Detachment and the Prize of Eternal Life

Today, I gave my first ever reflection during Daily Mass. It’s the first time I’ve ever prepared such a thing, and the poor parishioners of St. Eugene had to hear it for the first time. I felt like I was able to do a pretty decent job, seeing as though I haven’t had any formal Homiletics prep. Comments and critiques are welcome!

“I have come to bring not peace, but the sword.” Jesus’ message here is confounding. It’s a message that some may feel is even contradictory to the Gospel message. Why on Earth would Jesus say “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” I think it is important for us to not get too caught up in this and to pay attention to the rest of the Gospel.

The Lord tells us “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The Lord is asking us to have a sense of detachment, a detachment to all things but God. He asks us to even have so great a detachment that we be willing to lose our lives. This sort of thing is one of the many things that makes it so difficult for us as humans to follow God whole-heatedly. Our lives are something that we cherish and wish to protect. After all, it is something that is given to us by God. But, how many of us chose to be so possessive of our lives that we refuse to let God in? When did it become a risk to let God have control and possession of our lives?

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, said in The First Principle and Foundation “We must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long to a short life. Our one desire and choice should be what is ,ore conducive to the end for which we are created, [and that is] to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save [our] soul” (Puhl, XXIII).

The Christian life is not easy. Some days, it may be a Cross to bear. However, when we are detached from the world, we are able to be more closely united with our Lord, in His joys, in His sufferings, and in His triumph. We should carry our crosses joyfully, knowing that they unite us to Jesus himself, who willingly took up His cross for the salvation of our souls. We should desire to look Jesus in the eyes as he carries his Cross and say to him, “I have joyfully carried my cross to give you glory, to give you everything I have.” To return gift for gift, life for life, love for love. Today, may we take that step, to receive the Lord and to grow closer to Him, abandoning ourselves to Him and availing ourselves to receive the Lord’s reward to us, the prize of eternal life.

In the Silence, God Speaks

Photo Credit: Zachary Meador Boazman

Rediscovering the centrality of God’s word in the life of the Church also means rediscovering a sense of recollection and inner repose. The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ all involve silence. Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. This principle — that without silence one does not hear, does not listen, does not receive a word — applies especially to personal prayer as well as to our liturgies: to facilitate authentic listening, they must also be rich in moments of silence and of non-verbal reception. –Pope Benedict XVI

Tomorrow, my brothers in the Spirituality Year at St. John Vianney join those from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Broomtree, SD for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatian of Loyola, a 30-day silent retreat that aims at disconnecting you from the things of the world so that you may better hear the Lord. Just as our bodies need exercise to stay healthy and fit, so too do our souls. During this retreat, we will be praying 5 hours a day, not including Mass. We meet with our spiritual directors daily to discuss the graces we have experienced and to evaluate our spiritual fitness. And then we pray. And pray more. To me, this is like The Biggest Loser, except for our spiritual side. It will likely be the most intense 30 days I’ve experienced in my whole life. The Lord will push me to the limits of what I see as “doable.”  But, in return, the Lord is providing me an experience of a life time. Very few priests, let alone laymen, will ever get to experience the Spiritual Exercises. Those that do frequently remember back to the experiences and graces they received over their 30 day. As intimidating, difficult, and “unfun” as it seems to many, I have never heard of someone describe their 30-day as a bad experience. 

I am excited for what the Lord has in His providence over the next 30 days. It is also extremely out of my comfort zone (which is honestly probably where the Lord wants me). Please keep me and my brothers in your prayers. We will return to Denver on June 15th. I will be back in Oklahoma on June 21st. 

Reflections on Capital Punishment After an Oklahoma Botched Execution

Oklahoma State Representative Mike Christian told reporters this week that “he doesn’t care whether inmates are executed by injection, electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or “being fed to the lions”.” Rep. Christian is also calling for the impeachment of the Oklahoma Supreme Court because they wanted to halt the executions. I find this deplorable. Number one, he is sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States. Yes, that includes Amendment 8 and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Number two, the system of government we have here in the United States results in a “checks and balances” model, where one branch (in this case, the judicial branch) can intervene to block another branch from abusing its power. Over the past week, I have heard many people comment on the (botched) execution of Clayton Lockett by saying “rot in hell,” “he deserved it,” or “he didn’t suffer enough,” among many others.

Capital punishment in this country was never instituted for the purpose of revenge, as that is immoral. Rather, it was instituted when the United States was a developing country and did not have the ability to adequately protect the population from evildoers. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul says “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says The Lord” (Romans 12:19 NABRE). We must trust in The Lord to judge and not take matters into our own hands. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about Capital Punishment:

CCC 2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

“[The cases] are rare, if not practically non-existent.” I looked up both condemned men’s DOC records. Neither of them had committed any other crimes while in prison. It seems to me that it is not an “absolute necessity” to execute these men.

Finally, The Lord said in the Gospel of St. Matthew that “Stop judging, that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NABRE). How are we to know that these men did not repent, and come in faith to God? Isn’t that the ultimate goal? We are all sinners! Sure, some people are capable of much more heinous offenses to the people and to God, but God forgives all sins, not just the meager ones. Also in the Gospel of St. Matthew, The Lord says “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4,5 NABRE). Finally, in St. John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 NABRE).

Are we really perfect enough that we can adequately judge whether someone is guilty or innocent? Much less whether or not they should be executed? I urge everyone to stop playing God and focus on “removing the wooden beam from your own eye.” Oh, and pray for the souls of the victims as well as the condemned.