Posts

Showing posts from 2018

Given Up: 19th Sunday OT

Image
Sometimes, standing in the back of the church aisle, about to give the go-ahead for the processional hymn, I’ll ask the servers: “Ready to go save the world?” That's putting it in a kind of lighthearted way, but it’s absolutely not a joke. I’m reminding them, and even more reminding myself, of exactly what it is we are about to do. Because it’s a simple truth that the Mass saves the world.

“Wait!,” someone shouts, “The Cross of Jesus Christ saves the world!” That’s absolutely right, but what do you think the Mass is? It is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, extended through time and space. Think of Good Friday as a point on the timeline of history. What Jesus did that day on Calvary offers salvation to every human being who ever lived before Him, and every human being who will ever live after Him. It’s like that Cross comes down from Heaven and plants itself right there in 33 A.D. outside Jerusalem, and ripples out through all time and space. Those ripples are the Holy Sa…

Transfigured - a coauthored article for CCLI

Guest blogging is getting to be a fun side hustle! This one's a collaboration with Forest Hempen of the Couple-to-Couple League International.

https://ccli.org/2018/08/transfigured/

St. Jean Vianney & NFP: guest blog for CCLI

I've been doing a little moonlighting over at Couple-to-Couple League International:

https://ccli.org/2018/08/on-st-jean-vianney-and-nfp/

The brief was to tie the feast of the patron Saint of parish priests, St. Jean (John) Vianney, into a short article on Natural Family Planning... kind of the priest's point of view I guess.

Here for Him: 18th Sunday OT

Image
This is the second of five weeks of readings from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Last week was the set-up, the story of the feeding of five thousand from a few loaves and fishes. It’s a great miracle; like I said, one of my favorites! But that miracle was only a foretaste, only a shadow of what is coming next.

Because what’s coming next, as the sixth chapter of John continues, is that Jesus begins teaching about the Bread of Life.

Since that miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus and the Apostles have travelled back to Capernaum, but the people follow them there. You may have noticed this is kind of a pattern. Why? This great crowd that is following Jesus around everywhere, what are they seeking? That's where He begins the conversation today. He challenges their reasons for following Him around. What are they looking for?

All we've got: 17th Sunday OT

This miracle gives us a glimpse of what can happen when we stop telling Jesus what we need and start giving Him what we have. Like us, the Apostles’ starting point is what they don’t have, what they’re missing, our own true and obvious inadequacy. Look at all these hungry people! There’s no way we can manage this. Sorry, Jesus, but this seems pretty hopeless. Nothing we can do. We don’t have enough.

What do you have?

Restoration: 16th Sunday OT 2018

Image
Last week Jesus sent out his twelve Apostles on mission, and in today’s Gospel they’ve just come back. They report to Jesus “everything they had done and taught.” I saw one comment that this shows a very human failing: focusing on ourselves and what we do, instead of on God and what He’s doing. So at the end of something, we’re likely to think of it as ours, as something we did, our work, our achievement. When really it is God from whom anything truly good comes, and it’s grace that gives any success to what we do. Surely this isn’t a condemnation of the Apostles… but as they grow spiritually, they will have less to say about their work and more to say about what God has done.

Human self-centeredness notwithstanding, the Gospel is catching fire, and people are starting to come. The Apostles had gone out to spread the word among the towns, and now people from all over are coming to see Jesus. You can imagine a few people coming the first day, then more… then getting to be a crowd, and …

Ite Missa Est: 15th Sunday OT 2018

Image
Three simple questions for today: What’s your mission? What do you take? What do you leave behind?

What if I pointed at you right now and asked you to stand up and tell everyone what your mission from Jesus Christ in the world is? Would you have an answer? I think you should. Maybe you could say something right away. It might not be polished and eloquent but you could stand up and say right away ‘this is the mission Jesus has given me in the world.’ Or maybe you’ve got a vague kind of idea but wouldn’t know how to put it into words. I’d encourage you to give that some thought… figure out those words. Clear is better than vague with something as important as this. On the other hand, maybe that question would really throw you for a loop. My mission from Jesus Christ? Ummm… are you sure you’re asking the right person?

