Sunday, July 23, 2017

What if WE Are the Seed...

16 Sun OT Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

Imagine with me for a moment… Imagine that we’re gathered here, like the early Church.  Life is busy.  And yet – when it’s time for the gathering – we rush eagerly to the place.  We’ve been looking forward to it all week.  Why?  Because “The Way” – this new way of living, this new Truth, this Jesus Christ who was so like us and yet so different from us – has changed our life.  Imagine we’re here because we’ve encountered something different in the life of faith that calls us out of dark drudgery and hamster wheel of the life that we and everyone we’ve ever known has been living.  

Imagine that we’re here because we’ve encountered the Holy Spirit, felt the change in our own lives, realized that Jesus really was loving and saving us somehow, supernaturally, through the sacraments, through our prayer.  Imagine we’re here because we know, we believe that Jesus wants to save us – and wants to save the world.  And imagine we’re here because we know He wants to save the world – and that the only thing that stands between salvation and damnation for every soul in Danville is our fruitfulness as joyful missionary disciples, empowered by the Eucharist, sanctified by the sacraments, and motivated by the mission Jesus has given to us to go, teach, and baptize.

And not just our families, our children, our friends – not just us, but all families, all children, all the people we live and work and study and play with – imagine that you and I are the only seed that has been sown in this time and place for the salvation of souls and the spread of the Gospel right here where we are.  And imagine that whether we become wheat or weed – imagine that our own salvation depends in part on how we prioritize our faith, how we let our lives be changed to love and be loved by God and allow ourselves to be instruments of His salvation to those outside these walls.

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What would your life look like?

What would be added to your days and weeks? What would be subtracted?

How would your life be different?

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I had a different homily planned for this week, but then I saw this quote from Robert Cardinal Sarah: “While Christians are dying for their faith and fidelity to Jesus, in the West people of the Church are trying to reduce the requirements of the Gospel to a minimum.” It hit me…he’s right.  But what if… What if we were different.  What if instead of trying to lower the bar – for ourselves and everyone else – what if we began to work together, all day, every day, to make the bar clearer and help everyone over it!  What if Jesus was right?

He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear."

What if it is true?  Not an image – not an ideal – some a story…what if is true?  How would your life be different?  What’s holding you back?  How can I help you make those changes?  How can others help you in living this reality?  How can you help others find their salvation, faith, and joy in Jesus Christ?

How can we truly become a family of joyful missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Eucharist, sanctified by the sacraments, and motivated by the mission Jesus has entrusted to us?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Is Your Commitment Day!

Solemnity of Ss. Peter & Paul 2017
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

What comes to mind when you think of Saints Peter & Paul, the patrons of our parish?  What do you remember from their lives?

Do you remember Jesus walking along the shore and inviting Peter to follow him – and how Peter got up, left his nets, and simply went?  Wow. Do you remember how eager St. Peter was – always ready to give it a shot, ready to step out onto the water not knowing how any of it would work?  Maybe you remember how Peter often seemed to sink after just a few steps – but whenever he fell and thought he might drown, Jesus always reached out to save him.

What about St. Paul – what do you remember about St. Paul?  Do you remember that he spent his early career destroying the Church? Unwilling to believe what God was really up to?  Do you remember Jesus knocking him off his high horse, and how St. Paul let himself be transformed – let himself be converted?  Do you remember St. Paul’s Great Adventure – how he literally changed the world forever by being an authentic disciple and living his life for the spread of the gospel and the salvation of souls?  Throwing caution to the wind and living his life courageously and heroically in the faith and love of Jesus…  Do you remember how both Peter and Paul earned the martyr’s crown by not holding anything back – even giving their lives for love of Jesus?  What comes to mind when you think of Saints Peter & Paul, the patrons of our parish?  What do you remember from their lives…and what is your response?

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There’s a spark in each one of us that tries its best to grow into a flame when we hear the Great Adventure stories of the saints.  There’s a part of each one of us that thinks, “That could be me! I want to live my life like that!  I don’t know how, but I want to!  I want to go ‘all in’ and trust Jesus so completely that I give it all to Him!  Oh Jesus – that could be me, couldn’t it?  Let’s do this!  I love you!  I trust you!  You’re calling me to be a hero like St. Peter and St. Paul – I don’t know what that looks like for me – but I want to find out.  That could me, Lord – and I’m here – I’m ready – Let’s Go!!”

That spark is inside each one of us.  When we think of the saints – when we consider Peter and Paul – there’s something in us that wonders…  What would my marriage and family be like if I dared to live my faith that way?  What would happen if I chased Jesus instead of chasing money and success? Could I actually lead someone to Jesus?  Could I actually be a saint? What if I went to seminary?  What if I joined the convent?  Could I be a missionary?  What would happen in our parish – what would happen in our town – what would happen in my workplace or in my school if I stopped just going along with the mindless crowd and began to be like Peter & Paul? 

Inside each of us, when we consider the lives and adventures of the saints, we begin to wonder for a second, “Could that be me?”

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And then it happens…something steals the dream from us.  That voice – that cloud – that most ancient of all serpents who lies, and sews doubt and fear in our hearts.  He goes by all kinds of names – he calls himself Reality: “There’s not enough time or money for me to live life that way…”  He dresses up as shame and doubt and regret: “I’m not holy enough, courageous enough… I’m a sinner and I can’t quit sinning… Maybe when I was younger, but not now… Maybe when I get older, but not now… I’m just little ole me, I can’t be a hero… I can’t be a saint… I can’t change the world… That’s for people like them – not for people like me…”  And as quick as the spark comes alive, it vanishes…and we go back to our “normal lives”…

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Whether you admit it or not, that’s happening inside you right now.  Either that, or you’ve so let the spark be dampened that the flash of fire is so distant, so unbelievable, that you don’t even notice it anymore.  That’s what the enemy wants, you know.  He wants you so trapped in the hamster wheel of ‘living life’ that the Great Adventure seems unreal.  He wants you so drunk on the world that you can’t wake up to the call of adventure.  Make no mistake – that is the work of Evil Himself, Satan, the Enemy of your soul…  The battle is real…  Thank God for Peter & Paul.

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You see – they might seem to be giants and heroes of the faith to us – but they were just people like you and me.  They doubted.  They got it wrong.  They made mistakes. The only difference between them and us is that one day…one day they didn’t let that slithering voice dampen the flame Jesus fanned alive inside them.  They were never the same after that – and neither was the world! Peter and Paul changed the world!  And we can too!  You can too!

That’s why our patrons are so important…because they’re examples to us that we can do what they did!  They doubted, and trusted anyway.  They made mistakes, and kept going.  They sinned – and sought forgiveness.  They wondered if it was possible to live life on a Great Adventure…and then they set out anyway and kept going through their doubts…and they changed the world!

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Close your eyes and pray for a moment – listen to the voice inside of you.  Isn’t there a part of you that wonders if you can really be a saint – isn’t there a fire somewhere inside urging you to jump into this Great Adventure of faith?  Some part of you that wants to be a hero – wants to be part of something bigger that can change the world – some part of you that wants to jump off the cliff and follow Jesus wherever He leads?  Raise your hand – forget what others will think – if that spark in you is coming alive right now, raise your hand.  In your heart say, “Jesus – I believe – I believe you are real – I believe you love me – I believe you want to use me to change the world!”  Raise your hand if that’s happening in your heart right now…  Am I the only one?

Now…keep your hands in the air – switch arms if you need to and listen to these words.  If you haven’t put your hand up yet and want to, join us anytime.  Listen to these words and make sure your hand is in the air if you want to live a life that sounds like this – this is your moment of commitment – raise your hand to tell Jesus you want to live life the way Paul describes it:

I will compete well; I will finish the race; I will keep the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who long for his appearance. The Lord stands by me and gives me strength, so that through me the Gospel might be preached and everyone around me will hear it.  The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

This is a life like no other – this is the Great Adventure!  Raise your hand and say it with me:  Saints Peter & Paul, pray for us!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Teaching Mass 1 - Vestments

Prior to the Beginning of Mass

The priest’s vestments are placed in the front of the Church and the priest – unvested – waits nearby; as each vestment is mentioned, the priest dons it while the Commentator continues.  

The Commentator (from the Cantor Stand or other place that isn’t the Ambo begins):

It would be impossible to consider in one celebration every meaning-packed movement of the Mass.  So, over the next several months we’re going to occasionally celebrate teaching Masses together.  Masses that help us reflect on something you may have never known before – that the Mass is our ‘training ground’ for living the Christian life.  Basketball and football teams practice long hours, running drills over and over, preparing to compete and win.  Actors practice their lines and musicians practice their scales – all as a way to develop the skills needed to perform well.  Mass is where we “practice” living the Christian life.  Every movement, every word, every posture - literally everything about the Mass is designed to practice something important about living the Christian life.

Today we’re going to focus on the garments worn by the priest and ministers at Mass – but this isn’t merely trivia.  Every meaning we discuss applies to all of us, too.  The priest may be the only one to wear these garments, but each of them speaks of a deeply Christian reality that, in one way or another, applies to us as well.  Ask yourself, as we do this, “What does this have to say about who I am and how I am called to live the Great Adventure of the Christian life?”

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We’re going to start at the very beginning – actually before the beginning.  Our journey to the altar begins before we enter the Church building.  Wherever we’re coming from – whatever we have been doing – we set our eyes toward this special encounter with Jesus.  But our calling is even ‘earlier’ than that – it is rooted in our baptism – the moment we became a member of God’s family.  

That’s why the first thing we do when entering the sacred space for Mass is bless ourselves with Holy Water – it is a tangible reminder of our baptism.  That’s why there are small fonts of holy water at the doors to the sanctuary.  This Great Adventure of the Christian life began at our baptism – and we remind ourselves of that every time we come into this sacred space to pray.  

It’s also why the first garment the priest puts on is the alb. The alb is literally the baptismal garment – the same garment we give to infants when we celebrate baptisms here; the same baptismal garment you were given at your baptism with the instruction to bring it unstained to Jesus at the end of time.  Priests, deacons, and even servers put on the alb before their service at the altar as a reminder that this service is only possible because of their baptism.  Every person that is baptized receives a white garment in their baptism – and every time we serve God in the liturgical action of the Church, we put on our baptismal garment first.

Over the alb – liturgical ministers also wear a cincture – this is the ancient version of a belt. In the ancient world, one might relax around the house without the cincture, but when it was time to “suit up” and “get busy” you tied the cincture around your waist to hold everything in place while you got to work.  The cincture is a sign to all of us that living the Christian life is about ‘suiting up’ and ‘getting busy’ – there are souls to be saved, including our own…

The cincture is also a sign of being on pilgrimage – moving through a foreign land toward home (where you might once again remove the cincture and relax).  To live the Christian life is to be constantly on pilgrimage; this world is not our home, we journey through a foreign land in this life – our home is in heaven with the Lord.  We’re travelers, strangers, on pilgrimage through this time and place.  We have to ‘tighten up belt’ and keep moving…

Finally, the cincture also represents chastity according to one’s station in life.  Serving God and others well requires that we manage our passions and appetites rather than letting them manage us, so they don’t get in the way of our love for God and our role in His mission.

The priest then puts on the stole.  It’s meaning goes all the way back to the garment Jesus used to wash His disciple’s feet – a reminder that all ordained ministry is a ministry of service following the model of Christ ‘who came to serve, not to be served’.  

The stole is a sign of office – and the great responsibility of service that comes with leadership.  The deacon’s stole is ‘tied’ at the side like Jesus tied the garment around his waist when washing the disciples feet on Holy Thursday.  This represents the active ministry of the diaconate to care for the poor and marginalized, while the priest’s stole is worn across both shoulders as a sign of being ‘yoked’ to the work of Christ – like an ox or a cow tied to the plow.  This also reminds the priest that he is ‘yoked’ to Jesus, who is the one who does all the heavy lifting in ministry.

Finally – the priest dons the chasuble – originally a travelling garment, the chasuble is like putting on a coat to head out for a journey. Eventually, in the Roman Empire, the chasuble became a sign that the wearer acted as an official representative of the Emperor.  The one who spoke while wearing the chasuble spoke with the voice and authority of the Emperor.  It makes sense, then, that the chasuble is only worn by priests and bishops who serve the people of God in persona Christi capitus – in the person of Christ the Head.  Any honor or respect paid to the priest in the liturgy is only because he makes present the ministry of Jesus, the High Priest Himself. Honor and glory belong only to Jesus Christ Himself.

The priest then enters the worship space and completes his preparation for Mass.  Each priest has a different way of doing this.  But, in some way, all priests ‘formulate their intentions’ for the sacrifice they’re about to offer.  This means that the priest crawls before the throne of heaven and makes clear to our Heavenly Father what he intends to do.  He does this because, knowing his weakness and human frailty all too well, it is likely his efforts will fall short of the desire of his heart to serve God and the faithful entrusted to his care.  The priest trusts in God’s mercy – and in the love and mercy of Christ the High Priest – to make his weak attempts acceptable.  

Each one of us should find some way to prepare ourselves to fulfill our role as the praying people of God gathered to assist in the Sacrifice of the Mass.  We don’t ‘watch’ the Mass like a movie or a play – Mass is not a spectator sport.  We – each of us in our own way – actively ‘assist at the sacrifice of the Mass’ by playing our part as attentively and devoutly as the priest and ministers.  

You can usually find Fr. Alan at one side of the Church just before Mass making his prayer of intention.  Today, he will let us listen in…

God our Father, it is my intention to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the Rites and Rubrics of the Holy Catholic Church, in communion with Francis our Pope and John our Bishop, and all those who – holding to the truth – hand on the Catholic and Apostolic faith.  It is my intention to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for good of all the faithful gathered here, that they might continue their journey toward You.

Most of all, Father, I offer this sacrifice for the praise and glory of Your name, which is only possible through the great gift of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name I stand, and through whose love and mercy alone could one such as me be called to so great a ministry. Lord Jesus – you know my sins and my weaknesses – heal my woundedness and grant me virtue, that I may serve your holy people worthily and well all the days of my life.  


Coming to the Lost and Found

13 Sun OT Yr A 2017
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville


“Brothers and sisters…are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death – death to sin – and reborn into a newness of life?…So, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”  No Father, you might say, we’re not unaware – that’s why we’re here after all.  Good.  Good.  But…do our words match our actions?  Do our words match the stirrings of our hearts?  What does it mean to live a life that is dead to sin?  What does it mean to go about our days and our nights – all of them, living for God in Christ Jesus?

What do our bank statements have to say about how we’re doing on that score?  One of the most telling testaments of our priorities is how we spend our money – does your bank statement proclaim that you’re dead to sin and living for God?  What about our investments in time?  If we look at how we spend our time, do we seem to be people living primarily for God?  Are we chasing riches and security, those mirages of the world – or are we living a Great Adventure that is primarily about the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls, our own included?  

What about our lives – whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  Jesus seems to be saying if our lives are about worldly ambition and success then our lives are lost, but if our lives are centered around knowing, loving, and following Jesus, that is a life that is found.  

These are challenging sayings – if we’re listening, they’re challenging to all of us.  That’s why we come here, to the “lost and found” – the Mass, which is the “lost and found” of our Christian journey.  We come here to realize, sometimes, that we’re missing the boat, that we’re losing our lives…but we also come here to find our lives, to encounter Jesus who brings us back, seeks us out, loves us, gives us a place to belong, and sends us on our way…restored.

When our bank accounts and time get out of balance, and it seems like our days are spent living for the world, we come to Jesus in the sacraments – in Confession and the Eucharist – we come to find ourselves – our truest selves.  And like a good friend, Jesus welcomes, loves, forgives, and encourages – He patches us up, sends us on our way, and promises to help us do better.

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Dory has it right.  If you don’t know who Dory is, ask the children and teens among us – they’ll tell you.  We get off track pretty easily – we get off track pretty often.  The key is to come back, come back here, come back home, come back to Jesus time and again…and “just keep swimming.”  Indeed.  Just keep swimming.