Category Archives: Deacon Tom’s homilies

Find encouragement and challenge from Deacon Tom Fox’s homilies.

#1 Gift Everyone Wants

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Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

In this past weekend’s Gospel, the rich man lives only for himself. It is not mentioned that he is evil in any other way. He lives in luxury and dines sumptuously each day. He is so absorbed in satisfying himself that he doesn’t even notice Lazarus starving at his door. The Gospel doesn’t say that Lazarus asked the rich man for anything, he just sat at his door unnoticed. The self indulgence of the rich man will have eternal consequences.

Was Lazarus being unjust by sitting at the door of the rich man?

The rich man had an abundance of something Lazarus needed, food. Lazarus longed just for the scraps that fell from his table. I recently heard a conversation on the radio in which the host and his guests were talking about how troublesome beggars are. They said, “There should be a law against them. Why can’t they just find a job?”

It might be convenient if we did not have to be bothered with such things, but life is more complicated than that. The point of this Gospel is that, we cannot just live for ourselves. We must be aware of the needs of others, and this is not only about food and shelter and clothing. We all have something that someone else needs and we will never develop spiritually until we share from what we have been given.

What is needed for our own happiness?

First of all we must give God His due, not because He needs it, but because it is necessary for our own happiness. We are created to be in a charitable relationship with God and each other. There will always be disorder in our lives until we love the Lord Our God with all our mind, heart soul and strength. When we are connected to God by faith and in prayer He will guide us to make right choices.

No matter whether we are rich or poor we all have 24 hours each day and sometimes the best gift we can share is our time. First of all we must spend time in prayer each day to be connected to God and His guidance. After God, comes the people who are most important to you; your spouse, your children, parents, family members. We are obliged to share quality time with the people who depend on us. Lack of quality time destroys relationships.

Why are our gifts are so important?

Our faith community also needs for us to share from our time, talent and treasure. In baptism, we all have been given gifts by God which can only be discovered by being formed in our faith and participating in our faith community. These gifts are not for our own use only, but are meant to build up the Body of Christ, which is His Church. If we fail to contribute to our faith community in a significant way we are stifling our spiritual growth as well as that of our faith community.

One of the greatest gifts we have been given is the gift of faith because it makes it possible for us to have an intimate, personal relationship with God. This gift is only of benefit to us if we develop it, live it and share it. As our faith transforms us, we are expected to be an instrument of transformation for society. St. John Chrysostom once said: “There is no one colder than a Christian who is uninterested in the salvation of others.” When we stand before God, none of us will have an excuse for not sharing from what we have received.

Why can’t we do what we have always done?

It is natural for us to want to live just for ourselves like the rich man in the Gospel, even if we aren’t rich. However, God entered into the world in the person of Jesus Christ to radically change the possibilities of life on earth. That’s why we all must be converted to a new way of thinking and living by accepting the truths of the Gospel and turning away from sin. This conversion is possible only if it is the desire of our hearts and we ask God for the grace to make the changes we know we must make. Conversion is a daily process that is necessary for us so that we can grow in virtue and become spiritually mature.

Conversion is not only necessary for our salvation, it is also necessary for true happiness and peace right now. The Lord has a great plan for us and He has given us His Church to help us live that plan. There is great joy in drawing close to God and believing, living and sharing the truths He has revealed. After all, it is our purpose for being on this earth. Faith is a gift from God, but believing is a choice.

We enjoy sharing the gift of God with others and one of the special ways that the Pilgrim Center of Hope can achieve this is through our weekly television and radio series, Catholicism Live! Tune-in every Tuesday from 11 – 12 pm CST. You can watch us on Catholic Television of San Antonio via Time Warner Cable channel 15 or via the CTSA Facebook Page! Submit your questions and comments during the show on Facebook or anytime at CatholicismLive.com. We pray that all people accept the gift of faith and believe.

Finding True Happiness

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18th Sunday in Cycle C

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“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Mt 6:21

Where have you placed your heart?

The readings today point out the futility of putting the good things of the world before the good things of God. Much of what the world has to offer is good, but if it is not placed at the service of the kingdom of God it can cause disorder and confusion.

