Follow by Email

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Sin of Racism (1st Sunday of Lent)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Every so often, after prayer and discernment, the Archbishop asks his priests to preach on a single topic on a certain weekend to provoke an Archdiocesan-wide reflection on a pressing issue of our times. On this first Sunday of Lent, Archbishop Carlson has asked us to preach on the topic of racism but has given latitude for how each priest does that. 

To be honest, I wasn’t real excited to undertake this task. Not because I am so naive to think that racism doesn’t exist in our city, in our Church, and even in our parish; I know that it does, in both blatant and subtle forms. The reluctance comes from knowing how politicized, manipulated, and convoluted this topic has become in our society. It is very difficult to have a rational, honest, respectful discussion about racism and its possible causes and remedies without it devolving into labels, judgements, and self-righteous indignation which perpetuate the “us-versus-them” mentality. As a result, I think many of us go into our shell and avoid talking about the issue all together, almost hoping it will just go away. But of course it won’t. My reflection today will focus on the spiritual component of the sin of racism. Specific topics like the historical, socio-economic factors that contribute to this evil are more complex and contentious and probably best left for discussion outside of Mass. 

Racism, and for that matter, any “ism” like sexism and ageism, are products of original sin. Before Adam and Eve turned against God in their pride, they could see the world and each other with God’s eyes. In other words, they wanted what God wanted. Selfishness, hatred, and using another person was unthinkable. But with the introduction of sin, every terrible thing became possible. Adam and Eve became afraid of each other and of God. They lost trust in each other and covered themselves. They hid from God. Within one generation, their children murder each other. The original unity and kindness God intended vanishes quickly when sin enters the human heart. After the introduction of sin, human beings tend to use each other for profit and pleasure. A person is judged by appearance or in terms of what they can do for me rather than accepted as a reflection of God and a brother or sister in Christ. For these reasons and more, racism, in both its subtle and blatant forms, is sinful and cannot be compatible with our beliefs or the portrait of God described in the first reading. 

It is hard to give a perfect definition of racism but a good start would be “the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another and that a person's social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics”. It is not racist to observe that people look, think, believe, and act in very different ways. Racism happens when a person or a whole group of people is judged and condemned based on the color of their skin.

Because racism is a spiritual problem and a moral evil, it’s remedy will be the same as other sins we struggle with. We cannot fix it by human efforts alone! We have to do our part but without God’s grace our initiatives will always fall short and disappoint. We need, as Christians, to make God part of the solution. Faith has to guide our thoughts, words, and actions.

Think again of our first reading today with Noah and the Ark. After the flood, God reaches out to the whole human race through Noah; not just that small group of survivors but every single human that will ever live! God doesn’t just shake hands with Noah, he enters into something called a covenant with humanity. So, what is a covenant?

A covenant is more than a legal contract or serious promise or even a solemn oath. A covenant is a living relationship where one person or party binds themselves to another person or party in a unique relationship. In a covenant, the two people or parties become family, intertwined in the most intimate way. To break a covenant is to tear away from the family and destroy the bond of kinship. An example would be marriage. In marriage two people enter into a union and form a family. Even their extended families are drawn together by this bond. A good marriage is beautiful thing in the life it fosters and the way it brings people unity, comfort, healing, and strength. When a marriage goes bad, when that covenant is disrespected or destroyed, it is incredibly destructive, divisive, and hurtful.

God wants humanity to be his family. He takes the initiative and reaches out to Noah as soon as dry land appears. His language is very beautiful and clear. Never again will the earth be destroyed by a flood. Not only that, but every time the clouds fill the sky, when rains falls to earth, and a rainbow appears, each and every time, God thinks of that covenant and remembers his love for each and every creature he made. 

God is a loving father, patient savior, merciful judge, interested listener, loyal spouse, dedicated brother, compassionate friend, and tireless advocate. Any words, beliefs or behaviors that contradicts these qualities and divides the human race doesn’t come from God!

