Thursday, February 27, 2014

Not a good day to look at the readings...

It seems both St. James and Our Lord are having rough days today.

But, as we prep for Lent, these are both good wake up calls to the need for ongoing conversion of heart.

The rich become comfortable and rest on their laurels while the needy languish around them. St. James is highlighting what happens when faith is not continually put in to action, as he has called forth throughout his letter. It will slowly die on the vine and then when called upon...  nothing.

Our Lord makes a similar challenge, especially to those who lead others, particularly in ministry. "Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin..."

This is the technical definition of scandal and why scandal is such a pervasive thing within the faith community. It leads others to lose hope, to stop striving for greatness, to utter those most disheartening of words, 'well, if he's doing it, I can as well...'

As we enter Lent next week, a particular focus for the early stages might be to find those hidden areas of life that keep us from the greatness and holiness to which Christ calls us all.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Light is on for Confession

My latest for the Catholic Telegraph:

This coming March 18, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is participating for the first time in a national campaign simply entitled ‘The Light is On for You.’ Begun in New York, it is a night where every parish throughout the Archdiocese will have confessions offered from seven to nine in the evening. It has met with great success in areas that have conducted the program and we are excited to bring it here, too!

As a priest, the ability to hear confessions is at once both awe-inspiring and fear-inducing. It is awe-inspiring in the sense that it is often the time when you are able to the see the Grace of God most visibly active in a persons life. It takes a great deal of humility and emptiness to come to a brother in Christ to admit the wrongs that have been committed while seeking not just the priest’s forgiveness, but the forgiveness of God Himself! The words of absolution still strike me, even after nearly ten years as a priest and countless confessions, as one of the most beautiful prayers that the Church has passed down to us.

However, the act of hearing a confession is also fear-inducing in the sense of trying to find the right words to help this person who is before to experience that unique love of the Lord available in this Sacrament. In fact, it is that initial love of the Lord which itself spurs that call to conversion! As I enter the confessional, I always try to say a prayer that I might be a good and holy confessor, a wise and prudent steward of the mysteries entrusted to me, a priest.

Because of the intimate and delicate nature of what is celebrated in this Divine Encounter, the training to conduct the Sacrament is deferred to our very last years of seminary formation. After all, this Sacrament draws on every other aspect of our training: knowledge of Scripture to see the ongoing call to conversion that is throughout the Bible; knowledge of theology to understand the implications of what we are doing; training in pastoral counseling so that we are able to engage the penitent where he or she is and draw them closer to Christ; and even knowledge of our own weaknesses so that we never forget that, as priests, we are first and foremost wounded healers who are also in need of forgiveness and mercy.

Uniting all of this together is practice. During our course on the Sacraments of Healing, we undertake practice confessions with our classmates so that once we sit on the other side of the screen, we might have some idea of what to do. Our professor then guides and rehashes how we did in those moments so that we can continue to learn from them. (In fact, that particular class when we practice can often be the most fun as we either try to outdo our classmates in ‘sins’ we have committed, or come up with some outlandish scenarios.)

Yet, Confession is not meant to be something difficult and drear, but an encounter with the Living Christ who calls us all. Confession is to help us overcome our weaknesses and failings in order to recognize that Jesus Christ still calls, despite our sins, despite our faults, despite our failings. He waits and challenges us to move forward and to confirm once again, “Yes, Lord, You know everything; You know that I love.”

Our Lord waits with innumerable graces to pour out upon those who come to Him in their need. As priests, we wait to be doctors of the soul. If you have not been in a while, now is the perfect time to come to Him and to hear those most powerful of words: ‘Through the ministry of the Church, I absolve you of your sins…’

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Chair of St. Peter

Today we celebrate in the Church the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. (Yeah, one of those 'you Catholics worship anything!' days)


First, it is a sign of authority and teaching. Think to the passage in the Gospel of the Unjust Judge. He sits on his judgement chair at the gates to the city. So to sit in judgement is a sign of that authority which the one who sits possesses.

It is also a sign of unity. For the community gathers around the one presides over them, listening and learning.

Therefore, we see that Peter's Chair is a sign of the authority that is contained within the one who sits upon it. But also the sign of unity throughout the Church. And those keys which have been given to Peter have been passed down through the ages to Francis today.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Doers, not just hearers, of the Word

Today we are starting to get to the reason as far as why Martin Luther called the Letter of St. James the Epistle of Straw.

"Be doers of the Word and not just hearers only, deluding yourself."

For St. James, to hear the Word of God, to encounter Him in the kerygma, the proclamation, to know and love Him; all demands a response in kind. We cannot simply sit idly by as the world goes on, our faith must drive us forward. (I think of St. Paul: 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!')

Our faith cannot stop at the doors of the Church, but must impel us forward in love of Christ and therefore in love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, whomever that is!

We also get a sense in the Gospel passage of something that is particularly Markan in scope: the Messianic Secret. How often over the last few weeks as we have journeyed with Jesus in Mark's account of the Gospel, we see how Jesus sends away those whom He has cured with strange instruction, such as today's 'Go straight home, do not go into the village.'

For St. Mark, there is an importance in having that one on one encounter with Christ and being changed by that encounter. Our witness to others might help that, but it is not an encounter with me that changes lives, but rather how we are able to lead others to a true encounter with Christ that can lead to lives being changed.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Temptation can purify

In our initial reading at Mass, we have turned from the historical books of the Old Testament to the Letter of St. James. (As an aside, this is the Letter that Martin Luther infamously called the 'Epistle of Straw' due to his dislike for the contents of this Letter.)

Today, St. James identifies something that we likely all intuitively know: temptation is a part of life. However, there is a hidden aspect when facing these temptations to ask the question: 'Why is God doing this to me?' James offers a stern and quick rebuke to this line of questioning: It is not from God but is an enticement of our own desire.

When we face temptations, (going with Sunday's First Reading), we face a choice to give in or to resist. Certainly, at times, the temptations may be strong, particularly when we are weak, but that is why we have the availability of Confession, thanks be to God!

Finally, as we face and struggle against those temptations, with the Letter, we also begin to recognize the good things that God also gives, those little moments of overcoming, those little moments of Grace throughout the day, so that as Jesus challenges the Twelve in the Gospel, we might use our eyes to see the fingerprints of God in our day and our ears to hear His whispering voice encouraging us all to greatness.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Constant Conversion of Heart

Today's readings are a sad state of affairs.

Solomon, despite his wisdom, has fallen from that inner devotion that his father David had and has turned to the false gods worshiped by his many wives. As such, the LORD God will deprive him of his kingdom, rending the united monarchy in two: Judah and Benjamin in the south and the other ten tribes in the Kingdom of Israel in the north.

It is a harsh punishment. But it is a merited punishment. After all, he had asked for, and been given, a wise and prudent heart from God; and while he used it well for many years, he did not nurture that wisdom, he did not nurture that ongoing conversion of heart. Rather than stay true (and/or repent strongly when he fell, as David did), he let the many wives and concubines draw him away from his inner devotion and truth.

The lesson here is not one of 'you must maintain perfection!' Rather, I think the lesson is that ongoing conversion of heart that is called forth in our discipleship of Christ. David sinned, and sinned boldly at that! Yet, he was given the promise of an everlasting kingdom.

Solomon sinned as well. But when confronted, rather than repent, he built altars and shrines to the false gods that his wives and concubines introduced. Hence, his kingdom is rent in two.

Therefore, let us examine our own lives so that we might find those hidden sins (for I am sure Solomon thought he was doing his wives great service) that block us from that true inner devotion to Our Lord. Then, when we find them, let us repent of them, as David did, so that we might continue to grow stronger in Christ.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Our Lady of Lourdes and Inner Devotion

Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, commemorating the appearances of Our Lady under the title 'I Am the Immaculate Conception'. Appearing to a young, uneducated girl, Our Lady called for conversion of heart and dedication to Her Son, doesn't she always?

Anyway, it fits with today's Gospel reading, too. For the Scribes and the Pharisees had all the outward appearances of holiness and devotion to the Lord, yet their inner hearts were not oriented towards him.

Simply, do you go through the motions, or let the motions be the outward expression of that inner devotion and love for the Lord?

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Glory Cloud takes up residence in the Temple

Today's First Reading continues the story arc of David and now Solomon, today featuring the final conquest of Jerusalem and the Lord taking up his residence there.

Dirty little secret is that even though Jerusalem is the City of David, he never actually conquered the entire city... That was left for his son, Solomon, to complete.

As Jerusalem is taken over completely by the Israelites, to be their capital city and the City of God, in a way, Solomon today brings the Ark of the Lord to the city and to show his love and devotion to the Lord, he undertakes a massive sacrifice before the Lord to mark this monumental occasion.

As the sacrifices were completed, the whole Temple of the Lord is filled with the Glory Cloud as God takes up residence in His new home, in a sense. This is the same Shekina/Glory Cloud that led the people of Israel into the wilderness from Egypt and guided them throughout their journeys into the Promised Land. Now, after countless years of wandering, the people of Israel finally have a permanent home.

