Do you want to be happy or be transfigured?

When I was in college I became friends with a young man who was what I describe as a natural Christian, meaning that all the virtues that you and I sometimes work so hard to try to cultivate, to him came naturally. For that reason, it seemed to me such a great incongruity in his personality that, although he was Catholic, he didn’t go to church on Sunday. One day I got the opportunity to talk to him about it and he was very straightforward with me. He told me exactly why he didn’t go to church. He said he used to go when he was younger, but then one day he was sitting in church and he looked around all the people sitting there and he said to himself, “Look at all these people! They have no clue as to why they are here and what’s going on. It’s all such a waste of time!” And so he became very disillusioned by going to Mass and stopped attending. I remember I said several different things to him. First I asked him, “How do you know what’s going on in the minds of the other people who were sitting there in church? Is it possible that what you claimed they were feeling was really what you were feeling and that you were projecting your lack of understanding upon them? There are some people that go to church that have a fairly good idea of what’s taking place and truly listen to the Scriptures and are praying and feel like they have encountered the Lord every time they go to Mass. And even if there are people who are not all that sure about why they’re there, why would you let that prevent you from having a good relationship with Christ at Mass?” Then I said to him finally, “Alright, I will agree with you that there probably are some people who come to church that don’t really have any clue as to why they’re there and what it’s all about. But at least they’re there! Nobody has put a gun to their head and forced them to come to church. They may not understand everything that’s happening, but they know there’s something good is going on and that there is a reason they should be attending. They’re looking for God and maybe in time they will find him.”

I reminded him of the story of the transfiguration. I said, “Look what happened when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain with him. He was transfigured before them: his clothes became white and his face glowed with a radiance they had never seen before. Basically, Jesus showed them a hint of the glory that would be his when he was risen from the dead. It’s as if he took off the veil of his mortal image and let them see his true divinity; he let them see him for whom he was. Then Moses and Elijah appeared talking with him. Moses, the great lawgiver to whom God gave the Ten Commandments and who promised ‘A prophet like me will the Lord raise up from among your kinsman’ and Elijah, the great prophet who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind whom it was believed would precede the coming of the Messiah, and both of them were standing talking with Jesus about what he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Any good Jew would recognize the expression, ‘The law and the prophets’. That summarized the entire promise of Israel, everything written in the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament as we call it. It’s as if all of the promise that God had given from Abraham to that time was now standing there bearing witness to Jesus, saying ‘this is the one! The promise is fulfilled! This is the person you been waiting for!’ Peter sees all this and says, ‘Master, how good it is for us to be here!’ Good, Peter! Great response! But then he says something silly, ‘Let us build three booths here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!’ Open mouth, insert foot, close, enjoy your meal Peter, because you just put your foot in your mouth big-time! Mark and Luke even apologize for Peter. They say he really didn’t know what to say because he was so awestruck by what had taken place. When they came down the mountain, Jesus didn’t say to Peter, ‘How could you be so stupid/! Didn’t you see what was going on there?’ Of course not! He knew Peter wasn’t a theologian; he was just a fisherman. He knew it was beyond Peter’s ability to grasp, and he didn’t expect it of him. Peter knew something good was happening there, and even though the significance of it passed him by and he didn’t realize the full ramification of everything he’d seen, he realized he’d seen something good, and that’s all Jesus wanted from him. I explained to my friend that Mass is the same thing. Yes, sometimes people are there and maybe don’t understand the fullness of the mystery, but they’re trying. So don’t sell them short. Give them the opportunity to grow in their understanding.”

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Thankfully my friend eventually did return to regular worship. But this story gives us an opportunity to look at our understanding of the Mass. Do we comprehend what’s taking place every time we come to Mass on Sunday? Perhaps sometimes we feel we do or maybe we’d honestly say “I haven’t got a clue!” That’s okay! As long as we’re there and trying to grow, leave your mind open to learning more about the Mass. Don’t be discouraged or disillusioned if it doesn’t make sense to you. After all, can any of us honestly say we truly understand everything that takes place in Mass? St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, once said that if any priest realized what was actually taking place at his hands while he celebrated Mass he would die of fright for fear of what he was handling! It’s a mystery beyond our ability to fathom! We can’t even begin to comprehend the fullness of what’s taking place at Mass. We can have a basic idea, sure, but if we ever think we’ve gotten to the point that we understand everything perfectly well, were only deluding ourselves.

I like to think of it as when you go to an art museum. If you were to go to the Louvre in Paris or the Uffizi in Florence, even the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York, if you go in and don’t know much about art it can be overwhelming! There are thousands of paintings there, and you look around and can be lost. Maybe we look at a picture or two here or there and that helps a little bit, but if you take try to take in the whole thing it can be an absolutely daunting proposition. I don’t think anyone expects anyone to go into a museum and in one day take a look at every single picture and take in everything that each picture has to offer. You just couldn’t do it in one day! So if we have just a few hours to go through museum, we’ll look at the few things that seem to strike us the most, even if it’s only the highlights. In the Louvre everybody goes and looks at Mona Lisa and maybe there are a few others that might strike people’s interest. In the Uffizi gallery, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is the most famous one. Real devotees of art will go back to the museum over and over again and each time to try to take in another picture and get a little bit more out of each painting than they could at just one glance. Maybe they might go back one day and say “I’m only going into this one room here and only take in the pictures in this room or of this style.” Another day they take in another, and they would quickly discover that the museum is an inexhaustible resource. They could spend their entire lives going into the museum and never take it all in, but I think any curator of a museum would be thrilled if somebody came and even sat and looked at just one painting and took that in to the best of his ability: they’d say he’s gotten something out of his visit to the museum that day. Well, coming to Mass is in many ways just like that. We come Sunday after Sunday to hear a Gospel reading that we probably heard before; in fact, many of them we hear over and over again to the point that we might feel that we’ve got it memorized. But we never exhaust the meaning of that Gospel. We are fed on it, we are nourished by the word, and we discover that we can come back time and time again and be nourished and grow more in the mystery. And of course, most importantly, we come and receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion. We take his actual body and blood as our food and that strengthens us and brings us into full union with him. And that’s when we discover what Jesus really want to do for us and the full importance of the Mass, why we come Sunday after Sunday, many people day after day: to receive the Eucharist.

A lot of times I’ll hear people talking about what God wants to do for them and they say, “Well, God just wants me to be happy!” I just shake my head in despair when I hear that. Yes, God wants us to be happy but he wants so much more than that!  He has things planned for us that are far greater than anything we could even begin to comprehend, and our happiness is not going to come through the things that we think are going to make us happy, but by what God reveals to us as the true way to happiness. Sometimes people will discover the next step of that and realize that true happiness comes from living an upright moral life, which is a lot more meaningful than simply having the little pleasant things in our lives. Indeed, God wants even more for us than merely being ethical people or being kind to one another, being nice guys and helping us get along better. I’m not for a moment trying to make light of ethical living and of following the moral teachings of the Church and of the Lord. Don’t get me wrong! They are important. But they are only steps along the way to what God really wants to do for us. What does God want to do for us? He wants to deify us! The greatest thing that we can experience is deification – actually becoming part of God himself! The ancient Christians used to say that God became man so that man could become as God. He took on our nature so that we could take on his. He wants to draw us into all beauty, all essence, all goodness, all truth, total joy, total perfection. He wants us to be transfigured just as he was transfigured. Everything that Jesus inherited by his death and resurrection you and I will also inherit! All the glory that he now has in heaven he wants to share with us, and he has far more in store for us than when we often think about when we come to church and pray. Sometimes we pray for things that maybe are a little silly, maybe more serious. but God’s plan for us is always greater them what we have in mind. Maybe all we’re worried about is losing ten pounds to look better in that dress, so that when I go to so-and-so’s wedding, nobody will laugh at me and at how much weight I put on. Well, I have news for you! God is probably laughing at that, because if you think that the most important thing in life is losing ten pounds because otherwise everybody’s going to be staring at you at the wedding, no they’re not! Everybody will be looking at the bride! Probably few people if anybody are actually going to look at you and notice you put on ten pounds since the last time they saw you! Usually that’s one of our own vanities! Sometimes we pray about little more important things. If somebody is ill and we pray for their healing, that’s a good thing to pray for! Certainly, if somebody is out of a job, we pray for them to get work. Maybe sometimes it is a little frivolous: we just want a little more money so we can book a nicer room on our upcoming vacation, and maybe that’s not the most important thing that we should be praying about. It’s not to say that it is wrong to pray for the things we need here and now; but first we have to ask if they really are important – if they really are the things we should be worrying about, and sometimes we have to honestly admit that they’re not – Jesus does say to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” But God wants so much more for us than merely worrying about the things of this life. If we’re only worried about the here and now and not heaven, then were missing what God wants to do for us! He is not saying, “I want you to be comfortable! I want you to have an easy life! I want you to fit in and enjoy yourself!” No, he is saying, “I want to raise you up, I want to elevate you and lift you up to heights you can’t even begin to imagine, so far more important than anything this brief visit on earth has to offer! I have dreams for you that have never even entered into your consciousness!”

