November 30, 2012 - Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle

Romans 10:9-18
Psalm 19:8-11
Matthew 4:18-22

“How can anyone believe the Gospel unless they have heard it? How can anyone hear it unless someone preaches it to them? How can anyone preach unless they have been sent?” The first and second questions are self-evidently true. No one can believe in the Gospel if they never heard it, and no one can hear something which has not been preached, whether aloud or in writing or communicated in some way.

We must agree with the first two questions, but the third question is not so clear for us modern people. “How can someone preach unless they have been sent?” "Well, they could go on their own initiative", we think. Does a person really have to be sent in order to preach? Perhaps someone has an education, a command of the English language, and an inbox full of funny stories. What prevents them from preaching the Gospel? Nothing prevents them, but neither does anything impel them.

Preaching is not a hobby. Preaching cannot merely occupy an occasional weekend. Preaching is a charism of the Holy Spirit. Preaching is a supernatural vocation. Preaching must become a man’s whole life. The apostles show us what is involved in preaching: suffering many hardships and privations, being insulted and imprisoned, and, finally, martyrdom. A preacher who does not want to be a martyr is not a witness for the faith, rather, they are a scandal. No one can live the life of a preacher without a supernatural vocation. St. Andrew could never have been a preacher, could never have gone out to all the world, could never have died upon a cross, had he not been sent, were he not continually sent by the Holy Spirit.

St. Andrew was called by Christ, and, when he had come to Christ, he was sent forth from him to preach. We too must go to Christ, who calls us, and then go forth, not to wherever we desire or plan to go, to do whatever we feel like doing, but go forth sent by Christ, impelled by the Holy Spirit. Some will be sent to preach. Others will be sent to other tasks. Each person has their own vocation, their own mission from God. Together, guided by the Holy Spirit, we will help Christ establish the Kingdom of God.

November 29, 2012 - Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9
Psalm 100:1-5
Luke 21:20-28

The readings today are about destruction, above all the destruction of Babylon the great city and Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem happened about 40 years after Jesus spoke about it. The destruction of Babylon is yet to come. There has been a great deal of speculation about what Babylon might be. If it refers to a particular country, America is a likely candidate. Babylon is known for its corporations and entrepreneurs: “Your merchants were the great ones of the world.” The culture of Babylon leads the other nations astray like sorcery.

This reading is either good news or bad news depending on whether our hope is in Babylon or in heaven. Those in heaven sing “Alleluia!” because of the destruction. Why? Because salvation, glory, and strength belong to our God. No technology will bring salvation. No amount of money will bring true glory or strength. If Babylon does not symbolize some particular nation, then it does symbolize the whole commercial aspect of our modern world. This is all going to be destroyed. The new earth will come without money or possessions. Some people will cry and faint as they see everything they have built in this world pass away.

We were not made for smartphones and cars and airplanes. I have some packages coming that I ordered this past weekend during the shopping days of Black Friday. I am sort of anxiously awaiting them. One of these days, they are going to show up at the door. It is sort of like Christmas, when the packages arrive and I get to unwrap them. We know what it is to wait for material goods, or to wait for a paycheck; how much more should we be waiting for Jesus! We need to have the perspective that Jesus talks about in the Gospel: our head raised up, looking at the sky. That is where our redemption will come from. One of these days the Son of Man will come on a cloud with power and great glory.

Material things only help us live in this difficult world, this valley of tears. When Jesus comes, and the time for all that has passed, when we can finally let go of all our possessions and throw away all of our money and watch the world pass away before our eyes, our response should not be sadness at the loss. Our response should be, “Finally!”

November 26, 2012 - Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The book of Revelation can be very confusing, especially when people do not read it carefully. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, have based several doctrines off of a clear misreading of today’s text. They say that heaven is full. That there is only room for 144,000 and all the spots are taken. Actually reading the whole chapter reveals that these 144,000 are male virgin Israelites. They are given a song to sing and only they can sing it. The point seems to be this song. It sounds like running water. It sounds like thunder. It sounds like harps. And only these male virgin Israelites can sing it. John sees a whole multitude of other people in heaven. He also has other groups who sing other songs: the 24 elders, the martyrs, and more.

What is heaven like? This question is present to us from the moment we first heard as children that there is such a place. Poets try to describe it, and people come back from sickness and injury with descriptions, and we are fascinated. Does it really exist? Is it truly wonderful? How do I get there? Every description is simply analogies because it must be beyond our understanding. And this analogy that John gives us in the book of Revelation is that heaven is like a concert. There are various choirs and every choir sings its own song.

This is the Communion of the Saints, expressed through music. Perhaps you feel like there are many people you know who have lives similar to yours, who understand you and what you are going through, or perhaps not. Perhaps you feel that your life is unique, between your work and family and the things you have suffered and what you have desired. I suppose that in the world of 7 billion people, or rather in the history of the world of 100 billion people, there have been many people like me, unusual as I am, and like each of you, unique as you are. When we meet in heaven, we will gather with them and sing a song which no one else without those experiences can sing. And not only sing, but listen too. We will understand those who are different from us as we listen to them sing their song. Each of these songs, in praise of God, revealing an aspect of human experience. When we sing our song and listen to the other songs, that will be heaven.

November 21, 2012 - Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Revelation 4:1-11
Psalm 150:1-6
Luke 19:11-28

John sees an open door to heaven. It is a door that was locked, but Jesus Christ has unlocked it. It was shut, but Jesus Christ opened it. Where is this door so that we can go through it? Rather, who is the door? Jesus Christ says that he himself is the door, the gate, the way. The open door is Jesus Christ. When we look at Jesus Christ, when we consider what he has done for us and promised to do for us, we are looking at the open door. To go through the door means to accept Jesus’ commandments of love and repentance.

John hears a voice like a trumpet. The voice declares, “Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards.” The voice was calling John to show him a vision, but this voice also calls us. “Come up here!” Yes, God sometimes speaks as a still, small whisper, but sometimes it is a voice like a trumpet. All the angels and saints in heaven are looking down at us. They know what heaven is like because they are there. They see us; sometimes we try hard to get to heaven and sometimes we forget it exists. They are shouting down to us, “Come up here! Join us! This is where you belong. This is what you have always wanted.”

John sees a throne in heaven, and someone is seated on it. This means that somebody is in charge. There will never be an election in heaven. God is in charge, so everything is perfect. Here, we pray for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. There, his will is done. Some people will not be able to handle not being in charge. Heaven is not made for them. They will have a place where they are in charge and weep because of it. Those who can submit their will to his will, shall be happy forever.

Around the throne is a rainbow that shines like an emerald. There is something in our souls that desires beauty, that stops and stares at Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. That first moment of looking out and being caught in wonder, before any futile attempt to capture the experience with a camera, that feeling will be non-stop in heaven. We shall see things so amazing that we will stop and stare for 1000 years. We shall be forever satisfied while still desiring.

November 20, 2012 - Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22
Psalm 15:2-5
Luke 19:1-10

The law, as reflected in this psalm today, is an accusation against us. “Who can go to heaven?”, the psalm asks, and it answers, “He who walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue. Who harms not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; who lends not his money at usury, and accepts no bribe against the innocent.” Who can hear all that without being aware of their own failure to live up to it? When we are young, we are told to be good, and we try to be good. As we grow, we look forward to a day when we have grown out of our faults, but eventually we realize that we are making no progress. There are two human responses to this realization: we can give up trying to follow the law and accept our sins, that we will always be selfish, greedy, and cruel, or we can just pretend that we are following the law, though we know better. We can be a sinner like Zacchaeus or a hypocrite like the Pharisees, or in all likelihood, some combination of each.

Yet even after we have given up the desire of our youth to actually be good, the desire is not entirely dead. If there were a pill we could take that would fix us, and allow us to be generous and loving and consistent, who would not gladly take it? Or, if it were not something so simple, but rather a mountain we had to climb, who would not climb it? But the truth is that there is a solution to our problem. In this reading from Revelation, there are some harsh accusations against the Churches in Sardis and Laodicea, but they are accompanied by an offer. “Buy from me gold, and white garments, and ointment for your eyes. Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise.”

Jesus is the cure to what ails us. It does not come in an instant. It is more like climbing a mountain than taking a pill, but this solution is real. This possibility is real. It is not necessary to give up. Our efforts are useless on their own, but with Jesus Christ, we have the power to become the people we have always wanted to be. He is holding out his gifts and begging us to make use of them.

November 18, 2012 - Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16:5, 8-11
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

God lives in eternity. He experiences everything at once and simultaneously acts upon everything. Every moment in time and every point in space is always equally present to God. Sort of like how an ant crawls along the ground and can only see an inch in front of itself, and we can see the whole yard, all at once. For God, the beginning of the universe and the end and this moment right now and Eve eating the fruit and Jesus dying on the Cross and Jesus rising from the dead and Jesus born in Bethlehem, are all happening right now.

It is impossible to imagine what that is like. We live in time and cannot imagine life without time. The closest we can come is the moment. We imagine one moment in time, and that is the closest we can come to imagining eternity. It is different, of course, because for us a moment takes place in a particular location and before we can really do anything, the moment has passed. We are limited; God is not. We have something more though. We have the present moment, the endless stream of moments. When we choose to patiently participate in the present moment we come as close to sharing in eternity as we can.

For a little while now, try to live completely in the present moment. Forget everything that has happened up to this point. Forget everything that will happen or that needs to happen. Forget how you got here today, and forget the balance in your bank account. For a little while, let go of everything you are trying to keep in balance. Like yesterday never happened, and tomorrow never will happen. Like this morning never happened, and this afternoon never will happen. As if you were created a second ago, fully-formed, here at Mass, without any plans or worries, nowhere to go afterward, nothing to do but to be here.

It is very difficult to maintain that experience of the present without “real life” creeping in from every side, though which is more real: that you are here now or what you might be doing an hour from now? But we cannot live our lives without doing something, and acting in the present moment requires remembering the past and thinking about the future. Our memory and our imagination allow us to imitate the unlimited nature of God in our limited way. Sitting here in Minnesota, we can remember and imagine all the other places in the world, and important things that have happened, and commitments that we have made. In order to decide what I should do right now, I have to think about what I want to be doing in an hour and in a year and in ten years. If I want to be eating dinner in an hour, then I have to start cooking.

To succeed at life, we always have to be thinking about where we want to be in the future and then act accordingly in the present. That is part of growing up. Only a child gets to live in the moment without considering the consequences or the planning how they will achieve their goals. As we grow up the times when we can live completely in the moment are fewer and fewer each year, until we retire and grow old and weaken, and begin living in the moment again. Hopefully, prayer is a time for each of you when you can live in the moment. Mass on Sunday and some time everyday when you can drop out of the world and imitate the eternity of God.

But prayer is also a time of remembering and planning. We remember all the people and situations that we need to pray for. We remember the mystery of Faith: how Christ died and rose again. And instead of planning where we will be in one year or even ten years, we think about where we will be in ten million years. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake: some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the sky.”

I was telling the Kindergarteners about what Jesus says in this Gospel. About how Jesus went up to Heaven but promised that someday, we “will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” How, one of these days, Jesus is going to come back down again. One of the kindergartners blurted out, “Jesus and God are real life?!” He had evidently heard all about Jesus, but the idea that he himself might someday be walking outside and see Jesus come down through the clouds was brand new.

I think a lot of people are in that situation. They know about Jesus, but they would still be surprised to see him coming down through the clouds. Every year around this time we read the promise of Jesus to come back someday, but do we act like we believe it? He left the time uncertain because we need it that way. If people in the past had known that he still would not be back in the year 2012, and if we knew that he will not be back for another thousand years, the urgency would be completely gone. As it is, he may very well come back this afternoon, for all we know.

The point is that, in every present moment, somewhere between figuring out how to get all the bills paid and deciding what to make for dinner tonight, we should leave a little corner of our mind for this promise, knowing that it could happen at any time. This truth, this promise, changes the calculus of everything. Sure, save for retirement, make sure that you have enough socked away, but, you know, Jesus might come between now and then. Work for that promotion, have a ten-year plan at work, but Jesus might come before you get there. Buy the groceries for Thanksgiving dinner, but Jesus might come on Wednesday. If he does, you will not need the groceries or the plans or the 401k. If he does, the only balances that will count for anything are the number of people in need whom we helped, the number of sinners whom we brought back to the faith, how many people we forgave and how sorry we are for our sins, and how much we love God. What is valuable now will be worthless then, and what is worthless now will be our only asset then.

November 14, 2012 - Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Titus 3:1-7
Psalm 23:1-6
Luke 17:11-19

The words of Jesus in the Gospel today seem unfair. He tells the ten to go show themselves to the priests. Nine of them obey him, because as Jews they knew what that meant. They started walking to Jerusalem. One of them turns back, because he never would have been able to go into the temple anyway. As a Samaritan, he was certainly not welcome to show himself to a priest and go through the ritual cleansing. So he returns to Jesus.

Before, he stood at a distance. Now, he falls at his feet. Of course, Jesus is the true priest. The Samaritan has obeyed the command of Jesus because he has shown himself to the priest. But why does Jesus seem to complain about the other nine? He sent them on a mission, and they did not come back. For all we know they did exactly what he said. He is not criticizing them. He is criticizing the law. Nowhere in the law does it say that the lepers should thank God for their cleansing. It says that they should be sprinkled with bird blood, but it does not say that they should be grateful. It says to sleep outside for a week, but it does not say to be grateful.

Paul says in one place that he was blameless with respect to the Law, but here he says that “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hating ourselves and hating one another.” So, it is possible to follow the law to the T, and still be all that. God gave the Law, and it is good. Jesus did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. The point of the commandments was lost by those who followed them. The point of all that sacrifice was to thank God. The Samaritan, not knowing what he worships, is more free to give the natural human reaction and thank God for the healing.

There is talk right now of returning to meatless Fridays every Friday of the year. When they got rid of it 40 years ago, it was mostly because people had forgotten why they were doing it. It had lost its meaning. There a dozen very good reasons for returning to the tradition. If we do restart the practice, and I hope we do, it should be for those reasons and not just some rule we follow.

November 13, 2012 - Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Titus 2:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 37:3-4, 18, 23, 27, 29
Luke 17:7-10

I would never get away with giving this advice: "women should work at home, under the control of their husbands." And really, the most controversial part of the reading has been cut out. After his advice about young men, St. Paul has some advice for slaves. "Slaves are to be submissive to their masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not stealing, but showing all good faith." Why does he give advice that is so unacceptable in our own time? It would be easy to say that St. Paul was man of his era, giving advice that just does not stand the test of time. It is easy to get that interpretation started, but where does it stop? Any line in the Bible can then be called “out of date”. It spreads like wildfire until everything I agree with is wisdom, and everything I disagree with is out of date.

The reason St. Paul gives for the advice is “that the word of God may not be discredited”, and “that the opponent will be put to shame without anything bad to say about us.” He is not praising slavery. He is saying that a Christian slave should take advantage of the opportunity their suffering provides, so that people will say, “My slave is a Christian, so I know that I can trust him.” Everyone will agree that Christian wives are particularly skilled and hardworking. They will agree that Christian old men are dignified and temperate, and that Christian old women are pious and do not gossip. It goes beyond not committing sins to being good in the eyes of the world.

