Friday, July 29, 2011

Homily, 17th Sun O.T., Year A–Christ, My True Treasure

hidden treasureFor the last few Sundays, we have heard Jesus use several parables in order to describe the Kingdom of God and how the message of His Kingdom should be received. Today we have heard the final ones that Jesus will use, at least for now. This message is arguably Jesus’ most important message, the message he was sent by the Father to proclaim. In the whole New Testament, the phrase “Kingdom of God” occurs 122 times and 90 of these are from Jesus Himself (Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth I, 47). Whenever Jesus speaks of the Kingdom then, we should listen up. “Whoever has ears ought to hear” (Mt 13:43).

In these parables, Jesus used everyday language and images familiar to his audience to reveal deep truths about the Kingdom of God. Do you remember some of these parables? First he described our souls which can be more or less receptive of the word of the Kingdom just like soil can be more or less receptive of the seeds that the farmer sows. Then Jesus explained that the Kingdom, as it is manifest on earth, is made up of both good and bad people who will only completely be divided on the last day, just like wheat and weeds that grow together until the final harvest. Next Jesus showed the power that a seemingly small and insignificant message can really have, just like the tiny mustard seed that can grow into the size of a tree, or the tiny amount of yeast that can make many, many pounds of dough rise. Finally, the kingdom of God is priceless like hidden treasure, beautiful like the most valuable pearl, all-encompassing like a fisherman’s net, and timeless like the mysteries shrouded in the Old Testament and fully revealed in the New.

For me, the two short parables of the hidden treasure and the valuable pearl, hit closest to home. These parables describe how I ultimately came to be a priest. But it all goes back to a Protestant girl – yes, a Protestant girl put me on the road to the priesthood! Up until my senior year in college, ’01-’02, I had been a lukewarm Catholic at best. I knew what the Church taught, but I didn’t know why, and it didn’t even dawn on me to care. I was completely happy with a very superficial, shallow Catholic faith. I never knew or imaged what a deeper Catholicism even was. I was blissfully ignorant. For all I knew, I was a good, normal Catholic. It’s not that I rejected a more profound living-out of my faith, I just simply never heard of it.

At the beginning of my senior year I started dating a girl who was Christian, but non-denominational. The longer we dated, the more she got to know me and my family, and soon she began to ask me questions about my faith that no one had ever asked me before and that I had never asked myself before; like “Why do you go to confession to a priest? Why do you have statues in Church? Why do Catholics pray the rosary? Why does the priest put a piece of the host in the chalice at Mass?”…. wait… He does what!? I never even noticed that! At the height of my lukewarm-ness, I could only answer, “Pfff, I dunno, that’s just what they told us!” I had no idea why I did what I did, why my fellow parishioners did what they did, or why I was who I was. She helped me to realize how utterly clueless I was about even the basic elements of being a Catholic.

In order to feel less lame, I got on the Internet to try to find the answers to her questions. But, I was a treasure-hunter without a map and stumbled on many websites that only complicated my search further – sites from people attacking Catholicism, sites from Catholics attacking themselves, and sites from Catholics who thought they knew what they were talking about but didn’t. Finally through much trial and error I came upon a few that were very clear, faithful to Church teaching, easy to read, and very helpful. Two I remember the most are the website for the Catholic channel,, and the website for Catholic Answers,

When I finally found the Truth, I felt like I was living both of today’s parables at the same time. In the parable of the hidden treasure, the man who finds it stumbles upon it by accident. In early Palestine there were constant wars and pillages. We can imagine that it would be fairly common for a man to be tilling his garden and unearth treasure that had been stolen and buried for safekeeping decades before him. But, according to the laws then, “Finder’s Keepers” did not apply. If someone found treasure on a piece of land that wasn’t his, he had to buy the land in order to keep it. For the man in our parable, even though it was an accidental find, he spared no expense in acquiring the land where he found the treasure. It cost him dearly, but it was a sacrifice that was worth making.

In the parable of the valuable pearl, rather than dealing with a treasure accidentally found, this is a true treasure-hunt. Here the pearl merchant is on the lookout for the most valuable pearl he can find. He knows it’s out there, he’s been looking everywhere for it, he would give anything for it, he must find it. When he finally does, nothing else matters, and he sells all that he has in order to buy it.

I, no doubt, was told at one point or another why we believe what we believe – I distinctly remember having a good Catholic education. But this time I was listening with ears that wanted to hear, and eyes that wanted to see. I discovered, for what felt like the very first time, why we go to Mass, what the Mass means, what… rather Who… the Eucharist is, why we go to confession to a priest, why we pray the rosary, what statues mean and so much more. I discovered why I had gone to Catholic schools all those years, why our family went to Mass every Sunday, what we did there every Sunday, what the priest did, what GOD did, every Sunday. I discovered why I made the Sign of the Cross all the time, why my dad taught my brothers and I the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Angel of God, and other prayers. It all came together for the first time. My mind was flooded with all new vistas of the Catholic faith that I had never imagined. I felt fully alive. I had indeed stumbled upon a hidden treasure, a hidden treasure that was in plain sight. At the end of the day, this treasure wasn’t a set of teachings though, or a set of well-worded answers, it was a person: Jesus Christ, who called me to see and hear and chose me to reveal himself too more deeply, through His Church.

Because this treasure was really Him, I felt at the same time like the pearl merchant, searching more and more for the Truth. I kept reading more and more, devouring everything I could find that explained or defended the many doctrines and values of Catholicism. This search for more and more of the Truth changed my life… it had to change if I was going to have any integrity at all, if I was going to try to live up to the faith I was given. Great and beautiful treasures come at a great price. My relationship with my Protestant girlfriend didn’t work out; several of my friends rejected me for my newfound life as a faithful Catholic trying to actually be Catholic; I gave up a relatively high-paying job as a software developer for an investment firm in downtown Louisville…

The cost and the sacrifice have been more than worth it! The Truth doesn’t bind you up. It not only sets you free, it makes you free. Those sacrifices gave me meaning and purpose and direction in life. I came to know Christ and His Church for what seemed like the first time. I had someone and something to fight for, to live for, to die for. I had a challenge I could face and work hard for. I had someone and something to love. The more I learned about Christ’s actions in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, the more I fell in love with those and the more I began to imagine what it would be like if I was celebrating Mass or hearing confessions. Christ’s Holy Priesthood was the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price.

I don’t tell you all of this because I’m perfect or anything like that – I have ducked, dodged, and sabotaged God throughout the treasure-hunt that has been my vocation and discernment. I tell you all of this as a witness, as someone who can say that this is really true, that when you make Christ the treasure of your life, the most valuable pearl worth searching for, then he will help you make the sacrifices that are required. St. Teresa of Avila assures us in her famous work, the Way of Perfection, “God never fails to help someone who decides to leave all things for his sake” (Navarre, note Mt 13:44-52). And St. Bernard describes beautifully how Christ is like no other treasure, “He is always new, and constantly renews the soul; he never grows old because he will never fade away” (ibid.). We cannot say that about any other treasure, even our most valued relationships. Christ must be our treasure if we are to be truly happy. Perhaps you may find that when you stumble upon him and make sacrifices to bring him into your life that it was actually he who was searching and longing for you the whole time. You are his pearl, a pearl so valuable that he gave everything, even his own life, to make you his own. What will you give for him?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Homily 16th Sun O.T., Year A–Unity and Uniformity

wheatharvestSince I’ve been ordained, and especially now as we approach a new school year, I’ve been reflecting on my years of seminary from an outside perspective. It is clearer to me now how the gravity of our mission there, to be formed into priests of Jesus Christ, sometimes caused us to over-emphasize certain things, or to make too much of things. For example, I could have been on time for Morning Prayer for 30 days in a row, but being late on the 31st day would be the one everyone noticed the most. Or… everyone on my side of the chapel would be reciting their part of the psalms of Morning Prayer in perfect unison, but it would be that one guy who read too fast that would most catch our attention. This type of perfectionism was not very helpful.

Perfectionism can creep into a parish also, on both of our parts. For me, in my first months of priesthood, as I am growing as a celebrant and wanting to pray the Mass exactly as it is given by the Church; sometimes it is the one missed word or messed up gesture that sticks out in my mind the most. On the other hand, it wasn’t too long ago when I was in your seat noticing the one family who came in late or the one who left early. This type of perfectionism isn’t helpful either. What is most helpful I think is for us to distinguish between two things: unity and uniformity.

There is a big difference between the two. Unity is more internal, uniformity is more external. Unity comes from above and is a gift from God; it is something that we cannot ultimately make ourselves. Uniformity is something we can make ourselves when we get everything looking the same. We should be more concerned with unity than uniformity

For example, at the seminary, on a rare day we may have all been reciting the psalms in perfect unison, in perfect uniformity, but with a far from perfect unity – one guy may have been meditating carefully upon each stanza as he read it, while another, though keeping pace, was miles away in his head thinking about the paper he still had to turn in while the words ran mindlessly from his mouth. Again, unity is a much deeper, more profound reality than uniformity. Uniformity is when we are all doing the same thing at the same time. But true unity is when God gives us the grace to be one in our hearts and minds.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a man who sowed good seeds of wheat in his field. But, the man’s enemy crept into the field and later sowed weeds among the wheat. The type of weeds the evangelist has in mind is a type that looks exactly like the wheat but if eaten is toxic to humans and animals. It can only be distinguished from the wheat once they are both fully mature – then the farmer who knows his fields like the back of his hand is able to tell the slightly smaller and more slender ear of the weeds from the taller and more healthy ear of the wheat. When the farmer’s servants learn about the weeds they become concerned with the uniformity of things and they ask if he wants them to pull up the weeds. But the farmer, who is more concerned with unity, forbids them, because the servants don’t have the close eye that he has – they may accidentally reach for and pull the wheat thinking it is the weeds. This is where we get the common phrase, “Taking the good with the bad.” The farmer is concerned with the unity of the wheat and its inner integrity – the wheat should not be pulled as if it was a weed to be discarded. The two should be allowed to grow together until the very end when the taller ears of wheat can be harvested together, cut near the head, leaving only the smaller weeds behind. It is then that the weeds can finally be pulled and cast into the fire.

In our nearest, most visible experience, the kingdom of God, the field of seeds, is the Catholic Church with God as the farmer and us as the wheat. The devil is the enemy, and those who come from him, those who do evil, are the weeds. The field, the Church overall, is good, but it endures the harsh reality of being made up of some members that are good and others that are bad. Even though the devil was defeated once and for all by Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, his victory will not be completely manifested until the end of time when Christ comes again in glory. Until then, God allows those who do evil to live and work alongside those who do good according to his larger plan. But, when the last day comes, the Son of Man must present a perfect kingdom to his Father. Then Christ will execute his judgment through his angels who will gather together like a harvest those who are in sin and are doing evil deeds and give them the reward they have earned and have shown they have wanted: an eternity of pain that comes from being in the darkness of separation from God. This is where we get the popular image of the Grim Reaper – the angel who reaps what we have sown. On the other hand, those who are in a state of grace and have led lives of good works of faith will shine as bright as the sun in the Kingdom of the Father.

What should we do then between now and the last day, whose timing only God the Father knows? What does this parable mean for us? I think it reveals the lesson that we should concern ourselves more with the deeper reality of unity, like the farmer, than with superficial uniformity, like the servants. One way that we can do this is by looking at our personal lives, our families, our groups of friends, our parish, and our Church in general and embracing only what is true, good, and beautiful. Like unity – truth, goodness, and beauty come from God and if we can carefully discern what these are and live our lives according to them then we will be responding to the grace and the call to unity and we will truly be unified.

The Catholic Church is one of the finest handmaidens of the gifts of goodness, truth, and beauty. But how can we make our part of the kingdom truly unified by these gifts if we reject them elsewhere? If we consume the toxic weeds of lies, distortions, slander, gossip, and deceits of the world then it will be hard for us to be unified by the often challenging Truth of Catholic teaching. And so we can all uniformly recite the creed but in our hearts not really believe everything we are professing. If we consume the toxic weeds of accepting certain behaviors or lifestyles of the world then we will begin to demand that the Church conform to the world, rather than the world conform to the Church. And so we hear people often challenging the Church to accept as Good the world’s definition of marriage, divorce, contraception, etc. If we consume the toxic weeds of things that are ugly – praising architecture, music, artwork, or prose that lacks any objective standard, depth of meaning, or historical continuity – then it will be hard for us to accept true Beauty in the Church and we become satisfied with lower forms of architecture, music, artwork, or prose that take away our Catholic identity.

