What’s the Point of Prayer?

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 30B

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” This one recurring statement has forever plagued my life as a student. “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Countless professors and teachers, speakers and presenters, have been repeating this for longer than I have been around, but when I was in class or at a talk, this reassurance only seemed to give rise to the same few people holding up the rest of the class or audience, with what could only be called, from my perspective, stupid questions. The worst was when someone would ask a question, even though you could clearly tell that he already knew the answer.

So what do we make of the question asked by Jesus in the Gospel today? He asks the blind beggar Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Now, for someone who has a reputation and lots of experience as a healer and worker of miracles, and who just watched this blind beggar stumble up to him, shouldn’t it already be clear to Jesus what the blind man wants him to do? And as the Son of God, Jesus knew the hearts and minds of those around him. So what could be more obvious to Jesus than what Bartimaeus is going to ask for? 

Why, when we pray, does God want us to ask for what He already knows we need or want? What is the point of prayer? When we pray, are we trying to change God’s mind, to bring Him over to our way of thinking, to convince Him to give us what we want but what He has so far withheld from us? When we pray, are we trying to change God? Or do we begin from the conviction of faith, that God is already on our side, that He already loves us—infinitely more than we could ever love ourselves—that He is already constantly providing us with life, with breath, and with every good gift needed for our salvation and eternal life with Him? Are we convinced that His love for us and His stance toward us will never change, and that prayer is meant instead to change us, to transform our hearts and minds to God’s way of thinking and to God’s will for our lives, which, no matter how difficult it may seem, is always greater and more wonderful than anything we could ever ask or imagine? 

God knows what we need before we ask, before we even recognize our own need. But God wants a relationship with us, a friendship, a dialogue with us. God wants our desires to meet His desire for us. Prayer helps us to exercise our desires, to articulate them, to let them grow, so that we can even shout them out, with all our heart and with perseverance as Bartimaeus called out for Jesus. Now Jesus could have healed Bartimaeus from a distance, with just a thought or a word, as He healed the servant of the Centurion without entering under his roof. Jesus could have healed Bartimaeus without letting Bartimaeus realize that it was Jesus who healed him. So is God just hungry to get the credit for the gifts that He gives to us? He has us name our desires in prayer so that we will recognize when He does answer us and provide for us? 

Rather, God knows that no matter what else we desire or ask for or receive from Him, no matter what miracles or healings or gifts or blessings, we will never be truly happy or at rest until we can desire and receive His gift of Himself. Jesus knows that even if Bartimaeus has his sight restored, even if God solves all our problems and answers all our prayers, we will never be truly happy until, as we hear at the very end of today’s Gospel, until we are able to follow Jesus on the way. Even to follow Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, where He will suffer and die out of love for us. Today at this Mass, and at every Mass, we follow Jesus to the pouring out of His Life and Blood for us. Our prayers are answered with the Gift of His very Self. May our desire for God meet His desire for us in this wonderful exchange, that even in this world, we may truly live, and live forever in the world to come. 

New Home Away from Rome

Bulletin Article, Ordinary Time Sunday 30B

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to return to Rome, the Eternal City. The occasion was the Diaconate Ordination of the fourth-year class of the Pontifical North American College on October 1. Thirty-nine men from dioceses all over the United States, and even a few from Australia and Canada, laid down on the marble floor in front of the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Thirty-nine men laid down their lives in service of God and His Church. They were ordained as transitional deacons by His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York. Seeing a seminary class ordained together is very powerful. God-willing, these thirty-nine new deacons, as well as their other classmates who were already deacons, will all be ordained as priests next spring.

Seeing their diaconate ordination brought back memories of my own. I was ordained a deacon with forty-two others in my NAC (North American College) class on October 2, 2014, in St. Peter’s Basilica by His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. My parents and a few of my siblings were able to join me for the occasion, as well as Bishop Swain. I was especially glad for the opportunity to be able to share something of my experience of Rome with my parents and family, to share something beyond what I could describe in words or pictures or over Skype.

Returning to Rome this time was another unique experience because I was no longer a student. The trip was fairly short. I left Sioux Falls on a Tuesday, arrived in Rome on Wednesday and returned on Sunday. The trip was long enough, though, to begin to really appreciate the four years I spent at NAC and to realize that I didn’t belong there anymore. I had somehow forgotten how strange the NAC seems at the beginning of each year with new faculty members and a whole new first-year class. This year, I think they had over 70 seminarians in the new class. So many unfamiliar faces in the familiar halls of a place I once called home, a place that no longer had room for me to stay. I ended up staying across the street at a hotel run by religious sisters.

Even as I spent time with those at the college who had once been my classmates, they were bracing themselves for another year of study, to continue or finish a degree, while I was just on vacation, and more and more wanting to get back to Holy Spirit Parish, to my new home as a new priest, to preaching and teaching and meeting, and trying to remember so many new names and faces. Overall, it was a great trip, and I’m glad that I went, but I’m also glad to be finished with formal education for a while. 

This was also the first time that I’ve worn my clerics in airports and airplanes. There weren’t too many people who approached me directly, but I could tell that people would look at me and talk about me with their own traveling companions, so I just wonder how many conversations were affected by the black, beyond my own awareness. I also wonder how often my behavior or demeanor is a counter-sign and contradiction to the love of Jesus, especially when I am tired, hungry, and haven’t slept for some time, fairly common conditions for most air travel. Patience is something we could all use more of. Have a blessed week. 

 

Father’s Great Commission: Go and Make Disciples

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 29B

I’ve been a priest now for close to four months, and during this past week, I think it was the first time that I remember being a priest in my dreams at night. In one dream, people came to me, they came to Father, for relationship advice, consulting me as a kind of matchmaker, and mediator in that sense, because I am a priest. Now I’m not advertizing myself as a matchmaker, but I just found it interesting that I dreamed about that this week because in some cultures that is one of the roles that a priest takes on. Also, during this past week, I’ve noticed that I’m much more comfortable with people calling me “Father” or “Fr. Darin” or even “Fr. Schmidt” rather than calling me by just my first name or my last name, whereas at one time, the opposite was true, especially before I was ordained, to have people calling me “Father.” 

I know it can seem strange to be calling someone who’s less than half your age, and someone who looks like he’s less than a fourth of your age, to call me “Father,” but I appreciate your efforts. Though it is a title of respect and honor, more important than that, it serves as a reminder to me and to other priests of what our vocation is, what God has called and is equipping us to do as priests and mediators, and as we hear in the Gospel today, it is a reminder that we have been called to serve, and to be the slave of all, to offer our lives with Christ as a ransom for many. I need your help to remember who I am called to be for you and for all. Even my own parents, who are 70 years old and knew me since the beginning of my life, try to remember to call me father. My siblings and cousins tend to think that that’s pretty strange, but I appreciate yet another reminder of who I am called to be, although if my parents ever need a priest, I do hope they find someone else to minister to them, especially for Confession. 

I’ve heard from older priests that you kind of lose your name after ordination. From then on, people can simply call you “Father.” And there’s something very beautiful about that. The practice of calling any priest “Father” reflects the understanding at some level that, despite personal differences, and even the personal sinfulness of a priest, every priest is still anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring God to us and to bring us to God. That’s why I try to wear my clerics whenever I’m in public, so that even if someone doesn’t know who I am personally, they can still recognize me as a priest, as “Father,” and they can approach me for Confession, for prayer, or for whatever else. Wearing my clerics also helps me to reflect more on whether my words and actions communicate or contradict the love of Christ to those who see me, to those who come in contact with me.

This weekend we celebrate World Mission Sunday. We remember and pray for those in foreign missions, taking the Gospel throughout the world, but we also renew our own commitment to being missionaries of God’s love in our own day to day lives, in our homes, in our workplace, in our classrooms, in restaurants and shopping malls, while we drive on the road or walk in the park.  Now there’s no standard uniform for Christians or other Catholics like there is for priests, to make us stand out, but it would be very good for all of us to reflect this Sunday on how well we communicate the love of Jesus in all these various places and activities, to everyone who sees us or comes in contact with us. How does our tone of voice, our sarcasm, the way we talk about others or the way we ignore or avoid certain people, how does that build up the kingdom of God in our world today? How do our small acts of kindness and consideration, our stopping to help someone in need in the midst of our busy schedules, how does our talking to someone who’s having a difficult time and our really listening to them, how does that communicate God’s love? 

You see, we’re all called as Christians to bring God to others and to bring others to God, to have a priestly mediation and missionary focus in our world and culture. And like Jesus and the Apostles, we’re not meant to use power and authority to subject others to our will, but to serve them out of love and out of concern for their souls, and for their material needs as well. We open ourselves to receive the grace God has for us at this Mass, and to receive our vocation and mission in the world today, and as we receive Jesus himself in this Eucharist, we are sent out to bring his love to everyone we meet. What’s written at the top of this church is meant for every one of us, the great commission of Jesus, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Make disciples of all colleagues. Make disciples of all classmates, of all neighbors, of all persons we come in contact with, by loving them with the same love with which Jesus has loved us, by serving one another, laying down our lives for one another. Go, therefore, and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Weariness of the World

Homily, Funeral Mass (Job, Romans, Matthew)

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord. In this life and in this world, there’s a lot of weariness. Have you felt it? Do we allow ourselves to feel it, to feel tired, to feel dissatisfied with what the world can offer us? There’s one detail from the life of C. that stuck out to me as I read his obituary. Like my own father, C. served our country’s military in Vietnam. Now, men and women willing to serve their country in any campaign deserve to be honored as heroes, but because of the social and political context at the time, those returning from Vietnam were greeted instead with shame and ridicule. C. was definitely acquainted with the weariness of this life, and we come together to pray that Christ will free him from his sins, give him rest, and comfort us in our sorrow as we give thanks for the life of our brother C., a father and grandfather.

This funeral Mass is also an opportunity for us to reflect upon our own lives and upon our own relationship with Jesus Christ, because apart from Christ, there is no salvation and no true life in this world. At the end of our lives, what do we want people to remember about us? What sort of legacy are we leaving to those who follow us? And amid the trials, uncertainties, and weariness of life in this passing world, what are we actually doing to find rest in Christ? Like Job in our first reading today, are we consumed with longing to see God in heaven? And what are we doing each day to exercise and deepen our desire for God? Heaven is not just a nice place where everybody wants to go. Heaven is the dwelling place of God, so our relationship with God is what is most important if we truly want to live with God forever.

We take great confidence that God is always seeking us out, that before we’ve even thought of looking for God, God has already found us. Christ came to save sinners, and “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” God’s mercy is greater than anything we could ever comprehend, and trusting in that infinite mercy, poured out for us upon the Cross and renewed for us at every Mass, we now ask God to grant new life to C., and a new beginning of life with God to all of us here present. 

Offer It Up

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 28B

When I was growing up, there was a simple phrase that my mom would say to us on occasion that my siblings and I kind of got tired of hearing. The phrase was, Offer it up. You see, it was usually in response to one or more of us expressing some pain, discomfort, or inconvenience, and her response of, Offer it up, often made it seem like she was just tired of hearing us complain, but that there wasn’t much that she was willing or able to do for us to bring us relief. Over the years, and now that I’m a priest, I’ve come to appreciate that phrase more, and to begin to see the great value of sacrifice and of offering our daily discomforts and sufferings in union with the supreme sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, but I think to a large extent the real value of sacrifice still remains a mystery to me and to most of our culture. 

We live in a culture of convenience and of instant gratification, of going into Wal-Mart and expecting to find everything that we need or want, and even other things that we didn’t know we wanted before we entered the store. And nowadays, we don’t even have to go through the trouble of entering the store. We can shop online and have it all delivered fairly quickly right to our doorstep. In fact, I was even able to buy some clerical shirts on Amazon. Hopefully, they’re the right size, because it’s still pretty difficult to try things on online. Our culture of convenience and instant gratification conditions us to ask, Why should we have to wait? Why should we have to work for something if there are other ways of getting what we want? Our culture conditions the way we approach our relationships, making us more prone to using one another, and it conditions how we use our money and possessions.

The Gospel today cuts like a two-edged sword, exposing everything that we hold dear to the loving gaze of Jesus, who doesn’t condemn, but rather continues to invite us into a life of greater freedom, into a life of greater love and sacrifice. His invitation to delay our gratification, to give of what we have to the poor so that we will have treasure in heaven, and to free ourselves from those possessions of ours that tend instead to possess us, so that we’re free to follow Jesus wherever He would like to lead us. What is it that we still hold back from God and want to keep for ourselves? What continues to hold us back from following Jesus with everything that we have and everything that we are? What attachments make our faces fall, as we realize that we’re still not quite ready to entrust the whole of lives and of our relationships to God, who alone is good?

One of the great strengths of Holy Spirit Parish has always been stewardship, this acknowledgement that everything we are and everything we have is not really our own for our own enjoyment, but has instead been entrusted to us from God to be used according to his will, for the building up of His kingdom in our parish and in the wider community, and to aid those who are suffering and in any need. Even in my short time here, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of so many to give of themselves in service of God and of one another. Keep it up, and offer it up. As we celebrate today the dedication of our new altar, we pray that our parish may be renewed and re-dedicated in our mission, in our stewardship, to offer up ourselves to God, to offer our entire lives in union with the sacrifice of Christ, that we may know by faith the real value of sacrifice, that we may have a share in the freedom and the love with which Jesus laid down His life for us, that we may experience the truth of His promise to St. Peter, that God is never outdone in generosity, and that in return for our sacrifice, we will “receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” 

I Will Go Up to the Altar of God

Bulletin Article, Ordinary Time Sunday 28B

By the time you read this, the final pieces of the renovation of Holy Spirit Church should have come together, with our new tabernacle and preparations for the dedication of the new altar. The Dedication of an Altar performed by the Bishop is a very special celebration because of the significance of the altar in the life of the Church. The Catechism teaches us that “the altar of the New Covenant is the Lord’s Cross, from which the sacraments of the Paschal mystery flow. On the altar, which is the center of the church, the sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs. The altar is also the table of the Lord, to which the People of God are invited” (CCC 1182). 

Our life as Christians comes to us in the most profound way from the Eucharist, from the Life of Jesus Himself and the power of His perfect sacrifice upon the Cross for us with His rising from the dead into the glory of heaven. Our life is to be offered back to God as well through this one Eucharistic sacrifice made present to us upon the altar at every Mass. In this way, the life of the Church centers around the altar of Christ’s sacrifice, from which that life flows out and to which it returns. The altar, especially when constructed out of stone and immovable, signifies Christ Jesus Himself, the living cornerstone and foundation of the Church (Cf. 1 Pt. 2:4; Eph. 2:20). For this reason, the altar is anointed with sacred chrism during its dedication, to make it a symbol of Christ, the ‘Messiah’ and ‘Anointed One,’ who above all others received the Anointing of the Holy Spirit. Incense is also used to symbolize the rising of our prayers as a pleasing fragrance in the sight of God (Cf. 2 Cor 2:14-15).

Another tradition is to place relics of saints, especially martyrs, inside or underneath the altar. This is to show that all who have been united to Christ in holiness of life and in death, especially those whose blood was shed in supreme fidelity and testimony to Christ in martyrdom, all the saints are united to the one supreme sacrifice of Christ. This tradition calls to mind the vision of St. John in Revelation when he says, “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Rev. 6:9). Inside our altar here at Holy Spirit, we will be placing a relic from the house of Saint Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a relic of Saint Maria Goretti, an Italian martyr killed in 1902. Another relic of Saint Maria Goretti was placed in the altar of the Cathedral of St. Joseph a few years ago (along with relics of St. Thomas Becket and Pope St. Pius X), so she is a nice link for us to our Cathedral Church, while Saint Anne unites us all the way back to the origins of Christianity.

The Dedication of the Altar consecrates it and sets it aside for the celebration of Holy Mass. We treat the altar and everything in the church with special reverence because of their sacred use and rich significance. Through the Eucharistic sacrifice, may God help each one of us to be more faithful signs of his love throughout the week to everyone we meet.