I Am A Priest Forever!

Holy Thursday 2016

I AM A PRIEST FOREVER!

"To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek Him is the greatest

adventure, to find Him is the greatest human achievement." --St. Augustine

 

 "The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.” - St. John Vianney 

Scripture states, "God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God and God lives in him" (1 John 16). Is there anyone or anything in this life which can compare to the Love these words describe? It took approximately 10 years from the day I entered the Carmelite Monastery in San Jose, California, to the day I was ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ on August 4, 2007. I remember lying prostrate on the marble floor in the sanctuary of St. Therese Church. I can still feel the cold hard marble against my forehead; I can hear the Litany of the Saints rising up to heaven; I can hear the Prayers of the Faithful while my heart raced with anticipation and fear! Many times I have re-imagined the imposition of hands upon my head by the Bishop and the anointing of my hands with the fragrant oil of chrism. My hands then were tightly wrapped in cloth and at that moment I was eternally bound to Christ, the Bridegroom, and His Church, the Bride. I watched the oil seep into the cloth which awaited the hands of my mother, as her hands will one day be wrapped with the same cloth on the day of her burial. 

"You are a priest of the order of Melchizedek, and forever" (Hebrews 7: 18). I am a priest forever! Through the priesthood I have been able to experience the love of God described in John’s Gospel: "God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God and God lives in him" (1 John 16). Through the priesthood I have even been able to understand these penetrating words of St. Augustine: "To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek Him the greatest adventure, to find Him the greatest human achievement."  I am in love! My life, though lacking in years, has been an amazing adventure, and to find Jesus in His Priesthood has been my greatest achievement.  My Bride is, of course, the Church, and there can be no other! The Bride of Christ is my Bride.  My Bride is beautiful to behold and wonderful to be with. She is the Bride that demands everything from her Spouse. Jesus calls me each day to love His Bride with renewed love made in acts of service, patience, and forgiveness.  I am in love! And as every husband knows, “The measure of Love is to Love without measure” (Francis de Sales). 

I love the way my Bride sparkles as she is effortlessly one with the light. Her gentle glow in the morning before she is ablaze.  I love the way my Bride smells with the fragrance of incense as its billowing smoke makes its way to God’s Altar on High.  I love the way she sings to her Bridegroom at Mass through her sacred music. I love Her prayers that console, heal, and forgive. I love the intimate whispers that I make to her at every Mass. I love her gentle and yet demanding responses that pierce my heart. My words are her words, my will is her will, my intention is her intention. 

I love Her saints who inspire us so much by their heroic faith. Most especially, I love the martyrs because they preferred to die than to betray Her. I love to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.   How amazing it is to stand at the altar of sacrifice and repeat those consummating words of consummation: "This is my Body which will be given up for you";  "This is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." 

"God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God and God lives in him.” This life lived in love would have never been possible were it not for the love and encouragement I received and experienced in a loving home, where my parents passed on to me the greatest gift of all: the gift of faith--faith in a God we cannot always see. My parents taught me that God is a Father who whispers while the world is clanging all around us. My parents taught us to respond to God no matter what God is asking from us…everything and everyone. I am in love, and I love being a Catholic priest.  

In every adventure in life there are always difficulties, trials, and persecutions.  Just as married couples experience moments of tremendous obstacles, so do priests.  However, St. Paul reminds us that “love endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7). One of the most difficult challenges for me as a priest is preaching, especially when I preach what is not “popular” in our society today. However, St. Paul gives me courage in his words to St. Timothy: "Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort; be unfailing in patience and in teaching… for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching; but, having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" (2 Timothy 4).  

As a priest, it is a constant challenge to suffer when the Bride is sick. When she suffers the pains of this world, the priest does not stand idle but preaches in defense of his Bride. Like Christ, the priest takes on the sins of the world one after the other in every confession. He is weighed down with the Cross our Lord carried 2,000 years ago on Calvary. I have seen and have heard of things that would cause the strongest of men to retreat from the battle. However, I have not and will never give up, because I am convinced that the promise of Jesus is true, that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail" (Matthew 16:18). While we are still healing from the past sins of some bishops and priests, it is important for us to focus on the saints of the Church, not her sinners; and it is essential that we strive to be among those saints.  It is easy to complain and to point fingers. Yet, we can all agree that it is difficult to live authentic lives of holiness--no matter what vocation God has given us. 

On June 3, 2017, Fr. Albert will celebrate 50 years a priest! On August 29, 2016, Fr. Bernard will celebrate 34 years a priest! On August 4, I will be celebrate nine years as a priest. And this weekend, on June 18, 2016, our brother Charles will be ordained to the Holy Priesthood of Jesus Christ! We heard God calling, whispering, proposing--and we each answered, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” The adventure continues until death…but there is no parting with this Bride, for she remains eternal. My prayer every night before I sleep is that I may faithfully persevere until that day when the Lord calls me to eternal rest. That is how the adventure ends and begins. On that day, I hope to say, along with St. Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).  

"To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek him the greatest

adventure, to find him the greatest human achievement."  I am a priest forever!


I Want to See God!

October 7, 2019

I WANT TO SEE GOD!

  

When I was living in Phoenix, I would frequently climb Camelback Mountain. Some would argue that it is a rather small mountain, but small mountains have their share of challenges, too! Mountains are sometimes mystifying to us when seen from the street, pictured on a post card, or viewed as backdrops in the movies, because they may appear at first sight merely flat, wide, and tall. No big deal, right? But mountains are a big deal! They are complicated labyrinths of canyons, jagged rocks, massive valleys, forests, rivers, lakes, lava, and too many more obstacles to mention; and there are gazillions of creatures living in them: mosquitoes, oxen, moose, and more!

There is a point on Camelback Mountain less than halfway up where I would decide whether or not to continue to ascend the steep incline full of loose rocks and with few reliable footholds. After all, it was a good enough workout just getting to that point, the views were pretty good and, although I was tired, I felt content. Besides, I knew that if I decided to go up further, there would only be more steep sections to climb with new challenges to overcome. However, there was always that inner conversation that I had when I would climb this mountain: “Should I continue or should I go back?” 

Do you know what the word “mediocre” means? Its etymology may surprise you! It comes from the Latin word "mediocris," from "medius" (middle) plus "ocris" (jagged mountain). So it literally means the “middle of a jagged mountain”! How many of us have stopped halfway through a project and given up? Or maybe we have given up on our marriage, a sibling who has left the Church, or a bully at school. Maybe what we have given up on is as minor as quitting a team or giving up on a sport that is too demanding. Or maybe we’ve given up on something much more serious, such as aborting a baby due to a fear of pregnancy. Maybe we have given up anytime life gets too rough or jagged in the climb. Maybe we have just given up all together. Mediocre! 

I want to see God! I want to see the views that only the top of a mountain can provide! There is a great quote from Isaiah 25 that I like to ponder: “On this Mountain He will destroy the veil that veils all people.” That’s it! I want to see clearly! I want to see Him face to face without anything obstructing the view! The only way to “destroy this veil” is to continue climbing through jagged cliffs and ascend to the top! We can’t turn around halfway, we can’t give up, we can’t give in and “go with the flow”. I want to see God! The perfect view, unobstructed and beautiful, is waiting for us who keep walking in the dark “valley of the shadow of death,” the straight and narrow way, the road less traveled. The top is near where the view is clear. Keep climbing! 

Sometimes we can find ourselves in a similar conversation when we are ascending the spiritual mountain. Of course, these words remind every Carmelite of the great Masterpiece of spiritual climbing from St. John of the Cross and his classic, The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, wherein he states: “The soul is wearied and fatigued by its desires… the (desires) disturb it, allowing it not to rest in any place or in any thing… the desires and indulgence in them all cause it greater emptiness and hunger” (Book 1:6). 

Clearly, this metaphorical mountain challenges us to overcome the twists and turns of our own fickle desires, our hesitations which cause us to doubt and turn back, giving up and turning back when we reach the halfway mark of the middle of the jagged mountain. No, we cannot afford to be mediocre! The reward is too great and the consequences for giving up are too dangerous! St. John of the Cross encourages us to keep climbing the straight and narrow path and let God be our constant desire and drive to keep climbing--and nothing else. God is offering us a clear view to see Him face-to-face, but we must conquer the mountain first to see the unobstructed view of eternity. I want to see God! 

The Prophet Habakkuk sounds like he is despairing that God is not listening or helping him. How many of us can identify with his words from the first reading: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen. I cry to you ‘Violence!’ But you do not intervene” (Hab 1:2)? Let’s look at Habakkuk's “jagged mountain”: Babylonian exile, Israelites losing their faith in God and turning to weird, creepy pagan “gods” for help, Jerusalem is under siege, the temple destroyed… Oh, my! Maybe we can better understand why Habakkuk said to God, “you do not listen, you do not intervene.” How often when a crisis comes do we concentrate only on the crisis instead of on God? This is the common fault of humanity in every era of time. Maybe our faith is strong when everything is going well, when I am being promoted at work, when the kids are healthy, and when the internet connection is strong. However, when a crisis hits, we can easily pray like Habakkuk, saying “you do not listen, you do not intervene”. Then many will question if God really exists! Sounds like us today, huh? Let’s take a closer look at how God responds to Habakkuk's prayer. God said, “…the just one, because of his faith, shall live” (Hab 2:4). Have faith that God is really with us, and we shall live through these most difficult times in our lives. 

I want to see God! Looking back down the mountain, instead of looking up to the top where we will have unobstructed views, is a temptation we all get halfway up the mountain. Recall that every time the Hebrews suffered a setback in the desert after escaping from Egypt, they complained and said that it was better in Egypt and they should never have left. Now I know we would never do that, right? Well, have you ever thought or said something like, “I wish we hadn’t moved here”; “I was happier when I was single”; “I wish I were young again”; “I wish I could go back in time and fix all my mistakes”; or “if I knew then what I know now...” We have all thought about “going back to Egypt!” Going backwards is not advancing up the mountain to where we know we must all end up: At the TOP! 

I want to see God! Hard times provide the opportunity for us to grow, to get stronger, wiser, holier. Hard times are necessary! We learn from our mistakes at work, in sports, struggling through algebra, correcting bad behavior before it becomes an addiction! Too often we forget that GOD IS WITH US in those hard times, just as He is with us in the good times! Yes, God is with us, especially in the hardest times of our lives. Think about it: Sick children, aging parents, recovering patients, etc., are the folks that rightfully get our undivided attention. Why would we think anything would be different with God? Like a good Father, He is closest with those who most need His undivided attention. Crises are an opportunity for us to grow in faith, which is what the readings today are all about. Having faith that God is with us on the jagged mountain we are climbing, when our marriages need fixing, when in our house is a sick child, or a dying parent, or a brother with an addiction, or a prodigal son or prodigal daughter. 

