Sunday, July 25, 2010

Getting Rid of the Heat

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Genesis 18.20-32 Psalm 138 Colossians 2.12-14 Luke 11.1-13

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) recording of this homily.

It seems like one of the top things on everyone’s mind these days is the heat – as we all know, it’s been an unusually warm summer in many parts of the country. We can’t get rid of the heat, and most of us are tired of it. So what do we do instead? We talk about. There are probably more conversations about weather on a given day than on any other topic. And with a long stretch of oppressively hot temperatures and high humidity, our conversations eventually get around to ways to beat the heat, or at least to avoid heat stroke. We remind one another to drink plenty of water, to keep our bodies hydrated. We try not to mow the grass in the heat of the day, and we search out any opportunity for air-conditioned comfort. And if we do go outside, we are reminded to use sunscreen and to limit our time in the direct sunlight. The good health of our bodies depends on taking appropriate action when the temperatures rise. We could ignore all these ways to beat the heat, but then our health and well-being would suffer. It’s as simple as that.

The same thing is true for our spiritual well-being. Even though the extremes of temperature or humidity can’t directly affect our spiritual lives, there are plenty of things in the world that can scorch our souls or freeze our consciences. The ongoing temptation to have the latest gadget can quickly harden our hearts. The excitement of an entertainment-based society can confuse our moral compass. The temporary pleasure of instant gratification can turn our souls away from what lasts forever. Just like good hydration and adequate rest are essential for our bodies to survive a heat wave, we need something to help our souls survive the spiritual void that exists around us. And the answer is as simple as prayer.

Prayer keeps us connected to God. It reminds us that God cares for us like a father, that his kingdom is right here among us. In prayer, we can ask God for the help we need in our daily lives – we can ask God for strength or wisdom, for guidance or peace. Prayer keeps our souls nourished and helps us take the focus off ourselves. With prayer, we can keep our spiritual lives grounded in the love of God, and the distractions of the world seem a lot less tempting.

So if you find yourself struggling with what’s going on in your life, or if it seems like the lure of the world is getting a hold of you, check out your prayer life. It can make a difference even if we only take 5 minutes a day to talk with God. Take that time to think through your day, and to thank God for whatever blessings you have been given – and there is always something to be thankful for. Then ask God to help you in whatever way you need him – and we always need God’s help. Spend some time in silence, then pray in the words Jesus himself gave us. It’s that simple – say “thank you,” ask for help, listen, and then pray. And if we spend even a fraction of the time praying as we do talking about the weather, then we will be well on our way to finding what our soul is looking for.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Homily Audio File Test

I am working on recording my Sunday homilies to be able to post the audio files on the web so people can listen to them. This is a test to see how the system works. Click on the name of the homily below to be redirected to the audio file.

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 18, 2010) - How to deal with stress like Mary of Bethany

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Guidelines for Social Media Ministry

In what is quickly becoming one of the most blogged documents of the US Bishops - as it should be - the social media world is filled with references to the brand new Social Media Guidelines publiushed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Filled with practical advice on how to effectively minister through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc., it even quotes from Wikipedia and has inbedded links to websites from the Vatican to the Federal Trade Commission. And it seems to complement the piece published in last week's Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, in which other priests, seminarians, and I shared how we use social media in our ministry. Says the new guidelines:

"Social media can be powerful tools for strengthening community, although social media interaction should not be viewed as a substitute for face-to-face gatherings. Social media can support communities in a myriad of ways: connecting people with similar interests, sharing information about in-person events, providing ways for people to engage in dialogue, etc. A well-considered use of social media has the ultimate goal of encouraging true friendship” (43rd World Communications Day message [2009]) and of addressing the human longing for meaningful community."

It's good to hear confirmation of what so many of us are trying to do with using social media in our ministry! One news report of the new guidelines says that someone called the USCCB asking for a hard-copy of the guidelines - and that they were denied, since it is an organic document that may be adjusted on the web as technologies change. How far we have come since the days of monks spending their lifetimes copying a single manuscript in a dimly-lit monastic scriptorium!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How to deal with stress like Mary of Bethany

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Genesis 18.1-10a Psalm 15 Colossians 1.24-28 Luke 10.38-42

What makes you anxious? What are you worried about? Or is your life completely free from worry and anxiety? At its core, the story of Martha and Mary is not about a sibling rivalry; it’s not about whether a contemplative lifestyle is better than an active lifestyle. It’s about stress – it’s about anxiety – it’s about worry – and how we deal with those daily, human emotions. Are we like Martha, who is so worried about cooking dinner for Jesus and what she has to do, that she ends up angry at her sister? Or are we like Mary, who probably has anxieties of her own, but who lays those anxieties at the feet of Jesus and trusts in him to give her guidance and strength. And the most important question: does our relationship with Jesus affect how we handle stress?

It seems like the more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more stress we have. The busier we are, the more we worry about how things will turn out. The more we are focused on our own need to succeed or to be popular or to accomplish a certain set of tasks, the more anxiety rules our lives. The stress is going to be there – and certainly it is sometimes good to be anxious. The real test comes with how we deal with these feelings. The example that Mary gives us is to turn everything over to Jesus and to trust in him. For us, today, that means taking our anxieties to prayer, laying our lives before our Lord, and asking him for help. It means that when we come to Mass, we bring whatever baggage and burdens we might carry, and set them at the foot of the altar. It means that in the general intercessions at Mass, we beg God to hear not only the needs that are expressed vocally, but also the prayers in the depths of our hearts. It means that when we come forward to receive the Eucharist, we exchange the stress and anxieties of our bodies and souls for the Body and Blood of Christ, who truly can transform our hearts and lift our burdens.

So what do you bring today to this Mass? Are you worried about family members who have fallen away from the Church or who do not seem to have a meaningful relationship with God? Remember them in prayer before our Lord and Savior. Are you anxious about the coming school year – whether in grade school or high school, as a college student or parent? Here, today, and every day, ask the Lord for guidance and wisdom. Do the continuing challenges of job markets and insurance premiums and unemployment cause your heart to beat faster and your blood pressure to rise? Seek peace from the Prince of Peace and trust that he will never abandon you. Do you find yourself in broken relationships, or ones that are on the brink of tearing apart? Sit at the feet of Jesus in prayer and pour out your burdens upon him – ask him for help, ask him for strength, ask him for whatever you need.

In the gospel, Martha was so busy trying to do everything herself that she lost sight of the only person who could help ease her anxiety – not her sister, but her Lord. Here in this place, that same Lord is present. He is there whenever you pray to him, he is with you in the depths of your darkest struggles, he is there to celebrate your achievements. But most of all, he is ready to help you get rid of all your stress, all your anxiety, and all your worries. All we have to do is go to him with our needs, listen for his response, and trust in his guidance. That is the one thing necessary.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Criterion Article on Digital Ministry

The Criterion, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, has an article this week on priests who use blogs and social networking in their ministry. In fact, this article may have led you to visit this blog! If not, check the article out: Online evangelists: Steering clear of digital dangers, priests use Internet to spread the Gospel.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

St. Thomas Aquinas via Twitter

I don't often borrow from other blogs, but this one is just too good to pass up, at least for those of us who are familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae. Dr. Kimberly Hope Belcher, a professor at St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, posted this on the Pray Tell Blog this week. I don't tweet, but if you do, check out the Summa!

Tweeting the Summa Theologiae?
Who would do that? [Oh, yes, I would.]

Obj 1: Twitter is inappropriate for any serious endeavor. The ST is a serious endeavor. Therefore it should not be tweeted.

Obj 2: 140 characters is not enough to get any real theology done.

Obj 3: People on Twitter are unlikely to appreciate the substance and depth of Thomas Aquinas’ great work.

Contra: “The Master of Catholic Truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but also to instruct beginners” (ST Prologue). Therefore

Resp: I think it’s an interesting way to provide a taste of the ST to get people interested in the larger work. It has the potential to benefit two — no, three! — kinds of readers. First, those who are interested in the thought of Thomas Aquinas but are not sure what part of the work they would be most interested in reading. Second, those who read a part of the ST without its context but would like a larger picture of the work. Third, those who have no interest in the ST itself but are willing to slowly cruise through this greatly abridged version. Our lives will be enriched, I hope. (And if not, it was only 140 characters.)

Ad 1: Twitter is not just for frivolous pursuits, and although theology is a serious endeavor, it is one that can be relevant to every new medium of communication. [Also see ad 2.]

Ad 2: We’ll just have to see about that.

Ad 3: If you jump on and follow, that won’t be a concern anymore, will it?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What Would You Do?

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Deut. 30.10-14 Psalm 69 or 19 Colossians 1.15-20 Luke 10.25-37

There’s a reality news show on television that raises real life ethical questions and puts people in these situations to see how they will react. The show is called, simply, “What would you do?” Perhaps you’ve seen it. One recent episode saw a man trying to drug his date by putting a powdery substance in her glass of wine while she was away from the table. Another episode had people witness gas theft from a filling station. The concept of the show is to use hidden cameras and actors to see how real, unsuspecting people react to these situations – would they say something to the woman whose drink was drugged; would they try to stop the attempted gas theft? And then, of course, beyond the people on screen – what would you do? It’s like a modern-day version of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

But one of the main differences between the gospel and the television show is that the gospel gives us a clear set of criteria for knowing how to act in these kinds of situations. We are to love other people as ourselves, Jesus tells us, and we are to treat them with mercy – with kindness and compassion. In other words, we are to treat everyone around us as people, created and loved by God, our brothers and sisters; not as objects to be manipulated, or as illusions to be forgotten, or as distractions to be ignored. Of course, as the TV show points out, there are many other things to consider. You might not want to make a scene, or you might be concerned for your own safety if you react to another person’s actions. But when it comes down to it, the human response, the Christian response, is to do whatever necessary to treat people with love and mercy, with kindness and compassion. It’s not easy, and most of us fail many times before we have the courage and the true faith to be like the Good Samaritan. But if we call ourselves Christian, then we must start developing the habit of treating people with mercy. For in doing that, we will inherit eternal life.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Genius of the Roman Rite

I got Keith Pecklers' new book this week, The Genius of the Roman Rite: On the Reception and Implementation of the New Missal. It's a historic overview of how the prayers and responses we use at Mass in the Roman Catholic Church have developed and been introduced over time. The latest development is a new edition of the texts of the Mass - the Third Edition of the Roman Missal of Vatican II - with the English translation being implemented most likely at the beginning of Advent 2011. The Vatican has given its recognition of the English translation for the United States, but we are awaiting the final published version from the Vatican. Pecklers' book is valuable because it places this new edition and translation in its context in the history of Mass texts for the Catholic Church. If you trace the entire history of these texts, you will find that there is always a continuity and a focus on a noble simplicity of texts.

A lot has already been done to prepare Catholics in the United States for the implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal - much of it behind the scenes and with priests and liturgy offices. Here at my parish, our liturgy committee has been preparing for over a year - we spent the past year reading and praying through all the new texts for the Order of Mass. This spring, I gave a presentation to all of our liturgical ministers on the history of the Roman Missal and the changes that are coming. Just a couple weeks ago, I attended a two-day conference in Louisville for priests, led by Msgr. Tony Sherman, the head of the US Bishops' Office of Divine Worship. And there will be much more to come.

While there will certainly be a time of adjustment when we implement these new texts, I'm looking forward to the opportunity it will provide for catechesis on the liturgy and how we as Catholics pray. So many of the changes have been done so that the Sciptural allusions in our Mass prayers - which are in the Latin version but were not in the last English translation - will be brought out. We will realize more and more how much of our prayer has its basis in Scripture. And there really is a noble simplicity in these new translations - it's not every-day speech, because we're not addressing an every-day person. We're addressing God, and we will be doing so in a humble, awe-filled manner that will both distinguish our prayer from the language of everyday life and help us to connect our lives of faith with what we do outside of Mass.

