Sunday, November 12, 2017

Four ways to grow in desire for Christ (Sunday homily)

This parable is one that I have found difficult to unravel 
over the years. Maybe you have too. 
This past week, I came upon an article online, 
and the author, a Protestant professor named Jack Crabtree, 
helped clarify it for me.

He points out what distinguishes the two groups of virgins – 
well, first, let’s point out what does not distinguish them. 
They are all virgins; they are all carrying lamps; 
they are all invited to the wedding; they all bring some oil. 
They all fall asleep; and they all wake up at the same time.

So far, all the same, right? 

So what’s different about the wise virgins, versus the foolish? 
The wise virgins were prepared for a long delay. 
Think about that: had the Bridegroom come right away, 
all of them, without exception, would have been part of the wedding. 
But there was a long delay, 
and the foolish virgins weren’t prepared, and they were left out.

So the reservoir of oil that the wise virgins have, 
is that perseverance that enables them to wait, and wait, and wait, 
and wait some more.

So where does this perseverance come from? 
I submit to you that it is a matter of desire.
A show of hands: how many people here can either speak, or read, 
a language other than English? Raise your hands.

Everyone here – every single person here – 
is capable of speaking another language. 
We all speak one; why can’t we learn another? 
I’m not saying it’s easy; I am simply saying it is possible.

So why don’t we? We don’t want it badly enough. 

In the case of this parable, the desire, specifically, 
is for Christ himself, and his Kingdom. 
That’s what the Wedding is; 
that’s what the foolish virgins missed out on, 
because they didn’t want it enough to endure a long wait.

So, how do we gain this desire for the Kingdom, 
before all other things?

I’m going to offer four ways today we gain that desire for Christ:

First, come to confession frequently. How frequently? 
Well, I can be wrong here, 
but I think more than once or twice a year. Monthly is a good rule. 

A lot of people look at it as, “do I have to go”  – 
which is the wrong way to look at it. 
Better is to ask, “will it help me to go to confession?” 

The obvious time to go is when our lamp has gone out, 
because of mortal sin. That is a true “need to go” situation. 

But even better is to go, precisely to keep that lamp from going out. 
Sometimes it’s fading, getting weak; and if we don’t do something, 
the flame will die. 

It is in confession that we get stoked up 
with more oil of the Holy Spirit, so our lamp burns brightly.

Second, make your time at Holy Mass more fruitful.

Now, what I am going to say next, 
you parents of young children should ignore this! This is not for you. 
It can be a real challenge getting your family to church, 
so that’s enough. Save this next advice for 20 years from now!

And that advice is, get here earlier. 
Otherwise, you will be ten or 15 minutes into Mass 
before you “check in.” 

OK, what do you do with that time? 
You can pray the Rosary; you can read the readings. 
And yes, these are things Father Cromly suggested this week.

The third thing is not so much something we do, 
as it is in how you and I respond; that is to say, 
how we respond to suffering. 

We don’t get much choice about whether we have pain and trouble. 
What we can do is see them as times of grace – and if we do, 
then they will be. 

One great grace of our trials of this life 
is that they help us realize this world is not our home; 
and we come to long, more and more, for heaven. 

The final thing you and I can do to grow in desire is the simplest: 
Ask for it.  Ask for the desire.

This has worked for me many times in my life. 
Before I entered the seminary, 
I wanted to start the habit of daily Mass, but I couldn’t get going. 
So I started praying, “God, give me the desire to go to daily Mass.” 
Let me tell you, it was a matter of days!

Now, it doesn’t always happen that fast. 
I know people who have struggled with terrible habits,  
such as alcohol and pornography, for years, even decades! 
I’ve known people who gave up; they lost hope. 
But they found it again, and they kept asking, begging God to help them. 
And finally, things cleared for them. 
In their own way, they were asking, “God, give me the desire!”

If you want to want the Kingdom, if you want to want Christ, 
you will find him in the confessional. You will find him in the Mass. 
You will find him when you are being wronged and when you are in pain. 
And above all, you will find him when you ask.

Ask daily; ask every hour. Ask, ask and keep asking. There is no magic. 
But it is in the asking, pleading, begging, that our hearts grow, 
and become great reservoirs to hold the Oil of the Holy Spirit; 
and it is the Holy Spirit who longs, who thirsts, within us, for Christ.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Lots of activity, not much reporting, sorry!

As you might surmise, I've been busy lately.

Doing what, I hear you ask? Let me tell you.

This week -- Sunday to Wednesday -- we had a Parish Mission. That means we had a priest here who, in addition to talks in church Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, also met with our kids of all ages each day, as well as Sunday evening. That also meant a far amount of planning and activity leading up to it, and some hospitality on my part. For example, Tuesday -- at the request of the visiting priest -- we had a reception at the rectory; so I had to get some food together for that. On that occasion, giving time constraints, I cooked exactly nothing. Everything went well, however; not just Tuesday, but everyday.

So, at 6:30 am, our visiting priest was driven off to the airport, well fed and otherwise having worked very hard for our parish; and immediately, I had to turn to other activities.