But even if you’ve never thought about it that way, I’m sure you’ll agree that God didn’t make anybody here with no purpose, no reason, no mission. And it’s nobody’s missio…

Six Words You'll Need Someday: 14th Sunday OT 2018

Image
I want you to remember this verse from 2 Corinthians and tattoo it on your brain, because someday you’re going to need it, and I hope it’ll come back to you when you do. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God tells St. Paul: “My grace is enough for you.”

It’s a verse that’s popular in music, printed in greeting cards, and embroidered on pillows, because it sounds so nice and reassuring and comfortable… and good, great! It’s always a good time to remember that His grace is enough.

But I said this verse will come back to you someday when you need it. Maybe it’s today, maybe it’ll be a long time from now. But I can tell you some things about that day. The day you need this verse you won’t be swinging in a hammock between two coconut trees sipping a Mai Tai. The day you need this verse you won’t be celebrating a big win that’s got everybody telling you how great you are. That day you probably won’t be surrounded by supportive friends who make you feel loved and wanted.

No, I don’t guess that anyone w…

Is this darkness in you too? (13th Sun OT 2018)

Image
I try not to overdo movie quotes, really I do, but this is from The Thin Red Line, spoken by a soldier in war.
(I first heard the quote in this astonishing music and you should seriously skip my homily and spend all day listening to Explosions in the Sky)
“This great evil--where's it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doing this? Who's killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might have known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, aid the grass to grow and the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you too? Have you passed through this night?”
I thought of the soldier’s question because it's answered to some degree in all of these readings. The Book of Wisdom says it bluntly: “Death was not God’s doing.” So a clever person might jump on that and ask “Well if God didn’t make it how did it get here? I thought He made everything. And why doesn’t he stop it? I thought He was all-powerful.”

He Had One Job: Nativity of John the Baptist

Image
Today we celebrate the birthday of John the Baptist. It’s always June 24. This year it happens to hit Saturday and Sunday, and John is so crucial a figure in our Faith that it’s one of the few Saint’s feasts that preempts the regular Sunday Mass.

John is shocking and astonishing in a lot of ways, but ultimately he’s not complicated. He does one thing. He points to Jesus.

Everything else about him is just backing up that one thing. His shocking lifestyle and appearance, his attention-getting gestures, his powerful words of repentance and hope, even his geographic location just across the Jordan, outside the Promised Land, it’s all just backing up the defining moment when he points into that Promised Land and says “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Sic Parvis Magna: 11th Sunday OT

Image
I love that this Gospel reading comes right in the middle of our growing season. ““This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day, and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”

Four Basic Relationships: 10th Sunday OT

Image
Bryant Myers writes about four basic relationships that we have, and his way of describing them has found a lot of traction among fellow Christians. He talks about our relationship with God, with ourselves, with other people, and with the world. It’s not a totally original idea so much as a way of describing these relationships that seems really helpful and illuminating.

As with all good theology, it starts by considering God himself, who is essentially relational, a community of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Remember Trinity Sunday two weeks ago?

And we are made in His image and likeness, which means that relationships are not something sort of added on to us, but are essential to our identity. I’ve heard it put this way: you don’t have a relationship with God, you are a relationship with God. To be with God forever is your deepest purpose; it’s what you are for.

Eyes, Heart, Commitment, Joy: Corpus Christi

Image
Four very brief thoughts about Eucharistic eyes, and Eucharistic hearts, and Eucharistic commitment, and about Eucharistic joy:

Eucharistic eyes are trained to see holiness where it isn’t expected. They are accustomed to encountering the presence of God in the unimpressive, unimposing, ordinary things. Eucharistic eyes know not to look for glory according to what is most pompous or dazzling, but in what is humble and unassuming. They discern the presence and activity of a God Who does not assert himself with force and compulsion, but Who chooses to meet us in the most humble and gentle way. Eyes that have learned to recognize the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in a little round host have learned to recognize Him where He wants to meet us elsewhere out in the world: in the people He’s given us to love and serve. In the people who are easy to overlook. In the moments that are utterly ordinary. In the tasks that fail to impress.

Greatest Thing Ever: Holy Trinity Sunday

Image
“DID ANYTHING SO GREAT EVER HAPPEN BEFORE??!!!!! WAS IT EVER HEARD OF??!!!!”

That sounds like something you’d hear from an excited little kid, doesn’t it? I’d easily believe that was a direct quote from one of my nieces.

But… it’s actually quite the opposite. These are the words of a dying old man. Moses speaks them in the Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is his last testament and teaching before he dies on very threshold of the Promised Land, toward which he’s led Israel these forty years, and into which he now knows he will never set foot. And Moses says: just think how amazing God’s self-disclosure is. Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of?

It’s a rhetorical question. The answer, obviously, is: it’s bonkers. It’s unheard of. It’s amazing and unprecedented.

Fail Better Tomorrow: 6th Sunday Easter

Image
“Love one another as I have loved you.”

On one hand, that sounds so simple, so reassuringly simple. It’s simple enough to have the ring of truth. Here’s a religion that boils down to one great simple thing, and it’s a thing that our hearts immediately recognize as what they want… what they really want, what they’ve always wanted and always will. Just to love and be loved. Whatever lists of rules and commandments may follow, whatever philosophical principles and rules of life, all of it boils down to this very simple and very beautiful core. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

On the other hand, the more you think about that beautiful, reassuringly simple commandment, the more you realize it is by far the most strict and rigorous and unachievable goal that humanity has ever tried and failed to live out. No list of rules and commandments could ever be as demanding as this. What if Jesus had said He demanded that all of His disciples climb Mt. Everest? Well, maybe I’m deluded but I t…

Reconciling Paul: 5th Sunday Easter

Image
You remember the great world-changing story of the conversion of St. Paul. On the road to Damascus, he saw a light and heard the Lord Jesus call him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He did one of the most impressive and difficult things a person can do: he admitted he was wrong. Not excusably or understandably wrong, not just a little off track, but wrong in a profound and terrible way.  But he encountered the Lord of mercy and knew that the strength of Jesus would shine all the brighter in the weakness of Paul. Best of all, he knew that the Lord’s death and Resurrection had won for him mercy and redemption.

So Paul is now a converted Christian, with a relationship with Jesus Christ and a calling in the Church. But here at the end of Acts 9, we run into the proverbial rest of the story. What about Paul’s relationships with the Church? These will include people he has personally hurt, people who have lived in fear of him and others like him, people who have had their families di…

Things you can't not know: 3rd Sunday Easter

Image
It’s real. That’s certainly one of the lessons of this Gospel story. Jesus really rose from the dead. It would be easy enough, and a lot more comfortable, really, if we sort of made a spiritual symbol out of it. And that could easily happen. It’s common enough to “see” someone you’ve lost, especially after a sudden and tragic death, especially in those first days after the loss. You keep glimpsing them in the crowd. They’re there in the corner of your vision, and you whip around to look before remembering it’s impossible. You ‘see them everywhere.’

Scars: 2nd Sunday Easter 2018

Image
The week I moved into Illinois State University as a nervous and excited seventeen-year-old freshman, our RA (kind of an upper-classman floor leader) started an icebreaker for the guys living on the seventh floor of Atkin Hall. He called it “scar wars.” We went around the circle and when it was your turn you had to show a scar and tell its story. He was a mountain bike racer so he won - no wonder he liked the game. Some of us had a bunch of big scars with big stories, some had none really worth mentioning. I suppose I was in between somewhere.
The guys with big scars - would you expect that they felt embarrassed and ashamed? Like “wow, I really should’ve been more careful so I wouldn’t have these unsightly blemishes on my skin.” On the other hand, were the scar-less young men boasting of their unblemished exterior, and proud to have successfully avoided those injuries? 
Of course not! Exactly the opposite. Those with the biggest scars were most eager to show them. Those who had no sc…

Easter 2018

Image
I love how almost anticlimactic it is. “Don’t be amazed. You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth? He’s not here. He’s been raised. See? Where they laid Him? He went on ahead to Galilee, you’ll see him there, like He told you.”

