Aftermath

Yesterday was a surprisingly tension ridden day for me.  I woke up to the election results and, as expected, many people rejoiced and many people lamented the outcome.  This came as no surprise for me.  We, as a country, were heavily divided on our presidential candidates.  Even I, personally, had done my best to prepare myself for whatever outcome would happen by focusing my attention on Jesus Christ, who remains King of the Universe no matter which candidate the United States of America was voted into office (in fact, this reality of Christ as King is something we, as Church, will reflect heavily on in just a couple weeks).  After the initial smartphone check on the news to see the results yesterday morning, I made a fundamental error throughout the rest of the day: I checked social media. Read more

The Problem with LGBTQ Language in Regards to a Proposed Resolution in the City of Cheyenne

Every single human being was created in order to live and, not just to live, but to thrive and flourish.  The story of creation tells us, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it;’…And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:27, 28, 31).  Jesus, God incarnate, additionally said, “…I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Read more

Trust and Follow

In my limited experience of priestly life these past five months, I would say priestly life is like being handed the keys to a 1953 Chevy pickup truck with manual transmission and no power steering and being told by God the Father, “You’re driving.  Let’s go!”  God sits shotgun and places an indescribable amount of confidence and trust in me, his beloved son, the driver, as I strive not to kill the truck amidst the fear that I will do just that.  Ultimately, what is revealed to me is that God the Father’s confidence in me is justified, I just can’t see it in myself because of my fear of failing.  God is guiding me each step of the way, not by driving for me, but by teaching me how to drive. Read more

The Joy of Running … and Swimming

This past week I rediscovered something crucial to any life well-lived, exercise.  Before priestly ordination, seminary life provided a mostly structured scheduled environment in which it was fairly easy to work in running to my weekly routine.  During my time in seminary I ran 3 half-marathons and many other 5Ks, 10Ks, and 15Ks.  Since priestly ordination, however, my life has been far from routine; with a bit of vacation, starting at St. Stephens Indian Mission, World Youth Day trip to Lithuania and Poland, and trying to get settled back here, I haven’t made the effort to get out and run…that is, until last week.  What transpired was a rediscovery of the joy of running.  I don’t mean that in a superficial sort of way, in truth, it hurt; my body was not ready for me to pick up running again and definitely let me know it wasn’t appreciative of the 3 miles I tried to cover.  The joy consisted in the experience of getting out and away from everything for 30 minutes.  It gave me an experience to be outside, with the beauty of God’s creation all around me, creating a sense of awe and wonder at the created universe.  I also love to run with music so running allows me to jam out to my music and enjoy without worrying about anything back home.  It’s a great stress-reliever, a healthy habit, and a spiritually uplifting experience (for our spiritual life and our physical life are intertwined: when our bodies are in a healthy place it aids our spiritual life and vice versa).  Needless to say, I hope to keep up the running routine and check out some of the local races here in the area…I’ve noticed a Turkey Trot 5K coming up in November in Riverton. Read more

A Portion of the Hundredfold

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” – Mk 10:29-30

One of the things that every newly ordained priest must face is the fact that he has in a very literal way, laid down his life for Christ.  That means giving up a family, a stable home life, even a career.  It also means living and ministering in places he possibly never thought he would.  Being a priest means having one foot in the created world and the other in the spiritual world.  He directs the people he ministers to an encounter with Christ and points everyone to their ultimate destiny, eternal life in heaven where we will all see God face to face. Read more

World Youth Day Kraków 2016 – An Unexpected Experience of Fatherhood

Having never gone to World Youth Day before and being a newly ordained Catholic priest (May 20, 2016), I have to admit, I was a bit nervous going into this World Youth Day pilgrimage in Kraków, Poland.  I wasn’t entirely sure what my role would be, what my purpose would be, on this pilgrimage.  I have been ordained a priest for about two months, so I knew that I would be going on this pilgrimage as a priest, but even that didn’t reveal to me what my deeper purpose was going to be.  Plus, with my life being hectic with the move to my new parish at St. Stephens, which occurred literally a week and a half before we left for Europe, my life was understandably upside down.  I had almost no time to mentally prepare for this trip.  Instead, I packed light and hit the road to join up with the rest of the group from Wyoming as we prepared to leave the United States of America with little to no expectations of what was to come.  I think this complete unpreparedness was, in itself, a grace given to me by the Lord.  Without any expectation of what was to come, the Lord moved me in ways I didn’t see coming and have been tremendously blessed by, and my not have noticed had I been actively expecting something else. Read more

My Priestly Ordination

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Praised be Jesus Christ!

What a grace filled week I have experienced.  Words fail to describe the greatness of the Lord to me this week.  I feel that I can only echo the Psalmist: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?  The cup of salvation I will raise; I will call on the Lord’s name” (Psalm 116:12-13).