If we’re only concerned about the needs in our lives here on earth then were missing everything God wants to do for us. We will never find the joy that we can know when we know the heights of glory to which we are being called by God. And maybe that’s why we don’t follow our faith as strongly as we should and don’t evangelize others, because maybe if we honestly ask ourselves, “Do I really want to worry about heaven?” the answer is, “No! I’m only really worried about here and now. I’m not looking for God to save my soul. I’m not looking for him to make me the best I can be. I’m not looking for God to bring me to great heights. All I want God to do is make my life comfortable here and now. I want him to be Santa Claus and give me all the things I want.” Sometimes people even go so far as wanting God to allow them to believe in and practice things that contradict that call to holiness, that are completely opposed to it, and they want the church to teach that those are good simply because it will make them feel good now, it will make their life easier and help them feel good about themselves, and they end up sacrificing the very call to holiness simply to fit in here on earth. They flee from any talk about challenge, about changing our hearts, about carrying our crosses, about realizing that it takes much prayer and sacrifice in order to reach those heights that God has in store, and instead demand only to be left where they are and told that their lives are perfect, when they know very well they are not.

My brothers and sisters, yes, the Lord does care about our everyday needs, and it’s okay to pray for them, but let’s make sure that’s not the only thing we ever pray for, that were not caught up only in the here and now. Do we ever pray for holiness? Do we ever pray, “Lord, help me to overcome sin! Help me to be righteous!” Do we ever pray, “Lord, change me! lift me up, Lord! Beam me up! Help me to be what you want me to be! Lord, let me worry not about what I want for myself but what you want from me! Transfigure me! give me the holiness and the joy that only you can give!” When we do that, then we will know true happiness, true peace.

Does Satanic worship that mocks Catholic beliefs enjoy the protection of law?

For the past several years a group known as Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has been offering satanic rituals in various venues. Several attempts to hold them at college campuses resulted in angry protests which caused the services to be canceled. In Oklahoma City, however, they have had success. The powers that be there have determined that satanic worship is protected by the First Amendment, thus they permit the service, and will be holding another one this Monday, August 15th, the same day as the Catholic Church celebrates the 1c - satan-widescreen-hd-wallpaper-backgroundSolemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I know many people who don’t like satanic worship will nonetheless believe it is defended by the First Amendment and will criticize any attempt to stop it. Whi
le that certainly seems reasonable, I do not agree.

I believe we can make a strong argument that the Freedom of Religion established by the First Amendment was intended to protect the rights of those looking to worship God as they understand him and not Satan. Absolute tolerance is never possible; there are always inherent limits to any freedom, and none of our freedoms is absolutely unrestrictable. For example, Freedom of Speech does not protect the right to libel or slander, nor does it protect the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded theater. Similarly, any religion that seeks to worship not God but Satan and advocates obscenity (check out the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu website – it will shock and disgust you) does not, I believe, enjoy the protection of the First Amendment. Similarly, the so-called “Separation of Church and State” that so many people invoke to prohibit prayer in public places and to prevent religious organizations from using public facilities cuts both ways. This satanic worship does not merely worship Satan. Rather, it blatantly mocks Catholicism. Consider this:

During their service ojesusn August 15th, they will hold what they are calling the “Consumption” of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They will decapitate a statue of the Blessed Mother, remove a previously-placed pig heart from it, and eat it. This, they claim, symbolizes the Blessed Mother being cast into hell! Of course, it coincides with our feast of the Assumption of Mary. The timing of this insult for the same day and using a parody of the name of our feast is no accident. Neither was it an accident when the last one mocking Mary was held on Christmas Eve. This is not freedom of worship but hate speech. If public facilities cannot be used to support religion, then neither should they be used to mock it.

