Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 14A

Happy Independence Day to one and all! It’s certainly been an interesting year for our country and for the world. I pray that it gets better, but it doesn’t really look promising. As I was growing up, I was convinced that pretty much everyone in the world really wished they could have been born in the US. One of my favorite lines from The Office is when Creed says, “I already won the lottery. I was born in the US of A, baby!” My own ancestors came across the Atlantic around the year 1900 to this vast land of freedom and opportunity.

That’s why it’s been so heartbreaking for me to watch as so many of our nation’s cities have been torn apart, burned, and innocent lives ended or altered forever. Of course, everyone was united in condemning the murder of George Floyd, but the demonstrations and rioting supposedly done in pursuit of justice have been the occasion of countless more injustices. To also see how many of my fellow Americans not only seem to not realize how very blessed we are but even have an active hatred for the land of our birth, and that much of this hatred was learned in our very own institutions of education and “higher learning” is disgusting to me.

To see families torn apart, videos posted to social media of children asking to be adopted to get away from their “racist” parents, to see holy images of St. Junipero Serra torn down, that of St. Louis IX threatened, to see the CEO of Catholic Charities Eastern Washington claim that all white people are racist along with the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities, this goes beyond anything I thought I would witness during my lifetime. The United States is far from perfect, and many members of the Catholic Church are far from perfect, but to cast suspicion of racism over all words, actions, and institutions is not at all helpful in actually moving beyond racism and valuing each person for their God-given human dignity.

Patriotism is a virtue, part of filial piety. Just as we honor and owe gratitude to our parents who brought us to birth, to our God who creates and sustains everything in existence, so also we are to love and give thanks for the land of our birth. I pray that God will heal the divisions and strife that have so quickly overtaken so many in our country. I pray that authentic justice would be sought and obtained by peaceful and rational means for all those unfairly disadvantaged in society. Violence and destruction, rash judgment and division serve only Satan, the enemy of our human nature. May God soon restore and establish “liberty and justice for all.”

Fear God, and You Will Have No Fear of Men

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 12A

One of the many disappointments for me during this season of pandemic has been missing out on the Chrism Mass and the ordinations this year. There aren’t too many occasions when most of the priests of the diocese get together in one place, but those are some of the main ones. And they’re usually specific times of renewal for priests. Usually, it’s during the Chrism Mass each year, when the bishop of each diocese blesses and consecrates the holy oils for use throughout the diocese, that the bishop also leads his priests in an annual renewal of their priestly promises. Since most of us couldn’t be there this year, we still plan to do this at a later date. Of course we can each renew those promises on our own, but it’s not the same as being there and renewing them with so many of the other priests. Of course, the Ordination Masses always bring back memories as well from our own ordinations, and tuning in on Youtube definitely isn’t the same experience as actually being there inside the Cathedral. Still, there have been lots of opportunities during this time for me to reflect back on my first five years of the priesthood, and the readings today highlight an important lesson.

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” There were many in the time of the Prophet Jeremiah who wanted to silence him, really, to silence the Word of God that he proclaimed and that made them uncomfortable, or made them feel guilty. They wanted to silence his very negative message that because of their sins Jerusalem and the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and that many of them would be taken into exile far away from the Promised Land. They didn’t like what he had to say. They thought he was mean, to point out their sins. And they were willing to kill him to shut him up. Jeremiah had to decide whether he would obey God or try to pander to the tastes of his listeners. He decided to obey God.

In my first years of the priesthood, I had to make a similar decision, and it’s one that I continually have to make. Would I follow the subtle temptations of using the priesthood to serve my own ends, my own comfort? Would I remain silent on certain topics that would be difficult to communicate, difficult for people to receive? Would I strive to be well-liked, popular, funny, entertaining? Or would I strive to follow Christ and the laws of His Church, even if this should prove to be unpopular?

We all like to think that we can have it both ways, that there will never be any real conflict between the love of God and love for my neighbor, between the fear of the Lord and the fear of men. But there are conflicts. There are times when we have to decide, Will I serve God first, above all? To correct, to admonish, to discipline, even if that means that as a parent you won’t be your child’s best friend? “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” On account of your faithful following of Jesus Christ. “Your reward will be great in heaven, for their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.” But “woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”

Back in 2018, when everything came out about Mr. McCarrick and how so many of the priests and other bishops around him must have ignored, failed to take seriously and investigate allegations, even so many who continued to promote him, so many cowards who stood by and allowed a wolf to prey upon the sheep, so many who stood by to get ahead, to further their “careers” in the Church, it became even clearer to me just how much is at stake. Those who do not fear God and strive to serve him faithfully above all will make all sorts of compromises and allowances to stay in the good favor of men, even of the most despicable men.

The temptation is always there—for all of us—to have more regard for what is popular, for what others around us might think, to water down the Gospel, to leave out or gloss over the more difficult teachings for the sake of always being positive and affirming, but at the end of my life, I won’t be standing before a panel of former parishioners, who will be asked whether I made them feel welcome and appreciated. I won’t even be standing before a panel of popes, or bishops, or other priests. Instead, I will have to stand before God Himself and answer for every part of His Gospel that I was too afraid to proclaim.

That question is there for each of us. Will you be faithful to what God is asking of you, above all? Or will you live as a slave to the opinions of those around you? Those who strive to serve God faithfully will have nothing to fear.

Travels and Corpus Christi

Bulletin Letter, Trinity Sunday A

Next weekend, my parents will celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary. We had planned a big gathering of the whole family, but that’s been postponed due to the pandemic. I’ll still be heading down to Elk Point this week to spend some time with them, though. I’m glad I’ll be back for the Feast of Corpus Christi and Eucharistic Processions.

It’s a great time to be begging our Blessed Savior for peace in the world, blessings upon our land and communities, and for intelligent reform wherever it is needed to law enforcement, the justice system, and the general dysfunction of our federal government and many major cities. I’ve always liked the Rabbi’s “blessing for the tsar” in Fiddler on the Roof. For us, the ‘tsar’ might represent any number of people in D.C. “May God bless and keep the tsar—far away from us!”

  1. If God was there forever, why did he stay in the dark for sooooo long?

God exists outside time because in Him “there is no variation or shadow of change” (James 1:17). In His divinity, God already was what He is and always will be. He is infinite Being and perfect Act. Before God created time, there was no time, so no succession of moments to make it seem like a long time. Even to speak of something being ‘before’ time existed is to try to use a temporal relation that ultimately doesn’t make much sense ‘before’ the existence of time.

In eternity, God was already doing what He continues to do and always will do, in the eternal relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: as God knows Himself perfectly, the Father gives all of His divinity to the Son, His eternal Word, and the Son receives all from the Father. And as God loves what He knows (Himself and all that He could create), the Holy Spirit proceeds in full divinity from the Father and the Son. But these “events,” too, are eternal, always occurring in God’s eternal “now” in a great dynamism, with no beginning and no end. A mystery that slips from our comprehension, as all that we have directly experienced is bound in time and space.

As for His being in the dark, just because material light did not exist yet, we do not normally understand God as existing in darkness. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). He is light because He sees and knows all, and in eternity, God sees and knows Himself perfectly with perfect clarity, perfect light. Again, the spiritual, intellectual light of the mind of God is different and far greater than the material light that we’re more familiar with, visible to our physical eyes.

Summer Ember Days

Bulletin Letter, Pentecost A

This Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (June 3, 5, and 6) are the summer Ember Days, observed with fasting, abstinence from meat, and prayer for vocations and for the fields and herds. Ordinations were traditionally held on these days as well. During this past week, Bishop DeGrood ordained three men to the transitional diaconate: Jacob Doty, Jeffrey Schulte, and Scott Miller. Please pray that they serve well as deacons this summer and finish well their preparations for the priesthood during this next year. On Friday, two were ordained to the priesthood: Fr. Michael Kapperman and Fr. Tony Klein. Please join in observing Ember Days this week to pray for blessings upon our land and for the holiness of these new ministers of God’s love.

  1. Can God talk to you if you have a mortal sin on your soul?

Yes. We distinguish between sanctifying (habitual) grace and actual graces. Now the name ‘actual’ grace might make it sound like we’re implying other graces are not ‘real’ graces, but they are named ‘actual’ because they refer to particular and passing actions, whereas sanctifying grace refers to the state of being, the habit of holiness that persists after baptism as long as we do not sin mortally. It’s the difference between doing things, performing certain actions, and being human or, with sanctifying grace, being a child of God.

Mortal sin takes us out of the state of grace. We lose sanctifying grace and the theological virtue of divine charity, but God could still speak to us because those would be actual graces, passing actions that God can grant even to someone who is not in the state of grace. And He might grant them precisely to spur us to repentance, to Confession, and a return to sanctifying grace.

  1. Why does God know that bad things will happen and He doesn’t try to stop them?

God gives us free will and understanding into the natural processes of the world. Responsible action depends on both of these things. Imagine how difficult it would be to act responsibly if we really couldn’t depend on the consequences of the law of gravity, for example. Bad things happen due to gravity all the time. You can fall down, scrape your knees, or much worse. And if God were constantly intervening and suspending the laws of gravity just to make sure we’d never get hurt, we wouldn’t really be able to rely on the normal process of gravity and make adjustments to our own behavior as responsible and reasonable people. The same would hold true with diet, health, medicine, weather, etc. God directs the natural processes of the world according to patterns that can be relied upon so that we can respond accordingly and act responsibly.

 

Commandments of Love

Homily, Easter Sunday 6A

If we were doing a word association exercise, where I say a word and then you respond with the first thing that pops into your head, what do you think would be the most common things associated with the word “love” today? Maybe hearts, romance, Valentine’s, marriage, maybe even commitment or sacrifice. But what would we probably not expect to hear as a response when prompted with the word “love”? Commandments. Obedience.

Jesus says to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” In another place He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Not usually things that leap to our mind when thinking about love. Is it because Jesus doesn’t understand what love really is? Or are we the ones who don’t really understand love or the commandments? A lot of people talk about love. That we just need to love one another, to come together, to accept one another, but I often wonder what it is we actually mean by the word ‘love.’ Because to me, a lot of what I hear in the wider culture about ‘love’ sounds much more like mere tolerance or even indifference. “Do whatever you like. It doesn’t matter. As long as it makes you feel happy. As long as you’re being true to yourself. Be whoever you want to be, whatever you want to be, even if that’s something different than the reality of who God made you to be, and who He is calling you to be.” But this is not really love.

A good Catholic definition of love is to will the good of another, to desire what’s best for them. But how do we know what’s actually good for ourselves or for another person, not just what’s pleasing to them for the moment, not just what they happen to want right now, but what they genuinely need? Love, to actually be love, needs to be grounded in the truth, grounded in the reality of who we are and what we were made for, who God made us to be, and the genuine good that God has designed for us, those things that truly satisfy us and bring fulfillment. And as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, love needs to be grounded in the commandments, the commandments that God reveals for our salvation.

At home, as I was growing up, how did I know that my parents actually loved me and really cared about me? Did they tell me, “Do whatever you want?” Not very often. More often, they would say, “Do your homework. Do the dishes. Do your chores. Clean your room. Get off your lazy butt, and be the person that we know you can be.” They gave me direction. They gave me motivation. They wanted me to learn, to grow, to develop as a person. To learn from my mistakes, take responsibility for my actions, and reach my full potential. They wanted me to follow Jesus and the Church that He established with His own authority. Now I always knew that my parents would love me no matter what, no matter what mistakes I made or trouble I got into, but I also knew that they loved me enough to want what was best for me, to challenge and discipline me to really strive for the true good, even if that meant that they wouldn’t always be my favorite people at the time.

In a similar way, God really loves us. He doesn’t just tolerate us or shrug His shoulders at whatever we do. He wants what’s best for us. He wants us to truly live and thrive as human persons. He gives us His commandments and the teachings of the Church not to restrict our freedom, but to free us from the lies of the world around us, to free us from our slavery to sin and pleasure, to give us boundaries that keep us safe from the many dangers and behaviors that harm us, to help us reach our full potential. God has revealed to us what makes for true and lasting happiness. Why do we still hesitate to just give it a try, all of it, for once? All the rules and commandments of the Church, why not actually try them out and see what happens? Or have we even bothered to learn what those commandments are, and the reasons behind them?

The Church as God’s instrument of salvation and the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth who speaks through her—are not the ones out of touch with reality. It’s those who are too much influenced by the lies and relativism of the world and culture around us who are really out of touch. God and His Church are not insensitive to what people might want, but they are much more concerned about what we actually need. And God is not the one who benefits when we follow His commandments. We are. Don’t settle for the tolerance or indifference of this world. You were made for the love of God. God gives us the grace and strengthens us with His Holy Spirit to follow His commandments, to reach our potential and have life in abundance. Why not actually try it, and see what happens?

Bishop’s Little Hat

Inquiry, April 2020

If you’ve been watching the Bishop’s TV Mass, you may have noticed he actually has two hats, one that’s pointed (called a miter) and a much smaller fuchsia hat. This smaller hat is called a skull cap or zucchetto (Italian for “little gourd,” either because gourd is another name for one’s head or because the hat tends to have seams/ridges like a pumpkin). I have a black zucchetto I wear occasionally, though not during any liturgies. Cardinals have red ones. The Pope’s is white.

The original purpose was to cover one’s tonsure (clerical haircut). Tonsure used to be the first step or initiation into the clerical state. Why or how the practice originated, I am not sure, but may be related in some way even to the practice of the Nazirite vow of the Old Testament (Numbers 6:1-21), practiced also by St. Paul and some early Christians (Acts 18:18; 21:20-24). The main idea is that the hair cut and offered represents the time of one’s life offered to God. Other possible origins relate to the practice of shaving the heads of slaves in antiquity (even as St. Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ” in Romans 1:1). St. Jerome attested to this connection in the 4th or 5th century. Another possibility was that shaving one’s head was a sign of grieving in many cultures (Micah 1:16), a reminder that we live on earth as a sort of “exile,” in a “valley of tears,” as the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) says, until we reach our heavenly homeland. Certain religious orders keep their tonsure more conspicuous, like many of the Franciscans. St Anthony’s hair did not just grow naturally only around the ridge of his head.

So the little cap was used to keep the part of the head that was bare—either from religious tonsure or natural tonsure (balding)—to keep it warm in the big, stone, often cold churches and chapels. The zucchetto is removed during the Eucharistic Prayer and any time Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is exposed upon the altar or in a monstrance as a sign of reverence to Christ. It’s still customary for men to remove their hats when inside buildings, especially while inside churches. Clerics have a few hats that are worn liturgically, even inside (the priest’s biretta, and the Bishop’s miter, and obviously, his zucchetto), but even the small zucchetto is removed when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.

Things like this often arise for practical purposes (keeping the bald spot warm) and theological explanations are often ascribed later. Because of its connection to tonsure and admission to the clerical state, the zucchetto serves as a reminder of religious vows or priestly promises and the duties of a cleric, especially the promise to pray, the promise of chaste celibacy, and the promise of obedience to those who are above us: for a priest, his own bishop and the Pope; for a bishop, the Pope; and for everyone, God.

Time Switch

Bulletin Letter, Easter Sunday 4A

Even though it’s unclear when public Masses will be allowed to resume, this would normally be the weekend for the Sunday Mass times to switch between Hoven and Bowdle (every 4 months). Our Confession times will change this weekend to reflect what the Mass schedule will be when we resume, so I’ll be available for Confessions at 4:30 pm on Saturdays in Bowdle, from May through the end of August. In Hoven, I’ll be available from about 8:15 to 8:50 am on Sundays. Keep praying that God would guide our leaders with wisdom and with respect for the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, allowing discernment at more local levels whenever possible. 

  1. What is a vow?

A vow is a solemn promise made to God. Probably the most frequent vows made are those related to what are called the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those who consecrate themselves to God or enter a religious order usually make vows concerning these three ways that reflect how Jesus Himself lived. Poverty (being poor) is often lived out by members of religious orders owning everything in common rather than having personal property. Chastity is lived in celibacy, committing to remain unmarried and striving for a deep intimacy with God. Obedience is vowed to God and superiors of the order, often coming into play when there is a question of where a member of the order should be serving and what his responsibilities involve (like when a priest is moved to a different parish and if he will serve as pastor or priest in residence or chaplain of a school or hospital). 

  1. What is servile work?

The term is usually brought up regarding the commandment to keep the Lord’s Day (Sunday) holy. Servile work refers to work that is unnecessary and burdensome, activity that prevents us from getting to Sunday Mass and experiencing the rest and renewal of body, mind, and spirit through prayer and contemplation of heavenly things. This commandment goes back all the way to when the Israelites were being freed from slavery in Egypt, freed especially to offer right worship to the true God. Jesus tells us not to work merely for earthly “food that passes away but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). Certain types of work are obviously necessary even on Sundays. For example, medical personnel can’t just tell the sick and feeble to take care of themselves for the day. But when it comes to other activities, how much priority do we really give to the Holy Mass and time spent with God? 

New Eyes to See the Cross

Homily, Easter Sunday 3A

I’ve never been very good at picking out gifts for other people. Maybe it’s not always the case, but for me, I think it has a lot to do with my being the youngest in my family for so many. For a long time, I wasn’t really expected to give a lot of presents, and then when I did, it was almost always for people older than me. So by the time my nieces and nephews came around, I really didn’t have much experience. When I was still at Holy Spirit Parish, my niece in Sioux Falls was having a birthday party and I was sure what to bring. I had a little Christmas tree in my office and thought, “Maybe she can use it as a nightlight.” I found out later, though, that the lights had already stopped working. My other siblings are much better at giving presents. For the baptism of our nieces and nephews, one of my sisters often gives them a wall cross that looks like it’s made out of kids’ alphabet blocks—you may have seen one before—the blocks spell out “I ‘heart’ Jesus” and “Jesus hearts/loves me.”

A very nice gift to hang in a child’s nursery, but I often think of how far removed it looks from what the actual and original experience of the cross was for those in the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. Most of us grow up seeing crosses or crucifixes pretty much anywhere, in churches and in our homes, in cemeteries and in greeting cards. The cross has become a great sign and reminder of God’s love for us, but we can almost become desensitized to the fact that it is a depiction of torture and execution. To understand why the Apostles and disciples seemed to struggle so much in coming to terms with what happened to Jesus, it’s helpful for us to keep in mind the original meaning of the cross.

For those in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ, the cross was the most shameful form of public execution. To be hanged naked for hours, on a hill where everyone in the city and in the surrounding areas would be able to see. The more modern gallows or electric chair would be much more humane. And those who died upon a cross were always seen as cursed by God and by man. It was unthinkable that the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for and expecting all this time, the chosen and perfect One sent by God to redeem Israel, it was unthinkable that the Christ would die upon a cross. Even Muslims, who erroneously view Jesus as merely a good man and a Prophet of God, really can’t handle the fact that He died on the Cross. Such a thing would never happen to a Prophet of God. They usually say that someone else went in place of Jesus to die on the cross instead of Him. No one besides Jesus Himself was expecting such an end to His life or to the life of any Messiah or Holy One of God, so it’s not surprising that a few days later we have these two disciples on the road to Emmaus talking about the crucifixion and then saying, “But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” taking as fairly obvious that anyone who dies on a cross is thereby disqualified from being the Messiah and Redeemer. The reports that he had risen from the dead seem only to add to their confusion.

Now before we think that we would have caught on a lot sooner than these disciples, let’s think of all the times that we’ve experienced crosses in this life, illnesses, setbacks, tragedies, pandemics, corrupt systems that seem to be stacked against us, and how many times when we encounter these obstacles do we almost immediately start to question, “What have I done to deserve this? God must be punishing me for something. He must not love me like I thought He did. Why would God put someone He loves through all this?”

You see, most of us, like the disciples before us, just can’t wrap our minds around the mystery of suffering, how any good can come from it. Most of us believe, whether consciously or unconsciously, whether we admit it or not, in what is called the prosperity gospel or the theory of retribution, that those who do good and are faithful to God should enjoy God’s blessings and protection, even in this earthly life, and that if those blessings of health or wealth or prosperity are taken away, it’s because we’ve done something wrong, or God doesn’t love us like He used to. So for Jesus to die upon the cross seemed to be compelling evidence to His first disciples that He wasn’t actually as perfect or as innocent as everyone had thought.

So how do we have our eyes opened? How does the Cross of Christ change for us from being an undeniable curse into being the greatest of gifts entrusted to us by God? Only real faith and a radical shift in our perspective, surrendering to God’s will for our lives, can allow us to persevere in seeing God’s love amid the crosses of this life, to see God’s love for us expressed in a special way even through our sharing in the trials and sufferings of Christ, even as Jesus was the One to redeem Israel precisely through His death on the Cross and not in spite of it. For the first disciples, it took the power of the Holy Spirit to open their minds to the meaning of Sacred Scripture. It took the power of Christ’s Resurrection to lift them up from their fears. I know in my own life, at different times, I’ve often been afraid of becoming too holy, drawing too close to God, because I saw how much so many of the great Saints have suffered throughout history, but the love of God transforms our sufferings. So what’s still holding us back from giving ourselves entirely to Christ, surrendering ourselves completely into the Father’s hands even as Jesus did upon the Cross? What comfort or convenience do we still love more than we love God?

Permission to Grieve

Homily, Funeral of Travis, 39

First, on behalf of St. Anthony Parish, I want to extend to all the family and friends of Travis our heartfelt condolences and a promise to continue to pray for the repose of his soul and that those who mourn his loss would find consolation in God. Over this past week or since I received the news, I’ve been wondering what I should say, or trying to imagine what this must be like especially for N. (wife) and N. (son), what I would most be needing to hear. Of course I can’t imagine what this must be like for you, or for Travis’s sisters or parents, or even for his friends. Travis was one of a kind, and so the grief of losing him is particular to each one of you. But what I most want to convey to you this morning and what I think is most important for us to hear in the face of tragedy is that it’s okay to be sad. It’s normal. It’s okay to be angry. It’s normal in this situation. It’s not fair to have to bury a son, a brother, a husband, a dad, when he’s only 39 years old. It’s not fair. It’s okay to be negative about this.

I think too often we feel pressured to move too quickly to try and put a positive spin on everything. We almost don’t even give ourselves permission or time to really grieve. Certain cultures have more established customs at observing formal times of mourning. In the Bible, it’s usually around 30 days that they observe this time of grieving after experiencing a significant loss. Sometimes the whole nation would be in mourning, like after the death of Moses. They might wear black or dark colors, or wear their hair differently, even as visible signs to the people around them that they’ve lost someone very dear to them.

Even the Church has shied away from some of these customs more recently, and not always helpfully. Black vestments used to be standard at funerals, expressing solidarity with those who are still coming to grips with a significant loss and not just glossing over that reality. Now we often see white vestments at funerals, meant to point us to the Resurrection of Jesus, but we know the reality is, it might take more than three days, more than thirty days, to start to experience something of the Resurrection after such a loss. And that’s okay. Give yourself permission to really grieve.

And when we pray, give to God whatever is on your heart. God wants you. He doesn’t want what you think you’re supposed to be. He wants you. When you’re sad, He wants to hear about it. When you’re angry, express that to God. Too often when we go to pray, I think we have this feeling like we just have to be thankful and pretend that everything’s great when we talk to God, but that’s not actually what we find in the Bible. Job spends a lot of his time complaining to God and wrestling with why tragedies happen to those who don’t deserve it. Jeremiah and his Book of Lamentations are definitely not bubbling over with positivity. And of the 150 Psalms, the Prayerbook of the Bible, over 40 % of the Psalms could be characterized as Psalms of Complaint. I hope you feel comfortable complaining to God because He wants to hear from you even when that’s all that’s in our heart to give Him. Or if all that we can manage is to sit with God in silence.

The other issue I’d like to address is that an accident is just that: an accident. This wasn’t part of anybody’s plan. This wasn’t anybody’s fault. This wasn’t anything that God wanted to happen. It’s tragic. It doesn’t make sense. But God is with you through this. And He will give you what you need to carry on. I’ve always loved depictions of the Pieta. We have one right here on the left side of the church. Just to contemplate everything that was in the heart of Mary in those moments, to see her beloved Son and Lord cut down in the prime of His life. Please ask our Mother Mary to draw close to you during this time. Trust that she knows something of what you’re experiencing right now. And trust that God will give you the strength to bear it, even as He gave Mary every grace in suffering. And entrust Travis, your son, your brother, your husband, your dad, your friend, into her gentle arms.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Humbled by Trust

Homily, Easter Sunday 2A

Before the events of today’s Gospel, the last time that Jesus had been gathered together with His disciples in the upper room was, of course, for the Last Supper. At the Last Supper, Jesus foretold the betrayal that one of them would carry out, but Peter had proclaimed that he would follow Jesus even if that meant having to die with Him, and the Gospel says, all the rest of the disciples made similar professions of their constancy and willingness to suffer. But by the time we see the Twelve on Good Friday, all of them, except for John, had run away and abandoned Jesus. The Good Shepherd was struck and put to death, and His sheep scattered. Judas had betrayed Him. Three times, Peter had denied any knowledge of Him. In the hour of His greatest need, these chosen men who had left everything to follow Him, they finally abandoned their Lord and Savior to public execution by the Romans on the wood of the Cross. Maybe one of the reasons why the Apostles were slow to believe or didn’t want to believe the reports that Jesus had really risen from the dead, was because they were afraid of what He would say or do to them after what they had done, or failed to do, for him on Good Friday. Desertion is a serious crime.

