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Monday, August 13, 2018

Faith and Feelings (Bread of Life Discourse, Week 3)

To listen to this homily, click here.

This weekend we enter the mid-point of Jesus’ preaching on the Bread of Life. Over the past two weeks, we’ve reflected on the Eucharist as food and also the role faith must play if this heavenly food is going to transform our lives. Today’s readings give us a chance to consider another aspect of the human experience as it relates to the Eucharist, namely our feelings and how they can move us closer or further from God and each other. So let’s look at the feelings put forward for us in the Scriptures. 

In the first reading, Elijah has just triumphed over 450 prophets of Baal in an epic showdown of whose God is real. Elijah is vindicated in a dramatic display before all the people. When God shows him his favor, Elijah orders the 450 prophets to be slaughtered for serving a false god. This infuriates the evil queen Jezebel and she sends a message to the prophet that she has sworn to kill him. So Elijah does what any reasonable person would do when a powerful, bloodthirsty queen wants to destroy them; he runs off into the wilderness to hide. But Elijah is no Bear Grylls! After just one day in the unknown, he is afraid, hungry, and begins to despair. “Just take my life,” he exclaims, and lays down to die. God has a better plan and sends an angel with food. Eat, get up and get ready for your journey. Elijah thinks about it but his depression is too great and he lays down again. The pestering angel comes again and helps Elijah eat and drink and he continues on his way as God asked.

In the second reading, St. Paul tells the people to get rid of unholy feelings and passions, namely bitterness, fury, anger and malice. But he is not asking them to be robots. Instead he encourages them to imitate God by latching on to holy affections like kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. 

In the gospel, Jesus starts to hear pushback from his challenging teaching on the bread of life. St. John tells us that the people begin to “murmur”, the same word that was used in Exodus, when the people grumbled against God and Moses, even though they had been given so many miracles and blessings. Today the people murmur because they think they know who Jesus is. They are indignant that this son of a carpenter is claiming to be the true Bread come down from heaven. Their feelings of confusion soon build to outrage and disgust.

Having heard a bunch of feelings in the Word of God, we can ask, “what role do they play in the life of a Christian?” Why do we have them? Are they good or bad? Feelings are neither morally good or bad in and of themselves. Many times we have no power over when they come to us. They become good when they lead us toward God and promote charity towards each other. They become sinful when they lead to evil. God created us with feelings for a reason and we should be grateful for them. Think how easy it is to love someone when we feel affection for them.

As Christians, we should pay attention to our feelings and make them part of our prayer. We shouldn’t try to ignore or suppress them because God can speak to us through them. But we should always remember that our feelings are meant to be governed by our mind and our will. God never intended them to rule us. Imagine if parents only loved their children according to how they were feeling on any given day! Or spouses only loved each other when they felt it? Or friends remained friends as long as it easy and felt good. Feelings can help us love God and each other but true relationship can exist even when those affections fade away or even become negative. Loving God and one another happens because we choose to do so deliberately and freely, not always by what we feel.

So how does this relate back to the Eucharist and the Bread of Life teaching we have been hearing?  All of us come to Mass with many different feelings at various points in our lives. Sometimes we come to the Eucharist with excitement, joy and anticipation. Just think back to the day of your First Communion. How inspired we all were and full of piety! Other times we come to Mass and we receive the Bread of Life with very little feeling. That’s not our intention but it’s just the way things go, especially after receiving Jesus hundreds or even thousands of times. This happens to priest also. My first Mass after ordination was a moment I will never forget. I felt love for God and for all the people who had helped me become a priest that I thought my heart would burst. I felt so much zeal that I wanted to set the whole world on fire for God, one Mass at a time. 10 years later, I still have those moments of intense consolation and inspiration. But more often, loving God, serving you, offering Mass mindfully and with preparation doesn’t happen on its own, it requires getting to know Jesus deeper and deeper. It demands my faithfulness in those times when it is easy and also when it is dry. 

