Friday, April 28, 2017

Stay Hungry

Always order the Lamb of God who takes away sins

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month shall stand at the head of your calendar; you shall reckon it the first month of the year. Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household. If a family is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join the nearest household in procuring one and shall share in the lamb in proportion to the number of persons who partake of it. The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish. You may take it from either the sheep or the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

          My father does not say much, but when he does speak, I’ve learned to really pay attention because I usually learn something new every time. Once he said: “Whenever you’re in a restaurant, and lamb is on the menu, always order it.” Perplexed, I asked, “Why, dad?” He answered, “Well, if the chef knows how to prepare lamb, then it is one of the tastiest meats you’ll ever enjoy.” So, whenever I’m in a restaurant and lamb is on the menu, I order it. To paraphrase “the world’s most interesting man” (remember his commercials?), I now say, “I don’t always eat in a restaurant, but when I do, I prefer the lamb. Stay hungry, my friends.” In fact, as a priest, you could say that spiritually-speaking lamb is always “on the menu” here at church. Why? Before Communion, the priest holds the Host high and declares: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” There is no five-star restaurant in the world that serves a more succulent lamb than a Catholic church, because we serve the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. To eat and enjoy that Lamb, we should always “stay hungry, my friends.” Lamb is always on the menu here at church, the best Lamb in the world.

          In the first reading today, God the Father gives Moses the same advice that my father gave me, namely, always eat the lamb. The people of Israel are in exile and slavery in Egypt, and God lays out their exit strategy, how they’ll escape from Egypt. He ordered Moses: “Every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb…then, with the whole assembly of Israel, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight.” God went on: “They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.” In other words, always order the lamb, not just because of its savory flavor, but because it will save you from slavery. For fourteen hundred years the people of Israel kept ordering lamb on the menu until the time of Christ.

          And then, there was even better lamb on the menu – and a better chef than Moses - namely, Jesus himself.  St. Paul explains to the Corinthians: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it, and said, ‘This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’.” Eating this Lamb (the Body of Christ) was also an “exit strategy,” not so much an exit out of slavery in Egypt, but rather an exit out of slavery in sin (a much more bleak bondage). Ever since, for two thousand years now, Christians have always ordered the Lamb on the menu.

          The world’s most interesting man said, “Stay thirsty, my friends,” and he’s right. But we should also “stay hungry, my friends.” Hungry for what?  What should we eat when we’re hungry? I suggest that you follow the advice of God the Father and my own father: “Always order the Lamb.” That is, always come to Mass, and partake in the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Only that meal will satisfy your deepest hunger.  You know, whenever I receive the Precious Blood from the chalice, I always think of that line from Exodus 12:7, “Take some of [the lamb’s] blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house.” The Blood of the Lamb I taste at Mass is applied to my lips, like the doorposts of the house of my soul. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, why can’t the lips be the doorway? And when the angel of death sees the Blood of the Lamb on doorpost of my house, he passes over me and I am saved.

          I love to go out to eat at restaurants, but I hate to order off the menu. I usually just look for the picture that looks the most appetizing and order that. That’s not the ideal way to order in a restaurant. Instead, take my father’s advice and “order the lamb” if that happens to be on the menu. That’s also the best way to order when you go to church: “always order the lamb” if it’s on the menu. If the chef knows how to prepare it well, that is the tastiest meat you’ll ever eat.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Healthy Choices

Making small but significant decisions to follow Jesus
Matthew 26:14-25 One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. And while they were eating, he said, "Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me." Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, "Surely it is not I, Lord?" He said in reply, "He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born." Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" He answered, "You have said so."

          A friend of mine explained recently the secret to successful dieting. She said that losing weight is not about making one, big decision not to eat an entire pizza, but rather about a million small decisions every day to make healthy choices. After school you’re hungry – or “hangry” because your hunger makes you angry – and so you eat a cheeseburger on your way home from school every day. Or, before you go to bed you watch your favorite T.V. show and eat a half gallon of ice cream. Or, and this is my favorite, people will order a double cheeseburger, large fries and a milk shake but say, “Oh, and a diet Coke because I’m on a diet.” Sometimes, Mike Charlton will bring us breakfast sandwiches for our morning meetings. But I’ve noticed that Dr. Hollenbeck does not eat the top half of the bread of her sandwich. So, I ask her if I can have it! That’s why Dr. Hollenbeck has a doctorate and I don’t. She’s smart, and she knows that successful dieting (or any other kind of success) depends on a million small decisions, not one big decision.

