I Will Sing of your Salvation

I will sing of your salvation. 

Good News… Good News! I am reminded of the musical wicked.  It begins with a song proclaiming Good News… If you’re familiar with the musical, you know that it is talking about the death of the wicked witch… Good News!  What would be Good News for me?  Well, this past week hell froze over, so I was hoping the Good News I would be experiencing was a Detroit Lions Super Bowl victory.  But alas, hell froze over and still no super bowl. But the Good News at least is is it is warming up.  Good News would also be the Patriots losing…

Okay but what is the point.  What is so important about Good News?  Well, going back to the musical, Wicked, the story starts at the end, “Good News” the witch is dead.  The musical is the story of Good News.  And isn’t this what we do with Good News?  We tell others about it! For example, if the Lions did in fact win the super bowl, you bet I will be making a facebook post, instagram post, and calling my brother to celebrate.  In March, my sister is having a baby, and when she does, I can’t wait to tell others about it.  When we experience something amazing that we have to share it. 

Our psalm this weekend is about sharing the good news.  I will sing of your salvation Lord!  Here’s the question, how are we doing in sharing the Good News.  Fr. James Mallon said that he “honestly believes that this is the reason why so many lips remain silent in our churches on Sunday morning.  Too many literally have nothing to sing about… Only the evangelized can evangelize… Only those who have received the Good News as good news can proclaim it to others.  Good news is never a burden to share with others – indeed, it is the most natural thing in the world.”

Our Psalm is a perfect starting point.  I will sing the salvation of the Lord.  I will sing because I know what the Lord has done for me in my life: Jesus has saved me (1st stanza), in the second stanza God is our foundation, third stanza God is my Father who created me out of love, and the fourth stanza God has done amazing things in my life.  Do you know this?  Do you experience this as the Good News in your life?  

If we have experienced the Good News, then we must share it with others. That is what will attract people to become Catholic.  The  Good News.  When we experience the Love that Saint Paul is talking about so dramatically in our lives, others are attracted to experience that Love as well. 

Let us sing of our salvation, and sing Good News! 

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Remember who you are, You are a child of God!

It’s great to be home.  Most of you know that I spent that last two weeks in Rome.  It was a great vacation filled with memories I will cherish.  One of the greatest blessings was that I was able to celebrate Mass at the tomb of Saint John Paul II. The experience of seeing all of the churches was also powerful.  Something that I have personally been praying with since Christmas is how truly amazing it is that Christ has changed this world.  At Christmas, this Church was packed, all because of one man, Jesus Christ.  In Rome, there are 900 Catholic churches… again, all because of one man, Jesus Christ, who came to proclaim the Father’s love to the world.

Jesus came to proclaim the Father’s love to the world. Today we have the great gift of celebrating the Father’s love. Today we celebrate our Lord’s baptism. We hear these amazing words, the heavens [were] opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.” And so, today, we not only remember His baptism, but we also celebrate and remember the gift of our baptism.   This is the day that we remember who we are.  We remember that we belong to the Heavenly Father.  We are His beloved sons and daughters.

In Disney’s, The Lion King, Simba is struggling to remember his identity – to remember who he is.  He blames himself for his Father’s death.  He has run away from home and no longer believes he is worthy of love and worse, no longer worthy to be known as Mufasa’s son. Then he meets the monkey Rafiki who helps Simba reclaim his identity. In this beautiful scene, Rafiki says to Simba,

“Look into the water, and see your father.”

Simba looks and says with disappointment, “That’s not my father, that’s just my reflection.”

“No, Look harder,” Rafiki says encouragingly, “see in your reflection, your father lives in you.”

Then Simba begins to see his Father and miraculously begins to hear his Father’s voice: “Simba you have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten me. Remember who you are, you are my son!

Have we forgotten who we are…?

When we believe we have committed the worst sin, and are unworthy of forgiveness… we have forgotten who we are.

When we believe we have to earn other love from others or even earn God’s love …. We have forgotten who we are.

