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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

A theme which I know you've heard time and time again is the necessity of Christians living out their faith and not merely giving it lip service. If we say we're Christians but don't strive to live up to what Jesus commands of us, we end up looking like hypocrites. To live our faith, however, there must be a way by which the teachings of Our Lord enter into our lives and become part of how we act and think. As Christians, we must hear the Word of God and allow it to bring about conversion in our lives.

First, we must hear the Word of God. Moses challenged the Israelite people, “hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe” when he gave them the Mosaic Law which was revealed to him by God. We believe that the Scriptures, the Sacred Tradition of the Church, and the teachings of the Magisterium have been revealed to us as the definitive Truth by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we know that the three sources of revelation contain the teachings of Our Lord and serve to bring us closer to Him. To take our faith seriously, we need to seek out opportunities to immerse ourselves in the revealed Truth of Christ.

Now, I realize that people's lives are busy, especially parents who feel they never have a moment's peace to just relax, but you don't need to dedicate large amounts of time and money to studying the Scriptures or theology. It can be as simple as printing out the daily readings from the Internet and spending five minutes reading through them every morning or evening. You could get a copy of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a more concise, question and answer formatted book based on the much larger Catechism of the Catholic Church, and read through a couple of questions a day. There are also good resources on-line for learning about the faith through simple, short essays.

Of course, the ultimate way we immerse ourselves in the Word of God is through attentively participating in the Mass on a weekly basis, at the least. Every week, we hear three readings from the Scriptures along with reciting one of the Psalms. Also, many of the prayers that we pray during the Liturgy come directly from the Scriptures. It's not always obvious in the current English translation that this is happening, but the new translation coming out in a couple of years will make these Scriptural links more apparent. By paying attention to the Scripture readings and prayers at Mass, we allow these passages of Scripture to enter into our hearts.

Second, we must allow the Word of God to convert us. Our Lord tells us today in the Gospel, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” If you ever want a quick list of sinful thoughts and actions, Our Lord gives us a pretty good one in this Gospel passage. If we're honest, many of us will look at the sins Our Lord mentions and probably recognize a few from our own lives. We all have areas in our lives that need to be converted.

Whatever those areas in need of conversion, our hearing the Word of God should challenge us to pray for the graces necessary to overcome our sins. As we immerse ourselves in the Truth which has been revealed by Our Lord, it will be like a light shining on our souls showing us where in our lives sin remains. This is where the virtue of humility and the Sacrament of Confession come in. We need to have the humility to admit that we are sinful people in need of God's forgiveness. Likewise, we should be led to ask for forgiveness from others for those times in which our sins affected them, as all our sins impact those around us – there are no “private” sins. Most importantly, we need to resolve with God's grace to avoid committing those sins again, even as we're aware that we might slip into sin again and again. We need to trust in God's grace that we will allow His Word to work on our souls, cleansing us from the attachment to sin.

Remember, we are challenged to be attentive to the Word of God and allow it to convert our lives. May the Scriptures we just heard begin this process in our lives today.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Technology Addiction and the Spiritual Life

I don't think it's an overstatement to say we're surrounded by technology in most of the so-called "developed world". In fact, 'surrounded' might be an understatement in countries like the United States. 'Inundated' might be more accurate and with the technology comes noise, both literally and spiritually, that can and does drown out the voice of God in our lives.

This isn't to say that all technology is bad or demonic or anything like that (though it does seem to be possessed by a demon when it begins to malfunction). Technology has brought great advancements to our health and way of life. The problem comes in when we allow that technology to overwhelm and run our lives.

As much as I enjoy technological advances and having the latest gadget, I've become more concerned about how technology controls our lives. From the alarm clock which wakes us up in the morning, to the cell phone which interrupts our personal conversations, to the computers we use for work, education, and entertainment, technology has a hold on major aspects of our lives.

