Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sometimes, we can expect the faith to provide nice, easy answers to all our questions. And in some situations, the faith does provide clear answers. But other times, the faith raises questions that need to be wrestled with. Far from providing easy answers, sometimes the faith gives us more questions. For example, according to our responsorial Psalm today, “the LORD hears the poor.” Our first reading says “he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” And all of that sounds really good, but when we look out into the world, it should cause us to ask questions. What about the 115,000 unborn children worldwide who will be killed today? What about the millions of men, women, and children living in slavery and human trafficking? What about all of those who suffer each day from lack of food, clean water, healthcare, and housing? When we look out at the world, the poor seem pretty miserable and forgotten. And yet the Scripture claims that God hears the poor and rescues them. What’s the deal?

This is the kind of question for which it is tempting to give a cliché answer. We can try to placate ourselves with platitudes. We can say, “Of course the Lord hears the poor, we just have to trust more. God’s ways aren’t our ways. We just can’t see the big picture.” Those answers sound nice and pious. But they are empty. They simply push the question aside. Imagine walking up to a child who has been kidnapped and sold into human trafficking and saying, “You just have to trust God more. His ways are not our ways.” It sounds pretty hollow, right? This is one of those cases where the faith does not provide us with easy answers. When we look at the plight of the poor and the downtrodden in the world and ask why it seems like God doesn’t help them, we will find no easy answers, because we are not asking an easy question.

When we encounter these difficult questions in the faith, there is the temptation to decide that because there is no easy answer, there is no answer at all. Many people have walked away from God because there was some question that they couldn’t find an easy answer to and so they concluded that there was no answer. But that is not the right way to approach the faith. God never promises us simple answers to all of our questions. The faith is not an escape from having to wrestle with the hard questions in life. Other people encounter the difficult questions, but retreat back to the cliché answers. They know that the simple answers don’t actually work, but they just sort of bury their head in the sand and pretend like all the pieces fit. That is not a good way to approach the faith as well.

So how do we reconcile the readings today, which speak of God’s concern and care for the poor, with the fact that so many people in the world suffer in poverty and hardship seemingly without end or aid? Does God not care about them? As I prayed about these questions, I began to see that in the question is the start of the answer. When we see a problem in the world and cry to God, “Why don’t you do something about this,” I think that God replies to us with the same question, “Why don’t you do something about this?” God does care for those who are poor and in need, for those who are denied basic human rights and the bare necessities of life. He cares so much that He inspires us to do something to help them. Today’s Gospel takes place right before Jesus sent the Apostles out for the first time. He is sending them out to be His co-workers in the world. And the Lord sends us as well. Being a Christian is not a spectator sport; to follow Christ means to allow Him to send us into the world to do His work. And part of that work is caring for our brothers and sisters. When we ask God, “Why don’t you do something to help this person,” He replies, “I have done something; I have given you the grace to go out and help that person.”

Unfortunately, how often do we see someone in need, whether something we read about in the paper or see on the news or a person we encounter in our daily lives, and we think, “Wow, that is just awful,” but then we do nothing? How often do we fail to carry on the work of the Lord as His disciples? We see people who are starving, and we expect God to make food appear out of thin air for them, but meanwhile we waste food. We hear about people whose lives are threatened and torn apart by war and violence, and we tell God to do something to help them, but we stay comfortably safe and leave them to fend for themselves. The fact that so many needy people in the world go unaided is a censure on us as Christians. It is our responsibility to care for them in Christ’s name.

It is easy for any of us to look out at the problems of the world and feel overwhelmed. There are so many problems, and so many people in need, that we just throw our hands up. What can I possibly do? I can’t solve all the world’s problems. And that is true, you or I as individuals can’t solve all of the world’s ills. Individually, we will not feed every hungry person or care for every sick person. But we don’t have to do this just as individuals. There are over 1 billion Catholics in the world. None of us individually will be able to help everyone. But if we all did our own part, we could change the world. If we all set aside our excuses, stepped outside of our comfort zone, and overcame our fears, God could do amazing things through us. Three times in the Gospel today, the Lord tells the Apostles not to be afraid. He says the same to us. He has called us to be His disciples, to go out into the world and do His work at building the Kingdom of God. We are sent to proclaim the good news and be living images of the love of God. But to do that, we must overcome our fears. Fear keeps us from reaching out to those who are different from us and those in need. Fear stops us from sharing the Good News with others. Fear prevents us from being Christ’s disciples in the world. That is why the Lord tells His Apostles repeatedly, “Do not be afraid.”