In solidarity with Archbishop Coakley of Oklahoma City and his request for all people of good will to join in a day of prayer and fasting in reparation for this horror, here at St. Ann’s we will hold Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 9:00 AM until 8:00 PM in the chapel. A Holy Hour with recitation of the rosary will be held at 7:00 PM.

I urge all people of good will of whatever religion or of none whatsoever to join in solidarity with Catholics whose beliefs are being mocked and desecrated. An attack on one religion is an attack on all!

 

My doctor says I’m sick, so I’m going to find a doctor who tells me I’m okay!

Imagine someone were to go to the doctor and attempt to tell the doctor everything that is wrong with him and every cure that the doctor needs to give him in order to be well again. I think we can all realize that this would be a big mistake. We go to the doctor precisely because we don’t know medicine as well as he does, and we want him to use his expertise to show us how to be as healthy as we can be. Suppose you got angry because the doctor would not give you the medicine you are convinced would be good for you and decided never to go to the doctor again. Whom would you be hurting? You’d only be hurting yourself. The same thing is true of God. Sometimes we make the mistake of going to God with a predetermined diagnosis for dr-jesus1what we need in life and if God says no or doesn’t grant us what we’re looking for we decide we’re not going to worship him anymore. But whom are we hurting? Only ourselves! Sometimes it’s helpful for us to step back and look at exactly what God wants to do for us.

Take, for example, the gospel parable Jesus tells about the man who had a great harvest and decided to build extra barns and store all of his goods there. He then says he can relax and take it easy because now he has everything stored for the rest of his life, and Jesus says of him “you fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you, and to whom will all these piled up goods go?” Jesus is showing us something critical for our lives in this little parable. Why did he call the man a fool? It was not because the man had a good harvest and had done well and was wealthy. The problem was that the man thought that as long as he had money in the bank he was good to go and he needed nothing else. And that’s why Jesus said called him a fool because he said that very night he would die and what good would all of that saved up grain do for him? So the Lord is not saying that we should not pray for the goods of earth but that we should not make them our priority. Certainly the Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”, and it’s certainly fine if we’re financially strapped or somebody is ill and we pray for healing for more money whatever the situation may be, but our primary focus must always be getting to heaven. We call Jesus our Savior. But from what did he come to save us? from poverty? No! He was born and laid in a manger. To save us from ill health? No! He was in terribly poor health as he hung on the cross and eventually died. To save us from lack of popularity? No! His friends all abandoned him. To save us from false judgment? No! He was falsely accused of being the devil himself and when he was crucified those who killed him thought they were doing the will of God. No, Jesus came to save us from sin. But sometimes sin seems to be the last thing we worry about and maybe we don’t even worry about it at all! Sometimes I even hear people joking about sin, making fun of it as if it’s an antiquated notion that we’ve wisely outgrown. Nothing could be further from the truth! Sin is indeed something very deadly. Remember that Original Sin, Adam and Eve turning against God and deciding they could choose for themselves what’s right and wrong and not have to listen to God, is what brought all the evil into the world from which we suffer each and every day. And more importantly Original Sin closed the gates of heaven to us. You and I could try to be perfect and maybe we could live without committing any sin, but even with that we could not get to heaven and we would be condemned to hell for all eternity, because heaven was close to us thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve. There was no human being who could do anything about it, because in order to adequately pay the price – the ransom – for sin one would have to be perfect, and since there was no perfect human being, there was not a single human being who could change anything. We were doomed! Only God – the perfect one – could save us, and that’s what he did: by taking on flesh, suffering and dying on the cross, and rising from the dead. When he rose from the dead he destroyed the power of death and now turned death around completely, so that it is no longer our entrance into condemnation – into hell – but is now our entrance into salvation – into heaven! Jesus now teaches us through the Church how to follow him, to avoid sin, and stay on the path to heaven, to avoid all the pitfalls of this earth which is Satan still trying to lead us back into his clutches. Yet again, sometimes we just don’t seem to care about that and we approach God with the answer already in our minds of what God has to allow us to do. This becomes especially a problem when something that God teaches us through the Scriptures or the Church we don’t want to accept. Instead of accepting it, we either invoke the opinion of society and decide, “well, society accepts it now and so must the Church” or we give ourselves an excuse as to why that teaching doesn’t apply to us. Sometimes people even go further by demanding of God and of the Church that he change things that he’s teaching are sinful and that are harmful to us and tell us it’s good for us, and if the Church won’t tell us what we want to hear, then we search out a denomination of Christianity that will do so. But is that really helping at all?

Going back to our example of the doctor, imagine if someone decided they want to be perfectly healthy except they don’t want to have to exercise or eat properly. They go to the doctor and tell the doctor they want to be able to sleep as much as they want sit on the couch and eat all the rich and fatty foods they want and still be healthy. Obviously the doctor tells the person he cannot do that, that if he wants to be healthy he has to exercise and eat properly. But the person doesn’t like that so he says, “Fine! I’ll find another doctor will tell me it’s okay to do so! And maybe he comes across a doctor who has very few patients – for obvious reasons, that he’s a bad doctor – but this doctor, eager to keep patients, tells him whatever he wants to hear. “Sure! It’s perfectly fine for you to sit on the couch all day eat all the potato chips and junk food you want, and don’t worry about exercising; you’ll still be perfectly healthy!” The patient says to himself, “Great! I finally found a doctor who sees the truth, a doctor who understands my needs and my feelings. This is exactly what I was looking for!” Well, what happens to that person when he follows this doctor’s advice? You know the answer: he gets very sick! The same is true of Christians who look for denominations of Christianity that will tell them that whatever they want to believe is fine just as long as they stay with them, or with Christians who turn to God and say, “Hey God, if you don’t give me what I want I’m not going to church anymore!” Well they’re not hurting God, they’re only hurting themselves!”

Remember that God is not here to give us the life of Riley and he is not Santa Claus, the one who gives us presents if we are good. I know I’ve said this in previous blog posts, but it’s worth repeating. God never said “come follow me and I’ll give you a bed of roses!” He never said that! In fact, he said if we want to follow him we must deny ourselves take up our cross each day and follow in his footsteps. In other words, there will be challenges as we follow the Lord in this world. There are going to be times when we have to go against the flow, where we cannot follow what society says is right and instead must remain faithful to the Lord even if it means going against what is currently socially acceptable. Jesus is not here to make our lives easy and to give us whatever we want. He came to show us the way to heaven, and we should be willing to reject anything in this world – no matter how difficult it may be for us – if it’s going to mean losing our eternal salvation.

And so my friends, when you go to God in prayer don’t go with a preconceived notion that you already know what God should do for you and figure were going to manipulate him and do anything possible to get God to give us what we want. Don’t pre-form your mind as to what you believe is right for you and then just look for the church or denomination that teaches what you want to believe, nor should you decide that that’s okay not to follow God because you don’t like what he’s saying. There’s only one thing for us to do: follow God with all of your heart. Turn to him and say, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “Lord what do you want me to do?” God is not here to give us what we want but to lead us to heaven. May we never forget this truth, and may we always remember that we are only here temporarily, just passing through this world on a journey to heaven, which is our true home. May we never sacrifice the glory of heaven and our true home for any comfort or convenience or pleasure here on earth!

Is there any hope for the world?

