Thursday, October 5, 2017

Love Loss

Learning to love our failures to find real success
Luke 6:20-26 Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.

                I’m going to tell you something today that’s a little surprising or maybe even shocking. And that is we should love our losses. I am convinced that hidden inside the “agony of defeat” is a great good, namely, we grow as a person. Of course, we all want to win and do well. Danny Quintana loved his touchdown run last Thursday against Charleston. You looked good, Danny. Dalton Smith was smoking hot on the golf course yesterday. Watch out, Jordan Spieth. And Kate Goldtrap is happy her hair didn’t catch on fire twirling the burning batons. But as good as it feels to succeed, I believe it’s even better to fail. Why? Well, because in loss and failure, we gain more wisdom, we grow in virtue, and we garner more grace. Let me give you a few personal examples of how I’ve learned to love loss.

                When I was in high school, I played soccer and was on defense. And in one game I even scored a goal, as a defensive player! Unfortunately, the goal was for the other team. I tried to kick a ball away from our goal, but it curved back into our goal. Yeah, I was bending it like Beckham. I was the “Player of the Game” but for the other team. I learned something from that loss – I should find another sport to play. When I was a senior in college, we had to take comprehensive exams in philosophy, over everything we had learned in four years. I sat in front of three teachers and they asked me questions. I was sweating bullets. There was only one question I missed, and it’s the only one I remember: how would Aristotle describe the virtuous man? All the questions I answered correctly – my so-called “successes” – are long forgotten. But our losses are burned into our brains and we never forget them. When I was in seminary the bishop sent me to study Spanish in Mexico. The only Spanish words I knew at the time were “taco” and “bean burrito.” I felt like a little baby learning his first words; it was hard and humiliating. But I learned fast. Y ahora, yo puedo hablar en espanol sin problema! Que chido, no? My point is simple: we hate to lose and we love to win, but we gain so much more grace and wisdom and glory from our losses. We have to learn to love loss.

                 In the gospel today, Jesus teaches the same shocking truth: our losses are really great gains, indeed, we gain heaven. He says: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, and denounce your name as evil…your reward will be great in heaven.” In other words, when it looks like you have failed in the eyes of the world, that’s when you’ve succeeded in the eyes of heaven. Why? Well, because that’s when you grow as a person, when you gain more wisdom, and when you garner more grace. To put it in one word, you become more like Jesus. How so? Think about it: by all earthly standards Jesus was an utter failure: he died a humiliating death as a common criminal on the cross, all his friends abandoned him, he was poor and pathetic in people’s minds. But that was his moment of greatest glory: because that’s when he was most pleasing to God. No one loved loss more than Jesus; he knew that was the moment of great gain.

                 Boys and girls, I know this is a hard lesson to love your losses. Gosh, that goes against the grain! Everyone loves a winner and no one loves a loser. But I want you to think differently and love your losses. For instance, don’t be afraid to try something new, like Mr. Casey’s “Earth Club,” or Mrs. Marsh’s “Quiz Bowl,” or Mrs. Elskin’s “Drama Club,” or the “Pure Heart Girls.” You may do well, or you may do poorly. But you will grow as a person more from your failures than your successes. Today, we will start praying the Lord’s Prayer in Latin. Don’t worry, I’ll say it really loudly and drown you out so no one can hear you if you mess up. But I promise you: it’s the parts where you say it wrong that you’ll remember best, you’ll feel like me in Mexico: taco, bean burrito. But by the end of the year, you won’t even look at the sheet of paper. Look at the losses you have suffered personally: they can be a great good in your life. If you come from a family where there’s a divorce, you may grow up to be a marriage counselor, or at least not have a divorce in your own marriage. If your family has legal problems, you may grow up to become a lawyer and help others legally. If your father has cancer, you may grow up to become a doctor and heal people. If you go to church and the priest gives boring sermons, you may grow up to be a priest and give good sermons. Bad sermons can inspire vocations to the priesthood! But do you see what’s happening? What looks like loss, failure, surrender, defeat, humiliation, rejection turns out to be the beginning of glory and greatness, just like it did for Jesus.

                 Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, had many failures before he finally found the right filament. He purportedly said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Great attitude. It’s only when we love our losses that we finally find the way to win.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Hostilities Exist

Loving our Lord and our land on September 11
Colossians 1:24–2:3 Brothers and sisters: I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God's stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me.

             Can human suffering be a good thing? Is there any value in pain and woe? Our first reaction is to say “Obviously not!” After all, our entire health care system is designed to alleviate pain and mitigate suffering, and we Christians even pray for God to heal and make whole those who are hurting. To say there might be something “good” in pain seems counter-intuitive and maybe even a little cruel. But what about suffering that cannot be stopped or shortened or stemmed, that is, suffering that is out of our control? Well, I would suggest to you that hidden in these seeds of suffering are the grains of greatness; suffering can sometimes bring out the best in us.

               Today is the 16th anniversary of September 11, when the United States suffered the worst terrorist attack on American soil. That evening, President George W. Bush said: “Today, our nation saw evil – the very worst of human nature – and we responded with the best of America.” He went on: “With the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers, and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.” I would say we’ve seen this same reaction to uncontrolled suffering in the wake of the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida. In other words, when we see the seeks of suffering in others, the grains of greatness burst into blossom in us in our heroic acts of love of neighbor.

                 In the first reading today, St. Paul senses this same value of human suffering. He says somewhat mysteriously to the Colossians: “Brothers and sisters, I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church.” Again, this is very counter-intuitive, almost cruel, but St. Paul sees some real good in suffering – his own aches and pains – because when they are united to Jesus’ suffering on the cross, they attain eternal value. Like President Bush saw on 9/11, so St. Paul hopes his sufferings will inspire Christians at Colossae (the Colossians) to love their neighbor at a heroic level, even to loving the gentiles, “with caring for strangers, and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.” St. Paul saw suffering for the good of the Body of Christ, just like President Bush saw suffering for the good of the body politic. The seeds of greatness sometimes contain the grains of greatness.

                My friends, what do you do when you cannot shorten, or stem, or stop human suffering? We may cry to the heavens that God is unjust or uncaring. Or, we can allow these seeds of suffering to become the grains of greatness is us. I remember how much my parents sacrificed to send me and my brother and sisters to Catholic schools, and that made me want to study twice as hard. Their suffering inspired me to want to be great in school. Yesterday after Mass, I met a family from Marco Island, Florida, who sought refuge here with a family in Fort Smith. Their suffering made our parishioners great in hospitality. It’s amazing to see our whole parish respond to appeals to help the poor and suffering again and again and again. But do you see what’s happening? The seeds of their suffering make the grains of greatness grow in us.

                  On December 8, 1971, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt gave another speech about suffering. He said: “Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.” But FDR wasn’t the only one who saw what results this suffering would produce: so did the Japanese General Yamamoto, who said prophetically: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant, and fill him with a terrible resolve.” And that, I believe, is the only good that can come from human suffering: to awaken us to be giants, not of war, but of love.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Light of the Heart

Moving out of the shadows of the head into the light of the heart
Luke 6:1-5 While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Some Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?" Jesus said to them in reply, "Have you not read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry? How he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering, which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions?" Then he said to them, "The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath."

             One of my favorite Christian authors is C. S. Lewis. By the way, one fascinating coincidence in his life is that he died on the same day as President John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963. If you’re looking for a clear and cogent presentation of Christianity, look no further than C. S. Lewis. He puts the tough teachings of the faith into layman’s terms so that everyone can understand.  Interesting.
But his academic acumen is only half of the story, and in my opinion, it’s really the less interesting part of the story. To really know someone you have to know what they love; you have to get out of their head and peer into their hearts, if you want to know someone. One movie that showcases the love life of C. S. Lewis is called “Shadowlands,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. The reason the movie is called “shadowlands” is because Lewis felt he had moved out of the shadows of learning and into the sunlight of love when he fell head-over-heels in love with Joy Gresham, his love. When the light of love becomes blinding to Lewis, he says this to Joy: “Now, I don’t want to be somewhere else anymore. Not waiting for anything new to happen. Not looking around the next corner, not the next hill. Here now. That’s enough.” Lewis experienced love as moving out of his head and into his heart, out of the shadows into the light. A close friend of mine had fallen in love recently, and he received a letter from the girl he was crazy about, and the letter said she likewise loved him. After reading the letter, he remarked: “I looked around and the daylight seemed brighter than it was before.” Love moves us out of the shadows of the head and into the light of the heart.

