Friday, February 27, 2015

Rob Lowe Hair

Remembering God alone is good

Saint Agatha of Sicily (born: 231 AD - died: 251 AD) is a Christian saint and virgin martyress. Her memorial is on 5 February.  Agatha was born at Catania or Palermo, Sicily, and she was martyred in approximately 251.  She is one of seven women, who, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.  She is the patron saint of Catania, Molise, Malta, San Marino and Zamarramala, a municipality of the Province of Segovia in Spain.  She is also the patron saint of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.

            We all think we know what’s good.  We know what’s good for our children.  We know what’s good for our neighbors (don’t park in the grass).  We definitely know what’s good for our country, and can probably solve the problems of the whole world over a couple of beers.  But have you noticed how your thinking of what’s good changes over time?  When we’re 5 we think legos are good.  When we’re 17 we think a Mustang GTO is good!  When we’re 30 we think being CEO of our own company is good!  When we’re 45 we think that Mustang GTO was really good!  I told a dear friend recently that having hair like Rob Lowe would be really good!  Remember the movie, “Rudy”?  That young man is convinced that there’s nothing in the world better than playing football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  But a wise old priest tells him: “Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I’m not him.”  In other words, only God knows what’s good, our opinions change.

            Today is the Feast of St. Agatha.  She lived in Sicily in the 3rd century and at an early age dedicated herself to Jesus as her Spouse and refused to marry anyone.  When a nobleman named Quintian wanted to marry her, she refused.  She basically said: “There is a God and you’re not him!  Only God knows what is good, and only God is goodness itself.  God is all I want.”  Quintian imprisoned and tortured Agatha to change her mind and finally killed her – he wasn’t very romantic.  The name “Agatha” means “good” because Agath’s life bore testimony that God alone is good.  C. S. Lewis said, “He who has God and everything else, has no more than he who has God only” (The Weight of Glory).  In other words, all you really need is God.

My friends, we all seek the good life, what the ancient Greeks and Romans called the “Summum Bonum,” the highest good.  As you continue your quest for the good life, let me give you 3 pieces of advice.  First, have a healthy suspicion of your own opinions about what is good.  What you think is so “hot” today may not be so “hot” in 10 more years.  Second, remember what the old priest said, “There is a God, and I’m not him.”  Only God knows what is good, so try to figure out what he thinks.  And third, the highest good, the “summum bonum” may not be found in this life but only in the next.  And that Highest Good might be SO good that it’s worth even being tortured, imprisoned and killed in order to get it.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Lords of Discipline

Learning the value of suffering
Hebrews 12:4-7

Brothers and sisters: In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as his sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.

            Did you ever think that suffering or sacrifice could be a good thing?  That sounds very counter-intuitive because we spend most of our lives seeking to minimize suffering and maximize comfort.  And yet suffering holds a mysterious attraction.  I recently read Pat Conroy’s novel, “The Lords of Discipline,” a fictional account of his experiences at the military institute of the Citadel.  He describes his “plebe year” as both physically and emotionally brutal.  Strangely, though, many young people who read the book actually wanted to join the Citadel; Conroy’s book inspired them!  They were looking to test and prove themselves in the crucible of suffering.  By the way, that book was Fr. George Tribou’s favorite book.  I’m not surprised!  He was the tough principal of Catholic High School and ran it like a military institute.  He was like the Sergeant Major chewing on his cigar and chewing out our rears!  But do you know what?  I love Catholic High, and part of its attraction was how hard it was there.  They recently got air-conditioning at Catholic, but the principal, Steve Strassle, insists it’s for the expensive computers, not for the boys.  Surprisingly, suffering can be a good thing.

            The Letter to the Hebrews gives another reason suffering can be valuable.  It reads, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”  In other words, God sends us suffering to help us grow up and become mature Christians, to learn righteousness.  God does not spoil us and give us everything we ask for.  You know, sometimes being a Christian, especially a Catholic, can feel like you’re in a military institute and going through a spiritual “plebe year.”  But for those who stick it out, you will be eternally grateful for your trails and tribulations.  Suffering can be a good thing.

            I believe suffering achieves its highest raison d’etre, its premier purpose, when it becomes “redemptive suffering.”  That’s what Jesus experienced on the cross – suffering that saves others.  When I visit someone in the hospital, I always ask the sick person for a favor.  I say, “Will you please pray for me?”  I explain, “The suffering you’re enduring can be a powerful kind of prayer, don’t waste it, offer it for someone.  And if you can’t think of anyone, I’ll take it!”  You see, suffering is not just for MY good – so that I won’t be spoiled – but it’s also for YOUR good – so that you might be saved. The first Scripture passage I ever memorized was Colossians 1:24.  St. Paul summarized the spiritual value of suffering saying: “I fill up in my own body what is lacking the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body, which is the Church.”  Strangely enough, suffering can be a good thing.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Drumbeat of Faith