This loving invite from God to Noah was not simply a neat moment in history; it is a living relationship. The Lord is still inviting people into this covenant, not simply as a group, not just as anonymous members of the human race, but as individuals. God is constantly seeking a personal, unique, one on one covenant with you and me that is different than the one he has with any other person. He will not get discouraged, disgusted, or give up. He doesn’t love me more than you or anyone else. He doesn’t give preference to one race over another. Each and every person is a member of his family who was worth the sacrifice of His Only-Begotten Son. We enjoy that dignity regardless of what country we were born in, our income, social status, education, or any other metric society imposes. But just as we enjoy that divine dignity, we also realize we owe it to every single person. We have no right to take it away or refuse it to another. 

Lent is a special, focused time to let go of anything that separates us from God or divides the worldwide family He unconditionally loves. It is an opportunity to invite God deeper into every aspect of our thinking and acting so that He can heal the wounds of sin in our hearts and in the world. May God bless these holy days and may we all accept the invitation to be a part of His family, treating each other with respect, charity, and fairness without exception!  


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Do You Want to be Clean? (6th Sunday, Cycle B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

I really struggled to come up with a homily this weekend. It didn’t help that we have readings which focus on the gruesome disease of leprosy. And every time I hear them, I have to share an awful joke about the leper colony, you know, the one where I ask: “do you know why lepers can’t play hockey? Because there would always be a face off in the corner! But above all, it’s been difficult to write a homily for these readings because they seem so simple, straightforward, and obvious. What more is there to add to the first reading? It is very clear on the matter. If anyone thinks that he has signs of leprosy, he must present himself to the priest for inspection. If he has the dreaded disease, the unlucky leper shall keep his garments torn and his head bare, and shall cry out, 'Unclean, unclean!' and live apart from everyone else, keeping himself in strict quarantine. 

And what of the gospel, where Jesus is approached by a leper? We know how the story goes, Jesus allows the man to come to him and he has pity on him. Jesus heals the leper of his horrible illness and tells him to go quietly to receive a clean bill of health from the priest. The moral lesson of the miracle is pretty clear; we are all spiritual lepers, outcasts because of our sinfulness and we need to approach Jesus to be cleansed of our sinfulness. But, as always, Scripture has much more to teach us than we first realize.

Leprosy was one of the most feared diseases in ancient times. The skin infection started small, almost imperceptibly, but soon spread throughout the victim’s body. Slowly, the leper’s body would rot and give off a disgusting smell. As explained in today's First Reading, lepers were excluded from society and left to die a slow, painful, humiliating death in order to protect the rest of society. To come into contact with a leper would also make one unclean, since their disease was believed to be a sign of God's punishment.

Theologians and spiritual writers have always seen in this Old Testament conception of leprosy a symbol of sin. Sin is a kind of spiritual leprosy. It slowly disfigures our souls and spreads into every corner of our lives. It destroys us and our ability to love other people. It cuts us off from the purpose of our life and our role in human society. Just as leprosy starts small but spreads and grows, so one sin, one betrayal of our conscience or one disobedience of Church teaching can easily become something that overtakes us and begins to rot our entire soul.
Therefore, when Jesus reaches out and touches this leper, and heals him, it is much more than just another miracle. It is a revelation of Christ's entire mission. He is the Redeemer, the Savior; he is the one who comes into this fallen, sin-infected world and, with the power of his mercy and grace, cleanses it and gives it a new start. And he does the same thing with each one of our lives, as often as we need it, especially in the sacraments and teachings of the Church he founded to save us.
St. Mark points out a subtle detail in this encounter we should not overlook. Jesus cured the leper by touching him. Think about that for a moment. Jesus was the all-powerful Son of God. He didn't have to touch this leper; in fact, it was against Jewish law to make contact. A word or a wave of his hand would have done the trick, fulfilled the law, and been a lot more pleasant that touching the rotting flesh of this nasty, smelly, leper.
And yet, Jesus does touch him. As a matter of fact, he makes a point of touching him. Jesus goes beyond what is strictly necessary, because he wants to show us that his love is super-abundant. Jesus touched the leper for our benefit, just as he suffered the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the way of the cross, and his long, painful crucifixion. He knows that it is hard for us to trust him, to come to him with our wounds, sins, weaknesses, and failures. He knows it's hard for us, and so he makes it easier, by showing us he is much bigger than all of that. He longs to forgive us, to save us, to give us a fresh start, as often as we need it, if only we give him the chance. None of our hidden leprosies surprise or repel him; he knows us too well; he loves us unconditionally.

But there is one last detail about this miracle that we should not overlook. St. Mark tells us that the leper "came to Jesus," close enough to kneel in front of him. This was something that was absolutely forbidden. Normally, if a leper tried to approach a healthy person, he would be met with a barrage of stones to keep him away. Why would he approach when everyone knew the law required him to keep his distance? Something about Jesus must have inspired confidence. The leper must have sensed that Jesus would not be afraid or disgusted by him. And the leper was right. Jesus does not run away or yell for him to keep his distance but simply says "I do will it (be made clean) and heals him - something no one else could or would do.
Is this how we think of Christ? Do we have that same confidence in Our Lord? Jesus has chosen to stay as close to us as he was to that leper, by touching us in the Eucharist. In every Catholic Church, Jesus is truly present in the Tabernacle, body, blood, soul, and divinity. When we drive by a Catholic Church, Jesus is reaching out to us just as he did to this leper. He is inviting us to come up close to him, to kneel down in front of him, and pour out all our miseries, hardships, confusions, and needs. He wants us to pray the same beautiful prayer of the leper today: "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”

Perhaps the only question left to ask ourselves, do we really want to be made clean?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Saying Yes to the Right Things (5th Sunday of OT)

To listen to this homily, click here.

A handful of years ago, when I was stationed way out west in St. Charles, Chik-Fil-A decided to open one their first standalone restaurants right down the road from the parish. I had heard of this brand before. In fact, you could get Chik-Fil-A at the Busch student center and I often did in between classes when I was a student at SLU. But I was taken aback by the devotion and excitement people had for this new location. I would hear people talking about it, about how they drove by the construction and “boy, they are really moving on that new Chik-Fil-A building!” Some people even knew the scheduled completion date and how many days remained until the grand opening; if you didn’t know any better you might think they were discussing the due date for their new baby! But that wasn’t the end of it. In the days leading up the grand opening, people began camping outside the restaurant for a chance to be one of the first handful of customers who would win a free chicken sandwich every day for a year. I was more than willing to spend a few bucks for my sandwich and sleep in my own bed. But this love for free food and really for free anything is as old as the human race. 

We see this over and over again in the gospels. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fishes and a crowd of thousands pursue him looking for more. In today’s passage, Jesus stops by the home of his apostles Peter and Andrew. They tell him that Peter’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever. Apparently St. Peter liked his mother in law because instead of asking the Lord to finish her off, he requests healing. Jesus obliges and instantly she is better. Immediately the word gets out that a miracle man is healing people, for free, instantly! St. Mark says the whole town was gathered at the door and they brought all who were suffering spiritually and physically. Now, suddenly, Jesus has become a one-man hospital. The Gospel says that Jesus healed many of them.

If the whole city was at Peter’s house that evening, then Jesus was probably healing well into the night. The Gospel says that Jesus left the house long before dawn and went into a secluded place to pray. He was so besieged by those who wanted healing that he could’t pray in the house.

When his disciples finally realized he was gone, they went looking for him. When they locate the Lord, they say, “Hey, everybody is looking for you! There are still sick people waiting” They seem to think that his urgent-care clinic should be open at all hours.

Now, of course, it is a good work to heal the sick. And, of course, those with loved ones who are suffering are right to want them healed.
And yet how absurd it is to suppose that prayer should take second-place to work, no matter what the work is! And how sadly and understandably absurd it is to suppose that the mission of Jesus is to be a “Doctor Without Borders.”

Each healing Jesus does is a good thing. Sickness, suffering and death were not part of God’s plan for us or the world He created. But believe it or not, good things can actually get in the way of serving God properly. To serve God well, a person cannot just do any and all the good things others ask of him. He has to do those good things that God has called him to do. It takes prayer to figure out which good things to turn down and which ones are part of God’s plan for our life and our day.

The disciples feel that Jesus needs to hurry back to Peter’s village to keep practicing medicine and take away every sick person’s ailment. What Jesus tells them, after his sacred time of prayer, is that he is leaving Peter’s village to continue his ministry—not of medicine but of preaching in other towns. Preaching is the purpose for which he came. Salvation of the human race is His sole focus of Jesus’ time here on earth. Miracles and healings, as wonderful as they are, are simply signs of his power and authority to save us.

What does this mean for us, as disciples of the One and Only Savior? 

What is needed to serve God well is not doing endless good things that other people ask from us. We will not impress God by simply signing up to do more and more things. What is needed for the Lord’s service is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, manifested in a regular habit of prayer. From that time with God comes the wisdom and clarity to know what things we are called to commit to, how we ought to use our personal gifts and talents, and what relationships will lead us closer to God. This approach is not just for the areas that relate directly to God, this parish, or your spiritual life. We should bring everything to prayer. For example: how many sports should my children be signed up for? Running them around to practices and going on trips for tournaments have real impacts on finances and family time together and ought to be prayed about. Volunteering is another area where there are so many opportunities for doing good but there is only one of me and so much need in the world. Am I asking God to help me pick where to help or am I just choosing blindly…if I am choosing anything at all. Thinking about our lives, all of us can think of many instances where we have to choose between different good causes. Let God help with these decisions! Prayerful decision-making will make us faithful to the good things which fulfill us while keeping focussed on the most important thing of all: the salvation of our soul, our family, and our world.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Don't Be Ruled By Fear (4th Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

One of the hallmarks of the 90’s, when I was making the journey from being a child to a teenager, was the No Fear brand. This lifestyle clothing company was founded by race car driver Brian Simo and some friends and their simple slogan was soon plastered on t-shirts, baseball hats, bumper stickers and decals all over the place. The rise of the No Fear brand coincided with the introduction of extreme sports into mainstream culture. So, the basic idea was to go for broke, life is short, win or die, second place is for losers. Not surprisingly, No Fear became the rally sign for anything and anyone full of obnoxious bravado. Its decals were most commonly found on lifted trucks with knobby off-road tires or SUVS which appeared stolen from the set of a Mad Max movie.

The confrontation with fear is something that has haunted humanity from the earliest times. And while the tough and macho claim to be immune to it, fear never seems to be in short supply. Some medical experts estimate that perhaps half of all symptoms have their origin in fear. The patient fears losing a job, being exposed, losing a loved one, betrayal or old age - and the dread manifests itself in medical symptoms such as severe bodily pain. The doctor examines the patient and discovers no physical cause, yet the pain or paralysis is real. The fear that causes such symptoms is called "anxiety" - an unfocused, free-floating fear that won't go away. This is sort of fear and anxiety is harmful in every way. The human body and soul wasn’t made for it and if it isn’t confronted in a healthy way, it will eat us alive.

On the other hand, there are other types of fear that are good, holy, and productive. Fear is meant to protect us from serious threats that could harm us. Only a fool would jump into a enclosure with a wild bear, lion, or gorilla to prove their fearlessness. Only for a noble reason should any person in their right mind enter into a situation where death is a real possibility. It is good and holy to fear offending God by sin. God instilled a healthy fear within us to keep us safe physically and spiritually. It should guide and protect but never rule us.

Each of our readings deals with different expressions of fear. In the passage from Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people of the Lord’s promise to raise up a prophet to serve as a mediator between the people and God. The people of Israel had asked for this arrangement after experiencing God on Mount Horeb. God’s power and majesty were so terrifying that the people told Moses, “we are too afraid. Talk to God for us and we will do whatever he says.” God doesn’t want his children to live in fear so he agrees but he reminds the people in today’s passage that they have to listen to his prophets as part of the deal.

