Friday, April 29, 2016

Far, Far Better

Sharing and sacrificing for a great friendship

John 15:12-17
Jesus said to his disciples: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. This I command you: love one another.”
          There are always two signs of a great friendship: (1) you share intimately with each other, and (2) you sacrifice eagerly for each other. Sharing and sacrifice. Friends share their time, they share their hopes and fears, they share their lunch, and if they get married, they even share their bodies with each other. Friends also sacrifice for each other. A man will work two jobs to buy his best friend a diamond ring. A woman goes through pregnancy to have a baby. Now, who gets the better end of that deal??
          One of my favorite love stories is Charles Dickens’ classic called “A Tale of Two Cities.” Have you read it? You should. It’s about a selfish drunken lawyer named Sydney Carton, who falls in love with a beautiful young lady named Lucie Manette. The only problem is Lucie marries someone else, a fellow named Charles Darnay. Toward the end of the story, Charles is in Paris, standing in line to be executed by the guillotine, but Sydney exchanges places with him and saves his life. You see, Sydney eagerly sacrificed his life to save the husband of the woman he loved. His final lines are unforgettable. He says, “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Great friends share and sacrifice, that’s what makes them “far, far better.”
          In the gospel today, we see Jesus also desires to have a great friendship with his apostles by sharing and sacrificing for them. First Jesus shares intimately with them, saying, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Jesus shared his time, his hopes and fears, and even his lunch of loaves and fish with his friends. And in the Eucharist, Jesus even shares his body with us. Secondly, Jesus sacrifices for them, saying, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Like Sydney Carton, Jesus takes our place in paying the price for our sin on the Cross. Scott Hahn often says: “Jesus paid a debt he didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.” You see, sharing and sacrificing always make friendships “far, far better.”
          Today, I want you to test your friendship with Jesus. We all say that we are Jesus’ friends, but do we see the two signs of a great friendship with him? Do we share our lives with our Lord: in personal prayer, in making it to Mass, in confessing our sins, in volunteering in church, and in listening to what he shares with us? Jesus wants to tell us everything he has heard from his Father. And do we sacrifice for Jesus? When was the last time you did something hard for Jesus: something that hurt you but that helped someone else? We don’t have to take someone’s place on the guillotine, but then again, maybe someday we will. Could you lay down your life for another person: how about for the husband of the woman you love?
          “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever know.”

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Forget About Me

Learning to put others before ourselves

Acts of the Apostles 15:1-6
Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters about this question.
          Have you ever had a “family meeting” where your whole family gets together to discuss a problem or makes a plan for the future? Some families have these meetings on a regular basis, like weekly or monthly, just to share stories and deal with difficulties. Of course, teenagers typically hate such family meetings. One teenager said that her family meetings were lame and stupid. Then she spent the night at a friend’s home. She came home the next day and declared, “That family is so screwed up; they should have family meetings!”
          Some companies have family meetings, too, like Walmart. They call their family meeting an “annual shareholders’ meeting,” but they, too, share stories and deal with difficulties. Now, they also have superstar entertainers at their meetings, like the actress, Reece Witherspoon, who came last year. Maybe you should invite Reece Witherspoon to your next family meeting, so your kids won’t think it’s stupid or lame.
          The Catholic Church also has family meetings, called “ecumenical councils,” where the pope and bishops likewise gather to share stories and deal with difficulties. In 2000 years, we’ve held 21 ecumenical councils, so we’re averaging one council every hundred years. Maybe Pope Francis should invite Reece Witherspoon to the next one, and more bishops might come.
          In the first reading today from Acts 15, we hear about the very first family meeting the Church ever held, even though Reece Witherspoon was not there. At that first council (not one of the 21 ecumenical councils), the pope (St. Peter) and the bishops (the Apostles) met to share stories and deal with difficulties. The chief concern was circumcision for adult men. Fortunately, the council of Jerusalem decided not to require adult converts to Christianity to be circumcised – all the men breathe a collective sigh of relief. Now, maybe some people in the early Christian community felt that a “family meeting” in Jerusalem was lame and stupid. But that first family meeting was where the Holy Spirit did some of his best work in guiding the Christian family.
          The best definition I’ve heard of family is actually an acronym for the word “family,” where each letter represents another word. This may sound a little lame, but it gets to the heart of family life. F.A.M.I.L.Y. means “forget about me, I love you.” And this is why teenagers think family meetings are lame and stupid, because they have to forget about themselves and put others first. That’s hard to do for all of us. At family meetings, we put others before ourselves when we take a vacation somewhere that wasn’t our first choice, when we raise the minimum wage for workers, when we say no circumcision for new Christians. You see, a family meeting is not just a time to share stories and deal with difficulties; it’s also a perfect place to “forget about me, I love you.”

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Penny Prophets

Seeing God’s style of saving us

John 13:31-33A, 34-35
When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
          I have in my hand a little penny. If you were to see a penny on the sidewalk, would you stop to pick it up? Some might, but a lot of people would pass up a penny, thinking it’s hardly worth the effort. Why? Well, because in our world, we’re after bigger things than a little penny: we want a bigger home, and fancier cars, and a bigger bank account. We don’t think much of little things like a poor penny.
          But God thinks in exactly the opposite way; for him the small and insignificant means a great deal, even a penny. Consider these examples from the Bible. Psalm 84:11 says, “Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” That is, one day in church is more valuable than a thousand days on the beach. Jesus says in Matthew 10:30, “Even all the hairs of your head are counted [by God].” It wouldn’t take God very long to count all the hairs on my head. Jesus praises the widow who put in two small coins – two pennies – in Luke 21:3, saying, “This poor widow put in more than all the rest.” For Jesus, two pennies are worth more than a donation of millions of dollars.  And in today’s gospel Jesus says, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.” Now, you’d think that would make the disciples sad that they only have a little time left with Jesus. But if you’ve been catching on to God’s style of saving us, a little means a lot.  In other words, even to spend a second with Jesus is worth more than an eternity without him.
          My friends, try to be more sensitive to small things, and you’ll more easily see God’s style of saving us. For example, here at Mass, we receive a small wafer of Bread and a sip of wine that hardly wets the lips. But we also receive Jesus, the Lord of the universe. A little means a lot.  A few whispered words – “I love you,” or “I forgive you” – can heal deep and festering wounds. Words that are barely a breath bring sanity and salvation. Stopping by church for a quick “hello” to Jesus has infinite value in God’s eyes. The intimacy married couples experience in consummating their love – I’ve read about this in books – doesn’t last very long, but can bring a baby into this world who will live forever. A moment’s loving embrace causes a miraculous life that’s everlasting.
          Hasn’t Pope Francis been teaching us God’s style of saving us by pointing us to the poor and the forgotten? He said, “I want a church that is poor and for the poor” (Evangelii gaudium, 198). I don’t know if Pope Francis would stop to pick up a poor penny on the sidewalk, but I have no doubt he would stop to pick up a poor person on the sidewalk.
          You’ve heard the little poem: “Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day, you’ll have good luck.” Well, I don’t believe in good luck, but I do believe in God’s love. And that poor penny is a perfect prophet of God’s style of saving us. Maybe that’s why it’s written on the penny: “In God we trust.”  Every time you pick up a penny, you’d have a “penny prophet.”

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Color of Skin

Judging by the content of character

John 14:7-14
Jesus said to his disciples: “If you know me, then you will also know my Father.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to Jesus, Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
          This week I was in Little Rock for the bi-annual continuing education for clergy. It was a joy to greet friends I had not seen in a while. One lady I grew up with came up to me with a big smile and said, “Fr. John, you look more and more like your dad!” I replied, “I’ll take that as a compliment.” She back-peddled quickly and said, “Of course, that’s how I meant it: he’s very handsome.” But notice that she meant her comment on the physical level, while I tried to turn the comment to a more spiritual level; the first observation was exterior, but the second one was interior.
          Martin Luther King Jr. once preached: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I was judged not by the color of my skin, but by the content of my receding hairline! I tell the students at Trinity Junior High that it doesn’t matter if their father’s name is “Rockefeller” or “Rodriguez,” everyone is held to the same standard. In other words, don’t stay on the surface of someone, but plunge into the profound depths that make a person who and what they are, namely, a child of God.
          In the gospel today we see these two levels – the physical and the spiritual – in the conversation between Jesus and Philip. Philip asks, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus replies, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Now, did Jesus mean that God the Father basically looked like an older version of a 33 year-old carpenter, like my father looks like an older version of me? No, of course not! But that’s what Philip wanted to see: Philip’s sight still settled on the surface. But Jesus invites him below the physical into the divine depths of the spirit: to see the Father as the source of all truth, goodness and beauty. Or, as the title of Pope Francis’ new book, “The Name of God is Mercy.” In other words, “judge not by the color of skin but by the content of character.”  And that goes for judging Jesus, too.
          I hate to admit this, but I used to be really irritated and annoyed by some forms of Christian art. Yes, some Christian art annoyed me.  Sometimes, I would see an image of Jesus and Mary that depicted them as African figures. One holy card showed Mary as a Korean lady. I didn’t like it even when Jesus and Mary looked like they hailed from India! Because I knew very well that Jesus and Mary have brown hair and blue eyes like I saw in the movies. But you see what I was doing? I was simply skimming the surface – the color of skin – without seeing into the deep: to see that Jesus came to save everyone, regardless of what country or language or heritage they hailed from. It doesn’t matter to Jesus if your father’s last name is Rockefeller or Rodriguez. He wants you to see that your real Father is in heaven, and that you, too, are a child of God. 
          In the future, I hope I hear more friends greet me by saying, “You look more and more like your Father!” That’s something we should all long to hear others say about us; it’s an incredibly great compliment.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Jesus on the Nest

Learning to build the heavenly homestead

John 14:1-6
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.”
            One of my favorite lines from a movie is also a very peculiar one that contains a powerful lesson. Have you seen the Christmas classic called, “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Toward the beginning of the movie, George and Mary Bailey are recently married. George comes home from a long day at the building and loan and collapses in bed with Mary. George asks her: “Why did you ever marry a guy like me?” Mary casually answers, “Because I want my baby to look like you.” And it takes George a moment to catch on – he’s kind of slow like most men – that she’s pregnant, and he stutteringly says, “Mary, are you on the nest??” That phrase, “Are you on the nest” was an arcane way to refer to pregnancy, but it also reveals the first instinct of all parents, namely, to “build a nest,” to provide and protect, to nourish and nurture your children. By the way, this is why women love to shop for things for the home, and why men love to hunt for deer and ducks. Pregnancy puts both a man and a woman, each in their own way, “on the nest.”
          In the gospel today we see that Jesus is not immune from this instinct either. Therefore, our Lord says, “I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that were I am you also may be.” In other words, Jesus is “on the nest.” In another place Jesus makes this more explicit, saying, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, and you were not willing (Mt. 23:37). You see, Jesus takes a natural instinct and raises it to a noble Christian virtue. Being “on the nest” is not just what birds and Baileys do, it’s also what God does.
          My friends, let me invite you to think again about this notion of being “on the nest.” But today, instead of building a bigger house, or bagging bigger game, think about “the nest” you’re preparing in heaven. And the best way to build that heavenly nest is to care for the poor. When we help earthquake victims in Ecuador, when we drop a dollar in the poor box, when we pray for the success of the Hope Campus for the Homeless, we are “on the nest” constructing our heavenly homestead. In other words, we need to elevate our natural instinct and raise it all the way to heaven, so it becomes a noble Christian virtue.
          The final blessing at a wedding Mass contains this reminder for the newlyweds: “May you be witnesses in the world to God’s charity, so that the afflicted and the needy who have known your kindness may one day receive you thankfully into the eternal dwelling of God.” That is, the best way to be “on the nest” is to take care of the poor. We should be able to ask every Christian like George Bailey asked Mary: “Are you on the nest??”

