Thursday, September 29, 2016

Box of Rocks

Avoiding the extremes of neurosis and psychosis  
Job 3:1-3, 11-17  
Job opened his mouth and cursed his day. Job spoke out and said: Perish the day on which I was born, the night when they said, “The child is a boy!” Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Or why was I not buried away like an untimely birth, like babes that have never seen the light? Wherefore did the knees receive me? or why did I suck at the breasts?   
          I’ll never forget the day I learned the difference between “psychotic” and “neurotic,” these are two psychological disorders. Do you know the difference? Someone who is neurotic blames himself excessively when something goes wrong. He says, “I failed the test because I’m dumb as a box of rocks.” On the other hand, a psychotic person blames others to an extreme, saying, “I failed that test because Mr. Austin’s history class is like a medieval torture chamber!” Catch the difference?   
          By the way, if anyone ask you, “How are you?” don’t answer, “I’m fine.” Why? Well, because “fine” is an acronym where the four letters stand for “Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional.” Anyone who answers that they are “fine” is usually anything but fine; they’re hiding their true feelings. People who are “fine” tend to be neurotic and blame themselves for everything that goes wrong.   
          In the first reading from Job, we see Job needing to blame someone excessively for all his misfortunes. He’s lost his family, his land and his livelihood, in short, everything. Whom does he blame?  Let me read to you one line and see if you can guess if Job is being psychotic (blaming someone else) or neurotic (blaming himself). Job says: “Perish the day on which I was born, the night on which they said, ‘The child is a boy.’ Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” If you think Job is being psychotic, raise your hand. If you think he’s being neurotic, raise your hand. Clearly, he’s being neurotic, and blaming himself for his problems and pains, wishing he had never been born. You see, Job didn’t say he was as dumb as a box of rocks; he didn’t even think he deserved to be a box of rocks.   
          Boys and girls, today I want you to learn about these two disorders, but I also want you to live in a way that you avoid these disorders. For example, don’t be neurotic and blame yourself excessively when something happens. When parents divorce, some young people blame themselves and wonder what they did wrong. It’s not your fault when your parents divorce. Another example is “cutting,” where teenagers punish their bodies because of deep feelings of guilt or depression. Sometimes, excessive dieting or exercise is not just for health purposes, but to beat yourself up for some problem. Sometimes even drugs and alcohol are a way to show I should suffer for this problem; it’s my fault. Don’t do that; don’t hurt yourself.   
          On the other hand, psychotic people point fingers at others when there is failure. They say things like, “It’s Matt Hollenbeck’s fault, after all he’s the quarterback!” or “If Taylor Pate played better we’d win more volleyball games!” or “If Mary Alex Cole served more Aces in tennis, we’d kill the competition!” Psychotic people point fingers and put the blame on others. Yesterday, I was talking to a parent who jokingly said, “Are you going to give the football team bullet-proof vests for their game against Vian?” I answered, “No, we’re going to give them guns so they can shoot back.” My answer was a little psychotic.   
          Today, I hope you’ve learned the difference between neurotic and psychotic. But it won’t do you any good to learn it, if you don’t also live it.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Perfect Teeth

Embracing suffering in the fight between jealousy and justice  
Job 1:6-22  
The LORD said to Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job, and that there is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil?” But Satan answered the LORD and said, “Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.” Then Job began to tear his cloak and cut off his hair. He cast himself prostrate upon the ground, and said, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God.   
          I love going to the movies, and I especially love watching the movies about action superheroes. Did you see the most recent one called, “Captain America: Civil War”? It’s where half the superheroes fight against the other half, and the two sides are led by Captain America and Ironman. And these two superheroes couldn’t be more different. Ironman is raw and rude and sometimes ruthless, while Captain America is innocent and impeccable and virtually invincible.
          The clash between these two titans can be captured in two of their signature lines in the movie. One day as they are talking, Ironman says sarcastically to Captain America: “Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth.” That line uncovers Ironman’s underlying jealousy and envy of Captain America. On another occasion Ironman is pounding mercilessly on Captain America’s perfect teeth and the Captain smiles and says, “I could do this all day.” In other words, the Captain doesn’t mind suffering for the sake of goodness and right. You see, one is driven by jealousy while the other by justice.
          In the first reading today we hear the opening lines of one of the most cryptic and confusing books of the whole Bible, namely, Job. But if you boiled down the message of Job, the bone at the bottom of the cauldron would be a battle between Satan and Job, much like the “civil war” between Ironman and Captain America. For instance, Satan says to God, “You have blessed the work of Job’s hands, and his livestock are spreading all over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.” That is, Satan is filled with jealousy of Job, and feels like punching him in his perfect teeth. And how does Job respond when Satan does assault him relentlessly? He says: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In other words, he says like Captain America, “I could do this all day.”  He remains innocent and doesn’t curse God. You see, the book of Job is kind of a battle of superheroes: one moved by jealousy, the other by justice.
          My friends, let me invite you to see your struggles and sufferings and sacrifices in this light, that is, as spiritual warfare, pitting jealousy on one side and justice on the other. In my line of work, I see the innocent suffering all the time. Yesterday, I visited a family in the hospital whose 5 year-old daughter had leukemia. A few days ago, I counseled a wife who was devastated when her husband filed for divorce. I watch Dc. Greg regularly receive people in financial and emotional distress. Sometimes Satan wants to punch us in our perfect teeth. And what should be our response? Instead of cursing God, or robbing a bank, or blaming others, we should say like Job and Captain America, “I can do this all day.” “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  And remain innocent.  Every Christian is caught in the crossfire between jealousy and justice.
          By the way, this is why I love going to the movies, especially those of action superheroes. Why?  Because, the life of a Christian disciple is not much different from theirs.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Learning to hear what we don’t want to hear  