If we believe holiness is impossible… or, in other words, we will never be good enough… we have forgotten who we are!

So, when we begin to believe that our sins define us and that they make us unworthy of God’s love, we need to remember who we are – we need to hold on to our identity in Christ.  Trever Lawrence was asked how he plays so calm under pressure as a freshman quarterback.  He said, its because he knows that no matter what, whether he plays poorly or well, all that matters is what “Christ thinks of me and what I believe Christ thinks of me.”

When we believe we have to earn God’s love, all we need to do is look at the cross.  That’s what earned our salvation.  That is the sign of our worth.  We are worth it.  You are worth it.  God loved you that much, that he died for you.  There is nothing more we need to do in order to “buy” God’s love.

Holiness is possible.  Why, because you are baptized.  And you are good enough!  God has made each of us with our own particular gifts and talents. You are good enough.  Remember who you are.  You are a child of God loved by the Father.

Friends, over the past several months I have struggled with all three of these… Bishop assigned as the associate vocations director of the diocese last spring in addition to my duties here.  And there have been times where I have felt that I’m not doing either well.  And so, this fall there have been times of doubt and struggle and I was looking forward to my time in Rome.  To some time for prayer away. 

I was walking around the city, and my buddy and I found a random church; one of the 900… My buddy and I went inside. It was beautiful by our standards, average by Rome’s.  I found the side altar where the Blessed Sacrament was kept.  I sat there and prayed for a few minutes and then looked up.  I saw, written in Latin, the words we heard in our Gospel today, you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.  And friends, in that moment, I heard the Heavenly Father say, “Stephen, stop trying to be perfect.  Don’t lose hope. Don’t despair of your sins. You are a good priest.  Remember who you are. You are my son.  With you I am well pleased.”

Friends, this weekend, Jesus wants to remind each of us that he has given us the power to become children of God, because we too have been baptized in Christ.  And the Father says to us, just as he said to his son, “You are my beloved sons and daughters, with you I am well pleased.  Remember who you are.  Remember You are my child!”

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Will You Receive the Gift?

Lord, you didn’t want heaven without us. So, Jesus, You brought heaven down.  These words are from the Christian song, What a Beautiful Name, that has become a favorite of mine recently.  These words perfectly sum up what the Christmas celebration is all about.  “God comes down from heaven to be with his people” (113).  This is the message.  God became one of us so that we could be one with Him. 

It is important for us to reflect on this for a moment.  We have heard this story over and over again and in some ways, we can be too familiar with the incarnation of God.  In ancient Judaism, this would be absurd.

One Jewish Rabbi put it this way, “God and man, however small the distance between them may become, never completely come together… God has never wholly come down to earth, and men have never quite climbed up to him: the distance always remains” (114). The Rabbi emphasizes that there was a separation between God and humanity, that kept God at a distance and made it difficult for humanity to really trust in God’s love.   And so this much is clear, what would never have been possible in the Jewish theology of the Old Testament has happened in the incarnation: “God has ‘really come to earth’, God has really come together with [humanity]” (115).

This Christmas, we ought to give reverence to just how much of a gift God’s incarnation really is.  “The time of salvation is no longer primarily the Exodus when God was close to Israel and saved it, but the earthly existence, the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus.  These are the once-and-for-all, valid saving event and the time of salvation” (115). The saving event of Jesus starts with His birth.  The separation between God and us no longer exists.  The Father sent his Son into our lives in order to proclaim His love in the world. Jesus was to be a sacrament of the Father.

What is a sacrament?  A sacrament makes visible something that is invisible.  Or another apt definition is a sacrament makes present that which it signifies.  So Jesus makes God present in our lived human experience.  Jesus is the sacrament of the Father and the sacrament of salvation.  Something that I have been thinking about is how do we receive this gift today?  Think about it: have you ever been envious of those who lived during Jesus’ time?  They lived with Jesus, they talked with him, experienced him and God’s love in his earthly life. This begs the question, how do we experience the incarnate Christ, the living Christ, the Jesus who has entered totally into our humanity, how do we experience him today?

Well, just as Jesus is the sacrament of the Father the Church is the sacrament of Christ. If anyone here is thinking, “I wish that I could meet Jesus.  I wish that I could talk to him and experience him in my life just as the early Christians did.”  Well, I have good news for you… You can!  You can experience Christ in a beautiful and intimate way in the life of his Church

Here’s how we can experience the incarnation of Christ in our lives.  First, we encounter Christ in His Word; in sacred scripture… The Gospels give us real-life human experiences of Christ in our world — and we can relate to those experiences!  Here is one simple way: after Peter denied Christ for the third time, the Gospel writer Luke tells us that Christ looked at Peter.  How many of us can relate to Peter, that in a moment after our greatest sin, we saw the loving gaze of Christ?  How can we know Christ if we don’t read or reflect on his life in the scriptures?

We also experience Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist provides for all our needs. Jesus said to us that he is the bread of life, he is the new bread come down from heaven in order to give life to us. I cam so that you might have life and have it abundantly. The Eucharist is truly and really the body of Christ that gives us the spiritual nourishment to love as Jesus loves.  It is a personal encounter with the Lord who loves us and loved each of us to the end (Jn 13:1).  Our spiritual lives need the Eucharist more than our physical bodies need food/water. We cannot live or know Christ without this sacrament.

Christ is present in the priest and the community.  Fr. Tony’s role as pastor and my role as associate pastor of Our Lady of Consolation is to imitate Christ in his loving service for all of you. We try our best to live our lives like Christ so that we can help each of you know of our Heavenly Father’s particular love for you.  We aren’t perfect, we struggle with sin, impatience or selfishness as much as anyone but in a mysterious way, Christ chooses to be present in the sacramental ministry of the priest. And so you should expect that your priests resemble Christ and bring you closer to Jesus.  And this is why our lives are supposed to be lived generously for you.  We are supposed to make the sacramental life of the Church available for the people of Rockford. 

Christ’s presence among us as a community cannot be overlooked.  Just this past weekend, we celebrated a funeral mass for a long time parishioner.  As we were praying a rosary at Pederson’s funeral home on Friday, I was moved by the presence of Our Lady parishioners.  Then the next day, there were about 300 people that attended the funeral; many who are parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation.  This is what it means to be a parish.  We are family, and Christ said to us that where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them – Matthew 18:20. When someone among us is hurting and broken we are supposed to be the presence of Christ for them.  Christ, the one who came to heal the brokenhearted chooses to bring his hope, peace, and love to the suffering and broken hearted through the Christian community.  Something that breaks my heart is all those who feel that they have been abandoned by God.  I wonder, how many more would experience Christ’s loving presence if they were more involved in their parish community?

So the gift of Christ’s incarnation lives on today.  But… God respects humanity’s freedom to such an extent that he enters into our life in humility… He humbles himself and then relies on humanity to make room for him on earth. The proud man, on the other hand, drives [God] away from the world (113) (Jn 1:11). Jesus, the one who came into this world humbly, in a manger, will not force himself into your life.  He stands at the door and knocks, but he will only enter into your heart after you open the door.

Friends, Christ’s incarnation really happened.  The Christmas event really happened.  We honor Christ and show reverence to him, by receiving the gift.  And receiving the gift of the incarnation means allowing God to live in your life today. And that means humbling confessing your need to experience Jesus’ presence in your life.  We experience him through his word, the Eucharist, his sacraments, the priest and the Christian community. God wants to give you the greatest gift imaginable, he wants to enter into your life just as entered into our humanity 2000 years ago.  Will you receive this gift?

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Merry Christmas!

The Journey of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truthEveryone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

Christ the King Sunday.  With this Solemnity, we celebrate the end of the journey that began last Advent—the start of the liturgical calendar. 