Jesus Christ came into the world to show us how to live in relationship with our Heavenly Father. He came not to do his own will, but the will of the One who sent him. Our vocation, our happiness is realized in our faithfulness to God’s will as He has revealed it through the Church and the Scriptures. We cannot just do what we want; we must be faithful to His plan.

Where do we turn?

When we read the lives of the saints, we see what God’s plan for humanity looks like. Although their lives were different, they all, with the help of God’s grace, were able to overcome the temptations of the world and live a life close to God which brought them great joy and peace even under extreme difficulty. God’s plan for us is the same.

“St. Francis Xavier, in the midst of his labors in India for the glory of Jesus Christ, was so replenished with divine consolations they he exclaimed: “Enough, O Lord, enough.” Where, I ask, has any lover of this world been found so satisfied with the possessions of worldly goods as to say: Enough O world, enough; no more riches, no more honors, no more applause, no more pleasures? Ah no, worldlings are constantly seeking after higher honors, greater riches, and new delights; but the more they have them, the less are their desires satisfied, and the greater their disquietude.” St. Alphonsus Liguori

All of the saints have discovered their true happiness in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the plan for all humanity without exception, and yet we find it so difficult to surrender to God and put our total trust in him. Of course we have our careers but we should discover them in prayer with the help of God’s grace.

The question for each of us is, do we believe God has a plan for us personally? If we do not believe that, we will not ask for His help and we will never become completely fulfilled. If we do believe that, then we must follow the proven path to discover His plan.

So what is His plan?

We must love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. There can be nothing more important in our life than our relationship with God, and this relationship depends upon our daily commitment to prayer and faithfulness to the Gospel. If we love God above everything else then we will be able to love ourselves and our neighbors, which demands self-denial on our part and a generous use of the gifts God has given us. Because this life of self-denial and generosity does not come natural for us, Our Lord has given us the Church and the Sacraments as the source of grace we need to live a supernatural life – beyond our human tendencies. We can only be faithful to His plan with His help.

Are you doing it all on your own?

Prayer must be a priority. In his booklet, “Into the Breach“, which Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix wrote as a challenge for men to become spiritual leaders, he says, “Until you realize that prayer is the most important thing in your life, you will never have time for prayer.”

A commitment to prayer is necessary to discover and live the great plan God has for us. It is important for husbands and wives to pray together so that Christ can be the center of their marriage and for parents to pray with their children daily. Like the saints we must discover the profound gift that God has given us in the Holy Mass and prepare ourselves to properly receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ who loves us so much that he gives us himself in this Holy Sacrament. We should receive the sacrament of reconciliation frequently, even monthly because we need this encounter with Jesus to help us overcome sin and grow in virtue. We also must be generous with what God has given us and participate in the life of our faith community. In the Church we have everything we need to remain close to Christ, but we must make it our priority; if we do not we will not be able to overcome the temptations of the world.

Living out your faith takes practice and willingness to allow God to help you. There are many resources out there to help you on your faith journey. Tune-in to “Catholicism Live!” every Wednesday from 8-9 pm CST, this weekly show is brought to you by our non-profit The Pilgrim Center of Hope to help you keep your faith alive! Visit CatholicismLive.com to listen to past episodes or see what topics we will cover this month.

Burning Bridges: A good thing?

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13th Sunday in Cycle C

Who do we follow?

When Elisha decided to follow Elija he went back and killed the oxen and burned the plowing equipment that supported his previous occupation. He burned his bridges, so to speak, so that he would not be distracted from his new calling. We are all called to follow Christ without reservation.

What is it that we need to burn?

In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians he says:

“For the flesh has desires against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. These are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.”

Jesus Christ came into the world to show us how to live in relationship with our Heavenly Father. He came not to do his own will, but the will of the One who sent him. Our vocation, our happiness is realized in our faithfulness to God’s will, as He has revealed it through the Church and the Scriptures. We cannot just do what we want; we must be faithful to His plan.

So, what is His plan?

We must love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. There can be nothing more important in our life than our relationship with God, and this relationship depends upon our daily commitment to prayer and faithfulness to the Gospel.

If we love God above everything else then we will be able to love our selves and our neighbors, which demands self-denial on our part and a generous use of the gifts God has given us. Because this life of self-denial and generosity does not come natural for us, Our Lord has given us the Church and the Sacraments as the source of grace we need to live a supernatural life – beyond our human tendencies. We can only be faithful to His plan with His help.

If we would have the humility to learn from Biblical history, human history and our personal history, it should be obvious that when we insist on doing things our own way with no regard for the will of God, we end up experiencing personal and social unhappiness, confusion and hopelessness.

What’s going on today?

Atheism is growing faster than ever before and we have allowed that influence to remove prayer from our public schools and public assemblies and any reference to God or use of Christian symbols is often treated as a criminal act. The most dangerous place on this earth is the mother’s womb because that is where most life is intentionally and legally terminated and there is little mention of the suffering of those who have made the choice to abort a baby.

The entertainment industry and the media have held up sexual gratification as a necessary condition for happiness and our secular educational system and our government have made an all out effort to push the homosexual agenda and to re-define marriage, rejecting God’s own definition of marriage in Holy Scripture.

What can we do?

This country was founded on Christian principles which are now being threatened by our government. We must pray for the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, for the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman as defined by God, and for religious freedom from government intervention that violates our rights to fulfill our God given mission to serve Him and His people and for just immigration reform.

That is why for the last five years the bishops of the United States have asked Catholics to recognize June 21st through July 4th as the fortnight of religious freedom. A call to prayer and discussion of this important issue.

What did Jesus know?

In the Gospel, Jesus is approached by those who want to follow him, but they have excuses why they cannot follow him “now”. There is no convenient time to follow Jesus; the time for all of us to follow him is now. He says: “No one who sets his hands to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”  We cannot be Jesus’ followers and look back to living our life according to our own will, by just doing what we want.

Jesus of course knew the temptations we would be confronted with when he said, “If you are to be my disciple you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” If we allow our appetites and desires to control our lives, we will not be able to discover and live the great plan God has for us.

What do we pray for?

As Christians, we must believe that our happiness can only reach its potential in a faithful relationship with Jesus Christ and we must pray for the leadership of our great country. Prayer is vital to all of God’s work. Here at the Pilgrim Center of Hope, we have dedicated Prayer Intercessors who generously pray for our mission in Catholic evangelization. Each Intercessor receives a monthly letter informing him or her of this apostolate’s urgent needs, concerns, and blessings. We invite you to become a Prayer Intercessor, so that we can be united in prayer for each other and the whole world.

What should we eat?

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On the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

bread-food-healthy-breakfastIn today’s Gospel, Jesus multiplies the fishes and loaves. When the apostles ask Jesus to dismiss the crowds so that they can get something to eat he tells them, “Give them some food yourselves.” He knows what he is going to do, but he wants his apostles to be involved in what is about to happen.

This miracle of Our Lord’s providence often reminds me of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer; “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is not only about bread, it is about all that we need to sustain our life in Him.

In another place he says, “Do not worry and say, what are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear? All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these will be given you.” The most important part of our relationship with God is our total trust in Him. There are a multitude of Scriptures where Jesus says such things as,

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest,”
“Do not be afraid,”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,”
“My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you;” and so many more.

These are not empty words. These words are for anyone who will receive them in humility. If we allow the words of Jesus to touch our hearts, they can transform us from sadness to joy. It is a response to the promises of Jesus that creates saints and even martyrs.

It was a response to the promises of Jesus that inspired a woman I visited in the hospital many years ago, to say that she thanked God for the cancer that was bringing an end to her life because it helped save her soul. In her illness, she turned to God and the Church and found peace in her preparation for death.

Jesus tells us, he is the Way, the Truth and the Life because he is the only answer to that which we need the most. Perhaps the most important words of Jesus which we must believe is when he said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

The mission of Jesus Christ was to be obedient to the will of the Father and to give himself to us. He gave us himself when he was born of the Virgin Mary; he gave us himself when he died on the cross, and he continues to give us himself in the Holy Eucharist. He loves us so much that he longs for us to receive him in this holy sacrament.

A couple weeks ago, I assisted at a Mass for children who were receiving their first Holy Communion. When the child comes forward to receive the Lord for the first time the whole family comes forward with him or her. I was surprised that almost half of the family members that came forward did not receive Communion, but a blessing instead.

