Three Gifts For God

The Epiphany of the Lord (Jan 7, 2018)

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13(11)

Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6

Matthew 2:1-12

Merry Christmas everyone! Yes, according to the world, Christmas ended on December 26. But Catholics actually celebrate Christmas until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (which is Monday, Jan 8). And this weekend, we celebrate the Magi visiting the Christ child. Imagine, they had enough faith… that they followed a star to a far off land in search of someone extraordinary. And we all know the story, right? The Magi found the new born King under a star and brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold to represent Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense as a symbol of His priestly role. And Myrrh to point towards the suffering Christ will face later in life since this was an aromatic substance used in embalming.

As many of you know, my wife and I have 5 children at home. A number of years ago, back when we only had 3 children, Angie and I discussed how to try and keep the balance between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ during the Christmas season. In our modern world, that is a very tough thing to accomplish for parents. Santa is fun and magical, right? He eats the milk and cookies and, most importantly, brings the gifts! Somehow, during one of our discussions on this topic, one of us brought up this same verse that we hear today in Matthew’s Gospel.

We are told that Jesus received three gifts from the Magi. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. We give each other gifts on Christmas (aka Jesus’ birthday). Do you see where I’m going with this? So it was decided, if three gifts were good enough for Jesus to celebrate His birthday, then three gifts from Santa were good enough for our kids as well! So we sat the boys down and explained our decision. After their eyes got really wide and the shock wore off, we reminded them that they still have grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles that also give them gifts (so don’t feel sorry for them!). We then wrote a letter to good ole St. Nick to explain our request: From now on, just bring three gifts per child on Christmas, just like the Magi did 2,000 years ago.

Now I’m not saying that this is for every parent out there. It was just one way for us as a family to keep Christ in Christmas. But then that got me thinking. Does anyone here remember he telling you in my last homily that every weekend, you have homework to do after attending Mass? Remember? You listen to the readings and the homily and then allow them to challenge you the rest of the week to become more Christ-like. Well, I’ve got another homework assignment for you today. And this assignment will take you just under one year to complete. Sorry….

We just began a new year. 2018. This is traditionally a time when people try to begin new habits. Hopefully good habits since we always want to try and improve our lives from last year, right? But rather than making a “New Year Resolution,” I want you to think of offering three gifts. But these won’t be material gifts. Let me explain. To decide on the three gifts, I challenge you to go to prayer. Find some quiet time, close your eyes, and picture Jesus Christ sitting next to you. For a time, just be present to one another. And after a few minutes, ask Jesus, “What can I do to be more like you?” And then be quiet. Allow your brain to wonder with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I guarantee you that, at some point, you’ll be able to think of at least three areas of your life that can be improved. And whatever those three things happen to be in your case… those are the three gifts you will work on all year.

It could be your health. Maybe you need to take better care of yourself so you can help others. It could be your finances. Wouldn’t it be nice to free up some money so you can donate to those in need? It could be to heal a broken relationship or possibly even to end a harmful relationship. Chances are it’s going to be challenging. Change usually doesn’t come easily. But changing for the better is always worth it in the end. And who doesn’t want to change and become more Christ-like?

Christmas is officially over after this Monday. That means we’ll be right back here celebrating Christmas in 11 ½ months. You and I both realize that it’ll be here in a blink of an eye. It always does. So why not start preparing yourself now to celebrate next Christmas in a richer, fuller way. Decide now on what three gifts you want to offer to Christ NEXT Christmas. You’ll have 11 ½ months to work on them. And how amazing will it be to be able to take all of that hard work and sacrifice, all of that positive change, all of that Christian transformation… and then lay those three gifts down at the manger next Christmas…

I realize it’s a long way away. A lot can happen over the next year. There will be a lot of ups and downs. But be like the Magi… let the star of Christ guide you. And once you reach the Star on December 25, 2018, you will approach the manger as a changed person. And with your head held high… with a rekindled faith… you will kneel down and lay your gifts at the feet of our New Born King!

