What makes your heart sing?

Passion!

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

Our Christian Baseline

Listen to the Homily: https://www.strobertchurch.org/sermons/july-14-fr-stephen-our-christian-baseline/

What is our baseline? 

A couple of years ago, I had an internship at St. Mary’s hospital.  I was able to participate in rounds on the floor that I was seeing patients on.  One of the phrases I learned right away was patient is at baseline, or patient’s numbers are returning to baseline.  Basically, this means there numbers are returning to the norm, and to where they should be at.

Moses wants to return the Israelites to their baseline in our first reading.  They received the Law years ago, but now it has become familiar.  It no longer means much to them anymore, so Moses is calling them back to the Law and to God. Return to the lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.  Return to your baseline. 

Our readings this weekend give us the baseline for a Christians.  They tell us what needs to be present at minimum in every Christian.  The baseline for all Christians is this: 1) confess there is a God and that we are not him, 2) to be known and loved by God and to know and love God in return, and 3) to love our neighbor as God loves us.  This is baseline Christianity. 

Everything starts with confessing that there is a God and we are not him.  This is what Moses is reminding the Israelites.  This is so important for us today. If we recognize that there is a God who created us and this world, then we also will recognize that God created this world with order and purpose.  If we do not, then we think we are our own masters or our own gods… this is fundamental to know that we are not god.

After confessing that there is a God and we are not Him, we are called to experience a loving relationship with God.  This is the greatest gift.  All of us have a desire to know and to be known by someone.  What greater gift is there in this life than to be known and to know our God? We do this through prayer, Mass, the Scriptures and the Sacraments; where we experience the love of God in our lives.

Finally, as we heard in our Gospel this morning, love of neighbor is a non-negotiable in the Christian life.

After WWII, Stanley Milgram wanted to understand why so many nazi soldiers claimed, “we were just following orders.” Could this really be the case?

So he developed an experiment that remains controversial to this day.  He found volunteers help with what they called a science experiment.  The volunteers came in and played the teacher.  They were instructed to deliver an electric shock to the student when the student answered a question wrongly. There were different levels of shock, mild, somewhat severe, to severe.  The greater the severity the greater the chance for health risks.

There were variations to the experiment.  In one variation of the experiment, the teacher was in the room, but merely pressed the button that delivered the shock. In the other variation of the experiment the teacher was in a different room where he could neither see/hear the student.  He was merely told when the student got a question wrong, and to press the button to give the shock.

What Milgram found out was that the proximity to the student mattered.  For the teacher that was in the same room with the student sixty five-percent of the teacher-volunteers refused to continue delivering shocks once they were asked to deliver more severe shocks.  Here’s the terrifying part, for the volunteers that were in a different room, and could not hear the or see the pain of the student, only 35% refused to continue. 

What Milgram really found out is separation or abstraction, when we cannot see the person we are inflicting pain on, we are more likely to consent in negative behaviors.

For example, why is it so easy for us to gossip?  To bring it home, how often do we gossip with the person right in front of us?  Rarely, because if that person was around us, we would see the pain we are causing.  But when we talk about a person with others while that person is not with us, it is so much easier to gossip about that person. Because in that moment, that person remains an idea, and we cannot see the pain we are inflicting…

Jesus gives us a non-negotiable to Christian life.  He confirms for us that love of neighbor is a part of baseline Christianity.  One-hundred percent of the time, he says, we are called to meet the needs of the person who is right in front of us. Not just when they are in front of us but even when they are not in front of us.  Whether people are there in our midst concretely or in the abstract, we are always called to love our neighbor.

Moses encouraged the Israelites to return to the Lord with all their heart and soul.  May we too return to the Lord by returning to our baseline as Christians; as a people who believe in God, love him and love our neighbor.

In Christ’s love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Listen to the Homily: https://www.strobertchurch.org/sermons/july-14-fr-stephen-our-christian-baseline/

Do we bring peace and joy?

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. How appropriate are these words for us today?  In the past, associates would have had 6-10 years as an associate before leading a parish.  Here, at Saint Robert’s, you had to say goodbye to Fr. Mulhall after only three years…  The Lord needed Fr. Mulhall and sent him to Holy Redeemer to minister to the people of Jenison.  Goodbyes are hard, but I think I am not alone in my belief that Fr. Colin is going to thrive as a shepherd of God’s people.  Some of you know that Fr. Colin and I are childhood friends.  It is a humbling and a great joy to follow him here at Saint Robert’s.  I can assure all of you, that Fr. Colin has had the same experience as the 72 disciples who in our Gospel returned rejoicing.  Fr. Colin experienced many blessings here at St. Roberts.

Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves… We are reminded by these words, that Christ is sending all of us here out on mission.  Notice, this mission was not just the 12, it was to 72.  The fact that he sent out 72 shows us that Christ intends to send many out on mission.  The mission is not just for the 72 in our Gospel.  This mission is for each of us now.  Each of us has been chosen and has also been sent.  We too are disciples who are sent by Christ to bring the peace and joy that comes from God into the world.  That is the purpose of our mission.  

Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves…  This statement from Christ explains how we are to act on our mission.  When we go, we are to go not as warriors, or wolves, who bring violence, death, and division.  No, we are to go as lambs in order to have the personality of a lamb where we will bring peace, joy, and life.  

But we are sent like lambs among wolves partly because we are not guaranteed that it will be easy or free from anxiety.  Sometimes, the mission will be hard.  But Jesus asks us to go anyway. Why? Because just like Fr. Colin, Christ needs us to help Him carry out his mission.  And sometimes, it might be hard to leave where we are comfortable to go and serve the Lord.  And sometimes, it might be hard because the people do not want to hear the Good News. But we are called to go anyway…  The reason we go is this:  we are so convinced by Christ’s love, joy, and peace in our lives, that we want to give that same love, joy, and peace to others.

Here’s the best part, Jesus tells us how to do it.  He equips us with everything that we need for this mission. So, your mission, our mission, should you choose to accept it, (see what I did there?), is to be like these 72. In the movie, Mission Impossible, there were times when Ethan Hunt, went ill-equipped for a mission and his safety was far from a guarantee. Hence the name, Mission Impossible. This mission that Christ gives us may not seem possible, easy, or appealing. But, listen to these words from our savior again, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals. In other word, don’t bring what you think you need, Jesus says, instead have a radical trust in me.  Christ promises us that all we need for this mission is our friendship with him. With His help, the help that comes from the Holy Spirit, do we have the hope to carry out this mission.  And we do have it!  We have been equipped by Christ by our baptism and confirmation!  Our mission is not impossible, but it requires relying on God’s help and grace!

This is “[our] mission … to announce his coming, to present him to the [others], to open their hearts to faith, and to arouse in them a desire for his coming.” (TLY, 316)

The words of our Gospel this morning I find very moving.  They are a great encouragement for me also as I begin my time here at Saint Robert’s. I have been sent here by Bishop Walkowiak, to live in residence.  I have received lots of questions about what that means. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know.  But we will learn together. The main thing that it means is that my full-time job is with the diocese.  Bishop’s mission for me right now, is to help Christ find laborers for the harvest as the Vocations Director for the diocese.  With that said, I do not intend for this role to preclude me from loving and ministering to all of you.  My hope is that, I, along with Fr. Len and the pastoral staff here at St. Robert’s, are all able to bring each of you into a deeper relationship with God.  It is a hope, most likely, shared by each of you.  And so, these words for me have been an encouragement and a challenge: How will I enable God to bring his peace and joy to each of you? And that same encouragement and challenge is for each of us this weekend: How are we allowing God to bring his peace and joy to others through our ministry.  We have been chosen and sent.  My we too experience the great joy of bringing peace and joy to others as the 72 did in our Gospel. We’ll pray for one another as we begin our time together at Saint Robert’s.  I’m excited to be here, and God bless you all.

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Why?

A couple of months ago, Dan Vos, the construction company leading our project,  invited me to a Catholic Business Leaders breakfast at the diocese.  Here’s the catch, it began at 7am.  That’s not the time I had to wake up, but that’s the time I had to be there… 

When we arrived, I was walking by a table filled with parishioners from Our Lady.  Here’s how they greeted me:  “Father, this is early for you… We are surprised to see you here!”  

