Chaplain’s Conference: Keep Your Heart with All Vigilance, for from It Flow the Springs of Life (Prov 4:23)

Chaplain’s Conference
Sacred Heart High School
November 26, 2018


This past weekend I had the great privilege of baptizing my niece, Catherine Marie. It was a great day.  As I prepared for the celebration I could not help but think of her future.  “What will this child be?”  “What trials will she face in her life?”  “What joys will she experience?”

I found myself looking at her and praying that she would always know the Father’s love for her…
A love so strong that it created her out of nothing…
A love so strong that He was willing to send His only Son to die to pay the debt for the sin that she inherited from our first parents…
A love that, on Saturday, on the day of her baptism, would adopt her into his own family and fill her soul with his own divine life, a love that would truly make Catherine his daughter…

Those were my hopes for Catherine as I looked upon her on the day of her baptism. “What will this child be?”

I thought of my own coming of age and of the coming of age of my siblings and cousins…I thought of how, as we grow up, our hearts can become hardened and we can lose sight of the glory to which we are called.

I thought of all of you.

What dreams did your parents have for you on the day of your baptism?

What dreams did the Heavenly Father have for you on the day of your baptism?

The Book of Proverbs urges us with these words:

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov 4:23)

The heart is the core of a person…it is the center of who we are. If we lose our heart, we lose everything.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

Ultimately, this was my wish for Catherine and it is my wish for you – that you would “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life…”  …the Springs of Life – the Holy Spirit, God’s Holy Spirit, who calls you to become who you were created to be…a Beloved Son, a Beloved Daughter, destined to live with him for all eternity in the Heavenly Kingdom.

The past few weeks, in the readings at Mass, we have been hearing a lot about the end times. “Stay awake!  Watch!  Be vigilant!  You do not know the day or the hour when the Son of Man will come!”

The words sound as a warning. They are meant to wake us up from our complacency and they urge us to look at the way we are living our lives.  They ask us the question:

Are we keeping our hearts with all vigilance? Or have we fallen asleep?

You’ve heard me say it before and I say it again today:
the choices that you make today form the person you will be tomorrow.

Are you keeping your heart with all vigilance? Or have you fallen asleep?

What are the ways that we sleep?

We sleep when we fail to be vigilant – to be intentional – about pursing virtue and overcoming sin. When we brush it aside and say “It’s no big deal…everyone is doing it.  I don’t need to go to confession.”

We sleep when we fail to be intentional in our dating relationships…when we fail to set healthy boundaries to keep our hearts with vigilance, when we live for the moment instead of living for the future, our future in this life and also our future in the next.

We sleep when we use the Prayer Period as a time to sleep or rest instead of as an opportunity to practice the tools that we will need in the future to be men and women of prayer, men and women on fire with the love of God. We say “I’m too tired…this is boring…” and we grow slack in zeal – we grow lukewarm – we fall asleep – and we fail to keep our hearts with all vigilance.

How many of us know that we don’t pray as much as we should, and yet we fail to make the most of 15 minutes that we are given during the school day to do this?

I want to give you a challenge. It is this:  Make the most of the gift you are given here.  Invest your heart in prayer and in your relationship with God.

Invest in your relationship with God and in your relationship with your faith family. Say “yes” when your FFL asks you to read a passage for Lectio Divina.  Listen for the word or phrase that sticks out to you – share that with your small group in your faith family.  Quiet your hearts and listen for where the reading touches your life – take a step and share that with your small group instead of zoning out and saying nothing.  Keep your heart with all vigilance, don’t fall asleep.

When we pray the Examen prayer, looking over the past week to see where God was present, where we look at where we responded well or failed to respond to the opportunities that God gave us, do we actually reflect on our week? Do you keep your heart with all vigilance, or do you zone out?

When we come to Mass, do we open a book and sing? Or do we let our lips sleep?  We keep our heart with all vigilance when we allow our hearts to sing praise to God. A grateful heart is the only thing that we can give to God that he does not already have. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.  Keep your heart with all vigilance, and then give it to God.

On December 14th, we will celebrate our Advent Penance Service for the High School.  Confessions will be available.  The opportunity will be given to you.  Will you seize it?  Will you prepare yourself well to make a good confession, to keep your heart, once again, with all vigilance?

After I had baptized Catherine, we gathered downstairs for lunch and to open presents. My mom and dad had bought Catherine her first Rosary.  My mom asked me to bless it, which I did, asking God that when Catherine prayed this rosary that it would inspire faith and devotion in her heart.

Later, I overheard my sister say that my mom and dad had prayed the Rosary for Catherine, using those Rosary beads, as they had driven to the church that morning. They had an intention for each decade.

The first decade was for Catherine to be a happy, healthy, and holy child of God.

The second decade was for her to always know the love of her mom and dad, and that they would have a happy and holy marriage.

The third decade was for her future spouse, that he may be a virtuous, courageous and loving man who is willing to lay down his life for her.

The fourth decade was for her children, whether natural born or adopted, to bring her much joy in her life.

The fifth decade was for just enough trials in life to make her courageous and strong but not overwhelm her and that she will one day be united with God in Heaven.

I heard of this beautiful act of love of a grandma and grandpa for their granddaughter, and I thought: “What will this child be?

I heard of this beautiful act of love, and I thought of you.

What dreams did your parents have for you on the day of your baptism?

What dreams did the Heavenly Father have for you on the day of your baptism?

What dreams does he have for you, even today?

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

Chaplain’s Conference: On Detachment, Integrity, and Identity

Chaplain’s Conference
Sacred Heart Catholic High School
October 3, 2018


integrity

Let us pray.

Clothe us, Lord God,
w
ith the virtues of the Heart of your Son
and set us aflame with his love,
t
hat, conformed to his image,
w
e may merit a share in eternal redemption.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
St. Benedict, pray for us.

I would like to reflect this morning on a few key principles in the spiritual life: detachment, integrity, and identity.

First, some definitions.

Detachment: to let go, to not be attached to something.

In order to follow Jesus, to live as he calls us to live, to become the men and women he calls us to be, we must become detached from those things that keep us from following him and from becoming who he calls us to be.

When I was in junior high, I hated going to the sacrament of Reconciliation. My priest at the time was Fr. Joe Richards. He was, and still is, a holy man…a good priest…someone I look up to. As we grow and mature, we start to have a greater awareness of sin than we had as younger kids. When we were younger, we confessed disobeying our parents and fighting with our brothers and sisters. As we get older, we become aware of bigger things – things that we’re too ashamed or too afraid to admit to ourselves or to say to a priest: anger, gluttony (overindulgence), lust, gossip, envy & jealousy, cheating, stealing, greed, laziness, cowardice, pride.

