In the unity of the Holy Spirit

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.

We return this weekend to public celebration of the sacraments.  It is great for us to be reunited once again in prayer and fellowship so that we can give thanks and praise to our God. And for that today is a day of great joy. As we know for many weeks now we have had live-streamed Masses.  So why is it a big deal for us to return to this building? Is it really that different from being at home? This church building is important because it the sign of the Holy Spirit’s work; that the Holy Spirit is the one who unites us. This is the place of our togetherness. This place, this church building, is the symbol that says, those things that divide us are no more.  Look no further than the opening prayer at every Mass, these beautiful words are said: We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen. We are united as one family, in the unity of the holy spirit, we are brothers and sisters in Christ’s as God’s mystical body.

Today we celebrate the beginning of the Church and the Holy Spirit.  The two are intimately linked.  We believe wholeheartedly as Catholics that the Holy Spirit guides our Church today.  The Holy Spirit also empowers us, as the Church, to carry out our mission.  And that mission is to bring all peoples together, regardless of race or culture, as members of Christ’s family and His Church. Jesus Christ himself said, I came to draw all of humanity to myself (John 12:32).  Simply put, God’s church is meant to be universal – for all peoples. And so this weekend we pray for the gift to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit – that is, to be agents of unity in our world.  

What does it mean for us to be united?  For us as church I think it simply means this, we are united in our baptismal identity and mission.  Our baptismal identity is that we are all God’s sons and daughters and therefore are endowed with dignity. And our mission is to profess and witness to our faith in the world.  Notice however, that unity does not mean sameness.  It can mean togetherness, shared values, and share mission, but not sameness.

Those groups of people that are truly united embrace differences between others because it makes us better.  Sameness, forces others to conform and change, and can even cause division.  This is exactly what Saint Paul is saying in the 2nd reading, there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit… To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. And that benefit is for the Christian community. 

Here’s a simple example.  Can you have a good football team if you have all offensive linemen?  Can you have a good baseball team if you have all pitchers?  No, of course not.  But on those teams, if you use the different gifts and skills of your players at their strengths, then you will likely have a great team. This is why the Golden State Warriors were so good a few years ago. Draymond the great defensive presence. Steph Curry the best 3-point shooter ever.  Klay Thompson one of the greatest two-way players ever surrounded by a collection of talented basketball players who all had different roles; but they did it extremely well.  The same is true of us as Church.  Many people, different gifts, united in the Holy Spirit.  And together we can make amazing things happen.

But if we are honest with ourselves, there is also great sadness at how much division still exists in our world. I think of this pandemic, has anyone else been frustrated that we managed to politicize a health crisis?  The coronavirus shines a light on the division in our country.  When we assume the other is an enemy, it only causes division.  I think most of you would agree with me, we don’t want Republicans and Democrats to be the same.  Because both support good things, and we want them to work together in their differences for the good of the country.  The strengths of these parties, there differences, can cover the other’s weaknesses. We need unity in politics, and that doesn’t mean a bunch of people who think the same way.  It means people who respect and appreciate the differences in their peers who are willing to collaborate for the good of our country.  

And I think the most obvious example that divisions still exist in our world is between race, ethnicity and culture.  My heart is broken over the death of George Floyd. This man should never had died. Period. No one should ever die at the hands of those who are called to protect our cities.  The visceral reaction on all sides manifests just how divided we are.  Some Americans deny racism exists, and yet, on the other side we have others looting, rioting, and putting other people in harm in protest.  Both reactions are a result of a divided nation. I think we can all agree that George Floyd should never have died.  I think we can all agree we need to find a way to end this type of violence that seems all to common for minorities.  But I think we can also agree that looting, destroying property, all in angry protest is not only harmful to our communities, but are not actions that will solve the problem or bring unity.  What we need is the unity of the Holy Spirit. 

These signs of disunity should cause in us great sadness.  During this time, where we continue to experience divisions caused by racism, politics, or even religion, we are called to be agents of unity.

