The Discipline of Christ for Everyone

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 20A

Why does God put us to the test and seem to ignore our prayers? One of the major themes in the wisdom literature of the Bible, in the books of Proverbs, Psalms, Wisdom, Sirach, they all talk a lot about training, testing, discipline. The Letter to the Hebrews talks about how God disciplines us as a father disciplines his children, not for his own benefit, but to help us grow and develop, to draw out from us our true potential, even to purify our desires.

Today, I’m very glad that my parents didn’t give me everything that I asked for. I’m sure I asked for some pretty stupid things over the years or for things that would not have been very good or healthy for me at the time. Whether it was for a car or just for a snack before supper, my parents cared enough about me to say “No” or to have me wait long enough to where I’d actually appreciate what I have, even if this meant that my parents would not always be my favorite people in the world. They were willing to be disliked because they really cared about me. God always answers our prayers, but because God really loves us and wants what’s actually best for us, His answer to our prayers is often “No” or “Not yet.” God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He will not give us anything that goes against our interests for everlasting life, even if this means He won’t always be popular.

In our Gospel today, the testing of the Canaanite woman reveals the purity of her motives and the strength of her faith. She approaches Jesus and persists in calling out, not because she believes she deserves a miracle, but simply out of her great concern for her daughter. And she expresses her faith in the superabundant goodness of God, that can’t help but overflow beyond the nation of the Jews, beyond the current boundaries of God’s own chosen people, but even to the “dogs,” the pagans who didn’t yet follow God’s Law. “O woman, great is your faith.”

Just as there was for the Jews at the time of Jesus, there can be a tendency today to think of being God’s own People, of being Catholic, as sort of an exclusive club, but the Church is not a country club for the spiritually elite. The Catholic Church is and always was meant for all. In a real sense, every person on earth is called to be Catholic, called to be gathered into the one Church founded by Christ Himself. The Church is completely inclusive in the sense that each and every person, without any exception, is called to encounter the Person of Jesus Christ. No matter who you think of today as “outsiders,” we’re all called to relationship and discipleship, the discipline and training of Jesus.

Prisoners, murderers, those who use violence, and anyone who is prejudiced and racist are called to encounter Christ and be transformed by His love for each and all. Those with homosexual attractions, the divorced and remarried, those who struggle with their own identity as male or female, or anyone who simply struggles to maintain purity, each and every one needs to encounter Jesus, to find our true identity, our true freedom in Him, and to receive from God the strength and desire to live in chastity. The very rich, the very poor, as well as everyone in between, those who think of themselves as well-educated or without anything to offer, the young and the not-so-young, Jesus wants to meet each one of us through the words of Sacred Scripture and in the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus wants to teach and train us to use everything that we have and everything we are to give glory to our heavenly Father, to find true fulfillment and happiness in life and in death.

Jesus wants to give us, not just scraps falling from the table, but His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, His entire Self in this Eucharist, to give us “strength for all things.” How truly “blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.” Jesus calls everyone, not to remain in our slavery and sin, but to be set free and transformed by His grace. Extend the invitation, and be amazed at what Jesus can do for those willing to receive His training.

Living for Life Beyond This World

Homily, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

In the 1960s, there was a lot of excitement about the missions to the moon. My parents and some of you might even remember those years, but as you can tell by looking at me, I definitely don’t remember the ’60s. I hardly remember the ’90s. But, from what I’ve been told, the lunar missions represented the striving of all mankind to overcome our limitations. There was a sense that these events were significant, not just for America or for the astronauts involved, but for every human being. If even one human person succeeded in landing on the moon, then it became at least possible for any human being to reach the moon because we all share a common humanity. This communal sense of accomplishment was well expressed by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon’s surface, saying, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The mystery we celebrate today, on this Solemnity of the Assumption, is a much more significant leap for all mankind. As God raises up to the glory of heaven His chosen and uncorrupted Ark of the New Covenant, the body and soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are given sure hope of what God’s grace is able to accomplish for our frail humanity. You see, it’s one thing for our Lord Jesus to ascend into heaven, Jesus, who is fully human but also fully divine. We would expect someone who came down from heaven as God, to return there after His triumph over sin and death. But today we celebrate something very different, that God “has looked with favor on his lowly servant” and given a share of His heavenly glory, and an anticipation of the resurrection of the dead, to one among us, a pure creature. One who had never before been to heaven, beyond the confines of this passing world, the Blessed Virgin Mary is now raised up, above all the angels, and our own human nature, body and soul, is given a more sure hope of the inheritance promised to each one of us, who have become a new creation in Christ.

