What makes your heart sing?


I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!  Jesus is asking us, are you on fire? or, what are you passionate about? Another way to ask that question is, what makes your heart sing?

Last year, I was celebrating the 4pm Christmas Eve mass at my previous parish.  We were filled to the brim.  Probably almost 1500 people were there for that one Mass.  And I was emotional at the start of that Mass.  I was overwhelmed by how many people came to celebrate Christ’s birth. I am passionate about people coming to know Jesus Christ.

I have been thinking about that question a lot lately. I have been reading a book about TED talks and the author proposes that question to the reader.  What makes your heart sing?  His advice: find what you passionate, on fire… find what makes your heart sing and talk about it.

So, what makes my heart sing?

As I think about this question, what comes to mind are the types of shows and movies I like to watch. They all share an important quality.  They show the goodness of humanity.  For example, I’ve been watching America’s Got Talent this summer.  One great moment on this show came a couple of years ago. A woman came on the show to sing a song. But, as Simon quickly noticed, the young woman had an interpreter… because she can’t hear. She lost her hearing when she was 18. She even gave up on singing until she was about 25 and decided to try.  Now on the show, she was 29 and she had learn how to sing even with her inability to hear. She wrote and sang a song about trying. It was one of the most inspirational things I had seen about someone who has persevered and continues to bless the world with the gifts God has given her. I am inspired by her story.

One of my favorite moments was when an 11-year-old boy wowed the judges with his violin talent.  But it was even more amazing because he had cancer when he was 4 and now is in remission.  The song he chose was Stronger by Kelly Clarkson.  Simon gave him the golden buzzer.  This young man’s talent, his passion, his love for music, and his joy made this a beautiful moment.

When I was younger, the priest I grew up with made my heart sing.  I was at a funeral for the grandfather of one of my closest friends.  My friend was the lector for the second reading and he was overcome with emotion.  The priest walked over put his hand on his shoulder and helped my friend finish, in his moment of grief, to finish the reading.  I think this was a major moment for me in considering the priesthood. 

What makes my heart sing?  My heart sings when I see people encounter something beautiful and good, because I believe it is in encountering the beautiful and good that we experience the divine—that we experience God!  People experiencing God’s beauty, His goodness, and his love.  It’s why I became a priest. It’s what I’m passionate about.  It’s what makes my heart sing.

It is what I am passionate about.  I have come to set the earth on fire, Jesus says, and how I wish it were already blazing!

Brothers and Sisters, we must become fire!  This is Christ’s message for us.  Imagine how the earth could be on fire if our hearts were all inflamed with the love of Christ. How true and needed this is in our world today!? What makes our hearts sing?  Jesus wants our answer to be him.  He makes our heart sing, so that we Go out to all the world and tell the Good News!

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Faith – Jesus Christ Loves You

Pope Francis wrote faith is dependent on the first proclamation; that first time we realized God’s love in our lives. “Jesus Christ loves you;” he tells us, “he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (EG, 164). Faith doesn’t just depend on this, it lives on this.

This is the secret to having Faith. Let God love you and let yourself love him in return.

This is why this parish exists.  The church is the place where people of Faith belong.  Where all of God’s children; those whom he loves, belong. Faith recognizes that we belong.  I belong, you belong with God and each other for all eternity.  Faith presupposes, or rather comes out of our conviction, our belief that each of us has been saved by Christ, and loved by him totally and completely.

In our second reading, in the letter to the Hebrews, we heard that Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for. What is that thing that we are hoping for?  It is to live, with all of the angels and saints, in God’s life and love for all eternity in the kingdom of heaven. What we hope for is an end to all violence, suffering, and division.  We long for a world of peace, unity, and love.  And so active faith is convinced of God’s love and promises that it perseveres through the difficulties of this world.

Second, it is the evidence of things not seen. Faith is the evidence of the things not seen… Faith is belonging with God because of our belief that God desires so much that   This is about works of charity.  That the way we act, the way we treat each other is evidence for what is unseen.  That is, our personal relationship with God.  By personal— I mean that it is intimate— not that it is private.  One’s faith is never for himself alone, but to be shared with others.  Faith is that interior, personal, experience of the God who loves me.  It is made evident by our behavior. Because I live in the reality that I am a beloved, I will treat you as a beloved as well. Active faith is a vigilant faith. One that responds daily to the demands of charity owed to each other and to our Father in heaven.

These are the three marks of active faith.  Faith convinces us that we belong because we have a God who loves us, Faith encourages us to trust and hope in God’s providence, and Faith inspires us to act as God does—to love as he loves…. why?  Because he loved us first.   

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

What are you living for?

“I love this life.” She told them. “I wish you all could just live it for a little while just to see. It’s so peaceful. I just feel like I’m not under-living life. I’m living it to the full” (Article ESPN, “Whatever happens to Villanova basketball star Shelly Pennefather? ‘So I made this deal with God.’, Elizabeth Merrill). These words were said by Shelly Pennefather. She holds the record for most points scored in Villanova basketball history. Her words spark a question for us all to pray about this weekend: what are we living for?

So, I’m a big sports fan. The people of my parish know this (visiting IHM this weekend). Admittedly, I read sports news every day; multiple times a day. Recently, Yahoo Sports released an article entitled, “The Most Tortured NFL Fan Bases”… Immediately my heart fell because I expected to see the Lions at the top of the list… And here were the top 5: 1. Giants, 2. Jets, 3. Redskins, 4. Falcons, and our beloved 5. Detroit Lions…

You would think that the Lions being number 5 on the list would make me happy. But it didn’t. I couldn’t believe it. I read this list and I thought, those fan bases are not more tortured than us. And the very fact that I was jealous is indicative just how miserable of an experience it can be to be a Lions fan. Then I thought about it, the Giants have two super bowls, the Jets have playoff victories, the redskins have a division title, and the falcons have been to the Super Bowl… All in the past 15 years. And our lions have none of those things. But here’s what they do have, an 0-16 season!

I do love the Lions, and I promise I have a point… I don’t think I can express adequately enough the great joy I would have if they ever won a Super Bowl in my lifetime. But… Here is the sobering thought. What would my life be like the next day, week, or year after that great moment? Would I look back at the Detroit Lions Super Bowl win and say, “that moment is what made life worth living?” It sounds silly doesn’t it? To find meaning in the Detroit Lions really is a silly goal in life… The point of this weekend is simple, nothing worldly… nothing worldly makes life worth living. There is only the one necessary thing, and remember we were told what that one necessary thing is. Jesus, a few weeks back spoke to Martha and Mary, the one necessary thing is a loving relationship with God — that truly makes life worth living.

And Jesus challenges us this weekend, brothers and sisters, take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions. One’s life does not consist of possessions. The man in our Gospel wanted to hoard his wealth and build a bigger barn. What is the bigger barn for us? For some of us it might be our love for sports… and yes even the Detroit Lions. For others of us that bigger barn could be our money, or our homes. And for others of us, that bigger barn could be the newest and best technology. The point is this, Jesus wants us to let go of our “bigger barn.” Our worldly signs of success and security. He desires for us to leg go of our disordered need for worldly things, and instead hold on to the one necessary thing— our loving God.

“I love this life.” She says. “I wish you all could just live it for a little while just see.” I started my homily with these words. I told you they were said by Shelly Pennefather. A young woman who holds the record for the most points in Villanova women’s basketball. But she goes by another name, Sr. Rose Marie. She left a promising career in professional basketball where she was making good money. She found that her life was fulfilled by the one necessary thing, and that she was called to pray for the world. Her college coach Harry Peretta said in his appreciation for her vocation, “‘I didn’t understand it at first,’ Peretta said. ‘But if you believe in the power of prayers, then [cloistered nuns] are doing more for humanity than anybody’”, he continues, “‘I want people to understand that they’re not weird or different or strange,’ [perretta] said. ‘They’re normal people who decided to take on this calling for humanity.’”