Someone recently asked me a question that I found to be quite profound: “Father, do you think there is any hope for the world?” (This question actually came from a young man who came with his fiancée to make arrangements for their marriage.) I was floored by such a deep question at a wedding interview. I told him, “Well, any hope we have can only be found in Christ. It won’t come from Washington!” In the midst of a presidential election year, we will continue to hear many promises from all the candidates for President until Election Day. We will listen, and we will ultimately Earth-clip-art-8each vote for the person we feel offers the most hope for America. But you know what will happen? No one we elect will deliver 100% of what he or she promises. We know all too well that much of the time candidates say what they know we want to hear in order to get our vote. At other times they promise things that they firmly believe they will be able to provide, yet once they get into office and face the reality of the situation, they realize they can’t fulfill the promise, and sometimes they even espouse the very opposite position to what they promised. Rarely do they actually make good on their promises. I don’t mean this as a blanket condemnation of all politicians but as an observation of fact: it is very hard for even the most honest politicians to keep the promises they make. That is because we are all fallen individuals and do not have all knowledge of reality. Only one person does – Jesus – and yet too often we listen to everyone but Jesus. For some reason that we’re hard pressed to explain, we dismiss the Gospel of Jesus as too “pie-in-the-sky” and unrealistic but we listen with devotion to politicians. We tend to see the Gospel as something that would be nice in a perfect world but which is not practical here and now. Dismissing the Gospel because the world is not perfect is like being lost and having a GPS but not using it because you’re lost! Does that make any sense? The Gospel is precisely the way to make the world the place we long for it to be. So why don’t we listen to Jesus. There is a plethora of reasons people will offer, but underneath them all is one common denominator: we are not in love with Jesus. We don’t trust him because we don’t really know him. We believe in him, but without falling in love with him, we don’t make him the foundation of our lives. I am convinced that we will only know true peace when we come to love Jesus with all our hearts and make him the center of our life. We cannot make the world love Jesus overnight, but we can learn to love him ourselves and change our own lives to have the meaning and purpose for which we always yearn.

Here at St. Ann’s we are introducing a new program entitled “Christlife.” it is a seven-week retreat series that will take place on Thursday evenings from 7:00 PM -9:30 PM in Fr. discovering-christAnthony Hall. Our first session entitled “Discovering Christ” will talk about precisely these things. We will not dwell on specific beliefs nor enter into catechetics or any hard sell of Jesus. Instead, we will talk about what life is all about and why we need a Savior, specifically Jesus. You will be fed a great meal and then we will have discussion about life and the role Jesus should play in it. Our team has people of every age from 15 through elderly adults, both male and female. If you live near Yonkers, come to Christlife! It may change your life! If you don’t live in our area, look for Christlife where you live. Catholic parishes are offering it all over the country. Make a commitment that will pay off for the rest of your life and into eternity! Come to know Jesus, and you will come to know yourself!

What is the meaning and purpose of life?

I like to ask you three questions. Please answer them in your mind as best and honestly as possible: number one – why are you here? number two – what are you doing? and number three -where you going?

First why are you here? Why are you on the earth at this moment in time? Different people might answer that in different ways. Some people might say “well I’m just a step in the chain reaction that began with the Big Bang, and once the Big Bang began one thing started affecting another and now it’s just my turn to be here. So if we follow that through then we’re nothing more than cosmic dust left over from the Big Bang with no rhyme or reason and no specific purpose for being here at this time. Others might say – as a teenager once said to another upon whom he showed up on  rather unexpectedly, “Where did you come from?” He answered, “well, my mother and father loved each other very, very much!” In that case we can say we’re simply the result of a conjugal act. Perhaps we might be able to say if we knew that mom and dad had planned to conceive a child at that point that we were at least willed into being by our parents, but if not, then we were just a byproduct of a conjugal act, maybe even an “oops!” Neither of those gives you much sense of personal value today. There is a third answer which of course is the Christian answer: why are you here? because God has willed it. He wants you here at this moment in time. None of us here is an accident to God; every one of us is here on this earth at this moment because God wants us here. That gives me value! That helps me know that I have a reason for existing, that if I don’t seem to matter to anybody else in the world, I matter to God and God wants me here.

Number two: what are you doing? What is your purpose for existing? Why you get up in the morning and get dressed and go to work or to school or whatever it is that you go each and every day? What’s the reason behind it? Some people never think it through. A lot of people have no answer to that question. “Well I just do it because that’s what we do. That’s what we’re trained to do and we just do our thing.” For many people it simply survival, just like animals in the wild who, whenever they wake up, they go to hunt and find their food and keep themselves from being some other animal’s food. So every day is just a struggle for survival – “eat or be eaten!” Of course that doesn’t give us much comfort. Then there’s the Lord’s message to us. The Christian answer to “what am I doing here?” is that I am here because God wants me here and God made me in his image and likeness. You are the only person just like yourself that God has ever made, and God is showing himself to the world through you in a way he has never done before; you have a way of showing God to the world that only you can do! In whatever you do each and every day you are called to radiate the face of Christ, to be the very face of Jesus to everyone you meet, so that the world by knowing you can know God, and the world will be a better place because you are in it! If you live your life each and every day remembering what you are doing – being Christ in the world even if it’s only in the simple gifts I have, in my limited ability to meet other people and interact with them, then whatever I do, whether it’s big-time or little, I do it to show the face of Christ to people. That gives me tremendous meaning! That gives a sense of worth to every day because every new day is an opportunity for me to show God to the world once again in a way that only I can do. It’s not anything I can pat myself on the back for, but that has been given to me by God the day I was created, and that gives the automatic answer to question number three, “where are you going?” What is the purpose of your life? Sadly, for many people, the ultimate goal again is just like everyday – survival, just trying to make sure we don’t get swallowed up before eventually something takes our lives, and that’s pretty dismal! When you think about it, when that happens our lives are no different from a bunch of prairie dogs running around frantically yelping a call to the others to try to find food and get into our holes quickly when a wolf or predator comes to try to grab us as a meal. We’re spending all of our time only trying to survive and avoid being swallowed up by the cruel cold world around us. That leads many people to live simply for pleasure, simply for hedonism, just to enjoy each and every day. In the beginning perhaps maybe that can feel good, but after a while it becomes pretty empty. We need more than just little pleasures.

For other people their goal is to make it big. Maybe they want to go to top. They want to be able to make something big of themselves so they can go to their high school reunion and show all those people who thought they were good for nothing what they became, and then of course they do go to their high school reunion and find out that all the people they thought were going to be impressed by them are more successful than they are, and they become rather depressed because they failed to achieve their goal. Their goal was too dependent upon other people and being better than what other people have done, and of course when they find other people also doing well, instead of being happy for them, they get annoyed.

happinessSome people only want to move up the corporate ladder, to be number one, to become president or CEO or whatever it may be and they never do. Their goals are forever unaccomplished. Or perhaps they do get there and something happens and everybody is publicly embarrassed in the news and they need a scapegoat, and so the Board of Directors decides the CEO is the best to go, and all of their happiness – everything they worked for – is gone, just like that! For other people it’s to have that retirement home: doing everything possible to save money so when I retire I can buy myself a beautiful home on the shore and just sit and look at the sea every day and listen to the sound of the sea creatures. And they do, and that beautiful home gets wiped out in a hurricane! How many people set goals for themselves that never happen, that are either unrealistic or they don’t do anything to make those goals happen, and sometimes what we think is going to be so important turns out not to be very important at all. Maybe they dream of a huge mansion, and when they get it, they find out that it hasn’t made them happy; in fact, it’s just more rooms to clean! Our lives are filled with stories of people who claim they got everything they wanted and are still unhappy. It’s not a rare moment that somebody gets everything they wanted on this earth and quickly discover they have nothing!

Where are we going? Of course God ultimately has one thing in store for us: he is calling us to his glory in his kingdom. God wants us to be with him so that we when we pass through this earth when we can sit and bask on the glory of the face of Christ. Sometimes we dismiss that all too quickly; we look for all the earthly things and we forget about the heavenly things. If it sounds like I’m praising myself in what I am about to write, please forgive me as that’s not my intention, but I can tell you that as a priest that I know great happiness and peace following God every day. How many people if they found out their life were ending might lament that they didn’t accomplish all the things on their bucket list. I can honestly say that if I were to find out that my life was ending tomorrow I have done what I wanted to do, that I have already reached everything that I have wanted in my life. My purpose in living is not to reach a personal goal of anything I want to accomplish in this life but just to continue each and every day doing what God has asked me to do. You may know that Pope Francis is not keen on making monsignors. Someone asked me if I was disappointed and I responded, “Who cares? I don’t like the color magenta anyway!” Twenty-four years ago I got the only title I ever wanted, the title of “father”, and since then I have just been doing what God asks of me. I’m not perfect and I am not trying to make myself out to be a saint. I have my sins and my shortcomings and my failures, but my life is not an ambitious goal to try to do something for myself but trying my best to do what God wants me to do each and every day, to be his face to everyone I meet, so that when I die I can enter his kingdom and gaze upon Christ forever. Has given me a peace each and every day that I would wish on anyone of you, that I would hope that all of you could know, and when we realize that we are here because God wants us here, that we are called to radiate his face to everyone we meet, and are going to the glory of his kingdom, that gives us all the meaning our lives could ever desire! When you have Jesus, who could ask for anything more? May Jesus Christ be praised!

