Altar of the Crucifixion at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Throughout Sacred Scripture, we can find numerous examples of God telling His Church how to live a life of holiness. We should always give thanks to God that whenever He gives us these commands and instructions He always gives us examples that we can live by. Sometimes it's the example of Christ’s life, other times it's example of someone from a Bible story, and other times it's the lives of the saints.

Today's readings remind us that to be a great leader means that we must give of ourselves to those we lead. This requires self-sacrifice. The Prophet Isaiah talks about the coming of the Messiah and that He will give “His life as an offering for sin”. The Gospel also gives a clear foreshadowing of Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion and warns the Twelve that they too will share in His “cup” and in His “baptism”. This leads to Jesus’ final point which is, “whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all”.

Christ is of course the prime example of what it means to live a life of self-sacrifice. And, as I already mentioned, God also give us the example of lives of many saints who gave their lives as a sacrifice for God and for others. I would like to talk about a couple of those saints.

Gianna Beretta was born near Milan, Italy in 1922. She grew up in the Catholic faith and later attended medical school. She graduated with a doctorate in medicine in 1949. She opened a clinic and soon became well known as a superb doctor and pediatrician. She was also well known for helping organize retreats and talks in local parishes and for reaching out to local youth. She married a man named Pietro Molla in 1955 and their new family began to grow from there. Three children were born to them over the next four years, but after that she sadly lost two babies before they were born.

In 1961 she was pregnant again and after two months she began experiencing pain. It was discovered that she had a tumor in her uterus. Such a tumor can result in complications which can be a risk for both the mother and the child. Gianna had a few options. One would be to have a hysterectomy and remove the uterus along with the tumor. This would of course lead to the death of her unborn child. Such a choice would be morally acceptable since the operation would be directed at saving the mother's life and not at ending her child's life. Gianna elected not to do this, but instead had surgery to remove the tumor while allowing the child to remain in the womb. Such a procedure was risky for both child and mother, but Gianna insisted that the surgeons do whatever was necessary to preserve the child's life. The surgery was successful and on Good Friday, April 20, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born by c-section. Dr. Gianna's life began to deteriorate quickly after that. She developed an infection that medicine of that day was not able to combat. She died seven days later. Little Gianna Emanuela grew up to become a doctor like her mother and was present at her mother's beatification in 1994. St. Gianna is remembered today as a wife, mother, doctor, and a pro-life witness. She died making sure that her daughter would have life.

Another saint who is a great example of self-sacrifice is St. Maria Goretti. Another Italian saint, Maria was born in 1890. Her father died when she was just ten years old, but she continued to help her mother with the farm they lived on and helping with the care of her younger siblings. Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation were of great importance to her, and she went to both on a regular basis even though the church was a two-hour walk away.

The Goretti family lived next to another family called the Serenellis who also worked as tenant farmers on the same farm. A son of that family was named Alessandro. During his teenage years he read a lot of violent and impure articles in newspapers. When Alessandro was twenty and Maria was only eleven, he began making advances towards her. Maria never gave in though, knowing that what he was suggesting should wait until marriage.

One day in July of 1902, everyone was working in the fields while Maria watched over her sleeping baby sister. Alessandro sneaked back to the house and grabbed a knife. No one else was at the house, so he grabbed Maria and tried to force his way with her. She was more afraid of Alessandro's salvation, then her own safety. She said, “No! No! No! What are you doing? Do not touch me! It is a sin – you will go to Hell!” Alessandro began stabbing her with the knife, at least fourteen times. Her cries for help could not be heard because of farm equipment being used in the field, but her baby sister awoke and began to cry. Alessandro hid himself as adults realized something was wrong and ran to the house. Doctors tried to save her, but couldn't and she died twenty hours later. On her deathbed she forgave Alessandro and prayed that he would repent. Her chief concern was for Alessandro even then. Alessandro was arrested and sentenced to thirty years in prison. He spent the first eight without remorse or regret for what he had done. One day he had a dream in which Maria appeared to him in a field of flowers as she held out white lilies to him. He finally repented begged God's forgiveness. On Christmas Eve, 1937, Alessandro visited Maria's Mother and begged her forgiveness. She said she could hardly refuse since her daughter had been so willing to forgive as well. They then attended Midnight Mass together. Maria's Mother was present at Maria's canonization in 1950.

