Bored to Death

Homily, Eastertide Sunday 5C

Life is a constant struggle, a constant struggle with boredom; at times, perhaps even now as I preach, life is a constant struggle just to stay awake. When life becomes routine, just the same old same old, just another year of school or another day at the office, and when the pursuit and even the attainment of our dreams leaves us yawning and asking, “Now what,” where can we find new life, new energy, new interest and purpose? Jesus tells us in our reading from Revelation, “Behold, I make all things new,” but do we really believe that? What is new life in Christ, and can it really bring us out of the slumps and ruts that we fall into, or do we try to find renewal by other means, through shopping, various forms of entertainment, or other habits?

There is an emptiness that we try to hide from. Many of us fill our lives with distractions to keep us from noticing this emptiness, to keep us from having to sit in silence and really address the deeper questions of life, of what it’s all about, why we spend our time and money where we spend it, and why true peace and satisfaction seems to always escape us, even as we reach the goals we set for ourselves, even as we attain the life and status that we thought we wanted. We are left always wanting more, and this seems to be the source of our restlessness. God has made us for himself. Human beings have infinite desires, desires that can never be truly satisfied with the pursuit of our own little aims and goals. A life lived merely for oneself is monotonous, uninteresting, ultimately unbearable. 

Jesus always lived for others, to accomplish the will of his heavenly Father, “to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk. 19:10). St. Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians tells them how Jesus came to save us even from ourselves, from the monotony of our own pursuits. “[Christ] indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (5:15). This is the new commandment that Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And how has Jesus loved us? One of the only passages of Scripture that I can quote by chapter and verse is Romans 5:8, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus loves us infinitely, unconditionally, even before we love him in return, even while we are still sinners. Christ loved and offered himself even for those who perhaps would never love him in return. This is the kind of love that the human heart longs for. This is the kind of love that gives meaning to our lives, and so Jesus calls us to share in this unconditional love, even for our enemies. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

And in this Eucharist, Jesus gives us all that we need to fulfill his new commandment, this invitation to living love. At the Last Supper, Jesus established the New Covenant in his own Blood, and he instituted a new priesthood to perpetuate his offering of himself to all generations. At every Mass, we receive the fire of God’s unconditional love, which enables us to love God and one another in the same way. The love of Jesus Christ is what makes all things new. God’s love and his plan for our lives is what frees us from the same old same old, from the boredom and emptiness of a life lived only for oneself. If we ever truly surrendered ourselves to God, our lives would never be the same. 

You are What You Eat (First Communion Mass)

Homily, Eastertide Sunday 4C

There’s an old saying: You are what you eat. The basic idea is that if you eat healthy foods, you’ll be healthy and feel healthy, but if you eat a lot of candy and junk food, you’ll feel like junk. And there’s probably some truth to that, as far as it goes. Thankfully, what it doesn’t mean is that we’re literally changed into what we eat as food. If you eat a lot of hamburgers, you’re not going to start changing into a cow, which is where hamburgers come from. If you eat a lot of chicken nuggets, you’re not going to change into a chicken, if that’s actually where chicken nuggets come from, and no matter how many hot dogs you eat, you’re not going to change into a dog, or into whatever hot dogs are made of. Instead, we know that through digestion, the food we eat is broken down and changed into us; the nutrients and protein we receive from food are changed so that our bodies can grow and repair themselves. This is the case for almost every food.

The one and only food that is meant to change and transform us into what we receive is the food that you will receive today in your First Holy Communion. As we consume Jesus in Holy Communion, we become one with him, the closest we will ever be to another Person, and Jesus gives us the grace to become more like him, to become more like God. Each time we receive Holy Communion we can be changed and transformed, to become more patient, more kind, more loving towards God and towards everyone around us. You are what you eat, and you eat Jesus himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The food that Jesus gives us is his Flesh for the life of the world, to plant within us his own divine life. 

And as he gives us himself in the Eucharist, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, commits himself to us. As we hear in today’s Gospel, we belong to him, and no one can take us out of his hand or out of his Father’s hand. We are safe, we are loved, we are precious to God, and God should be precious to us, especially as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion. You are what you eat in Holy Communion. May God give us the grace to allow Jesus to live in us not only today but every day of our lives, that we might spread the love of Jesus to everyone we meet. 

Overcome with Paschal Joy

Bulletin Letter, Eastertide Sunday 4C

One homily that I’ll always remember during this time of year was about a simple phrase that we use at Mass throughout the Easter season. The homily was addressed to us in the seminary in Rome. During the week, we usually started our day with Lauds and Mass at 6:15 a.m. The homily simply asked how often we had ever been “overcome with paschal joy.” I remember the homily because that phrase stands in such sharp contrast against the things more likely to overcome seminarians that early in the morning. Being overcome with fatigue, sleep, boredom, hunger, perhaps even anger, these were the more common ailments among the young men filling the chapel before breakfast and classes. Most of us were a far cry from being “overcome with paschal joy.”