The devil wants us to be concerned merely with uniformity – as long as we busy ourselves with saying the same things or looking the same way then to him we’re all right, because we’ll be distracted from the deeper values that affect true Christian unity. The devil wants us to uniformly sell the farm on trivial things. To combat this, we need to help each other discern what is really True, Good, and Beautiful in every area of our lives and only accept those things rather than their distortions. In our world, sometimes it is hard to discern the difference between the wheat and the weeds. But the more we tell the truth, choose and do good works and value what is beautiful deep-down, the easier it will be to discern them and be united by them.

We have to let ourselves be formed by them. When you commit yourself to no more white-lies at work or to only telling the truth to your spouse then you become a truthful person and the truths the Church professes become more acceptable. When you commit yourself to only acting like a gentleman or a lady when you’re out with your friends or doing good deeds for others on your day off, then goodness becomes part of your lifestyle and the morals that the Church upholds you will want to instill in your family or the world around you. When you read Scripture, spiritual works from faithful authors, or classic novels; watch movies that are well-written and with a positive message; or listen to music of true quality, meaning, and talent, then you can appreciate the beauty of manifestly Catholic architecture, sacred hymns, religious artwork, and quality appointments and vestments – even in a small country parish.

Be formed by what is True and you will be truthful. Be formed by what is Good and you will be good. Be formed by what is Beautiful and you will be beautiful. Accept only these and your family, your circle of friends, your workplace, and our parish will in turn be True, Good, and Beautiful. And we will be truly Unified by God. Yes, the false, evil, and ugly will grow up right along with us. But if we concentrate on forming ourselves for true inner unity rather than be distracted by mere superficial uniformity then we will have nothing to fear. We will come to full stature in Christ. We will become the acceptable sacrifice in his hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his Church.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Homily 15th Sun O.T., Year A–The Soul of Fruitful Soil

sowerI’m very glad to be with you all today to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving for my Ordination to the Priesthood and to thank you all for your prayers and support and for helping to form me into the man I am today. I feel like I should briefly explain why I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville rather than the Diocese of Owensboro! I grew up in this parish and my mother Jan was one of my teachers at Blessed Mother school. I then went to Catholic Middle and Catholic High and after going to Lindsey Wilson College I got a job in Louisville as a software developer for an investment firm. That job, which I had for about 3 years, is what brought me to Louisville and it was during that period that I discerned that God was calling me to be a priest. I felt like he had led me to Louisville and that I was called to serve the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville. But, every time I use the word “home”, I still think of Owensboro. I love this diocese and this parish and will always look forward to the opportunities to visit. Besides, we gave you one of our priests as your new bishop so I’ll probably be made pastor of 4 or 5 parishes one day because of that so we’re even!

Shortly after I entered seminary at St. Mary’s in Baltimore in 2005, one of the first steps toward being ordained was being Instituted a Lector, or being made an “official” reader in the Church. After that we were Instituted as Acolytes or “official servers” and then as Candidates, professing publicly our intent to be ordained. In our preparation for receiving the Ministry of Lector, I remember well that our first reading today from the prophet Isaiah was the reading that we had to practice over and over: “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth…”

When each one of us were instituted as lectors we knelt before the bishop who placed a Bible in our hands and said, “Take this book of Holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the Word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of His people. Amen.” I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed at that point. It is God who plants his word in our hearts, like a sower of seeds, and I was to be an instrument of that planting.

In a sense, we all received this ministry at our Baptism. After we were Baptized, the priest made a sign of the cross on the crown of our heads with the Sacred Chrism saying, “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life. Amen.” Then after we were clothed in a white garment and received our lit baptismal candle the priest prayed the Ephphetha prayer, which is Aramaic for “be opened.” With his thumb he touched our ears and lips saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father. Amen.”