How do we become agents of unity? 

  1. Friends Not Enemies – We do so first and foremost by seeing each other as members of the same family and not as enemies.  That way when we hear of a man like George Floyd dying in the horrible way that he did, we can and should be sad too, because George was a member of our family.
  2. As agents of unity we seek understanding – We can do this by asking our friends who identify as a different political party, or simply other viewpoints, questions about their beliefs. We might discover that we want the same things but have taken different avenues. 
  3. Offer Christ’s Peace: And finally we become agents of unity by offering to bring Christ’s peace into our world just as Christ did for the Apostles in our Gospel.  Today’s celebration of “[Pentecost] is about the Holy Spirit showing up and transforming ordinary, imperfect, frightened people into the Body of Christ… It’s about the Spirit carrying us out of suspicion, tribalism, and fear, into a radical new way of engaging God and our neighbor” (journey with Jesus, Thomas).  Today’s celebration is about living in radical unity as Christian brothers and sisters.

May we be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be agents of unity in our world that badly needs it.

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Jesus is the Open Door

This weekend we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday.  I find it curious that our Gospel never mentions, Christ as the Good Shepherd.  In fact, the next words from Christ immediately after our Gospel ends are, I am the Good Shepherd. A Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. But we don’t hear those words, why?  I think, because the Church wants us to pay attention to the other metaphor Christ uses: I am the gate. Jesus is the gate, when we approach the gate do we find it open or closed? 

The experience of closed doors is more common than ever right now.  Schools are closed and education is all at home for our children. A closed door. Our favorite restaurants continue to be closed during the shelter in place order. A closed door. Senior living facilities also are closed to all of us outsiders to protect our elderly from getting sick.  We are even encouraged not to go to our family and friends’ homes during this time.  Another closed door.  During holy week, most notably on Easter Sunday, during mass I saw a family “attempt” to open the doors to join us for the live-streamed Mass.  But as you know, they found a closed door.  This broke my heart.  Never could I have imagined that we would keep the doors locked in order prevent you, God’s people, from attending mass.  It seems like society is a place of closed doors right now – and present among them is the Church, a place where its doors are closed… 

But there is that old axiom that says, when one door closes, another one opens.  We might think that our world is filled with closed doors.  But it’s really not.  If we look closer, we will see that many beautiful doors have opened.

For our schools, we are seeing that online education can work during extreme circumstances. Although this might be the end of snow days, sorry! An open door.

For that favorite restaurant we may not be able to go and sit down at the restaurant itself, but we are able to order take-out in or even purchase some of our favorite entrees in local grocery stores.  Or, as some people have done we could order take-out for groups of people to show appreciation like our first responders. An open door.

For our loved ones in senior living facilities, we have seen people go to their windows with a poster and a message of love.  And for our families and friends, we are staying connected through zoom, face time or other means of video messaging.  Another open door.

Or for our Church.  When this all began, we initially believed that live-streaming Masses wasn’t going to be possible, why?  Well we didn’t have internet set up in the main church.  But through the generosity of a couple parishioners and long hours of set-up, we have been able since Easter Sunday to live-stream Mass for all of you.  An open door.

Yes, sometimes in life we encounter a closed door, but if we look we can find an opening somewhere else. 

Today, Jesus says to us that [he] is the gate. Or, more appropriate for us today:He is the open door.  Jesus encourages us: Ask and you shall receive, Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened, (Luke 11: 9-11).  Jesus is the gate, who desires to open the door to those who knock. And its important for us to see that he opens the door for us – who really need an open door in a world of closed doors.

What doors has Jesus opened for us?  Jesus opens the door to new life, I came that you might have life and that you would have it abundantly.  This door is our baptism.  Jesus draws us into new life and friendship with Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirt. 

The door that Jesus opens gives us freedom.  Jesus doesn’t keep the gate closed to prevent us from leaving.  No, he opens the door to give us freedom, I am the gate, he says, whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. Jesus is the open door. 

