Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2017)

Acts 8:5-8,14-17

Psalm 66:1-3,4-5,6-7,16,20

1 Peter 3:15-18

John 14:15-21

Actions speak louder than words. How many times have we heard this phrase before? It is an absolute truth in my opinion. If you say one thing, but your actions prove otherwise, you are living a lie. It’s that simple.

Another word that comes to mind is “integrity.” My definition of integrity is: doing the right thing, even when no body else is around to see it. For example, if you are at Walmart and see a man unknowingly drop his wallet in the parking lot… and you pick the wallet up but keep it for yourself because no one else saw it… you lack integrity.

This is one of the basic Christian teachings that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel from John. “Jesus said to his disciples: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you say you are a Christian, you should do the things I tell you to do.” Actions speak louder than words.

Being a Christian can be a struggle… I get it. Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you. Some of the teachings from Jesus are… let’s just call them, “challenging.” Why? Because many of our Christian beliefs go against the grain of the world. But that doesn’t make them impossible to follow or at least try.

Jesus himself knew that we would struggle in this area after he ascended to Heaven. That is the very reason he promised to give us an Advocate to be with us always. This Advocate is the third person of the Trinity, better known as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is who guides us and strengthens us in our day-to-day lives. He’s the one who we should be relying on to help us when we have to choose between doing right or doing wrong in any given situation. And the more we choose to do right, the more He will strengthen us.

Just like an athlete training for the Olympics. If they train and eat right faithfully, they’ll perform at their best come game time. But if they cheat on their training regiment and on their diet over and over again, they will fail miserably when it really counts.

So too with us. If we consistently live out our faith in word and action, those ethical and moral challenges we will face later won’t see some overwhelming. But if we continue to choose poorly in little things, we’ll fail miserably when we are really challenged.

Hopefully I haven’t scared you by now. I’m sure there’s at least one person out there saying, “Yup, I fail daily with little things. My integrity stinks. I’m doomed.” Well chin up buttercup! Go to confession and get a fresh start. That’s the great thing about our faith. We serve a merciful God who LOVES giving us a fresh start because He is overflowing with his divine mercy. We just have to ask for forgiveness and try again. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

Love God. Learn your faith. Live out that faith. Ask the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance. It’s really that straightforward. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father.” So please, let us all show Jesus how much we love Him by learning and living out our faith more and more each day.

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!

Are You Ready To Jump?

3rd Sunday Ordinary Time (January 29, 2014)

Isaiah 8:23-9:3

Psalm 27

1 Cor 1:10-13,17

Matthew 4:12-23

Three frogs were sitting on a lily pad in the middle of a large pond. After some time, all three of them decided to jump. So my question is, how many frogs were left on the lily pad? Three! You see there’s a huge difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it. 

frogs-on-a-lily-pad

So today I’ve decided that I’m going to challenge you to do something. I’ll let you think about it for a while, but ultimately you’ll need to decide to actually do it…or not. No more just sitting on the lily pad thinking about it for days on end. The time to jump is now.

So here’s my challenge. Here’s the question I want each of you to consider today. Are you a follower of Jesus? Are you one of His disciples? Now I’m sure if I asked for a show of hands as to who here was a follower of Jesus, every hand would go up. But I want you to go deeper. Simply being present here in this church today does not automatically make you a disciple. Remember, I said I wanted to challenge you.

Let’s consider what it really means to be a follower of Jesus so that you can answer my question honestly. That seems like an easy task right? Yea sure! Did you notice in Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians that the church there was fighting over this very question? There were rivalries forming and wrong teachings about Jesus being passed around which is why St. Paul wrote the letter. It’s as if he’s saying, “Listen up people, you are losing sight of what’s important. We should be united in mind and purpose. We need to focus on Jesus Christ and stop all this bickering. We need to be true to the teachings of the Son of God!”  What does this look like 2000 years later? According to a December 2011 report from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are upwards of 41,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. Apparently Jesus’ followers still have trouble agreeing.

membership class

So I ask you again, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? Does it take wealth, fame or success in life? Hardly! The very first followers Jesus invited on His journey according to Matthew were fisherman. In the ancient world, fishermen were typically not part of the elite crowd. They were hardworking people who were not afraid to get their hands dirty. Peter, Andrew, James and John were ordinary men, who were given an extraordinary challenge from a humble teacher. They were asked to leave their steady jobs, leave their families, and become “fishers of men.” Honestly, these men probably didn’t fully understand what this phrase meant, but still they dropped their nets and followed immediately without hesitation. Now roughly 1/3 of the 7 billion people on this planet call themselves Christian and it all started with a few fishermen dropping their nets to answer a call. What safety nets are you still clinging onto? What is preventing you from following Christ without hesitation?

come-follow-me

In the Responsorial Psalm today we proclaimed, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” But do we really mean it? Do our day-to-day actions reflect our Christian beliefs? This really hit home for me when I was ordained a deacon in 2012. During the ordination rite, Bishop Gainer handed me the Book of Gospels and said, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” What are your actions teaching others?

Me holding the Book of Gospels at my Deacon ordination

Holding the Book of Gospels at my Deacon ordination

One of the great marks and curses of our faith is that Jesus doesn’t force anything on us. He allows us to freely choose what we want to do in life whether it’s good or harmful for us. He laid out His teachings for us to wrestle with and now is waiting to see what you choose. Obviously He’s hoping you will choose Him, but loves you enough to not force Himself upon you. After all, forced love is not true love. True love is doing what is right even when that means you may suffer for it. Being a disciple of Christ means being willing to lay down your life, figuratively and literally, as an act of love for Him. This is the invitation that Jesus gives all of us with the first words of His public ministry, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent simply means, “to turn.” Turn from what? Sin. He’s telling us to stop leading a life dedicated to “me” and start leading a life dedicated to “God.” Jesus opened the Kingdom of heaven for us. He is the key that unlocked the gates to everlasting life with His Father. He is the great light prophesied by Isaiah. God sent His only Son to earth out of love. Jesus’ appearance on earth was to be a wake up call for us, but are we listening?

So…are you ready to jump off that lily pad yet? Are you ready to honestly answer if you are a disciple of Christ? There’s not enough time in this short homily to discuss all of Jesus’ teachings and discern whether you are following them faithfully or not. That’s why it’s your job to read Scripture, study Sacred Tradition, and learn about the early Church Fathers, Saints and martyrs. Make studying your faith a priority for you and your family. And when doing so, remember, “believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

Learn your faith. Live you faith. Jesus is asking you to be His disciple. What’s your response???

jesus with open arms

He May Be Calling You Next

5th Sunday Ordinary Time (Feb 10, 2013)

Is 6:1-2a, 3-8

Ps 138

1 Cor 15:1-11

Lk 5:1-11

God calls sinners to do His work. For example, look at the three men mentioned in today’s readings: Isaiah shakes in fear because he has seen the Lord with his own eyes but admits he is a man of unclean lips. Paul was one of the fiercest persecutors of Christians. Peter, a self-professed sinner, begs his Lord to depart from him due to his unworthiness. What is God’s response? He purifies Isaiah’s lips with hot coal, humbles Paul by knocking him off his high horse turning him into one of the greatest promoters of Christianity and tells Peter to not be afraid. That is because God knows our true potential better than we do. He calls us sinners to a conversion experience and then sends us out to do His work without accepting our excuses.

I recently had the honor and joy to lead a group of 18 from St. Andrew’s to March For Life in Washington, DC this past January.

Our group from St. Andrew Catholic Church

Our group from St. Andrew Catholic Church

March For Life has been held every year since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States 40 years ago. It is the largest gathering of it’s kind in the entire world where people come together to show their support for the Gospel of Life. Not even snow flurries or 28-degree weather was able to keep us away. It was an experience that has forever changed my life. The odd thing was that the entire time I was on the trip, I couldn’t help think to myself, “how in the world did I end up here considering my past…considering my excuses!”

You see…just like Isaiah, Paul and Peter, God calls each one of us to greatness. I’m not talking about greatness in terms you may think of…money, fame or having the newest iPhone. I’m talking about hearing God’s call and following it no matter where it leads us.

I wasn’t raised Catholic. I was baptized in a Lutheran church as an infant and then eventually attended a Presbyterian church throughout my youth. At some point in high school my Sunday church attendance was, well, let’s just say spotty at best. God was not very important in my life and I rarely spoke of Him or to Him. My parents did a great job raising me, but I put more faith in the information I learned in the school locker room, which allowed me to make my share of dumb decisions. After all, at that time in my life my parents didn’t know anything. I had all the answers! Never in those days would I have ever imagined saying yes to God calling me to the Catholic Church and eventually saying yes to being ordained a Catholic Deacon and working in youth ministry.

Basillica 18

Deacon John (left) and myself at the Vigil Mass

As a Catholic Deacon, God calls me to speak the truth and live out the Gospel at all times. I’m a servant of His Church and am bound to profess ALL that the Catholic Church teaches. Some would say this is a burden, but I say it is freeing! God already made the laws, He already told us what is good and bad, but He leaves it up to us to decide which path to follow. I now know my path because I follow the teachings of the Church the best I can. I am still a sinner, but now when I fall, I get back up, march into the confessional and try to start over. That is the greatness that God is calling each and every one of us to achieve. Choosing to follow the good in life, and be willing to admit when we are wrong. Want to know a secret?? God doesn’t call perfect people to spread His Gospel. He calls sinners and in the process turns them into saints!

It didn’t take much to hear God’s call or feel His presence at March For Life. Being there made me appreciate how beautiful life and our Catholic faith truly is. It’s humbling to see people marching around carrying signs that read, “Conceived from rape…I love my life!” or “I regret my abortion!” or “I regret lost fatherhood!Youth n23My favorite slogan was on a sweatshirt. It read, “I survived Death Roe but 55 million didn’t” with a picture of a baby. In this instance the “Roe” from “Death Roe” is referring to the 1973 court case Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion in our country. I was born in 1977, which means my mother had the legal right to end my life by abortion but thankfully choose life. I’m part of the 75%. One fourth of pregnancies today end in abortion, which means 25% of my generation never saw life outside the womb. I’m one of the lucky ones.

This is not about Democrats, Republicans or Independents. This is more than politics or even religion; it’s about human rights! We live in a country that at one point in time allowed slavery, treated foreigners like trash, locked up the mentally challenged and disabled, turned the other way when it came to spousal abuse or child abuse and thought the color of your skin determined your value. Today, these things are NOT tolerated in any situation! That’s because it took brave people like Blessed Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. to stand up and so NO!

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Now it’s our turn! It’s our turn to be the voice for the unborn! This is the legacy my generation is being called to witness to. This is the message of March For Life. We need to stand up and say NO to the culture of death! In the words of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, we need to “stop thinking that abortion is a necessary evil, and realize it’s just plain evil.” If we can’t get this one right, we don’t stand a chance against other evils like pornography, human trafficking or euthanasia to name just a few!

But here’s the good news…the tides are changing! Right now, more young Americans identify themselves as pro-life than ever before.  That was the joy that brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion during our pilgrimage to March For Life. Seeing all of the young people coming together in such great numbers. 13,000 people attended the Vigil Mass at the great Basilica in Washington, DC together with 1,000 clergy and seminarians….

Basillica 33

6,000 attended the Youth Mass and Rally at George Mason University, which was only one of several locations hosting a Youth Mass and Rally….

Youth Mass 44

650,000 people came together to march on the streets in support of life during that cold January day….

Youth n41

The majority of these people were young adults!

God is calling each and every one of us to greatness. Right at this very second, God is looking down from His thrown in heaven asking, “Whom shall I send? Who will I call to be the next disciple to promote My Gospel of Life?” BE NOT AFRAID…He’s not looking at your past or your worthiness; He’s looking at your potential! So be ready…He may be calling YOU next!

Touchdown!!!

4th Sunday of Advent (December 23, 2012)

Mi 5:1-4a

Ps 80

Heb 10:5-10

Lk 1:39-45

Madonna_and_Child

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

When I say “Hail Mary,” one of two images should come to your mind. If said in a sports bar during the big game, one may picture a last minute desperation throw of the football into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. A good Catholic hopefully will think of the prayer that I posted above. Both of them however, are very much related.

For those of us that are “football-illiterate,” a Hail Mary play refers to a very long forward pass thrown in hopes to score a last minute touchdown. The chances of catching the pass are very slim because many players from each team usually bunch up in the end zone and all go for the ball at the same time.

hail-mary-passes

It’s a desperation play when there are no other options left, a last-ditch effort. The Hail Mary and football relationship can be traced back to the Notre Dame football teams of the 1930’s when they would pray it in a huddle on the field. However, the Hail Mary play as we know it today became famous because of a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings during the 1975 NFL playoffs. The Cowboys quarterback, Roger Staubach, had his team on the 50-yard line with 24 seconds left in the game. They were down by 4 points so a field goal was not an option, they needed to score a touchdown quickly or their season was over. Staubach took the snap, pump-faked left, then turned to his right and hurled the ball some 50 yards down field…

staubach

…to wide receiver Drew Pearson who somehow managed to catch the ball for the game winning touchdown.

HailMaryCatch

Staubach didn’t see if Pearson caught the football because he was tackled immediately after he threw it. Apparently it’s hard to see the end of a play if you’re laying flat on your back at mid-field! Staubach, a Catholic, told reporters in a post-game interview that after he threw that desperation forward pass he closed his eyes and prayed a Hail Mary. The name stuck!

hail-mary-thumbjpg

The Scriptural roots for part of the Hail Mary prayer come from today’s Gospel reading. Mary, pregnant with the Christ-child, traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist.

Upon seeing Mary, Elizabeth cried out, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” This is why we as Catholics honor Mary. We don’t worship her as a god; we honor her as a blessed woman whose very womb was carrying the perfect blessed fruit…a fruit that would feed our very souls and give us strength to live our lives.

elizabeth-greeting-mary

Elizabeth continues, “and how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary was pregnant with our Lord and Saviour. This is why Catholics can refer to Mary as the “Mother of God” and be scripturally accurate. God could have chosen anyone for this task, but he asked a humble young lady to become the mother of His only Son.

Next Elizabeth says, “For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” It’s interesting to note that John the Baptist, still in his mother’s womb, leaped for joy when the original Hail Mary prayer was said in the presence of his Lord who was also still in His mother’s womb. So anyone who leaps off the couch during a Hail Mary in football is really just mimicking John the Baptist! Both versions of the Hail Mary, the play and the prayer, have the potential to bring great joy to our lives if we’re cheering for the right team!

Elizabeth finishes by proclaiming, “blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Here Elizabeth acknowledges that Mary’s pregnancy was part of God’s divine plan of salvation. Mary may not have fully understood it, but still she trusted and said yes to His proposal when she could have easily said no. This is because God never forces Himself on anyone. He is a gentleman and knows that real love has to be freely given and freely received. Mary freely loved God and therefore submitted to His will instead of her own.

Annunciation

Christmas is only a few days away. It’s a day when we gather as a Church and celebrate the birth of our Saviour. Sure there’s a lot of excitement this time of year. Talks of Santa, reindeer, presents, stockings, feasts with family. It’s easy to see and feel the magic that Christmas has on so many of us.

santa_sleigh

But it is all for nothing if we forget the true gift of Christmas… that our Father in heaven gave us His only Son through the “yes” of a willing disciple, Mary. Mary’s example of total devotion to God and her willingness to set aside her wants and desires in order to better serve Him is the message we need to be spreading this time of year. What can we do to be more open to His plan? How can we better follow Him? When God becomes first in our lives, all the other things that tend to clutter up the real meaning of Christmas suddenly become less important.

Before Christmas ever existed, there was a lot of chaos in the world. People were waiting for God to send them a savior and many were growing impatient. Because of this, some of them strayed from the right path. Some even started to deny God’s existence or put their faith in some other so-called “god.” Our Heavenly Father saw His children on earth living in a way that made His heart ache. Not because He was mad, but because He loves us so much and truly wants the best for us. God saw that His children were in a losing game and the clock was ticking away. So while the other team just pointed and laughed, God huddled up his angels and called out the next play.

angels

It was time for a last minute desperation play, a last-ditch effort, but something tells me God had a good feeling it might just work. So He took the snap, pump-faked left, turned to His right hand and then hurled His Son down to earth with a mighty heave.

birth-baby-jesus-325

Luckily, His best wide receiver…I mean disciple…Mary, was there with her arms wide open, ready and willing to catch Him. She was so focused on God that there was no way she was going to fumble this one! Mary then carried her divine Son into the end zone…I mean manger…and in the presence of her husband, sheppards and the magi, did the best victory dance in the history of the world on that first ever Christmas day.

manger

There is still a lot of chaos in the world, just turn on the news! But now we have a choice. We can follow Mary’s example and focus all of our efforts on Jesus…or we can continue to clutter up our lives with stuff that doesn’t matter. When our minds and hearts are totally focused on Jesus Christ, we can catch any pass God, or this crazy world, throws our way!