Sunday, August 28, 2016

Humility: The Foundation of All Love

“Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find mercy in the sight of God.” (Sirach 3:18)

During my third year in seminary, I was helping out in the library putting barcodes on all the books (that’s a lot of books).  One afternoon, I reached for a book call “Love: A Fruit Always in Season.”  It was a book of daily meditations by Mother Teresa that someone had compiled.  I flipped to the daily meditation of that day and it totally hit the mark of where I was in my spiritual life at the age of 20 and what I needed to hear/read that day (I won’t get into what it said because that’s an entire different homily).  So I stayed there for a good 5-10 minutes flipping through that book, reading her sayings, quotes and mini speeches, and in a pre-Amazon world, I drove the next chance I could to the nearest bookstore and bought the book.  It’s been at my side ever since.  Mother Teresa will be canonized next Sunday, and she is one of the most quoted (and misquoted) individuals of the 20th century.  When I read today’s readings on humility, I immediately thought of her and her many beautiful words about this virtue that seems to escape us.   Humility is seen by this world as a weakness instead of the powerful spiritual gift that God saw and that Mother Teresa and many of the saints embraced.  Humility is the foundation of all love, for to love you have to humble yourself to be able to love the other.  Humility requires putting God and the other first so that we love them with little regard for ourselves.  Jesus extols the virtue of humility in the gospel when he tells us that those who humble themselves will be exalted.  This is the way of God: to think of the other first so that we can start to love them.

So what did (soon to be Saint) Mother Teresa have to say about humility? Well, plenty:  “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.  If you are blamed you will not be discouraged.  If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”  The humble person is always even keel: doesn’t get too high and doesn’t get too low because this person knows that God always comes first and that God is at their side.  Mother Teresa also delights in the humility of God:  “In God I find two things admirable: His goodness and His humility.  His love and His humility are striking.  God is truly humble; He comes down and uses instruments as weak and imperfect as we are.  He deigns to work through us. Is that not marvelous?”  Here Mother is touching upon the beauty of the mystery of the Incarnation.  Not only did God become man, but he uses us to accomplish his will, as his instruments or as his “little pencils” as Mother would say.  This is what is marvelous: that God loves us so much that he wants us to be part of his great plan to re-create the world.  As Mother would say, it starts with a smile, and in today’s readings we realize that it also starts off with embracing humility in order to begin to love.  Once we realize that God and the other come first and the beauty that is humility, then the spiritual benefits that await us are simply eternal.

(Many of you asked me this morning where you could get the book that I referenced.  I thought it was out of print but here it is:

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Doorway to Heaven

“Strive to enter through the narrow door…” (Luke 14:24)

In today’s gospel, someone asks Jesus a very straightforward question: “Lord will only a few people be saved?”  The Lord does not answer the question directly but says to enter through the narrow door.  Many will try to get into the party, but only those who take the road less travelled and use the narrow door will get in.  Such is the life of the Christian.  But what can prevents us from entering through the small door that leads to eternal life?  This morning, Pope Francis reminded us that Jesus is the door and that pride prevents us from passing through the door: “For this, it is narrow: to contain our pride, which bloats us.  The door of God's mercy is narrow but always wide open, wide open for everyone!”  Pride and sin may prevent us from getting through, but our Holy Father rightly points out that while the door to eternity may be narrow, it is definitely always open.  We just got to shed some of the excess spiritual weight that hold us back from being, as Matthew Kelly would say, the best version of ourselves.

So basically we got to get in spiritual shape to fit through that narrow door.  Today the Olympics come to a close and we’ve been witnessed to some remarkable triumphs and stories.  These athletes sacrifice so much and train for hours every day just to be able to compete. In the case of those who trained for the 100 meter dash, they train four years for a 10 second sprint, and as has been the case for the last three Olympics, they train for the honor of sprinting next to the great Usain Bolt who did more to promulgate the devotion to Miraculous Medal than any priest or bishop over the last two weeks.  So these athletes train to attain their prize, which is a gold medal.  As Christians, we spiritual train to attain the ultimate prize, which is heaven.  Just like we can’t wake up one morning and think we can compete with Michael Phelps, we can’t just expect to walk through the narrow door if we aren’t in spiritual shape.  Yet God’s mercy is so great that we can make the decision right now if we want to to shed the excess spiritual weight that is holding us back from being great Christians.  I was joking with some ladies this morning that the best place to lose weight is basically the confessional.  We walk in burdened by sin, bloated as the Pope said, and we walk out as slim as a supermodel: free to live the lives that Christ wants us to live.  Unburdened by our past and focused totally on the present.   The importance of confession has been at the forefront of this Year of Mercy, and once done with confession, we are surrounded by a myriad of Holy Doors to symbolize our leaving our old ways behind to walk with Christ though one of those doors and into a new life full of endless possibilities.  This was the highlight of my recent pilgrimage through Europe and all the different Holy Doors that I walked through especially the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica.

So in order to enter through the narrow door, the doorway to eternity, I leave you with one simple question: what is holding you back from being the Christian that Christ wants you to be?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fired Up Christians

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish I were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49)

The Christian will always be a symbol of division. In this world where the truth takes a back seat to lies, where we are surrounded by a society that goes totally contrary to what Christ taught us, anyone who speaks the truth of Christ will be seen as a lunatic, as out of touch, as an outcast, as crazy as Christ appeared to many.  So when Jesus tells us that he has come to set fire to the earth, what he is proposing is a spiritual flood, a little bit different than the flood of Noah, but he seeks to make all things new. The brush fires that we constantly see in the Everglades are natural, and they clear away the old to make way for the new, for more vibrant vegetation and life.  That fire that Jesus desires is meant to purify, to cleanse; to help us, as the second reading tells us, to “rid ourselves of every burden of sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus."  That fire should help us detach from the world, and live only for Christ.
If today weren’t Sunday, we’d be celebrating the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe.  Here was a priest of the 20th century who detached from the world with his eyes fixed solely on Jesus and the Blessed Mother.  This inclination, this freedom he had is what allowed him to do what he did in probably the darkest and most horrific place in human history: Auschwitz.  Freed from everything of this world and living only for Christ, St. Maximilian laid down his life for someone else.   Having been arrested in Poland during the Nazi occupation of World War II, St. Max was sent to Auschwitz.  One day a prisoner escaped and the Nazis ordered that ten random men be put to death as punishment for the escape.  St. Max was not chosen, but there was a man who was a husband and father who was chosen to die.  St. Max volunteered to take his place which the Nazis allowed.  Even in the darkest of places where God seemed to be absent, this priest brought the love of God and became a sign of division, of hope, of the fire of the Holy Spirit that had consumed his heart.  St. Max lived out one of his most famous sayings: “The poison of our times is indifference."  He was not indifferent to the suffering around him.  He became a martyr and a model for Christian life.  He took the gospel literally and laid down his life for a friend.  This was a man who was sent to set the earth on fire, and he did so by giving his life.
But how do we set the earth on fire? How do we cause division?  The Holy Father this morning said that this gospel serves as a reminder that we need this fire in our Church lest we become cold or lukewarm. People should feel a warm embrace when they come into church.  This comes from impassioned missionaries of the gospel and not from once a week, punches the one-hour time clock Catholic.  All of us have a responsibility to light this fire and to be the voice for the voiceless.  Yes, following Jesus is difficult. It causes division. Many families are already divided this morning because some chose to come to Mass while others chose another priority.  What can be more important than worshiping Christ on his day, the Lord's Day?  Set the earth on fire even if it’s in your home. Don't be afraid. Be bold. And if it causes division: good! We are doing what the Lord commanded. We are fulfilling our baptismal call to be prophetic. Sure it may get us thrown into a metaphorical cistern like Jeremiah in the first reading, but Jesus is always at our side.

Did you know that St. Max was the last to die in that death chamber? He encouraged his fellow inmates. He prayed. He sang. He had no fear of death. Even "defeated" he was setting the earth on fire until his last breath. May we all learn from his example. We cannot be indifferent.  We have to ask ourselves how we are helping our parish grow and how we are setting the earth on fire for this is what our Lord desires.  May our parish always be a place of warmth, of welcome, and may we bring the fire of Jesus onto the earth to purify, restore, and give new life.