The same is true for every Catholic. There will be times of great consolation and inspiration when we come to church. There will also be many moments of dryness where we wonder if the Eucharist is doing anything for us. Pay attention to these consolations and desolations but realize they are not the final word. Jesus is the True Bread come down from heaven. His Body and Blood feed us whether we feel it or not. His saving sacrifice offered to the Father at every Mass, redeems the world whether we feel it or not. Ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ at every Mass through the miracle of God’s power, whether we feel it or not. God loves us and yearns for our friendship every moment of every day, whether we feel it or not. 

So what do we do with these feelings? When they console you and help you to love God and others, praise Him and allow those feelings to move you further in your faith. When your soul feels dry or even opposed to God, don’t despair, don’t let those feelings rule you. Make the conscious choice to love and serve the Lord and the people he has placed in our life. In time, peace and contentment will be ours. May the words of the psalm be the song of our soul, “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall ever be in my mouth!”

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Faith and the Eucharist (Bread of Life, Week 2)

To listen to this homily, click herefaith-and-the-eucharist-fr-schroeder-bread-of-life-week-2-8518.

Last week, the priests of Incarnate Word began preaching on the Bread of Life discourse, focusing on the Eucharist as food. Today’s readings build upon that notion and introduce another theme: that of faith. It wouldn’t hurt to have a definition of faith to chew on so let’s go to one of the great Catholic minds, St. Thomas Aquinas, who says, “Faith is a habit of the mind where eternal life is begun in us making the intellect (mind) agree to what is not yet obvious.” The Letter to the Hebrews says, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Either way, faith is a mindful act, a conscious choice to believe in something not yet here or fully understood. It’s crucial we pray for faith often and help it to grow, otherwise the Eucharist and any other miracle God does will fail to have any real impact. If we lack faith, we begin to go blind to the many miracles in our midst, from the most profound here at Mass to the most ordinary like finding a great parking spot when you arrived at Incarnate Word!

So how do we know if our faith needs to grow? One of the easiest ways to tell is when a blessing begins to feel like a burden. For example, do I think of coming to Mass in terms of something I have to do or something I get to do? There’s a big difference! If I truly believe with all my heart, that God loves me more than I love myself, that he wants me to be completely happy forever in heaven, that he promises to give me food for this earthly journey, and he will provide for my every need… if I really believe all that, and hear Jesus say over and over again in the Gospel, “I am the Bread of Life”, “Eat my Body, Drink my Blood”, then I begin to realize the Eucharist and Mass are some of the most important pieces to this puzzle of earthly life. And perhaps if Mass isn’t doing anything for me, it’s not a problem with Mass or the Eucharist, maybe I need to grow in faith and the understanding of these divine mysteries!

Those of you who have raised children or taken care of little ones have seen when faith and understanding are lacking, bad things happen, for example when it comes to nap time. Think about your babies, especially when they were toddlers, and how they would kick, scream, wail, and resist the hallowed time for a snooze. They could only think of the here and now, what they could see and understand. If they could believe their parents were making them sleep for their own good, if they could understand that a nap was in their best interests, how differently they would act! 

Now, I can’t be too hard on these little babies, I acted the same way. Sneaking out of bed during nap time, fighting and screaming every day when that time came around. I now regret my behavior and repent fully of wasting those opportunities for rest. I lecture my nieces and nephews about this every time I see them protesting their nap but they don’t seem to care.

Just as little children fail to see the good thing they have in taking a nap each day, so too, in our first reading, the Israelites fail to see the good things God is providing for them in the desert. Even though God has already solved so many of their problems, they are hungry and resist God’s pleas to have Faith in his plan. They tell Moses, "Would that we had died at the LORD's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! In other words, we had it better as slaves because, at least our bellies were full of meat and bread! Already, God’s people are settling for something less than the freedom he offered, they are willing to be enslaved again simply so they don’t have to be hungry, they are setting their eyes on the lower, lesser goods. God, in his goodness and patience, gives them bread from heaven and even provides meat while they wander in the desert. This food literally comes down from heaven and God is setting the stage for an even greater miracle where he will feed all who believe in him with the true bread from heaven.

