Bring Everyone to Jesus

Mass Readings

Pentecost Sunday-At the Vigil Mass

Pentecost Sunday-Mass during the Day

To listen to this homily recorded during mass, click here.1

Transcript coming soon!

Notes:

1. If for some reason the link does not work or stops working, in your browser search for St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Round Rock, Texas, and click the link. Once there, in the search bar type “homilies” which should take you to a list of all the homily recordings archived on our website.

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What distracts us from the vineyard?

grapes

Mass Readings

Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2018
Reading 1 – Acts 9:26-31
Psalm – Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
Reading 2 – 1 John 3:18-24
Gospel – John 15:1-8

To listen to the homily recorded during mass, click here.1

Isn’t it funny how we easily we can become so easily distracted. We can be distracted by technology, by social media, binge-watching shows on our favorite streaming channel. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I step away from these things, I say to myself, “Whoa! I just burned a lot of time! Where did the time go?” These things can keep us distracted from the big picture, or to us today’s imagery, they can keep us focused on the branch and lose sight of the vine.

But that distraction is not just limited to our toys. We can become distracted in our faith life too. There are people who can become obsessed with the latest novena. I actually heard this the other day. Someone said to me, “Don’t break the chain or we won’t win the lottery! I’ve even heard people say, “if you don’t pray the rosary every day, then you’re not as good a Catholic as I am.” If you don’t go to adoration, then you’ll never develop this special connection I have with Jesus.

But there’s a problem with that kind of thinking. Pope Francis has talked about this often. He wrote all of us a letter this past March, called Rejoice and be glad (Gaudete et Exsultate or GE) – it’s a great letter and I encourage all of you to read it. Pope Francis reminds us that this kind of thinking can lead us to an ancient heresy called Gnosticism, (GE, 36-46). We think we have access to some secret dimension of Jesus because we follow this particular canon law, or we insist that you go to adoration or we insist that you attend the Latin mass or we insist you receive the Eucharist on your tongue.

Those aren’t bad things, but they can be a sand trap! The problem with this sort of thinking is that we can become so obsessed with the action that we lose sight of Jesus Christ.

It’s difficult to get into the head of someone from almost two thousand years ago, but I really think that Paul before his conversion was suffering from a similar type of religious distraction. Paul was so obsessed with the Law that he became a brutal persecutor Jewish Christians. He lost sight of the purpose of the law which of course was to give glory to God. It takes the radical act of Jesus knocking him off his high horse to get him to open his eyes so that he can see the entire vine. Is it any wonder that Jewish Christians were afraid of him when he comes to Jerusalem in the first reading? They weren’t there at his conversion, so they weren’t sure.

But Paul’s conversion is complete and peace prevails. St. Paul sets an example for us that if we want to live a life of connected to Jesus the vine, then we need to do what we heard in the second reading today. John tells us that to live a life of discipleship, we should love one another as he commanded us to.

What are Jesus commandments all about? Well, spend time in the Gospel according to Matthew. In Matthew 5 at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the beatitudes that set the stage for what thinking like a disciple is all about. But the beatitudes are not an end unto themselves. Jesus will tell us in Matthew 25 how those beatitudes should manifest. Now this is really important for all of you “type A” personalities, or double a’s or triple a’s – you know who you are out there. Those of you who try to make data-driven decisions, you want metrics, you want the bottom line, then here it is. Read Matthew 25. Jesus tells us if you don’t feed the hungry, if you don’t give drink to the thirsty, if you don’t clothe the naked, If you don’t visit the sick and the imprisoned, he will say, “go away,” (Mt 25:40).

In Matthew 7, Jesus says you can do all of these things in my name – you can even do miracles in my name, but without love, when you get here, I will say, “I don’t know you,” (Mt 7:23).

Whoa!

That should keep us up at night. It has kept me up before on those nights when I do an examination of conscience and reflect on one of these passages from Matthew. They challenge me. I have to ask myself am I living the Gospel of Jesus or am I living the gospel of Rudy? And there’s a huge difference – huge difference, right?