I want to see God! Like God who is encouraging Habakkuk in today’s first reading, so St. Paul is encouraging Timothy in the second reading. Timothy is told to fan into a flame the gift of priesthood he received at ordination by St. Paul’s hands: "I remind you to stir into a flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord…” (2 Tim 1:6-8). Deliver us, Lord, from this evil spirit of cowardice and give us the courage to get off our butts and to do your Will! Remember our Lord’s words when He said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). What are the priests and bishops waiting for?! Faith in the power of our Lord’s priesthood is wanting--both in the ordained and in the laity. “Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Yes, even priests can look back down the mountain. We can be tempted to abandon the trek and return to the bottom of the mountain. This happens more than we may realize. 

I want to see God! In today’s Gospel, Jesus encourages us to pray with faith and duty. I think the Gospel illustrates for us that we need to be mindful of HIM WHOM WE SERVE. Yes, we are faithfully serving God out of our duty to serve God. We can serve in many vocations, but we need to understand that whatever our situation is in life, we are serving GOD. Too often, we make demands of God to serve us--and right away! “Help my marriage right now!”; “Fix my mistakes right now!”; “Help me pass the biology final that I didn’t study for right now”; “Take away my poverty right now!” How many of us expect God to answer our every request right now? What happens when He doesn’t answer our prayers right away? Do we storm away like embittered children? Do we walk away from the Church because the demands of being a Christian Disciple are too hard? Do we go out looking for more reliable gods to fix our problems? Why is it so hard for us to understand the concept of serving the God who created us and loves us, to the point of giving us His only begotten Son, and who is offering us everything in Eternity? Instead of us serving God out of faith and duty, we demand that He serve us! No bueno! Look again at the Gospel. Jesus is saying that we need to serve the Master and when our work is finished, we will be satisfied. 

As we reflect on our own faith in God, ponder these words that were found written on a cellar wall in Cologne after World War II: 

“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.

I believe in love, even when I feel it not.

I believe in God, even when He is silent.” 

As this faith-filled quote shows us, God is with us in the jagged mountain! Even when we can’t hear Him, see Him, or understand Him in our misery, He is with us always!  Do YOU want to see God? Then keep climbing!


Omission May Lead to Commission

September 29, 2019

OMISSION MAY LEAD TO COMMISSION 

What is the sin that is committed in the parable recorded in the 16th Chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel that would send this poor sumptuously-dining, well-dressed rich man to a place of torment? Again, isn’t our Lord being a little t-o-o harsh here? Well, let’s unpack and personally reflect on these readings.

Amos describes a person who is slothful, rich, at ease in Zion. He also implies that these people are lazy, lying on beds of ivory, stretched out on couches. Hmmmmmm? Now that’s an interesting image to reflect upon! Do we know any lazy folks who stretch out on couches? He also describes the rich as being entertained by idle songs and who drink wine from bowls. Here we can imagine nightclubs, overpriced sports bars, or those just sitting idle in front of the TV or computer, binge-watching some mindless series. I’m just throwing out some possible examples to think about. Amos also speaks about the indifference among the Israelites. He says they are not grieved at the ruin of “Joseph” (Joseph is another name for the Northern Kingdom of Israel). So how does indifference apply to us today in our society? Well, maybe we just “go with the flow” when it comes to abortion, or euthanasia, or transgenderism, or folks who live in disordered relationships, such as practicing homosexuals, or the divorced among us who think it’s okay to live with their new partner. Again, I’m just throwing out some ideas that might help us resonate on being indifferent. So what are we going to do about it? The silence is deafening. Besides, some might say, “I’m a good person. I don’t hurt anyone. Can’t we all just get along and each mind our own business?” B-o-o-o-o-o-o-o! 

Let's talk about the nameless rich man in today’s Gospel. First of all, our Lord does not describe him as dishonest, as He did about the stealing steward in last Sunday’s Gospel. Nor does He present him as an immoral person sleeping with prostitutes, like the Prodigal Son. Actually, the rich man described in today’s Gospel might even be a “nice guy,” educated, and respected in society. Is he a practicing Jew going to synagogue every week? Is he mindful of the commandments and maybe even prays once in a while? Granted, the Scriptures don’t mention any of this, but we can presume some of these things are true. Right? Here is how Jesus describes the rich man: Luxuriously-dressed in purple garments (as a king would wear) and gluttonously-feasting on sumptuous food every night (maybe at Ruth’s Chris Steak House?). His sin was not his wealth but his indifference to poor Lazarus, covered with sores and starving. His sin is what we would call the SIN OF OMISSION. Decidedly, the rich man’s wealth contributed to his being distracted and indifferent to his less fortunate neighbor, Lazarus. 

Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the rich man from this parable in his encyclical, Spe Salvi: “Jesus admonishes us through the image of a soul destroyed by arrogance and opulence, a soul who has created an impassable chasm between himself and the poor man; the chasm of being trapped within material pleasures; the chasm of forgetting the other, the chasm of the incapacity to love, which then becomes a burning and unquenchable thirst. We must note that in this parable Jesus is not referring to the final destiny after the Last Judgment, but is taking up a notion found in early Judaism; namely, that of an intermediate state between death and resurrection, a state in which the final sentence is yet to be pronounced” (No. 44). 

Look, we are all tempted to sin and some sins are graver than others are. Yet, seldom do we think of the reality of sin when we are also tempted NOT to do good. What? Is it possible to be doing nothing wrong and still be living in sin? Yes! Recall again the nameless rich man in today’s Gospel or the indifferent Israelites in the Book of Amos. Their sin is the sin of not doing what they should be doing and not doing what is demanded of them by God’s commandment, which is to Love God and Neighbor. But “who is my neighbor?,” you may ask? How can we ask that question when there are so many references in the Bible that demand us to love the stranger, like the Good Samaritan did; or to love even when you have been taken advantage of, like the Prodigal Son’s father was; or to love your enemy like Christ did when He begged His Father for forgiveness for those who crucified Him. Being indifferent to the stranger among us is easy to do and it is also dangerous to our soul! 


The Sin Of Omission

by Margaret Elizabeth Sangster

It isn't the thing you do, dear;
It's the thing you leave undone,
Which gives you a bit of heartache
At the setting of the sun.
The tender word forgotten,
The letter you did not write,
The flower you might have sent, dear,
Are your haunting ghosts tonight.

The stone you might have lifted
Out of brother's way,
The bit of heartsome counsel
You were hurried too much to say;
The loving touch of the hand, dear,
The gentle and winsome tone,
That you had no time nor thought for,
With troubles enough of your own.

The little acts of kindness,
So easily out of mind;
Those chances to be angels
Which every one may find
They come in night and silence
Each chill, reproachful wraith
When hope is faint and flagging
And a blight has dropped on faith.

For life is all too short, dear,
And sorrow is all too great;
To suffer our great compassion
That tarries until too late;
And it's not the thing you do, dear,
It's the thing you leave undone,
Which gives you the bit of heartache
At the setting of the sun.


On the Road to Jerusalem

August 4, 2019

ON THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM

The Hebrew word for vanity is "hebel," and it translates literally as "vapor, mist, breath, or bubbles." In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth speaks about one who has labored using wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and who must now leave his property to one who has not labored over it at all. We can easily think about this situation in relation to people (children, lawyers, banks, governments) who eagerly wait to receive an inheritance (property, money, things). Qoheleth also asks us the question, "What profit comes from toil and anxiety of heart"? He refers to such toil as sorrow and grief being man's occupation in life. I am reminded of Martha from the Gospel reading of two weeks ago, who was scolded by Our Lord for being anxious and worried about many things ("pulled away" - perispaô). 

In today's Gospel, Jesus gives a parable about the anxiety of a rich man worried about increasing his wealth: "Even at night his mind is not at rest" (pulled away). This sentence may challenge us to ponder the words of the "Our Father": "Give us this day our daily bread," words which show our reliance on God to provide for us. In Jinja, our Carmelite Mission in Uganda, Africa, the people there and in the surrounding villages live by this kind of reliance on God in a way that we in our country cannot even conceive--unless we have actually seen it for ourselves. Every day they sell their produce, which they have grown and gathered themselves, in order to provide for their families. They do not store up anything in pantries, shelves, refrigerators, closets, garages, storage units, etc. 

In the second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Colossians to "think of what is above, not what is on earth" and to "put to death the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, greed, idolatry, lying". He also says, "Seek what is above..." which, for us, could refer to more modern earthly distractions like the widespread addiction to the internet,  "anti"-social media, and cell phones--each of which can lead to acquiring knowledge of sinful things. 

The last several weeks' Gospels have focused on Jesus' moving closer and closer to His final destination: Jerusalem. The first eight chapters of Luke's Gospel show Jesus beginning his Mission in Galilee (remember, He could not pass through the Samaritan town as He and His disciples began their journey from the Northern Kingdom down to the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem). What is He travelling towards? Death. He is determined and resolute to achieve His death. In Luke's Gospel, we are introduced to the Good Samaritan and we also hear about Jesus arriving at Martha's house where He rebukes His host because she was anxious and worried or "pulled away" from Him because of her chores. Last week Jesus taught us to call God, "Father". This week, as Jesus continues His long journey to Jerusalem, He gives us instructions on greed!  As we look at today's readings, we see a common theme of mortality and death threading through them: 

  • First Reading (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23): We must leave all our property behind to someone who never labored for it:  Death!

 

  • Psalm: "You turn man back to dust; you make an end to them in their sleep. Teach us to number our days": Death!

 

  • Second Reading (Col. 3:1-5, 9-11): "Think of what is above and not of what is on the earth": Death!

 

  • Gospel (Luke 12:13-21): "You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?":  Death!  

 

This past Saturday I offered a Funeral Mass for a friend and parishioner, Roland De La Rosa. He died, leaving behind a young wife and three young boys. Death does not discriminate! It does not care whether you have children or whether you are a child, what age you are, how much wealth you have or how poor you are, how educated or how ignorant you are, what your color or creed are, or how powerful, important and resourceful you may think you are. No, death does not discriminate, and we should be preparing every day of our lives to reach our final destination. Jesus was "resolutely determined" to go to Jerusalem where He would be put to death on a Cross. 

Today's Gospel begins with two brothers asking Jesus to be their mediator in their argument about an inheritance one of them received. In quarrelling about the inheritance, these brothers are mocking the generosity of the person from whom they received the gift. They are pulled apart! In this Gospel reading Jesus says, "...life does not consist of possessions." At the end of your life, when you stand before God on the Day of Judgment, will you show Him all of your possessions, your degrees, all of your techno-savvy devices, your name-brand shoes? Maybe you'll proudly show Him all the junk you have stored up in your garage or... maybe you can't wait to present to God your jam-packed storage units, your vintage car collection, your overflowing jewelry box, your upcoming book, or whatever it is you have that you take satisfaction in. 