The Ephphatha prayer is one of the last prayers of the ritual of Baptism. In that way it is a sort of commissioning. In a very real way, our life’s mission was given to us at that young age. Each one of us was meant to live a life of opening our ears to receive God’s word and our mouths to proclaim his faith. We were anointed as Prophets. This is what we were called to be, no matter what our vocation, or job, or state in life: we were made to be lectors in our everyday lives.

At our Baptism we were brought into the kingdom of God, made co-heirs with Christ of all of the spiritual riches of that kingdom, and given the grace we need to lead holy lives. Then how do we account for such a wide diversity among Catholics today? Some Catholics only go to Mass on Christmas or Easter, others go every Sunday or every day. Some spend one or two hours a week in Adoration, adoring our Lord present in the consecrated host. On the other hand, many still do not believe that the bread and wine at Mass truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. Some Catholics go to confession once a month while for others it has been decades. If the seeds of God’s word were sown in all of our souls why then do those seeds bear fruit and yield a hundred fold in one, sixty in another, or thirty in another? The sower is the same for each of us, the seed is the same, the difference is the soil. “God pours himself into our souls in accordance with the degree of welcome He finds there” (In Conversation, Fernandez, 4/19.3).

In the parable of the sower in our Gospel, Jesus reveals how the mysteries of his kingdom should be received. Unfortunately, throughout our lives we have a tendency of disturbing the soil of our souls: matting it down to where it becomes only a hard pathway so that the seed stays at the surface and is eaten by the birds; or making it rocky and shallow so that the roots cannot take hold and the seeds are scorched by the sun; or littering it with thorns so that they are choked and overcome by them. With these images Jesus reveals the three constant sources of all of our troubles, the three traditional sources of evil in our lives: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Those who have souls matted down and trodden underfoot can only accept external, superficial things. They never even consider supernatural realities or their spiritual lives. They never think of anything beyond what their passions demand of them. When asked to think deeply they are dumbfounded. They hear God’s word, they may even hear it every Sunday. But they do not listen to it and so it stays at the surface, easily snatched away by the devil.

Those who have souls of rocky ground can receive the seeds of God’s word but do not have an inner depth in which the roots can take hold. They can become excited about a new insight they have discovered that helps them in some way or encourages them in a particular practice. But this enthusiasm is easily scorched when the weakness of this first blush of commitment is tested by a real trial or difficulty. They are tempted to turn back to their former way of life when the Gospel begins to demand too much.

Those who have souls of thorns growing all around it are also able to hear the word but the cares of the world and the delight in riches stifle it, and it proves unfruitful. An excessive ambition or an excessive concern for being well-off and comfortable is evidence of the thorns of worldliness and materialism. Becoming obsessed with acquiring one big thing after the next is a thorn that will always wound us. We all have had times of each type of soil.

I know all of this sounds a bit negative, but it is important that we see others and ourselves for who we really are: our life’s mission – to receive God’s word and proclaim it in our own way – is at stake. “But,” I could ask, “if I’m perfectly fine with the way my life is going, why should I care what type of soil my soul is for receiving the seeds of God’s word? Because those ultimate questions of life, of religion, of God will always escape us if we don’t prepare the soil of our souls to receive the mysteries of God’s kingdom in a deeper and deeper way. The questions like, “Why am I here? Why am I doing this? What is all of this for? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why was I laid off? Why did my mother or sister or brother die? Why am I suffering? Why am I doing so well when others are doing so poorly? Why me, God? These are questions we all have asked, no matter who you are. And that’s why we should care. Because the answers come easy to those who allow God’s word to bear fruit in them. But they constantly plague those who refuse him.

Those questions may not bother us now, but some day we will come face-to-face with something we can’t explain and those of us with souls producing the flowers and fruits of grace, wisdom, and the light of the Holy Spirit will find comfort where those souls left open to the devil or overcome by human weakness or worldly cares will be desperate to know where to turn.