We have been given the perfect Manna from heaven, the Body and Blood of Jesus! The food God gave Israel in the desert was just an appetizer for the perfect meal he was preparing in the Eucharist. Do we really appreciate that gift? Do we believe, even if we can’t completely understand, that the Eucharist is the one food, the one drink we need to get through this life in a way that leads to the Promised Land of Heaven? Or do we complain about this gift and wish for something else? Don’t we sometimes wish that Mass could be a little more interesting? or a little shorter? Or at a more convenient time? Maybe we settle for lesser things as the Israelites did. Instead of finding our true happiness and fulfillment in Christ, we look for those things in worldly items, human relationships, pleasures, and titles. Perhaps we are willing to go back to a spiritual slavery so that we can be a little more comfortable or familiar with our surroundings. 

Far too often, we settle for lesser things and we fail to appreciate the divine gift that is offered by God. Like the Israelites wishing for the food of slaves, we can fail to see the the gift in front of us. These 5 weeks remind us of the great treasure we have in the Eucharist. The Church wants us to know that we have been set free by the Body and Blood of Jesus. God will feed our souls with himself and he is the only thing that will ultimately satisfy us. The challenge for us this Sunday is simple. We have the greatest of gifts; the most magnificent miracle before us. Jesus, the true and eternal Bread from Heaven, is given at each and every Mass. Let us resolve to deepen our faith in this precious gift and never take it for granted. May we receive the Eucharist with grateful, faith-filled hearts, believing that there is no better gift God could give us. And if we have doubts, misunderstandings, or questions about the Eucharist, let’s learn more about what it is or ask someone to help us grow in understanding of this heavenly bread. The gift has already been given but we can only receive the blessings to the extent we have faith.  

Monday, July 30, 2018

Eucharist as Food (Bread of Life, Week 1, 7/29/18)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Growing up, my parents (and probably yours) had a way of verbally highlighting what was most important; they would repeat the command so we knew it was important. You might be able to plead ignorance of what they had said once, possibly twice, but by the time they said it a third time, you’d better pay attention and do it. Starting today, the Church does the same thing regarding the Eucharist. For the next five weeks, the Church will invite us to explore chapter 6 of St. John's Gospel. This section of John’s writing is often called the “bread of life discourse”, and it gives us an opportunity to reflect repeatedly on the greatest gift Christ has given us, the gift of himself in the Eucharist. These precious verses have been prayed with and studied for 2000 years and still we have not exhausted their richness. In order that we don’t get overwhelmed by the theological feast in front of us, let’s focus on one element for this week. The common thread in both the first reading and the gospel is food. 

In the first reading from the Book of Kings, the Prophet Elisha is given 20 barley loaves by an unknown man. God commands the prophet to use the bread to feed 100 people. Elisha objects, realizing that this is not enough food. God says just be quiet and do it; not only will there be enough but there will even be leftovers. Of course this is what happened. A skeptical person might try to downplay the miracle. Maybe the loaves were very large, like party subs from subway or maybe the 100 people were on a diet or didn’t like that type of bread. But this miracle is an example of foreshadowing, a sort of preview of what the messiah will do and it happens all the time in the Old Testament. These characters and miracles are paving the way for the person and miracles of Jesus.

In the case of Jesus there can be no doubt. He uses 5 barley loaves and 2 fish to feed 5000 men, plus their wives and children. An impressive miracle to be sure, but Jesus does not intend it as a one-time marvel. He takes the bread and gives thanks before distributing it. The word for “Giving thanks" in Greek is Eucharist - the word we use for the Mass. Perhaps you know this already, the form of the Mass as we are celebrating it right now, right here in Chesterfield, is virtually unchanged since the second century. 