In the second reading, St. Paul says he would like us to be "free of anxiety." He is giving advice for single people considering marriage, but his wish applies to all Christians. St. Paul would happily join the prayer we say at the conclusion of the Our Father: “Deliver us Lord we pray from every evil and graciously grant peace in our days.”

In the Gospel, Jesus encounters a man with an unclean spirit and the demons possessing this poor man cry out in fear when Jesus speaks to them. They are afraid because they realize Jesus has power over them and they are about to be defeated. Like cowards and sore losers, they make a great commotion until Jesus tells them to be quiet and leave the man, at which point they flee to the great amazement of the onlookers. 

Pope Benedict addressed the common problem of fear and anxiety in some of his writings. He began by acknowledging fear as a natural part of life. He then distinguished between imaginary, childhood fears that later disappear and the ones rooted in reality. Realistic fears have to be faced with human commitment and trust in God. However, the Holy Father says there is "a deeper form of fear, of an existential form, which at times borders on anguish: this fear is born from a sense of emptiness, connected with a culture permeated by diffused nihilism. (which simply means that nothing ultimately matters“ To defeat this fear, which borders on despair, we must receive the power of Christ and allow his influence in our lives.

Going back to the Gospel, recall the question the evil spirits ask Jesus. “Have you come to destroy us?” Evidently the unclean spirit had taken over most of the man's personality. These demons were so arrogant as to think if they were cast out, the man would be destroyed. But when the unclean spirits left him he was whole again. What first looked like destruction turned out to be liberation.

All of this begs the question for us as followers of Christ: what role does fear have in our lives? Are we aware of the ways that unhealthy fear and anxiety might dominate our thinking and influence our decision-making? Have we brought our fear to the Lord to be redeemed and healed or do we try and fight it on our own? Just as important, do we have a healthy fear of offending God through sin? Do we allow holy fear to bring us to greater love of God and other people? Or do we give in to a spirit of pride, walking right into situations that could damage our body and soul? 

One of the most comforting things about our faith is the promise that evil and death have already been defeated by the passion and death of Christ. In the midst of fearful and terrifying situations, we find supernatural power and authority by praying in the name of Jesus, first for ourselves and then for others. By praying in His Son’s name, God can use any of us to bring liberation to those paralyzed by fear. At Mass today, we ask Jesus to protect us from anxiety - especially the fear that so easily turns into despair. And we give him permission to use our lives and words to help set others free so the world can be a holier and happy place.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Turn To God! (3rd Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

One of the things I like to do in my free time is watch sports. While I haven’t quite warmed up to curling or Nascar, if the event is competitive and I’m not doing anything, I like to see how it ends up. What always strikes me about a close game are the final moments when time is running out. For example, this past Tuesday evening, The Blues were playing Toronto. They were losing by a goal with less than two minutes to go. Once they got the puck into the Maple Leaf’s zone, they pulled the goalie and worked like wild men to keep possession of the puck. All their hard work payed off when they scored with less than a minute left to force overtime where they eventually won. We see the same thing in football with the two-minute drill. In the final moments of the half or game, teams often go the length of the field without wasting any time. Earlier drives might have taken seven or eight minutes and stalled! But with the urgency and effort of the final drive, often points are put on the board. In both cases, the thought crosses my mind, “why couldn’t they play with this energy and intensity the whole game?!” A ticking clock is a powerful motivator, especially when time is running out!

This notion of time running out is coupled with repentance in our readings today. If we wanted to summarize the message of God’s Word, we might simply say, “Life is short. Turn to God immediately and stop putting it off for tomorrow!” The message is loud and clear but doing it is another story! In the First Reading God says to Jonah, “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah does exactly the opposite, like an ornery child does sometimes (I know because I was one, my mother might still say I am). He drops everything and races off in the opposite direction, apparently trying get as far from God’s words as possible. It’s not smart to try and run from God but Jonah gives it a shot. The message of repentance he was called to deliver revealed a need in his own heart to turn back to God. But he wasn’t ready, not yet, so he tries to delay, to put it off, to hide from God.