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It’s All About God

4th Sunday of Advent (December 24, 2007)

2 Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12,14a,16

Psalm 89:2-3,4-5,27,29(2a)

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38

I’ve got a complaint to lodge to everyone here today. I got the short end of the straw and need to get this off of my chest! First of all, I take my calling as a Deacon seriously. When I get up here to preach, I spend a lot of time preparing on what to say. It’s actually very intimidating if you think about it. Talking about “religion” can be a very volatile thing if something is said contrary to one’s personal beliefs. Meaning… it’s easy to offend someone when you preach on God’s Word. This is why I go to prayer when I start preparing for a homily. I ask God to use me as a tool. To speak through me. Not my words, but His. This is important because the homily helps “break open” the Scripture we hear at Mass and gives all of you something to contemplate over the week. That, by the way, is your weekly homework. Did you know that? You’re supposed to take what you hear in the Scriptures and the homily and allow it to challenge you throughout the week. To change you and become more “Christ-like.”

And that’s where my complaint comes into play. Fr. Al and Deacon Bruce preached the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Sundays of Advent. And they did very well if I do say so myself. I’m even a little jealous that Fr. Al got to wear the rose colored vestments last week when he preached and I didn’t.

But what did I get? The 4th Sunday of Advent. Do you realize how short the 4th week of Advent is? Less than 24 hours. It ends Sunday night with the Vigil Mass for the Nativity of the Lord since Christmas is on a Monday this year. So instead of giving something to challenge you all week… I only have to challenge you for a few hours. Then you’ll forget all about what was in my homily because you’ll be too busy opening presents, eating wonderful, delicious food and sipping on wine or bourbon in your ugly Christmas sweaters!

But, like a good Deacon, I put on my big boy pants and decided to prepare this homily as best I could. And like every homily I write, I began this one with prayer and asked God what He wanted me to tell you. As I was in a deep, contemplative, prayerful state, I sat quietly and said, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

And do you know what happened? A voice from the clouds whispered in my ear and said, “Dearest Deacon Brian, I’m sorry that you didn’t get to wear the rose colored vestments this year, it’s not your turn. Yes, the 4th week of Advent is super short. It happens every 7 years. Stop being so whiny. This is not about you. It’s about Me and My flock. So quit dwelling on the negatives and focus on what we will be celebrating is less than 24 hours. Now, go put on your purple vestment and preach the Word of God! But, just like the 4th week of Advent, keep it short!”

So, here goes… it’s not about us. It’s not about stroking our egos. It’s not about how awesome we are in the eyes of others. It’s all about God. Everything. God could have let us all rot down here on earth. He could have turned His back on us and said, you guys screwed up and I’m done with you. Or, He could have come down from heaven like a powerful military general with the entire army of Angels behind Him to annihilate us and start over.

But He didn’t.

Instead… as we hear in today’s Gospel from Luke, He came to us as a baby through the womb of a humble, poor, faithful woman. Why? Out of pure love to save us all.

So here is your homework to contemplate over the next few hours until we meet again to celebrate Christmas:

Let us all be a little more humble like Mary. Let us all be a little more thankful like Elizabeth who thought she was barren. And, like God, let us all be a little more loving.

Room For Improvement

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (November 22, 2015)

Daniel 7:13-14

Psalm 93

Rv 1:5-8

John 18:33b-37

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out our flowerbeds at home with my wife. As I was pulling some dead flowers, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a bug fell onto the back of my hand. Then I felt the sting. I yelped and danced around like a circus clown as I cursed those little flying demons we call wasps. My left hand turned red and swelled up. It hurt and throbbed the rest of the day.

That same night, I was trying to fix a tent that had a broken fiberglass pole that was snapped in half. As I was removing the pole from the tent, it slipped and I jammed the fiberglass into my right hand. Have you ever had fiberglass lodged in your body somewhere? You can’t see most of the tiny needle-like fibers in your skin, but you can most definitely feel the jabbing pain when you move the afflicted body part.

So I had a bee sting in my left hand and fiberglass in the right hand. I am a Chiropractor, which is a profession that requires me to use my hands a lot. The next day at work, every time I worked on a patient, I was very uncomfortable. However, I had a job to do so I continued on no matter how uncomfortable it made me feel.

