In this week’s Catholicism in Focus I share about the official common prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office.) It is an ancient prayer that people of faith have been praying for more than 2500 years, and is something that holds the Christian community in prayer throughout the day.

It is also a prayer that many people find a bit complicated to pray at first, especially if doing it alone.

Have no fear! There are many ways to pray it that can simplify the experience. The easiest is simply to download one of the many apps and pray directly on your phone or tablet. iBreviary is an app created by the Franciscans and all proceeds support the Holy Land. To pray this, all one has to do is select the particular hour and read (everything is laid out for you!)

If you prefer a paper version, there are three variations: a shorter Christian prayer book (just one week cycle of Morning and Evening prayer), the one-volume breviary (the whole four-week psalter of morning and evening prayer, feasts, propers, and abbreviated versions of the other hours), or the full four-volume breviary (complete with everything and everything!) Guides can be purchased alongside these books to ensure that you are on the right page and doing the right prayers (although be sure to buy the guide that matches the version of breviary you are using!)

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.

This is not click bait. In this video, I legitimately discourage people from becoming priests.

Why? Because some people shouldn’t become priests.

In the midst of a priest crisis sweeping much of the world, the idea of discouraging people from becoming priests might sound rather strange, but let me remind you that quantity is not the same as quality. In my years of formation, I attended two different seminaries, went on plenty of inter-community retreats, engaged with seminarians from all around the world. In that time, I met some truly remarkable people who inspired me to be a better priest. I also met some men that sent shivers down my back.

It should not surprise you that there are men in seminary who want to be a priest for the wrong reasons; there are men in seminaries who will grow up to be horrible pastors, scattering the flock and causing damage to people’s faith. While I make no claims as to how prevalent these issues are, I can ensure you that there are seminarians who do not want to work, who have an inflated sense of self, who believe that they are a gift to the Church and so should be treated like princes, who are more concerned with appearances and perks than they are with prayer and penance.

This will not do.

The priesthood is not a right. Being ordained is not something anyone deserves. Just because certain areas might be desperate for priests does not mean that anyone will do. In fact, the existence of lazy, egotistical, princes in rectories and seminaries might actually do more harm turning people away from the Church than the sacraments will attract. I suspect that having only 10 holy and hardworking men dedicated to the mission of Christ would do more to inspire a nation and rebuild the Church than 1000 men in it for the wrong reasons.

It’s not about the numbers. We can never get caught up in that. Quantity does not replace quality. What we need are not more priests, but better ones. Dedicated ones. Holy ones.

If that’s not what you’re looking for, then as my professor told us, “We don’t need you.” It might sound harsh, but it’s the truth. We need more than warm bodies.

We need pastors. Are you willing to lay down your life for others? Are you willing to give up your own time, comfort, reputation, opinions, and authority in order to serve the people of God? If so, you are exactly what the Church needs.

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Long-time readers/listeners/watchers will know that I am always up for a journey. I absolutely love road trips, hopping on a plane, visiting new places. Wanderlust is real, and I suffer from it.

Of course, one need not actually leave their house to go on a journey. With art and entertainment, we can be transported to anywhere in the world, living vicariously through the protagonist of an epic adventure. It is for this reason that the motif of “quests” or “journeys” are so popular.

This week on Everyday Liminality, Br. Tito and I discuss our favorite journeys in movies, offering our take on why they are so popular and what they can teach us.