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Monday, June 18, 2018

Patience and Fatherhood (11th Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Before I begin the homily today, I want to wish all the Fathers present a very happy and blessed Fathers’ Day. I'd like to thank you for your faithful witness and willing self-sacrifice, which has been an integral part of your family’s formation in the faith. Unfortunately, we live in a society that often minimizes the role of the father in family life and makes it easy for men to shirk their responsibilities. We see the hurtful effects of these decisions on our young people! But today in our culture and in our Church, we want to reaffirm your essential role in the family and in the world for all our dads. After communion we will offer a special blessing of appreciation for all of our fathers.

One of the essential characteristics of fatherhood is patience. A good father learns to be patient very quickly so the members of his family can have a safe environment to grow and develop. But even the best dads lose their patience sometimes. And certainly all of us, even the most mild-mannered, struggle to be patient in certain circumstances and with certain people. I think this is even more so in modern times, where we have grown used to things happening right away, as soon as we want them. Think about how quick communications have become with instant messaging, text messages, skype, and the fact that most people expect a response to their message right away. We can see the same impatience in the way we shop, the way we eat, the way we drive, and even the way we pray.

Compare this with Jesus’ description of the kingdom of God. He says, “it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow.” To drive his point home, Jesus offers another image for the kingdom of God, of which, we are called to be members. Once again he says, “It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade."

The Hebrews would have understood the point of these parables instantly because they understood agriculture. Their lives depended on the crops they cultivated and the animals they raised.  Yet, they knew the wonder of growth belonged to the Lord. The people who heard Jesus tell the parable of the farmer's life also shared the wonder of the soil. The farmer worked hard during the day, but he couldn’t make the seed grow into a plant, nor the plant produce fruit. It is God and God alone who caused the growth. The people of Jesus’ time would have been acutely aware of how little control they had over their crops, the weather, and even the harvest they could expect. Whether they liked it or not, they had to be patient and trust that God would provide for their needs.
This is a necessary lesson for us modern people. We have grown used to thinking we are in control and the false sense that we will master any situation with enough time and research. We have grown so impatient as a society believing we must take charge and seize what we want. But how much mystery still remains in the world!? And how little we actually control?

The people of the ancient world were often a step ahead of us when it came to openness to the kingdom of God. They constantly came into contact with their helplessness and knew how much they depended on God for their basic, daily needs. The parables of the farmer and the mustard seed would have described a way of life that many experienced each and every day: It is God who plants the seed and God who makes it grow. We can cooperate with his grace but ultimately it is God who controls everything. We have to be patient, acknowledging that things happen in God’s time and according to his plan.

It is good for us to reflect on God’s patience with mankind and how patience is built into a true understanding of the kingdom of God. Imagine how easy it would have been for God to make us the way he wanted right away, to make us perfect instantly. Instead, God is patient with us, he gives us many opportunities to grow, and forgives our failures if we are truly sorry. Truly, God’s patience is one of the great gifts that he shares with us and one we certainly don’t deserve. But like so many of God’s gifts, his patience cannot be hoarded for ourselves. It must be shared freely.  

With the example of God’s patience, we might look at our own approach to life’s setbacks and annoyances. Do we exercise patience when things don’t go our way? Or when God asks us to wait for what we want? Or when we have to absorb the impatience of others? Since God is so patient with us, we must learn to be patient with ourselves and others. The root of the word patience is “patio” which means “to suffer” and if we want to have patience in our day-to-day living, then we must also be willing to accept suffering in our lives. If we try to run from every suffering then we will be unable to be patient as well. 

Let us pray for this gift of patience each and every day so we might live the truth taught in today’s parables. And let us embrace the opportunities that come our way to exercise patience, even if it means suffering, knowing that they can teach us something and lead us closer to God.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Jesus Is Waiting for Your Visit (Corpus Christi 2018)

To listen to this homily, click here.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, historically known by its Latin name, Corpus Christi, celebrates the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The feast dates to the Middle Ages and came about because of an extraordinary miracle.

In 1263 a German priest, Fr. Peter of Prague, made a pilgrimage to Rome. He stopped in Bolsena, Italy, to celebrate Mass at the Church of St. Christina. At the time he was having doubts about Jesus being truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. He was affected by the growing debate among theologians who were speculating if the Eucharistic was Jesus’ actual Body and Blood or just a symbol. When Fr. Peter said the prayer of consecration, blood started seeping from the host onto the altar and corporal.

Understandably shaken, Fr. Peter reported this miracle to Pope Urban IV, who happened to be nearby in Orvieto. The pope sent delegates to investigate and ordered that host and blood-stained corporal be brought to Orvieto. The relics were then placed in the Cathedral of Orvieto, where they remain today. Pope Urban instituted Corpus Christi for the Universal Church and celebrated it for the first time in 1264, a year after the Eucharistic Miracle in Bolsena.

        Inspired by the miracle, Pope Urban commissioned a Dominican friar, St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose the Mass and Office for the feast of Corpus Christi. Aquinas’ hymns in honor of the Holy Eucharist, Pange Lingua, Tantum Ergo, Panis Angelicus, and O Salutaris Hostia are the beloved hymns the Church sings on the feast of Corpus Christi as well as throughout the year during Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

This belief that the Eucharist is actually the Body and Blood of Jesus is something that has distinguished Catholics from virtually every other Christian community and denomination. It’s the reason we genuflect when we come into Church. It’s why we have the unique practice of Adoration, where the Host is placed in something called a monstrance for us contemplate in wonder and awe. This fundamental belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion has enabled many Christians to give their lives for the Eucharist, not just in the early centuries, but even in modern times. In Nazi concentration camps, priests celebrated secret Masses so they and other prisoners could receive Communion. A priest in a Vietnamese prison celebrated Mass by holding a tiny particle of bread and single drop of wine in the palm of his hand. 

If the Eucharist meant so much to so many Catholics over the last 20 centuries, we should also ask what it means to us? Here at Incarnate Word, we are doing our best to have a well-kept church and beautiful music. We have a welcoming community and I promise your clergy put a considerable amount of time, prayer, and effort into our preaching. But even if all these things were missing or downright terrible, would it not be worthwhile to come to Mass just to worship and receive Jesus himself?

As creatures made in the image and likeness of God, our first and most important responsibility to the Lord is worship! The primary purpose of music is to worship God. In a similar way, an effective homily should lead to worship and should itself be an act of worship, which means it doesn’t draw attention to me but directs the focus back to God. Our very gathering is an act of worship. We should, of course, be friendly and courteous, but we always keep in mind that we are here for a sacred purpose: to worship our Maker, our Savior, the One who gives us his entire self under the form of bread and wine.

St. Augustine said, "No one eats this flesh unless he first adores it." Which highlights the spiritual treasure we have in this wonderful parish: perpetual adoration! Every hour of every day except for Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we are blessed to have the Eucharist, the actual Body and Blood of Jesus in our adoration chapel waiting for you and me to visit in prayer. Think about that for a moment! The Savior of the world, the Victor over sin and death, the Redeemer of your soul and the souls of everyone you have ever loved, sits quietly just outside these doors 24 hours a day! He would be thrilled to see you, to have you sit with Him and whether you tell Him what is going on in your life or you just enjoy His company, nothing would make Him happier!

Lately we have been having trouble filling up hours for our adoration chapel. It is customary to have at least two people signed up for each hour of adoration which means this parish would need at least 336 people to visit with Jesus one hour each week. Many of you already do this. But there are some slots with only one person and other times where one adorer covers multiple hours. Incarnate Word has 2,053 registered households and 5,927 souls as members. Simple math tells me we have enough people to keep Jesus company.

I know many people hesitate from signing up because they aren’t sure what they would do for an hour. Maybe they feel like they don’t know how to pray or are afraid they will do it wrong. Don’t let that stop you. Adoration is as simple as sitting with someone you love and who loves you back. You don’t need a script. Sometimes you might talk, other times you will listen. Maybe you will pray the rosary, read the bible, write in a journal or even fall asleep. Many times it will be as simple as looking at the Lord and knowing He looks back and smiles at you. Hopefully you’ve had this sort of experience already as a spouse, parent, grandparent or friend and you enjoy sitting in the company of the people you love while your heart is fed and filled.

One other common concern: “Father, I’m too busy. I can’t commit to an hour.” To which I would offer the observation that love finds a way to be with the people near and dear to our heart. We all get the same amount of hours in a day but the way we spend them is up to us. I know it can be difficult, especially for our young families, to get away from ball games, meetings, and the business of raising kids every single week. But might it be possible to sign up for an hour with three or four other families or friends so each one covers an hour a month? Love is creative like that. It finds ways to spend time together despite the challenges. 

One final comment. I have never met anyone who committed to a regular practice of adoration and found out that it was worthless, terrible, or ruined their life. In fact, person after person will tell you that even though they didn’t know what to do or expect at first, it has changed their life and made them a better Christian, spouse, friend, and overall person. So let’s honor the tremendous gift of Jesus in the Eucharist and do something good for ourselves at the same time. Please consider adding the practice of adoration to your prayer and let’s see how it might change your life by the time this feast rolls around next year!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Seeds of the Spirit (Pentecost, 2018)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Every few months the National Geographic channel runs a documentary series on some of the beautiful national parks in the United States. I’ve watched these several times and never get sick of the incredible beauty we are blessed with. It makes me want to visit all the different parks to experience the unique features they offer. One park in particular comes to mind as we celebrate Pentecost and the end of the Easter season. Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona is 142 square miles of seemingly harsh and barren desert terrain. At first glance, you might think the only thing growing there is the giant Saguaro cacti which give the park its name. But look a little closer and signs of life are everywhere. Much of it is hidden, beneath the surface, and hard to see. This desert area doesn’t get much rain. Only about 1-10 inches a year fall on its sandy soil. But when it does, the whole desert is transformed, almost instantly, into a magical garden of beautiful flowers, green vegetation and other plant life, all of which was waiting for the transforming rain to bring it to life. 

Applying this to the spiritual realm, Fr. Benedict Groeschel wrote that the gifts of the Spirit are sewn into us like seeds. They remain in the desert of our souls waiting to be nourished and given life. They were first put there when we received the sacrament of baptism. Unfortunately, many of these gifts were never developed or we stopped using them to pursue worldly priorities. But they are still there, waiting for the rains to come. The grace of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, is that life-giving water. Today’s celebration is a reminder to invite that Heavenly Dew into our lives, to shout, “come Holy Spirit, come” so we, like the Saguaro desert, can be transformed into a place of beauty and life. 

Based on the readings this weekend, we might be tempted to think that the early Church had it better than us when it came to the Holy Spirit; that somehow we are at a disadvantage. But that isn’t true. When St. Paul went to visit the Ephesians, he sensed they were missing something in their faith. So he asked point-blank, "Have you received the Holy Spirit?" They replied that they hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit! When he heard this, St. Paul immediately confirmed them. They became supercharged Christians and their impact was felt immediately in the Church. 

We are one step ahead of the Ephesians. We have listened to Christ's command, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Each of us received the Holy Spirit at Baptism and Confirmation. The Spirit's gifts are awesome. Listen to them: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They are already present in our souls but we must learn to use them.

Why were the twelve apostles, most of them illiterate, able to win a world for Jesus? And why are a billion Christians unable to repeat the same feat now? The answer is the Apostles used the Holy Spirit's gifts to the full and we do not. 

The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, is just as available to you and me as he was to Peter and the other members of the early Church. But the Holy Spirit is God, he is not a pet. We cannot say, “Come Holy Spirit into my prayer, but stay out of my work” or “You are welcome in my house but stay out of my marriage or my finances or the way I parent or my choice of friends.” If we want his transforming power to take over our thoughts, words, and actions, we have to give him permission to enter every aspect of our lives. If we block off certain parts of our hearts to the Holy Spirit, his gifts cannot bring about the powerful results we heard about in today’s scriptures. 
The amazing news of Pentecost is that God wants his Church to be just as lively and dynamic today as it was when Peter and the gang were around. He is still pouring out gifts of healing, prophecy, comfort, preaching, and so many others to Catholics around the world and right here at Incarnate Word in Chesterfield, Missouri. We are not waiting for God to deliver the goods, He is waiting for us to say “yes”, to accept his invitation and let Him pour the waters of grace on the seeds of the Spirit that have just been waiting to explode into full bloom.

One last story to send us on our way: A poor European family was coming to the US in the early 1900’s. Having never sailed across the ocean before, they figured they would need to plan for their own meals. Having spent so much on the tickets, they packed bread and cheese to eat during the long voyage. 

After many days of cheese sandwiches, the son came to his father, "Dad, if I have to eat cheese sandwiches all the way across the Atlantic, I won't make it." The kind father gave him his last nickel for ice cream. Hours later the child returned. The father noticed his wide smile. He asked what he had eaten. "Several bowls of ice cream and a steak dinner." "For a nickel?" "No, dad, the food is free. It comes with the ticket." He returned the coin to his father. 

The filet mignon and ice cream of the Holy Spirit came to us with the ticket of our Baptism and Confirmation. No one has to continue eating boring sandwiches every day. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are at our disposal. The Church and the world needs us to be powered by them! Say “yes” to God and do not hesitate to cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit come!”

Monday, May 14, 2018

Tell the Good News to Every Creature (Ascension, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Not only is today the feast of the Ascension, but it is also Mother’s Day. So, before I begin the homily, I’d like to wish all moms here today a very happy Mother’s Day. Thanks to you who have brought forth and nurtured new life with generous hearts, for which we are eternally grateful. Thank you for your patience, guidance, and sacrifice in fulfilling your calling as moms. So much of what you do is quiet and unnoticed by anyone except God. I hope you all enjoy a wonderful and well-deserved Mother’s Day.  

The celebration of the Ascension today is pretty simple and straightforward. Today we are celebrating the fact that Jesus returned to his Father in heaven. So what does this final moment of Jesus’ time on earth have to teach us? 

           The Ascension matters to us because it tells us something about what we are supposed to do during our time here on earth. This feast is about waiting and working during our sojourn in this world. Throughout the gospels, Jesus made it clear that his kingdom was not of this world; in other words, this was a temporary place for him. With that in mind, he also made it evident he would come back again to judge the living and the dead, to reward the good and punish the bad. What Jesus did not do, for the apostles or for us, is reveal when he would be returning. As far as we know it could be in the next few moments, days, years, centuries, or even millennia.

            And that is where we find the apostles. In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us they enjoy the vision of Christ for forty days after his wonderful resurrection. The Lord uses these forty days to show them that he is truly risen, that he has conquered death, and that everything he told them before the crucifixion was true. And he also instructs them not to leave Jerusalem, at least not until they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. All of this, Jesus does to strengthen them, to embolden them, and to increase their faith in him until he returns to judge the earth.

            And what did Jesus expect the Apostles to do in the meanwhile? Christ says quite simply in the gospel, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” During this indefinite time between his Ascension and his return in glory, Jesus wants the apostles to make the Church grow, spread the Good News of his victory over death, and witness to his resurrection. He promised great signs and divine protection to those who follow this command.

            But Christ’s command to the apostles didn’t stop there; as a matter of fact, his mandate to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” extends to you and me also. Even though Christ has ascended into heaven, even though we are waiting for his return at any moment of every day, we are expected to evangelize and give witness to all we have received through the gift of our faith. All of us have received the gift of the Holy Spirit by virtue of our Baptism and those of us who have been confirmed also received the graces of Pentecost within our souls.

           The feast of the Ascension reminds us all that it is our responsibility to spread the gospel, whether we are a priest or parent, a teacher or laborer, professional or full-time student. This is our task in this time of waiting for Christ’s second coming; we are not just supposed to sit around idly, hoping we are ready when Jesus returns.

            Jesus works through us to attract others to himself. People do not become Christians primarily through of the words of Christianity. People become Christians through the presence of Christ and the example of charity lived out in the ordinary lives of Christians. We cannot allow anything to destroy the presence of Christ within us. We can't give ourselves over to the forces of evil that wage war on the Lord. The epic battles of the Book of Revelation are waged daily. The early Church believed that every Mass, every prayer, every work of charity, was a skirmish in the fight against evil. The forces of evil continually find new ways to wage war. The Eighteenth Century saw this in the so-called Enlightenment when rationalism ridiculed faith. The Nineteenth Century saw the enemy embrace the industrial revolution as a way to turn people against each other, against God, and toward the worship of materialism. The first half of the Twentieth Century saw the battle change to the political front with the ideals of fascism and communism twisted to eliminate the presence of the Lord. 

The second half of the last century up to our present time has seen evil attack personal holiness through the media, the internet and other advancements of technology. The battle for the Gospel continues. The Lord fights with us. His power, his presence is greater than all evil, even the evil we ourselves create. God encourages us in the battle through the miracles we call the sacraments. The miraculous is an everyday occurrence. Every day at this altar and in churches around the world, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. 24 hours a day, 363 days a year, Jesus sits in our adoration chapel in the Eucharist, waiting for you and me to visit Him. We can receive Holy Communion daily. Our sins can be wiped away anytime we go to confession. What can be more miraculous than experiencing God in the sacraments?!! Besides this, there are spiritual and physical healings that happen each and every day! Miracles are occurring everywhere if we view the world with the eyes of Faith!

Jesus’ command as he ascends into heaven is clear: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” No exceptions, no excuses to remain quiet in the face of difficulty, embarrassment, or persecution. Are we prepared to follow his command?


Monday, May 7, 2018

Love the Whole World, No Exceptions! (6th Sunday of Easter, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

            I am not a picky person when it comes to food. Anyone who has fed me vouch for this. There just isn't too much in the realm of food that I won't eat. Fruits, vegetables, meats, fish;they are all friends of mine when it comes to dinnertime. However, there is one thing I really can't stand: yellow skittles. But its not just yellow skittles, its also yellow starbursts, yellow sprees, yellow Jolly Ranchers, yellow jellybeans, and any other yellow candy that has a lemon flavor. I don't like them, I won't eat them, I separate them from the other candy I am eating then throw them away or give them to any sucker who wants them. And while my hang up with yellow candy might seem a little strange, most of us have some edible item we dislike and do our best to avoid, whether that be a fruit, vegetable, or some mystery meat. We all have things we like and those are the things we strive for, the things we like to have. Those items we don't like, we prefer to avoid and keep as far from us as possible, at least if we have the choice. This is a normal human reaction and something we do almost automatically many times a day in regards to people, places and things.

            In the gospel from John, Jesus says: "This is my commandment: love one another as I love you." Then, just a few lines later he says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you." and then he concludes by repeating: "This I command you: love one another." If there is one thingOur Lord is driving home to his apostles and to us it is this: "Love one another in the same way that I have loved you. Loving one another is my command and keeping my commandments makes you my friends. So love one another." But who is one another????? Who are we called to love in the same way that Christ loved us?????? Is it our friends? Yes! Is it our family? Yes! Would this include our co-workers, acquaintances and even total strangers? The answer is yes! Christ's command to love one another evenincludes thosewho have hurt us, thosewho annoy us, yes, even our enemies.

            The hard truth is there are people in our lives who are like the yellow skittles of life. These are the people that leave a bad taste in our mouth, the ones who make our stomachs churn when we see them. They are the folks who we would rather separate from the rest and throw away. They are the people who, if we had our way, would never have contact with us and we would never have to deal with them.

            But this command of Jesus to love one another, which he repeats several times, is clear; as Christians, we do not have the option of loving only those we like nor do we have the option of liking all of those we must love. As Christians, we do not have the luxury of choosingwhich people we will love and which people we will ignore or discard.
Christian love is much deeper; it is more than a passing feeling or fleeting passion.



            I mention this because there seems to be an increasingly hateful mentality in our society, even among those who call themselves Christians. I am not just speaking about a few backwards folks somewhere in the US or in the world. I am thinking of people in this city, people in this archdiocese, people in this parish. Christ's command to love one another extends to eachand everyperson made in his image and likeness; and this includes every person on this earth, regardless of their color, nationality, or creed. This command of charity embraces the whole range of humanity from the unborn child to the terminally ill and elderly. As Christians, we must love all persons, whether it is President Trump, brewing a Twitter storm or Pope Francis, saying things that are difficult to hear. As followers of Christ, we must love even those we struggle with, whether that is a Pastor, a member of the school administration, a fellow parishioner or any other person we don't see eye-to-eye with.

            But perhaps the reason why we find it so hard to love one another is because we don't understand what love truly is. To love as Jesus loves does not simply mean saying nice things or always grinning and bearing it; it is also about standing up and always doing the right thing even if this might be upsetting to some. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for an individual is to respectfully confront themwith the truth and correct them in order to prevent them fromgoing astray. Sometimes this means saying things that are difficult  and unpopular. Just because someone says something hard to hear doesn't mean they don't love us. Far too often we avoid sharing the truth because we're concerned about being"politically correct."  As a result, we dilute the gospel message and use the excuse that we are being "pastoral" and "sensitive."

           Friends, our gospel promises wonderful things to those who keep Christ's commandments; by following them we gain the privilege of becoming Children of God!!! To make it even simpler, Jesus tells us his commandment is this: love one another as he has loved us. Nothing could be more simple; nothing could be more difficult. We need God's help to keep this command, especially when it comes to those people who might be difficult, hateful, or just entirely different from ourselves. That is why we are here today, in this Church, at this Eucharist. Our example of love is seen on the cross; Jesus gave his very life for all people, even the people who put him to death. We are called to that same level of love, for our friends, for our family, and yes, even for our enemies. 
            Join with me in praying for the grace to love one another as Christ first loved us. This is the hallmark of our faith, this is the pledge of our salvation, this is what hasand should alwaysset Christians apart. May those beautiful words of Christ reign in our hearts: "I no longer call you slaves, I have called you friends. Love one another as I love you."

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Dream Big!! (5th Sunday of Easter, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Rather than rely on my own cleverness, which is quite limited, I would like reflect on the gospel image of the vine and branches using a story of a famous artist, quotes from Fulton Sheen, Mark Twain, and a few other masters, and the habits of traveling geese. Let’s see where this goes!

One day, the great Michelangelo entered his studio. He examined the canvases of his students. Some he complimented. He advised a few to paint for fun rather than food lest they starve. Finally he came to his best apprentice. The man was working on a small canvas. Michelangelo took up a brush and across the picture he wrote the Latin word "amplius." It means "larger." The maestro felt his pupil was playing it safe. He wasn’t working to his full potential. He wanted him to start over again. The artist did and he painted something breathtaking. 

There is a popular theory that we humans live our lives with large portions of our brains undeveloped or at least underutilized. This is also true of our souls. Spiritually, we are capable of being more convincing Christians than we are. What we lack is boldness. Had we a healthy dose of holy daring, we could become spiritual masterpieces. Jesus must often be tempted to write the word "amplius" over the lives of so many. We are good as far as we have gone. But we have not gone far enough. Our spiritual canvases are too small. We are capable of so much more in the spiritual life. The lives of our spirits need constant repainting. The Divine Teacher would tell us the larger canvases and brushes that we need are sitting right in front of us. They are ours for the taking. The problem with our world and the Church is not that God is failing to call enough people to be saints, it’s that too few people believe they are called to be saints. Saints make Jesus real. The same Christ who, in today's Gospel, says, "...every branch that does bear fruit I prune to make it bear even more." Our limited vision, says Christ, needs constant updating. But He does not tell us to grow fruit. Rather, He tells us eight times to abide, to rest, to stay close to Him. That's the secret.

A holy person said, 'Aim for the stars and you at least reach the mountain. But aim only for the mountain and you never get out of the mud." For many of us, our goals are too limited. Too often we attempt to go it alone in the spiritual life. This is not wise. Consider the habits of migrating geese. They fly in splendid formation. Ages ago they learned the hard way that they could fly more easily and for greater distances as a group. We would do much better at our faith if we acted in union with other believers. Some examples would be faith sharing, bible studies, reading of the spiritual masters, retreats, days of recollection, etc. A second trick that the clever geese have to teach us is about leadership. When the leader of their signature "V" formation gets tired from fighting the strong headwinds, it  drops back for a breather. Immediately, another goose comes forward to lead the pack. How much more effective our parish and we as Catholics would be if everyone carried his or her share of the burdens. As the geese would be the first to tell us, the lazy "Let someone else do it!" is not good enough. 
There are some of you here in church who have great contributions in leadership and talent to offer the Lord. You must come forward and take risks. Christ needs you and wants you. So do we! 

There is one last habit of geese to learn from. They encourage and support each other. When they fly in their formations, they honk like crazy. Even more so if they are flying through storms. The honking keeps the group in tight formation and serves as a beacon for strays. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Incarnate Word to be known as the parish that supports and encourages one another, especially those who have drifted away from God?! Mark Twain reminds us that encouragement is oxygen for the soul. He said he could live for a month on one good compliment. It’s amazing how a kind word or sincere affirmation can pick up the spirits of others. We need one another's help. The Christian life isn't hard to live: it's impossible! Only one person has pulled it off on their own: Jesus. But He has sent the Holy Spirit and given us the Catholic Church to help us. In these 50 days of Easter, we read many stories of the first Christians which reminds us the Holy Spirit can make a great finish out of a rough start. Some misguided people say, "I'd be a hypocrite if I started going to church again." To them Fulton Sheen said, "Come back. There's always room for one more."  

So where do we go from here? Dream big! Becoming a holy leader, becoming a saint is not for someone else or a select few, it is for each us! In your prayer this week, give God permission to use your life, your personality, your talents, and gifts to bear good and holy fruit. Believe that He wants to use you, not only for your own benefit, but also for the building up and encouraging of others. You don’t have to have all the answers; let go of the desire for complete control. He is the vine, we are simply the branches. Remain in Him through daily prayer, charitable works, and kind words and be open to the daring plan God might have for you. Then see where He takes you and how He will amplify your life and this parish! 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Do Be Sheepish! (4th Sunday of Easter, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

            In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus talk about his role as a shepherd, not of sheep but of his faithful followers. For this reason, the Church has traditionally named this Sunday, “Good Shepherd Sunday.” For many generations of Christians, this image of the good shepherd has brought great comfort and consolation. But for those of us who are urban dwellers, and I assume that is most of us, we might not appreciate the full power of this pastoral image until we understand the role of the shepherd in the ancient world, during the time of Jesus. 

In the Middle-East, when Jesus was preaching, shepherding was quite different than it is now. Most shepherds who tended their sheep kept them for many years for the wool they produced and did not slaughter them for meat. Shepherds led their animals - they did not drive them from behind, and they stayed with their flock both day and night, often putting them in a cave when it was night and blocking the entrance from hungry predators and thieves using their very own body. A shepherd also had a staff with hook on one end which he used for two purposes: to protect the sheep from wild animals and retrieve them from dangerous situations by putting that hook around the animal's body and dragging it to safety. The shepherd went ahead of his sheep to find safe, nourishing places of pasture and every waking hour was spent caring for them.

Because they kept their animals for years, they came to know them well and the sheep in turn knew and trusted them. As a matter of fact, most shepherds would name their sheep and all shepherds had a certain call or song the sheep knew. This call or song was the crucial bond between sheep and shepherd; Oftentimes, because places of pasture and shelter could be scarce and hard to find, several flocks might mix together while feeding or sleeping for the night. However, when it was time to sort out the sheep, one of the shepherds would stand some distance away from the group and make his unique call, which his sheep knew. As the sheep of his flock heard him, they would run to him, leaving behind the other shepherd with his sheep who refused to come to the first shepherd because they did not know his voice.

This was the relationship that existed between sheep and shepherd. The shepherd was devoted entirely to the care, comfort, and protection of his sheep and the sheep were completely obedient to shepherd, trusting in him for all of their needs. With this background information, we begin to truly appreciate the power of Jesus’ statement when he states: I am the good shepherd, 
 and I know mine and mine know me. I will lay down my life for the sheep. 
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, 
 and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
These beautiful words should give us great comfort. We need to remember that God, like a shepherd, helps his sheep; he helps us. There is nothing we need to do to deserve that help. Because of Christ’simmeasurable love, it is always there for us. It was won for us on the cross of Jesus, and secured for us forever by his resurrection.

Like a good shepherd, God watches over and protects his flock. When we cry out, he comes to us, when we search for him, he is there to assist us, and when we are in danger, he protects us. But the most marvelous thing of all is this: when we wander off and stray away from him, he seeks us out and calls us back to him. Through the Eucharist and the other sacraments he continues to nourish and bring us back to the safety and the comfort of his fold.

It is so easy to get lost in our world, to run around doing all the things that must be done, losing track of where we are, and where we should be. It is so easy to be busy and we get tired, discouraged, and find ourselves hungering for peace, but not knowing how to find it. It is so easy to stray from the Lord’s voice and end up in need of help. Far too often you and I spend too much time wandering around, unaware that we are lost, hungry, and without the Shepherd. When we finally realize our need for his helping hand, when we realize that we cannot see the shepherd, and we cannot see the other members of our fold, then we need to call out to him. We know the good shepherd is looking out for us at all times, and when he hears our cry for help he will find us in our hour of need.

It is so important for us to make time to be still. Stop doing things for a moment. Stop and listen for that comforting and life-giving voice of our divine shepherd. He will lead us to a place of peace, spiritual nourishment, and life, where our souls can be refreshed. This church is such a place. God has led you here today, and here at this Mass there is food for your journey, here there is water to refresh your soul, here you will find what your soul needs: a time of rest, a time of strengthening, a time of healing, in the presence of the Lord and his people.

I know this is a busy time for all of us: this is the season of weddings, graduations, confirmations, ordinations, first communions, exams, baseball, and so many other things. Yes, it is a busy time for many of us, and much, if not all, of what we are doing needs to be done. But these times of activity will not drain or discourage us if we stay close to Christ, our good shepherd, and remember that he is here to comfort, nourish, and restore our souls.

As we prepare to enter into the liturgy of the Eucharist, pause for a moment, close your eyes, and sense his presence in this place...Take comfort in knowing that God knows where you are and will answer your call... He knows each one of us by name and is ready to give us all we need...Jesus is the good shepherd, who lays down his life for us; there is nothing that you and I shall want if we follow him and trust in his care.