In response God sends a terrible storm. Jonah admits to the crew that he is fleeing God. He says, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea and then the sea will calm down for you, for I know that this great storm has come upon you because of me.” When nothing else works, with great reluctance, they toss him overboard. The sea turns quiet. Jonah in turn is swallowed by a “large fish,” usually referred to in tradition as a whale.

Three days in a whale’s belly gives one a lot of time for reflection, among other things. Jonah decides to stop putting God off and repents. He prays a psalm-like prayer about what he has done. God hears him and saves him and tells him a second time to go to the great and sinful city of Nineveh to announce the Lord’s message. Jonah submits at last and as a result the whole city is saved.

Why in the world didn’t Jonah just follow God’s command instead of running off in the opposite direction? It is always more difficult and exhausting to run from God and resist his call to conversion! One reason is that Jonah did not want Nineveh, the pagan city, to convert and be saved because these people were an enemy of the Hebrews. They were ruthless and terrible. He probably thought, “why should they get mercy when they have shown none to us?” In any case, if we are honest with ourselves, we also know what it is like to run from God at times, so we aren’t so different from Jonah.

We can ask ourselves, are we running away from God in any way right now, like Jonah? Is there an area of our lives, perhaps a relationship, or an addiction that requires conversion and repentance? Do we keep putting it off and distracting ourselves with the thought we have plenty more time? Might it be time to start the two-minute drill and drive down the field to victory with God? 

We have as inspiration the example of the apostles in the Gospel. Certainly they had no idea what they were getting into when they dropped everything and followed Jesus. Would they have been so quick if they had known about the crucifixion?
But for all their naïveté  and misunderstandings, they didn’t run away. They followed Jesus with passion and conviction and over time he was able to convert their hearts to be like his. With Jesus’ gentle guidance they found out what following the Messiah really meant. Whereas Jonah had imagined the worst and run away, the apostles imagined the best and ran to follow Jesus. As it happened, they ran into the worst: the passion and crucifixion. But even in that darkest moment they saw that God’s love cannot be defeated and He will always protect those who belong to Him.

Take some time today to reflect on that simple and challenging question, “Am I running away from the Lord and what he wants, like Jonah? If so, why? Do I really think God is going to give up? Can I possibly be happy and at peace as long as I avoid the God who loves and redeems me? On the other hand, what needs to change so I can start running, like the apostles, toward Jesus? Whichever way we run, there will be sufferings and trials. But take comfort knowing God will keep after you, pulling you out of fishy environments, pushing you, over and over, asking you to learn, in your obedience, what love is really about. Let’s not wait until our final moments to find out what his love can do in our lives because His Love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Speak Lord, Your Servant Is Listening! (2nd Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

The passage we heard from 1 Sammuel is, in my opinion, one of the more beautiful moments in the Old Testament. This story about young Sammuel and his priestly mentor Eli, is all about God’s calling for the young man. It is an intimate look into how God invites someone to live out their life in a meaningful, deliberate way, full of purpose and guided by the Lord. Notice how the Lord calls out to Sammuel; he is gentle, soft, and loving. This calling is so personal, familiar, and intimate that Sammuel thinks it is his teacher Eli. God is a perfect blend of patient and persistent; even when Sammuel gets confused about who is calling, God does not get angry or give up. The key moment occurs when Sammuel realizes, with the help of Eli, that God is trying to talk to him. And he responds in the most perfect way possible, “speak Lord, your servant listening.”  Because Sammuel’s heart is open, docile, and willing to listen, God goes on to tell him what he will do with his life. He will go on to be a great prophet, he will be the mouth of God, and he will anoint both King Saul and the great king David. All the incredible things he did during his life began in that quiet moment as a young boy when he discovered his calling. 

