When I was growing up, I enjoyed spending time at the mall. While my parents would make their way from Dillards to Footlocker, I would spend some time looking at the various vender carts outside the stores. One of my favorite vender carts was the Magic Eye cart. For those who are unfamiliar with Magic Eye, it is a series of books that contain autostereograms, which are patterns of shapes and colors that when looked at correctly cause some viewers to see three-dimensional images. At first glance, a Magic Eye image is uninteresting. It is merely a pattern of shapes and colors that are not very appealing. However, when looked at carefully, a three-dimensional image is hidden within the uninteresting pattern.READ MORE
One of my favorite stories about the life of Pope Saint John Paul II is the story of the beggar priest. One day a priest was walking through the streets of Rome on his way to a private audience with Pope Saint John Paul II when he recognized a beggar on the street as one of his classmates from seminary who had fallen into hard times, walked away from his priesthood, and become homeless. At the papal audience, the homeless beggar was so much on his mind that he decided to share his encounter with the beggar priest with the pope. To his surprise, the pope told him to find the beggar priest and bring him to the Vatican for a private dinner that evening.
The priest then found the beggar, bought him a change of clothes, allowed him to shower at his hotel, and brought him to the Vatican for the special dinner. Toward the end of the dinner, Pope Saint John Paul II dismissed everyone from the room except for the beggar priest. When the two of them were alone together, the pope then asked the beggar priest to hear his confession.READ MORE
On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court in the Obergefell v. Hodges case ruled in a narrow 5-4 decision that "the 14th Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state." In the wake of this decision many Catholics have found themselves asking troubling questions. "What does this mean for the Catholic Church?" "Will the Church participate in same sex marriages?" "How should I respond to my family members and friends who are in favor of the Supreme Court's decision?"READ MORE
John 6:52-66: (52) The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" (53) Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (54) Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (55) For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. (56) Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (57) Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. (58) This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." (59) These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. (60) Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" (61) Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? (62) What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? (63) It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (64) But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. (65) And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." (66) As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
For the longest time whenever I read chapter 6 of John’s Gospel I felt like there was something I was missing. I felt like there was some inside-story that I didn’t know about. There are several verses in this chapter of John that gave me this impression. In verse 52 we hear that the Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat. Then in verse 60 we hear many of the Jews saying, This saying is hard; who can accept it? Then, in verse 66, many of the Jews left Jesus and returned to their former way of life. Somehow in less than 20 biblical verses, Jesus managed to say something so controversial that he lost a majority of his followers. Why? What did Jesus say that made everybody so upset that they left him and returned to their former way of life?READ MORE
Venit Maria Magdalena annuntians discipulis: Vidi Dominum! Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples: I have seen the Lord! (John 20:18).
Vidi Dominum! I have seen the Lord! These were the joyful words spoken by St. Mary Magdalene to the disciples, announcing to them the good news that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. What wonderful words from our patroness. What a powerful message.
There is nothing more joyful in the life of the Christian than an encounter with the Risen Lord. It is such a powerful experience that it must be shared. The Christian can't help but tell everyone the good news of this encounter. In his recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis remarked, "Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us." (1)
One of the great joys of being the pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Parish is that I am privileged with the gift of hearing the many stories of how Jesus Christ has changed the lives of the members of our community. Christ is very much alive and at work in our parish. The joy of these encounters with Jesus Christ are so powerful that I find myself sharing them as often as possible. The reaction that I receive from sharing these stories is that people love hearing them. Every community needs to know the fruit that is being born from the work of the Holy Spirit. Seeing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is a need for every Christian community. It is for this reason that we have chosen a new format for our bulletin, and have given the Latin translation of St. Mary Magdalene's testimony of her first encounter with the Risen Christ as its title: Vidi Dominum; I have seen the Lord!READ MORE
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For the longest time I could never understand why the solemnity of the Ascension was an important celebration. Why did Jesus have to ascend to Heaven? Why is this event so important for the Church? Why do the Gospel writers make such a big deal about it? And then one day in prayer, the answer finally dawned on me: the Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven is similar to the narrative predicament found in the Joseph Heller novel, Catch-22.
For those of you who have never read the novel Catch-22 before, let me give you a little background. In Catch-22, the main character, John Yossarian, a US Army Air Force combat pilot, wants to be grounded from combat flight duty. However, in order to be grounded, he must first be evaluated by the squadron's flight surgeon and then be found "unfit for flying." In order for someone to be found "unfit for flying," they would have to be considered insane. The problem is that to be declared "unfit for flying," the person would first have to submit a request for an evaluation. Such a request could only be submitted by a sane person and would be evidence enough to prove the sanity of the one requesting the evaluation. The message is that anyone who wants to get out of flying, isn't really crazy. Hence, pilots that submit requests for evaluations are sane and must fly in combat missions. At the same time, if a request is never submitted, the pilot will never receive one, will never be found insane, and must also fly in combat. Therefore, the Catch-22 is that no pilot can ever be grounded for being insane – even if he were.READ MORE
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Cardinal Dolan, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, in his book, Called to Be Holy, tells a story of an experience he had with Cardinal Angelo Dell'Acqua during Mass at St. Peter's Basilica while he was a seminarian. At the end of Mass, the Cardinal looked at all of the American priests, sisters, and seminarians and said, "I have a favor to ask each of you. As you walk the streets of Rome, please smile."
There is nothing worse than a Catholic who has no joy. It's essentially an oxymoron. There is nothing that drives more people away from the Church than bitter Catholics. Jesus says in today's Gospel (John 15:9- 17), "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete." Jesus desires that we live a joyful life. He wants us to radiate the joy of the Gospel to all people.
Often, a lack of joy is a sign of a lack of trust in God. If I do not believe that Jesus Christ loves me, forgives me, and has the power to transform me, then my response to God is going to be "joyless." However, if I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, if I communicate with Him on a regular basis and offer myself up to Him as a gift (without holding a part of myself back from Him), then I know that He will be there to give me the light I need when I find myself in a dark place. In a relationship with Christ, I discover that He has overcome the world and that there is nothing in this world that we can encounter that He cannot transform by His great power and love. A lack of joy is usually a sign that we doubt God's power and love.READ MORE
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For the past two weeks we have been reflecting on the theological virtue of faith. In particular, we have examined how the object of faith is the Person of Jesus Christ and the context of faith is the Church. Today, we finish our reflection on faith with an examination of the result of faith. In other words, what does faith produce in the life of a believer?
There is a famous Augustinian expression that says, "Faith is letting oneself be grasped by the Truth." The more we are "grasped by the Truth," the more we become witnesses of the Truth. This is the result of faith: it produces a witness. The more the faith becomes an active part of our life, the more our entire life becomes a witness to Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to "witness to Jesus Christ?" Although there are many ways we offer a witness to Jesus Christ, there are two that I would like to reflect upon in this letter. First, we offer witness to Jesus Christ through suffering. The late Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a Catholic priest who used to be a regular contributor to the New York Times, once wrote, "Suffering is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived." He who suffers well, offers a beautiful witness to Jesus Christ. How?READ MORE
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Last week we pondered the object of faith and discovered that Jesus Christ was at the heart and center. We learned that Christianity is not so much a code of ethics or a collection of beliefs, but a trust fall of our entire lives into the arms of the Person of Jesus. This week, let us continue our reflection on faith and spend some time discerning the context of faith.
As we all know, faith is a profoundly personal reality. This is emphasized in the profession of faith made during the Easter season and at baptisms. As many of you have experienced, at special times and during special celebrations, the Church uses a profession of faith formula that involves three personal responses." It divides the creed into three parts and asks the people present to respond with "I do" to each of them.
The reason for this formula is to demonstrate concretely the personal nature of the faith commitment. The three-fold "I do" proclamation of the faith is an opportunity for me to state how faith in Jesus Christ has caused a personal conversion in my life and has reformed and redirected my entire person. It is a way of publically announcing that I am different because of my experience of Christ.
However, although faith is a personal commitment made by the individual believer, it is also a communal reality that cannot be separated from the entire body of believers: the Church. One of the beautiful truths of the Christian faith is that no one believes by oneself. Faith is a way of knowing through witness. We are able to follow Christ, only because someone has given us an opportunity to encounter Christ. Without this witness, there would be no faith. Pope Benedict XVI once said, "Our faith is truly personal only if it is also communal: it can be my faith only if it dwells in and moves with the 'we' of the Church, only if it is our faith, the common faith of the one Church."READ MORE
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Last week I wrote and preached about the dynamic of faith and doubt and how this dynamic is a part of the inescapable dilemma of being human. Since "faith" is such a strong Easter theme, I would like to spend the next few weeks reflecting on this beautiful topic in order to help us unpack the beauty and mystery of the Christian faith. In particular, our reflection will explore three aspects: the object of faith, the context of faith, and the result of faith.
Have you ever been asked the question, "Why are you a Christian?" What would your answer be to this question? Many people respond with the answer, "In order to be a good person." Was this your answer? The great Christian author C.S. Lewis once argued that the only correct answer to this question is, "Because I believe it is true."
Man is a seeker of truth. To ignore the truth of something is to ignore an important aspect of our human nature. To reduce the Christian faith to the object of merely "doing good," would be to reduce our humanity to something lower than its true self. Christianity does not merely present a "way of life," but a series of "facts" about what the real universe is all about. In other words, the purpose of Christianity is more than simply, "being a good person." If Christianity isn't true, then no honest man should believe it, no matter how much benefit it might be to him.
In addition, the object of the Christian faith cannot be reduced to the sum of its teachings. The Christian faith is so much more than a mere collection of ideas or intellectual property. There is more to man than just his intellectual pursuits.
Rather, the object of the Christian faith is not a code of ethics or a collection of knowledge, but a person. Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, "Faith is not a mere intellectual assent of the human person to specific truths about God; it is an act with which I entrust myself freely to a God who is Father and who loves me…Christianity, before being a moral good or an ethic, is the event of love, it is the acceptance of the Person of Jesus."
The primary reason why we should be Christians is so that we can have a relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the one who created the world, redeemed it and recreated it anew. In the Person of Jesus Christ we discover where we came from and why we were created. In Him we are given the grace needed to live the fullness of our human life so as to share in God's eternal divine life. The reason why we should believe the teachings of the Christian faith and live the moral code of Christian faith is because they come from the Person of Jesus Christ.
People follow persons, not ideas. People sacrifice their lives for their loved ones, not their favorite concepts. A soldier dies not for his country, but for the people he knows and loves who make up his country. The early martyrs of the faith did not die for a teaching or an ethical code, they died for Jesus Christ. They found Him to be the pearl of great price, the one worth living and dying for.
Brothers and sisters, we miss the point of the faith completely when we make it about something other than Jesus Christ. He should be the most important person in our lives. Without Him, we have nothing. He must be the object of our faith. Let us pray during this Easter season that all Catholics, including ourselves, develop a deeper love for Jesus so that we might be willing to risk our lives and place our bets on Him.
Peace in Christ, Fr. Will
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The 20th century Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, once told a story about a rabbi and an atheist scholar who would argue regularly about the authenticity of the Torah. One day, the rabbi hit the atheist scholar with a statement that made him tremble. The rabbi in reference to the Torah said, "Perhaps it is true after all." This simple statement made the atheist scholar tremble because it caused him to reflect upon his own doubt in the belief that God does not exist. The atheist had to confront the possibility that he might be wrong and the rabbi might be right.
As a Catholic priest, I regularly receive emails and phone calls from Catholics who say something along the lines of, "Father, I am really having doubts about my Catholic faith. If God is really there, wouldn't he take my doubt away?" In our culture, doubt is automatically assumed to be something bad, unnecessary, hypocritical, and in need of immediate correction.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his book, Introduction to Christianity, reminds us that the dynamic between faith and doubt is a part of the dilemma of being a man. He states, "Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the non-believer is troubled by doubts about his unbelief…Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a continual temptation, so for the unbeliever faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world…Anyone who makes up his mind to evade the uncertainty of belief will have to experience the uncertainty of unbelief."
The human person cannot evade the dilemma of belief and doubt. All persons have faith in something, and all struggle with doubt in the midst of their faith. J.R. Tolkien once wrote, "A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it."
Even St. Thomas the Apostle, one of Jesus' closest and strongest followers, struggled with doubt. Today's Gospel (John 20:19-31) is the passage from Scripture that resulted in his infamous nickname: "Doubting Thomas." It is unfortunate that he has been labeled as a doubter. St. Thomas the Apostle was a man of great faith. He was simply more public about his doubt than others. Notice that although he had doubt about the Resurrection of Christ, he was still gathered with the Apostles in prayer. This is a sign of faithfulness. He should be called, "Faithful Thomas," not "Doubting Thomas."
In today's culture, we are tempted to abandon our faith at the moment we are confronted with doubt. This is a mistake. Doubt is a part of the human experience and can be transformed by Christ into great faith. St. Thomas the Apostle is a perfect example of this. Too often we let doubt sink into our minds and hearts and refuse to do anything about it.
Do you have doubts about the Resurrection of Christ? Search for opportunities to have an encounter with Him. Do you struggle to believe that quiet time in front of the Blessed Sacrament will change your life? Sacrifice an hour each week for the next six months and see what happens. Do you struggle to believe the Church's teaching about a particular topic? Do some research and find out exactly why the Church teaches what she does, instead of letting someone outside the Church tell you what she teaches and why she teaches it. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, "There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church – which is, of course, quite a different thing."
Too often we allow ourselves to become lazy when it comes to our faith. We think that God is supposed to make it easy for us. The cost we pay for something is what gives something its value. If it cost us little to acquire, we usually treat it with little value and respect. If it cost us a lot to acquire, we usually treasure it as if it were priceless.
Maybe, just maybe, this is why doubt is a part of the dilemma of being human. As humans, we have the capacity for greatness, but only if we overcome obstacles. In the play Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare wrote, "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt." The man who overcomes doubt and is successful in belief is considered a hero. Maybe God wants more Catholic heroes. Maybe we should confront our doubt instead of hiding or running from it. Maybe our doubt is what will open us up to being better believers. Maybe instead of asking God to take our doubt away, we should ask God to give us the courage and tenacity to wrestle with it.
Peace in Christ,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Have you ever wondered why God asks us to rely upon the testimony of others for the Resurrection of Christ? If God really did rise from the dead, then why didn't he just tear open the sky and undeniably and unquestionably show Himself as the Lord of lords and King of kings? I believe there are three good answers to this question.
First, God desires our participation in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel message to the world. What would be the point of training someone to have the skills to perform a particular activity and then not have them perform that activity? We have a God who loves us so much that He wants us to be a part of His incredible mission. He doesn't want us sitting on the sidelines of the faith. He wants us in the game (so to speak). He wants us to be the messengers of the good news of His victory over death.
Second, God desires to teach us the importance of little things. We spend our lives focusing on the big stuff: the big paycheck, the big house, the big job, the big vacation, etc… Sometimes we focus so much on the big things, we miss the little things. Remember the parable of the mustard seed and how it grows into a very large tree. It is far more impressive for God to transform the world using the testimony of a handful of simple Jewish fishermen than through some gigantic overpowering cosmic demonstration. God doesn't need earthquakes, worldwide floods, and pillars of fire to get our attention anymore. All He needs is the openness of a humble heart.
Third, God wants to remind us that He is God and we are not. Faith is a free gift that we humbly receive. It is not a magic trick that we can control or manipulate. God is free to reveal Himself to us in the manner that He chooses. We are not in control of His revelation. We are merely receivers and stewards of it. We cannot demand to take possession of God's gift and do with it whatever we want. The insistence to take control of the way God chooses to reveal Himself to us is to reverse the proper relationship between God and man: to make ourselves God and to make God our servant.
What keeps you from seeing the Resurrected Christ in your life? If we really want the Resurrection to mean something in our lives, we have to learn to open our hearts to God and allow Him to work in us in the manner that he chooses, in his own unique and beautiful way. May we be open to the Resurrected Christ this Easter season so that we can come to experience the living God!
Peace in Christ,