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The 5000 Year Leap

Keeping our eyes on Jesus to find lasting peace

John 14:27-31A
Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe. I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.”
          Occasionally, I like to take an informal survey of our students, to measure the pulse of our pupils on different topics. Today I’d like to know your mind on the subjects of war, peace and prosperity. Under your chairs you’ll find a brief survey with four questions and multiple choice answers. The first question is: “What is the greatest threat to world peace: (1) nuclear war, (2) Islamic militants, (3) pervasive poverty (4) over taxation?” The second question is: “Which presidential candidate can best deal with that threat: (1) Hilary Clinton, (2) Ted Cruz, (3) John Kasich, (4) Bernie Sanders or (5) Donald Trump?” (By the way, I listed them alphabetically so you don’t think I’m trying to sway you to choose Clinton!) The third question is: “Do you think the U.S. form of government is the best hope for peace and prosperity in the world: true or false?” And the fourth question is: “What is your greatest personal fear or worry: (1) parents getting divorced, (2) rejection by your friends, (3) failing a test/not getting into college, (4) acne or your body image?” Now, take a moment to fill that out, fold your paper in half so no one can see your answers, and drop it in the basket.
          This past January my parents and I were going to travel to India for two weeks. Shortly before that, terrorists attacks happened in Paris and San Bernardino, CA. We cancelled our trip out of fear of traveling through international airports and getting blown up. We all need to think about things happening in the world: because global events sometimes have personal and painful consequences.
          In the gospel today, Jesus speaks precisely to these fears and anxieties.  He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” And then he adds: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” In other words, whatever robs you of your peace of mind – whether it is parents’ divorce, acne, nuclear war, taxes, etc. – these things are all small potatoes next to Jesus and his love. As long as you keep your eyes on Jesus, everything will be okay. That’s why here at Trinity you all go to Mass every Tuesday. We’re telling you: “Keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t take your eyes off Jesus. Only Jesus gives you a peace that will last forever.”
          A parishioner recently asked my opinion about a book he was reading called, “The 5000 Year Leap.” The author basically argued that the U.S. government was the best hope for peace and prosperity in the world. I replied that the U.S. government is indeed great, and we are blessed to live in this country. But at the end of the day, it is a man-made form of government. And all man-made forms of government will eventually decline and disappear. Instead, your best hope for peace and prosperity – and peace and prosperity that will last forever – lies in Jesus. Only if we keep our eyes on Jesus will our “hearts not be troubled or afraid.”
          Boys and girls, don’t just keep your eyes on Jesus every Tuesday, but keep your eyes on him every day, and you will feel great peace.  By the way, my parents and I have rescheduled our trip to India for this July. Please pray that we make it back alive!

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

When All Speak Well

Accepting persecution for our faith

Acts of the apostles 13:14, 43-52
Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. On the sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats. Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God. The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region. The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
          My first pastor, Msgr. Gaston Hebert, taught me a lot about being a priest, and he’s still teaching me. One day while we were at Christ the King together (he was pastor and I was his associate) I was commenting that people seemed to like my homilies, and he casually remarked, “John, beware when all men speak well of you.” No one could burst your bubble as beautifully as Hebert could. He was quoting Jesus who warned his disciples in Luke 6:26, saying, “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.” I never forgot that warning: beware when all speak well of you.
          So, after I became a pastor myself, I started keeping a file of all the letters I’ve received where someone criticized me as a priest. As you can imagine, after 20 years, I’ve received my share of angry letters, and this past week I added another one to the file. Let me share a few lines of the latest letter. One side of the letter (there were two) expressed deep displeasure about noises and distractions when the person came to pray in church – like cleaning and music practice – which I’m sure everyone has felt at one time or another.  The back side of the letter began with the words, “Now about you…” and I took a deep breath, thinking: “Here it comes…” It said, “Start acting like you’re in charge, the leader. [You should] do baptisms, funeral rosaries, stations [of the cross]; we don’t want a stand in.” He or she went on: “Funeral homilies should focus on the religious and spiritual. Forget the funny stories and who said what. Visit the sick and [the] nursing homes [more] regularly and the funerals will be easier.” Here’s the conclusion: “[What we need around here is] a strong leader…[so] jump in and do it, or transfer.” Now, I don’t share this letter to humiliate the sender, on the contrary, I want to say “thank you.” You see, they did not sign their name, so I could not send a letter in response. I’m hoping whoever sent it is present at Mass, so please accept my thanks for your letter and my apology for the annoyances in church. I actually agree with many things in the letter, and will take them to heart and to prayer. I have a long way to go to be a perfect priest.
          In the small town of Ars, France, where St. John Vianney was a pastor, the priests of his diocese conspired together, and all signed a petition saying that Fr. John Vianney was not good enough to be a priest. They wanted the bishop to defrock him. St. John Vianney asked to see the petition, and proceeded to sign his own name to it, and wrote: “I do not think John Vianney is good enough to be a priest either.” Who is good enough to be a priest? Someday, I hope to be able to show my big fat file of letters to Msgr. Hebert and say, “See, here is plenty of proof that all men do not speak well of me.”
          In the first reading today, the apostles Paul and Barnabas find proof that not all men speak well of them either. They have arrived in Antioch and preach in the local synagogue. Now, some of their hearers loved their message, but others were steaming with fury and jealousy. So what did their enemies do? Acts of the Apostles reads: “The Jews incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory.” And how did the apostles react? You might think they lodged a complaint with the Mayor of Antioch, or called the chief of police, or demanded their rights. That’s what you and I might do. Instead, they simply “shook the dust from their feet…and were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” When the apostles suffered for Jesus, they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. You see, I was not exactly filled with joy and the Holy Spirit when I received that letter last week, but I should have been.
          My friends, have you ever been criticized for something you said or did? I’m sure you have. But when was the last time you were criticized for your Christianity, for being a believer? I once saw a bumper-sticker that read: “If you were arrested for your Christianity, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I worry sometimes that we avoid saying or doing anything overtly Catholic so no one will take offense and send us an angry letter. In 1985, Rober Bellah, the famed sociologist, co-authored a classic book called “Habits of the Heart,” in which he described a highly privatized form of religion called “Sheila-ism.” The book contains an interview with a young nurse with the pseudonym of “Sheila Larson,” who said, “I believe in God. [But] I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. [My faith] is Sheilaism. It’s my own little voice…It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself.” She basically made up her own religion that wouldn’t bother anyone else. In other words, believers of Sheilaism don’t get angry letters and persecution because their religion is purely private. Msgr. Hebert would say to her: “Sheila, beware when all people speak well of you.”
          But if you believe in Catholicism instead of Shielaism, then someone will eventually get upset with you, criticize you, and even persecute you. Why? Well, Catholicism is not purely private; it’s mean to change the world. So, be ready for some push-back when you speak up for traditional marriage, or when you show homosexual persons dignity and respect, or if you defend the rights of immigrants, or if you promote the pro-life movement, or if you stand up for religious liberty, or if you avoid using contraception and have a large family (by large family I mean having 3 children!), or if you support the pope’s call to care for the environment, or if you believe that racism is a sin found in every heart including your own, if you don’t believe in assisted suicide for the elderly and terminally ill, if you care for the refugee and the orphan and the victims of human trafficking. If you stand for any of these things, or anything else the Catholic Church teaches, be ready for angry letters of complaint and contradiction.
          Folks, people didn’t crucify Jesus because he believed in Sheilaism, but because he wanted to change the world. I think every Christian should carry a file of letters of disapproval and disagreement. Why? So that if you are ever put on trial for being a Christian, there might be enough evidence to convict you. Beware when all speak well of you.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Constant Gardener

Seeing the blood of martyrs as the seeds of the
Church
Acts of the apostles 8:1B-8
There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him. Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment.
          Have you ever heard the phrase “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”? It was written by the early Christian writer named Tertullian in 197 during the time of the Roman persecutions of the early Christians, when Christians were being thrown into the Colosseum and devoured by lions, while others were tortured and crucified. Seeing all their blood spilt in sport, Tertullian saw a deeper spiritual truth, namely, those drops of blood would fall to the ground like “seeds” and soon sprout into the flowers and indeed the forest of the saints. Just think about it: planting a seed takes a moment of time, but the mighty oak that grows from it can stand tall for thousands of years. You see, Tertullian was giving hope to all those early Christians: that their suffering and sorrow was not in vain, but rather a source of grace and glory for the budding Church. Tertullian would conclude that writing with this bold statement: “Crucify us – torture us – condemn us – destroy us! Your injustice is the proof of our innocence…When we are condemned by you, we are acquitted by God” (Apologeticum, chapter 50).
          In the Acts of the Apostles, we see when the very first seed of the Church was planted, namely, the martyrdom of St. Stephen. Stephen’s claim to fame is that he’s the first follower whose faith led him to shed his blood for Christ. How would you like that on your resume: “first Christian martyr”? As Stephen was being stoned to death, his blood fell to the ground in Jerusalem.  But those drops of blood were also like seeds planted in the heart of a man named Saul the Pharisee, who ruthlessly and viciously tried to destroy the Church. Years later, on the road to Damascus, those seeds that Stephen planted began to sprout in Saul’s heart, when he was knocked off his high horse, and had a vision of Jesus. Slowly, the seeds of Stephen’s blood would grow into the towering oak of the figure of St. Paul, one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. The blood of martyrs is always the seeds of the Church.
          My friends, you and I are blessed to live in a land where we enjoy religious freedom; we’re not persecuted for our faith. But that’s not true everywhere. On March 4 of this year, two gunmen entered a Missionary of Charity nursing home in Yemen, where Mother Teresa’s sisters were caring for the elderly, the poor and the disabled. The gunmen killed 4 nuns and 16 other people. Each victim was handcuffed and shot in the head. The four nuns names are: Sr. Anselm, Sr. Judith, Sr. Marguerite, and Sr. Reginette. Those people who perpetrated that persecution may believe they are destroying the Church – that’s what the Roman emperors thought and that’s what Saul the Pharisee thought – but they are sorely mistaken. They are only acting as God’s gardeners who are planting the sacred seeds of the saints. The drops of blood that fell on the ground in Yemen are also the seeds of faith that have fallen in the hearts of many people, people who one day will sprout into the flower and the forests of the saints.
          Seeing the persecuted Church throughout the world, Pope Saint John Paul II predicted that there would be a “new Springtime of Christianity.” But the pope-saint also knew well that spring only comes after the winter. Or, as Shakespeare famously wrote: “Now is the winter of our discontents made glorious summer by this sun of York” (Richard III, I, i)

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

You’re a Rockstar

Learning to see with the eyes of faith

John 6:30-35
The crowd said to Jesus: “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always.”  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
          Do you know what a “double entendre” is? It’s a figure of speech in which one word has two meanings, in French, “double entendre.” For example, if I were to say, “Alex Dupree, you’re a rockstar!” Would I mean that she’s really an accomplished and famous singer with a band and multiple platinum hit songs? No. Wait, you’re not really, right? Too bad. But I’m using the word “rockstar” as a double entendre, and I mean she’s really good in volleyball and she’s respected among her peers. One word: two meanings.
          In the classic book by Homer, called “The Odyssey,” the hero Odysseus is captured by a Cyclops. Odysseus tells the Cyclops his name is “Oudeis,” which literally means “no-one.” Later that night Odysseus stabs the Cyclops in his one eye, and when the Cyclops runs out of his cave yelling, “No-one has hurt me!” the other Cyclopses think he’s talking nonsense, and ignore him. That’s how Odysseus and his men escape. Understanding double entendres can save your life, in case you’re ever captured by a Cyclops.
          In the gospel today, we see Jesus using a double entendre: one word with two meanings. That word is “bread.” Jesus says, “My father gives you the true bread from heaven…which gives life to the world.” The Jews only understood one meaning of bread – like the bread on your sandwich – so they said, “Sir, give us this bread always, so we don’t have to go shopping at Walmart for more bread!” But Jesus answers, “I am the bread of life.” And we know that we receive Jesus, the bread of life, every time we come forward for Holy Communion. One word: two meanings. By the way, in the first reading St. Stephen uses a double entendre, too. He accuses the Jews of being “uncircumcised in heart and ears.” I’ll let Nurse Williams explain to you what “circumcision” is after Mass and then you’ll get the double entendre. You see, understanding the double entendres in the Bible can also save your life, your eternal life.
          Boys and girls, I would like to suggest to you that double entendres can be like an “interpretive key” to help you unlock many mysteries of our faith. As you study your faith, look for one word with two meanings. When Jesus says we must be “born again” he’s talking about baptism, not literally crawling back into your mother’s womb and popping out again. (All the mothers just shuddered.) When Jesus says we must carry our cross, he means we do voluntary sacrifice, not that we carry a large piece of lumber around everywhere we go. When Jesus says we must eat his Body and drink his Blood, he doesn’t mean we take a bite out of his arm, but rather we receive Holy Communion. When Jesus says to use the “eyes of faith” he doesn’t mean you go buy stronger prescription glasses, but rather you see spiritual realities hidden in material realities.
          In other words, the eyes of faith will allow you to see the double entendres all around us. And then you will begin to walk by faith and not by sight, and maybe you, too, will become a rockstar.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Whatsa Matta You

Practice does not always make you perfect

John 21:1-19
At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
          Have you ever heard the adage: “Practice makes perfect”? If you’ve ever tried to play the piano, or dribble a basketball, or learn Latin, or serve a soufflĂ©, someone probably told you, “Practice makes perfect.” But does practice always make you perfect? I don’t think so.
          Three engineers and three accountants were traveling by train to a conference. At the station, the 3 accountants each bought a ticket, but the engineers only bought one ticket for all three of them. One accountant asked, “How will you all travel with only one ticket?” An engineer answered, “Watch, and you’ll see.” They all boarded the train and the accountants found their seats, while the 3 engineers all crammed into a restroom. After the trained departed, the conductor, who collects tickets, knocked on the bathroom door and said, “Ticket, please.” The bathroom door opened slightly and a hand stuck out with one ticket. The conductor took the ticket and moved on. The accountants were impressed. After the conference, the accountants and engineers met again at the train station. This time the accountants agreed to buy only one ticket (you know how accountants are smart about money), but this time the engineers didn’t buy any ticket. One accountant asked, “How are you going to travel without any ticket?” An engineer answered, “Watch, and you’ll see.” When they boarded the train, the 3 accountants crammed into one of the bathrooms, and the 3 engineers climbed into another bathroom close by. The train departed. Shortly afterward, one of the engineers left the bathroom, walked over to where the accountants were hiding. He knocked on the door and said, “Ticket, please.” If you didn’t get that joke, you’re probably an accountant. Even though the accountants had practiced, it didn’t make them perfect. Practice doesn’t always make you perfect.
          In the gospel today, Jesus is finding the same disappointing results with his apostles: lots of practice but very little perfection. Now, understand the context of the gospel: Jesus has risen from the dead, an earth-shattering miracle, that has torn the fabric of the cosmos, opening the doors of heaven to all humanity. Not only that, but Jesus has astoundingly appeared to the apostles two times, even passing through locked doors. And Thomas has even put his hand into Jesus’ side and his finger into the nail-marks in his hands. And what to do the apostles do after all this? Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” And the others reply, “We’ll go with you.” They went fishing. Really? Practice did not make perfect. Then Jesus practices a little with Peter, teaching him to say “I love you” three times. But Peter’s love was not perfect either. Just like the three accountants on the train, the apostles practiced loving Jesus, but they were not perfect. Practice does not always make you perfect.
          Do you know that we priests also go to confession? Would you like to know what we say in confession? Yeah, I bet you would! You’ll have to become a priest to find out. I try to go to confession about every three months. Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa would go to confession every week. Makes you wonder: what did they do?? But I’ll never forget what one priest told me after I made a particularly heart-wrenching confession. He simply said: “That was a good confession.” Now, don’t misunderstand: he wasn’t saying that my sins were good; he was saying “practice does not make perfect.” In other words, you are not a perfect priest but you are a good priest. His words gave me a great deal of peace. We can’t be perfect Christians, but we can make perfect confessions.
          My friends, our culture is caught up with the pursuit of perfection. Do you get caught up in that pursuit, too? Are you trying to be a perfect Christian and never make a mistake? Do you have to have the perfect home or the perfect car? Do you need to send you children to the perfect school? (That would be Immaculate Conception, of course). Are you waiting to marry the perfect man, or wed the perfect woman? Do you kill yourself to have the perfect body, to make the perfect grades in school, to pitch the perfect game in baseball, to never get pulled over for speeding? You know, I had a teacher in high school who never gave his students a 100% on a paper they wrote, no matter how good it was. The best he would give you was a 99%. He explained, “You can always improve and do better. You’ll only be perfect in heaven.” Sometimes, we’re okay with not being perfect, but we want everyone else to be perfect! We want people in Fort Smith to stop running red lights, we want people to stop picking their nose in public, we want politicians to talk straight, and we want priests to give great sermons. We used to say, “I’m okay, you’re okay.” But today we say, “I’m okay, but you’re not okay.” Whatsa matta you??
          On Friday, Pope Francis released a new, major document on family life called “The Joy of Love,” where he cautioned us not to expect family life to be perfect. The Holy Father wrote: “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love” (Amoris laetitia, 325). In other words, no family will get a 100% grade here on earth. The only perfect families are in heaven. And that, by the way, is where you’ll find the perfect Christians, too.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

