Easter Sunday: If He Is Alive

That is a powerful Gospel reading - and Jesus doesn't even appear in it. He is curiously absent.

We heard details about everything: what time it was, who was there, what she said to the apostles, which apostle got to the tomb first, and even how the burial cloths were arranged.

But no Jesus.

It's almost as if the shock would have been too much for them. The gospel tells us that they "did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead."

Let's imagine that moment. They haven't seen Jesus yet, they don't know for sure - but the tomb is empty. Let's join them there on the edge of hope. Is it possible? Could He be alive?

What were they thinking?

It seems that Mary Magdalene is still deep in grief - grieving over the one who showed her so much love and mercy. We know that she stays at the tomb after the others have left - and is the first one to see the Lord alive.

What about Peter? He had denied Jesus - just as the Lord predicted. He ran away. "What if He's alive? Will He forgive me?"

And John, the author, the disciple whom Jesus loved: he witnessed the crucifixion. He saw how much Jesus had suffered, saw His violent death, and heard His last words from the cross.

We can only guess what these disciples were feeling, how they reacted to the possibility that their friend and master was alive. The tomb is empty and soon He will show Himself to His friends. What does it mean for us that Jesus is alive?

If Jesus is alive, then He really hears me when I pray.

If Jesus is alive, then He is ready to help me when I'm suffering.

If Jesus is alive, then I must make it the purpose of my life to know Him and love Him.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is God's great act of mercy. Jesus did what we couldn't do and went where we couldn't go. He took our sin and death onto Himself in a way we never could - and conquered them. He descended to the very depths of existence - and rose up again.

God has shown us that His response to our weakness and sinfulness is overwhelming mercy. To death and despair He responds with life and hope. In the face of humanity's cruelty, greed, and hatred, He has offered LOVE.

- and so must we!

If Jesus is alive, we must show mercy, we must love.

Those Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy that we've been focusing on in this Year of Mercy aren't just nice suggestions. Our response to God's unbelievable mercy is to show mercy to others: to friends and family, strangers and enemies. The mercy we receive through Jesus' death and resurrection should overflow from our hearts out into the world.

The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive. And so we must live through Him and with Him and in Him.

Enemies of Celibacy

In January 2016, I had the opportunity to speak at St. Vincent Seminary, my alma mater, during a formation session conference about celibacy. These are a cleaned up version of my notes.


When you hear "enemies of celibacy," you may think of some conspiracy of anti-celibacy theologians or maybe someone waiting in your parish to tempt you into breaking the promises you made at your ordination.

Those may be threats – but they’re not the most dangerous enemies to living a celibate life
The real threats to priests living a healthy, joy filled celibate life come most often from within us. 
They are habits and ways of thinking and acting that undermine the great gift we’ve been given in living the life of a Roman Catholic priest.

When we think of a priest breaking his promise of celibacy, what probably comes to mind is a man leaving the ministry to get married or having a secret relationship while remaining an active priest.

If our measure of living out the promise of celibacy is just not doing those things, then something is going to be missing in our priesthood. The world already defines celibacy as one big NO. “Catholic priests are weird and probably psychologically damaged because they don’t have sex.” That’s all celibacy is to so many people – even some Catholics. We know that there is so much more.

Celibacy, at it’s root, is a way to love.
It’s a way to love God and His people who are entrusted to our care.
And it’s a pathway to Love Himself.

Here’s what the Catechism says in paragraph 1579:
“All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.’ Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to ‘the affairs of the Lord,’ they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.”

Celibacy is not a rejection – rather it is an embrace of something even bigger. Living a celibate life means devoting ourselves to that end. We give ourselves completely to God and to men to proclaim the Good News, the Kingdom, the Reign of God.

You may be at a different point with this.
Some men feel called to be priests and just take celibacy as an inconvenient or uncomfortable part of the deal … but we are called to embrace this life – to live it fully. Before you are ordained, you have to wrestle with that reality: Am I accepting celibacy because I have to or am I recognizing it as a gift from God that offers me a life of Love?

A couple months ago I watched a movie called Calvary. It’s about an Irish priest, Father James, a good priest, who is is hearing confessions when a man comes in and tells him that is going to kill him in one week because he was abused by a priest.

He says, “There’s no point in killing a bad priest. But killing a good one? That’d be a shock, now. They wouldn’t know what to make of that. I’m going to kill you, Father. I’m going to kill you ‘cause you’ve done nothing wrong. I’m going to kill you ‘cause you’re innocent.”

The rest of the movie shows how this priest spends that week. He encounters sin and goodness in the people of his small town. It’s not easy to watch but I found it incredibly inspiring.

One scene in particular struck me: Fr. James falls into an old temptation and then gets drunk; he then gets beat up by some of the townspeople. He’s cleaning himself up when his parochial vicar comes by his room. His vicar is very concerned about being polite – treating the wealthy with great respect, not causing any kind of trouble - and is taken aback when his pastor curses at him. He says, “we can discuss this in the morning when you’re sober.”

Father James turns around and demands of him: “Why are you a priest at all? You should be an accountant in an insurance firm!”

I certainly don’t condone drunkenness or getting in fistfights or even pastors yelling at parochial vicars, but that question is real and important: why are you a priest at all? Why do you want to be a priest? Why are you planning and studying to be a priest?

Celibacy isn’t just a line in the priesthood contract, something you need to agree to to get where you want to go. It’s right there at the heart of what being a priest means: loving God and loving His people with an undivided heart.

Living as a celibate priest is something we must choose and embrace everyday – probably many times everyday. It isn't a job that's "finished" when you're ordained.

As I said at the beginning, there are enemies of celibacy that we carry within us and if they are left unchallenged, we may find ourselves in a place where we are not living out that call. 
These are the seemingly small habits and behaviors that tear away at that choice for love that we’ve made. I’d like to point out a number of them and look at their symptoms as well as antidotes that will help us overcome them.

I have one note: the most important antidote to all of these vices is prayer. I could mention that again and again in this talk. Even if I don't list it as a specific way to overcome one of these enemies, assume that it is there. I can't overestimate the vital importance of prayer in a priest's life.

1. Isolation

Imagine this scenario: You’ve had a day where you’ve celebrated morning Mass; there was a funeral a little later on; maybe you had to run to the hospital to anoint someone; or maybe someone stopped by the office and wanted to talk. All of that along with answering emails, returning phone calls, and other normal tasks.

That is a solid “priestly day” – a good day.

It’s a normal reaction, at least for me, to come to the end of that day and just retreat to my room to recharge. I don’t want to socialize, I just want to rest.

That’s fine, but what if it becomes my standard reaction? What if retreating to my room is just what I do instead of:
- Spending time with parishioners because they only bring me more things to do.
- Only “making an appearance” at parish functions because it’s just too much work.
- Not spending time with another priest because I’d rather just relax alone.

All of those may seem somewhat harmless, but when we isolate ourselves from other people - parishioners, friends, other priests – we create the opportunity for ourselves to say no to love.
It is a good thing to have our own personal time, especially if you are a more introverted person who needs that space to recharge, but always be aware of times when you make a habit of retreating from other people.

Love always requires sacrifice and I think that especially applies to a priest.