We call that moment in life, when God speaks to someone, a vocation. This word comes from the Latin verb vocare, meaning “to call.” Often there is a major misunderstanding about what a vocation is and who has one. Many people believe that a vocation is delivered by God in a spectacular way, with rolling thunder and flashes of lightening, or like St. Paul, falling down and struck blind. Occasionally that might happen, but most people experience their calling from God like Sammuel: in the quiet, gentle moments of prayerful listening. And usually, like Sammuel, they will be helped in their discernment by a person who serves as a spiritual mentor or sounding board.

Another misunderstanding comes from the fact that the word “vocation” has been used to describe the calling a person has to the priesthood or religious life. In other words, if God was inviting you to be a priest, nun, or brother, then you had a vocation. This is true, but it is also incomplete. Every single person created has a vocation. In fact each of us in church today has two callings. The first is common to all of us; it is the invitation to live as a son or daughter of God with our Christian Faith. All people are called to a life of holiness by practicing and deepening their faith. You could say this is our primary vocation; each person is called to be holy, to be a saint without exception. 

The second vocation is more unique and personal. In this, there are three possibilities for each person. We can be invited to serve in a) the married life, b) the priesthood or religious life, or c) as a single, consecrated person. Whichever God invites us to will be the path that makes us most happy and uses all of our gifts, our personality, and causes us to be truly alive. Honestly, the majority of people here today will be called to the vocation of marriage, that beautiful life where two people become one in love and also cooperate with God to bring new life into the world. Marriage is a noble calling that serves as a symbol to the whole world of God’s love for the Church. It is a vocation of service, not only to one’s spouse but also to the children that come from that union and to society as a whole. What an awesome calling and probably one that is undervalued today!

A second possibility is an invitation to the priesthood and religious life. Incarnate Word has a wonderful heritage of providing priests and religious to serve the church, especially here in St. Louis. I believe some of you in this parish are being called to this beautiful life of service. I pray some of our youth at Incarnate Word have been given the beautiful seed of a priestly or religious vocation and I hope we, as their parish and family, can encourage and protect that precious gift. 

A final option for the one who follows God is the life of a consecrated single person. Although this is not as common, these people are the ones who feel called in a special way to devote their lives to the Lord while living in the world and working in their profession. Their work becomes a crucial part of their ministry and choosing to remain single allows them to devote themselves to God, family, and neighbor in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

In all three types of vocations, there is beauty and goodness. Each vocation is composed of our human gifts, unique personality, free choice and partnered with God’s grace and wise plan. Discovering our vocation is not something that is done once and then we are finished. It is a living process where we listen to God and allow him to lead us towards the things and persons that will make us better Christians, better witnesses to his Love, and more capable of changing the world into a happier, holier place. There is no set formula for discerning your calling from God; some will hear the call as young children, others when they are older. Most people fall somewhere in between. Some will know immediately, without a doubt, others will only be sure after trying several different paths. But one thing is certain; to understand your calling from God, you must make time for quiet, time for God to speak softly to your heart. Otherwise, our prayer will sound something like, “ Listen Lord, your servant is speaking.”! Let us rejoice that we are loved by a God who treats us as individuals and who cares for us each in a unique way. Let us trust that whatever he will call us to will bring happiness and fulfillment, more so than we could ever plan for ourselves. Finally, may we have the courage and docility of Sammuel to say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Monday, January 8, 2018

We Three Kings (Epiphany 2018)

            Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, which I have to admit, is a feast I didn't always think was a big deal. However, about 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to spend the first part of January in Southern Spain. I was in Seville during this feast day and took part in a parade for the three kings. It lasted over four hours and processed through the entire city. Experiencing the great reverence the Spanish had for the three kings helped me understand the significance of this feast for us as followers of Christ, 2000 years after his birth.

            There is very little the scriptures tell us about these men. We hear that the magi came from the east following a star and they brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Tradition tells us there were three magi and their names were Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior. It is supposed that they came from Persia and were members of a priestly class of people with some degree of wealth. Other than that, we really don't know anything else.

