An Eternal Perspective

Homily, Lenten Sunday 3A

Personally, I’ve had a long history of problems with my vision. I was only in first grade when I was fitted for my first pair of glasses. I switched to contacts while in school and sports, but these would eventually start to irritate my eyes. My latest pair of glasses I ordered online for a fraction of the usual cost. A couple of my brothers now have had laser eye surgery, but I might wait a while for that. The interesting thing about almost always having corrective lenses is that most of the time, we don’t even realize how blurry our vision is until after we get a new prescription. We just get used to not seeing things so well, but then with a new pair of glasses, it’s like we suddenly realize again that trees have individual leaves on the branches, and we see blades of grass, or perhaps more distressing, we might suddenly notice ants or spiders crawling around in our rooms at home. The whole world comes at us again in stunning detail and high definition.

Now the man in today’s Gospel is not just seeing clearly again, having his sight restored, but is seeing things for the first time in his life. Because the man was born blind and now receives from Jesus a whole new kind of vision that he had never experienced before, this healing has always been a sign to us of the gift of faith, a whole new spiritual vision that God gives to us, to see things according to God’s perspective. We receive the eyes of faith at our Baptism, but if we fail to really nourish our faith, if we focus exclusively on trivial things, only the here and now, without keeping them in the context of eternity, we run the risk of becoming rather nearsighted in faith.

How much of our time and energy do we invest into things that are really rather pointless and trivial, things that quickly pass away? Video games, sports teams, movies and television, the music we listen to. And how does that compare with the amount of time or energy that we give to prayer, to fostering our relationship with God that will hopefully last forever? How much do we invest in really learning Christ, learning not just the teachings of the Church but also the reasons behind them? How much do we really strive to understand our Catholic faith and grow to love it and live it, to learn the Scriptures and the history and Tradition of the Church, and to act upon this knowledge?

Now I played sports in high school. I ran track, played football and basketball. I probably enjoyed basketball the most, but to me they always remained sports, games, things that were meant to be fun. Sports can also teach important lessons of the value of discipline, hard work, setting and reaching goals, but I’ve always been very critical of our culture’s level of obsession with sports and performance. It’s one thing to play sports at our leisure and to learn the lessons that the game teaches to those who play, but it’s another thing entirely to have a whole culture and several industries centered around professional, college, and high school athletics. To have so much attention and pressure focused, that someone’s injury could lead them to question their entire identity and purpose in life. It’s not healthy, and it needs to change. 

If Catholics and people of faith are unwilling to question and challenge the misguided values of the culture around us, if instead we just let ourselves be swept up into the madness, we fail in our prophetic mission, and we risk losing sight ourselves of what’s truly most important and lasting, in life and in death. God grant us the lens of faith to see everything more vividly in the perspective of eternity and the account that we must render to God for every idle word and vain pursuit. 

To Be Alone with God

Bulletin Letter, Lenten Sunday 4A

We have several reasons to rejoice on this Laetare Sunday. Not only are we more than halfway through Lent, but spring has also begun. We draw ever nearer to warmer temperatures and the full expression of Easter joy. I hope we’ll try to spend more time outside, to allow the renewal that nature undergoes during this time of year to bring renewal to our own hearts.

This can also be a very challenging time of year with lots of activities, and if we’re not mindful, we can end up feeling overwhelmed. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering now where the month of March has gone. I think I’m still getting used to observing Lent as a priest. My experience has not been much like the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, to be alone with God His Father. With all the confessions and special events, it’s a challenge to make time to slow down and simply be. It becomes critical then, even in the midst of our other activities, to be able to pause at various times throughout the day, to retreat to our inner sanctuary, to be alone with God in the silence of our hearts.

Even if just for a minute or two, a few times throughout the day, this interiority can make a huge difference for how the rest of our day goes, for the level of patience we are able to have, and for having a sense of freedom, of driving ourselves or of being directed by God, rather than being driven by so many outside pressures or interior anxieties. I’m so grateful for the Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office), the Church’s official prayer that I am obliged to pray every day, an opportunity and privilege to stop whatever else I’m doing to speak with God, four or five times a day, on behalf of the world and God’s holy People. The times of prayer serve as a reminder to me not to be only a slave of productivity, but to allow God’s grace to permeate everything that I do.

There’s a danger for anyone to get caught up in appearances, to serve for the praise of human beings rather than for the commendation that comes from God (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5). St. Teresa of Calcutta, though known for being extremely active in serving the poorest of the poor, always kept prayer as her top priority, especially praying in the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This allowed her to keep perspective through her trials, and to keep humility through her renown. “God has not called me to be successful. He called me to be faithful” (From her book, Love: A Fruit Always in Season). May God grant us the grace of true prayer, “so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).

God be with you as you continue through Lent.

The Impact of God

Homily, Lenten Sunday 2A

Psychologists say that first impressions can be formed in as little as three seconds. Now because I’ve always been naturally shy and more reserved around people that I don’t know very well, I’ve never been very good at making an impression the very first time I talk to someone. But, when I look at today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes even me look like an expert at first impressions. 

When the Samaritan woman reaches the well, instead of trying to break the ice by mentioning how sunny it had been lately, or asking where she had purchased her water jar, Jesus instead decides to lead with, “Give me a drink.” Probably not the best thing to start off with, making demands of someone you’ve never spoken to before, but Jesus was tired so maybe we can cut Him some slack. But the other problem with His request is that the woman can tell that Jesus is a Jew, so she probably just thinks that He’s taunting her. Jews considered all Samaritans to be unclean, and so a Jew would never really accept a drink from her anyway. 

When the Samaritan woman expresses her surprise, confusion, or anger at His request for a drink, Jesus doesn’t seem to do much better in His second attempt. He says, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Jesus is basically saying to her, “Don’t you realize who I am?” Now Jesus is sounding even more arrogant, making Himself out to be greater than the Patriarch Jacob who had given them the well.

After another brief exchange about living water, the Samaritan woman finally asks Jesus to give her this water. In reply, Jesus seems to completely change the subject, telling the woman to come back with her husband, and then proceeding to tell her all about her past and current living arrangements. “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” Again, the first time we meet someone, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to bring up their sins and their checkered past. But Jesus has a different goal when it comes to first impressions. 

He is not really concerned about His reputation. Above all, Jesus wants to help us realize our need for God, to experience our thirst for God, even if that thirst might be painful. The Samaritan woman was looking for love in all those relationships, but without knowing the love of God, she would always remain thirsty. What are those relationships in our own lives that we continue to use as a substitute for having a real relationship with God? How often do we really make time for prayer and give the very best of ourselves to God, rather than just giving God whatever is leftover of our time and energy? How might Jesus be trying to shake us out of our complacency to wake up and re-evaluate our priorities? 

The world doesn’t need more mediocre Catholics. The world is in desperate need of Saints. How often have we let our concern for what others might think of us prevent us from boldly sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone we meet, just as the Samaritan woman invited everyone in town to meet Jesus? If you’re not interested in becoming a Saint and going to extremes for the love of Christ, then what are we really doing here? May Jesus Christ, present in this Eucharist, make a deep and lasting impression upon us, that we might always grow in His love and feel compelled to spread the Gospel to all the world. 

The Mold of Saints

Address to Legion of Mary, one week prior to the Annunciation

There’s an old saying about individuals who are especially unique or specially gifted. We would say that they “broke the mold” when they made him, to express that someone is really one of a kind and that there won’t be anyone else like him. But so many of the Saints in the history of the Church realized that God did not break the Mold when He sent His own Son in our human flesh. That in Mary, the Mother of God—in whose womb was formed the perfect human nature of the eternal Son—in Mary, God has preserved for us, and for all generations of the Church, that perfect Mold, to form us into the image of Christ, to truly make us Christian and to share in the holiness of God Himself. 