We might use other words or phrases, like being ecstatic or beside oneself, or head over heels in love, but when was the last time we got this excited about the Resurrection? About the Gospel, the truly good news that since Jesus has risen from the dead to a life beyond the grave, we can follow him to live forever. The Resurrection of Jesus changed everything. He is the fountain of youth, the fruit of the tree of life, the secret of immortality. I’ve talked to the school kids about the characteristics of the glorified bodies we will have in heaven. After explaining things like quality (strength), agility (speed), subtlety (the ability to pass through solid objects), a few of them responded by saying that we basically become superheroes after the resurrection. Many comic books, cartoons, and movies do reflect real human aspirations towards what we are called to be as Saints in Jesus Christ. He alone, in the power of his Resurrection revealed through the Cross, is the true fulfillment of every human longing.

So when was the last time you were “overcome with paschal joy,” head over heels in love with Jesus Christ? If you’re like me, it’s been too long, or you have trouble even remembering a time when you were, or you’re not sure if you ever have been. Whatever the case, we all need to encounter Christ at a deeper level, especially in the Eucharist as he feeds us with his own Body and Blood. This Sunday, we once again celebrate the First Holy Communion of many of the children of our parish. May they be examples to us of how to be joyful, how to love Jesus, how to receive him with reverence and devotion.

One last thing. What do people often do when they are overcome with joy and love? They sing. St. Augustine says, “A song is a thing of joy; more profoundly, it is a thing of love” (Sermo 34). You may have noticed that I often attempt to sing quite a bit of the Mass. I do so because this is what the liturgy itself calls for, especially at higher feasts, and it is meant to be expressive of our joy and love in the Lord. I realize that many do not yet experience much joy or love for this type of singing, especially since all of us are not necessarily gifted as singers, but I appreciate your patience and participation. An ancient proverb says, “Whoever sings well prays twice over,” but even if you can’t sing well, I’m sure the Lord likes to hear you try.

Continuing Conversion

Homily, Eastertide Sunday 3C

You might recall that I lead a Scripture course on Monday mornings. Recently, we’ve just been looking at the readings of each upcoming Sunday. This past week, when we were discussing today’s Gospel reading, someone asked a great question about catching all those fish. She asked if there was any significance to it being the right side of the boat. I couldn’t pass that up, so I quickly replied, “Well, yes, because it’s not the wrong side of the boat.” Strangely enough, these fishermen don’t seem able to catch many fish in the Gospel accounts except when they follow the instructions of the carpenter from Nazareth. 

More puzzling to me, though, in what Jesus says to them is that he calls these grown men, “children,” when he calls to them from the shore, saying, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” and they don’t seem to notice or react as if this is a strange way to address them. Now fisherman at that time, using nets, were not small or weak men. To mistake them for children, even from a distance, would seem rather unusual to me. It’d be like calling out to a group of men doing road construction today, saying to them, “Children, have you actually done anything for the past twenty minutes?” I wonder how they would respond, or if they would be inclined to follow your directions afterwards. But to God himself, to the Risen Christ, even the most advanced among us in age and grace are always as children: little, frail, goofy, and awkward, often messy, but exceedingly precious in his sight.

The other part of the Gospel reading today is sometimes called Peter’s second conversion. He affirms his love for Jesus three times after he had denied Jesus three times during his Passion. The first conversion of St. Peter also took place on the shores of Galilee. When Jesus called his first Apostles and said, “Come, follow me,” they left everything and followed him. At least they left their boats and nets, but pride and the desire to be in control are not so easily left behind. When Peter began to follow Jesus, he continued to struggle, to falter, to boast, to speak or act before thinking, and to think “not as God does, but as human beings do.” 

In today’s Gospel, the Greek is difficult to translate into English, but the word for “love” in Jesus’ question is different from the word that Peter uses in his response. Jesus asks if Peter loves him with the Greek word agape, with self-sacrificing love, and if he loves him more than these. Peter has learned and will no longer boast or pretend to be more than what he has proven himself to be. He humbly replies that Jesus sees and knows that Peter loves him with the Greek philia, the love of a friend or brother, not quite that self-sacrificing love that he aspired to and boasted of at the Last Supper. But Jesus still entrusts his lambs and sheep to Peter, who now knows and acknowledges how much he is in need of God’s help and grace. 

Like St. Peter, most of us are in need of more than one conversion, even a daily turning back to the Lord, when we notice that once again we’ve struck out on our own path or even gotten ahead of Jesus, instead of following close behind him. And for the most part, the conversion that we need is what Jesus refers to in Matthew 18:3, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” We need to surrender and stretch out our hands, so that Jesus can clothe us in his own virtues and carry us where we would otherwise not want to go. With St. Peter, let us pray to Jesus: Lord, you know that I love you. Help me to follow you, to feed your lambs and sheep, to care for those most in need of your mercy. Amen. 

God Always Awaiting Our Turning to Him

Homily, Divine Mercy Sunday C

The Apostles had failed. On Good Friday, all of them, besides John, had run away and abandoned Jesus. Judas had betrayed him. Peter had denied any knowledge of him. In the hour of his greatest need, these chosen men who had left everything to follow him, they finally abandoned their Lord and Savior to public execution by the Romans on the wood of the Cross. Perhaps one of the reasons why the Apostles didn’t want to believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead was because they were afraid of what he would say or do to them after what they had done, or failed to do, for him on Good Friday. Desertion is a serious crime.

But what are the first words of Jesus to his Apostles after the Resurrection that we hear in today’s Gospel? Instead of scolding them or asking them where they were while he was being handed over to death, his first words to them are words of consolation, “Peace be with you.” And when he had shown them his hands and his side to let them know that it was really him, he says to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And he breathed upon them the Holy Spirit, the very life of God. This is the Divine Mercy that we celebrate today, the infinite mercy of God. Jesus never gives up on us. Even when we have abandoned him, and denied him so many times in so many ways through our words and actions, through our sins, his invitation always remains. His peace is always ready to console us and even to entrust us with his own mission in the world today. 

When God looks at us, beyond seeing our sins, he sees our great potential, the good that we are capable of by his grace. He continues to ask us to trust him. To trust in his mercy and forgiveness, to reach out with Thomas and place ourselves in the wounds of the Risen Christ, these wounds that still today call out for God’s mercy upon us and upon the whole world. Jesus wants us to trust in God’s infinite mercy and love so that we will be able to trust also in God’s plan for our lives, to trust the wisdom of his commandments, the freedom of his Gospel, the compassion of his Church. God isn’t here to spoil our fun. He is here to offer us life, life in abundance, life far beyond what the world has to offer us. Do we trust God? Do we want to trust God? On all our money in the United States is still written the words, “In God we trust,” but how often do we trust more in money and what it can buy for us rather than trusting in the God of heaven and earth? Jesus, I trust in you. Grant us the grace and desire to trust in you more than we ever have before on this Divine Mercy Sunday, that we may know your peace and proclaim it to all the world. 

Mexican Mission

Bulletin Article, Divine Mercy Sunday C

Just recently, I went on my first mission trip outside the USA. Spending spring break in Mexico might sound more like a vacation, but I was serving as a chaplain for FOCUS Missions. Currently, there are three FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries from our parish. One of them, Ashley Haiar, asked if I could serve this mission in Mexico. Besides the five trained FOCUS missionaries, 11 other college students from various parts of the US joined us for this mission. We all flew together from Dallas to San Luis Potosí in Mexico. We had Sunday Mass at a church in the town of Bocas before heading to a ranch where we would be staying for the week. We traveled in a large van each day to La Morita, the small village that we came to serve. They already had the structure of a church finished, but without doors or windows.

Initially, we were all pretty disappointed to hear that we would not be doing any manual labor on the church as we had anticipated. Apparently, prior mission groups had proved to be less than competent at masonry. At some point during the mission, though, one of the college students pointed out that even the first Apostles were not involved in building physical structures; instead, their mission was to build up communities of faith in love. 

Our task would be to play soccer, baseball, duck duck goose, and a game called ‘ninja’ with the children of the village. We ate each meal at their houses. Trying our best at Spanish, we did Bible skits with them and prayed the Rosary and had Mass in Spanish with them each day. The local Mexican priest serves about 40 communities, so their village is usually only able to have Mass once or twice a month. With the money we brought for them, we helped pay for their altar and for 25 Bibles for the new families in the village. Before we left, they had a dance and grilled more than a dozen chickens.

One of the college students asked some of the children what their favorite part was. Expecting to hear about one of the games, she was told instead that praying the Rosary with us was their favorite part. I think the reason is that the older women of the village pray the Rosary so fast that these kids would have no chance of keeping up, so having a bunch of gringos come and try their hand at Spanish gave them a chance to participate.

I enjoyed my time on mission, and I can now say Mass in four languages: English, Latin, Italian, and Spanish. I am going to miss the missionaries, the wonderful people of La Morita, and seeing so many cacti and cactus fences. I will not miss all the dust and potholes. Some people also really like Mexican food, whereas it kind of lost its charm for me by the end of the first day. Regardless, we are all called to be missionaries, even in our own homes, schools, workplaces, and culture. As we hear in our readings during the Easter season, we are all called to be witnesses to the reality of Christ risen from the dead. May Easter joy always fill our hearts that we might draw those around us and each other into the love and mercy of the living God.

La paz del Señor esté siempre con ustedes.