Tuesday, May 22, 2018


This last week we had our confirmation Mass for the 10 juniors who got confirmed this year.  In his homily, Bishop Shawn McKnight reminded those being confirmed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not being given to them for their own good, but for the good of all.  This certainly is in line with the teaching of Jesus Christ. When sending out the disciples to prepare the way for Him, He tells them, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) It is easy to have a merit badge mentality about the sacraments. We go through preparation and classes and at the end receive the sacrament almost as a graduation certificate.  This accounts for why so many bail on the practice of the faith upon receiving whatever sacrament it be until it is time to receive the next sacrament.  If we go to that first outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we can plainly see that the gifts of grace given through the sacraments are not ordered merely for the good of the person receiving them.

Out Into the Streets

                In the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-40, we hear of that first outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the immediate effects that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had on the apostles and those gathered in the Upper Room.  At the Ascension, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be sent to the Apostles and disciples as they were to continue the mission He started.  For 10 days they waited in the Upper Room, the location of the Last Supper, in watchful prayer waiting for that gift of the Holy Spirit. 

                Upon the reception of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and disciples immediately leave the Upper Room to head into the streets of Jerusalem and boldly proclaim the Gospel.  St. Peter, who only 53 days earlier had thrice denied knowing Jesus, now boldly proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He urges those hearing him to be stirred to belief in Christ.  The gift given to St. Peter and those gathered in the Upper Room was given because they had a mission to do.  From Pentecost on, the Apostles and disciples would fan out through the known world to proclaim the Gospel.  For nearly two millennia, Catholics had gone to the four corners of the world, to almost every tribe and nation, to proclaim the Gospel. Many would give their lives in this proclamation.  Some still do to this day.

A Public and not Private Faith

                As with those in the Upper Room, so with us.  In every sacrament we are given something of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly in confirmation we are given this Holy Spirit in very explicit way.  However, all sacraments are made present to us through the working of the Holy Spirit.  No more than the gifts of the Holy Spirit were treated as a private devotion or merit badge by those first Christians can it be treated so by us.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we are to be every bit the agent for radical change to this culture that St. Peter and those in the Upper Room were to the city of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. No more than the Apostles could remain in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost can we stay in the shadows in our own day.

                The Catholic faith is meant by its very nature to be sign to the world.  We are to stick out as different to the cultures in which we live.  We are to be champions for those in need, for the defenseless, for the searching, and for the poor. Our morals are not to be shaped by worldly morals.  In the Great High Priest Prayer of John 17: 1-26, Jesus prays on the night of the Last Supper that the Church He is about to found through His own Flesh and Blood would recognize the uniqueness of what is to happen.  He reminds us that we are not of this world. We live in the world and cultures in which we find ourselves, but we are to be bold witnesses in each and every one of those cultures.  When we don’t, we fall into the sin of Laodicea: lukewarmness.  The natural byproduct of lukewarmness is a Catholic whose life is indistinguishable from the culture in which we live.  It is this blandness of faith, this wasting of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus finds so repugnant that He vomits it from His mouth (Rev 3:16).

                Because so many Catholics have turned a public faith to a private hobby, we have lost ground in our culture.  From the breakdown of the family, to the disrespect for human life in all stages, to the approval of the gross misuse of human sexuality, to the falling practice of the faith, to the dropping of priestly and religious vocation, Catholicism has ceded ground in the name of getting along in our society.  Our mission, as Catholics, is to infuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit into the culture around us.

                Where there is ignorance, we use the gift of wisdom. Where there is bias and prejudice, we use the gift of understanding. Where there is doubt, we use the gift of counsel. Where there are lies and propaganda, we use the gift of knowledge. Where there compromise, we use the gift of piety. Where there is rebellion, we use the gift of the fear of the Lord. Where there is fear, we use the gift of fortitude.  None of these gifts are given us to be stored as trophies to gather dust.  They are given to us to effect positive change in the culture around us.  Our faith is not a trophy nor a pious hobby, but an active agent for true and lasting change in our world.

Forging Ahead

                These gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for the purpose of the Mission of Jesus Christ to make known the Gospel, and this is to greatly inform the direction, institutions, and mission of this parish.  It is my job as pastor to commandeer all of these and order them to the mission of Jesus Christ. Our ability to do this can be concretely measured in visible criteria.  All of our educational apparatuses are to be changed so as to be unapologetically orthodox in teaching.  Along with this honing of our educational systems, we will be teaching the necessary wisdom and charity to apply these teachings so as to provoke conversion.  Alongside of this, I wish to see our parish profile be more public in the community in which we live. I will also be provoking people to make our faith public in how they set their priorities.  This is especially true with how priorities are set for their children!