St. Maria sacrificed herself rather than to succumb to impurity. She sacrificed herself to save Alessandro from impurity as well. St. Gianna sacrificed herself so that her daughter could live. Both of these modern day saints teach us what it means to sacrifice oneself for the love of God. They followed in the footsteps of Christ and have shared in His baptism. They were servants on earth, but are now great in Heaven. May their prayers and examples lead us to Heaven as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

We all have many different traditions in our lives. Some of them involve family traditions, especially around birthdays and holidays. Even meals at those celebrations can have traditions connected to them. There are community traditions connected around events and celebrations. Even parishes have certain traditions that are unique to them. As a priest, I have learned that there are a great number of different traditions at each parish that I have been involved with. I have also learned that it is important for me to understand those traditions and respect them. I shouldn't come barging in and change everything just because I think I know how to do things best. In fact, I've gained a great deal of knowledge and wisdom simply by observing various parish traditions over the years.

People in general seem to like traditions. We like that we can look forward each year to a certain way of doing things. We can't help but think of all the memories of the past and we hope and pray that we can repeat the positive memories and avoid the negative ones. In an otherwise constantly changing world, is good to have those reliable traditions to fall back on.

Unfortunately, even traditions eventually come to an end. When I was growing up, my family had a tradition of getting together with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins for Christmas and Easter. Now that my cousins are married and have children of their own, making my aunts and uncles grandparents themselves, the old family traditions have changed and have been replaced by new ones. Some of you may have experienced similar changes in family traditions.

Community traditions end and change as well. As a community grows or shrinks and as other dynamics of the community change over time, traditions may gradually change to adjust to the community. The same can be said of parish communities too. We have all been going through quite a bit of transition over the last two and a half months as we have been clustering. Already we have had to change a few traditions in our parishes, but my hope is that the majority of our traditions remain the same. My point is that traditions can and do sometimes change.

God is of course the one thing in the entire universe that never changes. The Earth is always changing. Even rocks can erode over time and be shifted around. The universe is still expanding, meaning that the stars we see at night will look very different a million years from now. But God is constant. His love and mercy never change. Because God is Himself so unchanging, He also made certain things which He intended to be true from the beginning of time until the end.

Jesus speaks specifically about one of those truths in the Gospel for today. He is talking about what we call the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. “From the beginning of creation”, Jesus tells us, “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” He refers to the very same passage that we heard in the first reading from Genesis. He is saying that from the very beginning, the Sacrament of Marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman. He is also talking about the permanence of marriage. Both of these statements fly in the face of what our society has been telling us. Many think it is okay to get married outside of the Church; many think that you can get a divorce and remarry as often as you like; many have come to believe that same sex marriages are good and the way of the future. But these readings show that God clearly has a interest in marriage (otherwise He never would have said anything about this topic), that it should be in a Church so that God can bless it, that it is meant to be a union that is for ever, and that it is meant to be between a man and a woman. Some things change in the world, but this teaching has not. It has been from the beginning.

Another truth that has not changed with the passage of time is the truth of respecting life. Sacred Scripture has a lot to say about respecting human life, and so the Catholic Church has long promoted respect for all human life from conception until natural death. October is respect life month and many people around the country are involved with 40 Days for Life and are praying outside of abortion clinics. When we say “respect life” in a Catholic Church, I get the impression that most people think of working to end abortions, but I would encourage us to keep in mind that we are called in other ways to respect human life as well. For instance, euthanasia is considered moral wrong, and the Catechism argues against the use of capital punishment. We are also called to respect the dignity of the human person. That means helping the poor and disenfranchised; helping the jobless to have jobs and workers to be given proper rights. It means visiting the sick and imprisoned. We don't have to all physically do each of these things, but we do need to support them and not try to stop our neighbors from doing their part either.

We are also called to take care of our common home. As you may know, Pope Francis released his latest Encyclical, called Laudato Si, this last May. The opening words in Latin are, “Laudato si, mi Signore”, which means, “Praise be to you, my Lord”. These words were taken from St. Francis of Assisi's famous prayer, “The Canticle of the Sun”. The Feast of St. Francis is October 4th. As this encyclical clearly shows, our Holy Father not only shares a name with the famous saint, but also a deep desire to care for the Earth that God has given to us. We are asked to look at how can we avoid wasting our natural resources and avoid putting harmful chemicals into it.

