The Fruit vs. The Weeds

Today’s reflection given at St. Eugene’s Catholic Church on the Memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne and on the day of Fr. Jacques Hamel’s murder:

Today’s Gospel fits perfectly for today, not necessarily because it is the Feast Day of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, the Theotokos, but because of its significance in today’s current events.

This Gospel is Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Weeds. The Parable of the Weeds occurred just a few verses earlier in Mt. 13:24-30. Jesus is surrounded by a huge crowd and he teaches them about the Kingdom of Heaven using parables. As a Sooner, my favorite among these is the Parable of the Sower, but what the Lord gives us in the Parable of the Weeds is just as rich. Jesus teaches the people that when the fruit of the earth, the good wheat, is mature, it will be harvested, but only after the weeds are gathered and burned. The imagery is quite rich, but the disciples desired further explanation after the crowds were dismissed. They didn’t fully understand, and they desired more. The Lord goes into detail with them, explaining each character or setting and equating it to reality. The sower is the Lord, the enemy who sowed weeds is Satan, the wheat is the faithful (hopefully us…), the weeds are those who do evil, the harvesters are the Angels of God, and the furnace is Hell.

Anyone who has ever worked in a garden can relate to this Gospel very well. The Weeds can very easily take over. Just as weeds can take over a garden or field, so can evil in our lives.  We can see that in the world today.  Thanks to relativism, our world struggles to even discern between right and wrong.  With obvious problems, such as murder, the consensus of people is still that murder is not right in any circumstance. However, the lines begin to become blurred past that.  Things that were immoral just a decade or just a century ago are somehow morally acceptable now.  Relativism has captivated our culture and is slowly taking it over, just like weeds in a fruitful garden.

This morning I was able to visit St. Ann’s and to visit some of our parishioners there. I was also able to see some of the priests that live there.  As I was talking to Fr. Marvin Leven, he looked back on his life as a priest and told me “I would have done things differently if I had known what I know now” (paraphrase).  We learn from our experiences that the Lord has given us.  Each experience is an invitation to growth and a deepening of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, even the difficult experiences.  However, the Lord will not force us to grow.  He allows us to choose what we do.  Satan wants our relationship with the Lord to degenerate.  He wants the weeds to cut us off.

Today in France, Fr. Jacques Hamel, an 84-year-old priest who has served the people of God since he was ordained in 1958, was killed at the altar as he was saying Mass. Evil has no limits.  Maybe it’s disguised in something that is good.  Other times, it is obvious.  We continue to hear story upon story of evil occurring in our world.  It thinks that it can choke out the good.  Yet, the priest Tertullian says “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apologeticus, ch. 50).  It’s not too late to take back our field.  It’s not too late to turn our trust back to God and to further His kingdom in this fallen world.  We can look to the saints and martyrs as examples of how to live our lives for Christ.  We can ask them to help us, to help convert our hearts and our world.  We can be the Light of the World to a world of darkness.  All we must do is trust, believe, and live our lives as Christ asks us to.

Fr. Jacques Hamel, Pray for Us.

Sts. Joachim and Anne, Pray for Us.

Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, Pray for Us.

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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. 

Your Grace Is Enough

It’s hard to believe that my first year of seminary is wrapping up. But here it is, May. The Spirituality Year will be over in a matter of days, and the culmination of what the Spirituality Year prepares men for is upon us. On May 16, my 21 SY Brothers and I will travel to Broomtree Retreat Center in Irene, SD to embark on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 30-day Silent Retreat that revolves around Ignatian contemplation and silence. 

If I were to tell you that the year was not full of difficulties, I would be lying. Similarly, though, if I were to tel you that this year was horrible, I’d be lying even more. Even with the burdens that this year has carried, like the Media and Commerce Fasts, it had been the best of year of my life. I wish that every Christian man would be able to participate in this year. The graces that the Lord has poured out upon me have been incredible. There is honestly no way that I could describe all the things that the Lord has revealed to me this year. So, I’m only going to describe a few experiences.  

1). It’s the Lord who does all the work. 

Part of the Spirituality Year consists of a 30-day Immersion with the Poor. I worked with homeless and near-homeless people doing what is known as friendship evangelization. Often, this consisted in taking our “friends” to get food, go shopping, get healthcare, find jobs or housing, and so forth. 

We also had an apostolate, or pastoral assignment. My apostolate was at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School here in Denver. Every week, we would go to our apostolate and hang out with the kids. I was assigned to Mrs. Mary Donelson’s Third Grade Class. We would be in our respective classrooms for an hour then go help out in Extended Care for an hour and a half or so. 

Anyway, back to the grace. I felt like I did very little at my apostolate. Sure, I had fun and the kids did too, but did I really have an impact?  The answer is YES!  How? It is the Lord who does the work through you! If you open yourselves up to God and his Divine Will, you allow God to work through you. By just being me, the Lord worked through me. It is unbelievably hard to even think of this being possible until you see it. 

This grace has also been awesome for me to contemplate over the past several months. In short, if the Lord is doing the work through me, then I really cannot take “credit” for the work. I can thank God for working through me and for the things he has done to others, but I cannot say “Look at all the great things I’VE done.”  As a priest, he cannot praise himself for many of the things that he does. It’s only through the Lord that it happens. 

2). The Lord loves you more than you can imagine, no matter what you may have done in the past. It’s Satan who will try to degrade you. 

In addition to the upcoming 30-day silent retreat, we did a 3-day in the Fall and a 5-day in March. In one of my meditations, the Lord revealed to me Satan’s tactics. Satan, often times, is made out to be powerful, valiant, and cunning. However, this really isn’t the case. Sure, he can be cunning. But most of the time, his tactics are extremely sad and even comical. Satan will attack you where you are weakest. He will attack you in your past, saying how horrible or sinful of a person you are. He will rub salt in the wounds of your past, making you question your worthiness. But the truth is, Satan is pitiful. He has NO control over you once you turn your life to the Lord. He will try to attack you where you are weak because where you are strong, he would be struck down swiftly. Once you realize that Satan is weak and has no control over you, the quicker you can be free of anxiety and doubt and grow to recognize God’s love even more. 

3). I’m where the Lord is calling me to be. 

Even with the ups and downs of this year, my bad days still seem to be better than many of my good days were in the past. True happiness comes from following God’s Will and I feel that I have found true happiness. During spiritual direction recently, I described some of my current feelings about my life and my vocation. My spiritual director then said that it seems that these were signs that I had a pretty solid call to the priesthood. I responded and asked “So I shouldn’t leave the seminary?” He laughed and said “That would be absurd.”  

I ask for your prayers for my brothers and I as we prepare to head off to do our 30-day Silent Retreat. Following the 30-day, I have been assigned to spend the summer at St. Eugene Catholic Church in Oklahoma City. I will be there for several weeks before preparing to head back to Denver on August 20th. My posts will probably be more frequent following the 30-day Spiritual Exercises (we were asked not to blog during the year). 

“Who touched me?”

I was blessed to attend Fr. Aaron Foshee’s Mass of Thanksgiving this past Sunday. Fr. Mike Keucher of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis managed to post Fr. Jim Goins’s (my pastor) homily!

Unending Mercy

11707557_785054792539_5312074134638215957_nThis past Saturday, my good friend, Fr. Aaron Foshee, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Below is the homily preached by Fr. James Goins (without text or notes!) at his Mass of Thanksgiving.

We celebrate this morning the gift of a new priest. A new priest has come down to the vineyard of the Lord, a new voice, and what a voice it is. We gather here with Fr. Foshee and his family. We, his brother priests who are here with him, will gather around the altar this day and pledge to him our priestly friendship, our prayers and support for him in the years to come.

I want to look at the miracle within the miracle in the Gospel passage. I want us to contemplate this unfortunate suffering woman who risked all to thread her way through the crowd, to find a way to the hem of…

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Et introibo ad altare Dei

Spring Break has come and gone, almost too fast.  It was a much needed break from school, even though it was not as long-lasting as I had thought and hoped for.  Today, I got to do something that I had never done before: altar serve a Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Joseph, my patron saint.  I attended St. Joseph’s Church in Krebs for Holy Mass.  When verifying the time for Thursday’s Mass, I discovered that the pastor, Fr. Kevin Willis, would be saying a Mass in the Extraordinary Form on Friday.  For this, I got super excited.  I very rarely get to go to the Latin Mass, much less two miles from home.  After Mass on Thursday, while talking to Fr. Kevin, I mentioned “I would ask if you need help serving, but I have no clue how to do it.”  Father proceeded to walk me through it.  That alone was a treat.

I have served more masses than I could even attempt to count.  All of these, until today, had been in the Ordinary Form.  The Extraordinary Form is a whole ‘nother animal.  Not only are there more things for altar servers to do in the EF, you’re making the responses for the people in another language.  Every move you make must be calculated as everything you do is a symbol or representation.  It’s very easy to become numb to the importance of serving at Mass in the Ordinary Form.  Let’s just say that I won’t be numb to it anymore.  There was recently an article published by Patheos that reinforces why you shouldn’t be numb to serving.  Reason #7 is “You are the Angels before the Throne.”  The Extraordinary Form made this very evident today.

 

Reflections on the Feast of St. Agnes and the Vigil of the March for Life

Wednesday was my first full day in our Nation’s Capital. Overall, it was a great day. DC is such a cool city. I had so many misconceptions about it (like it bring crime-ridden). Its been a great experience so far.

Tonight, I attended the Opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life. To get a seat, we had to get there very early (I was there about 2.5 hours early and barely got a spot in the main church). I had plenty of time, so I decided to do the Office of Readings. The Second Reading from the Office of Readings was from St. Ambrose. Here is an excerpt:

It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve. The cruelty that did not spare her youth shows all the more clearly the power of faith in finding one so young to bear it witness.

A new kind of martyrdom! Too young to be punished, yet old enough for a martyr’s crown; unfitted for the contest, yet effortless in victory, she shows herself a master in valor despite the handicap of youth. As a bride she would not be hastening to join her husband with the same joy she shows as a virgin on her way to punishment, crowned not with flowers but with holiness of life, adorned not with braided hair but with Christ himself.

This was a perfect thing to reflect upon the day prior to the March for Life. Just as St. Agnes, was innocent, so are the victims of abortions. We must work to protect the innocents of our time. Much of this will be exemplified tomorrow, when hundreds of thousands descend upon Washington, DC to March for Life. Very fitting, the US House of Representatives will be voting on H.R. 36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Pray for the marchers, legislators and politicians, and the unborn!

St. Agnes, Pray for Us!

God Qualifies the Chosen

“God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the chosen.”  This is something that over the past several months, I have had to remember.  I am not perfect, nor will I ever be.  I’m an ordinary person.  Some might try to make me sound or feel more qualified than I truly am, while others (including Satan) will try to tell me that I am a wretched person who has no future.  Neither of these are true.  While I can be striving for greatness, I am not there yet.  There is only so much I can do outside of an environment conducive for formation.

Last week, I was accepted as a Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.  I have been assigned to attend St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colo.  I will begin studies there in August.  Since many might wonder what the next step of the journey is, I thought I would try to explain things to the best of my ability.

Next year, my first in seminary, I will go through a Spirituality Year.  A few things that highlight this year include a technology fast and an Ignatian 30-Day Silent retreat to conclude the year.  These will be the biggest challenges for me.  As my brother seminarians have told me, SY is the “Best year you never want to do again.”

Following Spirituality Year, I will go through two years of philosophical studies, which will give me the proper foundation for the following four years of theological studies.  If it is God’s will, I will be ordained to the priesthood after my fourth year of theology.

Your continued prayers are requested over the coming years, as I seek to do God’s will.

Photo courtesy of Zak Boazman (Archdiocese of Oklahoma City)

St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado.  Photo courtesy of Zak Boazman