Liberation Of Pentecost – Fr. Tom Tank

Fr. Tom Tank’s Homily June 9, 2019

“Today we celebrate the conclusion of the Easter season, but a whole opening up to a new phase in the liturgical and our spiritual life as we are invited to truly welcome the Holy Spirit, that Spirit that descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost that Spirit that continues to live within us and among us that we are called to truly recognize and cooperate with the workings of the Holy Spirit and so this Pentecost Sunday is an opportunity for us to come to a deeper awareness to the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit within our lives and within our world.  There are many images of the Holy Spirit and I’m always reminded on Pentecost and I’ll admit that this is an old story, but of a particular pastor who one time wanted to be more dramatic on Pentecost and he wanted to really emphasize to his congregation the presence of the Holy Spirit and so he got his custodian the day before and he showed the custodian this dove and there was a dove there in this little cage and the dove was there and he said, ‘Now Jack what I want you to do is tomorrow during my sermon when I say, The Lord sent down the Holy Spirit, I want you to release the dove and then the dove is gonna fly all over the congregation and the people will really be impressed with the reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit.’  He said, ‘Ok Reverend, ok.’ So the next day the pastor gets up and he’s preaching and he comes to that dramatic moment in his sermon and he says, ‘And the Lord sent down his Holy Spirit!’ Nothing happened and he said, ‘And at that time the Lord sent down his Holy Spirit.’ Nothing happened so he looks up in the choir loft and there’s the poor custodian and he says, ‘Sorry Reverend, the cat done ate the Holy Spirit.’ That is a reminder never to use props in church, but also it’s a reminder that yes, one of the images of the Holy Spirit is the dove and the dove can be that symbol of peace and certainly the work of the Spirit is that of peace of bringing about a wholeness to our hearts. There’s many images though of the Holy Spirit.  Another one is the word dunamis in Greek which means dynamite, power. The Holy Spirit is truly power it’s the power of God bringing about transformation and new life. Another is pneuma. Pneuma means breath and pneuma reminds us that the Holy Spirit is as close to us as our own breath is that through our baptism our confirmation, the Holy Spirit has been poured into our bodies into our very lives and that we should be aware of that and just as the breath is so important and purifying as we exhale carbon dioxide also it is crucial that we bring oxygen into our bodies and that Holy Spirit truly enlivens the whole body for truly the soul is the life principal for this physical body of our so the Holy Spirit is the life principal for the body of Christ that was referred to in our second reading today that we are all part of the body of Christ because we share in the very life of the Holy Spirit.

Another image in scripture for the Holy Spirit is ruach and ruach means wind, a loud rushing wind and that’s an appropriate symbol for the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is like the wind.  You know you never see the wind. If anybody here has ever seen the wind, let me know afterwards, but we never see the wind, we see the effects of the wind. We see the leaves, the branches swaying, we see the grass waving, we see the grass waving, we see something blowing across the parking lot so we see the effects of the wind, but we really don’t see the wind and so we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is known more by its results than by particularly direct insight or seen and the Holy Spirit truly wants to enter in and to transform our lives to transform our minds and our hearts to transform us and to make us into new people and that is the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians talks about the fruits of the Holy Spirit and these are signs of the Holy Spirit within our own lives and as we are growing in these qualities we are truly growing spiritually we are experiencing the effects of the Holy Spirit transforming us and hopefully we are all growing in these, but he says, ‘The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generocity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ Those are the fruits of the Holy Spirit and we are all challenged to be open to that Spirit that can transform us to make those things ever more alive within our own lives that fidelity to Christ Jesus that openness to that life that Christ brings us.

This past week someone sent me something, a little piece on the Holy Spirit and I thought it had some nice insights so I’ll share it with you.

‘The Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to his followers is the great gift of God.  Without the Holy Spirit of Jesus we can do nothing, but in and through his Spirit we can live free, joyful, and courageous lives.We cannot pray, but the Spirit of Christ can pray in us.
We cannot create peace and joy, but the Spirit of Christ can fill us with a peace and joy that is not of this world.We cannot break through the many barriers that divides races, sexes, and nations, but the Spirit of Christ unites all people in an all embracing love of God.
The spirit of Christ burns away our many fears and anxieties and sets us free to move wherever we are sent.  This is the great liberation of Pentecost.’

This feast of Pentecost invites us to a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit within our lives and a deeper openness to the Holy Spirit in prayer.  I hope that we pray daily to the Holy Spirit. My experience though is that for most of us the Spirit is the neglected person of the trinity. We pray to God the Father, we pray to Jesus, but we don’t pray as much to the Holy Spirit and yet we live in the age of the Holy Spirit for the Spirit has been sent forth.  The Spirit dwells within us and among us bringing about new life.

You know the cat doesn’t eat the Holy Spirit, but there are things that can destroy the life of the Spirit within us and those things we can really need to be careful of:

  • That complacency that may enter into our spirituality
  • That sense of embracing one or other sin and not striving to overcome it
  • There’s divisions that may be there that we hold on to rather than allow healing to take place
  • The Spirit of this world that is so often in contrast to the truth and the love that God has revealed to us

Those are the things that can destroy our own life in the Spirit, but through the gift of the Spirit we are called to new life, to greater holiness, to truly continue to grow in that Spirit of Jesus, truly the Spirit of truth, the spirit of love. The spirit that gives us already that gift of everlasting life.”

Accepting The Gift – Fr. Michael Guastello

Fr. Michael Guastello’s Homily June 9, 2019

“Sometimes when we describe a person with great talents we refer to them as being ‘gifted’.  He is a gifted athlete. She is a gifted musician, but to use the word gift implies that their talents are not solely based on their own merit.  Someone had to give them the gift. The person received the gift from someone. Our lives ourselves are gifts from God. We have received life from God and from our parents.  Without them, we would not be there. Of course a gift implies that there is a relationship between the gift giver and the person who has received the gift. A gift implies affection, appreciation, acknowledgement.  If a gift is given with the expectation of something in return then it is not really a gift. Today, on this feast of Pentecost, the Easter season comes to a close and we celebrate the gift of the Church being born when the Father and Son poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles giving them their mission to proclaim the Gospel to the rest of the world.  Since that time, the Holy Spirit has given gifts to the rest of the Church so that it may be faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. In fact, the books of the Bible themselves are inspired works of the Holy spirit.

In our second reading from St. Paul today, we are reminded that the mere presence and actions of the Holy Spirit are often perceived as gifts.  When we think of our Trinitarian God we associate creation with the Father and redemption of humanity with the Son, but it is the Holy Spirit who continues to animate the Church to sanctify us, to inspire us, to guide us.  Now to be theologically precise, when one person of the Trinity acts, the other two persons are acting in concert, yet we do attribute these things, sanctification, inspiration, bringing unity to being works of the Holy Spirit.  I’ll give you some examples. During the consecration of the Eucharist at Mass when the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine, we call this the epiclesis, this is a calling down of the Holy Spirit and so I’ll invite you when we get to that part in the Mass today to listen when I have my hands over the bread and wine and then there is a part in the Mass called the doxology when the priest raises the chalice and the patton of the body and blood of Christ and he prays, ‘Through him and with him and in him Oh God almighty Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit all glory and honor is yours forever and ever.’  Unity of the Holy Spirit and then finally as part of the prayer of absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation the priest says that ‘Jesus has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. This brings us to our Gospel today in which we are reminded of one of the Holy Spirit’s greatest gifts of all and this is the gift of reconciliation and forgiveness. So, our Gospel brings us back to Easter Sunday night and the Apostles have locked themselves in a room for fear of the authorities so remember Jesus has just been crucified and as his followers they think that they might be next in line and so they are locked up they are held up in this room and Jesus, the risen Jesus comes through the locked doors and he stands in front of them and he says to them, ‘Where were you guys?  What happened to you? You guys left me for dead. I can’t depend on you for anything! What’s wrong with you people?!?’ He doesn’t say any of this does he? Quite the opposite. He says, ‘Peace be with you.’ And he says this two ties if you go back and reread the text he says, ‘Peace be with you.’ Why? Because he wants to emphasize his love and forgiveness for them not their mistakes. He wants them not to dwell on their sins, but to dwell on his mercy, to dwell on his compassion and to dwell on his desire for reconciliation with him. Friends, the same thing goes for us as well. When we make mistakes, when we mess up, when we turn our backs on God through sin, he doesn’t want us to dwell on any of this. He wants to forgive us. He wants us to be reconciled with him. All we have to do is ask. All we have to do is approach him with a sincere and contrite heart.  Jesus says to his apostles, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.’ This by the way is the primary text that the Church points to for Jesus having instituted the sacrament of reconciliation. You see, forgiveness is one of the main reasons Christ instituted the Church. Forgiveness is one of the major business segments that the Church is involved in if I could use that line of terminology. Yes we are involved in social justice works to be sure. We run food pantries and soup kitchens, the Church has run hospitals to take care of the sick. We run schools to educate our children, but long before the Church ran hospitals or schools or soup kitchens, the church was in the business of forgiveness and reconciliation. These are gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit and not just reconciliation with us and God, but reconciliation with one another.  In our Gospel today Jesus connects reconciliation with himself and reconciliation with others. This is a great gift. If there are relationships in our lives that are in need of reconciliation, the Holy Spirit is prepared to breathe new life into them. Maybe we need to be reconciled with a son or daughter. Maybe we need to be reconciled with a brother or a sister or a parent or a neighbor or a former spouse or a coworker or a fellow student. I invite you to ponder that question today. Who do I need to be reconciled to? Who do I need to pray for? Maybe, who do I need to reach out to? As we come to the end of the Easter season today as we celebrate Pentecost, the Holy Spirit may well be prompting us to take advantage of the gift of reconciliation with someone, a gift that the Spirit is willing to help us with in that reconciliation if we are open to receiving it, if we are open to accepting the gift.

Eternity Over Time

Fr. Tom Tank’s Homily June 2, 2019

“This feast of the Ascension of the Lord is certainly one that is personal for us since this is our patronal feast and as people of the Ascension we are called to reflect upon the real meaning of this feast as one of completion, finality, and hope.  You know the feast of the ascension really celebrates the fulfillment of the whole mystery of Christ’s incarnation. Just a few months ago we celebrated Christmas, the fact of the word become flesh in Christ Jesus as that humble babe of Bethlehem, but the whole purpose of the incarnation of God becoming flesh in that humble child was in order that we might know the gift of eternal salvation.  We reflected upon not just the infancy, but more importantly the public ministry of Jesus and how through his death and resurrection the paschal mystery he’s brought about the redemption, the forgiveness of our sins and a whole new life of grace and now we come to this completion time where Jesus physically leaves this earth. He’s ascended. He’s taken up into the fullness of the glory of the right hand of the father.  It is the summation, the completion of his life, for Christ entered into our humanity so that we might enter into his divinity, that we are called to be adopted sons and daughters of God through our identification with Christ Jesus. This is a feast in which we celebrate the fact that in a sense, all of us are already in Heaven because of our union with Christ. One of the best and greatest images for me for the ascension is one that you younger folks will not remember that well, but some of us older ones will and that was when the first man walked on the moon.  There was that lunar module that landed on the moon and that dramatic moment when there was that step down from the module onto the moon and really it was a transfiguring moment for people who were able to watch that on television. It was one of those dramatic moments and the words of that astronaut, ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ Because all of us felt that somehow we were on the moon. Humanity was there therefore we were all there. Well as we celebrate this ascension of Jesus into Heaven, we celebrate the fact that Jesus truly has taken us into Heaven as well that there is that promise there already of humanity is in God’s glory.  Humanity is truly sharing in the joy of Heaven and we ourselves already are beginning to share in that life. No, we have a long way to go before we enjoy it fully, but we know that this is our destiny that this is our purpose is that ultimately it is that we will share in God’s life ternally and that’s one of the things that we keep in mind as we live each day, the dignity that we have, but also that call that we have to eternal joy, to eternal union with Christ in the presence in the Father and the Spirit as well, but in the meantime there’s a challenge for us. We have this beautiful stained glass of the Ascension right behind me and that particular piece came from the Church of the Annunciation in Kansas City, MO and certainly it is a masterful work of art, but it reminds us there of Jesus ascending into Heaven and it’s interesting that the apostles and Mary for the most part are looking up, following with their eyes Jesus ascending into Heaven and then we have those words in the first reading today where it says that two Angels came and they said, ‘Why are you looking up to Heaven?  He’s going to come back, don’t worry about that, but you go do your job.’ That’s basically what the angels were saying and for all of us we have that job of being witnesses of being witnesses to the love of Christ, to the love of God manifested in Jesus in the word become flesh in the act of salvation, his love for us in dying and rising that we are called to be witnesses to that, but we don’t do it just on our own power for just like the early disciples they were told to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and to be with them. Well we have received that gift of the Spirit and so we are challenged to truly be people of the Holy Spirit. We look up to Heaven, but we also have our feet on the ground. We are called to live each day with an awareness of our dignity and the ultimate call of our lives, but we are aware that we are called to witness by our daily lives to be witnesses of hope to others. This feast of the Ascension is a great feast of hope because it helps us to realize that no matter what we may experience in this life whatever disappointments or challenges that we may have, even the reality of illness and death will never overcome us, but rather it is life over death, it is eternity over time, it is that call to the wondrous vocation, the goal that each of us has within our life to share in the life of the ascended Christ Jesus.  How blessed we are for we are a people who truly know the love of God for we know the purpose and the meaning, the direction of our lives. We are but challenged to follow it.”

Not To Be Afraid

Dcn. John Stanley’s Homily May 26, 2019

“For the last few weeks we have read from the Gospel of John and in particular from the last supper discourse of Jesus.  Today is the sixth Sunday of Easter and the Gospel readings keep circling back to that night before Jesus died and why is this?  Why is it that the Church keeps bringing us back to that farewell address of Jesus? Well it’s because of the depth of the theology and the summation of the Christian life.

You know, the Last Supper discourse is five chapters long in John’s Gospel.  His entire Gospel is twenty one chapters long so almost 25% of all the Gospel of John is devoted to that two or three hour discourse on the night before Jesus died.  Jesus was taking this time this very solemn time on this evening where he knew that the next day his Passion would begin. Immediately after he would leave this solemnity, this solemn night, his Passion would begin so it was important to him to bring it all together.  The apostles had been with him for three years. They’d followed him, they’d listen to him. He taught them. They witnessed his miracles and now Jesus would lay it all out the night before he died. He tries to prepare them for him not being around for his death, resurrection, ascension to Heaven.  That night he intimately shares with them his body and blood. He washes their feet. The master washes the feet of the servants. He shares his heart with them. He tells them that he’s going to his father’s house where he will prepare a room for them. He gives them a new commandment, ‘You are to love one another as I have loved you.’  He speaks eloquently the need to stay connected to him. He uses the metaphor of the vine and the branches. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ He tells them that the Father and he are one and he is the way and the truth and the life and he tells that that there’s no greater love that one can have than to lay down one’s life for a friend and then he looks at them and he tells them, ‘You are my friends.’  He prays for them and he prays for those who will follow them. That’s us. He prays for us. He prays for the world. He prays for the Church. He prays that it always be one and yet, the apostles don’t seem to get it. They seem to be clueless. Peter asks, Lord where are you going? Thomas asks, ‘How will we know the way?’ And Phillip asks him, ‘Lord show us the father and that will be enough.’ Jesus tells Phillip, ‘Have you not been with me all this time?’  It doesn’t seem to be sinking in and now we come to our Gospel reading. In the verse just preceding our Gospel reading we hear another question. This time it’s from Judas, not Judas the betrayer, but the other Judas known as Jude. He asks Jesus immediately before this gospel reading, ‘Why just reveal yourself to us? Why don’t you reveal yourself to the whole world?’ I think he spoke these words that the other apostles were also thinking that if you are who you say you are then do something spectacular.  Squash this tyranny of the Romans. Use your powers to subdue these tyrants and we hear these words in the Gospel today, ‘Whoever loves me will keep my word and my father will love him and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.’ Jesus tells them that it is only through love that he will reveal himself to them and it’s love that he reveals himself to us and then he tells them very intimately that he has come not just to pass by but he has come to dwell with them to abide with them. Jesus then goes on realizing that they’re not really getting it.  Knowing their limited understanding, their weak human nature, he makes a promise that the Father will send an advocate, a helper, the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will teach them and remind them of everything that he told them. Think of the love Jesus had for those apostles. Think of his love for you and I. He loves us so much. He knows our nature for he was born of a woman. He lived a human life. He knew temptation. He knew sorrow and pain and he promised his apostles and he promises us that he has come not to be a figure head, a CEO if you will. He is not a distant person to look at and look up to, no he dwells with us, he abides with us, Jesus is alive.  He is with us in the gift of the Eucharist.

Easter Season is winding down.  Jesus will soon ascend to Heaven and sit at the right hand of his father yet he promised in his last will and testament of that night before he died that he would not leave us orphans for he has given us the Holy Spirit and he’s given us those consoling words, ‘Do not be afraid.’

You know yesterday here at the Church of the Ascension, six young men were ordained into the priesthood.  Some of you may have been here. It was a joyous occasion. I didn’t count them but there were 70 or 80 priests right up here around the altar.  It was too crowded for an old deacon to be up here so I was sitting over there taking it all in and it was a beautiful, beautiful thing and there was one person that came to my mind and I was glad that there was one person who didn’t show up and that would be the state fire marshal.  As beautiful as all of it was I was especially moved to see how many young people were in attendance, how many families brought their young children to this, 2 ½ hours. I think it was the best 2 ½ hours that could happen in the world yesterday. It was a beautiful thing. It gave me hope for the future of the church and it all goes back to God’s love for us and his desire to dwell within us.  His love for those twelve bewildered men who he did not give up on 2,000 years ago, those men who changed, the Holy Spirit came to them and they gave us the Church, the Church that we know today. Jesus gave himself in the Eucharist. He sent us the Holy Spirit. This is a Gospel of hope. He continues to guide the Church. The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Holy Church in this very treacherous world in this very treacherous time.  Yes, it is a time not to be afraid.”

Peace Of Christ

Fr. Tom Tank’s Homily May 26, 2019

“During this Easter season we are invited to reflect ever more personally upon the words of Christ particularly that were shared at the last supper.  In John’s Gospel at the Last Supper Jesus really pours out his heart. He really talks to the disciples and to all of us about his mission and about what he was about and why he was going to die, but he would rise and then share with us the gift of life, the gift of eternal life and so our Gospel today is part of that Last Supper discourse and it’s one in which Jesus first of all promises that if we love him, he and the Father will come and dwell within us, that abiding presence of God within our own lives that we truly have that presence of the Lord within our own bodies within our own Spirit and that is a beautiful promise that is given there, that abiding presence of God with us.  What a great dignity we have. What a great mission we have. What a great future we have because of that intimate relationship to which we are called with the Father and the Son dwelling within us through the power of the Holy Spirit, that Holy Spirit that was poured forth into our hearts in baptism, that Holy Spirit in which we were confirmed in Confirmation, that Holy Spirit that continually abides with us, that that is the promise of Jesus that we truly abide with God and God abides with us and that’s the reason that we are called into an ever deeper intimacy with each of the persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and then Jesus goes on and he makes a great promise.  He says, ‘My peace is what I will give to you.’ And the very first words after the resurrection when Jesus appears to the disciples he says, ‘Peace be with you’ but he says, ‘but not as the world gives peace do I give peace.’ And that’s an interesting statement. It may be that the world’s idea of peace is a cessation of hostilities as long as we’re not throwing bombs or rockets at each other, then we must be at peace. Well Jesus said, ‘No, the peace that he gives is something different.’ The peace that he gives is something that enters deep into our minds and our hearts and it’s a much more positive understanding of who we are and what we are about. That peace that Jesus gives is one that is brought about by the Holy Spirit, that spirit of God that enables us to know that all will work out well, that peace that invites us to a deep trust in God’s providence and his care and Jesus goes on and he says, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled.’  Don’t worry, don’t be anxious. Anxiety though is one of the real problems that many of us confront within our lives. We’re anxious about many things. Anxiety is one of the pervasive issues of our culture and our society, but Jesus says, ‘Do not be anxious.’ Have faith in Him. Have faith in His providence. Do not be anxious because all things can work together for those who trust in God and even researchers will say that 90% of the stuff we’re anxious about never takes place. It never happens, so we’re anxious for totally wrong reasons and most of the other 10% we have no control over and so it’s not really worth getting anxious about because the Lord wants us to live with a sense of peace that he’s truly with us even in the most challenging times in our life that we can live with that sense of peace that he brings to our minds and to our hearts. That’s the promise that Jesus gives us. It means entering more deeply into a relationship of trust.  Not trust that everything is going to go perfectly, not a trust that says oh there’s never going to be a problem, there’s never going to be difficulties, but that trust that says that God is with us through it all that God brings us His peace. He ensures that it will all work out ultimately not just for God’s good, but for all of our good and so we are invited to enter into more deeply into that peace of Christ Jesus. At every Eucharist that we celebrate we turn to those around us and we say, ‘Peace of Christ be with you.’ And by the way you don’t just say, ‘Peace be with you.’ That’s inadequate. It’s ‘Peace of Christ be with you.’ And that’s not just a greeting, that’s a prayer. It’s a prayer that Christ’s peace may truly be with those around us with members of our families, with members of this parish community, with all those with whom we share this human journey that the peace of Christ may truly be within our lives and within our hearts, that peace of Christ that brings about a great transformation that peace of Christ that brings about eternal joy and so as we draw closer to the end of this Easter season, we are invited to reflect upon God’s promise to us that abiding presence in the Eucharist that abiding presence within our own hearts and minds, that abiding presence that dispels anxiety and worries that abiding presence that brings us His peace.  Peace of Christ be with you.”

