the Apostles. Take a moment to consider the conditions under which Paul worked:

*Many people feared him. The fear was well-founded, as Paul’s (Saul’s) prior occupation involved persecuting, arresting, and putting to death followers of Jesus Christ. He pushed forward despite the fear he saw in their eyes. He spoke of love and compassion and gave witness to his own conversion.

*Many did not trust him; they may not have feared him because of their faith, but they most certainly did not trust him. He continued to preach God’s mercy and shared how he, too, lacked trust at one time.

*He was arrested and imprisoned multiple times, beaten and chained. Yet, he continued. He wrote letters from prison to churches he had established on his journey. While sitting in prison, he encouraged others. He even proclaimed the Kingdom of God to his captors.

*He had no modern transportation, no email or social media. He walked from town to town and preached the gospel message face-to-face, in both word and deed.

So many things to hinder him, yet Paul operated without hindrance.

With Paul in mind, I am embarrassed by how many things hinder me. Feeling a little under the weather, being in a bad mood, selfishness, opting for the easy path, or holding a grudge against God for prayers I perceive as unanswered — I allow even these minor inconveniences to hold me back. Paul was beaten and imprisoned and yet he persevered.

Think of the hurdle event in track and field. Paul was an Olympic-level hurdler. He raced forward, gliding over each hurdle / obstacle that stood in his way, determined to finish the race.

We can’t all be Olympic-level hurdlers. We can, however, see the finish line and work toward it one hurdle at a time. Some days a hurdle may stop us and even cause us to fall. We will be attempted to step around the hurdle, but that will take us off-course.

We need to allow Jesus to be both our coach and our biggest fan. He will will dust us off, set the hurdle back back in place, and encourage us to try again.

“Without hindrance” does not mean obstacles don’t exist, it means we don’t allow those obstacles to keep us from pushing toward the finish line.

Happy Anniversary, Carol!

May 21, 2021

Today, Carol and I celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary. We continue to make a decision to love one another every day. Here are a few things that have helped along the way:

  • Carol and I have celebrated our differences, even found humor in them. She is an extreme extrovert; I am an extreme introvert. She talks to think; I think to talk. She is shopping at a downtown mall; I am fishing in a boat on a quiet lake. Carol is messy; I am neat. These differences could have proven to be frustrating and unmanageable, but we have each allowed the other to be genuine. Acknowledging and celebrating our differences, and laughing about them, allow each of us to grow as an individual while we also grow as a couple.
  • We remember why we married one another. At one point in our marriage, it drove me crazy how Carol did (or didn’t do) the laundry. She would start the laundry when we were completely out of clothes, then do it all in one day. Wash them all in one day – fold them and put them away over the course of the subsequent 3-4 days. It was more than my left-brain self could handle. After quite a lengthy period of frustration, I calmly asked myself, “Why did I marry Carol?” I was able to give many reasons. Not one of those reasons was to do my laundry. So if I didn’t like the way Carol did laundry, and I did not like being frustrated, that left me one choice. I started doing the family laundry and have been doing it ever since.
  • We are deliberate in acknowledging our love for one another. We say, “I love you” to each other all the time: when we wake up in the morning, when one of us leaves the house, at the end of a phone conversation, and in any text or e-mail we send to one another. We hold hands. Gentle touches are administered by one of us if the other is struggling. The struggling spouse may not feel like talking, but will appreciate the acknowledgment and concern shown.
  • We are sensitive to one another’s needs. Sometimes Carol needs to talk and I need to listen. Sometimes I need to not talk and Carol needs to respect that. When she cries, I don’t tell her, “That’s not something to cry about,” even if I do not find it cry-worthy. Although I had to learn it over time, I now know I need to respond to her when she speaks. Early in our marriage, she would talk for a while and then get frustrated because I didn’t answer her. And of course I, a male, was thinking to myself, “You didn’t ask me a question.” Her point was that I needed to acknowledge her and let her know she has been heard.
  • We share our faith and prayer lives with one another. This final piece came along later in our marriage and has made us even closer. We pray together. We share where we are in our faith, our doubts as well as our discoveries. I believe that this has allowed Jesus to enter more fully into our marriage. We feel His presence.
  • Finally, as I said earlier, we make a decision to love one another each day. As corny as it sounds, I believe in this and do it. We have not always done this. Carol and I began facilitating marriage prep retreats over twenty years ago and “love is a decision” is a unifying theme of those retreat weekends. We bought into it. When you wake up every morning and put yourself in the mindset of I will love my spouse today, it makes an impact. Even if we are getting on each other’s nerves, we can say, “I may not like you much today, but I am committed to loving you today.”

Blessed in marriage for 38 years!