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The Ascension of the Lord

Ascension Thursday
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9 (6)
Ephesians 1:17-23
Mark 16:15-20
May 13, 2021

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord.

The Ascension might seem like just a step along the way from the Resurrection to Pentecost.  In the chronology of the events, it is a step in the sequence of events but it is an important step.

The Ascension is important enough to be included in the words we profess in the Nicene Creed.  The Ascension is explicitly mentioned in some of the Eucharistic Prayers.  The Ascension is important enough that today we celebrate it as a solemnity and a holy day of obligation.

Clearly, the Ascension is not just a step along the way.

The Ascension is the last event mentioned in Mark’s Gospel before Apostles “went forth.”  It is Mark’s Gospel that tells us that Jesus “took his seat at the right hand of God.”  There, He mounts his throne and intercedes for us with the Father.

Luke presents the Ascension as an important transitional moment.  Luke, of course, wrote the Gospel of Luke.  He also wrote the Acts of the Apostles.  Today’s first reading comes from the very beginning of Acts.  Luke begins by speaking of “the first book.”  This “first book” is the Gospel of Luke.

In Acts, Luke reminds Theophilus that in the first book he wrote of everything that Jesus did “until the day he was taken up.”  Like Mark’s Gospel, Luke ends his gospel with a short mention of the Ascension.

Having presented the Ascension at the end of his gospel, Luke did not need to include it in the Acts of the Apostles but he did.  Why?

To show it as a pivotal moment. 

Now, in the story of Jesus there are lots of pivotal moments.  There is Jesus’ conception when Mary said yes to being the mother of Jesus.

There is Jesus’ birth that we celebrate at Christmas.

There is Jesus’ baptism as He begins his public ministry.

There is the Last Supper when He gives us the Eucharist.

There is his Crucifixion when He dies for us on the Cross so that our sins might be forgiven.

There is his Resurrection as He shows us that God has power even over death.  In his Resurrection He reveals eternal life to us.

So, what is the significance of the Ascension?  Why does Luke include it in both the end of his gospel and the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles?

It marks an end to the gospel as it is an end to Jesus’ time on earth.  His Crucifixion was the end of his earthly life and the Resurrection was the beginning of eternal life. 

The Ascension marks the end of the time when Jesus spoke directly on earth to his disciples.

The Ascension is also the beginning of a new time.  Jesus returns to his place at the right hand of the Father.  From there He watches over and cares for us.  He never forgets us.  He is our Savior forever.

He wants us to know this.  Jesus did not simply disappear.  He ascended with his disciples watching so that we would know where He went.  Jesus does not want it to be a secret where He went.  It is good news!

One might wonder why Jesus left his disciples.  Why didn’t He remain with his disciples here on Earth?

It was necessary, it was good, for Jesus to return to his place in Heaven.  He did not do this for his own glory.  He ascended for us.  Jesus himself had already told his disciples, “it is better for you that I go.  For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

Jesus’ Ascension was part of God’s plan.  Jesus did not abandon us.  He left so that the Advocate may come to us.  Who is this Advocate? 

It is the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit that deals in each of us.  The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost.  For now, we wait…

Building on the Past for a Better Future

In the last article, “Why is Change Difficult?”, that I wrote on the subject of change, I found myself reminiscing about the past. The past is something valuable, something we can learn from. This includes the past as it pertains to God’s relationship with his people. The Bible contains many stories about how God has been there for his people. These stories speak of what God has to offer us.

One of the themes found in Archbishop Emeritus Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap.’s new book, Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living by Archbishop Emeritus Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. (New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2021) is the importance of the past, specifically God’s place in our past and, thus our present and future.

Many people have lost sight of what God offers us. Archbishop Chaput writes, “It’s hard to imagine a greater irony than dying of thirst on the surface of an ocean” (63). God provides us an ocean of infinite grace but many people have no idea what God offers. They look for something more in life but they do not realize that it is God they seek. Instead, they drink what the world offers, wealth, power, and prestige, but these things can never quench our real thirst. We thirst for the living waters of the Spirit.

We live busy lives. Even if one is looking for God, one might not know how to recognize God. As Archbishop Chaput shares what a corporate consultant wrote, “We can miss God without the Church to slow us down, to point God out, to remind us of his presence” (182). Coming to Mass in the midst of a busy life can help us slow down. Sharing God’s Word from the Bible helps point out how God has been present to his people in the past so that we might more readily recognize his presence today.

It is important to remember both the good times and the bad times. We naturally remember the good times, perhaps even boasting of our successes. On the other hand, we like to hide our failures. However, as Archbishop Chaput shares from a pastor, “In some ways, Church history is similar to how the Jewish people recount themselves in the Hebrew Scriptures. They often don’t record their greatest stories but rather their worst. They show their humiliating attempt to follow God by underlining their failures and his fidelity” (187). Why? To show that the successes come not from their own efforts but from God. We read in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

It is in knowing the past that we recognize that true “success” and, more importantly, true life comes when we hand our weaknesses over to God and He responds with grace.

In showing the importance of the past, Archbishop Chaput turns to the “late British scholar and skeptic J.H. Plumb” (19) who “had a grudging respect for the legacy of Jews and Christians” (20) because of their view of the past. Today, many people want to remove any mention of the past. Speaking of Plumb, Archbishop Chaput writes, “he saw that destroying the coherence of the past could cause a paralysis in social matters. He knew that humans “need a compulsive sense of the value of man’s past,” not only for themselves as persons but also for the world at large” (20).

Our past is an important part of how we are. We may have moments that were terrible, embarrassing, and something we would rather forget. We have moments in our past that we never speak of. These moments are part of how we are. The fact that we have survived them can reveal to us how God has led us through difficult moments.

In acknowledging our weaknesses, we can see and admit how God has rescued us. The Israelites could not speak of how God set them free from the Babylonian Exile without admitting that they had ended up in exile because they had sinned. We cannot speak of how Jesus died for us on the Cross so that our sins can be forgiven without admitting we have sinned.

It is in admitting our failures that we can tell of God’s marvelous deeds. This is true in telling others of God’s marvelous deeds. It is also true even for us on our own. We cannot realize all that God has done for us until we admit our failures to see how God has rescued us.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

6th Sunday of Easter, Year B – Homily

6th Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4 (2b)
1 John 4:7-10
John 15:9-17
May 9, 2021

Peter is led by God to the house of Cornelius.  There Cornelius falls “at his feet” to pay homage to Peter.  Peter does not accept the homage for he knows he is “also a human being.”  Peter knows that “homage” belongs to God alone.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with “honoring” people for the good things they do.  For instance, to venerate the saints is to honor the example they are for us.

Today our nation gives honor to a category of people, our mothers.  We honor our mothers for the good they do for us.  We thank God for our mothers.  We thank our mothers for putting up with us when we didn’t always do what we should.

God “puts up” with us when we don’t do as we should.  “God shows no partiality.”  God offers his love to everyone. 

The Jews thought they were a chosen race.  They were in the sense that God had called them to a particular role.  However, they were not supposed to be an exclusive race.  Peter has come to know this in the way he saw the Holy Spirit “poured out on the Gentiles.”  Thus, led by the Holy Spirit, Peter baptizes Cornelius and his household. 

The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.”

Salvation comes in a new way through Jesus but God had always been rescuing his people.  He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  He sent the Israelites free from exile in Babylon.  He offers us salvation, setting us free from our sins.

Why?

Because love is of God.

It is God’s nature to love.  He reveals his love to us in “his saving power.”  We see his love revealed in a new way when He “sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.

It is God’s nature to love and He created us to love.  We love because we are first loved by God.

Love can be contagious.  “Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you’.

We are to take the love we receive and share it.  Ideally, mothers (as well as fathers) do this.

Jesus wants us to know his love.  It is what makes us complete.

What does it mean to love?

Love is more than a warm fuzzy feeling.  Love may lead us to “unpleasant” tasks like a mother changing a diaper for her baby.  I doubt anyone enjoys changing a diaper as a physical act but one willing does it in love.

Jesus tells us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus doesn’t just tell us this.  He demonstrates it to us as He gives his life for us on the Cross.  He does this because He loves us.

What is our response to Jesus’ love?

Is it obedience that is not just a legal obedience?  Or are we obedient because we are afraid of Hell?

Or are we obedient because we trust in God’s love?

Do we want to remain in his love?

Jesus tells us, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.