God’s Neat, Let’s Eat

Giving thanks to God in all circumstances
John 6:1-15

The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”  Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.  So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
          I love to go to people’s homes for supper, and I do so almost every night. Sometimes families ask me to lead the Grace before meals. But I always enjoy when the family says their own version of that prayer, and especially when the children lead it. Here are some humorous examples I’ve heard. One child was kind of hungry, so he said simply: “God’s neat, let’s eat!” Here’s one you can use all year long, and even during Lent: “Good food, good meat. Good God, let’s eat!” But during Lent you’d say: “Good food, no meat. Good God, let’s eat!” Here’s one that’s borderline irreverent: “Dear God, Holy Ghost, whoever eats the fastest gets the most!” And in case you started to eat before you prayed, keep this one handy: “Forgive me Lord, I’m a little late. Bless this food that I just ate.” I think these prayers of thanksgiving would make God laugh as much as the rest of us.
          In the gospel today we see that giving thanks is not just for children; it’s something Jesus did, too. Today he performs the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. But notice what he did before everyone ate, the gospel says, “he gave thanks.” How fascinating to think that Jesus, who is the Son of God, also gave thanks. Who knows if he was the first one to pray: “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Amen.” As a matter of fact, Jesus had a habit of giving God thanks at key moments in life: when he saw God give wisdom to the simple (Mt. 11:25), when he raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn. 11:40-42), and when he was at the Last Supper (Mt. 26:25). In other words, a profound attitude of gratitude permeated Jesus’ words and deeds, because he knew that “God’s neat, let’s eat!”
          My friends, every serious Christian should foster a deep spirit of thanksgiving in our hearts, beginning with thanking God for our food, but also thanking him for everything else. We recently had the funeral for David McMahon. During his final years as he was sick and weak, he would constantly thank people for helping him. He said “thank you” with all his heart, and you could tell he really meant it. Have you ever thanked God for your failures? Scott Hahn once said (I’m paraphrasing), “When we do something well, others grow, but when we do something poorly, we grow.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly learned a lot more from my mistakes than I have from my successes. So, thank God for your flops.
          Indeed, I think it is a mark of Christianity maturity that we spontaneously give God thanks at all times, in all life’s circumstances, because we see that everything comes from his loving hands. Look at it this way: if Jesus, the Son of God, felt the need to give thanks to God, don’t you think we should feel that need, too? God’s neat, let’s eat!

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Tug-o-War with God

Learning not to fight against God in life

Acts of the apostles 5:27-33
When the court officers had brought the Apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the Apostles said in reply, “We must obey God rather than men.  The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
          One of the most entertaining but also most exhausting games you’ll play is “tug-o-war.” When I was at Catholic High in Little Rock, our principal would have a tug-o-war contest between the football team and the physical fitness team: raw, brute strength versus highly refined muscle power. Who do you think won? The football team always won, not because they were physically stronger, but because they worked as a team. They pulled as one man.
          What would be a fun tug-o-war match here at Trinity? What if six boys from the football team took on our coaches? Who would you put your money on? What if our Quiz Bowl team took on the teachers? But remember: this is not about brains but about brawn. What if the girls basketball team took on the girls volleyball team – who would come out on top? It’s fun to think about who is the strongest in our school, and tug-o-war is the ideal test of strength.
          But have you ever thought of a tug-o-war match against God? I mean, if God were on the other end of the rope it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s going to win, isn’t it? This is exactly what St. Peter says in the first reading today: we don’t want to play tug-o-war against God because we know who’ll win. The Jewish Sanhedrin asks the apostles why they disobey the Jewish authorities and keep preaching about Jesus. Peter replies: “We must obey God rather than men.” In other words, we think we can beat you, Jewish leaders, in a tug-o-war match (we’re stronger than you), but there’s no way we can beat God. In fact, we’d rather have God on our end of the rope, rather than having him pulling against us. God is a lot stronger than the Catholic High football team. You see, the game tug-o-war teaches a simple spiritual lesson: it’s not smart to play tug-o-war against God.
          Sometimes I visit a patient who’s dying in the hospital. And the family of the patient is sad and distraught. They’re not sure how long to continue the life-saving treatments. I say to them, “At a certain point it will become clear that God is calling this person home to heaven. You don’t want to play ‘tug-o-war’ with God.” Sometimes a young man feels God calling him to be a priest, or a young woman feels the tug to become a nun. Let me give you some advice: don’t play tug-o-war with God. Be careful when you feel that you are pulling your life in one direction, but God is gently tugging in another. Every time we face a temptation to do something wrong – cheat on a test, be lazy and skip practice, don’t do our homework, spread rumors about others, act arrogantly or be vain – we play tug-o-war with God. We want one thing, but God wants something else for us. You’d think we know who’s going to win that test of strength against God -- the most obvious thing in the world -- but we keep picking up the rope and daring God to a re-match.
          Tug-o-war is one of the most entertaining and also the most exhausting games you’ll ever play. Why? Well, because you’ll be playing it for your whole life.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Marry This Age

