February 5 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”. (Lumen Gentium, 11) It is our direct contact with the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As St. John Paul II put it, “The Church constantly draws her life from the redeeming sacrifice; she approaches it not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real contact, since this sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community which offers it at the hands of the consecrated minister. The Eucharist thus applies to men and women today the reconciliation won once for all by Christ for mankind in every age.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 12)

There’s a lot riding on the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (the bread and wine change substantially into the Body and Blood of Jesus), so if we have any doubts about Jesus’ intentions when he instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, let’s listen to how the early Christians unerstood what Jesus meant by the words “This is my body…do this in remembrance of me.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in AD 110: “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.” (Letter to the Romans 7:3)

“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1)

St. Justin Martyr, writing in AD 151: “We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66)

St. Irenaeus, writing in AD 189: “He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?” (Against Heresies, 5:2).

Father James

January 29 – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I remember when I was in the seminary, the Powerball Lottery got up to its highest pay out yet; 700+ Million dollars.  Needless to say, I couldn’t help but stop by a gas station and buy a ticket.  All of sudden, I started doing the calculations: half to taxes, hundred million to the Diocese, Catholic Schools and the Hospital; take care of my family debts; pay for my nephew and niece’s colleges…  In the end, I would only keep 10 million to myself.  How I came up with that number, I don’t know, but needless to say, I wanted to keep some of the winnings for myself, despite the fact that I was on my way to serving the Church and the People of God.

A similar situation occurred after becoming a priest.  A rather well-off parishioner from my former parish was boasting on my behalf saying, “I bet I could offer you a million dollars and I know you would turn it down!”  Little did he know of my lack of humility and how eager I would have been to take him up on his offer!  Without hesitation, my mind went through the same process: support this and that ministry, give some gifts to my family, and in the end, buy myself a nice new car!  

These experiences taught me something very simple: when the occasion presents itself, I do have a tendency to keep things for myself, even if I try to justify it with charity. As a result, I can now see the Church’s wisdom in the spiritual discipline of tithing. Money is a perennial temptation for all of us—“You cannot worship God and money,” (Matt 6:24) and, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:23)  In tithing I have found the freedom to stop calculating where I can splurge on myself, and instead to grow in dependence upon God. Tithing gives us an opportunity to let go of our attachments and to give ourselves back to God. 

Of course, tithing literally 10% of one’s income is not as doable for everyone.  The financial situation in our country is only getting harder.  Tithing  is not meant to be a cold calculation as if God were taxing us in addition to Uncle Sam, but rather it is meant to be a response to God’s generous love.  That being said, I also know from my own brokenness that we humans have a tendency to justify keeping more than we need for ourselves. Perhaps that’s why the very first beatitude is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”   God has designed that the Body of Christ be built up not by Church taxes, but by the individual decisions of her members to “seek first the kingdom of God.” Regardless of which of the many beautiful Catholic movements and charities that you decide to support, may we continue to strive to be generous in building up His Kingdom so that we can say with St. Paul, “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance,” but “more than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 4:12 and 3:8)

Father Michael

January 22 – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

I hope you’ve heard of the Bible in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz by now! It was the leading podcast for a long time and still seems to top the charts every January. There’s even a Spanish version now with Fr. Sergio Serrano O.P. which is just as good! This year Ascension has also just released The Catechism in a Year.

Now, when you hear catechism you might think, BORING! And that’s what I thought when I was first asked to read the catechism in seminary. How wrong I was! I found the 1992 Catechism gifted to us by St. John Paul II’s initiative and (then) Cardinal Ratzinger’s theological leadership to be an absolute masterpiece that shines forth with the beauty and clarity of everything that Jesus’ Church has taught and handed on throughout the centuries. It’s a single book that can concisely and seriously answer just about every question phrased as: What does the Catholic Church teach about ___?