So much to do, and so many great opportunities for catechesis! At least we have a lot of time to prepare!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Media at the Service of the Word

In a few months, this blog will be celebrating three years on the web. When I first started blogging, I had planned to publish texts of my Sunday and Holy Day homilies as well as regular reflections and thoughts on other areas of faith and Church life. Over time, the demands of ministry reduced the blog to being almost exclusively a place for posting homilies. Now, however, I hope to expand the use of this blog, in the spirit of Pope Benedict XVI's challenge to priests on this year's World Communications Day:

"All priests have as their primary duty the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, and the communication of his saving grace in the sacraments. Gathered and called by the Word, the Church is the sign and instrument of the communion that God creates with all people, and every priest is called to build up this communion, in Christ and with Christ. Such is the lofty dignity and beauty of the mission of the priest, which responds in a special way to the challenge raised by the Apostle Paul: “The Scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame … everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:11, 13-15).

Responding adequately to this challenge amid today’s cultural shifts, to which young people are especially sensitive, necessarily involves using new communications technologies. The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16) The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts. Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word."
- Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 44th World Day of Communication, May 16, 2010

So stay tuned for more regular postings on this blog as I continue to work to put "the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Prayer for a Nation

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Isaiah 66.10-14c Psalm 66 Galatians 6.14-18 Luke 10.1-12, 17-20

When George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States in 1789, the only Catholic bishop in the country at the time, Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore, wrote a prayer for the occasion, a prayer for the country and her leaders. It is a prayer that has stayed with us through 44 presidents and over 200 years of a diverse people bound together by life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The reason Archbishop Carroll’s prayer is still valuable today is that it speaks to all people, of all times. It is not politically divisive; it is not allied with any particular ideology. It simply asks that God guide the leaders of our nation as they fulfill their duties. And it recognizes that true wisdom, real freedom, and lasting peace come not from governments or armies or business or technology, but from God alone.

In many ways, this is the same message that Jesus gives in today’s gospel. As he sends seventy-two followers ahead of him, they are to preach a message of peace, and they are to declare the presence of God’s kingdom. The faith of Jesus Christ is not a political faith – the kingdom of God is not identified with any one system of government or set of laws. God’s reign is universal, with no borders or boundaries. The kingdom of God is at hand for us when the poor of all nations are fed, when the strangers are welcomed, when the sick in mind and body find wholeness. The kingdom of God is at hand when there is peace and unity among all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, gender or social status. The kingdom of God is at hand when we seek guidance not just in human knowledge but in divine wisdom.

We really have something good going on here in the United States, a land that is based on respect and freedom, life and unity. But through the years, like any human structure, we get off track, we lose our focus; we turn away from the God who unites us and trust instead in the things that divide us: our jobs, our homes, our back accounts, our personal dreams. Through the years, we have strayed away from a society that was founded on a fundamental acknowledgement of a right to life. Through the years, we have laid aside the quest for building God’s kingdom here on earth while awaiting the kingdom of heaven; instead, we have focused more and more on what satisfies us as individuals in the here and now. We have a good foundation here in this country, but we need help and guidance to achieve that dream.

So we look back to the prayer of Archbishop John Carroll, the prayer written for the inauguration of our first president. His words speak to us still today.

Almighty and eternal God, assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to your people over whom he presides. May he encourage due respect for virtue and religion. May he execute the laws with justice and mercy. May he seek to restrain crime, vice, and immorality. Let the light of your divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government. May they seek to preserve peace, promote national happiness, and continue to bring us the blessings of liberty and equality. May we [all] be preserved in union and that peace which the world cannot give; and, after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal. We pray to you, who are Lord and God, for ever and ever. (“Prayer for an Inauguration,” Book of Blessings, para. 1965)