Another one of the hats I wear is being a Catholic Deacon. It too can be uncomfortable at times. Last month I went on a retreat with all of the Catholic Deacons in our diocese. The retreat leader, Fr. Dennis, challenged us to always preach the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. Trust me, it’s so much easier to get up here and preach, “God loves you just the way you are” vs “Hey, God loves you, but to be truthful, I think we may need to change a few things.” Isn’t this what Jesus said in today’s Gospel? Jesus Christ, our King, came into the world to “testify to the truth.” Granted…I’m not Jesus Christ, but I was ordained to preach His word and help build up His Church.

So sit back, open your minds and your hearts and please allow me to challenge you a little without anyone getting offended. Deal?

Today we celebrate the feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It reminds us to evaluate our lives and see if we are truly living a life for God or are we living a life for us. To answer this truthfully, I want us to examine our commitment to our faith and see if there’s any room for improvement.

For instance, if you only give God 1 hour a week on a Sunday but ignore Him the other 167 hours in a week… there’s room for improvement. If there’s an inch of dust on your bible at home… there’s room for improvement. If you haven’t been to confession in the last month or two… there’s room for improvement. If you only put a few bucks into the church collection basket but drop hundreds of dollars on the latest and greatest gadget on Black Friday or Amazon without a second thought… there’s room for improvement. If you’re more willing to defend your political party rather than your faith… there’s room for improvement. If the only thing you have to say about Mass is that it’s “boring”… there’s room for improvement. If you can’t remember the last time your prayed without being told… there’s room for improvement. Parents, if you put more emphasis on youth sports than on attending Mass or teaching your kids the faith… there’s room for improvement. If you’ve never told anyone about Jesus Christ or His Church… there’s major room for improvement.

Listen, I’m no angel up here and I’m not trying to make you feel bad… just a little uncomfortable perhaps. As I said, it’s my job as your Deacon to challenge you a little. The last thing I want is to get up to those pearly gates and have Jesus say I was too easy on you. I can picture it now…I approach Jesus and he gives me “the look.” You know… the “I don’t care what the vegetables taste like, they are good for you so quit whining and eat them!” So I’m here to remind you that your faith is more important than vegetables or anything else this world has to offer. So quit whining and start living out your faith better!

Finding those aspects of your spiritual life where there is room for improvement is important. Why? Because your salvation depends on it! All that you have could be over tomorrow without warning. A car crash, a heart attack or as we saw on November 13, a terrorist attack. More than 120 people left their homes that day in Paris to go out on the town and have a good time. They had no idea that would be their last night on this earth.

This may sound scary and even fearful. That is the job of terrorists… to instill fear in our hearts and give up all hope. If your faith is weak and your priorities are off, they will win. If you worship the world, they will win. But if you truly worship God, if He is the center of your universe, no amount of evil can conquer you. No amount of fear will keep you away from your ultimate destination… in Heaven… with our Father.

So I ask you… at whose throne are you going to worship? The throne of the world that promotes selfishness and is filled with false pleasures or at the throne of Christ the King which is filled with eternal love, hope and salvation?

Mahatma Gandhi said, “If all Christians acted like Christ, the whole world would be Christian.” You want to change the world? I challenge you to find the areas of your life where there’s room for improvement, no matter how uncomfortable it will make you, and live in a more Christ-like manner. I say it’s about time we put the name of Christ back in Christian.

Can a Selfie Get Me To Heaven?

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (October 11, 2015)

Wisdom 7:7-11

Psalm 90:12-17

Hebrews 4:12-13

Mark 10:17-30

We live in a very technologically advanced society. The advancements in the last 150 years have been astonishing in many areas of life. For example, there are now robotic arms that a surgeon can control remotely to perform the most detailed of operations. This is a far cry from the operating room tents during the Civil War. Where one computer used to fill up an entire room, we now have computers that fit in our hands. The days of the horse drawn carriages are over. Now we can go from 0-60 mph in a matter of seconds. We went from watching the corn grow to watching Netflix. Alexander Graham Bell made the first clear speech phone call on March 10, 1876. Now we have wireless cell phones that have cameras, wifi and ability to send text messages. And everyone seems to be “connected” through the Internet and different forms of social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

We don’t even need film anymore for our cameras since most things are now digital. Which makes it easy for posting things on social media! We can just take out our fancy smart phones and take a “selfie”….

selfie

…or even an “usie” (apparently this is what you call a group selfie).

