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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.

Reflecting on the Act of Contrition

After we confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receiving a penance, we say an Act of Contrition. This expresses our sorrow for our sins. We say the Act of Contrition as part of the ritual of the Sacrament. Do you just say the words or do you truly pray them, reflecting on what they mean? Is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation the only time you pray an Act of Contrition or do you pray at other times when you realize you may have sinned?

Today I would like to reflect on the words in the Act of Contrition. There are several versions of the Act of Contrition. I will use the one found on the Sacrament of Reconciliation page on my website. The different versions overlap. So, if you are used to another version, I think my reflection here will still be helpful to aid you in praying the Act of Contrition rather than just saying it.

Here is the prayer in its entirety.

My God,
I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong
And failing to do good,
I have sinned against you
Whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
To do penance,
To sin no more,
And to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ
Suffered and died for us.
In his name, my God, have Mercy.

Now, I offer this line by line reflection.

My God
We pray “my God” but the “my” does not indicate ownership or control of God by us. Nor does it indicate an exclusive relationship with God. God is the god of all. We cannot control God. Here “God” is with a capital “G”. God is not just one god among many. He is not just “a” supreme being. He is the “supreme” being. He is the one true God. “God” is not just a word we use to describe “god”. “God” is his name.

I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
To receive God’s forgiveness requires contrition. That means we must be genuinely sorry for our sins. We are not confessing our sins because that is what is expected of us. In coming to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we humbly admit that we have sinned and need to be reconciled with God. However, we cannot reconcile our relationship with God on our own. Reconciliation requires forgiveness. The good news is that God is eager to forgive us if we come to him with a contrite and repentant heart. Saying our sins out loud is a very important part of the Sacrament. It signifies our humility. In naming our sins, we lay them before God. God is eager to forgive us but we do not let him forgive us unless we are willing to name our sins. We do so with all our heart because of the love God shows for us.

In choosing to do wrong
Yes, we “choose” to do wrong. It is a bad choice. In committing mortal sin, we break our relationship with God. In committing venial sin, we hurt our relationship with God. When we choose to sin, we think we know better than God. God has told us what is right and wrong but we think differently. We may think that what we did does not hurt anyone. Maybe we listen to the world too much when it says there is no right and wrong, that there is no truth. So, the world thinks we can do whatever we want. Yes, God gives us free will but that does not mean we should do whatever we want. There is right and wrong. There is Truth. It comes from God and “and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32b). (See also my video presentation, Where Do We Go for Truth?)

And failing to do good
To receive forgiveness, we must be willing to admit that we have failed to do good. Some people will not admit when they have failed to do good because they see it as a sign of weakness. They think they need to hide their weakness. Here I think of the words from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “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.”

I have sinned against you
We may not want to admit our sins but doing so removes a great burden from us. Until we admit our sins, we are burdened in trying to hide our sins. Our desire to hide our sins can lead us to lie, another sin. One sin leads to another. Only God can bring us back to him.

Whom I should love above all things.
God is love” (1 John 4:8). We love God because we are first loved by God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). Jesus willingly lays down his life for us (see John 15:13). Thus, we should love God “above all things.”

I firmly intend, with your help
Here lies a struggling point. How many times do we commit the same sins over and over? Yet, we say we “firmly intend…to sin no more.” We intend but we fail. God knows this. Yet, He keeps loving us. God looks not just at the external acts that we do. “The Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God sees the sin within us but He also sees our desire to love him when we “firmly intend” to stop sinning. God also knows we need his help. The only way we will stop sinning is to let God help us. It may take a long time. God is patient. God forgives over and over (see Matthew 18:21-22).

To do penance
Penance is not simply punishment. Our willingness to do a penance signifies our sorrow. In accepting and doing our penance, we acknowledge that we must make amends (see my article, “What About Accountability?”).

To sin no more
To sin no more. Yes, this is my what I desire. Lord, I want to change. Yet, it seems so difficult. No, it doesn’t just “seem” difficult. It is difficult. It might even seem impossible but nothing is impossible for God (see Matthew 19:25-26). Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery but He did tell her “from now on do not sin any more” (see John 8:1-11).

And to avoid whatever leads me to sin
If we truly desire to “sin no more” we must do more than just say we firmly intend to sin no more. We need to take distinct steps. Sometimes it means we must avoid situations that have lead us to sin in the past. It may mean avoiding alcohol and/or drugs that impair our judgment. It may be not going to places where sin is common.

Our Savior Jesus Christ
We begin the Act of Contrition with the words “my God” but He is not just our own personal God. God is the good of every single person in the world. We are not in this alone. We can be there for one another as we struggle against temptation. We call Jesus our “Savior” because we cannot save ourselves. We need Jesus to redeem us.

Suffered and died for us.
Salvation is possible because Jesus suffered for us, taking the weight of our sins upon himself. Thank you Jesus.

In his name, my God, have Mercy
On my own I am not worthy to receive God’s mercy. I don’t have to be worthy on my own. It is Jesus who makes it possible for us to receive God’s mercy. It is in the name of Jesus that we ask for God’s mercy.

Thank you Jesus!

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Next Change

There is a saying that change is inevitable. Change certainly seems common. Once again I am about to experience a change in my parish assignment. It was announced this weekend that I will be leaving St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Livingston County to become the Parochial Administrator of St. Mary’s of the Lake in Watkins Glen and St. Benedict’s in Odessa.

Of course, this means change for me. It also obviously means change for St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s. It also means change for Our Lady of the Lakes Parish. Why? Because that is where Fr. Jorge Ramirez, who will take my place as Parochial Vicar at St. Luke’s, is coming from. Change seldom affects just one person or group.

We should also realize that it is not just these three parishes facing changes. There will be several priests changing parish assignments at the end of June. I have not seen a complete list of changes but by an unofficial count at least fourteen parishes in our diocese will see a change this year. Two priests are retiring. Perhaps most notably in parishes facing change is The Parish of the Holy Family in Gates who have been under the leadership of a temporary priest administrator since the death of their pastor, Fr. Mike Schramel. Then, just last Friday, Fr. George Heyman, Pastor of Church of the Assumption and the Church of the Resurrection in Fairport passed away. Neither of these deaths was expected. In the coming months, please keep all the parishes facing change in your prayers. This week, please especially pray for Church of the Assumption and the Church of the Resurrection in Fairport as they grieve the loss of Fr. George Heyman.

Change may seem inevitable but that does not mean we like it. Why might we be resistant to change? Perhaps our greatest resistance to change comes when we like things the way they are. In the context of priests assignments, this applies to the parishes that really like the priests they have and don’t want them to leave. On the other hand, if the priest is not well-liked, then the change can be welcomed.

There can also be times when a priest is neither especially well-liked or not liked. We still may not like the change simply because we like stability. A change would bring the uncertainty of what the new priest will be like. There is a saying, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”

This brings me to the topic of how I am seeing this particular change for me (as well as how St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s might be looking at this year’s changes). I am used to changing assignments. St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s will be the sixth parish I have served in since ordination. Normally, when I go to a new parish, I know no one there. After I arrive, as I get to know people, I discover connections between parishioners (mainly relatives and friends) to parishioners I have known in other parishes. I already know of at least one such connection between St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s as I know there is a person I know in St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s that was a college friend of someone I see at St. Luke’s who remain friends after over thirty years.

This time it will be different. I will know people at St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s and some of them know me. Why? Because St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s is the parish I went to beginning in 1998 when I returned to Church until I was ordained. I consider it my home parish. So, I will know some of the people but not all of the people. At the end of June, I will celebrate fourteen years of priesthood. In that time, some of the parishioners I knew at St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s have passed away. I’m sure some others have moved away. I also assume there will be some new parishioners since then. Add to that, the parish received a new Pastor in 2014. I’m sure somethings have changed while others have stayed the same. I ask the Holy Spirit to help me go with an open mind and heart to see the parish as it is today, not simply as it was fourteen years ago when I presided at a Mass for my very first time there. I also pray that the parishioners realize I am not exactly the same person I was fourteen years ago. Hopefully, I have become a better person, growing in faith and love of Jesus Christ.

There is another aspect of this change that I look forward to. My dad lives in Watkins Glen. For the last fourteen years I have lived between 25 and 75 miles from his house. It will be nice to be close.

There is one more aspect of how I will experience this change that I would like to include here, leaving St. Luke’s. While I look forward to “going home”, leaving any place can some with some difficulty. There are certainly things and people I will miss. This is normally true for all of us when we leave one place for another. When I prepare to leave a parish, I find myself sometimes wondering if there is something more I could do to help the parish before I leave. I pray that I have done what God has asked of me and that the new priest serve the parish in accord with God’s Will.

Is change inevitable? Hum…there is one constant in the universe…God. 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

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B – Homily

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9 (7a)
1 John 2:1-5a
Luke 24:35-48
April 18, 2021

Easter is a season of resurrection.  The Resurrection of Jesus is pivotal in our Christian faith.  Thus, Jesus doesn’t want us to just know about his Resurrection.  He wants us to understand what it means to be resurrected.

Jesus knew what his disciples were going through.  The one, Jesus, they thought to be the Messiah has been crucified.  How can this be?  Then comes news that the tomb is empty and that He is risen.  What does this mean? 

They would have been confused to say the very least.  They were also afraid of what would happen to them.

Knowing this Jesus “stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.””  Their reaction?  “They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” 

They did not yet understand the Resurrection so they thought the Jesus they were seeing must be a ghost.  This, along with their confusion over all that had happened, left them “terrified.

Would you have felt any different then?  If you saw Jesus today would you be overjoyed or would you be terrified, perhaps fearing judgment?

Jesus says to them “Why are you troubled?  And why do questions arise in your hearts?”  Jesus knows why.  They do not understand.  He wants to them understand.

To help them understand the Resurrection He shows them his hands and his feet to see his wounds so that they may know that He is indeed the same Jesus who was crucified.

To help them understand that, risen, He is not just a ghost but that He is risen body and soul, He invites them to touch him so that they would know He has flesh and bones.

Most of all, He asks for something to eat and they gave him a “piece of baked fish.”  “He took it and ate it in front of them.”  Why is this important?  Because a ghost does not eat.  The physical body eats physical food. 

Jesus is risen body and soul.

This is important for two reasons.

What had happened to Jesus?  He had been crucified.  This would have seemed like a defeat by those who had “handed Jesus over and denied him in Pilate’s presence.” 

The Resurrection shows us that the Crucifixion was not a defeat!  As Peter said to the people, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.

God has power even over death!  God glorifies Jesus, raising him up, for the obedience Jesus gives to the Father.

Peter goes on to say to the people that he knows they “acted out of ignorance” in crucifying Jesus.  Yet, while they were ignorant, now they know better and he calls them to “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.

They now know who Jesus really is.  This knowledge should lead to repentance; repentance they offer now knowing that Jesus is expiation for their sins.

What difference does knowing who Jesus really is, the Son of God, and that He dies and rises for us, make for you?

Does it relieve us in our distress to know that God has power even over death?

Does it put gladness into our hearts?

Does it bring us security? 

Does knowing that Jesus is “expiation” for our sins lead us think we can sin without fear because we take God’s forgiveness for granted?

Or does it lead us to repentance, to a true desire to stop sinning, instead keeping God’s commandments, keeping “his word”?

The disciples had not understood the scriptures that said “that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.”  Jesus opened their minds to understand.

With faith and hope in Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection, may we open our minds to all that God offers us.

Some Thoughts on Dealing with Difficult People

Difficult people…we probably have all dealt with difficult people in our lives. It isn’t easy or we won’t call them “difficult” people. There is no one single way to deal with all difficult people. It takes patience. It takes understanding. It also means understanding ourselves.

Ourselves? It’s the other person who is the difficult one, isn’t it? Maybe much of the blame on is on them but if we hope to make things better, we do well to admit our own shortcomings. After all, what does Jesus have to say about judging others in their sin?

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

In examining myself, some things about me that might be a challenge for others include that I tend to set the bar high, meaning I have high expectations. I definitely expect a lot of myself. The good news for people I work with is that I recognize this and, while I expect them to do a good job, I recognize that they have other things going on in their lives. For me, my ministry as a priest is at the core of what I do. I do visit my dad and help him out but I don’t have the family responsibilities of others. Others need to fulfill what is expected of them but it needs to be reasonable and clear.

I also recognize the importance of prayer in working with others. What do I pray for? At the heart of my prayer is not that others do what I want. No, I pray that they, as well as me, do God’s Will. This is the way that Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done.” It is the way that Jesus himself prayed in the garden when He was about to be arrested, “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Remember, Jesus knows what it is like to deal with difficult people. He dealt with people who were stuck in their own expectations and refused to see him for who He really is, the Messiah, because He did not meet their expectations of the messiah. Did Jesus give up on them? No, He died for them just as He died for us. Even on the Cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). When we are dealing with difficult people, we must be open to forgiveness, remembering how Jesus said to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

So, what are some characteristics in people that I find difficult to deal with? I find it difficult to deal with people who are late, those who don’t seem to really listen, lack of follow-through, poor communication, or don’t seek to grow.

Perhaps the last one is the most frustrating for me. I want to bring out the best in people. There are two things I have to willing to accept here. First, what they think is best may not be what I think is best (Neither of us may be right. God is the one who truly knows what is best. That’s why we need to pray). Secondly, sometimes people aren’t interested in doing their best. Here, we ask for God’s guidance to set reasonable expectations and for the grace to deal with the situation properly when reasonable expectations are not met.

How about people who are late? First, we need to be sure start times are always clear. I know people who just assume things don’t start on time so they make no effort to get there on time. I think while we need to acknowledge there may be good reasons people may be late, it is always best to plan on starting on time so that people have the same understanding. Otherwise, one person shows up on time, another at five past while another at ten past. I also pray for the grace to be patient. I am always early so I really need the grace of patience for people who are late.

What about those who don’t seem to listen? Now, none of us is perfect. We can all be distracted at times. We may be physically present but at the same time have other concerns like a sick loved one. Here, we pray for all to have the grace to be present in the moment. That being said, we also need to make sure we are being explicit. Sometimes the other person is listening but they have a different understanding of the situation. Words can mean different things. Abbreviations can mean different things. I know that when I left my job as an engineer to become a priest, I found some abbreviations stand for very different things in “church talk” than engineering. Words can have different meanings too. For instance, as an engineer, “exponent” is a math term symbolizing raising a number to a power. It can also be used to describe a person who champions or exemplifies something. We need to be sure we are in agreement in what we are talking about.

Then there is lack of follow through. Jesus says, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’” (Matthew 5:37). There may be times we are not able to complete the task as assigned. We need to communicate that. To be able to count on each other, we need to make sure we do what we say we will. Of course, at times we might be assigned tasks we don’t want to do. Jesus did not want to have to die on the Cross but He did because He knew it was best.

I also listed poor communication. I think I have already covered this is what I said about the others but, to be explicit, we need to make sure we are in agreement of what has been said and what each person has agreed to do.

There are difficult people. We need to do our best to make sure we are not one of them and to pray for the grace to work with others who we find difficult.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Treating Life with Dignity and Love Part IV

Last night I offered the fourth and final webinar in my series, Treating Life with Dignity and Love, covering Catholic Pro-Life teaching.

You can view the video and see the slides at www.renewaloffaith.org/prolife4.

For the next couple of days, you can complete an online evaluation of the webinar at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfl8V98K4fn1mDqt1Rm1ip7uVwqwo_hGXx8BieKaCRQRvXKnQ/viewform?usp=sf_link.

On May 19th, I will do a single webinar, “Three Saints to Aid Us”, discussing St. Michael the Archangel, St. John Fisher, and St. Thomas More.  Registration is now open at  https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_wag0AQOkQ5CkCWZLIw2LSw.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff