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.


Sheep Mountain Lookout Tower

Yesterday, Fr. Brian Hess and I got out of the grand metropolis of Sheridan, WY to head up into the Big Horn Mountains to go camping. Rather than just tent camping we had something else in mind for this trip. We reserved and camped in the Sheep Mountain Lookout Tower, located in the Big Horn Mountains near Buffalo, WY. This is a historic fire lookout tower constructed in 1950 which sits atop Sheep Mountain. It served as a fire lookout tower until the early 1970’s and has since been cleaned up and now anybody can go online and reserve it overnight to go camp up there. It sits right at about 9,600 feet above sea level and the view is absolutely phenomenal. The building itself is square with windows on all four sides so one can see out in every direction.

Being up in the mountains with the beautiful forest surrounding me I couldn’t help but stand in admiration of God’s handiwork in all of creation. The mountains, trees, animals, flowers, and yes, even the insects, all add such a depth of beauty to the place. Mass was celebrated in that awesome natural beauty.

That evening we saw three mule deer bucks as they scrounged around for food up near the tower. The night sky was clear and since the full moon is close, we got a good view of the moon itself, but less so of a star-filled sky, which would have been awesome as well. The morning brought a couple more deer to the area as we drank coffee and watched the sun rise higher into the sky. I also took that opportunity to look up a geocache that was on the same mountain and find it.

All-in-all a fantastic little overnight trip into the Big Horn Mountains. I love to get out and go camping and so this was a slightly different experience for me. Ultimately I would say that my preference would be to camp near a mountain stream, but this kind of camping, perched atop a mountain, definitely had its own awesomeness too.

On a side note, apparently the Big Horn Mountain forests are like the Forest Moon of Endor. Who knew?


The Multiplication of the Loaves as a Microcosm of the Mass – My Homily for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Today we did not hear from the Gospel of Mark like we have been doing for most of this liturgical year. Today we heard from the Gospel of John. We began in the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel and will continue to follow this single chapter for the next four Sundays. This single chapter of John’s Gospel is so important that we devote five Sundays to it, every third year during the summer. The reason for doing so is because John’s Gospel does not have an institution narrative; John does not have a narrative account of the Last Supper, where Jesus institutes the Eucharist, a topic so important to us as Catholics that we refer to the Eucharist as “the source and the summit of the Christian life.” Rather, John chapter six, what we began today, is where John has written a deeply rich teaching on the Eucharist, typically referred to as the “Bread of Life Discourse,” which I hope to start to unpack with you today. Today’s miracle story sets up the teaching that will come in the following weeks. As such, we don’t want to rush through this chapter, but we, as the Catholic Church, want to take 5 whole weeks to go through it so we can pray with it and let John’s teaching move our hearts to a deeper faith and love in Jesus through the Eucharist.

So today’s story we heard with Jesus and his miraculous feeding of the 5,000 is a story already probably familiar to us, but I want to challenge you to look at it deeper with me. St. John puts this story at the beginning of his teaching on the Eucharist and so this story helps not only in understanding the Eucharist but also helps in understanding the Mass. So this morning I am going to walk through this story with you and show how it relates to and reveals the deeper meaning behind the sacrifice of the Mass. The story begins with Jesus going up the mountain. This action of Jesus that has a great significance. It symbolizes an encounter with God, which would recall the events in the Old Testament, in particular that of Moses beholding God on Mt. Sinai, the heart of Old Testament revelation of God. Recall that at that time, Moses, in the book of Exodus, had just led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt when he went up the mountain to encounter God and receive from God the book of The Law, the Ten Commandments. Moses encountered the Lord in a very real way and today John is showing us that Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses began. Whereas Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land, Jesus is preparing to lead the people of God out of slavery of sin and death into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus goes up the mountain today not to encounter God, for He is God! Rather his disciples encounter Him when they go up the mountain with Jesus. This is what happens each and every time we come to Mass. We “go up the mountain” so to speak, we go to the Church to encounter God in a very real way, just like Moses did on Mt. Sinai and the disciples did today, trusting that God will lead us out of slavery of sin to the life of grace.

After Jesus goes up the mountain, He sits down with his disciples. This simple gesture also has significance. This gesture is one of a teacher with his students. In the ancient world, a teacher sat and taught rather than stood behind a podium like we would typically think of today. This is still seen today at Masses with the Bishop when he preaches the homily from his chair, not from the ambo. This moment of Jesus with his disciples is symbolic of the Liturgy of the Word. The disciples sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him and learn about the kingdom of heaven. So, too, do we when we come to Mass. We begin by sitting, as students and disciples, at Jesus’ feet to hear and learn from Jesus, the teacher, through His Word in the Scriptures. That is what we are doing right at this very moment! We just listened as the Word was proclaimed through the Readings and also through my proclamation of the Gospel. And, through the grace of my own diaconate ordination I am standing before you as minister of Christ Himself teaching you in this homily, just as Jesus taught his disciples.

The Gospel story continues and we hear that Jesus sees the crowd and he knows that they are hungry. But Jesus sees deeper than their physical hunger, He knows that they are also spiritually hungry. They are looking not only for physical nourishment, but also for meaning in their life and are coming to Jesus in search of that meaning. Jesus sets out to feed them and Philip points out that there are so many people and not enough money to feed each just a little. And this is my favorite version of this miracle story because at this point, the apostle whom I am named after, Andrew, gets to play a role in the story. Often I think Andrew is overshadowed by his brother, Simon Peter, but not today! Andrew jumps in and points out a young boy who has some barley loaves and two fish, an amount that is obviously not enough to satisfy 5,000 people and yet Jesus isn’t concerned at all! This directly echoes what we heard in the first reading with the prophet Elisha. Elisha fed a crowd of people with just a few barley loaves as well. The miracle of Elisha directly foreshadows what Jesus did today and the dialogue between Jesus, Philip, and Andrew point out the enormity of the miracle about to occur.

At this point in the story, the events have shifted to reflect the second part of Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus has the crowd recline and then he took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed it to the people until they had their fill. The words and actions of Jesus are a direct allusion to the Last supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Each priest at Mass during the Eucharistic prayer follows Jesus’ words and actions seen here and at the Last Supper. The other accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke make the words even more explicitly tied to the narration of the Last Supper, unlike John today. The key point here is this miracle story in all the Gospels directly foreshadow the later institution of the Eucharist. It is intimately connected to what Jesus will do at the Last Supper. Also an interesting note is that in John’s Gospel, Jesus Himself is the only one who distributes the bread to the people, unlike in the other Gospel accounts. St. John does this to highlight Jesus as the ultimate source of that bread from Heaven, Jesus Himself is the bread of life that will be given in the Eucharist, a point that will be expanded on in the rest of this chapter in St. John’s gospel. The people listened and learned from Jesus and are now being physically and spiritually fed by Him as the ultimate source of the life and were satisfied.

The same thing happens to us each and every time we go to Mass. When we gather at Mass each Sunday, like the multitude of people with Jesus, we, too, are hungry. We are looking for meaning in our lives, meaning for our pain and suffering, meaning for our joys. We are looking to be filled with authentic love and fulfillment in the only place it can really be found, in Jesus Christ himself. We are hungry and we come to Mass to be fed by Jesus in Word and in the Eucharist. In the Mass we sit with Jesus and learn from Him as his disciples in the Liturgy of the Word. And like the small boy, we bring what little we have to Jesus, seen in just a little amount of bread and wine that we use in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And just like in the gospel, that small amount seems too small to feed the amount of people at Mass each day, and yet what happens? Fr. Brian, who is acting in the person of Christ, will take the bread, give thanks, and distribute it to us. That bread will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ Himself, not symbolically, but actually. The essence of the bread and wine will change into Christ all the while keeping the physical characteristics of bread and wine. We will then receive the Eucharist and our souls will be completely satisfied because we have received God Himself. The people in the gospel today ate and were satisfied because God Himself nourished their souls, not just their stomachs. Today at Mass, Jesus will do the same for us. The final part of the story tells how after the people ate and were satisfied, the disciples gathered the leftover fragments so none would go to waste. This is also seen in the Mass. After communion we will gather the fragments of the Eucharist and place them in the Tabernacle so they do not go to waste but can be a way of encounter with the Lord. Jesus is brought to the sick and homebound because of this and since Jesus is truly in the tabernacle it is always a good practice to stop by and visit him in the Eucharist as often as we are able.

And so my friends, as we gather here together today, as we climb the mountain for an encounter with the Lord at this Mass, I encourage you to follow the example of the disciples today. Sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him by listening to His Word in scripture each and every day. Acknowledge your hunger for God in every aspect of your life. Life may be extremely challenging right now or perhaps God has blessed you with very few hardships. No matter what situation you have in your life, however, nothing on this earth can ever truly satisfy our hearts except the Lord and His love. So, come receive Him in the sacraments as often as you are able to, in daily Mass in the Eucharist where He will satisfy your spiritual hunger, but also receive Him in the beautiful gift of confession where our sins are forgiven no matter how greatly we have sinned. Only once we have received the Lord in Word and Sacrament will we be able to go forth from Mass to proclaim the Kingdom of God to all those whom we will encounter.

Chosen to be an Apostle – My Homily for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Take a moment to consider this question: Are you an Apostle of Jesus Christ? My hope is that each one of you said “yes” and if you didn’t then I hope that by the end of my homily you will. We are all apostles of Jesus Christ. Now you might pause for a second and say, “Well Deacon Andrew, don’t you know that there were only 12 apostles?” And you’d be right! There were only 12 apostles; in fact the Gospel last Wednesday listed all 12 of them. But I am referring to the broader definition of the word apostle. Let me break down exactly what that means for you.

The word apostle in the original Greek language comes from the verb “apostello” which literally means “to send out.” So “apostles” are those who are “sent out.” With this in mind, we can see that Jesus “sent out” his apostles to proclaim the kingdom of God exactly as he “sends us out” to proclaim the kingdom of God in our world today. And this call to be an apostle comes to each and every one of us not matter what our background is, whether we are ordained clergy or ranchers outside of Sheridan. To understand this call, it is helpful to take a look at the prophet Amos, whom we heard in the first reading today.

Not much is actually known about the man Amos other than what he wrote in his book. As we heard by Amos himself, he was shepherd and he also cultivated sycamore trees, not exactly a lofty career! He definitely was not a well-educated man and yet, God himself called Amos to be a prophet. Amos shows through his call that the spiritual gifts given by God are more important than rigorous academic training. Amos lived in southern Israel during the time period of the split kingdoms, with the kingdom of Israel to the north and the kingdom of Judah to the south. God called Amos to leave his home in the south to prophesy to the people in the north. Many in the northern kingdom were choosing things that went against God’s plan for their lives. Excessive wealth in the northern kingdom led to them living extravagant lifestyles with little to no concern for the poor. Sexual immorality and idolatry were also prevalent. It was to these people that many of Amos’ words were addressed. Amos condemned the exploitation of the poor and defenseless by the rich, additionally condemning their actions of sexual immorality and acts of idolatry.

Amos was an apostle, he was “sent out” by God to preach to the people in the northern kingdom in an attempt to get them to reform their lives. Many did not like it and thought he was prophesying just to receive monetary compensation from the wealth of the North and chose to disregard him. Amos preached not to receive any sort of compensation, but because he knew that following God and doing what God asked led to fulfillment and prosperity and wanted that for the people he prophesied to.

Amos’ situation echoes our current social and cultural situation closer than one might think. Our relativistic society, not unlike the Norther kingdom of Israel at the time, is choosing many things that go against God’s plan for our lives: contraception, abortion, and especially recently, the Supreme Court approval of so called Gay marriage, are just some of the many examples. God is calling each and every one of us to be an apostle, like Amos to preach the Gospel of Truth in love to encourage those in our world to reform their lives, to choose what will lead them to fulfillment in God rather than away from it. And just as Amos didn’t have academic training for his ministry, neither do we necessarily need it, although it most certainly helps. Profession is also irrelevant, Amos was a simple shepherd and still was a prophet. Amos was challenged by the authority of his day, and so will we when we proclaim the Truth. Amos was just a normal guy called by God to be his prophet, so too are each and every one of us called to be God’s apostles in our world.

But how exactly do we do this? Jesus, in the Gospel we heard today, shows us. Today Jesus sent out his apostles two by two to participate in the mission of Jesus. Before he does this, however, it is crucial to note that Jesus didn’t just arbitrarily pick 12 random guys to send out, but He picked those who had already been with him for some time. Before the apostles were sent out, they needed time to be with Jesus first (see Mark 3:14). They needed to listen to him, learn from Him, and love him with their whole hearts before they could then go out to others revealing that same life-changing love found in the encounter with Jesus. It is only after they have spent this time with Jesus does He send them out two by two. This is important as well, they were not called to be apostles alone, but rather are part of a community. Jesus, in sending his apostles out two by two, sent them out as little units of Christian communities where they could support one another and pray for one another and encourage one another. An isolated apostle risks discouragement, danger, and temptation. The apostles were meant to support each other in their ministry.

Jesus then goes on to instruct his apostles to take nothing for journey other than the clothes on their back sandals on their feet, and a walking stick. This is a seemingly weird command, but it shows us the attitude one must have as an apostle. By doing this, the apostles learned to place their trust solely on God for providing for them. They focused on doing God’s work with the promise that God would provide for their daily needs. The apostles didn’t rely on themselves but rather called forth hospitality from the people to whom they ministered, which also serves a purpose. The people themselves were able to grow in charity and hospitality. The poverty of the apostles also meant that they had less distractions and could focus solely on their mission, since they were not concerned with material things. And lastly the lack of material possessions lent credibility to the Gospel that the apostles preached, since this poverty showed that the apostles were preaching out of pure conviction of their faith in Jesus Christ and not for desire of gain, which, if we remember, some accused Amos of doing.

Jesus then instructs his apostles on what to do if the people welcome them or not and equates that welcome as if it were with Christ himself. The stakes of accepting or refusing the gospel are high, eternal life is at stake. If the people welcome the apostles, they welcome Christ. Shaking the dust from one’s feet when the apostle is unwelcome is a solemn warning against that household and a sign of their refusal of the gospel. It is also a reminder for the apostle himself to not be discouraged by the resistance they will face, they shake the dust from their feet and move on.

So what does that mean for us as apostles of Jesus? These same principles are true for us here today. With us too, before we can be sent out to proclaim the Truth, we must first know and love Jesus. Jesus, who is Truth Himself, must first radically change our life and our hearts because we’ve spent time with Him in prayer, the sacraments, and in ministry, growing to love Him above our very lives. This has to happen before we can authentically bring others to Jesus. We cannot give what we do not have, so we must know Jesus personally before we can help others encounter Him personally. So this means spending time with Jesus daily, in prayer, in adoration, in daily Mass if you are able, in the sacraments, in acts of charity towards our co-workers or family, all the while growing deeper in the relationship of love with Jesus. Then will we be sent out as apostles to the world.

But just like the apostles, we are not meant to be alone. We are all part of the Body of Christ here in our local Church community and within the Universal Church throughout the world. The Christian life is always done within this community of believers. And within that community we are called to support one another, pray for one another, love one another, and help each other remain steadfast in the Truth, no matter what opposition from the world we may encounter.

We are also called not to rely on ourselves, but rely on God for everything. Does that mean leave your home and go be a missionary taking no possessions with you? Probably not, but some may be called to that, I know plenty of missionaries that do a similar thing. What it does mean is that everything you do must be firmly rooted in God as your source of strength, not yourself. And as an apostle we will encounter those who welcome us and those who reject us, especially in our culture today. It is important to do like the apostles today and to preach the fullness of the Truth always in love, no matter what. And if they reject the gospel, we will shake the dust from our feet as a sign of their refusal and don’t let their refusal discourage us from preaching the gospel, the gospel will reach more than we think as long as we keep living out the faith.

So today we may feel like Amos, a simple shepherd sent to preach repentance in a hostile world, but that’s ok! Know that we are not alone in the Body of Christ and know that God, in His love, chose each and every one of us specifically for this. We were chosen by Him before the world began to be holy as His apostles, as St. Paul reminds us today. With the gift of the Holy Spirit as our strength and guide we trust in Him and continue to journey toward eternal life as Jesus’ apostles. So as we approach the Eucharist today, pray for the grace of a deeper faith and love in Jesus. Pray for the grace of fortitude, to remain steadfast in the Truth no matter what the opposition. Pray for the grace to be the apostle of Jesus Christ He has chosen you to be!

San Diego Comic Con

San Diego Comic Con has been going on these past few days. Coffee With Kenobi posted on their blog a video of the Star Wars Panel. It was great. I have never really followed any Comic Con very much, but I do know that SDCC is a very popular event. Ever since Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim I have been eager to see more interviews with JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy, as they are behind it all. 

JJ Abrams is starting to impress me a bit, I am a little skeptical mostly because of how much he changed the world of Star Trek with his movies. But hearing him have so much respect for the fans, and the story itself is very redeeming for me. Also back at Star Wars Celebration hearing him say he has taken some steps back from CGI and going more the original route is great, it allows a more natural filing style. And to top it all off he invited everyone, all 6,000+ to a concert even more impressing. 
The panel itself was bigger than I expected it to be. after seeing Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac, they are considered the good guys, it was great to meet some of the Dark Side, Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, and Domhnall Gleeson. Why? well the whole star wars universe is based on the Light vs Dark side of the force, and seeing more dark side actors for me was a plus. I just hope these characters are up to the task, there have been some great dark side characters portrayed in the movies, Darth Maul, Count Duku, and of course Darth Vader. So i hope these actors are up to the task of playing a live action dark side character. 

It was great to see Mark Hamil and Carrie Fisher again, I always enjoying seeing them talk. I found it great that Mark openly admitted that he flunked a Star Wars quiz. The cherry on top was Harrison Ford! Seeing him walk out on stage was awesome! He isn’t the biggest fan of these events so to see him come on stage was jaw dropping. I think he is excited for this as well. Seeing Han, Luke and Leia all together brought back fond memories of watching the movies I think i may have to do my annual movie-thonof the star wars movies, perhaps when my kid is born I will get them started on the right foot. Harrison stole the show, fans were so ecstatic about seeing him and asking questions. 

Sadly no new trailer for the movie, we have to wait until the fall for that, but we did see some behind the scenes footage. This is going to be a fun few months leading up to the movie.  It may be a bit until I post again, we shall see when this Kid arrives, until then “It will take a few moments to get the coordinates from the navi computer”

Resources to learn more about the Truth regarding Homosexuality and Gay Marriage

Homosexuality is the issue of our generation, both within the Catholic Church and the surrounding culture.  How we respond to it will shape the way the we either lead people to an encounter with authentic love Himself, Jesus Christ, or push them even farther away from Him.  The culture around us has responded by complete acceptance in the name of “love” by embracing same sex attractions as completely normal and should be encouraged.  Those who “come out” as gay are praised (just look at the many famous personalities, like Tim Cook, CEO of Apple).  Gay marriage, then, is argued as a basic human right, as if it was a natural part of humanity as is traditional marriage.  Additionally, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court on ruled that same sex marriages must be recognized by all states in the court case Obergefell v. Hodges.  

Now we, as Catholics, know this to be a tragic mistake that will only further to confuse those who don’t understand the reality and true meaning of marriage and sexuality.  Now I am not at all saying those who experience same sex attractions are bad people, they’re not!  I happen to know many of them and they are some of the best people I know.  What I am saying is that every single human being on this earth (whether one has same sex attractions or not) deals with concupiscence (the inclination to sin) and we must truly understand our human nature, and the God-given order to the universe, in order to live fully and gain the eternal life that God desires for us.  Marriage, as God intended, between one man and one woman is the only form of marriage that can do this.

Below I have provided quite a number of links to other resources to learn more about the true nature of human sexuality, specifically regarding homosexuality.  I give full credit to my good friend, Father Brian Hess (see his blog here) for compiling these links and giving his descriptions (with some minor tweaks from me), which I am sharing here with his permission.


There are various resources out there that explain why the Church believes so strongly in traditional marriage and how the Church loves every person out there. You are not alone in your acceptance of Church teaching, but to evangelize the culture you have to understand your faith. These are some resources that I know of; I recommend you take some time and look them up.

Catechism of the Catholic Church
First of all, the Catechism teaches in paragraphs 2357-2359 on homosexuality. You’ll find that the Catholic Church hates no one and teaches hate towards no one. The Catechism teaches about acting on same-sex inclinations, that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” But it also teaches about the persons who experience same-sex attraction, that “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Notice: Church teaching distinguishes between the act and the person. Acts are sinful or virtuous. Persons are beloved children of God. The inclination that a person feels but didn’t ask for is not a sin, only actions are.

My Homily
This is the homily I preached the weekend after the Supreme Court decision. In it I show the beauty of marriage, it is life giving. Marriage unites and marriage creates life. Marriage is a gift from God to help us reach eternal life. By showing the beauty of marriage, I show quite simply how homosexual “marriage” cannot participate in the life-giving power and cannot image the relationship between God and his Church.

The Third Way
This is a 38 minute video that features Catholics who experience same sex attraction and have chosen to live chastely and experience the fullness of life. They boldly tell their stories about how they tried the world’s version of happiness and never felt satisfied, and how they got out of that culture and found their way (for some of them, found their way back to) the Catholic Church. It also features some of the most popular Catholic speakers and evangelists today: Sr. Helena Burns, Chris Stefanick, Jason Evert, Christopher West, Fr. Michael Schmidt, and others.

Desire of the Everlasting Hills
This is another video, about an hour long, that has three people telling their stories of trying to be happy living how the culture told them to live. One of them was even in a same-sex relationship for 25 years. But like the other video, the culture’s promise of happiness never played out and they found their way to the Catholic Church.

Catholic Stuff You Should Know Part I and Part II
This is a two podcasts from former classmates and seminary friends of mine. They excellently and tactfully explain the topic, and they took the time to address it in two parts; both are about 25 minutes each. One of the most excellent points they make is that we (we the Church, we the proponents of traditional marriage) cannot advance a logical argument for traditional marriage as long as we continue to utilize contraception or as long as we live together before marriage. If heterosexual unions exclude the procreative or unitive ends for which marriage is made, then you can’t advance a logical argument against homosexual “marriage.” The second part deals largely with pastoral care for those who experience same-sex attraction and calling all people, no matter their sexual orientation, to holiness.

Chastity Project
This particular part of Jason and Crystalina Evert’s overall Chastity Project deals with homosexuality. A good collection of short videos from knowledgeable Catholic speakers.

This is a solid Catholic organization that seeks to support those who experience same-sex attraction, their families, and their ministers. Their goals (from their website) are chastity, prayer and dedication, fellowship, support, and to be a good example. Not all “catholic” same-sex attraction support groups are good. Beware of the group called Dignity. They misinterpret the Bible and the teachings of Jesus to defend the LGBTQ movement.

Gay Marriage: Brought to you by Contraception
This article advances an argument that was referenced in the podcast above. If marriage is in a bad spot today, it started with the widespread acceptance of contraception. It began with the Anglican Church’s 1930 Lambeth Conference. Not that marriage was perfect before 1930, but that’s the first time you can point to a thing that was detrimental to marriage being called good.

Heather Does Not Have Two Mommies: Talking to Your Kids About Same Sex Attraction
This is an article from a mother of four who has decided she needs to start talking to her young kids about SSA in the culture. She realizes she can’t shield her kids from hearing about it in the culture, so she wants them to hear the truth from her before they hear the lies from the culture, and she offers tips on how to talk to kids about this tricky topic by making sure they understand solidly what marriage is for.

False Enlightenment at the Court
Here is a more intellectual argument (still very accessible) about the hubris present in the Supreme Court’s decision. The Court has misunderstood essential and accidental in their redefinition of marriage when they said that procreativity is accidental and not essential to the nature of marriage. Read the article for more.

Agape Wins
A small historical analysis of why and how the gay rights movement has won such victories, and which “movement” is destined to win in the long run.

The Church and the New Normal
This article by George Weigel also analyzes how we got to this point and where we go from here.

Here are three books by authors who experience same-sex attraction. I haven’t read them, but I trust the priest who recommended them. I hope to read them soon.
-Beyond Gay – by David Morrison (from Denver, forward by Archbishop Chaput)
-Sexual Authenticity – by Melinda Selmys
-Washed & Waiting – by Wesley Hill (protestant author)


Catholic, Gay, and Doing Fine
This blog post is originally by Steve Gershom who discussing his own struggles with being Catholic and having same sex attractions. In a beautiful way he shows how he, like everyone else, has to struggle against the inclination to do things that aren’t good for him (sin). The Christian life isn’t easy! But it’s worth it.

Same-Sex ‘Marriage’: Evolution or Deconstruction of Marriage and the Family?
This article, by Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P. (Archbishop for the Catholic Diocese of Sydney, Australia), is a well-articulated analysis of what is happening to marriage in our world today.  He responds to 5 common slogans that push for the redefinition of marriage to include so-called same-sex marriage (Australia hasn’t yet legally redefined marriage like the USA and Ireland).

Essential take-away message: love each person authentically, be genuinely charitable, but be honest. There is no place for hatred or lies in this discussion with our culture, but then again, there is no place for hatred or lies any place in the Christian life. Authentic love tells only the truth.

The Ultimate Fanboy Moment

Yesterday I experienced the ultimate Star Wars fanboy moment!  I had the immense pleasure of meeting this famous girl whom I’ve seen over and over again on YouTube (and so has more than 22 million other people)!  If you haven’t seen her adorable video describing Star Wars: A New Hope, check it out below.

I saw her and her family and ran over to them to introduce myself and, not feeling at all ashamed, I went on to tell her I was one of her “fans” and that I had seen her on YouTube many times, loving it each time.  She just looked up at me with a big smile and beamed.  I got to spend just a short amount of time talking to her and her mom about Star Wars and her experience and I made a point to ask her if she was going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December, and of course the answer was “yes!”  She was one of the coolest young Star Wars fans I’ve been able to meet, a young girl in a great family.

I absolutely loved every minute of the experience of talking to her and definitely had a big fanboy moment (still not ashamed).  Not that she is some super famous actress (like Carrie Fisher or Natalie Portman), but she is a young fan of Star Wars who is known throughout YouTube because of her video.  Even so, that is not what makes her special, what makes her special is that she is a kind young girl, living a normal life with her family.  I feel incredibly privileged to have gotten to meet her in person and not just know her by watching her video on YouTube when she was 3 and melting every time I see it (even though I’ll still do just that).

Lastly, my two favorite lines from her:

The shiny guy always worries.” (referring to C-3PO)
Don’t talk back to Darth Vader, he’ll getcha!

If you want to read more, check out her dad’s original blog post here.

Holy Order – God’s Plan for Marriage and Eternal Life – My Homily for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

If I were to give a title for my homily today I would call it “Holy Order.”  What I mean by that is that everything that God created has an order.  Everything is arranged in such a way that it has a purpose, an end.  In the natural world we see that animals and plants are made to grow and live and die to help others grow and live.  Now the natural end of plants and animals is death, but when God created mankind he gave us something more, He gave us a supernatural end, life eternal in heaven.  God has revealed us this through Jesus Christ.  Jesus himself told us, “I came that they might have life and have it to the full.”[1]  So everything that God created for mankind is meant to help us live fully and reach that end, eternal life in heaven.  But often this goes wrong in our world because of human sinfulness.  The book of Wisdom today captures this dynamic succinctly.  The author of the book of Wisdom reminds us that God did not create death.  He is referring to a spiritual death, an alienation from God, rather than just a physical death, because our own experience tells us that all things die eventually, and it would be contradictory to say God didn’t create natural death when all things naturally die.  That means then for the person who has no sin, natural death is not a problem, just look at the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Her “death” is referred to as the dormition of Mary or the falling asleep of Mary, after which she was assumed into Heaven.  She had no sin and had no fear of natural death; rather she fell asleep and entered eternal life.  This is what God desires for us, but as we can see very clearly in our world today, sin exists, and so too spiritual death that it causes.  The book of Wisdom goes on to clarify this truth.  The author tells us that God created man to be imperishable, a reference to the end or goal of mankind, that God created us for, eternal life, but that spiritual death entered the world through the envy of the devil.  This is the death that God did not create, but sin did.  This spiritual death, this alienation and separation from God, prevents humanity from reaching eternal life that God created us for.  This whole passage in Wisdom echoes the book of Genesis, where envy was what Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve to desire to be like Gods themselves and choose what is good and evil rather than trusting and following God’s own created order of things.

This is unfortunately also very common in our culture today, and Satan is active in our world today tempting many to reject God as Father and to choose for themselves what is good and evil.  This is a very dangerous place to be.  I’m sure many of you have heard that on Friday the Supreme Court ruled that Same-Sex marriages must be recognized in all 50 states in the court case called Obergefell v. Hodges.  For those advocating for gay marriage this was a win for “love.”  They are saying that it doesn’t matter who you love as long as you love.  But their definition of love and marriage is not what God intended it to be.  Authentic self-sacrificial love does not need marriage to be real; Jesus himself exemplified this.  On Friday our supreme court redefined marriage in a political/legal sense and this is not a win for “love” but rather it is actually the opposite.
Now let’s back up a minute to see the big picture here.  God created man to be imperishable, to have life to the full, and so He gave us means of attaining that end, i.e. the sacraments.  Marriage is one of those gifts that God gave us to reach eternal life.  But marriage as it was intended to be: between one man and one woman.  Marriage serves to unite a couple and produce life in children.  Let me repeat that, these two aspects of marriage are essential to what marriage is: marriage is unitive and procreative.  It unites a man and a woman and produces life.  As such, it is a symbol of the love that Christ has for the Church.  Both in marriage and in Christ’s love for the Church, there is a complete self-gift in each person and this is entirely life giving.   A man gives of himself completely to his wife and she in turn receives him and gives completely of herself to him; this complementarity of the sexes is part of the nature of marriage itself and is incredibly beautiful.  It is only in the sexual difference between a man and a woman that they are able to “speak” the language of love.  This union of love is life giving, resulting in children who are enriched by having both a father and mother.  As a great symbol, marital love points to Jesus Christ who gave himself completely to the Church, to us, in his death on the cross, which gives spiritual life to all of us in our salvation.  Marriage, then, as it was created to be, is a model of the love of God who gave his only Son to redeem the world and give eternal life.   It leads mankind to the end that God intended for us, namely, eternal life.
As a result, marriage cannot be any other way because in any other form it will lack part of its essence and cease to model Christ’s love for the Church.  Gay marriage, by its nature, lacks part of the essential elements of what God intended marriage to be.  It lacks the complementarity of the sexes and also loses the ability to be life giving.  No child can ever be born of such a union, and therefore this kind of marriage cannot be life giving and ceases to be a symbol of Christ’s love to His Church.  Only marriage between one man and one woman can achieve this.
Today our culture is confused through a process thas been happening for quite some time.  Our culture has rejected God as the creator of life and has determined that it, not God, can choose what is good and evil, just as Satan tempted Eve in the garden.  Without God then the only meaning of things is what mankind makes them to be.  Our culture has determined that it can make marriage mean whatever it wants; marriage as defined by law is now no longer a way of attaining eternal life, but is an arbitrary definition in our political system.  And this is by no means the first time this has happened in our culture.  The same thing happened when contraception became common use and was no longer considered wrong, and when abortion became legal in the Roe v. Wade court decision.  Obergefell v. Hodges is the Roe v. Wade of our age for marriage.  And we, as Catholics, must hold strong to the Truth that God gave us.  That marriage is between one man and one woman and cannot be any other way.
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t address the victims of this redefinition.  I want to address briefly those persons who this redefinition of marriage was supposed to help, those who struggle with same-sex attraction.  Our culture wants to suggest that gay marriage is their path to happiness and life.  But since gay marriage isn’t life giving and doesn’t lead to eternal life, it leads neither to authentic happiness nor life.  Persons who struggle with same-sex attraction are led to eternal life the way we all are, through the sacraments as given by God and not by our culture’s redefinition of them.  Those persons who struggle with same-sex attraction have the same struggle that we all have, resisting our sinful humanity to draw closer to God.  Same-sex attraction itself is not sinful, but acting on it is, exactly as heterosexual attraction is not sinful, but acting on it outside of marriage is.  So we are all fundamentally in the same boat; we are all sinners together in need of growing in the virtue of chastity to journey towards eternal life.
Some of you may know someone who struggles with same-sex attraction.  It is important to approach them and accept them, as we would approach any person.  Each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God regardless of what cross we are asked to bear.  We must also love them authentically in a way the culture does not.  That does not mean stand by and let them do things that are destructive, but that means speaking to them about the truth of their dignity as persons and call to live chastely (as we all are called to live as well).  No one is served with a lie, authentic love tells only the truth.
And so my friends, as we continue with our Eucharist today, I invite you to pray earnestly for our confused culture, pray that the envy that Satan has used to corrupt it be overcome by the grace of Jesus Christ.  Pray for those who embrace the gay marriage culture as a way of life.  Hold fast to the Truth of marriage as given to us by God our creator.  Love everyone authentically by proclaiming the truth in love.  Let us pray for one another as we journey along the narrow path, rejected by our culture, to our God given end, eternal life.

[1]John 10:10 ESV

God’s Power in Weakness and "Laudato Si" – My Homily for Saturday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings speak beautifully about God’s power amid human weakness.  St. Paul boasts in his own weakness, he says, “I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”[1]  How many of us would be willing to say that?  More often than not we are not content with weakness.  Because being weak is scary!  Being weak means that we can’t rely on ourselves, but must rely on others and our culture frowns on dependency like this.  But weakness is exactly what St. Paul is praising!  But St. Paul is not referring only to being physically weak, he is referring to something deeper; he is saying he must be spiritually dependent on God for everything and not himself in order to let God work through Him.  He must be “weak” and depend on God and in that God will work his power through him.  And God promised St. Paul that His grace was sufficient.  And the same is true for all of us!  We may want to rely on ourselves for everything and not want to be weak, but that is exactly what we must do in the Christian life.  St. Paul had to let go of his own need to control in order to let God work through him and so must we.  Ultimately, this is God’s work in us, not our own.
This is a challenge that we must face each and every day, especially in the culture we live in.  In a world so full of technology, we sometimes rely on our smartphones more than we rely on God.  In an attempt to not be weak like St. Paul, we turn to the consumption of things as a way of fulfillment, of appearing strong, as if having more things would strengthen us and fill our hearts easier than God would.  This consumerism can manifest in a variety of ways, whether it is always having the newest car or iPhone to a constant consumption of Facebook and Twitter.  But the more we consume in our attempt to be strong and fulfilled and don’t turn to God, the more we feel we need to consume.
Two days ago, Pope Francis released an encyclical called Laudato Si (Praised Be to You: On Care For Our Common Home).  Laudato Si is an encyclical letter addressed to all people about the care of our planet and its future and I encourage you to read it on your own when you have time.  It is more than just an encyclical about the environment, though.  Pope Francis is calling each one of us to conversion of heart regarding the dignity of God’s creation both within ourselves and the world around us.  The earth is our home and it isn’t ours to dominate, but is ours to care for.[2]   But this must begin with an interior conversion of heart, recognizing God in all of creation and that He is our fulfillment, and not in the domination of the world around us.  In one part of his letter, Pope Francis addressed this consumerism mentality directly and I want to read you that quote, he says, “When people become self-centered and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears,” (LS 204).  Pope Francis, like St. Paul, wants us to realize that dominating and consuming the world around us in an attempt to be strong without God is a path that leads to despair, emptiness, and ruin for the earth and all people.  Rather we must be weak and rely on God because that relationship will bring us fulfillment and reveal God’s power through us.  God’s grace is sufficient for all of us.  So do not worry about your life, as Jesus reminds us, God our Heavenly Father will provide for and sustain you and reveal His power through your weakness.

[1] 2 Corinthians 12:10 NAB
[2]Genesis 2:15

Summer in Sheridan

I have been told that I need to blog more…ahem Meg (see her blog here).  So I figured I would take this opportunity to share what my summer is looking like.

My summer assignment as a deacon is at Holy Name Catholic Church in Sheridan, WY.  Sheridan is nestled next to the Big Horn Mountains (part of the Rocky Mountains in WY) and is a beautiful place to be assigned for the summer.  The population of Sheridan is roughly 20,000 so it is big enough to have some of the mainstream stores (Wal-Mart, Albertson’s, etc.) but still has that small town feel (every third Thursday evening during the summer they close main street for a street festival, which I am looking forward to experiencing).  My experience of the parish has been fantastic.  The people of God here are very welcoming and hospitable.  This past weekend was my first weekend here for the summer and I introduced myself to the parish by preaching (see that homily here), but since Sheridan has two mission churches (one in Ranchester and the other in Story) I preached one Mass in Sheridan one in Ranchester, and one at the VA hospital here in Sheridan as well.  During my time here I will be blessed to preach and assist at Mass, baptize (I am very much looking forward to this!), visit the sick in the Nursing Home and Hospital and bring them the Holy Eucharist, assist it weddings and funerals, and experience day to day life in all the parish functions throughout the summer.  I even get my own office in the Holy Name Pastoral Center and it is great!  I’m so used to having my bedroom and office all in one small dorm room, so to have my own office feels very strange and liberating.  In addition to the parish functions, I plan to get a kick start on my thesis that I will be writing during my final year of Theology.  I plan on writing about the Theology of Suffering as seen in Pope Saint John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Salvici Doloris.  So hopefully this summer I get a lot of reading done preppring me to begin that work (as well as read for fun too!).
Life in Sheridan is not limited to the parish life.  I’m getting back into running (I’ve had some back problems during the past year that has prevented me from doing some of that, but I’m better now) and Sheridan has a pretty awesome run/bike path that follows the Tongue River and the Little Goose Creek through the city called “Sheridan Pathways” that is cool to run on.  Also, since I’m so close to the mountains I plan on exploring them during my off time to relish God’s beauty in creation.  Last Saturday a group of us hiked to Paradise Falls in the Big Horn Mountains and here a few of the pictures from that incredible (although short) hike.


Another thing that I’m excited to get more a chance to do is cooking.  It’s fairly hard in seminary cook since the kitchen provides us with incredible meals most every day, but in a parish cooking is easier to do.  I’ve already gotten the opportunity to try to make homemade corn tortillas (Meg helped) with fresh chorizo and onions and they turned out pretty decent.  I’ll be trying to perfect that recipe as the summer goes on.

I think that summarizes my coming summer pretty well.  Primarily my role this summer is to grow ever closer to the Lord through prayer and the sacraments and to help the people in Sheridan do the same through the Lord’s gift of the diaconate ministry in me.  Please pray for me and know of my prayers for you too!

We Walk By Faith and Not By Sight – My Homily for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

“We walk by faith and not by sight.” This is probably one of the most quoted lines from Saint Paul about the Christian life, about our lives.  We walk by faith and not by sight.  Let’s take a moment to reflect on what that what actually means.  This phrase has a much deeper meaning than many realize.  When St. Paul is talking about sight here he isn’t just meaning our ability to see with our eyes.  He is pointing to an essential truth of humanity: our ability to reason, to use our minds to understand the world around us.  Now primarily that knowledge does come through our eyes, by seeing the world around us, and coming to understand it, which is why St. Paul says it this way.  But reason goes beyond eyesight; it points to our intellectual capacity, our mind.  Our reason is what makes us truly human.  Animals and plants lack this ability to “see” and, therefore, are not human.  Humans have used our reason to understand much of the world around us: we have built skyscrapers and submarines; we are exploring deep space and deep under the sea (on a side note, Philae Lander is a comet probe that landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November and had to shut down to conserve power because it landed on the shady side of the comet.  This morning it finally rebooted and has contacted its mothership, the Rosetta orbiter, with an 85-second-long status update.  Read more here.  This is an amazing example of how human reason is exploring the vastness of outer space!  Philae Lander even has a Twitter @Philae2014); and even cyberspace is so advanced because of our reason that you can turn your home oven on with just a button on your smartphone.  But even as advanced as humans are with our ability to see and use our reason to understand, we still cannot understand everything.  Life itself is still fundamentally a mystery and so are the inner workings of God.  And that is where faith comes in to guide us where sight cannot.  Faith is not opposed to reason, but Faith goes beyond reason.  That is why we walk by faith and not by sight.  Not that we ignore our sight, but that we allow faith to guide us beyond where our sight can.  The book of Hebrews aptly defines faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[1]  This is crucially important for us because faith gives meaning to our lives.  Faith reveals to us that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, our savior, a truth that couldn’t have been known by reason alone.  Additionally we can’t rely on our reason to understand how God is working in our lives and in the world around us because God’s ways are hidden from us but faith reveals that God is always there and since He is love, we trust Him.
This is the same truth that Jesus was pointing out in today’s Gospel with the parable about seeds.  Jesus uses two examples to explain the kingdom of God, the first is of a man scattering seed on the ground and the seeds sprouting and growing and the man does not know how that happens.  The second analogy is of a mustard seed; this small, small seed that grows into something so large the birds of the air can come to rest in its branches.  Jesus himself is the man scattering the seed of His Word in our hearts and there it will take root and grow, guided by the Holy Spirit in a process we can’t see, into something large and beautiful that it will give rest and joy to others. This process is something we cannot understand because we can’t “see” it; God’s ways are not our ways.  It is the work of God within our lives.  In the past four weeks I have been privileged to attend the priestly ordinations of nine men and the diaconate ordination of one man.  These have been joyful celebrations of the Universal Church of God’s hidden work within each of these men.  Every vocation, whether it is a priestly or religious vocation, or a married or single vocation is the silent work of the Holy Spirit within each individual.  I can guarantee that my friends whom I saw ordained priests and a deacon had the Word of God seeded in their hearts when they were younger by their families and friends and local community, and God worked silently within them, guiding them to their priestly vocation.  If you were to ask them to share their vocation stories, they would be varied and often you would be surprised at how God quietly led them to the priesthood.  They chose to walk by faith, and not by sight and allowed the seed of God’s Word to grow in their hearts, resulting in their priestly ministry which will bring joy and rest to those they minister to.
I, too, can relate very well to this.  For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Deacon Andrew Kinstetter and I was also recently ordained to the diaconate and I am thrilled to be spending the summer here in Sheridan.  I was ordained a transitional deacon in February in Cheyenne and will be ordained a priest next year; but if you were to have asked me when I was in high school if I was going to be a priest someday, I would have told you “of course not!”  I grew up on a ranch near Moorcroft and was fully intent on getting a Computer Science degree from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City and then working in the IT field.  Priesthood was barely on my radar.  But what I didn’t realize was that God had already been at work in my life guiding me. I had the aptitude for math and science to be an computer programmer and make a lot of money but I kept having this constant feeling that I would’t be satisfied and always felt more fulfilled when I was at the Cathedral Church going to Mass and ministering to the wonderful people there.  By my third year in college I was spending more time at Church than I was at college and began to realize that I desired a relationship with God more than I desired the “successful” career and the large salary that the college would gain for me. God was silently nudging me to walk by faith and not by my own sight.  More often than not this came through the voice of someone in my local parish community telling me that they saw in me the qualities of a good priest, and they encouraged me to pray about it.  I ended up realizing there was more to life than what I saw in the world of science and math.  I made the tough choice to leave college after three years without a bachelor’s degree to enter seminary and study philosophy and theology because of my growing desire to be in relationship with God as His priest.  And I haven’t once regretted that decision.  And now here I am, after five years of seminary studies with only one more to go until my priestly ordination and I can attest that God was the one working in me, not myself, guiding me to the priesthood.  I wanted to make a lot of money in an IT career, but God had other plans.  And even though I can share my story, I cannot adequately explain how God worked deep within my heart, nurturing that mustard seed of faith in me, but here I am now studying to be a priest and I’ve never been happier. 
God works similarly in each of our lives, not only in the joyous moments, but also in the harsh painful moments of life, working in each one of us.  It’s easy to see God at work in the many priestly ordinations I have been to including my own diaconate ordination, but His presence is often less noticeable in times of distress.  Many times in our lives, like when a family member dies or is diagnosed with a life threatening disease, or family issues lead to divorce, or our lives are upended by natural disasters, God can seem absent and we can’t see Him.   And it is within these harsh moments in each of our lives that we must hold on to the truth that St. Paul told us today, “We walk by faith and not by sight.”  Especially in these moments when we can’t “see” God we must hold fast to faith, which takes us beyond our sight, and know that God is still working in our lives even if we don’t know how, and it seems too painful for God to be present.  God can take the worst situation imaginable and bring good from it.  The pinnacle example of this is in Jesus’ own horrific death and resurrection that brings salvation to mankind. This was the bleakest moment in Jesus’ own life and He experienced a feeling of separation from God, but He didn’t lose His Faith.  And because of that act on the cross, Jesus brought about our redemption.  And that is what we celebrate each time we go to Mass: Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us is made present in the Eucharist.  And even though we can’t see Jesus in the Eucharist, our Faith reveals His true presence to us.  So we walk by faith not by sight.  It is because our Faith that we come to Mass each week to be strengthened and nourished by the Eucharist in good times and in bad.  It is because we know by Faith that God is with us, that we are able to walk out of Mass each Sunday proclaiming as we did in the psalm: “Lord it is good to give thanks to you.”
And so as we continue Mass today I invite you to remember the words of St. Paul, “We walk by Faith and not by sight,” and, especially in your own struggles and challenges, remember that God is always there, working silently in ways we don’t understand.  But no matter what, remember that He is always with you.  In your faith, let the Eucharist, strengthen you and give you courage to face each hardship trusting wholeheartedly in the Lord and giving thanks to Him for his constant presence.  Let us walk today not by our own sight, but walk by Faith in the Lord.