St. Justin Martyr, writing about 150 A.D., describes Christians gathering on Sunday. They listened to readings from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels, followed by a homily. Then came prayers for those in need, an offering of bread and wine, a consecration prayer using Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. A deacon helped with Communion and after the service, took Communion to the sick. And no Sunday Mass would be complete without a collection! St. Justin gives an exhortation to share with those in distress - the sick, the imprisoned, all those in need. Justin Martyr underscored that Jesus wants to feed us with his Words and the Eucharistic sacrifice. 

Food has three main purposes. First, to repair and refuel the body. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Jesus, the Bread of Life, heals us. The second purpose is social: it unites people. Studies show that if a family has dinner together - even once or twice a week - it reduces the risk that children will engage in destructive behaviors. Likewise, our attendance at Mass, the best of family meals, can have a powerful effect. 
Third, food brings joy. Is there anything better than delicious food (I’m thinking of my mom’s potato salad and pumpkin pie), shared with family and friends? On the other hand, junk food and bad diets fail one or more of these criteria and as a result, become damaging and dangerous.

In both miracles today, God says to people around him, “give me the little food you have. I don’t care if it seems too little or insignificant. Give me what you have and I will make it more than enough for what you need; in fact, there will even be leftovers for others!” Isn’t this true today? A few handfuls of plain wheat wafers and a small portion of wine become the spiritual food and drink that give us the strength to forgive, to hope, to love, to pray, and to serve. Can it be anything other than a miracle that this seemingly insignificant food and drink has empowered saints, emboldened martyrs, and softened the hardest hearts?!

Everyone needs food to survive and because we are wonderfully made, everyone feels hungry as a reminder that it’s time to eat. But our bodies are not the only part of us that experience hunger. Our mind and soul also need to be fed consistently with wholesome nutrients if they are to remain healthy and growing. We must have some sort of meal plan for our mind and soul if we want to flourish as an integrated and fully-alive human. 

For these five weeks, we have the opportunity to think about what it means when Jesus says, “I am the bread of Life.” We can appreciate the fact that he promises to be our food; to nourish our body, mind, and spirit. We might also ask for the courage and honesty to look at what we consume right now as food and drink for our body. Does it bear the three qualities of repairing, uniting, and bringing joy? Or is it an escape, an indulgence, or an afterthought we treat with indifference, irritation, and laziness?

More importantly, what are we feeding our mind and soul? Are we feeding them at all or are they on a starvation diet? If we ate as often as we prayed, would we survive? Would our body have any strength at all? Are we taking time to enrich our minds with wholesome reading, hobbies, and continued education? Do we try and learn something new about our Faith each day? Or did our spiritual education end in grade school or high school? Do we allow God to feed us through the practice of daily prayer, especially with His Word in the Scriptures? How much easier it is to be fed by the junk food of reality tv, buzzfeed quizzes, and other diversions that entertain but fail to enrich and satisfy.

If we want to be healthy and holy, we must pay attention to the needs of body, soul, and mind.  Jesus offers to be our food to feed all three. He is the only food that will satisfy you completely. And he will give not only enough for your own needs, but there will also be leftovers for you to share with others who are hungry and weak and in need of nourishment.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

But God...It's Not My Job!! (15th Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Rumor has it every month, the Department of Transportation gives an award to a distinct class of its employees across the nation. This award is not prestigious; rather it highlights an employee who manages to follow the letter of the law perfectly while refusing to employ common sense. This honor is the “It’s Not My Job Award” and it goes to the employee who proves to be most unwilling to go outside the the scope of their assigned task. My favorite instance of this award took place on a road in Litchfield Park, Arizona. Here a crew was repainting lane markings when they came across something not in their job description: roadkill! Since they were assigned to paint the center line of the road, not remove dead animals, they simply painted the road...and the dead opossum!

