Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nov. 30, 2014: 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

Click to hear audio homily
Do you have a favorite place that you like to visit over and over? Perhaps each time you go there, you experience something different. One couple’s favorite place is a small town in Croatia called Medjugorje where Blessed Mother has been appearing since the early 1980’s. During the past 30 years, they traveled separately as pilgrims many times to that town; a few years ago, though, they traveled as a married couple for the first time. They had high expectations on that pilgrimage. They expected many spiritual blessing from their trip, for their second marriage late in life was beginning to mature. They wanted to thank God and Blessed Mother for bringing them together in marriage. All of us, too, mark a new beginning each year in some way. Perhaps our new beginning is on January 1 each year as we make our new year’s resolution. Other new beginnings each year may be on a wedding anniversary, an ordination to priesthood (or solemn vow to religious life), birthdays, or even the anniversary of the death of a loved one. As we celebrate an anniversary, we experience it afresh in a different way. We have grown or matured in some way, gaining new insights and deepening our resolve and commitments.

This Sunday, our church invites us to begin again a great pilgrimage. Last Sunday marked the end of the liturgical year with our firm faith in Jesus as Christ the King. Today the Church invites us to follow anew in the footsteps of Jesus. In the course of our new liturgical year, the whole of his life and teachings will pass before us. We will  re-visit all the mysteries of his time on earth: from his expectation of arrival, to his birth, to his life, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and his sending of the Holy Spirit.

No spouse wants to hear that the upcoming wedding anniversary is just another same thing. How would God feel if we take that attitude about the events in Jesus’ life? In the course of this new liturgical year, we will relive Jesus’ whole story. We may say to ourselves that we have heard the story many times before. Hence, there is a danger that we may see it as old, stale, and trite. But, we must try and see it as new and present and alive. Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading cries out to God our inherent weakness to take Him for granted. “You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” Our Lord tells us a simple prescription as he says, “Be watchful! Be alert!” The celebration of each feast brings back the event in its original clarity and vitality. To view each moment of Jesus’ life as cold and lifeless is as if we are reading a fiction novel.  The mysteries of Christ’s life are represented in such a way that we should be drawn into them, and become participants in them. That makes it more demanding, but more enriching and exciting too. God is not just a God of the past, but of the present and the future. St. Paul in the Second Reading gives us another prescription--gratitude. “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,that in him you were enriched in every way…”

On the anniversary of my priestly ordination, I take out the photo book and thumb through the photos and ponder the graces that God poured into my life to bring me to the point of ordination. Do you look through your photo book on the day of your anniversary? Do you marvel at how you have grown or matured since the last anniversary? Do you thank God for that?

Regarding the couple that I mentioned at the beginning of the homily who took a trip together to Medjugorje, they did not have the spiritually peaceful and enriching experience they anticipated. As they climbed Mount Krizevac, which they had done many times, the husband slipped at the top of the mountain and broke his ankle. It had taken 45 minutes to climb up the mountain, and with the husband’s injury, the couple did not know how they would descend the mountain. Providentially, men in their pilgrimage group came to their rescue, hoisting her husband slowly down the rocky mountain. For the rest of their pilgrimage, they were stuck in their lodging, with no medical care available. They questioned God why they were experiencing such pain and suffering. What was suppose to be a familiar trip with familiar itinerary, unraveled into unexpected and unfamiliar. The only thing this couple could do, thousands of miles away from home, was to pray, to trust, and to hope. It was a graced opportunity for this couple to grow spiritually. One of the messages that Blessed Mother gave in Medjugorje echoed this opportunity, “Dear children! I desire that your cross also would be a joy for you. Especially, dear children, pray that you may be able to accept sickness and suffering with love the way Jesus accepted them. Only that way shall I be able with joy to give out to you the graces and healings which Jesus is permitting me.”

How about you? Are you also ready to be watchful and be alert in this new liturgical year to receive God’s grace? Each year we ought to hear Christ’s story better, understand it more deeply, and make it more our own. In hearing his story we ought to hear our own stories too. Our stories merge with his and we are illuminated by it. His story enables us to live our own story more fully and more joyfully. Even though we've made the journey before, we must try to embark on it today as if for the very first time. This Sunday is a God-given chance to make a new beginning in our following of Christ.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Nov. 28, 2014 Friday: 34th Week in Ordinary A

I saw a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1)

Heaven is hard to imagine, isn’t it? A gigantic throne, emerald rainbows, crystalline rivers, an enormous sea of glass, and streets of gold—these are some stunning images that both reveal and veil the glory that is God’s eternal home. That’s because something so awe inspiring can’t be described adequately in words. So what does John mean when he speaks of a “new heaven”?

The answer is that the heaven of John’s vision isn’t new, but it is improved—because of us! Every time heaven gets a new saint, a little more glory is added. And when the last saint arrives, heaven will be “new” because the spotless Church will finally be ready for her bridegroom. Can you imagine all those saints together? Such marvelous splendor, and all of it a reflection of the ultimate splendor coming from Jesus the King!
But back to us. We are “new” as well. As Paul wrote, in Christ we are a “new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Of course, we know we aren’t ready to meet the bridegroom yet. But the Holy Spirit, whom we have received, is the first installment on our heavenly dwelling. So while we are on earth, we may feel a bit like renters who have put a down payment on their first home. We can’t wait to get there!

With that in mind, try not to focus on the old in your prayer today, but on the new. No, you’re not perfect yet. But Jesus certainly is, and his Spirit lives in you! As you come before him in worship, let him give you a glimpse of your heavenly home. Let this glimpse move you out into the world with the good news that everyone can become a new creation. Remember: every person who enters the kingdom makes heaven that much more stunning!

“Father, thank you for the privilege of worshipping at your throne! In your presence I have the fullness of joy. Keep working in me so that I can draw more and more people into your new creation.”

Word Among Us

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Nov. 27, 2014 Thursday: Thanksgiving Day

Today, as our country takes time out from its hectic pace, we stop to give thanks to God. We really need to ask ourselves what the purpose of this day is for most people in America. We know, if we look back a couple of hundred years, that it was set aside truly to give thanks to God. But for many in our society today it is probably a day that they are just grateful they do not have to work – everyone except the cook, that is. And then, of course, there is the gratitude because it is just a day to relax and a day to have fun and a day to eat good food and all these different things. But all too often God is forgotten. Who is the One who provided all of the things for us?
How many blessings we have that we need to give thanks to God for. If we look through the Scriptures, we read many times over (hundreds of times, literally) about how we need to give thanks to the Lord, how we need to bless the Lord, how we need to glorify the Lord, and so on. It is not something that is optional for us. But when we look at the difference between what we are doing here today - coming this morning to give thanks to God as we begin our Day of Thanksgiving - as opposed to what many people in this society are doing today, we need to ask ourselves, "What is the difference?" The difference is that God is the center and that today is not just a day to be able to say, "Thank You, Lord, because we have a turkey and all kinds of good stuff. Thank You that we can all get together with the family," but it is, rather, thanking God not only for those blessings, but for all of the blessings that He has given to us: the blessing of life, the blessing of eternal life, of new life in Baptism, the blessing of the forgiveness of sins, and the blessing of the greatest gift of all: the thanksgiving sacrifice of the Eucharist. That word, again, as we all know means "Thanksgiving." Eucharistein - "to give thanks" - in Greek. It comes, actually, from right out of the Hebrew as part of the Passover meal: part of it was what they called the toda. Toda, in Hebrew, means "Thanksgiving." So the Lord, at the Passover meal, took the bread and gave thanks to God.

And so, too, how grateful we need to be. As Saint Paul reminded the Corinthians that he thanks God every day for them because of their faith and because God has blessed them so abundantly with all the gifts of knowledge and of faith and of all the things that God has given, each one of us needs to be grateful for those things - that God has given us faith in the midst of a society that is generally faithless, in the midst of a society that has gone completely astray from God. Have you ever stopped to think what a blessing it is that God has given you faith? That God has chosen you from all the people in this society and in this generation to believe in Him? And even from among all the Catholics and all the Christians, that we are the ones who have come to Him today to give Him thanks? It is a great temptation to be like the nine lepers who simply rejoiced in the gift that God had given them; that is, rejoiced for themselves. That is very easy to do on a day like this. Many people, as I mentioned already, will be rejoicing just because they have a day off, because they can sit in front of the TV set and watch a couple of football games, because they have a table filled with food and their bellies can be filled with food. They rejoice in their own pleasure, in their own comfort, in their own ease, rather than rejoicing in God who has provided this for them. The nine lepers, I think, were probably just as happy that they had been healed as the one who came back. But only one was there to thank God.

We recognize how much God has done for us: all of the blessings that He has given to us. And so we have come today, not only rejoicing that we have these blessings but to give thanks to God who has given us these blessings. That, in and of itself, is an extraordinary gift and we need to be grateful to God just for the gift to be grateful. What a blessing He has given to each one of us to be able to recognize that there is Someone beyond ourselves and that we are not the center of it all, but rather, that we need to come to Him and say "Thank You."

Father Robert Altier

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Nov. 26, 2014 Wednesday: 34th Week in Ordinary Time A

You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives. (Luke 21:17-19)

Heaven is going to be incredible. I adore the thought of singing alongside the saints and angels in perpetual adoration of our Lord. Through his divinely inspired Word, God offers us a beautiful glimpse into the reward that awaits those who choose to live a life in his loving service. Meditating on Heaven helps me put things into perspective.

The simple things that irk me in my daily life seem so much more obsolete. Who cares if the ER is calling me to admit yet another patient who doesn’t need to be in the hospital? So what if I don’t get that scholarly article published? Are my thousands of dollars of debt really worth my time to fret about?

I see many parallels between my vocation in medicine and my pursuit of Heaven. Medical school and residency are, by nature, challenging and overall unrewarding. The sacrifices necessary for success in medicine are numerous and span from postponing financial stability until ones mid-thirties, to chronic sleepiness, to missing family weddings. I can better tolerate, and even possibly welcome, each sacrifice when I adequately put it into the perspective of a gift of myself for my future patients and, extrapolating further, for my future wife and family.

In a similar way, our lifelong journey toward Heaven has its joys, but many parts of our faithfulness to God’s will in our lives are sacrificial. We sacrifice our lust in choosing to be chaste. We sacrifice our greed by tithing. We sacrifice our pride by avoiding the desire to gossip. Each of these examples is truly challenging. They hurt. But as they purify us for the delayed-gratification of Heaven, they can grow to be sources of great joy even on that journey.

There are joys that come from the sacrifices of our vocations. The satisfaction derived from truly benefiting a patient’s life is astonishing. There is genuine beauty and purpose in saving our individual sexualities for our respective brides (whether they be a spouse or the Church). Donating money to worthy causes or building another up with words of affirmation feels superb. It is in recognizing these delights that come from dying to ourselves that sheds light on St. Francis’ Peace Prayer: “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Each of the delights that come from truly following Jesus all pale in comparison to the ultimate joy awaiting the faithful in our Heavenly Home.

Getting into Heaven is not as simple as our relativistic society would like us to believe. Jesus himself acknowledges this challenge in today’s Gospel. And yet, the sacrifices are worth it. “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven,” (Matthew 5:11-12).

Frankly, nothing matters more than becoming a saint. The sacrifice is worth it.

Let’s all find a way to make a sacrifice of ourselves in order to “win the victory over the beast” and be invited into the Heavenly chorus where we will together sing: “Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. Just and true are your ways, O king of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, or glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed,” (Rev. 15:3-4).

Sam Pierre
Creighton's School of Medicine

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nov. 25, 2014 Tuesday: St Catherine of Alexandria

Do not be terrified. (Luke 21:9)
Hearing about “wars and insurrections” can certainly be terrifying. On our shrinking globe, violence halfway around the world is streamed to us almost instantaneously. We may not understand all the factors involved, but most of us can find a personal link. Maybe we have a classmate or a coworker from that part of the world. Maybe a family member is serving in the government or the military, or someone on our street has been robbed or abused. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by such events and to wonder how much worse things will get before Jesus comes back and brings the world to an end.
But what do we really need to know about the end of the world?
Jesus refuses to answer the “when” question that agitates his followers. He tells them to expect natural as well as man-made disasters and not to be taken by surprise when they happen. He cautions them not to believe any prophet of doom. There are only a few things they need to know.
First, God is in charge. Nothing happens outside his providence. He is making use of everything to build his kingdom.
Second, God doesn’t act alone. He has chosen to act on earth through his body, the Church. That means Christ living in us. We are a part of his plan to redeem the world!
Third, God doesn’t intend for us to act alone. He calls us together and interweaves our individual strengths and weaknesses in an amazing pattern.
Sometimes, God’s work involves a degree of deconstruction as we find our limited structures crumbling. Through hardship or struggle or calamity, we realize that we don’t have everything we need to survive in this world. This is where things can get frightening for us and cause us to react rashly. Yes, it may seem that everything is falling apart, as in today’s Gospel reading. But God is always at our side. He is constantly assuring us that whatever he dismantles, he will rebuild—only stronger, purer, and holier.
So don’t be afraid if you find something falling apart. Instead, turn to the Lord, and ask him what he is building up in its place.
“Father, reveal your loving hand to guide me through everything that tempts me to tremble in fear.”

Word Among Us

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nov. 24, 2014 Monday: 34th Week in Ordinary A

She, out of her poverty, gave all she had to live on

Today, as it happens so often, small things go by unnoticed: small alms, small sacrifices, small prayers (jaculatory prayers); but what, at times, may look small and unimportant, it frequently represents the warp and also the culmination of master works: be it great works of art, be it the maximum goods deeds of personal saintliness.

Because these small things are mostly unnoticed, their bona fide intention is out of question: we are not to seek in them neither recognition nor human glory. Only God will discover them in our heart, in the same way as only Jesus could see the poor widow's generosity. It is more than certain that poor woman did not play trumpets to announce what she was doing, and it is even possible she was ashamed and felt ridiculous before the eyes of the wealthy, who, while offering splendid gifts into the treasure box, were making others feel admired at their liberality. Yet, that woman's unselfishness, that caused her to drop the two small coins despite her poverty, deserved the Lord's praise: «Truly, I tell you, this poor widow put in more than all of them. For all gave an offering from their plenty, but she, out of her poverty, gave all she had to live on» (Lk 21:3-4).

The widow's generosity is a good lesson for us, Christ's disciples. We can be extremely generous, as the wealthy people that were «putting their gifts into the treasure box» (Lk 21:1). But, none of this will be worth the while if we only give “from our plenty”, without any loving or generous spirit, without offering ourselves along. St. Augustine says: «They looked at the great offerings from the wealthy and they praised them for that. And, even if the could see the widow later on, how many did notice those two coins...? She gave whatever she had, for she had God in her heart. But she had plenty, for she had God in her heart. It is better to have God in our soul than gold in the safe». Quite true: Let us be generous with God and He will be much more so with us.

Fr. Àngel Eugeni PÉREZ i Sánchez (Barcelona, Spain)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Nov. 23, 2014: Christ the King, Year A

Click to hear Audio Homily
Have you ever heard of the Gospel on Five Fingers? No, it's not a finger-sized bible. The Gospel on Five Fingers is a simple five-word phrase which Mother Teresa taught to everyone she met--"You did it to me." This simple phrase, for Mother Teresa, summarized the whole of the Gospel mandate from Jesus, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me...for I was hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, unwanted, untouchable,--and you did it to me." Mother Teresa said, "I call this the Gospel on five fingers--five words: You did it to me...Look at your fingers often and remind yourself of this love."

A Hindu man once approached Mother Teresa and pointed out that while both he and Mother were doing social work, the difference was that he and his coworkers were doing it for something while Mother Teresa was doing it for someone. She didn’t help people simply because “it was the right thing to do.” She helped them because she knew, deep in her heart, that by serving others she was serving Jesus himself.

One parishioner shared a childhood memory which echoed Mother Teresa's teaching. She remembered a nun who taught her class saying, "Children, remember when you see people, it is Jesus walking by." "You did it to me," is also the phrase that we will hear Jesus say to us as he reviews our life after we die.

On this, the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year, the Feast of Christ the King, we heard the Gospel reading about the Last Judgement. That word, 'Last Judgment' sounds so imposing, doesn't it? Perhaps we get the impression of a terrible and frightening moment in which God appears as a cold judge and king, separating people into different categories and separating them from him and from each other for all eternity. The last judgement, however, is not about how we respond to a collection of arbitrary rules and norms; it is primarily about how we respond in love to the God who is love.

Most of us enjoy doing good deeds. If we are honest, we have mixed motivation when we do something nice or good for others. We know that at times we secretly desire or even enjoy getting some recognition from others for doing praiseworthy things. Jesus reminds us in scripture that if our motivation for doing good is for getting praise from others, we already have received earthly reward. The missing ingredient is love, that is, willing the good of others, not for my sake but for other's sake. It is a challenge to each of us and to our Christian community that being a Christian is never just something inward looking. The Christian life is never self-centred. God is love and the Christian life can only be a life which reflects that love. The Christian cannot be unconcerned about or uninterested in those around us or what's going on in our community, state and world.

The greater challenge is to love or to will the good of others when we have difficulty seeing Jesus in them. Another way to say this is that some people make it hard for us to love them, and we make it hard for others to love us. Imagine then when we die and as Jesus reviews our life, Lord will say to us, "Come, you who have been blessed by my Father. You saw me and cared for me." We will say to the Lord, "Jesus, when did we see you?" And how will the Lord reply? Will he say, "For I was hungry for a smile, and you gave it to me. I was hungry for a word of appreciation, and you thanked me. I was thirsty for a little companionship, and you stopped to chat with me. I was a stranger, and you made me feel welcome." Or will he say, "I needed a decent wage, and instead you worried about profits of your company. I was a person of color desiring dignity, and you ignored my plea for equality. I was a prisoner of guilt, and you could have set me free by forgiving me, but you let me languish there to punish me."

The judgment about how we lead our lives is not something which takes place in the distant future and which leaves time for us to put off decisions. We encounter Jesus every day, and he awaits our response. Will we see Jesus and respond with love? At the end of day, will Jesus say to us, "You did it to me"?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Nov. 21, 2014 Friday: The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
As we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple, our minds travel to the presentation of Jesus in that same Temple, which will follow in not so many years. The fact that this mystery marks the life of both mother and son bears significance for us. The child Mary and the infant Jesus are taken to the Temple the privileged place of encounter with God. Their identity is revealed in their closeness to the Father, symbolized by the presentation. Mary and Jesus are borne to the Temple so that we may share in their closeness with God. As Blessed John Paul II notes, “The whole of the universe is in some way touched by the divine favor with which the Father looks upon Mary.”

According to tradition, Our Lady’s parents, Joachim and Anne, accompany their little girl to the Temple so that, there, they might both fulfill a vow they have made to God and also obtain an education for their daughter. On the part of Mary, it is an early occasion to demonstrate her total dedication to God’s service and her utter obedience to God’s will. The Byzantine Liturgy lauds Mary:

O Virgin Mother of God, you … are the pride of the martyrs and the cause of the renewal of the entire human race, for through you we have been reconciled with God. Wherefore we honor your entrance into the Temple of the Lord, … for we are saved through your intercession, O most honorable one!

The saints compare Mary, in her presentation in the Temple, to the dove of Noah’s ark that brought the captives of the great flood the promise of new life in an olive branch. Mary brings us the good news of the birth of salvation a birth that will come, not through the twig of a tree, but through the

wood of the cross. Commenting on Mary’s presentation, St. Gregory of Palamas (d. 1359) writes,

The all- pure Virgin made her departure from mankind when she entered the Holy of Holies; then she went back among men in order that, being pre- eminent in holiness, she might share the inalienable gift of hallowing with everyone. Nowhere was excluded, not even the world’s secret place, that innermost sanctuary.

Fr Peter Cameron OP
The Novena for the Church Year

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Nov. 20, 2014 Thursday: 33rd Week in Ordinary A

What enables us to live in peace and harmony with God and with one another? The Father in heaven sent his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to reconcile us with God and to unite us with one another in a bond of peace and mutual love. Jesus' earthly ministry centers and culminates in Jerusalem, which Scripture describes as the holy city and throne of God on earth (Jeremiah 3:17), and the place which God chose for his name to dwell (1Kings 11:13; 2 Kings 21:4; 2 Kings 23:27), and the holy mountain upon which God has set his king (Psalm 2:6). Jerusalem derives its name from the word "salem" which mean "peace". The temple in Jerusalem was a constant reminder to the people of God's presence with them.

Tears of mourning and sorrow over sin and refusal to believe in God
When Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the multitude of homes surrounding the holy temple, he wept over it because it inhabitants did not "know the things that make for peace" (Luke 19:42). As he poured out his heart to the Father in heaven, Jesus shed tears of sorrow, grief, and mourning for his people. He knew that he would soon pour out his blood for the people of Jerusalem and for the whole world as well.
Why does Jesus weep and lament over the city of Jerusalem? Throughout its long history, many rulers and inhabitants had rejected the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord because of their pride and unbelief. Now they refuse to accept Jesus as their Messiah whom God anointed to be their Savior and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Don Schwager

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nov. 19, 2014 Wednesday: 33rd Week in Ordinary A

The Lord expects us to be good stewards of the gifts and graces he gives us
The Lord entrusts us with his gifts and graces and he gives us freedom to use them as we think best. With each gift and talent, the Lord gives sufficient grace and strength for using them in a fitting way. As the parable of the talents shows, God abhors indifference and an attitude that says it's not worth trying. God honors those who use their talents and gifts for doing good. Those who are faithful with even a little are entrusted with more! But those who neglect or squander what God has entrusted to them will lose what they have. There is an important lesson here for us. No one can stand still for long in the Christian life. We either get more or we lose what we have. We either advance towards God or we slip back. Do you trust in God's grace to make good use of the gifts and talents he has given you?

"Lord Jesus, be the ruler of my heart and mind and the master of my home and goods. Fill me with a generous and wise spirit that I may use the gifts, talents, time, and resources you give me for your glory and your kingdom."

Don Schwager

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nov. 17, 2014 Monday: St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Listen to Jesus
Imagine yourself in a crowd, and you get a glimpse of a man rumored to cure and to heal.  Upon seeing him, your heart leaps with joy and leaps with the resounding inner assurance that this is the Messiah. This is the person capable of saving you and healing you from your innermost struggle. With your entire being and in hopeful determination you shout out, “Jesus, have pity on me!”

Jesus, hearing your voice, turns and notices you.  He asks some of his disciples to bring you close to him. With the help of others, you stand before him. Jesus looks right at you and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” From deep within, the deepest desires of your heart arise.

With complete honesty, I invite you to sit with Jesus and share your reply. Then pause, and with the faith of the blind man on the road to Jericho, listen to Jesus’ words for you.

—Becky Eldredge

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nov. 16, 2014: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear audio homily
This past weekend, the seniors of the Ascension Catholic School were on annual retreat at a secluded facility north of Baton Rouge. At the retreat, I spoke to the seniors about life after high school, and I used the board game, “The Game of Life” as a prop for the presentation. The aim of the talk was to demonstrate how they could utilize what they are given--whether material resources or our talents-- in real life. Our temptation at times is to live out our lives like the Milton Bradley's version of the Game of Life--focusing our gifts and talents in enjoying and acquiring the good things of life toward the goal of retiring to a mansion. But as Jesus reminds us through the Parable of the Talents, on the day when we are called before him, he will ask us whether we used our talents for our own gain or for the service of others.

In a homily on the Parable of the Talents, Pope Francis stated, "We are in the time of action--the time in which we should bring God's gifts to fruition, not for ourselves but for him, for the Church, for others. [It is] the time to seek to increase goodness in the world; in particular, it is important not to turn in on ourselves, burying our own talent, our spiritual, intellectual, and material riches, everything that The Lord has given us, but rather to open ourselves, to be supportive, to be attentive to others."

At our 'Game of Life' at the retreat, three students were given Ziploc bags which represented their unique gifts and talents--each had different amounts of money, a plastic car, and a number of little plastic pegs that symbolized the children they had. During the game, each student drew a card out of a stack labeled ‘Suffering.’ One student’s card read “Your spouse separates and requests a divorce,” and another student's card read, "You are diagnosed with cancer." Then I asked them to read the scripture verse written on the other side. One of them read, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)”

For a person who doesn't yet know or love God, suffering is a terrible blow to their ideal plan of life. For a Christian, suffering is a gift to be cherished. Then I held up an empty ziploc bag and said, “You all know of one of your former classmates who is not here because of his chronic illness since childhood. To the eyes of the world, he is not particularly talented. He was given much suffering in his life. He will not be able to drive a car, have a career, or have a family, as represented by this empty bag. But what does he have?” Several students answered, “He’s got faith; he's got Jesus.” “Right,” I replied, “When you have Jesus, you have everything.” When he was in the classroom, that sickly young man would make one feel loved and special even in one short meeting. The reason for this extraordinary effect on his classmates was not because of any special qualities or talents he had. Rather, it was to be found in the radiance of his personal holiness, of the power and attraction of a soul totally in love with God. He is so united with God, that through contact with him, his classmates felt that God in their midst.

St. Frances Cabrini, whose feast day we celebrated this week said, "Jesus is always in our midst...and he inflames our hearts with great, divine love. Sometimes he will put our love and faith to the test, but, if we are faithful to our vow and pray to him with trust, never forgetting that the source and cause of our joy is among us, he will very soon inundate us with light and heavenly joy...Let us then be glad when an unexpected cross presents itself, and we are afflicted with pain."

Do you know of a person who used all their gifts and talents joyfully, including suffering for service of others? I remember a beautiful couple, Bob and Judy, who both died of cancer. Bob died first and their son gave a beautiful eulogy. He said: “When my mom found out that she had pancreatic cancer in 2005, and when my dad found out that he had cancer a few years ago, mom and dad did not shake their fists at God in anger. We did not understand why God allowed two of His most faithful servants to suffer and take them away from us. But, mom and dad were even more devoted to God even in their suffering. They did not stop volunteering and giving themselves because of their physical suffering.” In fact, as Bob and Judy were taking chemo treatments at Mary Bird Perkins, they got up from their treatment and assisted other patients who needed help.

That couple received a very special award from Mary Bird Perkins. Bob said in the video presentation at the award ceremony, “I feel that my cancer, like every other gift given by God, is a gift from God. I didn’t know how to use the gift at first. But now when I approach a cancer patient, I know what they are going through because I am also going through it. I don’t think Judy’s or my cancers are curable, but the doctors, nurses, and staff are helping us last as long as we can. This allows us to feel the joy from volunteering and helping the patients feel comfortable.”Have you thought about what gifts God has given you? This may include your talents and even suffering. Have you thought of how you can put them at the service of others? Offer a heartfelt prayer to God, "Lord, you have given me all these gifts for a purpose to serve You and others. Give me the grace to use these gifts generously, not for myself but for others."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Nov. 14, 2014 Friday: 32nd Week of Ordinary A

"They were eating, drinking, buying, selling"

The Lord gave his disciples important recommendations so that they might shake off everything earthly in their nature like dust and might thus be raised to desire for supernatural realities. According to one of these recommendations, those who turn towards the life on high must be stronger than sleep and always remain watchful… I am talking about the drowsiness that arises among those who are plunged in life’s lie through illusory dreams such as honors, riches, power, pomp, the fascination of pleasure, ambition, the thirst for enjoyment, vanity and everything that their imaginations lead superficial people to seek after madly.