 [1]Hebrews 11:1 RSV

Zombies, Ghosts, and the Resurrection of Jesus – My Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter Year B

Have you noticed our culture’s obsession with zombies and ghosts in recent years? Turn on the TV and “The Walking Dead” is currently showing and there is “Ghost Hunters” on the SyFy channel. Look to books and we have such books as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” or “The Shining” by Stephen King. Even many recent video games attempt to portray zombies and ghosts in an attempt to give its players a thrill. We would do well to reflect a bit on this odd fascination of our culture. What makes zombies and ghosts so scary and yet oddly fascinating to us? To answer this question I’m going to get a bit technical into a fundamental aspect of humanity, which is also something that is crucial to our Catholic faith. This is a concept called hylomorphism. To put it a bit more simply, this is the truth that each human person is both a body and a soul; we have a physical body, but we also have a soul that is the spiritual aspect of our human nature. You could say that each of us is an embodied soul or you could say an ensouled body. This does not mean that our soul somehow drives and controls our body, like a person would drive and control a car; rather this means that to be human, fundamentally, we must have both a material body and a spiritual soul, together, joined in what we would call a “hylomorphic” way, which is a fancy way of saying that the body and soul are both united so completely that this union is necessary to be alive. This is attested to in the book of Genesis on the creation of man when it reads: “…the Lord God formed man from the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gn 2:7). So back to Zombies and ghosts for a moment. Both phenomenon show a lacking of something fundamental to humanity. Zombies are bodies without souls and ghosts are souls without bodies. We find them scary and oddly fascinating because we inherently know that something is wrong with them. Something is not quite right about them, something not quite human.

So today, when the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus, they too saw something odd and scary. They did not recognize Jesus and could only conclude that the phenomenon they saw was a ghost! But Jesus reveals to them that he is neither a zombie nor a ghost, he is something greater: he is resurrected in his body, both body and soul! And if there was any doubt, he proves it to his disciples. He invites them to physically touch his hands and his feet, but he goes further and does something very strange. He eats a piece of baked fish in front of them. This may seem very odd, but it was a way for Jesus to show the disciples that he, who had died, had truly risen in his body. He couldn’t eat food without a body, and yet he does just that. Also, Jesus’ resurrected body was different than his normal body, since his disciples obviously didn’t recognize him by his sight. His body is transformed, as prefigured by His transfiguration on the mountain. Jesus is, however, recognized in the breaking of the bread by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, which is traditionally considered the first Eucharist, and also now in his eating of the fish, which would have invoked the memory of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with bread and fish earlier in His ministry (Lk 9:16), which also foreshadows the Eucharist. This action of eating by Jesus makes his disciples witnesses to his resurrection in his body and now they are able to go out and proclaim the resurrected Jesus to the nations.

This event is important to us because Jesus’ resurrection reveals our destiny as well. We profess each Sunday that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead…” and often we may not realize fully what that means. At the end of time, we will be resurrected in our bodies in what is called the general resurrection with the good rising to life and the evil to judgment. Our faith reveals that this resurrection will be analogous to Jesus’ own resurrection. We will not become zombies or ghosts, we won’t be just souls without bodies, or bodies without souls, but rather our resurrected bodies will be our same bodies WITH our souls. Bodies and souls are meant to be united, unlike what we see in zombies and ghosts, and this unification is what we profess will happen at the end of time. Additionally, our bodies will also transformed, patterned off of Christ himself in his own resurrection. They will be made holy by grace without defects and we will dwell with God in heaven in eternal happiness.

And this is the grace we pray for profoundly within this Mass. In the opening prayer this morning, the collect, we prayed that “we may look forward in confident hope to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection.” And as we move into the Eucharist, which is the focal point for us today, Fr. Jim will pray over the gifts: “grant also that the gifts we bring may bear fruit in perpetual happiness.” The rejoicing of the day of resurrection…bearing fruit in perpetual happiness…that is what is revealed in Jesus’ resurrection as our destiny too. And the Eucharist is our path to that destiny. One of the saints in the early Church, St. Irenaeus says, “When our bodies partake of the Eucharist, they are no longer corruptible, as they have the hope of eternal Resurrection.” The Eucharist is the participation in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and should be the focal point of our entire life. Life is meaningless if it will end in nothingness. But our faith tells us is this is not so! Our destiny is to dwell in perpetual happiness with God in heaven where we will be resurrected too. And God, to prove Himself to us, gives us the Eucharist to lead us on the way. It is the Eucharist that we, like the disciples, get to see and touch the resurrected Jesus. Rather than watching Jesus eat a piece of fish, we get to eat his flesh in the Eucharist, sharing in His life. It is in the Eucharist that we are united to Christ and are sustained on the way to our eternal destiny with Him in the resurrection of the dead.

But we also know that the Eucharist alone is not enough to get us to heaven, we can still choose to freely reject God and end up in eternal punishment by our own choice. This was Peter and John’s concern in the other scripture readings we heard proclaimed today. Peter reminds the Jews that they were the ones who delivered Jesus up to death, but that they were not necessarily lost because of it. They only needed to repent and turn back to the Lord and ask forgiveness. In the 1st letter of John, John tells us how we are able to turn back to God when we sin. Jesus. Jesus is our advocate. He is the “expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). And this, of course, is found in the sacrament of confession, where the priest is Jesus Christ himself within the sacrament. Jesus, in the priest, is advocating on our behalf to forgive sins and help us turn back to God so that we can journey onward toward our eternal destiny of happiness in heaven.

So, as we continue in Mass today, I invite you to let the resurrected Jesus encounter you in the Eucharist. Let us remember that our destiny is one of resurrection, like that of Christ Himself, not like a zombie or a ghost, but our actual bodies resurrected with our souls. Let us approach the Eucharist worthily and remember that even when we fall short in sin, Jesus is our advocate in the sacrament of confession to help us back to Him and to a life of grace. And with great hope and joy for that resurrection and eternal life promised by Jesus in the Eucharist, let us go forth to proclaim that same truth to all we meet by our words and by our lives.

Star Wars Celebration Anaheim

What a awesome weekend to be a Star Wars fan with Star Wars Celebration Anaheim officially coming to a close this afternoon.  We got many teases and treats for all the upcoming films, video games, books, and more.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens got even more exciting with the surprise reveal of a new teaser trailer with Han Solo and Chewbacca making an appearance for the first time since Return of the Jedi.  Star Wars: Battlefront also had a trailer to show, as did season 2 for Star Wars: Rebels.  Many of our favorite people in the Star Wars galaxy were interviewed, sat in on panels, and generally hung out with the fans making this an incredible event (more on that below).

This was the first time I’ve ever experienced a Star Wars Celebration event.  Unfortunately I couldn’t actually be there in Anaheim, CA to attend the event, but I did do as much live-streaming on as possible.  So I consider this the first Star Wars Celebration I’ve been aware of in real time (my first Star Wars Celebration will be when I’m physically able to go one).  A good friend of mine, Sean, and I had a stream party Friday evening and even made some Bantha Milk drinks.  It was a great time to watch the live stream of SWCA and just totally geek out together about all things Star Wars!

During J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy’s panel on The Force Awakens, I was in my Theological Anthropology class so I missed the big reveal of the teaser trailer (but watched it immediately after class and was interiorly whooping with excitement!).  I was able to go back later and re-watch the whole panel and am even more excited for the movie to come out in December.  BB-8 astounded me.  I was definitely one of those fans who was skeptical of the new little droid, but seeing the droid actually roll around the stage as a real prop (and not just CGI) I was blown away, and found I’m way more excited to see BB-8 in the movie that I originally was.  Kylo Ren also has me super pumped.  His whole demeanor reminds of Darth Revan from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and I’ve always loved that sort of demeanor in a dark character.  Can’t wait to see more of him.  And of course, there’s Han Solo and Chewbacca…I was so happy to see them in the teaser.

Streaming SWCA live on
As the afternoon progressed I just turned on the live stream on my Mac in my room and watched as much as I was able to.  Unfortunately for me, since the live stream pretty much covered only the main stage, I wasn’t able to see many of the panels that I would have liked to have seen if I was there in person (such as the panels relating to the Star Wars Novels universe including panels with some of my favorite authors and I also missed the podcast stage and getting to see my favorite Star Wars podcasts up there).  Even so, I got to watch Ian McDiarmid’s “The Emperor Strikes Back” interview, Carrie Fisher’s “A Date With the Princess,” some of Ray Park’s interview,  the Lego Star Was panel with Anthony Daniels, some of the Star Wars: Rebels panel, the beginning part of Smuggler’s Bounty, along with many of the random interviews in the Cantina with Anthony Carboni, which was awesome since the more informal setting allows for those interviews to be really cool and and off the cuff.  
What I find absolutely astounding about the whole event is two-fold.  First I love the fact that there are so many kids there, asking questions and just loving everything Star Wars.  And second, I love the generosity of everyone involved, specially the actors/actresses of Star Wars.  I was blown away by all the kids asking questions (from innocent “Who did the voice of Chopper in Star Wars Rebels?” to more probing questions “How did Captain Rex survive the Clone Wars?”) and their energy and joy for Star Wars.  The actors/actresses on the other side were awesome in response.  Anthony Daniels interacted very well with his young fans of C-3PO and Ray Park even borrowed one kid’s dual-bladed lightsaber to spar with against James Arnold Taylor and then signed it before giving it back to his young Darth Maul fan.  It was incredible to see the awe and wonder that these kids have and are able to experience at such an event.
Being able to live stream this event was a huge blessing for me.  I’ve embraced Star Wars as my hobby (in a very real and existential way, and am vocal about it a lot more, even if my friends tease me because of it – Freddie Prinze Jr. said here: “people are gonna make fun of you no matter what, so commit to what you love and don’t care what anyone says”) and live-streaming the event made me feel a part of the whole experience without actually being there.  My live-stream party was a ton of fun and a great way to virtually go to Star Wars Celebration.  But, of course, it really makes me feel disappointed that I was not able to go.  I really hope I can go in the future — but as next year it will be in London (July 15-17, 2016), I probably won’t be able to go since flying outside the country will be a bit more difficult for me to schedule since I’ll be a newly ordained Catholic priest *possibly* on my way to World Youth Day in Poland that same summer.  (Another live stream party will be in the works!)  Such is the life.  🙂  Maybe 2017 will be my year for Star Wars Celebration.