As ridiculous as the “It’s Not My Job Award” is, there are many people who could win this title if it were offered for the way Christians proclaim their faith. By virtue of our baptism, we are all anointed priest, prophet, and king. In our readings today, the Church asks us to reflect especially on the role of the prophet, the messenger of God’s Word. Oftentimes, when we hear the word “prophet”, we think of someone who can predict the future or see things others can’t. While it is true that some prophets did predict future happenings, that wasn’t their main task. The prophet is someone, first and foremost, called to share God’s Word and message with the people around him. Even if we understand what a prophet truly is, most of us probably think it is a role best suited for a priest or religious or at least someone who has special training. 

It might help us understand what a often prophet looks like by looking at the one in the first reading. His name was Amos and he was a normal, everyday, working guy. He was a shepherd and an arborist; a tree trimmer of sycamore trees in fact! He lived just south of the border between the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, on the Judea side. How easy it would have been for Amos to tell the Lord, “prophecy is not my job, that’s not what I signed up for!” But instead, he crossed the border into the North and proclaimed God’s truth to those in the City of Bethel.  The people there were not fully living their faith. They were part-time in their devotion to the Lord. Amos told them to change their lives and be committed to the Lord; to go back to what their faith demanded of them. The priest, Amaziah, told Amos to stop confronting the people and go back to Judah. Amos responded: “I am not a professional prophet. I am an arborist, a dresser of trees. But I cannot refuse to proclaim the Lord.”

Nor can any of us. We have to “proclaim the word, in season and out of season” as St. Paul wrote. By nature of our baptism, we have to proclaim the truth we experience within us whether it is a time others want to hear it, or whether it is a time they would rather we just keep quiet. We are all called to be prophetic voices, no matter what our training or vocation. This isn’t just the work of priests and religious sisters and brothers; it is the work of all the baptized. We cannot simply tell the Lord, “It’s not my job.”

While He was still with us on earth, Jesus sent his disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. These disciples were ordinary, everyday people entrusted with an extraordinary task. Like Amos, they were not trained missionaries but fisherman. Jesus doesn’t seem too concerned about that. He told them the mission was urgent.  They shouldn’t be bogged down with the cares and concerns of luggage. But they should wear sandals because they had a lot of ground to cover. They needed to proclaim to all.  Some would listen, and others would reject them, but the message had to be proclaimed to as many people as possible because it was a matter of eternal life or death. And, as we know from the gospel, these unqualified missionaries had tremendous success, success that came from God, which changed the world, and even our own lives!

It is the same for us. We need to bring the message, the experience, the very presence of Jesus Christ to the world. This is our call, no matter who we are, no matter what our state in life. Some will listen to you who will not listen to me as a priest.  Perhaps it is people your age, who will say, “I want to be happy with life as you are happy.”  Perhaps it will be people who look to you for guidance, such as your own children, grandchildren, friends, co-workers, or neighbors.  Maybe it will be people who respect and love you, such as your parents and brothers and sisters. Many of these people will hear the message clearer when it comes from you rather than from me or any priest.  So please proclaim the message! 

And yes, there will be people who will reject the message.  You may indeed have to move on and proclaim the  truth of Jesus Christ to others.  But don’t stop praying for them. And be patient. Joy, happiness and the Presence of the Lord are contagious, but sometimes it takes time for the peace of Christ to win over a person.

May we embrace the role of prophet and apostle in own lives as they are modeled to us today in the example of Amos and the twelve apostles. Let us not be afraid of the uncertainties or difficulties that will come our way in fulfilling our call which was given to us at baptism. Most importantly, each of us, in our own way, has something to share with the world about the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us not act in a way that would win the “It’s Not My Job Award” and let us trust that God wants to use our witness to bring others closer to him. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

God Did Not Make Death (13th Sunday, Cycle B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

 “God did not make death” we hear in the first reading. Ok, that is comforting, but if God didn’t make death, where did it come from? The Book of Wisdom goes on to tell us that it entered the world through the devil’s envy. This is an interesting thought, which deserves our attention and reflection. First of all, let’s talk about envy, what it is and how it might bring about death. Each us, at some moment in our lives, have certainly desired what another person possesses. Our greedy eyes have looked at wealth or power or good looks or talent or strength or any number of other things. The success of others might sting and make us insecure. We might feel anger, fear, panic, and who knows what else.

