Expect the Cross

Homily, Eastertide Sunday 5C

Just last night, I was driving back from the Graduation Mass of O’Gorman High School held at the Elmen Center. Just within that short distance, I observed and came up behind not one, but two separate cars at different traffic lights that after the light turned green, these cars continued to sit, stationary, at the intersection for several, very long seconds, before finally moving through and getting out of my way. I avoid driving when I can, I think because it is often a near occasion of sin for me, to see so many drivers not paying attention to the road. In human life, our own expectations play a large part in how we deal with what happens to us and the amount of frustration that we experience on a daily basis. You see, I can tell myself time and time again, that people are really not very good drivers, that they’re often not paying much attention to their surroundings. I can tell myself this, but part of my own expectation is still that they really should, and so when they’re not, I get angry, I get frustrated. Things are not how they are supposed to be. When our experience falls short of our expectation, we get mad.

Of course, the same thing also happens in our spiritual lives, in our relationship with God. Many of us, whether we really think about it or not, whether we’d be able to admit it or not, many of us have very strange expectations when it comes to the spiritual life. Many of us buy in to a sort of ‘prosperity gospel,’ thinking to ourselves, “If I’m a good person, if I follow the commandments, follow the Church’s teachings, send my kids to Catholic school—whatever it might be—if I do what I’m supposed to do, then God is supposed to bless me. God is supposed to protect me and my loved ones from anything bad or difficult from ever happening to us. If I do what I’m supposed to do, then God should do what He’s supposed to do and make life easy for us.” Now, we wouldn’t always put it in these exact words, but when some obstacle or difficulty arises and we immediately start to question, “What have I done wrong? Why is God allowing this to happen to me or to my loved one?” It seems pretty clear what our expectations really are.

In our first reading, we hear how Sts. Paul and Barnabas “strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith.” How did they do this, what did they say to them? They said, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Not usually what we would think of as very encouraging words. You, must, suffer, to enter God’s kingdom. Great. They didn’t say, It is likely, or it is advisable for us to endure hardships. No, they said, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus Himself asked the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and so enter into His glory?” In another place, He says, “Whoever does not deny himself, take up His cross daily and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” Jesus never promises us an easy life. He promises an abundant life, but not an easy one. “How wide the gate and easy the road that leads to destruction, and there are many that go that way. But how narrow the gate and constricted the path that leads to life.”

How realistic are our own expectations for the spiritual life? Do our expectations actually line up with the words of Scripture and with what Jesus has told us so many times? “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me,” says the Lord. Jesus is clear about what our expectations should be. No one carries a cross unless they’re headed towards their own crucifixion. So why are we so surprised when we encounter obstacles, when we encounter many hardships in our following of the footsteps of Christ, who walked the Way of the Cross? “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Don’t get mad. Don’t get frustrated. Expect it, and ask God for every grace to grow in patience, to grow in perseverance, to grow in appreciation for the share in Christ’s own Cross that God entrusts to us.

In giving us a new commandment, Jesus tells us, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” What does the love of Christ look like? Jesus willingly suffered and died, out of love for you. If we are not willing to sacrifice, to suffer for one another, we shouldn’t pretend to be following Christ’s commandment to love as He has loved us. Expect the cross. If we expect the cross, it will not overwhelm us when we encounter suffering. And like the Apostles who went before us, we may even be able to rejoice in our sufferings out of love for Jesus Christ. To Him be glory and honor forever.

One Shepherd, One Flock for All

Homily, Eastertide Sunday 4C

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. What images come to mind when we think of shepherds? We often think of very peaceful and pleasant scenes: green pastures, gentle breezes, streams of water, sheep grazing quietly on the hillside; or we picture the shepherds kneeling at the manger scene in front of the baby Jesus. But the actual life of a shepherd was hardly ever comfortable or easy, and often not very peaceful. Shepherds at the time of Jesus and in His neck of the woods lived tough lives. They stayed with the animals day and night, often enduring adverse weather, the heat of the day and cold of the night. They had to be watchful of dangers from predators, storms, and rustlers. And they had to be mindful of the inattentive and wandering sheep that so easily could get lost or get themselves into trouble.

To be a shepherd and to keep the sheep safe from the many dangers of this world was and is hard work. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow Me.” What does it mean to be one of His sheep? Are we confident that we really belong to Jesus Christ? “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow Me.” If we don’t hear and recognize the voice of Christ, if we don’t take the time to listen to what God is saying to us, and if we aren’t really following Jesus in our daily lives, then we’re following some other shepherd, or we’ve struck out onto our own path. There’s an old saying that whoever chooses to direct himself has a fool for a guide.

