Sunday, June 24, 2018

Happy Birthday, John!

Usually the Church celebrates a feast on the death date of a saint.  That is their "birthday" into heaven.  But for three people we also celebrate their earthly births--Jesus (on Christmas Day), the Blessed Virgin Mary (on September 8, nine months after a celebration of her Immaculate Conception), and John the Baptist (today, June 24).  Three months ago we celebrated the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive and that her kinswoman Elizabeth was sixth months pregnant with a son, the one who has come to be known as St. John the Baptist.

You and I celebrate the days on which we were born and we also, at the end of our lives, are remembered and prayed for by our friends and relatives.  In between those dates--our birth and our death--we live our earthly lives.  John the Baptist is a great example for how to live those days.

What is the most important lesson that we can learn from John?  Humility.  In the second reading at Mass today (Acts 13: 22-26), in a speech of St. Paul, we hear how John told the many people who had come to follow him that he was not the Messiah, the Anointed One.  In fact, he said, he was even lower than the Messiah's servant: "Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet."

Yet our first reading (Isaiah 49: 1-6), in words that the Church applies to John the Baptist, says that "it is too little for you to be my servant.... I will make you a light to the nations...."  That sounds pretty glorious.  However, light is humble.  We don't turn a light on and then focus our attention on it.  Light is not there to be stared at. It does not draw attention to itself.  Rather, it humbly enlightens a place so that one can find one's way in the dark.

We too are called to be light for others, not to draw attention to ourselves but to help others find their way through the darkness of the world.

There is an expression: "to make a name for oneself."  Those who try to make a name for themselves want to become famous so that many people will recognize their name.  They want to draw attention to themselves.

John the Baptist did not try to make a name for himself.  He was given a name by God.  He should have been called "Zechariah," after his father.  But on the day of his circumcision, his parents made it clear that in obedience to God's will, which came to them through the Angel Gabriel, their son was to be named "John."  It's a name that means "God is gracious."  John's identity was to show the graciousness of God who sent the Son to live our life, suffer with and for us, and even share in our death so that we could share in his resurrection.  John prepared the way for the One who embodied the graciousness of God, the goodness and generosity of God.  John pointed to Jesus, the Incarnation of God's graciousness.

You and I were also given a name by God.  It wasn't the name our parents chose for us but the name that we received when we were baptized and joined to the Body of Christ.  We were named "Christian."  We became "other Christs."  The name "Christ" means "Anointed One."  At baptism we were anointed with the Sacred Chrism which is used to consecrate the altar and four walls of new churches, setting that space apart for the sacred purpose of worship.  When I was ordained, the bishop anointed my hands with Sacred Chrism, consecrating them for the sacred purpose of offering worship to God.  And when we were baptized and then confirmed, our foreheads were anointed with that same Sacred Chrism, consecrating each of us for the sacred purpose of offering worship to God.

We do that when we celebrate Mass and offer the perfect worship, joining ourselves to the perfect offering of Jesus as he renews his greatest act of love for the Father and for us.  But our worship doesn't end there.  We go forth and continue our worship in our daily lives, offering every thought, word, and deed, every prayer, work, joy, and suffering to God as an act of love and for the salvation of souls.  Our Daily Offering prayer helps us remember to offer the worship of daily life for which we have been anointed.

Like John, we are now called to live up to our name--Christian.  We are called to be true to the anointing and name that we received at baptism.  We are called not to make a name for ourselves but to make the Name of Jesus known and glorified.  For it is in this Name alone that the world has come to know salvation.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Planting Seeds of Faith, Hope, and Love

At our grade school--Sapa Un Catholic Academy
It's over a year since my last post and 10 and a half months since I left the Apostleship of Prayer (the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network) to become director of St. Francis Mission Among the Lakota (  It feels as though I actually have three jobs--chief administrator, fund-raiser, pastor of the reservation--and as a result I haven't taken the time to blog.  Plus, I wondered whether it was appropriate to use this blog which was so closely connected to the Apostleship of Prayer.  However, those who make a daily offering and strive to live the spirituality of the AoP are always members.  And I've had a lot to "offer up" this past year.  That being said, I want to return to blogging and to begin with my homily for this weekend, the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

Last week I was in Omaha and I sure found Google Maps on my cell phone to be very helpful for getting around to see various people.  But this app would have been no help at all if I didn't know the destinations.  Without a destination there would be no directions on how to get there.

Each of us has an internal GPS that tells us something about our destination.  It's called "conscience."  It's an innate sense of right and wrong that doesn't need to be taught.  Just think of the following situation: A teacher tells his or her first graders that at the end of the day all the boys will get a chocolate bar and all the girls will have to stay after school.  There would be an outcry: "That's not fair!"  Who told them that it wasn't fair?  Children have an innate sense of "fairness" that doesn't need to be taught.  Of course, as time goes by this moral GPS or conscience needs further development, updates as it were, that help it grow and stay on track.

This is where knowing our destination is essential.  What's our goal or destination in life?  In our second reading (2 Corinthians 5: 6-10), St. Paul writes about his and our "home," our true home.  Earth is not our true home.  Life on earth is a journey.  Our true home or "haven" is heaven.  We are here on earth to learn how to breathe the atmosphere of heaven, to get ready to go to our true home.

But we don't go there alone.  A good friend of mine, Deacon Pat Coy of Custer, South Dakota, says that when we enter the pearly gates Jesus will be there to ask us "How many did you bring with you?"

In our Gospel (Mark 4: 26-34) Jesus presents another way of looking at this.  He uses the image of farming.  We are here on earth to scatter seeds--seeds of faith, hope, and love.  We can till the soil and get rid of the weeds, but we cannot make those seeds grow.  Only God can.  Thus we do the best we can but leave the results to God.  This is where faith and trust come into play.

Pope Francis put it well in his Apostolic Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel."  He wrote in sections 278 and 279:

Let us believe the Gospel when it tells us that the kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a great tree....  Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks.... This certainty ... involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit, without claiming to know how, or where, or when.  We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others.  ... The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results.  We know only that our commitment is necessary.  Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time.