All these things pass away with the fleeting nature of time; they belong to the domain of appearances… Hardly have they seemed to exist when they disappear like the waves of the sea… So that our minds might be free of these illusions, the Word invites us to shake this deep sleep from the eyes of our soul, so that we might not slip away from the true realities by becoming attached to that which has no consistency.

That is why he suggests that we be watchful when he says: “Let your belts be fastened around your waists and your lamps be burning ready.” (Lk 12:35) For when the light shines before our eyes, it chases sleep away, and when our loins are held tight by a belt, they prevent the body from succumbing to it… The person who has fastened on the belt of temperance lives in the light of a pure conscience; the trust of a child illuminates his life like a lamp… If we live in this way, we will enter a life like that of the angels.

St. Gregory of Nyssa

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nov. 13, 2014 Thursday: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

The Kingdom of God is among you. (Luke 17:21)

“Wait!” said one Pharisee to another. “Is he saying that the kingdom of God is already here? What about the Romans and their empire? We’re still an occupied nation. This sure doesn’t feel like the kingdom of God!” Looking around at our world, we might come to a similar conclusion. But the kingdom of God is not about a location or even the regime in power; it’s about a new way of relating to one another that brings healing and freedom.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he didn’t just talk about the kingdom of God. He also demonstrated it as he blessed, loved, forgave, healed, and served the people he was speaking to. His own witness demonstrated the kingdom: he didn’t hold any grudges, put on airs, or distance himself from the poor and the marginzlized. In fact, he went out of his way to welcome them and show them God’s mercy. He also taught about this way of relating through parables that prioritized forgiveness over revenge, service over being served, and sacrificial love over self-serving arrogance.

Think about your relationships in this light. There is probably more of the kingdom of God in your midst than you think! Every time you hug your child, call a friend, help out in your parish, or do the dishes (with or without complaining), the kingdom of God is there. Whenever you pray, it is there. It’s present every time you choose to love the people around you, even when they’re not being particularly lovable.

That’s encouraging, isn’t it? The kingdom of God is among you.

Today, think about how you can bring the kingdom of God into just one relationship. Look for one opportunity to encourage someone, to forgive, or to be an instrument of God’s presence. It doesn’t have to be dramatic and life changing. It just has to be upbuilding and life affirming. You are a citizen of this kingdom, an ambassador for Christ. Because of that, you can bring his presence wherever you go. You can make a difference!

Word Among Us

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nov. 12, 2014 Wednesday: St. Josaphat

What can adversity teach us about the blessing of thanksgiving and the healing power of love and mercy? The Book of Proverbs states: A friend loves at all times; and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17). When adversity strikes you find out who truly is your brother, sister, and friend. The Gospel records an unusual encounter between two peoples who had been divided for centuries. The Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with one another even though Samaria was located in the central part of Judaea. Both peoples were openly hostile whenever their paths crossed. In this gospel narrative we see one rare exception - a Samaritan leper in company with nine Jewish lepers. Sometimes adversity forces people to drop their barriers or to forget their prejudices. When this band of Jewish and Samaritan lepers saw Jesus they made a bold request. They didn't ask for healing, but instead asked for mercy.

So what is the significance of these ten lepers asking for mercy? They know they are in need of healing, not just physical, but spiritual healing as well. They approach Jesus with contrition and faith because they believe that he can release the burden of guilt and suffering and make restoration of body and soul possible. Their request for mercy is both a plea for pardon and release from suffering. Jesus gives mercy to all who ask with faith and contrition.

Why did only one leper out of ten return to show gratitude? Gratefulness, another word which expresses gratitude of heart and a thankful disposition, is related to grace - which means the release of loveliness. Gratitude is the homage of the heart which responds with graciousness in expressing an act of thanksgiving. The Samaritan approached Jesus reverently and gave praise to God.

Ingratitude leads to lack of love and kindness, and intolerance towards others
If we do not recognize and appreciate the mercy and help shown to us we will be ungrateful and unkind towards others. Ingratitude is forgetfulness or a poor return for kindness received. Ingratitude easily leads to lack of charity and intolerance towards others, as well as to other vices, such as complaining, grumbling, discontentment, pride, and presumption. How often have we been ungrateful to our parents, pastors, teachers, and neighbors? Do you express gratitude to God for his abundant help and mercy towards you and are you gracious, kind, and merciful towards your neighbor in their time of need and support?

Don Schwager

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nov. 11, 2014 Tuesday: St. Martin of Tours

When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’ (Luke 17:10)

In Jesus’ Footsteps
Did you answer Jesus’ question, “Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?” How did you answer? The question is meant to draw the answer ‘no’—No, you don’t give thanks. How does that sit with you? Does it leave you uneasy—with its talk of slaves and not thanking people for their service?

Additionally, the moral of the story is that you and I are to be like the slaves—we are to serve not on condition of receiving a gift. Is that attractive? Deflating?

Jesus was like the slaves. He is not asking us to do anything he did not himself do. Nor is Jesus asking us to do these things on our own. Jesus asks us to serve with him and like him. If you are drawn to this, then ask our Lord, in prayer, to choose you for the gift of this kind of humility in order that you may find your own life more patterned according to Jesus.

—Brad Held, S.J.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Nov. 8, 2014 Monday: St. Leo the Great

We have all been hurt at some time in our lives, and sometimes the memory of that hurt can stay with us for a long, long time. If we don’t deal with our pain through the gift of forgiveness, it can become a constant companion: a recurring complaint, a rancorous story told repeatedly, a sad movie that plays persistently in our thoughts. Whether we speak about the hurt or keep it bottled up inside, the result is the same: resentment and fear and shame deepen; bitterness festers. The chains that those emotions forge tighten and become heavier and heavier.

We don’t have to live in that kind of bondage! Forgiveness is the key. Forgive. And if the hurt resurfaces, forgive again. And again. Seven times seventy times, if necessary.

Sometimes, all you need is to take just one small step to forgive a hurt. Other times, you need to take a number of steps, over a long period of time, before you get your heart to a place where you can forgive. Whatever it takes, as long as you are trying to move forward, your heavenly Father will help you along.

Then there are those times when the pain is too sharp and the offense is too great for you to forgive. Know that even in these situations, God sees your heart, and he will ask you only to take the steps that you can take at that moment. Ever patient and compassionate, he is with you to help you and to heal your wounds.

So whatever your situation, picture your heavenly Father sitting next to you, his arm around your shoulder. Tell him what hurts. Tell him how hard it is to forgive. And ask him for his help. Give him time, just as he is giving you time, and he will help you take the next step. And the next one. And the next one.

“Father, help me to forgive. Heal me so that I can let go of anything that is holding me back!”

Word Among Us

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Nov. 9, 2014: Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran - Sunday A

Click to hear audio homily
Today the Church celebrates the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome because it is the head and mother church of all churches in the world. Just as Bishop Muench has a cathedral,  Pope Francis’ cathedral is the Basilica of St. John Lateran and not the Basilica of St. Peter. Celebrating the dedication of the Pope’s cathedral today shows our unity with the Pope Francis and our love and respect for him. It also shows that we are united with each other in the Church.

Every weekend, many parents have to answer the following perennial question from their children (and perhaps even from the adults themselves). “Why do I have to go to church?”  Some of the reasons for protesting are: ‘Didn’t God say that we should rest and relax on Sunday?’ ‘I get more out of reading the bible at home than going to church.’ ‘Personally, I pray better on a deer stand than at church.’ Perhaps the common thread in those questions is this--”What do I get out of going to church and to mass?”

This past Sunday, the topic at our confirmation class was who is the Holy Spirit. To demonstrate how to listen to the Holy Spirit, the students were told to form two lines and then they were blindfolded. Each student placed their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them and then a teacher and I each led a line outside to the parking lot. As we meandered through the parking lot, another teacher distracted the students by shouting out: “You just got a text. Go check it out!” “I wonder who just called me on the cell.” “I need to pray!” “What’s that girl wearing? That’s cute!” These comments died down as we made our way into the church. Once they were seated and still blindfolded, they were treated to silence and then a praise and worship song was played. Back at the classroom, students were asked about their experience. Some said, “It was so peaceful,” while others said, “I felt like I was in heaven.”  

We forget that the our daily environment is a noisy, dusty, and tiring place that often beats us down. Our soul craves for rest from all that scatteredness. The Church building is a haven, a quiet refuge, a place to encounter God.  Here we drink deeply of the life-giving waters of word and sacrament that revive our drooping spirits.  The grace that flows from the altar bears us back into the world, changed, and able to change others, bringing healing and bearing fruit.

Perhaps the reason behind Jesus’ provocative action in the temple in the Gospel today is that we don’t recognize that we need that sacred space and time to encounter the Lord. Instead we have a tendency to fill that sacred time and place with worldly preoccupations.  The world tells us that we are consumers, employees and voters, and flashes a constant stream of images at us every day to remind us of this. We forget that God has come to meet us here in this sacred space. But the Church building is a mirror, held up before us, and reminds us of who we are. It reminds us of our deepest identity. As we gather for Sunday worship, we who were scattered by diverse loyalties, professions, and life-styles, are now united as the Body of Christ and the dwelling place of the Spirit. Here he has shown us his face and opened up his heart to us.  What a privilege!

What is it like, however, to live without this encounter with God in the Church? Several weeks ago our confirmation class visited another church where four parishioners gave their testimonies. These parishioners were from a variety of backgrounds, some from good families and some from broken ones. They all credited finding and encountering God in that church as the turning point in their lives. They now spend as much time as they can in the church praying and reading bible and all of them wished that they could have done that far sooner in their lives. As our confirmation class was departing that church, we had to wait for a prison guard to open the barbed wire gate. As we walked back to our cars in the parish prison parking lot, we saw for ourselves the grim reality of finding God too late.

How about you? What reasons do you give to God sometimes for not going to church? What choices will you make now to make sure that you will encounter God and be changed by Him every week?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nov. 7, 2014 Friday: 31st Week in Ordinary A

1 John 2:15- 17: “... all that is in the world the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

“May Jesus always be your greatness and the world your contempt. The world believes it has already lost you; it no longer considers you to belong to it. We must always be careful not to let it gain us once again, because allowing yourself to be won over by this wretched world, which God has lost and will lose in eternity, would mean you would be totally lost. The world will . . . look upon you with honor when it sees you diligently preserving the rules of piety and devotion, a piety and devotion that is wise, earnest, strong, noble, and totally sweet."

“Always be resigned in all the misfortunes of this life. You know well that God reserves his children for a future life and that for the present he usually grants nothing to his chosen ones except the honor of tolerating a great deal and carrying their cross after him.”

-St. Pio of Pietrecina

Lord, by your grace I will not allow the world to win me back to its corrupt self. Help me to accept with joy the cross you offer me. Amen.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nov. 6, 2014 Thursday: 31st Week in Ordinary A

In fact, one of the reasons we so quickly resort to the labels “conservative” or “liberal” etc. is that it is a convenient way to ignore the truth that the other may be speaking by putting the other in the soundproof box of a category.

Jesus said,

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

The “liberal” is generally perceived as one who stresses “the way” of Christ, which is charity, to the exclusion of truth. The “conservative” is thought to generally emphasize “the truth”, or doctrine, to the exclusion of charity. The problem is that both are at equal risk of self-deception. Why? Because the thin red line between mercy and heresy is the narrow road of both truth and love that leads to life. And if we exclude or distort one or the other, we risk becoming ourselves the stumbling block that prevents others from coming to the Father.

Why do we end up stressing one aspect of the Gospel over the other? Fear. We must “go without fears into the depths of mens hearts” and meet both the spiritual and emotional/physical needs of man. Here, St. James strikes the proper balance.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

The Christian vision is one of both “justice and peace.” But the liberal downplays sin, thus creating a false peace; the conservative over-emphasizes justice, thus robbing peace. Contrary to what they think, both are lacking in mercy. For authentic mercy does not ignore sin, but does everything possible to pardon it. Both sides fear the power of mercy.

Thus, fear is driving a wedge between the “charity” and “truth” that is Christ. We have to stop judging one another and realize that we are all suffering in one way or another from fear. The liberal must stop condemning the conservative saying they do not care about people but only doctrinal purity. The conservative must stop condemning the liberal saying that they do not care for the person’s soul, only the superficial. We could all learn from Pope Francis’ example in the “art of listening” to the other.

But here is the underlying issue for both: neither of them really, fully believes in the power and promises of Jesus Christ. They do not trust the word of God.

Liberal fears

The liberal is afraid to believe that truth can be known with certainty. That “truth endures; fixed to stand firm like the earth.” (4) He does not fully trust that the Holy Spirit will actually, as Christ promised, guide the successors of the Apostles “to all truth” (5) and that to “know” this truth, as Christ promised, will “set you free.” (6) But even more than that, the liberal does not fully believe or comprehend that if Jesus is “the truth” as He said, that there is then power in the truth. That when we present the Truth in love, it is like a seed that God himself plants in another’s heart. Thus, because of these doubts in the power of truth, the liberal often reduces evangelization down to primarily taking care of psychological and physical needs to the exclusion of the soul’s authentic needs. However, St. Paul reminds us:

The kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17)

Thus, the liberal is often afraid to enter into the depths of men’s hearts with Christ, the light of truth, in order to illuminate the path to spiritual freedom that is the source of man’s happiness.

[It is] the temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei ” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]. —POPE FRANCIS, Synod closing remarks, Catholic News Agency, October 18th, 2014

Conservative fears

On the other hand, the conservative is afraid to believe that charity is a Gospel unto itself and that “love covers a multitude of sins.” (7) The conservative often believes that it is not love but doctrine that we must cover other’s nakedness with if they are to have any chance of getting into Heaven. The conservative often does not trust Christ’s promise that He is in “the least of the brethren”, (8) whether they are Catholic or not, and that love can not only pour coals upon an enemy’s head, but open their hearts to the truth. The conservative does not fully believe or comprehend that if Jesus is “the way” as He said, then there is a supernatural power in love. That when we present Love in truth, it is like a seed that God himself plants in another’s heart. Because he doubts the power of love, the conservative often reduces evangelization down to only convincing others of the truth, and even hiding behind truth, to the exclusion of the emotional and even physical needs of the other.

However, St. Paul replies:

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. (1 Cor 4:20)

Thus, the conservative is often afraid to enter into the depths of men’s hearts with Christ, the warmth of love, in order to smooth the path to spiritual freedom that is the source of man’s happiness.

Paul is a pontifex, a builder of bridges. He doesn’t want to become a builder of walls. He doesn’t say: “Idolaters, go to hell!” This is the attitude of Paul… Build a bridge to their heart, in order then to take another step and announce Jesus Christ. —POPE FRANCIS, Homily, May 8th, 2013; Catholic News Service


I have fielded hundreds of letters since the Synod in Rome concluded, and with a few rare exceptions, many of these underlying fears are there between every line. Yes, even the fears that the Pope is going to “change doctrine” or “change pastoral practices that will undermine doctrine” are only sub-fears of these root fears.

Because what the Holy Father is doing is boldly leading the Church along the thin red line between mercy and heresy—and it is disappointing both sides (just as many were disappointed by Christ for not laying down the law enough as a triumphant king, or for laying it down all too clearly, thereby infuriating the Pharisees.) To the liberals (who are actually reading Pope Francis’ words and not the headlines), they are disappointed because, while he is giving an example of poverty and humility, he has signaled that he is not changing doctrine.To the conservatives (who are reading the headlines and not his words), they are disappointed because Francis is not laying down the law as they would like.

In what may someday be recorded as among the most prophetic speeches of our times from a pope, I believe that Jesus was directly addressing the liberals and conservatives in the universal Church at the close of the Synod (read The Five Corrections). Why? Because the world is entering an hour in which, if we are afraid to walk in faith in the power of Christ’s truth and love—if we hide the “talent” of Sacred Tradition in the ground, if we growl like the elder brother at the prodigal sons, if we neglect our neighbour unlike the Good Samaritan, if we lock ourselves in the law like the Pharisees, if we cry “Lord, Lord” but do not do His will, if we turn a blind eye to the poor—then many, many souls will be lost. And we will have to give an accounting—liberals and conservatives alike.

Thus, to the conservatives who are afraid of the power of Love, who is God, Jesus says:

I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors. Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:2-5)

Pope Francis put it this way: that “conservatives” must repent of…

…hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals. —POPE FRANCIS, Synod closing remarks, Catholic News Agency, October 18th, 2014

To the liberals who are afraid of the power of Truth, who is God, Jesus says:

I know your works, your love, faith, service, and endurance, and that your last works are greater than the first. Yet I hold this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who teaches and misleads my servants to play the harlot and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her harlotry. (Rev 2:19-21)

Pope Francis put it this way: that “liberals” must repent of…

…a destructive tendency to goodness, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.” —Catholic News Agency, October 18th, 2014


So, brothers and sisters—both “liberals” and “conservatives”—let us not be discouraged by these gentle rebukes.

My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. (Heb 12:5)

Rather, let us hear again the appeal to trust:

Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ”! —SAINT JOHN PAUL II, Homily, Saint Peter’s Square, October 22, 1978, No. 5

Don’t be afraid to go into the hearts of men with the power of Christ’s word, the warmth of Christ’s love, the healing of Christ’s mercy. Because, as Catherine Doherty added, “the Lord shall be with you.”

Don’t be afraid to listen to one another rather than label one another. “Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,” said St. Paul. In this way, we can begin to be “of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.” (9) And what is that one thing? That there is only one way to the Father, and that is through the way and the truth, that leads to life.

Both. That is the thin red line we can and must walk in order to be a true light of the world that will lead people out of the darkness into the freedom and love of the Father’s arms.

Mark Marlett

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nov. 5, 2014 Wednesday: 31st Week in Ordinary

The cost of discipleship
Jesus willingly embraced the cross, not only out of obedience to his Father's will, but out of a merciful love for each one of us in order to set us free from sin, Satan, and death. Jesus knew that the cross was the Father's way for him to achieve victory and glory for our sake. He counted the cost and said 'yes' to his Father's will. We, too, must 'count the cost' and be ready to follow the Lord Jesus in the way of the cross if we want to share in his glory and victory.
What is the 'way of the cross' for you and me? It means that when my will crosses with God's will, then his will must be done. The way of the cross involves sacrifice, the sacrifice of laying down my life each and every day for Jesus' sake. What makes such sacrifice possible and "sweet" for us is the love of God poured out for us in the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul the Apostle reminds us that "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5). We can never give more than God. He always gives us more than we can expect or imagine. Do you allow the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with the love of God?

The wise plan ahead to avert failure and shame
What do the twin parables of the tower builder and a ruler on a war campaign have in common? Both men risk serious loss if they don't carefully plan ahead. In a shame and honor culture people want at all costs to avoid being mocked by their community for failing to complete a task which they have begun in earnest. This double parable echoes the instruction of Proverbs: "By wisdom a house is built" and "by wise guidance you can wage a war" to ensure victory (Proverbs 24:3-6).

In Jesus' time every landowner who could afford it walled in his orchard as a protection from intruders who might steal or destroy his produce. A tower was usually built in a corner of the wall and a guard posted especially during harvest time when thieves would likely try to make off with the goods. Starting a building-project, like a watchtower, and leaving it unfinished because of poor planning would invite the scorn of the whole village. Likewise a king who decided to wage a war against an opponent who was much stronger, would be considered foolish if he did not come up with a plan that had a decent chance of success. Counting the cost and investing wisely are necessary conditions for making a good return.
We must count the cost if we want to invest in God's kingdom
Jesus tells his would-be disciples that they, too, must count the cost if they want to succeed as his disciples. Jesus assures success for those willing to pay the price. All it cost is everything we have - the entirety of our lives and all we possess! What does Jesus have to offer that's worth giving up everything else? More than we can imagine! Jesus offers the gift of an abundant joy-filled life and the promise of everlasting peace and happiness with God for ever. (See the parable of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price in Matthew 13:44-45).

It's natural to ask what will it require or cost before a commitment to invest in something of great value. Jesus was utterly honest and spared no words to tell his disciples that it would cost them dearly to follow after him and to invest in his heavenly kingdom. There can be no room for compromise or concession with God and his kingdom. We either give our lives over to him entirely or we keep them for ourselves. Paul the Apostle says, "We are not our own. We were bought with a price" ( 1 Corinthians 6:19b,20). That price is the precious blood of Jesus Christ shed for us upon the cross to redeem us from slavery to sin and death.

Don Schwager

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nov. 4, 2014 Tuesday: St Charles Borromeo

You’re invited—to a dinner, a wedding, a birthday party, or a quilting bee. Whatever the event, those two words stir our hearts and imaginations. Someone thought of me! Someone wants my company. Someone looks forward to spending time with me.

Jesus knew the longing to be included that is common to every human being. He also knew the Father’s longing to relate personally with each of us. Believe it or not, almighty God enjoys the pleasure of your company.

That is the underlying message in today’s parable. Yes, some of the Pharisees and lawyers present might have felt stung by the way Jesus called out their complacency. And yes, the invitation to the “salvation banquet” is undeniably important. None of us wants to presume that we’ll dine with God in heaven merely because of how we have followed the rules here. But this parable is more than a scolding! Jesus is asking us to consider the joy and privilege of being invited into his Father’s presence.

You’re invited! The God of the universe is inviting you—personally! He says to you, “Come, dine with me. Sit next to me, and talk with me.” Let that invitation sink in. God wants to share his thoughts with you. Not only that, but he is inviting you to share your thoughts with him. He is eager to spend time with you—not just at the banquet of the Mass but in daily prayer and in simple conversation as you go through your day.

It’s easy to be occupied mentally, to be busy physically, to have excellent reasons why “now” is not a convenient time. Still, God is inviting you! He’s worth rearranging your schedule, just as you would cancel all your other appointments if you were invited to a state dinner or if you had the chance to meet your favorite performer backstage. So ask the Lord to stir your heart once again today, so that you can accept his invitation, even at the expense of the other good things you have to do.

“Father, I accept your invitation to spend time with you today! Thank you for thinking of me and inviting me.”

Word Among Us

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nov. 3, 2014 Monday: St. Martin de Porres

Brothers and sisters:
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)

A man risks his life to save his child who has fallen into a well. A firefighter goes back into a burning building to rescue an elderly couple. A seasoned teacher takes a pay cut to work with at-risk children in a struggling school.
Stories of self-giving warm our hearts. We love to read about people heroically putting themselves aside to help someone else. But why do these stories touch us so deeply?

Part of the answer is that this kind of self-giving love is encoded into our DNA. We identify with heroic selflessness because deep down, we all yearn to be the same way. It’s how we would like to be known.

As with just about everything else, we can trace these desires back to the way God made us. Created in his image and likeness, we were fashioned with a drive toward the same self-giving, self-sacrificial love that is at the heart of the Trinity. Whether we recognize it or not, we all want to be like Jesus, who considered us “as more important” than himself when he took on human flesh to save us (Philippians 2:3). Deep down, our hearts urge us to be like the One whose love moved him to empty himself and take on “the form of a slave” so that our sins could be wiped away (2:7).

For example, think about how proud you feel when your children or grandchildren offer to help someone unload their groceries or hold a door open for someone else. Think of how gratifying it feels after you have spent some time volunteering in your parish or after you have put aside your comfort to care for a sick child or an aging relative. Something inside tells you that this is how things are supposed to be. That’s because you recognize in these actions a reflection of God’s own character. Not only do you feel better, but you also bring great joy to your heavenly Father!

Who would have thought that the key to happiness is sacrifice? May we all become more fully the Christlike people God has made us to be!

“Father, you have made me like you, even to the point of wanting to give of myself in love for other people. Help me complete your joy by reflecting your love!”

Word Among Us

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Nov. 2, 2014: All Souls Sunday

Click to hear audio homily
Can you recall one of your most memorable vacations? Perhaps the scenery was spectacular, or you and your family had great fun bonding and being together. Now, can you recall one of your least memorable vacations? What made it forgettable? Did you get interrupted by work requests during vacation? Did you experience a loss, sadness, or anxiety right before going on a vacation, so that when you were on vacation, you were preoccupied and could not enjoy all that the vacation spot had to offer. Our state of mind will determine whether we will enjoy the vacation or not.

What do we know about life after death? The First Reading tells us that, “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.” The destiny of the righteous is to be with God. The suffering and affliction they experience here on earth are considered a purification that they must endure in order to be with God. The Responsorial Psalm then reminds us that we are in the care of Our Lord--our Shepherd who guards us from those who would harm our soul and whose loving guidance will remain with us forever. How is all this applicable to us? If we are honest, could we consider ourselves as ‘just souls’ who are in the hand of God? St. Paul explains that in our former lives, we lived under slavery to sin. Through baptism this old enslaved self has been crucified. Just as death had no power over the resurrected Christ, so sin now has no power over the baptized Christians. We now have the power of the resurrected Lord to withstand the assault of sin. So St. Paul says, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his Blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath.”

As the readings point out, we have been given a great gift of being with God for all eternity. Do we appreciate it? Are we prepared to receive and open that gift? So I ask you, do you believe in life after death? Many of you will reply, “Yes, of course. I believe in Heaven. My faith teaches me that after I die, I will be with Jesus in Heaven.” How would you reply if I asked you, “Are you prepared, today, to go to Heaven?” Perhaps a follow up question is, “Are you free to enter into Heaven? Or are you holding on to something, encumbered by some type of attachment?” Perhaps you still have unfinished business with your family, your friends, or your finances. Perhaps, you still carry with you something deep in your heart that you have not let go of--a deep hurt, an unforgivable person.  It will be as if we are invited to an ultimate vacation, but the state of our soul--which is still encumbered, worried, and weighed down with sins--prevents our soul from really entering into the vacation.

It's my experience that some souls are better prepared to put closure on their earthly life than others. Once when I went to visit a man whose cancer had spread through his entire body, he was in his room, a beer in his hand and was joking with friends who were visiting him. The moment I mentioned preparing for dying and receiving the anointing of the sick, he jolted and dropped his beer. I left that house thinking this man was not prepared to put closure on what remained of his very short earthly life.

So what happens to souls who are still holding on to something, perhaps unfinished business. A parishioner whose mother died a few months ago told me that she prayed for her mother everyday. Her earnest prayer was, “Mama, please let me know with some sign that you’re fine, that you are in Heaven.” One night the parishioner had a dream about her mother. In the dream,  she picked up the phone and her mama was on the phone! The daughter asked her mom, “Have you met Jesus?” but her mom did not answer. Then all of of a sudden, she and her mom were in a room filled with people of all ages and she recognized some of them. Although the people looked normal, the daughter sensed that they were all deceased souls. Her mom then explained, “I have to stay here for a month”, but she added that she was happy and content. The parishioner was convinced that her mother was in purgatory.

We believe in Purgatory. All of us who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of our eternal salvation; but after death we undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. For the great majority of us, there remains in the depths of our being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, this openness to truth is covered over by ever new compromises with evil. The Good News is that while we were still sinners Christ died for us and justified us by his Blood. What great mercy!

In this earthly life, the Lord promises to guide us as the Good Shepherd, but we must humble ourselves to our faults and open our hearts to His forgiveness and guidance. Let us take comfort in the Psalm 23:
The Lord guides me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.