Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Steady and Necessary Hand of a Father

“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.” (2 Cor 5:17)

This past week I was asked to give a talk on the role of the Catholic man in the modern world.  My message was simple: commit to being good husbands and good fathers and take the reins of making sure that your families walk in the footsteps of Christ.  This is after all what St. Joseph did in the life of Christ.  He was a good husband for he took Mary into his home and was a good father for he raised the Son of God as is his own.  During the talk, we agreed that the commitment part always trips men up.  We live in a culture where men avoid commitment, where men want to be unattached and independent, so having to care for a wife and children isn’t high on the list for most men.  Yet, it is so necessary when you look at our culture, at our young people and at our family.  This isn’t a misogynistic statement, just something that Pope Francis has been preaching about the last two months:  we need to recover the sense of strong fathers in our society.  The father has his role.  The mother has hers.  That is how God created it, and it has gradually been deteriorating and being redefined. We need men, real men, real committed men, to follow the example of St. Joseph and lead their families and form their children to walk with the Lord. Real men who won’t shy away from the responsibilities of fatherhood, but take on the challenge to reshape their families in the image of the Holy Family.  We need good fathers, and the events of the past week showed us the importance of having strong families in our country.

A sermon was preached in a courtroom in Charleston, South Carolina on Friday afternoon.  I want to move beyond the tragedy though to focus on the love and mercy that followed.  Nine families were given the opportunity to confront the young man who took their loved ones from them, and their responses were far more powerful than any words that I can preach today.  They were words of forgiveness.  Forgiveness!  In a town, a state, and a region where this happens way too often and in a time where vengeance and violence is the response to violence.  These families came into courtroom armed with the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Here are the words they directed at the young man:

A daughter said: “I just wanted everybody to know, to you, I forgive you,” “You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

Another family member said: “I forgive you and my family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent . . . confess, give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so that He can change it—can change your ways no matter what happens to you, and you will be OK. Do that and you will be better.”

A mother said: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” she said. “Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. . . . But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”

These are strong families that go to Emmanuel EAM Church in Charleston.  Our church is united in prayer with their church this morning because I cannot fathom the pain of what they must be going through this morning as they go to church without a sense of normalcy.  And no, it is not lost on me that their pastor was taken from them.  He was leading them in the study of the Bible.  Heroism indeed.  Being a good father.  And this pastor taught his flock so well.  He taught them the power of the mercy of Christ.  He taught them that it is far better to live in love than to live in hate.  He ingrained in them the last verse of today’s second reading: “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.”   New things have surely come, and this goes beyond that blessed pastor.  These new things were preached by the families of that community who stood united in offering forgiveness to a young man who society probably thinks deserves no such thing.

We need strong families who continue to spread this message of mercy.  And we need strong fathers who will teach their children how to love and forgive.  So I want to finish on this Father’s Day with something beautiful we all witnessed here last month.  There’s a new tradition that has begun among our newly ordained priests of presenting the stole from their first confession to their fathers.  Last month we saw Father Bryan give it to his father during his First Mass.  The reason behind this gesture, Father Bryan explained and Father Michael said the same thing the night before, was because their fathers were the first men who taught these two would-be priests how to forgive: something so necessary for their ministry.  You come to your father when you need forgiveness whether it be you biological or spiritual father.  You come to your father when you need shelter, security, and a steady hand.  It’s what the disciples did in the gospel.  In the midst of the storm they cried out not knowing that God himself was in that very boat riding with them in storm.  Jesus calmed the storms and reassured them.  Lessons he no doubt learned from St. Joseph and from his Father in heaven.  We need the steady hands of our fathers to take our families back to Christ.  We need them to teach us forgiveness.  We need them to not shy away from commitment, for a real man, a real God-fearing man, realizes the gifts that God has given to him and realized the importance of leading his wife and children to Christ. And if you are blessed to be called a father, may you be blessed this day and every day by our Heavenly Father, and by the intercession of St. Joseph, patron of fathers, may you be a holy example of leadership, love and forgiveness for you family and for a society who is in dire need of strong fathers and strong families.

St. Joseph, patron of all fathers, pray for  us.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Seeing God's Hand at Work

“…for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)

How many times have we questioned God's will?  We do it all the time. Some may call it a sin but he is constantly doing things we that don't understand.  We have to learn to step back and see that he has a grander plan that at times we simply just don’t comprehend.  Things happen to us.  We get sick, a family member gets sick, a family member perhaps dies, we lose our job, we end a relationship, and any one of these things can cause us to look up to the heavens and ask “why?”  That is a perfectly reasonable reaction especially if we have established a close relationship to our God.  But we have to believe that God is control and that his plans are far greater than our plans.  We may not understand them, but we learn to trust them because he is God and we are not.  His providential hand will lead us to where he wants us to be.

Back in 1959, a young Irish lad decided to enter the seminary in Ireland, but he put a condition down that once ordained a priest that he wanted to be sent to Miami as a missionary.  His superiors scoffed at the condition and told him that he would be staying in his home diocese once ordained.  This young lad entered seminary anyways trusting in God’s plan for him.  In 1962, this he injured his jaw while playing Gaelic football.  Back then the medicine was not as advanced and this injury caused him severe headaches.  His doctor told him that once ordained, since his headaches grew worse during the winter, he should probably be sent to a warmer climate.  “Like Miami?” the young seminarian asked.  The doctor suggested Africa but since he knew the bishop well, the doctor put in a good word for him.  The seminarian received a beautiful, hand written note from his bishop which to this day he says that note “is as if God himself had written it.”  The bishop told him that he would send him to Miami once he ordained him and sure enough, in 1965, Father Jude O’Doherty arrived in Miami.  The rest is history.  He served as pastor of this parish from 1971-1982 when it was the largest parish in the state and the largest school in the southeastern United States.  He then went off to Epiphany where he still is pastor and built a beautiful church.  This past Friday he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest and in front of a packed church with 5 bishops and well over 50 priests at his side, he celebrated Mass in this beautiful city he longed to live in and that he has called home since his arrival.

Who knew back in the 1959, that the young Irish lad with a passion for Gaelic football would become such a great priest an ocean away in Miami?  He was like a mustard seed when he entered seminary, that eventually grew to be a large tree where his parishioners would come to find shade and seek refuge when they didn’t understand God’s will.  But Monsignor O’Doherty always trusted in God’s plan for him even when things didn’t break his way.  God took someone small and turned him into a towering figure in our Archdiocese and a true model of the priesthood of Jesus Christ for he is always so generous to his people.  God’s ways are always perfect.

For the early Christians, that mustard seed came to symbolize the crucified Christ.  I preached about this on Good Friday: the rose trampled on the ground that now blossoms into something so magnificent.  Today’s readings are filled with images of trees full of life.  Yet look at the hand of God who took a dead tree, the cross, and turned it into the tree of life.  On that Good Friday, everyone looked upon that tree with horror as they saw Jesus die, but they failed to see that from death God was building something that we couldn't quite grasp. That man dying on the cross, so helpless and so fragile like the mustard seed, built something so big: the church! Now all of us take comfort in the branches and shade of this magnificent tree that is firmly rooted in Jesus Christ.

We sometimes can't see God's hand at work, but as we hear in the gospel, we don't know how or why it happens but he builds something beyond our understanding. We walk by faith not by sight St. Paul tells us. When things aren’t going our way we have to walk by faith.  When life keeps dealing us a hand that we cannot play, we play with faith.  When we think that there is no use to praying anymore because we think God has abandoned us, we pray anyways because we walk by faith and not by sight.  And we remember that those children of God that were discarded by the world because they were so small and insignificant are often the ones that God builds up.  So today step back and see that God has a greater plan for you.  You may have had a rough year or a rough couple of months or a rough week, but take heart and walk by faith and not by sight because God is in control.  If he can turn the tiny mustard seed into the biggest of trees, imagine what he can do in you, his beloved child, if you just step back and let God be God.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Called to Something Deeper (Part 3 of 3)

"Take it; this is my body." (Mark 14:22)

So how do we enter more deeply into the life of the Holy Trinity?  Last week I promised you that I would tell you, and today’s feast should serve as a very big clue.  We celebrate the presence of the Lord in his Body and Blood on this feast of Corpus Christi, and we rejoice because Jesus has given us through this precious sacrament a glimpse of what awaits us in heaven.  Through the reception of the Eucharist, Jesus draws is into the life of the Trinity, in Divinity itself.  You want to get deep with God?  Go to Communion…frequently.  He is right here waiting for us.  Mass may at times seem routine or repetitive, but there is so much going on here, but may we never take this divine reality for granted.  

Something else we may take for granted:  as a community, we often sing our worship songs out of habit or routine and sometimes forget or don’t realize the powerful meaning of the words we sing.  Case in point:  “Breathe.”  Our choir sings this song so beautifully.  Have you ever stopped and contemplated the power behind those words?  “This is the air I breathe…you holy presence living in me.”  That is Communion.  That is why we are here.  So that Christ may live in us and that we might live in Him and in that community of love that is the Trinity.  The chorus of the song is our cry to the Lord: “And I’m desperate for you. And I’m lost without you.”  Desperate.  Lost.  That is what we are without Christ living in us. When Christ is not living in us we fall into the allurements of the world.  Christ leaves us his holy presence because he knew we needed spiritual reinforcement and his constant presence to overcome temptation.  This is what we contemplate today.  Christ is living within us through this sacrament.  Without him we become desperate and lost.

And then we hear those words at consecration that were read in the gospel today: “this is my body.”  Such powerful words!  When spoken by the priest acting in the person of Christ, the bread we offer becomes the body of Christ.  Jesus is there in body, soul, and divinity longing to be part of our lives, longing to enter into communion with us.  Yes, our God longs for us!  He is waiting in the tabernacle for a visit from you or in our Perpetual Adoration Chapel where you can behold him exposed in the monstrance.  St. Jose Maria Escriva once said, “Each time you approach the Blessed Sacrament remember that Jesus has been waiting for you for twenty centuries for this personal visit from you.” Let me add another quote from Mother Teresa to take us home: “Every Holy Hour we make so pleases the Heart of Jesus that it is recorded in Heaven and retold for all eternity!” In the presence of our Lord and Savior who awaits us in our chapel and churches, in every tabernacle around the world, it is there that we listen to him, adore him, and become like him.  “This is my body.”  Not just words spoken 2000 years ago or spoken by a priest at Mass.  These are words that each of us can say when we receive Holy Communion.  We are drawn into the Divine.  We become Jesus if only for the few moments of Communion and are called to enter more deeply into this relationship that we have established with him.  But you need to make the first move.  He is waiting for you.  On this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, may we hunger for Jesus as much as he hungers for us.