Monday, August 29, 2011

22nd Sunday So many Words

Preparing for this weekend’s homily it occurred to me that, for the freshmen, the returning students and professors, the Church is giving them the first formative words of the semester. Of course we live in a world and in an age where we are inundated, even drowning in words; words that amuse, excite, hurt, mislead, heal, frustrate, confuse, delight, flatter, inform and more. Maybe we seek out the amusing ones even though they flash and sizzle as they quickly dissipate. Perhaps we seek out the flattering ones because we that the truth is the same as abandonment. Our world is full of words.

Not all words are trivial or false and so we should hold onto the true, beautiful, and good words. These words actually give life rather than take it. These words build us up—even as they trim some things down. These words are not always the loudest or most entertaining but they are the best. Thank you for allowing the Church to say these words to you today.
What word does the Church give you? “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” St. Paul the Apostle wrote these words 2000 years ago to the Church in Rome- not a message to pagans not yet converted but to baptized and practicing Catholics. Christians of every day need to be reminded the same thing. Do not conform to the spirit, the wisdom, or the words of this age but be transformed by God’s spirit.

Perhaps St. Paul’s inspiration was the story of St. Peter in the Gospel? Mere minutes before, Jesus declared Peter to be the Rock on which he would build his Church. Did that guarantee that Peter would always listen to the Word of Life? Did that guarantee that Peter would NOT listen to the flattering words of this age? No, so Jesus speaks non-amusing, unflattering and even stinging words to Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Why? Because Jesus loves Peter enough to keep him from error. Might Jesus ever speak to us in this way? Probably. In fact, please Jesus, DO speak to me when I am in error.

In the year to come, you will hear many words on campus. Some will amuse, flatter, hurt, confuse or delight. Make yourself available to the Words of Jesus Christ, most especially through the Sacraments. His words may challenge or comfort but, when we seek Him in the Church they will always bring life if we are open.

Finally, we all need the Church. As Catholics we do not claim to be perfect, not even the Pope and especially not me. We all need the Catholic Church to support and encourage us when the voice of Jesus is faint or causes us distress. Our enemy loves for us to try things alone or to think that we are the only one who bear our burdens. Our enemy loves to foster impatience within us. You are not alone. Here the words of our own Pope: “Even for the believing man who is entirely open to God, the words of God are not comprehensible and evident right away. Those who demand that the Christian message be as immediately understandable as any banal statement hinder God.”

In this year to come, seek and listen for the Word of Jesus, seek the guidance of the Church and know that you are not alone.

Cross posted at

Monday, August 22, 2011

21st Sunday Tu Es Petros!

Our Gospel today is one of the foundational texts of Jesus’ establishment of the Papacy. What is the purpose of the Papacy? I’d like to offer you the definition given by a Lutheran. I was assisting at the marriage of a Catholic bride and a Lutheran groom. The groom’s father- himself a Lutheran- came up to me at the reception and said: “You Catholics really got it figured out. That Papacy thing is pretty good, it keeps you all organized and together.”

The Papacy does keep us organized and together. The Papacy keeps us focused on Jesus Christ in the midst of our own world of distraction, sin and sorrow. In this sense, the Papacy is true to its roots. What does Peter do today? He is receptive to the promptings of the Father and confesses that Jesus is the Christ. What does the Successor of Peter do today? He tells us to be receptive to the promptings of the Father and to confess that Jesus is the Christ.
Earlier today, while we were all sleeping, Pope Benedict XVI was preaching Mass to almost 2 million of his closest friends. In that Mass with our same readings, Pope Benedict says that Jesus’ question is for us as much as it is for Peter:

“Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation. So Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?”, is ultimately a challenge to the disciples to make a personal decision in his regard. Faith in Christ and discipleship are strictly interconnected.”

Pope Benedict points us to an intimate encounter with Jesus as the foundation of all Christian faith. This relationship is possible only by God’s gift for which we must ask. Is your faith weak? Are you timid amongst your friends? Does God seem remote and foreign? Have you asked for deeper faith? Knowledge is necessary for faith—knowledge frames and guides every human relationship but every human relationship is more than knowledge.

Faith begins with a leap, a plunge into the unknown known. We know Jesus, but not fully. We can only know Jesus when we dive into that relationship. Pope Benedict encourages us: “Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits young hearts like your own. Say to him: “Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me. I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word. You know me and you love me. I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands. I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me”.”

Is it a risk? Yes! Do we know everything about this Jesus? Does it always seem like God is doing what we expect or what makes sense in our estimation of the world? No! And that is why it is faith. Reasonable faith but still faith. When Pope Benedict arrived in Spain he encouraged all of us to “not be ashamed of the Lord.” In these words and these actions, Pope Benedict continues to live out the life of Peter, keeping us organized around and firm within our confession of Jesus.

Pope Benedict's Arrival Address to Madrid
Pope Benedict's Opening Message
Pope Benedict's Address to Young Professors
Pope Benedict's Mass with Young Seminarians
Pope Benedict's Saturday Vigil Address
Pope Benedict's Sunday Mass Homily
Summary of WYD

Cross posted at piusxiinewman.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

20th Sunday Homily, August 14, 2011

But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.

Imagine the state of this Canaanite woman’s heart and emotions as she approaches Jesus today. Her only daughter is afflicted, tormented by a demon. There is no help and no joy for her when her daughter is not well. She cries out to Jesus to save her but “Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.” How many of us can imagine ourselves in the same position? How many of us have been in the same position? “Jesus did not say a word in answer.”

More and more I am noticing that a great temptation in our own day is anxiety. We are consumed by anxiety. The chattering voices on tv and the internet proclaim that if such and such happens or so and so is elected we headed for DOOM! We are stirred up, over and over again into sorrow about the future. Not worry, not concern, not being spurred to concrete action but to give into sorrow over something that has not happened yet. Anxiety.

St. Thomas Aquinas calls anxiety “sorrow over a future pain.” Anxiety itself isn’t a sin, it is an emotion but it leads us to sin. When we claim that emotion as our own and give into anxiety we are led to distrust in God. We are led to unbelief. God cannot stop this impending doom. We are to have a faith that endures waves of anxiety and continues to trust in God. In fact, God wants your faith to be so strong as to endure all anxiety.

In the Gospel today, why does Jesus give her the cold shoulder? Why does gentle, caring, and merciful Jesus “not say a word in answer,” not even one word? So that her faith might have a chance to show stronger than her anxiety.

The Canaanite woman shows us strong faith. Strong faith is not removed from concern, worry, or emotions of sorrow. Strong faith endures against the very same concerns, worries and sorrows that experience everyday. The Canaanite woman shows us what God wants for each of us.

Does God not answer your prayers? Does God not seem to care? Have you been tempted to stop praying? Endure in faith!

When God does not answer your prayer, you stand in good company of saints in the past. I stand in your same company. The ways of God are mysterious but they lead to our salvation. When Jesus ignores the Canaanite woman, when Jesus is ignoring our pleading, he does so to build up our faith and our trust in him.

Every time the Holy Mass is prayed, your priest follows up the Our Father by praying: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy, keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.” Protect us, Jesus from anxiety so that our faith may endure and we may hear you say: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Cross posted at

19th Sunday

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” --Pope John Paul II, WYD 2002 in Toronto.

We see this foundational principle of our Christian faith in action in today’s Gospel. Peter, the first pope, the leader of the Apostles, the Rock on whom the Church is built, is fearful and preoccupied with the difficulties of the world around him. Peter’s
faith fails. Yet Peter’s life is not summed or totaled by his failures and weaknesses.
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Peter’s failure today is NOT the absence of a life vest or water skies. His failure is letting his fear of the waves trump his trust in Jesus who conquers the waves and loves Peter so much he would give his life for Peter’s. Keep your eyes on Jesus. I want to focus on three things: the power of Jesus, the waves, and the reprimand.

The power of Jesus is manifest again today, in the verses just after the feeding the 5000 that we proclaimed last weekend. This power is not something new to the Apostles, even though they act surprised. It is important to note that the Bible is not a book of outlandish miracles, as some characterize it to be. The Scriptures DO have miracles but they are limited to three characters: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Miracles aren’t the total story of Scripture but they are used to point to the power of God. Jesus is mighty, with power to save, and we should look to him at all times.

The waves surrounding Peter were real waves that really threatened their boat and then Peter’s own life. The waves are also symbolic of the powers of this world of sin that Jesus conquers by dying and rising. We know the voice of the waves: “God has no answer for the problems of modern man. God has no answer for unwanted pregnancy. God has no answer for same-sex attraction. God has no answer for poverty. God has no answer for my arguments on atheism. God has no answer.”

Like Peter, the waves swamp us when we loose sight of and confidence in Jesus Christ. Our problems are a fact, they are questions to be asked but they have an answer in Jesus Christ. Confidence in this reality is the essence of faith. Faith does not turn a blind eye to the waves, rather, faith looks beyond the waves to the one who calms them with the soles of his feet.

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

The reprimand that Jesus gives is made in pure love. Why does pure love reprimand Peter? Because Peter is capable of more. Peter, in his human weakness and fickleness, is capable of walking toward and with Jesus amidst the waves. We too are capable of walking amidst the waves of our own day in union with Jesus. We have a real capacity to become the image of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit to the world around us. This is the Kingdom of God. This is the life of the Church. This is your calling.

Cross posted at

18th Sunday

Listen that you may have life!

The word retreat is a military word with a specific meaning and purpose. What many of us have experienced as “retreat” doesn’t quite match that meaning. Most of us have experienced a retreat which was more of an assault or attack—you martial your forces and make efforts to gain new ground from the enemy. Retreat, at it’s heart, means to pull back from the battle, regroup, refresh and restore so that you can go back into the fight. In retreat you also take counsel with your commander to learn what the enemy is doing and how to fight back. This is the heart of retreat.

This is what I assisted in during the last half of June. Extended, silent retreats for individuals in which they could pull back from the world. There they sought the physical needs of rest and food but also the silence allowed them to hear the voice of God in a clearer way concerning the needs of their own day.

Who is more important, you or God? Pretty obvious, right? Yet if we were to climb inside our own heads, who is the doing the talking? We are! We are the ones speaking hoping that God will listen. It seems to me that Sacred Scripture says: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” and not “Listen Lord, you servant is speaking.” To grow in our Christian faith and to meet the challenges of our own day, we need to learn to listen in prayer.

A great way to jumpstart your listening is to go on a weekend silent retreat at Broom Tree outside Yankton. They help you ease into listening in a substantial way. Teaching your heart how to be quiet as you embrace the discipline of silence. If you’ve never looked at one, do look.

If you can’t get time free for a retreat, start with the Pirate’s prayer. ARRR!!! Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, and Respond. This little memory device, ARRR!!! will help you become a listening Catholic and have a spiritual life. ARRR: Acknowledge, Relate, Receive and Respond.

All prayer begins by entering into the presence of God. Physically doing so is a good step, entering into the Church and drawing near the Tabernacle. Mindfully and spiritually entering into God’s presence is also vital. Calling to mind that he is hear, that he has proven his love on the cross, that he has given you his Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation.

Then pray like a pirate. ARRR!!! Acknowledge the biggest or most obvious thing going on in your heart that day. Relate it to the Father, he has numbered all the hairs on your head and he wants all the thoughts within that head. Receive his Word. This is the hardest part. it requires patience and quiet. Respond to his Word with gratitude, resolution, or more Relating to him.

This may seem too simple or silly but it is a great way to grow in intimacy with God. What is intimacy in human life? Human intimacy is built up by the sharing of thoughts, feelings and desires. There is no other way to grow in true human intimacy. It is the same with our spiritual intimacy with God. We need to bring to him our thoughts, feelings, and desires and then wait on his Word. As the prophet Isaiah says: “Listen, that you may have life.”

Finally, I would like to encourage you. Look at the Gospel today. Look at the bounty our Lord provides. If you enter into the pirate’s prayer, if you enter into deliberate listening time in your day, know that the enemy will try to scare you away. He will try to say there is not enough time in the day for such foolishness! Hogwash. The Lord will always provide for us if we but offer our own meager efforts.

Cross posted on