          In today’s gospel, we hear about the success of Judas, or rather his lack of success as an apostle, really about his failure. That is, he chooses to betray Jesus at the Last Supper. We would be completely off-base, however, if we thought Judas’ betrayal of our Lord was just one big decision out of the blue. When in reality, he had been “betraying” Jesus with a million small decision for years. What do I mean? On Monday, we heard from John chapter 12 that Judas “was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions” (John 12:6). In John 6, Jesus teaches his apostles they must eat his body and drink his blood, but that Judas did not believe that (cf. John 6:70-71). In other words, Judas didn’t just wake up one morning and make one, big decision to betray his best friend; he had been betraying him daily in millions of small ways. Judas failed to be a successful apostle because he did not know the secret to a successful diet, which is the secret to all success, namely, the value of millions of small but significant decisions.

          Boys and girls, today I want you to think about the choices you make. And don’t only focus on the big decisions: like where you will go to high school, or what career you will choose, or who you will marry (hope you’re not thinking about that yet!). Instead, think about the millions of small, seemingly insignificant choices you make, like telling the truth (even though you might think, “who cares??”), or stealing a pencil (even though some say, “no one will miss it!”), or talking about others (thinking, “they deserve it anyway!”), or not doing your homework (figuring, “I’ll just Ace the test!”), or being friends with the lonely (rather than saying, “I want to hang with the cool kids!”). All these small choices will make you successful at Trinity and successful in life.

          And by the way, don’t get too discouraged if you make a mistake – like fail a test, or try alcohol, or blow off band practice, etc. – not that I’m saying do any of these things! But we all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and avoid them going forward. One mistake will not ruin you. Judas did not fail as an apostle because of one, big mistake, but because of a million small mistakes he never learned from. Do you know a man named Sam Fiori? He’s one of the most successful businessmen in Fort Smith. I asked him one day, “Sam, how have you become so successful?” He said, “I always tried to learn from my mistakes. I try not to make the same mistake twice.” Sam knows well that success in business, like success in dieting (or any other kind of success), depends on a million small, but healthy choices.

          Boys and girls, at the end of our life, we will all step on to the scales, not to weigh our bodily weight, but rather to weigh our spiritual weight. And the same thing will make you smile as you look at the results of both scales: not having made one big decision, but rather having made a million small, healthy and holy decisions. That is the secret to success in this life, and in the next.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Great White Fleet

Speaking softly in imitation of Jesus
Isaiah 42:1-7 Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, Upon whom I have put my Spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, Not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, Until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

          President Theodore Roosevelt popularized the phrase, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” That phrase described his foreign policy, where he backed diplomacy with military might. In fact, as a show of power (the big stick), he ordered the U.S. Navy to circumnavigate the globe, so everyone could see how big “the big stick” really was. The armada of ships was called the “Great White Fleet” because the hulls of the ships were painted stark white. Roosevelt first used the phrase while he was still governor of New York, stating in a letter: “I have always been fond of the West African proverb, ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far’.” In reality, however, there is no record of that phrase being used in West Africa, and I even asked Fr. Pius, who is from West Africa, if he’s ever used that phrase.  And he hasn’t. Although, on second thought, Fr. Pius does speak very softly…I better check under his bed for a big stick.

          I have personally experienced how speaking softly works better than yelling. At Mass sometimes babies cry, and a priest’s natural tendency is to raise his voice over the baby’s crying. But have you noticed what happens? The baby only cries louder.  However, I’ve learned that if I lower my voice instead as I pray, the baby tends to get quieter. And if that doesn’t work, I will excommunicate the baby. Speak softly and carry a big stick. They told us in the seminary that the most common confession is, “I yelled at my kids.” Have you ever confessed that? We all wish we could speak more softly.

          In the first reading today, Isaiah prophesies that this phrase will characterize the future Christ. Isaiah writes: “He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.” Indeed, as we heard yesterday during the Passion reading, often Jesus said nothing in response to Pilate and the Pharisees queries. And when one of his followers used a sword to cut off someone’s ear, Jesus reprimanded him saying, “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?”  That angelic armada would have made Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet look like toy boats in a child’s bathtub. But Jesus believed that speaking softly makes you more successful in fulfilling the Father’s will.

          May I suggest three ways you, too, can employ the foreign policy of speaking softly instead of using the big stick? Remember three words that start with the letter “p,” namely, prayer, penance and patience. First, prayer. Pray for those you feel like yelling at. I simply say one “Hail Mary” when someone gets under my skin, and that prayer helps me to speak more softly to people. So, if you see me stop and pray before talking to you, now you know why. Second, penance. Back in the old days, Catholics were taught to “offer it up.” That is, we were encouraged to offer our pains and problems to God on behalf of others. Penance is a powerful kind of prayer, and you should offer that for those you would like to yell at. After all, they probably need those graces more than you do. And third, patience. We often get mad and shout when people don’t do what we want right away. Hence the common confession, “I yelled at my kids.” But when you speak softly, you plant seeds of goodness in people’s hearts and it takes time to those seeds to sprout and bear fruit. Be patient: people are changing, but just not as fast as you would like.

          Put into practice the three “p’s” of prayer, penance and patience and you, too, will speak more softly. And you’ll rarely have to use the big stick, or have to excommunicate any babies.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Little Book

Answering the ultimate question of who Jesus is
Matthew 21:1-11 When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me.” The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, "Who is this?" And the crowds replied, "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."

          If I were to ask you the question, “Who is Jesus?” how would you answer it? I suppose there would be as many answers as there are people in this church today, and as many answers as there are people in the world today. Let me give you some examples. An evangelical Protestant would say, “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior!” Good answer. A Catholic would reply, “I don’t know, ask Fr. John!” Bad answer. A first-century Christian would have just said one word, “ichthus,” which is Greek and means “fish.” But it’s an acronym where each letter stand for a different word: the “I” is for “Jesus” (iesous), the “ch” is for “Christ” (Christos), the “th” is for “God” (theou), the “hu” is for “son” (huios), and the “s” is for “Savior” (soter). Put it all together and you get “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” “Icthus” is a one-word compendium of the whole Christian faith, and that’s why they call Catholics “fish-eaters,” not because we eat fish on Fridays.

          The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, tried to answer who Jesus was by removing the parts of the Bible that he believed were not historically accurate, and he therefore created the so-called “Jefferson Bible.” You may squirm or scoff at Jefferson’s spirituality, but he, too, was attempting to answer the same question, “Who is Jesus?” At the beginning of his book called Catholicism, Bishop Robert Barron explains why this question matters, saying: “One of the most important things to understand about Christianity is that it is not primarily a philosophy or a system of ethics or a religious ideology. It is a relationship to the unsettling person of Jesus Christ, to the God-man. Someone stands at the center of the Christian concern” (emphasis in original, Catholicism, 10). In other words, “Who is Jesus?” is not just any old question; it is ultimately the only question.

          In the gospel reading during the blessing of palms, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, and this became the burning question of the day. Matthew wrote, “And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee’.” Jesus rides to the culmination of his career: his crucifixion on the Cross, and it was imperative that people answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” You’ll remember that earlier in Matthew 16, Jesus had asked his apostles the same question, “Who do people say that I am?” And only St. Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  If Peter had spoken Greek, he would have just said, “icthus.”  It is imperative and it is inescapable, it is “the center of the Christian concern,” namely, the simple question, “Who is Jesus?”

          My friends, in trying to answer this ago-old and aching question, we have to read the Bible and the Catechism. But there is something else we can do. We can examine our own lives and see how Jesus has touched and transformed us. Have you seen those “broken heart pendants,” where one person wears half the heart and the other person carries the other half? But it’s broken in such a special way that only these two halves will fit together. That means that all the contours and crevices and cliffs of your heart (and your history) perfectly match those same characteristics of Christ’s heart (and his history with you). Studying your own life will be a personal and perfect clue to answer the perennial question, “Who is Jesus?”

          Ponder these questions today: How did you know Jesus as a child? When did you first meet him? How did you fall in love with him? What miracles has he worked in your life? What crosses has he asked you to carry? What secrets has he shared with you? What lessons has he taught you? What gifts has he given you? By what paths has he led you? If you can answer these questions, you are beginning to see the contours of your heart (and your history), and they give you a glimpse of the interior of Jesus’ own heart. In other words, besides the Bible and the Catechism, your own life is “a little book” that Jesus has co-authored with you, where you can find the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

          One day, you will stand at the gates of Paradise, and St. Peter will ask you this precise question. It was the question he had to answer, too, and he got right when Jesus asked him at Caesaria Philippi, “Who do people say that I am?” And you better not answer, “I don’t know; ask Fr. John.”

          Praised be Jesus

What Death Does

Praying for a good death to bring conciliation

John 11:45-56 So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, "What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation." But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish." He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him.

          All parents desire desperately that their children would not fight or argue but rather live together in peace. Funny, that’s exactly what children want most of their parents: that mom and dad not argue or fight but live together in love. But sadly, it’s all too true that “no one fights like family,” and the deepest divisions are among those who have been the closest, those who “have nursed at the same breast.” Sometimes, the only times siblings get together is when a parent dies. At least for the funeral they put aside their petty differences, and pray for the dead. The more funeral Masses I celebrate, the more I see this almost healing effect of death: a parent’s death brings his or her children together, even if only for the funeral.

          Do you remember the funeral of Pope St. John Paul II? The whole world gathered at the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica to pay their final respects, even dignitaries of countries and kingdoms at war, and the line stretched all the way down that grand avenue leading from the Tiber River to the Vatican called “Via della Conciliazione” which means, “The Road of Conciliation.” The Holy Father of the whole world for a fleeting few days saw all his children in one place and not fighting. Death does that. There’s a lovely stained glass window at St. Boniface Church here in Fort Smith (and also at St. Edward in Little Rock) that depicts the death of St. Joseph. A Scripture quotation below it reads: “Blessed are those who die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13). One of those “blessings” of death is the healing of filial feuds that afflict all families. In the Catholic tradition, we are taught to pray for “a good death,” like that of St. Joseph.

          In the gospel today, the high priest Caiaphas prophesies how Jesus’ death will also be a good death, indeed, like no other death. He chides his brothers in the Sanhedrin, saying, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”  St. John goes on to explain further what Caiaphas meant, adding, “He prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” In other words, like John Paul II, God also wants to see the whole world – his children – live in peace, and God knows that somehow only death does that. Quite by accident, Caiaphas gave voice to the heart of God, who wants the world to walk down the “via della conciliazione” to behold his Son’s death that the world may be one, unfeuding family.

          My friends, no one likes to think about death, especially our own death, but we have to. I tell people, “Look, no one is getting out of here alive!” And lots of voices tell us how to think about death. Shakespeare’s Hamlet opined, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” and the thought of death paralyzed him into inaction. The Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, urged, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” but rather he said: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” The American poet, William Cullen Bryant, wrote more gently, “By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, / Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch / About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams” (Bryant, “Thanatopsis”). And in the movie “Star Trek,” Admiral James T. Kirk tells a rookie captain who failed a training test, “How we think about death is at least as important as how we think about life.”

          But we Christians should see death not as a purely personal event, but also as a prophetic event, that is, our death should resemble the death of Jesus. Therefore pray that your death will be a moment of peace for your family (and for the family of the world), where filial feuds are set aside, and siblings walk down the “via della conciliazione” as they pay their final respects to you. “Blessed are those who die in the Lord.” Why? Well, because when we die “in the Lord” (in God’s grace) our death, too, will have a “healing effect” and help the world live in peace. That’s what death does.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Strike a Pose

Taking the next step in drawing closer to Christ

John 10:31-42 The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?" The Jews answered him, "We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God." Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, 'You are gods"'? If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and Scripture cannot be set aside, can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? Then they tried again to arrest him; but he escaped from their power. He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained. Many came to him and said, "John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true." And many there began to believe in him.

          Throughout our life we strike a different pose in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We travel a long journey with Jesus from where we start with him and where we finish. When we are small children, we cannot get enough of Jesus, “curiosity kills the cat.” Small children love to serve at Mass, they sing at Mass, they say the prayers at Mass. When we become teenagers, we’re too smart for Jesus, just like we’re too smart for our parents. Mark Twain once quipped, “When I was 17 I couldn’t believe how stupid my father was. When I turned 21 I couldn’t believe how much he had learned in 4 years.” Faith seems foolish. When we are young adults we don’t have time for Jesus because we’re too busy with our work, our wife and our weekend. As adults, we see Jesus either as a friend or as a foe. He’s a friend when life “goes super” and he’s a foe when life “goes south.” Richard Dawkins, the loud and proud atheist, once said: “I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s greatest evils, comparable to the small-pox virus but harder to eradicate” (“Is Science a Religion?” The Humanist, January, 1997). The final pose we strike is toward the end of life when we call Fr. John to come to the hospital to anoint us because we’re knocking on death’s door. After retirement, many people start going to daily Mass.  We have time for Jesus.

          Throughout the gospel people strike different poses to Jesus, these poses are especially pronounced in the gospel of John. Today’s gospel pericope shows adults who see Jesus as either friend or foe. The gospel begins by saying, “The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.” Those Jews felt like Richard Dawkins and saw Jesus like “the small-pox virus” and in need of eradication. The gospel, however, concludes with the line, “Many [Jews] came to him and said, ‘John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.’ And many there began to believe in him.” Their faith life was “going super,” and faith was fun. But that faith would soon be tested and tried on Good Friday. I saw a bumpersticker once that asked the provocative question: “Do you feel far from God?  Well, who moved?” You can almost plot, like points on a graph, where people are on their journey to Jesus; how we’re moving closer or farther from him.

          Every day I try to remind our church staff that our job at this parish, from priest to PRE teacher, from secretary to sacristan, is to “bring people closer to Christ.” The key word there is “closer,” meaning just get people to take the next step on the journey to Jesus, not necessarily get them to the end of the journey, the last step. For instance, my job in preaching at Mass is just to get people to want to come back next Sunday to Mass, not to make them Mother Teresa. Just come back next Sunday and hear a little more. It may help parents to remember this as well and be more patient with your children. The pose your child strikes today – whether he thinks Jesus is a rockstar or not – will change, evolve, wax and wane over time, so just help them take the next step, not the last step. This may even help you be more patient with your own spiritual life, understanding that the fluctuations in our own faith life, and not to become too discouraged, but persevere. Just take the next step, not the last step.

          If you ever want to read a magnificent poem about these “poses” we strike, read Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven.” It begins with these lines, “I fled him, down the nights and down the days; I fled him, down the arches of the years…” Like a teenager, Thompson didn’t have time for Jesus. And the poem ends with Jesus speaking to him: “All which I took from thee I did but take, not for thy harms, But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms. All which they child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home. Rise, clasp my hand and come!” Someday we will stop striking poses in our journey with Jesus, and no longer draw closer to Christ, because we become one with him, we’ve taken the last step.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Pangs of Parenting

Seeing how God fulfills all his promises of progeny
Genesis 17:3-9 When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him: "My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations. No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations. I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you. I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God."

          The older I get, the more I see the scope of the sacrifice of celibacy. And I don’t mean only in the lack of a partner but also in not having progeny, children and grandchildren.  Please don’t misunderstand: I am not complaining, but just contemplating. Yesterday, one of the office staff at church brought her new-born baby to the office, a beautiful little girl named “Mariel.” I wondered if I’d be more excited to have a boy or a girl. Would I feel like Luca Brasi who said to Don Corleone, “I am honored that you have invited me to your daughter’s wedding. And I hope that their first child will be a masculine child.” And what about the joy of being a grandparent? That’s a whole other level of love. Proverbs 17:6 says, “Children’s children” – meaning grandchildren – “are the crown of the elderly.” When my parents had their ninth grandbaby, my father’s only comment was, “Keep ‘em coming!” And I always feel a hint of irony whenever anyone calls me “Father.” Yes, my parishioners are my spiritual progeny, but who will I leave my millions to when I die?? The sacrifice of celibacy reaches farther than I had figured.

          In the first reading today, Abraham is not called to be celibate, he’s called to be exactly the opposite as a father of many nations, but he, too, would slowly see the full scope of sacrifice as a father. He only has one legitimate son, Isaac, and so he worried about his progeny and therefore has an illegitimate son, Ishmael. Later, God would even ask Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, which he was willing to do. Indeed, Abraham would only see with the eyes of faith the fulfillment of God’s promise, as Jesus said in the gospel, “Abraham…rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” God eventually fulfills all his promises in Jesus. But it was not easy for Abraham to fulfill the demands of fatherhood. In other words, it is not only celibate priests who feel the struggle of fatherhood, but so too all natural fathers and mothers in one way or another.

          Today, I want to pray for all those who carry the cross in trying to be good fathers and mothers but fall under its weight; those who feel the pangs of parenting. I’d like to pray for all those married couples who cannot conceive a child and choose to adopt. May they be as blessed as St. Joseph the foster father of Jesus. I’d like to pray for all the parents who have children born with severe disabilities, especially those babies who did not survive long after birth. May they know their children are angels in heaven. I’d like to pray for all those mothers and fathers who’ve had an abortion, that their broken hearts be healed, and their guilt assuaged. I’d like to pray for all those parents who’ve gotten divorced and feel they have failed their children, may God the Father and Mother Mary make up for what they lack. I’d like to pray for all parents who’ve suffered the untimely death of their child, like my brother and sister-in-law, and have had to bury their children.  May the Lord’s Resurrection give them hope and peace.  I’d like to pray for all those parents who watch helplessly as their children leave the Church. May the angels and saints watch over those children and one day bring them home. Slowly, we all see the full scope of the sacrifice of being fathers and mothers.

          Finally, I’d like to pray for all the priests and monks and nuns who’ve chosen celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. May we, too, like Abraham, look with the eyes of faith and see how God fulfills all his promises in Jesus, even his promise of progeny, and that we, too, will “rejoice and be glad.”

          Praised be Jesus Chri