Perseverance

Perseverance

In the trials of life, are you living with perseverance?  Are you staying strong each day as a faithful disciple?  Are you persisting in prayer and enduring in faith?  World events are terribly disturbing, so it is tempting to give up.

This week there was a school shooting in California where two students were killed, and the shooter killed himself.  School kids have shooting drills because this has become a regularized tragedy. Because of violence and insecurity in Africa this year, more than 9,000 schools were shut down in eight countries – Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Mali, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.

Millions of innocent people are subject to violence and death in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Bolivia, Hong Kong and the list goes on.  But when they flee for safety, often they are met with disdain.  We see a stubborn disregard for the human dignity of the least. Many are indifferent to the victims of human trafficking, others fail to protect the unborn or undocumented, or they are deaf to the cries of poor families desperately seeking the basic necessities of life.

Jesus cited all kinds of suffering when people asked him about the end-times.  Then he urged them to have perseverance despite violence, war and tragedy.  He said, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; . . . they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons. . . . You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  (Lk. 21:9, 12, 17-19)

In the trials of life, are you living with perseverance? Are you staying strong each day as a faithful disciple? “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  What is the secret to perseverance?

First of all, we learn perseverance from Jesus. Last week St. Paul encouraged us by saying, “The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one . . . . May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.” (2 Thes. 3:5)  Paul must have pondered the amazing endurance of Jesus in the passion.  So he spoke of the ‘endurance’ of Christ.  The same Greek word is translated as either endurance or perseverance.

One dictionary defines it as “resolute continuance in a course of action.”  It means to stay the course no matter what, even if everyone else gives up.  Perseverance means steadfastness, especially like you see in Christ. In the Book of Revelation, St. John describes it as a strength that comes from communion with Jesus.  He wrote, I, John . . . share with you the distress, the kingdom, and the perseverance we have in Jesus.” (Rev. 1:9)

We learn perseverance from Jesus, and we receive it from him. When I am tempted to give up and when I don’t feel like praying, often it’s because I am too focused on all the problems. Then I need to re-focus on Christ by renewing my prayer. I need to renew my communion with the Lord.

Perseverance is not something we can conjure up by ourselves.          Rather, Christ gives us his enduring strength in prayer, in the Eucharist and in his Word. This word only appears twice in all four Gospels, here and in Luke’s explanation of the Word that falls on rich soil. In that passage Jesus says, “As for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart and bear fruit through perseverance.” (Lk. 8:15)

People with perseverance let the Word take root in them. No matter what, they take time to listen to the Lord. Even in sickness or tragedy or isolation, they persevere in prayer. Are you struggling with perseverance? Are you tempted to give up hope in your faith life? Or are you tempted to despair because of the chaos in the world? Then renew your commitment to prayer and the Word of God. Ask the Holy Spirit for the ‘endurance of Christ.’

I have been carefully reviewing the Gospels. I am on a subcommittee for the Translation of the Scriptures for the USCCB, and we are in the process of reviewing the New Testament translation.  Since June, I have spent 1-2 hours a day carefully reading the gospels. I have been constantly reflecting on the words of Jesus. It keeps me in a steady conversation with Christ.

I have a different attitude when I maintain a good habit of prayer. The problems remain, but my perspective is hopeful and peaceful. Then I see myself as serving the Lord and not working by myself.  It’s his Church, not mine.  I’m a worker in the Lord’s vineyard.

Parents, you have so many concerns about your children. But remember, they are God’s children first. Pray for them, and every day put them in God’s hands. If you try to take care of them all by yourself, you will become weary. But if you see them as gifts from God who loves them more than you do, then you will have the ‘endurance of Christ.’ Care for them inside of your communion with Christ.

Another main source of perseverance is the example of the saints. Reading stories of the saints always inspires me to keep going. Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne. She had untiring perseverance.

Born in France, she joined the convent when she was nineteen.  Soon the French Revolution began and the convent was closed, so she took care of the poor and the sick, opened a school for homeless kids and risked her life helping priests in the underground. Eventually, she came with four nuns to the United States to work among the Indians. She was 49 years old, and founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi.  But cold and hunger drove them out, and the school failed.

Then she went to Florrisant, Missouri where she founded the first Catholic Native American School.  Father DeSmet met her there in 1823.  He said he had never seen a soul more ardent in its love of Our Lord. At 72 years of age, she was in poor health and retired. But she went to a newly founded Indian mission in Kansas and dedicated her time to prayer. The Indians named her ‘Woman who prays always.’ (pp. 359-360, Saint of the Day)

People saw in St. Rose Philippine two characteristics – perseverance in hardship and persistence in prayer.  The two go together.  She had perseverance only because she was a ‘Woman who prays always.’ She stayed in close communion with God, so she had the ‘endurance of Christ.’

In the trials of life, are you living with perseverance? Are you staying strong each day as a faithful disciple? Jesus said, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  (Lk. 21:17-19) He could say that because he was secure in the Father’s love. At every Eucharist, that same love is poured into our hearts.

Seminary Trip

Seminary Trip

This weekend nine young men are going to Conception Seminary in Missouri.  They are accompanied by Fr. Steve Titus, Vocation Director, and Fr. Hiep Nguyen, Associate Vocation Director.  They will experience the lifestyle of seminarians and discern whether the Lord is calling them to priesthood.  Please pray for them.

Attitude is everything

Attitude is everything

Last Friday, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Rose of Lima in Torrington.  Then on Sunday, I confirmed students from Powell, Clark and Cody at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Cody.  The homily from Sunday is below.

One of the deepest desires of every person is to pray well.  We want to know that God hears our prayer; we want to be sure of God’s help.  Many of you wrote something similar.  You said that you want to be confirmed because you want to be closer to God.

In today’s gospel (Lk. 18:9-14), Jesus teaches that ‘prayer’ is not about technique, but about attitude.  It’s not about praying the right prayers, but the attitude in your heart when you pray.  If you pray with pride or self-righteousness, then it’s a dead end.  But if you pray with humility, God pours out his mercy.

Jesus said that it is enough to say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  (Lk. 18:13)  That is so simple, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” When the Church revised the rite for individual confession in the 1970’s, this was listed as an option for the Act of Contrition: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  It is striking to hear people say that in the confessional. It expresses the two essential ingredients for prayer, humility and trust in God’s Mercy.

Do you want to learn how to pray like that?  There are two good ways:  Read the saints.  Hang out with weak people – sick, elderly in nursing homes, people with disabilities, etc.

As a seminarian, one of my assignments for pastoral service was to visit a nursing home.  I hated it. I felt so helpless.  I couldn’t do anything to help them.  As I was with them, it was painful to see their weakness and frailty.  It put me face-to-face with human poverty.  Now, I enjoy visiting the sick and the elderly in nursing homes.  It is still hard to look at their suffering, but praying with them is amazing. In their brokenness, they have to rely completely on God.

You see this in St. Julia Billiart whom a student chose for her Confirmation saint. This is what a student wrote: “At the age of 31 an unidentifiable illness left Julia paralyzed.  She soon became known for her intercessory prayer. When she was 53, a priest requested her to pray a novena for a special intention unknown to her.  When she finished the novena, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the priest asked her to take one step in honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Julia did so and was completely cured.”

St. Julia was completely paralyzed for 22 years.  At the same time, she was known for intercessory prayer.  Her paralysis coincided with humble effective prayer.  I have found that sickness helps me to be humble before God. Hang out with the sick and the saints; they teach you how to be humble and trust in God.  St. Teresa of Avila said, “The whole edifice of prayer is founded upon humility.”  Being humble is like opening the door of your heart to God’s light.

Tonight as you are confirmed, be humble and receptive before God.  In fact, think of where you feel weak or powerless.  Are you weak physically, intellectually, emotionally or spiritually?  How do you struggle academically?  What temptation makes you stumble in sin?  When do you feel isolated or afraid?  See your weakness as an opportunity to be humble before God.

Sirach says: “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.” (Sir. 35:17)  In the Bible, the lowly are humble people who trust in the Lord.  They are the poor, afflicted or persecuted who trust that God is with them. “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.”

Trust that God will strengthen you tonight, especially where you are weak. Confirmation comes from the Latin verb ‘confirmare’ which means to strengthen.  This sacrament strengthens you with the Holy Spirit. It strengthens your relationship with God.  It empowers you to overcome sin.  It gives you strength to be a witness.

Often people think that Confirmation is something that you do for God. Some youth say, “It is my commitment to God.”  That is part of Confirmation, but not the main part.  First of all, Confirmation is a gift from God.  God gives you the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is pure gift.  So be humble before God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then, you must to respond to such a great gift. Gifts are given so that you can help others, not merely to enjoy by yourself.  Only a spoiled brat doesn’t share his or her gifts.  So yes, we have to make a commitment to God. The saints show us how to do that best.

One of you chose Mother Teresa of Calcutta as your confirmation saint.  This student wrote: “Mother Teresa’s life of holiness is such an inspiration to me. She felt God calling her to help others and put other’s needs first.  I look up to her because I think she represents what a person can be like now in this day.  She led an amazing life and believed that a simple smile could do a lot of good.  One of my favorite quotes is “Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

In 2005, I had the privilege of visiting the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.  We visited the home for the dying, an orphanage for babies to age three and a leprosarium or a place where lepers live.  By the way, all the saris worn by the Missionaries of Charity are made by lepers.  At the leprosarium there were 15-20 looms where they made the saris.

Mother Teresa’s sisters serve the weakest people – the dying, orphans, lepers, etc. They dedicate their lives to serving the least.  In their service to the poor, they reflect God’s love for the poor.  We heard about that love in Psalm 34: “The LORD hears the cry of the poor.  The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” (Ps. 34:19)

Mother Teresa started each day with an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  Every morning, she was barefoot in the chapel, kneeling on the floor.  Staying humble before God was her secret to doing great things.  She kept receiving God’s strength and love in prayer, then she responded by serving others.

As you are confirmed, pray in two ways. First, humbly receive the Holy Spirit.  Trust that God will strengthen you tonight in your weakness.  Second, ask the Lord to make you a saint who brings his mercy to others, like St. Julia Billiart or St. Mother Teresa.  The Holy Spirit is given to us to empower us to do Jesus’ work.  Listen to how God is calling you to be a saint.

The key to Persistent Prayer

The key to Persistent Prayer

This weekend, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with two parishes in Cheyenne.  On Saturday evening, I was at St. Joseph’s Parish and on Sunday morning at Holy Trinity Parish.  The homily is below.

“Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always and never give up.” (Lk. 18:1)  Do you know what is one of the most common things that young people write in their confirmation letters about prayer? When I ask the students to write me a letter, I ask them to describe how they pray. Here is are a few quotes from their letters:

  • “I hardly pray anymore, or get any alone time. . . . but I want to become a better child of God.”
  • “I don’t really do daily prayer, and yes I know I should.”
  • “I honestly don’t spend much time in prayer at all. I really only pray when I feel that I have the time which is not very often, but I want to make a habit of praying regularly every day.” 

I admire the honesty of these young people. They describe two issues with prayer: First, they don’t take much time for prayer. Second, they want to pray more. What they say is not only true for them, but also for most adults.  About 7% of Catholics have a habit of praying every day. Why do people not pray?

For one thing, often we think too much of ourselves and too little of God.  In our busy lives we feel too important, but we don’t see God as ‘Large and in charge.’ We don’t live with a good balance between God’s power and human effort. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2834)

In the first reading (Ex. 17:8-13), Moses held the staff of God as the Israelites fought against Amalek. The staff of God symbolized the strength of God. With the staff in his hand Moses released the plagues on Egypt. When he held it over the sea, God divided it and the people passed through. The staff brought forth water from the rock. It is not just that Moses prayed, but he prayed with the staff of God.

The Israelites believed that they could win a battle only with the strength of God. As we heard in Psalm 121 today, “The LORD is your guardian . . . he is beside you at your right hand.  The LORD will guard you from all evil . . .  The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.”  (Ps. 121:5, 7-8)

First of all, “Pray as though everything depended on God.” Second, “Work as though everything depended on you.” Sometimes we don’t pray because we are slothful. To be slothful doesn’t merely mean to be lazy spiritually. It also means to lose hope in the midst of trials. Another word for sloth is acedia, which means literally “to not care.”  The person with acedia does not care about life because he has lost hope in the meaning of life.