First, I had to organize some reply forms we got back from the folks attending the Mission. We had passed out "Go Deeper" reply forms, and on the form was a variety of ways folks could deepen their faith, including an adult Bible study group, several prayer groups, and other choices. So today, after having Mass at a nearby assisted living facility, I sorted them all out into piles, and have parceled out the piles to various people so that everyone who filled out a form will be contacted, and invited to participate in the things in which they expressed interest.

Meanwhile, I have yet another project to work on: our annual Forty Hours this weekend! That starts tomorrow. I have things arranged for tomorrow morning; we have several fine altar servers who will assist with a procession inside church. The main thing I must get together is the dinner, on Sunday, for visiting clergy. So just now I was working out the menu, and getting my shopping list together. Alas, I have a narrow window in which to do my shopping! I have four appointments tomorrow, and alas, they are spread out through the day. If I can get my homily finished by tomorrow, however, I have a good window on Saturday. My menu is fairly simple, because with all I have to do on Sunday as it is, I don't wish to have a lot of food prep. So I'm going to have some simple snacks that go with drinks, and then have a slow cooked pork loin dish I tried out recently and was really good; alongside that will be some potato salad (made by others), and some green beans I'll throw in the oven while we're enjoying pre-prandials. And I'll get some cheesecake or something like that. It will be a good time.

So that's my quick report before I head over to hear confessions in a few...er, that is, right now!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Power corrupts, but service saves (Sunday homily)

The problem highlighted in the first reading and in the Gospel 
can be boiled down to: “power corrupts.”
In the first reading, the priests were playing favorites; 
in the Gospel, the Pharisees – who weren’t all priests – 
were more interested in accolades 
than in really helping people get to heaven.

So when Jesus tells his disciples, 
do not be called “rabbi,” “father,” or “master,” 
he wasn’t forbidding the use of these words altogether; 
rather, he was challenging them to think deeply about their motives. 
What did they think it meant for them to be his Apostles?

Other stories in the Gospels tell us what the Apostles were thinking. 
At one point, they are debating who among them is the most important. 
Another time, the brothers James and John 
want to call down fire on a Samaritan town that was unfriendly. 

So we have some sense of what might have been going on 
in the minds of the Apostles. 
Maybe they saw the high priests throwing their weight around,
and given great honor, and they may have thought: 
that’s what it will be like for us.
And that idea is what Jesus is shutting down.

Today we welcome two seminarians for the Archdiocese. 
They shared a few words before we began Mass,
And you can meet John and Stephen afterward.

I remember when I was first thinking about the priesthood, 
it is true that what I focused on 
was more of idealized image of the priest.
That’s to be expected.

When boys and young men are thinking about being a priest, 
I doubt many dwell on filling out paperwork 
or spending time reviewing bids on new phone systems.
There’s no particular glory in making sure the roof doesn’t leak 
or in paying the bills – but there is word that describes this: service.

And it fits with calling a priest “Father” – 
because these are things a father, a parent, does.

So, while the Lord warns, on the one hand that power corrupts, 
On the other hand he tells us, “service saves.” 
Thus in the second reading, we have Saint Paul reminding the folks 
that he was like a “nursing mother,” 
spending himself in order to nourish their faith. 

To bring it home: this is not only what my job is as a priest; 
it is what our job is as a parish. 
Namely, that our parish is a place 
where each of us helps one another to grow in faith.

So, for example, we have five hours of confessions each week. 
You’ll see in the bulletin that I’d like to add another hour, 
but I want your feedback on when would be most helpful. 

This week, we have Father Nathan Cromly leading a Parish Mission.
You will like Father Nathan, but much more important, 
you will be inspired and challenged. 
That’s why we’re having this Mission, 
and that’s a reason to join in: to grow in our faith.

For example, this replaces Religious Education on Wednesday, 
so I really hope our students – with their parents – 
won’t just see it as a “night off” but as a time to grow.

And then, looking ahead to the weekend, 
we will have our annual Forty Hours devotion to the Holy Eucharist. 
One way to think about our Parish Mission 
is that we want Father Nathan to help us hunger and thirst more 
to be with Jesus, to be his companion and co-worker.

Then, Forty Hours is our “face time” with the Lord.
In other words, we want Father Nathan to be like Andrew, 
who said to Peter, “Come and meet the Messiah.”

I’m sure a lot of us have seen various news items – 
from Washington, from the sports world, and from Hollywood – 
detailing just how badly power can corrupt. 
None of us is really immune. 
Pray for me, help me, not to get a big head.

One of the ways that can happen – for me, and for you – 
is that we think we have it all figured out. We are in control.
Or, if we don’t have things in hand, we figure it’s on us to fix it. 
We’re going to do it our own way.

Instead, take some time this week to sit at the feet of Jesus, 
who is the only one who really does have things in control. 
He is the one who knows how to put things right – 
beginning with us listening to him, and learning from him.
Our Parish Mission, and Forty Hours, are a time for us to do that.