I believe the most urgent message of evangelization to the Catholic community is that the Holy Mass is the most important prayer we can pray because the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are made present to us by the power of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the priest who presides and represents Christ himself.offering

Saints have been privileged to witness the presence of the heavenly hosts as Mass is being celebrated. We may not see them, but we will be surrounded by angels and saints during the consecration as bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. What will you do today that will be more important than what we are doing right now? What is more important than receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ?

Of course, Our Lord wants us to be prepared to receive him. First, we must truly believe that we are not just receiving bread and wine, but we are in reality receiving his body and blood. He also wants us to be free of serious sin, which is an obstacle to his love. For this reason he has given us the sacrament of reconciliation in which Jesus himself forgives our sins through his minister the priest. Sin weighs us down and causes us to be unhappy if we do not use the means that God has given us to be reconciled to him.

If you know of anyone who has left the Church because they are divorced and remarried civilly, encourage them to speak with their local pastor. Most marriages can be con-validated. There is nothing that should separate us from this wonderful gift from God if we have the humility to seek His help through the Church. You can learn more about gifts of Catholicism through our weekly series Catholicism Live!. Visit our website for more information or to listen to previous episodes.

Authentic Christianity

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They did not tell people that God would make things better for them in this life; the focus was on eternal life, the salvation of their souls. As we know, some disciples gave up everything to be in the company of the Apostles and follow the “New Way” of being in relationship with God. Many disciples were persecuted and some were martyred.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles Peter and Paul,
“…strengthened the spirits of the disciples
and exhorted them to persevere in the faith saying,

‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to
enter the Kingdom of God.’”

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This message from Peter and Paul was not only for the Christians of the early Church, it is also for us today.

Are we willing to make the sacrifices that are necessary in order to be faithful to the Gospel?

Jesus himself tells us we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. We cannot allow our appetites and desires to dominate our life. If we live only for our self, we close our self off to the graces God wishes to give us and are destined for unhappiness. If our lives are not ordered to God, they are disordered.

What are some of the hardships you have endured? What is your most difficult trial?

No matter how bad we had it on our worst day, there will always be others who will have had it much worse and yet experience great joy. Others will allow their trials to overwhelm them. They continue to look at their problems and in their imagination they become bigger than reality, bitter and depressed.

The challenge is to experience our hardships in the light of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. If we unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ it becomes redemptive for us, and others as well. Not only that, Christ also lessens the weight of our burdens just as he promises. Hardships are necessary because they help us to become dependent upon Jesus Christ; to discover “his strength in our weakness.” There are some people who would never have turned to Christ except for their hardships.

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you,
so you also should love one another.”

What is the desire of your heart?

When Jesus tells us we must love one another, he makes it a new commandment because he says we must one another as he has loved us. In other words, we must love with a supernatural, sacrificial love. It is only possible to love in a supernatural way, if we love God first above everything else, because He is the source of all love and everything that is good. If God is our first love it will be possible for us to reach our potential in loving ourselves and others.

We can only love as Christ has loved us if that is the desire of our heart. If that is our desire, we will ask for the grace to be faithful to what has been revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We will make a commitment to pray every day, to live the sacramental life and to continue to be formed in the Faith.

What is your destiny?

God has great plans for all of us that require us to surrender our will to His will. In His will we experience unconditional love and mercy which lead to happiness now and forever. If our will is in opposition to His will we are destined for unhappiness.

Lord, give us the grace to put our total trust in you so that you may be our hope in adversity and we may be victorious in our struggles.

To learn more about your Catholic faith, tune into Catholicism Live! It is a weekly series connecting issues of the faith and Church teachings to daily life. Visit CatholicismLive.com to see our upcoming topics.

Our Weakness. His Strength.

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Our Weakness. His Strength.

Throughout salvation history, God has chosen to accomplish great things through men and women whom he calls into his service beginning with Abraham. In today’s first reading God calls Moses to lead the Chosen people out of their slavery in Egypt. To get Moses’ attention God speaks from a burning bush and reveals his name as “I am who am.” Moses is speaking with the Almighty, He who is without beginning or end and he must take off his shoes in His presence.

Weakness

In the next chapter of Exodus, we will see that even though Moses has heard the voice of God and is given miraculous powers, he still doubts his ability to carry out the mission God has given him. He was focused on his own weakness instead of the power of God.
Especially, in matters of faith, we can be like that.

In baptism, we received the gifts of faith, hope and charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, we all start out equal as children of God. We become members of His body, which is the Church, and in this Church we have every means to grow in our faith and discover the gifts that God has given us. Which will be necessary for our vocation and for the building up of the Body of Christ. God expects that the gifts He has given us will bear fruit, but we can stifle those gifts by just living for ourselves and whatever makes us comfortable.

Planted

This brings us to the Gospel and the parable of the fig tree. The purpose of the fig tree is to bear fruit. The owner of the tree wants to cut it down because it does not produce fruit, but the vine dresser asks for more time to cultivate the tree hoping that it will produce fruit. Jesus is the patient vine dresser and we all are fig trees in this parable. In baptism, we are planted in the kingdom of God through water and the Holy Spirit. We receive equally everything we need to come into full maturity and produce fruit according to God’s plan for us. Through the Eucharist and Confirmation, we receive nourishment to sustain us. We are pruned through the sacrament of reconciliation and the sacrifices and reparations that make up our life’s experiences.

Nourished

No matter what our career is, our most important purpose is to produce fruit for the kingdom of God and for this we all have an equal opportunity. Our fruitfulness depends upon our own desire to be faithful to what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We cannot produce fruit on our own; we must be connected to God. By having a personal relationship with Him by daily prayer, reading the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, living the sacramental life, and being involved in our faith community.

Fruitful

This is where we discover and use the gifts God has given us and by continuing to be formed in the faith. When we live our lives close to God in this way, we become witnesses of His presence so that others might come to believe in Him. God’s only plan for the salvation of the world is that those who believe in Him will live and share their faith, so that others will come to believe in Him.

Like Moses, we may not feel adequate to play a role in God’s plan of salvation, but like Moses we must say yes anyway, take our eyes off ourselves, keep focused on God and allow him to work through us. It is only in God that we will find the strength we need to carry us through the painful circumstances of our lives and the grace that will enable us to make the difficult choices we know we must make.

This is when our faith truly bears fruit, so that we can experience the peace and hope that only Christ can give! Are you seeking to learn more and grow in your faith? Tune in to Catholicism Live to hear more on Wednesday evenings from 8-9pm on CTSA Channel 15 and on the Guadalupe Radio Network 89.7 FM or grnonline.com! More information can also be found on our website. PilgrimCenterOfHope.org

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“The Calling of Peter and Andrew”, Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255 – 1318)

 

Why are the first two readings relevant to Sunday’s Gospel? They speak of the need for conversion and the attachment to things of God instead of the things of this world, which will pass away. We all must make choices that not only affect our lives, but also the lives of others. If we only live for ourselves and what the world has to offer we are destined for sadness and we will have a negative impact on our families and on the Body of Christ.

In the Gospel we see Jesus call the first Apostles. What compelled Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to immediately leave everything and follow Jesus? They were already disciples of John the Baptist who was preparing the way for the Lord and they were prayerful men looking for the Messiah who was to come. They had set their hearts on something greater than what the world had to offer them. They were given the grace to see that in Jesus the longing of their hearts would satisfied.

The question to each one of us is; on what have we set our hearts? What is most important in our lives? Of course there are a lot of things that are very important, but what is most important for us as Christians? As the Lord commands us, we must love the Lord our God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength and our neighbor as our self. This is what is most fundamental and affects all our relationships, especially with family.

Because of our fallen nature, we have a tendency make our needs and wants our priority, which is destructive. Jesus says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk 8:35-36). In other words, when our relationship with God is our priority we are not only destined for eternal life, we also have the possibility of reaching our potential for happiness in this life.

Of course this demands an effort on our part. “We must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ.” We can’t just do everything we want to do. We cannot allow our appetites and desires to control our lives. To be a Christian is not a casual thing. If we are truly Christian we cannot be attached to the things of this world. Certainly we must plan for our future and that of our loved ones, but only by being good stewards of what Our Lord has given us. We must remember that all good things come from God and He expects us to be generous with what we have received from Him as he is generous with us. Our resources are important, but they are not as important as our dependence on God, which is the fruit of our conversion and a desire to fulfill his will in our lives. Even those who have amassed great material wealth are not secure from the tribulations of this life. During our time on this earth, Our Lord expects things from us that we can only accomplish with the help of his grace which he makes available to us through the Sacraments of our Church. Our only true security is a complete trust in God which is a consequence of faithful discipleship.

Peter, Andrew, James, and John embraced the message of John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Lord through a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So when Jesus said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel,” they immediately followed him. Because they put their total trust in Jesus, they became the first Apostles and the foundation of his Church.

We are not called to be Apostles, but we are called to be faithful disciples, which require us to make the Kingdom of God our priority. We received our call in baptism when we received the gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That is why a child at an early age may think that God has a special plan for them. I have heard priests say that even as early as age four they believed they were called to the priesthood. This is why parents and godparents should encourage children to think about their relationship with God and the possibility of the religious life.

At a pilgrimage reunion a few months ago one of the pilgrims said that when he was sharing his experience with his family he noticed that his grandson was showing a lot of interest. He felt the notion to ask him if he ever thought about being a priest. He said he had not, but now that it was mentioned to him he would. We just need to plant the seed and let God do the rest. There may be girls and boys among your family or friends for which God has a special vocation that will help them to find great happiness in this life and for all eternity as they respond to his call. Maybe they just need your invitation.

Our readings today are about conversion and discipleship, both of which are necessary for real happiness in this life and for all eternity. The path is the same for us as it has been through the ages; faithfulness to what God has revealed through the Church and the Scriptures, daily prayer, living the sacramental life, and continuing to grow in the Faith by being good stewards of our time, talent and treasure. Only in God can we find real and lasting happiness and peace.

Becoming Fully Human – a Sign of Contradiction

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“Presentation At the Temple” by Andrea Mantegna, c. 1455 “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign of contradiction (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34)

In today’s first reading we see that Jeremiah regrets his call to be a prophet because it has caused him so much anguish. And yet, when he decides he will no longer be the Lord’s messenger, he discovers he cannot hold the message within himself. He has a burning desire to speak the Lord’s name. It is not possible to truly love God and not be His servant.

In the second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Romans not to be conformed to the ways of the world, but to be converted to a new way of thinking and living in relationship with God. Like Jeremiah, it is in their desire to do the will of God that they will discover the purpose of their lives.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer, die and be raised from the dead. In the previous text, Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But now, using his own logic, he rebukes Jesus because he said he must suffer and die. Jesus tells Peter he is an obstacle to the plan of God because he is only thinking as a man. After this encounter with Peter, Jesus tells his disciples what is necessary to follow him. Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Those are the perpetual conditions for faithfulness to God; from Abraham, to Jeremiah, to St. Paul, to you and me and everyone in between and forever. Those of the Old Testament would not have understood about the cross, but they did understand about denying themselves and placing the will of God first.

Of course it is Jesus himself who defines what carrying the cross means. Jesus, truly God and truly man in obedience, submits his will to the will of the Father. Jesus, the Word of God, who participated in creation, allows lowly creatures to humiliate, torture, and crucify him for the sake of the salvation of humanity. Jesus proves the wisdom of God is beyond our comprehension and that His ways are not our ways. Nevertheless, he expects the wisdom of God to transform us.

As St. Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians, “The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed to ruin, but to those of us who are experiencing salvation it is the power of God.”

It is for this reason that Jesus makes the cross the condition of discipleship. It is under the weight of the cross; our trials, afflictions and difficulties in this life; that we truly recognize that we need the Lord’s help. Our trials are an opportunity to draw close to God and receive the grace that will sustain us. Our challenge is to not look so much at ourselves and our trials, but to focus on Christ.

The more we look at our suffering, the bigger it becomes and our imagination magnifies it beyond reality. We can spend many anxious moments worry about things that never happen, which reflects our lack of trust in God. In our prayer we may not receive every thing we want, but we will receive what we need; that is a promise from Our Lord. It is a beautiful thing to discover that suffering is not just meaningless pain, but that it has great value in God’s plan and is redemptive.

A few years ago I visited a woman in the hospital who had terminal cancer. Even though she was in much pain in the advanced stages of her illness, she thanked God for her cancer because she said it helped to save her soul. Her illness gave her time to assess the direction of her life and to draw close to God.

