Sunday, November 29, 2015

Love in a time of Hate

 It is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new Church year. A time of waiting and, more importantly, preparation...not just to encounter with the Lord at Christmas but for the personal encounter with the Lord that we will have either at the end of time or the end of our lives.

How shall we prepare?

I was struck by St. Paul’s advice in the second reading today:

“Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” (1 Thess. 3:12-13)

We must prepare by asking the Lord to increase our love.

That is a tall order, as these times seem to be short on love and long on anger, fear and hatred. To a great degree, the terrorism and violence in the world have succeeded: they have fanned the flames of fear, suspicion and mutual hatred.

Yet it is not any terrorists who are ‘winning’; they are losing, too. They are locked into their patterns of violence and hatred and, as our society becomes more bellicose by the day, we are increasingly being locked into those patterns as well.

We are all losing. The only one ‘winning’ anything is Satan. He is slowly winning our hearts.

But it is not too late. The grace of God has the power to break those patterns and allow us to “abound in love for one another and for all.” There is a Remedy—the power of the Cross, the power of Christ’s sacrifice. We, however, must be willing to enter into it.

Like Him, we must make a choice to love in a time of hate.

It is admittedly a dangerous and counter-intuitive choice. It is only logical to return violence with violence, hatred with hatred. Yet it is that logic that will destroy us if we are not careful. This is where faith comes into the picture. The real question is this: do we really believe in the Lord’s clear words to us? Do we really believe that we are to “love our enemies and do good to those who hate us” (Lk. 6:27)?

Do we really have faith that His counter-intuitive plan is our path to true victory?

As we enter this Year of Mercy, I encourage you to examine your hearts as St. Paul suggests and to find out who or what has taken root there. If it is not of God and His mercy, may He, through the intercession of His Holy Archangels, cast it back to the darkness from whence it came.

May the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ “strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father” this Advent!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Modern Discipleship, Part 3

The latest installment of my series on Modern Discipleship on the parish blog is now up, exploring how the very thing that ensures Catholicism's continued relevance in the modern world is its ancient roots.

Here is a teaser, go to the parish blog to read the rest:

Being ‘Relevant’ in the Modern World
The question often comes up: “How do we make the Church relevant in the modern world?” It is an important question, but also a dangerous one. It is easy to confuse ‘relevance’ with ‘being trendy’; as I wrote about previously, our first duty as disciples is to the Gospel and we can’t make the mistake of compromising the truth in our search to find relevance.
There are plenty of protestant mega-churches that have struggled with this problem. Rock concerts and hipster fashion will get people in the front door, but it won’t keep them in a pew. When the novelty is gone, so are they. 
And it isn’t a new problem either. This great article from Christianity Today back in 1984 talks to Rev. Robert Schuller, the pastor behind the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, about his focus on self-esteem: “His supporters say he has found the wavelength of the secular mind. His detractors say he has lost the gospel.”
Where is Rev. Schuller’s enormous, worshiper-filled Crystal Cathedral now? It is now the Cathedral for the Catholic Diocese of Orange (renamed Christ Cathedral). The self-esteem focus that was trendy in the ‘70s and ‘80s fell out of favor and that, among other factors, caused Rev. Schuller’s church to fall on hard times.
I point this out not to be triumphalist about Catholicism--we have certainly had our own issues--but to make a point about being relevant. Latching on to modern trends won’t sustain a church for the long haul...and it won’t sustain an individual disciple for the long haul that is our Christian life...

Again, go to the parish blog to read the rest!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A little bit about Holy Hour...

'Content re-use' of an article I wrote for the parish bulletin of the tradition of Holy Hours:

The tradition of making a 'holy hour‘ before the Blessed Sacrament is an ancient practice. Of course, anyone can make a private holy hour in our parish adoration chapel, but Sacred Heart Church also has a monthly public holy hour on the first Friday of each month, as part of the first-Friday devotion in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As Catholics, we have two kinds of public prayer: liturgy and devotions. Liturgies, such as the Mass and other sacraments, are structured worship services governed by the Church‘s liturgical books. Public devotions, such as processions and rosary rallies, are freer in form—the organizers decide the specific prayers and devotions that will be used. A parish holy hour is unique in that it contains both liturgy and devotions.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

New post for the parish blog

I've been assigned to write a monthly post for our parish blog...the second one just posted for those who are interested: Modern Discipleship, Part 2: The Church, Politics and You.

So what about Part 1? Well, I forgot to post a link to that one last month. You can find that one here: Modern Discipleship, Part 1: The Essence of the Authentic Disciple.

Happy All-Hallows Eve!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time: "Moderate Cynicism"

Some people are optimists. The world is a difficult place for them because they are constantly shocked and scandalized by bad things that happen and by people who make the same mistakes over and over again. Others are hard-core pessimists; they’ve accepted that bad things are going to happen and people aren’t going to change. Yet the world is difficult for them, too, because they live without any real hope.

Though I was raised as a hard-core pessimist I have, over time, come to a different point of view. You might call it “moderate cynicism.” This view is expressed well by Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel passage when he tells his disciples: “For human beings [salvation] is impossible, but not for God.  All things are possible for God” (Mark 10:27).

The fact is that we are weak and prone to make poor choices, often the same ones repeatedly. We get into patterns of behavior and we stick to them even if they are detrimental. Call it neural conditioning, habit, addiction, vice, whatever. We don’t just ‘up and change.’ I’m never surprised at that. Saddened sometimes, but not surprised.

Like the rich young man in today’s Gospel, it is nearly humanly impossible for us to simply lay down those things that hold us back from becoming the person God created us to be and embrace our true worth. They are too close to us. Like the rich young man’s possessions, they become part of our identity. Whether it is an unhealthy life situation, a detrimental relationship or an addiction, we have a tendency to incorporate those things into our image of ourselves. We simply can’t imagine life without them.

Yet there is hope. It may take divine intervention, but change for the better can occur. People can get out of their ruts and into new life, but it takes grace...and faith. We have to believe that we are worth more than the nonsense that we have been accepting. We have to take God at his word that we really are beloved sons and daughters: accept that we have been selling ourselves short, sometimes for decades.

This is repentance...and it is an often slow and painful process. Of course, there is sometimes an ‘a-ha moment’—a moment of conversion where we begin to see things in a radically different way. Usually, though, that moment is preceded by a lot of other painful moments where, like the rich young man, we realize that we want more and ask “what must I do...?” but then walk away from the answer because we feel that we aren’t good enough or strong enough to make a change.

It is a painful process to live through and a painful process to watch others go through. It is especially hard when you see people that you love struggling under burdens that they could put down—but won’t. It is heart-wrenching to see someone settle for brokenness and misery when you can clearly see that they are worth so much more. They have to see it themselves, though.

For us “moderate cynics,” there is no shock or surprise when, like the rich young man, the people that we love hang their heads and walk back to their old patterns. Yet we don’t give up hope. We pray, and keep praying. Like Jesus we continue to ‘look at them with love’ and hold out our offer of help until the day they are willing to take us up on it.

Sometimes they do. When that happens, you know it is a miracle.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: "He will give us his own Sacred Heart to nourish our hearts"

I haven't posted here in over a year but since I am preaching tomorrow in Spanish (and so had to write out my homily to translate it), I thought I would put the English version up here for those who are interested:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Third Sunday of Lent: Learning to Trust

Its no secret that preachers like to re-use good 'sermon stories'--those little anecdotes that often lead-off a sermon. We usually don't know where they originated...we hear them and repeat them. The one that came to mind when when I was reflecting on today's readings was the story of the tightrope walker over Niagara Falls. You may have heard it before. If not, it goes like this: