Sunday, May 21, 2017

For Good

                These past few days have brought back many great memories.  On Friday, I met up with two “old” friends after our quarterly tradition of “lunching” lapsed for more than a year.  We joked, we laughed, we shared our stories and lots of memories.  Yesterday, I attended the ordination of 15 new deacons for our diocese.  I met up with my formation classmates there, some of whom I haven’t seen for several years.  We joked, we laughed, we shared our stories and lots of memories.  By the end of the day, it was clear to me that these people and the memories we share are so much more than just part of my history.  They have shaped who I am – for good. 

                There’s a saying in the world of moral philosophy that “we do what we are, and we are what we do.”  Say that ten times fast!  This somewhat circular adage means that our nature (who we are) drives our actions, while our actions (what we do) form our nature.  The same can be said of the people and events of our lives.  Good, bad or indifferent, the people and events in our lives form us; they shape us; they contribute to who we are and what we do.  As Elphaba and Glinda sing in Wicked:

People come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn.  And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them.  And we help them in return.  Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.[1]

Every person, every experience changes us one way or another, and they always bring an opportunity for growth.  The question, then, is whether our interactions and experiences will change us for the better, or just for good.  God offers a change for the better in every moment of our lives.  We need to be open to it; we need to seize every chance meeting, every challenge we face, find the good that can come out of it and act on it.  The people and events of our lives will change us.  How they change us is up to us.

I’ve been blessed with a great life filled with wonderful friends and family.  I’ve had my share of challenges, but through God’s grace, I’ve experienced so much of the good he has offered through them.  These past few days reminded me of how much the people and events of my life have shaped who I am today.  And I thank God that, for the most part, they have changed me for the better – for good.

[1] Stephen Schwartz, “For Good,” Wicked (2003).

Saturday, May 13, 2017


          In one of my diaconate formation classes, we got on the topic of our vocations – our calling to the diaconate.  Several class members shared how, during a pulpit announcement about the upcoming diaconate formation class, they felt as if the speaker were talking directly to them, as if they were the only ones in the room.  Others described conversations where someone unexpectedly suggested that they consider becoming a deacon, without ever having given it a moment’s thought before that.  My calling was nothing like those.  But no matter how the call comes, we’re all called to fulfill our baptismal mission of priest, prophet and king (or queen if you prefer).  That’s the message of today’s readings.

           Our readings today speak of vocations.  Saint Peter reminds us that we’re “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation . . . so that [we] may announce the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  (1 Peter 2:9).  In our Gospel, Jesus calls us to action, proclaiming that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and will do greater ones than these.”  (John 14: 12)  And we’re given a wonderful example of the communal discernment of vocations in our first reading where, “[f]aced with the inability to care adequately for all the people, ‘the twelve,’ . . . put their trust in the discernment of the entire community to resolve their problem.”[1]  It’s kind of funny that their solution was deacons.  Most think we’re the problem!

We all have a vocation – sometimes many.  The Catechism tells us that our vocation is the “calling or destiny we have in this life and hereafter” and that “the fulfillment if this vocation is eternal happiness.”[2]  While our occupation may be our vocation, there is a difference:  an occupation is what we do; a vocation is who we are – it’s deeper; it’s spiritual.  In the Christian context, we receive our vocation at baptism, where we are imprinted with Christ’s indelible spiritual character and take on his mission as priest, prophet and king.  You could say that “[w]e share in the priesthood and kingship of Jesus through the grace of our Baptism.”

          Now, this whole vocation thing may sound like a pretty tall order, and it is, but rest assured that God has given us all we need to carry out our vocations.  The divine empowerment that Jesus himself received from God is available to all who believe in him.  That’s’ why Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that those who believe in him will accomplish even greater things.[3]  It’s a matter of trust.  “The Gospel tells us that Christ gave his life for us and has entrusted us with his mission.  In turn, he asks for our trust so that as we take on his mission, we will bring it to fruition in new and greater ways.”[4]  God will give us all we need to fulfill our vocation, and then some, if only we heed the words of the Psalmist:  “Lord let your mercy be upon us as we place our trust in you.”  (Psalm 33: 22)

          Each one of us is called, and each one of us is empowered with the gifts to fulfill our calling.  In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission.[5]”  God created each one of us to play a unique role in his great plan.  It’s up to us, then, to listen for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to consider the promptings of our community and to discern our calling in every moment of our lives.  Some may be called to specific vocations like mothers (Happy Mother’s Day, by the way!), fathers, priests, deacons or religious; others may be called to specialized fields of service, like social work or healthcare; and others still may be called to stand up for what’s right when no one else will.  We may be called to continue doing what we’re already doing.  We may be called to think outside of the box, to change things up, or to go in a new direction.  People are starving, sick, lonely, confused and desperate.  There’s no shortage of ways to be priest, prophet and king.  We just have to listen for our calling, trust Jesus, and follow him.   

          My own calling to the diaconate was very subtle.  It started as an idea that grew into curiosity.  That curiosity led to a lot of research and many conversations.  With those conversations came affirmation that resulted in conviction and commitment.  And here I am standing in front of a couple hundred people in a dress (I think I pull it off pretty well, if I do say so myself).  My calling wasn’t dramatic – God probably figured that I was dramatic enough already – and it wasn’t immediately obvious.  It was a slow-burning sense of assurance that I was headed in the right direction.  While I can’t speak for you, my vocation certainly has been a blessing for me.  Through it, I’ve been privileged to serve at the altar, baptize, marry and bury 130 people; I’ve visited the sick and the imprisoned; I’ve organized charitable activities; and I’ve engaged in a lot of challenging theological discussions and have loved every one of them.  My vocation isn’t always easy, but it brings me great joy and fulfillment.  So much so that I pray for the same for you; I encourage you, no, I urge you to listen for God’s invitation, trust Jesus and pursue your vocation.

Readings:  Acts 6: 1-7; Psalm 33: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Peter 2: 4-9; John 14: 1-12

[1] Mary M. McGlone, “Anything is Possible,” National Catholic Reporter, vol. 53, no.15 (May 5-18, 2017) at 23.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, glossary.
[3] Scott M. Lewis, “The Gospel According to John,” New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  New Testament, Daniel Durken, ed. (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2009) at 348.
[4] McGlone.
[5] John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Meditations on Christian Doctrine, Hope in God – Creator,” Meditations and Devotions (March 7, 1848) (emphasis added).

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Trust Me - A Wedding Homily

          In the 1992 Disney blockbuster film, Aladdin, a young street rat named Aladdin courts Princess Jasmine with the offer of a magic carpet ride.  Skeptical, Princess Jasmine asks, “Is it safe?”  Aladdin extends his hand and replies, “Sure, do you trust me?”  Trust me when I say that trust is the key to a successful marriage.  And that’s the message of the Gospel passage that Nadia and Ron have chosen for their wedding today.

          In our Gospel, we hear the familiar story of the Wedding at Cana.  When Mary noticed that the hosts had run out of wine, she turned to Jesus for help.  Though he initially demurred, Mary trusted that Jesus would make everything right and instructed the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”  The rest, as they say, is history.  Jesus performed his first miracle; he changed water into wine and saved the hosts from disgrace.