I had my own struggles with these things. And I was too ashamed to admit them. So, I avoided the sacrament. My parents would bring me to the Sacrament of Reconciliation periodically. I couldn’t bring myself to say them in the confessional, especially to a priest who knew me. So, I confessed the same things that I confessed as a younger child, and I purposefully left out the very thing that I knew I needed to confess.

I was too attached to my need to look like a good kid.
I was too attached to my fear of being judged or of disappointing someone.

And, in clinging to my sin instead of clinging to God’s mercy, I started to lose my integrity.

Integrity is one of the Benedictine values we’ve been highlighting this year. Integrity and integration come from the same word. Those who are new to the Sacred Heart community this year are hopefully, by now, integrating into the community. Soon, if not already, it will seem as if you’ve always been here.

The opposite of integration is disintegration: dissolving, falling apart. Integration is wholeness.

A person of integrity is a person who is integrated. They don’t act one way with one group and another way with another group. They are who they are. What you see is what you get.

Becoming a man or woman of integrity, of integration, takes a lot of work. And part of that work is to detach ourselves from whatever it is that has us acting one way in some situations and another way in other situations.

For me, I acted one way in the world, and then lied to the priest in the confessional. I was two-faced. I was not acting with integrity. Or, I would act one way in the world, and then avoid the priest in the confessional. I would show myself as a “good boy” – a boy of integrity, but I would not act that way around others.

This lack of integrity, this disintegration, finally got to me one year at a high school youth rally. There were 10 priests hearing confessions. Trembling with fear, I went to a priest that I didn’t know and finally confessed everything, and I also confessed that I had purposefully hidden things from my parish priest in previous confessions. It was a huge step forward in my spiritual life – a huge moment of growth. The priest was merciful – he made God’s mercy present to me. And I walked out truly knowing God’s love and forgiveness of me.

The Lord accepted me for who I was and not for what I had done.
I finally knew his love when I was able to detach myself from my fears and from my sin.

Grace abounded.

Brothers and sisters, we don’t practice detachment just for the sake of detachment. We don’t give up things that are sinful in order to be in pain and misery. No, we detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God and to find our true identity.

You are sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father.
You are made to be saints.
That is your identity.

Yet, how often do we attach ourselves to other things that don’t jive with this identity?

What are you attached to?

Are you attached to popularity or a need to be liked?

Are you attached to the need to have a boyfriend or girlfriend?

Are you attached to being funny, to being accepted by older students, to being smart and having perfect grades?

Are you attached to being a star on the court or on the field?

Those can be good things in themselves, but…
if you find yourself getting your self-worth from any of those things…
if you find yourself changing who you are depending on who you are with…
if you find yourself willing to compromise your true identity as a son or daughter of God in order to get those things…

then you have an unhealthy attachment, and if you cling to that unhealthy attachment, you will not be able to become the man or woman of integrity…of integration…of wholeness…that God calls you to be.

Unhealthy attachments lead to anxiety, fear, and misery. Ultimately, they make one two-faced.

Detachment leads to peace of soul, courage, and happiness. Ultimately, it makes one a person of integrity.

How do you find the strength to detach from things that keep you from your true identity?

Prayer. The primacy of prayer. Make time for silence in your day – every day. Doesn’t have to be a lot. Start with 10-15 minutes. Same time every day. Speak to God for a bit, then listen. Spend more time listening than speaking. Prayer is what God uses to help us become integrated.

Regular Confession. Don’t make my mistake. If you find yourself avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation because of fear or shame, I want to tell you again that you cannot say anything in the confessional that will shock me or any other priest that hears confessions here. I have heard it all. I can honestly say that I have never found myself disappointed in a person for what they have said in the confessional. Quite the opposite – I greatly admire the courage that it took for them to admit that and I feel the joy of the Lord who has seen a son or daughter return. (And, to be honest, I don’t remember what was said…)

Last month, I challenged you to consider who you want to be when you leave Sacred Heart.

Do you want to be a man or woman who failed to make use of the means present to them here to become the saint that God calls them to be?

Or do you want to become a man or woman of integrity, who had the courage to face your struggles and to overcome them, with the Lord’s help.

The choice is yours, and you make it by your willingness or unwillingness to take action in your time here.

Opening Chaplain’s Conference: Who Will You Be Tomorrow?

Opening Chaplain’s Conference
Sacred Heart Catholic High School
Wednesday, September 5, 2018


Let us pray.

God our Father,
You call all people to hear your word and be taught by the example of Christ your Son.
Bless this new school year.
Give holiness and wisdom to our teachers.
Give prudence and the blessing of good example to our parents.
Give open hearts and minds to our students as all together we strive to do your will in our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.[1]

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
St. Benedict, pray for us.

Here we are at the beginning of a new school year. Day 2. The excitement is still fresh, or for some of us, perhaps the mourning of a lost summer is fresher. Our seventh graders are still figuring out the routine, wondering “how in the world I am going to use the restroom and get to my next classroom all the way down the hall in three minutes?”

We stand just inside the doorway of this new school year. We stand at the beginning. I would like to reflect a bit this morning on the importance of beginnings. I think that beginnings offer us a unique opportunity, an opportunity that can be easily lost in the hustle and bustle of the school day if we don’t pay attention. Beginnings, especially this beginning of a new school year, offer us an opportunity to pause, to look at where we are now, and to look at where we are going.

What is in store for you this year? How will you have changed by the end of this school year? How will you have grown, or not grown? How will you be different?

Who will you be by the time you graduate from Sacred Heart?

Who do you desire to be? Perhaps more importantly, who does God desire you to be?

I know who God desires you to be.

He desires you to be a saint.

He desires you to be young men and young women of integrity, men and women of character, men and women of virtue.

He wants to set you free from the sins that enslave you.

He wants you to flourish.

He wants you to be joyful, bold, and confident. He wants you to be a leader. He wants you to know what your life is about.  He wants you to live fully and to love deeply.

You are called to love. You are called to love with the Heart of God. You are called to love with the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ under whose Lordship we place this school!

Brothers and sisters, that starts here. That starts now. That starts today. At the beginning.

If we do not choose to practice love of God and love of neighbor here, now, today and every day this year, how can we expect to learn it? How can we expect to get where we are going?

The road to Heaven, the road to sainthood, is paved with your choices, your daily choices, your hourly choices, the choices of each moment, to live the great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).

All of your actions form the person that you are becoming. Every choice you make has an impact on who you will be. No choice is isolated in itself. Sow an act, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a virtue or vice. Sow a virtue/vice, reap character. Sow character, reap a destiny.

Virtue frees you to become the person you were made to be. Vice enslaves you and prevents you from becoming the person you were made to be.

Allow me to give an example.

Honesty is a virtue. A person with the virtue of honesty makes honest decisions quickly and easily. They do not struggle to tell the truth. It is their default mode of acting. How do you develop the virtue of honesty? By performing repeated acts of honesty. One act of honesty. Another act of honesty. Forms the habit of honesty. More acts of honesty. Virtue of Honesty – a character trait.

Likewise: if you tell a lie, then tell another lie, then tell another lie, pretty soon you develop the habit of lying. Keep doing that, and pretty soon you develop the vice of lying. You now lie promptly, easily, and without thinking. It becomes your default mode of acting. You have developed the vice of lying.

The Lord calls you to become men and women of virtue, men and women of character. In a single word, he calls you to become saint! He wants you to become who He were created to be.

Sacred Heart is more than just a school that forms your mind. Sacred Heart is unique in that it strives to form the whole person. You are here to be formed in mind, body, and soul.

You are formed in body through healthy nutrition, through health and physical education classes, and through various athletics in which you train for and in which you participate.

You are formed in mind through the many classes that you take, classes that give you the basic skills and knowledge that you will use throughout the rest of your life.

You are formed in soul through the many opportunities to grow in your relationship with God and with each other. You are formed in soul by being challenged to grow in virtue, to develop the habits that will help you to become the best person you can be.

How do we go about this?

First: pray.

You are given ample opportunities here to pray. You have Mass on Wednesdays. You have a prayer period every day. You have a chapel upstairs where the Jesus himself is present in the Eucharist. You are given opportunities to lead prayer in your classrooms. Learn to pray.

Prayer is a relationship. If you are going to learn to love God and to love others with the heart of God, you must learn to pray. You must encounter the living God. This requires something of you. You have to give yourself to prayer. You must give yourself fully to prayer and seek to praise God, to thank God, to ask God for what you and for what others need with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. You cannot learn to pray if you simply stand on the sidelines with everyone else. You have to get in the game. So often we end up just going through the motions when it comes to prayer. We mumble the response and we don’t put our hearts into it. Brothers and sisters, going through the motions, or just “being here” while prayer is going on, is not prayer. It is a waste of your time.

Learn to pray more this year. Seek to deepen your relationship with God. Even on days when you don’t feel like it, especially on days when you don’t feel like it, choose to show up. As Brooks Bollinger said yesterday: “Have the courage to show up.” Show up with more than your body, show up with your mind and soul as well. Think about what you are doing and saying. If you are present in body but absent in mind and soul during prayer, you are forming your heart toward the vices of ingratitude, selfishness, and irreverence. When you are present in mind and spirit to prayer, when you put your heart into it, when you lift your voice and speak the responses boldly and loudly, when you sing out in order to praise God instead of mumbling along with the crowd, the Lord forms you in the virtues of gratitude and reverence. You begin to flourish and the Lord forms your heart to become a person with magnanimity, that is, a person with greatness of soul.

Pray this year.

Second: Study.

Study diligently in your classes, yes. But also study your own spiritual life. Which vices and habits of sin do you need to overcome? Study how you can do that. Which virtues and good habits do you need to develop? Study how you can do that. Study how others have done that by reading up on the lives of the saints and on spiritual books that inspire your heart to strive after virtue.

This year, in the high school chapel, we will have a small library of books that I have selected that will help you grow spiritually. Spend some time reading them. You don’t have to spend a lot of time – spend 10 minutes a day. Take a book to your study hall. Take a book into adoration.

This year, we will continue to have priests available each week for spiritual direction and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The schedule for each week (including which priest will be available) is posted outside of the High School Chapel. Priests will be available on Wednesdays over lunch, and on Thursdays during your study hall periods in 7th, 8th, and 9th period.

I cannot stress enough the importance of going to a confession on a regular basis. If you struggle with habits of sin in your life, you need to be going to confession regularly. Not only does the Lord forgive your sins, but he also gives you the grace to fight temptations and to overcome them. He will set you free. MAKE USE OF THIS SACRAMENT. Stop compromising with sin in your life. Each time that you give in to acts of sin, you are forming your heart in vice and are enslaving yourself to sin – you are preventing yourself from becoming the person that your future husband, wife, and kids will need you to be. You are preventing yourself from becoming the priest or religious or single person that the Church needs you to be.

You can come to the chapel during these times for spiritual direction from a priest. What is spiritual direction? It is a place where you can have a conversation with a priest. What could you talk about? You can talk about things like: Questions of faith, struggles in faith, doubts in your faith, struggles with chastity or pornography, relationship issues. You can talk about your prayer life and what God might be calling you to do in a situation that you find yourself in. You can talk about how prayer is dry and doesn’t seem to be working for you, and the priest can help you to find a way to pray that works for you. Spiritual Direction is a place where you can speak one-on-one with a priest about your own faith journey. This is an incredible opportunity that most people do not have. Again, MAKE USE OF IT!

Study.

Third, serve.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Imitate him. Serve your teachers and your classmates. Go beyond the bare minimum of what is asked of you by your commitment hours. Be like Mary and say “yes” when something is asked of you, instead of looking for a way out. God does incredible things when we simply say “yes”. When Mary said “yes” to the angel Gabriel, God brought about the salvation of the world. God will do great things when you say “yes”, too.

Go outside of yourself. Ask others how they are doing. When others ask you, instead of complaining, look for the blessings. Count your blessings, as Brooks encouraged you to do yesterday. Cultivate the virtue of gratitude. Your attitude has an impact on everyone around you. Build them up. Curb gossip and negativity. Serve your brothers and sisters by being committed to making their day better.

Pray, study, serve.

Your high school years are your training years. The boy or girl you choose to be today will determine the man or woman you become tomorrow. The virtues that you cultivate (or fail to cultivate) today will form the man or woman that you will be tomorrow. Sacred Heart provides the best environment possible to help you to become men and women of virtue. But you have to make use of it. Don’t waste this opportunity. Make the most of it.


[1] Adapted from Sacerdos in Aeternum: Prayers and Blessings for Priests (Second Edition), edited by Denis Robinson, OSB (St. Meinrad, IN: Abbey Press, 2014), page. 103.

Chaplain’s Conference: Ending Well

Chaplain’s Conference
Sacred Heart Catholic High School
Monday, May 21, 2018


thats all folks

Here we are: the home stretch. The end is in sight.  As we approach the end of the school year, it is important to pause and consider how we will end this school year.

The Book of Sirach (11:28) reminds us of this important truth:
Call no man happy before his death,
For by how he ends, a man is known.

Brothers and sisters, we are known and remembered, not by how we begin, but rather by how we end.

It helps to begin well. But if we have a rocky start, we can recover.
It is critical to end well.

In the end, a Christian is judged not by how he begins, but by how he ends. Saint Paul is remembered for his love for God and his spreading of the gospel, not for his persecution and killing of Christians. Paul began as a sinner but ended as a saint. He rejoices in Heaven now. He is remembered not for how he began, but for by how he ended.

At the end of our lives, when we stand before the Lord on the day of our judgement, we will not be judged for how we began. We will be judged for how we ended.

The best way to make sure that we will end our lives well is to practice by ending each chapter of our lives well.

The chapter of this school year, this chapter of your life, is coming to an end.

My challenge to you is this: End well.

For by how he ends, a man is known.

How will you be remembered?

I think there are three things that we can say that help us to end well.

First: Thank You

Thank you can be a difficult thing to say. It means acknowledging that I have received something that is a gift. It means acknowledging that I couldn’t have done it on my own. It means taking the time to go to another person, to seek them out, to look them in the eye, and to express gratitude for what they have done for me.

There are teachers and coaches who made an impact on you this year. They have given of themselves so that you could grow.  They have sacrificed their time and energy for you. Thank them. Really thank them. Go out of your way to approach them and to tell them of the impact that they made on you. Others have shown you real friendship this year. Thank them for being a good friend.

Do not leave the doors of this building for the last time this year without saying “thank you”.

Second: I’m sorry

If saying thank you is difficult, saying “I’m sorry” is more difficult. Yet it’s even more important than saying “thank you”.

Repentance is at the heart of the gospel and at the heart of what it is to be a Christian. Own up to your own sins, weaknesses, and failures. Grow by them.

Whom have you hurt this year?
What relationships are strained?

Saint Paul tells the Ephesians: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

The sun is setting on this school year. The time is short.

True love says “I’m sorry” for the good of the other.
Self-love says “it’s too hard or awkward so I’ll just let it blow over. In a week, it won’t matter.”

Brothers and sisters, it does matter. By how he ends, a man is known. Don’t be remembered for old grudges, resentment, hurt, and unforgiveness. Be remembered for healing a wound. Be remembered for having the guts to right a wrong. Who do you need to apologize to before you leave on Friday?

Say “I’m sorry”.

Finally: I love you

This might seem strange for a high school setting.  But what does “I love you” mean?  To love is to will the good of the other person. It is to choose their good. In our context, a first step might be to tell another person “I wish you the best.”

Can we say that to each other as this year comes to a close? Even if we don’t see eye to eye with each other, perhaps especially with that person with whom we don’t see eye to eye? Can we say, “Have a great summer. I wish you the best”?

Mark Miller joins us this morning. Mark is a seminarian of the Diocese of Crookston, studying for the priesthood. He just graduated from college seminary. He begins his theology studies at a new seminary in the Fall. In four years, God willing, he will become Father Mark. He just experienced an ending with his graduation from college. I’ve invited him to share some of his thoughts on what it means to end well with us this morning.

[Mark speaks]

Now, I have a couple of more things I’d like to say.

First, thank you.  It has been an honor and a joy to be your chaplain this year.  It has been a blessing to get to know you and to watch you grow.  Thank you for welcoming me into your midst.   Thank you for rising to the occasion when I challenged you to step up and grow.  Thank you for your witness in my life.  I am grateful for each and every one of you.

Second, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for the times that you wanted to talk to me about something and I appeared to be too busy.  I’m sorry for the times when I challenged you when you were having a bad day and weren’t open to being challenged.  I’m sorry for the times that I took myself more seriously than I needed to: Sophomores, I’m sorry.  Teaching is not a strength of mine but I am working on it and hope to improve for next year.

Finally, I love you.  I do.  I wish you the best in your summer endeavors and I look forward to seeing you back here next year.  Seniors, you always have a home at Sacred Heart.  Come back and see us when you are home.  I am just a phone call away if you need anything next year.

On Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church.  Today, we celebrate the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church.  We celebrate the openness of a young girl from Nazareth to receiving the Holy Spirit, an openness that allowed her to conceive the Son of God as the fruit of her womb.  And so it is fitting that, as we seek to end this school year well, we ask for her intercession.

Hail Mary…

 

Chaplain’s Conference: If You Wish, You Can Make Me Clean

Chaplain’s Conference
Sacred Heart Catholic High School
Thursday, February 15, 2018


7 deadly sins

This past Sunday, the Gospel laid out for us the story of a leper; a leper who ran up to Jesus, knelt down before him, and said “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

Leprosy – the word means “to peel off”.  Lepers were separated from family and society so they could not infect others.  They were sentenced to a living death…a fate worse than death.

If you wish, you can make me clean.

Jesus looks at him with pity. He looks at him with love. I do will it. Be made clean.

The Lord gives us Lent because he loves us. He loves you and he wants you to be all you can be. He wants you to become the saint that you are meant to be. He wants to free you so that you can live fully and love deeply.

He longs to speak those words to you. I do will it. Be made clean.

But if he is to speak those words, he must speak them in response to your request. If you are to hear those words and have them take effect in your life, you must make your request.

If you wish, you can make me clean.

And so, every year, the Church gives us the season of Lent. A season for days of reflection. A season that provides us the opportunity to stop, to step back and to examine our lives. A season that provides a space for us to ask the question:

What is the state of my heart?

How am I doing in my relationship with God and with those around me?

Where have I allowed habits of sin to creep in and close the doors of my heart?

This is the purpose of Lent: it is a time to examine the state of our hearts. Once we have examined our hearts and see where we need Jesus to make us clean, then we are to direct our Lenten practices toward overcoming that habit of sin and growing in the opposite virtue.

What are some of these habits of sin that may be affecting us? What is the leprosy that infects your heart? Let’s look at the 7 deadly sins. As I describe them, I ask you to reflect on which of these you currently struggle with the most.