Again, none of what I have talked about is anything new. It isn't a change from out of the blue. God has been asking this of us from the beginning. Yes it can be a challenge, but God is asking us to meet this challenge with faith in Him and with a love for others.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The readings for today remind us that God bestows His blessings upon His people as He wills, not according to how we think it should be. It is human nature to think that whatever group we are a part of must be the right group. A part of that feeling many times includes the often erroneous assumption that “God favors my group.” When we have that mindset we are not too different from Joshua in the First Reading who comes to Moses and tries to get him to silence two men. These men were supposed to be at a gathering, but were not. God still decides to give them the gift of prophesy, however, and they begin prophesying. These men didn't follow what they were told. Why should God still bless them? That is God's decision, Moses explains.

We also hear the Apostle John come to Jesus and report that a man who was not a disciple of Jesus casting out demons in Jesus' name. Again, John seems to be caught up in that assumption that God only blesses my group. This man doesn't follow our group. He hasn't been through the same experiences and trials that I have. He can't just come in and preach and cast out demons like the rest of us. That's not fair! Jesus, stop him! But Jesus tells him not to prevent him. “Whoever is not against us is for us”, He says. Even though he is not a part of our group, God has still chosen to give him special gifts and the ability to cast out demons. We shouldn't prevent him; he is still doing God's work.

To use a sports metaphor, God isn't interested in “cheering” on one team over another. I recently watched a video of a commencement speech given by legendary University of Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz. During his speech, he talked about a time when Notre Dame would be playing the University of Miami. The media was talking the big game up as being “The Catholics versus the convicts”. He said he didn't think that was fair because not everyone on Notre Dame's team was Catholic. Anyway, Coach Holtz comes into a lecture hall before the game and a priest gets up to give an invocation. The priest told the coach that he was a Catholic priest and the chaplain for the Miami football team. He said, “We came all the way up here to beat you, but I want you to know that God doesn't care who wins this game”. After Father was done, Coach got up and said, “I agree with you, Father. God doesn't care who wins this game, but I promise you His mother does”.

We would all like to be able to say that God is rooting for our team and wants our team to win. That is true whether we are talking about actual sports teams, or groups that we are a part of, or even our own religion. The priest in that story was correct, God doesn't care if one team does better than another. One could say that it is as if we are all on the same team. Another way to say it is that there are separate teams, but those teams are so similar, that the differences are rather small.

In 2008, a movie came out called “Leatherheads”. George Clooney plays an NFL pro-football player in 1925 named Dodge Connelly. Dodge plays for the Duluth “Bulldogs” which is based off of the real life Duluth “Eskimos” who played in Duluth, MN in the 1920's. During the 20's, professional football had very few followers. Dodge wants to turn the NFL into a well respected business. Besides the flimsy looking pads and leather helmets the players wore that look like they couldn't stop a fly let alone a 200 pound linebacker, another big difference between football then and football today is that there were fewer rules about how the game was played. Thus, the players utilized some very clever trick plays to try to pull one over on the opposing team. They hide the ball under their jersey, they toss the ball back and forth to prevent anyone from tackling the ball carrier, and use whatever tricks they can think of to move the ball.

During the big game of the movie, Duluth and Chicago are tied. It's a rainy day and the field is a complete mud bath. The players are so covered in mud that no one can recognize the color of the jerseys. The only way to tell the teams apart is to look at the direction they're running in. Dodge sees that Chicago is about to score and win the game so he comes up with a new trick. At the end of a play, he punches out a Chicago player and then lines up with Chicago for the next play. They carry off the knocked out player and send out another Duluth player. Still pretending to be a Chicago player, Dodge gets the ball and runs it in for a touchdown. Everyone thinks Chicago won until it is revealed that a Duluth player had the ball.

Such a trick play would never work in today's game, but it makes for an exciting part of the movie. My point in bringing it up is that there are many different Christian denominations out there. Even looking at a local phone book will show there are many just in the Twin Ports area. The readings today are a good reminder that even though one could say there are many different teams out, we still have a lot in common with each other and a lot to learn from each other as well.

A few years ago, I had a neat discussion with some youth and young adults. Some were Catholic while others were of various protestant denominations. The topic came up about the relationship between all these Christian denominations. Someone asked me what I thought was necessary for ecumenism: that is, Christians coming together to work in unity. I told them that I believe it will take mutual respect. First of all we need to respect the similarities between all Christians. The biggest similarity being that we believe in Jesus Christ our savior. For centuries, Catholics and protestants seemed to focus more on the differences rather than on the similarities, but we really have a lot in common. Second, I believe we need to have a healthy respect for the differences we have as well. If we don't we risk trying to force everyone into the same mold. When we respect the differences and the similarities, we have a chance to learn from each other and to help each other towards Heaven. That is what Christ wants for us. And that should be our goal as well.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I don't think it is a big secret that I love it when we have children here in the Church. I think deep down, people in general love having children around. Yes, there can be those times when it is not so enjoyable. No one likes to see a child upset; sometimes a baby's cry can be a bit distracting. Sometimes I'm asked, “Father, do you get distracted when a child is crying or making noise?” The answer is, “Yes, I do get distracted. But I can also get distracted by a fly buzzing in my ear or hearing an emergency vehicle going down the highway”. Distractions happen sometimes. Despite those annoyances or discomforts we may have experienced at times, I believe they are offset greatly by the more positive experiences we have with children in our midst. I'm talking about the joy we have in hearing a child's laughter or seeing a child's smile as they wave hello. There is nothing like listening to a child sing his or her favorite song, whether it from the radio or from church, even if it is slightly off-key. There are many different things that children say and do that in turn make us smile and laugh.

All children have a wonderful innocence about them that makes all this possible. We adults live in a world of cynicism and doubt in which everything is questioned and criticized. It brings us back to joy when we can see that childhood innocence at work once more. One of my favorite TV shows has been NCIS. One of the main characters in the show is named Leroy Jethro Gibbs. This character is known for being rough, but in several episodes, the other characters are amazed to see how well he gets along with children. One character pointed this out and Gibbs replies, “You know why I get along with children so well? It's because when they lie they don't have the guile to get away with it.” In his own gruff manner, Gibbs is talking about a child's innocence. An adult can learn to maintain a lie and to keep the truth a secret. But that takes time. A child is too innocent to keep it up.

There was a writer in the early 20th Century named G. K. Chesterton. He was a great Catholic theologian and philosopher. In one of his books, titled “Orthodoxy”, he talks about how we humans have lost our ability to be amazed at the world around us. We simply take everything for granted. A small child, on the other hand, is easily amazed at the most simple and mundane things. He gives the example of the opening of a door. Such an action holds very little consequence to us, but to a small child the opening of a door is the most amazing thing in the world at that moment. As we get older, we loose that sense of wonder. Chesterton's point is that we need to return to that sense of wonder and innocence. Even within our faith, we need that innocence and that wonder of what Christ is doing for all of us.

Christ also talks about the innocence of childhood. He responds to an argument that the Twelve have on their way to Capernaum about who is the greatest. The answer from Christ is simple yet amazing: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” To help drive His point home, Jesus uses the example of a child. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me”. When was the last time any one of us was told to act more like a child? Yet this is precisely what Christ is telling us here. We need to be innocent, free of guile, open to the wonders and amazement of the world around us. It is then that we can become more like Christ and be the servant of all.

So obviously the goal is to return to that innocence that we all started out with and to grow in our relationship with God. But what happens if we don't do that? What happens if we choose to ignore these words and simply focus on who is the greatest and who is the most powerful or influential and simply doing what we want to do? The readings today talk about that as well.

We continue hearing this week from the letter of St. James. Today the Apostle talks about the difference between those who seek innocence and purity and those who seek their own selfish wants and desires. When we seek that childhood innocence that I have been talking about and seek the “wisdom from above” we find what is pure, peaceable, gentle, and compliant according to James. We find peace, righteousness and sincerity. The more we strive for these good things, the more good things will be produced. However, if we instead seek only what we want and not what is from above, we find something different. “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice”. Sin and disorder begets more sin and disorder. He goes on to talk about how it is our passions, specifically our disordered passions, that lead to killing and war and conflicts.

This leads us to the conflict that we hear about in the First Reading. The Book of Wisdom talks about how the “wicked one” plots to do many cruel things to the one who claims to come from God (even to putting him to a shameful death). He even suggests putting the just one to the test to see if God will rescue him from their clutches.

One does not have to be a Biblical scholar to see that this passage foreshadows what will happen in Christ's Passion. Our Gospel reading for today includes a prediction from Christ about His upcoming Passion. “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him”.