Sometimes it is more important to go to a funeral luncheon with people you don’t know.
Or to accept an invitation to a family’s home even when you’d rather sit quietly at home.

If you find yourself treating your “private time” as something sacred and seeing other people as inconveniences, that is the time to reject isolation. Turning inward like that is a sure way to give into sins like pornography or masturbation. Though we may choose to isolate ourselves, it ultimately leads to feelings of loneliness.

How do we fight isolation? By giving of ourselves in love and breaking out of the selfish bubble we may be tempted to hide in.

There's a rule that I try to follow in my own priesthood: “Always go to the luncheon” It is important to spend time with people - even when you would rather not. God often works in unexpected or mundane situations. We should make a habit of being with the people God has sent to us. Spend time - even waste time with people. Don’t just “make an appearance” – people pick up on that and come to expect their priest to be distant and disconnected.

Cultivate the relationships you have in your life.

- Stay close to your family - they often know you better than anyone else and will remember that you are a person as well as a priest.
- Build relationships with other priests. They will know your joys and frustrations because they have probably experienced them too.
- Maintain and grow your friendships with lay-people. It is so important to have friends who "knew you before." They will support you and also welcome you into family life. Seeing parents love their children will help you to love more fully as a priest.

2. Boredom/Laziness
There is a song from the 90s that has one of my favorite lyrics in it: “If you’re bored then you’re boring.”

The priesthood is not a life to enter into lightly. It is an amazing adventure that requires commitment and enthusiasm – everyday.

That’s important because many of the things priests do, they do over and over again. You will celebrate many masses, hear many confessions … sign many checks, go to many meetings.

You have the choice to see these things as just another Mass, another confession, another meeting – or as a brand new opportunity to encounter God and share His love with the people in your life.

If you find yourself feeling bored, think back to when you knew enthusiasm. Pope Francis has encouraged us to, "Remember the joy of your first encounter with Christ” It's also good advice to remember the joy of your first call to the priesthood. Remember the time when you were excited to be a priest; when it was all you could think about, when you couldn't wait to get out there. Draw energy from that and ask the Lord to give you that heart once again.

I feel like laziness often goes hand in hand with boredom. It’s a symptom of not caring – not loving the way that we are called to love. What comes to my mind is the age-old sin of acedia. It is a sin that I never gave much thought to until I recently heard it described as "a monk desiring to leave his cell." That made sense to me - it's something that we should look out for in ourselves.

Do you daydream about another life? Do you catch yourself thinking about how things could have been different if you had traveled a different path? What if I pursued that relationship? What if I decided not to go to seminary? Maybe things would be easier!

That kind of escapism only kills your vocation. Embrace the life that you have.

As with any feelings we have, you don’t have to let these feelings dominate you. It is your choice what you dwell upon in your heart and mind. Choose to reject them and then act.

A fantastic remedy for this kind of thinking is simply doing priestly things: go visit your sick parishioners at the hospital, hang out with your school kids at recess. Find sources of priestly strength that will remind you: this is why I said yes. This is why I answered God's call.

3. Anger/Resentment
Is there anything that pushes people away more than an angry priest?

We’ve all met them. He might be angry at the bishop, or his parishioners, or another priest in the diocese. Whatever the subject of his anger is, there’s a good chance that there is also a lot of anger and resentment towards himself. That anger very quickly stops a priest from fully loving as he is called to do.

Yoda was right when he said that “anger leads to hate.” If we constantly allow ourselves to feel wronged, we stop loving people AND we stop loving God. What is the point of a priesthood like that?

The best way to reject anger is surrender - to surrender everything. Take that weight that you’re carrying and hand it to the Lord. If you find yourself frequently angry, there’s a good chance that you are not praying enough. If we aren't cultivating the most important relationship in our lives, of course we're going to be angry and miserable.

Also: go to confession! It's advice that we give to the people and we should take it ourselves. Find a regular confessor and make use of the sacrament. Don’t allow anger or resentment to fester and grow – allow God to root them out!

It is also important to know yourself. Be aware of the times when you are going to be easily frustrated and take your feelings with a grain of salt. For myself, I know to basically ignore my immediate reactions in the morning - because I'm really not a morning person. I get angry and frustrated more easily when I'm still waking up so I remind myself, "This emotion is being fed by the fact that you're tired. It's not the truth."

4. Emotionalism
When I started at St. Vincent, the priest in charge of spiritual formation had a gift for making great points with short little statements. The one I remember the most was this: “Gentlemen, you will fall in love many times during your priesthood.”

What he was getting at was that it’s not some strange thing for your heart to have a reaction to a person – to have feelings for someone. That is simply part of being human. Priests are not exempt from being attracted to particular people and it shouldn’t surprise us when it happens. The real problem comes when we give into our culture's definition of what love is and what it means we should do.

We see it again and again in stories of priests who left the ministry to be in a relationship with someone – they "fell in love." That means they felt something and decided to follow that feeling.

Emotions are important and good to understand, but they must not rule us. If we make decisions based only on our feelings, we will be constantly tossed about. Real love is “willing the good of another” – an act of the will, a choice – not a fleeting feeling.

There are signs that warn us when we are giving in to emotionalism:
- Do you find yourself infatuated with a particular person? Do you have a crush?
- Are you allowing your thoughts to dwell on that person?
- Do you intentionally spend more time with that person?

This can even apply to families or groups in the parish. Are you allowing your feelings for them to rule you so that you favor them or see them as an “inner circle” rather than striving to love your entire community?

If you see these things in yourself, what do you do?
- Admit to yourself what is going on in your heart. Be completely unemotional for a moment and let reason have a say. What would this look like to another priest? What would your bishop say about what you're feeling? When we are only listening to our own emotions, it's easy to think that we are being perfectly reasonable. Talk to your spiritual director about what you're feeling.

- We are called to a supernatural love. Don’t spend time only with people you naturally like. It is healthy to go against your natural inclinations and love generously.

- Learn to “expand your heart” – especially when you have feelings for a specific person. You are not their priest to love them for yourself, but for God. Love all of who they are, not just how they make you feel.

As always: pray!

5. Unrealistic Idealism
Priesthood is not easy and it does not come automatically.

This is a cliched statement but it is absolutely true: the seminarian you are is the priest you will be. Sure, you will grow, but ordination doesn't suddenly make you a saint. If you are waiting for that day to start striving for holiness, you are going to be disappointed.

How you treat other people now will not automatically change when they start calling you "father." Prayer won't just happen because you are out of school. If you are not enthusiastically embracing where you are right now, you will probably have a hard time doing it after ordination.

So often God’s will for us isn't something we have to go out and find – it's where we are right now. Your celibate life is being formed right now. Your priestly identity is being formed right now.

Say yes to that and make the best use out of the gifts He is giving you now. Don’t make assumptions about “the grace of ordination.” The Lord has given you gifts and an opportunity to grow. Don't waste that!

One of my favorite moments in Star Wars: Episode VII was when Finn, Han, and Chewie were preparing to break into the enemy base. Han is doubtful that they will be able to pull off the plan. Finn says something about how they'll be able to do it if they "use the Force." Han's response is great: “That’s not how the Force works!”