This is not a condition of God’s love.  God will always love us no matter what.  However, we separate ourselves from that love when we choose to go our own way.

Think of the little child who is totally dependent on mom and dad.  The child trusts mom and dad because mom and dad have always been there for the child.  Why are mom and dad there?  Because they love their child. 

As little children, when we experience fear, we count on our parents.  We are “obedient” because of our trust in them.

Then we grow up.

We become independent.  We think we know better and we go and do our own thing.  We might even become disobedient.  We may become “disobedient” because we think we no longer need our parents.

The same can be true for us as children of God.  If we are taught about God’s love, we trust that God loves us.  In that trust, we listen to what God teaches us.

As we grow up, we become independent.  We still want to know that God is with us just as we don’t “abandon” our parents. 

We begin to make choices for ourselves.  We think we know what is good for us.  Hopefully we have learned what is good.  Who determines what is good?

God’s commandments tell us what is good.  Yet, sometimes we think we know better.  We become disobedient.  We sin.

In choosing to commit venial sin, we hurt our relationship with God.  In choosing to commit mortal sin, we break our relationship with God.  It is not God who breaks the relationship.  It is us.

The good news is God does not stop loving us.  That’s why God makes repentance possible.  It is why Jesus laid down his life for us on the Cross, to heal our brokenness.

Jesus says to us, “It was not you who chose me, but I who choose you.

Jesus chooses to love us.  Do we choose to love him in response?

Celebrating Our Mothers

I wrote the following for our parish bulletin for Mother’s Day.

Mothers are important.  Eve was the first mother in the Bible.  “She was the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20).

There is Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and the mother of Isaac.

We remember Moses’ mother who protected his life when all the young Hebrew male infants were killed (see Exodus 1:15-2:10).

There is Hannah who prayed earnestly to have a child and, when she did, gave him, Samuel, in service to the Lord (see 1 Samuel 1). 

Of course, there are many other mothers listed in the Bible.  In our Catholic faith, at the heart of motherhood is Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God.  At the Annunciation, she said yes to being the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38).  She was a very faithful mother.  Even when the other disciples scattered Mary was there are the foot of the Cross as Jesus was crucified.  It was at the foot of the Cross that Jesus proclaimed Mary to our mother when He said, “Behold, your mother” (John 19:27). We celebrate her at the Mother of God on January 1st.  We celebrate a memorial honoring Mary as the “mother of the church” on the Monday after Pentecost.

What about your mother?  What comes to mind when you think of your mother?

Each year on the second Sunday in May, we honor our mothers.  Honestly, we should honor them everyday but we have this one special day for them.  What will you do for your mother today?

Will you say thank you for what she has done for you?  Will you provide a meal, remembering how many meals she provided for you?  Will you go to visit her, or call her if she lives someplace else?

Maybe you are like me and your mother has passed away.  We can’t call them or visit with them in person.  We can still pray for our mothers in Purgatory and know they will pray for us in Heaven.

These might all seem easy to do when we have a good mother.  Even if our mother is absent from our lives or is hard to get along with, we can (and should) pray for them.  Let us pray for all mothers as we thank ours for their service.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Why is Change Difficult?

After learning I would be moving to another parish at the end of June, in mid-April I wrote an article, “The Next Change.” In that article, I talked about the inevitability of change, that we are not alone in needing to deal with change, and the different perspectives from which we see change. It is the last one I would like to reflect more on today.

In “The Next Change” I spoke of the perspectives I see the change in, both in terms of leaving St. Luke’s and the future I have ahead at St. Mary’s of the Lakes and St. Benedict’s. The two perspectives I face parallel what the parishioners of both parishes face in that they are both losing a priest they have known and receiving a new priest that may be unknown to them.

Whether we like the way things have been or the priest leaving or not, the change brings uncertainty. Even if we don’t like the way things have been or the priest, there is always one positive when things don’t change. We know how things are. The saying is “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” Most people like stability because we fear the unknown. Without things changing we know how things are. If things change, we may need to change ourselves.

We don’t have to fear change. Change can be a good thing for it can bring opportunity. This is especially true when we don’t like the way things have been. We might even welcome the change. Here it is a question whether our desire for change is greater than the risk we see in the change.

What about if we like the way things are? Can change be a good thing then? Yes, because it can bring new opportunities or a fresh perspective. Sometimes we became complacent when things are going well and we just keep doing the same thing over and over without any thought. We are comfortable with the ways things are. We don’t want to introduce any changes that might rock the boat. We don’t want to take any risk. Here the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind.

However, when a new person comes who is open to learning and appreciating the way things have been, they can bring new ideas that bring a “new freshness” that makes things even better than they are. Thus, they bring new opportunity. The strengths of the new person may bring new life to our weaknesses (see my previous article on strengths and weaknesses “Having What It Takes”)

All this being said, even “change” can have “change” within it. As I have mentioned in my previous articles on change, I am used to going to a new parish and not knowing much about it or the parishioners knowing much about me. That is “normal” change. However this time is different. St. Mary’s and St. Ben’s is my home parish. This means I know some things about them and they know some things about me.

So, the change is different this time. In some ways this makes it easier. It is not a complete unknown. I am already in conversation with the staff at St. Mary’s and St. Ben’s. As we talk, not everything is new. For instance, when I look at the list of upcoming weddings, there are last names I recognize. I say last names because it is the couple’s parents that I know because their parents are near my age. This brings familiarity. Recognizing the names can bring a sense of familiarity. That brings comfort.

Yet, I caution myself that everything is not exactly the same. For instance, the children are not exactly like their parents. For the weddings I will do, it is the bride and groom getting married that is to be my focus, not just the parents (The parents are part of their family and important, just not the point of the wedding).

I also find myself remembering some of the musicians. These leads to me thinking about when I presided at Mass for the very first time. It was at St. Mary’s and I got to pick the music. So, it was all music I really like. I hope they still do some of those same songs but it is not all about me. I pray that they don’t just do music I like. I pray that they do music that helps bring everyone closer to Christ (a little something for everyone) and gives praise to God in a way pleasing to God.

I think I have drifted from my topic for this article of why change is difficult to reminiscing about the past. Actually, in the present change for me this is part of the challenge. It is good, it is even necessary to remember the past or we can’t learn from it. As, we reminisce, we just need to be open to the future that God has planned for us.

There is one more aspect of the difficulty of change I would like to include here. It is the transition itself. Seldom do changes happen in an instant. In this case, it will be just short of two months from the time from when the changes were announced to priests assignments actually change. So, I work hard to remain faithful to my current parish of St. Luke’s as well as preparing for what is to come at St. Mary’s of the Lake and St. Benedict’s. That means I have more on my mind right now. I count on the Holy Spirit to guide me.

Change does seem evitable and it can be challenging. We do not need to fear the change. God is with us. I will end now the same way I ended my previous article, “The Next Change”.

“God has a plan. In Jeremiah 29:11 we read, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.

Yes, God has a plan. From the words that Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer, let us all pray “thy will be done.””

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

What Does It Mean to Love?

In March I wrote an article called “Chastity and Sexuality”. As part of that article, I discussed how sexual acts are meant to be an expression of the love between a man and a woman in marriage. Sex without love is a mere physical act without meaning. In love, sexuality expresses its true meaning.

Today I would like to reflect on what it means to love and care for others. To do so, I will use material from Archbishop Emeritus Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap.’s new book, Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living by Archbishop Emeritus Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. (New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2021).

To define Love, Archbishop Chaput relies on C.S. Lewis who relies on the Greek language that has four different words for love.

  1. Storge, or the bond of empathy”
  2. Philia, or the bond of friendship”
  3. Eros, or romantic love”
  4. Agape, unselfish, sacrificial love – a reflection of God’s own love” (165).

English lacks this distinction. We have only one word for love. As Archbishop Chaput writes, “a husband can say he “loves” his wife and he “loves” cabbage. The word is the same. The meaning is rather different” (165). Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor (see Mark 12:28-34). We are called to love everyone but we love different people in different ways. This is why the distinction of the four types of love is so important. It is only in understanding that we love in different ways that we can fully understand human sexuality and chastity.

Love is more than just attraction. “Love is always more than a feeling. Emotions change. Feelings come and go. But real love is a choice, act of the will” (Archbishop Chaput, 165). We choose to love. In understanding this choice, it is important to realize that we can love a person with more than just one type of love from the four presented above. In fact, the different types of love can support one another. For instance, Archbishop Chaput writes, “Eros produces the family. Agape sustains it” (165).