And He says the same to us. Do not be afraid to share the love of God with others. When you see someone in need, do not be afraid to help them. Truly, God does hear the cry of the poor. The real question is, will we also hear their cry, and have the courage to let God work through us for them?

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

“If angels could be jealous of men, they would do so for one reason: Holy Communion.” That quote is from St. Maximilian Kolbe. In the Eucharist, we truly receive Christ Himself. That is absolutely amazing. As He says in the Gospel today, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” In the Eucharist, Christ gives us something more than just a symbol; He gives us Himself. Jesus is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, right there in that tabernacle.

One of the best gifts we have here at the parish is our Adoration Chapel. Because we know that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, we can come and pray in His presence. That is an amazing blessing for us. We all know how hard it can sometimes be to find a quiet place at home to pray. But here we have a beautiful, peaceful chapel, available at any time during the day or night, where we can come and pray. And Christ is right there, present in the Blessed Sacrament with us. We can literally see Him as we pray to Him.

Our goal as a parish is to have perpetual adoration. That means that people will be there praying 24/7. How beautiful would that be to know that at every moment of every day, someone is in the chapel, praying for the people of the parish? It shouldn’t be that difficult of a goal. There are 168 hours in a week and 2,400 families in our parish. If one person from each family agreed to be in the chapel for one hour a week, we would have over a dozen people in the chapel at all times. Unfortunately, as it is, we are having trouble just getting one person for each hour. There are sadly many times during the week when there is no one in the chapel. Now, we recognize that certain times are difficult for people to volunteer for. The hours in the middle of the night require a greater sacrifice for those who commit to praying then. Those who work obviously can’t be here during the day. I also recognize that for many people, the idea of committing to a solid hour of prayer may sound rather intimidating. What do I do during that hour? If you are just working at forming a consistent habit of prayer, committing to a full hour might be a bit excessive to start.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to commit for a full hour. Volunteer for half an hour. Volunteer for fifteen minutes. Four people each taking fifteen minute blocks fills an hour just as well as one person committing for a full hour. You also don’t have to commit to doing it every week. If you are able to commit to every other week or one week a month, that is also fine. Maybe you can’t commit to being here at a set time each week, but you are willing to be a substitute that they can call when someone isn’t able to fulfill their time. That’s also good. Again, the goal is to have someone praying in the chapel at all times. Ideally, we would like at least two people at all times, so that if someone can’t make it there’s still someone there. Whether you can commit to an hour every day or fifteen minutes once a month, it all helps us get closer to that goal. But we need people to step up and volunteer. Even if you can’t commit to coming at the same time every week, just come and pray whenever you are able. The chapel is always available, whether you are there for a scheduled time of prayer or just dropping in.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I want to appeal in a particular way to all the fathers. I know you are busy. Between work, errands, and your kids’ activities, the idea of adding something else to your schedule may be the last thing you want. You may think that you can’t afford to commit to a time of adoration. I would argue that you can’t afford not to. Your family needs you to be a man of prayer. Your children need you to show them how to form a relationship with Christ.

A study was done in 1994 to examine what effect a parent’s practice of the faith has on their children as they grow up. They found that whether a mother practices her faith regularly or not has only minimal effect on whether her children practice the faith. But there is a direct correlation between how much the father practices the faith and whether his children will continue to practice the faith as they age. This is not to minimize the importance that mothers play in the spiritual development of their children, but rather to highlight that fathers play an irreplaceable role in handing on the faith. Committing to a regular time of adoration is one way you can help set that example of faith for your children.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi. We celebrate the amazing gift that Christ gives us in the Eucharist. As we express our reverence for this great sacrament, I encourage you to ask yourself, can I commit to spending some time in adoration with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I guarantee that, if you do, God will bless you abundantly for your sacrifice.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Sometimes, when we get so used to hearing something, we can forget how amazing it is. For example, we all know that the earth is moving around the sun. We know it, we accept it as true, but just stop for a minute and consider how amazing that is. We are hurtling around the sun at a speed of 67,000 miles per hour. At that speed, you could circle the whole earth in 23 minutes. That’s how fast you are moving right now. That’s mind-blowing. But most of the time, we forget how amazing it is.

