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Our Faith Grows as a Mustard Seed

Last week, I focused on “growing and sowing” with the parable of the sower and the seed. This week, our Lord speaks of a seed in another parable: the mustard seed. Once again, each of us can individually reflect on how our journey of faith has grown like a mustard seed. Our faith was so small at our Baptisms; but with the nourishment and watering of God’s grace – especially in the Eucharist – it has grown to be good sized. We can also look back on our parish history to see how it has been like a mustard seed growing over the past 100 years.

But, we can also reflect on our sowing. Our evangelization attempts are like planting mustard seeds around us in our neighborhood and in our families. No matter how small the sowing might seem to us, God can make it grow into something huge! Bishop Robert Barron provides some examples from the history of our Church to show how Christ has grown the mustard seed of faith in spectacular ways in a brief commentary on chicagopriest.com. May this happen in our parish and in our families!

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

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Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants…so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” (Matthew 13:31).

The first Christians understood Jesus to be speaking of his Church, the mystical body that began in the smallest way, but has come in time to be home to the nations of the world. The mustard seed of the Church began with a thirty-year-old man, dying on an instrument of torture, his disciples having fled, and his enemies mocking him. But it grew into the Body of Christ composed of billions of people in every country on the planet, and many more in heaven.

Watch this pattern repeated up and down the centuries. Francis of Assisi was something of a drifter, a young man who had repudiated the way of his father and was following the prompting of the Lord. Most people saw him as crazy, dangerous, and deranged. Soon, he attracted followers, and their number grew into the hundreds. The first

Franciscan missionaries were stoned, chased away, or killed. But within a hundred years of Francis’s death, they were a world-wide organization—a mustard seed, indeed.

Mother Teresa left the relative comfort of her convent behind high walls in Calcutta and walked out into the streets of the worst slum in the world. Anyone seeing her with ordinary eyes would have written her off. But soon enough, she attracted followers who established her order in Calcutta, then around India, then in Venezuela, Rome, New

York, London, and around the world. Another mustard seed.

(At this time) what mustard seed can you plant that might grow into a great tree where the birds of the air make their nests?

Freedom to Pursue God’s Plan

As we commemorate our nation’s independence this Tuesday, two thoughts come to my mind. The first is a reminder of my recent trip to Ghana which is celebrating their 60th year of independence from Great Britain in 1957. They have done so much to be a developed and stable country in such a short amount of time! The second thought is about the spiritual and moral state of the USA. I was going to lay out some of my own reflections, but found similar (and much more profound) thoughts from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. The following are excerpts from an interview he did in March 2017 with cruxnow.com.

We know that our country is not perfect, but the main thing that we honor and celebrate on July 4th is the freedom as individuals and as a nation to pursue perfection, to be who we really want to be, and who God wants us to be. On Tuesday, thank God for our freedom, and pray for all Americans!

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

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Lots of bishops publish books, but often they’re pretty churchy. (Your new) book is really an exercise in cultural criticism.

“I’m very pleased, of course, by other things and cultural developments…we certainly live in a world where people can be healthier and happier than in the past. One thing in my mind is that I have many friends who have children with disabilities, and it’s obvious over the course of these last many decades that our country, our society’s care for people with disabilities has gotten much better. People are much more included in the life of our communities.

But at the same time, it’s a culture that kills people with disabilities in the womb in ways that never happened before. Very few children today who were born with Down Syndrome because people can detect that early on and children are aborted.

So the same society, with the same kind of technology, can use it in ways that serve us more radically generously or ways that are more radically selfish and sad. So that’s the kind of confusion that I write about in the book…

In terms of Church practice the numbers of people attending Christian services on Sunday whether they’re Protestants or Catholics is much less than it was in the past. The Gospel principles in terms of family life are not as embraced as they were in the past. I think that we live in a much more diverse society in the United States than before in terms of people accessing other forms of religious faith. It used to be that we defined our country as a Judeo-Christian country in terms of our heritage, but there’s a resistance to even talk that way among some of the elites of today…”

You write that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was a watershed moment for America, the advent of a new way of conceiving American society no longer based on a shared set of values rooted in Biblical faith.

“… (Leading our country to a different direction vis-a-vis legalized gay marriage, imposing contraceptive practice on insurance programs, and the focus on transgenderism) demonstrate a watershed that is going in the direction that is contrary to traditional Christian moral principles…”

You’ve been sharply critical of some early moves by the Trump administration, for example on refugees and immigrants.

“I certainly will continue to do that…”

If we live in a culture that’s in some ways post-Christian, what’s the Church supposed to do?

“Well, first of all we need to be aware of what’s going on in the world around us. Many people of my generation are somewhat anxious about what’s going on, but they haven’t really analyzed in a serious way how we got from where we were to where we are today, and in the book I try to point out some of the factors that were active in our culture that led to where we are today. We have to be aware of it, but then we also have to have hope that we can live in this culture in a way that we can be full-throated, committed Christians and pass that on to our children…”

How?

“The answer is, you have to be personally converted into the faith. You can’t pass it on if you don’t have it. Parents are going to be more important in the life, the faith life of their children than they have been in the past, because in the past the culture supported that faith life. The schools basically supported that faith life. The Christian communities were strong. People would go to church and that would support that faith life.

It’s really going to be the family that’s going to be the primary tool that God will use to evangelize, beginning with their children of course. But then families associating

together in smaller groups, support groups of one another will be very important in the future as well. As parishes are supposed to be, but they’re institutions now rather than support groups.”

Do Not Tell the Vision

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, ‟Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9). Why does Jesus command them not to tell anyone about the incredible event they just witnessed in the Transfiguration until after the Resurrection? We hear this a few times in the Gospels, but usually it’s related to a healing or miracle. This one is different because he invokes the Resurrection. First, how hard must it have been for Peter, James, and John to keep the Transfiguration to themselves! Second, were they asking themselves, “what is he talking about being raised from the dead?‟

Setting Up Their Faith

The main reason that Jesus commands them to keep this glorious vision of the Transfiguration a secret until after the Resurrection was so that people would believe in Jesus for the long haul. If people believed in Jesus prior to His passion and death, then their faith might have been destroyed. In other words, they would have been so distraught with the Crucifixion that they would not have been around for the Resurrection. The Cross would have been too much for them to remain as a believer in the person of Jesus Christ. He would have appeared too weak to be the Son of God. The mockery from others as a follower of His would have been too overwhelming to endure. Just witnessing the brutality of His passion and death would have been a visual from which they couldn’t come back.

The Greatest Sign of His Divinity

This happened to the Apostles. They were there for the events that revealed his divinity – the Transfiguration, miracles, healings, exorcisms, etc. They spent three intimate years with Him, and believed firmly that He is the Son of God. And yet, where were they during His passion and death? All of them except for one (John) were gone. They couldn’t endure it. We see women at the foot of the Cross….where were all the men? Even Jesus’s closest followers were so blown away by His suffering that they left Him. Three days later when the greatest sign of His divinity occurs which is the Resurrection, again it’s the women who are there and the men are not (if that was a “day without women” we’d all be in real trouble!). The women even have to convince the Apostles that He is risen! So, the Lord knew that human nature being what it is, it was better to keep his divinity as much a secret as possible until it was fully revealed.

The reality of this “secret” still plays out today in at least two ways. First, people are still bothered by the Cross…overwhelmed by it, really. Some are bothered by the Cross of Christ to the point that they don’t believe. Many are so turned off by their own cross that they stop believing. How many people have we known that went through a tragic death or bitter divorce or abuse and stopped coming to Church? I think it’s because of events like these that people have insulated themselves from as much suffering as possible. People avoid the Cross at all costs.

Not Everyone is Ready to Hear

The second part of this “secret” is helpful today. Sometimes the virtue of prudence calls for silence or a secret, as it did at the Transfiguration. “Not everyone is ready to hear the truth all the time” was a line from one of my seminary professors. Parents use this technique with their little kids who are too young to hear certain things. I often advise parents of older kids (who are adults) who have stopped attending Mass to go silent about it for a while. If you have given them the teaching that they need to keep holy the Sabbath and receive the Eucharist at Mass, then they know where you stand. It might be better to stop harping on it. It might be more fruitful long-term in terms of their relationship with you and their faith. This takes us back to the reason that Jesus ordered the secret. God sees long-term with us, and calls us to have the same “spiritual maturity.”

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

Let God Do His Thing

Baptisms
    Prep: Reviving!
    Could you teach?
    Catholicism 101 / RCIA
Readings
    Baptism – cleansing waters
         Disease (leprosy)= sin
         Physical (OT) / spiritual (NT)
    Confession – remove excommunication
     Eucharist – give thanks
Grace (thru priest)
     GOD’s action —> Faith

Faith is a Gift

Last week, I had a fascinating conversation with a Jewish man who married a Catholic woman with whom I’m friends. They have two kids who are in their early teens and have been raised Catholic. It was very intriguing to hear him speak about the Catholic faith because he has read and discussed much about it. I said to him a few times that he knows more than most Catholics! He knows the teachings and seems open to believing, but is more skeptical and doubtful about it all right now.

During our brief chat, he raised questions about the Mass – why do we confess sin in the beginning of Mass, why do we bring money up to the altar in the middle of Mass, and how can transubstantiation actually occur. I didn’t give too many answers because we were at a party and it was more of a casual setting. And, I was simply marveling at his questions!

A question with a question

You could say that I attempted to answer his last question with a question. I asked him about his kids, and if they believe in transubstantiation (i.e., the bread and wine change substances into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Consecration during Holy Mass) because they are both so learned about the Catholic faith and discuss it regularly. He said that his son believes wholeheartedly, probably because of his devout Catholic grandparents. His daughter, however, is more skeptical, probably taking after her father. I thought to myself that that is fine – if the teaching on the Eucharist has reached the ears of these teens (and their Jewish father), then the seed has been planted and it will ultimately bear fruit. The problem usually is that people don’t hear the teaching. “Whoever hears the truth, hears my voice” (Jn 18:37).

I walked away from the conversation realizing, yet again, that faith is a gift. In today’s Gospel, the Apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Lk 17:5). They recognize that He is the source of faith in each of them. He is the source of faith in each of us. Just like He is the giver of life, He is the giver of faith. We did nothing to earn the gift of life; so, too, we did nothing to earn the gift of faith at Baptism. And, I truly believe that just as God offers life to every human being, He offers the gift of faith to every human being. The question is, will each person use the gift? Will each of us ask the Lord in our own way – whether in word like the Apostles or in deed like receiving the Eucharist at Mass – to increase our faith.

Our faith at Baptism is like the size of the mustard seed which is mentioned by the Lord in this Gospel as well. God’s Grace helps the tiny faith of the baptized person to grow mainly through the sacraments, much like the Lord mentions in Mark 4: “it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches” (v.32).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that faith is a gift and a human act:

When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come “from flesh and blood,’ but from “my Father who is in heaven.”

Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him.

…believing is an authentically human act…In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: “Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.”  (Paragraphs 153-155).

I will pray that God will infuse the gift of Christian faith in my Jewish friend, and that he will cooperate with grace by assenting to the truth. I will keep praying that this continues to happen with all of us, and that the Lord will increase our faith.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

Vote Your Conscience

We’re less than two months away from Election Day in the U.S. As Catholics, we vote according to our conscience, not according to political party or candidate. God gives us our consciences (His voice within us) and the Church helps to form them. So, on behalf of the Church, I’ll be presenting the best materials and information that I can find to form and inform your consciences for the current election. Here is a general article from a Catholic perspective to get us started.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

Seeing Trump vs Clinton Through Catholic Eyes

by John L. Allen, Jr., cruxnow.com

September 12, 2016

While there’s plenty of time for things to change between now and Nov. 8, most polls at the moment seem to suggest that Hillary Clinton has a less complicated path to the presidency than Donald Trump, especially in terms of the Electoral College map.

In a political season in which the formerly inconceivable has become the new normal, however, predictions of any sort probably ought to be taken with a grain of salt…

Seen through Catholic eyes, each seems to suggest serious challenges, but also that the Church in America has a fairly unique potential to make a difference.

Divisions run deep

It’s hardly new that there are deep divisions in America, but a striking aspect of the 2016 campaign is that it suggests just how profound the estrangement has become.

On one side, many conservative Americans will side reluctantly with Trump on the basis that they find voting for Clinton and what they perceive her to represent utterly inconceivable. The same, of course, will be true of many Clinton voters vis-à-vis Trump.

In other words, the election probably will be decided less by what people are voting for, than by what they’re against.

In such a polarized culture, the remarkable thing about the Catholic Church is that it’s one of the few national institutions that contain large populations of people on all sides, and whose senior leadership reflects widely differing temperaments and options.

Conservatives, for instance, see figures such as Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput as heroes, while liberals have been cheered by the rise of Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. Centrists, to the extent such an animal still exists in American life, have Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington as a point of reference.

In other words, the Church has an interlocutor for pretty much everyone, which positions it to be one of the lone venues in which a post-election conversation about how to move forward could occur.

Metastasizing rage

Rage against the machine has been perhaps the single dominant storyline about America in 2016, from the spate of police shootings over the summer of African-Americans fomenting perceptions of bias, to working-class white resentment over jobs and cultural shifts that often form the basis of Trump’s appeal.

All this, of course, is exacerbated by the explosion of social media and the culture of insta-attack, of demeaning and demonizing people with whom one disagrees, it often seems to foster…

Catholicism, because it speaks the languages of virtually all the various angry parties out there – whether those languages are metaphorical, reflecting different ideologies and socio-economic situations, or actual, such as the distinction between English and Spanish – may have the country’s pastoral corps best positioned to address our rapidly metastasizing rage.

No matter who wins, the dynamics of the 2016 race undeniably illustrate some worrying trends in American life. Yet they also suggest that if Catholicism can deploy its resources wisely, it has a fairly unique chance to be in America that “expert in humanity” Pope Paul VI long ago said it aspires to be for the whole world.

Questions of Faith

Continuing my theme of the spiritual works of mercy of the last few weeks, here are some more questions that your children and grandchildren might ask you when talking about our Catholic faith. Once again, it’s really just to give you some kind of answer to tough questions. I’m happy to expound on them if you would like.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

“My friends say that after the priest sex abuse scandals, I shouldn’t be Catholic any longer”.

Those scandals are horrific indeed, and give us the unfortunate reminder that the Church is made up of sinful human beings. As awful as they are, though, they don’t take away from the truths about God and our Catholic faith. Do the scandals change God as Father, Son, and Spirit? Do they negate the Resurrection? Is the Eucharist no longer the Body and Blood of Christ? Doctrine is the core reason to be Catholic, and the scandals don’t change doctrine. Even if math teachers commit similar crimes, two plus two is still four, and we should still follow the laws of mathematics.

“I don’t know if I believe in God anymore”.

The next time you see a tree, ask yourself, ‘who made that?’

Look at the stars in the sky and ask, ‘who made those?’

Look at the size and the order of the universe. Did everything come into being as a result of a “big bang” and just fell into perfect order? The chances are so small…too small.

By the way, what /who made it go bang?

Keep in mind that everyone has faith. Everyone believes in something. Even atheists believe. They just believe that God does not exist. (By the way, atheists admit that the order of the universe is the best argument for the existence of God.) “I’m not into Confession”

That’s understandable. It’s hard and uncomfortable. I remember when you were younger, you were not into taking showers. You fought against and complained before every shower. But, when you came out and you were clean all over, you were much happier. Confession is like a spiritual shower!

“I don’t agree with everything the church teaches” You probably agree with everything that Jesus taught and said, right? Well, Jesus gave authority to the church to continue His teachings (Mt 16, Mt 18, Lk 10). Also, we hear so much in the Bible that Christ and the Church are one. So, when the Church teaches on faith and morals, it is really Jesus who is still teaching today.

“Do we worship saints?”

No, we worship God alone. We remember the saints and honor them. But they are only human like you and me. Our church honors the saints with statues like our country honors our forefathers and heroes with monuments and memorials. “Can people of other religions go to heaven?”

Yes. Pope Francis once said that even atheists can be saved. The Church’s mission is to proclaim Jesus Christ as the way to heaven and to invite people to experience the fullness of Christ on earth.

Blessed are those who mourn

God’s timing couldn’t be better with today’s first reading. Zechariah 12:10-11 describes vast and deep mourning of a nation. That is where we are as Americans given the tragedies in Florida last week. We are mourning not only the horrific deaths of 50 people at a nightclub and a 2-year-old boy at Disney World, but also grieving sin and its effects. Mother Angelica used to say that the beatitude “blessed are those who mourn” had nothing to do with funerals. What she meant was that true Christian mourning encompasses all of the effects of sin, not just death. With that understanding in mind, several of you have come to me this week in mourning. You have asked me, “what is going on?” and “what can I do?”. Cardinal Sarah of Guinea presented some cogent answers to both questions when he spoke at last month’s National Prayer Breakfast in DC. It’s a pretty amazing speech! He’s as spot-on and sharp as can be, and not afraid to speak the truth in love. Below are some excerpts. I am available to any of you who have concerns or questions about what is going on in our world. May you know the peace of Christ, Fr Greg

With that understanding in mind, several of you have come to me this week in mourning. You have asked me, “what is going on?” and “what can I do?” Cardinal Sarah of Guinea presented some cogent answers to both questions when he spoke at last month’s National Prayer Breakfast in DC. It’s a pretty amazing speech! He’s as spot-on and sharp as can be, and not afraid to speak the truth in love. Below are some excerpts. I am available to any of you who have concerns or questions about what is going on in our world. May you know the peace of Christ, Fr Greg

May you know the peace of Christ

Fr Greg

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Today we are witnessing the next stage – and the consummation – of the efforts to build a utopian paradise on earth without God. It is the stage of denying sin and the fall altogether. But the death of God results in the burial of good, beauty, love and truth. Good becomes evil, beauty is ugly, love becomes the satisfaction of sexual primal instincts, and truths are all relative…

Every human being, like the persons of the Trinity, has the capacity to be united with other persons in communion through the vinculum caritatis – the bond of charity – of the Holy Spirit. The family is a natural preparation and anticipation of the communion that is possible when we are united with God. The family, as it were, is a natural praeparatio evangelica – written into our nature.

This is why the devil is so intent on destroying the family. If the family is destroyed, we lose our God-given, anthropological foundations and so find it more difficult to welcome the saving Good News of Jesus Christ: self-giving, fruitful love…

Advanced societies, including – I regret – this nation have done and continue to do everything possible to legalize such situations. But this can never be a truthful solution. It is like putting bandages on an infected wound. It will continue to poison the body until antibiotics are taken.

Sadly, the advent of artificial reproductive technologies, surrogacy, so-called homosexual “marriage,” and other evils of gender ideology, will inflict even more wounds in the midst of the generations we live with.

Do we not see signs of this insidious war in this great nation of the United States? In the name of “tolerance,” the Church’s teachings on marriage, sexuality and the human person are dismantled. The legalization of same-sex marriage, the obligation to accept contraception within health care programs, and even “bathroom bills” that allow men to use the women’s restrooms and locker rooms. Should not a biological man use the men’s restroom? How simpler can that concept be?

How low we are sinking for a nation built on a set of moral claims about God, the human person, the meaning of life, and the purpose of society, given by America’s first settlers and founders! God is named in your founding documents as “Creator” and “Supreme Judge” over individuals and government. The human person endowed with God-given and therefore inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” George Washington wrote that “the establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the motive that induced me to the field of battle.”

Today, we find ourselves before the battle of a sickness that has pervaded our world. I repeat: the battle of a sickness. That is what we face. I call this sickness “the liquidation, the eclipse of God.” Pope Francis describes the causes of this “sickness.” I quote:

“Religious liberty is not only that of thought or private worship. It is freedom to live according to ethical principles consequent upon the truth found, be it privately or publicly. This is a great challenge in the globalized world, where weak thought – which is like a sickness – also lowers the general ethical level, and in the name of a false concept of tolerance ends up by persecuting those who defend the truth about man and the ethical consequences.”

What are the remedies to this sickness? What should we do to protect the family, religious freedom, and marriage – as revealed to us by God?

Before such a distinguished gathering, I offer three humble suggestions.

1. Be propheticDiscern carefully – in your lives, your homes, your workplaces how, in your nation, God is being eroded, eclipsed, liquidated.

2. Be faithfulIn the words of Saint Catherine of Siena: “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”

3. PrayPope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est encourages us : “People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone.”

Calling out to God

Miracles!
Calling out to God
    Like Elijah
    3 times
    With faith, humility, and courage
Pity of God
Miracle / healing

Triumph Over Temptation

1st Sunday of Lent
Family story
“Filled with the Holy Spirit”
Fasting of Christ
    Spiritual strength
5 Ways to triumph over temptation
Fasting
Scripture
Prayer
Reason
Sacraments
Eucharist —> Freedom