Working Towards Poverty

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 4A

During this past year, I had the great privilege of serving as chaplain for a couple different mission trips, one in Mexico, and one in Belize. The general reaction of those who go on these trips is pretty consistent. We usually come back home saying that the people we served are some of the most joyful people we have ever seen, even though they seemed to have very little in the way of material possessions. But they have their faith, they have their family and relatives, and they all seem much more attentive to the people that they meet. They also tend to have a much more enjoyable pace of life, able to really enter into each moment of the day, without being in a frenzied rush to move on to the next thing. I’ve heard similar reactions from those who have spent time with the Missionaries of Charity, the sisters of Mother Teresa’s order, working among the poorest of the poor, and if you’ve been inside their convents, you see that they also live poverty themselves, often without water heaters, air conditioning, or many other things that so many of us tend to view as necessities. 

We often forget that according to the standards of most countries in the world, almost all of us here would be considered fairly wealthy. But are all the things that we have really worth the trouble? Our readings today proclaim: Blessed are the poor and the lowly, the weak and despised of the world, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus goes even further, saying: Woe to you who are rich, because you have already received your consolation. 

A constant temptation for us, and for many who lived before or at the time of Jesus, is something we might call the prosperity gospel. There are even many passages in the Old Testament that seem to reflect the idea, that those who serve God, who do the right thing, good people, nice people, these should be rewarded, even in this life, with blessings of success and prosperity, good health and wealth, and the divine protection of all that we hold dear. Perhaps the reason that so many of us struggle in our faith when we actually face various trials and difficulties, or the tragedies of life, is because, at some level, we’ve bought into this prosperity gospel. 

But the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not promise success in this life for those who follow Him. Instead, Jesus promises His faithful followers a cross, and persecutions. I remember something a priest had said about the Holy Family as Jesus grew up in Nazareth, the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. He said that they worked hard to be poor. Now the way that I understood that statement is kind of odd, and I’m not sure how the priest intended it exactly. The simple meaning would be that the Holy Family had to work very hard just to get by, that they earned so little from carpentry, that they struggled even to be poor. But what I thought he meant was that it was actually easier for the Holy Family to be wealthy and successful, but that they worked hard to simplify their life, to give away any amount of excess, to give away anything that they didn’t really need. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, though they were rich, worked hard to become poor.

What are the blessings of poverty that we continue to resist by holding on to what we don’t really need? How might God be calling you and me to simplify our lives, so that we can bear more compelling witness as followers of Christ in the world, as followers of the poor Man from Nazareth? As Catholics and as Christians, we are called to live differently. Those who grow too comfortable in this world run the risk of losing sight and losing our desire for the life of heaven. Have I become too comfortable? How might God be calling us to share in the poverty of Christ so that we can also share in the authentic blessing of almighty God and the promise of the heavenly kingdom? Have we ever worked hard, like the Holy Family, to be among the poor ones of God? 

Stuck Together by God

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 3A

I used to think that priests have a lot in common with the disciples of Jesus, and that a call to the priesthood was like the call that we hear in the Gospel today, as Jesus calls His first Apostles by the Sea of Galilee, and as Peter and Andrew, James and John respond, by leaving everything behind to follow Jesus, leaving their nets, their boat, and their father. Now priests definitely have a lot in common with the Apostles when it comes to our mission of proclaiming the Gospel and of serving the people of God by exercising authority in the Church. But I definitely don’t feel like I’ve left everything behind to follow Jesus. When I was in seminary, and especially as I was sent to Rome for four years, I had more of a sense of leaving behind friends, family, and even my home country, but now that I’m back and exercising the priesthood, it’s easy to grow comfortable and complacent, too attached to everything that I have and attached to my own preferences. 

The ones who continue to live more like the disciples of Jesus are those who enter religious communities. Now we don’t have as many examples around anymore, but here in Sioux Falls at the Cathedral, we have the Perpetual Adoration Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Each of the sisters left their families and everything they had to enter the community, even leaving their home country to answer the call of Jesus in a life of prayer. Each of the sisters is now stuck, stuck with each of the other sisters in the community. If personalities clash, if they don’t get along well with one or two others of the sisters, they can’t really avoid spending a lot of time with each other. Now even though Fr. Cimpl and I live in the same house, it’s a large house, and if we didn’t get along, we wouldn’t have to spend as much time together. Fr. Cimpl was rather disappointed that living with him didn’t make it on to my top 10 list of 2016, but I will say he is a very easy and helpful person to share a house with. But for the religious sisters, living in community is part of their vocation and part of their cross, just like the twelve disciples were stuck with one another as they followed Jesus. The other disciples were stuck with these four fishermen, and with Matthew the tax collector, and even with Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Jesus. 