The Feast of the Merciful Love of God – My Homily for Easter Sunday

My friends, good morning! And Happy Easter! I welcome you here today to celebrate the greatest solemnity mankind will ever celebrate: the Feast of the Merciful Love of God, which we call Easter. This great solemnity we celebrate today reveals fundamentally who God is and our relationship to Him. Easter reveals to us that God is not some wrathful God, who is bent on punishing us for our sins, but rather that He is so full of mercy and love that He sent his only Son to die on the Cross for us, which we remembered through the liturgy these past few days. On Thursday we remembered Jesus offering his body and blood in the Eucharist for the fist time. And just a couple days ago, on Good Friday, we recalled the horrible death of Jesus upon the cross. The death that we all deserved because of our sins. But Jesus himself bore that punishment of sin so that we didn’t have to. Jesus died in place of us, so that we might not ever be separated from the love of God, he re-opened the gates of heaven to mankind. And yesterday we waited with the small glimmer of hope that Jesus who had died would rise again. And that, my friends, is what we celebrate today, the fulfillment of that hope. We celebrate Christ’s victory over death by His resurrection on this Easter Sunday morning.

And so, this morning, I have a question for you: What drew you here to Mass today? ….. some of you might be thinking “Nothing drew me here, it was more like being dragged!” Well, ok… then what drew the one who dragged you? Why is coming to Mass on this Easter Sunday important to you?

Here’s another question I want you to ponder: What drew Mary Magdalene to the tomb that first Easter Morning? Notice that in the Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first one to approach the tomb, the apostles were not with her. And she came so early that it was still dark! Maybe she was an early riser like many of you here who always come to the 7:30am Mass…or maybe it was something more. What drew her so powerfully to the tomb of Jesus that she didn’t even wait for daylight to come? The answer lies in looking deeper into Mary Magdalene’s life. In the Gospel of Mark, Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene was the one from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons (Mk: 16:9). Also, according to Tradition, Mary Magdalene is the same woman who was caught in adultery and whom the Pharisees wanted to stone. And rather than condemning her like the Pharisees, Jesus forgave her sins and told her to sin no more. The one who is forgiven abundantly loves abundantly! And Mary Magdalene had been forgiven a lot and she couldn’t help but love Jesus greatly because of it. She couldn’t stay away from Him. She even watched his crucifixion and felt His loss so dramatically that she went to his tomb looking for him before anyone else did. Mary Magdalene felt the merciful love of God in her heart and couldn’t live without it.

So, why is Jesus, who is so important to Mary Magdalene, often irrelevant to us?

We can come up with many reasons why something is irrelevant to us, and I’m going to focus on three reasons. First, something is irrelevant to us if it’s not real. This would be like stating that a time machine is irrelevant to us because it’s fictional. And since it has no basis in reality, a time machine is, ultimately, irrelevant to us, however entertaining such stories containing them are portrayed. Sin and our sinfulness, on the other hand are very real and must not be considered irrelevant to us. Consequently, the need for a Savior to save us from those sins should also be very relevant to us. The second reason something is irrelevant to us is that it is historically irrelevant. This would be saying that the Pony Express is irrelevant to us because it is historically out of date and meaningless to us today, which is very true. Jesus, on the other hand, even though he lived, died, and rose from the dead 2,000 years ago is not out-of-date and is very relevant today. As much as we think the latest technology, like the newest iPhone, is relevant to us, it will eventually fade into history becoming irrelevant. Jesus, on the other hand, is God and is never irrelevant to us. Technology, for as much as it can and does advance our lives, will never be able to forgive sins, but Jesus, who lived millennia ago, can and still does, as long as we seek Him! Jesus should always be more relevant to us than the passing technology we surround ourselves with. And the third reason something is irrelevant to us if we don’t think we need it. How often do we, as a culture, think that we don’t need a savior? So often we don’t know Jesus as our savior, because we don’t realize we need to be saved. But all we have to do is look at our culture to realize how sick and in need of a physician it is! ISIS, murder, abortions, euthanasia, and a progressively “me” centered society are all prime examples. Our world is sick and suffering, even though it claims that it isn’t. Our wold claims that it doesn’t need a savior, that Jesus is just some morally upright guy who lived 2,000 years ago and that He is irrelevant to us today. My brothers and sisters, Jesus has never been more relevant that He is right now! Never have we needed him more than now. We must become like Mary Magdalene who was willing to recognize her need for forgiveness and for a savior. We must be willing to seek out the remedy only found in Jesus, as she did. We must experience God’s merciful love so deeply that we can’t live without it.

Today, there is no more relevant message, no message more important for you to hear than this: God loves you and desires to forgive you! This message was so important that He was willing to suffer, die and be buried to show you that no sin can keep you from Him if only you will come back. Do you feel Him drawing you?

My friends, God loves you profoundly! He rose from the dead today, this Easter morning, to show us all that His Merciful love is invincible. Death itself was conquered by His love. Don’t you feel drawn to His merciful love?

Yes, my friends, Jesus is Risen! He suffered, died and rose to show us that He is not only our Savior but also to show us His undying, invincible, infinite love! It is this love that draws us here today, like Mary Magdalene, to the empty tomb. And it is this love that draws us here Sunday after Sunday, to be with Him again at the Last Supper and to receive the Eucharist, the Sacrament of His love. We come back week after week to be with Him on Calvary, as He shows us the unforgettable sign of His merciful love for us. And we are drawn back, each Sunday, to be reminded by the empty tomb, of Jesus’ Infinite, Invincible love. He is drawing us all here to His love. He is drawing YOU! Will you come?

Happy Easter!

Are We There Yet? – My Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent Year B

Yesterday I drove up to YMCA of the Rockies near Estes Park because the junior high kids from my diocese, the Diocese of Cheyenne, WY were on a retreat there and I was able to join them for part of the day including Mass and lunch.  As I was driving up there I saw a sign for the YMCA and it said: “YMCA: Are We There Yet?” and it gave additional driving directions to the YMCA.  The sign got me thinking…Are We There Yet?  At this point in Lent, the 5thSunday of Lent, I often find myself asking that same question.  Are we there yet?  Is it Easter yet?  Surely Lent must be almost over.  But in even asking that question it implies that I have forgotten why we are even in Lent to begin with.  If Lent is a time simply to endure and get through, then why do we do it?  That attitude implies that Lent has no purpose, which, of course, is false.  And so, my friends, today is a good day to call to mind our destination in Lent, the “why” to Lent.  The destination of Lent is what we approach to celebrate in just a couple weeks, the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, or to put it another way, the institution of the new and eternal covenant between God and man.  And so today we will delve into that mystery and unpack it.

First up, is Jeremiah who helps us begin to understand this mystery.  He prophesies about a “new covenant” that the Lord will make with the house of Israel.  Now those to whom Jeremiah was prophesying would have heard the word “covenant” and they would have immediately thought of the covenants of the Old Testament: the covenants God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, through King David.  And it is important to understand this word, covenant.  A covenant is a formal, solemn, binding pact between two parties.  In many ways, it is similar to a contract.  But the covenants of God are more than that.  God’s covenants are not merely an exchange of goods as if God will give us something in exchange for us giving something back to God, as in a contract.  Rather, God, in making those covenants in the Old Testament wanted to share His life with His people Israel, and Israel was meant to share life with God.  Covenants entail the sharing of life between the two parties; and a marriage covenant is what should come to mind here. Now we all know how the covenants in the Old Testament turned out, Israel kept failing to keep up the promises they made in the covenants; they kept worshiping false Gods and turning away from God with whom they were in this covenant relationship.  Jeremiah is prophesying during this time of Israel repeatedly breaking their covenant with God and Jeremiah says something incredibly profound, he says, “The days are coming, says the lord, when I will make a newcovenant with the house of Israel…it will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers…I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  And this is the covenant that will be fulfilled in Jesus centuries after Jeremiah said these words.  Just think of the words Jesus says during the last supper and the words we hear at each Mass when the priest holds up the chalice:

take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

It is through Jesus’ act of sacrifice and shedding of his blood that institute this new covenant with all of humanity.  Through His death, Jesus enacts a new covenant with us that brings all of us back into relationship with God.  Jesus, being fully God and fully Man was the only one to be able to do this perfectly, unlike sinful Israel.  Jesus acted on behalf of mankind in his own humanity and since Jesus is also fully God He is able to keep this covenant perfectly in place of mankind.  And we, by virtue of sharing humanity with Jesus, are brought into the new covenant, we are brought into an exchange of life with God.  And this is the life we enter into through our baptism.  We are all part of the new and eternal covenant.

So what do we do with this truth?  In other words, now what?  Well, we must live out that covenant relationship we have with God.  God loves us by sending His only Son to die for us and we must love him back similarly with our whole being.  And Jesus is the example to follow here in how exactly to do that.  The Letter to the Hebrews tells us about Jesus’ obedience to the Father, which led to His suffering and death.  And his suffering is the source of eternal salvation because it is the institution of the new covenant as I’ve already mentioned.  The key point here is the word obedience.  It comes from two Latin words meaning, “to listen to.”  And listening implies a relationship, as opposed to simply hearing.  I can hear the cars on University Boulevard and it can be completely by accident.  But, listening implies intentionality.  I am intentionally choosing to listen to someone and not just hearing them by accident.  In being obedient to the Father, Jesus was intentionally listening to Him and intentionally choosing to do what the Father asked him, because he was in relationship with Him.  So we, too, are to be “obedient” to God.  This is not something merely external, but we are called to listen to God because we, also, are in a covenant relationship with Him.  We are called not to be obedient to ourselves, but to God, meaning we must die to ourselves and let God be the reason for our actions, not our own whims.  This is what Jesus means when he says today, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  If we live only for ourselves and don’t live in obedience to God, our lives are ultimately meaningless.  A selfish life does not bear fruit; all we need to do is look at some of the people in Hollywood for examples.  But if we die to self and live for God, we will bear fruit in our lives, as is seen in the lives of the saints.  Now this obedience can be lived in many different ways, and today I’ll offer you only three suggestions.  Firstly, you can only listen to God and be obedient to Him if you actively dialogue with him.  So Sunday Mass should be your top priority because this is a key moment in which we, as Catholics, converse with God each week.  Secondly, you can listen to God speak to you through His Word in the scriptures, so devoting daily time for private prayer with the Bible would be a great way to listen to God in your daily life.  And my third and final suggestion: frequent the sacrament of confession.  We all fall short in our relationship with God, we all choose ourselves over God too often and need the sacrament to restore us in that covenant relationship God desires for us.  We all need help in dying to ourselves.

And so, my friends, as we approach Holy Week, I encourage you not to ask, “Are we there yet?” but rather to recall the awesome gift that Jesus gave us in his sacrifice and death on the cross: a new and eternal covenant for us with God, an eternal exchange of life with God.  Remember that we are living that covenant relationship with God and live these last few weeks of Lent “listening” to God in obedience out of love, through Mass, through prayer and through the sacraments.  Let us embrace these last days of Lent and draw closer to God, and not merely endure these last days of Lent.

How to love God more than Yourself – My Homily for the Friday after Ash Wednesday

I always struggled with Lent as a kid. Abstinence and fasting are not exactly part of the typical kid’s vocabulary and yet I had to do it because my parents, being good Catholics, made me. They told me I was doing it for Jesus, but that didn’t seem to matter to me.  Additionally Lent meant “giving up” something. I would usually give up soda or candy…but the biggest sacrifice was when one year I gave up video games … and boy did that hurt. I don’t think I ever did that again. So, as a kid, lent was always a pain and something I did not like to do but was forced to do. And that is exactly the reason it was so hard, I was forced to do it…it lacked purpose for me. I was focused on myself and not being able to do what I wanted and was unaware of the bigger reason behind lent. Namely: the conversion of heart aimed a closer relationship with Christ. And this leads me to two points I want to focus on today.

1. Fasting and Penance are meaningless without God.
2. With God, all sacrifice is infused with joy.

So first we must look at the real meaning of fasting and penance and this is exactly what Isaiah addresses today. The Israelites were fasting, but they were not fasting for God. At this point in Israel’s history, fasts were not focused on piety and worship of God, but were almost like holidays where the people gathered together. But with the unstable social and economic situation, most likely right after the Babylonian Exile, these occasions for fasting, rather than bringing the people closer to God in worship, led them to fight with one another. In effect, their fasting was ultimately meaningless.  Isaiah reminds the people that God is the reason for fasting and tells them how to keep God at the heart of fasting, by doing corporal works of mercy, focusing their actions on others, not themselves. So for us as well, serving Christ in others and not serving ourselves is exactly the kind of attitude we must have when we fast and do penance, because these acts are not simply isolated acts only affecting ourselves, but rather we can use our acts of fasting and penance to pray and help those around us. And these acts done in union with God bring us closer to God because they are a concrete way of saying to God, “God, I love you more than I love myself.” And this love, in turn, brings joy.

Jesus clearly articulates this kind of joy when he addresses the Pharisees today. The disciples cannot mourn because they are in the very presence of the bridegroom, Jesus himself! Jesus uses wedding imagery, calling himself the bridegroom to invoke the sense of the joy and elation that is real when one is in union with Christ. This is the same joy we are invited to enter into when we draw close to Christ, and in a special way we are invited to deepen this union with Christ during lent. We are called by Jesus to be in relationship with him, which brings joy to everything we do, including our acts of fasting and penance for Him.

And so, my brothers, I want to encourage you to remember two things as we journey through lent towards Holy Week:

1. Fasting and Penance are meaningless without God. Don’t focus on your sacrifice as something you are forced to do, like I did as a kid, but as something you do for God, out of love.

2. Remember to let joy infuse your acts of penance and sacrifice because of Jesus, the bridegroom, whom you are in relationship with. Make this lent a true sacrifice of joy.


The Rest of the Story – My Homily for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

“I shall not see happiness again.” Did you catch the desperation in Job’s voice as he said these words? These are the words of someone who has seemingly lost all hope in his suffering. Can you imagine Job saying this? Or can you imagine yourself or a loved one uttering these same words? Unfortunately I think many of us can relate all too well to the words of Job because of the suffering in our own lives. Job’s story is in a sense, our story too. We all experience suffering due to natural disasters, terrorism and war, or personal or family crises, or even because of our own sinfulness. We may be tempted to stop amidst this suffering and indeed lose hope. But, today, I am here to tell you, that wasn’t the end of Job’s story, and it definitely isn’t the end of your story or my story. And today I’m going to share with you THE story: the story of the Christian life. As Paul Harvey used to say, I’m here to tell you “the rest of the story.”

First we begin with Job. What we heard today was only a small part of Job’s whole story, a story that unfortunately you won’t hear in its entirety at Sunday Mass. And it’s important for us to understand Job’s hopelessness in light of his whole story, so for those of you who haven’t read Job, sorry but I’m going to spoil it for you. However, I encourage you to read Job on your own sometime, it’s a fascinating book. [pause] Scripture tells us that Job was a man “who was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1). Job was an upright man and yet, when we read the story, we see that God allowed Satan to afflict Job with suffering to try to get him to blaspheme God, which Job does not ever do. Satan afflicts Job by destroying all of his property, his servants, and killing his sons and daughters. Satan additionally afflicts Job physically with sores that covered his whole body and through all of this “Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:22, 2:10). The story unfolds as a series of speeches given by Job and his friends as they try to understand why God is seemingly punishing Job. This is where we find Job today, despairing and about to lose hope. But as we see the story unfold, God himself enters the dialogue with Job and reminds him that it is not Job’s place to understand God’s ways. God created the universe, not Job and Job is not meant to fully understand it. Job’s suffering, even though he was an upright man, fall into this realm of mystery; it is God’s way, not his way. Job finally realizes this and humbly bows in reverence before God (Job 42:6). The concluding narrative reveals that Job’s life is reversed, God rewards Job by removing his suffering completely. Job receives twice the amount of fortunes he had before and God blesses him with 7 sons and 3 daughters.

So how, you might ask, does Job’s story relate to us? Well, his story IS our story too. That is where the psalm and the Gospel weave Job into our bigger story. Job himself suffered greatly, but at the end of the day God rewarded his humility, faith, and prayer by removing his suffering and blessing him. Jesus wants to do the same thing for us today, amidst our own sufferings, whatever they might be. The Lord is the one who heals the brokenhearted, the wounded, those who suffer as we prayed so beautifully in the psalm. Jesus wants to heal us! Job’s story ends with his healing and blessing by God, but the Gospel reveals that there is more to the story than that for us.

In the Gospel there are four different movements that show this to us.

  1. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law.
  2. Simon’s mother-in-law responds in service.
  3. The disciples bring the whole town to Jesus to be healed.
  4. Jesus goes throughout all of Galilee preaching and driving out demons.

Firstly, we see that Jesus himself is moved by the suffering he sees around him and immediately when he learns that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever he grasps her hand and heals her. He desires to heal her, as he also desires to heal us. This leads directly into the second movement: Simon’s mother-in-law responds to Jesus’ healing by serving them; in other words she responds in discipleship, which is the Christian response to Jesus’ healing in our lives. What I find incredibly interesting is in the original language that the bible was written in, Greek, the word used to describe her response to Jesus’ healing is “διακονέι”, which comes from the Greek verb “διακονέω”, which literally means “to serve.” This is the same Greek word that the English word “deacon” comes from, which is incredibly personal for me because this is the same radical discipleship I now live out through my ordination to the diaconate, which many of you were present for. And I, like Simon’s mother-in-law have experienced Jesus’ healing in my own life; I have experienced God’s healing through prayer and the sacraments, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation, and I am responding to God by laying down my life in discipleship, as a deacon and as a future priest. This is the same response of service that Simon’s mother-in-law had. And so we move on, then, to the third movement in the Gospel. The whole town was brought to Jesus to be healed and Mark tells us that Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.” (Mk 1:34). Jesus didn’t just want to heal Simon’s mother-in-law but he wants to heal all those in the town who were also sick. Jesus’ healing is not limited; he healed the whole town in addition to Simon’s mother-in-law. This outward attitude of Jesus flows into the fourth movement in the Gospel, Jesus wants to go out to all of Galilee to preach, heal, and drive out demons, which he does; Jesus wants to heal the whole world. And Jesus ultimately does this because in his death on the cross he brings all of us, not just all of Galilee, but all of humanity, fully back into relationship with God, our heavenly Father. This is the ultimate healing of sinful humanity, administered by Jesus; He takes on sin itself for us in order to heal us and to redeem us. He suffers the punishment of sin, which is Death, for us. This is a punishment we all deserve because of our sinfulness but Jesus takes on this punishment for us so that we do not have to. This is at the core of why Jesus became man. His life and death accomplishes our salvation. Through Jesus each and every one of our souls is restored to a personal relationship with God. And very often we take this crucial truth for granted and think it’s this just a nice thing that Jesus does but doesn’t affect us personally. But if we really take to heart that Jesus heals us spiritually, it should draw out of us a response of supreme gratitude and love, the same response that Simon’s mother-in-law had, discipleship. And this can mean being a deacon or a priest, like myself or Fr. Cliff, or also being a religious sister, like Sr. Carol. But it can also mean being a good and loving father or mother to a beautiful family. It could also mean being a missionary proclaiming the Gospel to a third world country, OR even being a missionary proclaiming the Gospel in the day to day jobs here in the Powder River Basin, at the coal mines or in a job here in Gillette. Discipleship means following God first in you life, no matter where you are and no matter what job you have. And we can’t help but respond to God in this way because He heals and loves us first (cf. 1 John 4).

And so my friends, I want to encourage you: If you find yourself in Job’s position of thinking you’ll never see happiness again because of your suffering, remember it isn’t the end of your story! Remember that Jesus wants to heal you and He does heal you through His sacrifice on the cross. Know that Jesus is always with you amidst suffering and will always heal your soul when you reach out to him. And the healing that Jesus gives us is accessible to all through His sacraments and in a special way through the Eucharist and the Sacraments of Confession and Anointing of the Sick. Which, in turn, prompt from us a response of gratitude and love, in discipleship. And so, my friends, as we approach the Eucharist today I encourage you to ask Jesus to heal you in whatever area of your life you need it most. And, in gratitude and love, respond to God’s generosity by serving Him in all that you do in every aspect of your life.

Christ is King of the Universe, is He the King of yours?

If your life had a motto, what would it be?  If you could summarize your entire attitude about life in one simple phrase, what would you say?  There is a common one floating around our world today, YOLO.  It stands for “You Only Live Once.”  As if to say, do as much as you can, experience as much as you can because…you only live once.  YOLO!  Perhaps one would say, “I’m going to go skydiving because YOLO!”  And if you think about it, it is true, right?  … I mean, we do only live once.  But the attitude about life behind YOLO is based solely on the individual person.  It’s fundamentally selfish.  I’m going to experience all that I can for me because I only live once.  Now, in contrast, what if we were to see Mother Teresa’s motto on life?  I think her motto would be “I Thirst.”  As in “I thirst for the salvation of souls” and in a particular way to the poor she ministered to.  Her life and attitude towards life reflected her fundamental selfless attitude.  Rather than focus on herself in life, she focused on God and others, which led her to sanctity, to holiness and eternal life.  Or let’s look at another one of the worldy kings’ mottos, that of Burger King.  For the past 40 years, Burger King’s slogan has been, “Have it your way”*  signifying that you can order your hamburger any way YOU want it.  Like YOLO, it seems a bit selfish.  Essentially, I should approach Burger King selfishly and get a burger how I want it, not necessarily how they make it.  It’s about me, not others.  So today on the feast of Christ the King of the Universe, I have a proposal for you.  If you do not have a motto for your life or are looking for a new one, I propose that you take Burger King’s motto and flip it (no pun intended).  Instead of “Have it your way,” make your motto, “Have it His way.”  As in live your life God’s way.  Make your attitude that of living your life according to God’s will as king of the universe.**
For the past number of weeks the readings at Mass have focused on parables concerning the end of time and how we are to prepare for it so as to receive eternal life.  The parable of the ten virgins encouraged us to be prepared for the end times like the five wise virgins who were prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. The parable last week with the servants increasing the talents that their master gave them shows us how to prepare for the end times, by living a life in Christ, by increasing the talents God gives us. Today Jesus speaks directly about the moment of Judgement when he says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” This is the moment of judgement we will all undergo at the end of time. Jesus speaks about this moment by using the image of sheep and goats. Jesus himself is the shepherd who will separate the sheep from the goats and places the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Before we get too involved with the judgement at the end times, though, we must remember something about Jesus as Judge.  He is not only judge, but also shepherd with infinite love, as Ezekiel and the Psalm remind us. He is the shepherd that seeks out the lost, brings back those who stray, binds the injured, heals the sick, and refreshes our souls.  He is also, however, the shepherd that will destroy the sleek and the strong as he shepherds us rightly. So it is important to remember that Jesus is not a pushover shepherd, meaning we can’t do whatever we want and Jesus will be okay with it.  Jesus is a just shepherd who we must follow every day in order to be counted among the sheep who heed his voice.  This means we must strive each and every day to be like Him in order to be led by Him because each and every one of us (including me!) will end up in one of those two groups, the sheep or the goats, at the end of time. The sheep are the ones who are told by Christ, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  This is the group we all want to be in because they are headed for eternal life! The goats, on the other hand, are told, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” This group we know are headed to eternal punishment, to hell.
And both the sheep and the goats, had a life motto!  And I bet you can you guess what they were. The goats had the life motto of YOLO or “Have it your way.”  They are the ones who lived their lives for themselves.  And Jesus directly points this truth out to them.  Jesus tells them that whenever they saw someone who was hungry, thirsty, alone, naked, ill, or in prison, they ignored them. Their life was so much about themselves that they did not to reach out to those in need.  They neglected to see Jesus in those around them. They chose to live their life for themselves, they had it their way, rather than God’s way.  And because of a life lived for themselves, Jesus tells them they are going into the eternal fire of hell.  
A wise deacon once told me that the theme song in Hell would be “My Way” popularized by Frank Sinatra.  This song itself reflects on a lived lived for oneself..not for others and definitely not for God.  Here are some of the lyrics:  
“And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and ev’ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!”
The song makes it clear that this man approaching death proudly reflects that he lived his life his own way and not based on anyone around him.  But this kind of attitude is exactly what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of the goats.  The goats, too, lived their lives for themselves only and that only led them to eternal damnation.  This is the attitude we must avoid to receive eternal life. 
The sheep, on the other hand, have the opposite life motto, they “had it His way.”  They lived their life God’s way.  Whenever they saw someone hungry, thirsty, naked, etc. they reached out with charity to help them.  They lived their life for God through others.  I think this is beautifully modeled in Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in her thirst for the salvation of souls.  She not only saw Jesus in the poor, but brought Jesus to them by becoming poor herself and loving the poor as Christ.  There is a quote from Mother Teresa on the poor that I’d also like to share with you.  She says, “The shut-in, the unwanted, the unloved, the alcoholics, the dying destitutes, the abandoned and the lonely, the outcasts and untouchables, the leprosy sufferers – all those who are a burden to human society, who have lost all hope and faith in life, who have fogotten how to smile, who have lost the sensibility of the warm hand-touch of love and friendship – they look to us for comfort.  If we turn our back on them, we turn it on Christ, and at the hour of our death we shall be judged if we have recognized Christ in them, and on what we have done for and to them.”  Mother Teresa recognized Christ in everyone and recognized her own salvation was tied to how she loved with Christ here on earth.  She lived her life God’s way.
So now, today, we must ask ourselves, how do we be a part of sheep at the end of time and receive eternal life?  Well, it’s simple, we make their life motto our life motto.  We allow Christ, as the King of the Universe, to be King of the universe of our hearts.  We live today and each day “having it His way.”  We live modeling Mother Teresa’s own loving attitude by reaching out to those around us who are poor.  They may not be the same poor that Mother Teresa ministered to, but how many of us know someone who is lonely and could use a phone call from a friend, or a cup of coffee?  Or even visiting the elderly in the nursing homes this Advent and Christmas season would be a great way to get out of oneself and see Christ in others.  I know the young men and women in the confirmation program at my parish back home love going to the nursing home to sing carols for the elderly there.  They see Christ in the elderly they sing to.  The opportunities to recognize and love Christ in others are endless in each of our daily lives.  And so as we approach the Eucharist today, I invite you to ask Jesus for the grace to see Him in everyone you encounter.  And in a particular way, let us all pray for the grace to live our lives not by Burger King’s motto, “Have it your way”, but by the motto, “Have it His way.”
*on a side note, Burger King changed it’s slogan this year to “Be your way” instead of “Have it your way.”

**In a beautiful way this motto is found in the Blessed Virgin Mary’s words, “Be it done to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:38)

Christ is the King of the Universe….is He the king of yours?

Finding God in the Moment – My Weekend in Arizona

This past weekend I had the opportunity to head outside of Denver for the weekend.  This would be the equivalent to Seminary’s version of a “Fall Break.”  It occurred right after mid-terms for the majority of the seminarians and so it came at a very opportune time.  Many of us have felt the drag of the semester by now and were in desperate need of rejuvenation.  Just as Jesus, after feeding the 5,000, went up on a mountain to pray by himself (Matthew 14:23), we all, also, are very much in need of time away from studies and the busyness of life to retreat by ourselves and pray, to re-encounter God anew away from the distractions of our lives.  This weekend gave me that opportunity.  Now I didn’t go up a mountain as Jesus did, rather I went away from the mountains of Colorado to the desert of Arizona, which was where God wanted me to be.
I flew to Phoenix to see a really close friend of mine, Andy Miller, who was in seminary with me last year, but has since discerned that God is calling him elsewhere, so he now he lives at his home in Phoenix working at a local Catholic parish.  We spent time each day in prayer and just relaxed, enjoying spending time together, including playing the card game “Sequence” with Andy’s family and sitting on the roof of their house looking at the city.  Saturday was a fun filled day exploring some of the natural beauty in Arizona.  Stopping to see Meteor Crater (Experience the Impact!) was a spur of the moment decision that we made on our way north towards Flagstaff.  The site is the first “proven” meteor impact site in the United States.  The meteor struck the earth about 50,000 years ago creating a crater that is nearly one mile in diameter and almost 2.5 miles in circumference and about 550 feet deep.
The point of the day, though, was to see the Grand Canyon.  We arrived at about 4:30pm and was blessed to be able to stay and watch the sun set over the canyon.  We clambered out onto a rock that had a magnificent view of the canyon and just sat there watching the shadows slowly creep up the canyon and the sunlight disappear.  We prayed Evening Prayer for Sunday on that rock and soaked up the beauty of God in creation.  It was the first time in a while that I have allowed myself to just sit, relax, and enjoy something that beautiful.  The experience showed me once again the crucial importance of taking time out of our busy lives to enjoy life.  Too often I get caught up in what “needs” to be done and don’t allow myself to take time to enjoy the moments in life, I’m too concerned with what I have to do next, and in doing so, forget to live in the present.  God is the eternal “I AM”, not the “I WAS” or “I WILL BE.”  God is the God of the present and that is important to remember lest we forget to see God’s presence in our present.
Sunday was a beautiful day spent going to Mater Misericordiae Mission parish (the Latin Mass community in Phoenix).  What an incredibly beautiful liturgy the Solemn High Mass is!  I was graced by that experience and the community worshipping together.
Now I’m back at seminary, trying to remember to enjoy each God given moment in my life as I, again, try my best to study hard and pray even harder.  Keep me in prayer and know that I keep you in mine.
Meteor Crater
Andy and I overlooking the impact site.


Incredible view of the Grand Canyon with a great friend!


The natural beauty of the Grand Canyon.




Enjoying the moment.


From the rising of the sun to its setting, may the name of the Lord be praised.


Mater Misericordiae Mission parish.

Institution of Acolyte

Dear sons in Christ, as people chosen for the ministry of acolyte, you will have a special role in the Church’s ministry.  The summit and source of the Church’s life is the Eucharist, which builds up the Christian community and makes it grow.  It is your responsibility to assist Priests and Deacons in carrying out their ministry, and as special ministers to give Holy Communion to the faithful at the liturgy and to the sick.  Because you are specially called to this ministry, you should strive to live more fully by the Lord’s Sacrifice and to be molded more perfectly in its likeness.  You should seek to understand the deep spiritual meaning of what you do, so that you may offer yourselves daily to God as spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him through Jesus Christ.  In performing your ministry bear in mind that, as you share the one bread with your brothers and sisters, so you form one Body with them.  Show a sincere love for Christ’s Mystical Body, God’s holy people, and especially for the weak and the sick.  Be obedient to the commandment which the Lord gave to his Apostles at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I also have loved you.”

Brothers and Sisters, let us pray to the Lord for those chosen by him to serve in the ministry of acolyte.  Let us ask him to fill them with his blessing and strengthen them for faithful service in his Church.

God of mercy,
Through your only Son
you entrusted the bread of life to your Church.
Bless + our brothers
who have been chosen for the ministry of acolyte.
Grant that they may be faithful
in the service of your altar
and in giving to others the Bread of Life;
may they grow always in faith and love,
and so build up your Church.
Through Christ our Lord.

Each candidate goes to the Bishop, who gives him a vessel with the bread or wine to be consecrated saying:

Take this vessel with bread (wine)
for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Make your life worthy of your service
at the table of the Lord and of his Church.

[Prayers and texts taken from the Roman Pontifical]

Last night those of us in 3rd Theology that hadn’t yet received the ministry of acolyte were instituted by Archbishop Aquila at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, consequently I was one of those who received the ministry of acolyte.  This is the third minor order I needed to receive prior to diaconate ordination (the other two minor orders are the Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders and the Institution of Lector, both of which I have already received).  The ministry of acolyte is centered around the Eucharist.  It means that I will serve more closely at the altar during the Sacrifice of the Mass, assisting deacons and priests in their ministry of service (including purifying sacred vessels) and as an acolyte I have a special role in bringing Jesus in the blessed Sacrament to the sick.

This road I’m on towards Holy Orders keeps flying by faster than I expect.  It seems like only yesterday I was a nervous “newbie” entering seminary for the first time at Conception Seminary College and had no idea what God had planned for me.  I knew that I was trying to follow God and He led me to seminary.  I remember in those days thinking that ordination was “years” away and I had plenty of time to learn and prep for it.  But looking at it now, I can’t help but laugh at how naive I was.  Diaconate ordination for me is only months away and I realize now that I’m still not “ready” for it, but I have come to learn that He will provide for me if only I daily put my trust in Him.  During the past four years I have learned a lot about my Catholic Faith, but also I’ve learned a lot about myself.  I have been challenged; I have struggled with myself; I have laughed, cried, grown, healed, and am being ever more propelled by God to keep saying “YES” to Him.  I realize now I will never be “ready” as the inner perfectionist in me wants to be for ordination, but ultimately that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I keep saying YES to God my heavenly Father and keep placing my trust in Him.  And this is by no means easy!  The part of me that tends towards pelagianism keeps trying to do everything myself (my prayer, my studies, my practicum, my relationships with others, etc.), and do it perfectly on my own.  Last night was a reminder to me that this is not the case and cannot be the case.  I did not achieve this ministry by anything I did (by “doing” something myself), but God gave me this ministry as a way to give glory to Him, amid my own weakness and imperfection.  God, who is love, gives freely if only we are open to receiving Him.  He gives himself to us as a gift, principally in Jesus Christ.  I will never be able to merit God by “achieving him” by works.  My works will glorify God, but they will not earn me love.  These ministries I have received I have not “achieved” but have rather received them as a gift from an infinitely generous God who desires me to be His priest and this is one of the steps along that path.  I will never be the “perfect” acolyte (or lector, or priest), but rather will strive for perfection with God as my helper.

Lord, I ask for the grace to carry out your works with humility, help me to bring others to know the love you have for them by my life.

My brother and I after the Mass when I was instituted as an acolyte.
My family was able to come be a part of the liturgy.
Additionally Fr. Brian Hess’ parents (a second set of parents to me) came down to be a part of this event.
Deacon Joe joined in the celebration and sat at my table during the banquet following the Mass.