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Archive for the ‘Make Disciples of All the Nations’ Category

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For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16).

And with these words of our Lord, himself, I bid farewell to the Youthtalk blog. I’ve enjoyed writing each week, but the moment has come to rest the keyboard. The Lord has blessed me with a number of ministries onto which I wish to focus my priestly energies more fully, and so I take leave of my blogging. Thank you so much for hanging with me these past 5 years of Youthtalk. I am most appreciative.

Pray hard, love each other, trust unfailingly in Jesus, and may God bless you abundantly.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Steve

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Is there a new Great Awakening afoot among our Catholic teens? No, there probably isn’t. Is a sense of revival sweeping through every facet of Catholic teen life? No, it doesn’t seem so. But make no mistake, God is at work in the hearts and souls of Catholic teens. I see it daily. Good things are happening. Discipleship is strong in many teens. Catholicism matters to them.

God’s hand was visible at last weekend’s high school youth rally. I saw it in the smiles of teens who freely chose a Saturday God event over other options. I saw it in the Catholic kids who dropped readily to their knees in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I saw it in the young souls who know that there is so much more to life than a good college, a good job, and a boatload of money.

God’s work is visible in the significant number of Catholic teenagers who attend morning Mass at their school or parish. Their ranks include star athletes, student government leaders, and talented artists. Young men attend. So do young ladies. They listen eagerly to God’s word. They receive with devotion Christ’s Body and Blood. They sacrifice time to make room for worship.

God’s touch is visible in the Catholic teens who humbly but persistently pray: for themselves, for others, for peace, for justice. These kids want to know God, for just knowing about him is insufficient. These kids care deeply about those who suffer, fall short, or live on the edges. Teens aren’t as selfish as many make them out to be. A lot of Catholic young people understand well the gospel command to lay down one’s life for another. They are ready to do so.

God’s mercy is visible in the countless Catholic teens who serve the poor, the homeless, and the forsaken. These kids feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit the sick. They reach out in love to those who are hard to love. They give of themselves so that life may be a little brighter for someone who lives in darkness.

God’s presence is visible in the Catholic teens who honestly discern a call to priesthood or the consecrated life. It’s particularly visible in the young men who abide by that call and enter seminary formation. It’s equally visible in the young women who walk the way of Scholastica, Catherine, and Teresa by entering convents and houses religious life. Many Catholic teens are called and the chosen are hearing that call with excitement.

God’s action is visible in Catholic teens who take their Confirmation preparation seriously. These high school students desire to grow deeper in love with Christ and his Church. They select saint names and sponsors with seriousness and sincerity. These young folks eagerly await the evening when the Holy Spirit will come anew upon them with courage and counsel and Fire.

Is every Catholic teen a genuine disciple? Sadly, the answer is no. Is every Catholic teen even a believer? This too must be answered in a negative manner. But make no mistake, God is at work in the hearts and souls of Catholic teens. I see it daily. What a privilege!

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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I’m not in the habit of regularly quoting the prophet, Malachi. Maybe it’s because he forcefully condemns the priests of his day – and consequently, the priests of today – for failing to provide Godly leadership. Maybe it’s because I haven’t spent a lot of time meditating on his words. Maybe it’s simply time that I begin quoting him more often. So here we go:

“You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God, and what do we profit by keeping his command, and going about in penitential dress in awe of the Lord of hosts? Rather must we call the proud blessed; for indeed evildoers prosper, and even tempt God with impunity,’” speaketh Malachi.

Have you ever been tempted in such a way? Indeed, we like to compare ourselves with others. And in the realm of the spiritual life, comparing my holiness to your holiness is a very tempting thing. It’s also a very damaging thing, but that doesn’t make the temptation any less severe.

And here, in the words that God speaks to Malachi, we see an enticing twist to the destructive game of comparison. For as the Lord points out, when we observe Godless behavior seemingly go unpunished – and even rewarded – we may begin to question our own efforts at holiness.

Why am following God’s commandments if justice does not prevail? Why should I live for goodness when evil seems to flaunt its faults? Is it worth living for God and his people? Is it worth striving for holiness?

Turning again to Malachi, listen to how the Lord responds to these fears:

Then they who fear the Lord spoke with one another, and the Lord listened attentively; and a record book was written before him of those who fear the Lord and trust in his name. And they shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my own special possession.

Those are powerful words. “And the Lord listened attentively.” Think of that, God listens to our words and listens to our hearts. He cares and wants to know what burdens or troubles us. And he responds. “They shall be mine,” promises the Lord, “my own special possession.”

We can pray for those who practice evil, and our duty is to try to turn them from their evil path. But their practice of evil should in no way tempt us to join in the wrongdoing. We certainly have enough ungodliness in our own particular hearts. God knows everything. He knows what evil dwells in our souls and he knows what good dwells there as well. He listens attentively.

And in the words with which Malachi brings the Old Testament to a close, the Day of the Lord is coming, “the great and terrible day,” on which the Lord threatens to, “strike the land with doom.” Remember what Christ taught, that the wheat and the weeds necessarily must grow together, but at the end of time, God knows who is ready for salvation.

Let’s not worry about what others do or fail to do. Let’s not concern ourselves over the question of God’s judgment on the wicked. Knowing that we ourselves share in that wickedness, let’s strive to put our own houses in order. And may we take comfort from the prophet, Malachi: “They shall be mine,” says the Lord. Being the Lord’s is where our focus should be.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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My colleague and close friend, Fr. Rich Toohey, rightly makes fun of me for using over-the-top illustrations in my preaching and teaching. The poor guy should know. We’ve worked together at numerous youth ministry events through the years, and he’s been forced to listen to more of my homilies than anyone should. But so as not to disappoint the good Fr. Toohey, allow me to use another one of those uber-expressive examples here.

So imagine this: You are on your way out of the house to pick up a cappuccino at your favorite coffee haunt, when you notice that the upper floor of your home is on fire. I mean, really on fire. Flames are bursting through the roof and licking the clouds. This is not good. After all, your autographed photo of the Turtleman is hanging on your bedroom wall. Fire is not going to be kind to that photo. The Turtleman needs to be saved.

But . . . and here comes the crazy, over-the-top illustration . . . you really are thirsting for that cappuccino. Mmmm, coffee. And the coupon you have for $.30 off the regular price expires today. If you fail to make it to the coffee shop because you’re dealing with a house fire, that coupon will be wasted. Can’t let that happen. So you think to yourself, maybe the fire won’t spread too much if I go really, really quickly to pick up the cappuccino first. Then, with cup in hand, I can come back and deal with the fire. Sounds like a plan.

Now, I know a lot of you out there really do like your caffeinated coffee goodness. Rumor has it that I drink the occasional cup myself. But there is no way – unless we’ve completely lost our marbles – that we’re going to let our house burn while we visit with the barista. Emergencies, house fires included, have to be dealt with immediately. There simply is no time to waste.

And that is our point here.

For way too many of the young people in our diocese, the Catholic Faith is becoming completely divorced from their lives. They go to school, but not to church. They practice athletics, but not prayer. They recite “One Direction” lyrics, but not the creed. They think about their friends, but not about Jesus. In other words, their spiritual house is on fire. Flames are leaping through the roof. Immortal souls are in horrible danger. And yet . . . sadly . . . me and you are slow to rush in to save them.

Please, let’s not wait any longer! We can begin right now to douse the flames and rescue souls. How? By praying every single day for the conversion of hearts. By begging our Lord and his Mother to foster the new Evangelization among our families. By offering fasting and mortification for individual souls. By encouraging young people to participate in Church activities. By going to daily Mass for the intention of young hearts. By ensuring that our own lives are in conformity with God and his commandments.

This is no time for hand-wringing or for lamenting how much better things once were. This is the time to turn to Jesus with faith, trust and confidence. You and me cannot change hearts by our own power, but united to Christ on the cross, wonders can be worked. Do we fear for the young people in our lives? Do we want them to know the love and peace we’ve found in Jesus? Do we long for them to experience the healing and consolation that only God can provide? Do we want them to know the joy of being saved? Then today is the day to put out the fires which threaten their souls. Before we go the coffee shop . . . before we do anything else . . . let’s offer a prayer for our young people. God, you know, can take it from there.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

 

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A lot is made of adolescent rites of passage and well it should be. The first day of high school, your first driver’s license, your first prom – all those events are important and significant. But what about the middle-aged rites of passage? You know, your first pair of bifocals, the first time you lose your car in the mall parking lot, and everyone’s favorite, the first colonoscopy. Those are important and significant moments of life too (unfortunately, just not as fun as the teenage ones).

As your humble blogger makes his way through the middle-aged years, I’ve experienced each of the above. And just this week, I enjoyed another rite of middle-aged passage – my first dental crown. Yep, it was a big moment. Actually, it was more than a moment, it was 1.5 hours in the dentist chair, but Dr. Piecuch did a great job. Yet it was what he said when I first broke my tooth that has me thinking now in God terms. Looking at my molar, and lamenting that he could not simply apply a filling, the good doc said this: “There’s not enough there to build around.” And I wonder, in my life as a Christian and in my relationship with God, is there “enough there” to build around?

Yesterday’s Gospel passage detailed the conversation between a scribe and Jesus. In answer to the scribe’s question about which was the greatest commandment, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the Great Commandment, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord Alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Jews in the day of Christ would pray that passage of scripture daily. It could be found at the doorposts of their home. Some even carried the passage on their bodies in phylacteries, little boxes strapped to the forehead or wrist. Jesus was crucified because his claim to be one with the Father seemingly contradicted this scripture. The Great Commandment, the very heart of the Torah, was a big deal. It was what Jews built their life around and it’s still what you and me should build our life around. But do we? Is there enough there?

Sadly, we too often place other gods before the Lord our God: sports, work, pleasure, sleep, academic achievement – and the list goes on. None of these are bad in their own right, but they can become idols. Way too often, when I invite a teen to attend a retreat or participate in a night of worship, I’m told that soccer, theater, study or some other project is taking precedence. Parents contribute to and affirm this. God is fairly low on the priority list. So when it comes to that young person’s relationship with God, there is simply not enough there to build on.

Our world cries out for authentic, self-sacrificing, zealous Christians who are all in for God and who love him with their entire heart, soul, mind and strength. I understand that I have much to improve in this regard. Maybe you do too. But if we take the Great Commandment seriously, we must be men and women of daily prayer. We must be men and women who accept what the Church teaches, particularly in regard to “controversial” topics such as the inherent evil of abortion and the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. We must be men and women who defend God’s interests in the public square, even if it means personal loss or suffering. Do we desire for ourselves and for our loved ones real human fulfillment, real freedom, real meaning in our lives, and real love? Then, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!”

In yesterday’s Gospel, when the scribe gave evidence that he understood well what was meant by this passage of scripture, Jesus replied with a powerful affirmation: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Coming from our Lord, that passage is enough to take our breath away. But could he say the same to me or you? Is there enough in our relationship with God, enough to build around, that places us not far from the kingdom of God? If not, we certainly have changes to make.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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October is celebrated in the Church as Respect Life month, though there is an inherent sadness in such a  celebration. We are reminded as a Church to respect human life because, so often, human life is not respected – even by Christians, even by Catholics. Respect for life covers a wide spectrum of concerns, from euthanasia to capital punishment, but abortion, because it is the great evil of our day, continues to be the great focus of Respect Life initiatives. Unborn children lead a tenuous existence in our culture, and in that, they are not unlike our Lord himself. In a wonderful God-coincidence, October is also the month of the Holy Rosary. Praying the Joyful Mysteries reminds us that the life of Jesus Christ was in danger almost from the very moment his conception was announced. Thankfully, his mother went to great lengths (the flight into Egypt to escape King Herod, for example) to preserve his life. Regrettably, some mothers today go to great lengths in an effort to extinguish the life of their child.

Maybe because he had seen so many innocent lives taken during the Second World War in his native Poland, Blessed Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of human life in all its stages. Maybe for the same reasons, the Rosary was an integral element of the Holy Father’s prayer life. His impassioned call to respect life still resonates in our hearts. Consider these words from John Paul II:

            Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an “unspeakable crime.” But today, in many people’s consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behavior and even in law itself, is a telling sign . . . Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception . . . [Abortion] is a most serious wound inflicted on society and culture by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders (The Gospel of Life).

Surely, among the “promoters and defenders” of society who wound the culture with their support of abortion, we must include far too many entertainers, academics, would-be theologians, and politicians. When these entertainers, academics, would-be theologians, and politicians also claim to be Catholic, there is cause for much concern. Rather than respecting life and going to great lengths to preserve it, they are disregarding life and going to great lengths to destroy it. Morally blind to the evil of abortion, they are the King Herod to the infant Christ’s Mary. We must pray earnestly for them, even while seeking to identify whatever blindness still remains in our own moral thinking.

But beyond prayer, we are compelled to stand against their faulty logic and indefensible arguments. As John Paul II indicated, we must courageously call things by their proper name. Yes, life does begin at the very moment of conception. No, we are not the master’s and mistress’s of life. Yes, abortion is evil in every circumstance. And when we still hear the tired defense that “I cannot impose my beliefs on another,” we can lovingly – but forcibly – remind our interlocutors that ALL law is an imposition of will. Among the commandments, and among the social contract of our culture, the words, “You shall not kill,” remain in force.

For those of us who share in John Paul II’s passionate defense of human life, it can be hard to respect, forgive or love those who promote abortion and other forms of anti-life behavior. But respect, forgive and love we must, always while working, praying and fasting for the conversion of hearts. Lives are at stake here, but so are souls. May God, in his kindness, have mercy.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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The foundations of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But keep in mind, they are not an end to themselves. We pray, we fast, and we give to fulfill the great commandments, love of God and love of neighbor. We pray, we fast, and we give to open our own hearts to the presence of God and to be that presence for others in need. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving as end to themselves leads us to the sin of pride. But as we were reminded on Ash Wednesday, it’s our turning away from sin that is at the real core of Lenten observance.

Imagine fasting on bread and water for an entire week, kneeling on broken glass for three hours of prayer per day, giving our entire savings to the homeless man on the corner … but then on Saturday night … after this wonderful week of Lenten devotion … getting drunk at the local tavern, disparaging everyone from the pope to our mother-in-law during the barstool conversation, beating up an immigrant in the parking lot because we don’t approve of “those kind of people,” and then ending our night of debauchery by having a fling with the waitress or waiter who served us our shots and beers. Seems pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? But maybe it’s closer to the truth than we’d care to admit.

If we pray, fast and give alms, but then miss Mass on Sunday or gossip or practice unchaste behavior or hold on to prejudicial attitudes or tell “white lies” or view pornography or steal from storeroom at work or fail to give time to our spouse or children – and a million other sinful activities – then our prayer and our fasting and our almsgiving are pointless. Remember, the primary goal of Lenten observance is to grow in love of God, but we cannot do that if we are disobeying his commands. Remember, the secondary goal of Lenten observance is to grow in love of neighbor, but we fail to do that when we fail to treat our neighbor with kindness, patience and self-sacrifice.

Do you think God is more concerned that we give up chocolate or that we cease making nasty comments about our rival at school or work? Do you think God is more pleased with us when we say an extra Rosary or when we say no to another hour on Facebook with friends and yes to reading a story to our little sister (despite the fact that she is sooo annoying)?

This Lent, let’s do it all. Let’s continue to pray and fast and care for the poor, but let’s also make sure that those devotions lead us to less sin and more love of God and neighbor. After all, that is the goal.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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As the old song goes – and yes, we’re talking quite old! – “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” If you know this catchy ditty, it’ll now be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. But whether the tune registers with you or not, the message certainly should. We do need more love in this world, and Lent is a fine and holy season to make that happen.

Liturgically, we begin this first full week of Lent with the gospel that Michelangelo famously portrayed on the front wall of the Sistine Chapel: Christ’s judgment of the world. And according to Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, what will be the measure for our judgment? Love. The sheep, who are shepherded by Christ into the heavenly kingdom, are those who love their neighbors by feeding, clothing and otherwise caring for them. The goats, sentenced to eternal punishment, are those who fail to feed, cloth and otherwise love their neighbors. “In truth I tell you,” says the Lord and Judge, “in so far as you did this (i.e. love) to one of these least brothers of mine, you did it to me (Mt 25:40).”

Sadly, many people – many people! – are much more hungry for love today than they are for bread. We do not need to travel to Calcutta or Bangladesh or Honduras to find these folks. The lonely, forsaken and unloved are near indeed, in our schools, places of work and families. And as we continue during this Lenten season to practice acts of self-sacrifice and mortification, may we more than anything else practice acts of love. Examples? Smiling at that nerdy, hard-to-talk-with kid in Geometry class. Complimenting that jerk in Accounting who never himself has a nice thing to say. Doing your little brother’s chores, despite the fact that it really is his turn to do them. Offering to pick up some groceries for the old lady on your street, even if she is the meanest person you have ever met.

God loves each of us although we are definitely not easy to love. In fact, we are disobedient, ungrateful, self-absorbed, crabby and all too often, downright nasty. But God loves us anyway. When we, in turn, choose to love our brothers and sisters who are equally hard to love, the Gospel truly comes alive. It’s the way the world is meant to be, you know. So who will we love today?

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Jesus loves to heal. Jesus wants to heal. Jesus will heal. In those days when he walked this earth, the Lord made the blind see, the Lord made the lame to walk, the Lord made the deaf to hear, and the Lord made lepers clean. Even that greatest of maladies – death – was healed and even destroyed by the Lord’s command. Jesus healed then and he heals now. He wishes to heal you and I. But more than healing broken bodies, the Lord Jesus desires to heal broken relationships, broken hearts and broken souls. Spiritual healing is the Lord’s most powerful medicine. And with Lent upon us once again, the Lord’s treasury of mercy lies open before us.

Yes, the Lord wishes to touch and heal us this Lent, and we should run to receive his bountiful balm. But amazingly, despite our own brokenness and selfishness and sin, Jesus also wants to use us as instruments of healing for others. Remember the men who broke the roof and lowered down to Jesus their paralyzed friend? The Lord recognized their faith, affirmed that faith, and then healed both the body and soul of the paralyzed man. We can be those men today.

May I suggest that this Lent, even as we beg mercy for our own wretchedness and sin, that we make a renewed and concerted effort to carry others to Jesus as well? Who in our own families is paralyzed by fear or crippled by sin? Let’s pick them up and take them to Jesus. Who among our friends and associates is so burdened by guilt or weighed down by shame that they are unable alone to approach the throne of mercy? You and I must lift them up and present them to Jesus. Who amidst our culture of celebrity and misguided fame is clearly far from God and blind to their darkness? In love, you and I can take their hand and show them the goodness of Jesus.

We do all of this by prayer, fasting and sacrifice. When the Apostles once failed in their efforts to drive out a demon from a young man, the Lord reminded them, “This kind can only come out through prayer (Mk 9:29).” So pray we must, fervently and in concert with our Lenten fasts and mortifications. And as souls continue to be swept up by the waves of secularism, selfishness and sordid living which are surging through our culture, the Lord must truly be seeking those who would join him in reparation and brotherly love. Will you and I join with the Lord this Lent, accompanying him even into the Garden and onto the Cross? To heal others, it is worth the cost.

Have a blessed Lent and be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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In his famous and exceedingly challenging, Litany of Humility, Rafael Cardinal Merry Del Val (1865-1930) has us pray . . . “From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus; from the fear of being despised, deliver me, Jesus.” Given the cultural climate of our day, those are words we do well to pray often. For when people of faith stand up in defense of their deepest beliefs – abortion is always evil, religious liberty is worth preserving, the Church has a voice in the public square – ridicule, hatred and worse are often close behind. To be a Christian today, a real Christian, a live-what-I-believe Christian, is to be a person who brings down ridicule and hatred upon themselves. But then again, it’s been that way since a handful of Galilean apostles first preached the name of Jesus.

The government’s attempt to mandate that Catholic institutions pay for contraception, abortion causing drugs and sterilizations is the latest effort aimed at the Christian conscience. With the bishops courageously leading the way, many Catholics, fellow Christians of other stripes, Jewish brothers and sisters, and even people of no particular faith, are standing strong and saying no. This is heartening. But what is disheartening, is that polls and anecdotal evidence continue to show that many Catholics actually do not believe that abortion is gravely evil, do not accept the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood, or fail to understand the dangers of increased secularization. Undoubtedly, in many cases, these folks truly do not know that they are off the path and into the weeds. But in other cases, and probably from time to time in my life and in yours, we fail to swim against the cultural tide for fear of ridicule and for fear of being despised. No one, of course, enjoys being the object of another’s disdain. Very few find it comfortable to be outside of the mainstream thinking. But as Catholics, we have to be outside of the mainstream when the mainstream is a place of ungodly refuse.

194 years ago today, on February 13, 1818, a priest by the name of Paul Liu Hanzuo was executed by strangulation. His government had decided that Christianity was not an acceptable way of living. Throughout history, and until our present day, men and women, religious and laity, young and old, have laid down their life rather than renounce the truths of the Catholic faith. Are we at that point in the United States? Thankfully, no. But can I envision such a day? Sadly, yes. And this is all the more reason why the Church needs us to overcome our fears, overcome our timidity, overcome our hesitations, and be 100% all in, willing to give everything for Christ, Catholics. No more picking and choosing, no more hemming and hawing, no more dancing around the edges of authentic Christian commitment, Christ needs us to plant a flag and stand strong in his name. Always in love, yes; always as peacemakers, yes; but with the real conviction that when Christ promised to lead the Church into all truth – he meant it!

Let us pray for our Church and let us pray for our beloved country. Our leaders, both ecclesial and governmental, need our prayers. And may we support each other in living strong, dedicated, unwavering, sacrificial and beautiful Christian lives. From the fear of being ridiculed or despised, deliver us, Jesus.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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