Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bear Fruit

Today's Gospel is a story that highlights the contradictions within our faith - cut something off so that it can grow back better, stronger, fuller, more purposeful. Pare down so that abundance can issue forth from our simplicity. Be made strong in our weakness. Find joy in pain, hope in suffering and life in death. Receive mercy even though we are wholly underserving. 

Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree that bears no fruit. The master, seeing that it is barren, tells the gardener to cut it down. In a last ditch effort, the gardener pleads for just one more chance to prune it, tend its soil, nurture it and see if then it may bear fruit. If after one year the tree remains fruitless, the gardener begs, then it can be removed.

While not to further a centuries old debate about the hierarchy between faith and works, Jesus clearly states in today's Gospel that our faith must produce fruit. Our works must clearly mark our faith. Faith without works is dead ("So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." -James 2:17).

During this Lenten season let us take advantage of the Master affording us one more chance at rebirth, one more chance for pruning to spur growth.

This Lent, let us become who we were created to be. Let us, like the fig tree, bring the fruit into the world that only we can bring. Each of us has been made for a specific purpose, a fruit that is unique to our tree. May our efforts to prune so as to produce more fruit not be in vain - let our fasting not lead to a slimmer physique but a transformed spirit. May our prayer fill not us with righteousness but to the recognition of our need for a Savior. May our almsgiving not give us earthly accolades but a more generous heart. 

The pruning is only a worthwhile horticultural technique only if it brings new life. Similarly, our prayer, fasting and almsgiving create nothing more than a spiny branch if they fail to make the world a little better through our actions. For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:26).

To paraphrase Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, our past is dead and gone. Our future is still being forged. We have only today. Let's get to work, work that bears fruit.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Mountaintop

I've used the term "mountaintop" in faculty meetings to describe those moments, specifically while on retreat and/or during high points of our year, that fill us with energy, passion, conviction and inspiration. Basking in the light while on the mountain fills us with hope and joy. Like the apostles in today's Gospel, we would like to stay there forever. 

We've seen His glory. We've experienced His transforming power. But, we've also realized that we do not, and in this world cannot, stay on the mountain. 

We have not been called to stay there; those deemed worthy to ascend to the heights are simultaneously called to descend to the pits and valleys and point, lead, guide and assist others to the mountaintop.

Oftentimes, we find this work arduous. Challenges abound. Setbacks occur. The ascent is fraught with difficult footing, conditions, and passages. Discouragement mounts. Doubt clouds our perspective, making it seem as though making it back to top is not only impossible but also pointless. 

As His disciples we must keep the memory of our mountaintop experiences at the forefront of our minds. We must guard these moments within our hearts and not allow anything or anyone to steal them from us. Using applied optimism, we must recollect the energy, passion, conviction and inspiration found on the mountaintop and tap into it in moments of darkness and despair. The hope of restoration should propel us back to the peak. 

We were not made for comfort; we were made for greatness. Greatness isn't easy. It involves hard work, hard work that we can do. 

There is a line from the second part of the Eucharistic prayer that states, "giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you." As ministers of Catholic education, God has held us worthy to be in His presence and minister to Him through our work at Incarnation Catholic School. He has deemed us worthy to join in His Passion. Let us always give Him thanks for this, no matter how long the journey, no matter how heavy the cross. 

For if He has found us worthy to join in carrying His cross, we are also worthy of participating in His death and Resurrection. 

Both the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion take place on the top of a mountain. We can't have one without the other. So, let us not count the cost. Let us not worry. Let us not doubt. 

Let us ascend with hope. Let us the mountaintop!

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Recently, I listened to a podcast on work by Fr. Mike Schmitz:

In it, Fr. Mike cited some statistics about work within our country.

First, we will work over 90,000 hours in our lives.

Second, only about 10% of the workforce feel engaged by their work. About 60% are not engaged by work. The final 30% are not only not engaged but they are openly hostile toward their work. 

Third, Fr. Mike presented a Catholic, biblical theology of work and how we were made for labor. In order for this labor to be a gift from God, though, a few criteria must be met:

1. Our work is connected to a goal. 
2. Our work has a meaningful purpose. 
3. Our work involves some sort of creative autonomy.

In light of these three criteria, I considered whether or not our work environment at ICS meets those three requirements in order for work to be worthwhile. Furthermore,  I reflected on how many of us would fall into the top tier of the breakdown of how employees view their work. 

While I don't doubt the accuracy of the study, I would imagine it inherently difficult to isolate the factors contributing to our self-assessment of our view of work. In some cases, we may lower our appreciation of work because of factors outside of the atmosphere of the working environment. 

But, in reflecting on these aspects of Catholic, biblical work, I would argue that ICS meets all three. Our mission is in the forefront of all that we do - keep with our tradition, inspire disciples of Christ, challenge life-long learners, and strive to serve. Furthermore, our goals of educating, catechizing and evangelizing could not be more noble or simple. Finally, opportunities to create within our work - lesson plans, activities, assessments, after school activities, extracurricular events - abound. 

So, if we meet these criteria, why might we fall into either the 60% or 30% of people in America that are either unengaged or hostile toward their work? Part of what I feel may hold one back is an unwillingness and/or inability to articulate an answer to the WHY do they do what they do to themselves and to their coworkers. Additionally and similarly, we may become righteous and bitter in feeling that not everyone is ascribing to the same motivations, purposes, and opportunities. We can fall into the trap of allowing our human weaknesses and frailty to distract us from our goals, mission, and freedom to create. "I'm not appreciated", "No one notices how hard I work", "I'm the only one who cares" are feelings that create bitterness, resentment and despair. These, in turn, can lead to hostility. 

Figure out your why and your how will be filled with new energy, passion and conviction.  

We have the awesome opportunity at ICS to not only co-create with God through our ministries but to also co-redeem. 

Our work is sacred because our Creator is a Worker. When we work in the way that He does - with others, for others and autonomously - we, too, become sacred. 

Our work is holy because our Savior desires for us to bring ourselves, our students, our families and each other closer to Him. 

Our work is redemptive because our Redeemer is establishing His kingdom on earth because of what we do at ICS.

Be inspired. Be blessed. Be bold. Be Catholic.

Fight for joy and for your work.

The time is now. 

Let us begin.   

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Lower Your Nets

The Annual Pastoral Appeal is our diocese's yearly effort to generate funds for programs at the diocesan level such as the Office of Schools and Centers, tuition assistance, legal counsel from diocesan attorneys, support for our seminarians, retired priests, social services, outreach ministries, and many others.

In short, your donation to APA helps our Church bring mercy and hope to our local and broader communities. 

If you've given in the past, thank you for your support. We hope that we can once again count on your pledge this year.

If you haven't given before or maybe not in a while, we hope that you will prayerfully consider doing so this year. 

With an assessment of just over $240,000 for this year, Incarnation Catholic Church has the wonderful opportunity to play a large role in being instruments of God's mercy and hope through our support of the diocesan level programs and initiatives funded with APA dollars. 

So maybe you've given before to APA, maybe you always give, maybe you've never given and never will. Whatever your situation, I can't assume to know where you are right now financially or more important spiritually. I don't know why you're here today - be it obligation, desperation , inspiration or adoration. I don't know your heart. But, it is to your heart that I'd like to speak this morning. I pray that the Holy Spirit may speak through me and that He would open the doors of your hearts so that you might hear His message today.  

In today's Gospel Jesus encourages the apostles to, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” I propose that this is His command to all of us today as it pertains to APA. 

Put out into the deep water and lower your net for a catch. 

Maybe today the deep water is the incredible transforming work that is only made possible through the programs supported through APA. Think of the teachers across our diocese who receive professional development through APA funds. The students in our Catholic schools that receive tuition assistance and can attend one of our Catholic schools because of your donation. The seminarians that are formed and educated and who will be one day, God willing, shepherding us because of APA. Migrant workers that are offered social services.  Retired priests - the Church's faithful servants - that are provided for through APA. Medical services, legal representation and advice, prison ministry - all are made possible when we put out into the deep water.  

God is calling us out into this deep water. He is calling you to be a part of this transforming, live giving, merciful, hopeful, redeeming work. 

"Put out into the deep!"

And in addition to this encouragement to meet Him in these deep waters, He is also calling us to lower our nets. Maybe today those nets are our prayers. Maybe today those nets are our financial donations. Maybe today those nets involve our time or talent in an Incarnational way - for us to actually get involved with one of these ministries. However feeble any of those may be - however weak the net - God is still calling us to lower it. Like the disciples, especially Peter, we may doubt the success of the cast. What good can my prayers do? How will the few dollars that I think I can actually give make any sort of difference? Like the disciples, today we may be responding, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing." 

God is calling us to lower our net...for a catch.

So, like Peter continues, let us cast it anyway, "But at your command I will lower the nets." It's not for us to deny Jesus the opportunity to transform our bread and wine into His Body and Blood. It's not for us to sit on our five loaves and two fish and assume that it's too small for Jesus to turn it into something that could feed 5,000. We know this story and ever other miracle - don't doubt that those miracles continue to occur because they do every time we step up and out in faith in service of the Gospel.  

Meet God in the deep waters of APA today. Cast your net - whatever that is and however meek and humble it may be, because once we go out into the deep waters and have the courage to cast our net, we must faithfully expect that the catch will be plentiful beyond measure. Today's Gospel continues:

When they had done this - that is - put out into the deep and lower the nets - they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them. 
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.

Put out into the deep, friends. God is not on the safety of the shore and He did not make you for the comforts of sandy beaches - He made you for the greatness of the open waters. 

Cast your nets, friends. Use the gifts, talents, treasure and graces entrusted to you to make this world a better place. Prayerfully consider what that is and how God is calling you to play a part in His story of redemption through APA this year. Be faithful; God will be successful.  

There are envelopes in the pews. Take one and pray about how God is calling you to be an instrument of mercy and hope through APA this year. Feel free to cast it in the collection basket this morning with your pledge or even donation. In advance, we thank you for your support of the Annual Pastoral Appeal and I thank you for your time and attention this morning. 

Put out into the deep water and cast your net for a catch

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