The Greek word for "greed" is "pleonexia," which is the state of desiring to have more than one's due. Do you have a voracious appetite for acquiring things? Then you may be in a state of pleonexia. St. Paul says in his letter to Timothy, "The desire of money is the root of all evil" (not money itself). A greedy person is a selfish person who often has a warped value towards earthly things. Such a person is often disconnected from other people, if not outright cruel to them. A rich fool is someone who lays up treasure for himself on earth; while a wise person is someone who builds up treasure in Heaven. The first stage of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Psalm 14 says, "The fool says in his heart, there is no God." The word "fool" may be hard to hear coming from the mouth of Jesus, but it is a word used in the Old Testament to describe someone who has forgotten God or who has rebelled against God. 

I challenge you to take some time today and meditate on or ponder your own mortality. Do you ever think of death? What will you present to God as treasure you have built up for Heaven? How will people remember you? What will they say about you after you die? What do you want people to say about you after you die? Are you like Our Loving Savior, who continues His journey towards Jerusalem where He will be put to death, in being resolutely determined to prepare yourself for the unavoidable and holy event of death?


Sever the Thread

October 22, 2017

SEVER THE THREAD

“A bird cannot fly if it has a chain around its leg or even a thread.

To soar high in the spiritual life, we must cut and sever our

disordered attachments and affections.” -St. John of the Cross 

Our Lord once said that His sheep will hear His voice and follow Him. If we hear the voice of the Shepherd, do we follow Him?  The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah gives us the fatherly imagery of God taking the hand of His servant and leading him ("God grasped the right hand of Cyrus and led him" -Isa. 45:1). This is a very familiar action that dads provide for their children daily. Oftentimes on the playground, one of our students needs to hold the hand of a teacher and be walked to the office. Many times after Mass, I have held the hand of a scared child looking for his or her parent. Sometimes dads hold their child’s hand extra tight while crossing a busy intersection or entering a crowded store. It’s a familiar image to all of us and it is a really nice image to have of God, holding our hand, leading us, and getting us where we need to go safely, just like He did for Cyrus. 

The second reading from St. Paul to the Church in Thessalonica reminds us to call to mind our work. Is the work we are so busy doing a work of faith or is it a work of vainglory? Paul is essentially reminding us that while God does indeed love us, He has chosen us to work in that Love who is Jesus Christ and by the Power of His Holy Spirit, like when we are participating at Mass. The word "Liturgy," after all, means "work of the people". Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do; just let God the Father take your hand and lead you. 

Today's Gospel is perplexing. Here are men who have spent their entire lives waiting for this moment of the Messiah and yet are so blinded by their vain work and self-glorification, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy, that our Lord calls them “MALICIOUS”! Why do they fail to recognize the Christ! They don’t seem hear His voice and they certainly don’t show any desire to follow Jesus as His disciples. Rather, they deliberately want to trick Him in order to have Him arrested by the Romans. 

A subtle irony in the Gospel is that these“malicious hypocrites” had no problem immediately producing a Roman coin all on their own! Johnny on the Spot! Does that sound like a good day’s work to you? You see, they are exactly like those wicked tenants in the Gospel a few weeks back. Remember, they were the ones who didn’t want to give back what never belonged to them. It is a humble reminder to us priests that the Church in the 21st Century does not belong to us any more than the temple belonged to the Jews in the 1st Century. Pope John XXIII had it right when he prayed, “It’s your Church; I’m going to bed.” 

Have you ever wondered why in the Sacred Scriptures some hear the voice of Christ and others seem not to hear His Voice at all? Pagans heard His voice, tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, widows, Roman centurions, the thief crucified next to our Lord heard his Voice--and stole Heaven! But why can’t these educated men, these scribes, lawyers, Herodians, high priests, Pharisees, “Holy Men,” hear His voice? Well I don’t know about you, but the more desperate I become for God, the easier it is to hear His Voice, to take His hand, to follow where He leads, and hopefully to die with our Lord at my side just like the good thief who stole heaven. 

There is a story of a mountain climber who was desperate to conquer a very dangerous mountain all by himself. He initiated his climb after years of preparation. But he wanted the glory for himself; therefore, he went up the mountain alone. (They make tragic movies out of stories like these!) This was going to be his “big fish” story and probably a “shaggy dog” story, too! His success was to be told to all his family and friends and anyone else who would sit in amazement listening to him tell and retell his heroic story over and over and over. 

He started climbing, taking with him only what was needed. As it was becoming late in the day, he had not yet reached his goal. He did not prepare for the weather to change, but it did and he decided to keep on going. It will just add greatness to his amazing story, he thought. Soon it got dark. Night fell upon the mountain. He climbed to a very high, dangerous altitude. Visibility was zero. Everything was black. There was no moon. The stars were covered by clouds. As he was climbing a ridge, he slipped and fell. Falling rapidly, he could only see blotches of darkness and tree limbs that scraped his body and broke as he fell through them. He was alone and falling! In those anguishing moments, good and bad memories passed through his mind. He thought certainly he would die.

But then he felt a jolt that almost tore him in half. Yes! Like any good mountain climber, he had secured himself with a long rope tied to his waist and securely fastened to a strong rock now high above him. In those moments of stillness, suspended in the air, he had no other choice but to shout: “HELP ME! HELP ME!” There was none to answer him. As a last resort, he prayed: "Please, God, help me! Get me down!". 

All of a sudden, he heard a still small voice from heaven: “What do you want me to do for you?” “SAVE ME!,” he impatiently exclaimed. “Do you REALLY believe that I can save you?” “OF COURSE! YOU ARE GOD, aren’t you?!” “Yes, I am God and I will save you. All you have to do is cut the rope that is holding you up and you will live.”  There was a long moment of silence and stillness, hesitation held his heart closed. The man just held tighter to the rope. He would not let go. The next day a rescue team found a frozen mountain climber hanging firmly to a rope. His hands were frozen together clutching the rope that suspended his body only TWO FEET OFF THE GROUND!

We all have our mountains to climb and we all face chaos and fear.  You and I have our own stories to tell and our own moments when God turns that which is unbearably painful into something meaningful--when God turns our fears into total abandonment and trust. When that happens, our Good Father will take our hands and lead us to safety.  

Dear Friends, know this: Whatever mountain you are climbing today--whatever challenges you face, whatever it is you are looking for--cannot be fulfilled in vainglory, big fish stories, or building your kingdom on earth.  Whatever you are looking for can only be discovered by a spiritual journey with and for God. A journey that is arduous, humble, and rewarding.  All we need to do is cut the rope!  Or, as John of the Cross puts it, “A bird cannot fly if it has a chain around its leg or even a thread. To soar high in the spiritual life, we must cut and sever our disordered attachments and affections.” 

So, "sever the thread" and fall into the arms of your loving Father!


The Ladder of Humility

September 1, 2019

THE LADDER OF HUMILITY

 

Have you ever played the game, "King of the Mountain"? It's the game of pushing each other off a hill of some sort so you can be on top—and then fighting to stay on top of the “mountain”. If you have bigger siblings, you may know how it feels to be pushed down the mountain! 

Climbing the ladder! Success! No matter what it takes!  What comes to mind when you hear these words: "Climbing the Ladder"? Well most of us understand this expression as "the path to success, to wealth, to popularity". Climbing the ladder will ultimately make you, “King of the Mountain”. If you are climbing the ladder, you may be trying to become more successful at work, more important in society, or more popular at school: Busboy to manager, seminarian to bishop, janitor to CEO, intern to president, backstage crew to superstar. These stories of success make great novels and movies and show our potential to do great things; but at what cost will you arrive at the top of these mountains? How many people will you push down before you become “King of the Mountain”? And what are you willing to do to remain at the top? 

The Ladder of Humility: The Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia (born 480 - died 543) speaks about a different kind of ladder: “The "Ladder of Humility," which is based on a line from today’s Gospel according to St. Luke: “He who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). St. Benedict says, “If we wish to reach the highest peak of humility and arrive at the heavenly heights, we must, by our good deeds, set up a ladder like Jacob’s Ladder, upon which he saw angels climbing up and down.” Without a doubt, we climb this spiritual ladder by humbling ourselves, and we go down this ladder of humility by praising ourselves. 

We all know of the popular twelve-step program from Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA"), invented in the 20th Century to help both alcoholics and people with addictions to drugs become and stay sober; well, you may be surprised to learn that there are also twelve steps on St. Benedict's famous Ladder. That makes St. Benedict's Ladder of Humility the first-ever Twelve-Step Program—invented by him around 1,500 years ago! However, St. Benedict’s 12-step program is not about addiction to alcohol or drugs; rather it is for those who are addicted to themselves! It is a program oriented around humility. 

 

Following are St. Benedict's twelve steps on his Ladder of Humility: 

STEP 1: Obey all of God’s commandments. In other words, act like God is God and you’re not. That's a pretty good place to start climbing! YOU ARE NOT GOD! 

STEP 2: Don’t bother to please yourself. As Luke's Gospel implies, don’t take the best seat at church. Don’t take the biggest slice of pie. Whatever it might be, always seek the lowest position for yourself. In other words, whatever your inclination is to please yourself, go against that and do the opposite. Or, as St. Paul teaches us, “Let no one seek his own good but that of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24). 

STEP 3: Be obedient... Listen to your superior, your spouse, your boss, your pastor; follow the laws of the land, drive the speed limit, do what your parents ask you to do. If you are a priest or a bishop, then STOP BEING DISOBEDIENT TO THE TEACHINGS OF THE CHURCH! Celebrate the Holy Mass with reverence, humility, and OBEDIENCE to the instructions spelled out before you! It’s NOT your Mass! 

STEP 4: Be patient and practice quiet perseverance when others inflict trials on you. No complaining! When was the last time you confessed the sin of complaining in the Sacrament of Confession? If you are somebody who complains all the time, you probably need to work on humility. The basic reason why people complain is they think they don’t deserve whatever problem they are dealing with. “Why me?”... “Why is this going wrong?”...“I don’t deserve this!” If you’ve ever committed a single mortal sin, what you do deserve is eternal separation from God forever! But that’s NOT in keeping with the nature of God. Mercy is God’s justice upon sinful humanity. But prideful complaining corrodes the virtue of humility like a cancer. Humility says, "Be patient and quietly persevere in everything that you have to endure." 

STEP 5: Thoroughly confess your sins and faults. There is nothing more humiliating than the Sacrament of Confession. Confessing sins is hard to do! I know this is true on both sides of the curtain! But we have to do it and do it often! 