The desert fathers call acedia the noonday demon.  In the hottest part of the day, when work is the hardest sloth creeps in.  People give up because they are worn down by sickness or the trials of life.  They feel that what they do doesn’t matter anymore because they have lost a sense that God is with them. They don’t care because they think that God doesn’t care for them.

Jesus had the opposite attitude.  Do you know why he never gave up?  Because he knew that God the Father had his back.  He believed that the Father cared for him, even on the cross.  You can hear his trust in the Father’s love when he said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” (Lk. 23:46)  My favorite prayer of Jesus is, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34) In that prayer Jesus expresses his trust in the Father’s love for those who crucified him and for all sinners.  How could we not pray with confidence to a God who is so good?

For Jesus, the most important thing is to remember to whom you pray.  In this gospel reading (Lk. 18:1-8) he tells us, “Be persistent in prayer because God is a just judge.”  We think of judges who sentence people to prison for crimes.  But in Jesus’ day, the judge was a defender of the least.  The judge was the one who made sure that the defenseless were protected.

Jewish law stated that the cause of orphans had to be heard first, then widows. The Hebrew people believed that God gave first priority to the cries of little orphans, and next in priority were widows.  God’s heart is moved by the neediest among us. Therefore, if a crooked judge will answer a widow who is persistent in demanding justice, how much more quickly will God respond to our petitions? “Will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” (Lk. 18:7)

Do you fail to take time to pray, or have you given up on prayer? Then ask yourself, “Do I have the right image of God?”

Jesus urged us to never up on prayer because he was utterly convinced that God cares for us.  God is a merciful Father who pours out his gifts for his chosen ones. God is a just judge who is quick to defend the rights of the defenseless. The Lord is your guardian.  Six times in Psalm 121, the Lord is described as a guardian. The same word is used for a shepherd who constantly watches over his sheep so that wolves cannot get them. “The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.” (Ps. 121:8)

Catherine of Siena said: “Don’t you understand?  God is running after you day and night as though he has nothing else to do but simply to occupy himself with you.”

One of the students who wrote about prayer believes that.  He wrote: “I pray for at least 20 minutes every night, and I ask God to help all the sick people and my family so God holds their hand at all times.”  His simple way of praying shows trust in God as our just judge and guardian.

One girl wrote: “My praying process has become better throughout the year. I have prayed every day 5 minutes in the morning, thanking God to see another day. My daily ‘routine’ is praying in the morning, then at night I would read something out of the Bible.  Sometimes I pray for any upcoming tests at school.” You can hear in her letter a young lady growing in her relationship with God, a few minutes to thank God in the morning and time to read the Bible at night.

Prayer is a muscle to develop. Prayer warriors work at it every day, like an athlete who trains daily.  Here are a few basics of prayer:

  • Choose a specific time to pray. I pray every morning about 45 minutes.
  • Dedicate a place for prayer, maybe a prayer corner in your room.
  • Start prayer by listening to God. Be quiet in nature. Read the Bible. Always let God speak first, then talk about your day.

 “Pray always and never give up.”  Prayer makes saints. We can see the power of prayer in the lives of the saints.  St. Maximillian Kolbe was at the concentration camp at Auschwitz when the Nazis sentenced ten men to die in a starvation bunker.  Kolbe volunteered to take the place of one man, then he led his fellow prisoners in prayer and songs.  The prayer kept him strong.  You could see it in his eyes.  The guards told him not to look at them because he had such a piercing look.  The prayer made him strong as steel.  Everyone died from starvation but him, so the guards injected him with poison.

St. Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) God will be with you as a guardian.  Today ask God for that grace in Confirmation and as you receive the Eucharist. Be persistent in prayer and God will fill you with the strength to do anything.

Strength in the Storm

Strength in the Storm

This Sunday evening, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cheyenne.  The homily is below.

I asked each of the students to write me a letter about why they want to be confirmed.  One student wrote: “I would like to get confirmed because I want to get closer to God.  I want to know what the right path is for me.  And I want to figure out what he sent me here to do.  I also want to get confirmed because I want to help out more in my community by serving the church and God.”  Another student wrote: “I would like to be confirmed because I want my relationship with God to grow.  I want to be closer to God and for the Holy Spirit’s gifts to be strengthened in me.” 

Many of you wrote that you want to get confirmed to be closer to God, or you want God’s help and guidance.  So your teacher did a good job of teaching you the central aspects of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  It deepens your relationship with God.  Confirmation strengthens your relationship with God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

But remember that God wants a closer relationship more than you do.  God gave us this Sacrament to be close to us and to help us on our journey.  This is one of the things we see again and again in the stories of the Bible.  God is always reaching out to people, especially people in distress.  In today’s gospel, ten lepers approached Jesus and said, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Lk. 17:13)

Lepers were outcasts.  No one was supposed to touch them.  People were afraid that they might be contaminated if they touched them.  Whenever someone approached lepers, they had to yell, “Unclean, unclean.”  This was to keep people far away from them.  Again, they were afraid of becoming diseased like the lepers.  They were required to live outside of the city, so they had no friends.  They suffered in isolation.

The Samaritan leper was an “outsider among outcasts.”  Samaritans were hated by other Israelites.  To be a leper and a Samaritan was to be a total outcast. Even the other lepers probably looked down on him.

What is surprising is that the lepers felt that it was safe to approach Jesus, even the Samaritan.  They weren’t afraid of being rejected.  They must have heard not only that Jesus could heal people, but that he had compassion for outsiders like them.  We see this so often.  Remember the blind beggar who called out to Jesus for help, while everyone else was telling him to be quiet.  But Jesus said, “Call him here.” (Mk. 10:49) He had mercy for lowly people, those whom everyone else ignored or shunned.

By the grace of Confirmation, you will experience the mercy of Jesus.  He is close to you in your darkness, or when you feel all alone.  But you need to cry out in prayer for his help.  In addition, Confirmation will make you a witness of his mercy for outcasts.  It will inspire you to be like the saints whom you chose.

Saints are people who experienced Jesus mercy, then brought his mercy to others.  One of you wrote this about your saint. “My confirmation name is Elizabeth Ann Seton, and I chose her because she shows how much she believes in God.  She had to go through the death of a spouse and child and through that she prayed and looked to God to help her get through this hard time.  She showed me what love and trust is.”

Elizabeth’s husband was sick, so in 1803 they traveled to Italy to stay with friends in a warmer climate.  The voyage on the ship took six weeks and she wrote: “I have been in a sea of troubles . . . but the guiding star is always bright and the master of the storm always in view.” 

She’s talking about the story of the disciples caught in a storm in the boat with Jesus walking toward them.  In all her troubles, she felt him close by her side.  Her husband died when she was 29 years old. Later two of her daughters died.  Yet she could still say, “I have been in a sea of troubles . . . but the guiding star is always bright and the master of the storm always in view.”  That is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit – to be with us in dark and stormy times.  The Holy Spirit continues to be his presence in the storms of life.

Jesus called the Spirit the ‘Paraclete.’  Paraclete is a Greek word.  Literally, it means the “one whom you call to your side” (to help you and defend you).  In other words, the Paraclete is “the one who answers my cry for help and stands beside me.” 

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus who is merciful to the lowly and outcast.  He was always approachable and close to the sick and needy.  The Holy Spirit does the very same thing.  When the lowly cry for help, the Holy Spirit comes beside them to strengthen them so that they feel Jesus’ presence.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton knew that Jesus was with her and guiding her when her husband died and her daughters died.  But she didn’t stop there.  She brought his mercy to others.  She decided to help poor girls who had no opportunity to go to school.  She established Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls.

Then she established a religious community dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. This was the first congregation of religious sisters to be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic school in America.

Today as you are confirmed pray in two ways.  First, ask God to send his Spirit and strengthen you in your weakness.  Where do you experience darkness?  What temptation makes you stumble in sin?  When do you feel isolated or afraid?   Pray for the Paraclete to come and strengthen you.  The Paraclete is “the one who answers your cry for help and stands beside you.” 

Second, ask the Lord to make you a saint who brings his mercy to others.  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton started a free Catholic school for poor girls.  St. Francis of Assisi said, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

 St. Elizabeth of Hungary was the daughter of a king.  Her husband died when she was 20 years old and pregnant with their third child.  But she dedicated her life to help others.  She started a hospital to help the poor, and she visited the poor in their shacks.

The Holy Spirit is given to us to strengthen us in the storms of life, and to empower us to do Jesus’ work.  Ask God to help you where you are weak, then listen to how God is calling you to be a saint.

Hired Hand or Child of God?

Hired Hand or Child of God?

On Saturday night, I was at St. Anthony’s Parish in Casper to celebrate the Ministry of Lector for the the six men in formation for the permanent diaconate.  This Sunday, I will be in Kaycee for Mass.  Following is the homily for today’s readings.

Do you understand why Jesus clashed with the Pharisees?  Why were they always so upset with him?  Today’s gospel begins, “The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’  So to them he addressed this parable.” (Lk. 15:2-3)

Their grumbling is the context of the parables in Luke 15.  It is essential to understand what is behind their grumbling.  This is crucial if we want to be true disciples.  To gain insight into the Pharisees’ grumbling, let’s look at the two sons.  Have you ever noticed how they relate to their father?  The sons do not really relate to him as a loving father, but more like a business man. 

 The younger son said to him, “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” (Lk. 15:12)   Give me my share!  He just wants his inheritance.  He relates to his father not with loving respect, but out of selfish gain.  Then when he came back destitute, he said, “I don’t deserve to be called your son; treat me like a hired hand.” (Lk. 15:19)  The older son isn’t much different.  The first words out of his mouth are about serving his father like a slave.  “All these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders.” (Lk. 15:29) Another translation says, For all these years I have been working like a slave for you.” 

 Neither son relates to him as a loving father.  Instead they see him as an employer or even a task master.  The younger son said, “Treat me like a hired hand.”  The older son said, “I have been working like a slave for you.”

As a child, I often saw my dad as a business man.  He was always in debt. He had huge loans on land and cattle.  He constantly worried about debt and talked about money problems. But one experience showed me a different side of my dad.

One night I was in a neighboring town for a dance and dared a classmate to drag race.  While racing, I hit a black angus cow on the highway and totaled the pickup.  When I came home, I woke up my parents and told them that I wrecked the pickup.  My dad sat up in bed and asked, “Did anyone get hurt?”  When I said “No,” he replied: “Okay.  We’ll talk about it in the morning.”  Then he laid back down.

As I walked upstairs to my bedroom I was stunned by his concern for me.  The only important thing to him was that I returned home safe and sound.  I still remember lying awake and feeling overwhelmed that his main concern was my safety.  The same concern has been expressed by countless parents; their greatest concern is for the well-being of their children.

Can you imagine how much more that is true for God the Father?  His only real concern is our safety, to have us back home safe and sound.  In the parable, the servant explains to the older son the reason for the celebration.  He says, “Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” (Lk. 15:27) 

Now, the next morning I never explained to my dad that we were racing.  Do you think that would have changed his reaction?  Now imagine this. What if I told him that we had been racing, and he ran over to me and hugged me with tears in his eyes and said that the only thing that mattered was to have me home perfectly healthy?  Then he said, “We’ll slaughter the steer that we have been fattening and have a huge party.”  Then he announced that he would get a loan to buy a new pickup, and I would be given my own set of keys for it.

I suppose you’re thinking, “Nobody would ever do that!  Nobody is that naïve.  Only a parent who is a total idiot would do that.”  But that is how Jesus describes the father of the prodigal son.  He gave him his best robe, a ring and sandals to reassure him that he’s not a hired hand but a son, and everything he has is his son’s.

The father is not an idiot.  Nor is he a strict business man!  Rather, he is a merciful father!  His love for a lost son rules his heart.  “He was moved with deep compassion” for his wayward son. (Lk. 15:20)   The verb means that his ‘guts ached.’  And they were aching since his son left home.

How do you think that God looks on you when you sin?  Do you believe that God is like a Father who constantly watches down the road for his lost son or daughter to return?  “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him.” (Lk. 15:20)  He saw him coming because he was always watching for him.

When we have sinned, normally we concentrate on our sins.  We beat ourselves up with how stupid we acted, or how selfish we are.  But Jesus insists that God does something entirely different.  Yes, he sees our sin and all the damage is does to our relationship with God and others.  But that is not the main thing God sees.  The heavenly Father sees a lost son or a wayward daughter, a beloved lost son and a beloved wayward daughter.

Do you understand why Jesus clashed with the Pharisees? The Pharisees tried to be the best Jews!  They tithed faithfully.  They fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays to show penitence and to pray for Israel and its salvation.  They were committed to perfect observance of the commandments.  But in all of this, they saw God as a business man.  This was their mindset, “If I do my part, then I will earn God’s reward.”  So Jesus’ image of God as a merciful Father was blasphemy.

Today, some people in the Church are so upset with Pope Francis.  They think that he is acting wrongfully by his insistence on mercy.  In the past year, a deacon in this diocese told me that the pope is wrong in this area of his teaching toward the divorced and remarried.  Some lay people are saying that he is a heretic because of the mercy he proclaims for those on death row. Two former Catholic college professors from our diocese signed a document stating that he is a heretic for this reason.  This should not surprise us because some Catholic media sources as well as bishops and cardinals are saying similar things.

Many people in our Church relate to God as a business man.  This outlook is as old as the parable of the prodigal son.  Can you imagine how angry the Pharisees were after they heard the parable of the prodigal son?  If the pope is proclaiming the Gospel, then people should be grumbling.  It is a sign that the Risen Lord is speaking among us.

In Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis wrote, “The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. . . . At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity.  We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance.  This is the worst way of watering down the Gospel. . . . We should always consider inadequate any theological conception which in the end puts in doubt the omnipotence of God and, especially, his mercy.”  (Amoris Laetitia, 310-311)

How do you see God?  As a business man or as a merciful Father?  Are you living as a hired hand grumbling like the Pharisees?  Or are you living as a child of the merciful Father humbly rejoicing in his gracious love?

If you struggle to be that humble child, then make a habit of reflecting on the Gospel each day.  Let Christ teach you about the merciful Father.  This is what Pope Francis shows us.  He is first of all a man taught by the Gospel.  That is what rules his heart.

Let the words of Jesus transform you.  Then you will be able to say what St. Paul said in his letter to Timothy.  “I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated . . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost. (Another translation says, “I am the worst sinner.”) But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him.”  (1 Tim. 1:13, 15-16) 

 As we are fed with the Eucharist, may our hearts be inflamed with mercy so that – like St. Paul – we might be an example of the Lord’s inexhaustible patience for others.

Fierce Disciples

Fierce Disciples

At times, people must have thought Jesus was crazy!  The gospel passage we just heard is a great example (Lk. 14:25-33). What did people think when he said, “If anyone comes to me without hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:25-26)  The parallel to this passage in Matthew’s Gospel is not as harsh.  It says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt. 10:37)

The ‘hating’ language challenges us to love and obey God above everyone else. He used shocking language to grab our attention. This is hyperbole.  Do you think that Jesus thinned the crowd that day?  I wonder how many walked away saying to each other, “This is just too much!  He’s crazy!  Why does he say such things?”

He wants to know if we’re totally committed.  To be Christian is to make a definitive choice to serve the Lord. To be Christian is to be totally obedient to God.  Does your obedience to God make you say crazy things?  Things that make people take a step back and wonder if they want to be associated with you?

It reminds me of when I first met Mother Teresa as a seminarian.  When I heard her speak to the person in front of me, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to meet her.  I worked as a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity at a soup kitchen and shelter for homeless men.  When Mother Teresa came to visit, the Sisters would call and say, “Mother is here.  If you come to morning Mass, you could meet her.” 