How All Will Know

Fr. Michael Guastello’s Homily May 19, 2019

“So we continue to celebrate the joy of Easter on this fifth Sunday of Easter and I think the Church is wise to give us a full seven weeks of Easter because we need this extended time to reflect on the Passion, death and resurrection of the Lord on the lessons that he taught, what it means for us, and how that impacts our lives.  We need to spend time basking in the resurrection of Jesus in the glory of his resurrection so that we can absorb all that God wants to communicate to us. Today, we are reminded of the new commandment that Christ gave us the day before he suffered. In our Gospel this weekend we are brought back to the Last Supper when Jesus was gathered with his apostles in the upper room and it was at this gathering that Jesus revealed the distinguishing mark of the Christian.  ‘I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples.’  And this is what attracted some of those early Christians, those who were outside, they would see the Christians, those who call themselves Christians at how they love one another and how they care for one another and how they look out for one another.  You see, being a Christian is more than just being a member of a club, it’s more than being registered at a parish. Being a Christian means being Christ in the world, to be Christ to others, to see Christ in others and to love others as Christ loved. And how did he love?  Well, he loved sacrificially. He loved to the point of laying down his life. He gave his life in order to open the gates of Heaven and win salvation for us. In turn, we are called to imitate Christ in the circumstances of our own lives in the same way, in the same type of sacrificial love and this is especially true when it comes to our vocation.  You know I have an opportunity as a priest to work with a lot of couples who are preparing for marriage. We call it marriage preparation and sometimes I’ll have couples in my office and we’ll be talking and I’ll say, ‘So you must be in love.’ And they’ll kind of look at me, ‘Well yeah Father, of course we’re in love. We’re engaged.’ And I’ll ask them, ‘Well what is love?’ And I get a variety of answers.  ‘Well we have chemistry.’ “Well you know, chemistry can blow up. You put certain chemicals together it can cause an explosion.’ ‘Well you know we have feelings for one another.’ ‘Well okay, but you know feelings can be up and feelings can be down and feelings can be all around. If all you have in feelings, you might be in trouble. How’s this?’ I’ll make this proposal. ‘To love someone, to love your future spouse would be to will the good of that person for his or her sake.  To desire the highest and best thing for that person.’ And I get agreement from that and so I’ll ask them, ‘So what does this mean for you based on that if to love someone is to wish the highest and best thing for them, what is that for you?’ ‘Well, we want to get a house.’ ‘Okay.’ ‘We want to have children.’ ‘Great.’ ‘Provide for one another and our family. Travel places we’ve never been before. Early retirement?’ ‘Okay, what else wat else?’ ‘Well what else is there, Father?’  ‘How about Heaven? If you will the good of your spouse, if you desire the highest and best thing for them, do you desire salvation for him or her? Do you desire Heaven for him or her and are you willing to do whatever it takes to get them there? In other words, will you love your spouse as Christ loves? Are you willing to lay down your life in order to get your spouse to Heaven?’ This is a good question for all married couples to ask themselves. Do you pray with your spouse? Do you pray for your spouse and do you pray, and this isn’t just for married couples, this is really for all of us, do you pray for other people?  You know all throughout scripture we see the importance of prayer. Jesus himself was a man of prayer. We see in James 5:16 ‘Pray for one another that you may be healed.’ St. Paul says in his first letter to Timothy says, ‘First of all, I urge you that prayers be made for all people.’

Today in light of our Gospel is a good day to examine this in our own lives and examine ourselves, am I praying for others?  And if so, am I only praying for my friends and those that I like and those who agree with me or do I pray for those persons who drive me crazy and up the wall and over a clif?  Jesus is very clear. ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ He has commanded us to love one another as he loved and part of this love means praying for others and so I want to invite you during Mass today to really be intentional about praying for someone personally.  Maybe it’s a friend or maybe it’s not a friend. Maybe it’s someone you know that needs prayer or maybe it’s someone that you haven’t thought of for a long time and now this person is now in your mind whether it’s during the consecration during the elevation of the host or the chalice or whether it’s after you’ve received our Lord in Holy Communion I want to encourage you to pray for someone very personally and very intentionally.  You see when we do this sort of thing, we take a beautiful step toward loving one another as Christ has loved us.”

New Standard Of Love

Fr. Tom’s Homily May 19, 2019

“This Easter season is one that invites us to a newness of life.  In the second reading today it ends with those words, ‘I make all things new’ and so the Lord wants us to become new people during this Easter season so that we may live our life more fully and find even greater joy and happiness and fulfillment within our lives.  You know if you ask people, ‘What commandments did Jesus give us?’ You know they’ll usually say, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.’ Well actually those commandments were not new with Jesus.  They were from the Old Testament, two different places though, but Jesus joined them together and made love of God and love of neighbor so intertwined with each other, but that was not the new commandment Christ gave us. The new commandment there was given at the Last Supper and at the Last Supper Jesus said, ‘Love one another as I love you.’  What Jesus does is give us a new standard for love, a higher standard for love a higher standard for love. It is a love that is self-giving, self-sacrificing. It’s a love that Jesus had expressed to the Apostles there at the Last Supper. The very first thing in John’s account of the Last Supper is that Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. Now washing the feet of guests was the job of the lowest servant of all.  It was the most menial, the most distasteful of tasks there was, but Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and he challenges and he says, ‘As you have seen me do, so also you must do.’ But then even more so, the ultimate sign of Christ’s love, it was his death upon the cross that he was willing to give himself over for our salvation, that total gift of himself and that spirit of love is truly what becomes the new standard for each and every one of us, to love each other in a self-sacrificing, self-giving way.

You know that word love is so common within our society, there’s a lot of things in our culture, there’s music about love and everything, but unfortunately so often it’s treated just as a nice feeling that love is a wonderful feeling that you have and when you have that feeling that then you’re in love and if you don’t have that feeling then you’re not in love.  That’s a huge mistake for love is not primarily a feeling. Infatuation is based upon feelings and infatuation is good and healthy within a relationship and so feelings are very good and positive because they help with emotional bonding, but that’s not love. Love is not an act of the emotions, but rather an act of the will. It is a choice. It is a decision and any of us who have lived a life to any degree know that that is the true meaning of love, that is that choice to will and to work for the good of the other person and that’s what Jesus exemplifies so totally up through his own death and resurrection and it’s the call that all of us have within our own lives to love each other in that spirit.  No matter what our way of life, a celibate, a single, a separated, a married person, a young person, we’re all called to live that commandment to love. It was interesting to me that just about a week or so ago in Time magazine there was an article about self-giving love. It’s about the last place I thought I’d find that article, but I did and it was a reflection on a book that’s coming out on marriage and it really is an interesting presentation because it basically talks about the fact that for most parents, their greatest gift of self-giving love is towards their children and how much they will do for children. Sometimes in meeting with couples in preparation for marriage I say, ‘Once you have children, you’ll really know what love is about because they will bring more out of you than you ever thought you would do.  You do things you never thought you would do, but you’ll do them for children. That’s self-giving, self-sacrificing love, but what this article says is interesting. It says it’s wonderful that parents will do that for their children, but it says the weirdest thing that they do is that they love their children more than their spouses and that is truly a challenge because sometimes it is easier to love the children than it is to love the spouse and we can sometimes devote our lives so much to children because of their neediness, because of how cute and cuddly they are that we fail to realize that the greatest opportunity that we have to even love our children is by loving their other parent that that is the tremendous calling that is there and that people truly need to develop an ever more self-giving love within our adult relationships whether that is within marriage or if that is within our own individual, celibate life, whatever it may be, to truly learn that lesson of love.  It’s a challenging thing for us to do because sometimes it’s easier to love those who need us rather than those with whom we are needed. It’s so easy for us to become preoccupied with those who need to be needed rather than those with whom we need to be needed rather than those with whom we share the task of truly loving in the spirit of Christ Jesus and so we’re all challenged by this new standard of love to love with whole-heartedly, to love with a spirit of genuine sacrifice, to love truly in the spirit of Jesus who gave his life totally for us and so we are called to truly give our lives in service and in love of each other, particularly those who are closest within our lives.”

Unique And Unrepeatable Messages

Fr. Dan Morris’ Homily May 12, 2019

“Well once again, good evening everyone.  As I said at the beginning of Mass my name is Fr. Dan Morris and I am the vocation director for the Archdiocese.  You know, when Archbishop Naumann invited me into this role a little less than a year ago now I was genuinely excited about it because it’s not hard for me to look back on my time as a seminarian and my time in my first three years of priesthood and see that I’ve always had a heart or a passion for work in vocations, part of which was here at Church of the Ascension as a seminarian for 6 months about 6 years ago when Msgr. Tank asked me if I would help develop a vocations curriculum for then the 7th grade class in Mrs. Reed’s class so I worked with her on that project, but I’ve always had a heart or a passion for helping people, especially young people, find and discover their vocations that is, come to know God’s voice and learn to trust God enough to finally say yes to that.  It’s why I want to take this opportunity to thank Msgr. Tank for inviting me here this weekend to do just that, to talk to you about vocations and not just about vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life, no especially during this difficult period of time in our church I think it’s important to take this opportunity to talk about the vocation that each and everyone of us here has as a baptized Christian and I’m referring to our vocation in Jesus Christ to live a life of holiness and to become saints because I’m convinced that if all of us, myself and my brother priests included, focus on and recommit ourselves to this calling, to live our life of faith, to live our life in Jesus Christ every day to the full, to truly put God above all things, then vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life, to sacramental married life and to heroic single life, all of those vocations will take care of themselves.

And so with this in mind I want to begin by sharing with you something that I came across as I was preparing to move into this new role as vocations director and it comes from a document given to us by the Church on the importance of each of us answering our own call to holiness and in it there is one idea that continues to strike me in a very deep way and it has to do with the role that each of us are called to play when it comes to our commitment to daily answering this call, so in the section titled, ‘Your Mission in Christ, My Mission Too’ after reminding us that we need to see our entire life as a mission this document makes the following claim.  It says, ‘God the Father’s plan is Jesus Christ and our collective and individual lives in Him. In the end it’s Christ who loves in us for holiness and sanctity is nothing less than charity lived to the full.’ And then it goes on to say this and here’s the line that continues to strike me in a very deep way. It says, ‘Every saint needs to see themselves as a message which the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives as a gift to the world.’ Let that truth and claim on your life settle into your bones for a moment when you think about your own vocation and calling. Every saint, every person here, that means you that means me no matter how young or how old we are, every single one of us IS is message.  Notice how it doesn’t say that every single one of us has a message to communicate from time to time, no every single one of us is always communicating some message for good or for ill and each of us is a unique and unrepeatable message in the history of the world that will never be repeated or created like us again, set apart and called to communicate God’s love in a particular way at each and every moment of our lives and to the extent that we choose not to say yes to communicating this message well then not only do we miss out on the fullness of life that we’ve been created for, but the body of Christ the Church. Think now of your spouse sitting right next to you, your children, your parents, your siblings, your family, your friends, your classmates, your teammates, your co-workers, well they miss out on experiencing that particular communication of Christ’s love as well.  In a word, that’s vocation.  More fully, our calling to share in a unique and unrepeatable way in the life and love of Jesus Christ.

