March 31, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This Sunday we mark the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent, often called Laetare Sunday. The rose colored vestments we wear remind us that the great celebration of Easter is drawing near. The word “laetare” is Latin for “rejoice,” and it is used here to help us continue through the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of this holy season. As we go through our Lenten journey, our penitential practices can begin to weigh on us, and we run the risk of thinking of Lent as a dour, guilt-ridden time. The Church gives us a liturgical focus in the midst of this penance that calls attention to the reason for our penance – we are preparing for the mysteries of our salvation, and though those mysteries involve the suffering of Christ, they win for us freedom from sin, renewal of spirit, and the open gates of Heaven.

The Gospel parable of the Two Sons read at Mass this weekend bears this out. As the Pharisees and scribes grumble about Jesus’ association with sinners, He shares this powerful lesson about sin, repentance, and mercy. The son who squanders everything and has no choice but to come home hoping to be a servant reminds us of our own sinfulness. How often we squander the gifts that God pours out on us, how often we betray the love of our Heavenly Father! But human nature is oriented toward God. Thus, when we sin, we feel guilt and a very real distance from God. This separation hurts and the pain we feel begins to turn us back to our proper orientation. The son begins to turn back to his father, and so should we – during this great season of Lent, our reflection on our own sin ought to remind us to go back to our Father, seeking forgiveness with the humility of the prodigal son.

The other son in the parable has never been far from his father. In this man, we see a reflection of another facet of our lives. For the most part, we believe we are generally good people. All of us have an occasional tendency to judge others or think that we are entitled to something that another has received. It is humbling to hear the words of the father calling us to rejoice at the return of a sinner, but we need to hear those words, too!

The father runs to greet his prodigal son and welcomes him home with celebration. Our penitential practices both focus our attention on our sin and remind us of the way that our Heavenly Father sees us. We need to run back to our Father, confessing our sin and asking mercy. And we also need to rejoice, for He runs to meet us on the way, He seeks us out no matter how lost we believe we are, He desperately wants us to rejoice in His presence. God never stops looking for us and calling us into relationship with Himself. Furthermore, He never stops calling us to rejoice when sinners turn back to Him. He sends us out to invite sinners home. We are prodigals, and who better than prodigals to call other prodigals back home? So today, let us rejoice that we have been called to this holy season of penance and that God is working out our salvation.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

March 24, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This weekend we hear the story of Moses and the burning bush. As he approaches this amazing sight, God calls out to him, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” The act of removing his sandals is, for Moses, a sign of his obedience to God and his reverence for the holiness of God present in that place. This interior disposition of reverence, accompanied by the outward sign of the removal of shoes is translated in many ways in our modern day. During this season of Lent, we are invited to tread on holy ground and we are called to deeper reverence for the holy things of God.

Removing one’s shoes in imitation of Moses, for the Jewish people, became a symbolic way of leaving behind the profane things of this world. In the ancient liturgical practice of Israel, the priests would ceremonially wash before offering sacrifice. The sandals and clothing they wore outside would never accompany them to the altar. Think for a moment of how Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles. In a traditional home in ancient Israel, a servant would wash the feet of guests upon their arrival, after they had removed their sandals. Even today, many people make the request that shoes be left at the door. For the residents, it helps them keep the home clean, but for guests, removing shoes is a sign of respect for the host. This symbolic act is shared in multiple cultures and religions. Popular literature picks up the theme, as well: J.R.R. Tolkien highlights the fact that his hobbits never wear shoes, a symbol of their simplicity and closeness to the land. While we do not remove our shoes upon entering the church, we are invited to tread on holy ground and to be aware of the burning bush in our midst.

We bless ourselves with holy water as we come through the door of the church, a sign of leaving behind whatever is unholy. Then, aware of the holy ground on which we stand, we genuflect to the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle, the burning bush in our midst where the Lord remains for us. Before, during, and after the Mass, the sanctuary stands as a reminder of that which is especially holy and set apart. To approach the sanctuary then is a great privilege, one which calls us to the utmost reverence.

The reverence we show our Lord in the church trains us for the other elements of our lives. Just as the Lenten practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can and should bear fruit in our spiritual lives throughout the year, so our heart-level removal of our sandals as we approach the sanctuary can and should influence our daily life. Reverence to God is something we demonstrate in church, in speech, in the respect we show to those around us, the way we reverence our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even our enemies. This week, let us remove our sandals and recognize that the ground on which we tread is holy and the Lord calls us to reverence.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

March 17, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Of course, since the feast falls this year on a Sunday, poor St. Patrick gets the short end of the proverbial shillelagh and his feast is not celebrated liturgically. Nevertheless, his life provides us with a good Lenten example. The spiritual journey we take during these forty days were reflected throughout his holy life.

Born in Roman Britain (making him, depending on how much you want to needle your Irish friends, an Italian or an Englishman), he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to the Emerald Isle as a slave. In his captivity, he turned to God for solace and strength. Though he escaped slavery, God inspired in his heart a deep desire to return to Ireland so that the Gospel could be preached there. And so he became a priest and was eventually sent, now as a bishop, to Ireland for the mission of bringing the Gospel to the Irish people. Within forty years, he had converted the entire island to faith in Jesus Christ.

Lent is a season for us to turn away from our slavery to sin. The tragedy of the human condition is such that when we are captured by temptation and sin, we struggle to escape. Even after we have escaped, we tend to go back, falling into the same sins and bad habits we had before. The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent can be a powerful training ground in which we learn what it takes to truly escape from the slavery of sin. St. Patrick escaped from slavery in Ireland, a place that, at the time, was entirely pagan and hostile to the Gospel. Sin is hostile to the Gospel and holds us back. So let these forty days be a time to escape from that hostile environment and learn to live in the true freedom promised to us by Christ.

Though he escaped, Patrick longed to return to Ireland. We should not see this as a longing to return to slavery and a pagan environment, though. Rather, Patrick longed to bring to those still in slavery the good news of the freedom he had in Jesus. Our Lenten practice is never meant to be limited to our own personal boundaries. As we escape the slavery of sin, then, let us also be filled with zeal to help others escape! We are privileged to have access to the sacraments, to the word proclaimed and read in Scripture, to the infinite graces and mercies of the God who loves us. Are we keeping it to ourselves? St. Patrick held nothing back for himself, but spent his life sharing the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel with the people who once enslaved him. In doing so, he brought them to true spiritual freedom. We are surrounded every day by friends and family members who struggle with sin and various forms of personal slavery. Let us share with them the goodness of God in our lives and help them find true spiritual freedom in and through Jesus Christ.

St. Patrick’s tireless efforts brought all of Ireland to faith in Jesus Christ. It radically transformed a whole culture, and that influence lasted hundreds of years and spread to other lands. The Gospel is not meant to be kept privately and cordoned off from the rest of our lives. It is meant, rather, to influence everything we do and even to influence culture. Ireland, like the United States, is quickly pushing the influence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ away from the public square. What can be done? We, as a parish community, can recover the culture-forming power of the Gospel. As St. Peter says to Jesus in the Gospel, “It is good that we are here!” Indeed! But just as Jesus takes the apostles back down the mountain, so we go back into the world. Let us go, with the great prayer of St. Patrick on our lips: “Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.” Just so will we form a culture of life, love, and mercy, just so will we proclaim the freedom found in Jesus Christ, just so will we win our own liberty from slavery to sin, just so will we proclaim the endless love of God.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

March 10, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On March 9, 1857, at the young age of 14, Dominic Savio passed away. Some years later, our patron, Pope St. Pius X, opened his cause for canonization, and he was declared a saint in 1954 by Pope Pius XII. He is the patron saint of choirboys, the falsely accused, and juvenile delinquents. This weekend, as we mark the anniversary of his passing from this life, we also begin the holy season of Lent. I would like to propose St. Dominic Savio as a unique example for our own Lenten journey.

St. Dominic Savio was by all accounts, a very devout and pious young man. He was given to frequent prayer and a love for the Mass. Hence his future patronage of choirboys. He was a very good student, both in conduct and academic achievement. Some boys in his class broke a piece of equipment and blamed him for the damage. In the face of these accusations he remained silent, and when his teacher later learned that he was innocent, asked him why he had not defended himself. He explained that he wished to remain silent in imitation of Jesus who was silent before his accusers. Hence, he is named a patron for those falsely accused and for juvenile delinquents. He would go on to study in a school run by St. John Bosco, a saint who not only directly influenced his life, but who would later write a biography of Dominic and speak frequently of the profound impact Dominic had on his own pursuit of holiness.

His holiness was achieved in a very short time. In spite of his youth, Dominic exhibited tremendous spiritual maturity, one many of us yearn for throughout long years of our lives! After his First Holy Communion, he wrote four resolutions, expressed simply as follows: “I will go to Confession often, and to Holy Communion as frequently as my confessor allows; I wish to sanctify Sundays and festivals in a special manner; my friends shall be Jesus and Mary; death rather than sin.” It is these four resolutions that give us an example to follow during this holy season of Lent.

