Missionaries in Our Daily Lives

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 29B

I’ve been a priest now for over three years, and one the only times that your likely to see me wearing something other than black clerics is when I’m out for a run. So a lot times as I’m just going about my day, I’m not really conscious of the fact that I’m wearing anything very different from anyone else around me; that is, until someone stops me in the aisles of HyVee and asks, “Where do you keep the lemon juice?” I’ve also noticed that I’m much more comfortable with people calling me “Father” or “Fr. Darin” or even “Fr. Schmidt” rather than calling me by just my first name or my last name, whereas at one time, the opposite was true, especially before I was ordained, to have people calling me “Father.”

I know it can seem strange to be calling someone who’s less than half your age, and someone who looks like he’s less than a fourth of your age, to call me “Father,” but I appreciate your efforts. It’s a title of respect and honor, but more important than that, it serves as a reminder to me and to other priests of what our vocation is, what God has called and is equipping us to do as priests and mediators, and as we hear in the Gospel today, it is a reminder that we have been called to serve, and to be the slave of all, to offer our lives with Christ as a ransom for many. I need your help to remember often, who I am called to be for you and for all. Even my own parents make an effort to call me father, even though they’re now 73 years old and have known me since the beginning of my life. Some of my siblings and cousins tend to think that’s a bit strange, but I appreciate yet another reminder of who I am called to be, although if my parents ever need a priest, I do hope they find someone else to minister to them, especially for Confession.

I’ve heard from older priests that you kind of lose your name after being ordained. From then on, people can simply call you “Father.” And there’s something very beautiful about that. The practice of calling any priest “Father” reflects the understanding at some level that, despite personal differences, and even the personal sinfulness of a priest, every priest is still anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring God to us and to bring us to God. That’s another reason why I try to wear my clerics whenever I’m in public, so that even if someone doesn’t know who I am personally, they can still recognize me as a priest, as “Father,” and they can approach me for Confession, for prayer, or for whatever else. Wearing my clerics also helps me to reflect more on whether my words and actions communicate or contradict the love of Christ to those who see me, to those who come in contact with me.

This weekend we celebrate World Mission Sunday. We remember and pray for those in foreign missions, taking the Gospel throughout the world, but we also renew our own commitment to being missionaries of God’s love in our own day to day lives, in our homes, in our workplace, in classrooms, restaurants, and shopping malls, while we drive on the road or walk in the park.  Now there’s no standard uniform for Christians or other Catholics like there is for priests, to make us stand out, but it would be very good for all of us to reflect this Sunday on how well we communicate the love of Jesus in all these various places and our activities, to everyone who sees us or comes in contact with us. How does our tone of voice, our sarcasm, the way we talk about others or the way we ignore or avoid certain people, how does that build up the kingdom of God in our world today? How do our small acts of kindness and consideration, our stopping to help someone in need in the midst of our busy schedules, how does our talking to someone who’s having a difficult time and our really listening to them, how does that communicate God’s love?

You see, we’re all called as Catholic Christians to bring God to others and to bring others to God, to have a priestly mediation and missionary focus in our world and culture. And like Jesus and the Apostles, we’re not meant to use power and authority to subject others to our will, but to serve them out of love and out of concern for their souls, and for their material needs as well. We open ourselves to receive the grace God has for us at this Mass, and to receive our vocation and mission in the world today. As we receive Jesus Himself in this Eucharist, we are sent out to bring His love to everyone we meet. Jesus commissions each one of us, “Go, and make disciples of all nations.” Make disciples of all colleagues. Make disciples of all classmates, of all neighbors, of all persons we come in contact with, by loving them with the same love with which Jesus has loved us, by serving one another, laying down our lives for one another. Go, therefore, and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lessons from Leaves: Simplify or Die

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 29B

During this past week, I had the opportunity to attend a spiritual retreat at Broomtree with other priests of the diocese. At one of the talks, I turned my chair towards the window to watch as leaves of the honey locust trees drifted down in the light of the rising sun. They fell in such great numbers and for such a long time that it was like watching snowfall gently drifting on the breeze. It helped that our retreat master was blind, so that he did not notice or have any concern that I was not looking at him as he talked.

We’ve seen quite a bit lately with regard to the changing of the seasons, even the first hints of winter. I always enjoy seeing the leaves change colors during this time of year, and I was fascinated to learn why this happens as a preparation for the harshness of winter. Before the leaves fall, deciduous trees actually take nutrients back out of the leaves to be stored in the roots during the winter (or during the dry season in warmer parts of the world). One of the nutrients that many trees reclaim from their leaves is chlorophyll, the pigment that gives their leaves a green color and allows them to harness the power of the sun in photosynthesis. So leaves change color before falling because the tree reabsorbs their green chlorophyll.

Also, I found out that leaves don’t just fall, but most of these trees actually have specialized cells that ‘cut’ the leaves from the trees and seal off their places against the elements. Plants with needle-like leaves often keep them year-round, ever-green, as they are hardier and lose a lot less moisture than the broad leaves of deciduous trees.

Learning more about leaves during my retreat gave me opportunity to reflect: where have I perhaps spread myself too thin? What sort of pruning does God desire for me, to re-collect myself, my attentiveness, my energy, to really prepare and focus on the most important things in life? For certain plants, it can be a matter of life or death, to simplify and prepare for the winter, or die before the spring returns. Our lives have seasons as well. Continuing to pour ourselves into the same things that we always have can limit our opportunities for the growth that God wants for us in other areas. As we watch the leaves fall this season, may God help us to drop the diversions and distractions from our own lives, so that we can more fully invest in our relationship with Him and with those that God has entrusted to us.

Nothing Less than God

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 28B

Power. Pleasure. Possessions. The rich, young man of the Gospel has it all. He has everything that this world is able to offer. And he even has one more thing that most others in his position don’t have. How many politicians or wealthy businessmen would be able to claim with much credibility that from their earliest days, they have kept all the commandments? Power. Pleasure. Possessions. Integrity. Everything and more than anyone could hope for from this world, but he is still not satisfied. He is still restless.

How many of us can go almost our entire lives without ever coming to the level of awareness that this young man has reached in the Gospel? We just keep thinking and convincing ourselves that peace and contentment is just over the next hill. When we’re young, we think, “I can’t wait to have some independence, to be able to drive, to not have to listen to my parents anymore, to finally be finished with school.” Then all these things happen, and then what? Surprise, surprise, we’re still not satisfied. So then we move on to other goals, other prospects just as dubious. “I just need to reach the right level in my career, to have the right pay-grade and accomplishments, to have a big enough house, and an ideal family, then I’ll finally have it all.” We spend years and even decades of our lives chasing dreams, feverishly pursuing each set of goals that we’re not even sure will bring us any lasting happiness. In fact, when we’re really honest with ourselves about our experience, we’re actually pretty sure that these things will always leave us unsatisfied. Even when we reach and live the best day of our life, we inevitably wake up the next morning on the day after the best day of our life. So what do we do? Where can we go with this unending restlessness that’s just part of what it means to be a human being?

Where does the rich young man go? He goes to Jesus. He sees something different in Jesus. The “Son of Man who has nowhere to lay His head,” something about this strange Man from Nazareth tells him that just having more of the same, more power, more pleasure, more possessions in life, more accomplishments, all these things and more of these things won’t bring him the peace that he’s looking for. In desperation, the rich young man asks Jesus, “What is it that I still lack?”

There are actually three commandments that Jesus very noticeably left out of the list that he had told the young man. The first three commandments, those that especially concern our relationship with God, are not mentioned when Jesus first tells him to keep the commandments. And the infinite God is the only answer to our endless desires. Another rich young man, after he was finally able to follow Jesus in his own life, St. Augustine, once said, “Our hearts were made for God, and they will be ever-restless, until we rest in God.” To fill up what was lacking in the man’s relationship with God, Jesus calls him to leave behind anything that would hold him back from following Jesus. Jesus is revealed as Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” Only by following Jesus and living in relationship with Him are we able to begin to satisfy the restless longing of our hearts.

And God is not with us in some unknown tomorrow, some goal that we haven’t yet reached. And God is not present to us yesterday or some time in the past. Today is always the best day of our lives because today, the present moment, is the only time that we can actually meet God. He’s not a God of the future or of the past. “He is who Is.” God wants to meet us today and satisfy our hearts. God wants today to be a moment of grace for us and the first day of the rest of our lives with Him. So, what’s still holding us back? What do we still lack? What dreams and worldly ambitions that can never really satisfy us are we still clinging to? If you’ve known disappointment and discontent even amid the power, prestige, pleasure, and possessions of this world, you’ve known what every Saint has recognized: the desire for God alone that lives in every human heart. Don’t settle, for anything less than God.

More than No. 1 in Our Lives

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 27B

Every year, October is observed as the month of the Rosary. Today, October 7 is normally the Feastday of Our Lady of the Rosary when it doesn’t fall on a Sunday. October is also observed as Respect Life Month and this first Sunday in October is Respect Life Sunday. Our Scripture readings today highlight God’s plan for marriage as the stable union between one man and one woman till death, for the loving acceptance of children from almighty God. God is the unseen witness to every marriage. And He gives the grace to remain faithful and true to our word, and to repent of any infidelity. How often do we really ask for God’s help and His guidance? How often have we instead ignored God’s presence and God’s desires in our relationships? “What God joins together, let no one put asunder.”

Back when I studying at the University of St. Thomas, as a freshman I had to take an introductory level theology course. My professor for that class was very fond of making the point that God should not be Number One in our lives. God is not Number One. Now that might sound a little strange. Of course our relationship with God deserves to be our first priority, because it is the one relationship that is guaranteed to survive even death and because we have received everything from God. But God is not just Number One in a list of our other priorities, as if, okay, yeah, I’ll go to Church on Sunday and fulfill my duty toward God and then the rest of the time I can do what I want when it comes to everything and everyone else in my life.

If we make a list of our priorities, for example, God, family, school/work, friends, sports and activities, et cetera, even if God tops the list, even if we actually treat Him as our first priority, if we treat Him as just another item on the list, if our relationship with Him doesn’t affect every other relationship and priority in our lives, if God doesn’t affect how I relate to my family members, how I carry out my work, how I spend my time with friends and in recreation and relaxation, if I’m not allowing God into those decisions, I’m not really living as a disciple of Christ.

Each one of us might have a different idea about what a healthy marriage should look like, for example, how much time should be spent each day or each week with your spouse, but do we ask God what He thinks is the necessary or healthy amount of time? And if work schedules don’t allow for it, what changes and sacrifices are we actually willing to make? Each person might have a different idea about how many children they should have or would like to be able to have. But do we ask God what He thinks? And do we ask whether our standards of being able to provide are more informed by the Gospel or by the materialistic world around us? Each one of us probably has a different idea about what retirement should look like, but again, where do these ideas come from? And is God asking something different from us, than to spend our time and resources on travel or golf or lounging around?

God should not just be Number One in our lives but should affect the decisions we make each and every day. What changes and sacrifices are we actually willing to make to remain faithful and true to Him? And what are the fears, insecurities, and attachments that continue to keep us bound, to keep us enslaved to the cares of this passing world, not quite free to follow God’s plan for us, to allow God’s own life and desires to be manifest through our daily lives? God never stops offering us a more abundant life. It is never too late to start really living for God. No matter what our age, He never stops offering us more than we could ever ask or imagine for ourselves. God’s plan for us always puts our own plans to shame. Something to think about during this week, what’s just one area of your life or relationships that you’ve never really discussed with God or surrendered to His will? And what is it that continues to hold us back?

Lord Jesus, in this Eucharist, in the power of Your most Sacred Body and Blood that was totally given over to Your Father’s plan for our salvation, set us free. Free to allow Your grace and wisdom to guide every aspect of our daily lives, every relationship. Free to live as Your disciples, sharing in Your most abundant Life.