Pride. Pride is a puffed up view of myself. I’m the cock of the walk. I have all of the answers and don’t have anything to learn from anyone else. Pride is the chief sin. It is also a blinding sin. People who are prideful often don’t see that they are prideful. But everyone else sees it. They live in a castle of illusion, thinking they are the center of the universe. Do you suffer from pride? If you quickly said “no” or just rolled your eyes, I would encourage you to ask yourself the question again…

Anger. Anger is often caused by impatience. There are times that anger is justified if it moves me to stand up for what is right. But habits of anger turn the heart bitter and prevent us from loving as God calls us to love. Do you suffer from anger? Is anger turning your heart bitter?

Gluttony. Gluttony is eating or drinking to excess. My body needs proper nourishment to function well, and my body is a gift from God. A habit of gluttony enslaves me to my desires – if I want it, then I will have it, regardless of whether or not it’s excessive or unhealthy. Gluttony weakens my will power and my ability to choose. Do you suffer from gluttony?

Lust. Lust is a disordered desire for sexual pleasure. Lust sees other people as objects to be used for my pleasure. Lust sees body parts and not the whole person. Here, I would draw a distinction between attraction and lust. Attraction is recognizing beauty in another person. Lust focuses on the physical attraction and begins to fantasize or make demeaning comments about the other. Do I find myself looking at pornography or engaging in sexual acts with myself or with others? Do I regularly give in to lust?  Perhaps the Lord wants to set you free from lust this Lent…

Sloth. Sloth is a laziness of spirit. Sloth takes away my zeal. It saps me of my energy. It makes me waste my time doing nothing instead of putting my energy into serving others. How much time do I spend sitting around all day, doing nothing? Do I spend countless hours watching TV or playing video games? Do I set goals for myself? Perhaps the Lord wants to free you from sloth this Lent…

Envy. Envy is jealousy – wishing that I had what others have. It makes me think badly of others for what they have and it prevents me from being grateful for what I have. Do I often find myself jealous of others? Cultivating a spirit of gratitude is the opposite of envy.

Greed. The love of money is the root of all evil. Not money itself, but the love of money. Do I find myself always wanting more? Will I use other people to get more for myself? Is my heart attached to things that really don’t matter? Your heart it made for God and he is ultimately the only One who can satisfy the desires of your heart. Do I suffer from greed?

Out of those 7 deadly sins, which one affects you the most? Pride, anger, gluttony, lust, sloth, envy, or greed? Lent is your time to approach the Lord with that sin, to kneel down, and to say, Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.

What if we did that?

What if we directed our Lenten sacrifices toward tearing open our hearts so that the weed of sin that we struggle with could be plucked out?

What if we directed our Lenten sacrifices to uprooting these sins and replacing them with the opposite virtues: planting humility in place of pride, patience in place of anger, temperance or moderation in place of gluttony, chastity in place of lust, diligence in place of sloth, gratitude in place of envy or jealousy, generosity in place of greed?

What if we did that?

What if our penances were directed toward a purpose?

What if we actually expected to grow this Lent…to change this Lent?

How would your life be different? Would it be better?

Where is Jesus inviting you to grow? Where is Jesus calling you from death to life?

Pray for the grace to grow in that area. Pray for it on your knees, daily on your knees imploring the God of all grace for the grace to be made clean. Pray for the grace to return to confession if it’s been years. Pray for the grace to rend your heart – to experience true contrition for your sins. Pray for God to do within you what you cannot do for yourself.

St. Augustine offers this piece of wisdom:
Do you want your prayer to fly to God? Then give it the wings of fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer gives God permission to do his part.
Fasting and almsgiving is your part.

Pray and then fast.

Fasting builds spiritual muscle. We have one will. If you strengthen your will in one area, it will strengthen it in other areas where you struggle. Giving up chocolate or pop strengthens your will in the area of food, and that carries over into the areas of anger, drink, and sex among others. But you have direct it toward that virtue you are trying to grow in. Don’t just give up pop and chocolate for its own sake. Give up pop and chocolate and offer that as a sacrifice to God, asking him to free you from the sin you struggle with. Direct your penance toward a purpose. Know why you’re doing it.

Pray, fast, and give alms. Almsgiving atones for sins. It returns to God from a grateful heart, and in turn it makes the heart more grateful. It focuses your heart on others – it stretches your heart so that it can be filled with the love of God. Find a way to give of your time, your gifts, or your money this Lent. Practice charity. Focus on the needs of others.

Pray, fast, and give alms – direct all of those practices toward rooting out the habit of sin that plagues you and toward planting the opposite virtue will give you the freedom to live more fully and to love more deeply.

Don’t put off to next year what you can do this year. Approach the Lord with the words of the leper. Lord if you wish, you can make me clean.

He wishes to make you clean.

You are his beloved Son. You are his beloved daughter. He want to make you free. You have only to ask him in prayer and then to commit to fasting and almsgiving, and you will see a transformation happen.

 

Chaplain’s Conference: The Iron Curtain and Why We Worship

Chaplain’s Conference
Sacred Heart Catholic High School
Thursday, January 25, 2018


iron curtain

In the years surrounding and following World War II, an Iron Curtain descended across the continent of Europe, dividing the East from the West. Countries to the West of the Iron Curtain enjoyed more freedom, while countries to the East of the Iron Curtain found themselves under the influence of the Soviet Union and communism.

These countries, including Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, were gradually occupied one after another by the Soviet Army. As the Soviets invaded, they lowered the Iron Curtain, which served to keep information and the influence of the outside world out and to keep people who might flee to freedom in the West in.  These countries were referred to as being “behind the Iron Curtain.”  The Iron Curtain allowed war crimes to be committed without being observed and controlled by the outside world.

The Iron Curtain got its name from the iron curtain that was common in the theaters of the day. Events behind the theater curtain were not visible to the audience and were cut off from outside observation.

The term became popular in 1946, just a year after World War II ended, when Winston Churchill, the British Prime minister, delivered his famous “Iron Curtain Speech”, in which he stated the following:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe, Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but also to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.[1]

To say that life behind the Iron Curtain for Christians was hard is an understatement. Totalitarian regimes cannot and do not tolerate the free expression of religion.  The alarm was sounded because churches had organized their own youth retreats and summer camps.  Soviet leaders marched into the forest and brought children home.  By the late 1940’s, Christian charities and schools were closed down and large numbers of priests were arrested.[2]

 Karol Woityla was a young man who grew up behind the Iron Curtain during this time. In 1978, he was elected Pope and took the name John Paul II.  That year, he wrote a letter to priests, in which he tells of a custom that developed in many places behind the Iron Curtain, where persecution left no priests.