                The gifts of the Holy Spirit bear fruit.  Abandoning lukewarmness for the fervor of the Gospel bears fruit.  Measurable criteria include Mass attendance, participation in various educational programs and social outreach, and most strongly in being a parish that produces priestly and religious vocations.  I end with this: In Luke 12:49, Jesus says, “I came to set the world afire, how I wish it were already kindled.” To live as Christ seeks demands we leave the lukewarmness of Laodicea behind and embrace the fire of that first Pentecost! Pentecost is considered the birth of the Church, it becomes the template by we are measured.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lukewarm Parishes Part 4

The second recommendation of Jesus to the Church of Laodicea to correct their lukewarm nature was to “buy white garments in which to be clothed, if the shame of your nakedness is to be covered.” (Rev 3:18) Laodicea was well known in the cloth trade.  Its cloths were made of the dark wool of the sheep raised in the region.  It would seem madness from this vantage point to bleach the local wool to a bright white.  The ears of the Laodiceans who first heard this message would well understand what was being asked.

Standing Out, Not Blending In

                To understand what makes lukewarmness so very tempting is to understand that lukewarmness is the temperature of compromise.  Lukewarmness lacks the fiery heat of passion or the icy cold of hatred.  It blends into whatever is around it.  It is a spiritual chameleon. The lukewarm do not like to stick out.  Playing it safe is the goal of the lukewarm.  The huge problem with this is that they drift where the society drifts.  They adopt externally, at least, whatever the surrounding culture adopts. They either adopt or sit in silence.  Either way they refuse to stick out.

                For the Church of Laodicea, being part of the Roman Empire, there was a vested interest in blending into the populace.  So much of what Christianity embraced was in direct opposition to the Greco-Roman culture and Rule of Law.  Concepts we take for granted such as the dignity of the human person, family life, the role of government, the role of religion, human sexuality, and other items were viewed radically different from the morals and ways of governance of the Roman Empire.  In the face of such things, the Laodiceans took the position with their Christian faith to hold internally to Christian beliefs, do only what was safe, and then publicly hold a different stance from their internal beliefs.

                Spiritual lukewarmness leads to the same deal with the devil.  It is the all too common “I am personally opposed but…” deal where a compartmentalization of the person comes into play.  Lukewarmness leads to that wiggle room that allows a cafeteria approach to faith.  There are certainly a boatload of issues that our popular culture takes offense at with the Church to this day.  In fact, let’s be honest, it still is same list as before: the dignity of the human person (especially in abortion), family life, the role the government, the role of religion, human sexuality, and so on.  In our own country, to hold morals contrary to the popular morals leads to derision, ridicule, and other forms of public humiliation.  In other areas of the world it can lead to imprisonment, lawsuits, suspension of human rights, and in some areas, death.    

                Yet in all of this, Christ wants us to stick out.  He wants us to be as different in appearance to the world as we are belief.  This is threatening.  It is worth noting that in the Roman Empire, despite sporadic and intense persecutions over three centuries, the Christians grew from a handful of believers measured in the hundreds to a dominant faith numbering in the millions.  It did this without returning violence for violence or persecution for persecution.  They stood out.  They stood tall. They held their ground.  They won the day.

With Clear Sight

                Finally, Jesus tells them to “buy ointment to smear on your eyes, if you would see once more.”  Again, to the Laodiceans, this would sound familiar.  According to Greek historian Strabo, there was a medical school in Laodicea.  In the region was a key ingredient used in eye lotions.  Jesus compares their lukewarmness to a blurred vision.  Perhaps the lack of fire in their faith comes from a willful resistance to see the truth of the Gospel. The Church of Laodicea does not see themselves as in such a state as Jesus does.  In verse 17 of the same chapter, earlier Jesus says, “You keep saying, “I am so rich and secure and I want for nothing.” Little do you realize how wretched you are, how pitiable and poor, how blind and naked!” 

                Jesus tells his disciples, “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)  Clear vision is necessary for conversion.  As individuals and as a parish, we need to ask ourselves in all honesty as to whether we effectively witness to those in our lives and to the community as a whole.  The clearest place to see this in our personal lives is the list of priorities we set in our life and why we choose one thing over another.

                Our Christian ancestors were willing to risk everything to follow Christ.  They left all manner of safety, security, comfort, and convenience behind.  Even today, many in our world are made to make the same choices. Their courage should encourage us. 

                To be blunt: when we make choices between faith and other things, who wins?  Is faith something we fit into the rest of our schedule?  Do we drop Mass when it becomes inconvenient to other things going on?  Do we feel compelled to take on a worldly moral just to keep the peace?  Do we adopt a worldly moral because it is more convenient to our lives?  Do we resent a teaching of Christ because to accept it means to take a unpopular stance? Does a worldly way of looking at life influence our faith (political party for example) or do we seek to use our faith to influence society?  Do we compromise some elements of the faith to move ahead?  Do we teach our children that faith, the practice of faith, or the deepening of faith all take a back seat to getting ahead in this world?  Do we prioritize sports, leisure, work, entertainment, and such over our faith?  The more we answer yes, the more lukewarm we are.  Remember, again, that Jesus finds lukewarmness so revolting that He spews it out of His mouth.  Can we be spewed from the mouth of Christ and still enter heaven?

Lukewarm Parishes Part 3

In the Book of Revelations, when Jesus is speaking to the Church of Laodicea, He is speaking to a single parish in modern terminology. The parish of Laodicea has become lukewarm.  They enjoy tremendous wealth and are spared the persecution many of their sister parishes in the same region are undergoing. The lukewarm nature of Laodicea is so revolting to Jesus that He says He spews it from his mouth.  However, He gives them three ways by which to rectify their revolting situation. 

“But From Me Gold Refined by Fire”

                Jesus’ first antidote to their disease of lukewarmness is to “buy from me gold refined by fire if you would be truly rich.”  Mind you, they are already fiscally rich.  But Jesus sees them as spiritually poor. He encourages them to seek spiritual wealth.  Their wealth, though, comes from “gold refined by fire.”

                When gold is mined, it is not pure.  Grains of dirt and other impurities exist within the nugget.  For gold to be refined, it must be heated up to melting.  In that stressing of the gold, the impurities are burned off and all that remains is the gold.  Unlike the other churches/parishes in the area, Laodicea is spared persecution from outside. The external sources which would help to purify them are not there as they are in other areas. 

Not much has changed over two thousand years. There are Catholic parishes around the world where the Church is being persecuted by outside sources.  One can look to Mexico, where drug cartels are killing priests (two in last few weeks) while they are getting ready for Mass or hearing confessions. One can look at Nigeria, where, again, this last weekend, two priests and numerous parishioners were murdered in an attack.  In this country, we have no such attacks taking place.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t attacks.

Our attacks are much more subtle but every bit as potent.  For Laodicea, their attachment to the wealth and other benefits they enjoyed became the source of their lukewarmness. When I do not have to choose God or something else at the point of a sword, it is much easier to not choose God. The pressure to choose other than God comes from a desire towards the things of this world.  That desire leads to a constant compromise of matter of God and faith.  Priorities follow suit. Faith gets reduced to “putting in my time” at Mass (maybe…unless something else more important comes along).  The more we compromise, the more lukewarm we become.  We know from this passage that Jesus finds such lukewarmness revolting enough to want to vomit from His mouth. What then is this “gold refined by fire?”  Where do we get it?  How do we get it?

Refined by Fire

                In these simple words, Jesus is telling us that we must be purified as gold is.  That is not easy. In fact, the refining process essentially changes the gold nugget.  By the same token, the refining or purifying process means a drastic change.  To those who understand the language of the Church, this should be no surprise.  During the liturgical season of Lent, we focus on the purifying elements.  In embracing fasting, abstinence, prayer and alms-giving, these become the fire by which we become purified.  All of these speak to an idea important to purification and refining: detachment.  The gold cannot hold onto its imperfections and debris and still become pure. These spiritual practices, while highlighted during Lent, are not exclusive to Lent.   In detachment from the things of this world, we learn proper use of these things and where on the scale of priority they should actually be. Detachment leads to a proper re-ordering of our lives toward God and shakes off the grime of lukewarmness.

                Notice though, that Jesus tells us to “buy from me”  this gold.   It is more than our own efforts.  We need the grace of God to do any of this.  God gives us the grace to build the virtues of prudence (knowing how apply wisdom to choices and priorities) and temperance (self-control).  God gives us a forge to purify ourselves of lukewarmness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Part of that sacrament is the desire to amend one’s life and to use the grace of God to not go back to the trough from which one just repented. Reconciliation, like all avenues of grace, is to disrupt this path of lukewarmness.  However, to disrupt that path necessitates choosing a better, more worthy path.

Refining is Difficult

                To leave lukewarmness behind means an essential change of priorities.  If we are to change these priorities, it will make us stick out.  This is why it is difficult and does court a degree of persecution through ridicule or persecution.  It comes in the form of a young man I know who had to choose between weekend Mass and a job that constantly and intentionally prevented him from going to Mass. It comes in the form of a teen I knew that to go to church youth events meant being threatened with his starting spot on a team (the coach was Catholic…let that sink in).  It comes in the form of a young lady having to choose being with her friends for a party or attending a necessary workshop to work with youth in the parish.  It comes in the form of a sports family who makes the effort to go to Mass while on the road, even when they are the only ones of their group that do.  It is all about the hard choices.

                The lukewarm or cold will immediately go to that which compromises the practice of faith.  Sometimes the choice results in good.  The young man quit his job and found a better job.  Sometimes it is difficult.  The teen did lose his starting position. He became a better man for it.  The lukewarm will look for an excuse, the courageous will stand tall.

                Our own willingness to stand tall in the midst of this refinement becomes a lesson for those placed in their care.  Lukewarm parents will usually (not always) raise lukewarm children at best or kids that just abandon faith altogether at worst.  Part of parenting is to expose that life is full of hard choices and what one chooses as priorities says much to the character of the person.  Our choices, when it comes to our Catholic faith, either expose a fire from within for God or expose a lukewarmness that places faith and God as a lesser priorities.  Maybe it is that flavor of playing second fiddle to the world that makes Christ want to spew us from His mouth.

                Christ doesn’t ask of us what He Himself has not given.  In His proclamation of the Gospel He gives us a way of life.  In His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, He makes clear that we were so much a first priority that He is willing to pour out His own life for us.  In the constant access He gives us to the Holy Spirit, especially in the sacraments, He makes clear how much He wants to be a part of our lives.  In the face of such love, we can now see why such lukewarmness would be revolting and offensive to Jesus?