Dan Blundy, the man who invited me turns to me and says, “they seem to know you well Fr. Steve.” That they do. 

It’s no secret that I do not like mornings.  But the reason I’m telling you this, is when I returned to the parish that morning Fr. Tony asked me how it went.  I said, “Dude man, the worst possible thing happened, it was so good.. which means if I get invited again I’ll probably go!?” 

All kidding aside, it was one of the best presentations I have been to.  The business owner spoke about his company’s vision, and that his company really became successful when they asked the question “why”.  He was inspired by a TED talk from Simon Sinek, which he showed us.

Here is the example that Simon Sinek used…  

So, what makes apple different than other computer companies? 

Have you ever noticed that people who buy from Apple seem to be big supporters.  Why is it that people who buy apple are big fans.  Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why, explains the reason apple is successful and different from other computer companies.  

If apple was a typical computer company that advertised like most companies, they would communicate like this:  

We make great computers. 

Beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly.

` Want to buy one? 

How many of you are convinced that you want to buy an apple computer?  That type of advertising scheme elicits a “meh” response, doesn’t it? 

But Simon Sinek points out how Apple really sells computers:  

Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo

We do things differently. 

The way we do this is by making something beautifully designed, simple to 

    use, and user friendly.

We just happen to make good computers, want to buy one? 

Now, I’m not here to convince you to buy and iPhone.  But, in many of Apple’s ads on TV, Apple challenges you to do something and it has nothing to do with buying their product.  They challenge you to “think different.”  This is their why: they challenge the status quo and ask you to think differently. 

What I find interesting is what Mr. Sinek points about companies that do not have a good sense of why.  Without a good sense of why, companies are forced to manipulate.  This is when you here from Art-Van its our last sale of the year, and its December 31st. Then the very next day, its our first sale of the year so don’t miss your chance! The problem with a “sale” is that people will only buy when there is a sale.  

Ultimately, the conclusion that Simon Sinek makes applies to us more than we might realize.  His conclusion is that the “People, don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it!”  

So, Mr. Sinek has challenged me to really think about this question at the parish level.  Why?  Why are we here? 

So just as a I did a few moments ago with apple, I will do it again with our parish. 

Starting from the way we typically communicate and without a clear sense of why this is what we would say:

At Our Lady, we are a Catholic Church.  We have the sacraments. 

We have Masses daily, offer times for reconciliation and ways to learn about 

your faith at this parish. 

  Want to be members here? 

Feel inspired? 

The point is, we could have the best school, the best facilities, the best youth center, the most beautiful church and the best technology…  If we have all of these things without a clear understanding of our why, then we have nothing.  Because it won’t matter. People won’t buy it.  And what I mean by that is people will not believe that we are who we say we are.  We need to know our why.  

Here is how Simon Sinek suggests we communicate to our community: 

We at our Lady of Consolation, love because Jesus Christ loved us.  

We believe so much in the power of Christ’s love that we actively invite 

people to a deeper relationship with Christ Jesus through 

Eucharistic Celebration (our parish mission statement).

We do this by celebrating mass, the sacraments, and offering ways for people 

in our parish to grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Would you like to join us? 

The latter is much more inspiring.  And here’s the thing, its the truth. And it’s what we celebrate this weekend. 

We are here for one reason and one reason only.  We are not here because we have the greatest school, or the best technology, or the best staff, or even because of the priests; Fr Tony, me or your next associate Fr. Andrew.  These are not the reasons why we are here.  We are here because of the power of Christ’s love.  Our why, comes straight from Saint John, we love because he first loved us. 

Friends, this weekend, we are celebrating the mystery of our why.  We are celebrating Corpus Christi Sunday.  The Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus Christ is the Sacrament where Jesus continues to pour out his love upon each of us. The Eucharist brings us back week after week to the one moment where Jesus love us to end— to that one moment on the cross.  The Eucharist, is the sign of God’s love.  And the Eucharist is the foundational element of the Christian community.  Without it we have nothing.  

So what is your why?  Is your life inspiring others because it is so obvious that you have found your why?  Your why, our why, is simply this: we love because he first loved us. 

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen