See the Star. Follow the Star. Encounter the Lord. Give a Gift.

Homily for Epiphany (Year C)
January 6, 2019
Sacred Heart, EGF: Sat 5:30 PM; Sun 8:00 AM

Focus:              He saw the star.  He followed the star.  He encountered the Lord.
He gave a gift.

Function:        See the star.  Follow the star.  Encounter the Lord.  Give a gift.


'ADORATION OF THE MAGI'

They saw the star.
They followed the star.
They encountered the Lord.
They gave gifts.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany.  Epiphany – an “Aha!” moment.  The light bulb comes on.  A revelation.  A manifestation.  I see something that I did not see before.  I see something that was hidden.  The God who is hidden is revealed.  The infant lying in a manger is revealed as the newborn King.

Tonight we remember the story of the magi following the star to the Christ child lying in the manger.

They saw the star.
They followed the star.
They encountered God.
They gave him gifts.

About 5 years ago, Sean a 26 year old husband and father of a two-year old son, a wrestling coach, was coaching a wrestling tournament in Fargo in January. A blizzard was brewing.  It was 20 degrees below zero.  The tournament ends.  He wants to get home to his family.  As he is leaving Fargo, the storm is getting bad.  Visibility is poor; he can hardly see.  He drives past a man walking along the road in the frigid temperatures.

He saw the star.

At least, he thought he saw the star. He wasn’t entirely sure that it was a man walking, but it looked like a man.  It looked like he had no hat or gloves.  “Maybe the next car will stop…but I didn’t see him until I had already driven past…it’s -20 degrees…but I really want to get home before I get stranded here…but if I don’t stop, he could die…”

Sean turned the car around.

He followed the star.

He approached the man and invited him into his vehicle. The man climbed in.  The first words out of his mouth were, “There is a God!  I have been praying that someone would stop!”

He, too, saw the star.
He, too, followed the star.

It turned out that the man was about Sean’s age. He was homeless.  He had been working at the Fargo Dome and was on his way to a soup kitchen for a meal that evening, but he was so disoriented from the cold that he was walking in the wrong direction.  In fact, he was walking out of town.  Sean turned up the heater, and they talked as the man warmed his hands.  It turned out the man had a wife and a two-year-old son – about the same age as Sean’s son.

When they reached the soup kitchen, Sean gave the man his pair of gloves.

He saw the star.
He followed the star.
He encountered the Lord.
He gave a gift.

They said their goodbyes and Sean continued on his way. The blizzard got worse.  Sean stopped at a gas station in a small town along the interstate and asked if there was a motel nearby.

There was no room at the inn.

In fact, there wasn’t even an inn.  But there was a Church – a small country church.  The gas station worker called someone in town to open it up.  Sean spent the night in the church basement by himself.

It was his stable. It was his manger.

He saw the star.
He followed the star.
He encountered the Lord.
He gave a gift.

While he waited in the basement of that Church, he was haunted by the question. “What if I had kept going?  What if I hadn’t stopped?  What would have happened to him if I had passed by?”

Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit invites us to encounter the Lord so many times throughout the ordinary events of everyday life. So often we get a sense that we should do something.  We see the star.  But we come up with excuses for why we shouldn’t follow the star.

“It’s cold out there.”
“I’m not sure that I really saw a man there anyway – visibility is so poor.”
“I need to get home to my family.”
“The next car will stop.”

And yet, it’s in following the star that we encounter the Lord, and in encountering the Lord, we are moved to give a gift. And when we give the gift, we find that so much more has been given to us.  We have an incredible encounter that leaves its mark on us, that changes us, that reminds us of God’s mysterious workings in the world through us and through those around us.

Sean saw the star.
Sean followed the star.
Sean gave a gift.

And he received a gift in return –
an epiphany,
an encounter with Jesus in disguise,
Jesus disguised as a brother in Christ – someone like himself in need of a savior.

He received another gift in that night that he spent alone in the church basement:
that night at the stable,
a gift that forced him to reflect on the encounter he had just experienced in order to cement it into his memory,
a great story to be shared with his family,
a story of encounter that would be made all the more memorable by his silent night at the manger.

What about the homeless man?

He, too, saw the star – he prayed to God, perhaps for the first time in years. He looked up into the stars he could not see and made known his need for a savior.

He followed the star – he climbed inside the vehicle that pulled over.

He encountered the Lord. He encountered the Lord present within Sean, the Lord whose Spirit it was that urged Sean to pull over and to help someone in need.

He received a gift – the gift of the gloves.

And I’m sure he gave a gift:
the gift of his presence to his family,
the sharing of a story of a prayer answered,
the sharing of his faith, perhaps his newfound faith, in God who hears and answers prayers.

He gave the gift of his encounter.

Brothers and sisters,
God led the magi to Jesus. He leads us too, through so many ordinary events within our lives, if we just pay attention.  See the star.  Have faith and follow the star, and then see what happens.  Go on a great adventure.  You may just encounter the Lord in an unexpected place, an unexpected place like a manger on a cold winter night that was so deep.

The Cross will Come

Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
September 16, 2018
St. Francis, Fisher – 8:00 AM
Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM

Focus:              The Cross will come.
Function:         Take up your Cross when it comes.


girl carrying the cross

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly…”

It had to be a hard message to hear…they had seen so many great things – healings, miracles of nature, people raised from the dead…and now this.

The Son of Man must suffer greatly…

He prepared them for it before it would happen.

He summoned them and said to them: Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up His cross, and follow me.”

In other words, “Strengthen your hearts. Be prepared.  Train for it now.”

In the life of every Christian, the cross comes.

We don’t go looking for the Cross – the cross will come. That is a guarantee.  But we want to be ready for it when it comes…
Ready to shoulder it and to pick it up like He picked his up and carried it…
Ready to shoulder it with him…
Ready to carry it with our brothers and sisters…

Be ready. Prepare now, or else when the cross comes, it may crush you.  It is almost impossible to learn what do with suffering when you are in the midst of it.  You must learn how to carry the cross before it comes so that when it comes you are able to bear it.

When the cross comes, people usually react in one of three ways:
They become angry and bitter.
They give in to pity, hopelessness, and despair
Or they join it to the suffering of Jesus and offer it up for the salvation of the world…

Last week, I visited a man and his wife in their home. The man suffers from chronic back pain.  It pains his wife to watch him.  He can’t do what he used to be able to do…there are only so many crossword puzzles he can do in a day.  And the pain is unbearable at times.  As we visited, I tried to gage his faith…would he be able to hear this message of the power of offering up his suffering or would he not be able to bear it?  His faith seemed strong enough that he could bear it.  The message was helpful to him and gave meaning to his suffering.  It gave him the strength to bear his suffering with hope.

The Christian carries his cross differently than a non-Christian. The Christian carries his cross with hope because he knows that the Lord Jesus Christ has triumphed over the cross.

Suffering does not get the last word.
The suffering of the cross leads to the glory of the resurrection.
Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday.

If we can remember that, if we can focus on the end in the midst of our suffering, if we can keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who won for us the salvation of the world by his suffering on the cross, then we will have the strength to carry our cross when it comes.

Jesus’ suffering led to the salvation of the world.

We, as members of His Church, are members of His Body. The Church is the Body of Christ and we are members of his body, and when we suffer, if we choose to accept our suffering because there is nothing we can do about it, if we choose to accept the cross that comes our way, not wishing for it, not looking for a cross to bear, but bearing the one that comes our way…when we as members of his body join our suffering to His suffering, then our suffering becomes his suffering…

And, brothers and sisters, that is redemptive. Christ’s suffering won the salvation of the world!

When we join our suffering to the suffering of Jesus, when we give it to him, when we say: “Jesus, this hurts! There’s nothing I can do about it…I choose to offer it to you, to join it to your suffering.  Join it to your suffering and I offer it for [insert name here]…”

When we do that, it is then that we “make up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ”, as Saint Paul says. Not that Christ’s suffering on the Cross was lacking anything – it wasn’t.  But as members of his body, when we suffer, he suffers, and if we, like him, offer that suffering up as an act of love for someone, salvation comes about.

Saint John Paul II is known for saying this: “Don’t waste your suffering.” Join it to the suffering of Christ and offer it for someone in need of God’s grace.  Offer it for the conversion of those who do not know the Lord, or who have fallen away from the practice of their faith.

Love turns suffering into sacrifice, and that is a powerful gift of grace.

Last year at this time, I celebrated the funeral for a man named Rich. Rich had a heavy cross in his life.  In his early 40’s, he was diagnosed with cancer.  He was in a lot of pain.  He went through chemo and radiation.  His cancer went into remission.  Praise God.  Then he was diagnosed with ALS.  It was a huge cross.  He experienced more suffering.  He was in a lot of pain.  Do you know what he did with that pain?

