Saturday, August 25, 2007

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

21st Suday in Ordinary Time
August 26, 2007

Isaiah 66:18-21
Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13
Luke 13:22-30

My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him, for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.”

A lot of times, when people hear the word, “discipline” connected with the son of a Father, they often think of the word punishment. In other words, when a kid is going to get some discipline from his dad he may be thinking of what his mother said to him after some unfortunate childish misdeed - like "just wait till your father gets home." And we all know what that means.

I am going to concede to you that this understanding is an unfortunate misunderstanding both of the positive role of a parent and a misunderstanding of the positive role of God in our lives.

The word discipline is related to a more religious word that we often use – disciple. To disciple is understood much more like the verb “to teach.”

This captures much better the positive role of a mother or father who teaches her children how to grow up to become good human beings. In like manner this scripture describes to us the positive role of our Heavenly Father who loves us and who wants to teach us the way of holiness and perfection.

Of course, if you are going to be taught, then you have to want to learn. Nothing worse than a student who doesn’t want to learn.

Do you want to learn from God? Then strive for it.

First, you can’t really learn something unless you really want to. If you decide that you don’t want to be discipled by the Lord, then you will live without it. Lots of people do. But if you decide that you want to be discipled by Jesus in the way of perfection. And you decide to do it every day. Then you will truly become his disciple. This is why Jesus said that his disciples would have to forsake everything in order to follow him. In other words, we have to become totally open to learning from Jesus – to becoming his disciple – to being disciplined by him. But you won’t learn from him unless you decide that you want to learn. So first, you must decide that you want to learn from Jesus more than anything else.

Second, you must listen. Listening with an open heart to Jesus means that you take his teaching seriously. It means that you decide to apply it to every aspect of your life. You must listen to the teachings of the gospel and to the teachings of the Church – and be obedient to those teachings. Don’t get caught in the bind of picking and choosing what teachings you like and rejecting those you don’t like. The bible calls this "double mindedness". Jesus said it this way. "You can’t serve God and mammon at the same time." In the book of Numbers when Joshua began his leadership of the Israelites into the promised land he made this declaration. "Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." You must decide to truly listen to the teachings of Jesus and take them to heart.

Third, you must expect the best. Jesus described his discipline in these words. ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Hebrews describes the results of discipleship in these words. It brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Your drooping hands will be strengthened and your path will become clear and straight. What is lame will be healed. St. Paul described it this way when he wrote, "the Lord works everything out for good for those who love the Lord." In other words, you can expect the best, most positive results when you choose to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. He will not lead you wrong. You can expect the very best from him.

The Lord loves you. And because he loves you he calls you to be his disciple. With all your heart, learn from him. And he will fulfill the joy of your heart.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 19, 2007

Jeremiah 38:4-6;8-10
Hebrews 12:1-4
Luke 12:49-53

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Now, what kind of words are these that come from the one whom we title the Prince of Peace. Didn’t the angels herald his birth with the acclamation – peace on earth to men of goodwill?

Setting the earth afire and causing division is very counterintuitive to what we normally think of as Jesus’ mission. And yet, here it is. Set the earth ablaze. Cause division. What are we to do with that?

Consider Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called by God to the prophetic ministry. He was to speak the Word of God as God inspired him. Jeremiah had the awful task of telling the people that they had been sinning and that they must repent. That judgment was coming in the form of an invasion by the armies of Babylon.

Poor Jeremiah. For being faithful in delivering the word of God he was despised by the king and his court. He got paid for his faithfulness by being thrown into a well and left to die. Talk about setting the earth ablaze and causing division.

This was often the case for prophetic ministry. Prophets declare to the world the signs of the times and confront the world with its need for repentance. These words aren’t often well received by people. We would rather that people tell us how good and special we are and just leave it at that. We would rather not be confronted with our sins. And yet, isn’t this necessary for healing to take place.

Consider the case of the person who has been experience various kinds of pain for a long time but won’t go to the doctor because he fears a diagnosis of cancer. He fears the possibility of bad news more than knowing the truth. So he continues in his pain without seeking help.

Our sin is often the same way. It corrodes away the human spirit and needs healing just as much as the worst form of illness. And yet so many choose to rationalize away their sinful behavior. What is really needed is a cleansing fire. Separating ourselves from that which is evil so that we may become good, and pure, and perfect.

In Hebrews we hear the Lord instruct us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us.

How do you do that? Well, I am convinced that every kind of sin – and name for yourself whatever is bugging you – every kind of sin happens to us when we aren’t in union with God. When we stop listening to God and start listening to the desires of our flesh or to the temptations of the devil, then we commit sin. Stray away from God and sin has the opportunity to be conceived in our hearts. Once conceived, later on we find ourselves doing things we never thought we would ever do. Every form of anger, lust, pride, and avarice comes from being separated from God.

But the letter to the Hebrews gives the Christian the way to rid ourselves of sin. It really is so easy that it is hard to believe. It says – persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

That in a nutshell is the key.

Remember when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water? Peter asked Jesus to let him step out of the boat and walk with him. Jesus said ok so Peter did and was walking on the water just fine until – what? Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and onto the wind and the waves. Once his eyes were off of Jesus then he was sunk. Literally. Oh you of little faith – why did you doubt?

Same with you and me. When we seek the Lord with our whole heart and desire to be in full communion with him, then the result is that we become rid of every burden and sin. When our joy is with the Lord and we seek to give ourselves fully to him in love, then there really isn’t much room in our lives for sin. Plain and simple.

How do you seek the Lord with your whole heart? Pray at all times. This is not difficult, really. While it certainly includes a regular habit of formal prayer, it is also a matter of maintaining an awareness of the presence of the Lord with you at all times. Some say that praying always is impossible. I disagree. I will tell you how.

From an opposite experience, think of a time when there was something really worrying you. It stayed present in your mind all day long. You went to work, or school, and attended to the duties of your day, but that worrisome thing gnawed at you all day long without stopping. Your mind brooded on it.

Well, in a different kind of way, our minds and hearts can be fixed on Jesus as we go through the day doing our work. But with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus he truly becomes our leader in all we do. When our attention is on him he perfects our faith. He separates us from sin and corruption and makes us holy – God’s saints on earth. Ablaze with the fire of God’s love.

This is the message. When we are on fire with the love of God we become God’s instruments of salvation in this world. We can lead people to a saving and sacramental knowledge of the Lord. We can confront evil and oppression wherever it is and overcome it. We can literally change the world. We can become the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We could walk on water and move mountains just by keeping the eyes of our faith firmly fixed on the Lord. Oh how I wish for us to be set afire. Blazing with the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Installation Mass for Archbishop Kurtz
August 15, 2:30 p.m.

Today the Archdiocese of Louisville, along with many guests and friends, gave a typically warm Kentucky welcome to Archbishop Kurtz. Warm, both in the sense of the effusive joy of the congregation as well as the temperature of the day - around 98* outside and something only slightly less warm and muggy inside the Louisville Gardens where the mass was held.

The procession was grand with the servers, many deacons, many more priests, and more bishops present in Louisville than I have ever seen before. The applause was strong and heartfelt as Archbishop Kurtz took his place at the cathedra. The assembly was eager in listing to the reading of the papal bull by the nuncio. And then there was another grand procession of people representing the Archdiocese and the civic community who formally greeted and welcomed Archbishop Kurtz to Louisville. All this in the opening rites.

These welcomes in the opening rites of the mass reached their climax when the congregation sang the gloria. This moment was particularly poignant to me. As we sang and acknowledged God's goodness, I felt a powerful sense of unity with and love for the people of this Archdiocese -this large and close knit family of Catholics gathered in one place. I knew so many of them and I knew for a moment in a more profound way of the love of God drawing us together. My heart was moved by the goodness of this blessing.

For a moment, I knew that heaven would be like this feeling of singing the Gloria. One voice, united in love with people who I love, giving praise to God who has been so good to us.

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord..."
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 14, vigil mass

1 Chronicles 15: 3-4,15-16; 16:1-2
1 Corinthians 15:54b-57
Luke 11:27-28

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

In the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother into heaven we gather to proclaim an important truth.

Mary is the pattern for our salvation.

Here, in this feast day, she is the pattern for the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Her body was not subject to decay at the end of her earthly life. Rather, she was taken body, soul, and spirit into heaven. She is the ecclesial pattern. As it goes with Mary, so it also goes for all the Church.

We believe in the resurrection and in life everlasting. Amen.

Just one little problem for all of us. While, Mary was the spotless virgin predestined to become the mother of God and preserved by grace from sin, and the new Eve who always said “yes” to God, and the ark of the new covenant, that hasn’t been the case with you and with me. How many of us over the age of three are completely without sin?

