Food plays an increasingly romantic part in our culture. Turn on the TV any night of the week and their are a myriad of shows about all of the delectable food spots and how you too can cook like a professional chef. If you don't watch TV, open Instagram. How many people in your feed today took a picture of their food?
Honestly, I don't understand these pictures. Did you order the food to look at it or eat it? Maybe it looks good but smells like an old shoe. Please stop posting these pictures.
Food, like everything in our lives, can quickly morph from a simple necessity to an obsession. It can become an idol. Not only that, we can, in all of our good intentions, think a Spring Break diet is the same thing as fasting or abstaining for Lent. I once heard a woman admit to giving up cookies for Lent because Spring Break was the week after Easter.
Lent is not a time for losing weight nor is Lent a time for giving up bread to start that healthier lifestyle. Fasting is a spiritual practice that helps us reorient our lives around the one thing that matters: Jesus Christ.
Fasting should not make us mad at the world, our friends, our waist line. Fasting, when done well, leads us to a deeper reliance on God. We take on a temporary suffering to remind us of what Christ did for us and how this inconvenience can help transform our hearts and lives.
As we enter the final few weeks of Lent, it is also important to remember how the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not simply Lenten practices. They help us bear spiritual fruit throughout our lives.
For example, a priest told me the story of an older woman in his first parish. This woman loved to bake and absolutely adored chocolate. She, however, only ate chocolate on Easter Sunday. When asked about this, the woman told him, "Father, Easter is the most important day of the year. If I had chocolate every other day, it wouldn't be special on Easter. Having my favorite thing on my favorite day is made all the more special because I don't enjoy the rest of the year."
Fasting, simple self-denial prepares us for the glories of Easter and the glories of heaven to come.
1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
My grandparents grew up with little to no visual stimulation from technology. Movies were luxury and TVs and computers weren't even invented. Children today know how to work an iPad before they can speak. We are now from almost the moment of our birth bombarded with visual imagery. This changes things for kids and for those of us who did not grow up iPad in hand.
All of this also helps us to understand what Jesus is trying to do for us today: open our eyes from the darkness of sin so that we might see with His eyes, the eyes of faith, hope, and love.
There he was. Almost every Monday morning about 8:30 am. Bible in hand.
Most people know Tom Crean as the former head coach here at IU. I know him as the kind, considerate, prayerful man who makes a holy hour every Monday at St. Paul's. Rain or shine, game day or recruiting season, when Tom was in Bloomington on Mondays, he was invariably at St. Paul's with his Bible, on his knees, lighting candles for intentions in the Shrine of the Holy Family.
Oh, and once as our staff frantically tried to set up for a funeral on a Monday morning, he asked to help and he started to vacuum the Church.
Four years ago, I ran into Tom as he was lighting candles in the Church. The Hoosiers, a No. 1 seed, had just lost in the Sweet 16 to Syracuse. A great season, for sure, that came up short. We spoke for all of about 10 minutes and, frankly, Tom left a lasting impression on me. Was he disappointed to lose? Absolutely. Crushed, in fact. Was he proud of the season? You bet. What did he talk with me about? The development of character on his team that year.
The 2012-2013 team featured two lottery picks, a no. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, a Big Ten regular season title, the resurgence of IU as a national title contender. And the man at the top wanted, more than anything, to help the young men under his charge to become better men who contribute in a meaningful way to the IU community and beyond.
All too often in our society, we reduce people to what they give to us, what they produce, how they benefit me. For the basketball coach at IU, this is readily apparent. The expectations are high and clear: Win. Fail and you're out. This is a part of the business of college basketball, but it's a tragedy when we start to apply it to the man.
As Christians, we are called to a higher standard than wins and losses, than profits and deficits. Certainly, these things matter in our careers, but we are called to impact hearts, minds, and lives with the way we go about our work.
Here's the challenge for each of us: Am I more concerned with being a person of love and prayer, of generosity and kindness, than I am about profit margins, wins, etc.? If not, you have work to do.
Sacred Scripture is replete with references to the inadequacy, the eternal uselessness of money, wealth, earthly success. In the Book of Ecclesiastes (5:10), we read, "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain: this also is vanity." Elsewhere, in the Gospel of Matthew (6:19-21), Jesus tells us, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church holds nothing back in explaining the importance of putting God and virtuous living before the things of this world: "The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement - however beneficial it may be - such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love: 'All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which the multitude of men pay an instinctive homage. They measure happiness by wealth; and by wealth they measure respectability. . . . It is a homage resulting from a profound faith . . . that with wealth he may do all things. Wealth is one idol of the day and notoriety is a second. . . . Notoriety, or the making of a noise in the world - it may be called "newspaper fame" - has come to be considered a great good in itself, and a ground of veneration.'" (CCC 1723)
The stakes are high and real. We have a choice: our career or our eternity, our jobs or our souls. Here's the kicker, though. A saintly janitor, a loving teacher, a kindly manager make work, the office, you name it, a better place.
When we commit our hearts, minds, and souls to love of God and neighbor, the world is a better place no matter the outcome of our endeavors, jobs, careers.
I'll always remember Tom as the man in the third row. A man who, no matter the success or struggles, put his faith and his prayer at the top of his list of priorities; a man more concerned with forming good men than good players.
I pray I remember all of you this way.
My favorite day of the week in college. Now, before you start thinking, "Obviously. You're a priest." My reasons were not pure. On Sundays, I could sleep as late as I wanted and I got to go to Mass -- sinner that I am and was I have always loved the Mass -- plus, on many Sundays of the year, they would send me home with the leftovers from our Campus Ministry meals. There was one week when we ordered way too much fried chicken; I didn't have to buy food for over a week.
The thing of it is, I didn't have to worry that much about money and food in college. As comfortable and blessed as I was in college, I was ever too happy to take a hand out and ever too ready to keep what I had (and had in abundance) to myself.
For many in college, we feel as if we should be the one's receiving, not giving, alms. College (and everything connected with it) is very expensive. Thus, during Lent, we can fall into the trap of prioritizing the Lenten practices of prayer and fasting while almost completely neglecting almsgiving. This is understandable. This is contrary to our call as disciples.
It is true I can't give money or things away I do not already possess -- Robin Hood, notwithstanding -- but I can and I must in some way provide for those who are worse off than I am. How, then, can I do this on a small budget with limited time?
First, seek resources. In most college towns, there are many opportunities to serve those in need. On campus, in the community, at the Newman Center, you probably don't have to look far to find a good cause. In our parish, we have the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Interfaith Winter Shelter, who work specifically with the poor. In Bloomington, there is a food pantry (Mother Hubbard's Cupboard), several soup kitchens, a Women's Care Center, and many more. All you need to do is ask.
Second, small gifts are as meaningful as big gifts. You might be able to only spend a few hours a week or month serving others or you might only be able to put $5 a month in the collection at Church. This might dissuade you from serving or giving, but every gift, no matter how small is infinite in its capacity for the good. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus lauds the widow who gave what little she had. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.” (Luke 21:3-4)
Third, the poor are everywhere. We have tendency to think we must prioritize and serve only the materially poor. The reality is there are many types of poverty. On a college campus like IU, we might not find a large number of materially poor, but there are a huge number of spiritually and emotionally poor people. Serve who the Lord puts in your midst.
Finally, the gift of time saves souls. I have only been a priest for a short time, yet I cannot count the number of times I have heard something along these lines, "All he/she was spend time with me. He/She loved me and that was what I needed most." When we give our hearts and love to others, we give them the greatest gift we can. Don't be afraid to spend time listening and comforting. You might save that person's soul with a simple, profound gift of yourself and the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.
"The wood of the desk is the wood of the Cross."
An older Dominican friar told me this as I discerned a possible Dominican vocation. It spoke to me. Oftentimes, we look to study, reading, writing as an escape, a form of leisure. Real study, study that pursues Truth, however, is, as in all things that lead us to Truth, a challenge.
Many students know this struggle, but how often do we unite this struggle to acquire a greater understanding of the world to our call as disciples to understand Jesus, His Church, and His ways? A good Lenten penance can be to read a good book, a book that expands our understanding of God and deepens our relationship with Him.
To develop a spirituality of study is to admit to both God and myself, "I am not enough." When we take up study for its sacred purpose, we recognize there are simply things I cannot know and the more I know, the less I realize I actually know. Study is concurrently a growth in understanding and humility. In other words, the study we pursue, even scholarly, is neither bombastic, proud, or arrogant. It is the simple recognition that God has something more to offer me and I long to share it with Him.
During Lent, we are called to strip away the vestiges of our life. Why not replace social media and blogs with holy reading? Instead of reading the latest pablum about entertainment "news" spend some time plumbing the depths of God. You'll like what you find.
In order to stir the fires, here are some recommendations from my book shelves, in no particular order:
Time for God, by Jacques Philippe
Treatise on Prayer and Meditation, by St. Peter Alcantara
The Contemplative Life, by Thomas Philippe
Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales
Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Jean-Pierre de Caussade
The Soul of the Apostolate, by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard
Christ, The Life of the Soul, by Blessed Columba Marmion
True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, by Luis Martinez
Interior Castle, by St. Teresa of Avila
Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux
Jesus of Nazareth (Three Volumes), by Pope Benedict XVI
God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology, by Jean-Dominique Barthelemy
The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life, by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange
The Confessions, St. Augustine
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6: 24-34
Pleasure and fear are strong impulses and motivations. They can drive a weak, feeble man to audacious acts and they can humble the bravest and strongest among us.
For instance, a simple man who derives great pleasure from doing the will of God and tempers his passions through a righteous fear of the Lord is a just man. He knows God, he experiences God's love. On the other hand, the man who is led about by his passions constantly seeking one physical pleasure after another all the while fearing what will happen if he is truly ever discovered or if people really get to know him is a disaster. He distances himself more and more from God's love to the point where he eventually does not see God at all in his life and he slowly but surely drifts away from Christ and His Church.
Jesus confronts each of us today. If a bird, doing what a bird is supposed to do, is cared and provided for by the Lord, what other way is there to the Lord than to strip down the vestiges in our life and purify our motivations so we are doing the Lord's will without thought or concern for the morrow?
They sent me to Vietnam.
In February of 2015, I was called to the office of the Student Master. He asked me if I wanted to go to Vietnam -- I did not, but believing obedience works miracles, I agreed to go. Just like that I was going to Vietnam for the summer to teach my Dominican brothers English.
As a former middle school English teacher and always feeling called to the missionary life, I was, after the initial shock wore off, fired up about getting to spend a summer in Vietnam. I had never been to Asia nor had I ever lived for an extended period in a tropical climate. I also love food and trying new things. Add to all of this the opportunity to live with my Dominican brothers and to pursue our common life of prayer and study, albeit in a completely new and different culture, and I was stoked to go.
Life in Vietnam, to say the least, was tough. The heat and the humidity, the unrelenting heat and humidity, made it difficult to adjust physically. The brothers varying degrees of English competence and willingness to speak in English made it hard to adjust socially. Oh, and the food at the Priory was far from the quality of the standard Vietnamese restaurant. Dinner was mostly a close your nose, chew quickly, and swallow affair. (That is, of course, when they didn't serve durian. Durian smells terribly and the mere smell of it made it nearly impossible for me to eat.) Oh, and the morning bell rang at 4:30 am each morning to rouse us for Lauds and Mass.
This might defy imagination, but my summer in Vietnam was the best summer of my life up until that point. Here are three lessons I learned that are applicable to everyone's life, especially as we prepare for Lent.
First, when we strip away the many distractions in our life and get back to the basics, God does incredible work in our hearts. For two months, I did not watch TV, read blogs, surf social media, or even worry about anything so much as resembling a social life. My days were work, prayer, study, and community. It was heaven.
Too much of our lives are distractions. Think of how much reading or praying or fraternizing you can accomplish when you don't "Netflix and chill" or go on social media regularly. It's noble to give up one of these distractions, but why not go for the gold and try to sacrifice them all for Lent?
Second, not all coffee is the same. I did not drink coffee before I went to Vietnam. In fact, I had drunk only one cup of coffee before going there. I enjoyed greatly going with the brothers on a hot Sunday afternoon and having a cafe sua da (Coffee with sweetened condensed milk served in ice). I enjoyed it so much, the brothers gave me 20 kilos of coffee to bring back to the US. Knowing I would never drink that much coffee, I began to give it away to friends and family.
One problem: Vietnamese coffee is incredibly strong and is meant to be served in small doses. For weeks, my friends and family let me know how wired the coffee made them. One friend even thought he might be having a heart attack.
The lesson: Not all gifts can be given and used in the same way. Even a simple gift, when not used in accord with its intended purpose, can wreak havoc. Our Heavenly Father gives each of us similar gifts, charisms, and talents. We are, however, created by a unique act of Love. Therefore, we are all called to the same goal of holiness, but we need guidance and creativity in achieving this.
Third, don't drink snake wine. Not a whole lot to this one. Just don't drink it. Some stones are best left unturned. As Jesus said, "Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.'"
A homily for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Spring Training has started. The world is objectively a better and more recognizable place when baseball is being played. Baseball, for all of its quirks, consistently reminds us how unpredictable life is. Think about it for a minute. Almost anything can happen during a baseball game or over the course of a season. The Cubs won the World Series -- this should be enough to prove all of this alone -- and a career journeyman could be an All Star or throw a perfect game.
Baseball also helps us recognize the difference between human perfection and the perfection God calls us to in today's Gospel. The perfection of a baseball game is quantifiable and easily defined. The perfection we are called to by Our Lord is mysterious. In fact, the perfection Jesus calls us to is best experienced and challenged when we must face the imperfections of the world around us.
Using the etymology of both the Greek and Latin words used to give us the "perfect" of today's Gospel, the perfection God calls toward is more about our intentions, our orientation, our end, our goal than anything else. To be "perfect," in other words, means to have my life, my heart, my mind, my soul constantly striving to fix itself on the goal, the end of my life -- union with God forever in heaven.
We are made for heaven and we are made to live our best lives when everything strives to reflect that reality.
Praying is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing we can do. It is easy because we are communicating with our Beloved and we are letting Him love us. It is hard because it takes time, it can be boring and monotonous, and we sometimes simply don't know what to say or do.
Much like spending time with a loved one, it is not so much what we do or how we do it in prayer, rather it is most important that we pray. St. Teresa of Avila, a great mystic and a woman of great prayerfulness, wrote tirelessly about prayer. Yet, within her writings, a consistent method or prescribed method of prayer never emerges. In fact, the great saint and Doctor of the Church prescribes one element as most essential to our lives of prayer: Determination.
She notes in the Way of Perfection, “There are so many reasons why it is extremely important to begin with great determination in prayer... This little bit of time that we resolve to give Him, which we spend on ourselves and on someone who will not thank us for it, let us give to Him, since we desire to do so, with our thoughts free of other things and unoccupied by them... The other reason for beginning with determination is – and it is very much to the point – that the person who does so struggles more courageously. He knows that come what may he will not turn back."
Everyone who reads this is starting for a different place in their spiritual lives. Some of you are just starting out while others are really looking to deepen an already vibrant prayer life. It does not matter where in the spiritual life you are; God always calls you deeper into His love. In addition, we are always in need of daily committing ourselves.
There are a million excuses not to pray, but there is only one reason you need to pray.
Here are some tips to get you started and to help you take your prayer to the next level:
A homily for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
A coach or teach pushes his pupils beyond what they thought they were capable of doing. Sometimes in words. Sometimes in action.
The Gospel from this past Sunday is Jesus' way of pushing us beyond what we think is possible. Not only does he want us to be chaste in action, he desires we be chaste in thought. Not only does he not want us to kill, he wants us never to get angry. This is tough. This is hard. This is Jesus setting the bar higher to challenge us to follow after him with our whole heart, mind, and soul.
No matter where you are in your faith journey, Jesus loves you where you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay there. Follow his lead and encouragement and become the saint you were made to be.