It is not, if I may insist on precision, a Resurrection story. There are no Resurrection stories in the Bible. There are only stories like this one of Mark’s, of people who showed up just a little late to catch it. This is how the story is told in all four Gospels: Jesus was crucified, He died, they buried Him, and then they went back and He wasn’t there. He’d Risen. And then they started seeing Him around.

Good Friday Portraits pt 4: The Thief

Image
Digna factis recipimus.

‘We have received the just reward for our deeds.’ But this man next to me… He’s done nothing wrong. His sentence is written there over his thorn-crowned head; it reads ‘King of the Jews.’ That’s not a crime. Is it? What is His crime? His accusers are many; all of us, I suppose, at one time or another. We of broken hearts and weary eyes, we look at this world and what we’ve made of it, and our insane but endlessly repeated verdict comes forth anew: God is guilty.

It makes me wonder: did we kill Him because He claimed to be God and we bridled at the blasphemous lie? Or did we kill Him because He claimed to be God… and we believed Him?

They call me Dismas. You’ve seen me in paintings and such, one of two thieves hanging beside Him. To your eyes, I’m part of the background. But not to Him. To Him I was worth one of His very last tortured breaths. And I was a few feet away when God died.


Remember Me... Holy Thursday 2018

Image
Holy Thursday brings together the biggest themes in Christian faith. Service and humility. Vocation. Choosing God’s will over our own. It’s the institution of the Holy Eucharist — nothing’s bigger than that! Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s broken promise, Jesus’ agony in the garden, the washing of the disciples’ feet, the ordained priesthood, the Eucharist itself…

It’s so much. We must start somewhere. Let’s start with this: “Do this in remembrance of me.” You’ve heard those words in every single Mass you’ve ever prayed. You’ve heard them as the words of God establishing the Sacrament that makes the Church… and so they are. Have you ever heard them as the words of a man sharing a last meal with his best friends, knowing He will die tomorrow?


Two Mountains: 2nd Sunday Lent

Image
Today the Church gives us two mountains to consider. The Transfiguration was traditionally thought to have been on Mount Tabor; there may be a better case that it was really Mount Hermon, but I’ll just say Tabor for now. You might have heard people talk about “mountaintop experiences.” There are a lot of Biblical referents for that phrase, and the Transfiguration is at the top of the list.


It was one of those rare, privileged glimpses beyond the veil. Peter and James and John and the other Apostles didn’t have a really clear picture of what they were part of most of the time. They knew it was something profound and consequential; they knew it was a great divine work, maybe the greatest. But their reactions to the teaching and miracles of Jesus throughout the Gospels show that the whole truth of what was happening in their lives often eluded them. Even at the end of this story after the Transfiguration we find them, not happily enlightened with all their questions answered, but quietly…

Ad Fontes: 1st Sunday in Lent

Image
Benedict left his home feeling the need for some time away from everything. He walked into a narrow valley going into the nearby mountains. He crossed the Anio River and followed the path up, up, past the ruin of a villa that had belonged to the Emperor Nero, that great terror of Christians. But Nero was long dead, and the Catholic Church was alive. Across the valley he could see more ruins, old Roman baths, still today not entirely gone. There’s no telling if it happened to cross Benedict’s mind that day, but the sight was a perfect symbol of his time. Rome was falling, mostly fallen. All around were the signs and glories of Rome’s greatness. People still thought Roman-ness was something to be proud of. They were still convinced it was the best thing going. And they were probably right. Even as it slid further and further into the slime, many of them couldn’t quite bring themselves to imagine the possibility that the whole Roman civilization might just fizzle out. People talk and wri…

Connecting: 6th Sunday OT 2018

Image
There’s this really common thing now where people say they love Jesus and have a relationship with Him, but they want no part of ‘religion.’ Jesus is good, religion is bad. When people talk this way, you have to ask what they mean by the word ‘religion.’ Usually they mean something like ‘a bunch of empty rituals and traditions that you focus on instead of having an actual relationship with Jesus.’ But that’s not what the word means, and never has been.

If you look into what it actually does mean, you find something really beautiful. Do you know where the word comes from? The Latin, “religio,” has two parts: “ligare” means to tie together, to connect… like your 'ligaments' tie your bones together. And “re”, meaning what it always does, to do something again. “Re - ligare”… to bind back together. To reunite what was torn apart. To restore and bring back what was alienated.

If you want a symbol for being cut off and alienated, you can’t do better than the first reading from Levit…

Have you come to destroy us? 4th Sunday OT

Image
Reading the Gospels, people generally have a tough time recognizing Jesus as the Son of God. Even the Apostles take a long time to get it through their heads. For some others no miracle is enough: they can watch a dead man rise and still not believe in Him. But you know who always recognizes Him, immediately?

Demons.

In this story and in others, it’s the demons who actually best understand what they’re dealing with. They hate Jesus, but that’s because they understand who He is, better than the humans in the story. “I know who you are - the holy one of God!” Evil is quicker to react to God’s presence than lukewarmness or curiosity, because evil sees the threat He poses. It knows that when Jesus shows up on the scene, one of them has to lose… and it won’t be Jesus. So we get this open conflict, this resistance.

Now I am not, so far as I am aware, currently possessed by a demon. But this resistance... I have to say it's something I can relate to all too well. Can you? Is there somethi…

Laughter at the March for Life: 3rd Sunday OT

Image
May I quote the opening of a Weekly Standard piece from today?

“Considering they were protesting what they call “the greatest human rights violation of our time,” the crowd that gathered on the National Mall Friday morning for the March for Life was oddly upbeat. Church and school groups who had traveled across the country to show their opposition to 45 years of legal abortion in America chatted and laughed, enjoying the mild January sunshine. Teens toting “Defend Life” signs snapped pictures of one another mid-jump, with the Capitol Building in the background.”
I haven’t been able to attend the March for a while, but I know exactly what that journalist means by “oddly upbeat.” I kept having these moments of self-awareness like “I’m here to protest something unspeakably sad… why am I smiling? Why are we singing? Why is this kind of a blast?” Shouldn’t the gathering of a hundred thousand people to protest what they believe to be the killing of sixty million innocent lives be the most d…

One Question. 2nd Sunday OT 2018

The story of God calling Samuel has a troubling side and an encouraging side. On one hand, it’s a dark time for God’s people. There are a number of problems, one of the biggest being bad priests. That is heartbreakingly relevant; there was another disgrace this week. It hurts.

No explanation or theology is going to make it not hurt. But if we’re students of the Bible, we’ll learn from Samuel as from so many others that God has ways of working around sin. Sometimes the medicine is hard, though. In Samuel’s time there is devastation and wrath. Eli and his sons will be dead in the next few verses. Israel’s enemies will swarm over her and crush her. Worst of all, the Ark of the Covenant will be lost, carried away by the Philistines. Remember what the Ark was to them: it was God’s dwelling in their midst. It was where they looked for holiness and assurance. With that stripped away, they seemed forsaken and abandoned — not just sinful, but having lost even the hope and principle of renewal.

Epiphany 2018

Image
The story of the wise men from the East is a story about coming to meet Jesus. That’s going to make it a very interesting story, if you agree with me that coming to meet Jesus is the most important thing — and the best thing — that can possibly happen to a human being.

The Biblical details are sparse. We know that magi, usually translated ‘wise men’, followed a star to where Jesus was. They brought Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. They arrived via King Herod but chose to avoid him on the return journey.

There’s a reason that this first reading from Isaiah 60 is paired with the story of the Magi; Israel always knew that their mission was to reveal God to everyone. They were the chosen people, but they weren’t chosen only for their own sake. Their purpose and mission was to reveal God to the rest of the nations. Isaiah dreams of that mission being fulfilled. He dreams of all the nations streaming toward Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel.

If you look at the Church of Jesus Christ toda…