Luke 9:43B-45  
While they were all amazed at his every deed, Jesus said to his disciples, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.   
          People often hear what they want to hear. We have filters in our minds that block what is disagreeable and painful, while it allows to enter only what is agreeable and pleasant. And this “filtering feature” is never more on display than in presidential debates. Each candidate will hear questions from the moderator which they will filter and answer in a way that best suits them, even if they often miss the point of the whole question.   
          A classic example of this was in a debate in 1984 between President Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. The moderator said to Reagan: “You already are the oldest president in history, and some of your staff say you looked tired after your recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall that President Kennedy went for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuban missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function under those circumstances?” Reagan replied: “Not at all. And Mr. Trewitt, I want you to know also that I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” People, especially presidential candidates, hear what they want to hear.   
          This is the principal problem in the gospel today: people’s selective hearing. Jesus discusses with his disciples something disagreeable and difficult. He says: “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” But how did the disciples hear this news of Jesus’ suffering and death? The gospel goes on to add: “But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them.” In other words, the disciples were happy to hear about Jesus’ miracles and cures, but they had sudden hearing loss when he talked about his cross and death. Presidential candidates as well as Christian disciples hear what they want to hear.   
          Of course, selective hearing is a sickness that doesn’t discriminate; it’s an ailment afflicting all of us. When the doctor says you have a 90% chance you won’t survive the surgery, you hear you have a 10% chance you will. We perk up when the priest preaches about heaven and happiness and halos, but we fall asleep when he touches on confession and contraception and collections. I always get a kick from older people who suffering from so-called hearing loss. But when someone says something criticizing them, suddenly they’re cured and hear every syllable! We all hear what we want to hear. So, try to listen to what you don’t want to hear. Clean your filter so you hear everything that the Holy Spirit wants to tell you.   
          On Monday night, we’ll have the first presidential debate between Clinton and Trump.  And I can’t wait; my popcorn is ready.  Pay attention to how the candidates hear what they want to hear, and answer questions that were never asked. But don’t laugh and point fingers at them; realize that you and I do exactly the same.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Riddle Time

Embracing God’s wisdom and timing  
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11  
There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every thing under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
          One of the most memorable scenes in the book, The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, is the showdown between Bilbo and Gollum to see who would win the “ring of power.” They resolve their argument with a battle of riddles. Both are masters of saying riddles and solving riddles. Gollum’s last riddle, however, stumps poor Bilbo; see if you can solve it. It goes like this: “This thing all things devours: Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stone to meal; Slays kings, ruins town; And beats high mountain down.” Do you know the answer? Do you need more “time”? Well, that’s what Bilbo said. He shouted, “Time! I need more time!” And quite by accident, he accurately answered the riddle: it is “time” that does all these devastating things, like “devours all things,” “slays kings,” and “beats high mountain down.”  In other words, time is not to be taken lightly.  
          In the first reading today, the book of Ecclesiastes also tackles the riddle of time, but offers a very different solution, namely, time is entirely in God’s hands and under his control. He writes: “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every thing under the heavens.” He goes on to elaborate: “A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the plant” and so on. That is, even though Gollum may see time as this devastating destroyer, God looks at time more like a “pet” that sits silently in his lap and obeys his every command. You see, time, too, is part of God’s creation – like heaven and hell, life and death, birds, beasts, trees and flowers – and so time also reflects his logic and love. Yes, time “beats high mountain down,” but not unless and until God tells it to.  
          My friends, have you resolved the riddle of time for yourself? Most of us are not very happy with time, are we? We want more of it or we want less of it; we want it to go faster or we want it to slow down. Children want the weeks before Christmas to fly by so they can get to the gifts, just like Catholics want sermons at Sunday Mass to speedy by so they can get to breakfast! We want less time. On the other hand, we want time to slow down or stop. Remember that love song by the country music band, Diamond Rio, called “One More Day”? They sang: “One more day, one more time, one more sunset, maybe I’d be satisfied, But then again, I know what it would do, Leave me wishing still for one more day with you.” Hasn’t anyone who has stood at the bedside of a loved one who was dying wished for more time? We shout with Bilbo, “Time! I need more time!”
          Instead of struggling for more time or less time, may I suggest you see time as God’s little pet, that plays and prances at his command? When we embrace the time God has given us – however short or however long – we embrace his wisdom and begin to sense “the timeless he has placed in our hearts,” that is, eternity. Yes, time “can slay kings” but it is also God’s little pet, and if you have enough faith, time can become your little pet, too.  

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Loose Grip

Holding on to everything loosely  
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11  
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun? One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays. The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises. Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north, the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.   
          I had the most traumatic experience of my life when I was seven years old. But it was also the biggest blessing of my life. At the tender age of seven - the age of reason - my family left India and we moved to the United States. It was traumatic because overnight I lost my friends, my home, my school, and virtually everything else I called “my life,” in order to start a new life: with new friends, new food, and a new future that was completely unknown and unpredictable. In the midst of that trauma, I learned a powerful lesson – one that would define my life – namely, I learned that everything in this world passes. Nothing ultimately lasts. But that sad and sobering thought also made me realize the one thing that lasts forever, namely, God, and to cling tightly only to him. I believe that plane flight from New Delhi to New York was also the birth of my priestly vocation: to share with others this same insight: everything in this world ends, except God.
          Do you play tennis? Most coaches teach their students to hold the tennis racket with a loose grip. They say don’t hold it so tightly that you’d crush an egg in your hand. I learned that basic tennis lesson when I left India: hold on to everything with a loose grip.
          In the first reading today, the book of Ecclesiastes also teaches this basic tennis lesson: the loose grip. It reads: “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities. All things are vanity! What profit has a man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun?” In other words, look around at this world and realize all things are passing, even everything we work so hard to enjoy. Eventually, you will lose all things but One, and that is God. So what should you do? Have a loose grip on all worldly things.
          May I suggest a few ways to have a loose grip, spiritually-speaking? First, have a loose grip on yourself. People spend a fortune to look younger than they are. Of course, our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit,” and we should take care of them, but they won’t last forever. Have a loose grip on your youth and your good looks. Second, apply this to your relationship with family and friends, and don’t crush them with your overbearing love. As the rock band “38 Special” sang, “Just hold on loosely, But don’t let go, If you cling too tightly, You’re gonna lose control.” Healthy human relationships require a loving, loose grip. Third, have a healthy detachment from your possessions: your car, your clothes, your money and your mansion; don’t freak out if they are damaged or destroyed. You’re going to lose all these things eventually anyway.   
          Do you know what made Roger Federer one of the greatest tennis players of all time? It was his legendary forehand stroke, which he swung with a loose grip but firm wrist. Federer holds the record for most weeks ranked number one in the world: 302 weeks. His current ranking is number 7. Federer is learning to hold on to that number one ranking with a loose grip.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Pizza Is My Boyfriend

