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.

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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.

How My Brown Scapular Helps Me Face Death With Trust

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (June 28, 2015)

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

Psalm 30:2,4,5-6,11,12,13

Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15

Mark 5:21-43

One thing that has always impressed me about the Catholic faith is that, no matter how long you live on this earth, you will never know everything there is to know about the faith. What I mean is that our faith is very rich and not boring at all. There is always something that you can learn. If you ever think that Catholicism is boring, well then, you are not even trying! Studying the Mass and the Eucharist has led me to some of the most mind-blowing teachings I have ever come across. These teachings have literally changed my life forever and I still haven’t come to a complete understanding of them.

I’ve also always been impressed by all the “stuff” our faith has that can help us grow our prayer life and become closer to God. Some of this “stuff” I’m referring to are things like the Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, veneration of the Saints, veils, holy oils, Stations of the Cross, novenas, candles, Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, incense, Icons and going on pilgrimages. We have so many prayers and practices that I can’t even come close to naming them all. I mean, who hasn’t lost their keys or cell phone and shot up a quick prayer to St. Anthony for help? Need to sell your house? Bury a St. Joseph statue in your yard! Think your house is haunted? Call your local crucifix carrying, holy water sprinkling, bible in hand priest who’s ready to pounce on the devil! These things are not superstitions, but devotions and sacramentals that help us stay connected to God and His Church.

devotions book

One practice that I have been doing for a few years now is wearing a Brown Scapular. In the year 1251, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite. She handed him a brown woolen scapular and said, “This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire.”

our-lady-apparition-st-simon-stock!!

In time, the Church extended this to all the laity who are willing to be invested in the Brown Scapular of the Carmelites and any priest can enroll them into the Confraternity. Fr. Noel enrolled my family. The three things you agree to do after being enrolled are: wear the scapular continuously, recite daily the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary or pray a daily Rosary, and to observe chastity. So this Scapular is my “yes” to those conditions. It is also a symbol that represents my belief that God allowed Our Lady to appear to St. Simon Stock in 1251 and that the promise she gave was real. The Scapular I wear around my neck is not superstition; it represents my faith that God is not a liar and that there is indeed life after death.

scapular

I then take this one step farther. Every time I visit a church or shrine that has a saint’s relic (a bone chip, piece of hair, a piece of clothing they wore, etc), I touch my scapular to the relic. I do that so I can keep the Saints closer to my heart and I ask them to pray for me. You see…our Catholic faith teaches us that the Saints are in heaven with God and can pray for us. I believe this with my whole heart and that inspires me to live better. Many of the men and women we refer to as Saints lived a not so perfect life on earth. But they eventually turned their life around and lived a life pleasing to God… some even laid down their life for God. Their reward for being faithful = HEAVEN. So, my Brown Scapular visibly reminds me to pray, be chaste and know that the Saints are praying for me in Heaven. It is a gentle reminder that life on earth is temporary so I need to prepare now for my eternal life after death. Now I ask you…how can any of that possibly be boring!?!?

Another thing that is not boring is today’s Gospel reading from Mark. It’s the account of Jairus asking Jesus to heal his daughter who is near death. He begs Jesus to come to his house and simply lay His hands on his daughter to heal her. Just before they arrive at the house, they are told the girl had already died. Imagine the grief the father felt. He was hopeful that Jesus could cure her but now she’s gone. So close… but Jesus was just too late to save her… or was He???

You see…what frightens us sinners the most is death. To many, death seems like the end…total darkness. We are often unable to surrender and trust in God’s promises and therefore we fear death. Apparently, we humans have trust issues! Jesus fully realizes this, which is why, on hearing the news that Jairus’ daughter had died, Jesus turns to Jairus and says, “Do not be afraid; just have faith” and they continued on. They arrived at the house and found people were “weeping and wailing loudly” at the death of the daughter. You can then sense Jesus just shaking His head, possibly rolling His eyes as He says, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” I recently listened to Fr. Robert Barron’s homily on this same Scripture verse and this is how he used it to help explain death as we know it now. The “weeping and wailing” represents our human perspective of death. We resist it with all our might due to our fear and lack of trust. However, Jesus referring to the girl as being not dead but “asleep” represents God’s perspective of death. We simply fall asleep to this life and awake to our eternal life. This goes back to the opening line we heard today from the Book of Wisdom stating, “God did not make death,” especially the “weeping and wailing” perspective that we all fear due to our lack of trust.

I guess this is actually why I continue to wear a Brown Scapular around my neck. Because I fear death more often than I embrace death. I need this Scapular to remind me daily that my faith is not to be feared, but to be celebrated with trust. Death should not be seen as darkness and the end, but as light and a new beginning. Trying to stay connected with the Saints also strengthens my faith because it reiterates in my heart that if the Saints made it to heaven, there is hope for me. And my brothers and sisters, there is hope for you as well.

The Church so beautifully has given us all of that “stuff” I mentioned earlier to help us stay focused on God and His teachings. Life is full of distractions that try to veer us away from God. So I challenge you to study your faith and find a devotion or sacramental (like the Brown Scapular) that you can cling to when life gets rough or when your faith feels weak or challenged. This is important because all of these things will help lead us to heaven because they point us to Christ. He is the only one who can alleviate our fears. As Fr. Barron said, “The way of Christ enables us to face the power of death with trust rather than fear.”

So trust in Jesus Christ with your entire being so that the next time you face tragedy, uncertainty, suffering or even death, you will fear no more.

** For more information or to order a Brown Scapular, I highly recommend this site: http://www.sistersofcarmel.com/brown-scapular-information.php

Come Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday (May 24, 2015)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34

1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13

John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

When I was a kid, I always loved celebrating holidays like Christmas, Easter, Halloween and my birthday. Admittedly it was because they involved me getting presents and candy which is probably why I never cared much about Groundhog’s Day. The problems was, the closer I got to the actual day, the more excited I got, which made time go even slower. I could see the days getting marked off on the calendar, but it would seem to take forever to get there.

I can sense this happening with the Apostles and Pentecost, which is the Feast we celebrate this weekend. Imagine…the Apostles walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry. They witnessed the miracles and heard the parables first hand. Then they watched him get tortured and crucified. The agony they felt, as their Saviour lay dead in a tomb, must have been unimaginable. However, their grief was turned into absolute joy at His resurrection, which confirmed that Jesus was who He said He was…God’s Son.

And now, just before His ascension, Jesus makes the promise that He will be sending the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide the Apostles in all truth. And just like that, Jesus ascends and the wait for the Spirit begins. The problem is, unlike the holidays I mentioned earlier, the Apostles didn’t know when the Spirit would be coming. So they waited and they waited and they waited some more. With each passing day, I could imagine they would grow a little more anxious. Possibly even start to doubt their faith. And with each day without the promised Holy Spirit, it may even have felt like time was standing still.

There have been times in my life when I’ve had this same feeling, especially when my plans don’t seem to be going as I think they should. I have felt at times a sense of abandonment from God and, in those times, it felt like time stood still. I have since learned to combat these feelings by listening to good Christian music. It keeps my heart and mind focused on my faith in God and not my faith in the “world.” One of the songs I’ve been listening to a lot lately is from a newer group called I Am They. Their song titled, “Amen” has been a source of strength for me this past month. The opening verse goes like this:

“I have no words to say. Don’t know what I should pray. God I need you. Oh Lord, my faith is tired. And tears fill up my eyes. But I will trust you. Whatever comes my way, you have taught me to say…Amen, let Your kingdom come. Amen, let Your will be done. And through the rise and fall, You’re God above it all. Amen.”

How many times has your faith been pushed to the edge? Have you ever felt abandoned and alone? Imagine a parent who loses their child in a car crash, a wife hearing of her husband’s terminal cancer diagnosis or someone having to file bankruptcy on a family business because after years of blood, sweat and tears they just couldn’t make the ends meet anymore. I could go on and on with examples but the point here is that we all have experienced times in our lives when we have felt like God was a distant figure.

Life is chalked full of ups and downs. In those down times, it’s so easy to feel abandoned and allow your faith to grow weak. If you stay there, your life will be empty and without joy. But if you constantly strive to be open to God’s Love and His Spirit, even in those dark times, good things can happen. Like me listening to that song, we all need to cling onto those little things that will help keep us open to the Spirit and our minds focused on God.

That’s what happened to the Apostles in the upper room on Pentecost. They were scared and alone. But they clung onto Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit was coming. And when it did come, the entire world shook! Scripture tells us the Spirit descended like a strong wind that definitely got everyone’s attention. The Holy Spirit then empowered the disciples to begin their mission, which was to boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. They were no longer frightened. Peter himself went out of the upper room immediately to address the crowd and apparently gave one heck of a sermon because, according to Scripture, 3000 people were baptized after hearing the Good News on Pentecost.

The Apostles were so strengthened in their faith that, with the exception of St. John, they were all eventually killed for that faith. Where they were once hiding and afraid, now they live on as martyrs in heaven.

The same Holy Spirit that descended on and strengthened the Apostles at Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that is guiding you right now. And here’s the thing, if you are fully open to Him, He WILL strengthen you and lead you like no other one can. He WILL give you the gifts you need to keep moving forward, so that you can spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world just like the Apostles did.

And when things don’t seem to be going as planned, rather than distancing yourself from God, pause for a moment, and ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen your faith and keep you focused on God.

No matter what you are going through in life…if you don’t know what to pray, if your faith is tired, if tears fill up your eyes…trust in God…trust in His Son…trust that the Holy Spirit WILL guide you to the truth…Be afraid no more! With strength and confidence from the Holy Spirit, let us all be a little bolder as we proclaim Jesus Christ to the world!

**Below is the song from I Am They that I referenced in my homily. The ENTIRE album is awesome and I highly recommend you getting it!