Corde Romano: 31st Sunday OT 2017

One of the fun things for me to do on a Sunday afternoon or Monday morning is to see all of my brother priests who studied in Rome with me post their homilies. It’s amazing to see both the similarities in some cases and completely different perspectives on the same readings in other cases.

Fr. Royce Gregerson was a classmate of mine, a fellow foodie, good friend and is a priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend, Indiana. Here’s his homily on our reverence for the Eucharist and it’s consequences on our conduct in Church.

Fr. Ryan Browning was a two years ahead of me and is a priest of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois. Here’s his homily on our relationship with authority and truth.

Lastly, here is my video reflection for this week. It’s an analogy on the spiritual life and one of my favorite hobbies, BBQ.

As always, it’s amazing to see despite us all looking at the same readings, we come up with so many different reflections.

How do we eagerly await God’s salvation?

As with all my homilies, this is a representative text of the homily I gave this weekend. Unlike a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t as happy with this one at first, so there was some more “tweaking” from Mass to Mass. Thankfully, as a priest, I get to deliver the same homily a few times every weekend, so there’s an opportunity to improve as the weekend goes along.

When my sister and I were growing up we would always call to find out when Dad was coming home from work. Then when we heard the garage door open, we knew he was home and would go running to greet him. We were eagerly awaiting his return. I hope that’s the case for many of you here as well. That you children here greet your parents when they come home and show they you love them.

What’s funny or ironic is that it’s not that long before the tables are turned and the roles are reversed. At some point it’s not the children waiting for mom or dad to come home, but rather mom or dad staying up late at night for their child to come, eagerly awaiting their return.

There’s lots of things we wait for all the time. This past week many of you demonstrated with all the celebrations that you’d been eagerly waiting another Royals championship for 30 years…imagine being a Cubs fan!

See there’s lots of things, maybe some of you are eagerly awaiting the new Star Wars movie next month.

Then of course, there’s Advent, which starts in a few weeks, a whole season in which we will be eagerly awaiting the Birth of Jesus.

Today’s second reading also reminds us there is something else we should be eager for…our salvation.

Hmm. We should be eager for our salvation. Unlike everything else I’ve mentioned, it seems a little harder to be eager for our salvation. We know how to be eager for all of those other things I mentioned, but how can we possible express our eagerness for our salvation? What does that look like? How do we express that eagerness?

Let me start by clearing up two extremes it is not.

First of all it is not taking a sort of doomsday approach where we are so preoccupied, think we must spend 24/7 looked in a cell praying, afraid of the world to the point we become paralyzed. Nor is it the opposite end where we say, well, the life’s short, so I might as well live it up, do what I want, with whom I want, when I want and where I want. Just do whatever, live without any consequences, because, “it doesn’t really matter.”

No, our eager awaiting of God’s salvation is somewhere in the middle. What’s missing from both extremes is an understanding of responsibility.

If we leave everything behind to go hide in awaiting God’s second coming, we leave behind our responsibilities. That’s because if you want to eagerly await God’s salvation, we do so by attending to our responsibilities. If you take the other approach it’s a life where there are no worries and no responsibilities are met either.

See if we ask ourselves the question, “How am I eagerly awaiting God’s salvation?” We start to overthink it too much, come up with all sorts of different ideas. But the path is right in front of us.

So to the children here, do we help out in the house? Do we do our chores? What about our homework? How do we treat our classmates in school?

Parents – Do we help our children when they need help? Or would we rather attend to our own needs? Do we bother to pass on our faith to our children? Make sure they are taught values and responsibilities? Or would we rather just forget about it all, do something else fun.

And fulfilling our duties and obligations when it’s easy or convenient isn’t enough. We also have to do it when it’s difficult. Listen to today’s gospel, the rich men give from their surplus, when it’s easy. But the poor widow gives from her livelihood, when it’s tough. So we too must fulfill our responsibilities not only when it’s easy, but also when it’s tough.

