Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri

A young man once approached St. Philip Neri for advice. He shared with the saint his plan to study law and become an attorney. St. Phillip pressed him for more information. “And then?” he asked. “And then,” the young man replied, “I will be a successful lawyer.” “And then?” the saint asked again. “And then people will speak well of me and I’ll have a good reputation. “And then?” came the question once again. “And then I shall lead an easy life and be happy.” St. Philip asked a final time: “And then?” As he considered the end of his life, it dawned upon the young man that in all of his life’s plans and dreams, he mad made no reference to the will of God at all.

Don’t we sometimes do the same thing? We make our plans, we go about our business, without giving God’s will for us a second thought. You might say that we so often take the “short view”, while God asks us to take the “long view.” 

St. Philip Neri reminded the young man, and he reminds us as well, that as we live out our Christian lives we need to always keep one eye on eternity, since it’s our hope to one day look upon God face-to-face.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ordinary 8 Monday

G. K. Chesterton joked that ever since Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter heaven, we've been frantically trying to breed smaller camels and make bigger needles. Our Lord’s words in today’s gospel can make us very uncomfortable indeed, especially as we live in a culture that equates one's worth with one's wealth.

We all need money- there’s no question about that! Yet money can easily disrupt our discipleship, as it tempts us to greed, envy, pride, gluttony, workaholism, anxiety, indifference to other’s needs, and the illusion of self-sufficiency. It can lead us to forget God when we have it, and curse God when we don’t.

Money itself isn’t the problem. The problem is how we view it and use it. As Christians, our challenge is not to let our use of money keep of out of God’s kingdom, but use it to build that kingdom up. As Mother Teresa once said, “Money is useful only if it is used to spread the love of Christ."

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Solemnity of Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost, above all, is a celebration of the Holy Spirit. Each of today’s Scripture readings speak of the Spirit: We heard of the Spirit’s windy and fiery outpouring in Acts of the Apostles; the Psalm told of the Spirit’s creating and renewing works; Paul spoke of the Spirit’s different gifts, and the unity that it brings; and in the gospel, Jesus imparted the Spirit with his breath, just as God the Father breathed the gift of life into the first human being.

God’s Spirit blows where it wills, acting in ways both dramatic and subtle. However, one sure sign of the Spirit’s presence in a person’s life is joy. Joy is one of the traditional "fruits" of the Spirit, and is characteristic of a healthy Christian life. As St. Augustine once wrote, "A Christian should be an ‘Alleluia’ from head to foot!"

But just what is this joy that the Spirit brings? Many people confuse joy with pleasure. They speak of joy when describing the happiness and pleasure they find in leisure pursuits, art and music, job satisfaction, physical intimacy, and nourishing human relationships. Such pleasure can be legitimate and even holy. When it comes our way, we should offer thanks and praise to God, the source of all good things.

But pleasure comes and goes. In contrast, Christian joy is something constant. It’s rooted in an awareness of God’s presence, the knowledge that we are loved and redeemed by him, and that he is true to his promises. According to Fr. William Byron, "Joy is an inner assurance that your will is aligned with God’s will- that you are favored, graced, and gifted beyond anything you could merit on your own." In other words, joy is a gift of God the Holy Spirit. But it’s hinged upon our obedience to the commandments of God the Son. It’s a by-product of our following Jesus in faith.

Sometimes, God may give us a special "infusion" of joy. In his autobiography, Blessings in Disguise, Catholic actor Sir Alec Guinness tells of one such experience. He was walking down a London street one afternoon when a sudden impulse compelled him to start running. With joy in his heart, and in a state of ecstatic excitement, he ran until he reached a little Catholic church he had never visited before. He knelt down, caught his breath, and for the next ten minutes was lost to the world. When he came out again into the glare of the afternoon sun, he wondered what had possessed him and worried that maybe he’d become temporarily deranged. But on reflection he decided that he was still sane, and that his experience had been an unexpected, and rather nonsensical, gesture of God’s love.

Such a dramatic "breaking-in" of God’s love, however, is the exception, not the rule. Since joy flows from obedience, and is a by-product of a vibrant relationship with God, joy is something that needs to be sought after and worked for. If we want true and abiding joy, we must make the living of the Christian life our top priority; we need to truly "seek first the kingdom of God." As once religious sister has written, "We imagine that joy should invade us by itself, without our doing anything to acquire it. This is a great mistake: joy is absolutely necessary for us and it has to be pursued and conquered by a struggle."

This is a very important point. If joy springs from an obedient struggle to live out God’s will for us, then it is possible for joy to exist in all sorts of circumstances- even extremely difficult ones. Bishop Robert Morneau says that a joyful Christian may be likened to an ocean. At the surface there may be storms and turmoil, just as we might live with psychological disturbance or physical pain. But deep down, under the surface, there is serenity, calm and joy. Joy can co-exist with sorrow and suffering, making them endurable and holy. Remember that the risen Jesus still bears nail marks in his hands and feet.

An ancient story is told of how St. Francis of Assisi, on a bitterly cold winter day, taught his friend Brother Leo the nature of perfect joy. As they walked together, Francis reminded Leo of all the things that the world- including the religious world- believed would bring joy. Each time, Francis insisted, "Perfect joy is not in that." After this had gone on for a while, Brother Leo pleaded, "I beg you in God’s name to tell me where perfect joy is!"

In response, Brother Leo received a lengthy answer in which Francis spoke of exposure to rain, cold, mud, and hunger. Francis then described the two of them seeking shelter at the door of own monastery only to be falsely accused of being liars and thieves. Three times the doorkeeper denies them entrance with force and violence, leaving them bruised and shivering outside. Francis concludes: "If we patiently endure all these humiliations and insults and hardships out of love for Jesus Christ- that, Brother Leo, is perfect joy."

The lesson here is that a Christian’s joy is not be found in the things of this world or even in the trappings of the Christian life. Nor can it be destroyed by discouragement, pain, or suffering. This is because a Christian’s joy, pure and simple, is union with God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. "Jealousy and anger, greed and hypocrisy, the seasons of human nature-," sings songwriter Michele Shocked, "You can’t take my joy from me!"

Friday, May 22, 2015

Easter 7 Friday

"10,000 people could do a better job than you!" Sr. Briege McKenna told a gathering of priests. "But that’s beside the point. God chose you." No priests are perfect, in other words, but God calls them to service anyway. This was true for St. Peter, as we see in today’s gospel. Jesus chose Peter as his chief shepherd, the first pope. At the same time, he acknowledges Peter’s weaknesses.

The three times Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love recalls Peter’s three denials during Jesus’ trial. The first two times, as originally written in Greek, Jesus asked Peter if he gave him "agape" - sacrificial love. In response, Peter answered that he gave him "phileo" - brotherly love. So in his third question, Jesus asked Peter not for "agape" love, but brotherly love. And Peter said he could.

Peter knew that he wasn’t yet capable of "agape," and Jesus knew it too. But Jesus also knew that one day Peter would be. That’s why he said that Peter himself would die on a cross.

Jesus doesn’t wait until we’re perfect to call us to service, either. Instead, he meets us where we are, and gives us grace to grow. Jesus knows that we’re broken sinners. Yet still he loves us, and uses us to build up his kingdom. Jesus doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Easter 7 Thursday

If someone is especially arrogant, it’s not uncommon for people to say: “He really thinks he’s God’s gift to….women/ soccer/ the sales team/ whatever.” It’s not meant as a compliment. It’s a put-down!

We don’t wish to be seen by others in this way. At the same time, Jesus does want us to see ourselves as God’s gift. “Father,” he prayed in today’s gospel, “they (meaning us!) are your gift to me.”

We are God’s gift to Jesus. And we aren’t a gift he wants to return or exchange. We’re a gift he wants. Because he prays for us, we might even say we’re a gift he asks for; he included our names in his wish list.

But as today’s gospel reminds us, Jesus does far more than pray for us. He also dwells with us and in us, shares his glory with us, reveals his name to us, guides us to perfection, unites us with our Christian brothers and sisters, and showers us with the same abundant, unconditional love he’s shared with the Father from all eternity.

Jesus tells us this, not to make us arrogant or smug, but to fill us with gratitude and hope. So hopefully no one will put us down by saying we think we’re God’s gift to something. But we can thank Jesus, that he embraces us, as God’s gift to him.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Easter 7 Wednesday

Imagine yourself as Jesus in today’s gospel. You’ll soon be betrayed, arrested, abandoned, condemned, and crucified. In circumstances such as these, most of us would be filled with anger, fear, and overwhelming sadness. Yet Jesus is concerned, not for himself, but for his friends, and he prays that they share his joy.

We might wonder how Jesus could speak of joy in such circumstances. However, his claim that his followers don’t belong to the "world" provide us with a clue. In other words, we will not find the joy of which Jesus speaks in the things of the world, but only through our union with him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

This union was at the heart of Jesus’ prayer, when he asked the Father to keep his followers in the name that he had given him. It is this union with God, it is this relationship of love, it is this very sharing in God’s life that is the source of joy which Jesus wishes for us, and which sustained him on the eve of his darkest hour. This joy the world cannot take away; this joy that can co-exist with pain; this joy will endure forever. As one songwriter puts it: "Jealousy and anger, greed and hypocrisy, the seasons of human nature- you can’t take my joy from me!"

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Easter 7 Tuesday

When I’m behind the wheel, I try to make driving time into prayer time. I pray for my family, my ministry, and my parishioners; I ask to be a better husband, father, and priest; I lift up the sick and the deceased, and the special needs of people God has placed in my path. I also thank God for my blessings, and even some of the crosses I bear. 

I don’t always offer all these prayers on any given day. Sometimes I have a short commute, and sometimes I get lazy and daydream or listen to the radio instead. Whenever I find myself losing the motivation to pray, however, I find it helpful to remember that wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, Jesus is constantly interceding for all of us.

This is precisely what Jesus does in today’s gospel through his “High Priestly Prayer.” The “hour” of his passion and crucifixion had arrived. Yet even then, Jesus prays for his friends. He does so still, as he reigns in heaven.

Our Lord’s example challenges us to take prayers of intercession seriously. Through intercession, we can change lives and even the course of history; we acknowledge our complete dependence upon God; and we can continue the priestly work of Jesus, in our world, today.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Easter 7 Monday

An online message board asked: “Describe a time that contributed to your faith in God’s loving presence.” In response, one person wrote of caring for a dying friend; another spoke of struggling to raise two children after a painful divorce; and a third recalled nursing an elderly mother through a series of debilitating strokes.

Each storyteller had learned to depend on the Lord for strength. Through faith, Jesus had replaced their fear with courage, and their anxiety with peace.

This was Jesus’ hope for his disciples in today’s gospel. Although they had just professed their belief in him, Jesus warned that they would soon abandon him at his crucifixion. Jesus knows how easy it is, when hardship strikes, for faith to be replaced by fear.

That’s why it’s important to cultivate our faith while things are going well. We can fill our days with prayer, count our blessings and give thanks to God; and be soaked in Scripture and sanctified by sacrament, so that when we face life’s inevitable difficulties, our faith will hold firm, instead of falling apart. We’ll know that when we can’t handle things on our own, we won’t have to, because Jesus is with us. This world will surely give us “trouble,” as Jesus said. But we can take courage, because he has “conquered the world.”