Being Christian is the best, isn’t it? Before I took my faith seriously, bad things used to happen to me all of the time; people were rude to me, I had horrible luck, I got hurt often, and things just often didn’t work out. But now that I take my faith seriously, now that I’ve said “yes” to God with all my life, things are great; people are always nice, I’m always protected and cared for, and everything just seems to always works out for the best.

Okay, yeah. None of that is true.

It sounds so strange to say, right? That after going down into the waters of baptism, everything in our life would be easy. Clearly this cannot be the case. And yet, some people implicitly accept this. People ask all of the time, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” They have this innate expectation, for some reason, that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, that being Christian, following Christ, means that everything should go right.

Unfortunately, we now that it doesn’t. Unfortunately, we face many hardships as Christians. And so on this fourth Sunday of Easter, this Good Shepherd Sunday, we are left wondering: if Christ is truly are the Good Shepherd, then why do these things still happen to us?

For me, it’s important to remember what that title means and why Jesus deserves it.

We call him the Good Shepherd because he cares for sheep. Throughout scripture we read that he heals people with miracles, feeds them with abundant food. He is concerned not only with their spiritual lives, but with their physical well being. And so he continues to do with us, feeding and healing us through the sacraments, giving us comfort in tough times, showing us his love.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he goes after his sheep when they’re lost. Jesus did not dine with kings and queens, but with tax collectors and prostitutes, those who were sick and unclean. He went to the excluded and forgotten to return them to the community. And so he does with us, reaching out to us even when we reject him, calling our name even when we won’t listen; he is constantly trying to bring us back to God, never giving up on us.

And of course, as the greatest of shepherds, he was even willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Jesus gave up everything, even his life, for the sake of others. This death, once and for all, set us free from our own sins, gave us an opportunity for life everlasting.

Jesus did all of these wonderful things, for them, for us.

But there’s one thing he didn’t do, one thing that he never said: He never promised that we, as his flock, would be free from hardships. He never said that everything would go well for us if we followed him. In fact, he told us quite the opposite: “you will be persecuted because of my name.”

We see this in our readings this weekend. In our first reading from Acts, Paul and Barnabas are filled with the Spirit, so much so that they preach and the entire city shows up. All that is in their hearts is a desire to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They selflessly go on mission for the sake of the Kingdom. And how are they repaid? Their own people get jealous of them, rise up against them, and throw them out of the city. Not exactly a comfortable or desirable situation.

The same can be seen in the second reading from the Book of Revelation. Notice how are the saints in white robes addressed: they are those who have “survived the time of great distress,” who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. The saints, the ones who have joined the Lord in perfect unity for all eternity, the ones who offer us an example of what we strive to be one day, did not escape hardship in their lives, did not enjoy happiness and comfort. No, quite the opposite: they bathed themselves in the blood of the lamb; they did not hide from the suffering of the cross, did not run from the pain that Christ endured, but united themselves with it, became a part of it.

It’s because of this that it has always fascinated me to hear Christians ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I just look at them, and I look at the cross, and I say, “Let me get this straight… You follow a man who was betrayed by his followers, rejected by the religious elite, and wrongfully murdered on a cross—a man who said that if we wanted to follow after him that we had to take up our own crosses—and you’re asking why life is sometimes difficult for Christians…? I’m sorry, but what did you really expect?”

Christ is our Good Shepherd, yes, but let’s remember what that means. He came, not to lead to the nearest luxury resort, a place of comfort and safety; he came to shepherd us to the kingdom of heaven where we hope to live and serve with him for eternity. He does not live to protect us from hard work or discomfort; no, he lives to protect us from our own selfishness that leads us to hurt ourselves and others. Most important of all, he did not die so that we wouldn’t have to; he died so that our own deaths would amount to something, so that our deaths would be a participation in his.

Being a Christian is not about having a magical genie in heaven who gives us all that we want and protects us from all that brings us harm. Being Christian is about following the one who shepherds us and taking up his example. What Jesus did and continues to do for us was not so that we could continue on with our lives as normal, but was meant to guide us, free us, and empower us to do as he did, to be good shepherds for the world, people who are willing to go to the lost, protect the weak, and even lay down our lives for another. Christ is the Good Shepherd precisely because he leads us to things that will make us more like him.

This Good Shepherd Sunday, I think it’s time to get rid of the tired and cliche, “why do bad things happen to good people,” and instead ask ourselves something much more powerful: “Lord how am I being asked to be a shepherd like you today? How do you want me to care for others, go to the lost, and lay down my life, just as you did?”

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Rejoice and be glad, the priest is wearing pink this weekend!

Okay, so technically we don’t rejoice because the priest wears pink, the priest wears pink because we’re rejoicing, but depending on your priest and how uncomfortable he feels looking like a bottle of Pepto Bismol… there can at least be some laughs.

This weekend is Gaudete Sunday, the time of the season when we take a momentary break from our penitential longing to remember that Jesus has already come, that there is already such great news all around us. Sure, he may not have arrived from his cloud to restore all that has been broken and we may not find ourselves yet in the perfect Kingdom, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a second to be happy with what we have now. Our God has given us so much and loves us unconditionally. How could we do anything but rejoice‽

But that’s the easy part. Of course there is reason to rejoice, and for most of us, we can find many reasons to be thankful. God has blessed our lives with abundance. No, the question that I want to ponder, and what our Gospel suggests this week, is, how do we respond to God’s great love and mercy?

I want to contend that once we have found reason for rejoicing, once we have seen the amazing work that God has done in us and in the world, we can’t go back to who we were before we rejoiced; we can’t be the same person. Rather, we must live as people knowing the glory of God. This means sharing what we’ve found, changing our lives to better reflect the kingdom, and doing everything we can to make sure everyone rejoices with us.

This weekend I’m in Bayside, NY giving a day of reflection on our universal call to holiness and preaching at all of the Sunday masses. While it’s impossible to capture the energy of speaking in front of people  just sitting in an empty room in front of a camera, I thought I’d give it a try. Here’s the gist of my homily for this weekend, the 30th week of Ordinary time year B.

Also, forgive the voice… I’ve been sick for the past few days and have been rallying through!

The following is my homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary time, year B.

Jealousy is an interesting thing. Anyone here ever been jealous of someone or something? Felt that burning inside you? Anyone ever do something reckless because of it…? Maybe I should stop asking questions.

To me, jealousy is an interesting thing because at the heart of every jealous person, every jealous act, is not over-active passion, but actually fear. You see, when most people say that they’re jealous what they mean is that someone else has something that they really want. “Ooo, you have the new iPhone… you’ve got tickets to the concert… I’m so jealous!” And while we all know what we mean when we say something like this, what we’re actually saying is that we’re envious, that there is something that someone else has that we really want. Jealousy, technically speaking, is somewhat the opposite: to be jealous is to already have something, but feel threatened that someone will take it, to be afraid to lose it. At the heart of the matter is not coveting, not immense desire or passion for something more… it’s fear of losing what we already have.

We see this sometimes in children, don’t we, in our sort of primal emotions? When one sibling gets attention from mom or dad, gets a compliment or gift, they throw a fit, not necessarily because they’re desperate for attention, not because they actually want that gift, but because there is something inside them that says that mom or dad doesn’t love them as much. “That’s not so special. Look what I’m doing!” If their brother or sister gets affection, they think, they’ll be left behind and not loved. They become jealous.

Of course, we can see this sometimes in adults, too. When a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife spends times with their friends, maybe someone of the opposite sex, we see people getting very upset, very defensive. “No, you can’t spend time with that person,” some will even say. Why do they do this? More times than not it is not envy, it’s not a passionate feeling of wanting to spend more time with the other, it’s driven by a fear a losing the person, that by them sharing their love with another person, there won’t be enough love for them. They become jealous.

This is precisely what we see in our first reading and our Gospel today. Fear has overcome our biblical figures. In the first reading, those who were left back at the camp when God blessed the prophets are still able to prophesy. They speak for God and they speak with authority, two very good things. Things that the whole community should be proud of. Moses even says that he wishes the whole nation were given the gift of prophecy, that every single person spoke for God. But the others don’t feel this way. They see it as a threat. For them, if others can prophesy, then what they do will not be special, it won’t be unique. If others are able to do what they can do, then they won’t be as important. They become jealous.

Fast forward a thousand years and we see the same situation playing out once again in our Gospel. As Jesus and his disciples are passing along, they find that there are people that “don’t go with us,” they say, that are prophesying in Jesus’ name, performing miracles and speaking for God. Surprise surprise, the disciples don’t like this. “They’re not one of us. We have to put a stop to this,” they say. But Jesus is not threatened, he’s not afraid: “No one can perform mighty deeds apart from me,” he says. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

And it is with those words that we see how irrational jealousy is. We see how selfish, how narrow minded it is at its core.

When we’re jealous, we convince ourselves that the success of another is somehow to our detriment. We convince ourselves that someone else getting something good, receiving acclaim, or being loved by others means that we somehow are not good, that we can’t receive acclaim, that we are less loved. If our parents love our brother or sister, it means they can’t love us as well; that if our significant other spends time with someone else, it means that we are less special; that if someone else does something good, our life is going to get worse; and that if God is glorified through another, God can’t be glorified in us.

And we see it all around us, don’t we? We fear that if another religion is given praise, that something is found to be true in it, it somehow undermines Christianity, and so we try to put them down. We fear that if our political adversaries, those people from the other party, do something good then our side will be hurt, and so we try to put them down.

But how absolutely irrational each of these things are! Out of our fear (and it is most certainly fear!) we convince ourselves that there is only so much goodness to go around and so we must be in competition with everyone else. Out of our fear, we forget that all of us are on the same team, that all of us are brothers and sisters in Christ, that all of us are to be seeking truth and building up the kingdom together, and when something good happens to or through another, when God is glorified through another, all of us are glorified!

Being jealous, as our biblical characters are today, being led by fear, is completely irrational because another person’s gain is not our loss if we’re in this together.

But ultimately, I think there’s something more to this, something even more contrary to what it means to be Christian. If jealousy is a result of fear, a fear of losing something, why would we as Christians every have something to be jealous of? What could we possibly fear losing? As followers of Christ, we are a people who claims to give up all that we have, willingly—to leave everything behind, die to ourselves, and follow Christ from death to life. We are a people that follows a man who lost everything—his reputation, dignity, authority to teach, and even his life—and who calls us to do the same for his sake. The central teaching of our faith is that in losing all that we have, including our lives, we actually gain more than we can ever imagine. The very essence of Christianity is about giving up, about losing what we we have.

And so I ask again: what could there ever be to make us jealous? There is no reason to fear losing what we have, of letting fear weigh us down or cause us to do something reckless. These are the worries of the world, the worries of those who want to hold on to what they have rather than give it up to follow Christ. If Jesus Christ is truly who he says he is, then losing everything we have is actually the best thing that could ever happen to us.

Do not fear what others may take away from you. Focus on what Christ gives you in return for not caring when it’s gone.

The following is my homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

I’ll never forget the first time I held a sparkler. While they don’t interest me much now, they were so amazing when I was little. To see the bright light, the sparks going everywhere, the crackling sound; you could write your name or just stare at the light show right in front of you. I’ll never forget the first time I held a sparkler… because it did not go very well. You see, I was little, five or six, I don’t know, and when I saw all the older kids playing with one I begged my parents to hold it myself. Knowing it was dangerous, my mom made me promise that I would not touch the end. “You need to be very careful. Hold it like this,” she said. She must have told me three times. “Sure, sure, uh huh, I’ll be careful I promise. Can I have one, please please please??”

I’m sure you can see where this is going…

To be fair, I was very careful…. while it was lit. I didn’t touch the sparks, I didn’t put it in my pocket, didn’t attack anyone with it. In fact, I waited until it was completely out… to get distracted and grab the hot end with my other hand.

Yeah… not the greatest childhood memory.

But really, how many times did we do things like that when we were kids? We were told over and over to be careful—not to run in the house, not to drink juice in the living room, to be gentle with our younger siblings—only to have it end in an unfortunate way. How many times did we hear our parents say, “how many times have I told you?” As children, sometimes, we can be a bit foolish.

And now, I find that to be an interesting world, “foolish.” We hear it proclaimed today in both the first and second readings, a call not to be foolish but to be wise. I find it interesting because it says nothing about how smart we are, doesn’t imply malicious intent; it’s the sort of word that we use when someone knows the right thing to do, is able to do it, but gets so distracted by something unimportant that they end up doing something careless. Being foolish is being told over and over not to touch the end of a sparkler, not to run in the house, to be gentle… knowing that bad things can happen, and yet still getting get burned, knocking something over, or hurting someone.

Of course… being foolish is not limited to being a child, is it? Adults, sadly, can be just as foolish, and this is the danger that the people of the Gospel face today. You can almost hear Jesus’ frustration growing. Here he has been preaching all day about how he is the bread of life come down from heaven. Over and over he has said this—he even performed a miracle and fed five thousand people—and the people still do not believe. “How many times do I have to tell you? I am the bread of life. Unless you come to me, you will have no life within you.” I do not suspect that these were bad people; I don’t think that they were intentionally denying the divinity of Christ, the power of the Eucharist, the life-giving nature of the resurrection. No… they were just being foolish. The answer was right in front of them, but they were too focused on the wrong things—just too distracted—to accept what Jesus was saying and to do something about it.

And it makes me wonder. Here we are, having heard some variation of this Gospel for four straight weeks now, some variation of Jesus proclaiming that he is the bread of life, the life-giving food, the grace of God given to us in bodily form—how many times we have heard this message! And yet, I’m left wondering whether it’s truly sunk in. Having heard these words for four weeks now, I wonder if they have changed our lives… or if they haven’t just become like the words of our parents telling us to be careful, words that go in one ear and out the other without catching our attention or changing our actions, words that we hear but don’t actually lead us to act wisely. “Yeah, sure sure, bread of life, of course, Jesus from heaven.”

Some many find these readings a bit repetitious, maybe even a bit boring, but not me. I have to say… I actually love hearing it over and over again. I’m not sure about you, but I can be a bit hardheaded in my faith. Sometimes, I need to hear something over and over until it clicks, until I actually start to believe what I’m saying, until I actually start to live what I’m believing. Sometimes it takes two, three, even four times or more for me to do what’s right.

I think of how many times I went to mass over the years, heard the word proclaimed, ate the bread of life… but left the same way I came in. It was right in front of me, but I foolishly didn’t even notice it.

I think of how many times I’ve said yes to God, yes to following God’s will, being a good Christian, yes to turning my life around… only to forget the path I was on and fall short. The path was clear and easy to follow, but I foolishly took another path.

I think of how many times we as a Church have asked the world to trust us, proclaimed ourselves to be a people of truth and love… only to have more scandals, more coverups, more revelations of devastating systems of sin be brought to light. We were entrusted with such an amazing responsibility for the sake of the world, but now the world simple sees us as fools.

How frustrating this can be for us, feeling so foolish.

And yet, despite all of this, how many times has God continued to call our name?
How many times has God continued to give us everything we could ever need?
How many times has God continued to wait patiently while we were acting foolishly?

I tell you, I love these readings. I love being reminded over and over and over again of the power of Christ to give new life where there is nothing but death because it shows me how patient God is with us even when we’re foolish. It shows me that when something is important, God isn’t just going to give up on us and let us get away just because we weren’t listening. It gives me hope that even if I have fallen short before, even if I have let my friends, my Church, and even myself down, even if our Church has let the world down over and over again, there is still time to say yes today. There is still time to start again today and make things right. There is still time to accept Jesus as the bread of life come down from heaven and to let him live in and through us in everything that we do.

Because truly, with God, it doesn’t matter how many times we’ve been told not to touch the sparkler but did anyway.
It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve heard what was true and didn’t listen.
And in a way, it doesn’t even matter how many times we’ve let people down. We can’t change the past.

All that matters is that we have today, this very moment, to finally choose wisdom over foolishness, to begin to right what is wrong, and to say yes to God with all our heart.