For each one of us who follow Jesus, it might be a particular challenge for us to really love those people that God has placed in our lives, whether they are family members, relatives, coworkers, classmates or teachers. We might feel stuck with them from time to time, but how might God be calling us to really grow through those relationships that are more difficult or strained? I know in my own experience, in my family and in my preparation for the priesthood, having to live with other seminarians, it was especially those relationships that I perhaps would not have chosen for myself that have helped me to grow the most. Who are the people in our lives that we tend to exclude or avoid, even when God might be calling us to learn from them and to serve them? How often do we resist God’s work in us by avoiding anything difficult or awkward in our family and in our social lives?

In our second reading, St. Paul is heartbroken that divisions and cliques have made their way even into the Church at Corinth, that the one family of God has become divided. But Christ is not divided. As we receive the one Lord Jesus Christ in this Eucharist, may He continue to draw each of us closer to Himself, to unite us all together in the one Light and Truth revealed for our salvation. And may we always look to Jesus in the Eucharist as the source of our unity and of the strength that we need to reach out to those that we would otherwise exclude or avoid. Lord Jesus, make us one. 

Coworkers with God

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 2A

From a very young age, I developed the habit of asking one very important question, one question that would help me to always keep things in perspective, a question that I could use to evaluate my own actions and what was being asked of me, the question of simply, “What’s the point? What’s the purpose? What is the goal that we’re actually working towards? What’s the point?” 

When I began considering what I might want to do for the rest of my life, this type of questioning helped me to desire to be a part of something with lasting results. As I surveyed the jobs that might interest me and that God had equipped me to do, I knew that I could spend my life building things, but those structures would eventually fall apart again. I knew I could spend my life trying to bring healing to the bodies of the sick, but those same bodies would eventually be placed in the grave. Instead, I could see that God wanted to fulfill my desires in calling me to the priesthood, and that if I could help just one soul get to heaven, that would have everlasting consequences.

In the Gospel today, John the Baptist has spent his life preparing the people of Israel to meet their Messiah. John spent his life bearing witness to Christ in all his words and actions. This same mission from God has been entrusted to each one of us, to bear witness to Christ in the world today by all that we say and do, to be part of Christ’s everlasting work of redemption. This mission is not just for priests or prophets, but for every baptized Christian. So whether you’re still in school, or if you restock the shelves at the supermarket, or if you perform surgeries or work in a restaurant, or if you are currently unemployed, every last one of us is called to be coworkers with God, to cooperate with His work in the world, and each of us will have to give an account before God of the quality of our work. 

If we approach our work on earth only as a means to make money, what’s the point? We’re missing the bigger picture. God wants to use our work to save our souls and the souls of those around us. If the work that we’re doing is not making us better people, more patient, more kind, more concerned about the quality of the products and services that we provide, for the genuine benefit of our neighbors and the betterment of society, if we’re not being transformed by our work more into the image of Christ, and if we are not striving to see and to serve Christ even in our most difficult customers, in our most difficult clients, or patients, or teachers or students, then we are missing a real opportunity, and we are failing to live out our mission as Catholics in the world today. What’s the point? What’s the point of being Catholic if it’s not going to change the way that we live and work every day? God made us for more.

May God give us the grace in this Eucharist to follow the example of John the Baptist, to spend our lives and to be spent for the sake of Christ, in all our work and rest, continually striving to be transformed and to transform the world around us by the very power of God. 

Spiritual and Religious

Bulletin Article, Ordinary Time Sunday 2A

At one time, and perhaps still today, it was popular to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” I had a few classmates in seminary that said if they ever met someone who was spiritual but not religious, they would reply, “Well, I’m religious but not spiritual,” but anything authentically Catholic is both religious and spiritual. We should strive to have a deep spirituality and an authentic, personal relationship with God as we express that love for Him through concrete actions and public acts of worship.

A few of the religious education students were wondering why we go to Mass on Sundays. Christians have always worshiped on Sundays because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, so we gather especially to celebrate the Resurrection. We also receive the Word of God from the Old and New Testaments and in the homily. In my reply, I also made mention of the precept of the Church, that attending Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation is one of the minimum requirements of being a practicing Catholic. This is tied to the virtue of religion, which is not well understood anymore. Basically, the virtue of religion is the part of justice that gives to God what He deserves as the source of our life and of every good gift.

