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!

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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!

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!