 

selfie 3

selfie 2

Then we post it to Facebook or Instagram, sit back and see how many “likes” and comments we get.

These things can be good fun and can make our lives more convenient at times. But the question is, do they really matter in life? Or in other words, do they help or hinder our journey to be closer to God? I believe this is the question that Jesus is trying to get us to consider in today’s Gospel from Mark. In it, we hear about a man, who apparently had a lot of wealth, approach Jesus and ask Him the question we should all be focusing on….”What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus refers him first to the 10 Commandments. Do not commit adultery, steal, lie or defraud and also make sure you honor your father and mother. The man eagerly replies that he has been following these rules his entire life. Jesus then gives him a challenge, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor…then come, follow me.” The rich man turned away and left sad. We are left with the impression that the man choose his material goods over eternal life.

My sisters and brothers… Jesus Christ is giving this same challenge to each one of you. I personally don’t think he wants us to deliberately be poor. But I do believe he wants us to put God before all of our material things. And if those things get in the way of God, get rid of them! If we keep putting more value on material things than on God, we’ll continue to have a messed up society where life is not valued.

In his book, “The Rhythm of Life,” Matthew Kelly had this to say about the status of our society:

“We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints; we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; we have more degrees, but less common sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch TV too much, and pray too little. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and lie too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, but not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space; we’ve done larger things, but not better things; we’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait; we have higher incomes, but lower morals; more food, but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort, but less success. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; we’ve become long on quantity, but short on quality. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men and short character; steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure and less fun; more kinds of food and less nutrition. These are the days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are the days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the show window, and nothing in the stockroom. Indeed it is all true.”

For far too long, we’ve put other things ahead of God and wonder why the world is so messed up. Too often these things have added convenience but also unneeded distractions to our lives. We’ve forgotten how to relax and enjoy the simple things in life. And unfortunately, we have gotten so indoctrinated with our “modernized” culture that we are now afraid to let go of our conveniences. We are afraid to let go of our “stuff” and focus on what really matters in life… being a devout Christian that isn’t afraid to live out your faith on your journey to heaven. I’m not sure who said it but, think of it this way… if you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Our Father in heaven will be the judge of that question at the moment of your physical death. He’s not going to ask you how much money you had, what kind of car your drove or how many likes you got on Facebook. He’ll judge you by the love you have for His Son and by how you expressed that love in your actions.

So, you want to know how to inherit eternal life?

Remove anything that hinders your path to heaven and put God first!

Cut It Off

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 27, 2015)

Numbers 11:25-29

Psalm 19:8,10,12-14

James 5:1-6

Mark 9:43,45,47-48

If everyone could do me a favor and hold their hands up and keep their eyes open… It appears to me that everyone has both of their hands and both of their eyes. So why in the world does Jesus say in today’s Gospel reading that, “If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off” and “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck if out.” Call me crazy, but I have a hunch that everyone in here, including myself, has used our hands or our eyes to sin at some point in our lives. But as I said just a minute ago, everyone in here has both of their hands and both of their eyes. So what’s the deal?

Before I answer that, I want to tell you a story about a young girl named Catherine. She was the youngest of 25 children, many of which died at a young age. At the age of 6, she experienced a vision of Jesus, seated in all His glory with the Apostles Peter, Paul and John. It was believed that this vision helped her at a young age decide on her vocation. A year later, Catherine made a secret vow to give her entire life to God.

By the age of 12, Catherine’s mother insisted that she pay more attention to her physical appearance in hopes to attract the attention of a future husband. To please her mother, Catherine started to wear bright dresses and jewels that were what all the young girls wore in those days. However, remembering her secret vow to give her entire life to God, Catherine repented of her vanity and declared that she would never marry. And when her parents insisted that she pursue marriage, Catherine cut off the attribute that was considered to be her most beautiful and prized possession…her long, golden-brown hair. For those who have never heard this story before, it is about St. Catherine of Sienna, one of the great mystics and a Doctor of the Church.

st catherine

St. Catherine of Sienna

Now, before all of your ladies go out and chop off your hair, realize this: beauty is not a sin…having long hair is not a sin…pursuing marriage is meant to be a good thing. St. Catherine did not become a saint because she cut off her hair or remained single. She became a saint because, in her short life, she clearly and consistently surrendered her life to Christ. She tried to cut out anything that interfered with her journey to God. And as a passionate young girl, that meant her hair.

So let’s get back to today’s Gospel reading from St. Mark. Is Jesus asking us to literally cut off our own body parts in order to avoid sin? Honestly, I don’t know. But think of all the ways we use our bodies to sin: our brains for evil thoughts, our tongues for gossip, our hands for fighting, our hearts for hate, our eyes for lust, our feet for walking past those who need our help, plus the other body parts that I won’t mention in the company of young children. If we were to cut off anything that causes us to sin, we wouldn’t have a body left!

cut it off

Now, I do know that God’s original plan for our bodies was for good. I also recall that, according to 1 Corinthians 6:19, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” So logically, it appears that we are not to take this Gospel passage literally, but try to figure out what Jesus is convening to us with such graphic imagery.

So here’s the message that I believe Jesus is trying to convey to us with urgency– do whatever it takes to get to heaven. Sin cuts you off from heaven…so you need to cut sin out of your life. If your brain causes you to sin due to evil thoughts, try filling your mind with prayers instead. If your tongue causes you to sin by gossiping, try using your tongue to confess your sins in the sacrament of reconciliation instead. If your hands cause you to sin by fighting, instead try extending your hand for a handshake or give a hug to someone who needs it. If your heart is filled with hate, ask God to remove the hardness of your heart and fill it instead with love. If your eyes cause you to sin on the Internet, buy a filter that limits what sites you can look up. If someone needs help, stop walking past and help them.

This is not something that can easily be changed in one day. This is a continual journey from now until your physical death. We all slip up from time to time. The glory of it all is that with each new day, we get a new chance. Remember, every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. A lot of what that future holds is out of your control. But how you handle what the future throws your way, now that IS something you can control.

So like St. Catherine of Sienna, whether you live a long or short life, make sure that each day you try to cut out sin by clearly and consistently surrendering your life to Christ. After all, he surrendered His life for you!

Parenting Is Hard

22 Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 30, 2015)

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8

Psalm 15:2-5 (1a)

James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Parenting is hard! I think everyone can agree with me on this, yes? Parenting takes a delicate balance of love, discipline and setting rules. And we all know how much children LOVE following rules right? I say, “mow the grass.” They say, “later.” I say, “eat your veggies.” They ask, “all of them?” I know a certain preschooler who, after telling him to NOT run in a parking lot, has turned to me and said, “I…don’t…like…you!” I guess this explains why a few strands of gray hair have emerged from my head this past year.

parenting-meme-4

So if parenting is so hard, why then don’t parents just surrender? Why don’t we simply throw our hands up and say, “do what you want, eat what you want, go where you want!” The answer lies in today’s reading from Deuteronomy, “hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may LIVE.” We set boundaries and discipline out of love so that our children will live, grow and flourish. I am tough on my kids because I want them to grow into responsible, trustworthy, Catholics who will follow the path that God has laid down for them.

I know some of you don’t have children or your children are all grown up. You may be thinking that this is irrelevant to you. My brothers and sisters, it is very relevant to all of us. You see, I can call you my brothers and sisters because we all have a Father in heaven that loves us. We are all children of God… a very loving God…a very loving Father.

And throughout time, God has sent prophets to help guide His children and figure out which “rules” to follow. Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist. The bible is full of people guided by the Holy Spirit that were trying to keep us on God’s path. And like children, sometimes we listened and sometimes we just rolled our eyes and did our own thing. There may have even been a time or two when we’ve experienced great sadness or confusion in life and turned to God in frustration and said, “I…don’t…like…you!”   But like a loving parent, God never gave up on us.

Even when all seemed lost, when God could have simply thrown up His hands and say, “Good luck, you’re on your own”…He sent us His Son to show us the way, the truth and the life. Jesus Christ, through His words AND actions, showed us a better way to live. That’s what is at the heart of today’s Gospel from Mark. Jesus quotes Isaiah and says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” The Pharisees and some Christians with a strong Jewish background were allowing the Jewish rules to become their God. Their words AND actions were not lining up. They lost sight of what was the original intent of the rules, which is to love God and trust in His ways.

Even sometimes as Catholics we may be tempted to see our faith as a long list of oppressive rules that need to be followed in order to be a “good Catholic.” I mean have you seen a Catechism or Canon Law book? They’re super thick! If God gave us free will, then why in the world do we need all of these so called “oppressive Catholic rules?”

I heard Catholic author, Christopher West, explain this apparent contradiction of free will and “all of those rules” beautifully. He said that we only see the rules as being oppressive when we intend to break the rules. For example, there are many speed limit signs that really irritate me. Route 68 past Perryville on the way to Lebanon is a 55 mph zone. You can easily and safely drive 65-70 mph there! I think the posted speed limit is silly and it often hinders me from arriving to work on time. You see, I think that rule is oppressive because I intend to break that rule.

speed limit

Once we can better understand God’s teachings and allow our hearts to be open to God’s love, that is when the rules no longer seem oppressive. That is when we really and truly don’t need the rules anymore because our hearts are in line with God’s teachings. If we can get to that point, we are then living our lives in a way very pleasing to God. And trust me, this doesn’t happen overnight! It is an ongoing struggle with many failures along the way. This is why you need to constantly pray, study your faith and go to confession often. Furthermore, you need someone to hold you accountable for your actions and to call you out when your words say one thing but your actions say another.

This is what we should be doing as a church family. We need to encourage each other to live out our faith to the fullest. We are a family united by our Father in heaven. And here’s the Good News, our heavenly Father sacrificed his Son, so that He could throw us a great, big family reunion at His heavenly banquet one day. Guess what…every single one of you is invited to attend that banquet. We were all given an invitation at our baptism.

So the real question we need to ask ourselves is this… how have we lived our lives since receiving our invitation to the banquet?

God has done His part. Like a loving Father, He has given us statutes and decrees as a compass to follow in our lives so that we may live life to the fullest. Please, take some time to reflect on what your role has been as part of God’s family. Let us then use our words AND actions to lift each other up and, as a united family, proclaim Jesus Christ to the world!

God Feeds Us

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 26, 2015)

2 Kings 4:42-44

Psalm 145:10-11,15-16,17-18

Ephesians 4:1-6

John 6:1-15

Today’s first reading, the Psalm and the Gospel from John all have the same theme: We are hungry…God feeds us. Obviously this can be referencing actual food, but it can also speak to our spiritual hunger that only God can satisfy. With that theme in mind, I want to tell you about a youth retreat I attended with some of the high school students from St. Andrew’s and St. William’s a few weeks ago at St. Catharine’s College in Springfield, KY called Ignite Your Torch. It was a four-day event and was attended by over 300 high school youth and between 20-30 priests and religious all wearing clerics or full habits. And before you picture a bunch of boring old men or mean nuns carrying rulers right out of the 1950’s, realize that most of the priests and sisters were young. Let me tell you…you haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed cassock and habit wearing priests take on high school boys in a game of dodge ball. It was epic!

Many of the priests, religious and some laity gave various Catholic related talks of which the students were allowed to pick and choose which one they wanted to hear. There were over 30 different talks to choose from throughout the conference. One of the talks I attended was by Sr. Maria Francesca, a very young Dominican sister. Her talk was called, “Souls on Fire.” She discussed how the Holy Spirit works in our lives and did it with such love and enthusiasm that I could have listened to her all day long. I also listened to Br. Matthias, a Carmelite with a big ‘ol beard, give a talk called, “Prayer that ROCKS your world.” He told us about St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer life and also explained the significance of wearing the Brown Scapular (my personal favorite devotion as you may remember from my last homily). Br. Matthias said that every time we kiss Mary’s Brown Scapular, it was like we were kissing Mary’s face. How beautiful! Fr. Benedict, another Dominican, gave a talk explaining how to withdraw from the distractions of the world and enter into the sacred shrine of the soul to be alone with God. It was high quality Catholic teaching presented in a way that engaged teenagers. I know from experience that this is not an easy task! The retreat was intensely faith filled and truly rekindled the fire of my faith. I can only imagine the impact it will have shaping the young faith of the students that attended.

There were a few very specific events that occurred during Ignite Your Torch that touched my faith on a very deep level. I wanted to share with you one that happened Friday night during Eucharistic adoration. Traditionally, Eucharistic adoration consists of having the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar in a monstrance while people sit or kneel in silent prayer. This is how we do it at St. Andrew’s every Wednesday in our day chapel. The adoration at Ignite was very different. Instead of leaving the Eucharist on the altar, Fr. Tony (a Fathers of Mercy priest) walked around to each of the 300+ people kneeling and, one by one, blessed them with the Eucharist. It was intense to kneel down before our Lord in the Eucharist, look up and receive His blessing. For that brief moment in time, it was a very personal, intimate moment with our Lord.

Because there were so many people, it took awhile to get to everyone so people had the opportunity to go to confession or pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy while waiting. I didn’t go to confession in the beginning because the lines were filling up and I wanted to allow time for the kids to go. So during this time of waiting I did my normal prayers, I asked God to help me with a few issues and also to keep watch over some people I knew who were struggling in their lives. However, I had a deep sense of stirring in my soul that I couldn’t figure out. So I just kneeled and waited all the while wrestling with an uneasiness that I couldn’t pinpoint. It was then that Fr. Tony stood in front of me holding our Eucharistic Lord. I lifted my eyes upwards and gazed at the Eucharist as I received Christ’s blessing. It took all of a few seconds and then Fr. Tony moved on to the next person.

During the blessing I was fine. But as soon as it was over I couldn’t move and I couldn’t speak. It seemed like forever but probably didn’t last more then 10 seconds. On the outside, I experienced a type of paralysis but on the inside, I experienced pure joy and love. It was as if I was one with the Trinity. As Fr. Benedict explained in his talk earlier, I was able to enter the sacred shrine of my soul to be alone with God. Shortly after, I bent forward and started weeping. I wept because as soon as I experienced that intense love from God, He helped me see clear as day where I have not shown that kind of love to others. Specifically, God pointed out to me a sin that I’ve been clinging onto for a long time now. That was the stirring in my soul that I couldn’t figure out earlier. I continued to pray and cry in thanksgiving to God. I then pulled out my brown scapular and, as Br. Matthias described so beautifully, kiss the face of Mary. That 15-20 minute window was one of the most emotionally intense moments I’ve ever experienced while praying.

As the night was winding down, I knew I had to go to confession. I mean, when God clearly points out your sin, you better pay attention and act immediately! But I knew if I didn’t go to confession right then, I’d make up an excuse and not get around to it for a while. So I looked around and saw a priest in the corner of the room with a smile on his face and nobody in line. I approached him…sat down…and began, ”Forgive me father for I have sinned.” That night, I was able to go to confession and rid my soul of a sin that was eating at me for years.

Remember the theme from today’s reading? My soul hungered for healing…God fed me.

You know, it’s easy to hear today’s Gospel reading about the multiplication of loaves and say, “Yup, that’s a pretty cool miracle. Jesus sure fed a lot of people.” But what we need to do it really mediate on it’s meaning.

We are sinners. We ache for love. We have a void in our souls. If we turn that over to God in faithful prayer, God can heal us. God will love us. God will fill the void in our souls.

Not just a little bit…He will multiple it so that we are satisfied. This is not just for some people…God’s love is infinite and extends to ALL of us. But we have to do our part. We have to be willing to ask for help and forgiveness. We have to spend time in prayer to enter the sacred shrine of our souls. We have to remain faithful to God no matter what trials we are facing.

If we do this, God will answer all our needs…He will satisfy our hunger. He will feed us with the only food that satisfies…the Bread of Life…His Son…Jesus Christ.