Satan says. “Evil, be thou my good”! He choses envy, which brings death. Multiply that by a million. Now you see how the devil felt. He had been an archangel, perhaps the greatest being in God's creation, second only to God himself. But even the greatest angels had the possibility of rebelling against God. Lucifer (meaning “light-bearer”), as he was called before his sin, was dazzled by God's infinite greatness. However Lucifer did not like being second fiddle in comparison to the infinite God! So he developed an envy of God! An envy, which turned into a hatred of God’s goodness. A bottomless hatred. Like opposing poles of magnets, his opposition to God propelled him straight out of heaven, which the Book of Revelation describes as an epic battle between Lucifer and his forces against St. Michael and the angels who remained obedient to God.

He landed on earth with a thud. Shame, bitterness and rage propelled him through the Garden of beauty God had created. This former light-bearer now walked in stunned darkness amidst shimmering beauty, intricacy and innocence. He came upon the most touching sight of all and it froze him in his tracks. He looked upon the first human beings, pure, innocent, and marked by God’s own loving hand. They were “imperishable, and made in God’s own image,” the First Reading says. 

The father of lies, in his woundedness, must have been filled with anger and jealous rage at the mere sight of Adam and Eve. Instead of loving them, as he was created to do, he wanted them to be as unhappy as he was (and still is). He was about to introduce death to the world by turning our first parents against God, just as he had turned against God. This “Original Sin” would create a broken world, a wounded relationship between humanity and God. We know how the story goes. And we gather here each and every week to thank God for not giving up on them or on us. We adore Him for redeeming our envious, prideful hearts through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Creating life is very different from fostering envy of God or his reflection as we see it in other people. Jesus shows us what a human life looks like without jealousy and envy. St. John tells us in the beginning of his gospel that what came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race. 

Jesus, even though he was Divine, was humble and content to be himself. He was not hostile or insecure in any way. He grieved for others instead of for himself. In today’s Gospel, Jairus’ daughter is just “asleep,” he says. The crowd laughs. Asleep! What is this guy talking about? He must be crazy!” But, He had been united forever in the loving community of the Holy Trinity, Jesus knew that love is stronger than death. And so he walked through their ridicule, woke the dead girl, and nestled her into the deep rich love that had created her at the first moment of her existence. That is what a love, completely free of envy is capable of doing.

To go back to where we started in the first reading, we recall that Satan saw the goodness and love of God and instead of rejoicing and humbly adoring Him in awe and wonder, he was filled with envy. He didn't’’t want to serve God, he wanted to be God. Satan choses envy, which ends up bringing death and suffering not only to himself but to the human race as well. Compare that to the person of Jesus, who rejoices in the goodness and love of God and humbly shares it with the whole world. His Love brings life!

Take time this weekend to contemplate which side I choose to belong. Am I a grateful, gracious, generous person, who thanks God constantly for the blessings showered upon me? Do I also rejoice in the goodness he shares with others around me? Can I be happy when others succeed, become rich, or experience good fortune? Or am I filled with envy, sadness, bitterness, and rage? The path of gratitude and rejoicing will always bring life, peace, and joy. Choosing envy will only end in the same destruction and unhappiness experienced by Satan and his army. May our hearts echo the words of the Psalm today, “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me. O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.”

Monday, June 25, 2018

John the Baptist and Human Dignity (Birth of the John the Baptist)

To listen to this homily, click here.

You have to be pretty special to get a feast day celebrating your birthday in the Catholic Church. There are three people with this honor and the first that comes to mind, of course, is Jesus on December 25. The second is Mary, his Mother, on September 8. The third winner is John the Baptist whose birthday we celebrate today, June 24. The Church allows the usual Sunday readings and prayers to be replaced with ones dealing with John because of his close connection with the life and ministry of Christ. John was the forerunner, the one who would go before the Lord to "Prepare the way of the Lord". As we reflect on the birth of John the Baptist we marvel at how unlikely his existence was: he was born of older parents who were thought to be unable to have a child—a source a great suffering for many couples then as it is now. 

