That’s Everyone – Fr. Anthony Williams

Fr. Anthony Williams’ Homily July 14, 2019

“Without law, laws rather in one sense civil law we would have chaos, but rising one step above that we enter into divine law which brings about a sense of peace and order in God’s universe and often times that divine law in our humanity is ascertained, discovered, understood and sought after with reason, lucidity, rationality and there with the mind and the heart operating together, we can discern moral truths that keep us in right relationship with God and with one another and so we need laws to help provide order.  In the book of Genesis, the first book of the Torah we have the emphasis and certainly with Deuteronomy as well and Leviticus that’s why those are the five books of the law what God ask of us as the chosen people: to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul is God’s desire for humanity, human beings and that’s what Genesis and the other five books have passed on to the rest of the human race, Jewish, Christian and so on to provide order in relationships, but to do so we are aware that God is a jealous God and wants the whole heart and because we are human, what distinguishes us from the animal Kingdom or those species in the animal kingdom, the lower animal Kingdom is our ability to reason and to reflect back on who we are and why we are here.  The animals can not do that. They are guided by instinct which removes them from having to make those kinds of rational decisions because they don’t have the faculties. That sets us apart from them and that’s why in the New Testament our Lord said, ‘with your whole heart, mind and strength’ and so the Shemah, ‘here O Israel the Lord our God is Lord alone’ that is the greatest of the commandments which the young lawyer knew and of course our Lord himself a Jew as with every Jew prayed that prayer every day and so we have a connection here between what is in the New Testament and what is in the Old Testament, the law, Deuteronomy, so there is that connection. Our Lord did not come to break the commandments, but to fulfill them. He’s a rabbi and he is a Jew and so we hear this today and perhaps we must look more closely at the parable of what’s going on between the lawyer and Jesus and the question, ‘What is the greatest commandment?’ but then the second part comes from the book of Leviticus, chapter 19 ‘and love your neighbor’ and here is where the lawyer asks the question, ‘Well who then is my neighbor?’  The first thought would be that the neighbor is the one next door, geographically near you, one house away, two houses away or three for that matter on the same block or maybe the same classmate in the same school or maybe where you work, those are your neighbors, but 3,000 miles away, 2,000 miles away, those are strangers. They are not my neighbor. I don’t love them. How could I love those whom I don’t know and we get into that line of thinking when we look at the lawyer who’s searching and seeking and now being challenged and so our Lord, always one step ahead, shares the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped. The priest on the other side of the road kept going. The Levite on the other side of the road kept going, but the Samaritan stopped, went over to him, touched him, put him on his own beast after he had poured on wine, oil to nurture the wounds. Took him to the Inn and offered to pay more if more was due. That’s an act of kindness, an act of charity, but before getting to the heart of the matter, the statement needs to be made that somehow in the old testament is the mention of an alien in an alien land and we know that Abraham was an immigrant from the land of Ur to Cana, buried his wife at Bak pala, land which he bought from the hitites, but he was an alien and yet they lived okay in peace and I metion that because we have problems in our world today with immigrants wether they are documented or undocumented there are problems.  There are attitudes. There are feelings. There are emotions, some entrenched, some out of anger, some out of greed. Whatever the reason and I’m not judging I’m just saying that’s the reality that my reason and rationality tells me that our faith is trying to move us beyond that entrenchment, that hardness of heart and remember that anger is one of the seven capital sins. It’s deadly and it’s lethal. One of the examinations of conscience I did, of course we priests go to reconciliation often too, and it had in quotation marks ‘anger with zeal can become dangerous’. So when the mere word undomcumented or the word immigrant becomes concrete in conversation it arouses all of this in the background and so what do we do with all of that? Do we carry it around? Do we ignore it? Are we to remain silent? Let somebody else speak up and take care of it? Maybe that moment in which we find ourselves is the moment to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God and maybe that is exactly what the Samaritan did who was not Jewish, who was regarded as unclean, but yet who helped the stranger, the victim, the one who was suffering? The question is asked, ‘and who is my neighbor?’ to the lawyer and the lawyer didn’t even say the Samaritan because he responded with compassion. He didn’t acknowledge his race, he simply said, ‘The one who responded with compassion.’ And then our Lord Jesus said, ‘Well then you go and do the same.’

There was a statement that was made in one of the documentaries that I was listening to several years ago on Judaism and the profound statement which I often share when we get into the understanding of what compassion is and it was said in a profound way, ‘It’s not Jewish if it’s not compassion.’  And we see that in our Lord’s response to the lawyer and the activity performed by the Samaritan and then that becomes I think a prophetic invitation to us today. ‘Who is my neighbor? Who is my neighbor?’ And reading between the lines in that parable, it’s not the one who lives next door to you in a geographical sense of the term or in the apartment or in the same college or speaks the same language or class or whatever it might be.  It’s the one who acts in right conduct towards the other wherever that other wherever that person may be in the world and that conduct can be defined by compassion. When the nails went into our Lord’s hands on the cross, he uttered a plea of forgiveness with compassion, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ And many times we don’t know what we do, but we hope someone else is praying for us. Forgive them for they know not what they do and that opens the door into our heart which God wants for that love to come in and bring about a sense of order and reconciliation and reunification and forgiveness and letting go so that we can be compassionate people.  So who is my neighbor? Everyone I am called to conduct myself with compassion. That’s Everyone.  If the Father loves them, then we must be compassionate, so may we go and do the same.  In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

