God’s Not Dead was one of the “Christian” movies this year. It’s about a young man whose atheist professor begins every freshman philosophy class by having the students sign a declaration that God is Dead. Josh (Shane Harper) refuses to sign the paper, and finds himself having to argue before his classmates that God’s not dead. The consequences change his own life and the lives of others. Given the name of the movie, it will come as no surprise who wins the debate. After considerable reflection, I give this movie a thumbs down.

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Advent, 3rd Sunday. America has lost hope. The Catholic Church has lost hope. Advent is a season full of hope. What do are readings have to offer about hope? “The one who calls you is faithful; he also will accomplish it.

Our hope does not rest in ourselves, but in God. When we look back we see that God has already been working on our past, turning tragedies to blessings and dead-ends to new beginnings. This gives us the confidence to look forward knowing that God will take care of our future.

Spend time this advent season reflecting back on where you and God have been together. Pause and begin to see the pattern of God’s work in your lives. If you haven’t started already, begin praying grace before and after meals. There is one among you whom you do not recognize.

A pregnant woman is a sign of hope. She reminds us that our struggles won’t last forever and they are worth it. When I can’t, God can, and He will, and He is. God’s already got this, just like the last time.

(14 Dec 2014)

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December 9, 1531, Bishop Juan de Zumarraga received an unusual visitor at his Bishop’s palace in Mexico City. The Spanish conquistadores firmly held the reins of power, having conquered the Aztecs and ended the pagan worship and human sacrifice. They were not kind to the newly conquered Aztecs. The Bishop’s visitor was one of the few converts to embrace the new religion. His name was Cuauhtlatoatzin (“talking eagle”), but he had taken the name Juan Diego at his baptism. Speaking through an interpreter, the native claimed to have seen a beautiful woman who was the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God. She wanted the Bishop to build a shrine on the particular hill outside of town. The Bishop was skeptical and said he would think it over. He sent the native away.

The next day, Juan Diego was back and insisting even more on his message. Bishop told him it was not enough to hear the message; he needed to see a sign. A day or two went by and then the native returned again. He was carrying something folded up in his tilma (a blanket woven of cactus fiber and tied at the shoulder like a cape). He announced that he had seen the lady just as before, and this time she had bid him cut some roses growing on the hill. He opened his tilma and the roses spilled out on the floor. But the sign was more than flowers. There on the fabric appeared an image of the woman herself. The Bishop knelt down in worship, and then went with Juan Diego to find the spot to build the church. Juan Diego took up residence there and for the rest of his life told and re-told the miraculous story. Within a few short years, over 5 million natives were baptized.

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Advent, 2nd Sunday. Here comes your God with power — to scoop you up in his strong arms! We should repent so we are ready for His coming. What do we have to repent from? Our love of money and things. People are more important than things. We should love people and use things, but we get it backwards. More to the point, we trust money to provide us with power, security, and even our sense of self-worth. We love God but we trust money.

We pass the basket in church because the Good News tells us we don’t need a tight grip on our things. We can trust God and let go of money. There’s another reason too. It wouldn’t be a real friendship if we always received but never gave. Yet in our relationship with God, we expect Him to give. We need to give too. God wants us to offer our lives to Him. We place our joys and struggles on the altar as a gift of love. God blesses them and makes them so much more. Our true security does not come from what we have but from who we are: beloved sheep in the arms of our mighty and gentle shepherd.

(7 Dec 2014)

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Advent, 1st Sunday. Vigilate! It means to stay awake and watch. What are we watching for? First, to keep out unsavory characters. How often have we let in distractions and kept out the Lord? Spend some more time in prayer this Advent season, and pray about what Christmas activities truly matter. Second, we are watching for our Lord. His blessings all around us and as close as our dinner plate. Try starting the habit of Grace Before Meals this Advent season. Watch and see God’s blessings unfold before your very eyes.

(30 Nov 2014)

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The Top 10 Homilies of 2014

Last year’s podcast “album” was called Search Party. It was meant to focus our attention on the lost sheep who had wandered away from God. The album artwork showed four sheep and one was straying. Each homily had a little featured image that was a sheep on a colored background that matched the liturgical color of Mass. I’ll probably never again give that much attention to podcast artwork! As I reflected back on the past year I felt that a few homilies stood out above the rest. Without further ado, here are what I consider to be the best of 2014.

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The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The Kingdom of Christ was meant for us: we are princes and princesses in the Kingdom of God our Father. Our Father’s greatest desire is that we come home to His Kingdom. He fills our life with opportunities to enter the kingdom. What do these opportunities look like? Hungry mouths, thirsty neighbors, strangers in our midst, homeless and naked, and prisoners in our prisons. Be open to receive these great opportunities, because the King won’t forget.

(23 Nov 2014)

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—– Part 3 of 3 —–

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19)

The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine. (Code of Canon Law 1176 §3)

Last week I shared about my Grandmother’s funeral. We chose to have her funeral Mass celebrated in her local parish church, with a brief open-casket visitation before the service and a burial at the cemetery following the service. Sometimes loved ones express that they “don’t want any fuss” or “just do it all at the funeral home.” But this isn’t really what is best for them or for us. When they get to the other side, they will see more clearly the good reasons behind our ancient traditions. The funeral is not a time to get too creative; the old customs work best. This is especially true when it comes to cremation. The Catholic Church permits cremation, but the ashes of the deceased have to be buried in consecrated ground or in a mausoleum.

I was meeting with a family to prepare for a funeral and they told me they wanted to scatter Mom’s ashes. I asked them, “What would it mean?” They told me, “Well, it means that it’s over, and she’s free now, and she can be one with nature and the universe.” I answered, “There’s the problem. What you have just said completely contradicts your Catholic faith.”

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Ordinary Time, 33rd Sunday. In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, the nations will be separated into sheep and goats based on how the they treat “the least brothers of mine”, namely Christians. How then will the Christians be judged? The answer is today’s reading, also from Matthew 25. A man goes on a journey and gives his servants 5, 2, or 1 talent. A talent is a large sum of money; even the man who only got 1 talent still had a lot to work with. The difference is not the quantity but the attitude. The last servant is motivated by fear; he’s trying not to go to hell. Fear paralyzes the servant and he proves himself unworthy of the investment.

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