After Mass, people lined up to meet her, and a man introduced himself and told her that he was making a movie in India.  She interrupted him with a blunt challenge, “What are you doing for Jesus?”  She repeated that question several times.  Then she spoke sternly to him and told him that he was too focused on himself.  I was stunned at how tough she was with him.  Why did she react so harshly toward him?  I thought that maybe this was not a good time to meet Mother Teresa.  I wasn’t sure what she might say to me. 

Mother Teresa was a tiny person, about shoulder height to me.  Yet, she was a formidable presence.  She was fearless.  Why was she so strong?  She had total obedience to God. She made a definitive choice to serve the Lord.  It made her fearless.

For Jesus and St. Teresa of Calcutta, total obedience was rooted in total love of God. It is essential to see the love behind the fearless obedience.  Mother Teresa said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. . . . As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”  Total obedience to the Lord is rooted in total love for God.

Have heard about Franz Jaggerstatter? He was an ordinary lay man who was declared a martyr of the faith in 2007.  Franz lived in Austria during World War II. He was a farmer, with a wife and three children.  He was beheaded because he refused to serve in the army with the Nazis. He was a conscientious objectorof the Nazi regime.

However, his parish priest, his wife and his lawyer all tried to change his mind.  The bishop of the diocese said that he had a responsibility to obey legitimate authorities and to give greater weight to his family’s needs.  Jagerstatter said, “I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, he is free to offend God by lying.  Did not Christ himself say, ‘He who loves father, mother, or children more than me is not worthy of me?”

In a letter to his godchild Franz wrote: “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living. . . . Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives—often in horrible ways—for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must become heroes of the faith.”

Are you living as a hero of the faith, or a halfway Christian?  A hero’s life is rooted in God.  Mother Teresa spent the first hour of the day in prayer.  Franz went to daily Mass.  Their total obedience to God was rooted in total love for God.  You will not get obedience right, if you do not put love first.

You might be strong and forceful, but the danger is to be driven by your own convictions. Sometimes, we are driven by our personality, rather than impelled by the love of God.  I notice that tendency in myself at times.  That kind of energy is mixed up with pride and domination, instead of a humility and gentle strength. 

In contrast, Teresa of Calcutta, Franz Jagerstatter and Jesus had a humble and gentle strength. It was bigger than their own desires because they were impelled by God.  They were worked tirelessly, but were never burned out. They were not fearful or harsh, but calm and confident because they knew that God’s Providence would prevail. 

Yet, their love for God made them do crazy things.  Their love was fierce.  It pushed Franz to take a stand that separated him from family.  It gave him the strength to be beheaded. You will not get obedience right, if you do not put love first.

One of the main things people say in confession is, “I have not kept God as my first priority. My prayer life is weak.” As a new school year begins, we need to re-prioritize.  There are so many activities that compete for our time.  Make the love of God your top priority.

  • Do you willingly join in the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist?  Is Mass the center of your entire life because you realize that without it you can do nothing? 
  • Is daily prayer more important than brushing your teeth or taking a shower? Do you pray each day, no matter what? 
  • Have you made a daily commitment to prayerfully read the Scriptures?  Is the voice of God more important than your favorite website?  People spend 6 ½ hours a day online: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.  How would your attitude change if you spent 10% of that time or 39 minutes a day in silence with the Scriptures?

When you get the Love of God right, then you will be a little crazy…. at least, a little crazy.  Then you will be a hero of the faith, instead of a halfway Christian.  At Mass today, ask for the grace to be centered in God’s love.  Then ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to be a fierce disciple.

Hurricane Aid

Hurricane Aid

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the USCCB, has issued the following statement regarding Hurricane Dorian that left seven people dead in the Bahamas and is moving closer to the southeastern United States:

“As we continue to be vigilant for the effects of Hurricane Dorian as it approaches the U.S. coast, we are extremely mindful of the dire need faced by the community in the Bahamas so devastated by this catastrophic storm. We pray for all effected and invite Catholics and all people of goodwill to donate to Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.”

The donations to CRS can be made at: https://support.crs.org/donate/hurricane-dorian

Donations to Catholic Charities USA can be made at: https://app.mobilecause.com/form/RTKRvQ?vid=1snqm

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