So doing the chores when they are easy, or because there is some obvious reward, that’s not eagerly anticipating one’s salvation. Maybe after mom or dad asks you do to something, before going back to playing your video games, you can ask, “Is there anything else I can do to help?” So if you’ve taken the trash out, you ask, “Is there anything else I can do to help?” Maybe you have to set the table, it takes two minutes, maybe she lets you go have fun. Just ask.

Parents, do we click over to the next episode on Netflix, or do you go spend time with your child? Ask them how their day went? Help them with homework or whatever else it is they need help with, even when we’re tired and would rather have some “me time.”

Another example we have here with us today is our soccer team. After Friday’s loss, and everything that happened, you didn’t give in and quit. It was difficult yes, painful, yes. But you all rebounded and gave it your all to claim 3rd place.

Why does this all matter? How does fulfilling our responsibilities help us eagerly anticipate our salvation? Because it helps us keep a proper perspective.

We have to keep the big picture in mind as we fulfill these responsibilities. That is to say we don’t freak out when we fail, and give up. No we keep trying. Nor do we seek to fulfill the responsibilities just for themselves. So we don’t just do our homework because it will get us a good grade and into a better college. No, we do it because it makes us a better person. We don’t just play sports to win championships but because they teach values, teamwork and responsibility, they make us better people. We help our children because we love them and want what’s best for them.

Perspective reminds us that at the end of the day what matters most is not what grades we get, how many goals we score, how many games we’ve won, how much money we make or whether we got the promotion or not. We will be judged on our ability to receive God’s love and our love to share it with others.

Just as we eagerly await so many good things in our life, we too must strive to keep perspective by fulfilling our responsibilities, not only when it’s easy, but also when it’s tough. In that way we will truly, eagerly, await God’s salvation.

Curing the wounds of mourning – All Souls Day

Yesterday evening we hosted a community wide (that is all 3 parishes combined) prayer service for all those who have passed away from within our Catholic community in the past year. The families of the deceased were invited to come and participate as well. We had a nice turnout. As a part of the service, I preached a short homily in both English and Spanish, as the entire service was bilingual given that we had people from both cultures present. Here’s what I had to say to them, more or less.

Our current worldview or cultural perspective tells us that death should be something clean, sterile, and kept at a distance. We try to remove ourselves from death. Yet all of us are here tonight because we know that’s not true. We know that death is real. The pain and hurts we feel are real. The wounds we feel in our hearts are not clear and sterile, but rough and dirty. So what do we do with this real pain, this real hurt?

Pope Francis tells us that the Church is to be a field hospital for the weak and suffering. But who is the Church? What’s she made up of? It’s no accident that yesterday we celebrated All Saints day, and today, All Souls Day. This reminds us of the three-fold make up of the Church. It’s not just us here gathered together. There’s us here on Earth, the souls in purgatory and the Saints in heaven. In our time of weakness and suffering we ask the saints to intercede before God on our behalf. We pray for the souls in purgatory, that they too may experience the glory of God.

The world tells us death is the end. That we are now separated from our loved ones. In the Church we believe that’s not true! Death is not the end, but a new beginning. We are not separated at all, but rather are united in prayer and love. In this way, the whole Church, us, the souls in purgatory and the saints, united by our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior, can become the field hospital which cures our painful wounds brought about by mourning the loss of a loved one. For we are not separated, but are united through prayer and love.

Is your goal to be a saint?

As promised here’s my homily from this past weekend on the Feast of All Saints. As always, I do not use a text during the actual delivery of the homily. With several Masses in a weekend, there’s always some variation, but this text is certainly representative if not a 100% verbatim of what I said at any given Mass.

Who are your heroes? Who are the people you look up to in your life? Who do you admire? There are so many people that we look up, that we consider our heroes. They come from so many different places. We have our favorite athletes, musicians, artists, actors and actresses. Then are various political and business leaders both from history and the past. We also have many fictional characters from books, movies and tales that we consider heroes. If they are from comics, then we even call them superheroes. I imagine many of our young people here dressed up as some of these figures last night for Halloween.

Yet, we don’t all wear the same costume every year. If nothing else, they won’t fit anymore after a few years. Beyond that, our interests change, we grow up. The music we listen to at one age is not what we are listening to 10 years later. We no longer care about our favorite superheroes. We read new books, learn more. Our favorite players get traded away and retire. I know after my sister’s favorite players got traded from the Cardinals I gave her a list of who could and couldn’t be her favorite player, lest they be traded too. For various reasons, these heroes don’t endure, they don’t last for ever.