The suffering we experience is not only for our purification, but for the Body of Christ. Again St. Paul gives us his insight. In his letter to the Colossians, he says. “Even now I find joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” Christ’s suffering was perfect and the means of salvation for all humanity, but his suffering was not complete in the fact that he continues to suffer in his body; the members of his Church. And when we unite our sufferings with his they become redemptive.

Of course discipleship is not only about suffering. It is about discovering God’s great plan for us so that we can reach our highest potential for happiness in this life. We do that by not just living for ourselves. Our vocation is not about us. It’s about entering into a personal relationship with God which allows us to discover our gifts and His plan in which we will use those gifts. That requires that every day we spend some time with God. We all have twenty-four hours each day and the way we spend that time says a great deal about our relationship with God.

If we are to become spiritually mature we must frequently deny ourselves. We cannot eat, drink, work, sleep or do anything to excess without harming ourselves physically, spiritually and relationally. When we live only to please ourselves we are an obstacle to God’s plan and to our own happiness.

Every vocation, religious, married or single, finds its beginning and end in God and depends on the grace which He offers us in abundance through the Church and her sacraments. No matter who we are, how old we are or what we have done, we can become a faithful disciple of the Lord because of his goodness and grace, by making a firm decision to believe what he has revealed through the Scriptures and the Church and to follow him as Our Lord. We begin with the sacrament of reconciliation and make a commitment to pray daily and read the Scriptures, make an effort to know and love Jesus, continue to be formed in the faith and to share your faith with others in word and service, and make every effort to overcome sin and grow in virtue.

St. Irenaeus, a disciple of St. Polycarp who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist once said, “The glory of God is man fully human.” We become fully human, fully alive when we deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life!

Homily for SS. Peter and Paul, Apostles

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Peter-Paul

We celebrate this feast of Saints Peter and Paul because they were the two greatest leaders of the early church and heroic witnesses of what they believed.

Paul’s conversion is the most remarkable in the New Testament. He was a zealot of Judaism and persecuted the Church – trying to destroy it. One day the Lord’s presence knocked him to the ground and changed his life forever. It was Jesus Christ Himself who taught the Christian faith to Paul and used his zeal to spread the faith to the Gentiles.

The conversion of Peter happened over a period of time as he witnessed the teachings and miracles of Jesus. Peter was a fisherman and Jesus told him and his brother Andrew that he would make them fishers of men, when he saw them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter was the first to confess that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And, so I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what ever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” We look to Peter as the first Pope because he was the first bishop of Rome, granted the status of leader by Jesus Christ.

Paul’s primary purpose in life was not to be a Pharisee zealot, nor was Peter’s to be a fisherman. They were both called to be witnesses to the Gospel, even to the shedding of their blood. Along with the other apostles, they are included in our profession of faith. I have seen where the remains of both of them have been entombed in Rome. The tomb of St. Peter is of course under the altar dedicated to him in St. Peter’s Basilica. The tomb of St. Paul is under the main altar in the Basilica of St. Paul.

Another church of St. Peter that has a special significance for me is a church built over what was the house of St Peter in the town of Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The first time we went to the Holy Land in 1984, my wife Mary Jane and I met a young widow from Italy who was staying at the same place we were. Her husband had recently died and she came on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She was so moved by her experience that she decided to stay there and devote her life to prayer. It was a few years later that she decided to use her inheritance to build a church over the archeological ruins of the house of St Peter. That church is built in the shape of a boat and part of the floor is Plexiglas so that you can look down into the ruins of St. Peters house.

Since then, millions of pilgrims have entered that church and prayed there, and thousands Masses have been celebrated there. What she did was a great thing for the mystical body of Christ. We may not be able to do such a profound thing as she did, but we are all called to be generous with what we have for the sake of others, as a testimony of our trust in God’s providence.

When we think of the deaths of Saints Peter and Paul we may be reminded of the age of martyrs in the early years of the Church, but we also must know that we are living in the age of martyrs right now. There have been more martyrs in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than in all the years before. This century looks to be the worst ever with what is happening in the Middle East. Young men are being crucified in Syria among the other atrocities that are happening to Christians in that region and parts of Africa, and yet for many people in this country life goes on as if God does not exist.

There has been turmoil in every age. However, we know from Church history that the course of events have been when changed when people turn back to God and pray with great fervor and tend to the needs of others. Let us hope that history will show that the challenges we are now facing will be conquered by a collective turning to God and fervent prayer.