When we really take seriously in humility our status as creatures, that we do not make ourselves or give life to ourselves, and that God creates the soul of every human being, even if our material bodies are given to us through our parents, then it only makes sense that we owe God an enormous debt of gratitude for giving us life and sustaining us in existence in each moment, even as we owe our parents honor and gratitude to a lesser degree for all that they provide for us. The word Eucharist is Greek for ‘thanksgiving,’ and we owe God most of all a debt of thanks, so it doesn’t seem to me too much for God to ask that we gather together as a Church family every Sunday and day of obligation in the perfect and public sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Mass and to receive from that sacrifice Jesus Himself to strengthen us in all that we do throughout each week.

Being spiritual but not religious has never made much sense to me. It would be like claiming to be proud as an American but unwilling to pay taxes or to vote or to serve on a jury or any of the other duties we have in gratitude for the many blessings we enjoy in this great country. Jesus Himself said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). May God strengthen us to fulfill all justice, to joyfully give ourselves entirely to Him, to be both spiritual and religious.

The Faith of the Magi

Homily, Epiphany

It was an ancient practice in the Church, after the Gospel on the Feast of the Epiphany, to solemnly announce the date of Easter and of the other moveable feasts, because these tend to occur on different dates each year. It’s a good reminder to us that as we mark our 2017 calendars and try to remember birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates in the lives of our friends and relatives, it’s also good for us to look forward to the important dates that we observe together as God’s family as we commemorate each year, and every Sunday, the mysteries of our salvation.

Today we celebrate together the Epiphany of Jesus as a Light to the nations. We give thanks for the revelation and manifestation of the Son of God in a special way to the non-Jewish world, represented by the three magi that come to worship “the newborn king of the Jews.” We’re all very familiar with the story, but because it seems so familiar we might not realize how very strange it was that the magi had any trouble finding the Christ Child. Now, obviously when you’re relying on a star for direction rather than GPS, you might run into some difficulties along the way, but once the magi entered the land of Israel, they probably thought that the Jewish people would be having a huge celebration at the arrival of their own Messiah, and even if they showed up late, after the party was over, everybody would still be able to point them in the right direction. That’s why the magi were going around the capital city of Jerusalem asking where they could find the newborn King. Everybody should know where to find Him.

Instead, Herod, and the people of Jerusalem, seem to have no idea that a King had been born, and they were all greatly disturbed at the news, rather than being happy about it. Once the magi finally find the new King in the small town of Bethlehem, God even tells them not to let the authorities know about it. Amazing, that these foreigners were able to recognize a great King in this small Child with His mother, when Christ’s own people seemed unaware or even hostile to His presence. Amazing, that these magi would travel so far just to spend a little time with Jesus and to offer Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh, before starting their lengthy journey back home.

What about us? How do we measure up to the faith of the magi? In this, and in every Mass, are we able to recognize the King of the Jews, in the humble appearances of bread and wine, as Jesus makes Himself present to all the nations throughout the world in this most Holy Eucharist? Or like many of the Jews in His own day, are we too caught up in our own busyness, unaware of the most precious Gift that has appeared in our midst? And what distance would we be willing to travel to bring our gifts to this King of kings, on every Sunday and holy day of obligation, what kind of priority do we give on our own calendars to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Or if we’re out of town or busy with other things, with sporting events or other activities, do we excuse ourselves and fail to plan accordingly? And what does that communicate to God about the value we assign to the Gift of His own Son? Are we able to receive in this Eucharist the strength to recognize Jesus also in the poor, in the sick, in the inconvenient, in those people who annoy us, in those circumstances that push our patience to its breaking point? Can we recognize Jesus purifying and teaching us especially through the difficulties and sufferings of our lives? As the Light of nations enters the world again at this and at every Mass, God grant that Jesus Christ may be the Star that guides us in our daily lives, to accomplish God’s will in all that we say and do.

The Greatness of God’s Plans for Us

Homily, Mary Mother of God

I sometimes wonder about my parents, at the time of their wedding, what ideas they would have had about what their life together was going to look like, whether they had any idea that they would be raising nine kids, and how much trouble each one of us would be. As the youngest, I am definitely glad that they did not stop after the eighth. But throughout their life together, they remained open to God’s plan for their marriage and for their family, and with great generosity and faith, they received each new life with great thanksgiving.

As we celebrate today the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and as we continue to contemplate with the shepherds the manger scene, I wonder if Mary realized at the time of the Annunciation, nine months earlier, when she said “yes” to her vocation as Mother of God, did Mary realize what this was going to mean for her life and reputation, and for her marriage with St. Joseph? Did she foresee the rumors that would circulate about the child’s origin, the gossip and the calling into question of her own fidelity, in being found pregnant before living with her husband? Today we think of “Mother of God” as a title of great honor, but during her own lifetime, Mary’s vocation as Mother of God probably brought her the suspicion and scorn of her neighbors. But throughout her trials, Mary remained open to God’s plan for her life and for her marriage, trusting that God’s plan would be far better than her own expectations and desires, even when that plan proved difficult and next to impossible to understand.