Working on the quality of our relationships  
Luke 8:19-21  
The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers  are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”   
          Boys and girls, I am convinced that the most important thing in life is the quality of our relationships. In fact, the higher the quality of our friendships and family ties, the higher the quality of our life. Our relationships – the interactions with people who surround us – give passion and purpose and peace to our lives. The people in our lives make our life worth living.   
          Now, here at Trinity Junior High, we have a lot of work to do to improve the quality of our relationships. For example, a few weeks ago, I found a lunch box on the front steps that read on it: “Pizza is my boyfriend.” Apparently, some girls dig pepperoni pizzas more than boy, and who can blame them, pizzas do smell a lot better than boys. Here’s another example. Last night I was looking through the “Activities Program” book and came across a picture of four very close friends – Sophia Underwood, Lauren Vrazel, Kaitlin Cline and Jada Mack. They were striking a sassy pose, and the caption read: “I’d walk through fire for my friends. Well, not fire, that would be dangerous. But a super humid room…but not too humid because, you know…my hair.” Obviously, very close friends. You see, the higher the quality of our relationships, the higher the quality of our life; and the opposite is true, too, the lower the one the lower the other.   
          This is the point that Jesus wants to drive home in the gospel today: take stock of the quality of your relationships. Someone in the crowd says that Jesus’ mother and brothers are outside and want to see him. But Jesus replies: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” In other words, it’s not enough to say you are members of Jesus’ family but never work on that relationship. You have to do the will of God. You see, even our relationship with Jesus can be “high quality” or “low quality.’ It is not something to be taken for granted. We have to improve our relationship with Jesus, just like some girls have to improve their relationship with pepperoni pizza.   
          Boys and girls, I know some of you see relationships on the rocks and struggling at home. Your parents may argue and fight, some have separated and others have divorced. That is devastating to the children, and you often feel like the tug-of-war rope with mom and dad pulling from opposite sides. Today, let’s pray for your parents; they are not perfect but they are doing the best they can. They need your prayers and patience. But can you see in your mom and dad’s relationship – as in a test case – how the quality of life rises and falls on the quality of our relationships?   
          So, when you come to school at Trinity, what kinds of relationships are you building here? What I mean is: you’re here to learn more than algebra and science, history and English; you’re also learning how to have high quality relationships. You’re learning how not to bully. You’re learning to respect differences. You’re learning how to work together as a team. You’re learning to put others before yourself. You’re learning to love Jesus. You’re learning to say “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you” (very important words in any relationship). And you’re even learning to say “I love you.” But for now, just say that to your parents and to pizza.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Audience of Angels

Hiding our good works from everyone but angels  
Luke 8:16-18  
Jesus said to the crowd: “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care, then, how you hear. To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.”   
          Have you ever done something really good when no one was watching? Or, do you always need an audience, and for people to pat you on the back? This is the basic difference between me and Fr. Pius: I need ample affirmation from others – why else would I post my homilies on Facebook and check how many “likes” I’ve gotten?? – but Fr. Pius doesn’t need that. Let me give you an example. Some days Fr. Pius does not have the morning Mass (like today). So, when no one sees, he walks into St. Anne Chapel and says Mass by himself; his only audience is the angels. I can’t tell you how inspiring that is to me. I’m not going to tell you how old Fr. Pius is but he should be sitting on a beach sipping a cold PiƱa Colada. Instead, he’s a full-time priest in a very active church. But notice: he doesn’t do such things to win people’s praise; he does these things because they are good, and because he is good.   
          In the gospel today, Jesus teaches that humble people (like Fr. Pius) will eventually be rewarded. Jesus says: “For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” You know, some people love to learn about other people’s “dirty little secrets,” all the bad things people do and hide, like Don Henley sang in his popular song, “Dirty Laundry.” But not all “little secrets” are dirty; some are unspeakably holy, and we’ll only come to know them in heaven.   
          Today, try to do something in secret, where your only audience will be the angels. For example, do something nice for your spouse, not to win their approval or praise or to make them feel guilty. Do it because it is a good thing to do and because you are a good person. Make a charitable donation anonymously, so that no one can give you credit for it, and so that the IRS cannot give you a tax deduction - who would do such a thing?? Do something special for someone without posting it on Facebook to see if it goes “viral.” In other words, do something today that only the angels can see, and for no other reward.   
          This is the gist of St. Mother Teresa’s famous prayer. It goes:   “People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”  
          In other words, do these things because they are good things, and because you are a good person.  

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Monopoly Money

Learning to see the heavenly value of money  

Luke 16:1-13  
Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?  I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ The steward said to him,  ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.   
          Today I want to talk to you about money. But let me add that I do this with great hesitation. Why? Well, I’ll never forget driving home from Mass as a little boy. If the priest talked about money in the homily, my father would complain, saying, “Why do those priests always have to talk about money??” And from the backseat I made a promise to myself: If I ever become a priest, I’ll never talk about money!” Well, never say never. So, my apologies to all you poor kids who will sit in the back seat driving home and listen to your father complain about priests talking about money!   
          One day, a rich, miserly, old man was lying on his deathbed and called to his wife. He told her: “I want to take all my money with me when I die. I want you to promise that you’ll put all my money in my casket.” She dutifully promised. After the man died, his widow attended the funeral with her best friend. Just before the funeral director closed the casket, she walked up and placed a large, ornate metal box inside. Her friend looked at her in horror. When she returned to her seat, the friend asked in shock: “Surely, you didn’t put all his money in there?!” The widow answered: “I did promise him I would. So, I got all his money together, deposited every penny in my account, and wrote him a check. If he can cash it, he can spend it.”   
          Now, what makes that joke funny is not just that the widow got to keep all the money. Rather, it’s also the fact that even if the man could cash the check in heaven, what good would it do him? Do you really think people in heaven need money? Does St. Peter take VISA or MasterCard when you want to enter the Pearly Gates? Will some credit cards give you frequent flier miles or cash back on every heavenly purchase? Do you think the angels and saints ever misplace their wallets and pray to St. Anthony to find it? Folks, I am convinced that in heaven the money we use on earth will look like “Monopoly money” – not worth the paper it is printed on. Money looks a lot different from you look at it from heaven; indeed, everything looks a lot different from heaven.
          This is the point of the puzzling parable in the gospel today: the steward starts to see money differently, almost like Monopoly money. At first the steward is greedy and a thief, stealing from his master so he can grow rich. But when he gets caught, the steward starts using money differently: for other purposes, like helping people get out of debt, and even to obtain more money for his master. And that’s why Jesus concludes: “I tell you make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth (Monopoly money), so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings (where you don’t need money).” In other words, don’t worship money, don’t let it be the be-all and end-all of your life. But rather, use it to help others in this world. You see, money looks a lot different when you look at it from heaven.   
          My friends, may I suggest three ways you can start to see your wealth as if you were seeing it from heaven? First, don’t judge yourself by how rich you are, or how big your house is or how expensive your car or clothes are. One of the most tragic images from the Great Depression was of bankers jumping out of tall buildings when the stock market crashed in 1929. Why did they do that? Because suddenly everyone saw the mighty U.S. dollar like Monopoly money; they suddenly realized that during the “roaring 20’s” they had been worshiping paper. They had based their self-worth on the worth of the stock market: when it crashed, they crashed.
          Second, don’t judge others by their wealth or lack thereof. Try not to ask someone what they do for work, or what part of town they reside in, or where their children attend school (unless they go to I.C. or Trinity). Such questions only serve to pigeon-hole people into socio-economic groups: high, middle or lower class. Remember that when rich people die, the most they can take to heaven will be a “billion dollar check” that they will have a lot of fun trying to cash.   
          And third, don’t judge God by who’s rich and who’s poor. Have you noticed how some people draw the crazy conclusion that God must really love the rich people, and he must be punishing the poor people? After all, isn’t health and wealth the best sign of God’s blessings? Not really. Remember what God thinks of money in heaven: he sees it more like Monopoly money. Of course, God blesses us in all kinds of ways, and sometimes even financially. But his best blessings are not monetary; instead, they’re more like what St. Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” No mountain of money, however high, could ever buy such blessings.   
          Have you seen that annoying commercial with the actor, Samuel L. Jackson, selling the Capital One credit card? At the end of the commercial, he asks the dramatic question: “What’s in your wallet?” I’m not a fan of that commercial, but I am a fan of that question. Folks, ask yourself right now, “What’s in my wallet?” Is it $20? It is $1,000? It is filled with credit cards, or just filled with lint? May I suggest to you that what’s really in your wallet is merely Monopoly money? That’s what your wallet looks like from heaven. And you can either figure that out on your car ride home today, or you can wait till your last car ride in a hearse.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Girls Rule

Fostering the universal desire for heaven  
Luke 8:1-3  Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.   
          Boys and girls, have you noticed how God made boys and girls very different? Girls are good at some things while boys are good at other things. For example, girls are smarter than boys in school. Raise your hand if you think girls are smarter. Now raise your hand if you think that boys are smarter. See, that settled that question. Here’s another difference: boys are faster than girls. Let’s have a little race: the fastest boy in the school versus the fastest girl. They will race down the center aisle and we’ll see who wins. Here’s another difference: when it comes to religion and church: are girls smarter or are boys smarter? Well, at home, who makes you get up and go to church on Sunday, who makes you pray before you eat, who says night prayers before you go to sleep? Raise your hand if it’s your mom. Now raise your hand if it’s your dad. God has given girls an advantage in religion; he made them a little smarter than boys, just a little smarter.   
          In the gospel today, we hear about people following Jesus, both boys and girls, men and women. The men were the 12 apostles, and the women were Mary Magdala, Susanna, and Joanna and others. But there is an important difference between these two groups: Jesus chose the 12 apostles, but the women chose Jesus. Jesus told the apostles to be his followers, but he didn’t have to say a word to the women. They came along without any invitation. You see, God made men and women different, and one difference is God gave girls an advantage in religion, a little more eager to love and live like Jesus. He made them a little smarter spiritually, just a little.   
          Boys and girls, as you get older you’ll notice more and more differences between boys and girls. For example, girls smell pretty but boys smell like a gym locker room. But there is one thing in which boys and girls should be exactly the same, and that is in wanting to go to heaven. Raise your hand if you want to go to heaven (go ahead and raise your hand anyway). We all want to go to heaven, and heaven is open to all of us, boys as well as girls. The only thing we have to do is love each other.   
          The one thing that unites the whole human race is wanting to go to heaven; no matter who you are, or where you live on this planet, or how old you are or how young you are. But God made girls with just a little more spiritually smart. Why did he do that? Well, because when you run a race, it’s nice to give the girls a little head start.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ! 

Stop and Struggle

Embracing the spirituality of struggle  

Numbers 21:4B-9  With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died. Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you. Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent  looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.   
          Several years ago while watching the T.V. show called “LOST,” I learned the value of the cross, the “spirituality of struggle,” you might say. Two characters in the scene are John Locke and Charlie Pace, a recovering drug addict. Locke has been keeping Charlie’s heroine stash but Charlie wants it back. He can’t stand the struggle of sobriety. Instead, Locke takes him to a nearby tree, where he shows him a moth cocoon. He points to the top of the cocoon, and says, “Do you see this little hole? This moth is just about to emerge. It’s in there right now, struggling, digging its way through the thick hide of the cocoon.” Locke continues, “Now, I could help it; get my knife, gently widen the opening and the moth would be free, but it would be too weak to survive. The struggle is nature’s way of strengthening it.” In other words, struggle and sacrifice, adversity and ache are all necessary to grow and fully develop. Without a struggle, you will only crawl and never be able to fly.
          Today we celebrate the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross, and the Church invites us to reflect on the spirituality of struggle. In the book of Numbers, the people wander through the desert, they are exhausted, and they are attacked by serpents, and they are healed by looking at a bronze serpent on the pole, a symbol of Jesus. But did God take them out of the desert? Did he stop their struggle and suffering? No. Like Locke explained to Charlie, “the struggle is nature’s way of strengthening them,” otherwise, they will be too weak to survive spiritually. You see, God did not come to save us from our struggles; he came to save us from our sins: that’s the spirituality of struggle, and why we exult the Cross.
          You have probably seen that now-famous sign posted at the entrance of Catholic High School in Little Rock. At the top of the poster is a big, red “Stop” sign. Below that, it reads: “If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc. please turn around and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem solve in your absence.” I love that sign because I was once one of those boys who learned to problem-solve in high school because no one “helped” me by opening my cocoon too early. I learned the advantage of adversity, the spirituality of struggle.
          My friends, we all want to help other people; that’s a very Christian thing to do. But sometimes helping someone only ends up harming them, when all you do is remove their struggles. Now, I’m not advocating letting people wallow in their miseries, but I am suggesting you don’t always run to the rescue. Let people learn the spirituality of struggle. For instance, help others to problem-solve, don’t solve their problems for them. Don’t always take your children their forgotten lunch and books and equipment. Don’t always give someone the answer, but help them to think deeper about the question. Don’t just pray to God to make your life easier. God doesn’t want to save you from your struggles, he wants to save you from your sins, just ask the Israelites in the desert.
          If you “help” a moth by freeing it from its cocoon, all you’ve helped it to do is crawl for the rest of its life.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!   

Devil Dogs

Living the Christian esprit de corps  
1 Corinthians 12:12-14  Brothers and sisters: As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many.   
          Does anyone know what the French phrase “esprit de corps” means? Literally, it means the spirit of the body, but it really refers to the culture, the creed and the core beliefs of an organization. And every group or team has an essential esprit de corps.   
          When I was in high school I belonged to the Marine Corps ROTC program, and I learned what makes up the Marine esprit de corps. Now, some people think it is symbolized in the emblem of the eagle, globe and anchor, or in the Latin motto, “semper fidelis” (which means “always faithful”), or that they are called “Devil Dogs” because of how hard they fight, or their nickname of “jarheads” based on their high and tight haircuts. And to be sure all that goes into creating their culture. 
          But I believe the best of the Marine Corps spirit can be boiled down to one saying, namely, “no man left behind.” That means every Marine is willing to take a bullet and risk his life to save your’s; he’s got your back. Do you think that would make you want to fight like a Devil Dog knowing that every other Marine is fighting just as hard and would never leave you behind? Yeah, I think so. You see, every man in the Corps, whether he’s a lowly private or the top-ranked Commandant of the Corps, would go back into battle to save another Marine; not to save his own butt. That’s why the Marine Corps tag-line is “The few, the proud, the Marines,” because not many can meet that high standard, or breathe in that esprit de corps.   
          In the first reading today, St. Paul helps the Corinthians to understand the esprit de corps of Christians. And quite surprisingly, it turns out to be the same as that of the Marine Corps: “no man left behind.” St. Paul writes: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” In other words, the esprit de corps of Christians is to love one another no matter who they are: rich or poor, smart or slow, beautiful or more beautiful. Indeed, Christians should especially love the lowliest, and lay down their life for each other. You see, like Marines, the esprit de corps of Christians is “leave no man behind.”   
          Boys and girls, what is the esprit de corps of Trinity Junior High? Is it embodied in the might of our mascot the Buffalo? Is it our Fight Song (which no one really knows)? Is it our band or Quiz Bowl or Cross country team (which came in 2nd overall last week). Sure, all that has something to do with it. But I would suggest to you that the best summation of our esprit de corps is “no man left behind.” And, by the way, I see you living by the spirit all the time: when so many came last night to cheer on the volleyball team, or when you sit next to a new student and make them feel welcome, or when you refuse to be “cliquish” or bully others, or when you help another student with their homework (but don’t let them copy your homework!). All these small but significant actions create the culture, the creed, and the core values of our school. In other words, YOU create the esprit de corps of Trinity Junior High School.   
          Boys and girls, make that spirit something you are proud of, like the Marines are proud of the Corps. Make the spirit of this school something you would want your children to breathe in someday. Make this school a place where you fight like Devil Dogs, because you fight for each other, and leave no one behind.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!   

Food Fight

Learning to love and live with food  

1 Corinthians 11:17-26  Brothers and sisters: In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact that your meetings are doing more harm than good. First of all, I hear that when you meet as a Church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it; there have to be factions among you in order that also those who are approved among you may become known. When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk. Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink?   
          In a first grade class, a local school had a religion “show and tell” day. The teacher picked 3 boys to stand up and present their objects to the class. The first boy stood up and said, “Hi, my name is Abram. I’m Jewish and this is a “matzaball”! The second boy got up and said, “Hi, my name is Johnny and I’m Catholic. This is a crucifix.” Finally the third boy got up and said, “Hi, my name is Billy and I’m a Baptist, and this is a casserole.” It is funny how food and faith are often intertwined. I’ve always wondered if more people would come to Mass if we served coffee and donuts afterwards.   
          Just think for a moment about how often food and faith intersect in human history. At the dawn of time in Genesis, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and food took center stage in the drama of faith. In Exodus, God commands Moses to sprinkle lamb’s blood on the doorposts and to eat unleavened bread. In Daniel, the young prophet refuses to eat from the pagan king’s royal table and defile himself. At the Last Supper, Jesus commands his disciples to eat bread and drink wine in memory of him. And in the first reading today, St. Paul corrects the Corinthians about not confusing their ordinary meal and the Mass. He writes: “When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry, while another gets drunk.” Apparently, the early Christians were bringing casseroles to church, too! But like Adam and Eve, they didn’t understand how food should foster faith rather than damage it. You see, sharing a meal should promote solidarity, not be an occasion of sin.   
          Let me ask you: does food contribute to your faith, or does it conflict with your faith? In other words, does your faith sometimes make eating feel like a “food fight” because you have a love-hate relationship with food? In answering that question we should seek the golden mean between the extremes. Aristotle and Aquinas taught that “virtue always stands in the middle.” On the one hand, avoid the excess of worshiping food. Some of you are thinking about what you’ll eat for dinner right now, and planning your menu in your mind. We have whole cable channels dedicated to nothing but food. Food can become an obsession and an addiction. On other hand, avoid the defect of shunning food by dangerous dieting. People diagnosed with the eating disorder of anorexia and bulimia, feel food is their enemy and wants to kill them. They can’t stand to eat.  And how many poor parents fight with their kids to eat more healthy meals.  Instead of these extremes, try to see food as a gift from God: eat and drink in moderation, and give God thanks for your food.   
          A priest-friend of mine, Fr. Leo Patalinghug, who’s an accomplished chef, wrote a book called Grace Before Meals, where he highly recommends that common Christian practice of praying before meals. Blessing our food reminds us where our food comes from, and where our food should lead us: that is, to closer communion with each other and with God. Food should lead to faith, not to a fight.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ! 

Mom versus Dad

Learning to see ourselves as children of God  
Luke 15:1-10  Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.   

