The Deadline Approaches

Homily, Advent Sunday 1C

For the past 100 years, one disease has afflicted more young people than perhaps any other, but there continues to be very little research into the causes and treatment options available to those who suffer from this disease. And even though many people around me were unaware, I myself have also had to learn to cope with this disease for many years. Its formal name in medicine is senioritis, and its characteristic symptoms are a more or less severe lack of motivation and a constant questioning of “What’s the point?” Senioritis, as its name suggests, most often afflicts seniors in high school or seniors in college, but what most doctors won’t tell you is that its onset may be much earlier than the senior year, and since it is a chronic disease, in its most severe cases, the almost complete lack of motivation has been known to last for almost the entire duration of college and into many years of graduate school or even into one’s occupation. With almost 21 years as a student in formal education, I have explored different treatment options, but I very quickly settled upon the art of procrastination.

Now I call procrastination an art because it is best learned through experience, and it has to be able to respond freely and creatively to the natural ebb and flow of motivation, even when motivation appears in the almost indiscernible levels of one who suffers from chronic senioritis. Even someone advanced in his skills of procrastination needs to take advantage of those opportunities to work ahead when he is suddenly taken up by a fever of motivation. Now, by working ahead, I mostly mean just thinking about the actual work that will eventually need to be done, so if it is a paper you need to write, you might think about the topic and different ways you might approach it while you continue to focus most of your attention on other things. You could even discuss the paper topic with others, or do some reading or actual research ahead of time, but these actions tend to be more difficult because they come dangerously close to resembling actual work. In working ahead, the goal is to have at least a minimum of groundwork done so that as the deadline approaches, you will be able to take full advantage of your motivation as it reaches its peak. 

The deadline played a very important role for me as I tried to cope with senioritis through my skills of procrastination. In the few days or hours before the time when an assignment was due, I would be able to work quite efficiently because of a slight elevation in my motivation. I could keep vigil and work on the assignment even through the night, but I did learn to take a nap for two or three hours when my brain would stop working sometime after midnight. This method of procrastination managed to get me through many papers and many years of school, but it was stressful at times. And procrastination is actually not a very good treatment for senioritis because of its reliance on clear due dates. The approach of a deadline is actually no guarantee of an elevation in motivation. 

As we begin this Advent season, the deadline of our lives is unknown to us, but here we are, on the first Sunday of a new liturgical year, each one of us one year closer to our final examination, whether that will be at the end of the world or at the end of our life. But are we closer than we were last year to being ready, as we hear in today’s Gospel, ready “to stand before the Son of Man,” when we will be judged in truth on our love, on whether we allowed God to make us “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” as we hear in the second reading? Is there still any reason for us to fear “the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones”? Have we contracted senioritis when it comes to our lives of faith? Have our hearts “become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life”? Do we need, perhaps, to spend more time in prayer, in Mass, and in Confession, and less time on the computer, on our phones, and in front of our TVs? More time in genuine love and goodwill towards those around us, in acts of kindness and consideration, and less time in judgment and condemnation of others or their motives? 

The deadline is fast approaching for each one of us, whether we know it or not, and procrastination may not be an option for any of us. Please do what you need to do to find the motivation, to pray for the motivation, to desire with all your heart the coming of God’s kingdom. Let’s not wait another year to get our lives in order, to make the changes that need to be made in order to welcome Christ with all our hearts this Christmas. Today is the day. Now is the time of salvation. This is the year and the time for mercy. Jesus waits for each of us with open arms. 

The Gentle Reign of Christ the King

Homily, Christ the King Sunday B

A long time ago, there was a young man who grew up in a small house, in a small town, in a small country, but he had big dreams of ruling the world some day. He knew the Scriptures, and he was convinced that he would be the one to fulfill the prophecies. He would have a kingdom that would stretch from sea to sea. And not only that, but his reign would never end; he would sit as king from age to age, ruling every place, every people and nation, for all time. And how would he realize this dream? For almost thirty years, he worked and sweat and practiced… carpentry. With his father in their workshop, he built tables and furniture. For bigger projects they would work on houses and roads. But still, beyond a small circle of friends and family, and those who hired him as a carpenter, this man was largely unknown, and he probably seemed rather unremarkable.