STEP 6: Accept Crude and Harsh Tasks. No grumbling! If you’re a parent, and you have to change another diaper, just do it. Grumbling is also a sign of pride. Kids, if you didn’t make the mess, clean it up anyway. If you’re a teacher having to grade papers late into the night, DON’T GRUMBLE, if you are a priest having to go to the hospital on a sick call, DON’T GRUMBLE. Just Do IT! If your computer crashes in the middle of a term paper… well, that's the worst…try not to grumble for too long. 

STEP 7: Don’t only confess that you are inferior to others and that other people are better than you are, but really believe it in your heart. Start to see everyone else’s virtues as greater than yours! Instead of judging your neighbor and gossiping about others, EXALT them above yourself. Talk about their good deeds and not about their bad ones. “If you judge people, you have no time to love them” (Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta). 

STEP 8: Observe a strict Rule of Life. Benedict provided a RULE OF LIFE for his monks to follow. The same thing could be done in your life or within your family, like certain rules for the household. Follow a rule of life as a way of conquering your will for the greater common good of your family. This is a good exercise to help your family to work together like a religious community. You can write a list of “House Policies,” like The Rule of Life that St. Benedict wrote for his Monks. 

STEP 9: Practice silence. Only speak when necessary. St. John of the Cross says, “Silence is God’s first language”. Examine all the music you listen to, the TV shows you watch, the clutter of sound in your life (the internet, cell phones, social media, texting…BlaBlaBla!). 

STEP 10: Practice restraint from laughter and frivolity. Show restraint in telling jokes, especially bad ones! This step is very similar to “don’t talk too much.” A lot of times jokes and laughter are wonderful, and they can bring us lots of joy in family gatherings. However, joking around can also become a temptation to draw attention to oneself. “Showboats” who are always in the limelight can easily fall into vanity, sarcasm, exaggeration, bantering, profanity, uncharitable teasing, and interrupting others. People who are jokesters are often looking for too much attention. Showing restraint and discipline in those things is a very important step on the Ladder of Humility. 

STEP 11: Speak very few words, and speak those simply and seriously. Being a person of few words is also an act of humility and restraint. Jesus Christ says, "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting of it on the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36) and "Let your 'yes' mean 'yes,' and your 'no' mean 'no'. Anything more than this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37). 

STEP 12: Be modest; show humility in your appearance and actions. Practicing humility—both interiorly and exteriorly—is hard to do.  We need to dress modestly, speak and act with reverence to those around us, and be polite and kind to others. Ponder these words by John Milton: “True it is that covetousness is rich, modesty starves.” In other words, don’t give others a temptation to sin by the way you dress or act! 

Giving Alms / Mercy Giving = Treasure in Heaven: All of us have asked the question: Why do I have to give Alms?” How do you put out the raging fire of sin that consumes you? Sirach says, “Just as water puts out a fire, so almsgiving atones for sin.” Luke’s Gospel shows Jesus describing a kind of almsgiving wherein the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind are invited to dinner. When you feed those who can’t feed themselves (food to the poor), you are giving alms. What does it do to your sins when you serve the poor in a soup kitchen or when you provide food for those in countries where there is famine and drought, etc.? Well, according to Sirach, it's like pouring a bucket of water on your sins. Campfires are part of the fun of camping but everyone knows you can't leave a fire blazing all night long. So we take a bucket of water, pour it onto the fire, and eventually the whole thing goes out. What a great image for what almsgiving does for our sins! Almsgiving atones for our sins and extinguishes the consuming effects of sin. 

Yet when almsgiving is preached about at Mass, we ignore the message and thus miss out on the healing power it has over our sinful habits. You may be thinking right now, “Tithing doesn’t apply to me because I have debt" (OR "because I am so poor" OR "because I need stuff" OR "because I am waiting until I get a better job / graduate from college"...OR "because I have to pay off my car / house / credit card"…BlaBlaBla! The debt we all have is to God, and it is called SIN! And the way to put out that fire of sin, whether your sinful habits are smoldering, flickering, or raging, is to give alms! Unless, of course, Jesus is lying to us. C.S. Lewis asks his readers in Mere Christianity, “Is Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or LORD?” Of course, we all say the latter but then we choose what part of the LORD we want to emulate and follow. No bueno! It is "All or Nothing" when we follow the LORD’S teachings! 

Do you know what the Greek word is for alms? Notice in Luke’s Gospel that the first parable told to the guest was about humility. How is almsgiving connected with humility? Is Jesus giving us a lesson on Economics? Finance? Investments? No, this is a teaching about humility. A few weeks ago we heard Jesus’ teachings on almsgiving: "Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in Heaven that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34). 

“For where your Treasure is, there will your heart be also.” ~Luke 12:34

Clearly, our Lord is challenging all of us with the previous passage. We could interpret these words to mean, “Give until it hurts!” Or “Give until you really feel the sacrifice of giving.” "I had the experience but missed the meaning" (T. S. Eliot). That's the connection between humility and sacrifice. During Mass we hear, “Pray, Brethren, that my Sacrifice and yours be acceptable to GOD, the Almighty Father.” Keep in mind that we pray those words at every Mass almost at the very moment the collection basket is received by the altar server and placed in the sanctuary near the Altar of Sacrifice. So what is the collection all about anyway? Is it just so we can feel good about ourselves as we contribute towards the electric bill for this church? Or so we can feel some satisfaction that our donations may help others who are in need? The reality is that as we give alms, we are actually atoning for our sins and building up treasure in Heaven. Just as the gifts of bread and wine are placed on the altar to be transubstantiated into the BODY and BLOOD of Jesus Christ, so your sacrificial offering in the collection basket may be transformed into “Treasure in Heaven.” If you don’t believe that God can transform a few dollars into heavenly treasure, then how can you ever believe that bread and wine transubstantiates into the BODY, BLOOD, SOUL, AND DIVINITY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST?! 

But what does that treasure really look like? Let’s go back to my earlier question about what the word “alms” really means. The Greek word that St. Luke uses for alms is "ele-e¯mo-sune¯". It literally means “to have mercy.” Remember? Eleos is the word for mercy (KYRIE ELEISON). So almsgiving is mercy giving. When we give money, it is a symbol of our sacrifice and a sign of our detachment from material things; it is part of the treasure we are building up for ourselves in Heaven, which is MERCY! Easy-peasy, right? No, not really. If it were easy, the reward wouldn't be great. 

Mercy is to give food for the poor. Mercy is to care for the crippled, like the good Samaritan did (that cost him a good chunk of change!). What about caring for the lame, the sick, the blind, and for those who can’t afford to feed themselves? Yup! Mercy and money walk hand-in-hand and literally are the same words used in Luke’s Gospel. These folks won't be able to pay you back in any earthly way, and neither will your Pastor, who moderates your almsgiving in the weekly collection. That's why Jesus says in Luke's Gospel to invite or feed people who can't repay you; in this way you will store up treasure in Heaven. So humility is doing good for others and giving alms is showing mercy to others. Not getting paid back means receiving treasure in Heaven. That's the reward that God gives us in eternity. 

St. Benedict teaches us that humility is preferring others over ourselves. When we do this here on earth, we build up Treasure in Heaven. Almsgiving and mercy giving means preferring others over ourselves. When we do this here on earth, we again build up Treasure in Heaven. “…blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14).

“We shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless

we seek to know God. Let us think of His greatness

and then come back to our own baseness; by looking

at His purity we shall see how far we are from being humble."

--St. Teresa of Avila in The Interior Castle


NOTE: I am grateful to Dr. Brandt Pitre who provided much of the information used in this homily. Dr. Pitre has been an invaluable resource for many of my homilies! (www.catholicproductions.com).

 


Whom Will You Serve?

August 26, 2019 (21st Sun in Ord Time)

WHOM WILL YOU SERVE?

"My Flesh is real food and my Blood, real drink." These are the shocking words we heard in last week’s Gospel from the sixth Chapter of St. John. The Greek words used to describe this eating are literally translated as "chewing, tearing, and gnawing." In other words, Jesus is not mincing His words; He says what He means. 

DECIDE TODAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE. Take it or leave it! This is the message for today's readings to those of you who sit back and murmur in disbelief. Now, technically, it's not entirely your fault that you don't believe. Jesus makes it clear that the Father has called us to believe that what Jesus says IS. Can we lose our faith in this great mystery? Yes, the majority of Catholics either believe that the Eucharist is merely symbolic or... they just don't care. This can even happen to the brightest bulbs in the Church. Losing faith in the Eucharist can happen to even priests, bishops, and cardinals. Maybe that explains the decline and fall of these perverts we have been hearing about in the media. They have stopped believing in the Eucharist! They no longer stand with Christ. They, like those murmuring, grumbling disciples in today's Gospel, have freely walked away from the Savior of the World! My advice to you: Don't follow their lead! These blind guides have already led us far enough. These cardinals need to be put in a cage and sent back to Rome with a big, red sign reading: "RETURN TO SENDER!" 

Now, before we get too puffed up with indignation (maybe it's too late!), let's take a look at how we can AVOID the deplorable spiritual starvation that is so apparent in these lecherous Wolves in Shepherd's Clothing. It is important to remember that our everyday decisions and our everyday spiritual disciplines have a positive effect on others. For example, we can go to daily Mass, pray the daily Rosary, make holy hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, regularly go to confession, receive the Eucharist in a state of purity, read the Bible and reflect on the Word of God, and be men and women of forgiveness. We can do charitable acts of kindness to others. We are all too aware of the negative results when disciplines like these are found lacking in our marriages, our families, and, unfortunately, among the clergy. A priest without prayer is like a pen without ink! Spiritual starvation is most hideous when it affects the Spiritual Shepherds of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, we must all take an account of how we are nourishing our own FAITH. Otherwise, the result is always the same no matter what role or title or position we have in life: Spiritual starvation will lead to spiritual death! And it does not matter what color hat you wear. 

Let's talk about the necessary spiritual nourishment provided in the Eucharist. Have you ever spent a week in bed with the flu or in the hospital recovering from surgery? It doesn't take more than a few days of not being permitted to eat any solid food before you will start to grow weak and slow. How rapidly our bodies shrink and our arm and leg muscles begin to atrophy. It is difficult to do simple tasks like walk, sit up in a chair, hold a cup of water, or brush your teeth. Our body can't function without proper nourishment. 

This analogy of atrophy is a good reflection for us to have when assessing our own spiritual health and the spiritual nourishment that necessarily comes from the Eucharist. We know that without food, the body quickly weakens; without Spiritual Food, the soul atrophies. It really is as simple as that. Like the importance of eating well, along with all the care we invest in keeping our bodies strong, are we really caring for the soul as best we can? St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "the soul is in the body, not as contained by it, but containing it." The soul is containing the body? 

What the soul requires for nourishment is the divine life of Jesus in His Resurrection. Our Lord Himself is the nourishment. Recall all that we have heard for the last four weeks leading up to today's Gospel, including these passages: "Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life" and "I am the Living Bread which comes down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he shall live forever." 