He didn’t become angry or bitter.
He didn’t fall into pity, hopelessness, or despair.
No, he chose to go to his daughter’s volleyball games and cheer her on in the bleachers despite the pain.

Love turned his suffering into a sacrifice of love for his daughter. And his suffering revealed the depths of his love for his daughter.

It is through the Cross the grace rushes in. It was from Christ’s side on the Cross, his side pierced by the soldier’s lance on the cross, where the blood and water gushed forth like a raging torrent, the wellspring of the Church’s sacraments poured out for the salvation of the world…

How will you respond when the Cross comes?

Will you pick up the cross? Will you let the suffering touch you?  Will you let it affect you?  Will you allow the suffering of a brother or sister, another member of Christ’s body, touch you?  Will you offer up your suffering, joining it to that of Christ for the salvation of the world?

Or…

Will you refuse to pick up the cross?
Will you get angry, judgmental, or bitter?
Will you distance yourself from the person who is suffering like the 9 apostles who fled from Christ when the cross came for him?
Will you empty the Cross of its power by complaining about the smallest crosses that come your way?

The answer to that question depends on how you train yourself now.

How do you train yourself now?

Deny yourself and pick up your cross in the small things of daily life, so that when the big one comes, you have the spiritual strength to bear it.

One simple example…our bishop has asked us to abstain from meat on Fridays as an act of penance for the Church. It is an ancient practice of joining a small suffering to that of Christ as we remember Friday as the day when he endured his passion, suffering so much for us out of love.

How do you respond to that request? Do you refuse to pick it up?  Do you complain, get angry or bitter about it?  Or do you pick it up and bear it gladly?

What are some of the crosses that come our way in life?

Physical suffering and the chronic pain that can come with that.

Being ridiculed for standing up for what’s right.

Staying in the Church in the midst of the mess in which we find ourselves right now – responding with honesty and humility when we are challenged as to why we are still Catholic by echoing the words of Peter, “To whom shall we go? [He] has the words of eternal life.”

We carry our crosses when we fight our temptations to sin, whether it be sins of pride, anger, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, or lust…

We take up our cross when we stand by another in their suffering like Mary who stood by her son’s side at the foot of the cross as he endured the agony of His cross.

We experience the cross when we experience the loss of a loved one or when a family member stops practicing their faith or loses faith in God altogether…

In God’s providence, and in God’s time, we have been hearing a lot about the Cross over the past 3 days.

Friday was the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. On Friday, the Church reminded us that the suffering of the Cross does not get the last word.  The suffering of the Cross leads to the glory of the resurrection.  Friday reminded us to keep the glory in mind even as we endure the suffering so that we have the strength to offer it up, to carry our cross when it comes.

By the way, do you know the day on which Rich died? The man who knew so much suffering in his life?  He died on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross.  Beautiful.

Saturday was the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. On Saturday, the Church held up Mary as a model who stood by her son’s side in the midst of his suffering.  Mary allowed herself to experience Christ’s suffering.  The sword of sorrow pierced through Mary’s heart on its way to pierce the side of her son as he hung upon the cross.

We can more easily carry our crosses for Him knowing that he carried his cross for us.

When the cross comes, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Join the suffering of your cross to the suffering of Him who bore his cross for you.

Do that, and you will participate with him in the salvation and redemption of the world.

Do that, and you will have all the strength you need.

The Power of the Holy Spirit

Homily for Pentecost (Year B)
May 20, 2018
Sacred Heart, EGF – 7:30, 9:00, 10:30

Focus:               That is the power of the Holy Spirit.
Function:         Live in the power of the Holy Spirit.


Pentecost - Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer

Pentecost
Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer
1750
The painting was on an altar in the Church of Holy Spirit in Sopron, Hungary.

The Prince of the Apostles, filled with fear, denied knowing Jesus on the night of his arrest. This same Peter, on the day of Pentecost, stood up with the other apostles and boldly proclaimed to those same people who had shouted “Crucify Him!”, that Jesus is the Son of God and has been raised from the dead.  They were cut to the heart, they repented, and 3000 people were baptized that day.  That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

One hundred thirty years ago, a man murdered three women in Paris. He showed no signs of remorse and was sentenced to death by guillotine.  This cut to the heart of a young girl who lived more than 100 miles away.  She was so moved by the thought that this man might die without having repented, that she decided to fast and pray for his conversion.  On the day of his execution, the man turned to the officer accompanying him, asked for a crucifix, and kissed it three times before he was beheaded.  The young girl, elated that her prayer had been answered, later joined a Carmelite convent and took the name Therese of Lisieux.  That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

A young woman, just 24 years old, attends the funeral of her mother-in-law who died much too young at the age of 44. After communion, she begins to break.  The tears roll down her face as she realizes it is time to say goodbye for the last time.  She feels a hand touch her shoulder and give a warm, comforting squeeze.  Peace descends upon her.  Everything will be OK.  She turns around to see who reached out in a moment of compassion.  No one is there.  The pew behind her is empty.  That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is our Advocate when we face the Accuser.
He is our Consoler in moments of incredible pain and loss.

The Holy Spirit is the One who emboldens us to step out in faith, out of our comfort zones. He is the One who does something through us that we could never do on our own power.

The Holy Spirit is the One who gives us the grace to love our enemies,
the One who teaches us all things
the One who gives us what we need at the moment we need it.

He is the One who gives power to our preaching and to our prayers.
It is the Holy Spirit who brings sinners to repentance,
who converts hearts, who convicts hearts.

That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit who breathed over the waters at the dawn of creation is the same Holy Spirit who was breathed into your soul at the moment of your baptism.

It is this same Holy Spirit who prays within us when we do not know how to pray as we ought, who prays with inexpressible groanings as we long for the coming of the Kingdom, as we long for peace, for love, for acceptance, for meaning, as we long for God himself. It is the Holy Spirit who makes our souls cry out: “Abba, Father!”

The same Holy Spirit whose power overshadowed a young girl from Nazareth, causing her to conceive the Son of God as the fruit of her womb, is the same Holy Spirit whose power, whose gifts, were conceived in you when you received the Sacrament of Confirmation so that your soul might bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

The power of the Holy Spirit is the power to live fully and to love deeply.

It is the power, it is the flame of love within the heart of the baptized believer to love as Jesus loves, to love with a heart of fire, to love with a heart blazing, raging with the uncontrollable fire of charity, an all-consuming fire of the love of God himself.

The Holy Spirit who is the bond of love between the Father and the Son is the same Holy Spirit who is the bond of love between a husband and a wife united in the Sacrament of Matrimony, a bond of love so tight that it can never be broken, a bond that gives the power to remain faithful in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, a bond of love that points to Christ’s love for his Church.

The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, calls us into our very existence.

It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that ordinary gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, not only calls us into this existence we call “life” but calls us to eternal life by providing us with the Bread of Life.

That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, you have been given the Holy Spirit. You are temples of the Holy Spirit.

He dwells within you. He does.

He is with you.
His power is within you.

The Holy Spirit continues to be poured out upon you, within you, a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The secret to living in the power of the Holy Spirit is this:
Call upon him. Pray and pray often: Come Holy Spirit!

Call upon him and then give in to his power working within your soul. Let your soul cry out in glory to God when the Holy Spirit inspires you to do so.  Give in to the inexpressible groanings, the searching for God, the inspirations to do something heroic, something more, something…saintly.

Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful,
and enkindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created,
and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Come Holy Spirit.  Come and give me the strength to perform that small act of love that I feel called to do but am putting off because it’s outside of my comfort zone.

Come Holy Spirit. Come and give me the strength and grace to overcome my fears and to deny myself, take up my cross, the cross I know you’ve given me to carry but that I am afraid to carry, and follow you.

Come Holy Spirit. Come and give me the courage to take the next step in pursuing my vocation in life, the vocation that you have given to me.

Brothers and sisters, call upon the Holy Spirit and you will live in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Live in the power of the Holy Spirit and you will experience the real power of Pentecost.

What is the Lord placing on your heart right now? I invite you to pray…

Come Holy Spirit. Come and help me to…

The Saints are Among Us

Homily for All Saints Day (Year A)
November 1, 2017
Good Samaritan, EGF – 10:00 AM
Holy Trinity, Tabor – 6:00 PM; St. Francis of Assisi, Fisher – 7:30 PM

Focus:              The saints are among us.
Function:         Today we celebrate them.


all saints

They are here. They are among us.
The saints.
They are living among us.
They are here.

St. Irenaeus once said that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” The saints were fully alive when they lived on earth and they are fully alive in Heaven.  If the glory of God is man fully alive, and the saints are fully alive, then the Glory of God is in his saints.

And, brothers and sisters, the Glory of God is blinding today. It is a blinding light.

They are here.
They are all around us.

We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…
A cloud of intercessors.

We are surrounded by men and women who sought to love God with the totality of their being – with all they’ve got – with all they have and are.

We are surrounded by men and women who allowed their lives to be transformed, who allowed their hearts to be converted, by the grace of God and the light of the Gospel.

We are surrounded by them.
We are.
They are here.
They are among us.

We are surrounded by men and women whose example of life inspires us and spurs us on to pursue a more abundant life. A life lived not for ourselves but for others.  A life poured out in service.  A life lived for God.

Today we celebrate them. We celebrate all saints.

Saints both known and unknown.
Saints from every time and place.

kolbe

Saints like Maximilian Kolbe, a man who stepped forward and offered his life in exchange for the life of Franciszek Gajowniczek, who had been sentenced to death in a starvation bunker in Auschwitz during World War II, a man whose last dying act was to raise his hand in blessing over the man who gave him his lethal injection.

Today we celebrate them. We celebrate all saints.

frassatiSaints like Pier Giorgio Frassati, still a blessed and not yet recognized as a saint, an Italian man who loved the Eucharist even more than he loved mountain climbing and smoking cigars, a man who died much too young at the age of 24 by contracting polio from a sick person he ministered to, a man whose last act on his deathbed was to scribble out a note to a friend telling him that the medicine in his coat pocket was to be delivered to a poor man who was unable to afford the medicine he needed.

Today we celebrate them. We celebrate all saints.

Stanley_RotherSaints like Stanley Rother, a farm boy from Oklahoma who became a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City who worked in the Missions in Guatemala, a man who refused to leave during the civil war when it became dangerous, stating “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” Fr. Rother was true to his word and it cost him his life. He was beatified 2 months ago and became the first American-born martyr.

Today we celebrate them. We celebrate all saints.

Saints known and unknown.
Saints famous and obscure.
Saints recognized and unrecognized.

Saints like our parents and grandparents who, in simple and humble ways, went about the tasks of their daily lives with a charity, a joy, and a zeal for others that lifted others’ spirits, that let others know they were cared for, that they were loved, that they mattered.

Today we celebrate them. We celebrate all saints.

Saints like our friend who suffered greatly from this or that cancer, but never complained and seized the moment of each day, saints who turned their suffering into a sacrifice for the sake of the ones they loved, saints who lived each day to the fullest, saints who could see God’s grace present to them in the midst of the Cross they carried.

Today we celebrate them. We celebrate all saints.

Saints like firemen who rush into burning buildings to save others’ lives at the cost of their own.

Today we celebrate them. We celebrate all saints.

Saints known and unknown.
Saints canonized and not canonized.
Saints famous and obscure.

And, brothers and sisters, saints in heaven but also those saints who still walk among us.

Saints like our children and grandchildren who struggle to balance work and family life, who strive to teach their children about the Love of God in a culture that so often has forgotten about God.

Saints like the neighbor who has suffered so much loss in her life and yet still she presses on with courage and joy because she hopes in the promises of her loving God and longs to see his face.

Saints who volunteer their time to come and sit with us, to listen to our stories, saints who visit those in the nursing homes and hospitals, saints who visit those who are confined to their homes, saints who comfort us in our sadness and bathe the wounds that come from living with the compassion from their hearts.

Today we celebrate them.
Today we celebrate the heroic men and women of every time and place.
Today we celebrate all saints.

Today we honor them.
Today we thank them.
Today we ask them to continue to pray for us, so that where they have gone, we may one day follow.

They are here.
They are all around us.

They are the Glory of God.
And, brothers and sisters, the Glory of God is indeed blinding today!

You Have to Know His Mercy to Show His Mercy

Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
September 17, 2017
St. Francis of Assisi, Fisher – 8:00 AM; Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM

Focus:              You have to know His mercy to show His mercy.
Function:        Know His mercy.


pope francis confession

To the servant, mercy was shown.
But by him, it was not known.
And because it was not known
To another, it could not be shown.
And because it could not be shown
In the end, the only thing to be known
Was pain and torture, which was shown

The debt he owed was massive.

In the time of Jesus, the main currency was the denarii. A denarii was a day’s wage. If one worked six days a week and rested on the Sabbath, there would be 312 working days in a year, so a person could earn 312 denarii per year.

A talent was six thousand denarii. If one worked 312 days per year, every year, it would take him 19 years to bring in one talent. A working man of that time would bring in his first talent after working for half of his lifetime.

This servant owed a “myriad of talents.”

A myriad was ten thousand.

Sixty million days’ wages.

It would take him 5,000 lifetimes to earn the amount needed to cover his debt. And that was before he provided for the needs of his family.