The Gospel today tells us that as Mary heard about the shepherds’ vision of angels, she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary continued to try to understand what being the Mother of God would mean for her and for the world. As they named her Son Jesus, which means ‘salvation,’ did she ever wonder what that salvation was going to cost, what God the Father’s plan would entail for Jesus and for herself on Calvary someday? And how bitterly her faith would be put to the test as she would witness her own Son’s crucifixion? 

We should not celebrate today’s Feast of Mary, the Mother of God enthroned in heaven, without keeping in mind and learning from what that title cost her. If it is true that God lifts up the lowly, then it’s often only through various trials and sufferings that we remain faithful and cooperate with God’s plan for our lives. My own mother made it clear to me and to my siblings as we were growing up, that what we wanted to do or what we wanted to be when we grew up was not nearly as important as what God wanted us to be and what God wanted us to do with our lives. If it’s not something you regularly ask already, I encourage you to pray every day of this new year, and to ask, “God, what do You want me to do? What is Your will for my life?” 

And even if we’re older and we’ve already set out upon our vocation, there is never a stage of life when we no longer need to ask this question. I’ve become a priest. That is my vocation, but am I using the priesthood to serve God’s plan, or to serve my own ends and desires? Out of concern for my own reputation and comfort, am I taking the easy road rather than the road that God has laid out for me? No matter what your vocation or occupation, how can your marriage better serve God’s plan and reflect God’s own sacrificial love? How can your work and your way of conducting yourself and your business better reflect God’s work in the world, God’s justice, mercy, peace, and generosity? In retirement, how can you use your time and resources to better serve God’s purposes? And for all of us, what are the compromises with evil that we’ve made, to avoid the slightest discomfort, to avoid any possibility of confrontation, to avoid any trial of faith, and ultimately, to miss the opportunity of becoming what God has called us to be? What are the limits that we’ve placed upon ourselves or upon God that keep us from fully embracing all that God has revealed through the teachings of the Catholic Church? What keeps us from truly living as the saints and children of God that we became on the day of our Baptism?

As God says to us so often throughout the Bible, I say now to you, “Do not be afraid.” Give yourself entirely to Christ and to God’s plan for your life. Whatever the trials or sufferings, I promise you, they are worth it. God’s plan for your life will far exceed your own desires and expectations. The world today is in desperate need of saints, not people who are halfway. Mary gave everything to God and through her trials became Mother of all the living. Let’s follow our Mother’s example as we rely on her prayers. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. 

Top 10 of 2016

Bulletin Article, Mary Mother of God

As we begin the year 2017, it gives us an opportunity to recall some of the great blessings of the past year. After much prayer and discernment (sort of), I give you

Fr. Darin’s Top 10 of 2016:

10. Calculating that, according to current diocesan standards and assuming that I remain in good health, I will be able to retire in the year 2063. I can’t wait…

9. Getting to use a brand new mulching lawn mower to clean up the leaves at the rectory. I’ve never seen a mower so clean beforehand and seldom seen one so dusty afterwards.

8. Receiving for Christmas from my Goddaughter and niece a very soft blanket embroidered with one of my favorite titles, “Uncle Father Darin.”

7. Finally having the chance to grow a full beard for Lent, perhaps in an attempt to look a little older.

6. Cooking something to bring to a Thanksgiving Dinner, for the first time in my life. I made green bean casserole. It was a hit, especially with my one-year-old niece. No leftovers, except for her.

5. Vacationing in the Black Hills and climbing to the highest point in South Dakota, newly named Black Elk Peak, with a good friend and priest from seminary.

4.Serving as chaplain of a FOCUS Mission trip to a village near San Luis Potosí in Mexico. Someday, I’d like to have a fence made out of cacti.

3. Serving as chaplain for our Parish Mission in the Orange Walk district of Belize. I had never seen a guacamole tree in person before, and the matriarch of the parish had a lot in common with my own mother.

2. Continuing to lead a Scripture course here at Holy Spirit, this year on the Letter to the Hebrews and a book called Sharing Christ’s Priesthood by Mike Aquilina.

1. Continuing to serve Holy Spirit as a parish priest.

And for all the countless blessings that I have neglected to notice or mention, I give thanks to God. Let’s continue to hold one another up in prayer and to give endless thanks for the immense blessings He has bestowed upon our parish. May we use them well for the building up of His Kingdom in the New Year and every day of our lives. Happy 2017!

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.