The following is my homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

I know that there are many people in the world that do not believe in miracles, but I had one happen to me last week. It involved ice cream.

Okay, so maybe not the “serious” of miracles, but a miracle nonetheless!

As some of you may know, I have a pretty big sweet tooth. I absolutely love chocolate, cookies, cakes, everything. I love them so much that I know I cannot have them around otherwise I would eat them constantly, and sooner or later look like a Franciscan cookie jar. Generally, there are no sweets in the house. But the other night, I had a major craving for something sweet, so I went to the pantry. Nothing. I checked the fridge. Nothing. Opened the freezer. Nothing. So you know what I did? I went back to the cabinet with lower expectations. (Naturally).

I looked in the pantry again, in the refrigerator, in the freezer. I moved thing around, looked in the very back. Still nothing. About to give up, I checked one last time. Opened the pantry. Nothing. Opened the refrigerator. Nothing. I open the freezer, and I kid you not, I could not make this up, but a pint of chocolate ice cream comes rolling out. Seriously! But that’s not all. It’s not just any ice cream, but low-fat protein ice cream!

Did it taste good? No, of course not! But that’s not the point. The point is that persistence pays off; the point is that God answered my prayers; point is that I didn’t have a great story about a widow for this week… but I think it works, right? How easy it would have been for me to give up, but then I wouldn’t have had ice cream. Jesus tells us to be persistent, to not grow weary. And yet, how sad it is that sometimes we show much greater persistence when it comes to insignificant things—finding sweets—than we do for things that actually matter.

Jesus tells us in our Gospel to be persistent in our pursuit of justice, to never give up even when life seems stacked against us. There’s a reason that he chose a widow and a judge in today’s parable. You see, in his time, a widow was someone who had no standing in the world, completely at the mercy of society. She was a nobody with no rights. On the other hand, a judge was a supreme ruler, in some ways. Had the power to hold people’s lives in his hand and do what he wanted. If the judge, as it says, “neither feared God nor respected any human being,” the widow would have no chance of getting what was due to her. Justice was an illusion. You would completely understand if she gave up. What’s the use in trying? It would take a miracle, an act from God, to get the justice she deserved.

And yet, she didn’t give up. She persisted. She kept pestering him, threatening to hit him it seems. She kept going back to the fridge, even though there might have been no hope, until justice was rendered. This is what disciples of Jesus must do—live with perseverance in the face of trial. Be relentless for the work of justice.

It makes me wonder about our own situation sometimes, how powerless we feel in the face of injustice. I look to the world and see many reasons for despair, many reasons to give up hope. I am just some little, insignificant person. What different can I make?  I see war, the rich abusing the poor, multinational corporations making billions while their workers are on government assistance, abortion, polluting the environment, racism, sex-abuse crisis. All around us are powers that care nothing of God or justice. Who am I to fix any of these things? I’m a nobody. I’m nothing. I’m at the mercy of the powers that be.

It would be very easy to give up, to resign the world to injustice, to accept what’s wrong as something that will always be wrong. Jesus reminds us that even a widow can turn an unjust just to justice; even we can make a difference. Why is that? Because our God is one of justice. “Our help is from the LORD who made heaven and earth.” Our God hears the cries of the poor, hears the cries of those oppressed, and answers them. No matter how lost the cause may seem, our Lord is with us. Do not give up.

And that’s very inspirational, right? We should put that on a poster with a bald eagle flying over a lake: “Don’t give up. God is on your side.” It’s inspirational for sure, and we all know this. In times of struggle it is definitely important to remember…

But sometimes… sometimes, even when we remember this and believe this with all our hearts, it’s still just too much to handle. Sometimes our bodies just fail, sometimes, we physically, emotionally, spiritually just can’t take on the weight ourselves. It’s for those times that we have our first reading about Moses faced Amalek. We hear in Exodus that the Israelites are severely overmatched. And of course they are! They are nothing more than freed slaves going up against a mighty nation. But God, of course, is on their side, and so as long as Moses keeps his hands raised they can win. As long as he keeps faith, justice is theirs. Moses knows that all he has to do is persist and they will win. Easy, right?

Except… his arms just can’t do it. He is not strong enough on his own to save his people. He tries his hardest, but just can’t do it. Luckily, he is not alone. Seeing his weakness, Aaron and Hur come to his side, literally holding him up so that he can continue.