He owed a massive debt that he had absolutely no hope of paying.

And payment day came.

Payment day came, and he pleaded with the Master, “Please, give me some time! Be patient with me and I will pay you back in full!”

Be patient with me?!

Five thousand lifetimes! The servant owed ten thousand talents. The most he could hope to pay back was two!

Yet, the master did something incredible. He forgave the entire debt.

To the servant, mercy was shown.
But by him, it was not known.

It was not known because he did not accept the forgiveness of the debt. The Master looked upon him with pity, but like so many of us, he didn’t want pity. He wanted to pay back what he owed even though it was impossible. He wanted to pull himself up by his bootstraps. He accepted not mercy but an extension on an unpayable loan.

Rather than looking with amazement and profound gratitude on the incredible gift he has just been given, he runs to the couch and digs through the cushions, looking for enough change to make the next payment on his mansion.

He spurns the gift of the Master.

He chokes the servant who owes him 100 denarii – a debt that can be repaid within the year – and demands that it be paid back in full immediately.

To the servant, mercy was shown.
But by him, it was not known
And because it was not known
To another, it could not be shown.
And because it could not be shown
In the end, the only thing to be known
Was pain and torture, which was shown

Brothers and sisters, like that servant, you and I owe a massive debt. It is a debt that we have no hope of repaying.

God has given us everything we have. He has given us life. He has given us our family and friends. He has given us our health. He has given us our skills, talents, food, water, and freedom. We can never repay him for what we have been given. All we have is gift.

In the words of Psalm 49:
For no man can buy his own ransom,
Or pay a price to God for his life.
The ransom of his soul is beyond him.
He cannot buy life without end,
Nor avoid coming to the grave.

In spite of the gift we have been given, we added to the debt we already owed God. We sinned against him. We spurned the gifts we’ve been given. With the first sin, death entered the world.

Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans that:
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).

Death entered the world, and we owed a debt that could not be paid. But God himself paid it for us. He sent his Son in to the world to pay the debt that we ourselves could not pay. That’s the Good News of the Gospel!  Yes, the wages of sin is death, but that’s only the first half of the sentence.  The verse from Romans continues:

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Christ has set us free. Christ has paid the debt. It is a double gift. First, the gift of life and everything we have and are. Second, redemption of the gift which we spurned with our sins.

Do we accept the gift we’ve been given?

Do we accept the mercy offered by God every day?

Or, like the servant in today’s Gospel, do we spurn the gift, foolishly trying to pay back a debt that we are unable to repay, frantically trying to take care of it ourselves rather than accepting the gift we’ve been given?

All that God asks of us is to be merciful with each other as he has been merciful to us. But until we know the mercy that he has shown us, we will not be able to show it to others.

You have to know His mercy to show His mercy.

Do you know His mercy?

How long has it been since you’ve been to Confession?

You have to know His mercy to show His mercy.

Realize the magnitude of the gift that is offered to you, and accept it. Accept it, and you will be amazed how easy it becomes to forgive others their faults, when you realize how much you yourself have been forgiven.

To you, his servant, mercy is shown.
If by you, it could only be known…
To another, how easily it could be shown!
And if it could be shown
In the end, the only thing to be known
Is the gift of eternal life, which will be shown.

 

Peter Finds His Identity When He Acknowledges Christ’s Identity

Homily for 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
August 26-27, 2017
Sacred Heart, EGF – 5:30 PM
St. Francis of Assisi, Fisher – 8:00 AM; Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM

Focus:              Peter finds his identity when he acknowledges Christ’s identity.
Function:         Acknowledge Christ as Lord.


st peterThere is an existential question at the heart of today’s Gospel.

Who do you say that I am?

It is a very personal question, a risky question, a question that cuts to the heart of the matter. It is a question that gets down to the level of identity.

Who do you say that I am?

Simon tells Jesus who he is, and then Jesus, in turn, tells Simon who he is.
And who is he?
He is a fisherman.
He is the one who walked on the water.
He is one who saw Jesus in his glory on the mountain.
He is a sinner.

Who is he?
Blessed is he.
He is Simon, son of Jonah.
He is Peter, the rock, “Rocky”, the keeper of the keys, the Master of the House, the one on whom the Church will be built. 

Who do you say that I am?

You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Simon acknowledges who Jesus is, and then Jesus tells Simon who he is. Simon discovers who he is when he discovers who Jesus is.

Peter finds his identity when he acknowledges Christ’s identity.

Brothers and sisters, the same is true for us. We find our identity when we find Christ’s identity. We discover who we are when we discover who He is. We find our very selves when we find him, the one through whom all things, including us, were made.

There is so much uncertainty in the world today. People are lost. They are like sheep without a shepherd, with no one to look to, with no one to lead them. So many people do not know who they are, or they have forgotten who they are. They do not know who they are because they do not know who Christ is. And they are searching, desperately searching, for someone to show them who they are. And in their searching, they look to people who seem confident in who they are, who seem to know who they are. Often they look to the wrong people, and what do we see? Panic. Unrest. Anxiety. Anarchy.

But, what if?
What if they were able to look to people who have been able to answer the question posed by Jesus in the Gospel today?
What if they were able to look to people who know who Jesus Christ is?
What if they were able to look to people who know what they are looking for because they have found it for themselves?

What if?
What if they were able to look to you or to me, and to hear us say:
You were made for more.
You were made for greatness.
You were made to be a saint.
You are a beloved son or daughter of the Father.
You are loved beyond measure.
You are the one for whom Christ gave everything to redeem.

What if?
What if they heard us say:
You are looking for love but you are bound by sin. The Church has the key to set you free. I know because I was there too. Here’s how I found freedom…

All of us look to someone else to find out who we are.  We see this especially with children.  Children look to their parents to find out who they are, and if they don’t find a strong example in their parents, they look to their peers.

All of us look to someone else to find out who we are.  Brothers and sisters, if you aren’t following Christ, I guarantee you that you are following someone or something.  And so my question for you this morning is this:

Who are you following?
Who do you look to?

Who do people say that you are?

There is nothing so compelling as when a disciple of Jesus speaks out of that place where Christ has been revealed to him, when he naturally shares his experience of a time when he encountered Christ in his life and how it changed him. Like Peter, we discover who we are when we discover who Christ is. And it changes everything. It changed Simon’s name to Peter and made him a firm foundation upon which the Church could be built. It changes us and gives us a firm conviction of who we are, a solid foundation on which we can build our lives.

Back to Saint Peter…

At the end of his life, Saint Peter’s gaze was so tightly fixed on the One he acclaimed as Lord that his identity was unshakeable – it was so unshakeable that he was able to bear being crucified upside down on a cross in the middle of a square in Rome.

He was crucified like his Lord. The great Rock of the Church seemed to crumble and fall. He was buried, and years passed. 2000 years passed.

This past January, my classmates and I went on pilgrimage to Rome. While in Rome, we had the privilege of going on the Scavi tour – a tour of the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Emperor Constantine built the original Saint Peter’s Basilica in the 4th century. Tradition holds that he built it over the grave of Saint Peter. It was a massive undertaking. Much of Vatican Hill was leveled in order to build the basilica exactly where Constantine wanted it built.

He could have built it in another spot nearby where the ground was already level, but he wanted it directly over the grave of Saint Peter. A chapel in the basilica was built over Peter’s grave, and the main altar in the basilica was erected one story above the chapel, directly over Peter’s grave.

In the 1500’s, Constantine’s basilica was taken down and the current Saint Peter’s Basilica was built. The main altar was kept in the same place because of the tradition that it was directly over the location of Saint Peter’s grave.

In the mid 1900’s, excavations under Saint Peter’s basilica began. Many tombs and graves were discovered, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. As our guide led us deeper and deeper underground, we eventually reached the spot where the bones of a man in his sixties were discovered – several stories directly under the main altar.

grafitti-wall-detail-wall-G-saint-peter-tomb-glass

We stared in wonder at a small piece of jawbone.

The jawbone that had partaken of the First Eucharist at the Last Supper…
The jawbone that had denied Christ, and then repented when the cock crowed…
The jawbone that confessed Christ as the Son of the living God…
The jaw of the one whom Christ declared as the Rock on whom He would build his Church…

Saint Peter’s Basilica – the Mother of all the Churches – is built on the Rock, and not only on the Rock of Saint Peter, but on his confession of faith and the jaw that proclaimed the answer to Christ’s question.

That same question comes down to you and to me today.

Who do you say that He is?

Christ Came to Set the World on Fire

Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) (75th anniv of death of Maximilian Kolbe)
August 14, 2016
St. Joseph’s, RLF – 10:00 AM

Focus:              Christ came to set the world on fire.
Function:        Go, set the world on fire!


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

75 years ago, in late July of 1941, a prisoner escaped from a bunker in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. He had nothing to lose.  The conditions were horrendous.  He knew he was going to die.

The guards had a rule. If anyone escaped, 10 men would be killed in his place.  So, the guards lined up all 600 prisoners.  The prisoners stood in the hot sun all day while the guards searched for the escapee.

They didn’t find him.

The commander walked up and down the line of prisoners and slowly began to select 10…10 men who would be sent to a starvation bunker with no food, no water, where they would die a horrible death.

 “You.”  “You.”  “You…”

The heart of Franciszek Gajowniczek (Francis Guy oh KNEE check) pounded as the commander approached.

“You.”  “You.”  “You.”

As the commander drew nearer, he looked at Francis, pointed, and said it: “You.”

Francis wasn’t able to control himself. “Please!  My wife!  My children!  Who will care for them?!”

Then another prisoner stepped out of line. He walked up to the commander.

“What do you want?!”

“I want to take that man’s place.”

“Who are you?”

“I am a Catholic priest from Poland, and I want to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”

The commander paused for a moment and stared the prisoner down. “Fine, switch ‘em out!”

The guards sent Fr. Maximilian Kolbe and the prisoners to the underground starvation bunker, where they remained for two weeks. Fr. Kolbe kept his eyes fixed on Christ and gave the men in the bunker hope and encouragement, helping them to meditate on the Passion of Christ, the very passion in which they were now sharing.  At the end of two weeks, four men were still alive.  The guards needed the starvation bunker for more men, so they injected the men with carbolic acid.

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe died on August 14, 1941 – 75 years ago on this date.

Franciszek Gajowniczek remained in Auschwitz for 3 years before he was transferred to another concentration camp. He was then freed by the Allied forces and, 6 months after the War ended, he was reunited with his wife, although his two sons had been killed in the war.

He died in 1995, at the age of 93. Thirteen years before his death, he was present at the canonization Mass where Saint John Paul II proclaimed Fr. Kolbe as Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a martyr of charity.

In speaking of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Francis said: “I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on.  The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me – a stranger…

“He didn’t just die for me but for all of us – to give us a witness of heroic charity.”

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

Christ had set the fire ablaze in the heart of Maximilian Kolbe, and Kolbe in turn set that fire ablaze in those he came into contact with. Saint Maximilian Kolbe was on fire with the love of God.  The fire of Divine Love consumed him – it blazed within him, and God used that heavenly fire to draw Francis out of the pit of destruction and to draw the other men in the bunker out of the pit of hopelessness and despair.  Even though their time in the starvation bunker would end in death, Kolbe kept them focused on the joy they would soon attain – the joy of eternal life.

And when Kolbe died, his flame did not go out. No, it exploded through Auschwitz as other prisoners learned of his heroic deed.  In a cold place of horror, hate, and despair, where the fire of God’s love seemed to have been extinguished, Kolbe lit the torch of hope.  And beyond Auschwitz, the fire that consumed him comes to us today and lights a fire within us.

A fire that cannot be controlled
A fire that cannot be contained
A fire that captivates the hearts of those who see it

A fire that burns deep within our hearts, consuming them and providing the fuel for a life poured out in service…

A fire that burns through our fears and keeps our eyes fixed on the One who came to set the earth on fire with the love of God.

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

Brothers and sisters, the fire has been lit. It has been passed down through the centuries.  Sometimes it blazes and sometimes it seems to lay dormant, smoldering in the coals of indifference and lukewarmness.  But Christ desires it to be blazing.  Is your heart ablaze?  Is your heart raging with the uncontrollable fire of divine love?

Fan the flame, don’t let it go out!

Pokemon Go will not set the fire ablaze…
Facebook will not set the fire ablaze…
Soundbites will not set the fire ablaze…
Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton will not set the fire ablaze…

But…Virtuous friendships and real relationships will set the fire ablaze
Pursuing a life of virtue will set the fire ablaze
Prayer – real, fervent prayer will set the fire ablaze

A life transformed by the living Word of God will set the fire ablaze because “The Lord’s voice flashes flames of fire”

Reading the Lives of the Saints, Saints like Maximilian Kolbe, will set the fire ablaze as we encounter the love of God in the example that they set for us.

A life poured out in service, a life spent using the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have been given, will set the fire ablaze.

A life of charity, devotion, fervor, and zeal will set the world on fire. Saint Catherine of Siena once said, “Become who you were meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

Brothers and sisters, we were made for greatness. We were made to be saints.  We were made to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who came to cast a fire on the earth.

Remember who you are.
Go, set the world on fire!