You know when I felt the seeds of this calling in my own life?  Well in hindsight it was already at the age of 5 or 6. So, just a little background I’m not 44 years old, born and raised Catholic in Topeka, KS I’m the youngest of two and it was at my home parish already at the age of 5 or 6 that I can honestly say that I first felt the seeds of this calling.  It was nothing more than finding myself sitting in the first five rows at Mass every Saturday night with my family looking over time at the priest and recognizing at least two things. First, that this man’s life was obviously about something greater than himself. You know I joke with people, any guy who is willing to stand up in front of a bunch of people and put on what basically amounts to a dress week in, week out, that man’s life has to be about something greater than himself and second, that people were looking to him week in and week out for leadership, for guidance, especially when it came to spiritual things.  Now could I say at that young age that I knew then that I wanted to be a Catholic priest? Absolutely not, but I did know at that young age that I wanted to be like him. I wanted my life to be about something greater than myself and I wanted to be a leader. Only later in life and through a series of events would God reveal to me that this desire of mine would find its fulfillment in leading other people to Jesus Christ specifically as a Catholic priest. Well that was around age 5 or 6. Apparently something happened over the course of the next 3-4 years that when I was around the age of 9 or 10 and my aunt asked me if I’d ever thought about being a priest my answer to her was, ‘Nope.  I think I’d rather get a real job.’ I don’t recall this conversation, but everybody in my family certainly does. The reality behind my answer, although I grew up in a family that was devout in practicing our Catholic faith, what I would say I did not grow up in back in the 80’s and 90’s was what I would call a culture of vocation that is one that actually encouraged and taught me how to discern my vocation in Jesus Christ. Parents, when you’re talking to your kids about their future, it’s not enough to ask them what they want to be when they grow up. It’s not even enough to tell them what you think they should be when they grow up, no you’ve got to ask them what they think GOD is calling them to be when they grow up.  First of all, it makes them realize that God is real and they need to be in communication with this God if they’re ever gonna find the answer to that question. Now much like today, the majority of the voices telling me how to live my life and promising me what would make me happy were just like they are for our young people today and for all of us were coming from our culture and from our world, so when it came to sports I played nearly all of them growing up and I was deceptively good enough at them that they consumed most of my energy and time and sadly they became my identity. If you go out to T-Bones stadium this summer for the Pitching with Priests, you’ll see that I haven’t completely let go of that identity. When it came to relationships as I grew older so too did my interest naturally in dating and because of this like so many young people I think I just kind of defaulted into thinking that one day or someday I would marry some beautiful woman and have an amazing family.  Well how easy it is for me now to look back on my life and realize that that was obviously a time that I was delusional. As to what it meant to be an authentic father, husband and man, well let’s just say that I too found myself influenced and formed in a lot of negative ways by the same lies that our world and culture continue to throw at us today and because of this for the longest time like so many men and so many young men I was never really growing up at all nor was I growing in a life of virtue that would free me to say yes to any vocation that God would one day call me to, let alone detach myself enough from the many worldly pleasures and pursuits that I could actually communicate God’s love to another and finally when it came to my faith even though as I said earlier my family was devout and even though I myself never stopped going to Mass even throughout my collegiate years at the end of the day I never really engaged my faith or took ownership of it either. That’s to say that I never really engaged in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Well two really big events happened in my life that would begin to change the direction or lack of direction that I was heading in both of which took place shortly after I graduated from the University of Kansas in 1998 with a degree in Graphic Design.  That first event was my mom’s sudden and unexpected death on the morning of February 11th, 1999 just two months after I had graduated college when she was in a car accident on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. Suffice it to say at a time when I was just transitioning into the ‘real world’ her death caused me to step back and ask myself at least two questions: First, what is life all about in general, but second, what is my life and my faith all about specifically in relationship to what my mom’s life and faith had been all about.  As you might imagine through this event I came to realize in a very personal way just how short and how precious life is and second, through my mom’s life and faith just how much one person’s faith lived well holds the power to impact the lives of so many others.  So it kind of makes this weekend beautiful as I share my vocation story, it gives me the opportunity to reflect upon the gift of my mom’s life, faith and vocation and how that continues to impact my vocation even to this day, but also to take this opportunity to thank every woman and mother here both biological and spiritual for the gift of your vocation and the gift of your vocation and the gift of your motherhood.  We know that the women in our lives are often the ones who most devoutly become the heralds of the faith in our family.

You know parents, never underestimate the influence that you hold in the lives of your children.  Trust me when I tell you they’re listening to your every word, they’re watching your every action and for better or worse, there is no replacement for you as primary educators of your children in all things, but especially when it comes to the faith.

Well the second event in my life happened two years later and to this day I describe it as the event which made me realize the eternal importance of my saying yes to my own personal vocation.  So about two years after graduating college I began dating a woman who no more than three weeks into our relationship revealed to me that she was agnostic. Now for those of you who don’t know what it means to be agnostic, it simply means that this person has arrived at a point in their life when they no longer think it is even possible to know whether God exists or not and so they choose to live their life as if God does not exist.  You see this girl had lost her fiance several years earlier just a few months prior to the scheduled date of their wedding when he unexpectedly collapsed and died from a heart attack while playing tennis. Needless to say it was easy to see how this even cause her to lose faith in God. Well after finding out that I had experienced a similar loss in my own life and discovering that losing my mom actually led to a deeper faith in God, one night with a sincere heart as if wanting to be able to believe again herself she turned to me and she asked me the following question.  She simply said, ‘Why do you believe in God?’ That’s a really good question to ask yourself. Young people you have every right on the way home from church today to turn to your parents and say, ‘Mom, Dad, can you answer that question for me? Why do you believe in God’ But then realize that they have every right to turn back to you and say, ‘Well why do you believe in God?’ What would your answer be at this point in your life if someone that you truly cared about who was struggling with their faith came to you with that question? Do you think you would have a good answer?  Well I can tell you from my own experience at least on that night and at that point in my life the answer that I had for this young woman was not and let me jsut say that her question coupled with my inability to answer it convincingly became the lowest and most grace filled moment of my life because I felt like I had let both her and God down. I tell people it was like I wasn’t able to tell her why my best friend, Jesus Christ, was my best friend and of course therein lied the problem. Even though I was going to church on a regular basis and going through the motions of my Catholic faith, it was obvious that what I was doing Monday through Saturday that Jesus Christ was not truly my best friend, so from that moment on the search for an answer to her question became a very personal one to me.  I tell people that in that moment, boom, my life became about something bigger than myself. I can honestly say that my sole motivation became leading her within that relationship no longer to myself, but back to God and Jesus Christ which if you think about it makes perfect sense because that’s what’s going to be at the heart of any and every vocation that God calls us to. Here’s the rude awakening, your vocation is not about you.  Your vocation is about dying to self and rising in Christ in a way that you lead the people that he’s put in your life back to him and ultimately to Heaven.  

So I began reading countless apologetics titles and meeting with my parish priest on a regular basis hoping to find what I thought would be the answer to her next question, but here’s the really cool thing that happened over the course of that search which lasted for the better part of two years, the more I came to learn about the beauty, the depth, the richness and the truth found within our Catholic faith, there soon existed a motivation far outside that hope.  I tell people I went into that friendship seeking a relationship with a woman and I came out of it having fallen in love with and desiring to enter more fully each day into a relationship with both Jesus Christ and His Church and it was through this search which is life long and still very much going on for me today, but I now understood better why I believed why I believe and the rest as they say is HIS story. In hindsight I’m able to see how God used this one encounter as a means to reawaken and deepen my desire to answer a calling that He had placed on my heart already at the age of 5 or 6 and over the next eight years God would use this momentum as a means to help the seed continue to grow and to my understanding and desire to lead people to Jesus Christ specifically as a Catholic priest.  As I continued to study and learn more about my faith, if you’re not already doing this now, sign up for one faith formation program every year here at Church of the Ascension. It’s a six week to ten week commitment, a bible study, a young adult prayer group, whatever that is. As I grew in virtue through a life of prayer and more frequently receiving the sacraments, you know the grace of God is real, but it’s only real for us to the extent that we avail ourselves to that grace. It’s not out of reach to say everyone here should be going to confession at least once a month to remain in right relationship with God and to continue to have the grace to live a life in virtue. As our Gospel reminds us on this Good Shepherd Sunday the voice of Christ is real as well so that means prayer. Jesus Christ’s voice is real, but we have to make and take the time to create the silence within our lives so that we can come to know that voice, hear that voice, trust that voice, and follow it daily in our lives especially in Eucharistic Adoration.  The next thing I did was I surrounded myself or was surrounded by other young adults who were striving to live the same kind of life of holiness. You know I don’t hesitate to tell young people, but really the message could be for all of us, if you’re currently surrounding yourself with people who are not leading you to Jesus Christ, it’s time to get new friends because it’s not a stretch to say that they’re leading you to Hell and as I became more and more involved in the Church by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy until finally in the fall of 2009 I found myself not only free, but now actually wanting to say ‘yes’ to God’s call to enter the seminary and discern a call to the priesthood something that when I was younger because I did not know God because I never trusted God in a way that I was actually open and willing to pursuing His plan for my life I never could imagine would be a life that would make me happy. Well how happy I now am to stand before you four years as a priest and admit how wrong I then was.

So I began reading countless apologetics titles and meeting with my parish priest on a regular basis hoping to find what I thought would be the answer to her next question, but here’s the really cool thing that happened over the course of that search which lasted for the better part of two years, the more I came to learn about the beauty, the depth, the richness and the truth found within our Catholic faith, there soon existed a motivation far outside that hope.  I tell people I went into that friendship seeking a relationship with a woman and I came out of it having fallen in love with and desiring to enter more fully each day into a relationship with both Jesus Christ and His Church and it was through this search which is life long and still very much going on for me today, but I now understood better why I believed why I believe and the rest as they say is HIS story. In hindsight I’m able to see how God used this one encounter as a means to reawaken and deepen my desire to answer a calling that He had placed on my heart already at the age of 5 or 6 and over the next eight years God would use this momentum as a means to help the seed continue to grow and to my understanding and desire to lead people to Jesus Christ specifically as a Catholic priest.  As I continued to study and learn more about my faith, if you’re not already doing this now, sign up for one faith formation program every year here at Church of the Ascension. It’s a six week to ten week commitment, a bible study, a young adult prayer group, whatever that is. As I grew in virtue through a life of prayer and more frequently receiving the sacraments, you know the grace of God is real, but it’s only real for us to the extent that we avail ourselves to that grace. It’s not out of reach to say everyone here should be going to confession at least once a month to remain in right relationship with God and to continue to have the grace to live a life in virtue. As our Gospel reminds us on this Good Shepherd Sunday the voice of Christ is real as well so that means prayer. Jesus Christ’s voice is real, but we have to make and take the time to create the silence within our lives so that we can come to know that voice, hear that voice, trust that voice, and follow it daily in our lives especially in Eucharistic Adoration.  The next thing I did was I surrounded myself or was surrounded by other young adults who were striving to live the same kind of life of holiness. You know I don’t hesitate to tell young people, but really the message could be for all of us, if you’re currently surrounding yourself with people who are not leading you to Jesus Christ, it’s time to get new friends because it’s not a stretch to say that they’re leading you to Hell and as I became more and more involved in the Church by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy until finally in the fall of 2009 I found myself not only free, but now actually wanting to say ‘yes’ to God’s call to enter the seminary and discern a call to the priesthood something that when I was younger because I did not know God because I never trusted God in a way that I was actually open and willing to pursuing His plan for my life I never could imagine would be a life that would make me happy. Well how happy I now am to stand before you four years as a priest and admit how wrong I then was.

You know I mentioned earlier that I graduated with a degree in Graphic Design from the University of Kansas in 1998 and so for ten years God blessed me with the opportunity to use my gifts and talents as a designer to work on some pretty amazing projects in the context of an albeit short, but pretty amazing career.  My job as a graphic designer was to communicate and tell a story within the context of designing museums, visitor centers, and hall of fames all across the country. The first project that I was blessed to work on was the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery Alabama and I actually was blessed to meet Rosa Parks at the opening of that museum in 2001.  The last project that I was blessed to work on, as many of you already know, was to be the lead designer for the Kansas City Royals Baseball Hall of Fame out at Kauffman Stadium. Well prior to completing this project I found myself alongside the director to the hall of fame walking around an empty Kauffman Stadium just a few weeks prior to opening day and as we looked around all the renovations and in the words of the Book of Genesis ‘saw that it was all very good’ my attention was quickly drawn to the new scoreboard now located in center field.  For those of you who have been out to a ballgame you know that the top of that new scoreboard was and still is a gold crown. Who wears a crown but a king? So in the silence of that stadium while looking at that scoreboard God placed the following question on my heart. He said, ‘Danny’ because that’s what he calls me as his son, he said ‘who is your king?’ And as he turned my attention to look around at the newly renovated stadium as well as thinking about a lifetime of being able to use those gifts that He himself had given me to work on such projects he said, ‘Is it all of this or is it me?  Will you finally say yes and trust that the life that I have planned for you in leading others to Jesus Christ as a Catholic priest will bring you the greatest fulfillment, happiness, and peace?’ I remember handing in my letter of resignation to the firm I was working for at the time and after thanking them there were only a few lines which read just as this, ‘For the past ten years I’ve been blessed to work on many amazing projects that have allowed me to use my gifts as a graphic designer to communicate many different stories to the world. At this point in my life I truly do not feel like I am changing what God is calling me to do.  I feel God still calling me to use those same talents passions and gifts to tell a story. The only difference, I will now be telling His story, the Gospel story with my whole life God willing as a Catholic priest and ironically that has become and still is my lifelong answer to that young woman’s question then ten years earlier. It’s what the Church calls evangelization, witness to Jesus Christ with the entirety of our lives is the most convincing answer we can ever give to anyone as to what we believe, why we believe and why we continue to put our faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ in His Church especially in the midst of difficult times.  In fact this is what the whole season of Easter that we now find ourselves in is all about. It’s why our first reading all throughout this season of Easter all comes from ACTS of the Apostles. Like Paul and Barnabas in our first reading today, our initial and ever deepening encounter with the risen Christ can not but result in our finally coming to act upon that relationship and become that light and instrument of salvation that our world so desperately needs today.
So, I’ll end with this funny story which means you have to laugh at the end of it, so after my boss who thank God was Catholic read my letter of resignation he slid it back across his desk, he looked up at me and he had this little smile on his face and he simply said, ‘We wish you the best.  We have no counter-offer for that.’ You know we laugh and it’s funny, but he could not have said truer words in that moment because there is no counter-offer that can ever come close to matching the offer and life that Jesus Christ has prepared for both you and me. Brothers and sisters in Christ, especially all the young people gathered here, this is our vocation, this is our calling.  Would that all of us come to see ourselves as the unique and unrepeatable messages that we are in Christ Jesus and together as the Body of Christ to unapologetically go forth to communicate this message to the world by the way that we live our lives each day as saints.  I promise, as your new vocation director, if all of us commit ourselves to doing this, then we will have all the vocations to the priesthood, consecrated religious life, sacramental married life and heroic single life that the Church and the world will ever need.”

The One Condition

Fr. Michael Guastello’s Homily May 5, 2019

“So it was the year 1798, this was during the French Revolution and Napoleon had taken Pope Pius VI prisoner for refusing to relinquish his power.  Napoleon had a meeting with the Pope and in this meeting he told Pope Pius VI his intention to destroy the Catholic Church. He said this was a goal that he had in mind that he wanted to destroy the Catholic Church.  Holy Father responded, ‘Well how are you gonna do that? The priests have been trying to destroy the Church for over 1,000 years!’ The Church is divinely instituted. If you want any proof, it’s still around. We’re still here.  If we think about it, what country or company or organization is around for 2,000 years? And so we were instituted by Christ at the very beginning when he instituted the Church. We are still around today and we ain’t going anywhere because it is a divinely instituted organization instituted by Jesus Christ himself.

Now in today’s Gospel our risen Lord appears to seven of his disciples on the Sea of Tiberius, but have you ever wondered why Jesus appeared to only a few of his disciples a handful of times after his resurrected?  Why didn’t he make himself more available? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for him to make multiple appearances to more people in an effort to strengthen this divine institution of his? Well Cardinal John Henry Newman actually commented on this.  He said that, ‘If Jesus had appeared publicly and indiscriminately to all, the power of the resurrection would have been lessened. Some would believe, others wouldn’t. Some would get it, others wouldn’t. Some would be fascinated, others indifferent.  Cardinal Newman went on to say, ‘Instead he chose to appear to a small group of his dedicated disciples who knew him, who loved him, and who understood him confident that they would be effective bearers of his message. Friends, you and I are those disciples today who now eat with him and drink with him after his resurrection at his table of plenty and so we have been called.  We have been called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. It’s also interesting to look at our Gospel today in that John gives us a series of flashbacks to before Jesus’ crucifixion. Today we read that peter and the other apostles are fishing. This is reminiscent of when Jesus called his first apostles to put down their fishing nets in order to follow him.  Today we read that the apostles climbed on to the shore to see Jesus with a charcoal fire. The last time we read about a fire in the Gospel it was Peter who was warming himself by the fire during Jesus’ interrogation after he’d been arrested from the garden of Gethsemane and then finally we have Jesus inviting them to share in this meal of fish and bread, a flashback to Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish in order to feed the 5,000.  What is the author trying to tell us in all this? Why these flashbacks? What’s the point? Remember that there’s nothing in John’s Gospel that is coincidence or there by accident or mistake. Well I think it’s simple. It’s to point out to us that Jesus is faithful. It is an illustration to his fidelity. He was faithful to his disciples before his death and crucifixion and he is faithful to them in the glory of his resurrection and so he continues the same pattern of behavior even though they were not faithful to him.  Even though they messed up, they abandoned him, they denied him, they literally left him for dead. The same thing goes for us as well. He is faithful to us and he doesn’t love us any less when we mess up. His love for us is constant. His love for us is pure and I think this is evident in his conversation with Peter at the end of our Gospel today. Jesus takes Peter aside to talk to him. Now remember their last encounter prior to Jesus’ death Peter denies knowing Jesus three times. Today, Jesus gives Peter a chance to affirm his love and renew the commissioning of Peter as his Vicar.  The one condition for this is love and so he asks Peter three times, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?’ Love. this is the one condition for all of us who desire to be followers of Jesus Christ and note here that Jesus doesn’t criticize Peter.  He doesn’t lay into him. You know, ‘What happened to you? Where were you? Why did you do that in my hour of need?’  He doesn’t say any of this, just simply asks him, ‘Do you love me?’ And Jesus asks us this same question as well and so a point for us to take home is that God loves us even when we mess up.  God loves us even when we mess up royally, even when we fail, even when we turn our back on God through sin he doesn’t give up on us. He doesn’t stop loving us. He continues to pursue us no matter what and he is always, always, ready and willing to forgive us just as he was with those first disciples, those who were called in the very beginning to spread the Good News in those very early first days of Christianity and those of us he calls his disciples today, to spread the Good News of the victory of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.”

Wherever We Are

Fr. Tom’s Homily May 4, 2019

“That rather long Gospel today has so many different messages and symbols within it that remind of us the presence of the risen Lord.  You know, Peter and the disciples were back up in Galilee and they had already experienced the risen Lord, but they didn’t know what it meant and so they went back to what they did know and that was their old job and Peter says, ‘I’m gonna go out and fish.’  And the other Apostles say, ‘Ok well we’ll come fishing with you.’ Of course Simon Peter being the expert fisherman that he is, he catches nothing all night long and then Jesus is there on the shore and he says, ‘Oh put the net on the other side.’ And then they draw in this huge draft of fish and they have to drag it in to shore and when they open it up they have 153 fish.  Now that’s interesting that they put the number there 153. Now you can be sure that the Apostles did not sit there and say 1-2-3-4-5. That was not it. 153 was the number of species of fish that at that time they believed existed in the world and so that 153 fish means that all people would be gathered together into the net of the Kingdom of God that that’s truly what it is about is that great diversity of people being brought into the Kingdom of God and of living in that relationship.  And then Jesus invites them, he already has fish on the coals, but he invites them to bring some of their own and remember the word for fish in Greek also stood for Jesus. Among the early Christians the symbol of the fish was symbolic of Christ and the reason for that in Greek its ichthus and ichthus would be Jesus Christ, Song of God, Savior if you take the first letter of each of those words that spells ichthus and so the fish itself already there is a symbol of Christ and the bread is there reminding us of the Eucharist that its through the Eucharist that Christ reveals himself to the Apostles there and it’s also through the Eucharist that Christ reveals himself to us and then we have that whole story of Peter going back and forth and to be honest with you, the English doesn’t do it justice because in Greek there’s three words for love.  There’s eros or passionate love. There is philos or friendship, brotherly love or there is agape which is self-sacrificing, truly serving love. Now Jesus asked Peter, ‘Do you agape me? Do you love me with a self-giving love? And Peter’s response is, ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you philos, as a friend.’ I love you as a friend and Jesus asked him again, ‘Do you love me with the love of agape, of truly self-sacrificing love?’ And Peter said, ‘You know Lord, I love you philos, as a friend.’ And then the third time, Jesus says, ‘Ok Peter I will take you where you’re at.’ And so he says to Peter, ‘Do you philos me?’ And Peter says, ‘Yes, I love you as a friend.’ Peter was being very honest there and Jesus accepted Peter where he was at, but then he also goes on and says, ‘Ultimately you will love me with agape love.’ And after the power of the Holy Spirit had come upon Peter he was transformed.  He was made truly a new person through that gift of the Holy Spirit and he loved the Lord with agape love, stood up in front of the Sanhedrin today in the first reading, stood up before the Romans in Rome, gave his life for Christ. He truly learned agape love, but Jesus led him along slowly through that infusion of the Holy Spirit and so we too are challenged. We’ve already been gifted by the Spirit, but Jesus does ask us, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me?’ Do I love Jesus just as a friend as somebody that I just kinda like or do I love Jesus agape, self-sacrificing, self-giving? And Jesus takes us wherever we are at, but he just invites us as the final words of the Gospel say today, ‘Follow me.’  If we follow Jesus we will truly discover the fullness of his risen life, the fullness of eternal love.”