The following is my homily for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, Year A. The readings can be found here.

Have you ever been out in the desert? I mean, like, really out there. I drove cross country once from San Diego to Washington DC and there’s about four days of nothing. Just hundreds of miles of absolutely nothing. On one of the days we were driving through New Mexico we just stopped the car and stood on the side of the road for a minute. It was breathtaking… and a bit terrifying. The desert, by definition, is a place of desolation. It is not comfortable—extreme vulnerability to sun, no food, no water. While some plants and animals miraculously survive, we humans are not at home in it.

I believe that this is exactly what God wants us to feel sometimes. Have you ever wondered why almost every powerful story of conversion, every important moment of calling from God in the Bible happens in the desert? Moses had his first encounter when he left the palace and fled to the desert. Elijah heard God’s voice on the mountain in the light silent sound. Even Jesus himself went to the desert in preparation for ministry. There’s a reason why the first forms of religious life in our Church were the desert Fathers and Mothers, that those who offered spiritual direction and wisdom required their students to enter the desert with them: this is where we are able to hear God.

It’s a place where we are not at home. A place where we depend on God. A place away from distractions, utterly focused on survival, with no time for anything else. It is in the desert—in our discomfort, in our dependence, in our focus—that God can actually speak to us, because we are actually willing to listen.

It’s no wonder, then, that the person who announces the coming of Christ, who can see clearly as God does, comes from the desert. John the Baptist is not a priest or scribe, he did not grow up going to the temple or making pilgrimages to Jerusalem. This is not a popular prophet or mainstream figure. No, he comes from the silence of the desert, away from the world. And he doesn’t just live in the desert and come to the city to preach. No, he preaches from the desert.

What I find so interesting is that he didn’t just live in the desert, he preached from there as well. What does Matthew say? “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert near Judea.” He did not take what he had learned from the desert and bring it to where people were; he didn’t go into the city squares and fight for their attention. No, if you wanted to hear him preach, if you wanted to hear his message, you had to go to the desert yourself. Those who couldn’t be bothered, those who were afraid, those who stayed in the comfort of their homes—they didn’t hear anything. It was only those who were committed enough to the message of God, willing enough to leave something behind, willing enough to strip themselves of all their distractions and enter the desert, who heard the announcement.

If you want to hear God speak, you have to go to the desert yourself. Now, before we all go out and buy tickets to Phoenix, what do I mean by this. Well, two things:

The first is about a a place of focused, silent prayer; a place of complete and utter desolation, dependence on God.

Our lives are very stimulating. Even for those of us who have extremely boring lives, we are constantly being bombarded with stuff. For many of us, there is no quiet in our lives. I mean real quiet. The moment we find ourselves moving towards it, when we have nothing to do, we pull out our phones, turn on the TV, look for something to do or someone to talk to.
We are a people with a serious case of FOMO, and so we remain connected, always watching and waiting, always checking our phones to see what’s up. We need the silence of the desert. We need the quiet that is so desolate, so barren, so empty that it’s like you’re in a different world… a world where there is just us and God.

I remember experiencing this for the first time when I went on a retreat during my first year with the friars. For an entire week, we were told that we had to turn off our phones, we couldn’t bring our laptops. There were no televisions, and the only talking we were allowed to do was during mass and prayers. The silence… was deafening. There may not have been sand or cacti, but I was in a desert, a place with nothing but myself… and God. I tell you, it was one of the most difficult, awful, excruciating weeks of my life… but it was also one of the most important experiences as well. I realized that God had been speaking to me all along, calling out to me… but it was only when I entered the desert that I was able to hear him; only when I stripped myself of all my distractions and comforts that I was able to focus on him. In the silence of that retreat, I had one of my most profound encounters with God.

The desert is where God speaks… and so we must go to listen. Maybe it’s a retreat, but maybe it’s simply the silence our room when we turn off our phones, a block of time we set aside at the same time each day for God and God alone. If we want to hear, we must go to the desert.

But of course, the desert is more than just a place of solitude, more than just a place of prayer—it is the act of leaving behind what is comfortable in order to experience the periphery. John the Baptist was not a prime candidate for life advice. Take one look at the way he dressed, what he ate, and you might think… “Um… thanks, but no thanks. Not sure if you should be the one telling others what to do…” But what a shame it would be to do that: you’d miss out on one of the most important announcements in the history of the world.