Eros produces the family” in that it is in “eros” that a man and woman come together in the bond of marriage. It is in eros that a husband and wife come together in sexual intimacy and bear children. For the marriage and the family to survive, agape love, a sacrificial love is required. The husband and wife must be willing, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to be willing to make sacrifices for each other and for their children. The sacrifices they make strengthen their marriage. It is also a model for society to follow. To be a healthy society, we must be wiling to make sacrifices for others, even for strangers. This is the love that Jesus calls us to when He says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). In fact, Jesus doesn’t just say it. This is what Jesus does for us on the Cross.

God chooses to love us. God does not need us. God does want us (see Archbishop Chaput, 190). God is love (1 John 4:8).

Archbishop Chaput goes on to write, “First, philia is a preferential bond with a friend. The agape of the Gospel is non-preferential, like the love of God himself” (227). We choose our friends. We choose to love them in a particular way. This philia love can disappear. We lose old friends and find new ones. In following God’s commandment, love thy neighbor, we are called to agape love for all, even our enemies. We need philia love because we are created to love. We need intimacy but not all intimacy is eros love, romantic love. We need all four types of love as love is what we are created for.

How many friends do you have? I am not talking about the number of “friends” you have on Facebook. There are people who have hundreds of friends on Facebook but do they really know any of them. We need true friends.

Archbishop Chaput relies on Aristotle as he writes of true friendship.

“True friendship, for Aristotle, is more than mere mutual utility, though friends naturally seek to help and be useful to one another when the need arises. True friendship is also more than the joy friends take in each other’s company, though the pleasure of “fitting together” obviously animates friends. And true friendship is also more than a disposition of friendliness. We can be friendly with many people; we can true friends with only a few. Friendship demands the investment of a person’s time and energy. It involves risk, and also candor. It requires a willingness to place the task of loving the friend above our own natural appetite for being loved. the true and highest form of friendship, for Aristotle, is that of good persons who resemble and reinforce each other in virtue” (Archbishop Chaput, 228-229).

To truly live we need true friends. We need friends to help us become better people, to become who God calls us to be. We need true friends to help us understand what it means to love. This is what it means for friends to fit together. We need friends, philia love, to understand what eros love, the romantic love of a husband and a wife is meant to be. Storge love, empathy, motivates us to care for others. Philia love motivates us to agape love for all. Eros love strengthens us.

When looking for friends, we need people who “see the same truth“, who “care about the same truth” (Archbishop Chaput, 230). We do not have to go through life alone. We rely on God and we rely on true friends.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

5th Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 9:26-31
Psalm 22:26-27, 29, 30, 31-32 (26a)
1 John 3:18-24
John 15:1-8
May 2, 2021

The story told in the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the early church.  Acts tells us how “the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.  It was being built up and walked in fear of the Lord and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.”   

The church was already facing persecution and resistance in some places yet it was growing by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was at work through Paul who “had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.”  Yet, it was not only through Paul.  When Barnabas heard of Paul, he brought him to the Apostles.  It was one church working with individuals working together.

We are part of this church.  Thus, the story told in the Acts of the Apostles is not just the story of the early church 2,000 years ago.  It is our story.

We are to belong to the truth, the truth that Jesus brings.  If we belong to the truth, we will “keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” 

It is in keeping his commandments that we “remain in him” and “he remains in us.” 

Is this not what we seek when we come to church, to have Jesus remain in us?

We need to be connected to God.  We are created to know God, to be loved by God, and to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul.

To help us understand how we need him, Jesus uses the image of the vine.  He is “the true vine.”  His Father “is the vine grower” and we “are the branches.” 

What happens if the branches are cutoff from the vine?

They die.

The branches cannot exist without the nutrients and water they receive through the vine.  The branches cannot bear fruit on their own.  The branches need to remain connected to the vine.

We need to remain connected to Jesus.  How do we do this?

One way is through the Word, the Word we receive from God in the Bible.  The words we read in the Bible were written down between two and three thousand years ago but it is not an “old” word.  It is a living word that even today tells us the story of God’s love for his people and how we are to live.

This is why we read from the Bible at every Mass.  It is part of how we are to remain in him. 

How else do we remain in Jesus for, as Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing”?

We need the Eucharist. 

When we commit mortal sin, we break our relationship with God.  When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are celebrating the sacrifice of Jesus given his life for us on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  We confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to be worthy to receive the Eucharist.

What is it that we receive?  It is the Body and Blood of Jesus. 

We need the Body and Blood of Jesus. 

Do you appreciate what we celebrate and receive in the Eucharist?  Unfortunately, over time we sometimes take it for granted.  It is good for us to reflect on what the Eucharist is.

Today, we have seven children in our parish who will receive their First Communion.  To prepare for this day, they have been learning about the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

This is a very special day for them.  It is a day to be celebrated.  The children will be dressed up.  It is a day to celebrate.  In their Baptism, they are already children of God but they come to know Jesus in a new way in what they receive in the Eucharist.

As you come to Mass, do you think about what remaining in Jesus means to you?

As you come forth to receive Communion, do you think about what receiving Communion means for you?  It is not just bread and wine.  It has been transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  It is Jesus.

Think about the way we receive Jesus.  We do not reach into the ciborium to take Jesus for ourselves like we would popcorn out of a bowl. 

No, we receive Jesus by holding out our hands, one hand over the over to make a throne to receive Jesus as our king.  Then, we place the Eucharist in our mouth so that we may become what we eat, that we may become the Body of Christ.

And so we remain in Jesus and He remains in us.

Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Our View of this World

I recently read the book Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living by Archbishop Emeritus Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. (New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2021). Reading it has led me to share some thoughts about how view death affects the way we view life.

Referring to the ancient philosopher Socrates, Archbishop Chaput writes, “He said that his philosophizing was best understood as a preparation for dying” (9). Many people do not like to talk about dying as they find it too depressing. However, I think Socrates makes an excellent point. It is not that our whole life is about death. Rather, how we view death affects the way we view life. Is death something to be avoided? Is it an end or a new beginning?

In Isaiah 25:7-8a, we read “On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever.” The veil of which he speaks is death. If we see physical death as an end to our existence, it keeps us from seeing beyond physical death to eternal life. If all we see is life in this world, it affects all our life choices. We will make decisions based solely on what we experience in this physical world. However, when we believe in the resurrection to eternal life, it changes our priorities. The things of this world are not so important for as Paul writes in Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.

Knowing and believing in the resurrection to eternal life should give us courage in this life to put God first in our lives. However, as Archbishop Chaput writes, “Obviously our courage needs to be guided by prudence” (12) and we should not be “too eager for martyrdom” (12). When led by the Holy Spirit, we need to be willing to speak up for our faith but sometimes “Avoiding situations that force us to state our convictions can sometimes be the prudent course of action” (13, cf. my article “Our Weapons Against Evil” and Fr. Longenecker’s sword #8, silence).

What did Peter and the other disciples do when Jesus was arrested? They dispersed in fear but doing so led to them living on in this world. Then, they received the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the gospel. We ask God to give us the courage to know when to speak up and when we are called to speak up, the words to say.

The martyrs are those who have died for their faith. They can be an inspiration to us. On the other hand, as Archbishop Chaput writes they can, “frighten us as much as they inspire us” (14). We might be afraid to die. The thought that we might have to die for our faith might frighten us. It should make us think.

How we view death and what comes after it affects how we face death. If death is a final end, then it is something to be avoided. However, if death is something noble, as is Jesus’ death on the Cross as “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13), death has value. If we look beyond death to eternal life, there is something greater to come in eternal life.

The way people at things and faith has changed. Archbishop Chaput writes, “For many centuries, man’s grandest buildings were tombs and temples. A civilization’s main concern was honoring its gods or its dead, or both” (27). A few sentences later Archbishop Chaput continues, “Cities today are different. We can build higher, faster, and more lavishly than any civilization before us. But the signature buildings and public spaces in New York or Shanghai have a different purpose. Our temples of glass and steel are full of stores, office space, and elegant restaurants. Our focus isn’t divinity. Nor is it our dead ancestors. Our primary concerns are work and play, getting more money and spending it. We avoid dwelling on death, or the afterlife, or the dead themselves. We prefer to ignore them” (27-28, italics my emphasis).

The priorities of the world have changed. What is your greatest priority? Does God come first? Does faith come before work and play? Remember Jesus died so that you may live. He rose to reveal true life for as Archbishop Chaput writes, “The Resurrection clarifies the meaning of life, and therefore the meaning of death” (31).

Returning to the topic of martyrdom, we might ask ourselves is it better to live or die. Paul offers some important words here, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better. Yet that I remain [in] the flesh is more necessary for your benefit” (Philippians 1:21-24). If we die in faith, we go be with Christ. This is what we seek. However, if we continue to live in the flesh, we can continue the share the gospel, to share the good news that Jesus died and rose to lead us to eternal life.

This leads us back to my earlier question, is death an end or a new beginning. Archbishop Chaput writes, “Christians believe that death is not just the end of pain but the beginning of an endless joy, not just the loosening of burdens but a new start of endless intimacy with a loving God” (43, italics my emphasis). Living in faith, what we experience in this world is preparation for the life to come.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Having What It Takes

As I prepare to move to another parish, I reflect on what God has called me to do at St. Luke’s and what God will be calling me to do at St. Mary’s of the Lake and St. Benedict’s. In turn, this leads me to think about my strengths and weaknesses. Do I have what it takes to fulfill what God asks of me? This reflection is nothing new for me. It is good for us to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses and what God is calling us to do.

I remember when I first felt a call to the priesthood. It caught me off guard as I had only been back to church for a little over a year. I didn’t feel like I knew enough about our faith to become a priest (seminary taught me a lot). I never liked public speaking. How could I be a priest and preach in front of a congregation? I never liked funeral homes. How could I be priest and not have to go to funeral homes?

God showed me that I did not have to be afraid of these things. God has given me what I need to preach. As to funeral homes, when I first felt called to the priesthood, I was about 30 years old and had only been in a funeral home four times in my life and each time was for a close relative. Once I started going to funeral homes for other people, I came to see funeral homes in a new light. God gave me the courage to go at first and now it is not a challenge.

Sometimes God reveals what He wants us to do over time. When I was thinking about becoming a priest I had my own idea of what being a priest would be like. It centered on celebrating the Sacraments and meeting with people one on one to offer spiritual support and guidance. (Of course, there would be some administration but I didn’t realize how much).

That was 1999. Now, 22 years later, I find the three things I most felt called to and enjoy is celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and helping others grow in faith through this blog, my website, homilies and presentations. God has always given me what I need to do these things. I thank God for what He has given me. God will give you what you need to do what He asks of you.

We should also realize how what God calls us to do can change over the years. It can change when one’s children become adults and move out of the house and one finds oneself with more free time. Likewise, it can change at retirement. It can also change as we age and can’t do everything we used to. This doesn’t mean we can’t do something. It just means God will call us to what we are able to do.

We should also realize that when God calls us to do something, the call doesn’t mean we are supposed to it all ourselves. Moses had Aaron to assist him. David had Nathan the prophet. No one person has all the gifts. God will bring together people of different gifts to work together for the building up of his kingdom. Together, we are the Body of Christ. One body with many parts with “different forms of service but the same Lord” (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-31).

As I prepare to go to a new assignment, not only do I find myself wondering about my own strengths and weaknesses but also those of the parish, the staff, and the parishioners. How will God call us to work together? I don’t have all the gifts. I don’t need to have all the gifts. I don’t even have the same gifts as the priest who is leaving the parish. For example, he has the gift of music and can sing. That is not my calling. However, I trust God will provide others with the gift of music for what I cannot do.

Thinking about how God provides, I remember when I became pastor of Immaculate Conception in Ithaca there was a parish school. Like many Catholic schools, it was struggling with enrollment. In my first few months there I began thinking about doing some strategic planning for the school. As I did so, I prayed about who to have on the team. There was one woman I came to know as she served on the Parish Pastoral Council that I felt called to ask. I figured it was because she was on the council and a new parent. She was a stay-at-home mom. What I didn’t know was that before she started her vocation as a stay-at-home mom, she worked in a job where leading strategic planning was half of the job. God provided what we needed.

As God leads me to a new parish assignment, God is also calling forth the parishioners and staff to work together to build up his kingdom. As I go there as the parish leader, it is not my own kingdom that I am to build up. It is God’s kingdom. I go with an open mind to learn where the parish is at now. I emphasis “now” because it is my home parish. Its strengths and weaknesses may have changed over the years. God knows what the parish needs now.

It is not my will that I go to do. It is God’s Will I seek.

If I was going to do my own will, it might be just me on the “team” with everyone else likewise on their own team, doing their own will. Maybe we would be lucky and some of the parishioners and/or staff would want the same thing as me so we could work together. If I wanted to form my own team to do my own will, maybe God would help us. I would hope God would be on my team.

However, there is a better way to approach it. I do not want God to be on my team. I want to be on God’s team. I want to do God’s Will. I have my weaknesses and my strengths. I give it all to God is all-knowing as I pray thy will be done.

What strengths and weaknesses do you have? How is God calling you to use them?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

4th Sunday of Easter, Year B – Homily

4th Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 4:8-12
Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29 (22)
1 John 3:1-2
John 10:11-18
April 25, 2021

Who is our shepherd?

Who is it that we expect to help us?  Do we trust in man, meaning do expect other people to provide what we really need?  Do we trust in princes, do we expect the government to solve all problems?

We should be able to count on the help of others.

Likewise, the government exists to serve the needs of the people (see Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris).  However, that doesn’t mean that the government has all the solutions.

What about the role of the church?  Do you expect the “church” to solve all the problems while you sit back and watch?  For example, well before there was a Coronavirus pandemic, attendance at Mass was falling.  Do you expect the church to change this?  Are you willing to help?  Is it the church that needs to change or the world?  Sometimes we have a hard time relating to the world.  Here John writes, “The reason that world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

We also know is true for the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life continues to decline. 

The church has a role to play in building the kingdom of God.  Both our reading from Acts and today’s psalm refers to the “builders.”  The Jews saw themselves as a chosen race and they were.  They were chosen to build up the Kingdom of God.  There were leaders, both religious leaders and political leaders in Israel, who were appointed shepherds to lead God’s people. 

Unfortunately, many did not fulfill the role of shepherd.  Some because of their own self-interest or thinking they knew better than others.  Some because they were not committed.  They did their “job” to a point but as soon as they saw a wolf coming, they ran away.

How does God respond to this?

He sends Jesus who identifies himself, “I am the good shepherd.”  Jesus is fully committed to being our shepherd.  Three times in today’s eight verses He tells us that He will lay down his life for his sheep. 

We are his sheep.  Jesus is committed to us.  He lays down his life on the Cross for us.  He lays down his life and takes it up again the Resurrection. 

Jesus is resurrected but it is not simply for himself that God raises him up.  If it was, then why did Jesus appear to the disciples after the Resurrection.  He could have simply returned to Heaven.  He appeared risen so that we know of the Resurrection and what it means to rise body and soul.

Jesus does this as our shepherd.  What is our response?

God loves us.  “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” 

Yes, we are God’s children.  We are the sheep of his flock.

Do we show the same commitment to God that Jesus shows for us in laying down his life?

Jesus is our shepherd.  Who is God asking us to shepherd?

Are not parents not shepherds over their children?  Parents are called to care for their children, to make sacrifice, to lay down their lives in some way for their children.  This is the vocation of parenthood.

I use the word “vocation”.  Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  One might think of priesthood and religious life when hearing the word “vocation.”  However, vocation is something we all have.  A “vocation” is what God calls us to.

We need people to respond to God’s call for them.  Priests and religious (along with deacons) are called in a particular way to lay down their lives for others.  Priests and religious lay down their lives in accepting celibacy.  They lay their lives down in this way to in turn serve their spiritual family.  Note how we call them by terms used to describe family relationships.  We call them father, sister, and brother.

How are priests, religious, and deacons to fulfill their vocation?  How is anyone called to fulfill what God asks of them?

How did Peter find the courage to speak up?  He was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  God will give us what we need to do his will through the Holy Spirit.

God gives us what we need to do great things.  However, we do not do it in our own name.  We do it in the name of Jesus who was crucified and who God raised from the dead.

The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone of true life.  There is no salvation through anyone or anything else. 

Individuals need to do their part.  Government needs to do its part.  The church needs to its part.  Yet, in the end, it is the Lord who is our shepherd.  “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.

The Lord is our shepherd.  As we place our trust in him, may we in turn do what He asks of us, fulfilling the vocation He gives us.