You could say the same thing about the Holy Spirit and grace. If we don't cooperate with what God is doing in us, we can't expect our vocation to be fruitful. Seminary is a time for discerning and then preparing for ordination. Use this time. Prepare now.


When I thought about how to speak on celibacy, the first thing I thought about was avoiding tempting situations, but the path that leads priests out of the priesthood doesn’t start in those moments where priests give in to a temptation.

It starts in his everyday embrace of celibacy as a way to love. In every moment and every situation we should be choosing to love God and love the people He’s put around us.

Celibacy is a gift, a gift from God to us – a path to holiness; but it is also a gift from us to God and the Church.

Don’t hold back.

3rd Sunday of Lent

When we think about some of the famous stories from the Bible, I think we often get our images from our childhood picture bibles and movies we've seen. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is always good to get back to the story itself and look at it with fresh eyes.

What we heard in the first reading today, the story of Moses and the burning bush, has been portrayed in many different ways. You might have in your head scenes from the cartoon The Prince of Egypt or maybe Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments - but now we're back to the source, the original.

Moses, an Israelite who grew up in the palace of the Pharaoh has fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian taskmaster. Now he's living with his father-in-law's family and working as a shepherd. While he is working, he sees the burning bush - on fire, yet not consumed - and his curiosity drives him to investigate.

God calls to Moses and gives Moses his mission - to go to Egypt and free his fellow Israelites.

But there is something even more important that God gives to Moses at this meeting: God tells Moses His name. God says, "I am who am ... This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.”


The whole mystery of God is wrapped up in those words. God is - He is the One who always exists, who always is. He is not only the greatest among the gods of the world, He is the only God who truly exists. God is the one who holds the whole universe in existence - without Him, nothing is. God is in the past, and in the future. He created the world and will be there at its ending.

This name is so sacred that the people of Israel didn't use it. It was only spoken aloud by priests in the Temple. It wasn't even written down in the Old Testament: every time you the word LORD in capital letters in the Bible, that is where the Jewish people would substitute "Lord" for the true name of God. We pronounce it as "Yahweh," but that is really only a guess - and Catholics don't use that name in our music or liturgy out of respect for the Lord.

This is God - and He comes to meet humanity. That is important, and it helps us to understand our Gospel.

What we hear from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke today is a warning. He refers to two events that his listeners would be familiar with: some Galileans being killed by Pontius Pilate while they were offering sacrifices in the Temple and a group of people who were killed when a tower collapsed on them.

There would be an assumption that these awful things happened to them because of their sinfulness, but Jesus says that's not necessarily the case. However, all of us should beware: if we don't repent, our sins can lead us to a worse sort of death - spiritual death.

Jesus illustrates this with his parable of the fig tree. The owner has let this tree grow for years, but is has not borne any fruit, so he decides to cut it down. His gardener asks him for one more year, so that he can try his best to make it bear fruit. If that doesn't work, he will cut it down.

We are all given a chance by the God of the universe. The One who made all of this desires for us to know Him - and that means repenting of the things that take us away from Him. It means allowing our lives to be changed so that everything is directed towards Him.

But our lives are limited. This is our chance. Let's not let them go to waste.

To live in communion with the God who holds us in existence, we must bear the fruit of conversion.

The Music of 2015

I know this is almost a month late, but I'd like to share the music that stands out to me from last year.

These are listed in the order in which I heard them.

Putting the Days to Bed - The Long Winters

At the beginning of the year, I was diving deep into the music of John Roderick after getting to know him through his podcast, Roderick on the Line (some episodes are a little ... more challenging, but this recent one about a roadtrip adventure is pretty amazing). I really enjoy most of his songs on most of his band's albums, but it was their most recent album (from 2006!) that I keep going back to.

The song that stands out for me is "Hindsight," mostly because of this great line: If you're my anchor / then I'm throwing you over the side.


Carrie & Lowell - Sufjan Stevens

This one is the album of the year. I've been a Sufjan fan for many years now and have eagerly awaited every new release. Carrie & Lowell - a sparse, almost-entirely acoustic meditation on the life and death of his mother - may have surpassed them all. I think I've listened to the album more than anything else in the past year.

Even more than listening to Carrie & Lowell over and over again, what made this album stick was seeing Sufjan perform it live. I was able to see two different shows on his current tour - one towards the beginning and one towards the end. Hearing these songs live was one of the best musical experiences I've ever had. My brother and I even took an awkward picture with Sufjan:

It's hard to pick a single song out of the album - they all move me - but I think "The Only Thing" captures the overall feeling of the whole work. It's heartbreaking and beautiful.

Should I tear my eyes out now?

Everything I see returns to you somehow

Should I tear my heart out now?

Everything I feel returns to you somehow

A recent addition to the Carrie & Lowell experience is this remix of "Blue Bucket of Gold." This is close to the way Sufjan and his band perform the song live. And I can't get enough of it.


Blurryface - Twenty One Pilots

Having come across Twenty One Pilots last year through their album Vessel, I was in the perfect position to dive into their newest release. Blurryface was certainly different - at first I was slightly hesitant to embrace the more electronic sounds they chose for this album - but it displays so much of what I love about this band.

The duo simply don't seem to care about fitting in any particular style or genre. On this album they seem to gravitate towards a reggae-tinged sound("Ride," "Lane Boy," "Polarize," "Message Man") but then it swings around to something very pop ("Doubt"), a song that sounds like it might be from the 80s ("Hometown"), or something piano-driven ("Tear In My Heart" or "Goner"). I love their variety.

"Stressed Out" is still the song that stands out for me. It's a perfect example of what these guys do so well - write heartfelt songs without seeking to fit in.

Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young,

How come I'm never able to identify where it's coming from,

I'd make a candle out of it if I ever found it,

Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I'd probably only sell one,

It'd be to my brother, 'cause we have the same nose,

Same clothes homegrown a stone's throw from a creek we used to roam,

But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered,

Out of student loans and treehouse homes we all would take the latter.


The Sun As It Comes - The Lonely Wild

This is an example of when you go to a concert, don't know anything about the opening act, and then are utterly amazed by them. 

I saw The Lonely Wild open for The Family Crest in Pittsburgh. Before the show, someone told us that they sound like "a Quentin Tarantino movie" - that still feels like a good description to me. Their music could be the soundtrack to Kill Bill.

The whole album is good, but the final track - "Buried in the Murder" - is the song I have put on repeat while driving. 


The Exitus and Reditus of Andrew Darkstar Parrish - Dear Other

One of the great benefits of The Harmonium Project's work in downtown Steubenville is seeing bands like Dear Other. This group lives in the area and blew me away when I saw them last summer. Since then, I had been waiting for them to release some of their music so I could hear it again.

The Exitus ... (I'm not going to type out the whole name) did not disappoint. With a complex name like that, you shouldn't be surprised by the complexity of the songs - most of them clock in at 6 minutes or more. On an EP with only 5 songs, that provides for a lot of space to do something interesting.

I love the scope of this piece - and it is a complete piece that makes the most sense when you listen to the whole thing. It tells the story of a young man feeling fragmented, assaulted by his own emotions, arguing with reason, and eventually moving towards wholeness - and it all seems to take place in my hometown, providing an emotional connection for me.

Some of my favorite parts are dialogues between the narrator and his neighbors. This section from "The Shadow Cast" is one of the high points of the album:

NEIGHBORS: Boy, get up! 

ANDREW: What? 

N: We think you had a heart-attack! 

A: Impossible, see, I was just, uh- 

N: How many fingers are we holding up? 

A: [pause] Three? 

N: Four! Can't you kids keep away from drugs? 

A: [taking offense] I was just dreaming! 

N: [skeptical] Mhm. 

A: Or possibly the subject of a vision, or a Marian apparition! 

N: Sounds like drugs. 

A: Well it's my condition. But I swear I saw Heaven open up! And furthermore- 

N: We've heard this one before, the one where your eyes see the glory of the coming of the Lord. 

Enter God. 

Exit God. 

A: Yep, that was it. In incomparable cool he sits on ideal geometric shapes and into the ground he spits fire, healing water, blood, the love and life of a Father- 

N: [interrupting] Look, have you got some place to be? 

A: And he said to me- 

BOTH: Son! 

N: We've got things to do besides listen to you. 

A: I am your judge, 

N: the one that you ignore

A: present in the present

N: and at the end of the world. 

A: How'd you guys know? 

N: We've got a lot in common

us and the Lord

equally abused

equally ignored

making minimum wage

at the grocery store

watching you live one life

while you pretend your living more. 

Here's to another year of cool music to discover!

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Freedom For

We call the books of Jesus' life and message "the Gospels." Gospel means good news.

But I've heard a complaint from Catholics more than once: that it isn't fair that we, who hear the "good news" and know the commandments, are held responsible for obeying them - while other people just live their lives. Like somehow it would be better if we didn't know about the teachings of Jesus passed down through the Church - then we wouldn't know any better.

I respond to that complaint that this is called the Good News for a reason. Jesus came to offer us more than just a bunch of rules that we struggle to follow. He came to give us freedom, freedom from slavery to sin - but it is also a freedom to live according to God's will.

Knowing God sets us free - but we must live that freedom.

In our first reading, we hear part of the story of the priest Ezra. Ezra is a leader of the people of Judah who returned to their home after being exiled in Babylon. When they return, Jerusalem is in ruins. The Temple is destroyed and the walls of the city are in no shape to stop any threat. So the people work to rebuild their home, but there is a spiritual rebuilding that has to happen as well.

In the ruins of the Temple, someone finds a copy of the Torah - the first five books of the Bible. Ezra gathers all the people together and, from dawn to noon, he reads it to them. The people hear the words of the Torah and they weep.

They weep because they are able to see how far from the Lord's law they are. How different their lives are from what God calls them to be. But Ezra reassures them: "Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”

Rejoice because you know God’s law. Rejoice because you are His people. Rejoice because He calls you to live for Him. God's law may seem like a burden, but it is actually the path to true freedom.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus proclaims a passage from the prophet Isaiah and then gives a short, powerful sermon. He reads to the people in the synagogue:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me 

to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."

and then says to them: "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

Jesus had read to them the amazing things that would happen when the Messiah came - and then told them that the time had come. The promises were fulfilled. Jesus had come in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the good news, healing and freedom.

Sometimes we lose sight of that good news. We become to focused on "what we're supposed to do" rather than the great gift that God has given us.

It is a gift to receive forgiveness from our sins. It is a gift to be set free from the slavery of selfish desires. It is a gift to be able to love others as God loves us.

The commandments of God, far from binding us and taking away our freedom or happiness, bring us to what makes us truly free and happy - God Himself.

Let us live out that freedom.

The Baptism of the Lord

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

What would it have been like to be there - to hear those words from heaven?

Many people were being baptized that day. The preaching of John the Baptist had stirred up an expectation in their hearts - the Messiah, the savior, was coming soon. Maybe John was the one they were waiting for!

Among that crowd, Jesus come to be baptized. We know from the Gospel of Matthew that John is hesitant to baptize him: he says, “It’s you who should be baptizing me,” but Jesus insists.

That is when something different happens - heaven opens up, the Holy Spirit comes down on Jesus in the form of a dove, and the Father speaks.

What’s happening here is important for many reasons. This story tells us about who Jesus is, but it also speaks to our identity and our baptism.

First, the baptism of Jesus is a moment when Jesus’ true identity is revealed. He is more than just a teacher, more, even, than a miracle worker - he is the Son of God - and God Himself testifies to that.This is one of a few moments in the Gospels where we see the Trinity revealed: the Son is baptized, the Spirit descends, and the Father speaks. Here, at the very beginning of His ministry, we see Jesus for who He really is, and that identity matters.

During his life on earth and all the time since then, people have tried to put Jesus in a box. They reduce Him to just a wise man or a political idealist or even a fool who got in over His head. But here at His baptism, the Father declares the truth. Jesus is the Son. And if that is who He truly is, then our response to Him truly matters. We can’t just treat Him as one among many people who have some good advice - we either acknowledge Him as our God and Lord or we ignore the very heart of what He came to do.

Jesus’ identity as the Son of God matters because of what He offers to us - what He started with His baptism.

Jesus, who had no sin to repent of, was baptized to show us the way. He made an example of Himself and from the beginning of the Church, baptism has been the way that we enter into our relationship with God. Some of the last words Jesus spoke to His disciples before He ascended into heaven were the command to baptize: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Baptism is our gateway - it’s how we enter into a relationship that leads to eternal life. Whether it happened to us as an infant or as an adult, the day of our baptism is one of the most important days of our lives - more important, even, than our birthday. In baptism, we are given a supernatural life - a life that can never die.

When we are baptized the Father claims us as His sons and daughters. We may not hear a voice from heaven, but it is true: You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter. From that moment on, that is our identity, and nothing can take it away.

Even if someone abandons the faith and lives their life rejecting God, they are still baptized. They are only denying the truth.

That’s why we can only be baptized once - it does something permanent to our soul. Someone who was baptized in another church and then later becomes Catholic doesn’t need to be baptized again. As long as they were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and water was poured on them, they are baptized. We are claimed forever as children of God.

However, that doesn’t mean that once we’re baptized we don’t have to make an effort. Just as a child can reject his or her parents and family, we can run away from our Father. We can refuse to accept the love and grace that He offers us - we can deny our identity.

From the day of our baptism until the day of our death, our responsibility is to live up to being children of God. That’s who we are.

When people encounter us, do they see that? Do they recognize the Father in His children? Do they see the way we treat our brothers and sisters and wish that they could join this family?

Remember your baptism - remember your identity. Even if it happened when you were a month old, it changed you. Each one of us is a child of the Father, brought into this family by His Son, and transformed by the power of the Spirit.

Let us live as sons and daughters of the Father. Let us show the world Who we belong to.

Christmas: God's Word and Ours

Every year, when I sit down to think about what to preach on at these Christmas Masses, I think: “What could I possibly say that’s new?” We’ve heard these stories - some of us, for many years.

What is there that Christmas still has to teach us?

Well, every year, I realize that it’s not about finding some new interpretation of this feast. Usually, the most important thing we can learn is returning to a truth we’ve already heard. Tonight, I’d like to briefly talk to you about the message of Christmas.