First, Lent calls us to repentance, to reject sin and be faithful to the Gospel. A helpful resolution to take during Lent is to go to Confession. Celebrate the sacrament of God’s mercy! This great sacrament is truly something that helps us to become holy, especially the more frequently we avail ourselves of its graces. Second, Lent calls us to single-minded devotion to the Lord. We can achieve this focus by truly seeking to sanctify our Sundays as days to worship the Lord and rest. Seeking true friendship with Jesus and Mary is done in prayer, in learning the story of the Gospel, in our worship as a community of faith. And so these resolutions of Dominic Savio invite us to that Lenten focus of single-minded devotion to God. Finally, Lent calls us to reform our lives so that we can undertake the true battle against evil that will lead us to heaven. “Death rather than sin” may sound extreme at first, but it reflects a spiritual disposition that is prepared to endure any suffering for the sake of living according to the will and law of God. Do we prefer God above all things? Do we reject sin so wholeheartedly that our faith would allow us to face every suffering imaginable without being shaken or yielding?

St. Dominic Savio’s resolutions, made at a tender age, are good resolutions for each of us. May this Lent be a healthy and holy training ground, a time when we are able to truly grow in virtue, devotion, and service. As we enter these forty days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, may our resolve be always toward the Lord who calls us into friendship. May we walk with Jesus through the desert, knowing that the discipline we learn here will help us in all aspects of our spiritual lives and lead us to eternal glory with Him in heaven!

March 3, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

My parents recently completed some interior renovation work on their home. The house I grew up in looks very different as a result. As the renovation began, walls came down, floors were torn up, ceilings replaced. For a few months, my folks had no kitchen and could barely use the first floor. Along the way, they discovered places where insulation should have been, but had been missing for decades (explaining why one particular room always felt colder than others), a car exhaust pipe that had been rigged by a plumber to serve as a water pipe in a wall, and many other interesting things. They “suffered” through the construction (only in America could we call voluntary home renovation suffering), and the house looks great today.

In the Gospel Jesus tells us to remove the beam from our own eye if we want to help our brothers and sisters take the splinters out of their eyes. The truth is that the removal of a beam is no easy process, and it certainly is not without labor, pain, and adjustment. When we remove the beam from our own eyes, what will we find? We may find that insulation is missing – that something in our spiritual lives is lacking, that our moral life leaves something to be desired, that we need to do something to fix our relationship with the Lord. We may find that something is in a place it doesn’t belong, like an exhaust-pipe-turned-plumbing-apparatus. These are our mislabeled priorities, our assumptions, the false idols that take the place of God in our lives, whether it be work, power, money, addiction, or any other in a long list of vices and sins. Jesus challenges us to remove it. We will have to suffer when we do this because change is hard. Conversion of life and heart is a challenge because we must let go of what makes us most comfortable, what we have always done. Worst of all, we have to acknowledge that what we were doing or the way we were living was inadequate.

As I write this, I see the appointment on my calendar for my meeting with my spiritual director later this week. It is a chance for me to remove the beam from my eye, by seeking his counsel and guidance in my spiritual life, and by celebrating the sacrament of confession. As we prepare to begin the holy season of Lent, I encourage you to remove the beam from your eye, too. Go to confession! What a gift to have God’s mercy so abundantly available!

If the point of home renovation was to make a mess and deprive a family of part of their house, no one would do it. Likewise, if the point of the beam removal commanded by Jesus was just to cause us guilt and spiritual pain, we would never remove those beams. But of course that’s not the point. Rather, Jesus tells us that once we have removed the beam, we will be able to see clearly, and seeing clearly, we will be able to help our neighbor remove the splinter from their eye. We are called to help others reform their lives, too. The call to discipleship never stops at the individual, but sends the disciple out on a mission to others, to build up a community of believers, a community of saints.

While we seek to be a community of saints, we are painfully aware that we are also a community of sinners. Even sinners, though, can recognize sin when they see it. As we look at the scandals plaguing our Church, may today’s Gospel message resound for us. Yes, we must remove the beams from our own eyes. Having done so, Jesus asks us to help remove the splinters from the eyes of others, or, in this case, from the Church. That removal will be painful – we are going to hear and see things that shock and hurt. We have learned that this scandal includes the abuse of minors, abuse by priests or bishops in a position of authority, consensual relationships of a homo or heterosexual nature, and more. The transparency necessary to eradicate the scourge of sexual abuse and misconduct will be agonizing, but cannot be delayed. In addition to transparency and accountability, a whole-hearted recommitment to the promise of celibacy and the virtue of chastity is necessary for every priest and bishop. Just as infidelity in marriage wounds deeply, so infidelity to celibacy wounds the whole community of the Church, never more than in those situations when the word “infidelity” fails utterly to describe the horror of abuse or assault. This is a moment when all of us, priests and laity alike, can say firmly “Enough. We are taking the beam out of our eye, we see the splinter that is destroying our Church, and we will not rest until it is taken out.”

Peace

Fr. Sam