          It’s fitting that Jesus should perform his first miracle at a wedding, and not just because it’s a miracle that married couples can live with each other day after day.  It’s fitting because marriage is a beautiful sacrament instituted by God from the very beginning of creation.  “The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana.  She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that . . .  marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.”[1]  Jesus blessed the institution of marriage with his presence at the Wedding at Cana, just as he blesses your marriage today with his presence.  As Pope Francis said, “What happened at Cana two thousand years ago, happens in reality at every wedding feast.  It is the presence of the Lord . . . that will render your marriage full and profoundly true.”[2]

          There’s a catch, though.  While Jesus makes himself present to every married couple, you have to take advantage of it.  You have to welcome him into your marriage, you have to entrust your marriage to his divine wisdom and grace.  Our Psalm teaches us that those who trust the Lord and walk in his ways are blessed.  Likewise, Saint Paul tells us in our second reading that when we do what we’ve learned and receive what we’ve heard from Jesus, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds.”  And trust me, there are plenty of times in a marriage when you should guard your hearts, your minds and sometimes, even your mouths – Nadia.  Nadia and Ron, if you want a happy marriage, of course, you have to trust each other; but you also have to welcome Jesus into your marriage, trust him, and do whatever he tells you. 

          Think about it, you’re not getting married to solve all of our problems, you’re getting married to face your problems together – forever.  The marriage covenant, then, should give you hope for the future – a hope that you’ll never be alone no matter what you may face.  “The more you entrust yourselves to the Lord, the more your love will be 'forever', able to renew itself and to overcome every difficulty”[3] – even putting up with Matt, (a.k.a. Jeff).  Trust me when I say that if you trust Jesus and do whatever he tells you, Christ will dwell with you, give you strength to take up your crosses and follow him, to rise again after you have fallen, to forgive each other, to bear each other’s burdens, and to love each other with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love.”[4] 

          Nadia and Ron, I can’t promise you a magic carpet ride, though I hear that Nadia may have a Jesus car from her childhood that flies and rides on water, runs on prayers and gives you food.  You know, Ron, I’ll bet the Jesus car is a lot more comfortable than the backseat of a police car.  Trust Jesus, he wants you to pay your tickets on time!  What I can promise you is this:  if you entrust your marriage to Jesus and do whatever he tells you, you will discover in marriage “a whole new world, a fantastic point of view” – one of love, compassion and understanding that will lead you through every happiness and challenge you may face.  Trust each other, and trust Jesus, and you will have a long, happy marriage together.  Trust me.

Readings:  Sirach 26: 1-4, 13-26; Psalm 128; Philippians 4: 4-9; John 2: 1-11

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1613.
[2] Pope Francis, Valentine’s Day Address, February 14, 2014.
[3] Id.
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1642.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Christ is Risen!

El Greco, The Resurrection
My pastor told a great story in his homily last night at the Easter Vigil that I’d like to share with you.  Unlike in the West where we say, “Happy Easter,” the Easter greeting in the Eastern Christian tradition is “Christ is Risen,” to which the faithful respond: “He is truly risen.”  One day, there was a public debate between an Orthodox Patriarch and an atheist about the Resurrection.  The atheist went first, presenting a long discourse on how Christ’s resurrection is scientifically and logically impossible.  When it came time for the Patriarch to speak, he stood before the assembled crowd and proclaimed, “Christ is Risen!  Without missing a beat, the audience responded, “He is truly Risen.”  The people had spoken, and the Patriarch sat down. 

The fact is that the Resurrection is the sine qua non of the Christian faith.  Without it, Christianity is meaningless.  Christ either rose from the dead, or he did not.  There’s no middle ground.  As Bishop Robert Barron puts it, “It comes down to this:  if Jesus was not raised from death, Christianity is a fraud and a joke.  But if he did rise from death, then Christianity is the fullness of God’s revelation, and Jesus must be the absolute center of our lives.  There is no third option.”[1]

          It should be no surprise to the readers of this blog that I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  While I’ve spent a considerable amount of time weighing the evidence and studying the arguments put forth by the Church, atheists and scientists, the most profound, the most convincing evidence I have come across is the voice of the people.  For nearly 2,000 years, billions of people have believed that Christ is Risen, including my forebears, my parents, my grandparents and generations of Meyers, Gallos and O’Boyles before them.  In the end, faith is a matter of trust:  trust in God; trust in ourselves and trust in our teachers, mentors and role models.  They have spoken, and I believe that Christ is Risen.  He is truly Risen!