The angel told a skeptical Zechariah that not only would their son bring joy and gladness to them, but in fact "many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord". The angel revealed that John had a special task to perform in his life. John's glory, the reason we honor him at mass today, lies not in his worldly accomplishments or in the recognition he received from the people of his time. John's importance and holiness lay in the fact that he was "great in the sight of the Lord; his human dignity came from the fact that he was made in the image and likeness of God, called and loved by the Lord. 

In the sight of other people we are sometimes held in esteem, other times in contempt, but God sees through that pettiness and loves us—great or humble, rich or poor, famous or obscure, simply as we are, precious in his eyes even if scorned by others. Perhaps we can take a lesson from this as to the value of all human life. Even an infant destined for worldly insignificance is "great in the sight of the Lord" and deserves the same welcome that John the Baptist received from his parents. We see the absolute value of every human life in God's eyes, especially the lives of the unborn, in the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you”.

This feast provides an opportunity for us as Americans to contemplate things going on in our country. Recently there has been much discussion, debate, and now proposed legislation over the practice of separating children from parents when they attempt to cross our nation’s borders illegally. Not that this practice of separation is new but the decision to prosecute each person who crosses the border illegally is what has increased the number of these separations. 

Now I’m not going to go into the politics of this policy as it stands currently or as it was during the terms of past presidents; I don’t think the homily is the proper forum for that. However, I do want to reflect on the apparent disconnect or double standard that exists throughout this national discussion on immigration, borders, and national security.

This debate has centered largely on the principle of human dignity and how we honor that even when people are not citizens of our country or are potentially entering with criminal intent. There has been a lot of talk about children separated from their families and how their dignity is being violated. There is a strong sense that families should not be broken up. There has also been many thoughts shared about the trauma inflicted on the children because of this; how they are crying themselves to sleep, feeling alone, abandoned, and full of fear. I think there is truth in these concerns and valid objections to this policy that must be addressed.

At the same time, one has to wonder why there is such an immediate uproar for the way these children are being treated while so many stay silent in the face of the thousands of innocent, defenseless babies that have been and continue to be killed each and every day in our country through legalized abortion. Why Pope Francis is quoted by many as condemning this policy at our borders but then largely ignored this past weekend when he stated that, “abortion is the white-gloved equivalent to the Nazi-era eugenics program.” As a nation, are we not the height of moral hypocrisy as we call for an end to policies that separate families from their children while at the same time maintaining that it is a basic human right to abort one’s unborn child for any reason? Why have lawmakers, advocates, citizens, media, and even scores of Christians practiced selective outrage on one issue and not the other? If we think we can have a true, lasting solution to the problem of immigration, the separation of children from their parents and other issues of human dignity while tolerating and even defending the practice of abortion, we are out of our minds. Either we value and protect every human life as sacred without exception or we say that some persons are more valuable than others and can be treated differently. There is really no middle ground on this particular point. We cannot fix one without addressing the other. And heaven help us if we only confront these issues when they become politically expedient or popular!!

The birth and life of John the Baptist, which we celebrate today, is a perfect inspiration for our times. He was one of the most unexpected and unlikely of children to be born but imagine what the world would have lost without him! He had a message to proclaim, which offended some, but he did it fearlessly, even though it cost him his freedom and eventually his head. Might we need a little dose of his courage and zeal to proclaim the gospel teaching on the inviolable dignity of every human person, regardless of whether they are American citizens, migrant children, born or still in the womb? Mindful of John the Baptist and the "greatness" he held in the eyes of the Lord, even before his birth, let us pray that all God's children may be welcomed into life with love, for all are truly "great in the sight of the Lord.”

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.