Final Judgement – Dcn. John Stanley

Deacon John Stanley’s Homily July 14, 2019

“We are all familiar with this beautiful parable.  The term Good Samaritan has even become popular in the culture.  We all love to read and hear about inspiring and heroic stories. Allow me to tell you about a Good Samaritan.  As many of you know, I am involved in prison ministry. It began about 8 years ago at the invitation of my uncle, who is a retired teacher and football coach.  I accompanied him to visit a former student who was in prison in Missouri. Scott has given me permission to tell this story and use his name. Scott, in prison, has experienced the healing graces of Jesus.  He has turned his life around and this has not gone unnoticed by the prison authorities and a few years back, Scott was asked if he would accept a cellmate who was handicapped. He had special needs. This inmate was elderly and had developed a condition where he could not use his upper extremities.  He needed assistance in eating, in dressing, in bathing, in all aspects of personal hygiene. Scott gladly welcomed him and took good care of him. Scott told me that he never felt closer to God than when he had the privilege of helping this man, let’s call him Joe. One day, Joe became weak and short of breath and Scott eventually was able to convince the guards that Joe needed to go to the infirmary for Joe had a heart and a lung condition and he was actually near death.  Scott asked and amazingly received permission to visit him in the infirmary. This type of permission of an inmate visiting another inmate in a prison was strictly forbidden. Scott told me that when Joe looked up and saw him at his bedside he said, ‘What are you doing?’ And Scott said, ‘Well I came to visit you.’ And Joe looked at him maybe a little suspiciously and said, ‘Why?’ And Scott replied, ‘Because I love you.’ Joe had likely never heard those words before and this old, hardened, grizzled, inmate would later die in prison and he began to cry.

Now, let’s turn to this beloved Gospel reading.  In response to this scholar of the law, this lawyer’s question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus tells the story of this unlikely hero, this despised Samaritan, today I would like us to reflect on this parable from perhaps a different perspective, through a different lens for when we read and take in the scriptures prayerfully, the Saints instruct us to practice this technique of placing ourselves into the scene in which we are reading and when we think of this parable, I think we like to identify ourselves with that Good Samaritan, but today I would like us all to contemplate ourselves as the victim who was beaten and left for dead, for that is who we are.  We are all sinners, we are all created in the image of God, but through the sin of Adam we have fallen and just like the victim we are wounded and unable to help ourselves. We hear of this priest and Levite that passed by, but it is the Samaritan, this hated outcast of the Jews, he comes along and sees the victim left for dead and he is moved with compassion. He stoops down, he cleanses the wounds with oil and wine. He bandages him and he places him on his beast of burden and takes him to the Inn for recovery. Jesus Christ is the Samaritan. God who humbled himself to be born of a woman, who suffered and died a terrible death, he stoops down from the cross and saves us.  It is Jesus Christ who pours oil on us in baptism and confirmation and it is through the bread and wine that becomes the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist that we will receive in a matter of minutes that saves our souls from death and gives us eternal life for like the good Samaritan, Jesus was hated and despised by the Jewish leaders and this is the same Jesus who bandages our wounds and heals us and saves us through the sacraments. And what about this Inn where the Samaritan takes the half-dead victim. We are in it. It is the Church. Pope Francis called the Church the ‘field hospital for sinners.’ The Samaritan pays the innkeeper to care for the victim. Jesus paid the price for all of us.  He redeemed us and ransomed us from sin by his blood on the cross.

Now I would like to return to my friend, Scott.  Did he receive anything for this act of compassion for bringing in this handicapped person?  One would think that it would be a good thing to set before the parole board when it comes to Scott’s eventual release from prison, but you see Scott committed a heinous crime some thirty years ago.  He is serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole, at least in this world in this mortal life. Scott will have his parole hearing, it’s known as the final judgement. Brothers and sisters we are all sinners.  Without the redeeming blood of Jesus shed on the cross for the redemption of our sins, we would all have a sentence of life without death without the possibility of parole, but Jesus Christ has paid the price of our salvation and opened the gates of prison for our eternal life.  It is not the priest or Levite who are neighbor to the Samaritan, this unlikely neighbor. Did you notice that the story really does not end? Jesus tells the lawyer who answers correctly about who his neighbor is, Jesus tells him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ Who is our neighbor? We will all be called to answer that question at our own final parole hearing in the final judgement.”

Sharing These Graces – Fr. Jared Loehr

Fr. Jared Loehr’s Homily July 13, 2019

“It’s a huge joy for me to see all of your faces and to be able to celebrate this Mass for you after twelve years of formation and a lot of adventures on the way, so thank you for being here and bringing it to fulfillment in a certain way and also kicking off the adventure in another way.

The normal colors would be green, but I am wearing white because this was the chasuble that I wore at my first Mass in Rome, so I’m trying to bring a little piece of Rome to Kansas here and the other little bonus I’m bringing from Rome is I asked the Vatican for a special plenary indulgence so everybody here if you receive communion, confession, pray for the Pope and reject sin in your life, then you can either have your time in Purgatory or someone who has passed away, a loved one there, it’s like a get out of jail free pass, so you’ve got one of those.  Don’t waste it. Think of somebody and offer it up. It’s a special bonus just to be here.

So the big question I’ve been pondering these days and preparing for these words is looking at the parable of the Samaritan.  It’s a great buzz word, ‘Oh a Samaritan, be a Good Samaritan!’ But I think the real core question in the whole story and that weaves through my life as well is ‘Am I lovable?  Can I be loved?’ The flip side as well is ‘Am I able to let myself be loved?’ Because we can create more obstacles for anybody even God to love us and so that’s a reality that if we don’t get into that, that lovability, then everything else is kind of circumstance like, ‘oh why am I suffering this, or why did it happen to me?’  So, the story of the Good Samaritan begins with this man, right? This person going down toward the sin of Jericho. Jericho was not a virtuous place and so he was looking and in one sense he must have given up on happiness where he was and he was looking for a quick fix and a cheap imitation of the deep vastness of the desires that our hearts can only be satisfied in infinite love, so he’s looking for those little gimmicks going down to Jericho and on the way these robbers, they beat him up and they prevent him from getting all the way to Jericho and it’s interesting, I call it the rock bottom principal like when we hit the rock bottom we realize that we can’t dig any deeper that we have to look up we have to see, hey there must be something bigger, bigger than all of this and so it took this guy who was totally beat up, left for dead, no clothes, no anything and it was in that moment that he was vulnerable enough to be helped by an enemy, right?  The Samaritans were not good buddies with the Jewish people and so we can tie that in a way to God that God can seem like an enemy and maybe it’s our own past or different circumstances, maybe it’s something we’ve suffered, maybe a loved one whose passed away, some abuse, some suffering, something that we can’t forgive others or to forgive ourselves, so there’s a lot of things that can be those robbers along the way. Many things can destroy that relationship, so that’s what we’re called to, to have that moment and that opportunity to look toward someone to help us. So it’s when this guy is down and out that he’s able to accept love and another interesting thing about this Samaritan is that he doesn’t just pick him up, carry him along, fix him up himself, he entrusts him to another. He uses an instrument in others so that he doesn’t impose. I heard this great phrase from Pope Benedict. He said that, ‘God doesn’t impose, He always proposes.’ So he doesn’t want to get in our face and rub it in you know, ‘Hey what were you doing going down to Jericho?  What were you up to?’ He doesn’t impose himself on us and so the question in our own lives is, ‘Who are those people, those instruments that have helped to pick us up and to be that face of God for us when things are tough? So, that’s a challenge: to let ourselves be loved, to not accept the lie that we’re not worth it, that we’re not lovable, or that God gave up on us or forgot about us, so that’s when we have to get rid of those little securities, the things that try to ‘okay maybe I’m not lovable, but I’m going to at least have these little tiny hopes’ and that’s not what we’re made for. When I look back and I look at each of you, helping me to be who I am today I think about all of those little messengers, those instruments of God’s love to be able to help see his face and also to know who I am and help me to be who I am.