James picks up this idea and will tell us faith without works is meaningless. And without works, our faith is meaningless, (James 2:14-18). So how do we find expression for our faith? We have to love like Jesus loved.

How? We have to love like Jesus loved.

How did Jesus love? Look at the crucifix.

Picture of the Crucifix at St. John Vianney, Round Rock, TX USA

The Crucifix during the Easter season at St. John Vianney, Round Rock, Texas

Reread Luke’s account of the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was hesitant. He cried so intensely that he shed tears of blood (Luke 22:44), and said, “Father, let this cup pass.” But in the end, he said, “okay,” and he willingly went to the cross to save you and to save me. Pope Francis says that’s what true love is all about.

So if we are to love like Jesus commanded us, then we should love one another just as fiercely as he loves us.

Is any of this easy? No. That’s why Jesus gives us the Church and through His Church he gives us Scripture and the sacraments. We are not alone! Being part of the community helps prune those elements of our life that are not helpful. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, “A branch cannot bear fruit on its own.” If we want to live a life as disciples, then we need to remain in Jesus so that we can bear the fruit of hope, and the fruit of love that this world desperately needs.

Homework! There are two things I ask you to consider:

First, what things in my life distract me from Jesus?
Second, how can I do a better job at keeping Jesus’ commands?

Don’t just think about these questions academically. List them. Make an action plan. Pray about them and try with God’s help and the help of the community to live a life of discipleship firmly connected to the vine.

Do you got it? Do you get it? Good! Through the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, may we bear much fruit through Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. +Amen!

Notes:

  1. If for some reason the link does not work or stops working, in your browser search for St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Round Rock, Texas, and click the link. Once there, in the search bar type “homilies” which should take you to a list of all the homily recordings archived on our website.
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On Gaudete et exsultate

Cover of the booklet Gaudete et Exsultate

My brothers and sisters, I have wonderful news! Pope Francis wrote us a letter. You can read it here for free or you can purchase a copy here! I enjoyed it and I highly recommend you read it!

So, what’s this all about?

Well, Pope Francis gets right to the heart of what it means to be a disciple: we are called to holiness. Wait, me holy? Yes! Keep reading.

What is holiness? To be holy doesn’t mean you need to wear a monastic habit and swoon in mystic rapture (96). Pope Francis tells us that holiness is faithfully living the life God created for you and for me. He warns us not to get stuck in a bland, mediocre existence or a life marked by hedonism and consumerism (1, 108).

But I cannot be holy! Look at me! Look at my life! Pope Francis reminds us that we are all sinners. In a 2013 interview with the editor of Civiltà Cattolica, he was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” After a rather pregnant pause, he replied, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

We are all sinners, but by the grace of God, we experience forgiveness and healing and yes, we can live a holy life. You see, the Easter story is the story of God who does not give up us despite everything we’ve gotten wrong, we get wrong and we will get wrong. The Easter story is about a God who stubbornly pursues us despite our sinfulness. Through the Incarnation, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God restores creation – He sanctifies creation. Easter is a reminder that God looks at you and me and says, “yes!”

To understand how to be a Christian, how to be holy, Pope Francis tells us we needn’t look any further than the Gospel (63-94). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23) which are a portrait of the Father whose love and mercy we are called to reflect in our own lives.

But how can I tell if I’m living a transformed life that emulates the Beatitudes? Jesus tells us that too. In Matthew 25 (vv. 31-46), Jesus gives us the metrics for living a holy life, what Pope Francis calls “the great criterion” (95). “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me,” (rsv-ce vv. 35-36).

It is love that holds the power transform our lives into holy lives. It is love that transforms our piety into holy action. It is love that reflects the love of the Father and helps us to see Jesus reflected in the faces of those around us. Without a lived faith marked by love, we risk Jesus saying to us, “I never knew you,” (Mt 7:23).