If you are weary of life in this passing world, with all its war and violence, take courage, because God “has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.” If you tire of bodily food and hunger instead for the food that lasts forever, hope in God, who “has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” But if you are comfortable, satisfied with your life here on earth, complacent to enjoy as much as possible all that this world has to offer, take heed, because this world is passing away. Only those who have begun to live for heaven even now, will be able to follow where our Blessed Lady has gone before us. Not everyone was able to go to the moon, but only those with the necessary discipline and training.

How much are you willing to sacrifice? What sins are still weighing you down and binding you to the earth? Mary gave herself entirely. She lived her life completely for God. Why can’t we? “The Almighty has done great things,” and “nothing will be impossible for God.” By the power of His grace, we can serve God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we hope to reach where Christ and the Blessed Virgin have gone before us, we must strive to follow their example. If we’re still just living for this world only, why should we hope to reach anything beyond it? Heaven is beyond anything we could ask or imagine. There is no sacrifice too big in exchange for enjoying everlasting friendship and union with God. May our Blessed Mother teach us to value those things which are truly important in life, to put first things first, so that we might follow her in living for ever.

Stepping Out to Love Our Neighbor

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 19A

When I was growing up, I always loved storms. Watching the clouds roll in across the plains from miles away, to see the lightning and hear the thunder, and the pounding rain and strong winds. But I don’t think I’ve ever had to be out in a storm. It’s one thing to watch a storm roll through from inside the comfort of our homes or even from inside our cars, but it was something very different for the Apostles, exposed in their fishing boat on the waters, with the waves piling higher, filling the boat and always threatening to sink it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have water hitting you from every direction, and the boat under your feet is constantly moving and convulsing, being tossed around on the waves. When we can hardly stand up inside the boat, how many of us would have the faith and confidence of St. Peter, the overwhelming desire simply to be near Jesus, to step out onto the waters?

Life has its storms, its situations that can feel overwhelming, whether at the level of international politics, with ISIS or North Korea, or at the level of our own hearts, as we struggle and ask ourselves why we continue to make the same mistakes, to go after the same false gods, to commit the same sins, doing the evil we do not want while leaving the good undone. What is our reaction, what is our instinct in the midst of these storms? Do we give ourselves over to fear, anxiety, and despair, or are we willing to do whatever it takes, to leave behind the false security of our little boat, for the chance to be near Jesus, our only true refuge?

I hear from many parents, especially mothers, who worry that their sons or daughters or grandchildren no longer practice the faith. They can quickly begin to feel overwhelmed at the thought of it, of what they could have done or what they can still do. St. Paul expresses the same sentiment in our second reading. He tells us, “I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” St. Paul feels overwhelmed by the sorrow, that so many of his own people and relatives, God’s chosen people of the Israelites, had failed to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

But as St. Paul makes clear in the rest of this Letter to the Romans, we who are born of God’s Spirit in Baptism, who have become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of all God’s Holy Ones, we should have the same or even greater concern for everyone we meet, not just our own blood relations, not just our own physical family or tribe. We are God’s children now. We belong to the family and household of God.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells us, what, to love our own family members and descendants, our own relatives? Actually, no. What Jesus tells us, is to love our neighbor, the person next to us. To love even our enemies. So if you’re worried that your children or grandchildren are no longer practicing Catholics, you should be even more concerned that the people living next to you, working next to you, the people you interact with on a daily basis, that these, your neighbors, are no longer, or not yet, practicing Catholics. What have we actually done to win over our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow commuters, what have we done to win them over to the love of Christ? What have we done to step out of the false security of concern only for ourselves and our own family and accepted social group, to really draw near to Christ on the waves of His concern for each and all?

At the end of life, we will be judged on our love of God and our love of neighbor. If everyone actually shared the Catholic faith with the person next to him, the love of Christ could reach the ends of the earth, and the love of Christ could reach your own sons and daughters along the way. “O you of little faith, why do you still doubt?” Reach the person next to you, and there will be no limit to what God can do.

Being Transformed by the Word of God

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 19A

I can already tell it is going to be a bit confusing having both a Fr. Smith and a Fr. Schmidt here at the Cathedral. Actually, my own preference is to be called Fr. Darin, as this is more personal and more traditional. In the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, we pray for “Francis our Pope and Paul our Bishop,” using only their first names, in part to express the personal relationship we should have with our fathers in the faith, and also showing the connection of the Catholic faith with ancient times, when no one had last names. Personal does not imply casual, though. I am not opposed to being called Fr. Schmidt, as I realize it has fewer syllables and tends to sound more respectful today. Just so long as you call me Father or Padre, I will answer.

I have already been asked quite a few times about my hobbies, and some of you may have even witnessed already that I have some strange ones. In my free time, I like to run barefoot. Some research suggests it might be healthier. It at least puts less stress on the knees. I think for me, it just keeps things interesting, seeing how well my feet can adapt. It takes months to transition, though, if you are used to wearing shoes. I also enjoy tinkering and fixing things, whether it’s with computers or things around the house, although I don’t know much about cars or sound systems.

I’m not sure if this counts as a hobby, but at some point, I calculated a system for reading the Bible and Catechism once a year. As part of my continuing education, I still read from each almost every day and have made my way through them once a year for about the last 7 years. As it is, for the Catholic Bible, 26 chapters each week will get you through the whole thing in a year, and for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 55 paragraphs each week is what you need. I try to read four chapters of Scripture on weekdays and three on Saturday and Sunday to stay on target, along with eight paragraphs of the Catechism each day except seven on Sunday. I also have my own order in which to read the books of the Bible that I find more helpful, based variously on the human authorship, the time of events described, the time of writing, and the theology of the book. I hope you find it helpful and an encouragement to read the Books that God Himself has inspired. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, still desires to transform our lives every day. How often do we give Him the opportunity?

Bible Order

Committed to Prayer

Homily, Transfiguration A

One of my favorite places to visit in the Holy Land was Mt. Tabor, where they believe Jesus was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James, and John. Today, there’s a beautiful church at the top of Mt. Tabor that commemorates this scene from the Gospel, but what I remember even more vividly than the church was just the walk up that hill, and the walk back down with all its breathtaking views and various plants, like walking through a garden. Today, it probably just takes a couple hours to walk up the long path, but at the time of the Apostles, it probably took quite a bit longer. But if you choose to walk up, rather than taking the shuttle bus, it makes it easy to understand why St. Peter was so eager to camp out at the top. After spending so much time and effort climbing the mountain, and then finding Moses and Elijah with Jesus in all His glory, it would seem strange if Peter had not wanted to spend some extra time there.

Most of us have had some mountaintop experiences, brief glimpses of the glory of God, powerful experiences in prayer and sudden realizations of God’s infinite love for us. The challenge for us, as it was for the Apostles, is to remember and continue to draw strength from those experiences, even after we’ve come back down from the mountain and find ourselves in the midst of trials and distractions. It’s no coincidence that Christ’s chosen witnesses to his Transfiguration and dazzling glory, the Apostles Peter, James, and John, will be the same three after the Last Supper who will see Him sweating blood during His great agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, when things no longer seemed to be going according to plan. The challenge for us is to continue to really listen to Jesus and put into practice His saving Truth long after the feelings and spiritual high of those mountaintop experiences have faded away.

I hear from a lot of people that go on TEC Retreats or Steubenville Conferences or other events that come off of those experiences feeling so close to God, so excited about the faith, so willing to give of themselves in service of others, but so often it just doesn’t last. Most of us fall back into our regular routines quickly enough and fail to make the changes in our lives that would allow us to really begin experiencing the freedom and joy of following Christ with perseverance. Our prayer life quickly takes a backseat to ‘more pressing’ activities. We become too busy. But what could be more pressing or more important than our relationship with God, the one relationship above all others that should last for all eternity? If the devil can’t make you wicked, he’ll at least keep you busy, and if we’re too busy to pray, we’re definitely too busy.

My sister is a dental hygienist, and she understands the importance of consistency. If we don’t brush and floss every day, why should we expect to have healthy gums and teeth? And if we don’t take time to pray every day, why should we expect to be spiritually healthy? Until we change our habits, until we place God as the first and highest priority in our schedule of appointments each day, why should we expect much progress? A good rule of thumb that I’ve heard for spiritual health and a habit of prayer is one hour each day, one day every month, and one week out of the year. So we should set aside an hour every day to be alone with God, to reflect on the Scriptures, to really listen to Jesus and set aside the many distractions. And every Sunday should be a day of rest and prayer for us, but every month we should be even more deliberate to set aside an entire day, a day of repose, free from other activities and distractions, to receive from God the strength and renewal that we need. And every year, each one of us should set aside an entire week, not just for a vacation or a trip, but for a spiritual retreat. One hour every day, one day each month, and one week every year.

I’m convinced that we’re not very good at real rest and relaxation. Most forms of entertainment serve only as mere distractions that let us escape or ignore—but never really come to terms with—the realities of life, and death and eternity. Trips and vacations can tend to leave us even more tired than before. God wants us to find in Him the peace that the world cannot give. How often do we really look to Jesus for that peace? Once a week? What if we would brush our teeth only once a week or once a month? If we want to see real improvement, we need to make a real commitment. One hour every day, one day each month, one week every year. God wants more for us than a fleeting moment on a mountaintop. God wants us to live with Him for ever. Let’s get started today.

God’s Gift to Man: True Worship

Ministry Forum August 2017, as Director of Worship

With the start of each new year, I begin reading the Bible again from the beginning. It’s always a good refresher, and going through each entire book is very different than just the snippets we get in the Lectionary at Mass. Anyone who has tried to read the entire Bible usually gets bogged down in what we see as the less exciting parts. Most would say that the genealogies are the most boring, but for a long time now, I have disagreed with that assessment. At least genealogies have weird names that can be humorous or challenging to pronounce.

Far less interesting to me have been the many passages describing in detail the materials, dimensions, and arrangement of the Tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant as the Israelites traveled with Moses through the desert. The same level of detail is given in describing the Temple they would later construct in Jerusalem and all the various regulations for the different offerings and acts of worship. Now why spend all that time, energy, and money recording all these details, not just once, but several times in the Old Testament and even several times within the same individual book (as in Exodus)? We can scarcely imagine how much more difficult and expensive it was to write or reproduce anything back then, now that paper, printers, and word processing software is commonplace, not to mention literacy.

The only reason that makes sense to me is that the people of Israel were convinced that what they did in the Temple wasn’t anything that they came up with themselves, but God had revealed to them how He wanted to be worshiped. God tells Moses, “See that you make everything according to the pattern shown to you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5). Their worship of the Lord was meant to be an image of the heavenly worship offered to Him by the angels. It was also different from the worship that the nations offered to their idols. “Therefore, you shall not bow down to their gods and serve them, nor shall you act as they do” (Exodus 23:24).

The New Testament has fewer details about what early Christian worship was like, but as heirs of the Jewish Tradition, it is clear that they also were very concerned about the proper worship of God. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Large portions of the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians reflect his concern for the good order of their worship of God as they participate in the Body and Blood of Christ (10:16). And the Letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that Christian worship far surpasses what took place in the Old Testament (cf. 12:22-24).

Catholic worship of God in the Sacraments continues to be distinctive because it is not man-made religion. God has revealed how He wants us to worship Him. If our worship is to actually bring us into communion with the heavenly worship described in the Book of Revelation, God needs to direct it, and He does so through the will of His Church, faithful to the Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition.

May God continue to challenge us and transform us through the Church’s Sacred Liturgy.