The custom is this:

People would go to an abandoned church, or if one no longer existed, to a cemetery where a priest was buried. They would take a stole, the garment worn by a priest when he celebrates the sacraments, when he acts in the person of Jesus Christ, and they would place it on the altar or on the priest’s tombstone, and together they would recite the prayers of the Mass.  At the place where the consecration would occur, a deep silence would ensue, which was sometimes interrupted by weeping.[3]

My brothers and sisters, think how much these people yearned to hear the words of consecration that only a priest could utter! Think of how much their hearts ached to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord.  Think of how much they longed to hear someone tell them, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Here in the United States, here in East Grand Forks, we live with incredible freedoms. Yet as the book of Proverbs says: “Times of adversity make one forget times of prosperity; and times of prosperity make one forget times of adversity.”  In other words, sometimes we forget how good we have it.

Those who lived behind the Iron Curtain risked their lives to offer worship to God, and they longed to celebrate a Mass which they could not celebrate because they had no priest to offer the sacrifice.

What about us?

Can we recover this sense of the sacred, this sense of the gift of what we have offered to us here every week?

What is my attitude toward community prayer, in particular our High School Masses and our Thursday celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours?

You may say: “It’s boring.  I don’t like to sing.  I don’t like praying in a group.  I don’t get anything out of it.”

I say: “Worship is not about what you get out of it. It’s about what you put into it.”

Cain and Abel were to first two sons of Adam and Eve. Abel was a shepherd and Cain was a farmer who worked the soil.  Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil, while Abel, for his part, brought one of the best firstlings of his flock.  God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice because he brought his best.  He gave an offering out of a grateful heart.  God was displeased with Cain’s offering because he didn’t give his best – he gave simply because he was supposed to give something.  His heart wasn’t in it.  Abel gave his best out of love and his sacrifice cost him something, while Cain held back his best out of selfishness, and it didn’t cost him anything.

What about us?

When we gather to worship together, we offer neither a lamb nor crops. We offer our hearts.  Each of us brings our heart.

How do you offer your heart? Do you offer the best of what you have, like Abel?  Or do you hold back, like Cain?

God desires one thing: our hearts.

A grateful heart is the one thing that we can offer the Creator that he does not possess already. A grateful heart is the best that we can offer to God for his blessings to us.

True worship is not about me.  It is about God.  True worship is defined by the priority we place on who God is in our lives.

That’s good news.

It means that when I worship, when I choose to sing, when I choose to say the responses loudly and with boldness, even when I don’t feel like it, especially when I don’t feel like it, it is then that I offer God my best worship.

It means I can offer God my best:
even at the absurd hour of 7:15 in the morning,
even when the singing is off-key,
even if I’m tired and cranky – perhaps especially when I’m tired and cranky because it is then when I am truly offering a sacrifice of praise.

I said it at the beginning of the school year and I will say it again:
Just “being here” while prayer is going on, is not prayer. It is a waste of your time.  Prayer requires something of us – it requires us to invest our hearts.

Two weeks ago, in my homily at mass, I spoke of paralyzed hearts. I also spoke of how the Holy Spirit wants to use you to transform our experience of worship.  He will work through you if you allow him to.  Your personal worship has an impact on the worship of the community.

Worship is not about what you get out of it. It’s about what you put into it.
But God will not be outdone in generosity.
When you put yourself into it, it’s then that you begin to get something out of it.
When you put yourself into it, it’s then that we all begin to get something out of it.

Last week, during the Liturgy of the Hours, we saw the beginning of this transformation, as a group of young men banded together and offered their best worship to God. They led the charge.  They lifted their voices.  They sang out.  They spoke boldly.  They allowed the Holy Spirit to work through them, and it began to transform our community’s experience of worship.

I invite you to join them. Join us.  Lift up your hearts.  Raise your voices and speak out loudly.  Let’s mean the words that we say.  Let’s offer God a worthy sacrifice of praise, a sacrifice that those who gathered in that cemetery behind the Iron Curtain so many years ago risked their lives to offer.

From the depths of our hearts, let us ask God’s blessing upon us as we begin anew. Let us ask his blessing upon us through the intercession of our Blessed Mother,

Our Blessed Mother who gave her whole heart to God with her “yes” to the angel’s message,
Our Blessed Mother who was radically open to the Holy Spirit and offered perfect worship to God…
that Blessed Lady upon whom we cast all of our cares:

Hail Mary…


[1] http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/political-science-and-government/military-affairs-nonnaval/iron-curtain

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2013/01/religion-behind-the-iron-curtain/

[3] Joseph Ratzinger, Teaching and Learning the Love of God: Being a Priest Today, p. 39

Chaplain’s Conference: Keep Death Daily Before Your Eyes

Chaplain’s Conference
Sacred Heart Catholic High School
November 15, 2017

Focus:          Keep Death Daily Before Your Eyes.
Function:    Repent.


stbenedictBack in September, I was vesting to concelebrate the morning Mass when my phone rang. A man had been brought to the ER.  It didn’t look good.  I took off my vestments and drove to the hospital.  As I entered the room with his family and approached the gurney, everything stopped.  Rich struggled to breathe, like a fish out of water.  I quickly anointed him, gave him the apostolic pardon, and told him his sins were forgiven.  The doctors and nurses resumed their activity.

Rich was no stranger to suffering: first a cancer diagnosis and then ALS. He died a couple of days later – the day before his 52nd birthday.  His family was crushed.  I visited with them again in the days that followed as we prepared for his funeral. They told stories of his life.

Rich had first been diagnosed with the cancer 10 years ago. It was a heavy cross. He suffered much. Yet, he refused to let it get him down. He chose to pick up his cross and carry it rather than allow it to crush him. Instead of lying in bed at home, he chose to sit in the bleachers for his kids’ sporting events and push through the pain. He chose to make jokes and keep his sense of humor with his family even though it would have been easy to focus on his own pain and suffering. His love for his family turned his suffering into a sacrifice – something offered up for the good of his family, and his sacrifice for them revealed the depth of his love. As I said, his family was crushed when he died. The depth of their grief – of their suffering – revealed the depth of their love for him.

The funeral reading they chose was from Book of Ecclesiastes: “God has made everything appropriate to its time.”

As I prepared the homily for Rich’s funeral, I realized that God had indeed made everything appropriate to its time for Rich. The Holy Spirit inspired me to look at the liturgical calendar for the day he died.  And there it was: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.  Rich, who knew the cross so well, died on the very day that reminds us that the suffering of the cross leads to the glory of the resurrection. Rich died on the day that reminds us that Jesus Christ triumphed over the suffering of the cross and transformed death from an impassable wall into a doorway – a doorway that leads to eternal life…if you are willing to walk through it…if you are willing to forsake the wide road that leads to destruction and instead walk the narrow path that leads to eternal life. Death is not the end – it leads to the glory of the resurrection – if you are willing to take up your cross and follow him.

Are you willing to do this?

October was respect life month. October reminded us of the incredible gift God has given us. He has given us life. And not only life, but eternal life. Eternal life with him in Heaven or eternal separation from Him in Hell.

November is the month of the dead.

On November 1, we celebrated All Saints Day. We celebrated the men and women of every time and place, saints known and unknown, saints like Peter and Paul but also saints like Rich, saints who loved greatly and now stand in the presence of God – God who is Love itself.

On November 2, we celebrated All Souls Day. We prayed in particular for those souls who are undergoing their time of purification in purgatory – souls who strove to love but had not yet been perfected in love when they died and needed some purification before they could be ready to receive the great gift of Heaven – to stand in the presence of the One who is Pure Love itself.

All throughout the month of November, we remember and pray for those who have gone before us: grandpas and grandmas, moms and dads, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and friends.

And we are also reminded of something that we often fail to consider. We come face to face with a reality that we don’t like to think about.

We remember that, one day, we will die.
I am going to die.
You are going to die.

Saint Benedict had a saying that he repeated often for his monks:

Keep death daily before your eyes.

Always remember that you are going to die and live in such a way as to be ready for death.

A friend of mine knew a priest who bought his own coffin. His coffin was handcrafted and made of wood. He stood it on its end in his office and installed some shelves so that it could be used for a bookcase. Every morning he’d walk into his office, stop, point to his coffin, and say “I’m coming for you!”

He kept death daily before his eyes.

Last week, the Church remembered Saint Martin of Tours. Saint Martin was a man who lived in the 300s. He was a monk and later became a bishop and was a good pastor for his people. He showed them how to live a godly life, and he cared for those in need. And he kept death daily before his eyes.

Martin knew long in advance the time of his death. When his time drew near, he told his brothers he was about to die. But first he had to make a visit to one of his parishes. The priests there were fighting among themselves, and he wanted to help them reconcile. Even though he knew he didn’t have much time left, he chose to undertake the journey for their sake. Love turned the suffering of the journey into a sacrifice for them.

He spent some time with them, and was able to help them forgive each other and reconcile with one another. He told them he was dying. They were saddened. “Why are you deserting us? Who will care for us when you are gone?” Martin wept and turned to the Lord in prayer, saying, “Lord, if your people still need me, I am ready for the task; your will be done.”

Here was a man that words could not describe. Death could not defeat him and he wasn’t afraid of hard work. He neither feared to die nor refused to live. He was lying on his back on his deathbed. Some of the priests suggested that he should turn over and give his body some relief. He answered by saying: “Allow me, my brothers, to look toward heaven rather than at the earth, so that my spirit may set on the right course when the time comes for me to go on my journey to the Lord.”[i]

 Martin kept death daily before his eyes.

Do you?

Are you living now so that you will be ready to face death?

Here’s the test. If you were to die today, what would other people say about you? What would be your legacy?

Would they say you are generous or would they say that you are stingy?

Would they say you are kind or would they call you a bully?

Would they say that you sacrificed for others or that you only looked out for yourself?

Would they say that they were a better person for having known you? Or would carry within their souls the wounds from their interactions with you?

Would they say that your example of holiness inspired them to pursue holiness themselves? Or would they say that your example of vice led them into sin?

Would they say that you were a man or woman who forgives? Or would they say that you were a man or woman who holds grudges?

Would you be known as a man or woman who loved greatly?

What would others say about you?

What would Christ say about you?

What would your FaceBook page, your Twitter feed, or your snapchats say about you?

Keep death daily before your eyes.

Rich was ready.
Martin of Tours was ready.

Are you?


 

[i] From the second reading in the Office of Readings for November 11, the Memorial of Saint Martin.

Chaplain’s Conference – At the Beginning

the Beginning

Sacred Heart Catholic School
Chaplain’s Conference – High School
Thursday, September 7, 2017

Here we are at the beginning of a new school year. Day 3. The nerves are starting to wear off as we settle in. We are figuring out the routine. We are learning the schedule. Students are learning their teachers and teachers are learning their students.

We stand just inside the doorway of this new school year. We stand at the beginning. I would like to reflect a bit this morning on the importance of beginnings. I think that beginnings offer us a unique opportunity, an opportunity that can be easily lost in the hustle and bustle of the school day if we don’t pay attention. Beginnings, especially this beginning of a new school year, offer us an opportunity to pause, to look at where we are now, and to look at where we are going.

What is in store for you this year? How will you have changed by the end of this school year? How will you have grown, or not grown? How will you be different?

Who do you desire to be at the end of this school year? Perhaps more importantly, who does God desire you to be?

I know who God desires you to be.

He desires you to be a saint.
He desires you to be young men and young women of integrity, men and women of character, men and women of virtue.
He wants to set you free from the sins that enslave you.
He wants you to flourish.
He wants you to be joyful.
He wants you to be bold and confident. He wants you to be a leader. He wants you to know what your life is about.
He wants you to learn to love more deeply.
He wants you to live your life to the full.

He loves you infinitely, and he wants you to know of his love for you.
He loves the person sitting next to you infinitely, and he wants you to love them with His heart.
He even loves the person you can’t stand – your enemy – infinitely. And he calls you to love even them, especially them, with His heart.

He desires for you to learn to love, to truly love, because love is of God, and it is love to which we are called. Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice, just like sin is a choice. To love is to will the good of another. To love is to choose the good of another. You can love someone even if you don’t like someone because you can choose the good of the other person even if you don’t like them.

You are called to love. You are called to love with the Heart of God. You are called to love with the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ under whose Lordship we place this school!

Brothers and sisters, that starts here. That starts now. That starts today. At the beginning.

If we do not choose to practice love of God and love of neighbor here, now, today and every day this year, how can we expect to learn it? How can we expect to get where we are going?

The road to Heaven, the road to sainthood, is paved with your choices, your daily choices, your hourly choices, the choices of each moment, to live the great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).

Here at Sacred Heart, you are given the means to do this. You are given everything you need. You are presented with opportunities every day to practice loving God and loving each other.

Here at the beginning of this school year, I would offer a couple of suggestions if you would take up the challenge to become men and women who love deeply and live fully.

First: pray.

You are given ample opportunities here to pray. You have Mass on Friday. You have a prayer period every day. You are given opportunities to lead prayer in your classrooms. Learn to pray.

Prayer is a relationship. If you are going to learn to love God and to love others with the heart of God, you must learn to pray. You must encounter the living God. This requires something of you. You have to give yourself to prayer. You must give yourself fully to prayer and seek to praise God, to thank God, to ask God for what you and for what others need with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. You cannot learn to pray if you simply stand on the sidelines with everyone else. You have to get in the game. So often we end up just going through the motions. Going through the motions, or just “being here” while prayer is going on, is not prayer. It is a waste of your time.

In the Mass, the priest says “Lift up your hearts.” We respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” When I was in the seminary, our rector would command us to do this: “Lift up your hearts!” We would exclaim “We lift them up to the Lord!” That command would always snap me out of my lukewarmness and cause my heart to surge. Prayer requires that of us. It requires energy, it requires strength, it requires you to choose to give yourself over to it. It requires you to choose to say the words, to speak up with enthusiasm, and to mean what you say.

Brothers and sisters, in our celebrations together this year, as we pray together, I challenge you to “lift up your hearts!” I dare you to turn your prayer into true worship. Say the words with vigor and with enthusiasm, and mean what you say. Think about what you say. Be bold! Lift up your hearts and voices and sing the songs of praise to God. Think about the words you sing and mean what you sing. Give yourself over to prayer and your heart will learn to love more deeply. Give yourself over to prayer with all of the strength at your command and it will stretch your heart so that it can contain the love of God Himself, a love that you can then pour out to others.

Pray.

Pray together in the Church. Pray together in your classrooms. Pray alone in the Chapel.

Ask your friends and classmates to pray for you. Ask them to pray with you. Pray in your own words – in a heart-to-heart conversation with God. This is risky. It will be awkward at first. But if you practice it regularly you will see friendships deepen – your friendship with God and your friendships with each other. Take the risk. Your love will deepen.

As we strive to love, we will fail at times. We will fall. We will sin. When that happens, acknowledge it and repent – turn away from it – and turn toward the Lord’s mercy in the confessional. Regular confession is something that will greatly help you grow in your ability to pray and to love God and each other more deeply. There is more joy over one sinner who repents than over 99 people who have no need of repentance. How often do you go to confession? I challenge you to be bold and go regularly. Once a year is the bare minimum. Once a month is a good rule of thumb. When your conscience pricks you, when you have sin weighing you down and getting in the way of your prayer and your relationship with God, come to the confessional. God’s mercy awaits you.

This year, you will have three opportunities every week for confession. A priest will be available to hear confessions during the Prayer Period on Tuesday mornings when Adoration is taking place. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, a priest will be available in the chapel during the lunch periods. Fr. Paul Kuhn of Holy Family, Fr. Kyle Metzger of St. Michael’s and I will take turns covering these periods. We are available to hear confessions or for spiritual direction or counsel. We are available to teach you how to pray. If you want to speak to a priest about what is going on in your heart, come and talk to us. We are here for you.

Something I used to think as a teenager, and something I have already heard several times as a priest, is this: “I could never confess this sin to a priest” or “I could never confess my sins to this priest – he’d think badly of me.” This is a lie from the Evil One to keep you enslaved to your sins. Brothers and sisters, you cannot free yourself from your sins. Only Christ can free you from your sins. Turn to Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He has given real power to the words of his priests, power to forgive your sins in His name. You will find mercy, not condemnation. I promise you that.

Pray.

Second: Study.

Work hard at your studies. Apply yourself to your studies. Pay attention in class. Ask questions. Strive to learn. St. Thomas Aquinas once described the approach to theology, which is the study of God, as “faith seeking understanding.” That’s a great way to approach our learning. We know that the truth is out there. The truth is in here. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus Christ is the truth – truth is a person. Seek to understand the truth because the truth is real. Ask questions not for the sake of challenging or for winning an argument, but ask questions for the sake of deepening your understanding. If you find yourself disagreeing with something you are learning, ask questions and try to understand what your teacher is saying. Ask someone else to help you understand. Learn to seek the truth, to seek Jesus Christ, with your minds and hearts and not just with your emotions. I hope that you experience Sacred Heart as a place where you can ask honest questions. What you are learning matters to your life. It makes a difference in your life.

Study.

Finally: Serve.

Throughout the coming year, you will have many opportunities to serve. Seek them out. Look for opportunities to serve each other. Volunteer when volunteers are needed. Volunteer before you are asked! If you see a need, look for a way to fulfill the need.

When a teacher asks for someone to volunteer to lead prayer in class, step up and volunteer.
When people are needed to assist in the cafeteria or to serve at Mass, step up and serve.
Serve not out of a need to fill your commitment hours, but serve out of gratitude to God for all that He has given you.

Love manifests itself in service. Learn to serve with joy and you will learn to love with joy.

Serve your teachers. Serve your classmates. Serve your teammates. Serve each other.

Saint John Paul II once said that man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. You will not find yourself until you make a gift of yourself. Jesus said, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” You will find true joy and true happiness when you learn to serve others out of love.

This is great training for your future vocation. What type of husband and father do you desire to be? What type of wife and mother do you desire to be? What type of priest or religious do you desire to be? Do you desire to be the type of person who gives, who is selfless, who loves, who makes life easier for his family by bearing their burdens? Or do you desire to be the person who takes, who waits to be served, who places a heavy burden on his family? Your vocation as a husband, father, wife, mother, priest, or religious is not about you. It is about others. Your vocation is about giving your life in service to others, ultimately to help them to get to Heaven.

Your training for that starts here, now, today…at the beginning. 

Brothers and sisters, the choices you make today, at the beginning, will form you into the person you will be tomorrow. Laurie Hernandez said it well: Your future doesn’t start ten years from now, 10 months from now, 10 days from now, or 10 minutes from now. It starts today.

It starts today. It starts now. At the beginning.