This, my friends, is the Church. When the task seems too heavy to carry ourselves, the burden too much to handle alone, that is when we realize that we don’t have to go alone. As builders of the kingdom, we do not seek justice by ourselves. What we are a part of here is more than just a social club, more than just an interest group—we are a family of brothers and sisters in Christ. As we take this Eucharist together, we bind each other in a covenant of blood—not just with Christ, but with each other. When you receive the body and blood of Christ and say “Amen,” you are not simply saying, “Yes, I believe that that is the true body of Christ,” you are also saying Yes, I believe that we are the body Christ, and Yes, I will be the body of Christ. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one experiences injustice, we all experience injustice. And when one finds things too difficult, when one finds themselves as a widow going up against an impossible judge, feels like Moses going up against a raging army… that is when the rest of us step in to help.

We persist… together.

That’s what it means to be a follower of Christ… that’s what it means to be Church. This week, no matter what you’re going through, know that God is on your side. No matter if it’s an important test, an issue of life or death, or merely an issue of ice cream, do not give up. And if you ever feel like you can’t do it yourself, you ever feel like you can’t go on any longer, just take a look around. You’ve got a big family here to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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On our podcast, Br. Tito and I talk all of the time about the importance of story-telling, how entertainment can be a doorway into a deeper experience of our own reality. Movies and television give us opportunities to see and hear what we may never experience in our own world, and yet, through it all, help us learn more about ourselves.

None of this is possible, quite obviously, without the actors that portray the stories. They are the vehicles to this new world. Without them, and without a good performance from them, we fail to suspend our disbelief and fail to leave our own contexts.

This week, we wanted to discuss those actors, men and women, who can tell a story. Who inspires us? Who gives us chills? Who can play any role under the sun?

One of the most common complaints waged against Catholics (and Orthodox) by Protestants is the sacrament of confession: “Why do you need to go to a priest for confession? Why can’t you go straight to Jesus?” While seemingly an easy question to dismiss (just Protestants ignoring tradition, right?) there is actually an interesting theological question at work here, not unlike the question of baptism: Is it really required? When we use that word, we’re not simply saying required for the standards of the Church, but signifying that it is the only way that it is possible for something to happen.

Surely this is not what we mean when we say that one must confess their sins to a priest.

For starters, we accept that the Eucharist is a sacrament of reconciliation, meaning that all who receive it are freed of their venial sins. So, right there, we see an exception. You don’t HAVE to confess to a priest to have your sins forgiven.

But even beyond that, as I outline in this video, the idea that confession is the only way that God can forgive a sinner is ridiculous. OF COURSE God can forgive whomever God wants whenever and however God wants. The sacraments do not bind God or limit what God can do!

Instead, it is much better to say that the sacraments are the clearest forms of God’s grace, and, the crux of the matter, the only form that offers assurance of that grace. While God can show mercy and forgiveness in an infinite number of ways, it is only through the sacraments that we can be sure that we have received it, for they are visible signs of invisible graces. You can’t miss them!

So, does someone have to go to confession to have their sins forgiven? Obviously not. And the Church doesn’t teach that. What it does teach is that, if someone wants the surety of absolution and wants to be a part of the community once more (because the community wants that assurance as well!) then there is only one ordinary means: the sacrament that Christ instituted.

The following is my homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

Growing up, I never doubted the existence of God; there was something inside of me that accepted that God was real, that Jesus performed miracles and whatnot, and so I always said my prayers, went to Church, tried to be a good person. No, I never doubted God, but I also wasn’t particularly moved by God either; I said my prayers because that’s what you’re supposed to do, went to Church because my mom made me, and tried to be a good person, well, because. I considered myself a “believer,” but really, that’s all I was. Someone who believed… but didn’t really act any differently from anyone else.

That was, until I was 16. When I was 16, I went on a retreat with my church. On one of the evenings of this retreat, I was handed a block of wood and a marker, and was told to write on that block of wood everything that was burdening me—my sins, jealousies, pains, regrets, everything that was weighing me down—and then to throw that block of wood in the bonfire.