Depending on where you look, Christmas has many different messages. Movies and Hallmark cards tell us that Christmas is about giving (or receiving); or it’s about family; or it’s about some kind of magical feeling that is created by lights and music and (usually) snow. All of those things may be partly true, but they are not the real message of Christmas - because that message is one that comes from God.

All of our readings tonight speak to us about God’s promise. He promises to redeem His people - to save them. He’s been promising that almost since the beginning, when humanity had fallen into sin and immediately He foretold a savior; and God has promised true salvation from sin and death throughout history. He revealed Himself to the people of Israel. He gave them His commandments to follow. He spoke through the prophets - prophets like Isaiah who we heard tonight. Through Isaiah God promised that one day He would come and rule His people - that He would be like a spouse to them.

God’s message was slowly revealed - but it wasn’t complete. The whole message wasn’t spoken until that night in Bethlehem when Mary had her son. On that first Christmas, God message to the world was finally spoken - and it came in the form of a helpless baby.

What does that message say? Exactly what we should expect if we’ve been paying attention:

“I love you.”

“I love you so much, that I am giving myself to you”

“I love you so much, that I am becoming one of you.”

“I love you so much, that I am going to enter into human existence - experience pain, hunger, fear, sadness, betrayal, even death.”

God had revealed Himself before - in thunder and lightning, in power and majesty - but now He comes as a child. Why? So that we can love Him.

The message of Christmas is God telling us that, no matter how messed up things are, how far away we’ve run from Him, how hopeless we may feel - He loves us and is willing to give everything He is so that we can be with Him and know that love.

Christmas is God saying: “Here I am, all of me, all for you.” God has spoken His final Word to the world and it is unconditional love.

That means that there is a Christmas message that comes from us as well. God says He loves us and gives Himself to us - what do we say back?

Do we treat Him like the innkeeper and say that we have not room in our lives for an inconvenience like Him?

Do we treat Him like Herod and say that He’s an enemy to my freedom and my power?

Do treat Christmas as just another pleasant holiday that we enjoy and then move on without acknowledging that what is offered to us is Love beyond anything we could imagine?

Or do we welcome Him like Joseph - who, though he was afraid and confused, made a place for Jesus in His life?

Or the shepherds who saw God in the face of an infant and humbly knelt and worshipped?

How we respond to the unbelievable love of God is our message to Him at Christmas. He’s spoken to us. In Jesus, the Father says, “I offer you nothing but Love - come and be with Me.” 

What will we say back?

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Derek Webb has a song about marriage called, "The Vow." The chorus goes:

Oh, I can't see the day after tomorrow
I don't know the future, even still
I don't promise cause I know I'll always love you
I make my vow to guarantee I will

I love those words because they capture some of the mystery and power of marriage. We should be intimidated by marriage - it should make us a little nervous. Marriage is a promise that people, on their own, can't keep - so it's very good news that the love a married couple, of a family, flows from the love of God. It is He who gives us the strength to keep our promises.

"It is not good for the man to be alone." God speaks those words at the very beginning of humanity and they are still true today. Because we are made by a God who is a relationship - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - we are always longing for relationship. It's in the very fabric of our being.

God fulfilled that longing in Adam's heart by making him the perfect partner in Eve. In a very real way, they were made for each other. And so they're relationship is built on an unbreakable commitment. In marriage, Adam and Eve, man and woman, become one flesh.

That explains Jesus' response to the Pharisees in today's gospel. They are trying to trip him up by asking about divorce. They know that Moses permitted divorce; but Jesus calls them to go back before Moses, before everything in fact. He goes back to the beginning when God created man and woman for each other and joined them together in a permanent relationship.

Moses may have allowed divorce because of the "hardness of their hearts," but that was not God's plan. It was a concession to the weakness of humanity. God designed marriage to be an image of his covenant to us - He will love us forever no matter what. That is why Jesus and the Church that He founded takes marriage so seriously.

We all know, however, that we are not perfect - and neither are our marriages. Divorce exists - and Jesus' words here don't mean that people who are divorced should give up on their faith. There are so many misunderstandings about this out there. If you are not sure of your situation in the Church because of being divorced or being remarried after a divorce, please come talk to me. The Lord desires you!

Marriage may be in a rough state in our time, but that doesn't mean we should give up on it. Marriage matters because it comes from God - it's part of His plan for bringing life into the world, for sanctifying those two people, and for building up his kingdom.

God works through marriages. He speaks through the sacrifices that spouses make for each other. He shows the world His love through the love of families.

Couples can only live up to this great calling, however, with His help. Don't try to do it on your own. We all need God's grace to fulfill our vocations. If a priest doesn't pray, doesn't depend on God for everything, He is going to be a miserable failure. Marriages and families need God's grace too.

With his help, we can love each other the same way that He loves us.

Homily for the CCHS Homecoming Mass

This summer, when I was moved to a new set of assignments, I began ministry as chaplain of my high school alma mater in Steubenville. Every year at Homecoming, a Mass is celebrated at the school before the football game. As chaplain, I get to celebrate that Mass.

There's something truly beautiful about how the Church picks readings for each Sunday Mass. The priest has nothing to do with which readings we hear at most Masses - they are assigned through a three-year-long cycle - and I think that's a really good thing because God often speaks in powerful ways through unexpected readings.

About three months ago, I began my new assignments here at Catholic Central as well as at the parishes in Wintersville. I grew up in Steubenville  and I never imagined that I would end up here, especially so early in my priesthood. But being a priest for people you know - and who knew you as a kid - can be interesting, so it was fitting when the Gospel for that first weekend had Jesus saying, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place ..."

I would have never picked these readings for this Mass if it was up to me. They don't seem to tie directly into what we are celebrating tonight - Homecoming, the CCHS family, young and old, gathering together; but, as the Scriptures always do, they speak to what is most important - our relationship with God - and that is the heart of what Catholic Central High School is about.

Our first reading and Gospel today both speak about God working in an unexpected way.

In the reading from Numbers, Joshua asks Moses to stop two men who are prophesying in the camp. These two, Eldad and Medad, weren't present with the other elders and Moses when the spirit of God came down on them - but they still received the spirit and were showing it. Rather than then making them stop, Moses says, "Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"

We see a similar situation in the Gospel. John comes and complains to Jesus that someone is casting out demons in Jesus' name - but he doesn't belong to the group of the disciples. Again, Jesus doesn't stop the man, but says that, "There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us."

In both of these readings, God works in unexpected ways - through unexpected people. God works - He still does today; and we should all be very aware that He wants to and can work through us.

The purpose of Catholic Central and all Catholic schools - before success in athletics or even academics - is to help students to grow in their relationship with God so that they can be saints. That's the bottom line.

Being a saint is not only for certain special people - the John Paul IIs and Mother Teresas of the world. It is the calling, the destiny of every human being - to live for eternity in union with God.

Jesus makes that point in a pretty serious way in the second half of this Gospel. All that talk about cutting off your hand or plucking out your eye if the cause you to sin - he is telling us that, while we are on earth, we have our one chance to choose God. That choice takes place over the many years of our lives, but it is the only time we are given. We have to make our choice for God and then live according to that choice. As the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis said, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'" How we spend eternity is completely up to us.

Like many of you probably have, I've been enjoying watching Pope Francis' visit to the United States. He's made some great speeches and homilies, and something he said at Mass today in Philadelphia jumped out at me.

He wa speaking about St. Katharine Drexel, who was born in Philadelphia and who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars at the death of her father. She had an audience with Pope Leo XIII where she spoke to him about the needs of missions in the United States. Rather than telling her that he would look into what he could do, Pope Leo asked her, "What about you? What are you going to do?"

We should all ask ourselves that question: "What about me? What am I going to do?"

What am I going to do to grow in my relationship with God?

What am I going to do to say no to my sins?

What am I going to do to share God's message of love and mercy with the people in my life?

As sons and daughters of this school, we've all heard the Word of God. Let's hear it again with open hearts. Let's live the faith we proclaim by being Crusaders with everything we are.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Entering into the Bread of Life


There is a very clear connection between our first reading and the Gospel today. In both of those stories, food is provided in a miraculous way. The real, miracle, however, is what these signs point to and that is the miraculous food that is provided for us.

Just like Elisha in the first reading, Jesus is faced with a hungry crowd. They've followed him to a deserted place and they don't have anything to eat - except for this tiny amount of food: five loaves of bread and two fish. That is nothing - there are thousands of people gathered to hear Jesus. The situation seems hopeless.

But Jesus takes that tiny offering and doesn't just provide enough food for the crowd, but an abundance of food - so much that the crumbs fill  twelve baskets.

It's an amazing story, a miracle; if we were there with Jesus, we would be amazed like those people were. They want to make Him their king - but there is so much more going on here.

With this Sunday, we begin a total of five weeks where we will hear from chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. This chapter is important, worth spending almost an entire month on, because it is John's look at the Eucharist. Every other Gospel tells the story of the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the sacrament we call the Eucharist, but John doesn't do that. His telling of the last supper focuses on Jesus' words to the Apostles and him washing their feet. That doesn't mean that John's Gospel ignores the Eucharist, though. He relates to us this story of the feeding of multiplication of the bread and fish - followed by what is known as Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse. We will hear about that in the weeks to come. Today, let's look at how this story shows us the Mass.

Just like the crowd on that mountain, we gather together because of Jesus. We aren't here for a social event or to be entertained. We're here because we need Jesus, we hunger for him - whether we know that all the time or not.

In the Gospel Jesus sits down with the crowd around him - an ancient symbol of teaching. We usually picture teachers standing in front of the class to teach, but in the ancient world, teachers would sit with their disciples around them. At Mass we sit and then Jesus teaches us through the Scriptures. We see how the signs of the Old Testament, like today's story of Elisha multiplying the bread, point to the coming of Jesus, and how all of it is connected to us and our relationship with God.

What comes next? Jesus receives this small offering of food. We make our offering as well: in the form of money for the parish, in our prayers for our loved ones, and in the bread and wine that are brought up from the community of believers to the altar to be offered to God.

Then Jesus does something that should be very familiar to all of us. He takes the bread, gives thanks, and gives it to his disciples. Those words should stand out to us: they are the same at the last supper and we hear them at every Mass. The priest takes the bread and wine, thanks God (Eucharist means thanksgiving), and, through the very words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper, distributes what has now become the Body and Blood of Christ.

The food we receive at Mass may not satisfy our physical hunger. It appears to be only a tiny piece of bread. But what it truly is - the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ - is the only thing that will satisfy our deepest longing - the longing for God.

As we spend the next few weeks hearing and praying over chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, let us open our hearts to celebrating the Mass with love and reverence. Let us recognize just Who it is that we receive when we come up for Communion. And let us be transformed by that Communion so that we can go out into the world as missionaries for Jesus Christ.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Chosen, Called, and Sent

[this Sunday's readings]

Yesterday morning, I had the great privilege of attending a Mass up in Toronto where three Franciscan sisters promised to live their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for the rest of their lives. They were surrounded by their friends and family; a large group of priests along with Bishop Monforton; and the other sisters of their community.

It was an inspiring thing for me to see - these three women giving everything they are to serving the Lord. All the outward symbols of the ceremony - their grey habits, the rings they received, lying down on the floor in prayer, and making their vows to the superior of the community - point to that inward reality: they've given themselves completely to Jesus.

Now, if you asked them why they were doing that, I don't think any of them would says: "it's because I want to do it." I'm positive the answers they would give would be that they were called by God to live this life.

That's what our readings are about this weekend: being called by God for a mission.

In our first reading, the priest Amaziah tells the prophet Amos to leave him along. He doesn't like what Amos had been sent to announce - that God would judge Israel for their sins. Amos' response is striking. He tells Amaziah that he didn't choose to be a prophet - God chose him. He would be back at home working as a "shepherd and a dresser of sycamores" if God had not sent him to deliver his message.

It is God who calls.

In the second reading, from the letter to the Ephesians, we hear that, as Christians, God has chosen us - from all eternity - to be holy and set apart for him. Just as only the best animals were allowed to be sacrificed in the Old Testament, God has chosen is Church to be perfect, totally His - to receive his forgiveness so that we can live with our Father forever as adopted sons and daughters.

All of us have a calling, a mission from God. First, every single one of us is called to holiness - to be a saint. If you think that sainthood is just for special people or always for "someone else," then you need to hear what I am saying today: every person in this church is called by God to spend eternity with him in heaven. That is what being a saint means and it is our mission while we're on earth to aim for that eternal life.

How we live that call to holiness looks different for everyone. There are as many kinds of saints as there are people. Many people are called to seek holiness in their marriages with a family. Some people are called to give their lives as priests or religious brothers and sisters.

Whatever path God calls us to follow, it leads to him.

Our Gospel reading gives us some three important lessons on how to go into the world as disciples - followers of Jesus whom he sends to share the gospel.

First, the disciples he sends as missionaries all go in pairs. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian. Even monks who live alone in silence are tied into the community of the Church. Our faith is never just "me and Jesus" - we gain strength from the family Jesus has called together. We journey towards haven together. The people around you at this Mass are part of a family that extends all over the world and all the way to heaven.

Second, he sends them out without any real supplies. All they take with them are the clothes and sandals they are wearing and a walking stick. This is so that they will have to rely on God for everything. The food they eat will come from the people who hear them preach. The place they sleep will come out of charity - they shouldn't be looking for the best hotel, but staying in the first place provided to them.

For us that means entrusting everything we do to the Lord. Being a disciple of Jesus doesn't mean we will be rich or famous. We will face difficulties and suffering in the world, but with faith in the One who sends us, we know that everything is in his hands. He doesn't promise us an easy life, but he does promise that he will always be with us.

Finally, the disciples are sent in Jesus' name with his authority. If people accept them, they are accepting Jesus; if they reject them, they reject Jesus as well.

It is not our job to save anyone's soul - there is only one Savior. We only have to be faithful to the mission that he has given us and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest. If you feel discouraged because a loved one has fallen away from practicing their Catholic faith; or if it seems like there is nothing you can do to make a difference for God in the world - don't lose hope. We are only messengers. Be faithful to your relationship with God, love the people that he has placed in your life, and trust him to work in the world.