              In the gospel today, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for staying stuck in the shadows of their heads, and not moving into the light of the heart. Jesus apparently violates a Sabbath rule of not working by picking grains of wheat and eating them. The Pharisees object and question him, saying: “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Jesus calmly replies: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” In other words, the Pharisees are still stuck in the their heads: they know the law, they understand the Jewish traditions like keeping the Sabbath. But these things are only shadows of the Reality to come, namely, Jesus. Their real failure is they have not fallen in love; they have not entered the heart which is where you will really find Jesus, if you are looking for him. And when you find Jesus with your heart, everything else changes, even the daylight seems a little brighter when you’re in love with the Lord. Sadly, the Pharisees preferred the shadowlands of their heads to the bright light of Jesus’ love shining in their hearts.

             My friends, what do you love? More to the point: do you love Jesus, have you fallen in love with the Lord? Now be careful: don’t answer that question with your head but rather with your heart. I would say that’s the clearest characteristic of a Christian: not lots of knowledge, but lots of love. St. John of the Cross said that “in the evening of our life we will be judged on love.” A true Christian, in other words, has moved out of the shadowlands of his or her head into the bright light of love shining in the heart. Please don’t misunderstand: It’s good to read the Bible, to study the Catechism, to read spiritual writers like C. S. Lewis, but it’s only good if it leads you to greater love of Jesus. Don’t settle for the shadows, like the Pharisees did, but come into the light.

                 You know, it’s always easy to tell when you’re talking to a true believer: everything in their life revolves around Jesus, just like all the planets in the solar system revolve around the sun. That’s why we go to daily Mass, why we pray the rosary, why we enduring suffering, why pray for our enemies, why we love our neighbor, why we study the Bible, why we help the needy. Why? Because all these things revolve around our love for Jesus, the “Son” at the center of our solar system.  Everything seems brighter and more beautiful when seen in the light of the heart filled with love for Jesus.

                   A true Christian would say this about Jesus: “Now, I don’t want to be somewhere else anymore. Not waiting for anything new to happen. Not looking around the next corner. Not the next hill. Here now. That’s enough.”  And by the way, may I add, that will be the more interesting part of your life story.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Birthdays and Deathdays

Preparing for our birthday into heaven
Romans 8:28-30 Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.

            Sometimes knowing a little biology and a little mathematics can make you a better Catholic. A few weeks ago at the first PTO meeting at school, we had a quiz bowl competition called “Pupils versus Parents and Priest.” One of the questions was: “When is the birthday of Immaculate Conception School?” I quickly hit my buzzer and answered “December 8, 1930.” But I was wrong. The students answered: “September 8, 1930.” And they were correct. It was a trick question, but they were more right than me.  December 8 is when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, called “Immaculate Conception.” And how long is someone typically in the womb before they are born? That’s normally nine months (a little biology). So, what date is nine months after December 8? Let’s count (a little math): January (one), February (two), March (three), April (four), May (five), June (six), July (seven), August (eight), and September (nine)! So, nine months after Mary was conceived on December 8, she was born on September 8. Apparently, I am not smarter than a fifth grader, and that’s why the Pupils team beat the Parents and Priest team in quiz bowl.

               Today we celebrate the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But that is also a very curious Catholic custom. Why? Well, there are only three holy people whose birthdays we celebrate, namely, Jesus on December 25, Mary on September 8, and St. John the Baptist on June 24. We celebrate their birthdays because they were purified of sin in the womb, so they were born saintly. Mary was purified in the moment of her conception because that conception was “immaculate.”  St. John the Baptist was purified in the womb when Jesus visited him while their mothers were pregnant. Remember how Elizabeth said, “The baby in my womb leaped for joy at the sound of your voice” (Luke 1:41), because John was filled with the Holy Spirit? And of course, Jesus birthday because he is the Holy One of God.

                But all other saints, apostles, and martyrs celebrate not their birthday, but their deathday. Why? Well, because that’s the critical moment of salvation for them and for us: the state of our souls at the moment of death is ultimately what counts. That’s why Captain Kirk said in the movie “Star Trek,” “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.” My theology comes from movies.  In other words, it is by dying in the Lord, and dying for the Lord, that the saints glorified God. Their deathday, in a sense, was eternally more consequential than their birthday. Ironically, a saint’s feast day - the day they died - in Latin is called “dies natalis,” which literally means “birthday,” because that’s the day they are “born into heaven.” A little biology – understanding birth and death – can help you be a better Catholic.

                In the first reading today, St. Paul writes to the Romans that Jesus is “the firstborn among many brothers.” Now, since Jesus is the firstborn, there will undoubtedly be a second born and third born and so on, which is what Christians are: Jesus’ little brothers and sisters. But does our “birth” refer to our birthday on earth or our birthday in heaven, which is really our deathday on earth? Well, if you’re Mary and St. John the Baptist, it means your birthday on earth – because  they were purified and perfected in the womb – but for the other saints and for us, it means their deathday on earth, or their “dies natalis,” their birthday into heaven. In other words, this world is our womb and it takes us not 9 months but 90 years to be purified and perfected before we’re born into heaven. Our deathday literally becomes our birthday, our dies natalis, when we are born into heaven.

                My friends, there is one very plain and practical application of today’s celebration, namely, that there’s hope for all of us who trudge along in this “valley of tears,” these 90 years in the womb of the world. That is, we can still change and live for God instead of for ourselves. Think of someone who needs to change their life: a dictator cruelly oppressing his people, a boss who cares more about his work than his workers, a friend who has betrayed you, a son or daughter who has left the Church, an ex-spouse who has divorced you, or maybe even yourself (we can lose hope even for ourselves). There’s always hope for us while we walk on this earth, while we’re being formed and fashioned in the womb of the world. Why? Well, because we haven’t died yet and we can still change. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that we haven’t been born yet.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Economy, Stupid

Fishing in the deeper waters of divine love
Luke 5:1-11 While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon said in reply, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets." When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them.  They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking.

            Do you remember the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid”? It was popularized in the early 1990’s and helped Bill Clinton win the White House because the country was in a recession.  Everyone was worried about the economy, having a job, making money. Last year, it may well have helped Donald Trump occupy the Oval Office, too, because people hoped he would invigorate the economy. (See how I navigated those two examples very diplomatically??) Elections outcomes have a lot to do with the economy. If you don’t realize that, someone might say to you, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

            I’ve been reading a fascinating book by Christopher Dawson called Dynamics of World History. He taught history at Harvard. Dawson traces this preoccupation with the economy back to the 19th century Industrial Revolution, and the birth of “modern cities.” He writes: “It is useless to seek to understand the rise of the industrial city by looking for an internal process of development such as we can find in the history of Greek or the medieval city. The new towns…were the organs of a nationalist-imperialist movement of economic expansion.” He adds a little later: “The real note of the period was not liberty, but economic expansion and exploitation” (Dynamics of World History, 202,203). In other words, in the modern city, we place our trust not so much in Almighty God, but in the Almighty Dollar.  That’s the fundamental difference between the Greek and medieval city and the modern city: who are “God” is. And if you didn’t understand that, someone might say to you, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

              In the gospel today, this concern about the economy was prevalent during the time of Jesus as well. As a matter of fact, it’s precisely the economy that’s at issue when Peter and Jesus first meet. Peter is a fisherman, he understands the business of fishing, and he is a very good fisherman because his livelihood depends on the fishing economy. But Jesus happens along and says: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Peter might have objected saying, “It’s the economy, stupid,” I know how the fishing economy like the back of my hand, and the economy is bad right now. But instead of that reply, Peter obeys Jesus’ command, and he caught more fish than he could haul aboard. In other words, when Jesus invites Peter to “put out into deep water,” he is saying: “Let me show you something deeper than the laws of economics, deeper than market forces, deeper than free trade, and deeper than hedge funds. Let me teach you the laws of love, the deeper currents of existence.” That is, don’t stay in the shallow waters of economics, but immerse yourself in the ocean depths of divine love. Jesus would say, “It’s not the economy, stupid.”

            My friends, ask yourself today: how deep do you fish? Are you like Peter and staying shallow in economics, worried always about money and finances and the future? Of course, we have to give time and attention to economics. Or rather, do we dedicate our energies to diving deeply into divine love, the deeper currents of existence? I tell young couples who are preparing for marriage, and have college loans and no savings: “Hey, look, at least you know she doesn’t love you for your money.” These couples have put into the deep. Every year we go to Honduras and are surprised how happy the Hondurans are with so little material or economic wealth. But they have their faith and their family; they have “put out into the deep.” Sometimes the more wealth we have the more worry we have that we might lose it, so we install cameras and security systems and live behind gated communities. We are still fishing in the shallows.

         Modern Americans, living in the modern city, say to Christians: “It’s the economy, stupid.” But Jesus replies, “Put out into deep waters and prepare your nets for a catch.” Why? Well, because it’s not the economy, after all.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Full of Crap

Learning how to wash the waste out of life
Luke 4:38-44 After Jesus left the synagogue, he entered the house of Simon. Simon's mother-in-law was afflicted with a severe fever, and they interceded with him about her. He stood over her, rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up immediately and waited on them. At sunset, all who had people sick with various diseases brought them to him. He laid his hands on each of them and cured them. And demons also came out from many, shouting, "You are the Son of God." But he rebuked them and did not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Christ. At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place. The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him, they tried to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, "To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent." And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

               Boys and girls, how many of you enjoy sleeping? Please raise your hands. Heck, Ross Bieker is already sleeping, and I just started this sermon! I’m just kidding; I only pick on you if I like you. Today I want to explain why sleep is so good, and more than good, it is really necessary and essential. Five years ago, in 2012, researchers at the University of Rochester discovered that while we sleep “the system that circulates cerebrospinal fluid through the brain and nervous system was pumping fluid into the brain and removing fluid [with toxins lethal to brain cells] from the brain in a very rapid pace” (“Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep,” NPR, Oct. 17, 2013). The lead neurosurgeon of the research, Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, said, “It’s like a dishwasher.” Just imagine seeing all the dishes at home dirty and piled up in the sink or sitting in the dishwasher and never washing them. Nasty, right?! Well, that’s your brain without sleep, because the waste material and toxins your brain naturally produces in the course of a day’s thinking and reasoning and evaluating and guess on test answers because you didn’t study, never gets washed away. As a result, you might say your head is full of crap. That’s why it’s good to sleep, indeed, it is essential to sleep because our brains need a good washing.

                 In the gospel today, we see that sleep is also critical for Jesus. St. Luke simply says: “At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place to pray.” Clearly, Jesus had spent the night getting some sleep, and now he was getting up “at daybreak” to be alone to pray. Jesus needed to sleep so his human brain could get a good washing and remove all the toxins poisoning his thinking. Sometimes, we can think Jesus is so holy and divine that his human nature is virtually canceled out. But that’s not what we believe: Jesus is actually 100% God but also 100% man, so he needed to sleep and to eat and to talk as much as you and I do. Maybe not talk as much as Greta Beasley and Catie Barrett love to talk (remember that means I like you!), but Jesus enjoyed talking and teaching and he needed to sleep like the rest of us. That’s why after Jesus awakens from a good night’s sleep it was clear to him that he needed to go to other towns and preach the good news. His brain was not full of crap; it was full of doing God’s will.

                Today, I want to give you 3 examples of where sleep and rest are essential, so our brains will function at optimum levels because all the crap has been removed. First, I’m in awe of how busy you all are with school and your extracurricular activities. Some of you play football, and at halftime, you don’t get to rest with the team, but run to grab your instruments for the marching band. That’s amazing and awesome! Many of you are involved in multiple groups and clubs, and often at the same time. And I’m glad you do all those things, because you discover your gifts and talents. But sometimes I wonder: when do you guys sleep?? Don’t skimp on sleep or your brain will be filling up with crap that you never get rid of.  Take time to sleep and wash your brains.

                 Secondly, I hope you will find this school a place of rest, but I’m not saying you should sleep in class to get that rest. I mean a very different kind of rest, emotional rest. Some of you come from homes and families that have serious issues and challenges – maybe a divorce, maybe lack of money, you may be facing serious sicknesses like cancer, or worse there’s physical or emotional abuse – and this school is the only place you can rest from all that emotional exhaustion. Please reach out to Mr. Casey, our counselor, or me, if you’d like to talk about those things. We want Trinity to be a safe place where some of the toxins of your personal life can be removed. After talking to someone about your problems, you feel much better and relieved, almost like you’re waking up from a good night’s sleep. Why? Because you don’t feel like your brain and life is full of crap; it got a good washing.