The truth we celebrate today is one of those things also. Today is Trinity Sunday. We celebrate the truth that God is one God in Three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is something that we all know, and we are so familiar with it that we can forget how astounding it is. God is not a solitary, isolated being, but a communion of Three Persons. These Three Divine Persons are truly unique, yet they are also equal to each other. No one of them is more powerful than the other. They are three equally infinite, equally eternal, and equally omnipotent. But there are not three gods but One God. This should astound us. Every time we recite the Creed, every time we make the sign of the Cross, we would be left in awe at the amazing mystery of God’s Triune nature.

The Trinity is beyond our understanding. How can God be One God in Three Persons? How can all Three of those Divine Persons be completely equal yet distinct? It’s a mystery. We know it is true because God has revealed it to be true. And while we can use philosophy and theology to understand it a bit better, at the end of the day, the Triune nature of God will always be beyond our ability to completely comprehend. God is infinitely beyond anything we can know or imagine.

The nature of the Trinity is mind-blowing. But there is something even more astounding, and that is that this amazing, infinite, inconceivable God loves us. God loves us. We are so used to hearing that phrase that we forget how astounding that is. Can you imagine yourself loving an ant? Probably not, right? It’s an ant. And yet the difference between us and the ant is smaller than the difference between us and God. But God loves us.

We hear that in the Gospel today. It is one of the best known verses in the whole Bible. “God so loved the world.” God, the Holy Trinity, who lacks nothing, needs nothing, wants nothing, looks upon us, sinful and broken and poor as we are, and He loves us. That is amazing. The fact that God would even notice us at all, the fact that He would even in some level be concerned about us, even that would be remarkable. But He goes so far beyond that. He loves us. To help understand how amazing that statement is, think back to the time of the Apostles. The cultures of the ancient world, with all their many gods, would never have said that their gods loved them. The Greeks didn’t think that Zeus or Hera loved them; the Romans would have never said that Neptune or Apollo loved them. The gods were beings to be worshiped, placated, and petitioned, but not loved. But the Lord has revealed to us that He loves us.

What’s more, we see that, in the fact that God is a communion of three Divine Persons, God is a communion of love. God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all united by a perfect, infinite love. In our second reading, St. Paul calls God “the God of love.” This is not just that God is loving, but God is love. And when we say that God loves, we don’t just mean that He looks down on us with affection. Rather, God brings us up into His communion of love. The Holy Trinity wants to draw us in to the intimate communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When we were baptized, the priest or deacon said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The word “baptize” comes from the Greek word meaning “immerse.” We have been immersed into the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We have been immersed into the infinite communion of love which is the Holy Trinity. But just like we forget that at every moment we are hurtling around the sun, we forget that every moment we are immersed in the love of the Trinity. Right now, right at this very moment, you are being immersed in the limitless love of the Trinity. God, the Creator and Sustainer of everything, the source of all that is good, is immersing you in His very love. And all we have to do is let Him shower this love upon us. We don’t have to earn the love of the Trinity. God has already given His love to us freely. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” God knew that we could never understand Him completely, and yet so great is His love for us that He wanted to reveal Himself to us as best He could. He wanted to make Himself as understandable as possible. And so God became man. One of the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity took on our human nature in order to reveal Himself to us. That is how much He loves us.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity should astound us. It should fill us with awe and wonder. And the fact that this amazing, awesome God loves us should be even more breathtaking. As we celebrate this Trinity Sunday, let us renew our sense of reverence for the wonderful truth of who God is.

Pentecost Sunday

We live in a world that is very divided and very divisive. It seems like each day people are finding new reasons to create division, new categories for “us vs. them.” It is a problem as old as humanity itself. As far back as we go in human history, we find people creating division between themselves, dividing themselves into categories and deciding that “we” are the good group and “they” are the bad group. They have done this on the basis of skin color, of nationality, of language, of gender, of political ideology, and of practically any other reason that could be found for categorizing and dividing the human race. Nations do it, local communities do it, families do it. Divisions happen in the workplace, in schools, and, yes, even in the Church.

In contrast to all this division we have this beautiful Solemnity of Pentecost. We celebrate today how, nine days after Christ’s Ascension, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, filling them with the grace to go out and preach the Gospel. And a central theme of this feast is unity. We see it in the very event itself. Jews from all over the Mediterranean were gathered in Jerusalem. These people from all these different countries spoke different languages. And yet, when the Apostles began to preach, the people all understood them in their own native language. These people, separated from each other by their different cultures and different languages, are now united in the proclamation of the one faith. The Holy Spirit comes to bring unity and communion where before there was division.

The Holy Spirit wants to be a source of unity in our lives as well. Sometimes, when we hear “unity,” we think it means uniformity. We think that unity means everyone has to be just like me. But that isn’t the kind of unity that the Holy Spirit creates. Notice that on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit didn’t make it so that everyone could understand one language. Rather, they each heard the Apostles in their own language. The Holy Spirit didn’t create uniformity, rather, He created unity in difference. Difference is not a bad thing. In fact, difference is a good thing. The Holy Spirit actually creates difference. We hear that in our second reading. St. Paul says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” The Holy Spirit doesn’t want to make us all identical. The Holy Spirit creates difference, giving all of us our uniqueness. But in the midst of that difference, the Holy Spirit seeks to create unity. As St. Paul goes on to say, there are different parts, but one body. The parts of the body are different, but there is also a unity that binds them together.

Likewise, the Holy Spirit seeks to create unity in our world, not by erasing differences, but erasing division. Differences are not bad things. Differences are good things. They are what make each of us unique and special. Difference is good. Division is bad. Division occurs when differences are turned into weapons, when we say, “Because you are different from me, you are less than me.”

Unfortunately, there seems to be something in us as human beings that is prone to turning differences into division. We see something that makes someone different from us, and we twist it, so now it becomes a means of pushing people away and deciding that some people are better than others. And this is why we need the Holy Spirit. The Spirit wants to undo our divisions and create unity in the midst of our differences. Think of a symphony. If every instrument was the exact same instrument playing the exact same note, it would be boring. Rather, when the different instruments playing different notes all work together in harmony, it creates a beautiful unity. That is what the Holy Spirit wants to create in the human family, a beautiful unity formed from our diversity. But we have to make sure that we aren’t creating division where the Spirit is trying to create union. We have to make sure that our actions aren’t working against the work of the Holy Spirit. And, in those places where we have been a source of division, we need to ask the Spirit to come and forgive our sins.

And this is the Spirit’s greatest work of unity. Ultimately, what creates division is sin: the sin of pride, the sin of judgement, the sin of prejudice, the sin of indifference, the sin of unforgiveness. Sin creates division. It divides us from each other, and it divides us from God. The Holy Spirit wants to unite us to each other, and even more than that, to unite us to Himself. But sin damages this union, and so we need forgiveness. That is why, as we hear in the Gospel today, when Jesus appeared to the Apostles on Easter He gave them the power to forgive sins. This grace of forgiveness reunites us with God and with each other when our sins have created division.

The two greatest sources of unity in the world are the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. In Reconciliation, our sins are forgiven, removing the division that they create. And in the Eucharist, we are united to one another and to God. In the sacraments, we receive the supernatural gift of union that comes from the Holy Spirit and which can overcome the divisions that we create by our own sinfulness. If you see all the division in the world and think, “This is awful; what can I do about it?” the first and best answer is: receive the sacraments. If we want to be a source of unity in our divided world, the best thing to do is to make frequent use of the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. The more that we receive the unity that the sacraments create, the more we can be a source of that unity in the world.

Ascension of the Lord

Imagine for a minute that you are one of the Apostles watching Jesus ascend into heaven. How would you feel? There’d probably be a profound feeling of awe. Perhaps a sense of joy. But I can’t help but think that there would also be some sadness. Jesus is their teacher, their Messiah, the man whom they had followed for three years, and now He is leaving them. There would have to be some sorrow at seeing Him go. Perhaps they were feeling a bit abandoned, wondering why Christ would leave them. What are they supposed to do now that He has left?

I imagine those thoughts went through the disciple’s minds, and we can have those same thoughts sometimes. We can all struggle at times with feeling like God has abandoned us. Sometimes it is because we are going through a rough time in our lives or there is something that we are praying about but seem to get no answer. It can seem like God is far away from us, like He doesn’t hear us or care about us.

It is tempting to see the Ascension as just that, as Jesus leaving us. He’s going back up to heaven, and we’re left down here to fend for ourselves. But the Church today puts the feast of the Ascension in a different light. For our Gospel, we have the conclusion of St. Matthew’s Gospel. The last thing Christ tells the Apostles in Matthew’s Gospel is “Behold, I am with you always.” This echoes back to the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is called Emmanuel, meaning God is with us. Matthew’s Gospel begins and ends with the proclamation that God is with us always. It is one of his central themes, that in Christ, God has drawn near to us. God is not distant or removed from us. He is close to us. He took on our human nature in the Incarnation, died for our sins, and rose from the dead, all so that He could destroy any barrier or distance that separated us from Him.

So why then did Jesus ascend into heaven? If He wanted to be close to us, why did He leave us? Why didn’t Christ just stay on earth? I think we have to realize that, by virtue of His Ascension into heaven, Christ is actually closer to us now than He would be if He hadn’t ascended. When Christ was on earth, He was in one location. His words could only be heard by those who were within hearing distance. He could only be touched by those who were within arm’s reach. If Christ had stayed on earth, He would continue to have all of those same limitations. On the contrary, because He ascended into heaven, He is not limited in that way. Christ is close to us here and now in Wentzville, Missouri and He is equally close to those Catholics on the other side of the world. Think of the story of the story of Zacchaeus in the Gospels. Because of the crowd and his own short stature, he had to climb a tree just for the chance to see Jesus as He passed by. Now that Christ has ascended, we don’t have to climb trees to see Him; we don’t have to fight through crowds to be close to Him. He is already close to us.

By ascending into heave, Christ didn’t leave us, rather, He made it easier for us to get close to Him. Because in the long run, what matters is not some sort of physical proximity to Christ but how spiritually close we are to Him. How much do we make Christ part of our day to day life? Do we only think about Him on Sundays or do we think about Him every day of the week? Do we only talk to Him briefly before we go to bed and before meals or do we talk to Him throughout the day? When we talk to Christ, do we just repeat a bunch of memorized words and phrases without really thinking about what we are saying, or do we truly speak to Him from our hearts? How spiritually close are we to Christ? Thanks to His ascension, we can be spiritually close to Him without having to worry about any sort of physical proximity. He is with us at all times. At every moment of the day He is with us, but all too often we forget about Him. We forget that He is with us. We forget to talk to Him from our hearts, to turn to Him for help in times of temptation.

Before ascending into heaven, Christ promised His disciples that He would be with them always. He also, as we hear in our first reading, commanded them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. It is not enough for us just to know and appreciate that Christ is close to us; we also have a mission to tell others that He is close to them as well. How many people in this world feel alone and abandoned? How many people question whether God is real or whether He really loves them? It is our job to tell these people that they are not alone, that God truly is with them. It is our job to tell them that by His ascension into heaven, Christ made it possible for all of us to be close to Him at every moment of every day.

Of course, if we are going to tell someone that Christ is close to them, it is important that we are also close to Him. To try to tell someone that Christ is close to them while we ourselves are far away from Him does not make any sense and will be counter-productive. We first have to draw close to Christ, to make Him part of our daily lives, if we are going to help others know that He is close to them as well.

At His Ascension, Christ did not abandon us or withdraw from us. Rather, He made it easier for to be close to Him. As we celebrate this joyful feast, let us seek to always grow closer to Our Lord and to help others to do the same.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

If I were to ask you what a sacrament is, those of you who were educated with the Baltimore Catechism could probably rattle off, “A sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.” The sacraments were instituted by Christ. We didn’t make them up ourselves; they are as old as the Church itself. When we read the New Testament, we can see proof of that fact. We hear in the first reading that Peter and John went to the fledgling Christian community in Samaria. We are told that the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” So Peter and John “laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” That is, they gave them the Sacrament of Confirmation.

I think a lot of Catholics don’t properly understand the Sacrament of Confirmation. Many people believe that because most of us were baptized as infants, Confirmation is about us choosing to be Catholic. Except I would hope that we chose to be Catholic when we made our First Confession and First Communion. I would hope that we choose to be Catholic every day. Choosing to follow Christ isn’t a one-time thing but a choice we make every minute of every day. In addition, if Confirmation was about choosing to be Catholic, then there wouldn’t be any reason to confirm people who are baptized as adults. For example, why did Peter and John confirm the people in the first reading if Confirmation is just about choosing to be Christians?

I think part of the problem is the name of the sacrament. We hear “Confirmation” and we think, “This is me confirming my faith in Jesus.” But the sacraments aren’t my work; they’re God’s work. This isn’t about me confirming my faith in God, but God confirming me. If you look up the word “confirm” in the dictionary, one of the definitions is, “to make firm or firmer: to strengthen.” That is what the Sacrament of Confirmation is about, God strengthening us, making us firmer in the faith.

And it is God strengthening us for a purpose. Think of Pentecost. After Christ ascended into heaven, the Apostles were afraid. They locked themselves in a room. Then, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them, and gave them the courage to go preach. That is what Confirmation is about. In Confirmation, God gives us the strength to be His witnesses. Listen to what St. Peter says in our second reading: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” That’s our call, at all times to be able and willing to give testimony to Christ. But that is difficult. Often, when faced with an opportunity to give witness to Christ, we are like the Apostles after the Ascension. We are afraid and nervous; we shrink back in fear. Rather than being bold in preaching the Good News, we hide it away, like the disciples locked in the upper room. If we are going to always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope, we need help. We need God’s grace to strengthen us so that we can overcome our insecurity and fear.

And God gives us that grace in Confirmation. God not only gives us grace, but He gives us Himself; He gives us the Holy Spirit. As Christ says in the Gospel today, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.” That Advocate is the Holy Spirit. He is with us always to fill us with the truth as well as with the courage to bear witness to the truth. That is what God gives us at Confirmation. He strengthens us so that we can be His witnesses.

So if that’s the case, that God has given us the strength to be His witnesses, why are we still afraid at times to do it? Why do we still shrink back in fear and hesitation? Because God’s grace isn’t going to overpower us. God always respects our free will. So while He has given us the strength we need to be bold witnesses to Him, we have to use that grace. When my parents got married, someone gave them a silver tea set. It is an intrinsically very nice and valuable gift. But it has sat in a box in their basement for 40 years, never used. Too often, God’s grace is like that silver tea set. It is something valuable, but we put it on a shelf rather than use it. Likewise, for many of us, the grace of our Confirmation has been sitting on a shelf. If maybe that’s the case for you, I encourage you, ask God to help you use the grace that He has given you. Ask the Holy Spirit to fan into flame the grace of your Confirmation, so that you may be bold witnesses to Christ.

Now, I should add one caveat. Often, when we think of being bold in proclaiming Christ, we can think that means what I call bull-in-a-china-shop evangelizations. I’ve met plenty of people who are very fervent and genuine in their faith and their desire to share the faith, but the way they do it is more likely to push people away rather than draw them in. Listen again to St. Peter in our second reading, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” Confirmation not only gives us the grace to be bold in our witness to Christ, but to also do so with gentleness and reverence. We should be bold in love, courageous in gentleness. That is what it means to truly be witnesses to Christ.

As we approach the celebration of Pentecost in two weeks, let us ask God to strengthen us in the grace of our Confirmation. Let us ask the Spirit of truth to renew His gifts in us, so that we may always be ready to proclaim the Good News of our hope in Christ.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

It is amazing to think how much has changed since the time of the Apostles. The world is a very different place. And yet, in spite of so much change, some things are also very much the same. In our first reading, we see the Christian community at its beginnings. We have the Apostles surrounded by a group of the faithful in Jerusalem. You could call it the first parish. And despite how different the times were, in many ways, it looks like our parish. It was a growing parish, just like we are. In addition to teaching the Gospel, this first parish is engaged in charitable works. We do the same thing. And, as we see highlighted in our first reading, sometimes those first Christians didn’t get along. There were cliques, and this led to jealousy and accusations of favoritism. Some people felt that the Apostles weren’t doing their job right leading this first parish and started complaining.

And, just like in that first parish, sometimes things today in the Church and in our parish don’t run as smoothly as they should. Now, I know that with a homily like this there can be a tendency to try to figure out who Father is talking about, as if the whole homily is a veiled reference to a particular person or event. So let me say at the outset that it isn’t. This isn’t about any particular event happening here at St. Patrick, but just the normal reality that sometimes, in parishes, things happen that make people upset. It happens for a lot of reasons. Sometimes problems arise just because people have different personalities and different ways of doing things, and those don’t always mesh.  In addition, we are all sinners. We say as much at the start of every Mass. We make mistakes, we do things wrong, and sometimes we do not behave the way we should as followers of Christ. We see some of that in the first reading. In that first parish, there was favoritism going on. When people in the Church don’t act as followers of Christ should, this can naturally cause frustration and anger.

