Open Wide the Doors to Christ

Homily, Corpus Christi C

When I was growing up at home, I used to hate having visitors. And it wasn’t just because I was shy. It was also because I was lazy. You see, every time we knew someone was coming to visit, we’d have to clean up around the house. I tried to convince my mom many times that we really shouldn’t clean up for visitors. It was deceitful. Instead of welcoming them into our home, we would be welcoming them into an artificially-tidied-up version, really just the shell of our house that would then lack so much of that lived-in feeling. But with nine kids in the house, there was no escaping the strong sense that the house was definitely lived-in. And our small efforts at cleaning up were a sign of the respect we had for our visitors.

As we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Most Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, it’s good for us to consider what sort of preparations, what efforts at tidying up do we make to receive such a guest as Jesus in the Eucharist? Jesus is the King of the Universe, of all that exists. He’s more important than the pope or the president of the United States, and He comes to visit us at every Mass. Jesus visits us humbly, under the appearances of bread and wine, and He wants to work in us and help us to clean up our lives by the power of His grace. What He needs most of all is an open door. There are probably parts of our houses that we don’t normally bring visitors into, maybe a utility room that’s kind of dungy or an unfinished basement. But there should never be any part of our lives that is kept off-limits to Jesus. We shouldn’t be afraid to let Jesus into the mess and into the darkest places of our hearts, because it is His presence that transforms darkness into light.

At the same time, we should know that mortal sins lock Jesus out and make us incapable of welcoming Him into our hearts. When we receive Holy Communion while conscious of grave sin on our souls, Jesus is not able to enter in. Instead, we insult our Guest further by greeting Him only with a locked door. To open the door to Him again, we need to meet with His great mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, where the priest, as God’s instrument, exercises the power of the keys and opens the way of Christ that we had shut, and brings new life to a soul that was dead in sin. Are there still areas of our lives that we refuse to open to God’s grace? Places in which we’re unwilling to give up worldly ways and disordered desires to live instead according to God’s Revelation and the teachings of His Catholic Church? What are the cluttered closets and unfinished basements where Jesus is not quite welcome?

The other question for us to consider this morning is how we conduct ourselves as guests in God’s house. At all times, Jesus, the Master of this house, is here in the Tabernacle. When we come in to the Cathedral, are we attentive to the Presence of Christ? Do we silence not only our cell phones, but even more importantly, do we silence our minds and hearts? Do we arrive early enough to give ourselves the time we need to put aside our distractions and plans and worries, so that we can really focus, and welcome Jesus with joy?

Another priest shared with me his amazement that so many people would never think of arriving late to the movies, after the show had already begun, and then how so many people are willing to wait at the end through the entire credit sequence to see if there’s just one last scene. And yet, so many of us think very little of arriving late to Mass or of leaving before the final blessing and dismissal. What do we really value in life, and how do our concrete actions show to God what we really think is important? One of the practices that I grew up with in Elk Point and in Jefferson was that after the final hymn, everyone in the church would kneel down in silence to give everyone a chance to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the great gift that we had just received, to speak with Jesus, still dwelling within us.

Do we silence our conversations as we enter this worship area, before and after Mass, to give one another the opportunity to speak with Jesus? Think how strange it would be to go to someone’s house and to speak to other visitors who are there, but to largely ignore the very master of the house who is hosting you. I hope we care enough about our relationship with Jesus, and our neighbor’s relationship with Jesus, to be more disciplined about treating this area of the church as a sacred space of prayer.

Over a hundred years ago, an Angel appeared to three shepherd children at Fatima and taught them a prayer that I’ve always found very striking. We’ll conclude with that prayer, as we continue to ask for a deeper appreciation and reverence for the great gift of Christ’s Body and Blood in this Eucharist. “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He Himself is offended. And by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners. Amen.”

In the Name of the Triune God

Homily, Trinity Sunday C

One single prayer has probably been said more often than any other, in the history of the world. This prayer is so powerful, that it has been the occasion of countless healings of mind and body. It has the power to cast out demons and to overcome all the false power of Satan, in the Church’s exorcisms. In Baptism and in the Sacrament of Confession, this prayer transforms sinners destined for the everlasting flames of hell, into sons and daughters of God, to become joint heirs with Christ and the Saints, to a “hope [that] does not disappoint,” in the kingdom that has no end. This prayer is also so simple, that it’s probably the very first prayer that we learn as Catholics. “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As I say the words of this prayer, your hand probably moves without thinking, because most often we pray this, as the Sign of the Cross. We might not even think of the Sign of the Cross as being a real prayer, because it’s just something we do before and after saying other prayers, or as we come into church, but the Sign of the Cross in the Name of the Most Holy Triune God is really one of the most powerful prayers that we ever say.

A good practice that some of us might have is to pray the Sign of the Cross before and after almost everything we do, when we wake up in the morning and before we go to sleep, as we begin driving in our cars and in thanksgiving for safe travels when we arrive at our destinations, when we begin our work or any particular task and once we bring it to completion. Have you ever considered how our lives would change if everything we did, and everything we thought or said would be done in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?

What does it mean to do something in the name of someone or something else? Even in popular culture, we use this phrase: To “stop/ in the name of love,” to experiment in the name of science, or to command in the name of the law. The phrase usually means to do something on someone else’s behalf or by their authority. Now it should seem incredible to us that we would be able to do anything on behalf of God or by His own authority. But this is the dignity that is given to us as His sons and daughters, to work more and more according to God’s will for our lives, to become His coworkers and cooperate with God in a real sense, as He works within us and around us, according to His power, wisdom, and love.

The theology of the Trinity can seem difficult to understand. We proclaim one God in three Persons. As a mystery, it always goes beyond what our minds can fully comprehend. But by revealing Himself to us as three Persons always in mutual relationship with one another—even from all eternity—by revealing Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God invites us to share in that relationship, in that love and fellowship, so that we all might be united in Him. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that genuine cooperation is possible. Distinct persons can work together as one, without rivalry and without ceasing to be who each one is, without the destruction of any one of them in favor of the others.

The unity that we see in God is the model for unity in all creation and especially within the Catholic Church and within the human family. No matter how different we are from one another—and some of us are really different—as a Christian able to act in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I am called to love my neighbor as myself, to love my neighbor as another self, to know that we’re all on the same team. That your good and health and happiness are bound up with my own. That we are ultimately not rivals or enemies, but we are in relationship with one another, whether we acknowledge it or not, and whether we like it or not.

When Jesus is asked in the Gospels to specify, “Who is my neighbor?” He replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now at that time in history, for the Jews, the Samaritans were their sworn enemies, those who had interfered with their return from the Babylonian Exile and the rebuilding of the holy city Jerusalem and its temple. In the parable, Jesus holds up this Samaritan, this enemy of the Jews, as the example of what it means to be a loving neighbor, to help anyone in need. So no matter who it is or what group of people we just can’t stand, whoever we see as rivals or competitors, we are called to love them, to love them “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” because it is only by the power of God that we can overcome the divisions that exist within our Church and within our human family.

During this upcoming week, I encourage all of us to pray more often—and with greater attention—the Sign of the Cross, this most powerful prayer. When we are in the midst of temptation, it reminds us of God’s presence and the power that He gives us to overcome sin in our lives. When our mind is racing with anxiety or anger, the Sign of the Cross calms our thoughts and bring upon us the peace of God which surpasses understanding. When we become cynical and focused only on the negative aspects of life, this prayer can lift our eyes to see the countless blessings around us, and the enduring faithfulness of God. At all times and in every place, may we always strive with all the saints to think, say, and do everything “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Tongues to Speak of Christ

Homily, Pentecost Sunday C

I often like to joke about not liking Franciscans, those countless religious orders that look to St. Francis of Assisi as a spiritual father, but in many ways I really do admire them. I even imitate their aesthetic by keeping a beard and by wearing sandals. I think it’s more just the popular misconceptions that many people have about St. Francis that I find particularly annoying. When we think of St. Francis, many of us just have an idea that, well, he liked animals. Okay. That’s not untrue. St. Francis did have a great appreciation for all members of God’s creation, and we can learn from that. Statues of Him often include birds or other animals. But the great love of Francis’ life was poverty, the poverty of Christ that he strove to imitate in concrete ways. To be free of worldly attachments and possessions that so often come to possess us. That’s why he appreciated birds so much. Birds don’t store up food in barns and silos for themselves. They live day to day, depending on the providence of God.

St. Francis was especially devoted to the Passion of Jesus, when the poverty of Christ was at its height. As He was hanging from the Cross, naked, stripped of everything, Jesus was even abandoned by most of His closest friends and disciples. He was left with nothing but the Cross and His trust in God the Father. St. Francis was so devoted to the Passion of Christ upon the Cross, he meditated upon this mystery for so many hours and years that God gave Francis what’s called the stigmata, the wounds of Christ manifested in his own flesh, the nail marks and some of the pain along with them in his hands and feet, and a wound in his side.

Now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking to you so much about St. Francis on this Feast of Pentecost. I would venture to say that St. Francis is one of the most widely misunderstood saints in the history of the Catholic Church, while at the same time, he was one of the saints that strove most fully to imitate the virtues of Jesus and to become a living image of Christ, and Francis was only able to do that through the grace of the Holy Spirit that he received in his Baptism, in Confirmation, that he also exercised in his ministry as a deacon.

Now we still haven’t come to the most obnoxious misuse of the memory and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is frequently quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” The only problem with this quote is of course that St. Francis definitely never said it. And it goes against much of how Francis himself lived. St. Francis was not the type of person to pass up any opportunity to tell the people around him about Jesus Christ, explicitly, with his words and his actions, even at the risk of his own life. There was a time during the life of St. Francis that the Muslim king of Egypt was offering a gold piece to any of his subjects for every head of a Christian that they would bring to him. So what did Francis decide to do? He wanted an audience with that king. So he traveled with a companion to Egypt. They were captured. They were beaten. They were imprisoned, but finally, Francis got his audience with the king. And to this Muslim king, St. Francis proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ. He told him to repent of his sins, to be baptized, and to believe in Jesus, the one Savior of the world.

When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to the Apostles in the upper room, these men who were once frightened and cowardly were emboldened and strengthened to proclaim Jesus Christ to the crowds gathered from throughout the world. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we continually hear how they were even able to rejoice in the sufferings, persecutions, and dishonor that came to them in response to their bold, explicit preaching of Jesus Christ, using words and actions. The Holy Spirit who appeared to them as tongues of fire gave them courage to speak, not just to let their actions speak.

We like the saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words” because we’re lazy and cowardly, because we’re looking for any excuse to not have to proclaim Jesus Christ explicitly, in both word and deed, because we don’t want to risk upsetting anyone, really, because we don’t want to risk anything in our following of Christ. We’ve found a better way, a safer way, to live as Christians in a world that wants to go its own way, in a world that rebels against the One Way of Jesus Christ. We’ve found a way to stifle the Holy Spirit, the one who animated all the Apostles, St. Francis, and every missionary in the history of the Catholic Church.

The Good News is that the Spirit of God is ever ancient and ever new. His strength has not weakened at all over the course of these 2000 years. He is still able to do marvelous things in those who are willing to risk, in those willing to put themselves out there for the sake of Christ. You have not received any other spirit than the one received by the Apostles, Prophets, and Martyrs. By your Baptism and Confirmation, you have been strengthened with the infinite strength of God. So cast off all fear and go. Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person under heaven. Risk something. You won’t regret it.

A little while, and you will no longer see me…

Bulletin Letter, Ascension C

Today we commemorate the Ascension of Jesus and the unshakable hope that in Christ, a human nature like our own is already seated in glory at the Father’s right hand, enjoying forever the blessedness of heaven. We know at the same time, however, this was not the easiest goodbye for His Apostles, who had spent most of the last three years of their lives with Jesus, traveling with Him during His public ministry, eating with Him, hearing His teachings and witnessing His miracles, even sharing at times in His own mission and ministry. After His Ascension, they would no longer see Him in the same way—by physical sight—but through the eyes of faith and in mystery, in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood and in the humanity of those in need. They held fast to the promise that He would send them another Advocate to strengthen them, and—together with the Mother of God—they remained in prayer and longing for the coming of the Holy Spirit in power.

Goodbyes are seldom easy or enjoyable, but they are often necessary, and with the eyes of faith, they hold the promise of greater things to come. I am thankful for the time that God has given me here at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. Serving the ordinary parish needs in the day to day with Fr. Morgan and Fr. Smith brings new perspective and appreciation for what I’ve always experienced as a magnificent Cathedral Church. Serving as the Master of Ceremonies has also been a great blessing and opportunity to see many different parishes of the diocese and just how tireless a shepherd we continue to have in Bishop Swain. I honestly have a difficult time keeping up with him. Be assured of my continued daily prayers for our Cathedral Parish family, for your shepherds, Bishop Swain and Fr. Morgan, and for the next Parochial Vicars you will soon welcome, Fr. Brian Eckrich and Fr. Joseph Scholten.

As such, Fr. Smith and I have been called to serve the needs of the diocese elsewhere, in the neighborhood of Highway 12. Effective July 10, Fr. Smith will become the Pastor of St. Thomas in Roscoe, Holy Cross in Ipswich, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Leola. Further west, I will be the Pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in Hoven and St. Augustine in Bowdle. As we continue towards Pentecost, in your kindness, please pray that God will strengthen us for this ministry. Through His Holy Spirit, God still promises even greater things for the Cathedral of St. Joseph and for all His holy people.

With a grateful heart,
Fr. Darin Schmidt