True Charity is a Fire that will Divide

Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
August 17-18, 2019
Sacred Heart, EGF – Sat 5:30 PM; Sun 8:00 AM, 5:30 PM
St. Francis, Fisher – Sun 10:00 AM

Focus:              True charity is a fire that will divide.
Function:         Be a fork in the road


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Father, make of me a crisis man.
Bring those I contact to decision.
Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork
that men must turn one way or another
on facing Christ in me.[i] 

This prayer by the evangelist and martyr Jim Elliot,
an evangelical Christian missionary to Ecuador,
hung outside of my classmate Mark’s door
when we were in the seminary.

Mark was a crisis man,
a man of conviction,
a man set on fire with the love of God.

The fire of divine love that raged in his heart was a dividing fire,
a fire that called me out on a few occasions
and made me realize
where I was compromising in my own discipleship:

The fire of his silence after I had spoken an uncharitable word about another classmate…

The fire of seeing him reading his Bible at the end of his early morning holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, when I was late for mine…

The fire of his courage to stand up for what was right even if it was unpopular to do so…

Father, make of me a crisis man.
Bring those I contact to decision.
Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork
that men must turn one way or another
on facing Christ in me.

Our God is a consuming fire,
a devouring fire.

I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

The message of the Gospel is meant to rid us of every burden and sin that clings to us.
It is a burning fire,
a purifying fire,
a fire that clears away the dead so that new life can spring up.

The Church’s message is Jesus’ message, and that message is meant to challenge us.
A “get along attitude” is not the attitude of the Gospel.

Charity, divine charity, is the message of the Gospel.

And true Charity is a fire that will divide.

Division is not the intention of charity, but true charity will cause division at times. And that is OK.  In fact, it is necessary.

Pope Benedict XVI:
If the Church simply aims to avoid conflict,
merely to ensure that no disturbances arise anywhere,
then her real message can no longer make any impact.
For this message is in fact there
precisely in order to conflict with our behavior,
to tear man out of his life of lies and to bring clarity and truth.
Truth does not come cheap.  It makes demands, and it also burns.

True charity is not a bland indifferentism that accepts everything a person says.

True charity is a love that convicts the heart,
a love,
a passion,
that wills the good of the other.

True charity is a love, a choice,
to be for someone.

True charity is the passionate opposition
to that which works evil in the life of the beloved.

That evil must be burned away. It must be burned away by the Word of Truth which must be spoken.

If you want to see how charity divides, pick any issue that has to do with the dignity of the human person and speak the truth of the Church’s teaching to that issue. Have a conversation and speak the truth
in charity,
in love,
out of care for the true good of the other person,
to the issue of:

  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Euthanasia
  • The death penalty
  • Immigration
  • What marriage is and what marriage is not
  • Living together outside of the sacrament of marriage
  • Gender issues

To speak a word of love is to speak a fiery word.

It is to speak not my word,
but the word of God
in this or that situation,
and to allow that word to clear out all that is opposed to it.

To be on fire with the love of God is to be a man or woman of conviction,
a man or woman who is convicted by the love of Jesus for me and for you,
a conviction that causes me to stand up for what is right and to face with courage what is wrong,
to stand up and to face it because of my love for God and because of God’s love for you.

True charity calls us to be men and women of integrity, truth, and goodness,
men and women on fire with the love of God for souls,
disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who came to cast a fire on the earth!

Jesus came to cast a fire upon the earth,
and he says that this fire will cause division.

True Charity is a fire that will divide.

To be for one thing is necessarily to be against another.[ii]
To turn toward one thing, it is necessary to turn away from something else.

To face the East is to have your back to the West.
To turn to the Good is to turn away from Evil.

We now come to this Eucharist, and we turn toward Christ.

We turn the One who came to cast a fire on the earth.
We come to our God who is a consuming fire.

In consuming him, we are to allow him to consume us.

In the words of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati:
Feed on this Bread of the Angels
from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles,
the struggles against passions and against all adversities,
because Jesus Christ has promised
to those who feed themselves with the most Holy Eucharist,
eternal life and the necessary graces to obtain it. 

And when you become totally consumed by this Eucharistic Fire,
then you will be able to thank with greater awareness the Lord God
who has called you to be part of his flock
and you will enjoy that peace
which those who are happy according to the world have never tasted.
Because true happiness…does not consist in the pleasures of the world and in earthly things, but in peace of conscience which we can have only if we are pure in heart and in mind.[iii]

My classmate Mark allowed Christ to consume him,
and Mark’s life became a fork in the road that compelled me to turn more toward Christ.

So too for you.

If you come forward to consume him and allow him to consume you,
his divine fire will rage within you
he will make of your life
a fork
that men must turn one way or another
on facing Christ in you.


[i] Prayer by Jim Elliot.

[ii] Bishop Robert Barron, Homily for August 18, 2019.

[iii] (Staten Island, NY: Fathers and Brothers of the Society of St. Paul, 2008), 129.

Faith Pushes Us Forward on Our Pilgrimage

Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
August 6-7, 2016
St. Philip’s Bemidji – 5:30 PM; 7:30 AM; 9:00 AM

August 11, 2019
Sacred Heart, EGF – 8:00 AM; 10:00 AM

Focus:              Faith pushes us forward on our pilgrimage.
Function:        Take the next step.


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It is good to be with you again. As you may know, three weeks ago I left for a pilgrimage to Spain to walk “el Camino de Santiago,” or “The Way of Saint James.”

The tradition holds that, after the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, St. James evangelized Spain. In the 9th century, a shepherd discovered the tomb containing his bones and, in time, a Church was built over the site.  It became a popular pilgrimage site, and there are paths beginning in France that lead across Northern Spain, ending at the Cathedral in Santiago.  This became known as the Camino, which is Spanish for “the Way” of Saint James.  Many, many pilgrims walk the Camino each year as a pilgrimage.  Some start in France and spend 4-5 weeks walking the 775 kms to reach the Cathedral.  Our group started in Sarria, Spain, and walked the last 115 kms in 6 days.

When we arrived in Sarria, we had a rest day before we started walking. I remember walking through town.  It was an unsettling experience.  I didn’t understand the language very well.  The surroundings were unfamiliar.  I wasn’t entirely sure where I was on the map.  The Cathedral seemed so far away.  I was making this pilgrimage with a group, and only for 6 days.  I began to think of people who made this pilgrimage by themselves.  It seemed like such a daunting undertaking.  If I’m honest, I have to admit that some fear set in – fear that would have discouraged me from starting out on the journey had I been alone – fear that would have taken some faith and courage to overcome.

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. Faith led Abraham, our father in faith, to leave his home and all that was familiar and to set out for a far-away land that the Lord had promised to give him. He had the strength and courage to leave because he had faith in the God who had made the promise.  Even though he could not see where he was going, he had a real faith that he would arrive in the land that was promised to him.

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The next day, when we started out on our pilgrimage, we came across the first of many granite markers we would see. These markers had a yellow arrow that pointed to the path and indicated how far we were from the Cathedral.  As we walked, we kept our eyes open for the next marker.  They were everywhere. They were the evidence of our destination, the Cathedral, which we could not see.  By following the path that the markers laid out for us, we had faith that we would realize – that we would come to see – the Cathedral that we hoped that we would see.  The markers with their yellow arrows gave us faith and hope that we were going in the right direction. Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.

A pilgrimage is not always easy. Sometimes things don’t go as we had planned. Sometimes there are blisters – painful, nasty blisters.  We walked 14 miles the first day.  At the end of that day, my friend Deacon Jerry had 4 blisters on the bottom of his feet.  He rested his feet that afternoon, applied some moleskin to them, and set out with us the next day.  We walked another 14 miles, and Jerry had a couple of more blisters at the end of that day.  He rested again and applied some more moleskin.  Day 3 was a shorter walk – only 8 miles.  By the end of that day, Jerry was in agony.  He could hardly walk.

When we got to the hotel, someone in our group asked the clerk if there was anyone who would be able to look at his blisters and treat them properly. The clerk contacted a massage therapist who often visited pilgrims on the way.  Ludi arrived at the hotel in minutes, took one look at his feet, and said he needed to have a doctor look at them.  She then drove us to the hospital in her own car and then waited with us for over an hour while they treated his blisters.  She then drove us back to the hotel, and adamantly refused to take any money for her time.  “No, no, no, you are my friends.”

Pope Francis has said that “Faith is not a light that scatters all our darkness, but a lamp that guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.” In other words, faith does not light up the whole path so that we can see the destination, but it is just bright enough to help us see the next step we should take.  Faith does not remove the darkness of suffering, but it accompanies us in the darkness.  The light of Faith shines brightly when the darkness is great.  In the hour of trial, faith brings light.  The name Ludi means “light”, “one who is full of light.”  Ludi was, indeed, a great light for us on the Way.

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Deacon Jerry had to skip 2 days of the pilgrimage, but was able to rejoin us for the final day. After 6 days and 76 miles of following the yellow arrows on the granite markers, we finally reached the Cathedral in Santiago.  They yellow arrows had pushed us forward on our pilgrimage, and by following them, one by one, one after another, we reached our destination.

Brothers and sisters, life is a pilgrimage. We are journeying toward a destination – the heavenly Jerusalem – the Kingdom of Heaven where Christ, the premier pilgrim, has gone before to mark the way for us.  He blazed the trail and has left markers along the path so that we can follow where He has gone.

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He has left us yellow arrows in the Commandments that show us how to live – where to walk – so that we do not stray from the path that leads to eternal life. Wide is the road that leads to destruction and narrow the way that leads to the Kingdom of God, but the command of the Lord is clear, giving light to the eye, so that we can see the path we should follow.

He has left us the Eucharist – the Mass – as the Memorial of his Sacrifice to nourish and strengthen us on our journey and to keep us on the path to eternal life – the Memorial which we do in remembrance of Him who made us the great promise: “I am going to prepare a place for you…” Our faith in what God will do is strengthened when we remember what God has done.

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He has given us friends and family – fellow pilgrims along the way – some of whom are ahead of us – who know the way because they can see the next marker on the horizon when we do not yet know where we are going.

Life is a journey. Life is a pilgrimage.  There are hills and valleys.  There are blisters on our feet.  There are fellow pilgrims along the Way.  There are markers pointing out the way we should go even though we may not yet see the destination.

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. Faith pushes us forward on our pilgrimage.

Have faith, take the next step, and look for the next marker.

And when the journey is over, we will have a great story to tell.

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Cathedral of Saint James (“Santiago”)

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The main altar inside the Cathedral

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The tomb of Saint James in the crypt of the Cathedral

 

So Many Things Don’t Matter to God. Some Things Do.

Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
August 3-4, 2019
St. Lawrence, Mentor – Sat 7:30 PM; Sun 10:30 AM
St. Joseph, Fertile – Sun 8:30 AM
Sacred Heart, EGF – Sun 5:30 PM

Focus:              So many things don’t matter to God
Function:        Seek what matters to God


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DL Moody (1800’s preacher): Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.

 So many things don’t matter to God

  • Your hair color
  • The car you drive
  • Sports results
  • The plot of the latest TV show
  • The latest drama on social media
  • Your job title
  • Vanity – having my ego stoked
  • Money, possessions

So many things don’t matter to God

Some things matter greatly to God:

  • Relationships
  • Quantity time
  • Virtue: the disposition to love and to live in right relationship with others. Humility, Patience, Generosity, Gratitude, Diligence, Discipline, Temperance, Chastity.
  • Learning to love – learning to make a gift of yourself to others
  • Loving God and Loving others: union with God and union with others. PURPOSE – THIS IS WHY YOU EXIST. God made us for him.
  • Prayer, which fosters and strengthens your relationship with God
  • Repentance: “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel”
  • Eternity – our eternal salvation

So many things don’t matter to God.

Some things matter greatly to God.

Holiness: transforming our desires so that “what matters to me is what matters to God.”
To advance along the path of holiness is to stop chasing what matters to me and to start chasing what matters to God.

In your own life, how do you know what matters to God?

The gospel gives us a clue.
The gospel puts it into perspective.

The man in the gospel chased things that did not matter to God. He had been given all of these riches, all of these good things.  Instead of emptying his barns and making a gift of what he had to others, he stored them up for himself so that he could rest on his laurels.

And that very night his life was demanded of him.

How do you know what matters to God?

Here’s the test:
If your life was demanded of you tonight, what will you wish you would have done?

Recently I listened to a talk where the speaker likened how old you are to the time of day.
If you are 15 years old, it’s 10:25 AM.
If you are 20 years old, it’s 11:34 AM.
If you are 25 years old, it’s 12:42 PM – just after lunch.
If you are 35 years old, it’s 3:00 PM.
If you are 45 years old, it’s 5:15 PM.
If you are 50 years old, it’s 6:25 PM.
If you are 70 years old, it’s 11:00 PM.

It puts it in perspective, doesn’t it? I thought I had more time…

Are you chasing what matters to God?  Or are you chasing what matters to you?  When you get to the end of your life, you will wish you had chased what mattered to God, because what matters to God is what will ultimately matter to us in the end.

Cardinal Francis George: The only things you take with you in the life to come are the things you’ve given away on earth.

Bishop Robert Barron: You’ll have in the heavenly realm nothing other than the love you’ve cultivated here below.

The man in the gospel would not give his life away, so his life was demanded of him.

John Paul II: Man will not fully find himself until he learns to make a sincere gift of himself.

Jesus: He who loses his life for my sake will find it.

We are meant to give our lives away.

My work in the Office of Vocations with the Diocese of Crookston: walking with guys discerning a vocation to the priesthood. It’s so often the same.  “I think this is what God wants.  It’s not what I want”

To the infinite call of God, man must add his finite yes.

God empties himself in the call to the man, man must empty himself so that he can receive that call.

The man being called to the priesthood must learn to want for himself what God wants for him.

The man must die to himself, must empty himself, in order to be filled with what God desires to give.

It’s a painful thing to give up what you want, but once you do, you find that really you wanted what God wanted for you all along.

State of things in the Diocese.  It takes 6-8 years to journey through seminary. 15 of our 35 active priests eligible to retire in that time.  We have 4 men in seminary.  God will provide.  This is not a cause for despair, but it is a cause to ask ourselves if we are doing our part, if we are doing all that we can.

God is still calling, but the men he is calling may not want what God wants.  To get to that point – they need your help.

They need you to empty yourself of your riches so that they can discover what God wants for them, and ultimately, what we want for them – to realize their vocations as priests.

Will you give of the riches of your encouragement, speaking that word that you’d rather hold in because you don’t know how it will be received?

Will you pour out the gift of your prayers and the sacrifice of your time? In the words of your pastor: “How can we expect a man to give his whole life in service to God’s people when we will not give an hour a week before the Blessed Sacrament praying for his vocation?”

Brothers and sisters,
The goal of life is not to fill your barn.
The goal of life is to empty your barn,
to empty it so that you have room to receive what God wishes to give you: life to the full on this earth and eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let me say it again.

What matters to God is not that you fill your barn.
What matters to God is that you empty your barn so that he can fill it with what he wants to give you.

What ultimately matters to God? You.  He emptied himself for you.

What does he want to give you?
His very self (Crucifix)

What does he want to give you?
His very self (Eucharist/altar)

He emptied himself for you.
Will you empty yourself for him?