So in this moment during that Mass we can pray about, maybe identify more with the robber?  Maybe I’ve been hurting others or maybe I could be one of those passers by walking along, rubbernecking at the suffering of others?  Maybe I could be one of those or maybe I’m that guy there that is just beat up and kinda lost, looking for a cheap fix, an imitation happiness or maybe I’m being challenged to go out and to reach out to someone who wouldn’t on face value be lovable or be someone that I’m attracted to help out with all of that bad blood of the past?  Which character might I be in that story? It’s pretty powerful to be able to get into those moments.

So really, that feels like the mission that I’ve been given now as a priest, I keep thinking of it like a giant hot potato that if I hold onto it I’ll get burned because it’s too much for myself so I gotta try to pass it around and share as much as possible and also to be creative because certain people pass it in certain ways, so the priesthood feels like a giant gift in that way that’s not for myself, it’s for others and that’s what I hope to share in this mission that I’ve received, this huge opportunity to be able to keep sharing these graces  and so I ask for your prayers that I can be faithful unto death and as well that we all pray for each other that we can either accept God’s love, realize we’re lovable and also be willing to be that instrument to be able to show his face to all those who are walking wounded who are suffering in our lives that we pass on our way to eternity.”

Love Is Excessive – Fr. Nicholas Ashmore

Fr. Nicholas Ashmore’s Homily July 13, 2019

“I left home when I was 18 and entered Seminary immediately at that age and so I would only come back home once or twice a year and at that my week long trips were generally filled with trips with my friends, coffee with acquaintances, dinners with other people and so I would often feel like I would go home to see my family and yet I didn’t actually get to spend much time with them, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t feel loved because every morning on that first day back I’d wake up, rub the sand out of my eyes, walk down to the kitchen and open the fridge and there it was, a container of Greek yogurt.  Now my mom doesn’t like Greek yogurt, but she knows that I do and so this was her little way on that first morning back of making an extra gesture to say, ‘I love you Nicholas. I’m glad you’re back.’ Was it necessary? No, she was going to feed me throughout the whole week. I wasn’t starving. No, she was going to spend time with me occasionally, but it was that little extra that her love moved her to make. One could say it was the two extra coins of her love.

In our Gospel today we see the parable that is so familiar to us, the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Now this Samaritan should impress each and every one of us because seeing this man he goes out of his way and has incredible mercy upon him.  He spends time with him. He heals and pours oil and wine over his wounds. He is with him in his suffering. That is incredible in and of itself and nobody would say that by that point when he had brought him to the inn and spent time with him that he hadn’t done enough.  The Good Samaritan by that point probably could feel pretty good about himself. ‘I’d done what the Lord asked me to do.’ Yet there was something extra that love moved him to do. Something within him knew that merely caring for this other man whom he didn’t know was not nearly enough.  He would also give him two extra coins and these two extra coins were totally unnecessary. All justice had been fulfilled. These were two extra coins of love and why does love demand two extra coins? Well simple, because love is excessive.  Consider that with me for a moment.  Consider a young man about ready to propose to his fiance.  Now he’s looking through the ring catalog and does he want some little tiny diamond stud that someone can barely see if they squint at it just right?  No, he wants the biggest baddest ring he can get? Or think about a daughter who is making a Christmas gift for her parents. Does she just two or three extra little dots of glitter on it?  Oh no, every parent knows that she wants to pour the whole bottle. Why? Because she wants to make it pretty for mommy and daddy? Or consider and Grandpa who is taking his children out for ice cream.  Does he make them only get the little tiny kiddie cone? No, he lets them get a big one! Why? Because his love is excessive and this is true on the natural level, but it’s also true on the divine level.  Think about this for a moment, God the Father loves Jesus Christ, God the Son so much and Jesus, the Son, loves God the Father so much that from this love, this bond of union between the two comes forth, proceeds we say in theology, a third person, the Holy Spirit.  Why? Not because of justice, but because of love. Love is excessive and their love is so excessive, their love is so complete that from that union comes forth life and this is true also in the act of redemption for when we were like the man left on the side of the road, ravaged by original sin, kicked down, hit, left bruised and bloody by the snare of the evil one, what did Jesus do?  Jesus came down and took human form and if that wasn’t enough he went into his mother’s womb and if that wasn’t enough he was born in a stable and if that wasn’t enough he lived obediently to his parents for thirty years. That itself would be sufficient, right? Everybody would say at that point that God had done enough, but God’s love is excessive for each and every one of us and so he went and died on the cross for each and every one of our sins.  God’s love gave the two extra coins and because of that we are here today.

This is a call for each and every Christian.  We are called to have excessive love. We are called to first of all, as it says in the first part of the Gospel, to love God excessively which means to do more than what is expected of us.  ‘Yeah the Church requires that we go to Mass every week, go to confession every year…lots of other things…fasts, give, provide for the Church’s needs, but we should want to do so much more for God.  We should want to spend time with him in prayer. We should want to spend time with him in sacred scripture, pray the Rosary as a family, whatever it may be. Why? Because our love for God should be excessive and further we’re also called to love our neighbor in an excessive way.  We shouldn’t only just put up with them, but also genuinely love them in their need. When they’re difficult to bear with, do we choose to just turn our shoulder or do we turn towards them and look them in the eye and show them your excessive love? Does the world see the excessive love of Christians or does it see a community that’s sufficient, a community that does enough?  My brothers and sisters, the Gospel today preaches to us that we ought to have an excessive love and we do that by the little things. We do that by giving our two extra coins whatever that may be, whatever that day, each one of us knows what that two extra coins, if we give that little extra we will fall in love with God even more and we will discover the path to eternal life that that man who wished to justify himself was seeking.  We will find Jesus in every moment of our day.”

Tensions Of Our Hearts – Fr. Viet Nguyen

Fr. Viet Nguyen’s Homily July 7, 2019

“Who am I and what am I here to do?  Who am I and what am I here to do? You know, those are two questions that were posed to me when I was in high school, but they’re really two fundamental questions that we all ask ourselves throughout our lives.  Who am I and what am I here to do?

As Christians, we are all called to Evangelize to share our faith with others and today in the Gospel, Christ is sending out the 72 in pairs to go out in the wilderness, to go out in their lives to share the Gospel to share their lives with others, but that can be difficult, can’t it?  It can be scary. There’s a lot of unknowns there. Where will I go? What will I say? What will I run into? But the key there isn’t first that we have to find out what we need, but who we are. First always comes identity, who we are. The culture tells us that you find your identity in what you do.  Haven’t you heard the phrase, ‘I’m gonna go try to find myself. Maybe in college or maybe I’ll travel the world to try to find myself.’ As if finding yourself, you can do it outside of yourself, but as Christians, really it’s the other way around. First, you find your identity and through that foundation you will find your mission.  It will flow from your very identity, so who are you and what are you here to do?

My name is Fr. Viet Nguyen and I am the new associate here, so you know that I am a priest and my mission here is to help serve the people here at Ascension, but let me tell you a little bit about myself.  Often times when I start my story of my faith I always talk about the years in the 1950’s and no, that’s not when I was alive even though people say that Asians age very well…not that well! But you know, in the 1950’s that’s when my grandparents were in Vietnam.  They were actually in the north of Vietnam, but in the late 1950’s was when the Communists came to really persecute the Christians in the north. Many were killed, but many fled, fled south to South Vietnam and that’s when the country was split in two, the Communist North and the Democratic South kind of like what Korea is right now and then April 30th, 1975 was the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam war and that’s when my parents fled Vietnam.  They were refugees from the war and I always wondered, how could you just pick up and leave? We really have no concept of what that might be, but my parents always told me that they left with nothing but their family and their faith in God that everything would be okay and so they got on a boat and left and in some sense the rest is history.

I was born here in Kansas City, MO at Menorah Hospital.  I grew up at Cure of Ars Parish from 3 year old preschool through 8th grade and then Rockhurst High School from 2004-2008 and so in some ways I’m a homegrown vocation really here, but then I left for college, but really I ran away.  You know we often leave expecting to come back but I say I ran away because I didn’t really expect to come back to Kansas City to live. I went to the University of Illinois at Chicago and that’s really where I found my faith. It was challenged, my very identity, but also my faith and I found my vocation there at that Newman Center.  After that I entered Seminary in 2012, but as I said I ran away from home, so I didn’t start studying for the Archdiocese of Kansas, but I started studying for the Archdiocese of Chicago. After my first year in Seminary, I asked the Archdiocese to send me to Vietnam to continue learning how to read and write, so they sent me there for the summer for three months.  But you know it’s interesting, when I got there to that country, a country I had never been before, a country I’ve only heard about in stories and pictures and movies, but when I landed in Vietnam it felt like home, the sounds, the smells, the language, the food, the people, it all felt like home, so familiar and for the first time in my life I had to really think about how I was raised it started to make sense.  I started to get a glimpse about how my parents raised me or why they did. I started to understand my parents just a little bit better and for that reason I decided to switch diocese and come back home to my family, but you know, it was always a struggle of identity. That’s why I left. All my life it was always, ‘Am I Vietnamese or am I American?’ You see my parents always told me that one culture is not better than another and you have an opportunity as a first generation to really take the best of both cultures and make it your own, but didn’t really give me a handbook for that so the struggle there of identity was very real.  At some time in my life I appreciated being more Vietnamese than American and I hated the other and vice versa, but most of my time in America I was more proud to be Vietnamese because I appreciated the values of the Asian culture of family and respect for your elders, but then I came into a contradiction. When I was in Vietnam, I was proud to be American. I realized that I was very much an American and I appreciated the values of the American culture, the individual. So there was always this tension, this tension in my heart, but really it wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I was in Jarusalem where I really I guess found the answer to this longing of who am I?  I met this Vietnamese priest in Jarusalem. He was a scripture scholar there and he was about 75, so he was of my grandparents generation. He was in prison after the war and then he came to Rome to study so he was very much Vietnamese, but he knew the Western culture very well and it was the first time in my life where I could fully express myself to someone my grandparents generation. So I had a conversation with him and really asked him many questions, but the key one was, how do I reconcile this tension in my life of who I am? Am I Vietnamese or am I American? And you know what he told me was very simple. It was almost obvious, but it was true. He said, ‘You don’t find your identity in your culture or what you do, you find your identity in your faith.  You find your identity in Christ Jesus.’ He says that, ‘The beautiful thing about the Christian faith is that it doesn’t come into a culture and destroy it and replace it’, but he says that, ‘the Christian faith can go into any culture and go into it and help purify it from the inside out.’ And so he told me, ‘Your identity lies solely as a child of God and anything else is really secondary to that.’ It made so much sense and that’s when I had peace in my heart I guess to continue on in my vocation, but the question doesn’t just lie with me, it lies in all of us. Who are you and what are you here to do? If I were to ask you who you are, what would you say? Would you identify yourself by your job and what you do? Maybe you identify yourself by what sport you play or hobby you have.  Maybe you identify yourself by your sexual orientation or your gender, but who are you? Because it’s really a fundamental question that will always get tested in your life. You see, our identity should be the foundation of who we are and then through that, you figure out what you are called to do and what you want to do, but if you don’t answer the first question, the difficulties will always come and they will and they will eat away at yourself, your very identity, so who are you and what are you here to do?

You see in the Gospel today, Jesus calls the 72 to go out and evangelize to preach that the Kingdom of God is at hand and so it is, but so it is with all of us.  We are to do the same, but he calls us in pairs for the very reason that it will be difficult, but at least there’s someone there with you in the difficulties to remind you who you are in those difficult times.  Maybe that’s why in marriage there’s two of you, but also in the Gospel he tells us to leave your moneybags, no moneybags, no extra sandals, no sack cloth for the very reason that he doesn’t want us to find things outside of us to rely on those things, but to rely solely on our very identity as children of God, to rely on our relationship our faith in Him.  That’s why he calls us to leave all those things, so who are you and what are you here to do? As you come to receive the Eucharist today where Christ is truly present before you, let us continue to ask the Lord for the strength and courage to ask these hard questions to bring the struggles the pains, the very tensions of our hearts to Him to help purify our hearts so that one day we can rely on the very foundation that we are children of God, Amen.

Freedom of Religion – Fr. Tom Tank

Fr. Tom Tank’s Homily June 30, 2019

“Those scripture readings that we have this evening are certainly challenging ones and it’s important to put those within the context.  It’s a question about decisively following the Lord. It says that Jesus was on his way to Jarusalem, but Jarusalem was certainly a physical place, but more importantly it says Jesus was on his way to his Passion, his death, his resurrection and ascension and so it really refers to that final journey of Jesus that Paschal Mystery and so Jesus as he’s on his way there encounters those individuals who say, ‘No I’ll follow you.’  And Jesus said, ‘You gotta know the price of following me and it’s also that you’ve got to be decisive in this.’ And you know it’s almost extreme is what it said there, ‘Let me bury my Father.’ I mean that’s a very human thing. Of course there’s a question of whether the father was even dead yet, but nevertheless it was that decisive following that was so important because Jesus is there on his way to his Passion, death, resurrection and ascension and therefore it is that call for us to realize that there needs to be some decisiveness in our willingness to follow Christ and sometimes that will be at a price that may seem contradictory that may seem extravagant and yet nevertheless may be the price of fidelity and so there is that challenge that is given that we need to be decisive about our faith in living that faith out in fidelity of life.

In the second reading today, St. Paul reminds us about the fact of freedom and he says, ‘make sure you use your freedom well for Christ truly died in order that you may be free.’  And obviously the freedom that was spoken about that was not freedom from the Romans even though that’s the primary freedom that many of the Jews wanted but rather it was a freedom from the oppression of sin and even a freedom from the Mosaic Law and the burden of the Mosaic Law and Paul proclaims that freedom that comes to us in Christ Jesus that we have that freedom of the Spirit by which we truly are delivered from sin and we can live that whole new life of Grace and that calls us to use our freedom well.  St. Paul warns there ‘Yes you’re no longer subject to the Mosaic Law, but don’t misuse your freedom as license.’ And that’s always the problem with regard to freedom. We think freedom means to do whatever I want to do and that’s what freedom is about. Well that really is not freedom and that type of abuse of freedom ultimately leads to another slavery and even to addictions and to so much negativity in life and so we are called to use our freedom well to make good choices to use our freedom to a noble and to enhance to truly fulfill that law of love is what St. Paul is reminding us to do and obviously this week as we reflect upon freedom, it’s important for us as a nation to think about our own freedoms as a country.  This Thursday we celebrate July fourth, Independence Day. We celebrate the freedoms that we have as a nation and how important those freedoms are to us and how those have been acquired for us as a gift from God, but also at the sacrifice of many individuals who have made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms that we experience today. It’s a reminder first of all to be appreciative of all of the blessings that our nation has, but I would also venture to say that it’s important for us not to take those freedoms for granted, not to think that those things are so secure that we will never have the danger of losing those freedoms and I particularly refer to the freedom of religion which is in the very first part of the Bill of Rights is freedom of religion and how important and fundamental that is that we have no establishment of a religion and we have the freedom to live out our religion without interference unless it is oppressive and unjust towards others and so we are challenged in so many ways today.

You know, when the First Amendment was implemented along with the other 9 amendments in the Bill of Rights it was really to protect the people, to protect the religion from the state because at that time the civil governments were very used to established religions.  They had their established churches and as established churches they had a certain power and influence over the whole of society and that’s what was rejected when it said that there would be no establishment of a church within this nation and how important that is and that has been a benefit for us no question about it and then it goes on and says, ‘Nor should there be any law to hinder the free practice of religion.’  And so, that amendment was really there to protect the church and individuals from the state, but now in the last 75 years, we’ve seen that almost turned upside down where there is a lot of talk out there that that amendment is really about freeing the state from any influence of religion that it is to negate religion in terms of the public sector and that’s not what it was about. There’s no wall of separation between church and state that is referred to in the Bill of Rights.  That was only written in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to a Christian community in Connecticut because they were afraid that they were going to establish the Episcopal Church as the national church for the United States and Thomas Jefferson in that letter wrote back and said no way will that happen because through the Bill of Rights there is that wall of separation between church and state, but that was never part of our constitution or the Amendments and it was only engaged legally in the 1940’s in a Supreme Court decision, but ever since then there’s been that over-emphasis not just on separation of church and state, but separation of religion and state and that’s a whole different thing and we need to be clear about that.  They’ll even refer today about we have freedom of worship. Freedom of worship means that we can come together in this church in order to live our faith and certainly that is a value in itself, but freedom of religion is much broader than freedom of worship. It means that we can live our public life according to our faith. We can live and bring our faith into the daily dealings and into our public life and service. In fact, that was assumed by our founding fathers who said that, ‘Our rights came not from the state or the will of the majority, but rather from the will of God.’ That’s the Declaration of Independence and how important that is because it’s very significant. Where do our rights come from? What are they founded on?  We as a nation were very unique in saying that our rights are not given by the government and our rights are not given by the majority opinion, but rather our rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness come from almighty God and the real danger is the more we remove God from public discourse, the more we remove any recognition of religion as having any influence within our public society, what then becomes the foundation for our rights? They become completely eroded so that there is no foundation other than the will of the government or the will of the majority and that is a tremendous danger for us as we see this erosion of this right of freedom of religion.  I say this not to alarm you, but just to recognize that this is part of the battle that is going on right now.  There’s a real movement towards secularism within our culture, our society and that movement is not just about keeping church in its place which we need to keep church in its place, but rather it’s the move to remove God to remove religious values from our public life and our public discourse and that will really be to our detriment, that may ultimately lead to our downfall because once we no longer have rights given to us from above, then any right can be changed by the will of the powerful.  That’s a challenge and so as we celebrate the 4th of July this week we celebrate the gift of our freedom and how important it is that we appreciate the freedom that we have, but it also is a call for us to defend our rights to defend our freedoms to not allow them to be eroded, but rather that they may be built up to the good of all of us, to the good of our nation for those are the principles upon which we were founded and those are the principles that give us a solid foundation as a nation. We all have the right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness.  We are endowed with those rights by the gift of our creator.

Starting Today – Fr. Michael Guastello

Fr. Michael Guastello’s Homily June 30, 2019

“So the Devil calls this meeting of some of his top advisers.  Business is kind of bad down there. There are too many souls that are getting into Heaven and so he wants to brainstorm some ideas about what they should do about it and so one of the demons stands up and says, ‘Well let’s tell the people that there’s no Heaven and that they need to get as much enjoyment and pleasure out of life as possible right now.’  And the Devil says, ‘No, we’ve been using that line for thousands of years now and statistically people still believe in an afterlife. They still believe in Heaven and there really are still too many people who are reading scripture and so they won’t buy that one.’ Another demon steps up and says, ‘Well let’s tell the people that there’s no Hell that everyone is just magically forgiven at the time of death and that there are no consequences to doing evil in the world.’  And the Devil says, ‘No, we’ve tried that one too, especially with some of the dictatorships and regimes of the twentieth century and it worked to some degree, but in some respects it really back fired on us, you know there were a lot of Saints that rose up during that time like Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein.  No, we need something that is more broad and appealing.’  Another demon steps up and says, ‘Well let’s tell the people there’s no hurry that they have plenty of time to change their lives that there’s no hurry to get to Mass this weekend that they can always go to Mass next weekend that there’s always tomorrow to get serious about their own conversion and that they’ll never run out of tomorrows.’  And the Devil smiled and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s it.’

This is a lie that the Devil tries to sell to us that we will never run out of time that we will always have tomorrow that we don’t need to work on growing holiness today or grow in virtue today or get rid of that favorite little sin of ours today.  We can always start to work on all this stuff tomorrow that there will always be tomorrow and maybe there won’t and this is what Jesus is getting at in our Gospel today. His remarks to these would be follows seem a bit cold and callous at first glance I mean these folks just seem as if they want to bury their dead and say goodbye to their families and there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but Jesus sees beyond what they’re telling him.  ‘Well Lord let me just go bury my Father first and then I’ll follow you.’ ‘Let me just say goodbye to my family and then I’ll come follow you.’ What they’re really saying is, ‘Jesus I want to follow you, but later. I want to do this first. I want to do that first and then I’ll come follow you.’ To what Jesus responds in essence, ‘That’s not gonna work. That’s not going to cut it. If you want to follow me, if you really want to be my disciple, the time to start is now, today, not tomorrow, not next week, not after you’ve taken care of this thing or that thing, the time is now.’  And so Jesus is telling these would be followers and us that there will come a time when we will run out of tomorrows when we will run out of time. When a person is young it seems like tomorrows are never ending. When we’re young we can get this false sense that we are immortal even though we know intellectually that this isn’t the case, but we can still act and behave as though we are never going to die, but as we get older we experience more aches and pains, we become more aware that this is not the case and we get more of a sense of our own mortality. Jesus knew that his days were numbered so much so that he predicts it several times in the Gospels.  It was his suffering and cross that he knew were coming, but he also knew that this would lead him to eternal glory with his Father in Heaven. Of course Jesus never says anywhere in scripture that if we follow him we will avoid suffering. He doesn’t say, ‘Follow me and your life will be pain free. Follow me for an easy road, no it’s quite the opposite.’ In fact, he predicts that his followers will suffer, will be persecuted and he exhorts us to take up our cross and follow him because by following him he will help us to handle our suffering more gracefully and graciously.  
To know God, to love God, and to serve God in this life and to be happy with him in the next sums up the purpose of our lives.  Each and every one of us today is called to conversion now. That is to say we are called to imitate our Lord more closely with each passing day of our lives.  It is a lifelong process to be sure and it is a process that all of us are hopefully eager to work toward starting today.”

The Sacrifice of Calvary – Fr. Michael Guastello

Fr. Michael Guastello’s Homily June 23, 2019

“Since the sixth Sunday of Easter the Church has given us a variety of feasts and solemnities to celebrate for the Sunday Liturgies.  Four weeks ago you’ll recall that we celebrate the Ascension, the namesake of our parish, followed by Pentecost where the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to breathe life into the Church.  Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity and this Sunday we celebrate Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. I think that the Church is wise to give us these as opportunities to pray and reflect on these themes of our Catholic faith.  The words corpus christi translated from the Latin means, ‘the body of Christ’ or ‘the body of the anointed one’ of course when we think of the Body of Christ we think of the Eucharist.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the body of Christ, the Eucharist, is the source, center and summit of the Church’s life. It is the sacrament in and through which all of the other sacraments flow.  St. Thomas Aquinas said that, ‘Though all the sacraments contain the power of Jesus, only the Eucharist contains Jesus himself.’ When we receive the Eucharist we receive the whole Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity becoming thereby conformed to him in a very real way.  The word eucharist means thanksgiving and it comes from the word eukharistia which is a Greek verb which means to give thanks.  What is the only acceptable thanksgiving to the Father absolutely speaking?  The sacrifice of the Son, the sacrifice of Calvary. Jesus Christ offers his body to the Father as a sacrifice to atone for all sin from the original sin to all the sins of the world and Jesus did this for one reason: redemption.  Now when we hear the word redemption we often associate it with a type of a commercial transaction. We can redeem shares of stock, or we can redeem airline miles things like that, but Jesus came not to redeem stock or airline miles, but for us, to redeem us, to purchase our freedom from sin, Satan, and death and he did it by the sacrifice of his body and blood.  At the heart of the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Calvary.  The sacrifice of Calvary is where all the spiritual power in the universe lies, the power for forgiveness of sins, the power for forgiveness of sins, the power of reconciliation of humankind to God, the power of eternal life.

Our Gospel today is a familiar story to many of us where Jesus takes five loaves and two fish and he multiplies them in order to feed 5,000 of his followers.  Now just to be clear, just so that we are all on the same page here, this was a miracle that happened. It was an event and Jesus multiplied loaves and fish for his followers.  It is true. Now there are some who will try to say, ‘Well it’s not so much about a miracle, this story of the feeding of 5,000, but it’s really Jesus teaching his disciples how to share.’  This is not correct. This is an inaccurate theological position. The multiplication of the loaves and fish was real and it was a true miracle and it was affected by Jesus Christ who was God and it is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist itself.  Listen to what Luke says here, (Jesus) ‘He took the loaves and fish, said the blessing, broke them, and gave them to his disciples.’ Does this language sound familiar to anyone? These are the words that the priest prays as part of the prayer of consecration.  We say, ‘He took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples.’ Friends this is not a coincidence. This is very intentional. This event that we read about in our Gospel today really prefigures the first Mass that was the Last Supper.  It was at the last supper that Jesus instituted the sacrament of his body and blood. On the night before he died Jesus celebrate the passover feast with his apostles and instituted the Holy Eucharist. The same body and blood that the apostles received at that Last Supper is the same body and blood that we will receive here at this Mass in about 20 minutes or so.  Think about that for just a moment. Let that reality sink in, that the body and blood of our Lord that we receive at Holy Communion every time we attend Mass is the same body and blood that the apostles received 2,000 years ago. Now I’m going to attempt to explain how this is possible. I’m going to try to explain our Catholic theology behind this. Every Mass that is celebrated throughout the world is a commemoration of the Last Supper which was in essence the first Mass and like I said at that Mass Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist.  Now the Eucharist is bonded to what we call the Paschal Mystery, the Passion, death & resurrection of Christ and our theology is that the Paschal Mystery is an event that happened outside of time and space. Now it is an event that happened in history for sure, but it exists eternally. It exists outside of time and space. What this means for us is that whenever we participate in the sacrifice of the Mass, we don’t repeat the sacrifice. Christ died once for all and so we don’t recreate the sacrifice, we enter into it and make it present. You see at Mass during the consecration time stands aside and we are at the Last Supper.  We are on Calvary. Now you might ask, ‘Well how is this possible? How does the Eucharist which is tied to the Paschal Mystery exist outside of time and space? Well you have to remember that Jesus was a divine person and in his divinity he was not constrained by time and space. As human persons, we live, we move, we operate in and through time and space, but Jesus was a divine person and while he had a divine nature he also had a human nature and in his human nature Jesus moved and lived and operated in time and space, but in his divine nature he was not limited to time and space. In his divine nature he could operate outside of time and space and so it was through his divine nature that Jesus instituted the Eucharist and it is Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit who uses the priest as his instrument to affect the Holy Eucharist at Mass.  Now a follow up question might be, well how could Jesus offer the sacrifice of the Mass on Holy Thursday when the sacrifice didn’t take place until the next day? And again the answer is the same. Jesus who was a divine person not constrained by time and space had the ability to reach into the future and make the sacrifice present on Holy Thursday even though the sacrifice would not take place until the next day. Most Catholics don’t know this. Most Catholics have not ever heard this and I believe if Catholics knew this, if we could just interiorize it, Catholics would never miss Mass on Sunday and those who have left our beautiful Catholic faith would have never left knowing the beauty that we have in this miracle that we have in the Holy Eucharist.

St. John Vianney said that, ‘If the priest really knew what he was doing when he elevated the host and chalice at Mass he would just die.’  And I think he’s right. I do. I shared this quote with Fr. Tom to which he said to me, ‘Well you know you’re not dead yet.’ And that’s true I’m not.  I’m not dead yet, but I reminded him that he’s not dead yet either, but I think that that’s true and you know sometimes I think about that when I’m elevating the host or chalice during the consecration.  I should be dead if I really knew what I was doing. A number of people have asked me what it is I am doing and what kind of prayers that I’m saying when I elevate the host and chalice during the consecration.  Well I want to start by saying this: when we attend Mass, when you attend Mass on Sunday, the elevation of the host and chalice is the most spiritually efficacious and powerful moment of your week. I can say that with 100% certainty and without any fear of error.  The elevation of the host and chalice during the consecration is the most spiritually efficacious and powerful moment of your week. Period. Exclamation point and so what I’m doing during the consecration as I’m elevating the host and chalice, first of all I’m offering up the Mass intention for the Mass because as you all know every Mass has a specific Mass intention.  I’m offering up the petitions that are read from the pulpit. I’m offering up my own personal intentions. I’m offering up all the prayers and petitions of everyone who is present at that particular Mass. Now hopefully this is something that all of you are doing and it’s something that I encourage you to do, offer your prayer and petitions, whatever they are whatever is on your heart during the elevation of the host and chalice, but for those who are not, I’m doing it for them and so I want to encourage you to do that, to offer your prayers and petitions at the time of consecration at the elevation of the host and chalice.  If you remember nothing else from this homily here this afternoon please remember this, for those of us who attend Mass on Sundays it is the most spiritually efficacious and powerful moment of the week and the Church has given us this beautiful feast, the solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord to ponder this great mystery, to pray about it, to reflect on this miracle that has been given to us by Jesus Christ the gift of his body and blood to nourish us, to let us know that he is with us so that we may be with him one day in Heaven for all eternity.”

