Why Are You A Christian?

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 6, 2016)

2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14

Psalm 17:1,5-6,8,15

2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5

Luke 20:27-38

I attended a youth retreat this past summer and heard a talk from a Fathers of Mercy priest here in Kentucky. If you’ve ever seen a priest wearing a black cassock and a HUGE crucifix on their chest, (picture a crucifix you normally see on someone’s wall at home!) there’s a good chance he is a Fathers of Mercy priest. He said he often gets asked why they wear such a large crucifix around their neck? His answer was simple, “If you’re going to wear one… go BIG!”

During his talk, he posed a question to the crowd, which has stuck with me. He asked, “Why are you a Christian?” People raised their hands and gave answers like: Jesus, serving others, Eucharist, etc. He said those are all good things, but they are not the best answer. Then he said, “There’s only one reason that you can give that ultimately answers the question, ‘why are you a Christian?’ What is it?” And I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “This is so easy, I’m a Catholic Deacon for crying out loud. The answer is obviously…. It’s ummmm, uhhh… well I have no idea where he’s going with this!” So I just sat there… in awkward silence avoiding making eye contact with him as I waited for an explanation.

He went on to say that there’s one event in the life of Jesus Christ that had such a powerful effect on His followers and other witnesses that it altered the course of history. One event that caused devout Jews to leave their strong traditions and follow a new way. One event that was so incredible that Christians willingly died for their newly found faith. One event that is the answer to why we are here today, over 2,000 years after Christ’s death, worshiping together in this Church. So what in the world is that event and ultimately the answer to the priest’s persistent question, “Why are you a Christian?” Answer = the Resurrection.

Why? Because without the resurrection… Jesus Christ is a liar and a fraud. Without the resurrection… Jesus Christ is just an ordinary man. Without the resurrection… Christianity would have been just another fad religion that would have died out with the death of it’s leader. You see… the resurrection is a core belief that gives Christians the courage to go out and spread the Good News!

Seriously, think about it. Imagine you’re an Apostle following Jesus. You hear Him over and over speak of how he was going to conquer death, rise again and go to His Father in heaven. You’re nodding your head as you’re listening but in the back of your mind… it also sounds a little like crazy talk. You then watch Jesus die a horrible, torturous death on the cross. You then wait. Pretend that was the end of the story. Suddenly a Roman solider puts a sword to your throat and asks you if you were a follower of Jesus. “Who me? Sorry you must be mistaken. I’m just going to walk away now and live my life in peace with my head still attached to my body. Good bye!”

BUT… if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead and NOW that Roman solider asks you if you are a follow of Christ… I’d be like, “String me up, cut off my head, I’m not denying Christ, I’m ready for heaven!!” And that’s what happened. The Apostles, with the exception of John, were all martyred because they witnessed the resurrection and could not deny it.

You see… we hear in today’s Gospel that God is not God of the dead, but of the living. The resurrection proved this and started a ripple effect in history that continues to this day through the Holy Spirit and His Church. This should be a cause of great joy for us. Why? Because Jesus didn’t lie about the resurrection. So why would He have lied about anything else He taught? And in case your New Testament studies are a little rusty, here’s the gist of His teaching: God’s Son came down to earth in the form of a baby; Jesus taught by word and example a new way to live; He died a horrible death to pay a debt we couldn’t fulfill; He conquered death and rose to His Father in heaven; and here’s the VERY good news – His death has opened heaven to all who believe in Him.

The resurrection gives us new life. It is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. We can’t be wasting this gift by living a life of sin. We need to ask God to give us the grace and perseverance to live for Him… one day at a time. And when we fall, the resurrection should give us the strength to get back up and take the next step forward… back on God’s path.

Remember, through the resurrection, Jesus proved He was who He said He was. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we too should be able to prove who we say we are through our words and our actions.

May the resurrection of Christ give us the strength to live out our faith each and every day!

Time is running out

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 21, 2016)

Isaiah 66:18-21

Psalm 117:1,2

Hebrews 12:57,11-13

Luke 13:22-30

The clock is ticking. Time is running out. The door is closing and will soon be shut and locked… for good…

It is with this serious and urgent tone that Jesus speaks to us today through Luke’s Gospel. Jesus Christ loves you more than you could possibly ever imagine. In spite of all of our sins and shortcomings, our fears and failures, our addictions and frequent negative attitudes… He still died for YOU. Please don’t take that lightly!