The human race needs a savior. Someone to overcome our sin and our death. And so we rejoice, also, in this feast because through Jesus we may receive the grace to become pure and spotless like Mary. We must become through the grace of Jesus, like her, Mary, the immaculate one.

This is why, when Jesus heard people say that his mother was blessed because she was his mother, that he offered a slight amplification of her blessing.

He said, rather, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Why? He wasn’t repudiating his mother. On the contrary, he was elevating the particular reason why she was truly blessed. She heard the word of God spoken to her and offered a continuous “yes” to it. Because of that, despite the sorrows she had to endure on this earth, Mary was also a woman who was full of grace, joyful, and blessed. She gave a complete “yes” to God and I believe that she is the most joyful of all God’s creatures. She is the immaculate one. The joyful one. The one who never endured the corruption of death but was rather taken up into heaven body, soul, and spirit.
Now, given a choice, would you rather experience more of the misery and suffering that results from sin? No? I didn’t think so. Don’t ask the logical question that extends from that. So why keep sinning? It only results in misery, death, and then hell.

Rather, do you prefer to be filled with love, joy, peace, kindness, and all the virtues that come from giving our complete “yes” to God and being filled with the Holy Spirit?
Yes, or yes.

Then Mary is the pattern for you. She is the model. She is the blessed one. Do not be afraid, good people, to give your “yes” to God as completely as Mary did.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

18th Sunday Ordinary Time
August 5, 2007

Be rich in what matters to God.

So the rich man had a great harvest, built bigger barns, and then he died before he could enjoy any of it. What a tragedy. What a shame.

And important for us to hear in this day and age. We are the richest country in the world. We, the people of Shelby County, are generally very well off compared to the rest of the world. Maybe not compared to our neighbor down the street, but believe you me compared to the rest of the world practically every person in this parish is in the top 2%.

Which is why Jesus’ instructions about wealth is important for us. Jesus told the rich young man that he had to sell everything, give it to the poor, and only then could he follow Jesus. Jesus told the people that it would be easier to fit a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. So in case you don’t quite get the instructions from the gospel, our wealth and possessions can be a real obstacle to our salvation.

So many folks get possessed by their possessions. They get so consumed by the stuff in their houses and their savings and stock options that they diminish the space in their lives for God. How many of us can easily get caught in that kind of cycle. We can spend lots of our energy on our stuff and our money and for what. Do you want to know what God thinks of that?
Well, this is what God said of the rich man in the parable today. He said, “you fool.” God could certainly say that to this present foolish generation. Would he say it of you? Of me?

What can we do to practice the wisdom of God in regard to our money and possessions? How do we become rich in what matters to God?

I have five little instructions for us today. They are as follows:
Acknowledge that everything belongs to God.
practice gratitude
Practice generosity
Practice tithing and giving offerings
Practice good stewardship.

Acknowledge that everything belong to God. Your stuff really isn’t yours. You are just a steward of what ultimately belongs to God. A good way to practice this acknowledgement is to have a little prayer ceremony at home where you dedicate every jot and tittle of your stuff to God. Repeat this kind of prayer as needed until the idea sinks in. All my belongings belong to you oh God.

Practice gratitude to God. Gratitude is a key to the spiritual life and it helps us to understand that God is our gracious provider. Gratitude leads us to deeper trust in God.

Practice generosity. Since none of us can out-give God, then we can trust in his provision for us. Consequently, we can feel a willingness to become generous with our money and possessions. Remember, Jesus made this promise: give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together, a good measure. For what you measure out will be measured back to you. I tell you that I personally have found this principle to be true over and over again.

Practice tithing and giving offerings. Tithing is the biblical discipline of giving one tenth of our income to God – usually through one’s local parish, archdiocese, and other organizations dedicated to building up the kingdom of God. Offerings are what are given above and beyond the tithe proscribed by the bible. In fact, I will be bold enough to say this. Any lack that we have in our ministry of the parish has much to do with disobedience to God in these matters of generosity and tithing. Conversely, any abundance we have in ministry stems from those individuals who become obedient to God’s work in regard to our money and possessions.

Finally, practice good stewardship. Care of our possessions and prudent investment of our resources, coupled with a willingness to be generous with is, even to give it all away when called upon, leads to a powerful sense of spiritual freedom.

Good people, be rich in what matters to God. Acknowledge that all belongs to God. Be grateful. Be generous. Tithe and give offerings. Be a good steward of God’s gifts. And then you will become rich with the treasure that does not rust or wear out. It is the better part that will never be taken away from you.