Now imagine if you had been through what Jesus went through, and these Twelve whom you had chosen and invested in for three years had all turned tail and fled during your Hour of greatest need. What do you think would be your first words to them, the next time you saw them? What are the first words of Jesus to His Apostles that we hear in today’s Gospel? Instead of scolding them or asking them where they were while He was being handed over to death, His first words to them are, “Peace be with you.” And when He had shown them His hands and His side to let them know that it was really Him, Jesus even says to them a second time, “Peace be with you.” He not only tries to comfort them after they had so miserably failed to support Him, Jesus even goes on to entrust to them His own sacred mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And He breathed upon them the Holy Spirit, the very life of God.

This is the Divine Mercy that we celebrate today, the infinite mercy of God. Jesus never gives up on us. Even when we have abandoned Him, and denied Him so many times and in so many ways through our words and actions, through our sins, His invitation always remains. His peace is always ready to console us and even to entrust to us His own mission in the world today. We often think humility comes from being humiliated and brought low, and when we’ve let someone down the way the Apostles had abandoned Jesus, we almost want to be punished. We want Him to be mad at us, to scold us, but it often humbles us even more when we are lifted high, knowing that we don’t deserve it. When we realize once again not how angry God is, but just how patient God is with us. Just how good He is. And then to realize that despite the number of times we’ve screwed everything up, He still knows that we are capable of great good if we would finally rely on His power. He trusts us to carry out His own work in the world today, even though we’ve proven so many times to be unworthy of trust. That’s the mercy of God that humbles us, shocks us, hopefully moves us to repentance.

The incomplete, counterfeit version of mercy and love that the world tends to talk about today is merely tolerance or enabling, even indifference. But God doesn’t just put up with us or look the other way. The truly amazing thing about a God who really loves us is that Jesus wants to see us actually turn away from our sins and start to do the very same things that He Himself did during His time on earth. And God breathes upon us His own Holy Spirit, not just to cover us over superficially with the snow of His righteousness, but to really transform our minds and hearts, to redirect our desires and give us that strength to carry out the mission of Christ in our daily lives.

What is the mission of Christ that He entrusted to His Apostles, the work that He started that they were to continue? What is the mission that Jesus still entrusts to each of us today? Nothing less than to reconcile the world to God. The Holy Spirit gives each of us the strength to challenge ourselves and to look for opportunities with those we interact with on a daily basis, to challenge everyone we meet to take more seriously our relationship with God. Even if it’s not popular today to talk about or to be serious about religion, the Holy Spirit helps us to share with others our relationship with Jesus Christ, to invite others back to Mass and to Confession, to invite non-Catholics to become Catholic, to join the one Church that Jesus Himself founded.

I guarantee that it was not culturally acceptable for Peter and the Apostles after Pentecost to tell the crowds, “You crucified the Son of God. Now be baptized, every one of you, into His Name, because there is no salvation, there is no true life for any of us except through the Name and in relationship with Jesus Christ.” What Peter and the Apostles told the Jewish crowds was not culturally acceptable, but this was not a concern for them, and it should not be a concern for any disciple of Jesus Christ. If we are truly grateful for the Divine Mercy that we have received from almighty God, why are we so hesitant to share that with others, to invite others to experience that same mercy, the only life that’s worth living, in relationship with God? And when we know that our sins cannot satisfy us, why do we hesitate to leave them behind, once and for all, to finally allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and minds, to set us free from the mere tolerance or indifference that the world offers?

Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so now Jesus sends each of you, to proclaim the Gospel and to reconcile sinners into right relationship with God. No one else is going to do it for us. The mission of Christ is now our mission, Christ Himself working through us. There is no other work during the course of our entire lives that is going to matter more once we reach the end. Receive the Holy Spirit, and become instruments of God’s infinite mercy.