God does not always choose who we would choose—in fact, he never does. God chooses the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame to learned, the poor to shame the rich; he chooses a crazy guy from the desert to shame the religious and cultural elite, to remind them that they know nothing of God. I wonder, sometimes, how often we miss seeing God in our world because we refuse to hear certain people, because we stay here in the comfort of our own little bubbles of people who are like us and like us, refusing to step out of our comfort zones.

A few years ago I went to the periphery of peripheries. For two months, I lived at a refugee camp in a small town of Mexico, a place where the friars offer food and housing to migrants. While I was there, I met a guy who was traveling north to cross the American border. In many ways he was someone who was easy to dismiss: he was dirty, had tattoos, wasn’t particularly educated. He was, in our government’s eyes, a criminal, this being not the first time he was trying to cross the border but the third. And so I asked him why he kept doing it. Why put yourself through the travel, the muggings, the deportations. He said, “What choice do I have? My family is in El Paso. I have two daughters, 8 and 10. My wife is there, my life is there. I know that it won’t be easy, I know that I may die on the way, but what choice do I have?” Here was a man who knew the importance of family, who was willing to do anything for them, a man who had something to teach me about family and sacrifice and commitment. How easy it would have been for me to write him off, to ignore him as someone who couldn’t teach me anything.

For the past 6 years, Pope Francis has been calling us to go to the peripheries of society, and this is precisely why. He has called us to the peripheries, to the outcasts, to those rejected by society because that is who God chooses to speak through. This does not mean that every homeless person, every migrant, every person from an outcast group has some profound wisdom to share, but it does mean that if we ignore them, we’ll never meet the ones who do.

God calls us to the desert. The desert of prayer, and the desert of the periphery. And so I ask you the same question one more time: have you ever been to the desert? I mean, really. Those who refused to go to the desert 2000 years ago missed out on the opportunity to meet John the Baptist. Who knows what God is speaking right now, in our very world, for those willing to enter the desert.

The following is my homily for the 1st Sunday in Advent, Year A. The readings can be found here.

This week, the students at UGA enter an intense period of preparation: it’s final exam time. Ready or not, here they come! It doesn’t matter if they’ve been studying all semester or they haven’t attended a single class. On a certain date at a certain time, judgment will take place. This, is serious business. It is time to hunker down; time to focus; time to load up on coffee.

I remember finals week when I was in college, knowing that there was only so much I could do, that the minutes were just slipping away. I’d take out my syllabus, look over the study guide and ask myself, “What are the most important things I need to know? Professor mentioned this multiple times—review. This is the last thing the professor said at the end of class—very important. Optional readings for enrichment—psh, no time, throw it in the garbage.” As much as finals week was stressful and just the absolute worst, there was something about the urgency of it all that I actually liked. There was a focus, a clear direction. It forced me to work hard, and as much as I hate to admit it, I learned a lot more in classes that had final exams than in ones that didn’t. The seriousness of it all, the gravity of the situation, even a little sense of fear—it all made me a better student.

And it makes me wonder, sometimes. That sense of urgency, that seriousness, that ability to hunker down and intensely focus on a task—do we devote that sort of energy to our lives as Christians? We may not be in school, but as “disciples” of Christ, we are by our very nature “learners” of his way, and as much as we would like to downplay it, there most certainly is a final exam. Jesus tells us over and over again that there will come a day of judgment; there will come a day of separating the sheep and the goats; there will come a day when the Son of Man will return and some will be taken up to heaven. More than some biology test that we’re going to forget about the minute we finish it, this should give us a bit of urgency. This—our salvation, our life in heaven—has got to be the most important thing that we will ever prepare for. Right? 

And yet, there are times when I look at my life and see almost no effort. Quite recently, in fact, I’ve looked at the way I pray, the way that I live my life, the way that I spend my money and eat and have fun, and have been sorely disappointed. Just this week, really, I had a bit of a panic. You know that feeling when you didn’t do the homework and you realize that there might be a pop-quiz? I realized that if Jesus were to come back today, if that final exam turned out to be right now… I wouldn’t be ready. I realized that I am lacking any sense of urgency in my discipleship, that I am just coasting along—not horribly bad, but also not particularly committed either. I’m not sure if you ever feel like this… but it should be a wakeup call for us

Advent is a time to instill that sense of urgency back in us. Just as the students are preparing for exams, Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of our Lord. But not as a child in a manger, not wrapped in swaddling clothes. No, these things already happened. We do not prepare for the past, but remember the past in order to prepare for the future: the birth of Christ two thousand years ago, the act of God coming to be like us so that we could come to be like God—all of this marked the assurance of the promise that there will come a day when a new heaven and a new earth will be established, a day when all nations will go climbing the mountain of the Lord, a day when Jesus will return in his glory and judge the nations. Jesus doesn’t say when this will happen, but St. Paul absolutely nails it when he says that “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” It’s coming, and we’re running out of time. Advent reminds us that we have no more time to waste—our preparation, begins today.