By overrelying on technology, our attention span, the length of time during which we can focus our attention on one particular person or thing, is diminishing dramatically. Likewise, the incivility and division we see in politics today is greatly influenced by television and other communication technologies that support and encourage that kind of behavior.

This became more clear to me on Saturday as I was listening to an interview program on EWTN Radio called "Faith and Culture". The interviewer, Colleen Carroll Campbell was speaking to Eric Brende, who wrote a book Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, about technology addiction. Mr. Brende and his wife spent 18 months in a community with almost no modern conveniences. No electricity, no indoor plumbing, and a few old-fashioned manual or horse-powered machines to aid in housework or farm work. His point was that our overreliance on modern technology has upset our natural balance, both on an individual level and on a communal level.

At first, I was disagreeing with Mr. Brende, but the more I thought about it, the more I found myself agreeing with him. Why? Let's look at something so ubiquitous as as an alarm clock. Like most animals who are active during the day, we are naturally predisposed to go to sleep when the sun sets and rise when it rises. Since the advent of electric lighting, we are no longer dependent on the Sun to be the major source of light, which allows us to function much later after the Sun has set. This might not be a bad thing on it's face, but it actually works against our natural cycle of rising with the Sun and sleeping once the Sun has set. For many of us, this means that we need an electronic gadget, an alarm clock, to alert us when it's time to rise and face another day.

Again, this isn't to say that technology is bad, and we need to revert to a pre-Industrial Revolution state. Like any tool, technology has its uses. As I was writing this on a Sunday evening, a series of severe thunderstorms were moving through my area. I had advanced warning about these storms due to the satellite, radar, and radio technologies employed by the National Weather Service. Anyone who has ever survived a tornado or hurricane is likely very grateful to the NWS's use of technology to get the warnings out with time to spare.

As a priest, my concern with technology is the effect it has on our spiritual balance, to take it a step further than Mr. Brende. To truly enter into a conversation with God, we need silence, but much of the technology that we employ in our daily lives do a lot to constantly disturb that silence. Cell phones, television, radio, and computers, among other things, provide distraction after distraction that keep us from focusing our attention on what God is saying to us. Instead of taking time for prayer, we surf the Internet, watch TV, listen to the radio , or talk on the phone.

Is the answer getting rid of technology all together? No , but sometimes the monks on "Into Great Silence" seem to have the right idea. The Carthusians live very austere lives, with only a bed, a desk with chair, a wood stove, and a kneeler for prayer in their cells. Most of us are not called to that level of austerity, but we still need to keep technology in its place. Technological advancements are tools that can be very beneficial for our lives, but will seriously affect our well-being if we allow them to control us.

The challenge for us is finding the balance between using technology for our good and allowing technology to control us. If you don't think you're controlled by technology, turn off the TV, computer, and cell phone and see how long you can go without turning one of them on. For most Americans, I would venture to guess that they would not be able to go more than an hour or so with at least the cell phone.

If you're one of the millions of "technology addicted", as I likely am, what do we need to do to overcome that addiction? Our natural, and more importantly spiritual, lives hang in the balance.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

It seems like we always have to make decisions about how we live out our belief in God. We have to make choices about how we act, what we say, and how public do we allow our faith to be. Those choices are pretty easy to make when life is going good, but when any difficulty arises, those choices become more of a challenge for us. Even in the most difficult of times and faced with the most challenging of teachings, we are called to make the decision to be faithful to God.

Our readings today show us two situations in which choices were presented and decisions were made. In the first reading, the Israelites finally arrive in the Promised Land after many years of wandering. One of the first decisions they had to make was whether or not to serve the God who led them through the desert while providing for them and protecting them. It would have been easier to fall back on the religious practices of earlier generations who did not know God, or follow the false gods of the Amorites, neither of which put such a strong demand on their followers. Joshua was unapologetic for his decision, saying “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” and the people of Israel agreed.

Like the Israelites, we have the choice whether or not to serve God the Father. Do we serve Him, even that becomes difficult, or do we follow the cultural “gods” of Consumerism, Materialism, Selfishness and Greed? Just as the Israelites could have followed the gods of the Amorites, who owned the land they were living in, we are constantly challenged by our culture to turn away from God and become self-centered, seeking personal fulfillment and pleasure without consideration of the needs of others.

If we do decide to serve God, we also have the choice of how deeply do we want to follow Our Lord, a choice which was presented to the disciples in today's Gospel. Over the past five weeks, we have been reading from the Gospel of John, hearing Our Lord reveal Himself as the Bread of Life which leads to eternal life. When Jesus proclaimed that they literally had to receive His Body and Blood in order to gain eternal life, the disciples responded, as we see at the beginning of the Gospel passage today, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Many of the disciples couldn't handle what Jesus was teaching, and no longer followed Him.

How do we respond when we encounter an area of Jesus' teaching that we don't understand or find difficult to follow? Our Lord tells us that His words are “Spirit and life,” so we know that everything He says is the Truth that will lead us to eternal life, but that doesn't mean that following His teachings will be easy to do. We're not always going to agree with the Church, but we are still called to follow the teachings of Christ passed down to us through His Church.

When we do come across one of those areas of disagreement, the temptation comes to either ignore the teaching, doing our own thing, or to actively fight against it. We see this especially when looking at public figures who claim to be Catholic while publicly promoting something contrary to the moral precepts that the Church proclaims. This is a spiritually dangerous position to be in, as it makes what we think more important to us than what Our Lord has revealed to us. If we submit to this temptation, we are like the disciples who left Jesus when what He was teaching became too hard to accept.

The real struggle of Christian life is to be able to say with St. Peter, “To where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It's easy to say we agree with the Church's teachings on areas where those around us also agree, but it takes a lot of humility to stand up for those teachings when others might vehemently disagree with the Church's stance. When we submit to the Church's teachings, the focus becomes less about ourselves and more about following Our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we encounter those choices in our lives which challenge us when we follow the Church's teachings, may we be able to say with St. Peter, “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God,” and make the decision to follow our God, the God of Israel and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 17, 2009

7 things I love meme

OK, so AdoroTeDevote tagged me for a meme. I don't know whether to be honored or offended, but either way, she's tagged me, so I should do it.

The rule of the meme is this: Name 7 things that you love. Hmm...I could get into a theological discussion of whether or not you can actually love things, but I'll spare it for now. Anyways, here are the 7 things that I love, in no particular order:

1.Being a priest – I truly love my vocation to the priesthood. To be able to bring Christ to His people in the Sacrifice of the Mass. To be an instrument of God's mercy through the Sacrament of Confession. To be a source of comfort to someone when they're dying, and to be with the family when they are gathered for the funeral of a loved one. I feel so privileged to be able to be a part of God's plan of salvation, serving Him as one of His priests.
2.Jesus – The reason why I'm a priest. I sought ordination not for my own benefit, but to serve Our Lord Jesus Christ as He would have me serve Him. When standing at the altar or administering a Sacrament, I have the great privilege to stand in Persona Christi, to stand in His place. This is a great honor for me, which I am really unworthy to receive. The realization of the honor I have received makes me love Him all the more.
3.The Church – Just as I love Jesus, the head of the Church, I also love His Body. The Church truly is the Body of Christ present on Earth, and exists for one reason: so that we might know how to get to Heaven. How could you not love that?
4.The Pope – Somebody has to keep us in line. Jesus knew that we would need a visible head of the Church, and left us St. Peter and his successors. They weren't always perfect, but they all had the promise by Christ that they would have the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. We can't go wrong trusting in His promise.

Now for the more secular things that I “love”:

5.Electronic Gadgets – I admit that I'm a gadget geek. Whether it's a BlackBerry, a GPS unit in my car, or video game systems, I seem to be always using some electronic gadget. I can live without them, I just choose not to.
6.My car – I know, I know, priests aren't supposed to be attached to personal property, but I really enjoy driving my car. It's just a lot of fun to drive and looks good. I do put over 2000 miles on it in a month, so I guess I probably should enjoy driving it.
7.My family – We don't always get along, and we don't always see eye to eye on things, but I wouldn't trade my family in for anything. My parents have been great supporters throughout the seminary and ordination, and continue to support me in the priesthood.

Who do I want to tag for this meme? I think I'm just going to be lazy on this one and just open it to anyone who wants to do it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Over the past couple of weeks, our readings have focused on the importance of the Eucharist, and this Sunday is no different. We've looked at why the Eucharist is important to us, and why it is important to attend Mass on a regular basis, but the readings today focus on another spiritual benefit to the Eucharist: unity with Our Lord and the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel passage, which is a continuation of the previous Gospel readings from John's Gospel, Jesus tells us that “whoever eats [His] flesh and drinks [His] blood remains in [Him] and [He] in us.” (Jn 6:56) By receiving Holy Communion, Our Lord enters into us, literally, and becomes part of us. At the same time, we are drawn into union with Him and union with Christians throughout the world, unifying us as members of the Body of Christ.

Through our union with Jesus, we become open to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and become more willing to receive the gifts that are present whenever the Holy Spirit is at work. The first reading today shows us one of those gifts: wisdom. Whenever the Scriptures mention Wisdom as a person, such as in the first reading, it is always referring to the work of the Holy Spirit.

This first reading tells us that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are ours for the taking, much like food at a banquet that we've been invited to attend. They're not being withheld from us, nor do we have to spend large amounts of money to receive them. Instead, every Christian is offered these gifts, but we need to have the humility to ask God for them.

If we do ask for the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit, St. Paul tells us that we will have the ability to “live, not as foolish persons but as wise.” (Eph. 5:15) Instead of “continuing in ignorance” of God's will for our lives, we will “try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” (Eph. 5:17) In other words, we will be more open to seeking those things and actions that are good for us and for those around us, and will set aside those aspects of our lives that are harmful to us and our neighbors.

One aspect of our lives that we will better understand if we seek to be wise instead of foolish is the effect of sin on our lives. We live in a culture that at best minimizes sinfulness, and at worst presents sinful actions and desires as normal or even preferable. If we're not open to the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit, it is extremely difficult to discern what aspects of our culture truly are beneficial to us, and what aspects presented to us as good are actually sinful.

I think there's almost a pride in our hearts that we think we can come up with different sins than what St. Paul faced nearly 2000 years ago, but as the passage from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians shows, we still struggle with the same sins as they did back then. The one example St. Paul gives us is one that many struggle with today, and often isn't even looked upon as sinful: getting drunk on alcoholic beverages, such as wine or beer. There are many people who feel that over consumption of alcohol is morally neutral, and may only be a bad idea as it can lead to hangovers and making bad decisions, like driving home while impaired.

St. Paul obviously disagrees that drinking alcohol to excess is morally neutral, so he gives one reason why it's sinful to get drunk while leaving another reason implied. Implied in his admonition not to drink to excess is the gluttony that goes into consuming enough alcohol that would lead to drunkenness. It is always sinful to engage in gluttony, whether food or drink, as we are called to moderation in all things. Consuming the occasional drink, even one or two a night, can be beneficial for our health and well-being, but consuming alcohol to the point of drunkenness is always gluttony.

Secondly, and more importantly, becoming drunk has the tendency to lower one's willingness to refrain from other sinful actions. Just as some might be more willing to express their opinions after a few drinks, actions which may be unthinkable when sober become possible or desirable when drunk. We are then more open to committing sins which will affect us long after the effects of the alcohol has worn off.

As we receive Holy Communion, may be drawn more closely into the Body of Christ. May we also be more open to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit at work within us, allowing that wisdom to aid us in avoiding sinful actions.