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

February 24, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Jesus is an extremist. Unfortunately, our modern civilized ears hear a statement like that and immediately become offended, though we can’t quite name the reason for offense. Extremism conjures images of violence inspired by hatred. But in the person of Jesus Christ, we find an extremist of an entirely different kind. Jesus not only exhorts His followers to an extreme life of holiness, piety, virtue, mercy and justice, but also demonstrates by His own Passion on the Cross the full meaning of the extremism of His teachings.

There are no half measures with Jesus Christ. What He says in the Gospel today, He really means. Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, turn the other cheek and so on. These are not easy platitudes! On the contrary, these are radical propositions for living a life entirely different than the world around us, even, it would seem, a life contrary to every natural instinct we possess. This extreme way of living love for God and neighbor leads to the next part of what Jesus teaches. “Stop judging and you will not be judged.” How easily we pull this one line and read it as justification for never calling a sin a sin, or refusing to correct someone for their immoral behavior. But Jesus teaches this in a big context: we can only stop judging if we first love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, if we have first turned the other cheek. If we continue reading the Gospel, we see that Jesus immediately teaches us to forgive and give generously. There is more to being a disciple of Jesus Christ than simply not judging. That particular teaching of our Lord follows from and leads to so much more!

What would happen if we, as individuals, as a parish, as a Church, became extremists according to the image of Jesus Christ? What if I took Jesus at His word and truly sought to live holiness and virtue as Jesus asks? There are no half measures with Jesus, and so there should be no half measures for any of us when it comes to living these virtues in pursuit of holiness! Too often, though, in the life of the Church, we have come to  accept half measures. If we reduce everything to “don’t judge” there is no moral force to anything we say or do because the supreme virtue becomes silence about virtue and morality. If we are silent about virtue and morality, moral license creeps in. What then? Moral scandal! Think of the horror of scandal and crime we have seen in the Church since 2002, and highlighted once again in the summer of 2018 and this past week in the laicization of former-Cardinal McCarrick. But if we call it scandal and crime are we violating Jesus’ teaching not to judge? Of course not! I cannot judge the souls of others, but I can say that their behavior and action is wrong, sinful, horrific. Where does this scandal come from? The root of this lies in our collective failure as a Church to heroically live the extremism Jesus calls for! Be an extremist for virtue! Be an extremist for holiness! Be an extremist for love of God and neighbor! If we follow Jesus as He asks, we will uproot every scandal and sin that plagues our Church and our community, and our own lives will be transformed into living testimonies of the love and mercy of God.

Remember this, too: Jesus calls us to an extreme life of love and virtue, this is true. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, perfection is not a prerequisite. The call to this extreme way of living is meant to help us grow in perfection, to be more perfect, more loving, more virtuous, more holy. The reason we follow Jesus Christ as disciples is precisely because we want to live like Him. The reason we need Jesus Christ, especially in the sacraments, is because we live like Him only imperfectly while on earth, but we hope to live in perfect unity with Him forever in Heaven. Jesus is an extremist and He calls us to the same radical life of love and holiness.

Peace

Fr. Sam

February 17, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am away this weekend on a fact-finding mission to examine the palms we will use for Passion Sunday at the end of Lent. It is hard work, but someone has to do it. In my absence, I know that you are well cared for by Fr. Tim and our parish staff!

Though we still have a few weeks, I would like to plant a seed in your minds and hearts regarding the great and holy season of Lent. During these forty days, the Church invites us to a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, spiritual tools meant to help us prepare for the Paschal mystery of our faith. There can often be an overemphasis on fasting—what are you giving up?—that leads to the neglect of prayer and almsgiving. At the same time, in recent years, there is a tendency to say things like “You can give something up or you can do something.” But the Church’s wisdom handed down through the centuries has never suggested that the Lenten discipline is an “or” proposition. On the contrary, it is all about and. A successful Lenten season is built on the strong foundation of all three disciplines—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

It is easy enough to come up with a sacrifice of food or drink that we will undertake. It can be much harder to think through ways we can give alms, serve the poor, or engage in regular works of charity. Likewise, it can be challenging to increase our prayer…we start a devotion or prayer practice, but then schedules get in the way, we forget, and soon we have unintentionally given up the commitment to deeper prayer. Still, the Church proposes all three as pillars of a healthy and fruitful Lenten season.

As we prepare for Lent, then, I would like to suggest a few things. First, let us remove “or” from our Lenten preparations. Instead, let us embrace “and,” aware that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving all contribute to the fruitfulness of the season. Second, don’t worry about failing. The whole purpose of the Lenten disciplines is to help us practice and get better. When practicing, we are bound to fail, but that’s the whole point…failure teaches us how to succeed, how to learn from our mistakes, how to do better next time. Third, even though we can’t worry about failing in the Lenten discipline, we can make plans. Ash Wednesday is March 6, meaning we have about two weeks to carefully consider how we will live out the holy season of Lent, two weeks in which we can examine our own hearts and consciences, two weeks in which to lay out a spiritual road map for the forty days of Lent. Reflect on the ways in which you need to grow in your relationship with God, virtues you need to shore up. Invite the Holy Spirit to enlighten you, to help you hear the voice of God, to listen for the ways Jesus is asking you to follow Him and grow in holiness.

Peace,

Fr. Sam