So, what do we do? How do we prepare for the ultimate test of our lives? Well, luckily for us, just like those taking final exams, we have been given a syllabus. Even more than that, in fact, Jesus has given us the very questions. We know exactly what he wants from us; we know exactly what we must do. Seriously. There is no trick to this exam, no surprises. Jesus made it very clear in everything he said and did what he wants of us. We know intimately of his will because we’ve heard it over and over again: love your enemies, show mercy, give to the poor, become poor yourself, take up your cross daily, love your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul, and your neighbor as yourself. For years and years and years we have heard this, and I doubt anyone in this church would say that they don’t know what is expected of them. 

And so the real question is not what this test will be like, but rather, have we taken the time to open the book? Have we taken the time to practice the equations, to memorize the definitions. We may know what Jesus wants of us, but there is a big difference between knowing the questions and being confident in the answer; a life in the way of Jesus does not happen overnight—there is no cramming of virtues, no drinking a gallon of coffee and staying up all night to develop a prayer life. These things take time. They take practice. They take struggling and falling and getting back up again.

If you, like me, feel that you are sorely unprepared for this test, if you look at your life and think, “I’ve got a lot of work to do,” then this is your wakeup call. Advent is your inspiration, your warning. It’s time to take seriously your prayer life. It’s time to start showing a bit more forgiveness to your friends and family. It’s time to start practicing the corporal works of mercy, to begin living with peace and justice. It’s time to start preparing your heart to receive your Lord. He’s coming. I can only hope we’ll be ready.

The following is my homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

On May 21, 2011, the world was supposed to end. At least, that’s what the evangelical preacher Harold Camping claimed. You may remember this. There were billboards on highways, ads in papers. The 24-hour news cycle couldn’t get enough of it, interviewing people who believed him, getting rebuttals from those who disagreed. I watched news coverage of people who sold all of their possessions, quit their jobs, even abandoned their children because they believed the rapture was coming. It was surreal, absurd, and absolutely saddening.

What was so crazy about the situation to me was the fact that this was not Camping’s first rodeo: he had wrongly predicted the end of the world twice before. And he wasn’t the only one. According to Wikipedia there have been 90 failed predictions in the last 100 years alone. But this one is the one, right? The guile of some people. The gullibility of others. For centuries—millennia, even—people have been predicting the end of the world, getting people all worked up and worried, only to be proven wrong every single time.

And yet, people continue to fall for them. People do get worried at the predictions, not just of false prophets, but of politicians, economists, and news pundits. Maybe they’re predicting the end of the world, or maybe they’re telling us that the economy will crash if a certain candidate is elected, that the Vatican has been infiltrated by people with evil agenda with a plot to destroy the Church from within, that UGA has no chance against LSU in the SEC Championship game. All nonsense, I tell you! There are, as Pope John XXIII pointed out, many “prophets of doom” in our world, those who can only see the worst of the world and want nothing more than to spread fear.

In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us to pump the brakes a bit. Relax.

The world will come to an end one day, he says. Both our first reading and Gospel make this clear. There will come a day when there will not be left a stone on top of another stone—even the Temple will be destroyed, even some of the good things our our world will fall away to make room for the reign of God. Yes, this will happen so don’t get comfortable; don’t put your trust in human institutions, in your wealth or safety because the world as we know it will end one day. 

But this ain’t it. The world will end one day, but if anyone claims that it is right now, if anyone claims to know when or how it will happen, Jesus says, they are a false prophet. Rather, what Jesus says is that, in the midst of trials, when the world appears like its ending with wars and insurrections, when there are earthquakes and famines, kingdoms rising and falling, he gives his disciples three commands: don’t be led astray, do not go after these false prophets, and do not be terrified. Even when you are persecuted, he says, do not be afraid, for not a hair on your head will be destroyed. For those who persevere, those who remain faithful and do not give into the prophets of doom, those who do not follow after all kinds of strange teachings, will survive and live in the kingdom of heaven.

Notice what Jesus is getting at in our Gospel today. As much as this might seem like an apocalyptic prediction meant to scare us, the point is actually the exact opposite. Against the doomsday sayers of our world, Jesus is not offering us a way to predict the future, but rather is giving us spiritual resources to cope with adversity in the present. Do not be afraid, Jesus says. There is nothing that could ever keep you from me if you have faith.

Too often, I think, we live with worry for the future. We allow prophets of doom to rattle us, to get us worried about things that are not true and have no effect on our lives. They have us believing in a fantasy world that does not exist, ruining everything we do. Because, really, isn’t that what the future is… a fantasy world? The past is very real in that it happened and we can learn from it. The present is absolutely real in that we are living and shaping it right now. But the future? What is the future other than a creation of our imagination? Who can say anything about the future with any surety? No one. Absolutely no one. 

As Christians, we know how it will ultimately will end: the world will fade away and the Kingdom of God will take its place. There will be a final judgment, and the good will be separated from the evil. That is not in question. But how it will happen, when? Jesus tells us not to worry. The time you waste worrying about what may or may not happen, is time that could be spent building the kingdom in the present, time that you could have spent living, loving, trusting in God in the here and now.

As I see it, there are two types of people in the world: those who live in fear, those who worry about everything and want everyone else to worry about everything, and so run for the safety of bunkers, hiding from the world; and those who trust that no matter what happens, no matter how evil our world my appear, no matter what struggles we face, no matter what destruction befalls us, Jesus is in charge.

And so I ask you: which side do you want to be on? The side that lives in fear and does nothing, or the side that trusts in the Lord and lives every day with the freedom of the sons and daughters of God? Do not be led astray, do not follow after prophets of doom, and most of all, do not be afraid.

The following is my homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

It’s interesting, if you think about it, that art and entertainment through the years has done more to shape our imagination about the afterlife than the actual Bible has. Really. When you think of heaven what do you think of? Puffy white clouds with a gate, angels with tiny little wings. Same goes for Hell, right? The devil is this red guy with horns and a pitchfork, surrounded by flames in the underground. Yeah… none of that is from the Bible.

The fact of the matter is that our image of the afterlife is more influenced by Dante’s Inferno, by Milton’s Paradise Lost, Groening’s The Simpsons. Okay, one of those things isn’t like the other, but I love The Simpsons’ take on heaven. There’s this one episode where Marge goes to heaven to talk to Jesus only to find out that there are two heavens: Protestant heaven, and Catholic heaven. Protestant heaven is basically British—it’s very formal, everyone has sweater vests, they’re playing badminton and croquet—while Catholic heaven is for the Irish, Italians, and Spanish—they’re drinking, singing, dancing, and fighting. It’s great. As if you needed another reason to be Catholic, our heaven is more fun than theirs.

What makes it funny is that we can see some truth in it, right? Heaven is sort of a reflection of who we are as a people, a representation of our experience on earth, a place where we would be comfortable. In most works of art, this is how heaven is portrayed: it’s the fulfillment of our desires, everything about what we are and like, only better. Our deepest fantasies are fulfilled and we can do anything we like. I think of the Robin Williams movie What Dreams May Come. In the movie, heaven is a magical, idyllic place where all you have to do is imagine something and it comes true. He runs around doing whatever he wants, creating what he wants, calling it “my heaven.” It is a reflection of who he is, a representation of his experience on earth.

At first, this might sound amazing. We might laugh at the Simpsons and find it great. But I’m not so sure. When I see images like this, I’m left wondering, is this it? As extraordinary as this conception of heaven might be—getting everything you want, a place just like our lives here—I’m left a bit empty with the idea of it. Is that all heaven is? Nothing more than a continuation of what we have here?

Our readings today suggest to us that this is far from the truth. In both our first reading and the Gospel, we hear stories teaching us that the kingdom of heaven operates a bit differently than our own world does.

In our first reading from the second book of Maccabees, we hear of a horrible situation. The Greek nation is persecuting the Jews, forcing them to abandon God, forcing them to deface themselves by breaking the Law of faith. Seven sons refuse, showing their faith in God, and so they are tortured and killed. How absolutely dreadful! 

Can you imagine if heaven were just like our experience of earth, if there was still pain and suffering? We’d look around and say, is this it? 

But of course it isn’t. For we learn that those who are faithful, those who endure suffering, will be raised up and live forever with God. In God, there will be no more suffering, no more pain, no more persecution. In this way, heaven is a reality quite unlike our own, one in which the just are glorified, in which the righteous live forever to worship God.

What wonderful hope this is for those who suffer in this world!

In our Gospel we hear a similar message, although it may sound strange to us at first. A woman marries seven different brothers and then dies herself, ending up in heaven. The Sadducees ask Jesus who’s wife will she be and he says none of them, for there is no marriage in heaven. For those who are happily married, those who feel called to the vocation of marriage, this might sound very strange, even saddening. Why would Jesus say this? Well, remember what marriage was like in Jesus’ day. It was not romantic, had nothing to do with soulmates. Sure, there was love, but marriage was about ownership. Women were the property of men. Alone, they had no rights, could make no decisions, held no property. They were themselves property. Seven times this woman was passed from man to man, needing protection, needing rights. 

Can you imagine if heaven were just like our experience of earth, if there was still oppression and dominance of others? We’d look around and say, is this it?

But of course it isn’t. In heaven, there is no giving or taking in marriage. In other words, there is no giving or taking of people as property. Everyone exists as children of God, equal and loved by God. There is no more oppression or ownership, no more second class statuses or forced subservience. In this way, heaven is a reality quite unlike our own, one in which all have a place at the table, all can glorify God in themselves.

What wonderful hope this is for those who are oppressed in this world!

What our readings teach us of today is that there is far more to heaven than our projection, that heaven is not merely a continuation of our life on earth. As much as we can watch The Simpsons and laugh, as much as we can watch What Dreams May Come with wonder, they are nothing compared to what we should expect. 

And yet, that’s not to say that heaven and earth are completely separate from each other either. Too often, again, shaped by images of entertainment, we have this idea that heaven is a far off reality, a place completely separate from our own. And in one sense, it sort of it. But remember what Jesus says throughout the Gospels: “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Not, on the other side of the veil. Not completely distant from us today. At hand. The kingdom that we seek, the one without pain or suffering, without oppression and dominance, that kingdom is inbreaking. It’s not fully here, but it’s on its way. Our world today is being transformed by that kingdom, ever renewed and made to look more like it. Even before we die we can have a taste, a peak, an experience of that reality that we hope for in full one day.

We see it, as I always say, in this celebration. This is a taste of heaven, right now what we are doing. Receiving the body and blood of Christ, singing praises to God, being renewed and transformed. This is completely otherworldly, a transcendent experience of heaven right here in our world. 

But it’s not just here. It’s found anywhere Christ is found, where love overflows. It’s found in the self-sacrifice of parents who give of themselves to take away the suffering of their children; in volunteers at soup kitchens who feed people who are poor, who encounter the suffering servant themselves and care for them; in those who advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees, who defend the lives of those on death row, who offer aid to pregnant mothers unsure of how to handle what they’re going through. Wherever we see the love of Christ, wherever we see people acting not of this world but of God’s world, we are not just reminded of Jesus’ words, but we experience a taste of what he talks about. 

Do you ever stop to think about that? Do you ever step back in the midst of something truly wonderful—an act of love, a beautiful sacrifice, the work of peace and justice, mercy and reconciliation—and realize, this is it? This is what I’m looking for. This is what I want with my whole heart. This is what I want for all eternity. 

The answer we seek is not in The Simpsons and it is not in What Dreams May Come. Sometimes, it’s right in front of us, right in our midst, calling us to something different. Jesus invites us not only to seek the kingdom of God in the future, but right here in our present. Find it, announce it to others, and do everything you can to build it up.

The following is my homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

One of my favorite things about college was staying up late for philosophical conversations. You know, after a few… “grape juices”… talking about life, faith, it was great. It was a time that I encountered people of other faiths, and it was the first time that I heard someone claim that they were “spiritual but not religious.” For them, religion was oppressive, all about man-made rules. They didn’t need to go to Church, to follow rules, to be a part of any institution. They just needed Jesus, a spiritual life.

As Catholics, we of course know how false this is. At its best, religion is a guide. It provides a community, helps us stay on the narrow path, reminds us that we do not need to go at it alone because we “bind” ourselves together. We hear this “spiritual but not religious” stuff all of the time, and it just makes no sense to us.

In reality, it’s much more likely that we struggle with the opposite problem; for those of us who come to Church on a regular basis, engage in the rituals and follow the rules, there is a temptation, sometimes of being religious, but not spiritual.

Take a look at the Pharisee today. He is about as religious as you get—says his prayers, fasts, gives alms—he follows every law to a t. As a Pharisee, he is quite literally the symbol of religion, the keeper of it, the instructor of the law. To the people of his day, he would have been seen as a very upright individual, a model citizen—he’s always in the Temple, always following the law, always doing what God wants.

And yet, Jesus is not impressed, is he? How shocking it would have been to hear that a tax collector—a traitor to the nation of Israel, someone who stole money from his own people to give to the evil Romans, who stole from his own people to become rich himself—yes, this man, this awful man who knows nothing of religion, leaves the Temple justified and the Pharisee doesn’t.

When we look to what the Pharisee says, it’s no wonder why. The Pharisee follows every rule, fulfills every requirement, yes, but appears to know nothing about God. His prayer, Jesus says, was one that he “spoke to himself.” He says God, but he’s not talking to the living a true God in heaven. He’s talking to himself.  He spends half his time bragging about himself and the other half bad-mouthing someone else, which, when you consider the fact that God identifies with the lowly, that God hears the cry of the poor, probably wasn’t a good call. It’s sort of like gossiping about someone to their best friend. Not going to get a lot of sympathy with God on this one! Maybe most striking of all is what he doesn’t say: All throughout, he never praises God, never apologizes, never even asks for anything. His prayer is not a means of relationship with someone else, but rather a way of convincing himself of his own self-righteousness. He shows in his prayer that he doesn’t need God. He’s good enough on his own.

Yes, the Pharisee is immensely religious… but seems to miss the whole point of religion. What is meant as something to make us more humble, to guide our life so that we can become more like God, to depend on God… serves to only make him more like himself. He uses religion not as a means of growth, not as a means of transformation… but as a means of justifying who he is and what he wants to do.

This… is religion gone bad. This is religion stripped of the very thing that brings it truth: a relationship with God. Whereas many in our day find themselves to be spiritual but not religious, the Pharisee was religious but not spiritual. He engaged in empty practices with no sense that they actually did anything.

Being religious but not spiritual is not something that anyone would ever claim for themselves, not a catchy title that anyone would actually use, but it is problem—especially as Catholics—that we should all be careful of. We are a people with a lot of rituals—stand here, sit here, say these words, make these gestures, don’t eat certain foods on certain days, follow these rules that the rest of the world finds weird. It’s very easy to get caught up in the externals, very easy to get all of the rules while forgetting the reason for the rules, forgetting that they are ultimately leading us somewhere. All these things we do—prayers, songs, rules—they are not ends in themselves. It can be very easy for us sometimes to go through the motions, [bored “amen” and sign of the cross], do the little rituals, and be no different than we were before. Just showing up, just saying some words and following rules is not enough.These things lead us to something else. Religious is the guide, the lines on the street. It is helpful for getting us somewhere but insufficient in itself.

Even this Eucharist—yes, even this sacrament of salvation—it is the true body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ… but it is not the fullness of Christ. Really, how could it be? You cannot have a conversation with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is but a taste of what we hope to receive in heaven. In heaven there will be no eucharist, no remembrance of Jesus, for we will have a relationship with the real person.
Even this Eucharist, this amazing part of our religion, is not a complete end in itself. It is a vehicle, a guide, a path forward. It leads us to a greater relationship with Christ, a greater relationship with each other and the world.

This week, the Catholic Center was blessed to have a Franciscan named Fr. Jim come visit to talk about the liturgy. He spoke at Ignite and at Arch and shared but a simple message: our ritual actually does something. More than just some empty ritual, it transforms us. In coming to mass and participating fully in it, not just going through the motions but giving our entire lives to what we celebrate,
our fear is taken away—fear of failure, fear of the world, fear of loneliness, fear of death—they are no more when we receive Christ. When we humble ourselves before God, God can transform us. For what? To care more: for each other, for the world, for what God wants. Unlike the religion of the Pharisee, we come here not to justify ourselves, but to realize how reliant we are on God.

Some in our world want to say that they are spiritual but not religious, and we know this to be foolish—religion is the road that gets us where we’re going, that keeps us where we need to be, that binds us together for support. Others live as highly religious people but know nothing of spirituality, going through empty rituals but knowing nothing of God. We know that this is equally as absurd—our spiritual lives in Christ, being transformed into a new person is the reason for religion in the first place. For us, we know that they are two sides of the same coin. It is religion that brings you here today, but it is your contrite heart, your desire for Christ that will send your out a transformed person. And isn’t that religion at its best? We are brought in one person, and sent out another.