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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week I preached off of an outline instead of a full script. Here's the outline for the week:
  • Do we understand what it means to be a prophet?
    • Guy standing with "End is near" sign
    • Prophetic speech
      • Idea that prophesy is telling the future

    • Prophet appears throughout our readings
      • Jeremiah's call
      • St. Paul "prophesying partially"
      • Our Lord "prophet without honor in his native place"

  • 2 purposes in the OT for prophesy
    • Call to conversion
      • Israel kept falling away from God the Father
      • Prophets called them back

    • Point to future coming of Jesus
      • Show fulfillment of covenant
      • "Partial will pass away"
        • Revelation in Jewish Covenant was partial
        • Jesus is the fullness of revelation
          • "The perfect"

  • We are called to be prophets
    • Through baptism we share in Christ's ministry
      • CCC 436: "Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in His threefold office of priest, prophet, and king."

    • What does it look like to be a prophet?
      • Not foretelling the future
      • 2 purposes
        • Call to conversion
          • Need to do this first in our lives
            • Lead others by example

        • Point to Jesus
          • We need to live our lives by following Christ
          • Allow our witness and example to bring others to Him

        • Priest assembly
          • Example of priests = vocations
          • Example of dedicated Christians = more followers of Christ

  • We are all called to be prophets through our baptisms. Are we willing to answer that call?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Vocation Story part 4 - God's 2x4

I often say that I can be very hard-headed. There are all too many times where it's taken a long time for something to sink in, especially if I'm set against it. The idea of discerning a call to the priesthood is one of those things that took a long time to sink in.

With all the involvement in the parish and all my reading and independent studying, the idea of living my faith become more and more important. I wanted to structure my daily life around the practice of the faith. I wanted to avoid sin and grow in holiness. I wanted to develop a fervent prayer life. In short, I wanted to be 100% Catholic, no reservations, no excuses.

When studying the teachings of the Church, it's not long before you're confronted with the concept of submission to God's will. The more I would read and pray, the more I would hear that word: submission. Submit your will to God's will. Discern how God wants you to live your live instead of floundering around on your own.

It sounded good to me, but I also was leery. I started to get an idea of where this might lead. Those little whispers in the back of my mind were still there, and I was still resisting them. I wanted to do God's will, so long as it didn't involve the priesthood.

I discovered very quickly, however, that if you give God a crack in the door, He'll open it all the way. I began to pray for understanding of God's will, and those whispers became more insistent.

Through all this, I was doing a job I enjoyed, but was feeling like it might be a dead-end. As a computer geek, being responsible for multi-millions of dollars worth of servers is a big deal, but I didn't see any way beyond that. I knew I didn't want to be a supervisor, and I wasn't sure remaining an server administrator was what I wanted either. I also felt a tug on my heart that made me think, "Is this it? There has to be more for my life."

One day I finally broke down and asked, "God, what do you want? I want to do your will, and not mine." I feel that God responded to me, not so much in a voice as an echo in my mind, "I want you to be a priest." This is when I often say that God hit me upside the head with a 2x4. The subtle hints didn't work with me, so He had to go with the direct route. In response, I said, "OK, OK, I'll look into it."

I wasn't going to make a commitment at that time. In fact, the first thing I did was search the Internet for vocations websites, and found quite a few. Several diocese had a series of questions as a kind of "quick quiz" on whether or not you might have a vocation. Much to my surprise, and despite my continued denials, many of the questions on those quizzes could be answered in the affirmative.

What were the questions? Things like, "Have you ever found yourself regularly thinking about the priesthood?" and, "Are you reluctant to tell friends and family that you're having these thoughts?" The more I read these vocation discernment web pages and thought about the questions that they were raising, the more the idea became possible.

One of the steps which many of the vocation discernment sites encouraged was to speak to a priest in your parish about the priesthood. I still wasn't ready to come out in the open just yet, so I didn't to mention anything to Fr. Jim. One Sunday, Fr. Jim was on vacation and had a fill-in priest from the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. This priest, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who ran the shrine and housed their headquarters there, was a total stranger, therefore "safe". He didn't know me, I didn't know him, so I figured he'd be a good "first contact".

I caught this priest, Fr. Tony, at the end of Mass, after the usual handshakes and greetings had been exchanged with the Mass attendees. I was very nervous, but Fr. Tony politely listened to my stammered, "I'm thinking about the priesthood." He spoke with me for about 5-10 minutes before he had to return to the sacristy to get ready for the next Mass. His main advice, which I probably should have expected, was that I needed to visit with to Fr. Jim and contact the diocesan vocation director.

It took me a couple of months to muster the courage to follow up on his advice, but after more reading, thinking and praying, I finally got up the courage to ask Fr. Jim about the priesthood. He was very pleased that I was discerning a call to the priesthood, and was more than willing to meet over lunch at the local Chinese restaurant. (As an aside, what is it about priests and Chinese food? I've come to know a lot of priests who would live on Chinese if they could.)

We had a great lunch, with a good conversation about the priesthood. Fr. Jim was able to answer some of my questions and allay some of my concerns. I did wonder what I was getting into when he laughed after I asked him about a typical day in the priesthood. Of course, now I know why that was such an ironic question: there is no typical day in the priesthood. Every day is unique, for better or worse.

An analogy for following God's will is following a path that He has laid out for us, and every so often the markers for that path become completely and totally obvious. During our conversation, I found that God had given me a connection of which I was unaware. Fr. Jim asked me where I was thinking about being a priest, diocesan or religious. I told him that I was leaning towards the diocesan, likely back home in Eastern Montana, the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. At this point, Fr. Jim said, "I know the vocation director there." I was stunned. How could Fr. Jim, a priest from the Diocese of Belleville, 1200 miles from Montana, know the vocation director in Montana? It turns out that Fr. Jim and the vocation director, Fr. Dale, were classmates at Mundelein Seminary.

This was too much of a coincidence. It was obviously a very clear sign that I was on the right track. What are the odds that I would pick the parish whose pastor is a classmate of the vocation director of the diocese I was discerning towards? Fr. Jim did try to convince me to consider remaining in the Diocese of Belleville, but I really felt pulled back to Montana. If I was going to become a priest, I was going to do it at home, and Montana was home.

Following the dinner conversation, I sent off an email to the vocation director expressing my interest in discerning the priesthood for the diocese. This began an email conversation in which I introduced myself and told some of my discernment up to that point, and led to meeting with Fr. Dale in Billings a couple days after Christmas when I was able to be home for a couple of weeks.

Before I got to meet Fr. Dale, I figured now would be a good time to let my parents in on the news. If I was going to drive to Billings, using one of their cars, I should probably let them know in advance what it's going to be about. Here's how I introduced the topic to them: "I'm kinda, possibly, thinking about considering looking into (etc., etc., etc. I think I added about 2 minutes worth of disclaimers.) going into the priesthood." Yeah, I wasn't going to make a firm commitment to my parents. Not yet.

Well, my dad laughed and my mom said, "We were wondering when you were going to tell us." Wait? When I was going to tell you? I just figured it out for myself, and you already knew? Why didn't you tell me? They had pretty much figured it out with my becoming active in the Church, and thought that it was just a matter of time.

With that load of my shoulders, I began to wait impatiently for Christmas vacation, which finally arrived. During the meeting with Fr. Dale, he gave me the paperwork for applying to both the diocese and Mount Angel Seminary. I also took the psychological exams required while in Billings, so this was getting serious. I was on the way to entering the seminary, and I thought it might even be that coming fall, the Fall of 2000.

At this point, my procrastination and reluctance started kicking in. I had the paperwork, I knew what I needed to do to get into the seminary, and I was unwilling to do it. When I arrived back in Illinois, I threw the paperwork on a counter in my apartment and let it sit. I wasn't going to rush into things, besides I still had 6 months to fill it out.

Shortly after my Christmas vacation, I found out through the Scott AFB base chapel, where I was still attending daily Mass, that the Archdiocese for the Military Services was sponsoring a discernment retreat in Washington, DC, at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America. The chaplain, knowing that I was in the discernment process, encouraged me to consider attending., and I agreed. I figured that if nothing else, I would get a nice weekend in Washington, DC, and get to see the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

I did get to see the National Shrine, and fell in love with it, but it also turned out to be a great opportunity for prayer and reflection on the priesthood, and gave me much to think about in my discernment. It also introduced me to the Liturgy of the Hours for the first time, something which has become a vital part of my prayer life.

I'd like to say that the retreat gave me a shot of excitement about my vocation, and that I filled out my paperwork immediately upon returning, but that wasn't the case. I did get some of it filled out, and got a good start on collecting the paperwork I needed. Unfortunately, the excitement wained as I returned to my usual routines of daily life, and the paperwork collected dust once again.

That dust remained pretty much undisturbed, except for the occasional cleaning, until June. One Saturday in early June, I got a call from Fr. Dale: "I haven't heard from you in a while. Are you still thinking about going this Fall?" I hemmed and hawed, and came up with every excuse, "I have loans, I need to think about this more," and so on. Before we finished, Fr. Dale encouraged me to think and pray about it more. I promised I would and got off the phone.

The next morning happened to be Pentecost Sunday, as Easter was late in the year 2000, and I got up and went to Mass as had become my custom. It was a beautiful late Spring day, just slightly warm, and the church was full as usual. During Mass, I felt that I had a Pentecost moment. No, not speaking in tongues or flames descending on my head, but I felt the Holy Spirit move me to get going on everything I needed for the seminary now. Not next year, not next week, now. I still had time to apply to the seminary, and I needed to enter that Fall.

Before I even got back to my apartment, I called Fr. Dale and left a message that I was going to finish up the paperwork. I told him through the message that the seminary would receive it by the end of the week, even if I had to pay for it to be sent overnight.

If you've ever seen the applications for many diocese and seminaries, they're not small, quick applications. The diocesan application was only 4 pages long, but required a number of longer essays. The seminary application was much longer, closer to 30 pages, and required even more essays, not to mention supporting documentation like a copy of the baptismal record. Yet, with all the paperwork needed, I was able to complete the applications and get them in the mail in time for the application deadline.

Fr. Dale had assured me that I was going to get in, but it was still nerve wracking waiting for word back from the seminary. Finally, after a couple of weeks, a large envelope from Mount Angel Seminary arrived in the mail. The envelope contained an acceptance letter stating that I had been accepted for the 2000-2001 college freshmen class. It also contained preparation instructions as well as where and when to arrive. I was going to seminary, 2000 miles away and a whole new way of life.

Continue to Part 5 - Seminary Discernment (Coming sooner than part 4 did!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

For those who have never experienced a blizzard, here's a small taste of ours.
First run with Twitvid

Playing with Twitvid

Over the last couple of days, I've been playing with Twitvid on my BlackBerry. It's a very impressive package: make a video, write a short tweet to describe it, and it'll post it to Twitter. Right now I'm just playing, but I can see some great possibilities for spreading the Gospel through short, simple videos. The Pope did ask us to use the Internet for that purpose, after all.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

It seems like we are all on a never-ending search for happiness and contentment, yet it also seems that we never truly find the key to a joyful life. We might find brief periods of happiness in a relationship with others, in some possession, or in a hobby or other activity that we enjoy, but that happiness always seems to be fleeting and brief.

With all our searching, we never seem to think that following Our Lord could ever bring us any joy. In fact, the stereotypical image of a Christian who devoutly follows Jesus is someone who is very dour and bitter, almost austere in their life. Joy seems to be the last thing on their minds, yet the readings today bring us a different picture. They show us that we live truly joyful lives when we use the gifts of the Spirit that we have been given by God.

Today's passage from St. John's Gospel reminds us of the first miracle that Our Lord performed when he began his earthly ministry. It wasn't a healing, or raising someone from the dead, or casting a demon out of someone. Instead, it might seem to have occurred at an insignificant event: running out of wine at a wedding. Our Lord used this occasion to show the joy God our Father wishes to bestow on us by not only producing some wine to continue the party, but producing an astounding quantity of the best wine.

Again, it might seem strange to us that God wants to bestow joy upon us, especially when it seems like our lives are one difficulty after another, but look at the first reading. The description of a newly-freed Israel is one of the joy felt by newlyweds, the buoyant, almost giddy feelings that accompany an important, joyful event in our lives, such as a wedding. The language isn't one of sorrow and pity, but of rejoicing: "as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you." (Isaiah 62:5)

This is the joy that will come to us when we follow the spiritual life and exercise the gifts that we have been given by the Holy Spirit. Yes, this once again might be hard to believe, but the Holy Spirit has given each of us gifts that are for the benefit of ourselves and those we meet every day. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, and us, "to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit," (1 Cor 12:7) following up with a list of some of the gifts which the Holy Spirit bestows upon us. This isn't a complete list by any stretch of the imagination, but helps us to understand the Holy Spirit has given us gifts, "distributing them individually to each person as He wishes." (1 Cor 12:11)

The difficulty we face when practicing the gifts we've been given comes when we're trying to figure out what they are in the first place. For some, the gifts are quite obvious, such as someone with a beautiful singing voice or a natural talent with musical instruments. Most of us, however, have to discern where those gifts lie and figure out how best to exercise them. In most cases, we need to work with those gifts once we've figured out what they are, developing our understanding of the gift and improving our familiarity with it.

When we do exercise the gifts we have been given, we can find a great joy in seeing those gifts used successfully. This might not happen at first, and may take many years to fully develop, but when we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the honor of God and to help our neighbors, we can truly find the joy that we are searching for. This joy far exceeds the happiness that we can ever receive through the things of this world. This joy is but a small taste of the joy that we will experience in the next life when we are in perfect union with our Heavenly Father.

In our search for happiness on Earth, may we seek the true joy that comes from finding and using the gifts of the Holy Spirit that reside within us.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

The prophet Isaiah in today's first reading gives the Israelite people a message of great hope. Instead of being a small nation which has been regularly conquered and stepped upon, one day they would be mighty people that all the nations of the world would come to honor and exult. This was a prophesy of great hope for a downtrodden people, one that would be fulfilled in a way they never expected.

The magi who came to find Jesus were wise men, learned men who were familiar with the stars in the sky and whose job it was to look for signs in the stars. They also would have likely been familiar with the Jewish longing for a Messiah, and would have recognized immediately that the star was leading them towards the land of the Jewish people. It would have been no surprise to them that the star was leading them towards that promised Messiah, the long awaited King of the Jews.

What would be a surprise for the Jewish readers of St. Matthew's Gospel is the willingness of these Gentiles to make the journey from Persia, in modern-day Iran. Here is the first sign of the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophesy. These magi even brought two of the gifts mentioned in the prophesy: gold and frankincense. The visit of the magi were a sign to the Jewish followers of Our Lord that the Gospel message wasn't reserved to Jews alone, but to all the nations of the world. St. Paul tells us that the blessings to be bestowed on all nations, as promised by Isaiah, come through our sharing in the promised salvation of Christ.

Notice how Our Heavenly Father led the magi to Our Lord. Their occupation was to observe the night sky for any significant phenomena. God used their roles as astrologers who could interpret the signs in the sky to lead them to Our Lord. Through their work, they were drawn to Our Lord.

On our part, God is still calling us through our occupations to follow Him. In fact, He is constantly calling us to follow Him in our daily lives, every moment of every day. We just need to be open to the signs. Sometimes a sign is a coincidental occurrence that allows to act on His grace. Occasionally, it's a prompting that helps us to make a major decision in our lives that can be used to better serve Him and His people. No matter how these signs appear, we need to be aware of how He is working in our lives.

Once we are aware of God's call in our lives, are we willing to respond as the magi did? They knew that the King of the Jews proclaimed by the star was a newborn, and yet they were willing to travel long distances to find and honor Him. They didn't bring simple gifts to lay at His feet, but gave Our Lord the best gifts they could.

Are we going to allow our gifts to be used in the service of God, as the magi did, or are we going to give as little of ourselves as we can? We may not have to travel as far or with as much difficulty as the magi faced, but we still need the same commitment to Our Lord. Instead of giving a little time and effort, say once a week to attend Mass, we need to be willing to commit our entire lives and everything we have and are to follow Jesus and proclaim His Gospel to the whole world.

This is the challenge of the Christian life. It's one thing to say we're Christians, it's something completely different to live as Christ commands. When we pay homage to Our Lord and lay our gifts at His feet, as the magi did, He will use us in a way that will bring us greater joy than we can ever imagine. As the star called the magi to follow, Our Lord calls us to follow Him every day. May we hear His call and answer.