          One day a little girl asked her mom, “Where do humans come from?” Her mom smiled and answered, “Well, honey, God made Adam and Eve and they had children, and that’s who we all descended from.” A few days later, the girl asked her dad the same question. Her dad answered, “Well, dear, many years ago there were monkeys, and from them all the people on earth evolved.” Now, this obviously confused the little girl, so she returned to her mother and said: “Mom, how is it possible that you told me that people were created by God, but dad said that people evolved from monkeys?” The mom smiled again, and wrapped her arms around her daughter’s shoulder, and answered, “Well, dear, it’s very simple: I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his side.”   
          It is fascinating, though, how every child is a composite picture of mom and dad – 50% mom and 50% dad. We all notice how a young boy has his mother’s smile but his father’s eyes. A little girl may be savvy in math like her mom but a born salesman like her dad. Athletic abilities come from one side of the family while compassion and tenderness from the other. Both mom and dad put a particular ingredient into that melting pot as part of the recipe of a human person.
          But does that exhaust the whole mystery that is man? Is that all we are: just a reshuffled deck of mom and dad’s genes? I don’t think so. Why? Well, because besides 23 chromosomes from dad and 23 chromosomes from mom, there is still another ingredient needed to be a human person, namely, a spiritual soul. And who gave you that? Was it your mom? No. Maybe it was your dad? Nope. Your soul comes straight from God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in no. 366, “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not ‘produced by the parents’.” In other words, your soul does not come from your “mom’s side” of the family and it does not come from your “dad’s side” either (even if he did descend from monkeys). Every soul comes from “God’s side” of the family. That’s why Genesis teaches that God made man “in his image and likeness” (Gen. 1:27). You know, it is both a tremendous and terrifying thing, but nonetheless true that each of us is a child of God.   
          Now, most of the time, parents are proud of their progeny (their children). But when the children misbehave, what to lots of parents do? They begin to blame each other, saying, “Your son wrecked the car,” or “Your daughter is dating that deadbeat boy.” In the first reading today, God and Moses are arguing over the rebellious Israelites, almost like a mom and dad argue over disobedient children. God says to Moses: “Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt.” And Moses fires back, “Why, O Lord should your wrath blaze up against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt.” Sound familiar?  
          But in the gospel, Jesus shows how God really reacts to rebellious children. The gospel reads: “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’.” In other words, Jesus wanted the Israelites to realize they are not just a composite of their mom and dad, not just a reshuffled deck of Jewish genes, but also children of God. And Jesus would always welcome them warmly and love them unconditionally, especially when they sin.  
          Folks, I’m here this weekend to promote Trinity Junior High School. And there are so many great things I could say about our school – like how we won our first football game in two years this season, or how we’ve lowered tuition by $700 per student, or how we’ve increased enrollment by 26 students this year. Instead, I just want to underscore one point about Trinity, and the same is true of all Catholic schools: we remind every student that they are not just a composite of mom and dad; they are also a child of God. Because you see, at Trinity we don’t just teach biology and science and chemistry, where students learn that the human person is made up of 23 chromosomes from mom and 23 chromosomes from dad. We also teach religion, and we go to Mass, and we pray together, so our students learn that they are also given a spiritual soul immediately infused by God at their conception. Every Catholic school teaches its students what they get from “God’s side” of the family: the unspeakable privilege of being a child of God.  
          My friends, the sad fact is we live in a confusing and crazy culture, which is especially perplexing to our young people. We live in a society where parents don’t just fight and argue, but they separate and get divorce, which devastates young people. But at Trinity we teach students they are not only children of their parents, but also children of God, and they may find some peace in the midst of pain. We live in a society that judges people by their beautiful bodies and their bulging bank accounts, their fashionable clothes and their fast cars. But at Trinity everyone wears a uniform and looks the same, so that each student is only judged as a child of God. We live in the South where cotton used to be king, but now football is king, and the only thing that matters is winning football games. But not at Trinity!  We have lots of opportunities to teach good sportsmanship, and to see our opponents as children of God. At Trinity we teach that every baby is more than biology; we teach that each person has an immortal soul created in the image of God.  
          As you leave Mass today, take a flier with the picture of the good-looking priest, and a bumper-sticker for your car. Please support us in the second collection and pray for our junior high school, your junior high school. But more importantly, remember where you came from: you did not descend just from Adam and Eve, nor did you descend from monkeys; you are a child of God. Your chromosomes may be 50% from mom and 50% from dad, but your soul is 100% from God.  

          Praised be Jesus Christ! 

No Bad Days

Seeing the good news rather than the bad news  

1 Corinthians 9:16-19  Brothers and sisters: If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the Gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the Gospel.   
          Life is full of good news and bad news, ups and downs, highs and lows, successes and failures, good days and bad days. I heard of one pastor recently who had a long week when he received plenty of good news but also bad news. On Monday, he was told the good news that the Women’s Guild voted to send him a get-well card. But the bad news was the vote was passed by only 31-30. That sounds like our Ladies Auxiliary, except the Ladies Auxiliary would want their card back. On Tuesday, he got the good news that his women’s softball team finally won a game, but that was followed by the bad news that they had beaten the church’s men’s softball team.
          On Wednesday, he learned that the parish council decided to add more church parking. The bad news was they were going to blacktop the front lawn of the rectory. On Thursday, he heard that church attendance had risen dramatically the last three weeks. But the bad news was he realized that was while he had been on vacation. Finally, on Friday, he was happy to hear that the deacons all wanted to send him on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But he also heard they were stalling until the next war broke out. Life always brings both good days and bad days, good news and bad news.    
          In the first reading today, St. Paul says he will focus on the good news rather than the bad news. St. Paul explains to the Corinthians, “Brother and sisters, woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” But do you know what the word “gospel” means? It comes from the Greek word “euanggelion” and literally means “good news.” In other words, even though St. Paul knows that life throws both good news and bad news at us all the time, he chooses to preach the “good news,” the gospel of Jesus Christ. But the good news of Jesus is not like other ordinary good news – like your women’s softball team beating your men’s softball team – but rather, it is the ultimate good news that finally trumps all the bad news. It’s like that popular bumper-sticker that says, “No Bad Days.” You see, one good day with Jesus is worth more than all the bad days in the history of the world put together. That’s the real good news.   
          Folks, let me invite you to focus on the good news, too, like St. Paul, instead of the bad news. And that’s not easy to do because people have a propensity to pass along bad news more than good news, we tend to complain about something rather and compliment someone, to talk about what’s wrong with the world rather than with what’s right. But today, make a firm decision “to preach the gospel,” the Good News. Here are some suggestions.  Look for a reason to compliment 3 people today. At the end of the day, write down 3 good things that happened to you today, and thank God for them. Bite your tongue when you feel the urge to criticize or complain about your spouse or co-workers.  Mark Twain famously said that he could live for two months on a good compliment; he liked to hear good news.
          My friends, I am convinced that there is a grace in every moment, that is, there is some good news everywhere. And if you can’t see the good news, maybe it’s because you’re not really looking for it. We always see what’s we’re looking for. After all, if the deacons really do send me to the Holy Land during a war, what better place would there be to die?  

          Praised be Jesus Christ!  

Mere Mortals

Learning to love, laugh and live with gods and goddesses  

Matthew 1:18-23  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”   
          I am the world’s worst at remembering people’s birthdays. How about you? Plus, I don’t have a wise wife who gently reminds me to pick up a gift on the way home for so-and-so. But there’s one birthday I always remember each year, and that’s my mom’s birthday on June 2nd. If it weren’t for my mom’s birthday – her own coming into the world – where would I be? I wouldn’t even be a “twinkle in my father’s eye.”   
          But we should also remember the birthday of our spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And her birthday is today, September 8th. Let me say a word about the significance of our spiritual mother’s birthday. Now, when do birthdays typically occur? They happen usually around nine months after what event? Look, I’m a celibate Catholic priest and even I know what happens nine months before someone is born. That’s when they are conceived. So, what date is nine months before September 8th? It is December 8, when we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. So, who was conceived on December 8th and then born (nine months later) on September 8th? It was Mary! But if you ask 99% of Catholics whose conception we celebrate on December 8, what answer will you hear? They will say it’s Jesus’ conception. Please correct them! This magnificent church that you’re sitting in called “Immaculate Conception”was built in honor of Our Lady’s conception. She was the one who told the three children at Lourdes, “Je suis l’Immaculee Conception.” (I am the Immaculate Conception.) In other words, if you can remember who was born on September 8, you can figure out who was conceived on December 8th.  Got it?
          But you know, every conception and every birthday is important and worth remembering. Why? Well, because every newborn baby is a child of God, created in God’s image and likeness, and destined for heavenly glory. Let me share with you my all-time favorite C. S. Lewis quotation from his essay called “The Weight of Glory.” He wrote: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare…It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities…that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.”   
         Now, here comes the best part: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked with a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” My friends, look around this church.  There are no mere mortals here; there are no ordinary people in these pews.  And that, by the way, is why we should remember their birthdays.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Four Horsemen

Learning the recipe for success is teamwork  

Luke 6:12-19  Jesus departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.   
          Is everyone still riding high from our first football victory in four years? What an exciting game, and I could not be more proud of our players and coaches. That victory was all heart: several players got hurt but kept on playing, like Isaac Wright, Salomon Amador and Talon Pate, and a bunch of boys got banged up. And no one game up, even deep in the fourth quarter when we were down by two points. But do you know why you won, boys? Tommy Smith – AJ and Dalton’s dad – gave the best answer. He said: “You won because you played for each other, and you played for your coach.” In other words, you played as a team, instead of being selfish and playing for yourselves, or for your ego.   
          Have you ever heard of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame? They were the backfield of the Fighting Irish football team, comprised of Harry Stuhldreher (quarterback), Don Miller (right halfback), Jim Crowley (left halfback), and Elmer Layden (fullback). During their 3 years together at Notre Dame, they lost only one game in 1922, one game in 1923, and they were undefeated in 1924. Do you know how big these guys were? Stuhldreher was 5’7 and 151 pounds, Crowley was 5’11 and 162 pounds, Miller was 5’11 and 160 pounds, and Layden was 6’ and 162. Heck, some of our Trinity players are bigger than them. But why did they win? For the same reason you won: they played as a team, and for their beloved coach, Knute Rockne. The real recipe for victory is to play for each other and not for yourself.   
           In the gospel today, Jesus chooses his line-up, his players, to be on his team, that is, he picks his apostles. Jesus spends the night in prayer and at daybreak he chooses the men who would play for him: the 12 apostles, like Knute Rockne. And I love this line: “And Jesus came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground.” You can almost see Jesus in front with the 12 lined up behind him, like football players lined up at the kick-off. And they all played for each other and for Jesus, all except one, whom you remember well: Judas. Was Jesus’ team very successful? Well, how long has the Church he established been around? Only for 2,000 years, and it is still going strong. You see, the disciples of Jesus are at their best when they play for each other and for their “coach” (Jesus), instead of for themselves, just like you were successful. Teamwork is the only recipe for victory.   
          Boys and girls, do you like to win? Me, too. Do you want to be all-state in band this year? Do you want the volleyball team to be great? Do you want the dance and cheer teams to be the envy of the town? Do you want the Quiz Bowl to be nationally ranked again? Do you want the cross-country team to run over their competition? Do you want the basketball team to blow away other teams? Then just do one thing: remember the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, and play for each other, not for yourselves. They didn’t have big bodies, but they had huge hearts. And in each man’s heart was his teammates, not himself. Teamwork is the recipe for victory, whether you play for Knute Rockne, or for John Vitale, or for Jesus Christ.   

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Saint Joe Shmoe

Seeking extraordinary holiness in ordinary opportunities  

1 Corinthians 5:1-8  Brothers and sisters: Your boasting is not appropriate.  Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our Paschal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.   
          Have you caught much of the canonization coverage on the news lately where Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint? She is one of my personal patron saints, and I mention her at the end of my daily rosary. But I’ll no longer have to say “Blessed Mother Teresa, pray for us.” Instead, I’ll be happy to say, “St. Mother Teresa, pray for us.” Woohoo. 
          I had several chances to meet Mother Teresa in Washington, D.C., while I volunteered at one of her hospice homes for AIDS patients.  When I saw her I was surprised how short she was, but also how strong she was. I met her in the hallway, but as soon as I said “Hi” to her, she heard a man nearby fall from his wheelchair and she ran over immediately and picked him up. She had a surprising physical power, and a not-so surprising spiritual power. She was impressive in every respect as was witnessed by those who attended her canonization Mass. Fox News reported: “Hundreds of Missionaries of Charity sisters in their trademark blue-trimmed white saris had front-row seats at the Mass, alongside 1,500 homeless people, and 13 heads of state or government, and even royalty, Queen Sofia of Spain.” And I’m sure if Princess Diana were alive, she would certainly have come: they were very close.   
          But as impressive as St. Mother Teresa is, she can also be a little intimidating. What do I mean? Well, we may see all her huge holiness and think, “Man, I could never do that! I could never be a saint.” Sometimes we conclude at a canonization Mass that only super-holy priests and nuns, monks and mystics can become saints, not you and me, poor Joe six-pack in the pews. But if you think that, you would be very mistaken. Even St. Mother Teresa often said: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love,” like rushing to pick up a man who fell from his wheelchair. Everyone can do small things with great love, and that’s the best definition of a saint.
          A couple of years ago, I gave to our church office staff a book for Christmas called, Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace by Scott Hahn. The thesis of the book is simply that sainthood is for everyone not for a few. And the secret to becoming a saint is to do your daily duties with love and as your sacrifice to God. Just as a priest offers bread and wine on the altar at Mass, so you should see your daily duties as a sort of priestly service. Scott Hahn wrote: “Our altar is our desktop, our workstation, the row we hoe, the ditch we dig, the diaper we change, the pot we stir, the bed we share with our spouse” (p. 8). You and I have to do all these things every day, and if we inject the ingredient of great love, they suddenly serve as the secret and short-cut to sanctity.
          On this Labor Day, we give God thanks for the gift of honest work, “at home with the kids, in a factory or an office, in the mines, on the farm, or on the battlefield” (Ordinary Work, p. 5). Honest work is something we all have to do, because sainthood is something we are all called to achieve.

          Praised be Jesus Christ! 

Working for the Weekend

Directing our labor toward divine worship  

Wisdom 9:13-18B  Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.  
          One of the blessings of my India visit was reconnecting with my cousins and now keeping in touch with them. Recently, though, I got busy and didn’t reply to one cousin for about a week. I texted him to apologize and said I had gotten busy. He texted me back saying, “You Americans work too much!” I texted him back asking, “And how many gold medals did India win in the Olympics?” I haven’t heard from him since. But he really made a great point: do we Americans work too much? Long gone are the good old days when people worked 9 to 5, and then went home. Sometimes we look down on those who don’t work as hard as we do, or can’t work.   
          Sometimes it’s hard to stop working even at parties. I recently heard of a lawyer and a doctor who were talking at a party. Their conversation was constantly interrupted by people describing their ailments and asking the doctor for free medical advice. After an hour of this, the exasperated doctor asked the lawyer, “What do you do to stop people from asking you for legal advice when you’re out of the office?” The lawyer replied, “I simply give advice to them, but I also later send them a bill.” The doctor was shocked, but agreed to give it a try. The next day, still feeling slightly guilty, the doctor prepared the bills. When he went to put them in the mailbox, he found a bill from the lawyer he had spoken to.  
          My cousin was right: we Americans work too much. But why do we work so much? The best answer I’ve found for that question was in a book by my favorite philosopher, Josef Pieper. In his timeless but little known classic, called Leisure, the Basis of Culture, he says: “To rest from work means that time is reserved for divine worship; certain days and times are set aside and transferred to ‘the exclusive property of the gods’” (p. 67). In other words, Pieper would agree with the rock-band, Loverboy, who sang, “Everybody’s working for the weekend!” We work so that we can rest and relax on weekends. But Pieper would be quick to add that on the weekend we should go to church and pray and praise Almighty God. You see, we work so that we can worship. That should be why we Americans work too much, because ultimately it’s so that we can worship God.  
          In the first reading today, the book of Wisdom explains what happens when work leads to worship; what happens, that is, in church. The ancient author writes: “Who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.” In other words, when we come to church on Sunday, not only do we step into the house of God, we also step into the mind of God. We begin to see the world like God sees the world, we begin to see our neighbor as God sees our neighbor, and we even begin to see ourselves as God sees us. Now, something strange happens when we see everything through God’s eyes: we also start to think like him, and to love like him, and ultimately to live like him, that’s how “the paths of those on earth are made straight.” You see, this is why we Americans work so much: so that our work can lead to worship, and our worship can lead to love.  
          This weekend we celebrate “Labor Day” here in the United States. How ironic that we should observe “labor day” by taking a day off from labor! But when you think a little deeper about the matter, the irony disappears. Why? Well, because work is for the sake of Sunday rest, and ultimately for the sake of Sunday worship, so that we might have the mind of God, not just the mind of man. But what will most people do this three-day weekend? What are you looking forward to most this Labor Day? Most will follow Loverboy’s advice: “Everybody’s working for the weekend, Everybody wants a little romance, Everybody’s going off the deep end, Everybody needs a second chance.” And so, we go to football games and to the lake and on quick excursions. And to be sure, that is all good and fine, nothing wrong with that.   But let me encourage you not only to step into Lake Ouachita, and step into Razorback Stadium, and step into your barko lounger, but also to step into the house of God so that you can step into the mind of God. In other words, go to Mass and receive the Holy Spirit of God, because only “thus the paths of those on earth are made straight.” That’s the best reply to my cousin, and to anyone else who accuses us Americans of working too much. We work so that we may worship, and we worship so that we may love and live as it pleases the Lord.  
          May I conclude this homily with the conclusion of Pieper’s book? His last line is a little long, but he succinctly summarizes his whole subject. Listen carefully: “We therefore hope that this true sense of sacramental visibility” – God’s vision – “may become so manifest in the celebration of the Christian cultus itself” – that is the Mass – “that in the performance of it man, ‘who is born to work,’ may truly be ‘transported’ out of the weariness of daily labor into an unending holiday, carried away out of the straitness of the workaday world into the heart of the universe” (p. 74). Did you catch all that? He simply means this: that we work for the sake of worship, and not just for the sake of a wild weekend.

          Praised be Jesus Christ! 

Knowing Everything

Listening and learning from the wisdom of others  
Luke 5:1-11  While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.   
          Several years ago someone asked Msgr. Richard Oswald what it takes to become a “monsignor.” He gave a very memorable reply. He said: “You have to surround yourself with very talented people, and then let them do what they do best.” Obviously, that’s why I haven’t become a monsignor yet: I’m still looking for those talented people! (Just kidding.) In other words, being a monsignor is not like being a “king” who tells others what to do. Rather, it’s more like being a “servant” who listens to others and learns from their wealth of wisdom.   
          Sitting in parish council meetings, the pastor may not always have the best idea; it may be the maintenance man, who has the stroke of genius, and a wise pastor, a monsignor, knows to listen and learn from others. John Maxwell, the highly regarded leadership expert, said, “Every idea is a good idea, until you find the best idea.” A monsignor knows others may have better ideas than him and he learns from them.  
          In the gospel today, Peter is also learning to listen to the wisdom of others, especially to Jesus. Peter is a professional fisherman, and a successful one, too, because he has others working on his crew. And after fishing all night without a bite, they’re ready to “call it a day.” But Jesus comes along and gives him some fishing advice, saying, “Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.” Now, that could have come across as insulting, suggesting that Peter doesn’t know his trade. But Peter doesn’t take it that way. He answers: “Master, we have worked hard all night, and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” What happens? Peter learns not only how to catch mackerel and mahi mahi, but men and women. You see, by listening and learning from others, Peter didn’t become a monsignor, he became the pope. “Every idea is a good idea until you find the best idea,” and often others have the best ideas.  
          You know, you may not want to be a monsignor, but you must still learn from others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches we must obey our conscience (we have to do what we think is right), but it adds very importantly: “Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened” (no. 1783) (italics mine). That is, we must listen and learn from the wisdom of others, especially the Church. So, before you make a big decision, do you ask what the Church teaches, or do you just go with your gut? Before you decide to use in vitro fertilization to get pregnant, before you decide to get a divorce and end your marriage, before you vote for the next president on November 8, before you choose to send your children to a Catholic or public school, before you choose so many other major decisions in life, do you just give it your best guess? Or, do you do like Msgr. Oswald and learn from the wisdom of others, especially the collective, 2000-year wisdom of the Catholic Church: the saints and scholars, the popes and patriarchs up and down the centuries?  
          Peter, a professional fisherman, figured maybe he didn’t know everything about fishing and listened to Jesus. Maybe you don’t know everything either, and should listen to the Church. “Every idea is a good idea until you find the best idea,” and often others have the best idea.  

          Praised be Jesus Christ!