Finally, Jesus opens the door for us all.  He’s not exclusive, he’s inclusive. Work out facility story.  But Jesus is not like this workout facility. Jesus is not worried about keeping others out, he wants to bring us in, he wants to bring us together.  Here at St. Roberts, and many other churches, we have done our best to keep the “doors open.”  But there has been another powerful open door I do not want us to miss.  Many families have experienced a greater depth and intimacy of praying together at home.  My hope is that when we are allowed to open our doors here, the new habits of prayer at home persist.

The questions for us to reflect on this weekend, what doors do you need Christ to open?  How has Jesus been opening doors of faith in your life?

Finally, Jesus is our open door, but he wants us to be an open door as well.  How are we inviting people to Jesus’ door so that they can have new life and freedom?  How is Christ using us to open doors in other people’s lives?

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Is Death in Charge?

Is Saint Thomas, famous or infamous.  To put it another way, is Saint Thomas remembered more for his confession of who Jesus is My Lord and My God.  Or, is Saint Thomas remembered more for being the one who doubted? I think if we are honest about it, it’s the latter.  More people remember Thomas as the one who had a doubt than the one who confessed that Jesus is our Lord and our God.

But he shouldn’t be remembered this way.  At the very least, we should remember that he is not the only one who doubted.  Think back to last week when we celebrated Easter Sunday, and the angel, and then Jesus himself announced to the women at the tomb that he had risen, Go and tell the brothers, he says… And when the brothers learn of it, where do they remain?  they remain in the upper room, where we find them today at the beginning of the Gospel.  They are in the upper room for fear of the Jews… Why? Because they doubt.  They can’t believe that the one whom they have heard has risen is truly alive, for they saw him tortured and dead.

But even more doubt.  We know all too well the story of the road to Emmaus.  Both Fr. Len and I reflected on this in our bulletin articles and its worth mentioning again today.  These two disciples are leaving Jerusalem. Why?  Because Jesus has died, and we hear them say on the journey home, he was a prophet might in word and in deed, but we thought that he would be the savior of the worldThey too doubted. Thomas is not alone. 

But are they the only ones who have doubt? Aren’t we just like them?  Don’t we too wonder if Jesus’ Resurrection, if Easter Sunday, even matters?  People die every day and we experience the pain and grief that comes from death or, of some other tragedy that ended lives of people too early.  And right now —  right now more than ever —  aren’t we all in some way experiencing fear and anxiety about the coronavirus and who of those close to us might be its next casualty?  Simply put, the experience of death leaves us wondering and asking the question, how can we talk about Christ’s resurrection and victory, “when it seems like death is still in charge?” (Debie Thomas: Unless See, https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2607)

We are just like Saint Thomas.  And not only that, we are just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus wondering if Jesus’ victory over sin and death really matters for us?  We are just like the disciples in the upper room, overcome by the guilt and shame of our own sinfulness and afraid that the risen Jesus might actually show up.  My friends, We are in good company.

But all of these people do not allow their doubt to leave them blind, instead, they allow themselves to see the Risen Jesus. And it is in seeing Jesus alive — recognizing His resurrection, His victory, that offers us renewed hope, healing grace, and courage to be witnesses.

Renewed hope.  Christ’s resurrection reminds us that we do not have to fear death.  And so, even today, we do not need to fear the coronavirus or the end of our lives. Yes, we should be prudent and yes, we should do what we can to keep each other healthy.  But we also know that when our days on this earth near an end, a new life with Jesus awaits us in heaven.  Death has lost.  We must never forget it.  We must hold on to that sure and certain hope that we have for our loved ones who have gone before us, and that we have for ourselves, that what Jesus said to the repentant thief on cross is true for us now: today you will be with me in paradise.

