Monday, January 26, 2015

Saints Timothy and Titus

A friend of mine works in a very tense work environment. Nevertheless, she’s always been able to maintain her composure and a sense of peace on the job. During one especially hard day, a colleague came to her in tears and asked her how she was able to handle all of their workplace stresses. My friend explained that she could do so only on account of her Catholic faith. As it was, she was on her way to the lunchtime Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, and she invited her co-worker to come along. One year later, that co-worker was baptized at Easter- and my friend was her sponsor. 

I share this story of evangelism because Sts. Timothy and Titus, whose feast we celebrate today, were great evangelists during the earliest years of the Church. Many people came to embrace the faith because of their evangelistic efforts. Titus himself probably came to faith through the evangelism of St. Paul, who was a friend and mentor. Timothy, however, as Paul acknowledged in today’s first reading, came to faith because of the witness of his grandmother Lois, and Eunice his mother. Just like my friend’s co-worker, Timothy came to faith thanks to the witness of those close to him.

This is something for all of us to keep in mind. As Pope Paul VI once said, “The church exists to evangelize.” Unfortunately, evangelism isn’t something we’re always comfortable with. That’s why Paul’s encouragement to Timothy, “do not be ashamed of our testimony to our Lord,” is good advice for us too.

Maybe we’re not called to be a Timothy or a Titus. But we can be like Lois, Eunice, and my acquaintance, and share our faith with those in our lives. They remind us that evangelism, like charity, begins at home. Beginning from there, let us, in the words of today’s psalm, “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations!”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ordinary 2 Friday

When I drive to St. Hugh’s each Friday morning, I always ask the Lord that more people might answer his call to come to daily Mass. I mention this in light of today’s gospel, because Jesus’ actions with his twelve apostles call to mind Jesus’ actions toward us when it comes to our participation in the Mass.

First, we were told that Jesus "summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him." In a similar way, Jesus has summoned us to this Mass, and we have come to him here. This is important to remember, because sometimes we think that we’ve come to Mass because we felt like we needed it or that it would be a good thing to do. The truth is, however, that we’ve come to Mass because Jesus has called us to be here, and we answered.

Next, today’s gospel says that Jesus sent his twelve apostles forth to preach and drive out demons. Jesus hasn’t made us bishops like he did with the twelve. But he does send us forth into the world- to witness to his love, to extend his forgiveness, to spread his compassion, to proclaim his truth, to offer his healing, and to build up his kingdom. And Jesus does this at every Mass, at the dismissal.

Some of you may recall that Mass used to end with the words, Ite Missa est, which is Latin for "Go, you are sent"- sent into the world as witnesses to Christ. The words we use today are English, but they mean the very same thing. I would invite you then to join me in my daily prayer that more people might answer Jesus’ call to come to Mass, so that there might be more of us sent forth to renew our world.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ordinary 2 Thursday

"The only worse thing than bad publicity," they like to say in Hollywood, "is no publicity at all." In our hyper-competitive, information-overloaded, celebrity-obsessed society, there are those who will do whatever it takes to generate "buzz" and remain in the public eye.

But not Jesus. His healing ministry was bound to generate attention. Yet when demons shouted out, "You are the Son of God!" he warned them to stay silent. We might say that he didn’t want his enemies to take charge of his "branding," to use a modern marketing term. It’s not that Jesus was denying that he is God’s Son. Far from it! But he wanted to ensure that people came to understand his identity on his own terms, not theirs.

Throughout his ministry, people speculated that Jesus was a king, a prophet, an insurrectionist, a miracle worker, even his deceased cousin, John the Baptist. Not bad guesses, all things considered, but none of them hit the mark.

Jesus can only be properly viewed through the lens of his death, resurrection, and ascension. That’s why he only wants those who know of and believe in such things to proclaim him to the world. In other words, the Church. And that means us. By what we say and do, our lives should proclaim, "You are the Son of God!" Same words as those demons, to be sure. But they spoke from fear. We speak from love.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Memorial of Saint Agnes

When my son began his Catholic school’s sex-ed program, I was a little apprehensive, but I was ultimately pleased with the instructor’s primary message: God is about life and love; therefore, sex is about life and love.

That’s a beautiful approach to introducing young people to God’s gift of sexuality, and preparing them for the sexual minefields they’ll have to navigate as teenagers.

One particular minefield today is "sexting"- the sending of explicit pictures and messages through hand-held devices. Not long ago, in a highly publicized tragedy, a girl in Florida committed suicide because of sexting. She was only thirteen years old.

Today we remember another thirteen-year old girl: St. Agnes. Like all teenagers, she had to tread a sexual minefield. Tradition has it that she was very pretty. Many young men made advances to her, but she refused them all. One angry, spurned lover reported her to the Roman authorities for being a Christian. She was tried, forcibly confined to a house of prostitution, and eventually beheaded. Throughout her ordeal, however, she maintained her chastity, with the grace of God.

St. Agnes’ witness can serve to inspire and remind young people, and indeed all of us, that chastity is a virtue. Sex is indeed all about life and love: Just like the God who gave us this precious gift.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ordinary 2 Tuesday

“Christianity,” insisted Pope Benedict, “is more than a series of requirements and laws.” Instead, he continued, “It is the gift of a friendship that lasts through life and death.”