We all have a mission. It's easy to forget that in the busyness of everyday life, but God wants us to play a part in his work of redeeming the world

Let us recommit ourselves to God and then live our lives always remembering that he has chosen us to be here, called us to know and love him, and sent us to share that love with everyone we meet.

Here is a beautiful reflection by Sr. Sophia Grace, one of the sisters who professed their final vows this weekend.

Check out the sisters' Facebook page for pictures of the Mass.

Four Years

After this weekend, I will leave my first assignment as a priest and move to a new one.

This has proven to be a lot harder and more painful than I would have imagined going into it. Life at St. Mary's parish (and St. Mary's Central), along with being the chaplain to St. John Central High School has effected me in ways I never anticipated.

Because my new assignment is so close to wear I grew up, the most common comment I hear from people here is, "at least you'll be close to your family." It's true, that is a great benefit that I am looking forward to; however, I do feel like I am leaving some family here as well.

The people of this parish and these schools have welcomed me into their homes and their lives. They've treated me like family and that is something I will never forget.

Fr. Chillog has welcomed me as a housemate and taught me so much about what it means to be a priest.

My priesthood will be forever shaped by the four years I've spent here and I can't thank all of you enough.

I love you. I'll miss you. And I'll pray for you.

We will always be connected in Jesus. That love never ends.

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Death is Not The End

There is a particularly moving scene in the third Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, that came into my mind when I was preparing for this weekend. Gandalf, the wizard, and Pippin, the hobbit, are trapped in the city of Minas Tirith. There is an enemy army beating at the gate, not many of the city's soldiers are left to fight, and there seems to be no hope for these two characters.

Pippin says, "I didn't think it would end this way." Gandalf replies, "End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it."

"What? Gandalf? See what?," Pippin asks, and Gandalf answers: "White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise."

It's a beautiful exchange and it strikes me every time I've seen it - and it has been many times! Pippin is afraid of death; Gandalf comforts him by saying, "death is not the end." Then they prepare to fight what may be their last battle.

Our readings today give us the same message: though we will suffer in the world, and we can't escape death, there is hope. It's a hope that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ.

Our first reading, from the book of Wisdom, tells us that death is not God's creation. The whole of creation is inherently good and God made humanity to share in his eternal life, "but by the envy of the devil, death entered the world."

Sin, starting with the sin of Adam and Eve and going all the way to us today, is the cause of our separation from the life of God - and there is nothing we can do to change that. But Jesus can.

Our gospel reading features two people with profound faith.

First, we meet Jairus, the synagogue official who comes to Jesus because his daughter is at the point of death. He asks Jesus, "come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live." We'll return to him in a moment.

One the way to Jairus' house, Jesus encounters the hemorrhaging woman. She had been suffering with this bleeding for 12 years and everything she had done to fix it had only made it worse. She has complete faith, however, that Jesus could help her. She touches his cloak and is immediately healed.

When Jesus finds out who had touched him, he tells her, "your faith has saved you." It wasn't some kind of magic, it was faith in the person of Jesus. She believed that he could heal her.

After this encounter, Jesus hears that Jairus' daughter has already died. Rather than apologizing to Jairus that he was too late, he tells Jairus, "Do not be afraid; just have faith." and they continue on to his home. Jesus ignores the people who mock him when he arrives. He goes in and says, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!" And she does.

Jesus performs many miracles in the gospels. These two events show something important about his ministry. Neither of the miracles were done to gain a big crowd of followers; they happened because someone had faith. The woman believed Jesus could heal her; Jairus believed Jesus could save his daughter. It was that faith that allowed Jesus to enter into these moments of suffering and even death and bring new life.

What does this have to do with us today?

We live in a complicated, broken, and sometimes discouraging world.

People suffer and die everyday - and not just because of disease or natural disasters, but at the hands of other people. Christians, our brothers and sisters, are being killed because of what they believe in.

Our culture is rapidly changing in many ways. Family, the foundation of civilization, is being attacked on many fronts - and I'm not only talking about the legalization of same-sex marriage. There is also the widespread evil of pornography; the lack of family life; people abandoning any sort of faith life because it does not fit into their schedules.

It is so easy to be discouraged - for me too! How do we go on in a world like this?

It is only with faith in Jesus.

I'm not talking about some kind of abstract "sure, I believe in God - I go to church, don't I?" faith. The only thing that will carry us through the struggles of this world and our fear of suffering and death is a real, living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I can tell you what I've told you many times before, that we do this through the sacraments, through prayer, and through service to others. Those are the sources of life that we cling to as Catholics.

But today, I think we all need to hear the message of this gospel story: Jesus can walk into our despair, chaos, and even death, and say to us, "arise!" No one and nothing else can do that - no political body, no movement, no leader, not even our best intentions. Only Jesus can save us from the death of sin, so we must constantly turn back to him.

Let go of anything that holds you back. Jesus is the only way.

When we come to the end of our life, what will matter is our relationship with him.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: Doctrine and Relationship

Last week we finished our celebration of the season of Easter with Pentecost. We're back to Ordinary Time, which will last until the beginning of Advent at the end of November.

But, first we celebrate two special feasts: today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and next Sunday is Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Both of these feast days are about doctrines of our faith: what we believe. That shouldn't lead us to think that they are just boring theological ideas. What we believe flows from the great love that God has for us, and today's feast of the Trinity is about the most important thing in the universe.

We start out in our first reading with Moses speaking to the people of Israel. He is reminding them of what God has done for them in freeing them from slavery in Egypt. "Did anything so great ever happen before?"

Moses is right in telling them they should be astonished because it is an astonishing event. God didn't just tell the Hebrews, "I'm your God and I want you to worship me," - he saved them. He revealed Himself as a God who loved them and would provide for them. He didn't just prove that He was more powerful than the gods of Egypt or another nation - He said they don't exist.

The Lord is God and there is no other. That is the foundation of the Jewish faith. There is only one God and He has revealed Himself to His people.

Then we fast forward to our Gospel reading and Jesus makes some startling statements.

First he says, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me." That's a claim that only God could really make.

Then he tells the Apostles, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Not only does he claim the power of God, but Jesus names three persons in whose name they will be baptizing.

All of this, along with Jesus' words throughout the Gospels and the Holy Spirit speaking in the other Scriptures of the New Testament have shown the Church that God is revealing Himself in a deeper way.

What we call the Trinity is simply God showing that He is a relationship. The Father and the Son give themselves in complete love and the Holy Spirit is that bond of love between them.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a relationship of love - and that love is what created the universe and created us. God didn't need other people to give Himself to - He is self-gift. He didn't need anyone to love because He is love.

The fact that we exist shows us that God, who is perfectly fulfilled and complete in Himself, chose for us to exist because He wants us to participate in that love.

In our second reading, St. Paul tells us that we "did not receive a spirit of slavery" but "a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, 'Abba, Father!'” Abba is the intimate word for Father that Jesus used - and through our baptism we have the privilege, the grace to share that intimate relationship with the Father.

The doctrine of the Trinity is so much more than a complicated idea. It's so much more than trying to explain it with the leaves of a clover or whatever analogy that we come up with. It is the hope that we all share as Christians. We aren't serving a God who sees us as slaves but a Father who wants to adopt us as His children.

With Jesus as our savior and our brother, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, we are being invited into eternal communion with Our Father.

5th Sunday of Easter: Without Him - nothing.

We all long to be independent.

It starts at an early age. Little kids will scream, "No! I'm doing it!" when someone tries to help them. As we get older and especially in our teen years, we want to distinguish ourselves from our parents and our families. We want to make decisions for ourselves.

Even when we come into adulthood, there is always that need to "be our own person" - to take care of ourselves and set the course of our own lives.

Anytime that we're sick - even with something as simple as a cold - we hate not being able to do what we want to do. One of the most frustrating things about being in the hospital is having to rely on other people for everything.

People face that challenge in the later parts of their life as they find they can't do everything they used to be able to do. Others have to help, and that can be frustrating.

We long for that independence - and it's a pretty normal part of human life. We should learn to be our own person, to make the choices that matter for us.

But that desire can also be a serious obstacle in our spiritual lives. It's easy to settle into a version of Catholicism where we think, "As long as I do all the stuff I'm supposed to, I'll be good with God."

Jesus tells us something in today's Gospel that should really shake us to the core. Every time we find ourselves feeling proud or independent - not needing help from anyone - we should remember these words:

"... without me you can do nothing."

Let those words sink in - "without me you can do nothing."

If we take that truth to heart, then our whole world needs to be changed. As much as we'd love to see ourselves as strong, independent people, Jesus tells us that that road is doomed to failure.

Our faith is not just a list of things to do, that, if we just have the willpower, we can accomplish on our own. Our faith is about union with God.

Remember that. It's the most important thing I'm going to say today and I need to hear it too: Our faith is about union with God.

But what does that mean?

Jesus gives us a great image to understand it: He is the vine and we are the branches.

A branch only has life as long as it is connected to the vine. Everything it has, it's very existence, flows from that vine. If a branch decided to separate itself, it might seem to be alive for a little while, but eventually it would wither up and die.

Our relationship with Jesus is that close - to the point of being one living thing, we are His body. So if you are feeling lost. Or if your life seems to lack meaning; it's time to look at your relationship with the vine and ask yourself: "Am I trying to do this on my own? Am I trying to be my own source of life?" Any attempt to have a life without him is doomed to frustration and ultimately to failure.

So how do we stay connected to Jesus? How do we stay attached to the vine?

There are all the standard (and extremely correct) answers: the Scriptures, prayer, and the sacraments. Those may not be surprising answers, but they shouldn't be: they are what Jesus gave us so that we could be united to Him.

One thing in particular should stand out: the Eucharist. Jesus spoke these words that we heard today in the context of the Last Supper. Within that event where he gave His apostles His body and blood for the first time, he tells them and us that to be alive and bear fruit, we must be united to Him.

There is no closer union to Jesus than what we do here at Mass. He becomes a part of us so that we can become a part of Him.


"Without me you can do nothing."

Hearing that shouldn't discourage us. It should wake us up.

Despite our human tendency to struggle for independence, we are made to be in union with God - and it's only in that union that we can be fully alive.

We must stop trying to do this on our own, stop fighting an endless battle that we can never win, and give everything we are to the God who gave us everything.

Good Friday of the Lord's Passion

We are right in the middle of the most sacred time of the Church year - right in the heart of it - and it's tempting to want to skip to the end - just like at Christmas.

There is always the temptation to get past all the suffering and death, and get to the good stuff - celebrating, candy, ham!

But tonight, we have the opportunity to sit with our Lord in the very darkest depths of suffering - the darkness of human sin. On this Good Friday we see the result of all our selfishness, pride, and greed. We see that sin has a price - and, before we celebrate because we have a God who loves us enough to pay that price Himself - we stop and take a hard look at how much that cost.

Look at the crucifix - that is love.

That isn't a distant God who winds up the world and then abandons it. That isn't a God who just came to teach us to be nice to each other.

Our God went right into the pit of despair that we made by our sins. Think about the story of the Passion that we just heard: the whole range of sin is on display. Jesus is betrayed by his friends; there is political and religious corruption; he is condemned though dishonesty; and, in the end, unconditional love was met with torture and death.

His suffering wasn't just the horrible physical pain inflicted on him that day - it was the weight of our sin, yours and mine. He took the full consequence of our rejection of God on Himself.

That is our God and that is what love looks like - sacrifice. "Without sacrifice, there is no love." (St. Maximilian Kolbe) If we are to have life, it is only through the cross - by laying down our lives out of love for God and love for our neighbors. 

One of the last things Jesus said from the cross was, "I thirst."

Yes, he was almost definitely physically thirsty after all his suffering. And he was also ready to drink the last cup of wine for the Passover meal, completing the sacrifice that we receive in the Eucharist.

But Jesus' greatest thirst was for us. He desires our love to the point of death, and he desires us still. He is thirsting for us now.

Let's sit with that love and that thirst. Let's look at the cross, remember what he suffered for us, and say to him:

"Here I am, Lord. I'm not yet perfect, I'm not as holy as I can be, but I believe in your love. You died out of love for me. Please help me to live out of love for you."


1st Sunday of Lent

I love the image of Jesus going into the desert.

He was about to begin his public ministry - to embark on the road that would lead him, ultimately, to his passion, death, and resurrection - and he took time to prepare.

The desert is a place where you are separated from civilization - it's distractions as well as its comforts. It is a place to be alone, with yourself and with God. In the desert, everything is stripped down to the essential: survival is what matters and anything that you don't need should be abandoned.

Jesus entered the desert to prepare for his mission. We enter the desert of Lent to prepare ourselves to celebrate what he did.

In just over a month, we will remember and celebrate the most important events of our faith. It is precisely because of Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection that we call ourselves Christians. As much as the world would like to label Jesus as just a good teacher, without these central mysteries - without his sacrifice and rising from the dead - the message of Jesus is meaningless.

And so we go into the desert of Lent.

We go in, knowing that we are not perfect; that we do things that hurt our relationship with God and with other people. We enter this season incomplete. There are parts of ourselves that we haven't given to the Lord.

As baptized Catholics, we all have a relationship with God. We've been adopted and freed from original sin. Unfortunately, none of us stay that way. We give in to temptation and reject the God who has welcomed us into his family.

Lent is a time to go back to the innocence of baptism. It's a time to start again.

In our first and second readings, we heard about the flood and how Noah represented a new start for humanity. Baptism is the flood that has freed us from sin and given us a new beginning with God. And even though we have, in big ways and little ways, turned away from that gift, we always have the chance to turn back.

That's what we can experience in this Lent.

Don't just use it as a time for self-improvement - do something that will join you closer to God.

The Church has always recommended prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as the "basics" for how to have a good Lent. If we increase those three things with the intention of focusing on our relationship with God, we will come to Easter with a deeper faith and an experience of God's love.

We also usually pick something to give up - a sacrifice. Whatever that thing is, do it with an intention of love. Give up that good thing to remind yourself of the Truly Good Thing - God. Even offer it as a sacrifice for someone else so that you can share the love of God.

Lent is our yearly opportunity to take stock of where we are spiritually and then focus on that for a period of time.

We all have room to grow and Lent is a gift given to us by God so that, together, we can seize that chance.