On Friday, May 20, I was ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  I am still processing the reality that is now my whole life and vocation.  I am incredibly grateful to God for His goodness and grace in my life and I am grateful to all of my family and friends throughout my entire journey who have helped me along this path to my priestly ordination.  I could not have done God’s will for me without your prayers along the way.  What a grace to be part of such a great family as the Body of Christ! Read more

The Ascension of the Lord, Not Jesus’ Farewell – My Homily notes for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

This is not the Solemnity of Jesus’ farewell, this is the Ascension of the Lord!
Jesus ascended so that he can be always present to all of mankind in his divinity and place at the right hand of the Father, the kingly position of Jesus as King of the entire Universe.  When Jesus was on earth, he was present to a specific time and place: 2,000 years ago in Israel.  By Ascending Jesus breaks through the barriers of time and space and no longer is present to a specific time and place, but is eternally present to all people in all of time through the Holy Spirit.

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The Man Born Blind as an Image of the Christian Life – My Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

If you look at a picture of an iceberg, you will see a small part of the iceberg above the water with the rest of the iceberg beneath the surface of the water, unseen. Today’s Gospel that I just proclaimed can be seen just like that iceberg. We see the surface of the story, Jesus heals a blind man, but beneath the surface there is a vast amount of meaning and depth that is unseen from the surface. Today I hope to break the surface of the water with you and reveal just one main aspect of the hidden depth of this beautiful encounter between Jesus and the man, blind from birth. Read more

Our Christian Identity and Mission – My Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C

Anyone who knows me knows that I love the Advent and the Christmas seasons as my favorite part of the liturgical year. As such, it pleases me to tell you that even though the Christmas season officially ended last weekend and Ordinary Time officially began, Christmas isn’t quite over just yet! Christmas themes are still lingering in the readings we heard proclaimed today. The first reading from Isaiah is actually the same reading that was proclaimed on Christmas Eve. Additionally, the Gospel we heard today is also connected to Christmas, but more specifically to the Epiphany. The world “Epiphany” comes from the Greek and means to reveal, to shed light upon, or to manifest something. Typically three events in Jesus’ life are tied directly to the Epiphany: the Magi encountering the Christ child in Bethlehem, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and the Wedding Feast at Cana. These events all revealed Jesus’ Divine glory to the world in some way, which is why they are associated with the Epiphany; they manifested Jesus to the world. This year, and only once every three years in the liturgical cycle, we get the beauty of celebrating each of these events on three consecutive Sundays. Two weeks ago we celebrated the Magi adoring Christ in the manger and last week we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord. Today we celebrate the Wedding feast at Cana. This beautiful event manifested Christ’s first public miracle in his life, the beginning of his ministry. So what does this mean for us today?

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Christ is King of the Universe, Is He the King of Yours? – My Homily for the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

If you’ve been to Starbucks recently you will have noticed that they have brought out their typical holiday themed cups, since Christmas is just around the corner, except something is different this year. This year Starbucks opted for a simple red design with no symbols on the cup whatsoever. This move has caused a bit of controversy throughout America with some people claiming that Starbucks is waging a war against Christmas by not including anything explicitly relating to Christmas on their holiday-themed cups. Now, regardless of what’s going on under the surface at Starbucks, these cups bring out an interesting point. They are a way of acknowledging the Christmas Season implicitly without doing it explicitly (the Christmas Season, by the way, does not actually start until Christmas itself, but the Advent Season is fast approaching and is only one week away!). These red cups are a symbol that winter is approaching and the Christmas season is near but they say it in a way that is silent, as if they would offend people by being loud about the fact that Christmas is near. And this very fact has actually offended many people so much that they are boycotting Starbucks. And so, looking beyond the way we may or may not feel about the red Starbucks cups to a bigger picture, these cups provide us something to really pray with and meditate on today, as we celebrate the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. Christ is the king of the universe, but is Christ the king of my universe? Am I a Catholic in name only; am I a Catholic only implicitly out of fear of offending other people like the Starbucks red cups? Or is Christ really the King of my universe and I am living out my faith explicitly and loudly as a member of His kingdom? Read more

Radical Generosity to and from God as the Key Attitude in Every Vocation – My Homily for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

I often get asked how I heard God’s call in my life to be a priest.The answer to that question is not simple nor is it short, and I won’t spend hours telling you my story today, as I’m sure many of you will be thankful for. So, today, I’m going to share a few of the highlights of my story since my story not only relates to the scripture readings we just heard proclaimed today but also to each and every one of us gathered here at Mass. Read more

Every Life is Worth Living – My Homily for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Three summers ago I spent the summer in Omaha, NE at Creighton University attending a program called the Institute for Priestly formation. It was a summer devoted to growing in my spiritual life and deepening my relationship with the Lord. I took some spirituality classes and was also involved in pastoral work. I spent two days a week ministering at a place called “On With Life,” which is a rehabilitation center for those people who have suffered a severe brain trauma. I was terrified when I first went there because the question I kept asking was, “How am I supposed to minister to these people, who many of them cannot even acknowledge my presence because they’re in a coma or non-responsive? How can I reveal God’s love to them?” I was scared and didn’t know what to do. In our culture our worth is defined by how much we can “do” or how much we can “accomplish.” I had to face the reality that I couldn’t “do” anything for them, rather I was forced to learn what it meant to just “be” with them. The experience was full of blessings for me. I learned how to just be with them, and did things like sing karaoke and play the Nintendo Wii with them and they, in turn, would respond with a smile or a squeeze of their hand. I found that as I was ministering to them, they were also ministering to me. As I was revealing their dignity and worth as human persons, they were showing me my worth as a human person too. They loved me for being me, and I learned how to love them for being them. The experience revealed to me profoundly the deep worth and dignity that all human persons have, no matter what their state in life: the unborn child, the boy with autism, the teenage girl who is struggling with bullying, the brain coma patient, the elderly… all are supremely important because each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. Read more

