Friday, July 29, 2016

Paint by Numbers

Letting God shape and mold us in his loving hands  
Jeremiah 18:1-6  
This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Rise up, be off to the potter’s house; there I will give you my message. I went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased. Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.   
          Well, we had an unforgettable and blessed vacation in India; thank you for all your prayers. I spent 2 ½ weeks - day and night - with my parents, and I still love them! More surprisingly, they still love me! We didn’t get eaten by any lions or tigers or bears, oh my! But more impressive than the wild animals were the wonderful people we met along the way. Let me tell you about one of them.
          On the flight to India, I sat next to a man originally from Iran, returning to see his widowed mother. He told me that at 18, he had had enough of his father and saved $4,000 to come the U.S. He got a scholarship to study engineering in Philadelphia and then a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. He started his own engineering company in Nevada and is very successful with his own patents. Ten years ago he finally flew home because his father was dying of depression. His father’s final words to him were, “I am dying because you left us.” I was stunned, but he went on, saying, “That’s why I now fly home every three months to see my mother.” As we deplaned I thanked him for sharing his story, and I promised him I would make the most of my time with my parents, on this trip and afterwards. For that man, his personal achievement in business paled in comparison to his personal failure with his father. He wouldn’t make the same mistake with his mother.   
          In the first reading today the prophet Jeremiah learns who the Teacher is behind these life lessons, namely, God. Jeremiah sees a potter working with clay, shaping and reshaping the slimy lump on his wheel. The key phrase for me is: “Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again.” I can’t help but think of my Iranian friend, who had “turned out badly” at 18, rejecting his father. But God kept working on him, and tried again, and now the man deeply loves his mother. And even more than that: he was a Muslim who taught a Catholic priest about loving his parents. God had taught him more than he ever could have learned at the University of Pennsylvania or the Wharton School of business.   
          I’ve never been a big fan of the painter, Pablo Picasso, especially his abstract art. The images are distorted, disproportionate and divided. My 8 year old niece could paint better than that. Charlie Keuhl once said, “If you look closely, you can see the numbers.” But maybe Picasso was making the same point as Jeremiah’s potter: often the clay turns out badly. Indeed, Picasso himself hadn’t turned out so good either: he was born a Catholic but died an atheist; and he had fathered 4 children with 3 women. Professional success but personal failure. But God the Divine Potter never stopped trying to refashion Picasso the clay. To change the metaphor, in this case Picasso was the painting, and God was the artist.   
          Folks, try to see yourself as clay in the hands of God the potter, and let him shape you lovingly, tenderly, as you sit slowly spinning on his wheel. Even if your life feels like a Picasso painting - disturbed, disjointed and distressed - God will refashion you. Don’t give up, be patient, and just let Him keep working. God is trying to make you a masterpiece.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Killing Cops

Opening our hearts to trust and love everyone  
Luke 10:25-37  
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.   
          As you may know, the next two weeks I’ll be going to India with my parents, for a little vacation. In preparation for that trip, I am going to deliver the rest of this homily with an Indian accent, while bobbing my head back and forth. You know the old adage: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” But seriously, I am excited about the trip: seeing my family, eating spicy food that will “blow your head clean off,” riding on elephants and taming Bengal tigers – you know, what everyone does on an Indian vacation.   
          However, one thing I am not looking forward to is the long security check-points in the airports. Ugh. I really hate all the hassle of having to remove my shoes and belt, emptying my pockets, pulling out the laptop from its case, taking off my jacket or coat. You know, I remember many years ago someone asked Fr. George Tribou, the principal of Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, if he was going to install metal-detectors at the school entrances in case someone brought a gun to school. He replied in his wry style: “Of course not. Those boys have so much lead in their butts, it would go off all the time.” But do you know why we have all this extensive security in the airport? It’s because it’s very hard for us to trust people after 9/11. In other words, even though someone may look like an ordinary traveler – a man on his way to India with his parents – he might in fact be a deadly terrorist.  And I am convinced that this lack of trust has led to a lack of love.
          You see, I wonder if all this tight airport security has not also caused us to set up a similar security-check point in our hearts whenever we meet someone. That is, before I begin to love another person, before they enter into my heart, they have to pass security screening every bit as tough as TSA. We don’t let someone “board our hearts,” sort of say, if we don’t like how they dress, or we disagree with their religion, or their ethnic background, or what side of town they grew up on, or what language they speak. My friends, that attitude is not just “tight security,” the real name for that attitude is “racism” and “bigotry,” “discrimination” and “xenophobia.” That’s how a lack of trust leads to a lack of love.
          In the gospel today, Jesus invites us to reevaluate how tight our security screening is in our hearts, and really to remove it all together.  A lawyer wants to fulfill the commandment to love his neighbor, so he asks Jesus who his neighbor is. Jesus describes a man nearly beaten to death, left homeless and helpless. Two people walk by and ignore him, one of them is a priest – ouch, that hit a little close to home! But a Samaritan stops to help him. In other words, the priest and Levite had very tight security and not many could “board their hearts.” Their lack of trust had caused a lack of love. But the Samaritan had a sort of “open border policy” and everyone could get into his heart without exception. You see, the Samaritan could love everyone because he first trusted everyone; you cannot love your neighbor until you first trust your neighbor.
          It is in this context that I want to say a word about the shooting of police officers in Dallas last week. Of course, this is a part of the larger, national conversation about protecting police officers while respecting the African American community. There are lots of opinions on all sides, and everyone has a right to their opinion. Evelyn Beatrice Hall famously said: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But what no Christian can claim a right to is stop short of loving your neighbor, and that neighbor includes police officers and it includes the African American community. You see, no Christian in good conscience can put up such “tight security measures” in his or her heart that he or she excludes anyone.  And I would suggest to you that the first step of love is trust.  Where there is no trust, there can be no genuine love.  Just ask any married couple if they can love each other without first trusting each other.
          My friends, like the Samaritan in the gospel, try to trust others a little more today.  We must trust police officers; we must trust African Americans; and we must trust priests who talk with thick Indian accents. You cannot love someone that you do not trust.  You see, Fr. Tribou refused to install metal detectors at Catholic High not because of the lead in the boys’ butts, but because of the trust in his own heart.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Game of Thrones

Learning to love and lean on our angels  
Isaiah 6:1-8  
In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.   
          Do you believe in angels? Some people believe angels are just imaginary stories to help small children overcome their childish fears. Well, let me tell you, I am one of those children who needs angels to overcome my fears! I am convinced my guardian angel helps me to live a more happy and holy life. For example, my angel reminds me to leave the last bite of dessert for Elijah, he tells me to stop at two beers, he nudges me when I am falling asleep driving, he wakes me up at 4:30 a.m. to write my daily homily: he’s my angelic alarm.  In other words, with my angel to help me, I feel no fear.
          Catholic theology distinguishes 9 ranks, or “choirs of angels,” and these are mentioned frequently throughout the Mass, especially in the Preface. The highest rank of angels is called “Seraphim” which means “burning ones.” They are literally exploding with the fire of God’s burning love. The second are the “Cherubim” not to be confused with the little chubby cherubs in popular art. The third are called “Thrones” – they are the real Game of Thrones! – who are “the elders” in heaven presenting our prayers to God. The fourth rank are “Dominions,” whose job is to direct the duties of lower angels. The fifth rank is called “Virtues,” who cause the miracles we see on earth. The sixth choir is “Powers” who combat evil and are often depicted with armor and weaponry. The seventh are called “Principalities,” who guide and protect nations and groups of peoples. The United States, for example, has a “Principality” to protect us, and he must be working overtime! The second to lowest class are “Archangels” like Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. And last but not least are simple angels, like our guardian angels, like the angel who comforted Jesus in the Garden.
          In the first reading today, Isaiah beholds a vision of angels, who help him overcome his fears. He writes: “Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, with two they hovered aloft.” Now, remember the Seraphim are the highest ranking in the 9 angelic choirs, the burning ones. Notice what one Seraphim does: Isaiah feels doomed for seeing God and he is filled with deadly fear. But the angels touches his lips with a burning ember and removes all fear, and Isaiah is ready to be a prophet. You see, angels help not only small children but also great prophets to overcome their fears.
          Today I invite you to grow in your awareness and attention to the action of angels. Take a few moments to study angels: their presence, their purposes and their perfections. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially numbers 328-336. Speaking of angels, the Catechism teaches: “Form infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession” (no. 336). At noon every day, our church office staff gathers to pray the “Angelus” (meaning “angel”) as the church bells ring, remembering the action of angels in salvation history.   
          My friends, don’t become so old or so sophisticated that you cannot pray like a small child: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule and to guide. Amen.” Angels are all-around us to help us all overcome our childish fears.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Carmelite Shoes

Becoming materially poor in order to be spiritually rich  
Hosea 14:2-10  
Thus says the LORD: Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt. Take with you words, and return to the LORD; Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good, that we may render as offerings the bullocks from our stalls. Assyria will not save us, nor shall we have horses to mount; We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion.”   
          Before I became pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, I spent 3 months as a Carmelite wondering if God was calling me to that vocation. Even though I decided not to become a Carmelite monk, I learned a lot about the spiritual life. For instance I learned there is an “inverse proportion” between the spiritual and the material worlds, that is, the less material stuff you have, the more spiritual stuff you have. Or, you might say, “less is more” in the spiritual life.   
          St. Teresa of Avila, the 18th century Carmelite mystic and reformer, encouraged her nuns to practice poverty. She wrote in her classic book, The Way of Perfection, this telling statement: “If the house of 13 poor Carmelite nuns collapses, it should not make any noise.” In other words, their convent should be so simple and uncluttered that it should collapse in perfect silence. But while these poor nuns have nothing materially, spiritually-speaking they are so rich they make Bill Gates look like a poor, orphan child.  Even though their name “Discalced Carmelites” means they go “without even sandals,” the Carmelites wear very big spiritual shoes.  You see, the smaller your carbon footprint, the larger your spiritual footprint.   
          In the first reading today, the prophet Hosea preaches practicing poverty, too. He writes: “We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion.” In other words, the people should not put their trust in material things, “the work of their hands,” but rather be like an orphan, who has nothing materially, but “finds compassion” in God alone; the orphan is spiritually rich. Hosea wants people to catch this inverse proportion: the less you have materially, the more you have spiritually. Try to walk a mile or two in Carmelite shoes.   
          Let me give you a few examples of how to practice this inverse proportion. A few weeks ago I received a check from our parishioners for $32,000 to buy a new car.  But do you know what my first thought was? I asked myself: “How many students can I put through Catholic schools with this?” Now, my second thought was: “Hey, this is enough for a down-payment on a BMW!” In the past, parents used to send their children to Catholic schools: making themselves materially poor, but their children spiritually rich. One family told me they have left a significant portion in their inheritance for this church. Do we spend our money on church and charity or on more material things? Be a little less critical of foreign priests with thick accents. Ask yourself: why is there a priest-shortage in the United States and Europe, but not in India and Africa and Vietnam? That’s the inverse proportion: material lack often leads to spiritual abundance.   
          St. Teresa of Avila said: “If the house of 13 poor Carmelite nuns collapses, it should make no noise.” In the spiritual world, such a collapse would sound like an atomic explosion. Boom.    

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Jesus’ Generals

Loving and following all of our popes  
Matthew 9:32-38  
Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”   
          One of the most fascinating periods of American history is the Civil War, and nothing fascinates me personally more than Lincoln’s frustration finding a general who could win the war. There was George B. McClellan, who wanted to out-maneuver the enemy instead of out-fight him. There was John Pope, and Ambrose Burnside and Joseph Hooker, all good men but inadequate generals. There was George G. Meade, who actually had the Confederate Army on the ropes after the victory at Gettysburg, but again failed to finish the fight. It wasn’t until Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant to command all Union armies that he found the right man for the job.   
          But do you remember who Lincoln originally wanted to lead the Northern Army? It was General Robert E. Lee, who became the Commander of the Southern Army instead. Now, I first learned about Robert E. Lee by watching the T.V. show “Dukes of Hazard” where Bo and Luke Duke drove a car they named “General Lee.” An awesome car named for an awesome general. But Lee’s real claim to fame was not having a car named for him, but in being the best general on the field, bar none, and Lincoln knew that. Lee once said, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.” Lee was not only a great general, he was a good man.  Lincoln had a hard time finding the best general for the Union Army; it’s always hard to find good leaders.  
          In the gospel today, Jesus faces the same frustration of finding good leaders. The Lord looks upon the masses of men and women who are following him, much like Lincoln must have looked out at the Union Army: “At the sight of the crowds his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned like sheep without a shepherd.” And how did Jesus fare in finding generals for his troops? Well, his first twelve generals weren’t much better than Lincoln’s; indeed, one of them even betrayed Jesus: General Judas. It is never easy to find great leaders, whether it’s to lead the Union Army or to lead the Church Militant.  
          But we have to be careful not to take this analogy too far; like all analogies, this one also “limps,” meaning it breaks down. That is, we cannot compare too closely Lincoln’s generals with Jesus’ generals, especially the popes. They’re not the same. Sometimes we say “Pope John Paul II was a great pope, but I don’t like Pope Francis.” Or, “Benedict XVI was better than Pope Paul VI.” Have you ever done that? Me, too, but that’s wrong. I remember after Benedict XVI was elected as pope asking a friend of mine, Danny Hartnedy, if he liked him. Danny replied, “I love him; he’s the Holy Father.” What a great answer; put me in my place.  You see, each pope has gifts and talents and each one is precisely the right man for the job to be Jesus’ General. Therefore a good Catholic should refrain from publicly criticizing or comparing popes because each one has been given the charism to lead the Church with special help from the Holy Spirit.  
          And don’t forget how fortunate we are today: we actually enjoy the leadership of two popes to guide us!  

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Old Glory

Seeing how sacred some symbols should be  
Matthew 9:18-26  
While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward, knelt down before him, and said, “My daughter has just died. But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples. A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.” Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.” And from that hour the woman was cured.   
          In the Marine Corps Junior ROTC program I learned that some symbols are so special they are almost sacred, like the American flag. For example, I was taught that the American flag should never touch the ground, how it should be folded, the proper way it should be displayed in public, etc. My heart swells with pride when I watch Old Glory (the nickname for the flag) folded at a funeral of a veteran. On the other hand, my heart breaks when I see people wear it as clothing as their shirt or pants, or when people treat it with disrespect, or God forbid, burn it in effigy. The most iconic photograph of the flag was captured as Old Glory was raised atop Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II. In the photograph six Marines strive with all their strength to hoist the flag as a symbol of American valor and victory. And they made sure it never touched the ground, not even a tassel of it. The Marines taught me that the American flag is so special that every thread and fiber symbolizes our country.   
          In the gospel today we meet a woman who sees another piece of cloth as extremely sacred, namely, Jesus’ robe. She is suffering severely from a hemorrhage which she has endured for 12 years. She works her way through the constricting crowd just to be able to touch the tassel of Jesus’ cloak. She thinks: “If only I can touch his cloak I shall be healed.” And indeed she was healed. Now, this woman was not a U.S. Marine, but she understood as clearly as any colonel in the Corps that some things are so sacred that every fiber and thread carries power. She touched Jesus’ cloak like Marines would treat the American flag: with faith, hope and love. It would break that woman’s heart to see that cloak disrespected and destroyed in effigy, as indeed it would be when Jesus was crucified. Some symbols are so special they are sacred.   
          On this Independence Day, let me invite you to reflect on symbols that are special and sacred and how we treat them. I pray our country has not lost the sense of how special certain symbols are, like Old Glory. We Catholics, too, should reflect on symbols of our faith that are sacred. For instance, we should genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament. We bow our heads at the Name of Jesus. We treat the Bible with honor – at least dusting it weekly. We dress and behave properly in church. We kiss the relics of the saints. We speak with respect about the pope and priests. You see, some symbols are so special that every thread and fiber should be treated with faith, hope and love.   
          By the way, I also learned in ROTC that there’s a healthy rivalry among the branches of the military, the Army, Navy and Marines. That’s why the last stanza of the Marine Corps hymn concludes:   “Here’s health to you and to our Corps, Which we are proud to serve. In many a strife, we’ve fought for life, And never lost our nerve. If the Army and the Navy, Ever look on heaven’s scenes; They will find the streets are guarded, By United States Marines.”  

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Shining City on a Hill

Pledging our allegiance to the City of God  
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20  
At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.  He said to them, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.  Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God is at hand for you.' Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say,  'The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.' Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.   
          If you could live in any city in the world, where would you reside? What is your favorite city in the whole wide world? I suppose some would say Paris, France, also known as “the City of Lights.” “Oui, oui, Paris!” as the French say. Perhaps you’d prefer Dublin, Ireland, the “Land of Saints and Scholars.” Others would love Rome, the so-called “Eternal City.” But I would say “Fort Smith, AR” – I really do love this city! I remember when Fr. Joseph Shanitraj arrived last year, I thought: “Watch out, the Indians are taking over the Fort!” Now, people usually associate Fort Smith with Judge Isaac Parker, the notorious “Hanging Judge.” But did you know that Judge Parker, as he lay on his deathbed in 1896, actually converted and became Catholic? You see, he was married to Mary O’Toole, an Irish Catholic lady, who attended Immaculate Conception Church. Mary, together with the persistent prayers of the Sisters of Mercy, brought down God’s mercy on Judge Parker in his final days.   
          Have you ever read the novel called True Grit written in 1968 by Charles Portis? You probably watched the movie instead, like I did. The heroine, Mattie Ross, made this remark about Judge Parker’s death. She said sarcastically: “On his deathbed he asked for a priest and became Catholic. That was his wife’s religion. It was his business and none of mine.” She went on: “If you had sentenced one hundred and sixty men to death and seen around eighty of them swing (hung), then maybe at the last minute you would feel the need of some stronger medicine than the Methodist could make.” The reason I love this city of Fort Smith is because its culture is not only very “cowboy” but it’s also very “Catholic,” and that culture is symbolized in the life and death of its most famous citizen, Isaac Parker.  St. Augustine, in his classic work called, The City of God, explained that “the City of Man” – whether that is Paris or Rome or Fort Smith – was always at war with “the City of God” but that the City of God would ultimately triumph. You see, Judge Isaac Parker lived in Fort Smith, the City of Man, but he died a citizen of the City of God.   
          In the gospel today, Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples to announce his arrival at various other towns and places he intended to visit. Notice the specific instructions Jesus gives them. He says, “Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you’.” In other words, Jesus sends 72 disciples to establish the City of God – the Kingdom of God – in the hearts of those who live in the City of Man, just like Mary O’Toole helped Judge Parker become a citizen of the City of God before he died. C. S. Lewis described this tension between these two towns (these two cities) more colorfully, saying, “Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage” (Lewis, Mere Christianity).  You see, Catholic Christians are supposed to sort of “sabotage” the City of Man and make it little by little more into the City of God.   
          In 1989 President Ronald Reagan concluded two terms in office and delivered his farewell speech. In it he referred to the United States as a “shining city on a hill.” Do you remember that speech? Listen to what he said: “The past few days…I’ve thought a bit of the ‘shining city on a hill’…In my mind it was a tall, proud city, built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” Now, I gotta tell you, as an immigrant myself, I’m glad someone opened those doors when I came and knocked! You know, this weekend as we celebrate Independence Day, and our hearts swell with national pride, and we should be grateful we live in a great nation, a shining city on a hill.   
          But my friends, please do not mistake the City of Man for the City of God. For as great and glorious as our nation is, it is not perfect. For example, we have a long way to go to protect the life of the unborn baby in his or her mother’s womb. We still need to work on welcoming the stranger like Pope Francis preaches. We need to root out racism and destroy all forms of discrimination, especially against Indians! Like Lewis said, this is still a sabotage operation because we, like the seventy-two disciples in the gospel, are here to announce the Kingdom of God, the City of God, to everyone we meet. You know, when you look closely at the United States of America today, you see that St. Augustine was right: in many areas of life, the City of Man comes into conflict with the City of God. Don’t forget which City triumphs in the end.   
          St. Thomas More stated very serenely moments before he was executed (by beheading) for treason against the king of England, these memorable words. He said, “I am the king’s good servant. But God’s first.” So too, each of us should be ready to repeat on our deathbeds, like Judge Isaac Parker did, “I’m proud to be an American, but I’m a Catholic first.”

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Dogs Exchanging Bones

Finding our greatness not in guns, gold or glory but in the poor  
Amos 8:4-6, 9-12  
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! “When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?” We will diminish the containers for measuring, add to the weights, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”   
          How do you measure the greatness of any nation: it is in their guns, or in their gold, or in their glory? Communist Russia clearly believes their greatness is symbolized in “guns” – their military superiority to all other nations. This is why they waged the Cold War against the United States; and they still do. Or, maybe it’s gold. In 1776, the Scottish economist, Adam Smith, wrote his revolutionary book called, “The Wealth of Nations,” arguing for “gold” as the symbolic standard for greatness. He wrote humorously, “Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this – no dog exchanges bones with another.” In other words, making more money should measure our greatness. Or is it glory? The Roman Empire was supposedly started by two brothers, Romulus and Remus. They were born in 771 BC, the sons of a human mother, Rhea Silvia, and Mars, the god of war. That is, the roots of Rome purportedly had divine origins, so of course, they were destined for glory!   
          In contrast to guns, and gold and glory, however, you have the founding of the United States of America. At the feet of the Statue of Liberty, the ostensible symbol of our country, Lady Liberty says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp besides the golden door.” In other words, the greatness of our nation lies precisely in how we welcome the poor. Yes, we too enjoy having guns and gold and glory to be sure, but our true greatness is guaranteed by our love for the poor.   
          In the first reading today, the prophet Amos takes aim at what should be the cause of Israel’s greatness, but sadly it isn’t, namely, their care for the less fortunate. Amos says, “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.” And Amos goes on to predict the dire consequences in store for a nation who boasts of its guns and gold and glory instead of taking care of the poor. That is, the way God himself measures a people’s greatness is their love for the needy.   
          This weekend we begin the festivities of July 4th, Independence Day, and the foundation of our own nation. Do we still believe in the poem of Emma Lazarus that the poor should be our priority and our pride, or have we, like other nations, begun to believe that greatness lies in guns, gold and glory? Fortunately, several signs show me that the poor are still our priority. Whenever there is some humanitarian crisis – say a natural disaster – the U.S. is the first to respond with aid. Whenever oppressive regimes kill and control their people, the U.S. does not stand idly by. Within our own borders we constantly fight for the marginalized – the elderly, the immigrants, the unborn, anyone who does not enjoy basic human rights. In other words, we don’t want Amos to take aim at us; we don’t want to “trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.”
          Pope Saint John Paul II said, “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.” Our great love for the poor is the reason we celebrate Independence Day; that should be the grounds of our greatness, not dogs exchanging bones.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Silence Screams

Paying attention to our silent words and actions  
Matthew 8:5-17  
When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.”  He said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed.   
          You can tell a lot about a person by what they don’t say as well as by what they do say. Indeed, sometimes, their silence speaks louder than their words. A perfect example of how silence can scream is the trial of St. Thomas More. The year was 1535, Henry VIII was King of England and St. Thomas More was his Lord Chancellor. The king declared himself the head of the Church in England and demanded that all loyal citizens accept this supremacy. That would be like President Barak Obama saying he’s the head of the Church and all Catholics must listen to him instead of Pope Francis. That decree put Thomas More in a deadly quandary: he had to choose his allegiance to the king or to the pope.   
          Thomas’ defense was his silence: he refused to betray either the king or the pope. He argued eloquently, saying, “For no law in the world can punish any man for his silence. Tis God that is the judge of the secrets of the heart.” And yet Thomas More was convicted of treason and beheaded for not accepting the king’s supremacy. You see, More’s silence spoke volumes more than his tongue or pen could ever have conveyed. Sometimes the silence screams.   
          In the gospel today we see Jesus healing a lot of sick people, and yet there is a subtle silence in this scene. Our Lord heals a centurion’s servant; he heals Peter’s mother-in-law, he heals people possessed by demons. That’s all well and good. But notice what Jesus did not do: he didn’t heal everyone in the world who was sick that year, not even everyone in Capernaum, just the lucky few who made it to Peter’s house that blessed night. Why? Why didn’t Jesus just snap his divine fingers and cure all diseases, and drive our all demons? It almost seems cruel to cure only a few fortunate souls. Well, I believe Jesus’ silence was screaming something just as loudly as that of St. Thomas More, namely, Jesus had not come to create an earthly paradise but to draw our attention to a heavenly home. In fact, Jesus did not do a lot of things – he didn’t eradicate hunger, he didn’t stop all wars, he didn’t prevent natural disasters, he didn’t stop your toothache. I believe Jesus’ silence sort of “screams” that this is not our final home, don’t get too comfortable here, keep heading for heaven.   
          Folks, have you noticed how your silence screams, too? For instance, Catholics say, “I make it to Mass most Sundays.” But what about those Sundays you skip Mass, especially while on vacation, what does that omission “say” about your priorities? We say we are good Christians, but do we speak up against abortion or for immigrants? The real tragedy of World War II Germany was not Hitler’s rise to power, but the conspicuous silence of so many good German Christians. People don’t go to confession saying, “I haven’t killed anyone! I haven’t robbed a bank!” True, but what good could you have done that you didn’t do? Your silence also screams.    
          Today, take a moment to listen to the silence of people’s words and their actions, and your own silence. But you might want to cover your ears: the silence can be deafening.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Sleep Like a Baby

Cleaning our conscience and sleeping more soundly
Matthew 8:23-27 
As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”
         One of the most elusive elixirs of life is getting sufficient sleep. If I asked you how many of you have trouble sleeping at night, all of us would raise our hands, except Sr. Mary Sarto. The Center for Disease Control recently reported that “an estimated 50-70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder” (“Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem”). And sometimes we even treat sleep as if it were an enemy. In college we used to pull “all-nighters” where we stayed up all night to study and cram for an exam. Our slogan was: “There will be sleeping enough in the grave!” Little did we know the grave comes a lot faster when you don’t sleep. Of course, New York City boasts the epithet of “the City that never sleeps” thanks to Frank Sinatra.   
         Msgr. Hebert had the habit of never drinking regular coffee after 12 o’clock noon. When we were at a restaurant for lunch he always ordered decaffeinated coffee. When the waiter brought the coffee, Msgr. Hebert asked, “Now, you’re sure this is decaf? Because if it is not decaf, I will call you at 2 a.m. and wake you up because I can’t sleep!” I remarked, “Monsignor, the trouble is not the caffeine, it’s the conscience.” By the way, that’s why we say someone “sleeps like a baby” – their conscience is clear like a baby’s. Sleep: you can’t live with it, you can’t live without it.   
         In the gospel today we see Jesus sleeping like a baby. Our Lord and his apostles are on a boat when a storm erupts on the sea. Quite miraculously, Jesus calms the storm and everyone is amazed. But what amazes me more than the calming of the storm is the calm in Jesus’ conscience that allowed him to sleep in the middle of the storm. On the other hand, the apostles were wide-awake. And I would suggest to you that their “trouble was not the caffeine but the conscience.” Jesus says, “Oh, ye of little faith.” In other words, don’t worry about storms at sea or caffeine in your tea, but rather have child-like faith and trust in God. Then, you, too, will be able to sleep like a baby.   
         My friends, may I make three suggestions that will help you calm your conscience and sleep more soundly? First, before you lie down, do “an examination of conscience.” That is, do a quick review of the day and ask forgiveness for your faults and foolishness. Calm your conscience. Second, thank God for your blessings. I always try to recall one surprise blessing that I didn’t expect to receive that day. And third, pray the rosary as you fall asleep. Don’t count sheep, count Hail Mary’s!  You’ll fall asleep feeling like you’re wrapped in the mantle of our Mother Mary. Then, you, too, will be able sleep like Sr. Mary Sarto.

         Praised be Jesus Christ!

Highway to Hell

Leaving behind good intentions and acting on them instead  
Matthew 8:18-22  
When Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other shore. A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”   
          You’ve no doubt heard the maxim that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That means that people sometimes say they will do lots of good things but never follow through, or sometimes they even do the opposite of what they intend. St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th century Dominican nun and doctor of the Church, famously said, “One drop of contrition could empty hell” (The Dialogue of Divine Providence). But hell is not empty precisely because the people there only talk a good game but never actually repent; they don’t really want to change.   
          Did you ever see the political thriller movie called, “V For Vendetta”? There’s not much to recommend that movie, except one scene. V, who wears the Guy Fawkes mask, confronts Delia Surridge, whose scientific experiments created the monstrous V. Delia tries to justify her immoral work by saying, “Is it wrong to hold on to that kind of hope?” And V answers chillingly: “I have not come for what you hoped to do. I’ve come for what you did.” You see, Delia had good intentions – hopes to change the world for the better – but that didn’t change the gruesome fact that she experimented on human beings. It is not enough simply to want to do the right thing; at some point you must stop talking about it, and actually do it. Otherwise, you’re only paving a smooth ride on the highway to hell.   
          In the gospel today, Jesus confronts two would-be disciples who also have good intentions, but they lack follow-through. One boldly says, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus sees through his shallow good intentions and tells him he won’t be able to endure the suffering and hardship that inevitably ensue. Another makes what looks like a very reasonable request, saying, “Let me go first and bury my father.” Again, Jesus see through the thinly veiled ruse, and challenges this flimsy excuse: “Let the dead bury their dead.” Like V, Jesus tells his well-intentioned disciples that he is not interested in what they hope to do, but rather in what they will do. At some point, you must stop talking and simply act.   
          My friends, ask yourself today: am I a bundle of good intentions, or do I actually follow-through on what I say I will do? I’ve occasionally counseled young ladies who are in love with abusive men. The men promise to change and the ladies believe them, and so they agree to marry them. If I had a dime for every time that happens, I would be a rich man. These men not only pave the road to marriage with good intentions, but also another road, and they want someone else along for the ride. People put off making a good confession or even going to church until they are older and have more time (not you all, of course). They have good intentions to be more spiritual and religious, but they do not act. They lack even “one drop of contrition.” Just think of all the things we say we will do in the course of a day – all our good intentions – but the day ends and the only progress we’ve made is to pave a few feet on the road to perdition.   
          Folks, at some point we must stop talking and simply act. One day the angel of death will arrive at the door and say to us, “I have not come for what you hoped to do, but for what you did.” Start doing good today.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Are You Not Entertained?

Building our house on rock instead of sand  
Matthew 7:21-29  
Jesus said to his disciples: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”   
          Do you know what the word “arena” means, as in “Alltel Arena” in North Little Rock, or “Oracle Arena” where the Golden State Warriors play basketball? “Arena” is originally Latin and means “sand.” The famous Colosseum in Rome, where the gruesome gladiators fought fiercely, had a wooden floor. But because their battles were so bloody, the wooden floor would become slippery with all the blood. The Romans covered the wooden floor with sand to absorb the copious amounts of blood that was spilt. Today, when modern-day gladiators – like the Warriors and Cavaliers – do battle, they fight in the “arena,” they fight proverbially on sand.   
          But I am convinced the sand symbolizes something more. In the movie “Gladiator” Russell Crowe defeats his enemy in the arena, but then he turns to face the crowd and chastises them saying, “Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?” In other words, the chief pastime and purpose of Roman culture had become “entertainment,” that had become the center of their society. And we can ask ourselves as Americans the same question. Just look at how much money we spend on building “arenas.” Jack Nicholson pays over $110,000 for courtside seats at the arena where the Los Angeles Lakers play. Like the Romans, we Americans put a high price on what happens in the arena, what happens on sand.   
          In the gospel today, Jesus contrasts two hypothetical people: one who builds his house on rock, and another who builds on sand. The consequences are clear for both builders when the storms come: the house on rock stands, while the house on sand collapses. Something similar happens not only to individuals but also to societies that build their culture on sand, the shifting sands of entertainment. When the storms comes, the collapse is not far behind. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Romans.   
          Today, let me give you a little litmus test to gauge where you are building the house of your life: on rock or on sand. Just ask yourself two questions. Where do I spend my time? And where do I spend my money? Take out your calendar, and count the number of hours you spend on your church or on charity versus the number of hours you spend on entertainment. Review your credit card bill and add the charges for religious activities versus entertainment. Just look at this magnificent church, built over 100 years ago. Where did the Fort Smith Catholics of 1916 spend their time and money, versus where do the Fort Smith Catholics of 2016 spend our time and money? We love to spend our time and money in the “arena,” we are building our society on sand.   
          You know, I sometimes wonder why people like to come hear my homilies. Are people really coming here looking for Jesus in the Mass, or are they really just here to hear a joke or a funny story? Why do many people go to church at all today? Sometimes I feel like a gladiator and want to say, “Are you not entertained? Is that not why you are here?”  Just kidding.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Me Before You

Taking care of ourselves before taking care of others  
Matthew 7:1-5  
Jesus said to his disciples: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”   
          I really hate flying. In fact, a couple of years ago, I drove to Seattle, WA to give a retreat instead of flying there. But I did learn something important in flying, and that is in the case of a loss of cabin pressure you should always put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then help a child seated next to you. That always seemed so wrong to me – shouldn’t we sacrifice ourselves to help others first? Yes, that’s true. But if you’ve passed out from lack of oxygen, you’re no good to anyone else. I believe that short safety suggestion contains a profound spiritual truth. We are no good to others until we’re good to ourselves. It sounds so counter-intuitive, almost un-Christian, but it’s not.   
          Have you seen the romantic movie called “Me Before You”? It’s about a shy young lady who falls in love with a paralyzed man. They are both in need of healing – he needs physical healing and she needs emotional healing. In a heart-wrenching way the movie illustrates how you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can help others – hence the title of the film “Me Before You.” You can’t help others until you’ve helped yourself.   
          In the gospel today we see that this notion is not as un-Christian as it sounds, indeed, Jesus expressly teaches it. Jesus says, “Remove the wooden beam in your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” If Jesus has been a flight attendant for American Airlines, he might have said, “Please secure the oxygen mask on yourself first and then attempt to help those seated next to you.” In other words, you will be more good to others if you have been good to yourself first.   
          Folks, let me suggest a few ways you can be good to yourself in order to help others even more. First, take care of yourself spiritually. You teach your children to pray – saying the rosary, Grace before meals – but do you take time to pray yourself? Have your children ever walked in and caught you praying? Second, take care of yourself morally with a good confession. Before you blame the Democrats or the Republicans or the environmentalists or ISIS for all the world’s problems, look into your own heart and remove the sinful wooden beams you find there. And third, always apply the H.A.L.T. rule. When I was a hospital chaplain, they told us never visit a patient if you were feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tried. – H.A.L.T. Heck, I’m always feeling one of those, usually I”m feeling Hangry!
          But the point is simple: take care of yourself before taking care of others. My friends, you’re no good to anyone if you’re passed out on the floor from lack of oxygen.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Suicide King

Turning the sword against our unruly passions  
James 4:1-10 
Beloved: Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.   
          Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said something so startling I’ve never forgotten it. He averred that everyone carries a sword in their hands, and if we do not turn that sword against ourselves, and kill the unruly passions in our hearts, then we instinctively turn the sword against others. Let me illustrate this with my favorite story from zen Buddhism.   
          A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side. The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman. Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and continued on his journey. The younger monk couldn’t believe what just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and a hour passed without a word. Finally, the younger monk blurted out: “As monks, we’re not permitted to touch a woman, how could you carry that woman on your shoulders?” The older monk replied, “Brother, I set her down by the side of the river an hour ago. Why are you still carrying her?” You see, the older monk had turned his sword against his passions (his lust) and felt at peace, but the younger monk was still swinging his sword against others and looking for someone else to blame: the young lady, the older monk, the raging river, the monastic rule.   
          In the first reading today, St. James makes a similar point. He writes, “Beloved, where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” In other words, your greatest enemy is not someone outside you – a neighbor, a spouse, a boss, a sibling, a mother-in-law – but rather yourself, your disordered passions and desires. It is because we do not plunge that sword we carry into our own hearts that we continue to wage wars against others. You see, a sword is fashioned to slay your enemy; the hard part is figuring out who’s your real enemy.   
          Whenever people come to see me for counseling, they are invariably upset about something someone else has done. They don’t like what their spouse does, or they object to some policy the school has, or they feel ignored by their friends, or they believe God is picking on them while others enjoy a carefree and peaceful life. I always try to suggest the person forget about others and see what they can change in themselves. Do you know how many times I’ve succeeded in doing that? Never. We’d rather swing our swords and lop off other people’s heads than plunge the sword into our own hearts and kill our selfish passions and desires.  We have a sword, but we don’t know who the real enemy is.
          By the way, do you like to play cards? Have you noticed the four kings and something odd about the king of hearts? He’s often called “the suicide king” because it looks like he’s sticking his sword into his head. That card always reminds me of what Fulton Sheen said: don’t use the sword to strike others, but rather to master your own hearts. The suicide king reminds me to slay the enemy lurking in my own heart.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Daddy’s Home

Embracing our crosses and transcending them  
Luke 9:18-24  
Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.” He scolded them and directed them not to tell this to anyone. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”   
          What do you do with the pains and problems that life tends to throw at you? Well, if you’re like most people, you either try to escape and run away from them, or you reach for the martini or scotch and try to drown them, or you phone a friend and vent your anger and anxiety on them. In other words, most people sweep their suffering under the rug in one way or another so they don’t have to deal with them.   
          But I would suggest to you that the truly wise people do the exact opposite: instead of pushing problems away, they bring them close and hug them tightly. Listen to these words of wisdom about embracing pain. In the movie “The Princess Bride,” the Dread Pirate Roberts says very sagely: “Life is pain. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” Indeed, some people shop in order to muffle or minimize pains and problems. M. Scott Peck, in his popular book The Road Less Traveled, began with this bold statement, he wrote: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.” He continued, “It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.” That is, once you embrace the cross, it stops feeling so heavy. C. S. Lewis wrote an entire book on this subject, called The Problem of Pain. He quoted his own mentor, George MacDonald, who was a Presbyterian minister, who said, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer but so that their suffering might be like his.” In other words, our crosses make us a little more like Christ; whereas without our crosses, we become a little less like Jesus. One of my personal patron saints is St. Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest, who said surprisingly: “To be happy what you need is not an easy life, but a heart which is in love.” But we usually say, “No, no, no! I am much happier when everything is easier!” But is “easy street” always “happy street”? Let me ask you again: what do you do with the pains and problems of life – do you run away from them, or do you run toward them?   
          In the gospel today we see Jesus teaching his apostles how to embrace the cross, rather than avoid the cross. He asks them a deep question about his identity, what other people think about him, and what they think about him. Not unexpectedly, the apostles answer that Jesus will be great and glorious like the Old Testament prophets, and Peter pipes up that Jesus is the “Christos” which means the “Anointed One.” In other words, their hopes for Jesus were filled with fame and fortune, in which they, in turn, hoped to share, of course. But how does Jesus react to them? The gospel says, “He scolded them.” He scolded them. Why did he scold them for saying something nice about him? Well, he wanted to teach them the truth about his identity and his destiny, namely, that he came to carry the cross, not for greatness and glory. In Isaiah 53:3, the ancient prophet predicted that the Messiah would be “spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.” In other words, like Dread Pirate Roberts said, Jesus life would be “pain,” and Jesus didn’t want his apostles selling him any pain killers. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Everyone else comes into this world to live; Jesus came into this world to die.” Carrying the cross was Jesus’ deepest identity.   
          I just finished reading a book by a good friend, John Diamond, and the book was called Please Delete. John worked at the University of Arkansas as the Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations. In 2013, he got caught in the cross-hairs of scandal, cover-up, financial mismanagement and administrative arrogance. When all the dust finally settled, the crisis cost John his job. In the book John wrote that his motto was, “doing the right thing and getting caught doing it” (Please Delete, 26). John embodied what M. Scott Peck meant when he wrote: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.” John Diamond shouldered his cross, he didn’t run away from it. His book is a testament to how he transcended his cross.   
          Last week I visited one of our parishioners named Nadine Long, whom some of you may know. She has suffered from cancer, and neuropathy and now a whole host of other ailments. We sat at her kitchen table talking, and I remarked how much she smiled and seemed serene in spite of all her suffering. Her smile grew even bigger and she answered, “I have so much to be grateful for. And, after all, these aches and pains aren’t so bad. They are part of life.” She said she was really looking forward to her children and grandchildren visiting on July 4th. Don’t you think that St. Josemaria had Nadine in mind when he said, “To be happy what you need is not an easy life, but a heart which is in love.” Nadine’s life was not easy, but she was very happy because she loves her family deeply.   
          A few months ago, I watched the movie, “Daddy’s Home.” I do not recommend you see it – only priests should watch it. It’s about two dads – played by Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg – who compete with each other as they struggle to do the right thing. The only redeeming scene of the whole movie was when Will Farrell scolds Mark Wahlberg about being a dad, saying (slightly censored), “Dads eat crap. It’s what we do. Dads have to make lots of choices and we blow most of them.” Farrell goes on: “Dads suck it up. Dads keep our promises, even when we make numerous mistakes.” In some strange and even sacred way, dads shoulder their crosses not so much by being perfect, but just by being present, and keeping their promises. George MacDonald said, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men - dads - might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like his.” On this Father’s Day, I praise God for all the dads who have not been perfect, but who have been present. Your crosses make you more like Christ.   
          Do you know what one of my crosses was as a small boy? It was going to Mass on Sunday – because it was so long and boring (not like for you). So, instead of running away from it, I decided to embrace the cross by becoming an altar server. And serving made the Mass go by a lot faster and it was more interesting. Now, I’m a priest and the Mass goes by in a flash! See what happened? When you embrace the cross, you finally transcend it.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Footsteps of Heroes

Taking our place in the line of heroic succession  
Sirach 48:1-14  
Like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace. Their staff of bread he shattered, in his zeal he reduced them to straits; By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens and three times brought down fire. How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Whose glory is equal to yours? You brought a dead man back to life from the nether world, by the will of the LORD.   
          Have you heard who will be the new bishop of Tulsa, our neighboring diocese? He’s actually a friend of mine from seminary, Fr. David Konderla. He’s originally from Austin, TX, an avid Aggie (don’t hold that against him), and will be ordained as the fourth bishop of Tulsa on June 29th. He recently posted on Facebook a photo of his bishop’s crozier – the staff a bishop carries – which he made himself. The picture was of the staff, still incomplete, below a picture of Pope John Paul II. Bishop Konderla wrote this caption: “In between loading boxes of books, and under the watchful eye of my mentor, I’m putting the second coat of varnish on the three pieces of the Crozier.” Clearly, John Paul II is one of Bishop Konderla’s heroes, someone he wants to emulate. But I would suggest to you that Bishop Konderla has his own admirers (just check out his Facebook page), and they look to him as their hero. Maybe they have a picture of him hanging on their wall at home and refer to him as their mentor and hero. In other words, heroes always stand in a line of heroic succession – one hero following in the footsteps of the other –each emulating the virtues of their predecessors.   
          In the first reading from Sirach we see another line of heroic succession. Sirach extols the virtues of the prophet Elijah, saying, “How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Whose glory is equal to yours?” And he goes and on to recount Elijah’s extraordinary exploits. But the interesting thing about the Book of Sirach is that it was written by Shimon, who was actually the son of Sirach; the book is a collection of his father’s wisdom. And Shimon himself was a hero to his grandson, who, around the year 175 BC, added a prologue to the Book of Sirach. In other words, in the family of Sirach we see another line of heroic succession – each one lauding the virtues and wisdom of his predecessor. You see, heroes never stand alone.   
          Today, let me invite you to identify your own heroes. Do you have a picture on your wall of Pope John Paul II, or maybe of Pope Francis? Maybe your heroes would include past presidents, like Abraham Lincoln, or social reformers, like Martin Luther King Jr., or writers like Ernest Hemingway (who lived in Piggott, AR!).  Or maybe your heroes would be a little closer to home, literally, like your parents. I know my own hall of fame of heroes would include my two grandmothers (very holy women) and Fr. George Tribou. Even while you acknowledge your heroes, don’t forget that other people may put you on their preferred list of heroes, too: co-workers, siblings, parishioners. By the way, you don’t qualify for hero status just by taking your grandchildren out of ice creme all the time. But you see, all heroes stand in a line of heroic succession: you emulate your heroes, and others emulate you.   
          Hebrews 13: 7 says, “Remember your leaders [your heroes] who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” My friends, heroes never stand alone.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Best for Worst

Giving others our best even when we receive their worst  
Matthew 5:38-42  
Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”   
          Do you remember Eddie Christian Sr. of Fort Smith? He was a trial lawyer who had an excellent reputation. If you were in trouble, you wanted Eddie Christian to defend you. I met Eddie Christian shortly after arriving in Fort Smith, but not because I needed a defense attorney! Rather it was to give him Last Rites, and a little later, to preside at his funeral. Eddie often said, ‘If you tell someone you’ll meet them at 12 noon with 5 dollars, show up at 11:30 with 10 dollars.” That was Eddie’s personal motto – always give everyone your very best, and that’s why you wanted him on your side in court. You could almost say Eddie would give his best when other people would give their worst. Eddie did the maximum, not the minimum.  
           This is the attitude Jesus is advocating in the gospel today: always give 110%, not just 100%. Our Lord says, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” Sounds like Jesus and Eddie Christian were using the same playbook: don’t do the minimum, but rather the maximum. Don’t ask what’s the least I have to do, but what’s the most I can offer? In other words, even when others are at their worst, give them your best.   
          Here are a few more examples of people like Eddie Christian and Jesus. Archbishop Peter Sartain, our former bishop, always gave people his best. If he happened to mention a book, or promise to do something in a conversation, you can be sure he would follow up the next day, even if you forgot he had mentioned it. He always gives his best. A friend of mine, who’s a mom of four little children, always makes sure the kids sit down for a hot, healthy meal every night. Even when they don’t appreciate it, she gives them her best. A priest-friend of mine not only works hard on his Sunday homilies, but also carefully prepares his daily homilies. (His name is NOT John Antony.) Even when people sleep through Mass, he gives his best effort. When you walk into the post office, a restaurant, a hospital or department store, do you want to be greeted by someone just doing their job (the minimum) or by someone who wants to give you their best (their maximum)? Obviously, we hope others give us their best even when we might give them our worst.   
          St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, put it like this, he said: “Professional work, whatever it is, becomes a lamp to enlighten your colleagues and friends. That is why I usually tell those who become members of Opus Dei…What use it is telling me that so-and-so is a good son of mine – a good Christian – but a bad shoemaker.’ If he doesn’t learn his trade well, he won’t be able to sanctify it or offer it to God” (Friends of God, 61). In other words, do your best, even when others do their worst, because you’re doing it for God.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Too Cool for School

Growing in wisdom through the virtue of humility  
Luke 7:36—8:3  
A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner."   
          One of the most sarcastic but also sensible Christian writers is G. K. Chesterton. He saw stuff that people mostly miss. Let me share a small smattering of his ironic insights. For example, he said, “I regard golf as an expensive way of playing marbles.” Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it, and my apologies to all you golf enthusiasts out there. Or consider this statement, “One sees great things from the valley, but only small things from the peak.” That is so true: our valley experiences often open our hearts to great things like our need for God. Spiritually-speaking, we can see God easier from the valley. He also said, “Marriage is an adventure, like going to war.” If you agree, would you please raise your hands?   
          Here’s a quote about war itself. He said, “a true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Now that’s true, unless the soldier’s name is General George S. Patton; he hated everybody. Here’s one last one, my favorite, “Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” Do you know anyone who is so open-minded that they don’t have any brains left, they’ve stopped thinking? But what I really like about Chesterton is not that he’s smart and sassy, but rather that he doesn’t take himself so seriously, that is, he’s humble. To be sure, he makes fun of others, but he’s also quick to check his own pride and ego. Chesterton said, “Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.”  That is, even the angels are humble.  My friends, I am convinced that only those who are first and foremost humble can be truly wise.
          In the gospel today, we see exactly this conspicuous contrast: the one who thinks he’s smart turns out to be the fool, while the humble person understands far more. Jesus dines at the home of a Pharisee, when suddenly a sinful woman barges in and anoints Jesus’ feet and head. The Pharisee says to himself: “If this man (meaning Jesus) were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Now notice that even though the Pharisee knew what kind of woman this lady was, he has no idea what kind of man Jesus was, that Jesus was the God-man. But the sinful woman, on the other hand, knew exactly who Jesus was. So, let me ask you: how did the scholars and the self-proclaimed saints miss Jesus while the sinful and the simple saw him easily? The first group was haughty, while the second group was humble. The woman in the valley of her sins saw what the Pharisee on the peak of his self-righteousness missed. You see, it is only those who are first and foremost humble who can be truly wise.   
          My friends, let me invite you to cultivate the virtue of humility, that is, don’t be too smart for your own good; avoid being “too cool for school” because you think you know everything. When I was first ordained a priest I felt I had to have the answer for every question. It was very awkward and embarrassing for me to say, “I don’t know.” Now, however, those words come a lot easier, mostly because I’ve had a lot of practice saying them. Spend time with small children, who happily point out your faults and failings, like the little boy in the fable who yelled, “The emperor has no clothes!” Little children keep us humble. Go to confession and tell another human being your sins and stupidity. The great good of confession is growing in the virtue of humility. Try ice skating with the church youth group, and fall on your “back side.” Laugh at yourself, and let others laugh at your too. Explain how to operate an Iphone to your teenager. Yeah. Apologize to your spouse and children when you make a mistake, and don’t pretend to be perfect. They already know you’re not.   
          Do you know the origin of the word “humble”? It comes from the Latin word, “humus,” which means ground or earth. The sinful woman in the gospel stayed humbly on the ground, the “humus,” while she anointing and kissed Jesus’ feet. Chesterton said, “One sees great things from the valley, but only small things from the peak.” Only the humble are truly wise.   
          Let me conclude with a few lines from Tim McGraw’s popular song called, “Humble and kind.” He sings: “Hold the door, say please, say thank you, Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie I know you got mountains to climb but, Always stay humble and kind, When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you, When the work you put in is realized, Let yourself feel the pride but, Always stay humble and kind.” In other words, when you get to the mountain peak, don’t forget what you learned while you were in the valley: stay grounded, stay humble. You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think Tim McGraw has been reading some books by G. K. Chesterton.   
          Praised be Jesus Christ!   

The Wingman

Accepting the role of the supporting saint  
Acts of the Apostles 11:21B-26; 13:1-3 
In those days a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.   
          Have you heard of the “wingman” before? The concept comes from the U.S. Air Force, where fighter jets fly in tight tactical formation. Next to the lead jet is the so-called “wingman,” whose role is to follow the lead of the principal pilot. The wingman is supposed to protect the lead pilot, to “cover his six” as they say, so that the lead pilot can take out the primary target. Now, the Urban Dictionary defines the wingman as a friend you take along on a double-date, who entertains the less desirable of the duo, while you focus on the hot chick. So, the wingman has lots of applications.  In whatever situation, though, the great value of the wingman is he embodies the virtue of humility; he’s not jealous or envious of the main pilot, who gets all the praise and the props.   
          Do you remember at the end of the movie, Top Gun, no one wants to be the wingman? Iceman says to Maverick: “You. You can be my wingman anytime.” And Maverick replies, “No way, you can be mine.” But you see, someone has to be the wingman; without one, the operation simply will not succeed.   
          Today is the feast day of St. Barnabas, and in my opinion, he’s the spiritual equivalent of a wingman. What do I mean? Well, in the New Testament, especially in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas travel together, preaching and teaching. But who’s the hero, who gets all the glory? Clearly, it is St. Paul, who is ranked among the saints right up there with St. Peter. So, who was St. Barnabas? He was St. Paul’s wingman – he traveled with him, he “covered his six,” he made sure Paul had the spiritual support to be successful. In other words, Barnabas embodies the great virtue of humility; he let Paul get all the praise and the props. Nevertheless, St. Barnabas, while relatively unknown, played a huge part in the success of Paul’s missionary journeys. Barnabas humbly said to Paul, “I’ll be your wingman.”   
          My friends, I am convinced that nothing sucks the life out of success like jealousy and envy. On the other hand, nothing else breathes success into an organization like the humility emblematic of the wingman. This dynamic can be seen in families, where sibling rivalry – where no one wants to be the wingman – leaves deep wounds that take a lifetime to heal. This happens in companies where one person gets the promotion and another must be the wingman, but refuses to play that part. This even happens in the Church, where one priest gets to be the pastor and another must be the associate, or the wingman. I am very happy to have Fr. Pius here, who humbly says to me every morning, “I’ll be your wingman.” Or, at least that’s what he says.   
          Sometimes in life we get to be the hero and get all the glory. At other times, we have to be humble and accept the role of the wingman. The success of any organization depends on having both.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!