But many people wonder, do we even really need Jesus anymore? You’ve probably heard people say on more than one occasion things like, “Well, he doesn’t go to church anymore, but he’s really the nicest person you’ll ever meet.” Or, “Well, you know, he doesn’t really believe in God, but he’s such a good person, and isn’t that what really matters? As long as someone’s a good person, they’ll go to heaven in the end, right?” But this is not what we hear in God’s Revelation of Himself and in the witness of Sacred Scripture. It’s not enough to “be a good person,” to do my best to follow what I think is right. From the beginning God is always calling us into relationship with Himself. To be part of His family, part of His “one flock.” And Jesus is the fullness of God’s Revelation. Jesus says things like, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” “Whoever believes in Me and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe in Me will be condemned.” Jesus is not optional.

One very popular and pervasive attitude today is religious indifference. “Who’s to say? There are lots of religions, lots of ways to enlightenment, to God, to heaven.” There’s a lot of focus on the mere possibility of salvation for those who never explicitly believe in Christ or live in communion with the Church founded by Him. But our focus should be on what God has positively revealed and commanded. The sacraments of His Church are still the only ordinary means revealed by God for our salvation. Speculation about other possibilities is often motivated by the fact that there are many in the world today who are not Christian, who are not Catholic, there are many atheists and agnostics, and we rightly condemn any violence committed in the name of religion, but another motivation is to try and sooth our own consciences for our lack of zeal, our complacency and unwillingness to take risks to proclaim Jesus Christ as the One Savior of the world. We make excuses to just get along, to remain silent, and shirk our duty as Christians to proclaim the Gospel to every creature.

St. Paul didn’t mince any words in our first reading, when He warns His fellow Jews that without believing in the Messiah God sent for them, they risked the loss of eternal life. “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” Judaism is incomplete, as long as it fails to recognize the Messiah promised by God through the Prophets, Jesus the Christ. The message of Muhammad in the 7th century is incompatible with the Gospel. Muhammad was a false prophet who has led many astray. We need to proclaim Jesus Christ to Muslims, to Jews, to all peoples, to fallen-away Catholics. There is one Lamb who stands before the throne of God in heaven. One Lamb who was slain for our sins and is risen from the dead for our salvation and for the salvation of all. It’s time to stop making excuses for ourselves, and time to start sharing the Good News.

More than Stone Structures

Bulletin Letter, Eastertide Sunday 3C

What an amazing week of celebrations for the 100th Anniversary of the Dedication of our Cathedral! We stand in awe of the faith and vision that propelled those who built, maintained, and beautified such a monument to the glory of God and for the honor of St. Joseph. All of us are a part of her story, and each of us is responsible to see that this treasure is carried on and shared with many others, for years to come.

And what’s the most effective way to take this legacy forward? For each of us to become a holy dwelling of God in our own bodies and souls, to be adorned by God’s grace with every virtue He desires to see in us. It’s always striking to me that the Scripture readings the Church provides on the occasion of a dedication/anniversary of a church are largely reminders that God does not so much desire to dwell in buildings of stone but in hearts of flesh.

Just think of all the years of construction and renovation, the millions of dollars, the countless hours of individual workers devoted to this cathedral church, to serve as a place of sacred worship to God. Now how many hours, how much real work and effort, how many of our resources in life have we really dedicated to the salvation of our souls, where it really counts? When we stop and reflect, the construction of buildings and monuments is easy compared to the call to “deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow” Christ (Luke 9:23).

Having such a spectacular Cathedral is a great blessing, able to draw minds and hearts to God. But God desires even more that His beauty would shine out in the thoughts, words, and actions of our daily lives, that we would allow Jesus to drive out from our hearts anything unworthy of God, even as He drove out the money-changers from the Temple of Jerusalem. By His grace and our generous cooperation, may God make us beacons of hope to everyone we meet.

Fr. Darin Schmidt

Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this church to be. Do you wish to find this basilica immaculately clean? Then do not soil your soul with the filth of sins. Do you wish this basilica to be full of light? God too wishes that your soul be not in darkness, but that the light of good works shine in us, so that He who dwells in the heavens will be glorified. Just as you enter this church building, so God wishes to enter into your soul, for he promised: I shall live in them, and I shall walk the corridors of their hearts.
—St. Caesarius of Arles, bishop in the 6th century