The Family as the First School in Faith – My Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

When I was growing up on the ranch in Wyoming, my family would take summer vacations out to Wisconsin. My dad’s family grew up there on a dairy farm and every summer we have a huge family reunion because my Dad has 8 brothers and sisters, all of whom get along great. That meant that, as a kid, vacations meant 3 days of travel one way with 2 nights at motels with swimming pools and the Olive Garden for supper. Needless to say I loved vacations as a kid. During those days of travel, though, my parents, rather than let me and my brothers get absorbed in our Gameboys, they tried to engage our minds and hearts by teaching us the Baltimore Catechism, which some of you may remember. My brother and I would groan when, inevitably, Mom would pull out the Baltimore Catechism and force us to think and learn about our Catholic Faith. One trip in particular, we spent upwards of an hour discussing whether it was better to be burned at the stake or commit a mortal sin. My brother, Greg, and I asserted that you could just go to confession if you committed a mortal sin and therefore it was better than being burnt at the stake; Dad and Mom, however, kept trying to impart on us the reality and seriousness of mortal sin and that it would be better not to sin and to actually be burnt at the stake. Ultimately they succeeded in this because all these years later I still remember that day on the road with the Baltimore Catechism and took to heart the seriousness of sin and now would agree that it would be better to be burnt at the stake rather than commit a mortal sin. My parents took their vocation as parents seriously and didn’t just let us kids play our Gameboys on our road trips, but taught us the fundamentals of the faith that we strived to live as a family.

This is important because each and every one of us is called to follow Jesus, but not only to follow Jesus, but to invite and teach others how to follow Him as well, and in a particular way within our own families, especially parents. In today’s Gospel we heard of one of the many times when Jesus teaches his disciples about the true nature of faith. Jesus predicts his Passion and death on the cross, which is the second of three times he does this, and his disciples, once again, cannot understand what Jesus is saying. They couldn’t understand it because the messiah they thought was coming would never be killed by men, like Jesus predicted, but the messiah would be like a military leader and conquer the Romans and bring a new kingdom to the earth. So, rather than try to understand Jesus, the disciples, rather like children, began to bicker amongst themselves on who was the greatest and Jesus, like a patient parent, sits down to teach them. He teaches them by placing a child in their midst. A child in the time of Jesus was, legally, considered a nobody; they had no legal status. Jesus was teaching his disciples that to receive a child meant that one must lovingly accept and care for the nobodies of society: the lowly and those who cannot repay them, much like children. Jesus identifies with the lowly, the poor and the disadvantaged. The one who receives the poor receives Jesus Himself, and not only Jesus, but God the Father as well. Jesus is found in a special way in the poor and it is our call as Christians to not seek the esteem of others, but to care for those who cannot esteem us at all. That is the Christian life! Caring for our fellow brothers and sisters, no matter who they are, all along the road to eternal life in heaven with Jesus. Notice, Jesus didn’t teach his disciples about how his death, which they didn’t understand, Jesus rather taught them how to act, which would lead the disciples to grow in humility and would help them fully accept their mission as apostles after Jesus’ death and resurrection. All of the apostles go on to teach the faith to the nations after Jesus’ death and resurrection because of their great faith and humble obedience to their Lord, Jesus Christ.

The task of the apostles is the same for all of us: to grow in humility and to be apostles to our world, to teach the world about Jesus, beginning within our own families. The family is the primary school in which saints are formed. Jesus, himself, was part of a family with Joseph and Mary and shows us the importance of the family in our world. Jesus was obedient to his parents and grew in wisdom in his humanity (Luke 2:51-52). God created families to be a reflection of the communion of life and love that exists in the Holy Trinity, between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The union between husband and wife allows them to participate in God’s creative act and from their love comes forth children. The family that is formed is more than just simply having more children, St. John Paul II reminds us that families are “enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and through the children to the Church and the world” (Familiaris Consortio, 28). Parents, by revealing and showing their children how to live a life a faith, will impact the whole world through their children as they go out into the world to do the same. This affirms the supreme importance of the family unit in our world today, a unit that has been attacked and degraded by divorce and so-called “gay marriage” in our secular world. The family unit, with a father and a mother, is to be the “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11) where the children meet Christ, grow in virtue, and are prepared for the vocation God calls them to. Parents, then, are the primary teachers of the faith to their children, even if the children attend a Catholic school like our very own St. Vincent de Paul School; parents are still the primary teachers of the faith. In the family, children learn about the love of God, his generosity, goodness and mercy in and through the examples of their own parents. This also means that it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children about the sacraments as they prepare for them. Again, just because a child goes to Catholic school does not mean that his or her parents are “off the hook” so to speak, but parents must be active in the education of their children along with the Catholic school education. This also means that we, as the adults in the parish, must know our faith well. We must know who God is and encounter Him daily through prayer and the sacraments to be able to teach others, especially the children, how to know and love God. For how can we expect the children to understand God when we don’t? How can we expect the children to live the Catholic faith after they leave home for college if we, as the adults, don’t practice and live our faith? Our homes must be the domestic church where God is not just in the spare room, hidden away, but where He is active in every part of our lives where everyone, parents and children both, continue to learn and deepen their faith. That is our challenge in this increasingly secular world: to be the witness to the immense power of the love of God in and through our families. As you may recall from the homily last week, the Archdiocese of Denver is re-ordering the Sacraments of Initiation to their original order. This means that all children will receive baptism, then confirmation, then first Holy Communion, in that order, just like it was for most of the history of the Catholic Church until recently in the early 20th century. With this new system in the Archdiocese, Confirmation and first Holy Communion will be given in the third grade. The Archdiocese of Denver will take five years to make this transition, using a step-down process that will result in all children receiving Confirmation and First Eucharist in the third grade by the year 2020. The big question that many will have in this move is whether third graders are old enough to receive confirmation and the answer is “Yes! Of course!” Confirmation was never meant to be a sacrament given only if you knew “enough” but is a sacrament given freely by God to give us the gifts of the Holy Spirit to live our lives more easily in union with Him. Age is not actually a factor like many think it is. Additionally, a child in the third grade would be adequately prepared to receive Confirmation because his or her parents, as primary teachers of the faith, would help prepare their children for the reception of the sacrament. Receiving Confirmation earlier will give the grace of the Sacrament to these children earlier, helping them to live more faithfully, especially in the tough years of junior high and high school.

So whether you pull out the Baltimore Catechism like my parents did or not, I strongly encourage you to step up and be the first teachers of your children about God. Teach your children about the love of God by talking with them and teaching them, but also by your own example of prayer and self-sacrifice. Also teach them about the sacraments that they are preparing to receive so that they receive them with an open heart. And lastly, don’t forget to pray with and for them. I ask that you join the Archbishop and the entire Archdiocese of Denver to pray daily for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s gifts of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and “fear of the Lord” upon all of us.

Prayer as a way to be like the Faithful and Prudent Servant – My Homily for the Thursday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time

Today we have a very sobering and serious passage from the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew’s Gospel, this is the fifth of five major discourses, or speeches, that Jesus gives to his followers. In this specific speech that we only heard a part of leading into Jesus’ Passion and death, Jesus is teaching his disciples about the end times, about Eschatology and this parable is directed specifically at his disciples. And so to us as well as priests and future priests. That means we should pay close attention to it. Jesus uses the parable of two servants in the household of God to illustrate his point about the end times. The first servant is the faithful and prudent servant who is in charge of his Master’s household to distribute food to the people at the proper time. This servant is seen in the clergy, specifically bishops and priests who are in charge of the household of God, the Church, and who provide the sacramental ministry to the people of God, principally in giving the people the bread of life in the Eucharist. The servant: the bishop or the priest, who ministers to the people with and for Jesus, not for himself, will be blessed when the Master, who is Jesus himself, comes at the end of time. This is the servant who will gain eternal life. The second servant, then, is symbolic of those who live life for themselves and not for God. This servant, in seeing the Master not coming, beats his fellow servants and drinks with drunkards all out of his desire to live selfishly. This servant will be severely punished when the Master comes at an unknown hour at the end times, his punishment more severe than the English implies. In Greek the literal translation is that the Master would “cut him in two,” basically the master will dismember him as punishment. It is there in hell where he will spend eternity wailing and grinding his teeth. The seriousness of what is at stake here, eternal life, is obvious due to the seriousness of the punishment inflicted.

So we have these two servants as models for us, and obviously we want to live in accord with the first servant, but how exactly do we go about doing this? How do we live as the faithful and prudent servant? There are many ways that we go about doing this each and every day, but I’m going to offer you one way this morning: prayer. I cannot stress enough the importance of prayer in our journey towards holiness and living a life for God and not for ourselves. Our relationship with God is what will sustain us, it is Him who will give us the grace to live a life of virtue for Him and for our brothers, and it is with His grace that we will gain eternal life like the faithful and prudent servant.

To my SY brothers: you are given an awesome gift in this year. You have the ability to grow deeply in your relationship with God in prayer this year. Take advantage of that and learn to pray well. To my brothers not in SY: make prayer your priority. Start your day in prayer and give your holy hour priority. Prayer is what will sustain us in the life of virtue as Christians.

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Monica who exemplifies the importance of prayer. She is the mother of St. Augustine and prayed constantly for her son’s conversion. St. Augustine was living a selfish, disordered life before he had a conversion, and his conversion is accredited to the prayers of his mother. Augustine is one of the great Church Fathers and this is largely due to his mother’s unceasing prayers. St. Monica is also known for the conversion of her pagan husband before he died because of her prayers as well. So, too, can prayer help convert our hearts to a deeper love of Christ each and every day. And like St. Augustine, each of us have that same sort of mom in our lives. She might be our own biological mom, like my mom who prays constantly for me and has recently discovered emoticons on her iPhone to keep telling me through little hearts and praying hands in a text message that she is praying for me. Thanks Mom. But even if we don’t have our biological mom praying for us, each of us has Mary our Blessed Mother, always praying for us and our daily conversion to live as the faithful and prudent servant. Even if we cease praying, she never ceases praying for us! So as we continue with our Eucharist today, I invite you to renew your commitment to prayer, pray for the grace to live like the faithful and prudent servant as a future priest ministering to others, to live selflessly for others. Pray for each other, that together as seminarians we may grow in holiness and live our lives for Jesus. And pray to Mary and ask for her intercession to help us grow in the holiness that Jesus desires for each of us, so that when the Master comes at the end of time we may be blessed with eternal life.

Vergere’s Words of Wisdom: Human Emotion

Vergere is one of the most intriguing characters in the Star Wars LegendsThe New Jedi Order book series.  She is Jedi.  She is Sith.  She is both.  Or, perhaps, she is neither.  She was a Jedi during the Old Republic during which time she was also a rogue student of the Force, apparently studying Count Dooku and encountering Darth Sidious, eventually becoming a student of his and a candidate to become a Sith under him.  After noticing Darth Sidious’ greed and utter compulsion to rule, Vergere realized Sidious’ plan would devastatingly destroy the galaxy and attempted to stop him by killing him, but failed.  Vergere escaped Sidious’ retaliation by accepting a Jedi mission to visit the plant Zonama Sekot, where she met the Yuuzhan Vong and left the galaxy to live with them for fifty years (according to Lumiya’s account of Vergere in Star Wars Legends: Legacy of the Force: Betrayal).  She returned with the Yuuzhan Vong in their invasion of the galaxy and played both sides of the war, betraying both the Yuuzhan Vong and the New Republic, seemingly on her own whims.  Eventually she participated in the capture of Jacen Solo by the Yuuzhan Vong and helped torture him in order to teach him the truth about the Force and to help him embrace his destiny.  Vergere, with Jacen, escaped the Yuuzhan Vong to return to the fledgeling government of the New Republic where she encountered Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way.  She sacrificed her life for Jacen so that he wouldn’t be killed by the Yuuzhan Vong and would be able to follow his destiny (which eventually led to his decent to the dark side as Darth Caedus in the Star Wars Legends: Legacy of the Force book series).

Regardless of what she truly is and where her true loyalties lie, Vergere is one of the most philosophical characters that appears (just read Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order: Traitor by Matthew Stover).  She even offers pointed advice to Luke Skywalker, which challenges him to step out of his pre-conceived notions and look at his beliefs about the Force from a different perspective.  In particular she makes some incredibly insightful comments on human emotion that are worth looking at.  First however, to gain a bit of context before looking at human emotion, the Jedi and Sith Codes, respectively, must be analyzed.

The Jedi and Sith Codes are embodiments of ideals on two opposite ends of a spectrum of thought regarding the Force.  Both are extreme in their positions.  While the Jedi Code advocates for no emotion to attain peace, the Sith Code pushes the opposite: peace is a lie so there is only passion (emotion).  Both of these statements are the starting points for both codes and the following statements are built upon these two principles.  The Jedi Code promotes peace, knowledge, serenity, harmony and life in the Force, all seemingly good things, at least on the surface.  The Sith Code promotes passion, strength, power, victory and freedom in the Force, also seemingly good things on the surface.  Both codes spell out a way to live life, but both codes are opposite each other in the extreme, hence why one is the Jedi Code and the other the Sith Code.
Neither Code is truly healthy.  
Living life in any extreme is dangerous.  Balance is needed in order to have a good and healthy life.  One way to look at these two Codes in light of trying to life a balanced life would be to see these as embodiments of two other extremes in our world today: rationalism and sentimentalism.  Rationalism is a belief that emotions can be understood completely rationally, which usually leads to a lack of emotional affectivity (being moved by one’s emotions) because emotions are something one can understand intellectually, put in a nice clean box, and stored away.  This is what the first two statements of the Jedi Code seem to be getting at.  “There is no emotion, there is peace.  There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.”  Knowledge is more important than emotions.  Or rather, knowledge of emotions is necessary so that one can attain this supposed lack of emotion to achieve peace.  When emotion is gone, it seems to claim, so is passion and chaos.  This is a faulty understanding of human emotion and affectivity!  Human emotion is not nearly as simple as that nor can it ever be truly contained and understood through knowledge.  Many people try to do this and end up suppressing their emotions, which leads to consequences later in life, where that suppressed emotion resurfaces since it was never healthily dealt with, only suppressed.  
Sentimentalism, on the other extreme, is an attitude of relishing one’s own feelings to excess, which echoes the Sith Code fairly well.  One could think that since emotions are not as simple as the Jedi Code asserts, it would be good to engage in them fully.  The Sith Code doesn’t try to ignore emotions, but it relishes them.  Since the peace that the Jedi Code asserts is a lie, unchecked passion leads to strength, power and victory according to the Sith Code.  This is also problematic with the true nature of humanity because unchecked passion actually leaves a person a slave to them.  A person’s emotions and desires, their passions, when unchecked, lead one’s mind to submit to whatever the emotions are inclined toward.  Emotions do not affect the will of a person directly, but indirectly (since experience shows us that emotions influence our thoughts, but don’t ultimately make decisions for us).  But since “the judgement of the reason often follows the passion of the sensitive appetite, and consequently the will’s movement follows it also” (St. Thomas Aquinas I-II q. 77, a. 1), an unchecked passion can lead to a defect in the will of a person, a person who is inclined to follow the whims of his or her passions, making him or her a slave to them.
So what actually is human emotion and what are we to do with it?  
“The term ‘passions’ belongs to the Christian patrimony.  Feelings or passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetite that incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1763)  Passions or emotions, then, are movements within a person that prompt one to act for a perceived good or avoid a perceived evil.  In themselves they are neither good nor evil, but are part of the natural human psyche.  They are part of what makes us human.  They are not meant to be suppressed nor engaged without restraint.
Emotions, then, incline one to a perceived good and to avoid a perceived evil within the day to day events of human life.  How that is to be done is what the Jedi and Sith Codes are formulated to answer.  But, the answer to this question is found not in either code, but in the middle of the two extremes, the mean, or average, between them.  The philosopher, Aristotle himself, is helpful here.  He discussed human disposition in chapter 8 of Nicomachean Ethics and says, “There are three kinds of disposition, then, two of them vices, involving excess and deficiency respectively, and one a virtue, viz. the mean, and all are in a sense opposed to all; for the extreme states are contrary both to the intermediate state and to each other, and the intermediate to the extremes; as the equal is greater relatively to the less, less relatively to the greater, so the middle states are excessive relatively to the deficiencies, deficient relatively to the excesses, both in passions and in actions.”  Aristotle goes on to clarify by using the virtue of courage to illustrate his point.  Courage is the mean between the two extremes of rashness and cowardice.  A man who is a coward has an excess of fear in him, preventing him from acting all together.  A rash man has a deficiency of fear, encouraging him to act recklessly and dangerously, putting his own life in jeopardy.  It is the courageous man who has the balance within himself to act appropriately in regards to the fear within himself.
So human emotion is not something that should be suppressed (an attempt to understand rationally and locked away) or given into completely making one a slave, but is something that must be acknowledged, felt completely, understood fully, and acted on appropriately with human reason.  This is the mean between the extremes found between the Jedi and Sith Codes.  Luke Skywalker encounters this truth when he encounters Vergere in the novel Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way.
Luke Skywalker, still learning and still growing, lacked mentors in this area of human growth and had to learn mostly on his own (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda both being gone early in Luke’s formation).  So in his desire to rebuild the Jedi Order, Luke did his best to embody the ideals of the Jedi Code, which he had known through his study of the Jedi of the Old Republic, thus advocating that emotion is bad and should be lacking in a true Jedi.  Vergere attacks this belief, and rightly so, pointing Luke towards a truer understanding of human nature.  She immediately asks him, “Do you believe that nature would have given us traits such as anger and aggression if they were not useful?” (p. 182).  Vergere rightly points out that Luke’s belief that all emotion is bad is incorrect.  She also points out the fault in both the Jedi and Sith Code as well, “An unchecked passion produces actions that are hasty, ill considered, and often destructive.  Serenity, on the other hand, may well result in no action at all – and when it does, serenity produces actions that proceed from knowledge and liberation, if not from wisdom,” (p. 182).  Unchecked passion, then, is just as bad as complete serenity (or a complete lack of passion, in this sense).  Vergere goes on to explain that anger (a dangerous emotion from Luke’s perspective) is actually natural and part of human nature, “Young Master, it is my contention that the anger you experienced was natural and useful.  I caused deliberate harm – pain and anguish and suffering, over a period of weeks – to a young man for whom you had accepted responsibility and for whom you felt a measure of love.  Naturally you felt anger.  Naturally you wanted to break my thin little neck.  It is absolutely natural, when you discover that a person has inflicted deliberate pain on a helpless victim, to feel angry with that person.  It is equally an emotion as to feel compassion for the victim,” (p. 183).  Luke had berated himself for feeling angry, but Vergere points out how natural it truly is and not evil in and of itself.  She goes on to point out that the emotion that Luke felt was neither good nor evil in itself but what he did with it could have been either, “You are correct when you said that if you had entered my cell and struck out at me with the Force, that such an action would have been dark.  But you didn’t.  Instead your anger prompted you to speak to me and find out the reasons for my actions.  To that extent, your anger was not only natural but useful.  It led to understanding on both our parts,” (p. 183).  Vergere points out the immense responsibility to understand our emotions as a way to live a balanced life in the good and shows Luke exactly how he did just that.  She asks him, “My rhetorical questions is this: why wasn’t your anger dark?  And my answer is: because you understood it.  You understood the cause of the emotion, and therefore it did not seize power over you” (p. 184).  Vergere is showing Luke that he didn’t let his emotion make him a slave, nor did he rationalize it away in suppression, which he had been tempted to do.  She profoundly tells him,  “Unreasoning passion is the province of darkness,” (p. 184).  And she continues to explain, “But an understood emotion is not unreasoning.  That is why the route to mastery is through self-knowledge.”  She is saying that knowledge is good, but not knowledge that pushes emotions aside, knowledge that aids the interpretation and healthy response to emotions.  “It is not possible to suppress all emotion, nor is it desirable.  An emotionless person is no more than a machine.  But to understand the origin and nature of one’s feelings, that is possible,” (p. 184).  Vergere recognizes how easy it is to become a slave to emotion and warns Luke, “When you are in the grip of an irresistible compulsion, it is then that you feel most like yourself.  But in reality it was you who were passive then.  You let the feeling control you,” (p. 184).  
Luke walked away from that encounter with Vergere lightyears wiser than he was before, and this marked a turning point, not only in the war against the Yuuzhan Vong, but in Luke’s own growth as a character.  He comes to realize how natural human emotion is and how dangerous it is to suppress it or give it unbridled reign.  The wisdom gained here is the reason Luke goes on to become the Grand Master of the Jedi in the later book series.  As Luke learns and grows in wisdom, so are we able to if we are willing to let the little Fosh Jedi/Sith Vergere teach us about our own human nature through the words of Walter Jon Williams who wrote Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way.  
The character growth of Luke is a reason why he is such a great character even now and why these book series are still just as relevant, even if they are not officially part of the “canon” of Star Wars.  The Legends books are still being published so if you’re tempted to ignore them, I urge you not to.  They have some great stories to tell in them, just as we have some great stories coming up with the new movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens this December, and the other movies and upcoming novels (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits bookstores on September 4!).  I am so excited to see and read what stories the Disney Story Group and Del Rey have in store for us in the Star Wars universe.  Get ready, because here they come!

Intimacy with Jesus through the Eucharist – My Homily for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Photo Credit: Daniel Ciucci

Today we continue with our hearing of the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the “Bread of Life Discourse” as it’s called that we began two weeks ago and will continue for another couple of Sundays. Recall where we’ve been. Two weeks ago we heard of the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus then walks on the sea and crosses over with his disciples to the other side. The crowds follow him because they are hungry. Jesus teaches them to look for food that does not perish but will bring eternal life. That is where we pick up today. Today Jesus reaches the heart of his teaching on the bread of life, the Eucharist, his own body and blood when He says today, “I am the living bread came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).   Now what exactly does Jesus mean by this? Jesus is telling the crowds that He is going to bring life to all by becoming the bread of life through His own flesh, His own body which we are to eat. This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, which Jesus will institute at the Last Supper before His death and resurrection.

So how are we to understand what Jesus means? There are two different ways to understand what Jesus is saying here. The first is the typical protestant view that Jesus was only speaking symbolically. When He referred to His flesh as bread for the life of the world, he was only speaking in metaphors and wasn’t being literal. But this interpretation doesn’t account for the fact that Jesus never says that the bread of life is like His flesh and body either here or at the Last Supper. At the Last Supper Jesus says “This is my body” and “This is my blood” not “This is a symbol of my body” or “This is like my blood.” The second way of understanding what Jesus means is to see that Jesus isn’t speaking symbolically, but literally; the bread of life, the Eucharist, is Jesus’ literal body and blood. While Jesus does use many metaphors to describe himself like referring to himself as the gate, the good shepherd, the vine, among others, He always goes on to clarify what he means by them (see John 10:9, 10:11, 15:1). Not here. Here in this Gospel Jesus doesn’t clarify, he just re-emphasizes the fact that He is the Bread of Life. He goes on to say, “Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (John 6:53).  This causes quarreling among the Jews who couldn’t accept the literal message Jesus was giving (as you will hear this in next Sunday’s Gospel). If Jesus was speaking only symbolically, it would be easy to accept the teaching, just like Jesus’ many other metaphors. But the fact that Jesus’ teaching caused quarreling reveals that Jesus was not speaking symbolically, but literally; Jesus’ body is the bread of life for the world which we are to eat literally, a teaching that is quite confusing and hard to accept, seen clearly in the Jews’ negative response.

So why is the fact that the Eucharist is Jesus’ literal body and blood important for us? Because in this great Sacrament of the Eucharist we have both the source and summit of our Christian life (CCC 1324). In the Eucharist we encounter Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for each and every one of us.

So to help us understand I want to take a moment to step back and look at true, authentic love and how we, as humans, experience it. As physical creatures having both a body and a soul, we, as humans, experience love in and through our bodies. When you love someone you want to touch them, don’t you? Just think about it. Whether it’s a father or mother cradling their newborn child out of pure love to a young couple holding hands, sharing a good night kiss at the end of a date, we touch those whom we love as a revelation of that love. Even a stranger will experience this because most of us will shake hands with them. But the closer we know someone, the more we will touch them. I’ll hug my family and close friends but I probably won’t hug the stranger I meet at Andi’s Coffee House, but I will shake their hands, still acknowledging them as a human person in authentic love. Showing love through human touch is part of what makes us human. We are made for love and intimacy in and through our bodies. We are made to give of our very bodies in love to another. Married couples will understand this the best since they give their whole self to their spouse each and every day as an incredibly beautiful witness to the power of authentic love, one that reflects Jesus’ love for all of humanity through the Church.