Jesus the Wimp!

From time to time I enjoy reading comments people post related to internet news stories. Some are juvenile and insulting, but others are intelligent and well-written. Today a story appeared on MSN of yet another fragment of an ancient text that says that Jesus had a wife. Of course, many people immediately hauled out the worn-out canard that another proof that the Church is wrong has surfaced, and that the Church maliciously suppressed these documents because they showed a truth they didn’t want to acknowledge. Historians have always known that these documents existed, but they also have always known that they have no historical credibility. They were not written by people reporting what Jesus truly said and did. Rather, they were deliberately fabricated by groups such as the Gnostics in an attempt to make people believe the vision of Christianity that they desired to see but which Jesus did not in fact create. A married Jesus would suit their needs well, so they created it. The truth is that these documents were not delegated to the dustpans of history because they were ruthlessly suppressed, but because no one took them seriously, and they were simply abandoned as worthless.

But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I wish to comment on what some people wrote in defense of the faith. Numerous people, in a valiant attempt to defend the veracity of the Church, pointed out that the heart of the Gospel is not whether or not Jesus married but his call to love one another. There were numerous posts of this nature: “God just wants us to love one another”, “Love God and love your neighbor”, “Be kind to one another”, etc. All of this is and true and good. But it is not the summation of the Gospel, and therein is where I think we have been weak in defending the faith and perhaps why it is not as popular is it should be.

I frequently receive responses from people stating that “Jesus understands” and “God just wants me to be happy.” The implication is that if Jesus loves us he’ll never allow us to be uncomfortable or suffer. Even parishes often avoid anything uncomfortable, and some priests have restricted their preaching to what I call “marshmallow theology” – soft, sweet, and fluffy, but containing no nutritional value. They limit themselves to preaching a sort of self-help psycho-spirituality, where you simply remember that God loves you and that you are special, so give yourself a big hug from God and remember how much he loves you! Well that’s nice and that’s true, but that’s Barney! Somehow I think the second person of the Blessed Trinity took on our human nature and died on the cross to teach us a little more than we can learn from a purple dinosaur! Some people even go so far as to think that Jesus doesn’t care about sin but only about how much we love him. I think Jesus cares about sin very much – enough to die on the cross to save us from it. Yes, God is all loving, all-compassionate, and all-forgiving. But there is more to God than that, and we frequently forget that side of him and have thereby presented the world with “Jesus the wimp!”

Any high school student playing a sport knows a good coach presses him to be the best he can be. At the time, the kid may not like it very much and may even curse out his coach. But when he wins a tournament or a medal, he is grateful that the coach pushed him even when he felt like he was at his limit, for he knows it was the coach’s belief in his potential and his constantly challenging him to be all he could be that made him succeed. Well, God is no different! Jesus loves us unconditionally and wants us to overcome sin and be strong against the devil. Yes, he tells us how much he loves us, but precisely because he loves us, he is not going to allow us to make excuses as to why we can’t do what he teaches us. He tells us the road will be rocky, but he will help us walk it. I specifically remember debating a young man who was gay who was trying to convince me that Jesus understood his plight and would allow him to have a homosexual relationship. He asked me, “What do you think Jesus would say to someone who told him he was gay?” His assumption was that Jesus would say, “I understand. Go out and love another man.” Instead, I told him I know exactly what Jesus would tell him, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me!” Jesus is not a wimp, and the Gospel is not for wimps. To follow the Lord is a real challenge. Sometimes we forget to challenge people to be better than what the world says they can be. Maybe the fact that we have not presented people with the challenge but with a wimpy Jesus is a big part of the reason people don’t come to church any more. Who wants to worship a wimp?

Yes, following the Lord can be hard at times. If people have fallen into a deep pit, and one is able to climb out, what does he do for the others? He tells them that, yes the walls are steep and the climb will be difficult, but that is the only way to get out of the pit. He encourages them every step of the way to follow in his footsteps, as that is the only way to salvation. He doesn’t just sit on the rim and tell them to hold hands and sing Kumbaya!