Marching to a different drummer
Mark 5:25-34
            There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, Who touched me?” And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

            Do you march to the beat of a different drummer?  That phrase was coined by Henry David Thoreau in his famous work called “Walden.”  He wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”  In the last two weeks, I’ve met two ladies who marched to the beat of a very different drummer.  They could hear the drumbeat of faith, even though they suffered staggering losses.  The first was a lady affectionately called, “Coco,” who lost her mother, her son and his new wife in a car accident.  It was my first double funeral with two caskets in the middle aisle of the church.  Who wouldn’t crumble confronting that catastrophe, yet Coco stayed strong, stepping to the drumbeat of faith.  The second lady was Marina Martinez, whose husband died last week, and she suffers from severe cancer and has two teen-aged children.  Who wouldn’t pound on the Pearly Gates and demand some answers?  And yet Marina smiles like Job behind her surgical mask and says, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return.  The Lord giveth and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  You see, I did not teach these ladies about faith; they have taught me.  They taught me how to keep time with the drumbeat of faith.

            In the gospel we see Jesus, too, "does not keep pace with his companiones... because he hears a different drummer."  First he asks, “Who touched my clothes?”  Even though tons of people were touching him, only one lady touched him with faith.  Jesus noticed she was marching to the beat of the same drummer he always heard.  Second, when Jesus enters the house of the dead girl, he invites people present to hear the drumbeat of faith and see that she’s only asleep.  But they ridicule him.  They were deaf to that divine drummer.   The whole Scriptures is the story of people learning to march to the drumbeat of faith.

            Do you know someone else who walks to this heavenly cadence?  YOU do.  Now, sometimes the drumbeat of faith sounds a lot like your alarm going off at 5:30 a.m.!  But I can’t tell you how inspiring it is for us priests to see nearly 100 people at daily Mass.  My brother also marches to that divine drummer as he goes to Adoration at 4 a.m. every Monday morning.  Catholic families who have 4, 5, 6 or more children march to that drumbeat, "not keeping pace with their companiones."  Our 42 seminarians know what Thoreau mean because they, too, “step to that music which they hear, however measured or far away.”

            Thoreau said, “I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.”  You don’t need to go into the woods of Walden pond to live, just listen for the drumbeat of faith.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Lovers Quarrel

Letting Jesus expel lesser loves
Mark 1:21-28

           Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “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, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

            Do you know what it the easiest thing in the world to do?  It’s to love something.  Do you know what is the hardest thing in the world to do?  It’s also to love something, but to love it well, to love it the way we should.  For instance, we love some things way too much.  We say, “I love candy!” or “I love legos!” or “I love Fr. John!” (You can’t love Fr. John too much).  Or, if you’re Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, you say, “I love rock and roll! Put another dime in the jukebox, baby!”  On the other hand, some things we don’t love at all, even though we should.  We don’t love our enemies, even though Jesus tells us to.  We don’t love the vegetables on our plate that we should eat for supper.  And we definitely don’t love long sermons on Sundays!  You see, in every human heart there rages a kind of lovers’ quarrel between lesser, impure and selfish loves on the one hand, and higher, holier and more altruistic loves on the other hand.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “The only way to get rid of an old love is with the expulsive power of a new love.”  You’ve heard the old saying, “Fight fire with fire.”  Well, you also have to fight love with love; you must fight lesser loves with higher loves, you fight diabolical loves with divine loves, and you fight selfish loves with disinterested loves.  Every human heart is the scene of a lovers’ quarrel.

In the gospel today we see what happens in the heart when Jesus arrives on the scene.  There is a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit, and Jesus rebukes him and commands, “Come out of him!”  Basically, Jesus performs an exorcism.  By the way, someone recently sent me a “meme.”  Do you know what that is?  It’s a picture with a funny caption written on it.  This picture showed an old Catholic priest, apparently an exorcist, holding a large crucifix.  The caption read: “Everyone makes fun of Catholics until they have a demon in their house!”  That's when you finally appreciate Catholicism.  That’s when you’ll REALLY love Fr. John!  Anyway, in the gospel, Jesus expels the unclean spirit.  How did he do it?  Well, Mark says Jesus spoke with authority, and I believe that was the authority of love; love is the only authentic authority.  In other words, Jesus, the highest love, has the authority to expel all lesser, unclean loves, symbolized by unclean spirits.  Now, don’t misunderstand me, there really are evil spirits, the fallen angels, but they use these lesser loves to lead us away from the highest love, God.  In every human heart there rages a lovers’ quarrel, and only Jesus, the highest love, can expel the lower loves.

            You know, it’s taken me a long time to see that this lovers’ quarrel is exactly what happens in prayer, and unfortunately, the wrong side was winning in my heart.  A good friend of mine, Fr. Bill Thomas, who died several years ago, liked to call me on the phone out of the blue and ask, “Hey, John, have you made it to your Happy Hour today?”  Fr. Bill wasn’t inviting me to have a drink with him; a Happy Hour was his time of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  But I always replied with some lame excuse.  I’d say: “Yeah, sure, Bill, I’m headed to the chapel right now!”  But I wasn’t.  You see, I was running around chasing so many lesser loves – even though they were good things – while I ignored Jesus, the highest Love.  Now, thanks to Fr. Bill, I make my Happy Hour first thing in the morning, and I invite Jesus into the lovers’ quarrel in my heart, to expel the lesser loves.  In other words, I have stopped singing with Joan Jett, “I love rock and roll,” and I have learned to sing with Steve Winwood, “Bring me a higher love.”  Do you remember that song?  Here are a few lines: “Think about it, there must be higher love; Down in the heart, or hidden in the stars above.  Without it, life is wasted time; look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine.”  During my Happy Hour, I look inside my heart and see the higher love of Jesus winning the lovers’ quarrel.

            Ask yourself today: do lesser loves keep me from the higher love of Christ?  For example, do I worry too much about food and drink – some of you are planning your dinner menu right now!  Am I obsessive about fashion and my appearance?  Am I obsessive about other people’s fashion and appearance??  Does social media like Facebook and Twitter consume my time?  Are watching sports and playing video games so important that I put my family in second place?  And stop sending me invitations to play Candy Crush Saga!!  Now, these are not bad things, indeed they are good things.  But as Scott Hahn says, “The good can become the enemy of the best, if it keeps you from the best.”  Let me repeat that: “The good can become the enemy of the best if it keeps you from the best.”  Would you like to know who’s winning the lovers’ quarrel in your heart?  Here’s a simple test: do you come to Mass every Sunday?  You see, missing Mass on Sunday is often a sign that some lesser love – like camping, or hunting or sports – is more important to you than the love of Jesus.  Every Sunday at Mass, Jesus speaks with the authority of love to expel these lesser loves out of our hearts.

            So, it’s okay to love candy, and it’s okay to love legos and it’s definitely okay to love Fr. John.  But don’t love these things more than you love Jesus.  Don’t let these good things become the enemy of the best thing.  Don’t put another dime in the jukebox, baby; put another dime in the collection plate, baby!

            Praised be Jesus

Go Fish

Letting Jesus catch you
Mark 1:16-20

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

            How many of you like to go fishing?  It’s very special to go fishing with our grandpa.  When I go fishing with someone I always have to check: “We’re going fishing, right; not catching!?”  I never catch anything, but I love to fish!  One of the best fishing stories ever written was called “The Old Man and the Sea” by Earnest Hemingway, who by the way, married a lady from Piggot, Arkansas.  (Hemingway has good taste in women!)  It’s about an old fisherman who has very bad luck fishing: he didn’t catch anything for 84 days – that’s worse than me!  But then he catches a huge marlin, but by the time he gets back to shore, the marlin has been eaten by sharks.  You see, the big marlin was a symbol for Jesus.  Just like the marlin removed the bad luck for the old man, so Jesus blesses us and gives us his grace, not just taking away our bad luck, but giving us his love.

            In the gospel today, we hear another story about fishing, but this one is very different.  There are four professional fisherman, who were like the Old Man.  Who were they?  Peter, Andrew, James and John.  But they are not the ones really fishing in the story.  Can you guess who the real fisherman was?  It was Jesus!  And who are the “fish” that Jesus is trying to catch?  He’s fishing for his apostles.  You see, in Hemingway’s novel the Old Man is the fisherman and Jesus is the fish; but in the Bible, the roles are reversed: Jesus is the fisherman and he’s trying to catch us.  By the way, did Jesus always succeed in catching his fish?  Can you remember “the one that got away” from him?  That’s right: Judas, who betrayed him.  Fishing is not easy for anyone, not even for Jesus (that makes me feel better).

            Boys and girls, sometimes we are the fisherman, but sometimes we are the fish that someone else is trying to catch.  When you are the fisherman, you may fish for football trophies!  Or, you may fish for the lucky lottery ticket so you can get rich quick!  Or, you may just like to play the game, “Go fish!”  But remember that other people may also be fishing for you!  Coaches may fish for you to come play on their football or basketball team.  I'm always sad to hear about students who go to public schools just for sports instead of a Catholic school.  Remember: someone is trying to catch you.  Boys sometimes fish for girls like Hemingway came fishing for his wife in Arkansas – you can catch more than catfish in this state!  But most importantly, Jesus is fishing for you, and he’s fishing for me.  Let him catch you and haul you home to heaven.  When Jesus comes fishing for you, don’t be “the one that got away.”

            Praised be Jesus Christ!