The Greatest Mystery – Fr. Tom Tank

Fr. Tom Tank’s Homily June 23, 2019

“Today we celebrate this wonderful feast of Corpus Christi and it is a time of deep reflection and meditation upon the Eucharist.  A priest friend of mine who likes to send out jokes and little stories sent me one just a couple days ago and it really in a sense has nothing to do, but may have everything to do with this little homily today.  It seems that there was a Mass and the sermon was kind of dull and it was going on and on and this little 5 year old was looking around the church kind of bored and finally nudges his dad and saw the red sanctuary light that reminds us of the presence of Christ, so he saw the red light and he said, ‘Dad, when the light turns green, can we go home?’  Hope springs eternal that the light will turn green.

Today we are invited to reflect more deeply upon the wondrous mystery of the Eucharist, that mystery of Christ’s presence among us.  Obviously we celebrated this on Holy Thursday when we had the Mass of the Lord’s Supper when the institution of the Eucharist took place where Jesus shared with those apostles in that very first Mass and invited all of us to continue to remember to make him present within the Eucharist itself and what a wonderful gift the Eucharist is.  It’s one of those gifts that we probably have a tendency to take for granted because we share in it so often. It is so readily available to us. I remember one of the times that I came to a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist is when I read a book by a priest who was in a concentration camp in Russia and he was not allowed of course to celebrate the Mass, but every once in awhile he was able to get a little bit of wine and then he was able to take some bread and he had to sit out on one of the benches out in the yard there of the concentration camp and he had to smoke a cigarette as he was celebrating Mass because if he was caught of course he would be severely punished if not killed and so he celebrated the Eucharist there in that simplicity and then he kept some of the consecrated species, the body of Christ and would distribute to some of his fellow prisoners, but it made me appreciate as a young man what a tremendous gift the Eucharist is and how often people have sacrificed and been willing to jeopardize all in order to celebrate the Eucharist and yet it is something unfortunately that we can take for granted.  There’s a great mystery within the Eucharist and for a lot of us it’s the mystery of how God can take bread and wine and transform them into a sacramental real presence that the bread and wine truly through the words of consecration become the body and the blood of Christ. For many that is the mystery of the Eucharist, but I would think that maybe that’s not the point. Yes, there’s something that we don’t understand about that. Yes, we know that there’s a mystery in the fact of transubstantiation of the change of what appears as bread and wine truly into the body and the blood of Christ as promised in John 6 and if you want to think about the transformation read the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel it illustrates it so clearly what Jesus intended and then we sometimes can get bogged down with the how of that transformation, but I think ultimately it’s an act of faith. It’s a realization that God who created this whole universe, God who put all of this together, if he wants to make himself present under the very humble forms of what would appear as bread and wine, but truly as he tells us his own body and his blood that we are invited to accept that reality because of who God is and the power that God has, but the greatest mystery of the Eucharist is not the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, but rather it’s the mystery of God’s love.  It’s a mystery of how God loves us so intensely, so personally that he wants to come to each and every one of us in the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion that he wants to be intimately sharing in our life.  That is the true mystery. That’s the miracle of the Eucharist that you and I are that loved by God himself that God truly wants to reside within us that he wants to have that moment of not just face to face, but heart to heart contact.  We are invited to enter into that mystery of how much God loves us not only in Jesus dying upon the cross and rising for us, but his promise to abide with us always that we might experience his presence every time we celebrate the Eucharist and we welcome his body and his blood into our own lives into our own hearts.  Obviously none of us is worthy to receive Holy Communion. None of us is worthy to receive Holy Communion and yet we need to be properly disposed obviously. If we’re aware of serious sin we need to go to reconciliation first we need to physically prepare ourselves maybe from a little bit of abstinence from food beforehand.  We need to mainly prepare our hearts to make sure that our heart, our life is receptive to that presence of Christ that we can approach Christ truly in faith with an openness to the wondrous gift that he shares with us to open our minds and our hearts to experience God face to face, heart to heart, to allow God to touch us deeply to allow his love to soak into our own hearts.

This coming Friday we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Sacred Heart is that reminder of the passionate love that God has for each and every one of us that heart that is on fire with love that is on fire with divine life that heart of Christ that comes to us in every experience of the Eucharist that we share.  How tremendously blessed we are. We are invited to reflect upon the mystery of God’s love how tremendously he loves you, and me and all this world. How blessed we are.”

Employment Opportunities

New Position:
Adult Faith Coordinator
As of 7/10/19

The Adult Faith Coordinator reports to the Director of Adult Faith & RCIA.
The main responsibilities are as follows:

COORDINATION

  • Coordinate AFF classes under direction of AFF Director
  • Schedule speakers, facilitators
  • Resource to Christ Renews volunteers
  • Resource to Adult Faith Library volunteer
  • Coordinate Parish Mission, speaker and volunteers
  • Coordinate food & drink supplies for RCIA

COMMUNICATION

  • Compile bulletin & email blast info each week
  • Submit articles for Ascent 4 times per year
  • Create brochures, flyers, posters for offerings
  • Submit articles and photos to Ascension website
  • Communication (email and phone) to facilitators and leaders
  • Respond to parishioners on questions regarding offerings

SETUP

  • Set up hospitality and materials for evening offerings
  • Serve as evening host for classes, meetings, events
  • Purchase snacks as needed

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Tasks as assigned by Director of Adult Faith

Hours:    12 hours per week during the school year, 6 hours per week in summer           

August 15 – May 31         Tues, Wed. and Thurs.   4:00 pm – 8:00 pm          

June 1 – Aug. 15               6 hours per week in the evening    

Qualifications:   The candidate will be: 

organized                                team orientated

calendar focused                   proficient in Word, Excel and Publisher

flexible                                    ability to learn: My Access

friendly                                   able to maintain confidentiality

Interested candidates should submit a cover letter and resume by Tuesday, July 23 to the Parish Office Attn: Liz Willman or email materials to:   lwillman@kcascension.org