Jesus offers his healing grace.  Recently, through the encouragement of a friend, I watched the movie “Heaven is for Real.”  And for those who don’t know, its about a young boy who after getting really sick, has a near death experience of heaven.  In this experience of heaven he saw Jesus, and Jesus had his wounds.  It is important that Jesus has his wounds because it is where he heals us of from our wounds.  He healed the disciples from their guilt and shame from their betrayal in our Gospel today.  Jesus heals Saint Thomas from his disbelief by having Thomas touch his wounds.  And Jesus continues to heal each of us ever day as we seek his mercy, his forgiveness, and his love.  Jesus’ wounds are the place for us to receive that healing grace.

And finally, Jesus takes these early disciples who all doubted his power, who doubted his victory over death, and his resurrection, he turns them into courageous and bold witnesses of the resurrection. The Resurrection is incomplete without experiencing the risen Christ.  If all we had was an empty tomb, there is no way that our early Christians would have had the courage to boldly proclaim the resurrection, because they would have found themselves too afraid of their death — of being condemned to die just like Jesus did.  Instead, they become convinced, because they have experienced the living and risen Jesus in their lives and they go on proclaiming the good news and the forgiveness of sins for others.

Friends if you have recently or in your life had some doubts, Good, you are in good company.  But my prayer for each of us this weekend, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, is to have a renewed hope and confidence in Christ’s victory, and in some ways more importantly a more profound experience in the Risen Jesus’ love and mercy for each one of us. Christ has healed you.  Christ has loved you and continues to love you.  But there is a world of people out there who are still doubting, who are still wondering if their sins could ever be forgiven, who are still wondering if God loves and cares about them, and are still wondering if death is in charge?  Are we going to allow them to continue to doubt and suffer, or instead, like the early Christians, are we going to go out and boldly proclaim to the world — Jesus Christ loves you, he gave his life to save you — and now he lives at your side every day to love, strengthen, and guide you?

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Easter Sunday: The Unimaginable

This is the night.  These are the words we heard sung beautifully at the beginning of the tonight’s vigil.

What is the story of tonight?

It’s the story of the unimaginable. And in some ways, tonight, is the story of grief. Those of you who have experienced extreme grief know that,  “There are moments that the words don’t reach.  There is a suffering to terrible to name.  We push away what we can ever understand. We push away the unimaginable.”[1]

These words come from the musical Hamilton.  I saw it in January. It’s one of the few times that I have gone to see something that was so hyped, and it lived up to the expectations.  Why did I love Hamilton?  Because it was the story of real life.  It was the story of a man who was zealous, ambitious, fallen, broken, healed, transformed, and loved.  It was a human story.  The song that touched me the most is called, It’s Quiet Uptown. This song is about Hamilton and his wife Eliza grieving at the death of their son, while at the same time, attempting to repair their broken marriage. And so, Eliza begins the song acknowledging their grief:  There are moments that the words don’t reach. There is a suffering to terrible to name. We push away what we can never understand.  We push away the unimaginable!

If we think about it, this is the story of tonight—of the Easter Vigil. Tonight, the unimaginable has happened. Who would have ever thought that God could become one of us? Who could have ever thought that our God – the Christ – would be brutally tortured by us and rejected by us!? Even more hard to believe, who could imagine that we would put God to death?  And yet it is what happened; the Unimaginable. 

But that’s only half the story.  The apostles, they too are grappling with the unimaginable. They are experiencing a horrible grief—the death of Jesus; the one whom they thought[2] would be the savior of the world.  Its important for us to acknowledge this.  This moment, this night, albeit brief, the earliest of disciples began to doubt and wonder, have we lost?  And worse, they are overcome with grief and shame for abandoning Jesus at his greatest hour of need.  They are hiding and trying to push away the unimaginable—that Jesus Christ is truly dead and their betrayal had something to do with that.

And today, are we not too experiencing the unimaginable?  The world has been turned upside down.  Many have lost their jobs, who two months ago, probably thought that was impossible.  And we know that the coronavirus does not discriminate, it has impacted every aspect of life.  So much so that even the Church, even we have canceled weekend masses.  Unfortunately, this means that on this night—on this holy night, where we anticipate Christ’s resurrection, we are not able to celebrate together at the Church.  There is no other word, it is Unimaginable.

But look: something beautiful is happening in the midst of the unimaginable… Families are praying together in edifying ways.  The other day I saw on facebook pictures of parents who were celebrating Holy Thursday at home with their children by washing their feet. There have been countless examples of good deeds done to support each other through this crisis.  One of these cool moments happened when John Krasinski, an actor from the hit show “The Office” decided to focus on good news during this time of crisis.  So, he heard of a girl who had tickets to see Hamilton, but because of the coronavirus was unable to go, and she was crushed.  So what did he do?  He invited her on to his youtube show “Some Good News.” He promised her tickets to see Hamilton when life is back to normal.  But the surprise didn’t end there, in this video call, the Hamilton cast all appeared and sang the opening song for her.  It was awesome and it made me emotional.  The goodness of humanity shining through during this unimaginable time.  

And look: this isn’t just happening now; it happened then.  Christ’s goodness shines through during the unimaginable because Christ did the unimaginable.  He had risen.  He is not in the tomb but he is alive.  This is what we celebrate tonight, when the angel says to Mary, He is not here, he is not in the tomb, he has risen indeed! Jesus has accomplished the unimaginable, he has risen from the dead.

The song that I mentioned at the beginning of this homily begins with the pain and grief of the unimaginable, but it ends with a new start, a new beginning, and forgiveness. Hamilton is asking his wife for a second chance.  He wants to grieve with her after their son’s death.  And we hear these words from Eliza:

There are moments that the words don’t reach.  There’s a grace too powerful to name. We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable. 

And then it happens.  In that moment of grace. In that moment of profound grace. Eliza reaches out and grabs Hamilton’s hand, and offers forgiveness.  The chorus sings: Forgiveness, can you imagine!

Look at that… the one imaginable thing, is forgiveness. 

Friends, this is the story of tonight.  The Unimaginable has happened, Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, so that, the imaginable could happen.  Our forgiveness.  The story of tonight is that Jesus offers us forgiveness, freedom from sin, and a new start. He offers us that same grace that is too powerful to name.

So, in another song from Hamilton we are given our call to action. 

Raise a glass to freedom something they could never take away

Christ has won for us freedom and that can never be taken from us! This is the song freedom, the song of victory!

Raise a glass to the [few] of us, tomorrow there’ll be more of us

As we proclaim that powerful grace to others, there will be more experience the powerful grace of Christ in their own lives.

Telling the story of tonight

Raise the glass to Freedom; Go tell the story of tonight

Tonight, there may only be a few of us in this church, but as we go on in our lives and we tell God’s story, there will be more of us—Because God has accomplished the unimaginable; our freedom from sin and death!

In Christ’s Love and Friendship, Happy Easter!

Fr. Stephen


[1] Hamilton, It’s Quiet Uptown.

[2] Luke 24:19

The Eucharist is a Gift!

As we know, the coronavirus pandemic as impacted everything, and so if you are listening to me right now, you know its impact on the church – that we are not gathered in the same physical space. Many of you are joining us in a spiritual way from your homes. A day that ought to be one of celebration, is in some ways a day of mourning.  Mourning that we are not here together celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. No doubt there is some sadness for all of us. 

Because of this, I have been wondering, as I am sure many of you are as well, was all this necessary?  Was it the right call to cancel masses, or was it not?  You are not alone.  I have wondered the same… We have all wondered this. I do not have an answer for you.  What I know in my heart is this: All those in authority, both civil leaders and ecclesial leaders, legitimately believe these actions are necessary. Amid all this questioning I have found consolation in the words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  In this book, “Behold the pierced one,” he reflects on the ancient practice of the Church to “fast” from the Eucharist on Good Friday, where the people together would make a spiritual communion.  This is not the current practice today.  But – as Benedict points out – this “ancient fast” reminded the early church this profound truth: The Eucharist is a Gift. The Eucharist is a Gift.

Benedict reflecting on this ancient practice wrote, “The more I think of it, the more it moves me to reflection. Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?” In some ways this time of separation reminds us what we may easily forget or take for granted – that the Eucharist is a Gift. Benedict XVI is saying what we all know, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I think of a young child who has been given a toy at Christmas. And after months of playing with it, the toy is forgotten. It remains forgotten until a younger sibling comes along and begins to play with it.  What happens?  Many parents know an argument often ensues between the siblings.  Why? Because to the one whom the toy belongs, they remember how much they miss the toy – they miss the gift, and they want it back.

The same is happening now for us.  We’ve had complete access to the Eucharist.  Now, the fact that we can’t receive communion, reminds us how much we truly hunger for it.  And so, even though we are in some ways grieving as we experience the lack of the sacrament in our lives, this experience can lead us to a greater gratitude to God for the gift of the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is a gift because it is simultaneously the greatest sacrifice, the most intimate experience of love, and the banquet of believers. 

The Eucharist is the one sacrifice. Benedict tells us, that a fast from the Eucharist, “would visibly express the fact that we all need that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord performed in the ultimate loneliness of the Cross.” And this healing, the atonement made for us in Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross is why it’s important to remember that the Eucharist comes to us from an altar.  An altar is a place of sacrifice.  In our Gospel, John tells us that Jesus loved his own and he loved them to the end. Jesus sacrificed everything for us. Jesus sacrificed everything for us to show us how much we are worth.  Our worth and dignity is signified by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. That is what God is willing to pay for us.  So let us never doubt our worth, because we are worth the sacrifice of Jesus.

The Eucharist is the place of intimate communion.  It is the Sacrament of Love.  In our Gospel this evening, Jesus says to the disciples, You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’  and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. But just two chapters later, we hear from Jesus, I know longer call you slaves, but I call you friends.  Remain in my love.  The Eucharist, the experience of communion, is the same reminder for us.  Jesus calls us his friends.  Jesus, through the Eucharist, continues to remind us the intimate bond of friendship he wants and desires to have with each of us. The Eucharist is the sacrament of love, because it is spiritual nourishment for our intimate friendship with Christ.

Finally, the Eucharist is a gift because it connects us with each other.  This is why, the altar is not just an altar.  It is also a table. It is a banquet table, that gathers friends, sisters, brothers, and family.  This table is the experience of communion with one another.  And this is also why we miss it so much right now.  We miss the communion that we share with each other.  We miss our connectedness. But, we are still connected in prayer.  The priests of our diocese continue to pray for the people of God at Mass.  We continue to be connected because we see Eucharistic love – fraternal charity – being lived out especially right now during this pandemic.  Think of all the professional athletes who have given money to arena workers who are struggling without work, or Amway our local company from Ada that made thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer for local hospitals as a gift, or some of our car companies now making masks or ventilators items scarce and greatly needed right now.  The world right now is connected and supporting one another through works of charity.  This is the mark of charity that ought to remain visible especially amongst Christians.  We live not as individuals, but mindful that we are one human family, united in the bond of Christ’s love – the Mystical Body of Christ.

I think many of us could never have imagined a world that we would be unable to celebrate Mass together. But this is something, many Christians throughout the world do experience.  And they don’t experience it because of disease.  They experience it due to a lack of priests.  Our Church, and specifically our diocese, need generous hearts to say yes to a vocational call to the priesthood.  Today we experience the lack of public worship due to a virus, I pray we never experience a lack of public celebration of the sacraments due to a lack of priests.  Right now, we not only recognize the gift of the Eucharist in our lives and our hunger for God, but we also remember the gift of holy orders, that God continues to feed his sheep through the ministry of priesthood.  And so we join in the prayer of Jesus The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. And so tonight, we give God thanks and praise for the priesthood, and especially we thank God for the gift of the Eucharist. May we allow this “Eucharistic fast” to strengthen our gratitude for the greatest gift imaginable; the love of Christ out-poured in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Most Effective Ways to Pray with our Family During the Coronavirus Crisis

I never thought this day would come—the day that I would be unable to celebrate the Eucharist for weeks.  I can relate more literally with Jesus who felt great sadness at the amount of people looking to be fed, with no one to feed them, at the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36).

I am sure some have felt very troubled and maybe even abandoned regarding the recent directives from the diocese to limit gatherings over 50 people, and consequently, cancelling all liturgies for the foreseeable future to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  Here’s what I believe:

  1. I believe that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.
  2. I believe that gathering as God’s people to give God thanks and praise is paramount in the Christian life.
  3. I know that these beliefs are shared by Bishop Walkowiak.
  4. Thus, I believe that the only reason we are cancelling Mass for the next few weeks is because this is what our Bishop, and in an indirect way our Governor and President, truly believe is best for the safety of others by slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

That leaves us with at least four weekends where we will not gather as a Church to pray.  This begs the question, “How can my family pray, worship, and give thanks to God?” over these next few weeks. Here are a few suggestions.

  1.  Keep Holy the Sabbath: This seems so simple but it so important for us while our routine is broken.  It is very important for families to continue to treat Sunday as day we give to God.  So, the number one thing we can do in our family life, is remember: this day is God’s day. The following list can be all together or split up through-out the day.  The key: do what works for you and your family.
    1. Pray with the Scriptures: as a family sit down and read the readings together.  Take some time reflecting together about each reading.  What did we learn?  What surprised you?  What was confusing?  Where is God giving me hope through these words?
    1. Watch and Listen: to Bishop Walkowiak’s homily on the diocesan Facebook page.  And/Or, watch and listen to Fr. Len’s homily on the St. Robert’s Facebook page. Of course, Bishop Barron too posts his weekly homilies and these are a good option as well to learn. Reading a reflection from “Give us this Day”, “the little Black Lenten Books”, or from “Word Among Us” also work well.  All these options allow our shepherds to continue to spiritually feed us and keep us connected with the Church.
    1. Petition: After reflecting on the Word, as a family discuss people that we want to pray for.  Who is struggling?  Who is sick? Pray especially for our health professional who are working around the clock during this crisis. Who has an important event coming up?  Pray for world leaders.  Pray for church leaders.  Pray for those who might lose their jobs during these uncertain economic times.  Spend time as a family to pray for others that we are connected to in our lives.
    1. Ask for Prayers:  This is simple but has the potential to be an intimate experience of prayer for your family. Ask each other in your family for prayers.  Answer the question: “how can you pray for me?” and “I need God’s help with…”
    1. Seek Forgiveness and Reconciliation: At every mass we seek a new beginning.  We remember that we are sinner’s in need of God’s mercy. It would be good to participate in an examination of conscience as a family. Is there any family member that I hurt this week with my words or actions?  Have I said sorry?  Have I forgiven someone for the words or actions done to me?  Am I willing to forgive? Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times (Mt 18: 21-22). Conclude by praying the Act of Contrition together.
    1. Give Thanks: During family dinner on Sunday, take some time during the meal to go around the table and share things that we want to give thanks to God.
    1. Spiritual Communion: After family dinner conclude prayer by making a spiritual communion with anticipation for the next time we can gather at Mass:

Lord Jesus, 
We believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. 
As a family, we love You above all things, 
Since we cannot at this moment
receive You sacramentally, 
come at least spiritually into our hearts. We embrace You as if You were already there and unite ourselves wholly to You. And never permit us to be separated from You. Amen.

  • During the Week: Consider how praying for others and giving thanks to God can be a daily part of our family’s pattern of life. For example, as we prepare for bed at night.
  • On Fridays: Pray the stations of the cross or pray the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary together as a family.

This time away from sacraments is not ideal. But God can make a something great out of a negative experience.  Without Jesus’ crucifixion there is no resurrection.  Without the original sin of Adam and Eve, there is no savior.   Maybe this time that we are unable to come together as a community to pray, can be a time to strengthen the intimate bonds of the family in personal and intentional prayer together.

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

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