Monday, August 31, 2009

22nd Sunday - homily

Those of you who know the story of St Augustine know that it is an amazing one. His is one of those stories of a great sinner becoming a great saint. He lived in Africa in the fifth century, and in his early life was a big party-er. He was a pagan and a playboy. This troubled his mother, St. Monica, so much that she prayed every day for thirty years (!) for his conversion. Sure enough, her prayers worked. Augustine had a huge conversion and left his life of debauchery. He became a Catholic, was ordained a priest and bishop, and has been made one of the “doctors” of the Church because he was such a great theologian. As he was trying to move away from his playboy lifestyle, though, Augustine did initially struggle with living chastity. He has a famous quote from this period in his life: “Lord, give me chastity, but not right now”.

When young people ask me why sex outside of marriage is so wrong, I mention today’s Gospel – Mark, chapter 7. In the passage that we just heard, our Lord mentions evils that defile a person. He puts unchastity right there with murder, adultery, and theft…in the same sentence! So, it is from the lips of Jesus himself that unchastity is seriously wrong. Sins against chastity which, as the Catechism tells us, include fornication (sex outside of marriage), pornography, and masturbation, are grave offenses against our Lord. Why? Because the gift of sex is a sacred gift from God that needs to be treated with respect and reverence. We are all called to live chastity – whether we are married, religious, single, young, or old. Chastity, simply put, is sexual purity.

It is hard for any of us to live chastity because our sexual desire is our strongest desire. In a world that bombards us with sexual images constantly, it is challenging to consistently live out God’s command to be pure. But, it is so freeing to do so! One time, I gave a talk to a men’s group about chastity. There were about seventy men there, ranging in age from 15-75. And, it was early on a Saturday morning! (popular topic!) I spoke very candidly about chastity, especially with regard to pornography and masturbation, and how addictive impure, sexual habits can be. So many of them were struggling in these areas so they very much appreciated the discussion. I offered some suggestions for living chastity consistently – one guy has told me since then that that discussion changed his life and saved his marriage. Praise God! Like Augustine, he has made the necessary changes and is now living chastity. He and his wife are now happier and more intimate than ever before. It is possible to live chastity.

And, when we live chastity, we find freedom. Scripture says that we are slaves to sin. That was the experience of those guys in that men’s group; that is the experience of so many people. We are slaves to our sexual desires and think there’s no way to control them. But, there is. With the help of God’s Grace – especially through Confession, the Eucharist, and the rosary , we can choose to be chaste. And, how freeing it is! How freeing it is to see others as persons and not just objects of our desire. How freeing it is to look at others and see their souls in addition to their bodies. How freeing it is to appreciate the internal gifts of someone as much as their external gifts. God intends for us to be free sexual beings. When we experience the freedom of chastity, we experience true happiness.

Finally, the gift of sex is so sacred that it is analogous to what we do here at Mass. In a few moments, we will unite ourselves with the Eucharist, the flesh of Jesus Christ. In Holy Communion, we become one flesh with our God. This is analogous to the one-flesh union of a husband and wife in the sexual act. In fact, some theologians have made the analogy between the bedroom of a married couple and the sanctuary of a Church. The beautiful gift of sex is sacred! Through the help of the Eucharist, may each of us live chastity. May we live sexual purity. May we find true happiness through the freedom of chastity.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

21st Sunday - homily

Before I begin a meditation on today’s Gospel, I would like to make a clarification from today’s second reading, St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Chapter 5). We hear one of the most fiery lines in all of Scripture: “wives, be subordinate to your husbands”. Some wives have told me that whenever they hear this reading in Church, their husbands nudge them, as if to say, “see”, which prompts a not-so-nice look from the wife. But, this is also one of the most misunderstood lines in all of Scripture; I understand why people can get so upset about it. But, let’s clear up the misunderstanding.

Another translation of this is “wives, be submissive to your husband”. Submissive means “to be under the mission of”. Wives are to under the mission of their husbands. What is the mission of husbands? It is the mission of Christ: to serve their brides. Christ’s mission was to serve the Church, his bride. He served his bride to the point of death, giving himself completely to her. Husbands are to serve their wives in the same way: they are to give themselves completely to their brides. Wives, let your husbands serve you! Now, wives are nudging their husbands, saying, “see…you serve me!”

I ask you all to put yourself in the scene of this Gospel (John 6). Picture yourself in a large crowd, maybe on a hillside. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people. And, there is a great buzz in the crowd. You are all there to hear one man, Jesus of Nazareth. You have been there with the crowds, following Jesus every day. You have witnessed his miracles – you have seen him cure blind and deaf persons, seen him walk on water, and turn water into wine. You have heard his amazing teachings. You haven’t met him yet, but something happens to you when Jesus speaks. Now, in his this huge crowd, he is presenting a new teaching.
He is teaching about bread. He uses the word bread many times, and then refers to himself as bread. He says that he is the “bread of life” and the “bread come down from heaven” and that his “flesh is real food” and his “blood is real drink”. It’s such a big crowd that it takes a while for everyone to hear what he is saying. People start to question it, then complain, then get very angry. “This is a hard teaching…who can accept it?” Then, you see people begin to leave. Again, they had been following him every day…these are his disciples! And, they are leaving him because of this new teaching.

Now, we learn two things from the Jews in the Bread of Life discourse. Number one, this is a hard teaching. Number two, they took him literally. They heard him say over and over again that he will give them his flesh and blood to eat and drink. They were outraged at this and left him. Now, Jesus didn’t stop them and say, “wait, wait, wait, you misunderstood me. I wasn’t speaking literally”. He didn’t say this because he WAS speaking literally.

As you’re contemplating all that’s been said and if you are going to leave, too, you hear Jesus say to the Apostles, “Do you also want to leave?” You notice Peter, the leader of the Apostles. He has this dazed and confused look that says, ‘Jesus, I have no clue what you’re talking about’. Peter says to our Lord, ““Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” When you hear Peter say these words, you wonder to yourself, ‘has Jesus just spoke for Heaven? Is this God’s newest teaching? Will He really give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink? Do I believe what I am hearing?’

Each of us is really in this scene because we have just the heard the teaching on the Eucharist. Are we with the small group of disciples who believe Jesus, even though we don’t understand it and can’t explain it very well? Or, are we with the many, many disciples who have rejected the teaching on the Eucharist? My brothers and sisters, many Christians have rejected this teaching. They have left the Church because of the teaching on the Eucharist. I have spoken with many of them over the years and have heard them mock the teaching, calling it ridiculous. I simply echo the sentiment of St. Peter and ask them how they can live without the Eucharist.

We come here every Sunday and with our presence here say that we cannot live without the Eucharist. Let us continue to be with the disciples who stayed with our Lord. Let us believe even though we don’t understand how bread and wine becomes Christ’s Body and Blood at every Mass. Let us be faithful disciples who believe with Peter and the Apostles that Jesus, especially with regards to the Eucharist, has the words of eternal life.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

20th Sunday - homily

When I was young, I worked as a rectory aide at my parish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda. For four hours every Thursday, I answered the phones, answered the door, and locked the Church. It was a pretty good gig: I made $7 cash plus two Cokes! The highlight was whenever the priest would come to visit me or check in. I was at the far end of the rectory, so I would always hear the priest coming. This gave me time to straighten myself up, turn off the TV, and look holy or something. One night during the summer, I heard a priest coming to see me. I got myself in order and then he popped in. He was wearing a t-shirt, swimming trunks, a funny hat, and had a towel draped over his shoulder. He said, “Hi, I’m Father Wells, the new priest”. “Hi”, I said. “I’m going to a pool party. You wanna go?”, he asked. “I have to answer the phones”, I replied, kind of mystified that he would even ask. “Ok, see ya later”, he said. Then, he was gone. I was thinking to myself, ‘what just happened? Who was that?’

That was Father Wells. We hit it off after that and for many years remained good friends. We reunited years later when he was the pastor of St Mark’s in Hyattsville and I was helping out with the youth group there. We hung out quite often for golf, with friends, vacations, and Church events. He was a great priest – very faithful, holy, brilliant, and a ton of fun. I would pick his brain all the time, trying to gain some of his wisdom. One day - I remember it so clearly – we were sitting in his office, shooting the breeze. At one point, I said, “well, you know, Father, the Eucharist is just a symbol”. “What?”, he said, with a look of total shock. Now, this was a man who completely believed in the Eucharist – that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass. “It’s a symbol?”, I said shakily. Then, he said something that changed my life: “Greg, this is my body means this is my body”.

After 21 years of going to Church every Sunday and after 12 plus years of Catholic education, this was the first time I really ever heard the teaching about the Eucharist. It finally hit me. So, I had to pursue it. I started to go to daily Mass (in addition to Sunday) to hear the words I had heard so many times before. In hearing those words anew and in seeing the faith of the priest and people, I realized that this is for real. It really is the Body and Blood of Christ! I also started going to Eucharistic Adoration which they had perpetually at St Marks. What was going on was a relationship. I was entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ who is truly present in the Eucharist. And so, I began to say to Him, “Lord, you gave me your life, I want to give you my life”. It was not long after that that thoughts of the priesthood began to enter my mind and heart. The funny thing was when I went to tell Fr Wells that I was “sort of, kinda having some thoughts, maybe, about the priesthood”, He said, “Can you hold on?”, and then picked up the phone, called the vocations director, and said “Hey, Mark, it’s Tom. Yeah, we got one”! (A year later, I was in the seminary).

My vocation came from the Eucharist; the Eucharist is the source of my vocation. It is the center of my vocation. I have dedicated my priesthood to the Eucharist. I have dedicated my ministry to the Eucharist. So often in ministry, I refer to these lines from today’s Gospel. When kids ask me, “why do we have to go to Mass every Sunday?”. I’ll say it’s mainly to receive the Eucharist. I’ll ask them if they want to go to Heaven. They’ll immediately respond with “Uh huh, uh huh”. Then, I’ll tell them that Jesus said we need to receive the Eucharist at Mass if we want to go to Heaven. My point is based on John 6, verses 53-54: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”. We need the grace of the Eucharist and Baptism to get to Heaven, to have eternal life.

Now, the Eucharist is not just our ticket to Heaven. It is our chance to have Heaven on Earth: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”. That means that in a few minutes we will have Heaven dwelling within us because we will have Jesus dwelling within us, and Jesus is the Kingdom of Heaven. At that moment, we will have the happiness, joy, peace, and all the things of Heaven in our bodies and souls.

Finally, it is not just about what we get from the Eucharist. It’s about what the Eucharist helps us to do. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus says that, “whoever remains in me and I in him bears much fruit”. He makes it clear in today’s Gospel that the best way to remain in Him and Him in us is in the Eucharist. So, if we remain in Him and Him in us in the Eucharist, we will live fruitful lives. We will live the lives we truly want to live. If any of us is struggling with faith or virtue, we should go to Eucharist. It will help us to bear much fruit.

May each of make the Eucharist C.O.O.L. (center of our lives). May we center our lives on the Eucharist, bear much fruit, and have eternal life through the Eucharist.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

19th Sunday - homily

Is there any difference between Communion that is offered at a Catholic Mass and Communion that is offered at a Protestant service? I’ve heard many people, including Catholics, say no, there is no difference. A good friend of mine, Ken, would answer differently. Ken was a Protestant who came to RCIA when I was leading it in my last parish. On the first night when everyone introduced themselves to the group, Ken made it very clear that he had no intention of becoming Catholic. Married to a Catholic with two kids in a Catholic school, he said that he simply wanted to go deeper in his study of the Bible; he had studied the Bible extensively before RCIA.

So, RCIA began and was rolling along for Ken until we got to the teaching on Communion…the Holy Eucharist. I presented the teaching of the Church that is based on the Gospel we hear from today and these weeks: John 6. We especially focused on the words of our Lord, “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”, and how we take them literally. In other words, Jesus says that the Eucharist really is his flesh and blood and we believe him. Now, this was a problem for Ken. After reading John 6 with us, he realized that the Eucharist is not just something the Church came up with. This is straight from the lips of our Lord himself. We talked for a while after the next few RCIA meetings, particularly about the difference between the Eucharist in the Catholic Church and in Protestant denominations.

My basic point to him paralleled the one Christ makes to the Jews: the difference between the Protestant Eucharist and Catholic is the same difference between manna and the Bread of Life. The Protestant Eucharist is just bread in the same way that manna was just bread. It is natural food only. The Catholic Eucharist is the Bread of Life to which Jesus is referring in John 6. It is supernatural food. Ken and I focused very much on the stark difference that Christ presents: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven…whoever eats this bread will live forever”. There is a huge difference between manna and the Bread of Life. There is a HUGE difference between the Protestant Eucharist (which is just bread) and the Catholic Eucharist (which is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ).

This was the turning point for Ken. In these talks, I could literally see the scales drop from his eyes. As I said, he was very much a student of the Bible. But, this was all news to him. And, it was good news! He realized that he had to receive the Catholic Eucharist, so he realized that he had to become Catholic. He struggled with some of the other teachings of the Church, but over the next several months…well, I straightened those out for him! It was an exceptionally beautiful and powerful process to witness for me and the others in RCIA. The climax was about two weeks before Easter which is when those in RCIA become Catholic. Ken was still struggling. He told the group in a very personal way how difficult it would be for him to become Catholic – mainly because he could never received Communion in his Protestant denomination again. It was very anguishing for him, something that made a huge impact on me and the others. He decided to come into the Church and is now one happy Catholic who received the Bread of Life weekly. He is very active in the parish and will be a solid teacher of the Catholic faith to so many.

Finally, the last line of today’s Gospel, verse 51, is so incredibly powerful. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”. Our Lord is saying that the flesh and blood that we receive in Holy Communion is the same flesh and blood that was on the Cross. We can make this line an equation to show this. “The bread that I will give” means the Eucharist… “Is” can mean equals…”my flesh for the life of the world” means the flesh and blood that he shed on the Cross because it is on the Cross that Christ gives his flesh for the life of the world. So, the Eucharist = Christ’s flesh and blood on the Cross. Christ doesn’t die at every Mass; death has no more power over him. It is His risen Body and Blood that is re-presented to us at Mass through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist truly is the Bread of Life to which Christ is referring. ”Whoever eats this bread will live forever”.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Fixing up the Newman Center

I've been getting thoughtful emails and notes from former parishioners and friends, asking how things are going here at the Newman Center. A few of them have made the comment that it's probably quiet here now, with the students away on summer break. Sha! I understand their thinking, but there has been much going on here this summer. We've undertaken many projects to fix up the Newman Center; most to address structural problems in this 100 year-old home and some to improve things aesthetically.

Here are pics of the Center - these qualify as "before" pics - and some of the projects that we are working on. I will post their "after" counterparts in the next few weeks. It's very exciting!! Btw, we welcome donations - these are expensive repairs and improvements.

Let's just say that the Center will get a facelift!

We'll spruce up the front yard with some flagstone and new landscaping.

We'll clean up the mess in the backyard and build a brick door at the pit. Also, the University will be replacing the broken fence.

If you've been in the kitchen anytime in the recent past, you've seen the mold problem on the wall. The basement has some pretty bad water damage. We're waterproofing the foundation as much as possible and then putting up new drywall. Also, we just got a new stove! Score!

Ewww..dirty kitchen floor. We'll clean it and make it shine as much as possible. Also, we'll replace broken tiles.

Water has been leaking from the balcony roof into the parlor ceiling...not good! We'll fix that, and then maybe even rearrange the parlor a bit. I want the Center to have a mini-library of cool Catholic materials (brochures, pamphlets, booklets, books, etc.). The parlor is my first choice, but it may disturb the "lounge area" of the parlor, so we would just put the resources elsewhere in the Center.

The deck on the roof will be looking sweet in a few weeks after some repairs, powerwashing, and staining.

One change we did not wish to make has to do with our beloved campus minister, Alecia. Alecia and her husband, John, are moving to North Carolina this month because John recently accepted a position at Wyngate University. We will miss Alecia very much! She has given her heart, mind, soul, and strength to GW students for the past four years. We wish her and John well. We will never replace her, but hope to find someone to fill her position asap. Please pray that God sends us the right person.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

"Quo Vadis Days"

Next week, the Archdiocese is hosting a retreat for high school young men, "Quo Vadis Days". This retreat has been held in other dioceses, with 100 boys attending in at least two dioceses. Currently, there are less than 30 signed up to go next week. We need more guys going! It will be a GREAT experience for the boys to enjoy some fraternity and grow in holiness. Please encourage any high school boys who you think may be interested to go...and bring their friends!

Contact Fr. Rob Walsh at the # below, and tell him that Fr. Greg said to waive the $100 cost. Money should not stop any boys from attending. Thank you very much!

High school young men: Quo Vadis: Where are you going?

Legend tells us St. Peter asked Jesus this question on the outskirts of Rome. We know where Jesus went in response to His Father's will. He knew that only by doing what the Father asked of him would there be true joy and fulfillment in this life.

Where are you going?

What is the Father's will for you?

Want to learn more?

Quo Vadis Days will give you the opportunity to learn more about discernment of your vocation. A four-day camp for high school young men, activities will include prayer, hiking, games, sports, talks, and lots of great food. Sign-up now as space is limited.

Quo Vadis Days will be held August 9-12, 2009 at the Msgr. O’Dwyer Retreat Center in Sparks, MD. The cost is $100, which includes room, board and transportation.

Father Rob Walsh
PO Box 29260
Washington, DC 20017-0260

Monday, August 03, 2009

18th Sunday - homily

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life”. This teaching from our Lord reminds me of a friend of mine. When I met her a few years ago, she basically admitted that her life was all about food that perishes, it was all about this world. She was living a secular lifestyle and pursuing a secular career. It wasn’t all bad, but she wasn’t happy. At the same time, she wanted to go deeper in her Catholic faith. It was so cool to see her go deeper during those weeks and months and begin to work for food that endures for eternal life. It didn’t surprise me, then, when she called me sometime later to let me know that she was entering religious life as a sister. Very cool stuff! It is so amazing to see young people go deeper in their faith, be open to God’s Call, and then follow it. Now, we don’t need to enter religious life to live out this teaching of Christ’s, but my friend is a great example to us. We should all look at our lives and see if they are just about this world only or if they point to something else: eternal life.

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life”. The reaction of the crowd to this teaching might have been our reaction: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” We would probably have been focused on we need to do, how to get involved. It is important for us to get involved – in the Church, in our family, in our community, in our country. It is important for us to get involved, for example, in the current health care debate. We should contact our representatives in congress and the senate and ask them what the Bishops’ Conference has asked: keep health care “abortion neutral”, please. Right now, it’s not. This is part of what it means to work for food that endures for eternal life.

But, Jesus tells the crowd and us, first things first: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” It all starts with faith. It’s all about faith in Christ. This is what it means to do the work of God: to believe in Jesus. Now, I would guess that many of us here would say, ‘Lord, we already believe in you. What do we do next?’ But, there is one thing that we Catholics have a hard time believing in: the Eucharist. A study from years ago found that 70% of Catholics do not believe in the Eucharist. 70% believe that it is only a symbol of the Body and Blood of Christ. Personally, I believe that most if not all of them haven’t really heard the teaching from John 6 which we are hearing these Sundays and from the Church. That might be a fault of the Church not preaching it clearly and consistently.

It is a hard teaching. It takes a lot of faith to believe that a change happens in the bread and wine at Mass even though our senses don’t pick up a change. It still looks like bread and wine. It still tastes like bread and wine. Why do we believe in the Eucharist? Because of four words: “This is my body”. Jesus didn’t say, “This represents my body” or “This symbolizes my blood”. He said, “This is my body”. The Apostles believed Him, the early Church believed Him, and we believe Him. It really is Him! It’s an amazing thing that will happen here in a few minutes – Jesus will become present on the altar through the words I will say and we will receive Him in Holy Communion. What a gift!

Again, it takes a lot of faith in Christ to believe in the Eucharist. This is what our Lord is asking of us. It is no coincidence that his line about believing in Him is in the middle of his teaching of the Eucharist. We are hearing these weeks from John 6, the Bread of Life discourse. He is laying out the teaching and the crowds are having a hard time believing Him. He is saying to them and to us: believe in me and what I am teaching you here. In a couple of weeks, we will hear Him get much more specific and emphatic: “my flesh is real food…my blood is real drink”. It is certainly not a discourse that can be taken symbolically.

Back to my friend: at the heart of her story is the Eucharist. Her faith took off because she went to the Eucharist more. She focused on the Eucharist at Mass, began attending daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. It really is like the parable of the mustard seed for her or any of us whose faith grows because of the Eucharist: at first, it’s small but then grows and grows and grows into something very big. The Eucharist is the center of it all for us Catholics. It is the center of our faith in Christ. It is the center of our lives. If any of us is struggling in our faith, we should go to the Eucharist. It really is the best way for us to live out this challenge from our Lord. It is the best way for us to work for food that endures for eternal life. It is the best way for us to believe in the one God sent.