This is my favorite image used by St. Louis de Montfort to express the advantages of the total consecration to Mary, which he characterizes as the safe, secure, easy way to Christ. He says that in other approaches and spiritualities, if we try to reach Christ on our own apart from His Mother Mary, it’s like trying to sculpt ourselves into a statue of Christ, starting with a big block of stone and working hard with chisel and hammer to take away large pieces, using other tools to try and smooth out and polish rough edges, all the while straining our eyes on the original image of Christ. But Mary, instead, is the Mold of Saints, and just as molds revolutionized how statues could be produced, using the same mold to cast many perfect images of the original model, so too, by entering with Jesus into the womb of His Most Blessed Mother, our own human nature can be reformed, gently, more easily, and more surely, into the perfect image of humanity, Christ Himself, to be born again as Christ was, of the Immaculate One and of the Holy Spirit. The total consecration to Jesus through Mary remains the best, the easiest, the surest way for us to become Saints and to transform the world around us.

This year will be the 100th Anniversary of our Lady’s apparitions to the shepherd children of Fatima. Her message of repentance always remains relevant for us, even 100 years later, echoing the message of Christ her Son in the Gospels, “Repent; the kingdom of God is at hand.” Mary always exhorts us as her children to leave behind our sins and to embrace a life more dedicated to prayer and penance, to work in reparation for sins and sacrileges, and the countless acts of disobedience, even on the part of those within the Church and the leaders of the Church. As I begin my priesthood and become more familiar with the actual state of the Church today, with such a drive for accommodation and bending to the will of the cultures surrounding us, instead of having much concern to actually be faithful to the Sacred Tradition handed down to us from Jesus and the Apostles, and through obedience to Christ and His Church, to actually transform the culture and the world around us, as I survey the state of the Church today, I can’t help but feel with ever greater urgency the call of our Lady of Fatima to pray and to do penance in reparation for sins. 

And as I look beyond the Church into the wider world and prevailing culture, as I see the attacks upon the family, attacks upon the Creator’s plan for marriage, and the continued confusion and distortion of human sexuality and gender identity, and the drive to remake ourselves and redefine ourselves apart from the One who made us and gifted us with life, the call to prayer and penance cannot sound any louder across the surface of the earth.

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of God, teach us to return to Christ. Mary, our life, our sweetness, our hope, pray for us sinners. Help us and all the Church to remain faithful to Christ, to return to Him with all our hearts, to be willing to suffer, even at the hands of those within Church, to restore a sense of the Sacred, a “Spirit of reverence and of the fear of the Lord.” To cultivate in our own lives Gospel simplicity, to imitate the poverty of Christ, your Son, to bear witness in the world today that God alone can satisfy our longing, as you yourself showed us, dear Mother, through your heroic “Fiat,” your “yes” to God at every stage, even to the foot of the Cross. May we never settle for being mediocre Catholics, but by your example, O most Beautiful One, may we give ourselves entirely to God. The world does not need more mediocre Catholics. The world needs Saints. Mold us into the image of Christ. Make us your army to crush the head of Satan, to advance the Kingdom of God in our world today. Glory be to the Father… 

No Turning Back

Homily, Lenten Sunday 2A

I was mentioning to some of the staff this week that I’m looking forward to retirement. I have only 46 more years to go, till the year 2063. I wonder how many of us will still be alive by then. Most people, by the age of 75, are sort of slowing down and wrapping up their life’s work, but God’s call to Abraham in our first reading didn’t happen until he was 75 years old. Can you imagine, at that age, to pack up everything you own, to leave the place you’ve called home for most of your life, never to return, and to lead all your livestock 500 miles into a strange land? God calls Abraham out of retirement, and Abraham quickly obeys. And it’s not like there were great highways back then, let alone cars or airplanes. Abraham walked, 10, maybe 20 miles each day, for a couple months, to reach his destination.

Now I’ve probably only been on one real walking pilgrimage for just five or six days. When I was in college, I spent a semester in Rome. But before the semester began, the other seminarians and I walked part of the Via Francigena, an ancient route to Rome. We started in Montefiascone, so we only ended up walking for about 75 miles. We stayed indoors at night along the way. And even though the scenery of the Italian countryside was very beautiful, after about two days, I was already tired of walking, not so much physically as just mentally. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Abraham, being 75 years old, without good shoes, and having to keep track of a lot more than just a backpack, walking for almost two months. But Abraham placed his faith in God. He walked with God, and he obtained a blessing for the entire world through his obedience.

In the Transfiguration, we catch a glimpse of the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the destination and goal of all our journeying. Moses and the Law, Elijah and all the Prophets bear witness that Christ will be the blessing for “all the communities of the earth,” the blessing that was promised to Abraham so long ago. The glory of the Resurrection shines upon Jesus, to strengthen His Apostles against all that He will have to suffer to obtain it. Just as Abraham suffered the long road to reach the Promised Land, Jesus would come down from Mount Tabor to carry His Cross up another mountain, Calvary, to die for our sins, to destroy death forever.

During this season of Lent, God is wanting to lead us somewhere, through the trials and hardships, through self-denial and prayer, through the giving of ourselves to those in need. No matter how young or old we are, God wants to do something new and lasting in us. How many times have we gone through Lent only to arrive back where we started before Lent began? To work against some sins and bad habits during Lent, but to have them back in full force once Lent is over, as we celebrate Easter? God wants more for us during this season. He wants to lead us to greater freedom, greater virtue and strength of character. Abraham never returned to his homeland. He was forever changed. Moses and the Israelites never returned to slavery in Egypt.

What is the goal and Promised Land that God has for you, as we continue our journey through Lent? What is the sin that God wants to root out of your life, once and for all? Whether it’s in the area of moderation with food and drink, a discipline of exercise, habits of lust and sensuality, patience for those who annoy us, or how we use technology and media, God wants this season to be an opportunity for lasting change in our lives. May God grant us the determination to follow Abraham in walking with God, to follow Jesus Christ in His Way of the Cross, that we might reach the glory of the Resurrection at Easter with greater freedom, greater love, greater holiness of life. Don’t turn back. Keep pressing forward, and be transformed.

Three Pillars of Lent

Bulletin Letter, Lenten Sunday 2A

We usually talk about three pillars of Lenten observance. The first two pillars, prayer and fasting, help us to draw close to God and allow Him to order our desires according to His will through self-denial, giving our spiritual needs priority over our material needs. Almsgiving, the third pillar, calls us to imitate God’s own generosity, providing for those who lack necessities and caring for the poor, the sick, and the abandoned.

We might think of prayer being especially connected with love of God, fasting with the proper love of self, and almsgiving with love of neighbor, but all three practices and all three loves should be intimately connected and flowing into one another. Prayer can open us up to God’s desires and strength, which can enable us to do more fasting. And what we give up in fasting and denying our own appetites can then be given to those in need through almsgiving. And in serving the poor from a perspective of faith, our own desire for simplicity of life can grow, further enhancing our fasting, and giving energy and direction to our prayer.

The Rice Bowls from Catholic Relief Services can be good visual reminders for us to pray, fast, and give alms. They should also remind us that we don’t need to be wealthy to share what we have. A few coins and bills here and there can really add up. The money we might usually use for snacks or overpriced beverages can make a bigger difference in the lives of others.

And being wealthy can mean different things in different parts of the world, or in different periods of history. If for the past few years, you’ve never seriously worried about having enough to eat or a place to live or clothing to wear, you are probably fairly wealthy according to most historical and cross-cultural standards. May God help us to recognize the immense blessings we have received, that our generosity might overflow to the “least ones,” to those whose needs outweigh our own (Matthew 25:45).