The hope in all of this is that we all have been given the gift of free will, the freedom of self-determination, the freedom to make ourselves whatever we want to be according to our decisions. No soul is too hard for God to break through, too rocky for God to take root, or too full of thorns for God’s presence to grow strong and free, if that is what we want. No evil spirit is too greedy or too quick for God to overcome – that victory has already been won. No doubt or hesitancy or uncertainty is too much for God who is Truth Himself. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in, Adoro Te Devote, his hymn of adoration: “Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:/ How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;/ What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do; Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.” Finally, no worldly concern, no vacation, no cushy retirement, no pile of cords and gadgets, no high-paying job comes close to the infinite worth of one drop of Precious Blood or one tiny piece of a consecrated Host. The choice for God is ours to make. No matter where we’ve come from or what we’ve been through, all of us are able to have a soul of rich soil, to hear the word and understand it, and bear fruit in a life of holiness that yields not just thirty or sixty but hundredfold. Indeed, as the Psalm says for Saturday’s Morning Prayer: “The just will flourish like the palm tree/ and grow like a Lebanon cedar./ Planted in the house of the Lord/ they will flourish in the courts of our God,/ still bearing fruit when they are old,/ still full of sap, still green,/ to proclaim that the Lord is just;/ in him, my rock, there is no wrong” (Ps 92).

Homily 14th Sun O.T., Year A–The Law of Love

My Canon Law professor at the seminary, Msgr. Fulton, had a way of teaching Church law that made us actually enjoy learning it; he made it a joy to know the law and to help others to know it too. He had a great sense of humor in how he applied the law to particular situations. By having a sense of humor with the law, the point he made to us, without explicitly saying it, is that the law of the Church, which is a reflection of the law of the Lord, should be taught and learned and followed with joy and from the heart. The law is not intended to be something that embitters us. The law is not meant to be followed with white-knuckled anxiety or with demands that are impossible to meet. Laws, when they are just, do not bind up… they set free.

Now, it is certainly true that we all bristle under the law every now and then – whether it’s that speeding ticket for going 5 miles over the speed limit or that sudden realization that it’s a Friday in Lent right before you bite into a steak. This is nothing though compared to what the Israelites felt in Biblical times under the weight of law put onto them by the scribes and Pharisees. The 10 commandments, as awesome as they are, were ultimately national laws for public observance. “Thou shall not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain” meant that henceforth it was illegal for them to do so. “That shall not kill” made murder illegal. Breaking one of the 10 commandments brought grave punishments. And on top of these were the hundreds of other laws, 613 to be exact, that governed almost every aspect of their way of life.

But, these laws were good because they helped to separate the Israelites from the pagan influences of the peoples that surrounded them. They helped to set the standard for exhibiting a right relationship with God. These laws helped set their nation apart, to define and protect them, as God’s chosen people. The point of the old law was that God was preparing them for a New Covenant in Jesus Christ that would inscribe the law of God on their hearts. By training them to follow external observances he was preparing them to follow the internal law of love.

This was the point of the law that the scribes and Pharisees missed. Rather than accept Jesus who fulfilled, completed, perfected, and transformed the law into the means of their salvation, they based their salvation in strictly observing “the smallest letter” and “the smallest part of a letter” of the law, every “jot and tittle” as they used to say (Mt 5:18). Thank God we don’t have the same burdens placed on us. Thank God Jesus really did fulfill and transform the law from something heavy and external to something light and heartfelt. “My yoke is easy,” Jesus said, “my burden light” (Mt 11:30). No more do we have laws that are impossible to follow. Under the Kingship of our Lord, we are given a new moral law that brings right along with it the aid to carrying it out.

So for example, none of us needs the law “You shall not kill” because we have been given the grace and blessing of a good upbringing, well-ordered hearts and minds, patience, mercy, and forgiveness. We can say we are free of the demands of that law. But Jesus wants us to go deeper. What about the anger in our hearts that kills our relationship with our parents, or our siblings, or our coworkers? What about the lack of patience with ourselves that we cannot let go of? What about the revenge that we secretly desire every time we are offended? These thoughts and desires that spring from the heart cause us to suffer a hundred tiny deaths throughout our lives if we do not let the law of the Lord, the law of love, set us free from them.