I cannot recommend enough that every Catholic read/listen through the Catechism cover to cover at least once in their lifetime, especially if it’s with a guide like Fr. Mike. Why? For one because we cannot love what we do not know. For two because the more we know another (like God and His Church) the better we can love and follow them.  For three because knowing Church teaching backwards and forwards is both freeing and healing. Yes. As Jesus Himself says, “The truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32)

Many people nowadays tout the importance of ‘following your conscience’ in order to justify all sorts of things. Part of their reasoning is true because our consciences are binding. However, most people don’t realize that the word conscience literally means “to know-with”, con-scientia. Who are we knowing with? Jesus and His Church. If we thus do not inform our consciences such that they know-with Jesus’ Body, the Church, then we may just be knowing-with ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’. (Remember Jesus’ rebuke to Peter in Matt 16:23)

We are all born with the wounds of original sin, and one of them is called the ‘darkness of the intellect’. If we understand this, then we know that informing our consciences isn’t just obligatory, it is healing! Knowing with Christ’s Church heals our wounded intellects that tend to under-value the things of heaven and over-value the things of this world. It heals our ability to see, discern, and know that which is the best choice in any given circumstance. It heals our worldview because it habituates our intellects to the full truth of things rather than misguided understandings. This will dispose us to living with deeper faith, hope, and charity.

Each time we sin, we do violence to our intellects by habituating them to making wrong judgements about which is the greater good that we could choose. This is why we’re so good at self-justification, regardless of the wrongness of the act! On the other hand, when we habituate our intellects to knowing things for as they really are—like by reading the Catechism—we heal the violence previously done by our sins. This frees us to not only know what is the best choice to be made, but also to more easily choose it, difficult as it may be, because of how firmly we know it to be true! So don’t wait any longer—check out The Catechism in a Year on all your podcasting apps! 

Father James

January 15 – Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Recently Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th pope, passed away at the age of 95. Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Gänswein said that Benedict himself thought he would die within a year of resigning, and yet, he survived for about 10 years afterwards! Tell God your plans, right…? Nevertheless, he resigned at age 85 because, in his own words, “…in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” Contrary to what many secular media outlets may say, these are the words of a meek, prayerful, and honest disciple of Our Lord.

I made the mistake a few years ago of watching the film “The Two Popes” on Netflix. It’s clearly fictional and just for entertainment…but nevertheless leaves one with images of a Benedict who is power-hungry and callous. Nothing could be further from the truth (and thus I highly discourage watching the film). If you don’t believe me, watch EWTN’s most recent interview with ‘Msgr. Georg Gänswein’ on YouTube, or the 2003 interview by EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo with Cardinal Ratzinger himself. Both of them cut quickly through any fanciful caricatures. What we discover in meeting and reading the late Pope Benedict is a man who loved the Lord with all his heart.

Jesus, for Benedict, is not an idea or an historical figure in a textbook but a living friend who offers hope and joy in the midst of any storm. In fact, humble joy and love for the Lord are what come through the most in that 2003 interview. If there’s anything we can learn from this theological giant, it’s his unwavering faith and hope in the God who is both Love and Reason.

If you’re looking to get a taste of treasure that this man left the Church in his writings, I would recommend his encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi (free online), and his book Jesus of Nazareth (the gold and red volume). (His book Introduction to Christianity, while exceptional, is not an intro like Theology 101 is an intro!) Alongside St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. John the Evangelist, Pope Benedict is one of my heroes in the faith and I hope that he will inspire you too, not only as to the beauty of the rationality of our faith, but also in the lovability of our great God and Lord Jesus Christ!

May he rest in peace. Amen.

Father James

January 8 – Epiphany of the Lord

The Heisman trophy is awarded to an individual college football player for his outstanding performance on the field.  The trophy is a bronze figure of John Heisman with arm extended (a stiff-arm) to ward off any person getting to the football.  Sometimes I think this trophy represents more than just a great football player but also a common image of how we can tend to live the Christian life.

For better or for worse, relationships have the ability to change us.  For that reason, we can often carry the same stance as the Heisman trophy: a stiff-arm that wards off potentially life-changing encounters.  However, the Lord is constantly inviting us to relationship—both with him and his Body, the Church.  Although keeping others at arm’s length can seem more comfortable, it also means that we could be keeping Our Lord at a distance as well.

The Magi offer us a good example. Instead of avoiding new relationships, they sought them out! They went on a long and arduous journey to enter into a new relationship with the King of the Jews. Unsure of what their meeting would mean, they stepped out of their comfortable lives as kings in search of something even greater. What is more, they had the humility to seek wisdom from others on their journey, leading to their eventual discovery of a little child with his mother, and a new King who was worthy of all their gifts.  The last line in this narrative is subtle but profound: “They departed for their country by another way.”  Their lives were changed!

As we begin a new year, I encourage you to be open to new relationships.  To put away our Heisman stance and open ourselves to the Lord and his Body at Our Lady of Mercy. May I even encourage you further by taking part in the many places of encounter especially where you haven’t had a chance to take part in, here at Our Lady of Mercy.  From encountering the Lord through those in need by helping out at PADS, the Mobile Food Pantry, the funeral and homebound ministries, to diving deeper into profound intimacy with the Lord through the upcoming CRHP Men’s and Women’s Retreats, the next Bible Study on the Chosen, or the upcoming powerful gatherings in the Rescue Project. May our encounter of the Lord, in these places of encounter or on our own seeking of Him, have the same result as it did for the Magi, that our lives be changed!

Father Michael

January 1 – Solemnity of Mary

Calling Mary the “Mother of God” is a simple syllogism: Mary is the Mother of Jesus. Jesus is God. Therefore, Mary is the mother of God. Logic!! Now, speaking of logic, this isn’t to say that Mary is somehow temporally before God, nor that she created God. Mary was not the mother of Jesus’ divine nature, but rather His human nature. God is outside of time and space (He created space-time!). Still, she wasn’t just the mother of Jesus’ human nature, she was the mother of Jesus Himself—the divine person! Jesus’ two natures were perfectly and uniquely united in His person.  Hence, whatever we can truthfully say about Jesus, we can truthfully say about God.

So, for instance, we can rightly say that God suffered our death on the cross; God became incarnate; God wept at the death of his friend Lazarus; God Himself saved us; and so on. 

This is important not only because of what it teaches us about God’s tenderness, humility, and closeness, but also because it preserves a correct understanding of the central figure of our faith: Jesus! Jesus was both fully God and fully man, and what we say about Mary helps to make this clear.

We thus have no problem focusing an entire solemnity on a specific title of Mary. Mary always helps us to understand her Son.

In case we are still unconvinced, though, just look at Elizabeth. Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit” exclaimed, “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:41-42) Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth didn’t exclaim, “That my Lord should come to me!” but, “That the mother of my Lord!” Clearly the Holy Spirit—aka God—has no qualms about guiding His people to get excited about Mary…and not only to get excited, but also to specifically call Mary the mother of my “Kyriou”, the mother of my divine Lord. It doesn’t get much clearer than that, so enjoy kicking off the new year just as the Holy Spirit would want you to, by celebrating Mary the Mother of our God!

Father James

December 25 – Nativity of the Lord

I’m very competitive.  I may or may not “talk smack” if you try to take me on in card games or sports…especially when I’m good at them—that includes bowling, by the way, so watch out OLM bowling league.  As I reflect, I can see that this competitive spirit began in grade school, carried into high school, and has even continued into college and priestly ministry!

Competition is a good thing (and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased).  It is something that reminds us of the need to put in the necessary effort and discipline if we want to succeed.  St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize!” (1 Cor 9:24)  St. Paul desires that people put the same effort they put into sports into growing their faith.

Still, there is one area of our lives where competition should have no place: our relationship with God.  This is because God is not in competition with us.  What we learn as children and adults—namely, “if somebody else wins, I lose”—doesn’t translate in our relationship with God.  When God wins, we win.  He’s on our side, and He’s one heck of a teammate!

When my nephew was a tiny infant, it was a joy just to be able to hold him. I didn’t challenge him to a competition, or question who was winning out the most in our relationship.  I just wanted to be with him—to hold him and to rejoice in him. The Lord desires the same kind of relationship with us.  He wants to be with us! He wants to be held close to our hearts, just as He holds us close to His own heart.

This shows us one of the reasons why God chose to become an infant.  He wants to break through our imagined competition with Him, and show us that fighting against Him is just about as unreasonable as fighting against a helpless infant. When God wins, we win. Let’s be thankful this Christmas for our God who is so powerful and majestic that He’s not afraid to become a helpless tiny infant, showing us just how much He wants to be with us, and just how far He is willing to go for us!

Father Michael

 

December 18 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Have you ever had a dream for yourself or family and saw it realized; whether it be personal, spiritual, or vocational?  It’s usually an unforgettable moment filled with great joy.  I have been blessed to be able experience this in my own life on various occasions: from running a marathon with my sister two years after my last chemo, to desiring to hear the Lord’s voice in prayer, to responding to the Lord’s calling in my ordination to the priesthood.  All were unforgettable and joyful moments where dreams were fulfilled!

St. Matthew’s Gospel is known as the fulfillment Gospel.  Throughout his Gospel, St. Matthew writes, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet…”  St. Matthew is preparing his readers to receive the dream given to all of humanity—the dream to be once again reunited with our God and creator.