This feast day is not for Saints Peter and Paul, who now live in the glory of God; it is for us – to remind us of the price that these saints and millions of others have paid to keep the Faith alive for us. No matter what our career is, that is not our first purpose. Like Peter and Paul and all the saints, we also are all called to be witnesses of our faith for our own good and the good of others. We are charged with carrying the Faith into the future. There is nothing we do during the course of the day that is more important than spending time in prayer, and yet we have heard many people say they do not have time for prayer. If we do not pray we will not discover God’s plan that would allow us to reach our potential for happiness, and we will not be contributing to the wellbeing of our society and the world.

God’s plan for humanity will only be realized when our relationship with him is more important than our careers, our possessions and our politics.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

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"Moses receives the Ten Commandments from Yahweh" by Cosimo Rosselli (1439–1507)

“Moses receives the Ten Commandments from Yahweh” by Cosimo Rosselli (1439–1507)

Jesus said to his disciples, and to us, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” What does Jesus mean when he says we must  keep his commandments? I don’t think Jesus is just talking only about the Ten Commandments, which is the minimum we must do to be faithful to God. Jesus came into the world so that we may have a life of God’s grace in abundance. Jesus is the way to the Father and eternal life, and to keep his commandments is to believe, accept and live all that he has revealed to us. He tells us that we cannot just live for ourselves. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. Jesus tells us we must, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” and He will then see that we have all that we need. Not all that we want, but all that we need.

It is not a casual thing to place the Kingdom of God first in our lives. It takes a deliberate act of the will every day all day, because we are continually tempted to make selfish decisions or compromise our values. It is for this reason that Jesus promises that the Father will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to those who love him. On our own we are not able to do what we are commanded to.

As he helps us to over come sin and grow in virtue, Jesus has given us the Church and the Sacraments as the source of the grace we need to live a life close to him. It is remarkable enough that Almighty God desires to reside in us, His lowly creatures, and yet He comes to us at our invitation and our preparation.

How important is happiness to you and the people you love? God is the source of true happiness, which we can only attain in communion with Him. There are a lot of things that give us pleasure, but those that are outside of God’s plan for us do not lead to true happiness.

Our temptation is to do only the minimum when it comes to our spiritual life. Before long, we see this as a burden and we are not willing to do even the minimum required of us.

What if we applied that philosophy to every aspect of our life? What if we only wanted to do the minimum for our education, for our career, for the people we love; would that even be love?

We are human persons created in the image and likeness of God. Our most important component is our eternal soul and our spirituality; it is what shapes us. What are we doing for our spiritual well being? If all we do is go to Church on Sunday and pray occasionally we are not truly disciples. This is exactly where I was about thirty years ago. Sometimes it takes a tragedy or a sequence of failures to get our attention so that we begin to order our life toward God, but it need not be that way. Our Lord continually offers us the grace of conversion through circumstances, situations and relationships. A reference point for me was when a work associate asked me if Jesus was the Lord of my life. I had heard the phrase many times, but at that particular moment the Lord gave me the grace to see that my heart was far from Him. After a few days of reflection, I decided I needed to make some changes. I bought my first Bible, joined a prayer group with my wife, and after a month or so, I started to get more involved in our parish. Prayer became an important part of my daily routine and was beginning to influence the decisions I had to make. That was the beginning of a wonderful journey that brought me to love God and this Church He has given us, and it enabled my wife and I to discover true happiness. Drawing close to God brought new meaning to our lives and our marriage.

God has a great plan for humanity, but it can only be realized in communion with Him.

“And only when God is seen does life begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)

This is what gives God glory and brings happiness to our soul.

"Jesus Delivers the Eight Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount)" by Cosimo Rosselli (1439–1507)

“Jesus Delivers the Eight Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount)” by Cosimo Rosselli

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that the Father will send us the Holy Spirit to be with us always, to help us to recognize His truth, so that we may remain in His love. The entire Church begins the novena to the Holy Spirit on May 30th and continues it until the vigil of Pentecost June 7th. Archbishop Gustavo is asking the whole archdiocese to pray this novena, which can be found on the archdiocesan website. Then, on the Feast of Pentecost, he will consecrate the archdiocese to the Holy Spirit.