[1] Bishop Robert Barron, Lenten Gospel Reflections, April 15, 2017.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Passion

                About ten years ago, I started a Good Friday tradition of watching The Passion of the Christ, the 2004 Mel Gibson-directed film starring James Caviezel as Jesus.  It’s a powerful movie that I recommend highly, but be warned, it’s brutally graphic.  So much so, that my tradition only lasted a few years.  As I became more and more familiar with the movie, I started to anticipate the rough scenes and found myself preemptively closing my eyes to shield myself from the horrors of the crucifixion.  Well, if I’m going to close my eyes for two-thirds of the movie, what’s the purpose of watching it?

                It’s embarrassing to think that if I can’t handle the crucifixion in a movie, how would I have handled the real thing?  As much as I’d like to think that I’d bravely join Mary and John at the foot of the cross, I suspect that I would have been one of the disciples who ran away and hid. 

                It’s easy for us today to be numb to the horrors of the crucifixion.  We didn’t witness it for ourselves, and we know that the story has a happy ending.  Besides, who wants to think of such things when they remind us that Jesus wouldn’t have had to go through it if we weren’t a sinful people in the first place?  It’s much easier to focus on the resurrection than it is to contemplate Good Friday.  But as the saying goes, without Good Friday, there’s no Easter Sunday.  The resurrection only makes sense in the full context of Jesus’ life, passion, death and resurrection.  We need to consider Good Friday in order to understand what Easter Sunday really means.

          Since I’ve wimped out of watching The Passion of the Christ, I try to take some time on Good Friday to imagine how Jesus felt.  What it felt like to be falsely accused and condemned to death, scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, crushed under the weight of his instrument of execution, stripped, and nailed to the cross.  Of course, I can't really imagine what it was like for Jesus, but this little meditation certainly helps put my own Good Friday “sufferings” in context:  when I’m feeling tired from hours of liturgies; when I'm hangry from fasting for a few hours; and when I grouse about not having enough time to get things done.  It’s humbling to think that Jesus’ Good Friday was much worse than mine could ever be.  And a little humility seems to make Easter Sunday all the more meaningful.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Boundless Love

For the third time in his four-year papacy, Pope Francis has taken the Mass of the Lord’s Supper to prison.  Shunning the majestic confines of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis has traditionally brought today’s special Mass to those most in need of God’s love at the margins of our society – to the poor, the sick and, especially, the imprisoned.  The Pope’s gesture is particularly appropriate because the Mass of the Lord’s Supper kicks off the Triduum – the most sacred three days of our liturgical year when we celebrate Jesus’ greatest gift to us; his boundless love.

When we think of the Lord’s Supper we usually think of the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus offering himself to us in the bread and wine consecrated into his body and blood.  It may seem strange, then, that at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, our Gospel reading doesn’t mention the Eucharist at all.  We hear of the Jewish Passover in our first reading from Exodus, and we have a brief mention of the Eucharist in Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, but our Gospel, the very voice of Christ himself, recalls Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.  Only one Gospel mentions the washing of feet at the Last Supper – the Gospel of John that we read; the other three focus on the institution of the Eucharist.  With three out of four Gospels pointing to the Eucharist, why did the Church choose the washing of the feet as our message for today?

 Jesus’ entire life is meant to be our best example of a life well-lived, a life lived the way God intends for us to live it.  So in washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus is teaching us by humble example that our whole purpose in life is to love God by loving our neighbor.  Washing the feet of guests was a common ritual in Jesus’ time because guests often traveled to their hosts’ homes on foot through the dusty roads of the Holy Land.  Interestingly, though, it was servants and slaves who washed the guests’ feet, not the host.  Yet, Jesus, the host of the Passover meal, washed his disciples’ feet.  As Pope Francis so beautifully explained, “The love that Jesus has for us is so big that he became a slave to serve us, to take care of us, to purify us.”[1]  Now, that’s boundless love.   
Jesus gave of himself both in charitable service and in the Eucharist, so the institution of the Eucharist and the washing of feet at the Last Supper are inseparable.  We need Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist to strengthen us to carry out his mission of loving our neighbor through humble service.  Whether we’re tall, short, handsome (like me), or not so good looking, healthy, sick, rich, poor, free and yes, even imprisoned, every one of us, no matter what our circumstance, can love our neighbor because Jesus, no matter what our circumstance, loves us with God’s boundless love.  Whether it be through heroic works of charity, prayer, or even a simple smile, every one of us can change someone’s life for the better by sharing the boundless love we receive from Jesus with others.  
          I was blessed today with the opportunity to bring Jesus in the Eucharist to inmates in our local prison.  I explained to them that when Pope Francis visits prisons on Holy Thursday, he follows the ancient tradition of washing the feet of twelve inmates, and makes a point of telling the inmates that the twelve whose feet will be washed represent all prisoners everywhere.  I also told them that our pastor will wash the feet of twelve parishioners at our Mass tonight.  Those twelve represent all of our parishioners, including those in prison.  We do this to remind ourselves that Christ’s love extends to everyone, that all of us, no matter our circumstance, deserve to have Christ’s love shared with us, and that we all have an obligation to share Christ’s love with others.  We do this because Christ’s love is boundless love.

[1] Pope Francis, Holy Thursday Homily, April 2, 2015.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A Ministry of Presen[ce][ts] – Stations of the Cross for Children

I was blessed to lead the Stations of the Cross for Children this evening at our Church.  I gave a spontaneous homily, so here’s a summary of what I said:

                The Stations of the Cross is an ancient and beautiful tradition in our Church, but it seems a little strange to celebrate Stations of the Cross for Children.  Jesus’ passion and death is a difficult story; it’s sad and even scary, so we have to ask ourselves why we have a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross.  Well, I’ll try to explain with a story from Winnie the Pooh.

                Do you remember when Winnie the Pooh went to visit Rabbit’s “Howse”?  He helped himself to so much of Rabbit’s honey that his belly grew really big – so big that when he tried to leave, he got stuck in the rabbit hole.  Rabbit had a back entrance, so he ran outside to try to pull Pooh Bear out, but that didn’t work.  He ran back inside and tried to push him through, but that didn’t work either.  Winnie the Pooh was stuck.  Rabbit, of course, made the best out of the situation by using Winnie the Pooh’s backside as a decoration for his living room – he drew a smiley face and stuck some antlers on Winnie the Pooh’s bottom and balanced a mantle across his legs where he placed a candelabra and some knick knacks.  As for Winnie the Pooh, he’d just have to wait until he burned off some of that honey to get free. 

                That’s when something very special happened:  Christopher Robin came to read a book to Winnie the Pooh while they waited for his belly to shrink.  When there was nothing else he could do, Christopher Robin spent time with Winnie the Pooh.  That’s one way of looking at the Stations of the Cross.  The most important thing we can do is to spend time with Jesus and with each other.  Walking the Stations with Jesus is spending time with him in his suffering.  It’s our way of letting him know that we're with him, and we care. 

Now, spending time with Jesus and with each other is something that everyone can do.  No matter how old or how young we may be, each one of us can give our time to be with Jesus and with each other.  We call this a “ministry of presence.”  Now the older folks here probably understood what I meant when I said “presence” – staying with someone.  But you may have thought that I meant “presents” like Christmas or birthday presents.  Well, in this case, they’re really the same thing because our presence is the best present we can give to Jesus and to each other, especially when there’s nothing we can do to ease someone’s pain or suffering.

          Thank you for walking the Stations of the Cross with us this evening.  Your presence was the best present of all.