Learning the culture of heaven
John 3:16-21
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
           How do you learn more about your religion? How do you typically go about deepening your Catholic faith? We’d all like to answer that it’s through reading the Bible and studying the Catechism and through prayer. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll say we probably learn it through the evening news and google, or maybe watching movies or T.V. shows, or by reading Bill O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Jesus”! Recently, the Pew Research Center tried to define these “cultural Catholics” and said they basically depend on their culture to learn about Christ and Catholicism (“Who are ‘cultural Catholics’,” Pew Research Center, Sept. 3, 2015). But what happens when the culture becomes less Catholic? Well, just look at your kids and grandkids: how Catholic are they?
          I like to joke that living in Fort Smith is like going back to 1985 because our culture in this town is still stuck in the eighties. But I mean that as a compliment, not as a criticism. Why? Well, because it was a lot easier to be Catholic back in the 80’s, because the culture was more Catholic. But here’s the risk: if you live by the culture, you will also die by the culture.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen said succinctly: “If you marry this age, you will become a widow in the next.”
          Do you know where I learned today’s gospel passage from? It was at a baseball game! Have you ever seen that guy who holds up a sign with the Bible verse, “John 3:16” written on it? I’m sure it’s the same guy at all the different sporting events. But I kept seeing that sign, so I decided to look it up. It’s the first line of today’s gospel: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” In other words, I learned John 3:16 at a baseball game. Would I ever have learned that Scripture passage without that fan at a baseball game? Probably not. You see, if you live by the culture, you will die by the culture.
          My friends, we don’t need the Pew Research Center to tell us our Catholicism is mainly cultural. We see it in our families at home, and I see it in our parishioners at church. In sober and serious moments, I even see it in the face staring back in the mirror. So, let me urge you to take care not to be caught up in ANY culture: whether the modern American culture, or that of the 80’s, or that of the 50’s, etc. Rather, deepen your faith by actually reading the Bible (not just at baseball games), and studying the Catechism (not just when Bill O’Reilly quotes it), and spending time in quiet prayer (not just when your life is falling apart). Then, you will start learning a different culture, namely, the culture of heaven. And if you marry that age, you will never become a widow.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Guess That’s My Church

Welcoming everyone into our hearts like Jesus
John 20:19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”…Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
          I love to see the doors of our church wide open, especially at the end of Mass. Now, I don’t say that just because open doors means that Mass is over; but also because I can see all the way down Garrison Avenue, and into Oklahoma. One Sunday at the end of Mass after the ushers opened the doors, I leaned over to Dc. Charlie and said, “You know, my heart always skips a beat when our church doors open.” He asked, “Why is that?” I replied, “Because I can see the Indian Territory.” I think there’s something beautiful about open church doors, while on the other hand, there is something sad about locked church doors.  Can you remember the days when church doors were never locked? It wasn’t that long ago.
          In his very first encyclical called “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis wrote about this phenomenon. He said, “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door” (Evangelii gaudium, no. 47). Have you ever felt moved to come to church – to pray, or to sit quietly with Jesus, or to get away from your screaming kids – and found the church doors locked? How sad to squander such an inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
          In the gospel today, Jesus visits the apostles and he finds their doors locked. And this happens two times in the gospel, not just once. But the real doors Jesus found locked were not the ones made of wood, but the doors of the apostles’ hearts. Their hearts were locked because of fear, and Jesus was not able to enter. Isn’t fear the same reason why our church doors are locked, too? You see, fear may keep us safe from robbers, but it also locks others out, others whom we should love. And when we lock others out, we lock Jesus out, too.
          Two weeks ago, I received an email that I want to share with you. At first, when I glanced at the subject line of the email, I thought it said, “Complaint.” And I thought, “Oh, boy, what did Dc. Greg do this time??” But when I looked more closely, I saw the subject line really read: “Compliment.” It read: “Hi, Fr. John. My wife and I recently moved here from the Las Vegas area and have been randomly visiting the three Catholic churches in Fort Smith on Sundays to determine where we’ll feel more comfortable.” (I thought: “Yep, they’ll fit right in here with all the other Roamin’ Catholics, who visit different churches on Sundays!”) He went on: “Immaculate Conception fits the bill for a number of reasons: the religious activities available, the people we’ve met, the attitude of devotion shown by the parishioners and many other intangibles come to mind.” Now comes the best part, he continued: “My wife is Presbyterian and has for some time been considering RCIA. We’ve already spoken to your RCIA coordinator and set up a meeting for early June…I feel the Holy Spirit moved us both to want to make Immaculate Conception our home, and we will be completing the registration form to join.” Now, I don’t share that to criticize our neighboring Catholic parishes, but only to say this: we may lock up our church at night, but we never lock up our hearts. You see, the best compliment you can get is having an open heart, while the worst complaint you can receive is having a closed heart. The doors to your heart are the doors that matter.
          You know, as nice as it is to receive such an email, I also know we need to examine our hearts and check our doors to make sure they are not locked. Ask yourself today: is there someone you have locked out of your heart? Is there someone in your family, a brother or a sister, a spouse, or a mother-in-law, who has been locked out of your heart? Maybe it is a group of people like Muslims or immigrants or prisoners, who are not welcome inside your heart? How about people from different denominations or sexual orientations; can they come in? What about Donald Trump and his hair, or Hilary Clinton and the chip on her shoulder: is there enough room for those towering personalities? What about poor people, or those with tattoos, or the mentally ill and the severely handicapped? You see, if anyone is left out of your heart, then you’ve left Jesus out of your heart. Just like in the gospel today, Jesus keeps visiting us again and again “although the doors were locked.”
          Have you heard the song by Maren Morris called “My Church”? She sings that she feels closer to God driving in her car than attending church services. She sings:
I’ve cussed on a Sunday
I’ve cheated and I’ve lied
I’ve fallen down from grace,
A few too many times.
But I find holy redemption
When I put this car in drive
Roll the windows down and turn up the dial
[Here’s the Chorus]
Can I get a hallelujah,
Can I get an amen,
Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya,
When I play the highway FM
I find my soul revival,
Singing every single verse
Yeah, I guess that’s my church.
Yeah, I guess that’s my church.”
          You know, for some people driving around in a car can be more of a “religious experience” than coming to church on Sunday, because it’s easier to open their car door than to open the church door. When the doors of our church open my heart skips a beat because I can see the Indian Territory. When people from the Indian Territory look inside our church doors, does their heart skip a beat?

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Umbilical Cord Rosary

Preaching the gospel without time or training
Acts of the apostles 4:13-21
Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, the leaders, elders, and scribes were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus. Then when they saw the man who had been cured standing there with them, they could say nothing in reply. So they ordered them to leave the Sanhedrin, and conferred with one another, saying, “What are we to do with these men? Everyone living in Jerusalem knows that a remarkable sign was done through them, and we cannot deny it. But so that it may not be spread any further among the people, let us give them a stern warning never again to speak to anyone in this name.”
          Do you know how long I studied to be a priest? I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, I have a master of divinity in theology, I have a master of arts in Sacred Scripture, and I have a licentiate in canon law. And before that I went to a Catholic high school, and before that I attended a Catholic elementary school. Heck, I was probably praying the rosary in my mother’s womb using her umbilical cord! But do you know how much of that is absolutely necessary to preach the gospel to other people? None of it. What is necessary is a personal encounter with Jesus, lots of love for the Lord.
          Listen to what the pope said in his first major encyclical called, “The Joy of the Gospel.” Pope Francis wrote: “Anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love” (Evangelii gaudium, no. 120). In other words, sharing our Christian faith, hope and love is not only for professional priests; it is a duty for all of us: from the womb to the tomb.
          In the Acts of the Apostles we see exactly this “amateur faith in action.” By the way the word “amateur” come from the Latin word for love   (“amo, amare”) and refers to someone who does something more out of love than for pay, like a professional would. Love is the difference between an amateur and a professional. Therefore we read in Acts: “Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men” – that’s the key phrase, “uneducated, ordinary men” – “the leaders and elders were amazed, and they recognized them as companions of Jesus.” In other words, long before there were seminaries and theologians and canon law degrees, there were simply Christians who had “truly experienced God’s saving love and without much time or lengthy training went out to proclaim that love.” You see, you don’t need a doctorate in theology to be a companion of Jesus; you just need to fall in love.
          You know, sometimes I invite people to get more involved in some church activity and almost always people respond by saying they cannot do it because they have no training or preparation. And to be sure training and preparation are important. But that is not the essential thing. The only absolutely necessary qualification is love, and the more love you have for our Lord, the better the disciple you will be. So, be bold in getting involved as a leader in Bible study, as a youth minister, as a sacristan, lectors, as a deacon, working in soup kitchens, and even helping with Bingo on Monday evenings. No one has an exemption from being a Christian evangelist. St. Paul encouraged young Timothy saying, “Preach the word, be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:10). Indeed, we must evangelize from the womb to the tomb, and the more amateur the apostle, the better.

          Praised be J
esus Christ!

Friday, April 1, 2016

April Fools for Christ

Foolishly believing in the resurrection

Acts of the Apostles 4:1-12
After the crippled man had been cured, while Peter and John were still speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees confronted them, disturbed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They laid hands on Peter and John and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word came to believe and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
          Boys and girls, today is April Fool’s Day and people try to play tricks on each other. Do you like it when people play tricks on you? No! Do you like to play tricks on other people? Yes! Let me tell you about some old April Fool’s tricks. Back in the 1700’s in England, people would say on April 1st: “You should go to the Tower of London to watch the washing of the lions.” Now, were they really washing lions there? Of course not. But foolish people would show up! Or in France in the 1800’s children would tape a paper fish on the backs of adults called “piosson d’Avril,” which in French means “the April fish.” Fish are easy to catch in April and so are fools. On April 1, 1975, an Australian T.V. station reported that the country would switch to the metric system. Therefore, seconds would be called “millidays” and minutes would be called “cenitdays” and hours would be called “decidays.” I would rather have a “Do-See-Do”! So, don’t believe everything you see and hear on April 1.
          In the first reading today, the Sadducees are angry at the apostles because they are teaching people that Jesus rose from the dead. Now, did the Sadducees believe that Jesus was alive? Not at all. For them, Jesus’ rising from the dead was the oldest April Fool’s trick in the world! But it wasn’t a trick. That’s why Jesus appeared to his apostles multiple times, to prove to them that his resurrection was not an April Fool’s trick; it really happened. You see, to the Sadducees it was a trick; to the apostles it was true.
          Boys and girls, April 1st is not the only day we can be fooled; and people play tricks on us all year long. We even play tricks on ourselves. Sometimes people think they will always stay young. One day, I was talking to a young altar server before Mass and I asked him, “How old do you think I am?” He said, “Maybe 50?” I said, “Thank you.” Then I asked him, “Do you think you will be 50 one day?” He quickly replied, “No way!” But it’s foolish to think we’ll stay young forever. We foolishly think teachers who are hard are no good. When I was in college I didn’t like one professor because he was so hard. But now I see I learned the most from him. I was foolish in college. Some people think it is foolish to come to church and to pray. They say, “God doesn’t hear our prayers and he never answers our prayers.” I think that is foolish to think that. In fact, St. Paul told the Corinthians, “We are fools for Christ” (1 Cor 4:10) because he knew that what we believe and what we do will seem foolish to other people.
          Boys and girls, today is April Fool’s Day and so don’t believe everything you see and hear today. Don’t let people trick you!  But some things you do NOT see and you do NOT hear you should believe, like Jesus’ resurrection. It’s good to be an April Fool for Christ.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!