Needless to say, this was a cathartic experience. Sitting there, I watched everything wrong with my life—all of my mistakes, my regrets, my pains, weaknesses, unrealized dream and desires—slowly burn to a crisp. In a matter of minutes, they were gone. Absolutely obliterated. While I knew that none of these problems had actually changed, that this was just a symbolic act, the symbolism struck a cord with me: in that moment, I felt, probably for the first time ever, the healing touch of Christ. That wood may just be a symbol, but that is what he actually does. He does take away our sins. He does give us strength in weakness. He does heal our wounds and give us new life. And all of those things that weigh us down, those things that burden us, those things that we feel like are so important and they’re ruining our lives… well, they really aren’t much more important than ash in the face of God.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced something like this, but it was one of the most freeing moments of my life, and the moment, I really believe, that I became a follower of Christ. I came back from that retreat a different person, a person that wanted to serve, to devote my life to God and the Church. I had felt the amazing healing power of Jesus, and I wanted to share it with everyone I met.

In many ways, my story is the most common story in the Bible. All throughout the Bible, people come to faith because they have been healed. In our readings today, we hear of two such stories.

In 2 Kings we remember Namaan, a general from a foreign nation with leprosy. There is obviously something in him that believes in the God of Israel, believes that Elisha is a prophet, otherwise he would not have traveled so far, but he is by no means a follower of this God. That is, until he is healed. Washed in the Jordan 7 times, he has done to him what no other prophet or god could do: his disease is gone, his burden is lifted. He feels the powerful, personal touch of God in his life, something that is not simply known but felt, and he is a new person. More than just a “believer,” he becomes an evangelizer! He shouts with joy, he proclaims his allegiance, and returns to tell the others of his nation. 

So it is with the Samaritan leper in the Gospel. He, too, clearly believes in Jesus to some extent, otherwise he would never have asked Jesus to heal him, but something radically changes when he realizes that he’s been healed. There is a joy that arises in him that cannot be contained, thankfulness that must be shared, and so he runs back to Jesus and falls at his feet in thanksgiving. Faith had moved from his head to his heart, taken root inside of him, and he was moved to share it. How could it stay contained?

So often, we look at conversion as a particularly intellectual exercise. We look at faith as a matter of belief in doctrines and principles, of understanding God, and so when we see the state of faith in our country, the rise of atheism, we blame it on poor catechesis. “If only they knew what I knew! If only they could be convinced of the error of their thinking. If only we could teach them all Thomas Aquinas!” Some want to respond with apologetics, with stronger arguments, that this will create more Christians.

I’m not convinced.

No, that’s not how I found faith. It’s not how Namaan or the Samaritan leper turned from their old lives. In fact, Namaan knew the Truth from the start; all ten of the Lepers believed enough to come to Jesus in the first place. I’ve heard it said that no one has ever converted to the faith because they lost an argument, and I think this is true. Facts do not move people. Mere concepts do not change lives. Love does. Feeling the personal, healing touch of God does, the touch of a God who is more than some cosmic being out “there” but an intimate, loving person who knows what we experience, who’s walked the way we’ve walked.

I don’t know why you’re here today. Maybe, you know what it’s like to be healed by God and like me, like Namaan and the Samaritan leper, you can’t help but shout with joy for what god has done for you; you’re so filled with thankfulness that it bubbles out from within. If so, that’s awesome. But maybe not. Maybe, like me as a kid, like the nine lepers who did not return, who call to Jesus from afar, you believe in God, you accept in your mind that God is real, but do not have your lives changed.

Wherever you are right now, I want to read a passage from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!

Jesus loves you. He is calling you in the night, reaching out to you, seeking to take all that burdens you and holds you back. He offers himself completely to you. This week, today, right now in the Mass, i want to encourage you to let yourself have a personal encounter with him, to let him touch you, and to never be the same.

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 In our world, there is hardly a more “visible escape from reality” than sitting down and staring at a television screen for hours on end, so engrossed in a game that the player becomes oblivious to his/her surroundings. And we’ve all heard what people say about video games. They’ll rot your brain! They cause violence! Grow up and do something productive with your life!

And maybe… there’s some truth to that. Sitting in the same spot, shutting out the world is not a great thing.

But that doesn’t mean that video games are inherently damaging. In fact, as Br. Tito and I discuss this week, we think that they can actually be quite productive… in moderation.