For St. Joseph, this dream was literally his own. An angel of the Lord explained to St. Joseph in his dreams what was soon to come and the role that he was invited to play.  Although it took great courage, St. Joseph answered the call to participate in this dream. He knew that the very same God who freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, who fed His people in the desert, and who promised to once again deliver His people from bondage, was reaching out him in this dream.

That dream can be ours as well—and not only a dream, but the fulfillment of that dream! It takes great courage to follow God’s lead, even if His promises seem hard to believe, but for those who follow it, they will know the greatest dream of all to come true in their own lives. Let us unite ourselves with St. Joseph this week as prepare for Christmas. For on Christmas day, we receive Emmanuel anew—God with us—the greatest dream to ever come true!

Father Michael

 

December 11 – Third Sunday of Advent

“What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” One has to wonder why everyone who met Jesus didn’t immediately fall down at His feet and exclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Matt 27:54) Rather, He was hidden in ordinary human flesh. John the Baptist himself, who according to Jesus is greater than all those born of women, has to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Our expectations can severely limit our capacity to see, and Jesus’ response to John is thus to refix his expectations.

It should therefore be no wonder that everyone who encounters the Eucharist doesn’t immediately fall down at His feet and exclaim, “Truly this is the Son of God!” We can really only see the Eucharist for what it is, if we see Jesus for who He is, and adjust our expectations accordingly.

So, what would we expect? What has Jesus shown us about Himself? Jesus is humble. He’s not afraid to be a helpless little baby. He is generous—He does not withhold His Body and Blood from being poured out for the world on the cross. He wants to be with us—so much so that He left the glory of heaven to visit His people. And He is radically in love with us—He is “the bridegroom”, we are the bride, and He therefore wants to become “one flesh” with us.

Knowing this—knowing Jesus for who He truly is—it is no wonder that God gives Himself to us in the Eucharist: His Presence, His Sacrifice, and His Communion. Just as He was hidden in human flesh to give us this threefold gift, so too now He is doubly hidden, both His divinity and humanity, so as to give all of humanity these gifts until the end of time.

Jesus provides us with something irrefutably stable in his words, deeds, and person to show us who God is—in a word, He teaches us to see God. Although this doesn’t come immediately to those who meet Our Lord, remember that “the blind regain their sight” because of Him. Thus, just as Jesus revealed how much God loves us on the cross, may we allow Him to heal our blindness and show us just how much God loves us in the Eucharist.

Father James

 

December 4 – Second Sunday of Advent

When I was growing up, my family would often host the various holiday gatherings. Inevitably, when Thanksgiving or Christmas rolled around and we were on to host, the family would go into an all-out cleanup mode. Suddenly, everyone had extra chores, and I still remember that my job was to Windex the tabletops and vacuum the carpets. The family went full court press on cleanup and our hope was to prepare a home worthy of receiving our extended family and honored guests.

We can make the same connection with the season of Advent. This Liturgical season is meant to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus Christ on Christmas day. St. John the Baptist proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” His mission was much the same: to prepare people to receive Jesus through the gift of repentance. Hence, if we’re wondering how to prepare for Christmas, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is always a beautiful way to prepare to receive Jesus.

It is important to note that, although St. John the Baptist’s message was proclaimed in the desert of all places, people still traveled great distances to receive his message of repentance. I truly believe that these travels themselves were even part of the preparation of repentance—showing they were willing to go out of their way to ask God for forgiveness. Likewise, any good confession needs preparation and effort. I would suggest taking the time to read through a good examination, whether it’s the ones in the narthex, on our MyParish app, online by searching for the “Knights of Columbus examination of conscience” or on our website under Sacraments and select Reconciliation (where you can find an Examination of Conscience for Children, Teens, Singles, Married and one in Spanish).

Now in all honesty, I have to acknowledge that when we had to prepare the house for our visitors, I didn’t always respond in the most enthusiastic way. I sometimes would only begrudgingly finish my tasks. However, the one thing that never changed was the joy that we all had in celebrating the holidays with family and friends. This can happen with the Sacrament of Reconciliation too! It might not be an enjoyable experience to have to acknowledge our brokenness and sins, but it will allow us all the more to celebrate the welcoming of Jesus into our hearts this Christmas!

In this spirit, Fr. James and I will be offering six straight days of confession this year. Starting Monday December 12th, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, through Friday the 16th, 7-8:30 PM, followed by our normal Saturday confession times. Our hope is to give an ample amount of time for people to prepare their hearts to receive Jesus.

Father Michael