The question is, what do we do when these disagreements and frustrations in the Church arise? The temptation is to just walk away. Someone in the Church does something that hurts us or makes us angry, so we just give up on the Church. We may know people who did that. I have heard plenty of stories of people who left the Church because someone somewhere did something that upset them. Sometimes they have very legitimate grievances, but walking away isn’t the solution. The Church is a hospital for sinners. That is good news, because it means that there is a place for me here, even though I am a sinner. But it is also a challenge, because it means sometimes these other people in the Church, even people in positions of authority, are going to sin. If I want a Church where everyone is perfect, where nobody sins or does anything that hurts me, then I’m in trouble, because that Church doesn’t exist. If I am going to be part of the Church, then I have to accept that I am part of a body of sinners, and sinners sin.

The Hellenists in the first reading give us the example of what to do when there is a problem in the Church. They have a legitimate complaint, so they bring that complaint to the Apostles, and they work to fix the problem. They didn’t leave. They didn’t just sit there and grumble to themselves. They didn’t go around gossiping about how the Apostles were playing favorites. They worked to solve the problem. And the same thing is necessary when we encounter problems in the Church. When something happens that causes us to think, “This is wrong. This is not the way that the Body of Christ is supposed to act,” then our call as members of that Body is to work at fixing the problem. And we don’t fix the Body of Christ by amputation.

Of course, fixing the problem often means that I need to be willing to talk to the person responsible. So many hurts grow and fester because people refuse to sit down and talk about it. That is true in life in general and in the parish. I’ve had times as a priest where something I said hurt someone, but I don’t find out about it until months later from a friend of a friend. Like the people in the first parish, when someone does something wrong in the Church, whether someone in charge or a fellow parishioner, we need to willing to talk about it charitably and humbly.

Sometimes, it is the other person who needs growth and conversion, but sometimes it is me. The problem is not always what the other person did, but my own wounded ego or desire to be the one in charge. When we speak of addressing the problems in the Church, we are not just talking about fixing something out there, but also about my own continual conversion of heart. As St. Peter says in our second reading, we are all living stones being built into the spiritual house of the Church. But in order for all those stones to fit together properly, they have to be shaped. Rough parts have to be smoothed out, jagged edges have to be chipped away. If I want to help fix the problems that arise in the Church, then I need to start by letting God continue to chip away at my rough edges so that I can more effectively be a spiritual stone in this great building.

And sometimes, problems arise in the Church not because someone did something wrong, not because I still need ongoing conversion, but just because people are different. Personalities clash. People have different opinions about the best way to do things. And it isn’t a case that one of them is necessarily right or wrong; they are just different. But if we aren’t careful, those differences can lead to conflicts. All-out-wars have started in parishes because one person wanted red flowers and someone else wanted white flowers. Our Lord says in the Gospel today that in His Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. There is room enough for all of us in the Church. But that means that we are going to have to accept the differences that people bring. This can be tough because we are passionate about serving God; we are passionate about advancing the mission of the Church. That passion is a good thing. We should be passionate about spreading the Gospel and building up the Kingdom of God. But whenever you get a lot of passionate people in the same place, there’s bound to be disagreements. I am passionate about advancing the mission of the Church, and I think that my ideas for how to do so are the best. But other people feel the same way about their ideas. And so we have to be willing to compromise and to accept in humility that things won’t always go the way I think they should.

From the very earliest days of the Church until today, disagreements, arguments, and problems have arisen in the Church. They happen for a variety of reasons. They can be a source of hurt and division. Or they can be a source of growth and strength. The disagreement that we heard about in the first reading became a source of growth in the Church, leading to the creation of the first deacons. Every deacon in the history of the Church and all of their ministry was made possible because when something went wrong in that first parish, those who were hurt by it were willing to work to find a solution. If the Hellenists had just walked away in their hurt, there would never have been reconciliation, there would never have been growth, and there would be no deacons. But they didn’t leave. In the midst of their grievance, they remembered that they were all working towards the same goal, and so they were able to find a solution. And the Church grew as a result. When we encounter problems in the Church, it is important to remember that we too are all on the same team. We are all sinful members of the Body of Christ, trying to serve the Lord but not always doing it perfectly. When we encounter problems and disagreements in the Church, may we always allow God to use it as a means of growth and not division.