June 4 – The Most Holy Trinity

Growing up in the 90’s, one of my favorite TV shows (maybe because of the suspenseful music) was “Unsolved Mysteries”.  The show, as the name states, reenacted ongoing mysteries from the past.  Occasionally, throughout the years of the show, you might be lucky to get “an update” where they would reveal an answer to a former mystery. 

As a math guy and an engineer, I have to say, I don’t like mysteries.  I was always taught to solve the unknown.  Even to this day, people will come with me with problems, and my automatic instinct is to calculate the precise solution.  My mindset: answers are good, mysteries are bad.

But then, how do I deal with the ‘mysteries’ of our faith.  For example, this weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: God is three persons, yet one God.  Is this a mystery I can solve?  The answer is clearly no… but then, are some mysteries therefore good?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes! Some mysteries are not meant to be completely solved, but rather entered into!  We can see this in other areas of our lives too. For instance, what person in your life can you completely explain or define? Can you ever really solve another person? No. There is always more to be discovered in an other—even our very own hearts are a mystery to us!  This isn’t a bad thing, but an opportunity. It’s what makes love, marriage, family, and friends a beautiful adventure that can captivate us for a lifetime! If we’re willing to enter into the mystery, to engage the mystery of the other with love and respect, then these relationships can continue to unfold as an ever more beautiful mystery!

So, unlike the 90’s show might have us believe, some mysteries are meant to be left unsolved—not because they’re nonsensical, but because their depths could never truly be exhausted. God revealed himself as love: as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We need not fret if we cannot fully grasp how it is possible to have 3 divine persons and only one God. Instead we can concern ourselves with the question, “How is my relationship going with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?” It’s the mystery of our relationship with love himself, and the mystery at the heart of heaven.

Father Michael

May 28 – Pentecost

One of the most compelling things about our Catholic faith is our understanding of redemptive suffering—so much so that one couple I know specifically converted from Protestantism to Catholicism because of this! In their previous church, there was little understanding of how to fit suffering within the greater scheme of things. One can be tempted to believe that suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure, whereas a lack of suffering is a sign of God’s favor. Yet, upon reading the lives of the saints, we find that the opposite is almost true!

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, for example, rejoiced on Good Friday one year when she received the first sign of the tuberculosis which would take her life at age 24: “Ah! my soul was filled with a great consolation; I was interiorly persuaded that Jesus, on the anniversary of His own death, wanted to have me hear His first call. It was like a sweet and distant murmur that announced the Bridegroom’s arrival.” To be honest, such words from the saints can feel naïve or unrealistic as we are tempted to think, “Yeah, but they’re so far beyond me in sanctity,” or “But that was a different time and place…” Yet, human they were, and human are we.

JP2’s encyclical Salvifici Doloris explores the theology of suffering in great depth, and we would do well to heed this saint’s words of wisdom. For instance, he writes, “The springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. Those who share in the sufferings of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s Redemption, and can share this treasure with others.” Suffering can be an opportunity for intimacy with Jesus, intercession for others, and the salvation of our souls. We are all going to face trials and death anyways, so why not let Jesus give them meaning?

Our world has lost the significance of suffering as it has lost the significance of Jesus’ cross. This is why we see even traditionally Christian countries like Portugal legalizing physician-assisted suicide, while others like Canada are already passing legislation to extend their medically assisted suicides to include “circumstances where a person’s sole underlying medical condition is a mental illness.” (see canada.ca)

Let’s be clear: asking physicians who have taken the Hippocratic Oath to inject you or your loved one with toxic quantities of chemicals with the intention of shortening your life is the opposite of ‘dying with dignity’. While watching another suffer is a great suffering in itself, what suffering people need is accompaniment, not euthanizing. The sick, mentally ill, and dying have inherent dignity. Their existence is valuable! And while there is nothing wrong with lessening someone’s pain (with painkillers, for instance), there is something very wrong with intentionally hastening someone’s death (even with painkillers). This line can be very thin, but it’s no less important: the catechism equates euthanasia to murder. (CCC 2276-9) 

Finally, the sick and elderly elicit sacrificial love from their family and community—we should not resent them for that, but thank them and assure them that they are not ‘forgotten’, ‘worthless’, or ‘unwanted’! The difference between St. Thérèse’s disposition towards death and medically euthanizing humans is the difference between “thy will be done” and “my will be done”. Like the 7 Sacraments (or the Trinity for that matter), human suffering is indeed a mystery—not in the sense that it is irrational or unsolved, but in the sense that its significance is inexhaustible! Let us therefore trust in our good Lord, even in the face of darkness—for it is there that His light can shine all the more brilliantly.  

Father James

May 21 – Ascension of the Lord

Have you ever noticed that in every aspect of life, there is a the need for the student to become the teacher?  In a way, it is how the Lord created us.  Starting with family life, the child will eventually become the parent, the apprentice become the professional, the student become the teacher.  

We do this in small ways and in small steps. For example, I remember my dad teaching me how to change a tire.  He did it once and then he told me to do it by myself so that I could be prepared to change a flat.  Or I remember in math class, the teacher would solve a problem on the  projector screen and then assign me to repeat the solution on ten other problems just like it.  Even studying for the priesthood, I had the opportunity to shadow many priests in their ministry with the hope that when I myself was ordained, I could do likewise. 

Everything in life, points to learning, doing it ourself, and even teaching others to do likewise!  Our faith is no different.  What was the Lord doing when he was with his disciples for 3 years?  He wasn’t just teaching them rules or concepts, but also how to live—even to the point that the early Church would describe the Christian religion as “the way” …the way to the Father, the way to beatitude, the way to salvation! What is the Ascension all about?  Yes, it is the account of our Lord ascending to the right hand of the Father in Heaven; but it also the story of our Lord asking his disciples to now live what they were taught, and to lead others on the way.

What about us?  Do we not only know but also live the faith well enough so as to be able to teach it to others?  Thankfully we don’t need to be Padre Pio or Mother Teresa to lead others to the next step on the way, because the Lord desires to send each and every one of us out—including you!  For all of the ways in which we feel inadequate, let us ask the Lord on this feast of the Ascension to give us the discipline, courage, and zeal to learn, live, and share the gift of our faith with others!

Father Michael

May 14 – Sixth Sunday of Easter

Spoiler: this has absolutely nothing to do with Mother’s Day—that’s for the homily.

A couple weeks ago I went to the movie theater (yes, they still exist) to watch the movie Nefarious with my fellow Companion of Christ Fr. Max. Now, I very rarely watch horror movies because they’re typically a gross exercise in the fascination with evil on top of the other forms of visual immodesty that numb us to the grotesque and pornographic. However, this year is the 50th anniversary since the showing of The Exorcist, so there are several exorcism movies hitting the theaters these days. I wasn’t planning on partaking in the usual Hollywood exaggerations until I heard a review from an actual exorcist (a Catholic priest, of course) who deals with this stuff on a daily basis. He pooh-poohed The Pope’s Exorcist unsurprisingly because it was made by, well, Hollywood…and I think it’s safe to say that Hollywood doesn’t really care about the truth of things.

According to this exorcist, however, the creators of Nefarious did their homework. While it portrays a possessed man dialoguing with an atheistic psychologist, the movie is much like a visual version of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters where we get a convincing and convicting glimpse into the mind of the enemy. If anything, the movie held back!—further convincing me that the producers cared more about faith than fireworks. Remember, the devil is not a threat to God’s omnipotence. The devil is just a rabid dog on a chain and can only do what God permits him to. God leaves us and the angels free to follow Him or not, but as one person put it rather brazenly, “If you play the devil’s stupid games, then you’ll win his stupid prizes.”

Nevertheless, we often think that the devil’s extraordinary activity like possession and puking up Nickelodeon slime is all that he really does. Nefarious reminds us that the devil is very much alive in the world today and that we need to “be sober and vigilant,” because “[our] opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Witchcraft, wicca, and other new-age materials had their own giant section at the Barnes and Noble in Naperville the last time I strolled in—probably because they’re selling! Likewise, most people don’t realize that Freemasonry is directly antithetical to our Catholic faith and needs to be formally renounced—even if your grandpa just showed up to the local lodge for the fraternity and business contacts. (Feel free to email me if your family has a history of Freemasonry.)

I was certainly shaken at one point in the movie, not because of any gross excesses, but because of how accurately the movie portrayed the evil of abortion—all without showing a drop of blood.  The movie is R for a reason, and I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. But if you are going to watch it, just remember that the Creator is always infinitely more powerful than any of His creatures. Jesus Christ conquered Satan on a tree, just as Adam was conquered by the serpent on a tree. In Jesus Name, we can be free from any hold the enemy has on our lives, so long as we are willing to repent, surrender to Jesus, forgive others, renounce the enemy’s lies, and cling to our good, holy, true, and beautiful God.

PS the last ten minutes of the movie were out of place. The writing was solid up until that point when they reverted to the kind of unrealistic preachy-dialogue that makes some Christian movies painful to watch. Besides that, bravo!

Father James

May 7 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

Being the only son and “baby of the family,” I do have the claim to being my mom’s favorite and perfect son (her words, not mine).  It also doesn’t hurt that I also became a priest!  However, as you all know by now, I am certainly not perfect, nor completely self-sufficient.  This becomes particularly clear given the fact that I too seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation about every other month—I need Jesus just as much as anyone else!—and given the fact that some ministerial tasks prove to be too big for me to handle on my own—I need to depend on others!  But there is a beauty in not being perfect in ourselves! As St. Aelred put it, “Almighty God can complete anyone He pleases. But God desires that we depend on each other, and what anyone does not have in himself, he finds in the other. Thus, humility is preserved, love increased, and unity realized.”

This quotation shows us that God has a beautiful purpose for giving us the gift of each other!  Do we realize what a gift it is to need to depend on others? Or to have to ask for help sometimes? This is seen in our first reading from Acts of the Apostles as a lesson to the early Church.  In this passage, there was a serious need being neglected as the Hellenist widows were being ignored.  So how did the Church respond?  It called forward seven new deacons, each with Greek names.  The response to the problem came from within the community! “Humility is preserved, love increased, and unity realized.”

What a beautiful lesson that we can learn from the early Church.  If we see a legitimate need within our community, that’s okay! We can trust that the Holy Spirit will call forward generous volunteers to complete the task. In fact, if God is raising that need before your eyes, perhaps He’s asking you to respond to it! Let’s ask the Holy Spirit this Easter season where He may be asking us to serve others within our beautiful parish of Our Lady of Mercy.  That way humility is preserved, love increased, and unity realized.

Father Michael

April 23 – Third Sunday of Easter

The road to Emmaus is a beautiful story about a journey of faith—a journey that we all know very well. 

It begins with two disciples walking alongside their Master.  Although initially filled with hope, they struggle to understand the reality of the suffering and the cross that they have encountered.  Jesus points to their foolishness, not only because they failed to understand his teaching and prophecy, but also because they chose to ignore the women in their own group who proclaimed that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive!  Imagine: if you were one of the disciples who had followed Jesus closely for several years, and you heard that he was alive, wouldn’t you stick around in Jerusalem to search for Him? Why walk away defeated as if Jesus never existed?

Yet we so often do that very thing—when we sin, we live as if Jesus were not risen! Thus, our Mass begins with a similar scenario where we call to mind all of the times where we have lived as if Jesus were not risen: “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!”

Sufficiently reproached, we then humbly listen to Jesus who proceeds to open up the Scriptures for us in the liturgy of the word: the Old Testament and Psalms lay the foundation, and the letters and the Gospel bring it all to fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus revealed to the two disciples that he was indeed the flawless continuation of God’s love affair with humanity, so too does the first part of the Mass immerse us in that same story.  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” Please, God, that my homilies do much the same for you!  That they complete the liturgy of the word by leading our hearts into a burning desire for the Lord!

But that’s not all. As the journey continues, the disciples plead with Jesus, “Stay with us!”  Jesus heeds their request, and begins to do something he had done when feeding the thousands, when instituting the Eucharist, and which would be repeated in his Church for millennia to come: he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them… In this simple but iconic gesture, Jesus was recognized for who he truly was. It was and continues to be in the breaking of the bread that our eyes are opened to see him!  With hearts on fire, we are to go forth like the disciples proclaiming that, YES, “The Lord has truly been raised!”

The road to Emmaus is our road through the Mass.  Let us enter the Mass with great hope, with our hearts open to his word, recognize our Lord’s presence in the Eucharistic breaking of the bread, and go forth into the world proclaiming that Jesus is truly risen!

Father Michael

April 16 – Divine Mercy

Although Catholicism is the largest single denomination in the US, we are doubly outnumbered by Protestants in general. This means that, like it or not, we American Catholics are deeply influenced by Protestants. In that light, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, allow me to share five arguments proving that Jesus gave us sacrament of divine mercy: confession.

#1: John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” There are three things that Jesus immediately does upon resurrecting and appearing to his apostles for the first time: first, He says, “Peace be with you”; second, He gives them the Holy Spirit; third, He gives them the authority to forgive sins on His behalf. Why in the world would He give men the authority to do what only God can do (Mark 2:7) if He didn’t want them to use that authority? And if that isn’t enough, Jesus did much the same when He gave Peter the authority to bind or loose things in heaven (Matt 16:18-19). Jesus Himself gave us the sacrament of confession.

#2: Catholicism or bust. If you believe that Jesus founded the Catholic Church and not the Lutheran, Calvinist, Baptist, etc. (see Matt 16:18-19), then you necessarily must believe in sacramental confession. Under the Holy Spirit, the Church has definitively declared this again and again, council after council; so for Catholics at least, if you’re going to be rationally consistent, confession isn’t optional.

#3: James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to one another.” James tells us to confess our sins to other Christians. Regardless of who he means by “one another”, this shows us that the confession of sins has always been more than a private prayer devotion for Christians. The Acts of the Apostles itself says of those who were converting, “Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.” (Acts 19:18) Confessing to another Christian (i.e. a priest) is essential because our sins affect the rest of the church and not just our personal relationship with God alone.

#4: History Proves It. If Scripture wasn’t enough, innumerable early Christian writings show us that those temporally closest to Jesus believed that Jesus intended a public confession of sins. We read from the Didache, written at about the same time as some New Testament books: “Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life… On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.” (Didache 4:14, 14:1) Or, to take an example from Origen: “[A final method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner . . . does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, ‘I said, “To the Lord I will accuse myself of my iniquity.”’” (Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 [A.D. 248])

#5: James 5:14-15 “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” The same passage that clearly points to the sacrament of anointing of the sick also shows us that sins can be forgiven through the ministry of priests.

Jesus gave us a gift in sacramental confession, so it’s only reasonable to think that He had good reasons for doing so! I’d encourage you to go at least every couple months. I go every few weeks.

Father James

April 9 – Easter Sunday

“There is more.” If there were a slogan for Christianity, I think that this would be it! There is more… There is more joy, more peace, more happiness, freedom, and fulfillment waiting for you. Healing can happen, resurrection is an option, and what you see isn’t just what you get. There is more! There is more to life, more to marriage, more to family, friends, and fellowship than you realize. Jesus is always bringing more for those open to receiving it, and whatever the cross, whatever the roadblocks, whatever the pain, discouragement, and death that we face, there is always more redemption available.

What is striking about the saints is that they never say, “That is enough!” That is enough God, enough charity, enough hope. No, they know that heaven is not just watching the Cubs win the world series (and neither is hell thankfully!), nor is heaven enjoying grandma’s cheesecake again, or throwing a perfect game, or enjoying a good book and a tasty drink at the ocean—wonderful as these things are! Heaven doesn’t just satisfy our desire for pleasure, knowledge, and beauty, but also goodness, love, and belonging as well. All of the best memories in our lives, all of the greatest achievements, and even something more.

The saints were never fully satisfied in this life not because they didn’t enjoy life, or experience profound relationships, or achieve great feats—au contraire! They knew how to enjoy life in the best ways possible! Rather, they were never fully satisfied in this life because they knew that even these things were only a dim reflection of the glory to come. God always has even more in store. 

How do you fit the infinite into something finite? You don’t. That’s why in heaven there will be an eternity of wonder, an eternity of new life, an eternity of deepened love. Heaven could never be “boring” because by definition, as C.S. Lewis put it, it’s an eternity of joyfully traveling “further up and further in”! 

“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him!” (1 Cor 2:9) In a post-Easter world, we can take to heart St. Paul’s exhortation, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” For when it comes to life in Christ, life in His Church, and life as God’s beloved child, there is always more!

Father James

April 2 – Palm Sunday

On Good Friday, Pontius Pilate was not the only one who had a choice to make. The very same choice was brought both to the people of the world then, as well as to the people of the world now. We may be unaware of this choice, but that’s why the Church in her wisdom has us hear Pontius Pilate pose the very same question to us this weekend.  He brings before us the one called Jesus of Nazareth, and the one known as Barabbas.  The two seem like they couldn’t be more different, until we recognize that Bar-abbas literally means “son of the father”.  Here then is our choice and question: Which son of the father will we follow?   Will we choose to follow Jesus Christ, the son of the Father of sacrificial love, or will you follow Bar-abbas, the son of the father of the passions?

Surprisingly, we participate in the Palm Sunday liturgy by crying out, “Barabbas!” It’s a painful moment each year no matter how many times we’ve done it, because if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we all too often choose our own passions over our Lord.  Like the crowds before Pilate, we too choose to act selfishly over being selfless.  In a sense, whenever we choose sin, we once again choose Bar-abbas!

To admit this is hard.  It’s very sobering. It first of all takes a certain about of self-awareness—and then, very quickly, a lot of humility. To be willing to look in the mirror and humbly submit our understanding of right vs. wrong to the God of all, rather than to what we’d like to think is right or wrong. When we put aside our attempts at justifying ourselves and our actions, the reality is clear: in our human brokenness, we don’t always do what is right! St. Paul describes this experience so well: “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” (Rom 7:15) What then do we do? Do we just surrender, give up, and resign ourselves to a life of sin?  NO! “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!””  (Rom 8:15) In Christ we have forgiveness; in Christ we have hope. Just look at St. Peter! He himself who was hand-picked by Jesus to be the rock upon which the Church was built denied our Lord 3 times. The head of the apostles himself had at one point ‘chosen Barabbas’. Yet,

The Church is founded upon forgiveness.  Peter himself is a personal embodiment of this truth! She is held together by forgiveness, and Peter is the perpetual living reminder of this reality: she is not a communion of the perfect but a communion of sinners who need and seek forgiveness. ~ Pope Benedict XVI

As we experience Palm Sunday, let us never be afraid to acknowledge our brokenness, seek forgiveness, and turn with confidence to our true Father through His one eternal Son!

Father Michael

March 26 – Fifth Sunday of Lent

When discussing our Catholic faith with one of my friends, he’ll usually respond, “Wow, you actually believe this?”  He says it in jest and sarcasm, as he too is a practicing Catholic.  The statement is more to point out where we are in our society when it comes to understanding and living out our faith, as it seems to go against our cultural norms.

Over the last 4 and half weeks of Lent, I have been going to various parishes, schools, and homes to bring people the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and that doesn’t include the increased hours of the Sacrament Reconciliation this coming week from 7-8:30PM, Monday through Friday, March 27th-31st offered at our parish. 

The Sacrament is a beautiful gift Jesus gave the Church (Jn 20:21-23; 2 Cor 5:11-21), and I’ve seen the power of the Sacrament through my own vocation.  Fr. James has preached on the precept of the Church that a Catholic is required to go to confession at least once a year.  One can respond, like my friend, “You actually believe this?” Of course my answer is “Yes” and our Gospel this weekend continues to reveal it.

There are many beautiful insights with the story of raising Lazarus, but I’ll point to one in particular.  Death was a result of sin, so when Jesus says to the people as Lazarus comes out of the tomb, “Unbind him and let him go,” Jesus is revealing his authority to free people not only from death, but sin as well.  Jesus desires to do the same in our lives.  He desires to call us from death to new life; He desires to free us from sin that binds us.  Let us take advantage of this gift the Lord has given us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Father Michael

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