             So what is so important about this mysterious encounter between the Magi and the Christ-Child? What was so special about this visit that St. Matthew found it necessary to include it in his gospel?

            The word "epiphany" is significant. Epiphany is defined as "a moment of sudden revelation or insight." This meeting between the Magi was indeed just that. Here was a moment when Jesus, the messiah for the Jewish people became the savior of all peoples. Here in this encounter between Jesus and these magi, Christ was manifested to the gentiles and showed God's intent to save not only his Chosen people but the entire world. This broadening of salvation to the gentiles was a divine twist to the messianic expectations of Israel and is certainly good news to all of us.

            Just as important and relevant for us today is the example of these magi in seeking and greeting the Christ-Child. How remarkable that they would spend weeks and even months pursuing a star into a foreign land! What faith these royal men must have had to follow the gentle light of a mysterious star to a humble house in Bethlehem! What patience to endure the long travel into the unknown and to continue undiscouraged, even on cloudy nights when the star was obscured! What open hearts these marvelous men must have had to be stirred by the interior promptings of God's grace and the exterior stimulus of the star!

            And when they arrived at the house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph were resting, what was their reaction? The gospel tells us that they were overjoyed, and when they saw the child with his mother, they prostrated themselves and did him homage. As a final gesture of reverence and devotion, they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts, each worth a great deal, are also symbolically rich. Gold was given in homage to a king; as the Magi acknowledged Christ as the Kings of Kings. Frankincense was burnt in offering to God and often represented prayers rising to the almighty. Not only did the Magi hail him as King, but they also accepted him as Lord. Their final gift was myrrh. Myrrh was a wonderful-smelling ointment that was used in the embalming of the dead. This final gift of the Magi foreshadowed the saving death of Christ, which would redeem the world from the captivity of sin.

            Contrast the response of the Magi to the reaction of King Herod. The Magi were overjoyed at seeing the star leading them to Christ but Herod was deeply troubled. While the Magi were seeking this newborn king so they could pay him homage, Herod was hoping to find the Christ-Child so he could destroy him. Herod was threatened by the prospect of Christ the king because he wanted to be his own ruler. His god was his own will and he was ready to destroy anyone and anything that got in his way. Herod's was completely absorbed by the things of this world and his sole focus was trying to maintain his shaky dominion. In King Herod we see the effects of sin. Sin does not seek Christ; it certainly does not rejoice in his coming. Sin offers nothing more than lip-service to the savior and oftentimes attacks him directly.            

            As we rejoice during this Christmas season, we would be wise to reflect on the Epiphany. There is a little bit of King Herod in each of us; .... we all have tendencies toward sin. It can be easy for us to become absorbed with the things of this world just as Herod was. And if we are really honest with ourselves, we will see that many of our sins and shortcomings stem from a desire to be our own king, to do our own will. How often we are afraid to allow Christ to be King of our lives and we hesitate to offer him the treasures of our hearts! Such sinful tendencies cannot exist alongside the Christ-Child; whichever one we hold onto will destroy the other.

            As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, each of us wants Christ as the Lord and King of our lives. But we all know how difficult that can be to make a reality. On this feast of the Epiphany, when we reflect on the example of the Magi, let's imitate those faithful men. In this New Year, resolve to actively seek Christ just as they did when they followed the star to Bethlehem. Don't allow your spiritual life to be passive; search for Christ in the ordinary events of you daily life!! Secondly, when you encounter Jesus, whether it is in Church, in prayer, or the happenings of the day, make sure and offer him your praise. Don't forget he is your King, your Lord, and your Savior! Finally, imitate the magi in opening your treasures and offering them to Christ. Whether it is your time, talent, or material resources, each of us have our own gold, frankincense, and myrrh to offer to Jesus through our thoughts, words, and actions.

            If we actively seek Christ in our lives, we can be confident we will find him. He gives us the star of his grace in the sacraments and the teaching of the Church, which leads us to his love. Our savior is born; come let us adore him!!