Jesus suffered an unimaginable amount of pain when he was tortured and crucified. Most of the images and crucifixes we see don’t do justice for what Jesus actually went through on that Good Friday 2000 years ago. Mel Gibson’s movie, “Passion of Christ,” is probably the most accurate depiction that I’ve seen of what a scourging and crucifixion actually looked like at the hands of the Roman Empire. I personally can’t watch that movie very often because of how graphic it is. But when I do, I cringe constantly and always end up in tears.

Why then, did Jesus endure this sort of death for us? To give us life. To give us hope. To give us a chance to experience eternal love with him and our Father in heaven. And now, through His Church, Jesus gives us the opportunity to “enter through the narrow gate.” Jesus’ Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us all of the resources we need to have a better relationship with God.

What, you may ask, are the resources the Church offers us? The bible, Sacred Traditions, Apostolic teachings, lives of the Saints, the Eucharist, reconciliation and forgiveness, mercy, the priesthood, baptism, marriage, confirmation, prayers, anointing, the Mass and so much more. These resources, when acted on and used properly, lead us closer and closer to the doors of heaven. They keep us focused on what’s important and strengthens our faith.

Jesus speaks to us with a sense of urgency in today’s Gospel because the gates of heaven won’t stay open forever! This is a reality that I think we fail to talk about often enough. Jesus wants us to take our faith seriously NOW and live it out NOW before it’s too late. However, we keep thinking, “Oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow” but I’m telling you, “tomorrow” is no guarantee.

And take heart, even Jesus acknowledges that this is no easy task. Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” It takes determination. It takes learning the faith (yes, even after confirmation). It takes living on God’s terms, not our own. God gave us the sacraments, the bible, Church teachings and so forth to give us the grace we need to persevere to the end. He gave us the Saints as role models to imitate and to give us hope that if they can do it, so can we.

Through the Church, Jesus has laid out for us a road map to follow. And when we don’t use this map, it’s like slamming the door on Christ. We do this out of fear or sometimes because we think we know better. But who could possibly know better then the one who created us? Please, as the saying goes, “don’t try to reinvent the wheel.” We already know what to do; now it’s just a matter of doing it and doing it faithfully.

If we follow this road map, we will be living in a house built by God. If we do it halfway or worse, ignore the map completely, then we will be living in our own self-made house apart from God. This is the warning Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel when He says, “I do not know where you are from.” It’s because the people knocking on His door, after it was too late, have been living away from God rather then in the house He designed.

So, like Jesus, I’m up here today trying to convey a sense of urgency for everyone to re-evaluate their lives (myself included!). Nobody is perfect. We all can improve something regarding the way we are living out our faith.

As a Deacon, I was ordained to serve Jesus Christ and His Church. I was commissioned to proclaim the truth of the Gospel. I undertook a mission to help Christians better understand Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation that He offers to each and every one of you. The last thing I want to hear on my judgment day is, “Hey Brian. You know… not bad. Not bad at all. You did the basics. For the most part you followed my teachings. But let me ask you this Deacon. How many times did you shy away from preaching the truth to my people? How many people were motivated by your preaching and by your example to turn away from sin and improve their lives?”

Kind of a scary thought, isn’t it??

So please, take this Gospel passage seriously. Get to know God better TODAY, not tomorrow, TODAY. Evaluate your life and improve the areas that may be lacking…before it’s too late.

I would hate for you to be locked out of the greatest gift of all…. Your Salvation!

Love One Another

5th Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016)

Acts 14:21-27

Psalm 145:8-13

Revelation 21:1-5

John 13:31-35

I want to paint a picture of our modern society with the help of popular Catholic author and speaker Matthew Kelly. In one of his books he writes,

“We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers. We spend more, but have less. We buy more and enjoy it less. We have bigger houses, but smaller families. We have more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees, but less common sense. More knowledge, but less judgment. More experts, yet more problems. More medicines, but less health. We drink too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch too much TV, and pray too little. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We have higher incomes, but lower morals. We have learned how to make a living, but not how to live life. We have added years to life, but not life to years. We have been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet our new neighbor. We have conquered outer space, but not inner space. We have done larger things, but not better things. We have cleaned up the air, but are constantly polluting our souls. We plan more, but accomplish less. We have learned to rush, but not to wait. We have more food, but less fulfillment. More kinds of food, but less nutrition. More acquaintances, but fewer friends. There is greater world peace, but more domestic warfare. We have more leisure in our life, but less enjoyment of life. These are days of two incomes and fancier houses, but more broken homes. Our culture is becoming increasingly too busy, too noisy, and it’s pace too fast.

I personally think this description is eerily accurate. So my question is…WHY? What is going on with us that we have allowed society to get this way? I believe our society has gotten so off base because too many people have allowed themselves to follow their own path oblivious to God’s plan for their lives. I’m saying that we are a people in need of direction because without direction, we tend to wonder around like lost sheep. We are in need of a shepherd.

Last week, we heard from John’s Gospel that Jesus is the Good Sheppard. This week that Good Sheppard tells us what to do. Jesus tells us, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

And just how much did Jesus love us? All the way to the cross! He also, however, showed us His love in many other ways. For example, when Jesus encountered a woman caught in adultery, He calmly spoke with her in such a way that allowed her to see her sin and then told her to go and sin no more. When Jesus saw the moneychangers in the temple taking advantage of the poor, He furiously flipped over their tables to grab their attention. These two examples show us that there are different degrees of love and even Jesus got frustrated. After all, people can be frustrating at times, right? Anyone who deals with the public can attest to this! But Jesus did what needed to be done and He said what needed to be said in those situations. Why? Because He cared about their souls. He wanted them to return to God’s path.

Now, sometimes, when we hear this verse commanding us to “love one another,” our politically correct culture has a tendency to want to twist it. For example, when we try to correct someone on a topic of faith and morals or explain the “why” behind Church teachings to someone who disagrees with the teaching, we’re told we aren’t being “loving” or we’re “judging.” “You Christians, always judging and putting down others!” Anyone ever hear that line? Makes me want to gag and roll my eyes every time. Now granted, there’s a right and a wrong way to handle very delicate situations and we need to deal with people in the most loving way possible. But you know, sometimes we need to get in there and flip a few tables over just like Jesus did in the temple! Sometimes we need to stretch our comfort zones and put ourselves out there in order to share our faith with others. After all, if we are to love one another as Jesus Christ loves us, we should want our friends and family to end up in Heaven, right? Therefore, we need to be willing to lay down our lives for those we love because someone’s soul… their salvation… is more important than our comfort level.

You know… contrary to popular belief, there ARE absolute truths. You want to get out of your comfort level? Talk about absolute truth! Tell people they are responsible for their actions. Tell them hell is real. Do this, not out of fear and hate, but out of love. Love compels us to want others to be “better” in the eyes of God. So what’s holding us back? I do want to stress and remind you that we need to make an honest attempt to talk about our faith in a loving way. Better yet, we need to be examples to others by actually living out our faith and pray that people will be influenced by our actions… so much… that they will “go and sin no more.”

On the other hand, if we keep shying away from teaching the Truth and Love of Jesus Christ, we’re going to keep living in the culture described by Matthew Kelly when I first began this homily. We need to be the change the world so desperately needs.

And how do we do that? By changing our focus. By changing our direction. By imitating the love shown to us by Jesus Christ. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has opened the gates of heaven and allowed us the opportunity to have eternal life.

That, my friends, is True Love. That is the message Jesus Himself has commissioned all of us to spread to every corner of the world. So if you’re not doing it already, I challenge you to get off our hind end, get out there and start loving one another as Jesus loves us!

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.

You are Peter

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 24, 2014

Is 22:19-23

Psalm 138

Romans 11:33-36

Mt 16:13-20

Back in 1998, when I was taking classes to become Catholic, I ended up loving this Gospel passage about Peter being handed the keys to the kingdom of heaven. I studied it in detail and learned about all of the rich symbolism it contains: Jesus changing Simon’s name to Peter. Why it’s significant that Peter’s name means “rock,” which is lost to some degree when it was translated from the Greek to English. How the handing over of the keys to Peter references back to the reading we heard today from Isaiah, which speaks of the passing on of authority. All of this further confirmed that I was on the right path when I joined the Catholic Church in 1999.

Why? You see there are a lot of different churches out there that you can join. All of them are made up of humans, obviously. Since humans are prone to sin, these church members can lose their focus or end up fighting amongst themselves. This has led to the fracturing of established churches and the formation of thousands of new churches throughout the world. So how does one decide which church to follow when none of them appear to be “perfect” according to human standards? For me, the logical sense was to find out which Church Jesus started to form in Matthew 16. I wanted to be a part of that Church. The one we hear about in today’s Gospel. The one where Peter was named the human head by Jesus and given the keys to the Kingdom. The one where the gates of hell won’t prevail against it.

st peter

That’s when I came across a man we Catholics like to call St. Peter, our first pope. Yes, that’s the same man mentioned in today’s Gospel passage. That in turn led me to learn about apostolic succession and all the 266 popes leading up to our current Pope Francis. And, according to the Catholic Church, it all started with St. Peter in the 16th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. If you don’t believe me, listen to what one of the early Christians had found on the subject:

The oldest papal lists of which we hear anything were written down in the second century. About 150 A.D. Hegesippus, a Christian from Syria, visited Rome and drew up a list of the Roman bishops to his own day in order to satisfy himself and his countrymen of the validity of the Roman form of doctrine. His list contained not only the names of the bishops (popes) but also the duration in years of each pontificate” (From page xi of “The Book of the Popes,” Liber Pontificalis). This list continues to this day.

st peter statue

Personally I think all of this is fascinating. I love Church history. But when I read today’s Gospel passage in preparation for this homily, I kept focusing on Jesus calling Peter to a very different path from his humble fisherman beginnings. Jesus gave him a new job. I think it hit me differently because I can relate. I’ve recently felt Jesus calling my family to a different path then the one we’ve been on for the past 11 years. My family moved here in 2003 to set up a Chiropractic office. It’s hard to say how we ended up here in Harrodsburg when our families were both from Ohio. But I can say that after we attended Mass at St. Andrew’s for the first time, we had a sense of feeling at home. That was a sign for us that we were in the right spot. Angie and I got involved in teaching Sunday school, I became a lector, we both became extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, we helped with vacation bible school and eventually started working in youth ministry. Our kids received many of their first sacraments here at St. Andrew’s. I was ordained a Deacon in this diocese and was assigned to this parish. My first homily ever given as an ordained Deacon was from this very spot.

So it’s been an odd experience the past few months to realize God is calling me away from this place. After much prayer and discernment, I have accepted a new job as an associate doctor at a Chiropractic office in London, KY. It was a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, but a very hard one to make since it means we will be moving away from this community. Our plans are to not try and sell the house for 6 months to a year so I can make sure everything is going well at the new office. So no tears yet, you still have to put up with the Wentz family for a while longer!

Now, what does this mean for you? It means somewhere out there, Jesus is calling one of you to be the next youth minister to take over for me. It means one of you men has heard the call to the Diaconate, but maybe you’re trying to ignore it or are scared to acknowledge it. It means many of you will be harassed by Fr. Noel to help out since he won’t have me to boss around.

We are all part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church started by Jesus Christ that was entrusted to St. Peter and the Apostles. We have been guided by the Holy Spirit to bring Christianity to the world for the past 2000 years. St. Andrew’s is a small part of the bigger picture of Catholicism worldwide. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. We all must step up to do our part. We must pick up where others leave off and we help each other out…even if that means Jesus is calling us out of our comfort zones.

I encourage each and every one of you to do your part. Just like Jesus called St. Peter to be a leader in the early Church, he is also calling you to help grow that same Church now. So pray hard and ask God what He wants from you. Maybe it’s time you took a leadership role at St. Andrew’s by joining the Parish or Finance Council. Maybe he’s calling you to teach the faith to the next generation by becoming a teacher in our Sunday formation program. Perhaps it’s as simple as helping out at the annual Christmas Craft Bazaar coming up. We need lots of volunteers to help make the Craft Bazaar a success. This event alone has the potential to be a huge fundraiser for St. Andrew’s, but only if people are willing to help out (you can contact Rosa Browning to volunteer). Another way to support St. Andrew’s is with your money. I know the economy is still pretty shaky out there, but if we don’t get financial contributions, we can’t have any programs here at the church or provide assistance to those in need. If you do already give money, THANK YOU! If you currently don’t give any money at all, please consider giving something no matter how small. Every dollar helps.

Similar to St. Peter, Jesus Christ is calling each and every one of us to help build up His Church. We are all not being called in the same way, but He has a plan for each and every one of us. So please help make a difference by stepping up and doing your part…continue to make other families, like mine, feel at home here…continue to make St. Andrew’s a vibrant Catholic community for many generations to come.