When it came time for him to strike out on his own, he began to travel to the other small towns in the area. He told people about the kingdom of God. He healed the sick, drove out demons, pronounced forgiveness of sins and new life to the most notorious sinners, and he raised people from the dead. As you can well imagine, this was a much more effective campaign strategy than his many years of carpentry. He traveled the country like this for almost three years, and people flocked to see him. 

But every time they tried to make him king, he would slip away and move on to the next towns. In fact, the only time he admitted to being a king was when he stood bound as a criminal, on trial for rebellion, accused by the leaders of his own nation. For this, he was put to a most shameful death, publicly, with the charge written in three languages above his head, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Humanly speaking, his name should have been forgotten, buried in the shame of his crucifixion. 

But God’s ways are not our ways. This man who lived most of his earthly life in obscurity and came to his end in the greatest shame is the one that we proclaim today as our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth to establish the Kingdom of God in our midst. All authority and power in heaven and on earth was given to him, but how does Christ the King exercise his power? We hear through the words of St. Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness,” and Jesus said, “I came to serve, not to be served,” and we hear in today’s Gospel, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” 

This isn’t exactly what most of us would expect from an almighty king. But God’s ways are not our ways. He has no police to enforce his royal decrees. He has no armies to expand the borders of his kingdom. Instead, he still conquers in the same way as he did while he was on earth, by conquering human hearts, by feeding the hungry and giving the thirsty something to drink, by welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, by caring for the sick and for those in prison, and by inviting us into the truth. This is how Christ conquers and how he has always conquered. 

And this is how he wants to conquer our hearts today. He gives us his own Body and Blood in the Eucharist to satisfy every hunger and thirst of our hearts. He welcomes even the strangest of us into his own family through Baptism and Confirmation, and gives us a lasting home in heaven. He clothes us in his own innocence and destroys the shame of our sins in every Confession. Through his holy anointing, he unites all our illnesses and sufferings to his own perfect prayer, and through the words of his Gospel, he brings true freedom even into the prison cell. May Christ the King gain ground in us each day, so that God’s ways may become our ways.

We must surrender to his love to be part of his kingdom and to do what he does for the least of his brothers and sisters. We cannot give what we have not received. We cannot love those that Christ is calling us to love, we cannot feed, welcome, clothe, and care for our parents, our spouses, our children, our friends, our neighbors, and the poorest of the poor, unless we first allow Jesus to do this for us, so that he can then do this through us. What a privilege, what a calling we have in Christ Jesus to do for him in the least of his brothers and sisters what he first does for us. We are all missionaries of Christ the King, called to spread the kingdom of God by conquering human hearts through concrete acts of love. May God grant us the grace today to surrender to Christ the King, to open our hearts to receive his truth and love. In the end, when all other kingdoms have come and gone, Christ alone will be victorious, and those who have surrendered to his love will reign with him forever. 

Lifeblood Freely Given

Bulletin Article, Christ the King Sunday B

A couple summers ago, I was assigned as a seminarian to the parishes of Wessington Springs, Woonsocket, Artesian, and Duncan. As it turns out, on my first full day there I ended up losing a pint of blood. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I donated it. I was surprised to find the same blood bank (LifeServe) operating so far from my hometown, although I had known it as Siouxland Community Blood Bank until then. On my third day in those parishes, a tornado hit, but that is a story for another time.

This past Tuesday, I returned to Elk Point for the first time in a while, mostly to find out why my car was wobbling so much and to find some winter clothing. I ended up needing to buy a new tire and a winter coat, since I seem to have given away my previous coats while I was experiencing Roman winters for four years. As it happened though, LifeServe was in Elk Point on Tuesday, so I was able to lose a pint of blood again. Someone who saw me there asked if my parents brought me back from Sioux Falls just to give blood. 

The interview took a bit longer as I tried to remember the countries I’d been in during the past three years. And I heard something interesting this time about the difference between donating whole blood and being compensated for giving blood plasma. In the United States, federal law only allows blood that has been given freely to be used for direct transfusions. It is thought that those who are being paid for their plasma might be more motivated to lie on the questionnaire. Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a need for plasma donation or that they don’t make life-saving treatments from the proteins found in plasma, but I found it interesting that it is only blood freely given that is used for transfusions. I do always enjoy the free refreshments available after donating, but I suppose those aren’t enough motivation—for most people—to lie on the questionnaire and bleed for ten minutes or more just for some cookies and juice.

In Biblical times, blood was seen as life itself (Cf. Leviticus 17:11), quite logically, because they observed that someone or something losing all of its blood would lose all of its life as well. So when Jesus freely pours out His Blood for us on the Cross and gives us His Blood to drink in the Eucharist, He gives us His very Life so that He can live in us and we can have true life in Him. Jesus holds nothing back and looks only for our feeble love in return. Indeed, it is only by His grace that we are able to love Him in return at all. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). May we come to appreciate more deeply the gift of His Life’s Blood, freely poured out for our salvation, so that we can imitate Jesus more completely in pouring out our lives and our blood for one another.

End of the World as We Know It

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 33B

When I was growing up, being the youngest of nine kids, every once in a while I used to wonder what would happen to me if anything were to happen to my parents. My parents were in their fifties, and to a teenager, that seemed pretty old. I didn’t think about it too often, and it wasn’t really a source of anxiety for me, but I did always pray that my parents would survive at least until I was out of high school. I was confident that God would always take care of me, no matter what, but I didn’t want to feel like a burden to anyone else or have to move away from the friends I knew. At that stage in my life, even more than my own death, the death of my parents represented for me the end of the world, when everything could change. 

In the Gospel, the Jews and the early Christians associated several events with the end of the world. The destruction of the Jewish Temple, God’s chosen dwelling place, represented the end of a world for them, when the Jews would no longer be able to rely on animal sacrifice. And now Jesus becomes God’s definitive dwelling among men, the New Temple. Jesus characterizes his own death and Resurrection as the destruction of this Temple that he will raise up in three days. Jesus becomes the “one sacrifice for sins,” the “one offering” that “has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated,” making the animal sacrifices of the Jewish Temple obsolete, and changing the order of the world. By his death and Resurrection, Jesus has made new heavens and a new earth. This is how he could say that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Just forty years after his own sacrifice on the Cross, the Jewish Temple was destroyed in the year 70. Instead of animal sacrifice, we are now called to put our faith in Jesus Christ, to depend upon His one sacrifice, signified and made present to us at every Mass. “Heaven and earth” have passed away in a certain sense, but the Word of Christ will never pass away. Depend upon it. 

Now I should mention, in case anyone is still wondering, that both of my parents are still alive and well, and this is after I’ve completed four years of graduate school, even though I still look like I could be in high school. But a good question for us to reflect on today is, what are the things or events that we associate with the end of our own world? What are the things that could happen to me that, even if the rest of the world continues to go on around me, I would be shaken to my foundations? What do we fear, perhaps even more than our own death? In light of the recent terrorist attacks and even some aspects of our own culture that make it more difficult to live the truth these days, we might fear the end of many freedoms and securities that make our country and civilization great, an end of independence and the free exchange of ideas. 

For many of us, especially in our individualistic culture, independence is the main issue, the main thing that we have come to depend on, and we find it very difficult to have to depend on others. More than anything else, we fear feeling like a burden to those around us. My sense is that this is one of the most difficult aspects of aging or chronic illness, having to give up certain areas of our independence and rely on others for help. Independence can be a very good thing, but the reality is, at different stages of our life, we need to be able to depend on others, and we always depend upon God. Faith is fundamentally a surrender to our dependence upon God, dependence upon his Truth and his love for us, so if we struggle with this and feel like a burden, we are being invited to a deeper faith, a more profound surrender to God and to his providence in our lives. A sudden illness or accident, or even the gradual effects of aging that leave us unable to do what we could once do on our own, can seem like the end of the world to us, but these can also be opportunities to deepen our relationships, to surrender in faith and in love. 

The image of St. Peter refusing to let Jesus wash his feet is a good image for our pride and stubbornness at times. The Scriptures today invite us to a deeper faith, to have Christ as the unshakable foundation of our world and of our lives. To accept His one sacrifice for our sins, and to allow Jesus to bear us as His burden and to feed us with His own Flesh and Blood. As we surrender to a deeper communion with Christ in this Eucharist, he also draws us into greater communion with one another. Don’t be afraid of letting go and of letting others love you. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all the family of God. Receive the love of God through those around you, so that you will be able to love in return. 

Why not Give Everything?

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 32B

A few years ago, when I was maybe four or five years old, I was graced with a strong sense of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and that God was calling me to the priesthood. Now ever since that time, and even up to this day and this very moment, I have been in a fairly constant struggle against God’s will for my life. 

When I was entering my teenage years, starting to have what I thought were doubts about God and about the Catholic faith, and wanting to figure things out for myself, I considered looking into other religions or denominations to find the Truth. Instead, God guided me at that time to read a short biography about St. Augustine, who spent so many years of his own life searching for the Truth and finally finding it in the Catholic Church. After that, when I read the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church, I finally surrendered to the truth of the Church’s teaching, the Truth of Jesus Christ who sets us free.

But this was not the end of my rebellion. The priesthood looks pretty cool to a kid. You get to wear strange clothes, and you get special powers to change bread and wine into Jesus. But once that kid starts to take an interest in girls, the celibate priesthood loses some of its appeal. My struggle with God’s call in my life to renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom came into focus especially during my junior year of high school. I remember praying at different times in my life that if God wanted me to be celibate, then he needed to keep me from meeting anyone that I could stand to be married to. But during my junior year, I was dating a girl and wanting to make a sort of compromise with God. I decided that I would eventually get married and then become a permanent deacon. That way, I could get what I thought I wanted and get married, but still give God something of what he wanted by serving the Church as a deacon. This was my plan at different times and in different relationships, but each time we would eventually break up because I was never able to shake the call to the priesthood.

So what is it that keeps us from giving everything to God? What keeps us from trusting him with everything we are and with everything we have, from using everything in our lives to serve God and his will for us? What keeps us from contributing all we have, our whole livelihood, as the widow does in today’s Gospel? I know for me, it’s my desire to be in control, to be in charge of my own life. I know what I want; I know what I need; I’ve earned what I have, and I have the right to use it how I see fit. This is the constant struggle. God’s will is a threat to my freedom. This is the lie that keeps us in bondage, in bondage to our sins, in bondage to our posturing, to our anxiety over our own existence and place in the world.

So what is the truth? The truth is that I am not God, and I don’t have to be. This is the truth that sets us free. No matter what the world tells me, I don’t have to be God. It’s okay if I’m weak and if I feel overwhelmed at times. It’s okay if I don’t have a handle on absolutely everything in my life. I am not God, and I don’t have to be the one in control. I don’t have to bear the weight of my own existence and give meaning to it, because God Himself has already done that. God brings us into existence and sustains us in every moment of our lives, whether we acknowledge that fact or not. 

And God knows us better than we know ourselves, and he desires our happiness and fulfillment infinitely more than we ever could. Most of our life on this earth is a struggle against this basic truth, but when we finally surrender and acknowledge God as God, and ourselves as a tiny piece of His creation, we are set free, free to live as His children, free to play, to marvel at the wonders of His creation, to find joy in all life’s little blessings and even in life’s sorrows and difficulties, knowing in our hearts that the God of love, revealed in Jesus Christ, is ultimately in control, and that resurrection from the dead will have the final say.

But the choice is ours. Will we surrender our lives to God as the poor widow and allow everything to be directed according to His will, to serve His plan of love for His creation? Or will we exalt ourselves as the scribes in today’s Gospel, trying instead to direct everything to our own personal glory and satisfaction? I’m so glad that I was able to surrender at different times to God’s will for my life, and to follow His call to the priesthood, but the struggle remains just as much for me. Will I serve God and His Church in the priesthood, or will I use it to serve only myself? As we approach the presence of Jesus in this Eucharist, please pray that we receive the strength to surrender, to die to ourselves and live for God, just as Jesus did in his death and Resurrection, and just as the widow gave “all that she had, her whole livelihood.” 

Cemetery Visits and Indulgences

Bulletin Article, Ordinary Time Sunday 32B

As November is the month for us as Catholics to especially remember and to pray for the deceased, I wanted to point out an opportunity for an indulgence, though the window of opportunity will be almost closed by the time you read this. A plenary (full) indulgence applicable only to the deceased can be obtained according to the usual conditions by those who visit a cemetery and pray for the dead on any of the days from November 1 to November 8 each year. The cemetery visit carries a partial indulgence during the rest of the year.

To be quite honest, the various conditions and vast number of acts of devotion that have partial or plenary indulgences attached to them overwhelm me fairly quickly, but with the Year of Mercy approaching, and with it, I’m sure, even more opportunities to gain indulgences, a general refresher for indulgences might be in order. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me.

From “General Remarks on Indulgences” of The Gift of the Indulgence (2000): 

  1. This is how an indulgence is defined in the Code of Canon Law (can. 992) and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1471): “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” 
  2. To gain indulgences, whether plenary [full] or partial, it is necessary that the faithful be in the state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed.  
  3. plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day. In order to obtain it, the faithful must, in addition to being in the state of grace:  

—have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin; 

have sacramentally confessed their sins; 

receive the Holy Eucharist (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in Holy Mass, but for the indulgence only Holy Communion is required); 

pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. 

  1. It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope’s intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the Pope’s intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary” are suggested. One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions are required for each plenary indulgence.
  2. Indulgences can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth. 

From the Foreword to “Other Grants of Indulgences” of The Enchiridion of Indulgences (1968): 

  1. Deserving of special mention are the following works, for any one of which the faithful can gain a plenary indulgence each day of the year: adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one half an hour (n. 3); devout reading of the Sacred Scriptures for at least one half an hour (n. 50); the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross (n. 63); the recitation of the Marian Rosary in a church or public oratory or in a family group, a religious Community or pious Association (n. 48). 

Made for More

Homily, All Saints

“Your reward will be great in heaven.” How often do we really think about heaven? Once a day, once a month, or maybe once a year? What if I told you that I’m not going to think about Christmas again until Christmas Day arrives? Do you think I’d be ready to enter into Christmas, if I waited till Christmas itself to start planning for it? Hopefully, Christmas isn’t just like any other day for us, and we’re able to put some time into preparation and anticipation of Christmas joy, but even more so, heaven is not just a continuation of life as we know it on earth, so if we’re waiting till the end of our lives to really think about heaven, to really start to desire and make preparations for heaven, it might end up being too late.

The Saints who reached heaven, all the Saints that we celebrate today, are people like you and I, people who were never quite satisfied with all that the world has to offer us. The Saints always wanted more. They were always striving for more. They knew, or came to know through the course of their lives, that the world and all it has to offer us in this life can never be enough for us. Happiness in this life is always fleeting. As soon as we attain it, the next moment comes to take it away. We eat our Halloween candy, and it tastes good for a short time, but even when it doesn’t make us start to feel sick, it will eventually leave us empty and hungry again. Or we find a great love, someone or something that we can really devote our lives to, that can help us find meaning amid all the trials and sufferings we face in this life, but even love can fade away when it loses its connection to God’s infinite and unfailing love for us.

The Saints always wanted more. They longed for the joy that has no end, the treasure in heaven, where moth or rust or fire cannot destroy, and thieves cannot break in and steal, where anxiety and fear of loss has no place to diminish our enjoyment. The Saints longed for the supreme moment of love which will not pass away, to meet the gaze of our Creator, to see him face to face, knowing and enjoying his infinite love for us, and seeing—reflected in his eyes—all of his creation as it was meant to be, all of history unfolding, in his wondrous and mysterious providence, for the good of those who love him and who long for his peace, the peace that the world cannot give.

What will heaven be like? Think about it. Exercise your desire for it. Think about it every day, just as the Saints did. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst” for the righteousness of God. Amen, I say to you, they will be satisfied. Do we hunger and thirst for heaven? With all our heart, mind, soul, and strength? Do we know, and acknowledge, that there is nothing in this world that can fully satisfy us, that we were made for much more, that we were made for God himself? Think about it often, and never forget it. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”