Why this cruelty? Why this strong desire to silence those who come with the blessings of God? It is because those evil men do not have the innocence and purity that Jesus is talking about. They are ruled by jealousy and selfish ambition. They are more interested in what they want, than in what God may want for them.

Let us not seek our own selfish gains, brothers and sisters. But let us strive for what is good, pure and holy. Let us seek for that childhood innocence once more, so that we can receive Christ in our lives.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Imagine if you suddenly no longer had the ability to hear or the ability to speak clearly. Yet despite this limiting handicap, you were still expected to make a significant contribution to society. Failure to do so will mean chastisement and separation from the rest of the community. If we could imagine what that might be like, then we can step into the world of the poor man who was brought before Jesus in the Gospel today. This poor man lacks the sense of hearing and is also described as having a speech impediment, suggesting that he still had the ability to speak, but it was difficult to understand him. This would have made communication with others difficult, to say the least, and would no doubt have made him the victim of ridicule and mockery.

I remember participating in a seminar on group dynamics once. A group of four of us was given a task to do as a team. We were told that we would have to build something, but of the four of us, the first was given an instruction sheet with a picture of what we were to make, but he couldn’t show anyone else the picture and could not help with making the object. He could only read the instructions and describe what he saw. The second person was not allowed to talk, the third couldn’t use his hands, and the forth had to keep his eyes closed throughout the activity. Once we were assigned what we could and could not do (I was the one who had to keep my eyes shut), the instructions were read. We had to construct a small table out of only computer paper and duct tape. It had to have a flat top and it had to be tall and wide enough for the roll of duct tape to pass between the legs. All people in the group had to participate as they were able. I remember thinking at first that the task seemed pretty easy, but then I quickly realized how hard it would be for me to participate with my eyes closed. I could certainly feel my way around to figure out what the others had done, and I would ask questions to get feedback from those who could talk, but I was more likely to knock things over with my hand then to be actually helping with the goal.

One of the other group members had a better idea for me. The roll of duct tape was handed to me and I was told to start tearing off three inch long strips of tape. This was pretty easy for me to do. The one who couldn’t talk rolled some paper into tubes to make table legs and used the tape to keep them rolled and to actually construct the table.

We were eventually able to finish the task. It took team work, as well as patience with each other. We also had to be clear in our communication. We couldn’t just say, “Hand me that thing over there” or “Make it short, but not too long”. We had to be specific: “Hand me the tape”, “Make the strips about 3 inches in length.” Finally, we also had to trust each other. Any one of us could have made doing this task more difficult or led the others astray or start criticizing the less than perfect work we were doing, but we trusted that we were working for a common goal.

So what does this have to do with what is happening in the Gospel today? Sometimes we not unlike that man in the Gospel, our own limitations make it hard to get certain things done. Sometimes we need to trust that others are going to help us get thing done, like I did in that team building exercise. Sometimes the help comes from Christ, just as it did for the man in the Gospel.

If we look back at our first reading, we can see that the Prophet Isaiah was already talking about how the Messiah would heal those who were blind, deaf, lame, and mute, hundreds of years before Christ was born. The Prophet tells us that we need not fear, for our own God is coming with vindication and recompense to save us. He uses beautiful imagery as he describes the eyes of the blind being opened, the ears of the deaf able to hear, the lame leaping like a stag, and the mute able to sing. This is a very powerful image that I’m sure stuck in the heads of the Jewish people who learned it. When Jesus performed the miracle in today’s Gospel, the crowd has no problem recognizing that He is fulfilling what the Prophet Isaiah had said. We are told, “They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” What these readings should teach us is that Christ is meant to come and heal and save us.

This Gospel reading also has a very strong connection with our baptism and our baptismal calling. The Rite of Baptism that we celebrate in the Catholic Church has many distinct parts and various blessings within the overall celebration. One of these blessings is called the “Ephphetha Rite”, named after that unique word that Jesus says during the miracle which means, “Be opened!” During an infant baptism, the priest or deacon touch the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb while saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive His word, and your mouth to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father. Amen.” So that prayer is asking that God bless the child so that he or she will hear the Word of God and proclaim Christ’s faith to all people. That same prayer was said over all of us so that we can hear and proclaim as well.

Despite the fact that we received that blessing, many of us are still afraid to listen to God and to help spread the faith and Good News with our mouth. The readings today should be a reminder to all of us that we need the blessings and the help of Christ in order to get past our fears and be willing to do the work our Baptism sends us on. As brothers and sisters in Christ we can also encourage each other in this calling.

My point is simple: we are not perfect and we have our limitations. However, Christ is able to give us the blessings we need to fulfill the calling He has given us from Baptism; to tell others about Him. Let us not fear, but trust in His help.

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

What comes from God, is holy. That is the basic “gist” of the theme for today's readings. We are being invited to trust that what comes from God is holy, and therefore is what's best for us. We should not replace something that is holy with something inferior. 
In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy we are told, “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe”. And further along we are told, “In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” As I said before, what comes from God is holy. The statutes and decrees come from God and we are to observe them. But we mustn't replace them either. Sometimes we are tempted to subtract things that we do not agree with personally or add things that we think are better. We are being told not to do that. We'll get to why that's the case in a moment.

The second reading comes from the Letter of James and continues on the this theme of what is holy. “All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,” we are told. “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” We are invited to accept the Word of God into our hearts. It is holy and perfect. We could not want for anything better.

The Gospel puts things into perspective. The Pharisees think they have finally trapped Jesus as they try to call out His disciples for violating one of the many dietary laws that the Pharisees enforced. Namely, that a person should cleanse their hands before eating. This refers to a ritual cleansing that had more do do with making the person spiritually clean, as opposed to being hygienic. It should be noted as well that this rule about washing hands comes from the “tradition of the elders”. These were unwritten rules that were passed on orally but were given the same importance as the written laws of the Old Testament. So they weren't given by God, but were added by human beings. Jesus helps to explain why this matters. “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Now on one hand, Jesus is simply responding directly to what the Pharisees had said. Outside things don't defile a person: eating food without ritually washing one's hands is not going to bring about sin or defilement on ourselves. It is what comes from within that causes sin. As Jesus explains later on, it's what comes from a person's heart, like evil thoughts, murder, envy, greed, and the like that are the real problem. 
When we think about these words of Jesus a bit more, we can see that He is also talking about the very same thing that we have been talking about with Deuteronomy and the Letter of James. Everything that is outside of us, whether we are talking about all of creation, or the words of Scripture that God has given us, or the statutes and decrees and commandments that God gave us, has been made by God and is therefore good. There is nothing wrong with God's words or with what He made. What comes from within, however, that's another story. 
We all know that we have many different choices that we can make everyday. We can choose to do what God wants us to do, but we can also choose to do what we want to do. Doing what God wants is of course good and holy. Doing what we want, however, sometimes leads to things becoming twisted and distorted and might lead to sin. That is why the reading from Deuteronomy tells us not to add to or subtract from the commandments that have been given to us. God's word is already perfect and holy. If we try to add our own ideas of what will make it better or take away the parts we think are silly or unimportant, we are only adding what has come from us and getting farther from God.

Sin can be defined as a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission against the law of God. When we sin we are basically taking something that God has given us and twisted it and deformed into something that we want for ourselves. We can look at the Seven Deadly Sins as examples of this. The sin of pride is at the root of all other sins. But there is such a thing as a healthy pride. We can take pride in our work, pride in our community, pride is our parish. It becomes a sin when we allow that good pride to become twisted and allow our own pride to get in the way. Greed is the disordered desire for pleasure and possessions. It's okay to want to feel good and have nice things, but we can't let ourselves be overly possessive. Sometimes we might feel jealous of another person's talents or possessions. This can encourage us to work harder to attain praiseworthy goals and to celebrate other people's success, but it can also turn into sadness and the desire to possess those things ourselves, which is envy.

We have probably all watched the news and felt righteous anger when we hear about crime and injustice around the world. This type of anger can encourage us to work for good in the world. But if it gets twisted into the sin of anger or wrath, it can lead to worse sins. With gluttony we overindulge in food and drink. We need food and water to survive, but we don't have to go overboard. We also need time to rest and to recharge our batteries after doing some hard work. But if we allow it to twist into laziness, we fall into sloth. Finally, lust is simply the twisting of love. If love is about putting someone else's needs before our own, then lust is using another person for our own wants and desires. 
Sin is about doing our own thing; we are basically adding to or subtracting from the law of God. Virtue, the opposite of sin, is about doing God's will. May God give us the virtues necessary to continue following His will and all His commandments.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Every so often, we reach a moment in our lives that requires us to make a stand and say what we believe. Those moments might fill some of us with fear or anxiety that others may look at us differently or change how they treat us. There is some truth to those fears. Saying what we believe can change how others look at us or think about us. It makes us vulnerable. Yet, if we give in to our fear and never admit to what we believe, what are we doing here in this Church? How can we say we are Christian, unless we at some point profess what we believe?

The readings give very powerful examples of how we are all called to profess what we believe. It starts with the Book of Joshua. The reading we just heard comes at the very end of that book. Joshua, the leader who took over after Moses died, has lead the people of Israel on a successful military campaign to reclaim the Promised Land. Each of the Twelve Tribes are free to find a section of land to settle on. They are no longer forced to wonder the desert as they did for forty years, but can finally build homes and raise crops and livestock. With this new found freedom is also a choice, as Joshua points out. Who are they going to serve? Who will they worship? They can choose to serve the various pagan gods that all the other people in that area choose to serve, or, they can choose to serve the Lord, God. Joshua tells them, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. Joshua makes a stand and professes what he believes: that God is Lord of all. The rest respond by agreeing to serve the Lord as well.

The Gospel today brings us to the end of the Bread of Life Discourses. For the past several weeks we have heard Jesus explaining that He is the Bread of Life and that the way to eternal life is to eat His flesh and drink his blood. Today the disciples begin to complain about how hard this is to accept. Notice Jesus' response. Elsewhere in the Gospels, when the disciples have difficulty with something Jesus says, He responds by explaining to them what He means. This often includes explaining all the symbolisms within the parables. But here, He doesn't do that. He doesn't say, “Hey wait guys! I was only speaking symbolically.” Instead, He actually reiterates what He already said. “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.” In other words, He is saying that He has been speaking the truth: The bread of this world only feeds you in this world. What you need for eternal life is the Bread of Life. Jesus is that Bread of Life and so we must eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Now the disciples have a choice to make. Sadly, many of them leave: They can't accept what Jesus is saying. The Twelve Apostles, however, make a very strong profession of faith when Jesus turns to them. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” We are called to make this same profession of faith whenever we come before this alter to receive the Most Holy Eucharist.

Have you ever thought about what the word AMEN really means? The simple definition of the word tells us that it means “I believe”. When we say it at the end of a prayer, we are saying that we believe the words that we just said. We also say it in response to the priest or deacon or extraordinary minister saying “The Body of Christ” or “The Blood of Christ”. I have every so often run into well meaning Catholics who, instead of saying “AMEN”, proclaim the words “I believe” when they receive communion. As I said, they mean well. I think their reasoning is that “I believe” holds more meaning to them. Plus, both responses mean the same thing. But when you take a moment and consider what it is that you are saying “AMEN” to, you realize that it means so much than “I believe”. It is much more accurate to say that it means, “I believe with all my heart and soul that this truly is the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ who died for me.” The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. Shouldn't our response match that?

Our faith tradition is full of Eucharistic miracles and stories about the power of the Eucharist. I would like to share one of them with you. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, famous for teaching the faith on his TV shows, was once asked by an interviewer who was his greatest inspiration. People thought it might be the Pope or another bishop or priest, but instead he said it was a Chinese girl.

Not long after the communists took over China, soldiers came to a little village, arrested the Catholic Priest in town, and locked him in the rectory. The priest could only watch from his window as the soldiers entered the church, breaking things. They even broke into the Tabernacle and threw out the ciborium, scattering the Eucharist across the floor. The priest knew there were exactly 32 hosts in the Tabernacle. The soldiers left, but failed to notice a little girl who had been praying in the back of the church and saw everything.

That night, the priest could see a small shadow moving towards the church. It was the little girl who had managed to sneak past the guards. She entered the church and spent an hour of adoration before the Eucharist on the floor. After the hour, she bent down and picked up one of the hosts with her tongue and consumed it (because lay people weren't allowed to touch the Eucharist with their fingers). The priest watched her do this each night for 31 nights. On the 32nd night, she came and prayed and consumed the last host. As she was leaving, she made a noise that woke the sleeping guard. He chased her down and killed her.

Archbishop Sheen said that after first hearing that story, he was inspired to spend at least an hour of adoration before the Eucharist everyday. That is how powerful and important the Eucharist truly is. We are called to profess our belief in the Eucharist. May our AMEN not be just another throwaway line that we say just to fit in, but let it mean that you truly believe it and would lay down your life to prove it.