We are called to love the life we are living. And we do this in two ways: 1) by holding on to the one necessary thing—our relationship with God. 2) Rather than living for the things of this world, we live for God just like Sr. Rose Marie lives for God. And, since I am visiting Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish this weekend, I want to take this moment to encourage vocations a to the priesthood and religious life. Following the lord and living a life for God is a not a burden. It’s a happy one. Sr. Rose Marie loves her life and that she is not under-living. She lives a very fulfilled life. Priesthood is the same. Being a priest for the Lord is an incredible joy. To the world, it looks like we give up everything good, everything that seemingly makes us happy. But I promise, I life lived for God is one worth living. May we pray for young men and women to respond to God’s call. And may we too, live our lives for God, I life worth living!

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

August 4 – Fr. Stephen: What are you living for?

God Listens

God listens.

As we begin to reflect on this weekend’s readings, it is important to remember that Jesus is responding to the scholar of the law that approached him a few weeks ago and asked, What must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus replied you shall love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.  And Jesus used the story of the Good Samaritan to teach us that our duty to love neighbor has no limits.  We are called to love everyone, period.  Today, he continues to teach us how to love God by teaching us how to pray.   

When we pray do we believe that someone is listening?  It seems obvious doesn’t it?  But if we really think about it, this is something we all have doubted at some point.  Or maybe some of us, right now, are doubting this weekend. Is God really listening to me?  Does God really care? Why aren’t my prayers being answered?  

Prayer is mysterious.  And it also challenges our faith. But its vital for our faith.  It’s where we strengthen our relationship with God, receive from Him what we need, and pray for ourselves and others.  

Abraham, in our first reading, is not afraid to ask God for something hard.  Not only is he not afraid, but he asks God again and again and again… He is persistent.  But notice, God listens to Abraham each time.  Our God is listening. 

Prayer may be mysterious.  But it is vital to our spiritual lives.  A spiritual life without prayer will die.  And we won’t pray, if we do not believe that our God is listening.  

Jesus teaches us to pray the most perfect prayer.  A prayer that God listens to.  We begin by addressing God as “Our Father”. Prayer is where we learn that God really cares.  Jesus invited us into this beautiful relationship he shares with the Father.  He made it possible for us “ordinary individuals” to “regularly address God as ‘Father’” (CCSC, 219).  It is important for us to receive God’s love for each of us as his sons and daughters.  But just as important, we need to go to Him as a Father,  to know that he is listening to us, that he wants to know us, and that he wants to love us.  God listens. 

Our God wants to give us what we need.  That is why Jesus teaches us to pray, Give us our daily bread… Father, give us what we need! But he can only give us what we need if we tell him.  As a boy, I struggled mightily with perfectionism. And I loved math.  I remember in middle school I was really struggling with my math homework.  And my parents wanted to help me.  But when they offered I freaked out.  I was so mad that I couldn’t do it myself, that I couldn’t ask for help.  And so, my parents were unable to help me.  Not because they didn’t want to, but because I wouldn’t let them give me what I needed.  God wants to help us.  But we have to tell him, what we need. Yes, he already knows what we need, just as my parents did, but He can only help us if we too confess our need for him. God listens. 

As the Our Father concludes, we pray that we may be safe from evil.  Do we trust that God is listening to our prayers of petitions for others?  Just the other day, I was praying with someone from Saint Roberts, and she asked me to pray for specific intention for her grandson.  And so we did.  The next day, she came to me and said, that right after we prayed, our prayers were answered.  God listens. 

Jesus reminds us, Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  Let us be persistent in prayer, because Our God listens.

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

July 28 – Fr. Stephen: God Listens