So if we, by our very nature, are made for love and intimacy, how do we experience that with God, who is love itself and yet isn’t a physical body that we can approach and relate to and love as a human being? We experience this kind of intimacy with Jesus because He first did come in a body, through the incarnation when Jesus became man on the first Christmas over 2,000 years ago. Jesus loved us in and through His body, giving His whole self to us through His passion and death on the cross for our salvation. Additionally, Jesus, who is God and who loves us so very much, left us a way to experience that same love He has for us even after He ascended bodily into heaven after His resurrection from the dead, now 2,000 plus years later. He did this through the institution of the Eucharist. Before he was given up to death he took bread, gave thanks, raised His eyes to heaven and said, “Take this, all of you and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” And similarly He took the cup of wine saying, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood…which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a way for all of us to experience His body in and through the Eucharist. Jesus’ body and blood is fully present in the bread and wine at each and every Celebration of the Eucharist. It is in receiving the Eucharist into our bodies that we are able to experience Jesus’ love for us in and through our bodies too.

Jesus’ love in the Eucharist presented to the Father
at my diaconate ordination.

This is what Jesus is teaching us through this chapter in John’s Gospel. Jesus is quite literally the bread of life, come down from heaven to bring His life to everyone out of His great love for us. In and through the Eucharist He can touch each one of us with His love. We are to experience His love in a bodily way because we are bodily creatures and that is how we experience love as human beings. By eating Jesus’ flesh and blood in the Eucharist, we receive into our bodies the great love Jesus has for us through His body. This is a hard teaching that drove many Jews away from Jesus and prevents Protestants from experiencing the fullness of Jesus Christ’s love for us and yet this is exactly what is at the heart of our Catholic faith. If we truly understood how great Jesus’ love is for us accessible through the Eucharist, our Churches would be packed each and every Sunday. As it is, many times the Eucharist is pushed aside and the focus at Mass is placed in the quality of the preaching, or the excitement of the music. If that is our focus at Mass we are missing out on the greatest love we can ever experience right here in the Eucharist, even if the experience of receiving the Eucharist is not necessarily life changing and the hosts taste simply like bread. In Jesus’ great love for us, He wants us to feel comfortable approaching Him in the Eucharist and to help with that God hides his divinity in the bread. Because if we truly saw the awesome glory of God’s love radiating out of the bread and from the tabernacle we would want to hide. We would feel unworthy of such great and awesome love and resist approaching the God who loves us. Jesus’ divinity is hidden within the Eucharist and yet that same love is still just as present, just as awesome, just as great. Jesus hides himself so we don’t have to. We approach the Eucharist as one who hungers for God’s love and receives it in a very real and bodily way. And that awesome, radiant, explosive love is contained in each and every crumb in the Eucharist. One crumb, one drop of blood that is consecrated on that altar is enough to save the world. Jesus gave his whole self to us and when we truly know that we cannot help but give our whole selves back to him. We are made for intimacy with Jesus! Intimacy with Jesus is found in and through the Eucharist.

My first bodily experience of Jesus’ love
in the Eucharist.

As part of my ministry as a deacon here in Sheridan county this summer, which unfortunately comes to an end after this weekend, I have been privileged and blessed to visit the sick in the hospital and bring them the Eucharist since they are unable to come to Mass. During my first visit to the hospital in my first week here I encountered a woman who had a “NPO” (withhold oral foods: “nothing by mouth”) sign above her door. I had no idea what that meant and went in to talk to her anyways. We chatted for a bit and I asked her if she would like to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and she said yes. We had to call in the nurse to check if that was okay because I learned that “NPO” meant that she couldn’t receive food through her mouth. The nurse said that a small amount was perfectly fine so we went ahead and prayed and she received Jesus’ Body in the Eucharist. Her reaction was so beautiful, it was one of complete tranquility and happiness. She thanked me and told me that was the first substantial food she’d had in weeks and remarked that it was a great blessing to have her first substantial food be the Body of Our Lord Himself! Her faith was an inspiration to me because she knew that she was experiencing Jesus’ love through that tiny piece of the Eucharist she was able to eat.

Receiving the Eucharist at the first Mass of Thanksgiving
of a newly ordained priest friend, Rev. Joe McLagan.

And so, my friends, as we approach the Eucharist today, I invite you to see the Eucharist in a new way. See Jesus’ radiant love descend upon the bread and wine during the Eucharistic Prayer and believe that Jesus’ true body and blood are contained within it just like the woman in the hospital did.  Know that if you feel unworthy of God’s love, that is okay, we aren’t worthy of His love because of our sinfulness and yet God loves us anyways. He continually calls to conversion and wants us to come back to him. If you find yourself in the state of sin, go to the sacrament of confession first to receive Jesus’ love and mercy in the forgiveness of sins so that when you receive the Eucharist, Jesus’ love will not encounter barriers within your heart. God loves us so much and gives us his whole life for us, contained in the Eucharist. If you’ve never let Jesus truly love you before, do that today. Let Jesus love you and experience that love in the Eucharist.