The journey is one of Beauty, of Goodness, and Truth.  The goal of the liturgical year is to touch our hearts with the beauty of God’s love.  To change our lives with the goodness of a God who sacrifices everything for us.  All of this, so that at the end of the journey we can confess what is true.  That Jesus Christ is our Lord and our King.

I’ve heard it said, that if you want to evangelize someone, if you want someone to know Christ, do not start with knowledge and facts or “things that are true”.  Start with Beauty and Goodness.  For example, rather than tell someone God is real, maybe go to a beach and look at the sunset and wonder out loud, “how does the beauty of something like this exist?”  Or, when at work and a co-worker asks you, “how was your morning?” Give them an honest answer.   My morning was good.  I went to That Man is You at my Church, and am becoming more aware of God’s presence in my life and growing my faith with other men who have become brothers.”  If we want others to know God, we need to start with what is beautiful and good before we establish what is true. 

And our Church too utilizes this way of evangelization. The entire liturgical year has established what is good and beautiful, that we have God who loved us enough to send his son, to live with us, live our life, to die for us in order to raise us to new life.  Today, we are talking about what is true, because we have heard and seen already what is beautiful and what is good. The truth is that Jesus is our Savior, our Lord, and our King.  The question now is, are we able to recognize the truth?

Pope Benedict XVI said, “the unredeemed state of the world consists… in the failure to recognize the truth.” Think about it, would the Pharisees and Jewish leaders have crucified Jesus if they had recognized the truth and knew he was God?  Of course not… But they didn’t recognize him… Can we recognize the truth?  The truth is that Jesus is our King.  And that means that our lives must conform to him and give witness to him.

“Bearing witness to the truth’ means giving priority to God and to his will over against” our interests and “the interests of the world and its powers” (pg. 192-3).  We must be witnesses of the Truth.  And this means we are witnesses of Christ.  Our lives must be a proclamation of the Gospel. That means that just as Jesus loved so are we called to love.  That means that when Jesus said, Go sin no more, we are willing to turn away from evil and bad habits even if the world says it’s okay.  Proclaiming Christ as the truth means being mindful of the poor.  Bearing witness to the truth means being willing to share the good and beautiful experiences we have had with Jesus —the person who is truth.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truthEveryone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

 

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

The greater the sacrifice, the more obvious the love

Most of you know that the first reading and the Gospel usually are put together each Sunday intentionally.  The lectionary purposefully links the reading from the Old Testament with the Gospel to highlight that Jesus fulfills all that was said in the Old Testament.  This week that is even more obvious as both the first reading and Gospel encourage us to Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your strength and with all of your soul.  So, a lot of times the second reading is overlooked. With that in mind, I’m preaching on the second reading this weekend.

One of the main focusses of the letter to the Hebrews is that Jesus is the eternal high priest.  There is not a need for another priest.  You may be thinking, “wait a minute Father, aren’t you a priest?!?”  Yes, I am.. but I’m only a priest in the sense that I share in the one priesthood of Christ. I participate in Christ’s priesthood; not a different one.  This is why we say, priests act in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.

To understand the second reading we need to understand who a priest is, especially in the beginning. In the Old Testament priests had two major functions, 1) they were mediators between God and his people, and 2) priests offered sacrifice on behalf of the people to God.  Priests in the Old Testament offered animal sacrifices as atonement, or for the forgiveness of sins of the people (including himself).  This is why Jesus is the one high priest.  There is never a need for any other sacrifice but the one sacrifice of Christ; his death on the cross.  When we come together for the holy sacrifice of the Mass we remember Jesus’ one sacrifice.  He is not re-sacrificed on this altar, rather its as if we are with Christ in that very moment on Calvary where Jesus offered himself in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. Jesus is also the perfect mediator.  He is the God-man, the one who is 100% God and 100% human.  He shares in our humanity to lift us up into the Divine Life of God.  Jesus is the perfect priest; the high priest.

Listen to these words from our second reading again…It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.  Jesus is like no other priest before.  He offers the sacrifice, yet he himself is free of the guilt of sin.  But he offered his life as a sacrifice out of love for us. 

So, here’s the question some of you may be asking…. Why did Jesus have to die such a brutal death?  Why did Jesus have to shed his blood? Couldn’t there have been another way to save us?  Why did our salvation have to come at such a violent death for Jesus on the cross? Here’s the simplest answer:  the more someone sacrifices for the sake of another person, the more obvious is his love for the other. 

A powerful example of this today comes from the movie A Quiet Place.  In brief, the plot is about a married couple and their three children trying to survive after aliens invade our planet. The story begins after much of the earth’s human population has been eliminated.  In the beginning, the daughter fails to protect her five-year-old brother and so they lose him.  So, the whole movie is about the guilt the daughter feels and her relationship with her dad.  Whenever she sees her dad, she can only see his grief, and his grief is seen as condemnation.  Carrying this guilt and shame, she believes that her dad doesn’t love her anymore.  Spoiler alert:  it’s the end of the movie, and the daughter is being attacked by the aliens.  The father is desperate to save her. So, the movie shows us that the two, though far apart, are looking at each other.  The Dad signs: I Love You! Then he screams and sacrifices himself for his daughter. Obviously, no father should have to die in order to prove their love for their children. But for this girl, she will never again doubt how much her father truly loved her.

The same is true for us.  Jesus did the same for us.  In order to convince us of his love, of God’s love for all of us, [Jesus] offered himself… once for all when he sacrificed himself in love on the cross.  The question is, now that we know how much he loves us, are we willing to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength?

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Master, correct my vision, help me to see!

Friends the Gospel of Bartimaeus has so many implications for the Christian life.  What made him so unique was that he saw himself rightly and he saw Jesus for who he is.  So he was able to ask wholeheartedly and with pure intentions say: Master I want to see! 

Can we see?  Of course we can see the physical world, but can we see spiritual? I think if we are honest with ourselves we all can have a false sense of security in our own vision. We may be able to see the physical reality of the world, but do we see the world through the lens of faith, through God’s eyes?  “Our problem is that we think we already see… [So], we first need to be healed of the illness of worldly vision.”

We need to be healed of worldly vision… Worldly vision obscures how we see God, other people, and ourselves.  We are invited to pray with Bartimaeus, “Master, I too want to see!” 

How do we see God? Whenever suffering or bad things happen in this world, it can become a moment where we begin to wonder, “God do you really care.”  Unfortunately, these moments can also lead us to doubt God’s existence and God’s love for each of us.  Sometimes, we even blame God for these terrible things.  “God why did you give me cancer?”  “God why did you do this to me?”  Other times, people around us encourage us in this… “Aren’t you upset with God for all of these horrible things he has done to you?”  It’s interesting… Its so easy for us to blame God for our problems, but its so hard for us to thank God for our blessings… This way of looking at God is what needs correction. We need corrected vision. 

But I think we would all admit that it is so inspiring to meet someone who has faith and trust in God in the midst of great suffering? Tyler Trent and Scot Van Pelt (ESPN anchor) had an interview that was inspiring. SVP: Tyler I believe wholeheartedly that you will feel our prayers. God will help you! Tyler Trent, the Purdue super fan who has terminal cancer, is proclaiming the Gospel with his faith and trust in God in the midst of his suffering.  Tyler sees God rightly. Master we want to see…

How do we see others?  There are many examples in which we do not see others rightly.  We can see others as less than us, or as means to an end,  or as an object.  Here’s one example of how we have obstructed vision with others.  Think of the person we just don’t like.  What’s the first thought that comes into our minds? My guess is most of us didnt think, “that person is a beloved son/daughter of God…” Don’t we treat people differently based on who they know?  It happens all the time (and not for the best of reasons).  But I wonder, how different this world would be if we looked at each other and first saw a child of God, and not that person that we dislike so much… Master I want to see…

How do we see ourselves?  This is a big one.  Consider our sinfulness.  So many of us when we ask for God’s mercy we struggle to receive His love?  Why?  Because we don’t see what he sees.  We see our sins, our imperfections, and so we are literally blind to God’s love in our lives.  God how could you love this?!?  And yet, our imperfections and sins can lead us into a deeper appreciation of God’s love.  When we see ourselves rightly, all of our weaknesses, imperfections together with our gifts and strengths, we are able to see that we are lovable.  We are able to see that we are precious in God’s eyes.  Master we  want to see! 

So our prayer this weekend is to share in the the prayer of Bartimaeus the blind man.  Master, I want to see.  Help me to see this world with your eyes.  Master, heal me from worldly vision.

In Christ’s love,

Fr. Stephen

This is us

This is us!

The story of the rich young man in our Gospel is one that we are familiar, but also one that I think many of us assume isn’t about us… We give this Gospel a special place for religious; those who make vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.  And so this Gospel seems like it’s for them.  Turn away from the pleasures of this world, for your own will, and from your wealth, and follow God with all your heart… This is a great temptation, to think its only for them, and not for us…

But this Gospel isn’t just for us, it is us. This is us!

The discovery of our own story in this Gospel scene is found in the small details.  A young man ran up… This young man was somebody who loved his faith.  He wanted to go deeper.  He wants to know God more and to love God more.  He wants for all eternity to be with God.  This is us… So many of us are trying to grow in our faith.  We read Christian books, we read scripture, we listen to Christian music or Christian podcasts, all for the same reason.  Because we want to know how to live our life as a Christian… We too want eternal life.  We too run to Jesus and ask just as the young man did, Good Teacher what must I do to gain eternal life? This is us

Moments later, there is a great change in the young man… Jesus has told him that he must keep the commandments, love God and love neighbor… Now experiencing doubt, anxiety, and fear, he responds, “but teacher I have done what you said, I have kept the commandments…” What more must I really do, I have done all these… We do the same… I go to mass.  I pray.  I try to treat people well.  I struggle with normal human things, but I haven’t done anything that bad. This is us

Then Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said,  You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor. What follows is the saddest moment in all of the Scriptures… The young looks down becomes sad and walks away.  Jesus has just asked him to get rid of that one thing he loves the most… That one thing that competes with his love for God, that is his love for wealth.  Isn’t this us? 

For all of us, there is something in our lives that we hold on to.  Something that we grasp to!  Something, that we do not want to let go of.  That one thing could be wealth, it could be pleasure, it could be our desire for control over own lives, it could be our desire for honor… for attention… And yet, in order for us to grow closer to our Lord, we have to let go of these things in order to receive eternal friendship with God… We all do this.  We all are the rich young man.  This is us.

The young man looked down and walked away.  He looked down.  He looked down and so he missed that Jesus looked him, loved him, and then challenged him.  He missed Jesus’ love for him as he challenged the young man to purify his love for God.

Friends, we are called to look up.  We are called to look up at Jesus.  Our second reading reminds us that the Word of God penetrates our hearts. The Word of God is how we come into contact, person to person with Jesus Christ.  The Word of God is living and effective.  Jesus is the Word of God.  And to open our ears and our hearts to listen to the Word is like standing before Jesus, naked and exposed.  To stand before Jesus like this is to allow him to see everything that we are.   Jesus sees us and knows us, more intimately, and better than we could ever know ourselves… He knows our heart, he knows what we love the most, and he knows our weaknesses and strengths.  He knows everything.

Friends, we are called to stand before the Lord naked and exposed, vulnerable, letting him see us as we are.  We are called to allow Jesus to point out how our love for him can be purified.  What is holding us back?  For when we do, we will echo these words from our first reading; once I preferred wealth, power, pleasure, and honor to God, but now, I prefer God over power, and [consider] riches nothing in comparison with [my relationship with God].

This Gospel is us.  Jesus looks at you.  Jesus loves you.  And Jesus invites you to let go of “that thing” to fall more in love with him.  This is us.

 

In Christ’s love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen