Tongues to Speak of Christ

Homily, Pentecost Sunday C

I often like to joke about not liking Franciscans, those countless religious orders that look to St. Francis of Assisi as a spiritual father, but in many ways I really do admire them. I even imitate their aesthetic by keeping a beard and by wearing sandals. I think it’s more just the popular misconceptions that many people have about St. Francis that I find particularly annoying. When we think of St. Francis, many of us just have an idea that, well, he liked animals. Okay. That’s not untrue. St. Francis did have a great appreciation for all members of God’s creation, and we can learn from that. Statues of Him often include birds or other animals. But the great love of Francis’ life was poverty, the poverty of Christ that he strove to imitate in concrete ways. To be free of worldly attachments and possessions that so often come to possess us. That’s why he appreciated birds so much. Birds don’t store up food in barns and silos for themselves. They live day to day, depending on the providence of God.

St. Francis was especially devoted to the Passion of Jesus, when the poverty of Christ was at its height. As He was hanging from the Cross, naked, stripped of everything, Jesus was even abandoned by most of His closest friends and disciples. He was left with nothing but the Cross and His trust in God the Father. St. Francis was so devoted to the Passion of Christ upon the Cross, he meditated upon this mystery for so many hours and years that God gave Francis what’s called the stigmata, the wounds of Christ manifested in his own flesh, the nail marks and some of the pain along with them in his hands and feet, and a wound in his side.

Now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking to you so much about St. Francis on this Feast of Pentecost. I would venture to say that St. Francis is one of the most widely misunderstood saints in the history of the Catholic Church, while at the same time, he was one of the saints that strove most fully to imitate the virtues of Jesus and to become a living image of Christ, and Francis was only able to do that through the grace of the Holy Spirit that he received in his Baptism, in Confirmation, that he also exercised in his ministry as a deacon.

Now we still haven’t come to the most obnoxious misuse of the memory and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is frequently quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” The only problem with this quote is of course that St. Francis definitely never said it. And it goes against much of how Francis himself lived. St. Francis was not the type of person to pass up any opportunity to tell the people around him about Jesus Christ, explicitly, with his words and his actions, even at the risk of his own life. There was a time during the life of St. Francis that the Muslim king of Egypt was offering a gold piece to any of his subjects for every head of a Christian that they would bring to him. So what did Francis decide to do? He wanted an audience with that king. So he traveled with a companion to Egypt. They were captured. They were beaten. They were imprisoned, but finally, Francis got his audience with the king. And to this Muslim king, St. Francis proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ. He told him to repent of his sins, to be baptized, and to believe in Jesus, the one Savior of the world.

When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to the Apostles in the upper room, these men who were once frightened and cowardly were emboldened and strengthened to proclaim Jesus Christ to the crowds gathered from throughout the world. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we continually hear how they were even able to rejoice in the sufferings, persecutions, and dishonor that came to them in response to their bold, explicit preaching of Jesus Christ, using words and actions. The Holy Spirit who appeared to them as tongues of fire gave them courage to speak, not just to let their actions speak.

We like the saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words” because we’re lazy and cowardly, because we’re looking for any excuse to not have to proclaim Jesus Christ explicitly, in both word and deed, because we don’t want to risk upsetting anyone, really, because we don’t want to risk anything in our following of Christ. We’ve found a better way, a safer way, to live as Christians in a world that wants to go its own way, in a world that rebels against the One Way of Jesus Christ. We’ve found a way to stifle the Holy Spirit, the one who animated all the Apostles, St. Francis, and every missionary in the history of the Catholic Church.

The Good News is that the Spirit of God is ever ancient and ever new. His strength has not weakened at all over the course of these 2000 years. He is still able to do marvelous things in those who are willing to risk, in those willing to put themselves out there for the sake of Christ. You have not received any other spirit than the one received by the Apostles, Prophets, and Martyrs. By your Baptism and Confirmation, you have been strengthened with the infinite strength of God. So cast off all fear and go. Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person under heaven. Risk something. You won’t regret it.

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A little while, and you will no longer see me…

Bulletin Letter, Ascension C

Today we commemorate the Ascension of Jesus and the unshakable hope that in Christ, a human nature like our own is already seated in glory at the Father’s right hand, enjoying forever the blessedness of heaven. We know at the same time, however, this was not the easiest goodbye for His Apostles, who had spent most of the last three years of their lives with Jesus, traveling with Him during His public ministry, eating with Him, hearing His teachings and witnessing His miracles, even sharing at times in His own mission and ministry. After His Ascension, they would no longer see Him in the same way—by physical sight—but through the eyes of faith and in mystery, in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood and in the humanity of those in need. They held fast to the promise that He would send them another Advocate to strengthen them, and—together with the Mother of God—they remained in prayer and longing for the coming of the Holy Spirit in power.

Goodbyes are seldom easy or enjoyable, but they are often necessary, and with the eyes of faith, they hold the promise of greater things to come. I am thankful for the time that God has given me here at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. Serving the ordinary parish needs in the day to day with Fr. Morgan and Fr. Smith brings new perspective and appreciation for what I’ve always experienced as a magnificent Cathedral Church. Serving as the Master of Ceremonies has also been a great blessing and opportunity to see many different parishes of the diocese and just how tireless a shepherd we continue to have in Bishop Swain. I honestly have a difficult time keeping up with him. Be assured of my continued daily prayers for our Cathedral Parish family, for your shepherds, Bishop Swain and Fr. Morgan, and for the next Parochial Vicars you will soon welcome, Fr. Brian Eckrich and Fr. Joseph Scholten.

As such, Fr. Smith and I have been called to serve the needs of the diocese elsewhere, in the neighborhood of Highway 12. Effective July 10, Fr. Smith will become the Pastor of St. Thomas in Roscoe, Holy Cross in Ipswich, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Leola. Further west, I will be the Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in Hoven and St. Augustine in Bowdle. As we continue towards Pentecost, in your kindness, please pray that God will strengthen us for this ministry. Through His Holy Spirit, God still promises even greater things for the Cathedral of St. Joseph and for all His holy people.

With a grateful heart,
Fr. Darin Schmidt

Expect the Cross

Homily, Eastertide Sunday 5C

Just last night, I was driving back from the Graduation Mass of O’Gorman High School held at the Elmen Center. Just within that short distance, I observed and came up behind not one, but two separate cars at different traffic lights that after the light turned green, these cars continued to sit, stationary, at the intersection for several, very long seconds, before finally moving through and getting out of my way. I avoid driving when I can, I think because it is often a near occasion of sin for me, to see so many drivers not paying attention to the road. In human life, our own expectations play a large part in how we deal with what happens to us and the amount of frustration that we experience on a daily basis. You see, I can tell myself time and time again, that people are really not very good drivers, that they’re often not paying much attention to their surroundings. I can tell myself this, but part of my own expectation is still that they really should, and so when they’re not, I get angry, I get frustrated. Things are not how they are supposed to be. When our experience falls short of our expectation, we get mad.

Of course, the same thing also happens in our spiritual lives, in our relationship with God. Many of us, whether we really think about it or not, whether we’d be able to admit it or not, many of us have very strange expectations when it comes to the spiritual life. Many of us buy in to a sort of ‘prosperity gospel,’ thinking to ourselves, “If I’m a good person, if I follow the commandments, follow the Church’s teachings, send my kids to Catholic school—whatever it might be—if I do what I’m supposed to do, then God is supposed to bless me. God is supposed to protect me and my loved ones from anything bad or difficult from ever happening to us. If I do what I’m supposed to do, then God should do what He’s supposed to do and make life easy for us.” Now, we wouldn’t always put it in these exact words, but when some obstacle or difficulty arises and we immediately start to question, “What have I done wrong? Why is God allowing this to happen to me or to my loved one?” It seems pretty clear what our expectations really are.

In our first reading, we hear how Sts. Paul and Barnabas “strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith.” How did they do this, what did they say to them? They said, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Not usually what we would think of as very encouraging words. You, must, suffer, to enter God’s kingdom. Great. They didn’t say, It is likely, or it is advisable for us to endure hardships. No, they said, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus Himself asked the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and so enter into His glory?” In another place, He says, “Whoever does not deny himself, take up His cross daily and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” Jesus never promises us an easy life. He promises an abundant life, but not an easy one. “How wide the gate and easy the road that leads to destruction, and there are many that go that way. But how narrow the gate and constricted the path that leads to life.”

How realistic are our own expectations for the spiritual life? Do our expectations actually line up with the words of Scripture and with what Jesus has told us so many times? “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me,” says the Lord. Jesus is clear about what our expectations should be. No one carries a cross unless they’re headed towards their own crucifixion. So why are we so surprised when we encounter obstacles, when we encounter many hardships in our following of the footsteps of Christ, who walked the Way of the Cross? “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Don’t get mad. Don’t get frustrated. Expect it, and ask God for every grace to grow in patience, to grow in perseverance, to grow in appreciation for the share in Christ’s own Cross that God entrusts to us.

In giving us a new commandment, Jesus tells us, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” What does the love of Christ look like? Jesus willingly suffered and died, out of love for you. If we are not willing to sacrifice, to suffer for one another, we shouldn’t pretend to be following Christ’s commandment to love as He has loved us. Expect the cross. If we expect the cross, it will not overwhelm us when we encounter suffering. And like the Apostles who went before us, we may even be able to rejoice in our sufferings out of love for Jesus Christ. To Him be glory and honor forever.

One Shepherd, One Flock for All

Homily, Eastertide Sunday 4C

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. What images come to mind when we think of shepherds? We often think of very peaceful and pleasant scenes: green pastures, gentle breezes, streams of water, sheep grazing quietly on the hillside; or we picture the shepherds kneeling at the manger scene in front of the baby Jesus. But the actual life of a shepherd was hardly ever comfortable or easy, and often not very peaceful. Shepherds at the time of Jesus and in His neck of the woods lived tough lives. They stayed with the animals day and night, often enduring adverse weather, the heat of the day and cold of the night. They had to be watchful of dangers from predators, storms, and rustlers. And they had to be mindful of the inattentive and wandering sheep that so easily could get lost or get themselves into trouble.

To be a shepherd and to keep the sheep safe from the many dangers of this world was and is hard work. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow Me.” What does it mean to be one of His sheep? Are we confident that we really belong to Jesus Christ? “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow Me.” If we don’t hear and recognize the voice of Christ, if we don’t take the time to listen to what God is saying to us, and if we aren’t really following Jesus in our daily lives, then we’re following some other shepherd, or we’ve struck out onto our own path. There’s an old saying that whoever chooses to direct himself has a fool for a guide.

But many people wonder, do we even really need Jesus anymore? You’ve probably heard people say on more than one occasion things like, “Well, he doesn’t go to church anymore, but he’s really the nicest person you’ll ever meet.” Or, “Well, you know, he doesn’t really believe in God, but he’s such a good person, and isn’t that what really matters? As long as someone’s a good person, they’ll go to heaven in the end, right?” But this is not what we hear in God’s Revelation of Himself and in the witness of Sacred Scripture. It’s not enough to “be a good person,” to do my best to follow what I think is right. From the beginning God is always calling us into relationship with Himself. To be part of His family, part of His “one flock.” And Jesus is the fullness of God’s Revelation. Jesus says things like, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” “Whoever believes in Me and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe in Me will be condemned.” Jesus is not optional.

One very popular and pervasive attitude today is religious indifference. “Who’s to say? There are lots of religions, lots of ways to enlightenment, to God, to heaven.” There’s a lot of focus on the mere possibility of salvation for those who never explicitly believe in Christ or live in communion with the Church founded by Him. But our focus should be on what God has positively revealed and commanded. The sacraments of His Church are still the only ordinary means revealed by God for our salvation. Speculation about other possibilities is often motivated by the fact that there are many in the world today who are not Christian, who are not Catholic, there are many atheists and agnostics, and we rightly condemn any violence committed in the name of religion, but another motivation is to try and sooth our own consciences for our lack of zeal, our complacency and unwillingness to take risks to proclaim Jesus Christ as the One Savior of the world. We make excuses to just get along, to remain silent, and shirk our duty as Christians to proclaim the Gospel to every creature.

St. Paul didn’t mince any words in our first reading, when He warns His fellow Jews that without believing in the Messiah God sent for them, they risked the loss of eternal life. “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” Judaism is incomplete, as long as it fails to recognize the Messiah promised by God through the Prophets, Jesus the Christ. The message of Muhammad in the 7th century is incompatible with the Gospel. Muhammad was a false prophet who has led many astray. We need to proclaim Jesus Christ to Muslims, to Jews, to all peoples, to fallen-away Catholics. There is one Lamb who stands before the throne of God in heaven. One Lamb who was slain for our sins and is risen from the dead for our salvation and for the salvation of all. It’s time to stop making excuses for ourselves, and time to start sharing the Good News.

More than Stone Structures

Bulletin Letter, Eastertide Sunday 3C

What an amazing week of celebrations for the 100th Anniversary of the Dedication of our Cathedral! We stand in awe of the faith and vision that propelled those who built, maintained, and beautified such a monument to the glory of God and for the honor of St. Joseph. All of us are a part of her story, and each of us is responsible to see that this treasure is carried on and shared with many others, for years to come.

And what’s the most effective way to take this legacy forward? For each of us to become a holy dwelling of God in our own bodies and souls, to be adorned by God’s grace with every virtue He desires to see in us. It’s always striking to me that the Scripture readings the Church provides on the occasion of a dedication/anniversary of a church are largely reminders that God does not so much desire to dwell in buildings of stone but in hearts of flesh.

Just think of all the years of construction and renovation, the millions of dollars, the countless hours of individual workers devoted to this cathedral church, to serve as a place of sacred worship to God. Now how many hours, how much real work and effort, how many of our resources in life have we really dedicated to the salvation of our souls, where it really counts? When we stop and reflect, the construction of buildings and monuments is easy compared to the call to “deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow” Christ (Luke 9:23).

Having such a spectacular Cathedral is a great blessing, able to draw minds and hearts to God. But God desires even more that His beauty would shine out in the thoughts, words, and actions of our daily lives, that we would allow Jesus to drive out from our hearts anything unworthy of God, even as He drove out the money-changers from the Temple of Jerusalem. By His grace and our generous cooperation, may God make us beacons of hope to everyone we meet.

Fr. Darin Schmidt

Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this church to be. Do you wish to find this basilica immaculately clean? Then do not soil your soul with the filth of sins. Do you wish this basilica to be full of light? God too wishes that your soul be not in darkness, but that the light of good works shine in us, so that He who dwells in the heavens will be glorified. Just as you enter this church building, so God wishes to enter into your soul, for he promised: I shall live in them, and I shall walk the corridors of their hearts.
—St. Caesarius of Arles, bishop in the 6th century

Living for Eternity

Homily, Funeral

On behalf of the other priests and the rest of the parish, I’d like to extend our condolences to the family and friends of N.. Be assured of our prayers for you and for the repose of her soul. One of the great consolations of our Catholic faith is to know that N. and all our deceased loved ones can still benefit from our prayers. Our relationship with them continues in a very important way. I wear violet vestments today, the same color that we use during the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent, as a reminder that we are called to offer prayers, fasting, and penance on behalf of N., as an expression of love and gratitude to her and to God, so that any imperfections, any sin that still clings to her, would be wiped away and healed. During this past year, I’ve very frequently seen the name of N.’s sister in our bulletin, having Masses offered for the repose of her soul. What a great practice. There’s nothing more powerful than the perfect Sacrifice of Christ Himself, offered at each and every Mass. I hope that you’ll continue to pray for N. and have Masses offered for her in the weeks and months ahead.

One thing I definitely have in common with N. is her love for words. Now, I don’t play Scrabble very much, I’ve played a bit more Bananagrams, but I’ve always loved words, word puzzles, and languages. And I’ve always found it interesting that one of main titles or names that we use for Jesus is the Word of God, the Eternal Word that became Flesh, the One who gives visible expression and perfect revelation of the invisible God. In life, and at the end of our lives, its our relationship with this One Word of God that’s going to matter most. Whether we were materially rich or poor, successful or largely failures, our relationship with Christ will be the one thing that matters in the end. Jesus tells us, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus lays down His life for us on the Cross, so that we can live, no longer for ourselves but for Him.

One of the considerations in my own vocation to the priesthood, ever since I was a kid (and most of you probably still think I look like a kid), but for a long time I kind of surveyed different things I could do. Did I just want to get a good job to make money, to buy stuff, and live a comfortable life? Was that the best I could hope for? The most that the world had to offer me? Or could I work for something else, something greater? Not just for food that passes away but for the Food that lasts to eternal life? Not just for words that could ring in people’s ears for a time, but for the Eternal Word that could live in their hearts forever?

A lot of people today tend to think and talk about heaven as if it is just some generic form of happiness, some comfortable country club in the sky, but it’s not. Heaven is seeing God Himself face to face. And there’s nothing that could ever be boring about that. There’s nothing more beautiful, more infinitely and inexhaustibly interesting than God Himself. That’s what heaven is. There isn’t a separate heaven for people who just aren’t really into all that God stuff. Now the question for us, and for every human person, the question of every human life, is how are we preparing ourselves today and every day of our lives for where we want to be spending eternity? I’m convinced that God will give us what we truly desire at the end of our lives. He will give drink to the thirsty. But do we thirst for Him? If we can’t bother to pray every day, to talk with God and try to listen to Him, if we don’t give much effort to going to church on Sundays, to witness the one perfect Sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, if we don’t bother to spend much time with God during this life, what makes us think that we’ll actually desire to spend an eternity with God at the end of our lives?

Life is short. 88 years is short, in view of eternity. We thank God for the life and blessings that He gave to N., for her great smile and kindness that she shared with so many. We continue to pray that she’ll soon be enjoying the fullness of God’s heavenly kingdom. And we pray that God gives each of us the grace to use well the time entrusted to us. That God would help us all to desire more than just the passing things that the world offers us. We pray that even today, we can start to live for eternity.

In the Darkness of a Tomb

Homily, Easter Sunday

One of the great privileges I experience being a priest is that people are very willing to talk to me about their spiritual lives. Even someone I’m meeting for the very first time will often ask me about prayer, about faith, the Church’s sacraments, and our relationship with God. And a lot of the time, I hear very similar things from a wide variety of people. Things like: “Father, I pray, but I don’t feel anything. It doesn’t seem like anything’s happening or that it does any good. I’ve gone on retreats and mission trips, I’ve tried using the Scriptures to pray, but still, I don’t feel anything. I try to follow God’s commandments and the Church’s teachings, but I’m not sure if it’s making any real difference.” On this Easter morning, it’s good for us to recall that the most significant event in the history of the universe was felt by no one. The moment that changed the world for all time and finally revealed that in Jesus Christ, we can live forever, the event of the Resurrection was seen and witnessed by no one. It happened in the darkness of a tomb. Jesus alone. None of the disciples, none of the women who followed Jesus from Galilee, were there to see it. When the first Man rose from the dead never to die again, it was felt by no one else. Everyone missed it. So what do we do?

We do the same as those first disciples. We encounter the Risen Christ in mystery, seemingly in disguise, like the Gardener that Mary Magdalene meets, like the Stranger walking the road to Emmaus, like the Man on the seashore of Galilee. We encounter the Risen Christ upon this altar, in this tabernacle, in the Sacrament that He Himself entrusted to us at the Last Supper as His abiding Presence, under the humble appearances of bread and wine. It takes real faith, not just a fascination with signs and wonders. We are called to encounter the Risen Christ on the streets of this city, disguised as a poor man asking for our help. We are to learn to see the Risen Christ in our neighbors and family members, especially those whom we find the most difficult for us to love. And we discover the Risen Christ in ourselves, when we find ourselves able to love in the way that Jesus loves us: to forgive and to do good, even to love those who hate us, to have patience with those who annoy us to no end, to give, without wanting anything for ourselves in return.

And as we encounter the Risen Christ in the silence of prayer, in the sacraments, the sacred mysteries of His Church, in the works of mercy done for those in need, we too become witnesses to His Resurrection for the rest of the world today, even as his first disciples carried His Name to all the ends of the earth. The precise beginning of the Resurrection of Christ was experienced by Jesus alone in the darkness of the tomb, felt by no one else, but the power of His Resurrection and His Presence has continued down to our very own day. In faith, we need to keep our eyes wide open, to the realities and opportunities that we encounter each and every day, to the Risen Christ revealing Himself in our midst. “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). In baptism, we have been enlightened by Christ. Jesus gives us eyes for seeing and ears for hearing, what we might otherwise gloss over and miss out on. We are to walk always as children of the light, whether we feel like it on any given day, or not. Jesus offers us meaning, purpose, fulfillment, eternal life. How much longer shall we continue to wander in the darkness, looking for life apart from Him? Jesus is the only Way.

Missing Jesus

Homily, Good Friday

I’ve mentioned before that I come from a big family. I’m the youngest of nine kids. And as you might imagine, things weren’t always neat and tidy. But that’s also one of the great joys of having so many siblings. They definitely keep life interesting and help each other to grow in many ways. But with so many, it’s not always noticeable right away when one of them is missing. One brother in particular was left behind at Grandma’s house on more than one occasion. I’m sure he didn’t mind too much. Grandma probably just fed him cookies until we came looking for him. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but that’s only true when that absence is noticed and felt. There’s nothing worse than getting back from a long trip and asking someone, “Well, did you miss me?” only to hear the reply, “What, were you gone?”

When I was in seminary, one of the priests on staff would always say something that at first I thought was kind of strange, but I’ve learned to appreciate it more and more over the years. He told us to make sure that during these days of the Easter Triduum, we take some time to pray in the church in front of the bare altar, and the empty tabernacle. To notice that absence and allow ourselves to feel it. When we came into the Cathedral today, did we notice these things? Or did we just genuflect, like we always do, and go into our pew?

Do we take these things for granted? Well, we’ll always have priests to say Mass for us. Will we? Jesus will always be there in the tabernacle waiting for us. We like to believe that, but the reality is that to continue having priests, to continue having the sacraments available, especially to continue having Jesus in His Body and Blood upon our altars and in our tabernacles, someone—not just someone else—someone needs to answer that call from God to follow Jesus in that way.

As we continue to contemplate the Lord’s Passion, His death, His burial, don’t let the anticipation of Easter cause you to miss out on these graces of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, when we notice it, when we allow ourselves to feel it. Experiencing absence helps us to not take for granted or just gloss over the immeasurable, constant blessings that God bestows on us. As we pray at this bare altar, in front of this empty tabernacle, let’s pray for vocations, for many holy priests. Let’s no longer take for granted the greatest Gift of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Blessed Mother and the disciples were overwhelmed with sorrow as the Body of Jesus was sealed in the tomb. Many of them wondered, would they ever hear His voice again? Would they ever see His Face, just one more time? Let their sorrow touch our hardened hearts. Let their love for Jesus move us to always live for Him.

The Faith of Martyrs

Homily, Lenten Sunday 3C

Since the dawn of mankind, one question has forever plagued the minds and hearts of every human being that has taken the time to reflect. One question has perplexed philosophers and confounded the wisdom of sages. One question continues to shake me to the very core of my existence: Why do bad things happen… to good food? Why, when I lift that last piece of pizza from the box, something would happen to throw off my balance and lose my grip and send that piece, toppings down, to the ground? And even if there’s still something salvageable in this case, after doing my best to remove any bits of grass and hair, and hoping against hope that the rest of what I still see is just black pepper, this doesn’t change the stark reality that in the case of good soup, whatever is spilled is ultimately lost to me. Sir Isaac Newton claimed to find the reason, as a tasty apple fell upon his head on its way to the ground at his feet. As he mourned the loss of that apple, he formulated the law of gravity, that the things of earth tend towards the earth. Still, the mechanics of how these tragedies happen are not very satisfactory as an answer to the question of why.

Whether small or big, we all face tragedy in our lives, times of disappointment and loss, even times when it seems the very foundation of our existence is shaken, or our world is turned upside down. And we all search for reasons. Why would a good, supremely loving, supremely just and merciful God allow these things to happen? Is God in control or isn’t he? And if he is, why does it seem like he isn’t paying much attention? These are the same questions the Israelites faced during their oppression as slaves in Egypt. Had God abandoned them and forgotten the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? In the time of Jesus, they faced tragedies of the sacrifice of human blood and the deaths of eighteen people when a tower collapsed. And in our day, we have seen sudden deaths, traffic accidents, devastating earthquakes, hurricanes and typhoons, terrorist attacks, cancers and other diseases.

In the time of Jesus, they often thought of these disasters as punishments for personal sin, but Jesus very clearly rejects this explanation. They didn’t suffer these things because they themselves were greater sinners. Jesus also demonstrates this in His own crucifixion. Jesus is the sinless One, who nevertheless suffers great torments and dies, not for any sin of his, but for proclaiming the truth for our salvation. Much of the evil we suffer stems from our own sins, but we can’t ignore the fact that we also suffer at the hands of others or because of forces beyond our control. And it is very little consolation to understand the physics or the biology of how so many suffer and die. We might blame the devil, but God is infinitely more powerful than the devil, so we can’t escape the reality that God does allow these things to happen.

Jesus doesn’t preach a prosperity gospel. Jesus never tells us, “If you follow Me, obey God’s commandments, and do everything you’re supposed to, nothing bad will ever happen to you.” Not only does Jesus not promise us an easy life, free from trials and tragedies, He goes so far as to tell us, “You will be hated by all because of Me,” and “in the world, you will have trouble, but take courage: I have overcome the world.” How is our Lent going so far? Is it starting to get difficult to keep our resolutions and disciplines? Are we perhaps disappointed that we’re not getting more out of Lent? That our small sacrifices have not obtained for us miraculous healings and overwhelming spiritual consolations from God? Is that the reason that we took on certain disciplines, to force God to bless us?

I’ve always greatly admired the early Christian martyrs, from those first centuries. They became Christian at a time when they knew that they would be hated for it. The Romans thought they were strange. Even the Jews rejected them. Often, members of their own family would disown them. And when faced with the loss of all their property, being taken or sent away from their homes, even under pain of torture and death, they would not deny their friendship with Christ Jesus, which they valued above all else. They would not deny the truth of the Christian religion. The martyrs were willing to suffer and die, for the sake of Truth. How many of us find it difficult even to go a whole day without some little lie, half-truth, or falsehood, to make things easier, to smooth things over, to avoid some minor inconvenience? How many Christians and how many Catholics are still willing to suffer or die for the Truth? If we find ourselves unwilling to endure even the slightest smudge on our public image, we’ve got a ways to go.

The world doesn’t need any more Catholics looking to take the easy road. The Church doesn’t need any more bishops and priests acting like politicians, placing more value on their friendship with this passing world than on their friendship with Christ. The world needs the faith of the martyrs. The Church needs men, women, boys and girls willing to stand for God in the midst of tragedy, willing to proclaim the truth in the midst of persecution and in the face of an unbelieving society. In many ways, we’re seeing the return of days like those of the first Christian centuries. In other areas of the world, the persecution has already begun. And persecution is on its way here, if we’re willing to proclaim the full Gospel. Are you living your Lent as if you’re really training for something? In the world, you will have trouble, but take courage, Christ has overcome the world. May Jesus also overcome the lack of faith, the cowardice within us, so that when He returns, we’ll have the strength to stand in His Presence.

No Cross, No Resurrection

Homily, Lenten Sunday 2C

We’re all no doubt familiar with the exercise motto, No pain, no gain. Even biologically, they find that in order to get your muscles stronger, you need to exercise to the point of burning and doing some damage to your muscle fibers, so that they’ll adapt and rebuild themselves stronger than before. This is why getting started on an exercise routine can be so difficult. In order to see and start to experience real progress in our health, it takes going through some real pain, and many of us get discouraged before seeing much of a positive change in our lives. For those who do persevere through the effort and pain, they begin to understand at some level the value of suffering. They can start to see the pain differently. Instead of discouraging them from exercise, pain can even serve as a challenge that motivates them to reach new heights. No pain, no gain. And this is basically what Jesus is trying to communicate to us and to his disciples in His Transfiguration, to prepare us for the sufferings that He will endure.

His disciples were unable to understand that the Son of Man must be rejected, suffer and die, in order to rise triumphant on the third day. No pain, no gain. The first time that Jesus mentions this, St. Peter scolds him and says, “God forbid, Lord, that this should ever happen to you.” It should be easy for us to understand Peter’s reaction. In our second reading, St. Paul mentions those who “conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.” How often do we conduct ourselves as enemies of the Cross? How do we view suffering in our own lives? We often act as if pain and suffering, embarrassment and inconvenience, as if these are the worst evils, to be avoided at all cost. But God continues to tell us that sin and disobedience is the real enemy and the actual source of unhappiness and disorder in our lives. Do we grow comfortable with our sins because we are unwilling to endure the necessary pain to be rid of our sins and to experience the new life of Jesus Christ?

Getting into a routine of spiritual exercise can be even more difficult than getting started on physical exercise. The same principle often applies: No pain, no gain. In order to really start to experience some spiritual health and to attach ourselves adequately to Christ, we are often called to endure some pain and suffering as we strive to break our attachments to lesser things. Lent is an opportunity for many of us to renew our efforts to really strive after holiness, to seek the things that are above, the things that really matter and eternally endure, even as we temper our desires for earthly things.

On the Mount of the Transfiguration, we receive the assurance that all our efforts and any sufferings that we endure for the love of Christ are really worthwhile. Moses and Elijah discuss with Jesus the exodus that he will accomplish in Jerusalem, the deliverance and salvation that he will win for us precisely through His loving obedience, through His willingness to endure any suffering or shame to free us from all fear, and to triumph over death itself. The glory of Jesus is revealed, and the Resurrection comes about only through His suffering and death. Later in the Gospel of Luke (12:50), Jesus will even speak of His great desire and eagerness to undergo this baptism of suffering for the sake of sinners. The pain of the Cross, far from discouraging Christ, actually motivates Him to reach new heights in expressing God’s infinite love for us. Jesus invites us as well, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). In other words, no pain, no gain. As we receive Jesus Himself in this Eucharist, may God grant us the grace to persevere through any pain or suffering in our following of Christ. May we embrace His Cross so that we may also embrace the glory of his Resurrection.