The point of all this advice is to glorify God, so that even our enemies are forced to admit that Christians are unusually good. Kind of the opposite of how things are now, .where you cannot mention priests and children in the same sentence without people thinking about sex abuse. People used to have a lot of respect for Catholics. The only accusations our enemies could throw at us were how we prayed too much, went to Confession too often, and had too many children. God is good no matter what, and the religion is good because it comes from God, but, unless the people are good and extraordinarily good, how will the world be able to see it? It does not require much. The actions of a few people have given the Church a bad name, but the actions of a few Saints can turn things completely around. When we want to prove what the Church is capable of, we still point to people like Mother Theresa and Francis and a few thousand other saints. Of course the likely thing is to end up as just one more, like the great mass of humanity, but the possibility is there to be something else, an example we can point to and say: “look at that, that is why I believe”.

November 12, 2012 - Monday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Titus 1:1-9
Psalm 24:1-6
Luke 17:1-6

How amazing would it be if the bishops could order the trees around and be obeyed? Who would doubt the reality of the Christian religion if such miracles could be performed on a regular basis? But Jesus does not tell the Apostles this fact about trees out of curiosity. They said to him, “Increase our faith!” He did not at that moment work a miracle. He did not have the Father speak from a cloud. He just told them this little fact about mulberry trees.

I think of it like this: if I said to a basketball star, “Increase my basketball skills”, and he told me that if I had just a tiny fraction of the skills of an NBA star, I would be able to slam dunk the basketball, that would increase my desire for the skills, which is sort of the same thing. I would begin practicing harder. I would know that my work is not useless. The Apostles clearly have a desire for faith, which is why they say to Jesus, “Increase our faith.” Jesus, by his words, increases their desire for faith, and since God desires to give us faith the only thing missing is our desire to receive it.

The miracle that Jesus names here is a silly miracle, to replant a tree in the sea, but it is the perfect example because of the diversity of miracles that the Apostles would work. This silly miracle is a symbol of every miracle that the Apostles will work, once their faith has been increased. If Jesus spoke to each Apostle individually, he would have been able to name the miracles they would do once they had faith. If Jesus spoke to us individually, he could tell us what sort of miracles we would be able to do if we only followed him more closely.

I do not put in the effort required to be an NBA star, partly because I believe that no matter how much effort I put in, it would never happen. But I do know that God has plans for me, and I know that those plans are a very real possibility. When I consider what I know of those plans, my heart is on fire to fulfill them. When I spend time in prayer considering the promises of God, even a silly promise like this one about replanting trees, I want to become the person that he knows I can be.

November 11, 2012 - Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 17:10-16
Psalm 146:7-10
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

The readings today are split between heaven and earth, between the glorious throne of God where Jesus offers his own body and blood and down here where a widow plans a last meal with her son, between the sanctuary not made by hands and the treasure box where a widow drops two of her last coins. Yet these places are not so far apart after all. The widow and her son are fed by a miracle sent by a prophet. The poor widow dropping her coins is being watched by God himself and is praised by him. And the offering in heaven is the offering of Jesus Christ on the Cross, perhaps the most earthly of all realities, the reality of a man dying at the cruel hands of other men.

Jesus Christ is the mediator between heaven and earth, between God and humans. He brings together everything that was supposed to be together from the beginning but was divided by sin. Sin was an uncrossable canyon, dividing us forever from God. Then Jesus Christ crossed it, forever bringing together the high and the low, heaven and earth. Everything is united in him, because he is God and man. Even the miracles of the Old Testament have their power in him, for his sacrifice was once and for all. It changed everything, both forward in time and backward. His birth in Bethlehem and his death in Jerusalem were events in time, but all human history is in relation to the Incarnation and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

There is no difference in the world like the difference between God and humans. The difference between the richest man and the poorest is nothing in comparison. All of us are poor, above all because we have no ability to hold on to our treasures. Everything can be taken away in an instant: a fire, a storm, sickness, violence. We try to insure ourselves against losses, but even that is a proof of our underlying poverty. That widow gave of her livelihood, counting on God to support her. She is in a more sure position than any amount of insurance could provide. By giving what she needed to God, she is placing her complete trust in him, and he has promised to provide for those who trust in him.

We are afraid to place our confidence in God. Somehow we feel so sure that he will not provide for us. We see people who have nothing, and so we know that God does not magically provide for everyone. There are real needs in our world, and where is God? How can he expect us to trust in him when we see with our own eyes that he has failed the poor, at least as far as this world is concerned. What would we dare to say? That those Christians who starve to death each day were just lacking in faith? Sure, we can speak of heaven and say that, like Lazarus who died in streets, God will repay all those who suffered in this life. I do not doubt it, yet still something is missing.

It is not God’s purpose that each of us would depend on him without receiving any visible support in this world, so that he could then repay us in the next. He told Adam to go and work, and the point of work is profit. God wants us to do as much good in this world as possible. He wants us to work hard, and, unless we are going to work in a foolish way, hard work equals profit. The widow in the Gospel was poor, but that was either because she was not allowed to work in her community or because she was unable. The widow in the first reading was poor, but that was because of the drought. No matter how common such circumstances are, they are the exception. And even then, I do not think that we are to imagine that either widow had not tried to support herself as much as possible. Depending on God does not mean abandoning responsibility for our own life.

To depend on God means, above all, to see the work of God in our life. We need to stop taking credit for things. So much of the good that has happened to us was not because of our own work. Even much of what we can justly take credit for involved a great deal of what most people call luck. The point is to have an attitude of gratitude. Every day there are many things to thank God for, and when we look back on our life we ought to see his work in the midst of our failures. There is no purpose here in making comparisons. It is not about what somebody else has gotten in their life, but, in mine, where can I see God’s action and guidance. Eventually, as we grow spiritually, we will see his providence behind every corner.

To depend on God means, also, to work as much as we are able. Some people see this as a contradiction. They mock Christians because we trust God but still work. But once we have become grateful for his every gift, we realize that our ability to act is itself his gift, and to squander the gift would be ingratitude. Who knows, tomorrow I may not be able to work any longer, but today I can, so I work with all my strength.

To depend on God means, also, to give back. We see that the widow in the Gospel gave to God by dropping coins in the temple treasury. We see that the widow in the first reading gave to God by providing food for his prophet. In both cases, the women gave from their poverty. This does not denigrate someone who gives from their wealth, but clearly the last coins or the last bit of flour is the greater gift. These women teach us that giving to God is not something we do when everything else in our life is settled. Giving to him is the first thing we do, even if it means we have to beg for help from someone else. The primary way we give to God is by giving to the poor. If two poor people each had just enough bread for the day, they could eat their own share or they could each give their share to the other. Which of these ways of thinking and acting is God trying to lead us to?

November 10, 2012 - Saturday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Philippians 4:10-19
Psalm 112:1-2, 5-6, 8-9
Luke 16:9-15

St. Paul has such a gentle way of speaking with the Philippians about money. First he says that he rejoiced greatly to see the gift, but then he declares that he could have done just fine without the gift, which seems an ungrateful thing to say. He explains that he has learned to live in poverty and riches, in whatever circumstances that he finds himself. Does he say all this to brag about his own goodness? No. He is telling us how a Christian ought to live. A Christian should desire to be rich in the spiritual gifts and above all to have an abundance of love. It should not occur to a Christian to desire material wealth beyond their material need, because we know that happiness does not come from what we possess.

So why did he rejoice so to see the gift? He says that he was more grateful to see their generosity than for the gift itself. He sees the gift as a physical manifestation of their love and concern for him. He has loved them and served them. Anyone who loves someone else desires to be loved in return. Here is proof of that love. And he is proud like a father to see these people whom he brought into the faith show such generosity. By this gift they prove that they understand and embrace the teachings of Jesus. No father who ever saw his son make the touchdown pass to win the game, remembering years of practice in the backyard, has ever been more proud.

Jesus takes a somewhat harsher tone about money. “You cannot serve God and mammon.” The Pharisees sneered at him. They thought that he was simplistic. They see no contradiction between love of God and love of money. We are on the side of the Pharisees. We compartmentalize our lives. We see nothing wrong with pursuing profit while claiming to worship God. Jesus does. “You justify yourselves in the sight of humans.” Even if we can make the most convincing and solid excuses in favor of money, they mean nothing. “For what is exalted among humans is an abomination in the sight of God.” How very many things are like this, not only money! We think they are compatible with worshiping God. We have convincing arguments that there is no reason to give them up as Christians, but we are wrong. A half-hearted Christian is an abomination in the sight of God.

November 9, 2012 - Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Today's Readings

We celebrate today a building. Not just any building, of course, but the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Rome: St. John Lateran. This building is the mother church and the head church of Rome, and since Rome is the foremost city of the Christian Church, it is the mother church of the whole world too.

Now, there is the Church and then there is a church. We come into a church to pray, but we are the Church. The word Church means two things, depending on which way you trace its meaning. It means that which belongs to God or the gathering of the people. The building belongs to God; it is set aside for worshipping him, but how much more do the people who worship him belong to God! This building is where we gather together to praise the Lord, but the people are the actual gathering, whether it takes place in a nice building or outside or in someone’s home.

However, we call this building a church, and rightly so, because it is a symbol of the Church: the gathering of the people who belong to God. Throughout these readings we have symbols layered on top of symbols, the Temple of Jerusalem stands as a symbol of the church building we celebrate and therefore as a symbol of the entire Church.

St. Paul says that we are the Temple of God. Each one of us individually is a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and together we are like the stones out of which the building is formed: Jesus is the foundation, and we are supported not only by this foundation, but also by 2000 years of people building up the Church, brick by brick. We take our place in the wall, bearing the load that is given to us, and supporting the Church for years to come.

As in the first reading, the life of the world, the fresh water that purifies the acrid waters of the sea, flows through the Temple, so too the grace of God flows from God, through the Church, into the whole world. As Jesus cleansed the temple, so we pray to him to cleanse the Church. We must be clean within if we are going to cleanse the culture outside. We should not be afraid that the Church is too filthy to give life to the world; we are simultaneously being cleansed and cleansing the world.

November 6, 2012 - Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Philippians 2:5-11
Psalm 22:26-32
Luke 14:15-24

There is a story I know from a book that many of you read in school. The book is about hunting raccoons. The story says that if you want to trap a raccoon, all you need is something shiny. You put this shiny object in a place with a very small opening. The raccoon will reach in and grab it, but because its fist is now full, it cannot pull its paw back. It could just let go of the object and go away, but it will not do this. It will never let go. You will find it the next morning, still holding on. While I cannot personally verify this method of trapping raccoons to be effective, I have seen the principle in action, not with raccoons but people. Every last one of us is holding on to something that is preventing us from being really happy. What we need to learn is kenosis. This beautiful poem from Philippians is showing the concept of kenosis. Kenosis means “emptiness” in Greek, and St. Paul is telling us about how Christ emptied himself. What does that mean? It means to not grasp onto anything.

Kenosis does not mean losing everything. It means losing everything except those things that no one can take away. Consider Christ’s journey of kenosis. He is God, but he came down to earth. He went from being all-powerful and perfectly happy, to being poor and suffering the difficulties of this world. When all his disciples left him, he let them go. When his enemies tried to kill him, he did not stop them. He never grasped at anything. No one could ever threaten Jesus Christ because he is God, and nothing anyone ever did to him could change that fact. He did not need to hold on tightly to his equality with the Father because he had complete confidence that this could never be taken away from him.

Perhaps you will think, “Kenosis is all well and good for Jesus, since he was God and nothing could ever change that, but for me, what do I have that I can depend on no matter what?” The same thing: not that we are God but that there is a God, who loves us, who has promised us good things. They might take our money, our safety, our health, even our life, but no one, no matter what, can take God away from us.

November 5, 2012 - Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Philippians 2:1-4
Psalm 131.1,2,3
Luke 14:12-14

What St. Paul is writing about here is possibility. “If”, he says, “If there is any support in Christ.” Of course he means that there is, but he is drawing the attention of his readers to that fact. Our natural tendency is toward selfishness and being conceited. Our natural tendency is toward regarding ourselves as the most important. St. Paul is very gently asking, “But what if?” What if we followed the teachings of Jesus? The world would be a better place if it were not possible to be poor, crippled, lame, or blind without being invited to a banquet. Those in need would have trouble keeping track of all their invitations.

The problem, at least from the selfish perspective of fallen human beings, is that even if we embraced this idealism of actually doing what Jesus says, others probably will not. We will do all the good, but others will just take advantage of us. And there is a truth to this cynicism. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Those who do not work should not eat.” But how can we dismiss the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as simplistic idealism? We admit by faith in him that he is God and therefore greater than us in every way. Jesus was always right.

The mistake is to take his idealistic teachings and apply them to the world as if he had never also taught about the world to come. As he says today, “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” He is advocating a sort of selfish generosity that should speak to us selfish, fallen human beings. He does not suggest feeding the needy because they need to be fed, but because their inability to repay us leaves God in our debt, and that is an amazing place to be.

It is like when the son of a very wealthy man travels around running up debts in various places, causing damage, and everyone is glad to have him take advantage of them because they know that his father will pay the bill and add a little something on top for the trouble. If we follow Jesus’ teachings and end up poor, beaten, insulted, or even dead because of them, we should smile knowing the repayment that we have coming. Every single person who takes advantage of us has a Father in heaven who is going to make it up to us and more.

November 4, 2012 - Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Deuteronomy 6:2-6
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 12:28-34

The debate that the scribe brings to Jesus today is about the first commandment. The scribes often would debate this question. The issue is which commandment overrides the others. If I can only follow one of the commandments, which one should it be? So, for instance, we should not steal, but we should go to Mass on Sunday. So what if the only way to get to Mass on Sunday is to steal a car? Which commandment takes priority? What if we choose a different commandment, about feeding the poor? What if there is someone starving and the only way to feed them is to steal food, should we do it? The scribes used to debate questions like this all the time. Some would say that the first commandment is the Sabbath. Others would say that the first commandment is the sacrifice at the Temple. So a scribe goes up to Jesus today and asks him his opinion on this debate.

Jesus answers the question directly. He does not duck it. He goes back to the Old Testament law, to the first reading we had today, and says, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And then he adds from another part of the law, “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” In other words, the law of love is above every other law.

What is love? Love is a feeling. We know this, but it also must be something more than a feeling. If God commanded love in the Old Testament, and Jesus says that these two commandments of love are the most important commandments of all, love has to be an action too. Because how could God command us to feel a certain way? There is no way to make ourselves feel love for someone. We either do or we do not. Love has to be some kind of action that we can do. When these actions come naturally without even trying, that is what it means to be in love. But when they do not come naturally, we are still free to do them. We just have to make a decision to continue loving. The feeling is enough to get started, but eventually, every love requires work.

Blessed John Paul II wrote a book about the actions of love; he said that there are three parts. The three parts apply to every way we mean love: love of God, love of a spouse, love of family, love of the poor. The first part is attraction: thinking about how good the other person is. When we are in love, that is all we can do, even to the point of being blinded, but we can also do it by working at it. The first action of loving God is to think about how good he is: all that he has done for us, and how wonderful he is in himself. The first action of loving a person in need is to consider how good they are, that they are a human being with all the dignity that implies and their own personal accomplishments and talents. Then the person does not get defined by their need; the person is no longer just a problem to solve but an individual with so much to love about them.

The second part of love is desire: desiring to be with the other person. Again, when we are in love, that is all we desire. A person in love can forget to eat or sleep because they only want to be with the one they love. And this too can be done by anyone by working at it, not the desire but the being with. The second action of loving God is to spend time with him. It is what we are doing right now. Perhaps some of you did not have a great desire to come here this morning, but you are still here. With or without the desire, you have chosen to come spend time with God. When we love someone in need, we spend time with them. The need for human contact is just as real as whatever else they need.

The third action of love is doing good. When we are in love we want to bring presents and other ways of showing this love. If there is any way we can help the one we love, we are just as grateful to have the opportunity to help as they could ever be to receive help. When we love God we do good things for him. Of course this is difficult because he does not need anything from us. But Jesus says that what we do for the least of our brothers, we do for him. When we serve someone in need it is an act of love not only for them, but also for God. In this way, the love of neighbor is part of the love of God. Since we love God, we have to love his children too.

The feeling of love is perhaps the greatest feeling in all of existence. God gave us the ability to be in love because he wanted us to know how wonderful love is. But the actions of love are greater than the feeling. If we are in love with the feeling of love, we are like addicts going after our next hit. To simply chase that feeling misses the point. It is delightful when it is there because it makes it so easy to love, but the real accomplishment is loving when the feeling goes away.

When we begin following God, we often have that feeling of being in love, but then it goes away. Sometimes people think that they have done something wrong or that they were mistaken in their feelings in the first place. God is trying to draw us closer. When we begin serving the poor in a new way, we can have that feeling of being in love, and then it goes away. The test is whether we continue the actions of love without the feeling. Not because God is just trying to test us, but because if we do we will have something greater. Being young and in love is wonderful, but being married for fifty years, through good times and bad, never giving up on love, is better. Going on a mission trip and being on fire to help others is great, but serving the poor for fifty years, through good times and bad, never giving up on love, is better. Going to prayer and having an experience of love that brings us right up to heaven is amazing, but spending a whole life drawing close to God, through good times and bad, never giving up on love, is what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

November 2, 2012 - The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)

Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm 27:1, 4, 7-9, 13-14
Romans 5:5-11
John 11:17-27

Today I am going to tell you something that ought to be said at funerals. It never is said because of the grieving friends and family and because these words are for all and can be very heavy if all placed on the one person who has died, but today, All Souls Day, is an opportunity to say this more generally, without causing undo grief:

Getting into Heaven is hard.

No one is going to Heaven because they liked gardening nor because they baked very good cookies nor because they gave good advice that one time. And no one is going to Heaven because they volunteered for a few hours a week at the homeless shelter nor because they were nice to animals nor because they went to Mass occasionally.

Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor active homosexuals, nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor gossips, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God. For we can be sure that everyone who is sexually impure or greedy has no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.

Unless you are more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And NOT everybody who calls Jesus Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And if you have wealth, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven! For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

No one is going to Heaven because they happen to love those who love them. What is unusual about that? No one is going to Heaven because they want to. Everyone wants to go to Heaven. Heaven is perfect and that means that only perfect can get in. Nothing unclean can enter Heaven nor anyone who does terrible things or tells lies. If you are not perfect, you cannot go to Heaven.

So thank God for Purgatory! What is Purgatory? St. Paul calls it salvation by fire. Christ does too. He tells us to avoid “Hell where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched, but everyone”, he says, “will be salted with fire.” He likens it to a debtors’ prison, where we will not be released until we have paid the last penny.

Some say that Purgatory is the imperfect soul getting used to Heaven, like a person dipping their toe in a hot bath or a cold pool. It hurts at first, but eventually we become accustomed to it and glad for the comforting hot water or the refreshing cold water. Or like walking outside after being in the dark, the light hurts our eyes at first, until we become accustomed.

Some say that Purgatory is like a gym for the soul. While the lazy souls in Hell lie down and never get up again, the lazy souls in Purgatory run 10,000 mile laps. While the gluttonous soul in Hell eats and eats until it throws up and then eats some more, the gluttonous soul in Purgatory fasts for 100 years. While the jealous souls in Hell claw at each other, the jealous souls in Purgatory have their eyes closed for a few centuries.

So thank God for Purgatory, because there is a way for the imperfect to get into Heaven: by becoming perfect. When a person dies, if they are perfect they go to Heaven; if they are imperfect and stubborn, they go to Hell; if they are imperfect but willing to change, they go to Purgatory. Purgatory is the final proof of God’s mercy – if he can get someone into Heaven, he will.

If someone gets into Purgatory, there is no chance of failure. Everyone stays there until they succeed. From Purgatory, the soul can see Heaven, so they embrace all the necessary suffering with joy, keeping their eyes fixed on the final destination. If a soul spends 10 million years in Purgatory, they know that they will have forever in Heaven. Ten million years is not even a fraction of forever.

We should understand that time in Purgatory and time on earth do not run by the same clock. So ten million years passes there and only a little while passes here. The time between the death and the funeral could be centuries in Purgatory. I know that some people put their faith in promises about being released from Purgatory on Saturdays, but in that time, as much time passes as is necessary.

So we, for our part, should pray ceaselessly for the faithful departed. Our prayers can do so much good for the souls in Purgatory. Not only today, but every day. Who knows how much time passes from one All Soul’s Day to the next? And the most powerful prayer, by far, more powerful than any special holy card you might find, is the Mass. We offer every Mass for the faithful departed. Every Mass has an intention for a soul in purgatory. Even if it is offered for some other intention, a sick person or thanksgiving or anything else, there is a separate intention for the souls in Purgatory.