Most people are at least aware of the soul and its hunger for something. We spend years in pursuit of satisfying our inmost desires, pleasures, and whatever is going to make us happy; but we often feed our souls with insufficient "food," such as wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. All of these may be good in themselves, but none of them is designed to satisfy the longing of the soul. This is precisely why some of the wealthiest, most famous, and most accomplished people in our society are dying of spiritual starvation; and their weird, silly lives will end up going down the drain. 

Jesus Christ says,

"I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE"!

and

"I AM THE BREAD COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN;

WHOEVER EATS THIS BREAD WILL LIVE FOREVER!"

THIS is what the soul is longing for! 

Study your faith and know what it is that Catholics believe about the Eucharist. Let me ask you a question. How much time do you really have left here on earth? Nobody knows. Get informed about your Faith and nourish your Faith through spiritual reading. Sometimes we fill our minds with junk; but the mind and the soul want to be filled with the lofty things of God. Why have so many Catholic bookstores faded away? Because Catholics have stopped buying spiritual reading materials! 

Another way we can satisfy the longing of the soul is to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. If you are spiritually hungry, feed the physically hungry; give drink to the thirsty, counsel the doubtful, visit the sick and imprisoned, pray for the living and the dead. You will discover that the more you empty yourself in love, the more the Lord will fill you and the more satisfied your soul will feel! 

Finally, and most importantly, receive the Eucharist regularly--even daily. The more often you receive, the more you will understand St. John the Baptist's words: "I must decrease; He must increase." In His discourse on the Eucharist recorded in John 6, Jesus says, "I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me will never hunger and whoever believes in me will never thirst." The divine life is found, par excellence, in the transfigured Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the other sacraments contain the "virtus Christi," (the power of Christ), but that the Eucharist contains "ipse Christus" (Christ Himself). What the soul is hungry for is Jesus Christ, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of the Risen Lord. Without feeding regularly on that Food, the soul will atrophy (starve, die). 

Why are so many Catholics feeling lost today? It's not the scandals in the Church; it is because so many of them have WALKED AWAY FROM JESUS! Seventy-five percent of them stay away from the Mass and the Eucharist on a regular basis. This is not rocket science...if you want to be healthy spiritually, you've got to eat Spiritual Food! 

DECIDE TODAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE.


Everyone Can Become A Saint!

August 26, 2019 ("Welcome Back" Mass for School Students)

EVERYONE CAN BECOME A SAINT!

 Welcome Back, Saints!  And if this is your first year at Saint Therese Carmelite School, Welcome to our Learning Community! One of my favorite quotes from a Carmelite Priest named Fr. Titus Brandsma is, “CREATE THE ENVIRONMENT WHEREIN EVERYONE AROUND YOU CAN BECOME A SAINT!” 

     That’s our goal at this school: To form Souls for Christ and build Him an Army of Saints! Saints change the world! Some of you will go on to become great and important people, including Moms and Dads, priests, nuns, teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, movie stars, athletes, comedians, waiters, chefs, investors, writers, church secretaries, and MORE! But each person here, no matter what your dreams may be, was created by GOD to Become a Saint! 

     Did you know that the adult human brain weighs only about three pounds?  Three pounds.  That's not very much.  Yet all the knowledge in a set of encyclopedias can fit into this little space. Think about all the mathematical equations we learn, the poems and prayers we memorize, and all the words we are taught to say in Latin! What about all the different languages some people can speak! Did you know that the pope knows eight different languages?  Eight languages! How do we fit so much into our little three-pound brains?  Very carefully! 

    As we begin this exciting new school year, just imagine how much information you will have stored up inside your brain by the end of the year 2020! We are going to teach you how beauty will save the world! You will learn how to read music and memorize prayers and hymns in Latin; you will learn about the Knights of the Round Table, Pythagorean theorem, and science; you will hear talks like, “What is Art?”, “Who is Frodo?”, and “Why are We Here?”. This is a short list of some of the things we will try to download into your three-pound brains!  Isn't it a wonder that our little brains can hold so much knowledge? 

     This is a Catholic school.  Besides reading, writing, and arithmetic, you will fill your brain with the knowledge of Jesus.  You will learn about His life, including what He said, His actions, why He died for us, and what the Resurrection is.  When we make Jesus the Source, the Summit, and Purpose of Education, then our brains become holy--the dwelling place of Truth, Beauty, the Good, and the One. But our School is not only interested in what is in your brain, it is also interested in what and who is in your heart. 

    Jesus once said, “...for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Did you know that the average adult heart weighs about eleven ounces. If we could look inside your heart, I bet we would find within it Jesus, your mother, your father, your brothers and sisters, your grandparents, your teachers, and maybe even your pastor.  Yes, these little hearts can carry lots and lots of love for a lot of people. 

But sometimes, like our brains, we can put things into our hearts that don’t belong there. I bet there are a lot of schools that don't bother with the heart at all. They focus only on the brain. I can assure you at Saint Therese Carmelite School, we are very interested in forming both the brain and the heart. It all begins with our love for God! The Bible teaches us “to love God with all our heart, mind soul, and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It goes on to say, “And these words, which I command you today, shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” So you see why the heart is very important to us, as well as the brain. Jesus wants to dwell in our thoughts and in our hearts! 

     But how does Jesus dwell in our thoughts and hearts? Well, think about all the Scripture we have memorized from prayers, from attending Mass, praying the Rosary, singing songs at Mass, and reading about the lives of the saints. Furthermore, every time we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, He becomes a part of us as we become a part of Him! Like the saying goes, “You are what you eat!” St. Therese once said that, “we are the preferred tabernacle of Jesus.” Because God is alive in His Word and because Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, we become the dwelling place of God’s love on earth. 

   The brain and the heart work simultaneously to make God’s presence a reality.  But how do we love God with all of our strength? Let’s think about it. St. Ignatius of Loyola once said, “Love ought to manifest itself more by deed than by words.” That’s it! Our deeds have the ability to express GOD’S LOVE to the world. Think about great saints like the Little Flower, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or St. Damien of Molokai, just to name a few. By their works, their deeds, and their strength, they brought God’s love to life. This is exactly what our Lord meant when He prayed, “Thy will be done...” The will is an amazing part of us.  When our will tells our feet to jump, they jump.  When our will tells our hands to clap, they clap.  When our will tells our mouths to speak, they speak. When our will tells us to express God’s Love, we express God’s Love.  By constantly working to make right choices, our wills become holy, bonded to God's law. 

   What is the goal of Saint Therese Carmelite School this year and every year? It is to unite our minds, our hearts, and our wills with the mind, the heart, and the will of God, so that we can move one year closer to our ULTIMATE GOAL: TO BECOME A SAINT! Granted, some may argue that this is an unrealistic goal. To them I say, “HOGWASH!” We are destined to be saints! Anything less is not God’s will. I admit we may have a long way to go, but so be it. Let’s go! What are we waiting for? Jesus would not ask it of us if it were not possible. 

     So let us ask God the Father to send His powerful Holy Spirit upon us.  The Holy Spirit will come and enlighten our minds with lots of knowledge. The Holy Spirit will fill our hearts with the capacity to love. The Holy Spirit will strengthen our wills with the courage and the determination to make God’s Love known and felt by our deeds. Echoing the Prophet Isaiah, “We are all the work of your hands" (Isaiah 64:7).     

     I will conclude this homily with the quote in which I began this homily: “Create the environment wherein everyone around you can become a saint.” That means the classroom and playground; the text books we read and the things we Google; the art we create and the music we sing. Yes, let us have minds and hearts filled with God for He is always with us, in us, and for us.


The Miracle of the Holy Eucharist

June 23, 2019 (Corpus Christi)

The Miracle of the Holy Eucharist

Let's review today’s first reading from Genesis and see the similarities between Melchizedek and Jesus. Melchizedek, the King of Salem (Peace), was known as the “King of Righteousness” or the "King of Peace." Jesus, the King of Jerusalem, brought the "Shekinah Glory" (the personal presence of God) to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as prophesied by Ezekiel, and was hailed as "King of the Jews". Melchizedek means "My King is Righteousness"; Salem means "Peace". 

Melchizedek, a mysterious Priest/King--the first priest ever mentioned in all of sacred Scripture--offered bread and wine to celebrate Abram's victorious battle over Kedorlaomer. Jesus, possessed of a Mysterious Priesthood--the first sinless and eternal High Priest (though He was not a temple priest like Zechariah and was not born into the levitical priesthood like His cousin John)--offered Bread and Wine (His own Body and Blood!) at the Last Supper in His victorious battle over sin and death. 

From where did the practice of using bread and wine for a sacrifice come? Although we sometimes think of all sacrifices in the Old Testament as being animal sacrifices, there were actually many kinds of sacrifices in the time of Melchizedek. Some of them were bloody but some were unbloody, like the thanksgiving sacrifice known as the "Todah". Coincidentally, Todah simply means “thanksgiving,” in the Hebrew language; but is translated as “eucharist” in the Greek language.The essential elements of a “thanksgiving offering” were to sacrificially offer bread and wine. It’s a kind of meal that you would celebrate with God to express your communion with Him (specifically your covenant relationship) and to give thanks to Him for whatever blessings He has given you; in this case, the blessing of victory over the enemies of Abram. So, the King of Jerusalem comes out to offer an unbloody "thanksgiving sacrifice" of bread and wine, which, as stated above, is called the "Todah." 

There is even an old Rabbinic teaching which says: "In the coming Messianic age all sacrifices will cease, but the thanksgiving offering (Todah) will never cease.” What is it about this sacrifice that makes it stand alone in such a way that it would outlast all other sacrifices after the redemption of the Messiah? Maybe you are even asking yourself, "Why have I never heard of this before if it is so important in relationship to the Holy Eucharist?" 

First, let's reiterate what a Todah sacrifice is and why it would be offered by someone whose life had been delivered from great peril. There are many reasons why a family would offer a Todah sacrifice, such as a family member being cured of a disease like leprosy or being delivered from an evil spirit, or a family being reunited after a serious rupture between its members, or economic recovery after financial ruin. The redeemed person would show his gratitude to God by gathering his closest friends and family for a Todah sacrificial meal. The lamb would be sacrificed in the Temple and the bread for the meal would be consecrated the moment the lamb was sacrificed. The bread and meat, along with wine, would constitute the elements of the sacred Todah meal, which would be accompanied by prayers and songs of thanksgiving, such as Psalm 116. That sounds like the Last Supper, right?! Sacrificial lamb, bread, wine… Oh, my! While the elements may recall the Passover meal (which is what the Last Supper was), the Passover could only be offered once a year at the appropriate time. The Todah could be offered anytime. 