Don’t panic! Keep it simple. Holiness can be found all around us and very often right next door. Pope Francis tells us that holiness is found in, “parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence,” (7).

But Pope Francis warns us about some of the great challenges that undermine our encounter with the risen Jesus – forces that strive to distract us and to prevent us from living lives transformed by God’s mercy. He tells about the two ancient and ever-present enemies of holiness – modern versions of the heresies of Pelagianism and Gnosticism, saying that these lead to “false forms of holiness” (35).

In the modern form of Gnosticism, he said people believe that faith is purely subjective and that the intellect is the supreme form of perfection. This can lead Catholics to think that “because we know something, or are able to explain it in certain terms, we are already saints,” (45).

In the modern form of Pelagianism, he said the common error is to believe that it is by our own effort that we achieve sanctity. This can lead Catholics to forget that everything in fact “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy,” (Rom. 9:16), (48).

The pope reminds us that “the Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative,” (52).

He goes on to remind us that spiritual warfare is real. Jesus equips us powerful weapons for battle: faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, and missionary outreach (162). But he warns us that worship and prayer alone or following certain ethical norms are not enough to give glory to God. He writes, “It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others,” (104).

To cultivate our spiritual growth, he encourages us to persevere with patience and meekness (112-121). He encourages us to experience joy and to face life with a good sense of humor (122-128). He encourages us to live our Christian lives boldly and passionately (129-139). He reminds us that we are not alone and that real growth in holiness happens within community (140-146). He also encourages us to develop an active prayer life in which we not only speak with the Lord, but we also listen (147-157).

What does he mean by developing a “spirit of prayer” (147)? He recommends we develop the Scriptural habit to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:16-18) and gives us examples from the lives of the saints. He goes on to say that through a prayerful study of Scripture we find Jesus in the Eucharist, “where the written word attains its greatest efficacy, for there the living Word is truly present,” (157).

Finally, he teaches us that our spiritual growth is aided by discernment – to understand whether something is coming from the Holy Spirit or from the devil (166). To put it simply, discernment is a prayerful and thoughtful spiritual exercise to determine whether something comes from God or from the devil (for more information see “Introduction to Discernment of Spirits”).

Am I blessed? Do I find consolation: courage, strength, inspiration, joy, peace (echoing St. Paul’s fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, (Gal 5:22-23))? Or do I feel desolation: anxiety, sadness, fear, restlessness, dryness or emptiness? To learn a little more about consolation and desolation, read my post “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!

With so many technological distractions consuming all of our time, it is more important than ever to develop the practice of discernment.

Central to discernment is a daily examination of conscience (169). An examination of conscience is not just about reflecting on my shortcomings today. That is important of course, but a daily examen is also about trying to see God’s presence in our lives. Pope Francis teaches us that, “Discernment, then, is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters,” (175).

Gaudete et exsultate is a powerful reminder that we are made for so more! We are all called to a life of holiness! Can we get there? Yes and no. On our own, we could never accomplish it. Only by the grace of God are we capable of such an undertaking in this increasingly secular world. As Jesus reminds us, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible,” (Mt 19:26).

So what are you waiting for?

Jesus, I trust in you!

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The Passion of Our Lord…So What?

Lone cross on deserted hill

Mass Readings

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
March 25, 2018
At the Procession with Palms, Gospel – Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16
Reading 1 – Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm – Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Reading 2 – Philippians 2:6-11
Gospel – Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39

Today we celebrate the great feast of Palm Sunday! The readings today are so richly textured, that it is difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps we need to start with that shocking question that my wife and I have already encountered as we make our transition to Europe: so what? If Jesus really existed, then this is an awful story, but so what? What does that have to do with me? Well first, we need to remember that C. S. Lewis, the great expert in mythology, tells us this is no myth.1 So how do we answer this question?

As my family marks the one-year anniversary of my father-in-law’s death, my kids’ grandpa Jim, one approach to answering that question is to consider pain, suffering and death. You see my family is not the only one touched by death. I know there are people in our community right now who are scared as they wait for test results or are dealing with the news they already got from the doctor. I know there are people in our community right now who are coping with the death of someone they loved. Maybe it’s someone who’s been dead a long time, but something stirs up that pain, like the memory of a laugh or perhaps an empty seat at the table, especially at holidays, birthdays or anniversaries. Perhaps we can draw closer to Jesus, as our diocesan Prayer of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary reminds us, through our woundedness.2

Sometimes there are no words – no words that can wipe away our fear or our pain. But having someone who loves us and who can relate to what we’re going through can be more helpful than words.

My brothers and sisters, I have good news! Our God is not some detached deity who sits on a throne high above on some cosmic mountain! No! Our God loves you and loves me so much that he chose to become human; to walk in our shoes; to experience our pain, our suffering and our death. In many ways our experience is like our own personal road to Calvary. Archbishop Fulton Sheen tells us that at any time during the Passion, Jesus could have cast off his humanity, but he doesn’t.3 He walks in our footsteps.

Isn’t amazing that just a few months ago we celebrated Christmas. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Think about: the Lord of all humbled himself and took the form of a slave, as St. Paul tells us. The creator who set the stars in heaven couldn’t even reach up and touch the cattle around him. He couldn’t take care of himself. He was dependent on someone else to feed him, to clean him, to dress him!

Have you ever experienced either personally or through a loved one someone who couldn’t take care of themselves – someone who needed to be fed, cleaned and dressed? Jesus who walks with us on our journey can relate. He knows what it’s like to feel helpless.

Then we come to the Mass of Lord’s Supper on Thursday described in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane who scripture tells us cries so intensely that he sheds tears of blood, looks to heaven and asks, “Father, take this cup from me…”

Have you ever been so frustrated about an illness or the approach of death that you looked to heaven and yelled out, “why is this happening?” Jesus who walks with us can relate. He knows what it’s like to cry out to heaven and look for a different answer.

Finally, we arrive at Good Friday where we behold what the late great evangelist, Billy Graham called the scandal of the cross! Jesus looks to heaven and cries out the words of the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me,” as he passes away, and the veil of the sanctuary is torn.

Have you ever felt so alone in illness? Have you experienced the tearing of the veil of your own heart when someone you love passes away? Jesus who walks with us knows what it’s like to face death.

For some of us, that’s where we leave it. We try to pick up the pieces of our lives and move on. And some people never really move on. But that’s not the end of the story!

Just a couple of days later, on Easter morning, we see the risen Jesus Christ who overcomes pain; who overcomes suffering; who overcomes death. Pope Francis tells us that in Jesus our wounds are risen.4 Jesus offers us the promise of the resurrection where every tear will be wiped away. It is the risen Jesus who gives our lives purpose. It is the risen Jesus who gives our suffering and our death meaning. That is the answer to the question, “so what?”

Homework!

As you journey through Holy Week, think about your woundedness, your fears, your pain. After the Mass of the Lord’s supper on Thursday during adoration, lift up your wounds in prayer. At the Veneration of the Cross on Friday, let it go. As you touch the cross, give your suffering to Jesus, so that on Easter morning, we will awake refreshed by the glory of the resurrection.

Do you got it? Do you get it? Good! Through the intercession our diocesan Prayer of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, may we draw closer to Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. +Amen!

To listen to the homily recorded during mass, click here. If for some reason the link does not work or stops working, in your browser search for St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Round Rock, Texas, and click the link. Once there, in the search bar type “homilies” which should take you to a list of all the homily recordings archived on our website.

Peace!

Notes:
1. Bishop Barron on The Meaning of Easter
2. Diocese of Austin Prayer of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
3. Archbishop Fulton Sheen on The True Meaning Of Easter
4. Pope Francis on Wounds

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