And indulgences are powerful prayers too. What is an indulgence? It is a little suffering, like fasting or giving up time, that we offer to the souls in Purgatory. Just as a little time on earth is a great deal of time in Purgatory, so a little suffering here makes up for a great deal of suffering there.

It is true that there have been problems with indulgences. One kind of sacrifice is giving money to the poor, so if I collect money for the poor and tell you it is an indulgenced act, it could look like I am selling you an indulgence, which is of course nonsense. And if a few priests, hundreds of years ago, expressed this poorly, it does not void the truth.

Whether prayer or fasting or almsgiving, or any other suffering, such as a sickness or suffering injustice without complaining, we can offer it up and help the souls in Purgatory. And every suffering that we do, in addition to helping the souls now in Purgatory, counts as time off our own time in Purgatory. Every sin we commit adds to the time, even after it is forgiven, and everything we suffer subtracts from the time.

So, in summary: it is hard to get into Heaven, but easy to get into Purgatory, and everyone in Purgatory eventually makes it to Heaven. So thank God for Purgatory, and pray for those who are making their way through right now.

November 1, 2012 - Solemnity of All Saints

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
Psalm 24:1-6
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

To better understand the meaning of All Saints Day, we need to know what a saint is. There are really two meanings of the word saint, two ways that we use this word, and they reflect the two meanings of this holiday. “Saint” means “those who belong to God”, so it partially means all the people in heaven, but it also means all the people in the Church, including us. We belong to God. So today we celebrate the achievements of all the saints in heaven, and we celebrate the possibility of all the saints on earth.

What is the achievement of the saints in heaven? They are happy. They are praising God forever. They are doing what humans were meant to do. If a saint from heaven appeared to us right here, we would think they were an angel or one of the ancient gods, but really they are just a human like you and me. Just some Joe or Sally who lived the way we live. On earth their appearance probably was not impressive, but now we would be embarrassed to stand in their presence. I know that some of the saints in heaven were homeless here on earth. Here they were, to be honest, filthy and smelly, repulsive. There they are now so beautiful that we would not be sure whether to stare in amazement or look away ashamed. This is the achievement of the saints in heaven. These are the people we celebrate today.

What is our possibility, we saints on earth? To be like those saints in heaven. A few years from now, not so many, probably less than we expect, we might be in heaven. We might be like the angels. But how do we turn this possibility into a reality? The answer is in the readings today. Revelation tells us that salvation belongs to our God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ. If we are going to get into heaven, it will not be by our own strength.

In Revelation we see all the saints in heaven praising God. If you want to grow up to be a basketball player or a violinist or anything else, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you want to grow up to be a saint, you have to practice praising God. We need to put in some real time here on earth praising God. We need to set aside time each day to praise God. We need to praise him while we are working. We need to periodically shut off the TV and praise God. No one is ever too busy to praise God.

We do not praise God because he has low self-esteem. We do not praise him for his benefit but for our own. We praise God not out of flattery or fear but because it is the truth. He is great. He is wise. He is powerful. He is wonderful. He is mighty. We forget these things unless we say them. We begin to think that some human person, ourselves perhaps or someone famous, is the greatest, or, if get beyond this delusion, we begin to think that nothing in existence is really that great after all. If we are going to become saints we have to learn the truth: there is something wonderful in this universe and it is God.

The psalm gives us advice about how to get to heaven. It asks, “Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD or who may stand in his holy place?” This was the very question we had, but the answer is not so easy as I had hoped: “One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is useless.” I hear that and wonder whether there is any other way. If heaven is only for those who have never sinned, then we may as well give up now. We are in luck though, we sinners. Jesus Christ came to forgive all of our sins. He forgives our sins without lowering the standard. A clean heart and sinless hands and pure desires are still necessary, but he will bring us up to the standard and even higher.

That higher standard is set today in the Gospel. We have here the beatitudes, these beautiful blessings. Some people consider them to be a kind of commandment, but I think they ought to be thought of more as a ruler. In my house, where I grew up, there is a wall, between the kitchen and the laundry room, where we stood as children while our mother marked our heights. Those marks, now barely visible, show how we grew, inch by inch.

The beatitudes are like that wall. Periodically we ought to stand up next to the beatitudes and see how we are growing. Do I care less about money? Am I dissatisfied with this world? Am I meeker? Do I hunger and thirst for justice? Am I more merciful? Are my desires more pure? Am I making peace in the world? Have I been persecuted for my faith? Inch by inch, reaching heaven by inches, always growing, never shrinking back, and someday we will be a saint in heaven.

Beloved: Do you see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God? And so we are. We are his children now, but what we might yet be has not been revealed. We know a little, just glimpses, like in the book of Revelation today, but we cannot even imagine what it will really be like. We just know that it is going to be good. We just know that we want to be saints forever.

I want to be a saint forever, and I know that in your soul, each one of you, you do too. I know this because built into every human soul is a deep desire to be in heaven. Some people mistake it as boredom or inexplicable sadness. It is dissatisfaction with this world. It is the mourning that Jesus calls blessed, the feeling that surely there is something more than just this. In some people it becomes greed or gluttony or lust, but neither money nor food nor sex can satisfy this desire. God has made us for himself, and we are restless until we rest in him.