Last week I was talking with a young mother and somehow Elvis came up in conversation. Her daughter asked, “Who’s Elvis?” Then we said, “A famous singer from a long time ago.” She replied, “Oh so like the 80’s?” See folks, even the great Elvis doesn’t endure!

This phenomenon has been true throughout history. In 1521 the great St. Ignatius of Loyola was a young soldier when he was injured in the battle of Pamplona. He was forced to stay in bed for months as he recovered. He didn’t have Netflix, so he couldn’t binge watch his favorite TV shows. Instead he read books. So he read all the tales of Knights and Ladies, Wars, Kings, Queens etc. Then finally once he had finished all of those, he began reading a book on the lives of the Saints. What he found was that when he read their stories, they left a burning feeling in his heart which endured. The stories of knights would pass, but the saints endured. So it should be for us as well.


Today the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints. We remember not just the saints whose names we know, who get their own feast day, today we remember ALL the saints in heaven. They remind us that we are all called to be saints. Not only is it a call, it should be our goal. Yes we set goals in life like wanting a good job, family etc. But do we have the goal of being a saint? It should be the first and foremost goal of our lives. St. John Paul II and Vatican II both talked about a “universal call to holiness.” This means we are all called to be saints.

But what does being a saint look like? How does one become a saint? St. Francis de Sales writes that this does not just mean praying in the Church several times a day. He says to a mother who is busy raising children, “that is your path to holiness!” “That’s how you’ll become a saint! Through loving your children and being a good mother! That’s how!”

How do we know the right way for us to become a saint? How do we go about realizing our goal of being a saint? I could stay here for hours talking about many different ideas, but for today, I’ll stick with just two words.

The first is discernment.

When we hear this word in the Church, we often associate it with young men and women who are considering a call to the priesthood or religious life.  We turn it into a noun and say, “oh I hear she’s a discerner, or he’s a discerner,” as if it’s some sort of dirty word. Just because I was ordained a priest 4 month’s ago does not mean I’m done discerning. To discern is to include God in our decision making process, in this sense we are all meant to discern, and we never stop our entire lives. We tell children to think before they speak and act, but what about praying before we act? What about including God in those decisions.

This week the Church holds national vocations awareness week. To the young people here, I simply encourage you to consider a vocation to the priesthood and religious life. Another rule we teach children is to look both ways before you cross the street. So this must be true for discernment as well, that is to consider all the signs around you, to include God in our decisions, before we step out into the street. In a particular way with vocations, do we only look the way of marriage, just assuming that’s for us? Or do we at least look the other way and consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life? It doesn’t hurt to look! In fact if you do, maybe you’ll find that’s the way for you. If you don’t look then you might miss something. So we must begin by including God in the little decisions of our everyday lives so that we can make the big decision about being married, a priest or religious.

However, it’s not enough to just say we will discern if we want to be saints. We also need fidelity. We need to be faithful. That is to say, God, I’m going to include you in my decisions, but I’m going to make mistakes. However, I’m not going to let those mistakes turn me away from you. I’m going to keep you trying, I’ll never give up. Sometimes we get this idea that the saints were somehow perfect in their lives. No! They were sinners too, they sat in the pews or celebrated Mass just like you and me. But they were faithful, and they always kept trying to be saints.

While our heroes may come and go, the example of the saints endures for us as a reminder that we too are called to be saints. If we discern more, include God in the decisions of our lives, and remain faithful to him, despite our failings, then we can strive to realize our goal, our goal to become a saint.

On the Mass as sacrifice, not entertainment.

Here’s my homily from this weekend. As always, I type (most of) my homilies out, then memorize them and deliver them without anything in front of me. Thus there are a few variations from Mass to Mass. I think these texts are certainly wholly representative if not 100% verbatim what I said in the actual delivery.

While I was gone I had the chance to catch up with many friends. Many would ask about my new assignment. One of the things I consistently mentioned was how much fun I’ve been having working in the school.

So this week when I got back I made sure to get back to the school as well. There was one class I still had not been able to visit with, so they were wanting to get to know me a little bit. One of them asked me, “Father, if you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring?” We all laughed but then I answered the question.

I told him, “bread, wine and a chalice.” Once they all figured out the reason I had suggested those items was so that I could offer Mass, this raised another question.

“but father, you’d be alone…who would you offer Mass for? No one would be there.”

Bingo. Great question!

Listen to St. Paul today, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.”

So whether I’m on a deserted island, or here with all of you, there is something in common, the Mass is offered to God. Not to you or to me. It is offered for your sins and mine. But what matters most is not who is or isn’t here. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a million people with Pope Francis in Philadelphia, or a priest on a deserted island, Mass is offered to God.

This is why the priest used to face the other direction when celebrating Mass. Often people say, “when the priest turned his back on people.” I don’t like that because it makes it seem like the priest doesn’t care about the people. No, it’s because he’s leading the people to God. Note, this homily is not about saying that’s how we should celebrate Mass, it’s about the fact that Mass is always about God.

What’s behind the question, “Well father, what if there’s no one there?” is an assumption that makes me not a priest but an entertainer. I’m sorry folks but I’m not here to entertain you. I’m not seeking a grammy, a tony or an oscar. If want to be entertained, go home. Turn on the radio or the television. Go to a game or a concert. I am not an entertainer, nor is the Mass to be entertainment.

This is why there a big fat book with a fancy title, Roman Missal, not missile. Because the Mass is not about me, nor is it about you. It’s about him. It’s not my Mass, nor your Mass. It’s Christ’s Mass. Through his Church he has passed down these texts and rituals. It it was mine or yours, we could make it up, and we’d be out of here in half an hour. Instead we follow the Missal. It’s not some sort of secret recipe book, where if we just do this or that, then poof, magic happens. No, it helps us to stay focused on Christ. If we start changing it around, or making it up, then it becomes about us, the Missal keeps us going in the right direction, towards God. If we start changing it, it is not longer Christ’s Mass, but ours. It becomes entertainment not worship and sacrifice.

If it’s not entertainment, then what is the Mass? It’s a sacrifice. Maybe when you hear that word you think of some weird cult in the woods, or historically of indigenous groups. But what sacrifice is the Mass about? It’s the sacrifice of the Cross.

In every Mass, we enter into that very same sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. That’s a big deal! It’s crazy! Not only does God send his only Son for the forgiveness of sins, but he even invites us to enter into that same sacrifice. That’s why the priest says, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

When I was in college some friends of mine and I were invited to a party. When we got there, the host was smoking a brisket. My friends said, “hey you’re on the BBQ team, you should go help.” So I did. Then I realized what a jerk I had been. Here I was invited to this guy’s house, telling him what to do. So why should it be any different with God?

Back to the original question, “why offer Mass without any people on a deserted island?”

If Mass is entering a sacrifice and not entertainment, then it is about glorifying God. But God already has everything. He doesn’t need our glory. But we need him. That’s why we come to Mass, and we bring to this sacrifice all our doubts, fears, worries, struggles, failures, weaknesses and sins. We place them before God and say, “I can’t do this on my own.”

It’s hard to do that if Mass is entertainment. We are too busy wanting to receive, to be entertained to enter into the sacrifice.

Just because Mass is so special and unique, unlike anything else we do with our lives does not mean that it belongs in some secret or special corner of our lives. If we really believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist. If we really believe that the celebration of Mass is entering into his sacrifice on the Cross. If we really believe that Jesus died for our sins, then that should transform us. It should change the way we think, the way we see, the way we speak, the way we act. That’s why at the end of Mass, the priest says, “Go Forth!” not “hang out a while and do nothing.” But to do that we must come to Mass, not to be entertained, but to enter into the sacrifice of Christ’s love poured out for us upon the Cross, so that love will transform us.

Where are the vocations?

My first full weekend as a priest I had the pleasure of returning to one of the parishes where I had been assigned as a seminarian. Here’s what I had to say to them.

How wonderful it is for me to return here to Owensville on my first full weekend as a priest!

I have so many great memories and stories from my time here in Owensville and Belle.

Whether it was playing softball on Wednesday nights, participating the the county BBQ contest at the last minute, while borrowing the rectory grill,  getting covered in mud at the demolition derby, helping out in the ice cream stand at the fair and so many other wonderful memories. I am so grateful you all were so welcoming and allowed me to do “normal” things and have a lot of fun too.

You could have rejected me as some sort of stranger who lives in Rome, with parents from New Jersey. Instead you welcomed me into your homes and lives.

In a sense you didn’t struggle like the disciples in today’s gospel.

When Jesus got up to speak, they were confused because they remember him as the little boy, the one who played in town, worked in the carpentry shop, no maybe not softball and BBQ, but the “normal” stuff for folks in his time and place.

They are shocked by his “normalness.” Maybe some of you were too, as I remember that I was one of the first, if not only seminarian ever to come here. However, you all got over that pretty quickly in order to welcome me so graciously.

If nothing else, one of the lessons I hope you all took away from my last visit here, it’s that priests can be somewhat normal too.

Even more, that means that before they were priests, they came from everyday families who did everyday things.

So when we start asking ourselves? Where will we find new priests? The answer is not that they come in a nice box, or they don’t fall down out of the sky. No we grow up in families, we have our struggles and failures, but through all of that God still calls.

The task for all of you, your homework if you will, is to be attentive, to be courageous, and to be open.

Be attentive to the community around you. Do you notice any young men who you think might be good priests? Or women who might make good sisters? They don’t have to be perfect, look for those who are joyful, enjoy helping others, seem to be interested in the Church and their faith.

Be courageous. Once you identify someone, don’t just keep it to yourself, be courageous and ask them if they’ve considered being a priest of nun? I remember when I was in high school, a priest was visiting, I was serving the Mass. Before Mass he asked me, “So what are you going to do when you get bigger?” I responded, “Hit harder. Block better.” He asked again, so I responded, “Be a better football player.” Again, “Maybe start this year?” Finally, he said, “what about being a priest?” I laughed at him and walked away. But look at me now. I bet you he’s laughing even more. So if you are courageous and you do ask, don’t be discouraged if the person you ask doesn’t start jumping for joy. These things take time, you never know what will happen if you plant a seed.

Be open. I’d like to address this last one to two groups separately. First to the parents, be open to the idea of your child being a priest or nun. You might have reservations and worries about what will happen to your child, or not having grandchildren. Those are normal concerns, but when you get past them, you will see all the blessings bestowed on your life because of your openness. When I first entered, it wasn’t always easy for my parents. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times I watched my mother cry tears of joye this last week.

Secondly, To the young people in the young people here today, many of you I met a few years ago. Be open too. Be open to whatever it is that God has planned for your life. Many of you are probably thinking right now, he’s not talking to me? He can’t be? I’ve got this or that problem or weakness? In today’s second reading Paul says that when we are weak we are strong. You probably think, “I’m not worthy.” There’s someone else who is better. Here’s a news flash, neither am I. It is only God who calls us and makes us worthy, he gives us all the graces we need. Not too long ago, I was in your shoes, sitting right there in the pew, I never could have imagined I’d be up here a priest one day. But it happened. So I ask, that if the thought comes to your mind, “What if I’m called to be a priest or nun?” Or, if someone else asks you, don’t laugh at them, be open and think and pray about what God is calling you to do.

Since I said yes, and entered seminary I’ve been blessed to meet so many wonderful people, go lots of places and have such joyful experiences, people like all of you, places like this wonderful town and well, you know the experiences. Thank you for helping me on my journey. As you continue on yours I only ask that you continue to be attentive, be courageous, and be open.

Called and sent

A homily given in a parish where I will filling in for the pastor while he was away.

 

As I mentioned before my name is Fr. Geoffrey Brooke, I was just ordained two weeks ago. I will be returning to Rome in September, but for now I will be with you all for this weekend and next weekend while Fr. Mark is away.

Thank you for your kind welcome, taking the advice from today’s Gospel, I won’t be shaking the dust off my sandals and walking away, because you all have been so gracious in welcoming me into your community, but unfortunately I can only stay for a few weeks. Even more unfortunately, I’ll miss the picnic.

As one who was just so recently ordained, the line from our first reading, “The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” strikes a chord as it was not all too long ago, that I felt called. But the truth is that we are ALL called. It’s an inherent part of our being Christian.

Our gospel today notes that a part of that being called is actually really a being sent. Just as the Apostles are sent forth to preach the gospel, so too we are sent. No, this does not mean that we are all meant to walk around in tunics going door to door.

The seminarian assigned to this parish, my good friend, Paul Clark, went off this week on a 10 day mission trip to Bolivia, when he comes back I encourage you all to ask him about his experiences. Unfortunately, not all of us can go on such trips for one reason or another.

Rather for us this takes on new and different forms. You all are called to witness here in your community. You are sent to your workplaces, your schools, or camps or whatever you all do during the summer,

We do this by the way we treat others, the way we speak about others. The way we talk with others, do our words and actions correspond with the Gospel message we have been sent to proclaim?

We preach the Gospel by how we choose to prioritize our time and life. There are seemingly so many things to get involved with these days, so our choices speak quite loudly.

On Wednesday night I was here at the rectory having dinner with Paul before he left, there was a group of you all who were here preparing things for the upcoming picnic. You gave up an evening to help out. You could have chosen something else, but instead you placed an importance on this community of faith. So when people asked you what you were doing that evening, what did you all say? Did you have to reject any other invitations? By your choice to give up of your time, you witness to others, saying, my faith, and this community is important to me. And by all accounts, the experience itself wasn’t too painful either…

We have to be willing to preach the Gospel with how we use our time. This also means that we don’t just see these things as more work, or another volunteer opportunity, but that we really recognize the deeper meaning behind our actions and commitments.

When I was in high school I played football and I was also active in my parish’s youth group. My weekends were often spent busy with youth group activities so maybe on a Saturday I might go to a soup kitchen and then on Sunday Mass and other fun activities afterwards, lots of different things. But then on Monday morning when my football friends asked me, “Hey where were you this weekend?” I would respond, “Busy.” I wouldn’t tell them I was involved in my faith. I was failing in my call to be an apostle.

Something was holding me back. In today’s Gospel Christ says to the Apostles, “to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” Those are the things that were holding the Apostles back from being able to give it their all. For me it was fear. Fear of how my teammates would react and treat me. Eventually my senior year, when I started to be more honest with them, to tell them that I was involved in the parish and my faith, there indeed was a harsh reaction. I was mocked, had food thrown at me, and even threatened. But for me it was fear that was holding me back.

What’s holding you back? Is it fear? Do you already feel overburdened? Maybe you have doubts? A lack of self-confidence? Afraid of what others might think of you? Are we too attached to other groups, activities and things?

Whatever it might be for we must work to let go of that baggage, as we have been instructed by Christ. For when we let go of those things then we will be free to be a more authentic witness of the Gospel.

This letting go can be difficult because we are weak and we all have our struggles. Thankfully we are not alone. First of all we have each other to turn to, most immediately our families and also the entire parish community. Secondly Christ, through his Church has provided the sacraments. Specifically reconciliation for when we fall short, and the Eucharist to nourish us and give us the strength to go forward in carrying out our call to spread the Gospel.

Why bother going to confession?

Here’s another homily from over the summer. One I gave to a parish I was visiting for the weekend while the pastor was away on vacation.

As a young priest, I frequently get asked many questions about why I became a priest, as well as many general questions about the faith. Sometimes these questions come from someone who wants to start a debate, sometimes from someone who is just plain curious.

One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot, is why do Catholics have to go to confession to a priest? I mean can’t we just go to confession straight to God? Why does a priest have to be present? What’s the point of confessing anyway? Why even bother? Can we really sin anymore?

Thankfully today’s readings give us answers to a lot of these questions.

Though first we must recall the image that St. Paul uses to explain the Church if we are to understand what he is saying in today’s readings. We as individuals, the members of the Church make up the Body of Christ. As a body we are meant to be united, not separated. Nor are we meant to be a static, lazy body that kind of just stands around, no, like Christ we are to return to the Father.

However, as we all know too well with our own bodies, sometimes something gets out of whack? Needs fixing. And if you’ve got one problem, it can drag the whole body down too.

The reason for reconciliation is not just that it gives us the opportunity to confess our sins to God but also repair our relationship with those whom we have offended. To restore our relationship to the whole, the Church.

In today’s reading from Paul he exerts that both those who far off and those who are near need to make peace both with God and the one body of Christ. This is why the last thing we do before we receive Christ in the Eucharist is what? The Sign of Peace.

So ok that’s great, we confess our sins to God so we can have peace with God and be united with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But why the sacrament? Why so formal? Why the priest?

First the priest acts in persona Christi that is, in the person of Christ. So above all the person is still confessing their sins to God. Secondly, he acts as a representative of the Church, that body of Christ, aiding those who have fallen away, or are struggling to be reunited with the whole body, the Church.

To really understand the question of why a priest? Why the sacrament, we can turn to today’s Gospel reading, for Christ laments that the people were a sheep without a shepherd. The priest isn’t in the confessional to judge someone, rather to shepherd them back to the flock, to guide and assist them. If we were to just do it on our own, us and God, we would be like sheep without a shepherd.

Ok you say, fine father. But do we really need the sacrament? Do we really need to confess our sins? My life’s pretty good as it is…

When I was in Albania doing missionary work, I worked with some sisters in a health clinic. Our goal there was to provide whatever care we could for whoever showed up at our door. The health system there, as you can imagine is terrible and underdeveloped.

Here in the USA, we are blessed. Take for instance something like diabetes, we see commercials all the time advertising machines to test our blood sugar, then we take shots and other medicines to keep it under control.

That’s not the case in Albania. I met multiple people there who suffered from diabetes. They didn’t have machines to check their score, nor medicines to help them control things. Instead effectively have to play a guessing game with their diet, or come into the health clinic on occasion to get tested.

More often than not, that’s not enough, and over time, they start to suffer complications. That’s when they would come to us. The side effect that was most common, a loss of circulation to their feet. So by the time people would come see us, their feet were literally rotting away, decaying. Awful images in my mind. Then they couldn’t walk, they became totally debilitated, bedridden, and then death.

So you ask me, why bother going to confession? Everything’s alright? So as it is with diabetes it is with our spiritual lives. We think everything’s fine. Or we know life’s difficult, but we just keep playing that guessing game, trying to figure things out on our own, like sheep without the shepherd. If we keep coasting, operating on our own, things get worse, then it’s seemingly too late and we don’t know what to do, we’re overwhelmed, dare I say, debilitated.

In the sacrament of reconciliation the Church provides that care you need, the spiritual insulin if you will. By confessing one’s sins to God, you can let go of those things which lead you away from God, away from the community, make sense out of the confusion and hurt, find healing.

When we find that healing, when we’re able to let go, that’s when we find peace, that’s when we are brought near to the blood of Christ, who nourishes and strengthens us. For united as one body of Christ, in peace, through the sacrifice of the Son, we have access in One Spirit to the Father.

“If it weren’t for Christ, I could do nothing…”

Here’s a homily I gave in Connecticut to the a gathering of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and their families. It was the Sunday after the first profession and renewal of vows for some of the younger sisters, who were all present along with their families.

On June 28, 2012, I packed everything I thought I could possibly need for the summer into two backpacks, one on my belly and one big on my back, got a cab and headed to the airport in Rome. I was excited for the adventure of a lifetime.  A few hours later when we landed in Tirana, Albania we had to take one of those buses to the terminal and I’ll never forget that moment when I stepped out of the plane at the top of the steps. I looked at the advertisement on the side of the bus and I hit me hard, I didn’t know what those words meant. I didn’t speak the language. Those of you that know me know how much I love languages and talking, so this was really stressful. But it wasn’t just the words that had me doing my best Dorothy impression, “Toto, we’re not in Missouri anymore.” I suddenly felt somewhat nervous, concerned about the uncertainties, the total lack of knowledge as to what would take place during my mission.

A few minutes later having passed through customs I collected my bags and walked out into the main hall where I immediately spotted Sr. Flora, who I only recognized by the habit, as I’d never met her before. She then took me to the Apostles community in Dajç, where I was welcomed with open arms for lunch. As soon as I got there, all of my worries and concerns were gone. Why? I had never met these four women whose house, table and food I was now sharing. But in a deeper sense, it was if I had already met them, because I had already met all of you. There we were, within a few minutes laughing and having a good time as if we’d known each other a long time. Why? It wasn’t just because they dressed the same as you all, but because the habit is an external sign of an internal reality, a charism, a certain zeal and love of Christ which was instantly recognizable. So to Sr. Elizabeth, Mahilia and Christina, in the words of our reading from St. Paul today, you have put on not just some new clothes, but a new self, you now belong in a deeper way to the this lovely group of sisters who surround and support you here in Hamden, across the US and all over the world.

Yesterday we all gathered together, what a joyous gathering it was, to celebrate first vows and renewal of vows. This putting on of the new self. For the rest of us, such celebrations can provide the opportunity for us contemplate how it is that we are called to do the same, so whether we made vows just yesterday, or many years ago, ordained some number of years ago or just 5 weeks, newlywed or married a long time, we should all be inspired, and strengthened by the example and witness of these 8 young holy women. A reminder that we too are to put on this new self in Christ, through our joy we are renewed in our zeal and love for God.

But what does this new self look like? It’s not like we can just flip through a catalogue to pick out what a new self looks like? You won’t see it in any of the back to school ads? There’s no app for that.

To get that answer we need only turn to today’s Gospel reading in which our Lord reminds us, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” This same food which, “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Which gives LIFE to the world.

So as Fr. Bob mentioned, this new self is not to be mopey, crabby and miserable, we are to be full of LIFE, but how? what’s the source, let it be because we have been nourished by the Eucharist. Thus the Eucharist, that which gives us life must impact our entire being and all our doing. Let it become the Caritas Christi that Urgets nos. And we’re not just alive when we are singing so beautifully in the chapel, but in all that we do, everywhere we go, everyone we meet, Christ’s presence may be recognized in us.

Some of you may have heard Mother Clare telling some of my stories from Albania, and I shared some of them with you all as well. When I worked in the Health Clinic in Dajç, I help the sisters in the clinic and sometimes, when there are really bad cases, we go out to their homes, in which we encounter incredible amounts of suffering, for things that we take for granted here. Like diabetes, many of us either are, or know someone affected by this for us, controllable disease. We see advertisements for the little strips on tv. In Albania there are no strips, no shots. So inevitably people lose circulation in their feet, lose the ability to walk and then eventually call the sisters to come cure their wounds as they lie on their deathbed. One night after a long day, after having seen terrible things, I was visiting with Sr. Loreci, and i asked her, “sister, how do you do it? I’m only here for a little while but you do this day in and day out, how do you handle so much suffering?”

She looked up at me and said, “If it weren’t for Christ, I could do nothing, If I couldn’t receive him in the Eucharist, I could do nothing”

What’s even crazier, and some of you might have heard this story because I know Mother Clare found out while she was here on her visit to the US province, this same sister, the day before my most recent visit to Albania, had suffered a great tragedy. Back home in Brazil two men broke into her sister’s home and killed her brother in law, in cold blood, in front of his children, her nieces and nephews. Now I don’t know about all of you, but if that was me, I’d be pretty angry and would want come back and at least comfort my sister if not go after the guys who did it. But what did sister do, she got up in the morning, prayed morning prayer, went to Mass, and then off to the homes, to imitate Christ, washing the feet of diabetics and healing the sick.

That sisters and brothers, is what it means to be one who lives, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” That is the recognition that this bread from Heaven, “gives life to the world.”

May this Eucharist we celebrate, amongst the many joyous celebrations of this weekend, be that which gives us life, not just here and now, but in every aspect of our lives so that we who have put on a new self in Christ, and especially for those newly professed, may your lives always be a witness and living expression of Caritas Christi Urget Nos.