                And thirdly, that’s why we come to Mass once a week: to rest in the arms of Jesus. Again, that doesn’t mean we should sleep in church. But it does mean we should pray, and ask Jesus to remove the toxins, the poisons, of this world out of our heads and hearts. What do I mean by the ways of the world? I mean things like alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, racism, pride, ego, greed, selfishness – these are poisons to our souls. That’s what happens at every Mass you attend: those poisons are washed out of our souls. But what if you never go to church or if you never pray? Just think of that sink filled with dirty dishes; that’s what our souls look like if we never rest in Jesus and let him remove those toxins; our souls need a good washing. 

                Boys and girls, there is nothing like a good night’s sleep. When we wake up, we feel refreshed and ready to rock and roll through another day. And the reason we feel so good is because our heads are not full of crap.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Saints versus Scholars

Growing in holiness as well as intelligence
Luke 4:31-37 Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out in a loud voice, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!" Jesus rebuked him and said, "Be quiet! Come out of him!" Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all amazed and said to one another, "What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out." And news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region.

              Ladies, is being smarter the best way to be more saintly? To be sure there is a deep compatibility between science and spirituality, academic intelligence and angelic inspiration, faith and reason. Even a simply survey of human history reveals that some of the brightest intellectual lights were likewise highly holy, like St. Augustine, Blessed John Henry Newman, St. John Paul II, and St. Catherine of Siena. And we hope that at Catholic schools, we’re educating the next generation of both saints and scholars, whose goal in life is not only to get make it to Harvard, but also to make it to heaven.

               And yet, unfortunately, sometimes we can be too smart for our own good, especially for our own spiritual good. Sadly, getting a Ph.D. doesn’t mean you’ll go to church every Sunday. There’s a yawning divide between faith and science, which is reflected in the yawning of young people at Mass who are bored by spirituality but can’t wait for the next discovery by science.

               This showdown between science and spirituality took center stage in the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925 in Tennessee. At issue in the trail was whether evolution could be taught in Tennessee public schools. That may surprise us today, but you might remember that at the time Biblical creationism was the standard teaching, not evolution. Arguing against teaching evolution in school was the famous William Jennings Bryant, who warned in his closing arguments: “If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene” (that’s Jesus, of course). He continued: “His teachings, and His teachings alone, can solve the problems that vex the heart and perplex the world.” In other words, going to college as a scholar doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be canonized as a saint. Sadly, sometimes you can be too smart for your own good.

                Today’s gospel gives us another glimpse into how high intelligence does not equal high holiness. An unclean demon cries out: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” As you know, demons are really fallen angels, and all angels are beings of incredible intelligence, insight and intuition, even the fallen ones. The brilliance of an angel would make a Harvard Ph.D. feel like a preschooler. But notice: even though this demon/angel knows with precision and perspicacity exactly who Jesus is – the Holy One of God – that knowledge did not save him. In other words, being a scholar didn’t make that angel a saint; the fallen angels are too smart for their own good, indeed, for their eternal good.

                     I think this tension between saints and scholars has a very practical application to the Immaculate Conception Ladies Auxiliary. How so? Well, I think of the late Sally Frick. She never got to go to college, but she provided scholarships for kids to attend UAFS. Sally didn’t go to Harvard, but we can be pretty sure she is in heaven. Sometimes, you may feel a little less than “tech savvy” because you cannot figure out how to use a cell phone, or use Facebook, or you only use a landline. That may make you feel small or not very smart, but just remember that sometimes people can become too smart for their own good. Many tech savvy people don’t see why they should go to church; they are better scholars than they are saints. Some elderly people lose their memory and their mental capacity through dementia and Alzheimer’s, and people question why they even live since they are not “useful” to society anymore. But that “usefulness” is measured by scientific standards, not by spiritual ones.  We never lose our capacity for holiness and being disciples of Jesus, in spite of mental or emotional illness or incapacity. In other words, your value should not be measured just by your smarts, but also by your love.

                     So, do not diminish the value of what you do as the Ladies Auxiliary: singing at funerals as the Dead Choir, preparing meals for the funeral receptions, purchasing items for the liturgy at Mass, and of course, the great annual Bazaar. Those activities have a value beyond this world, when seen from a spiritual point of view, not merely a scientific point of view. And most importantly, don’t ever become too smart for your own good. Why? Well, because in the end, it won’t matter who got into Harvard; it will only matter who got into heaven.

Praised be Jesus Christ!