One wonders if today’s gospel was in the back of his mind when he wrote those words. As we heard, Jesus was challenged because his disciples weren’t keeping certain rules about how the Sabbath day should be kept. For his part, Jesus responded with a challenge of his own, explaining that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

In effect, Jesus was sending a message that our religion is not simply about the keeping of rules and laws. Instead, Christianity is about relationship. Laws are necessary, but they are not an end in and of themselves. They are the means to an end- a loving relationship with God, and a loving relationship with each other.

We don’t earn God’s love by keeping his laws. God’s laws express his love for us, and our keeping of them expresses our love for him. You see, Jesus did not die and rise again to give us laws. He did so, to give us life.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Early in life, St. Francis of Assisi found himself at a crossroads. One the one hand, he thought that perhaps God was calling him to a cloistered life of prayer and contemplation. On the other hand, however, he wondered if God wanted him to be a travelling missionary and preach the gospel. To help him with his decision, he turned to two friends: Saint Clare and Brother Sylvester, whom he asked to pray and then get back to him. They did, and sent a messenger to St. Francis. When the messenger arrived, St. Francis asked, “What does my Lord Jesus Christ want me to do?” The messenger replied: “He wants you to go about the world preaching.” Upon hearing these words, St. Francis jumped up and exclaimed: “Let’s go, in the name of the Lord!”

St. Francis knew that he needed to consult others to discern God’s will. The same is true for all of us. Our relationship with Jesus takes place within the community of the Church, the body of Christ. Catholic Christianity is not just “Jesus and me.” It’s also “Jesus and we.” And Jesus often uses our brothers and sisters in his one body to point us in the right direction. He especially can use those persons who are further along the spiritual path than we are; people who can offer us guidance based on experience that we don’t yet have.

Consider today’s Old Testament reading from First Samuel. At the time, Samuel was a young disciple of Eli, who was training him to be a priest in the great Jerusalem Temple. One night, Samuel twice heard a voice that he thought was that of Eli. But Eli knew better, and was able to identify the voice as that of the Lord himself. We’re told specifically that Samuel was “not familiar with the Lord,” meaning that he was new and inexperienced. But Eli, who had been a priest for many years, knew better, and he could share his maturity with Samuel.

This little story is instructive for us. God, as he did with young Samuel, wants us to hear his voice. And all of us should want to be more “familiar with the Lord.” To do that, we can, and should, seek help from others more experienced, more holy, than we are. But who, specifically, can we turn to for help?

First, we can look for guidance from the lives of the saints. By considering their stories, we can be guided and instructed in how to become saints ourselves. How they lived out their faith in often challenging situations can inspire us to live out our faith in the challenging situations we ourselves face. Some of the holiest saints started out as pretty hopeless sinners, but with the grace of God they were radically transformed. Their witness can remind us that there’s hope for us too; if it can happen for them, then it can also happen for us. As Pope Benedict has written, “(The saints’) human and spiritual experience shows that holiness is impossible goal for a normal person.”

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ordinary 1 Friday

If we were to meet Jesus face-to-face today, what would we want him to say to us? "Well done, good and faithful servant?" "I love you?" "Everything’s going to be okay?" "I want to spend eternity with you?"

I imagine that many of us would want to hear Jesus say: "I forgive you." We long to hear these words, not just because we’re broken and sinful people, but because sometimes we can wonder whether Jesus really forgives us or not. We know what a struggle it can be to forgive other people, and sometimes we find it difficult to forgive even ourselves. Because of this, we can conclude that Jesus probably has a hard time forgiving us as well.

Today’s gospel, however, assures us otherwise. As we heard, Jesus told a crowd that it’s easy for him to say, "I forgive you." And if you remember, Jesus loved that paralyzed man so much that he forgave him even before the man had a chance to speak.

You see, Jesus knew what that man needed; Jesus knew what was in his heart. And he knows what’s in our hearts too; he knows that we long for his forgiveness. We might say that he’s dying to give it to us. But then again, dying to forgive us, is something he already did…

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ordinary 1 Wednesday

Have you even known someone who recovered from a life-threatening illness? Perhaps someone who beat cancer or who survived a serious heart attack. Often times, their experience of having been healed changes their entire perspective on life. They live more simply and gratefully. They have a different appreciation for what’s really important. And they have a greater concern for the welfare of others. They want to “give something back.” They want to serve.

We see this in today’s gospel. Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in-law of a serious illness, and her response was to become a servant. We’re told specifically that she rose from her bed, and waited on Jesus and his friends.

Simon’s mother-in law is a model for us. Not all of us have received a gift of God’s healing as she did. However, all of us have received gifts from God- more than we often imagine or appreciate. Indeed, we will receive a great gift from God just moments from now- the gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. In response, we too need to be servants. Just as Simon’s mother-in-law served Jesus, his friends, and her family, so we too can serve the needs of our families, the Church, and Jesus himself, especially in the faces of the poor. The Closing Prayer from today’s Mass puts it well: “Almighty God…grant that those you renew with your sacraments, may also serve with lives pleasing to you.”