It is this kind of deeper meaning that Jesus wants us to see in each of the 10 commandments as we strive to follow them. They are still true for us, as true as they were for the Israelites. But now God is asking us to love him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, not just with our external observances. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever” (Jn 14:15).

And St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” We are given grace and the Holy Spirit that make following God’s laws, and by extension the Church’s laws, peaceful rather than bitter, and motivated by love rather than external conformity. Because of our fallen nature, laws will always be a burden, but just laws are a burden of love. St. Augustine said, “Any other burden oppresses and crushes you, but Christ’s actually takes weight off you. Any other burden weighs down, but Christ’s gives you wings. If you take a bird’s wings away, you might seem to be taking weight off, but the more weight you take off, the more you tie it down to the earth. There it is on the ground, and you wanted to relieve it of a weight; give it back the weight of its wings and you will see how it flies” (St. Augustine, Sermones, 126, 12).

Christ, our King, is not one who wields the law like a tyrant. He is a “just” and “meek” savior, as the prophet Zechariah foretold. Jesus himself said that those who come to him, will find not oppression but “rest” for he is “meek and humble of heart.” When we see that such a master as this is behind the law then we have no trouble following it. And when we follow the law with simplicity and humility, like “little ones” do, he will show us the Father and we will grow more and more in intimacy with Him. But, if we follow the law like some of “the wise and the learned” who try to over-rationalize it, make it too hard, or find loopholes through it, then intimacy with the Father will be hidden from us. This is precisely why our Lord asks for obedient disciples, because he is not the kind of Master that would oppress us, and because he wants to take us to His Father. The more we show love through obedience, the more we will grow in love. The more we grow in love, the more we are compelled by it rather than the law. The more we are compelled by love the more our spiritual lives will soar, like St. Augustine’s bird, to the heights of heaven rather than be tied down to the bitter legalism of this world.

Homily Corpus Christi, Year A


eucharistic_processionI am so happy to be with all of you today as I celebrate the first Sunday Mass of my first priestly assignment as the Associate Pastor of St. James, St. Ambrose, and St. Ignatius. They say I was sent here to loosen up Fr. Chuck! But, I think it will be the other way around! Seriously, though, ever since I was ordained on May 28 and learned of my assignment here, everyone I have talked too has said what a good cluster of parishes this is, and how faithful a people you all are. This has eased my nervousness and made me excited to come here and I am truly looking forward to serving all of you, celebrating the sacraments with you, and getting to know as many of you as I can. Like I told those at the daily Mass on Thursday, as a recently ordained priest, unfortunately, you all become the beneficiaries of my foibles, so I implore your patience as I grow more and more into the identity of a priest.

It is remarkable to me that in the first weekend of my first priestly assignment, we are celebrating that great feast of the Church, Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ… really what the Priesthood is all about. I want you to know that the Eucharist is one of the highest priorities of my life and of my ministry to you. The Mass is a great joy of mine and I have worked hard to understand and learn it well in light of our continuous tradition from ancient times to today and onward. I regard it as the highest form of service that I could offer. What greater gift, what greater form of help could I give you than the real and true Body of Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself? As we hear often, it is the Source and Summit of the life of the Church. Who we are and what we do as Catholics comes from the Eucharist and finds its highest point in the Eucharist.

It sounds nice to say that for our parish, the Eucharist it its source and its summit. But, that’s also a little too easy to say if we don’t also consider that the only way the Eucharist can fully be the source and the summit of our parish is if It is the source and the summit of each one us. We make up the parish… the Eucharist makes up the parish… Does the Eucharist make up me and each one of us? Every year that we celebrate this Solemnity we are invited to think for ourselves what we truly believe about this Sacrament. We are invited to ask ourselves: “Do I know what the Church teaches about the Eucharist? Have I tried to understand it? If a non-Catholic friend asked me tomorrow what the difference between my Communion and his is, would I be able to say? Do I really believe that after the words of Consecration – “This is my body” and “This is the cup of my blood” – what looks, tastes, feels, and smells like bread is not really bread at all but the Body of Christ… and what looks, tastes, feels, and smells like wine is not really wine at all but the Blood of Christ? If this is the Source and the Highpoint of what we are really about as Catholics, it is important that we ask ourselves these questions in such a concrete way… simply to know what we are all about and say that we’re all about.

I think God is calling us today to consider the Body and Blood of Christ in a precise way. After all, Jesus Christ Himself presents It in a precise way to the Jews he was addressing in the Synagogue. He carefully and deliberately chose his language, with full knowledge of the meaning his words would invoke in the minds of his listeners. When Jesus said, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world,” the Jews quarreled among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They were outspoken in their disagreement for they knew he wasn’t speaking metaphorically. In response, Jesus did not change his language, rather he spoke even more explicitly by adding that they should also drink His Blood. Their angst came from their misunderstanding him to be advocating cannibalism. Cannibalism is the eating of dead flesh, which truly is repulsive. But, Jesus gives us his glorified humanity as it is after he rose from the dead. This is why he calls himself the “living bread” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Jn 6:52-53, footnote). After all, the characteristics of his Body and Blood are hidden behind the characteristics of bread and wine even though they are no longer bread and wine. This is meant to facilitate our frequent reception of his entire self, his real and true Body and Blood as well as his Soul and His Divine Life, so that he may be our strength, our healing, and our life. It is truly a miracle.

It is also true that under the Old Covenant the Jews were forbidden to drink the blood of animals because it contained the life of the animal and doing so would lower them to the level of animals. But here too, the Eucharist is different. Here Jesus gives us supernatural life and does not lower us but rather raises us to the heights of heaven. Any other food, once eaten, breaks down into smaller and smaller parts until it is assimilated into our body and becomes part of us. But the Eucharist is the only food that we eat that causes us to become It, that assimilates us into It. St. Cyril of Alexandria used the image of two pieces of wax melted together to illustrate this point. And St. Therese of Lisieux went so far as to call her first Communion not a meeting with Jesus, but a fusion (A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Jn 6:57).

As partakers of the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ. We become the many members of his One Body. The Eucharist unifies us, draws us together, and forms us, despite all of our different origins and circumstances, as a Catholic parish, as a Catholic Church. By receiving Him together, he make us unified. Therefore, it is painful to me that some members of my family and friends who aren’t Catholic or who are non-practicing cannot receive Communion with me. I want us all to experience the intimate union the Eucharist brings. But I have to remember that the Eucharist is the highest form of communion, not just one among many ways we can show our togetherness. By receiving Communion we are showing in the highest way that we are in communion. It isn’t the first step to communion, but the ultimate one.

All of the points I have made I think are important for you and I to be reminded of because they influence how we live our lives as Catholics and the way we approach the Eucharist. The more we are aware of not what we are receiving but Who, the more we grow in reverence and devotion toward the Eucharist and the more we grow in the depth and confidence of our Catholic identity. Refreshing our memory of what we believe can help you and I to grow in love with the Eucharist and not to take it for granted. For example, this causes us to genuflect reverently to the tabernacle when we enter and exit the pew; to receive Him carefully and mindfully in the hands or on the tongue; or to spend some time adoring Him, our God, hidden under the appearance of the consecrated Host. Here at St. James, times for Adoration are offered from 7-10pm on Mondays, 8:30am-5:30pm on Fridays, 8-9am on Saturdays. Believing He is truly present inspires us to want to spend time with Him, to come to know Him as a friend, to share all of our sorrows and joys with Him, and to receive his help and consolation in return.

Finally, our belief in the Eucharist inspires us to desire and even hunger for heavenly things rather than earthly or material things. As human beings we have natural, in-born desires and longings for happiness, for love, for companionship, for joy, and peace. But so often we try to satisfy these longings with things that couldn’t possibly match up with the capacities our Lord created in us. He made us for himself and only he can bear the weight of our happiness. If we try to put that weight on food, or shopping, or another person, we soon realize that our desire is never quenched and the object on which we misplaced it is consumed, crushed, or abandoned leaving us still wanting more. We must look to Christ who wants to be consumed by us, but not abandoned, so that we can be completely satisfied. Our desires are not too much for Him. In the Eucharist, we receive all the heavenly things our Lord wishes to give us – grace, unity, forgiveness, and peace, even His entire self – if we are only open and disposed to receiving them.