How do we adorn our own homes and hearts with the Glory of the Lord as we reflect on that wondrous mystery of the Lord God taking up residence in this palace?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I resolved to know nothing but Christ, Crucified.

In my wonderings around to different parishes, there is a frequent conversation that happens in the sacristy prior to Mass: 'What does St. Paul mean in this reading?'

As Catholics, we tend to study the Gospels the most. With the arrangement of the Lectionary Cycle, we can often see the typology of Christ hidden in the Old Testament, but St. Paul's writings are often lost to most of us. Even as a priest, I often overlook the Second Reading at Mass when preparing my homily.

Today's Second Reading gives us an insight into how to interpret the entirety of the Pauline corpus, and I want to look a little more in depth at this for our reflections today. In fact, I think there are two key hermeneutical lenses that can give us an insight into the writings of St. Paul.

First, Life in Christ: For St. Paul, the primary motivator for his journeys and his writings is to exhort the growing Christian community into a new life in Christ: Put on Christ over the old life of sin. In that time frame, there was such a dramatic conversion that was needed, he had to be forceful with his audiences (see, for example, the stupid Galatians!). He has experienced that conversion and desperately desires for his fellow believers to have that same joy that he has found in Christ.

The challenge becomes how do we continue to live that life in Christ? This is where today's Second Reading gives us the particular insight: 'I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ, and Him Crucified!' For St. Paul, this is the key into that life in Christ. The central event not just in Salvation History, but in all of human history is the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God. By this one event, all of human history has been changed. Therefore, when we enter into that particular mystery, all of life is changed.

This becomes an interpretive key for the modern day, as well. As a priest, I am convinced that life in Christ, particularly in the Cross, it what unites us all. For there is one thing that we have in common across the human condition: we suffer. We have our own weaknesses, we have suffered because of the weaknesses and sins of others directed at ourselves, we all sin.

Yet, by entering into the Crucifixion, we are able to overcome or pass through those sufferings to experience the joy that comes in the Resurrection. In fact, as we go through that suffering, we come to have a deeper awareness and appreciation of that joy that comes in Christ! 

In this: life in Christ, and Him Crucified, we find the deeper joy that transcends our human weaknesses, transcends even the limits of time and space: we find joy that is rooted in Christ.

As we embrace this joy, then we are able to truly be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, spicing this world with the truth of the Gospel and leading others to Christ by the light of faith that shines in our willingness to proclaim Christ, and Him Crucified.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Seek a Wise Heart

In our daily readings, we have turned the page from the exploits of David and now look at the reign of his son, Solomon.

Appropriately, he begins his reign as King of Israel by acknowledging the one True King of Israel: the Lord God, offering a thousand burnt offerings at Gibeon.

That evening, in a dream, the Lord speaks to him, offering him such a unique grace: 'Ask of Me whatever you want...'

So many options present themselves: long life, destruction of enemies, riches, etc. etc. Instead, he asks for an understanding heart so as to aid his leadership of God's Chosen People.

Because he asks for a gift not necessarily for himself, but in service to his people, God does give him all the other things, besides.

If you were given the opportunity, what would you ask for from God? If that dream was presented to you, would you ask for wisdom and understanding? Long life? Career help?

How is God already offering you the answers to the questions that you seek?

Friday, February 7, 2014

A recap of how David was perceived

Our first reading takes a quick break from the series in Samuel and Kings to give us a quick recap of the events that we have read about.

The last few chapters of the Book of Sirach gives us a wonderful insight into the prevalent thoughts that existed during the inter-testamental period, those last 150 years or so between the time of the end of the Old Covenant and the dawning of the New with the Birth of Our Lord. The Sacred Author retells Sacred History through the lives of the key figures of the Old Testament. If you have never read this section, it can be a great quick read for that sort of 10,000 foot view of the Old Covenant.

In today's section, we get the recap of David's life and ministry, and as we discussed a few days ago, we get an insight into why David is held up as such a great figure in Israel: 'With his whole being he loved his Maker and daily had his praises sung.' Everything David was and did was oriented towards praising the True King of Israel: The LORD God. He revolutionized the worship in the Temple as the author of so many Psalms that are still sung today. He recognized that beauty is able to change the heart and lead the devoted closer to God.

How might you and I continue to grow in the love of the Lord as David did...  How might we all engage the world in Beauty so that hearts and minds might be daily lifted before our Lord and God...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pretty harsh, don't you think?

So, in today's readings, David counts the people of Israel to assess their preparedness for war. In response, he is given three options from God:

1) Three years famine in the land
2) Three months of pursuit by his enemies
3) Three days of pestilence in the land.

Seems rather harsh, doesn't it?

To quote: 'Why so serious, God?!?!'

The reason this is such a serious sin in the eyes of The Lord is that He is to be their armor and protector. This is what makes Israel different from all the other nations who have to rely on their armies and walls and ramparts to protect them. Israel only has to rely on God. So when David has the census taken, he is basically saying to God: 'We don't need you!'

Think back on the history of Israel: the flight out of Egypt to the destruction of Jericho and the initial conquest of the Holy Land, as long as God fought for them, they were always successful. When they turned away, they started to falter and to fail.

Even at the beginning of the Exodus, Joshua is the only one who argues: 'it doesn't matter how many folks are in Canaan, we have the Lord!'  Hence, he becomes the leader after Moses.

So, taking the lesson from David today, trust that God truly is on our side, even when the odds look long and daunting, and he will lead us through!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Now a reason to actually look up to King David!

Last week, we saw plenty of reasons why David was not the best example of how to be a disciple of God...

Today, we get a little better image of who he was and why he was held up as an example of discipleship.

Despite the fact that his son Absalom was out to get him and had repeatedly exiled David, David still has a great love for his son.  So much so, that when informed of his death by Joab, David weeps and sobs repeatedly.

How might we reach out to forgive those who have wronged us, because we have all had that experience.  How might we still reach out in love to those who are out to get us?

It is a little thing, but still an important aspect of our path of discipleship.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Meet Jesus, Don't Just Talk About Him

My latest Missive for the Catholic Telegraph

At the initial meeting I have with an engaged couple to begin their preparation for married life, I always start with how they met and why they are now sitting across from me thinking about getting married.  It is enjoyable to me to hear their stories and to see in them the way that God truly has brought them to this point, sometimes after long and intertwining paths to reach this point.

Part of the conversation also turns to why they want to get married in the Catholic Church, which also involves their Mass attendance in the recent past.  During a recent meeting, the couple admitted that they did not attend Mass very often at all and our discussion centered around how and why this happens, for it happens all too often among young adults these days.

In reflecting with them, we centered on two ‘causes’ of this backsliding that so many of my generation fall into.  On the part of the young person, in many ways, it just sort of happens.  Entering college, they miss Mass a few times that initial year, then a few more the next year and by the final year of college, they go to Mass when home with mom and dad and well, then, the ‘habit’ is broken.  By the time they settle into a working career, so many young adults no longer have the pattern of Sunday Mass into their weekend routine and just stop altogether.

But is this solely the fault of this generation?  In reflecting on the work I see being done with young people today and the focus that many youth ministers are bringing to their work, as aspect that was sadly missing in previous generations has finally been rediscovered.  In my own faith formation, it seems that we talked about Jesus a great deal, but the key component that was missing is that we were never actually introduced to him.  There was never an encounter with the Living God so that our lives were changed by Him.

However, all is not lost!  The good news is that there is a strong contingent of young adults who have had this encounter with the Living Christ and wish to fervently share this encounter with our young people!  Even more exciting, so many of our young people (teens and high school students in particular) have also had this encounter and are leading a revolution in their families, schools and among their friends.  They have found the pearl of great price and are willing to sacrifice everything they have and are to not only keep that pearl, but to also share it with their peers.  The vibrancy and energy that they are bringing to the Gospel is powerful!

As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, this might be a chance for a renewed focus on not only how we are forming our young people in the academic life, but also how we are forming our young people in Christ!  Our Catholic schools have small signs in each classroom that is a reminder that Jesus is truly the reason for our schools, the unseen teacher of all that we do.

But our challenge is to make Him more than just unseen, but to help all of our young people to know and realize the unique and dynamic love that He has for each one of them; all the while helping our young people to return that dynamic love back to Him as well.

Also, this is a challenge that is not just for our Catholic schools, it is for every Catholic to embrace.  The more that schools, parishes, youth ministry programs, families, and diocesan offices are able to work together with the focus of truly presenting Christ in all that we say and do, the more we can help fight back on the ways the culture has infiltrated our efforts to spread the Gospel message.

As we do so, surely Christ will bless these efforts, for He truly does desire for us to find that unique happiness and joy that comes from knowing, serving, and most of all loving Him in both this life and in the life to come.