One would think that the liturgical readings on the Feast of Corpus Christi would be about the Last Supper. Surprisingly, the Church does not highlight the events at the Last Supper but instead goes back to the public ministry of Jesus when He fed the five thousand. Why? Because just as the bread and wine offered by the mysterious Melchizedek in today’s first reading foreshadows the Eucharist, so, too, the feeding of the five thousand points our attention to the Last Supper and to the Eucharist. Let's look at some of these Eucharistic elements. First, in the Gospel of St. Luke, we read of Jesus fasting for forty days and nights while being tempted by the devil. St. Luke emphasizes that this fast takes place in "a deserted place" or in the "wilderness." The Greek word used in this passage for "desert" or "wilderness" is "ere-mos". 

If you were a First-Century Jew and were reading this account about Jesus in the ere-mos (the desert or the wilderness), it would echo or call to mind for you the Jews wandering in the desert or the wilderness at the time of the exodus from Egypt. So the setting of the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness is itself already your first clue that this miracle is pointing back to the exodus from Egypt; and it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to know that in the exodus from Egypt, one of the great miracles was the miraculous feeding of the Twelve Tribes of Israel through the gift of the manna from Heaven--the miraculous bread from Heaven. The miracle of the manna was, of course, a foreshadowing of the Eucharist! 

Jesus then says to the Twelve, “Make them all sit down in companies of fifty each”. How long would it take the twelve disciples to get five thousand people to sit down in companies of fifty each? (I can’t even get thirty kids in my Art class to sit down long enough for a simple instruction!) So why does Jesus make the Apostles do this thing that would have taken such time and effort? Well, it’s because He is arranging the people at the feeding of the five thousand according to the same kind of groupings that you’d find in the first exodus from Egypt. Listen to the words of Exodus 18:25-26: “Moses chose able men out of all Israel [that means from all Twelve Tribes]...and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And those men rendered decisions for the people at all times” (Exodus 18:25-26). 

So what Jesus is asking His Apostles to do parallels what Moses did in Exodus 18. It is a significant detail because Moses is choosing certain men to rule over the different tribes and judge them. Similarly, Jesus has chosen Twelve Apostles who will eventually preside as priests and govern as bishops in His Church. 

With that in mind, we now see how the miracle of the five thousand points back to the Old Testament. But it doesn’t just point backward, it also points forward to the Last Supper. If you notice in Luke’s account of the feeding of the five thousand, he emphasizes four actions of Jesus concerning the bread. First, Jesus makes everyone sit down. Then, “...taking the five loaves and two fish, He blessed them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples” and then they give them to the people. So in the Greek, those four verbs (Jesus takes the bread, He blesses the bread, He breaks the bread, and He gives the bread) are the same four Greek words that reoccur at the Last Supper when Jesus is seated with the Twelve Apostles. He takes, blesses, breaks, and gives the bread to them and says, “This is my Body, given for you,” and then says, “This is the Cup of the New Covenant in my Blood, which will be poured out for you”. So the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves (the feeding of the five thousand) is also a Eucharistic miracle. Be careful! There are liars out there--WOLVES!--who want you to believe that this is NOT a miracle but just a nice story about 5000 people sharing their bread with each other. HOGWASH! 

It is vital that we, as Catholics, develop a relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus can take on many forms and thus disguise Himself as He did a number of times after His resurrection; for example, with Mary Magdalene by His tomb, with the two men on the road to Emmaus, with His disciples when, from their boat, they saw Him on the shore with the fish and the bread. So if our Lord decides to disguise His real presence in the form of Bread and Wine, then so be it and let it be so! 

As a priest, it is most important for me to encourage people to commit themselves to regularly spending a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament; it is also important to teach you how to make that holy hour. We can easily forget that this time with the Lord is more about His desire to be with us than our desire to be with Him. He is the One who longs for our company more than we long for Him: “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Mark 14:37). So how we can make a holy hour better spent? I would like to suggest dividing your Holy Hour into three blocks of twenty minutes. 

The first twenty minutes before the Lord Really Present in the Eucharist is a sacred time of intimacy between us and Him. It is a time to just be present to our God. It is also what Carmelites call reflective prayer: We are looking at HIM who is looking at us looking at Him… In the words of St. John Vianney, it is a time when “I look at Him and He looks at me.” It is a time when we lean on Jesus’ breast, like John did at the Last Supper, and allow His heart to speak to ours. It reminds me of the famous motto of Blessed John Henry Newman: "Cor ad Cor Loquitur" ("Heart speaks to Heart"). Reflective prayer in adoration will help us to grow in our “interior knowledge of the Lord” as we contemplate His words, His life, and His real presence before us. 

The second twenty minutes can be a time when we intercede for all the people we know and are part of our lives. At this stage of our prayer, we bring to the Lord all who have asked us to pray for them, including our families and friends, both living and dead. Often during this time in the holy hour, some person will arise in our minds who we feel the Lord is calling us to pray for, reach out to, contact, or visit. It is also a time to bring to Jesus our next appointment, our need to reconcile a festering argument, or maybe just a conversation we need to have with someone to clear the air. In this time of prayer, it is important to remember that Jesus is present everywhere and is not bound by time or space. He is with you and He is with me and He is also with whomever you are praying for. 

The last twenty minutes can be a time when we pray for the entire human family and the whole universe. Almost every time I leave the Sacristy to celebrate Mass, I say to the servers, “We serve the Mass…", to which they respond, “TO SAVE THE WORLD!” Do we really believe that the Eucharist gives us the power to save the world? YES! So we pray for persecuted Christians around the world, for the victims of famine, for an end to conflicts and wars, for wisdom for government leaders and, yes, even for Nancy Pelosi! She is so gross, but that’s why we pray for her. Gross people need prayers, too. 

So we have covered a lot of material today. The most important thing that I want you to remember from this homily is that we need to spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament! We need to adore Him, we need to worship Him, and we need to desire Him with the same intensity and urgency that He desires us. The only way to respond to the urgency of God’s love for us is to urgently love Him in return, even if it be imperfect! 

The Eucharist will save the Universe!


Why Is It So Hard to Say, "I'm Sorry"?

March 2019

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO SAY, "I'M SORRY"?

What is one of the hardest words in our vocabulary to say to another person? From my own experience, one that I find hard to utter is “SORRY”. I'm sure you've heard the 19th century children’s rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? That's a big fat lie, isn’t it? Words CAN hurt us--but words can heal us, too. You may be surprised by the etymology of the word “sorry” and the synonyms associated with it: “distressed, grieved, full of sorrow, painful, sore, full of sores, sad, sick, ill, wretched, worthless, poor”. Notice the similarity of the word sorry to the word sorrow. It is not uncommon to feel a variety of these words when dealing with forgiveness--either on the receiving side or the administering side. One word associated with the word "sorry," which I was surprised to discover, is the word “sore”. 

The word "sore" helped me to reflect on all the times we pick at a sore until it bleeds or gets infected. Then we wonder why the sore will not heal. In the same way, we can pick at our hurt feelings and resentments, our grudges and past injuries or insults, until they bleed us to death emotionally. As we hold on to these hurt feelings, we find ourselves getting infected and even sick at heart. We can even infect others by talking too much about our sores to the point of gossiping about our hurt feelings and who caused them. The remedy is simple and yet may be the hardest thing we can do: Forgive! 

The Book of Sirach challenges us with these words: “The words that come out of us make known the hidden thoughts within us”. Our speech and our actions reveal the secrets of our hearts. Have you ever seen the credit card commercial with the slogan, “What's in your wallet?” I think the question it’s asking us is, “Which bank will you trust with your purchases?” Just as our wallets are filled with maxed-out credit cards, we walk around with an internal bank in which we are constantly making deposits and withdrawals: the heart. We sometimes store up in our hearts clutter like old resentments, festering hatred, disgusting images, scary movies, violent video games, pornographic music, misguided politics, judgments of others, gossiping, and so much more. To counteract these types of clutter we need to make deposits in our hearts that will produce good fruit. But how can we remove the refuse and the distractions that “max out” our lives and exhaust us to the point of depression? According to our Lord, these dangerous deposits can only be removed by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Then we can have hearts that are open and ready to receive forgiveness and deposit into our hearts the Word of God, just as the Blessed Virgin Mary pondered in her heart everything she experienced about Jesus. What do we ponder in our fickle hearts? 

Try depositing in your heart beautiful images of the life of Christ, so that when you pray, your thoughts will recall those images. Deposit good music that will push out all the noise and senseless chatter. Try staying away from social media for awhile and instead engage in wholesome conversations. Can you resist the temptation to carry your phone wherever you go? Stop your tweets and your compulsive texting! What you are saying is most likely not all that important anyway. Stop watching so much news! Why get so worked up about what these fools are saying? Can you really change their minds? Rather, pray for them! Pray the Rosary. Make holy hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Sit in silence. Start a journal of prayers and novenas. These are just a few suggestions from your Pastor who loves you and who wants you to really grow in holiness. 

Jesus insists that a person speaks “out of the abundance of the heart”. He, too, compares our speech, whether good or bad, to what grows on a tree: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit”. So, to all of you gossiping fools, STOP GOSSIPING!   Your rotten fruit is making everyone around you sick! Our Lord urges us to make wholesome speech a habit. Let us all think before we speak and do away with that terrible habit! Even Our Lord warns us about gossiping fools: “And I say unto you, that every idle word that men (and women) shall speak, they shall give account thereof on the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). Or to quote my cousin, Mary: “ZIP IT!” 

The Scriptures also compare the testing of our words to clay fired in a kiln. If properly prepared, a useful vessel emerges or a beautiful work of art is made; but if the clay is not fully dried, it will break apart in the extreme heat. When I was a student learning to be a perpetually-broke and out-of-work artist, I studied the art of making pottery. The instructor was most concerned about the preparation of the clay before it is was molded, formed, and baked. If pockets of air are left in the clay before it is put into the kiln, the air pockets will explode and break the form. So, how do you keep that from happening? A diligent student will patiently knead out the pockets of air; this kind of work is strenuous but necessary. The clay must be tested and examined carefully before being formed and placed into the kiln. Likewise, impatience is a reckless characteristic in the spiritual life. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Teresa of Avila: “Patience obtains all things." Just like the clay that is kneaded to produce a work of art, so we must go through the necessary discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are expected of all of us. Like kneading clay, our preparation is critical for the final product to emerge. While the frustrating air pockets can be likened to our everyday imperfections, the kiln can be likened to the everyday frustrations in life. For example: marriage, siblings, your boss, traffic, the playground, a death of a loved one, school, a sick child, cancer, overcoming an addiction . . . your pastor’s really long homilies! Life is the kiln and the struggle is real! 

Although I do not always trust the history of the so-called “History Channel," it does provide a useful image of reliving the past over and over and over. And like the History Channel, we may not be accurately remembering the past that we are brooding over and reliving in our thoughts over and over and over. Forgiveness is strength! Saying to someone, “I am sorry,” is a sign of maturity and strength. It is liberation from being enslaved to another person. Unless, of course, you prefer to be a slave to someone you do not like. That's right, you don’t have to like the person you forgive and you certainly don't have to become “besties” when it is all said and done. However, I am saying that the moment we start hating a person and brooding over their hurtful words and actions is the moment we become that person's slave. You are the one allowing that person to take over your thoughts, words, and actions. In effect, that person takes you away from following Christ, because we fail to forgive and love our enemies as our Lord demands of all His disciples. Just forgive or say "sorry" and move on with your life! Stop wasting your time and energy watching over and over and over the "history channel" of your own grudges and hurt feelings. If you are like most of us and are still having trouble with the concept of forgiveness, then ponder the wisdom of this humorous quote by Oscar Wilde, “Always forgive your enemies--nothing annoys them so much.” 

Someone once said to me, “Father, I don’t really like your homilies because they are not very practical.” I said, “Thank you.” I mean, really! How do you respond to a statement like that? Anyway, let me tell you about a helpful and very “practical” approach to forgiving someone who has hurt you, as well as a way for you to ask for forgiveness. Repeat this prayer of deliverance:

“Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of unforgiveness. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of resentment. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of hatred. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of pride. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of blame. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of gossip. Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, deliver me from the evil spirit of (insert an evil spirit that plagues you). Father, in the HOLY NAME of Jesus, give me the grace to forgive (name someone you need to forgive) as you have forgiven me.”


Liar, Liar! Pants on Fire!

June 2019

Liar, Liar!  Pants on Fire!

Several years ago I was speaking with a former student from our school. He had just finished his freshman year at a nearby Catholic High School and was excited to tell me all the wonderful experiences he was having attending a “Catholic” school--one with all the amenities money can buy: sports, science labs, theater, band class, computers, clubs, and new teachers. I was happy for this student, and I hoped silently that he was at least getting some good Catholic formation among all these other subjects. As I was saying goodbye and walking back to the office, he excitedly called after me to tell me that his religion teacher had told him what “really happened” at the parting of the Red Sea. I stopped and turned around, mentally bracing myself for the dreadful explanation which was about to spew out of his mouth. 

He proceeded to explain, in textbook fashion, as if he were reciting verbatim what he read or heard: “You see, Father,” he began to teach me, “the Red Sea was parted because there was an underwater earthquake many miles out in the sea which caused the water to recess, exposing dry ground for the Israelites to walk across to the other side. Then, in his innocent excitement, he exclaimed: “And because of the earthquake, a nearby volcano erupted, too!” I was bewildered by the inconsequential detail regarding the volcano. But I think volcanoes are awesome, so I let it go. I listened carefully to this enlightened student who was especially happy to have finally told the “truth” about the parting of the Red Sea. To which I replied, “NO! That is a lie!” I said it loud enough to get his mother’s attention, who was proudly listening to her son articulate so well a lie (probably one of many) that he learned at this prestigious and expensive “Catholic” school. I asked who told him this lie. Perplexed and skeptical of my intervention, he defensively told me that it was his religion teacher who told him "what really happened" with the parting of the Red Sea. "Liar, liar! Pants on fire!" 

Wouldn’t it be great if pants really did catch on fire when someone was telling you a lie? Think about all these indoctrinated teachers, paid-for-politicians, out-to-lunch clergymen, creepy cardinals and career-climbing bishops, shady businessmen and women, lawyers in the courtroom, lowlife lobbyists, abortion doctors and nurses…POOF! "Hey, Liar! Your pants are on fire!" Imagine how easy it would be to choose a Catholic school for your child or to know which textbooks were providing facts or fiction. Or what doctors and nurses really know about dismantling babies in the mother's womb. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch on television the lying politician instantly ignite from her derrière as she lies behind her pretty little smile? POOF! "Hey, liar! Your pants are on fire..again!" What about those college professors who hold multiple degrees from prestigious universities and who author books? We are supposed to believe them because they "have all the answers," right? POOF! "Hey, liar! Your pants are on fire!" 

Well, for those of you who find my fiery rant on liars offensive, let’s replace these flames with the growing nose of the famous Pinocchio. After all, the jingle actually goes: “Liar, liar! Your pants are on fire, and your nose is growing like a telephone wire!” I would be somewhat satisfied to see these lying teachers, doctors, lawyers, cardinals, and politicians grow their noses with every lie they vomit out of their mouths. The only problem with this disfiguring effect of growing a lie-induced elongated-nose is that it may become the next trend or evolution in humanity's “progress” toward the ugly and the stupid. We will honor their deceit with public bathrooms specially labeled for “Pinocchios”. We would develop government programs to accept and promote the legalization of “Pinocchios”. Our news stations would be saturated with defending the marginalized “Pinocchios”. We would even offer college scholarships to help the growing number of “Pinocchios” living amongst us. Universities would offer advance degrees on “Pinocchiology”. Public high schools would offer “Pinocchio Day” to remember the rejected liars of old who were never really accepted into society because of their disfiguring lie-induced elongated noses. "Liar, liar! Your pants are on fire, and your nose is growing like a telephone wire!" Do you see why I prefer the dramatic fire associated with liars?

All kidding aside, when most of us think of fire, we automatically think of the physical effects of fire. Fire can burn us--and it hurts when we get burned. We might also think about the spiritual consequences of lying: the unquenchable fires of Hell. In fact, Our Lord seems to talk more about Hell in the New Testament than He talks about Heaven, and He even describes it more vividly. There is no denying that Jesus knew, believed, and warned His listeners against the absolute reality of Hell. See for yourself in these Scripture passages: Luke 16:23, Mark 9:43, Mark 9:48, Matthew 13:42, and Matthew 25:30. Jesus even compares Hell to a burning trash heap outside of the walls of Jerusalem called “Gehenna” (Matthew 10:28). Although Dante depicts Satan encased in a constricting block of ice in the lowest realms of Hell, Jesus refers to Hell as burning with fire like the maggot-filled and perpetually-burning trash heap called Gehenna. What does all this have to do with liars among us? Well, the devil is called the “Father of Lies,” and I think we can all agree that there wouldn’t be a Hell without the devil. We can thus conclude that those who lie, the “Pinocchios” of our time, will find a most uncomfortable and eternal reality in the place prepared for those fallen angels and men who reject JESUS, who is Truth, and ignorantly embrace Satan, the Father of Lies. John Milton poetically calls this place "Pandemonium," which literally means the “Place of all Demons” or, for brevity's sake, let’s just call it Hell. 

I prefer the warning that is given with the expression, “Liar, Liar! Your pants are on fire!,” because it associates lying with its eternal consequences! Just as the “Father of Lies”, the devil, the ruler of this world, is cast out and thrown into the all-consuming fires of Gehenna, so too with his offspring. We have to reject lies; otherwise, we become part of the lies. Recall the words of our Eternal Father, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, when addressing Satan in Genesis 3:15: “There will be enmity between her offspring and yours. She will crush your head while you will strike at her heel.” My brothers and sisters, we need to safeguard Truth and reject liars--whether they are teachers, politicians, clergymen, cardinals, Big Business executives, lobbyists, lawyers, medical professionals, or news anchors--who are committed to perverting truth and destroying life--especially yours! The reality is, we cannot see the pants of liars burning or their noses growing. But as Jesus Himself says: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). Don’t be led astray by false shepherds who lie and pervert. We are at enmity with the Father of Lies. Let us turn to Her who crushes the head of the serpent. 

Let’s revisit the Catholic freshman who attended a local “Catholic” high school and who was being instructed by his religion teacher regarding what “really happened” when the Red Sea parted for the crossing of the Israelites. The problem with these lies, these rationalizing explanations to miracles that are recorded in the Bible, is that they allow anyone to logically explain away ALL the miracles in the Bible. Here are a few examples that I have heard: 1) The manna was not miraculous bread from heaven but ant poop; 2) Jesus didn’t walk on water; He walked on a sand bar; and 3) the miracle of Jesus' feeding the 5000 men was just an example of the people sharing what food they brought with them. HOGWASH! These lies might sound logical at first but they do not accurately interpret Sacred Scripture; these lies limit God’s power as described in Sacred Scripture; and these lies ultimately rob us of believing in the greatest miracle in Sacred Scripture: THE TRUE PRESENCE OF JESUS CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST! With “Catholic” high schools successfully dismantling our children’s faith in the miracles handed down to us in the Sacred Scriptures, it is no wonder why so many of our youth are disassociating themselves from the Catholic Church. I use to be shocked by stories like these; now I am just numb to it all. With so many Catholic high schools and universities in this country, why do the polls continue to show that there is less attendance at Holy Mass? 

At Saint Therese Carmelite School we are committed to sowing the seeds of God who is Truth, God who is Beauty, God who is One, and God who is Good. These seeds will take root in the earliest cultivating of our children’s hearts, souls, and minds. They are exposed to the best teachers, a Classical Curriculum that has proven to work for hundreds of years, and the Carmelite Family! Our children are taught from pre-K up to 8th Grade that the most important goal in their education is to "Become a Saint!" Let's put the CATHOLIC back into Catholic schools! 

Please help us to continue the good work God is doing.

Become a Benefactor, become a friend, become a Saint!


Why is This Night Different?

Holy Thursday 2019

Why Is This Night Different?

What is Truth? This was the title of my homily on Palm Sunday and will remain the theme of my homilies throughout the Triduum. On Good Friday we will hear again, as we do every year on Good Friday, the conversation Pilate has with Jesus: “Then you are a king?" Jesus replied, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to Him, “What is Truth?” (John 18:37-38). 

Tonight as we enter into the Solemn feast of our Lord’s Passover meal with His apostles, we are deeply connected and maybe even a little fearful of the scenes that follow this most unusual Passover meal. “Why is this night different from all other nights?,” is the first question asked at a traditional Passover meal. The other four concern 2) why Matzo is eaten, 3) why maror (bitter herbs) is eaten, 4) why the meat that is eaten is always roasted, and 5) why the food is dipped twice. I'm sure these other questions are significant in the liturgical process of the Ancient Jewish Passover celebrated by the Jews. 

But my question is, “Why is THIS night different from all other Passovers?" After all, It is the most unusual Passover because it does not seem to finish, as is required by its liturgical norms set forth by Moses. Granted, we can see what those who sat with our Lord at this first Last Supper could not: the agony in the garden, the betrayal of Judas, the scourging, the crucifixion, the final scene of the Resurrection. We also know all those involved, their words, their temptations and fears, their heroic conversions, their tragic martyrdoms. We know those who followed after them and those who did not. 

But imagine yourself at that Passover meal and not the Last Supper as we know it. The Apostles were longing for this great event all year, just as we may anticipate the excitement of Christmas. Even our Lord said to His disciples: “…With desire I have desired to eat this pasch [Passover] with you, before I suffer” (Luke 22:15, Douay-Rheims version). What does Our Lord mean by "desire" and why does He use that word twice in this statement? 

I think we can all agree that to desire something means to wish or long for it, to expect something to happen. It is a word that expresses a yearning to obtain and to possess. The Latin word "desiderare" explains the word "desire" more literally and accurately. The original sense of desidare, in its Latin origin, literally means to "await what the stars will bring," from the phrase "de sidere" ("from the stars)," literally "from the heavens”. 

I find this word extraordinary! We are challenged with this double use of the word “desire” to think that somehow our desire to be here tonight, our longing, our expectation, is connected to the same desire our Lord expresses in these words to His Apostles! Desidare--from the very stars in the sky--from Heaven itself! Again, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Because God desires to be with us so intensely that He, the creator of the stars, has guided us, just as He guided the wise men to follow the star, in order to fulfill the promise He made to Abraham:  "And I will multiply thy seed like the stars of heaven... (Genesis 26:4). 

Here we sit with Him who comes "from the stars" (de sidere) to be with us year after year, like He was, and perpetually IS, with the apostles on this most dramatic stage called “the Last Supper”. "Why is this night different from all the others?” Because He who created the heavens and the earth, He who has set everything in motion, and He who has crossed such impossible distances of time and space, is here with us de sidere (from the stars)! 

This love that moves the sun and the stars is with us body and spirit--and with everything and everyone. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” (Hopkins). If we can live out this reality, the rest will take care of itself. Our Lord shows us that this statement, "the rest will take care of itself,” is true. His betrayer did not stop God, His accusers did not stop God, Pilate and Herod did not stop God. Not even death could stop God from desiring to be with us tonight! Was this what Pilate could not hear when Jesus spoke to him: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”. We sit with the Lord sharing this most amazing night, which is different from all the other nights, because He desires to be here with us. 

Let us turn to Mary, the Guiding Star who listens to the Voice of Christ and who leads us safely home to our Loving Father after our prodigal journey ends and we are finally where our Lord desires us to be--at the Eternal Banquet in Heaven!


Spiritual Blindness

March 19, 2019 (Fourth Sunday of Lent)

Spiritual Blindness

On Ash Wednesday Jesus challenges us to do three things differently this season of Lent: FAST, PRAY, and GIVE ALMS; on the First Sunday of Lent we followed Jesus into the desert for 40 days where He was tempted by the devil with food (fasting), by tempting God (dumb prayers), and with the promise of ruling all the kingdoms of this world and all its wealth if only He would take a knee and worship Satan (giving alms). The Second Sunday of Lent we traveled with the Lord up Mount Tabor where He was transfigured in prayer and showed Himself in the Glory of the Resurrection. On the Third Sunday of Lent we met the Samaritan Woman at the well (Year A), and on the Fourth Sunday of Lent Jesus introduced us to the Blind Man at the pool of Siloam (Year A). * Note: Readings for RCIA are taken from Year A to complement the Scrutinies. 

Several years ago I was able to view an exhibit of Impressionist Art at a museum in San Francisco. It was a wonderful experience! As I was admiring a painting too closely, the security guard said to me, “step back, sir.” As I began stepping back, I watched this amazing painting transpire before my eyes. Little dots and thousands of colorful lines began to come together and the painting started to come alive with recognizable shapes. The colors melted together and the artist’s intent was clearly seen. It was a wonderful experience. 

"Step back" is exactly what we need to do in our spiritual life to see the big picture and what we have the potential to become. One might ask, “Like Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor?” Exactly! Step back from the myopic work of the everyday grind to see if that is what is happening in your spiritual life. Otherwise, we may end up looking more like a “Drunken-Drip-Pollock” rather than a “Magnificent Monet”. 

Today we are going to talk about spiritual blindness. I think if you re-read the Gospel a few times, scrutinize the words a little, and imagine it with prayerful meditation, then you will understand that this reading has a message for us with a two-fold purpose: the man born blind being healed because of his faith, and the non-healing of the Jewish leaders, who remained blind because of their lack of faith. 

How do we approach this idea of spiritual sight? Are we being open to Divine Truth by reading the Scriptures and praying over them daily? Are we sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament speaking with our Lord who is Divine Truth, like the Samaritan woman in the Gospel reading whose Faith was restored during her brief conversation with Jesus? Are we going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly? 

Today’s Gospel reading about the man born blind is not a parable. It really happened. A parable is a story that has a spiritual truth. Why does Jesus teach in parables? He says Himself: “Therefore, I speak to them in parables, because seeing, they do not see, and hearing, they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Then He goes on to quote Isaiah: “hearing you will hear, but shall not understand, and seeing you will see, but not perceive, for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” So whether Jesus is speaking to us in a parable or whether the Gospels are teaching us what Jesus actually did, do we believe? 

But the Scriptures have a way of saying that God sometimes closes our eyes and hardens our hearts. Recall that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God in the book of Exodus. That sort of poetic language is a way of saying Pharaoh made bad choices that hardened his heart and made him blind to God’s Divine presence. So it is true with us today. We have the choice, whether to see the truth and have our blindness removed, whether to hear the truth and have our deafness removed. Think about some of the HOT TOPICS of our own time. Take, for example, the problems with marriage in our country and its devastating effects on our country: contraception, divorce, infidelity…what about abortion? We close our eyes and stop our ears all the time to save face, to be popular, to avoid rejection, to secure a job. One might say, “Can’t we all just be nice and get along?” NO! Today most of us can only understand abortion as some atrocious number like 54 million or 80 million or whatever the number is we may or may never know. Whatever! Babies being killed in their mothers' wombs are NOT NUMBERS! They are lives, real lives! These babies within their mothers' wombs have heart beats, tiny fingers and toes, little ears, tiny little noses, and sometimes the ultrasound will even show a baby sucking his or her thumb. Babies in the womb have souls! These are real babies and yet the business of abortion is BOOMING in this country! Just ask Hilary Clinton’s daughter; she is ecstatic about the economic benefits that abortion has had in this country and boasts publicly about it! Obviously, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, even rotten apples. 

Regarding abortion, are our hearts hardened like Pharaoh's? Are we spiritually blind like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel? Are we deaf to these murderous politicians like Governor Cuomo or Senator Nancy Pelosi and so many more who are giddy with the advancement of abortion? The abortion industry has been so successful over the last 45 years that now these creepy politicians have no one left to vote for them. Who will vote for them? What will they do to get votes? Ponder these words the next time you stand at a voting box: “A nation that kills its own children has no future” (St. John Paul II). 

There is a way that we can open our eyes to the horrific reality of abortion in this country. There is a new movie in the theaters right now called, UNPLANNED. The movie is based on a book written by a woman named Abby Johnson who worked for Planned Parenthood for ten years. She herself had two abortions. In her book she does not shy away from talking about her own blindness to abortion. She herself admits to assisting in the killing of over 20 thousand babies. Abby Johnson has since converted to the TRUTH. Abby Johnson entered the Catholic Church in 2012 and is now the mother of eight children. She has committed her life to serving God and fighting for the most vulnerable citizens of this country: our unborn babies. Please go to the theaters today and watch this movie! It will open your eyes to the spiritual blindness we ALL have regarding the heinous, deplorable, and sinful business of abortion. Let Christ open your eyes to the Truth about Planned Parenthood and then commit yourself to helping us stop the evil that has been infecting our country for the last 45 years. 

LIFE begins at conception. So those who use pills called Option B, Plan B, or the Morning After Pill are committing abortions--not preventing pregnancies. Those numbers of babies who have been killed through the means of pills and other pharmaceutical methods are in the hundreds of thousands! What about the test tube babies that are conceived in laboratories and then thrown in the garbage when their purpose is fulfilled? Babies? YES! Open your eyes! Do you think you will be sitting innocently shrugging at the last judgment? Will your, “I didn’t know…” line get you a free pass to eternal bliss? Nope. We are all responsible for abortion in this country. Everyone of us will be judged on our silence, our apathy, our relativistic shrug, the turning away, the lost argument, the time we would rather spend watching Netflix than praying in front of Planned Parenthood. Do you think we might even be judged on the ghoulish politicians we elected and who have been enacting laws to advance abortion? I kind of think so. 

Hardened hearts are made by our will to ignore the truth. Spiritual blindness is caused by OUR WILL to close our eyes to Truth. In just a couple of weeks we will hear the words of Pontius Pilate sound throughout this church: “What is Truth?” Well, what is truth? The mother's right to kill her own baby? What about the doctors and nurses who get paid to kill babies rather than save lives? What about Pilate and all the blind politicians who followed after him? Pilate never got blood splattered on him when he sentenced Jesus to be scourged. Pilate did not hammer the nails into the hands and feet of Jesus at His crucifixion, Pilate did not pierce our Lord’s side or crown Him with thorns. Yet, it is Pilate whose name and memory is immortalized for the killing of Jesus. 

Ignorance is an incredible cause of spiritual blindness. Isn’t it true that in our hearts and in our minds we sometimes approach God in prayer with preconceived notions, putting our trust in popular trends like abortion, gay marriage, and transgenderism? Remember my experience with impressionism at the San Francisco museum? Well, we need to step back to get a more accurate look at what we are doing and where we are going. Let’s all just step back and take another look. Together, let’s ask a few basic questions about our relationship with God: “Do we read the Bible?" Maybe we should read it more. "Do we know what the teachings of the Church are regarding abortion and other hot topics of our time?" Maybe we should purchase the Catechism of the Catholic Church and learn them. "Do we really know Jesus?" Maybe we should pray more and--even better--pray without our preconceived notions and without our misplaced trust in erroneous trends like abortion.   

Please go to the theater and see the Movie Unplanned! Open your eyes and see for yourselves the cruel and disgusting truth about the 80 million babies whose lives were taken in the most horrific holocaust the world has ever seen! Go and see for yourself what Planned Parenthood does not want our young, scared, and vulnerable mothers to know. The irrational irony of it all is that your 13-year-old daughter can have an abortion without your consent, but because Unplanned is rated R”, she cannot watch this movie without an adult present. 

Babies in the Mother’s womb are not numbers, they are not for profit,

they are alive by God’s will and by His design at the moment of conception! 

Go see the Movie, UNPLANNED!

 

PRAY THESE PRAYERS DAILY: 

Father, in the holy name of Jesus, deliver me from the evil

spirits that blind me and prevent me from seeing truth! 

Father, in the holy name of Jesus, deliver me from

 the evil spirits that harden my heart to know you! 

Father, in the holy name of Jesus, deliver me from the evil

 spirits that distract me  from hearing your voice in prayer! 

Father, in the holy name of Jesus, deliver

 me from the evil spirit of abortion! 

 

“BE GONE SATAN!” (MATTHEW 4:10)


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