Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Cultivation of Saints: A Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Solemnity of All Saints

Homily
November 1, 2015


The Cultivation of Saints

The longer I live in the County, the more agrarian my outlook is becoming. I pay closer attention to the seasons. I’m interested in how the crops are doing. I get concerned about the ratio of sunlight to rain during the growing season. And I’ve been reflecting on why this is the case. I’m not a farmer, so I have no immediate or economic stake in the well-being of our farms, but there’s something wholesome and satisfying and fulfilling about driving through the countryside and seeing how it all happens. Every time I see a farmer out in his field, or a tractor driving slowly on the side of the road, it’s a simple but touching reminder to me of how God brings about great things in small ways. A simple seed is planted in the soil…it’s watered, fertilized, grown, and harvested out of the ground, giving us the food that we so desperately need to survive. It’s amazing to me just how good and how masterful of an artist God is…He’s created this world not only with such order and efficiency, but also with such great beauty. The warm bread that adorns our dinner tables first adorned the landscape as amber waves of wheat. The heaping pile of mashed potatoes first graced the country side as beautiful and vibrant blossoms. Even our steaming broccoli first colored the horizon with its deep hues. And all of this beauty, all of this goodness, it all starts as a tiny seed planted in the ground. For those of us with eyes to see, the land, the soil, unlocks a great Mystery of our God, the Masterful Artist that He is, and how He arranges the universe and orders all things for His glory and our sanctification.

Today, in the shadow of another successful harvest season, with barns and stomachs full of God’s bounty and ready to endure the trials of winter, the Church places before us an important feast day: that of All Saints. Today we commemorate all of those many men and women throughout time who have graced the land and hearts of us all with their simple beauty and sanctity. We recall today not only those who have been officially raised to the altars by canonization, but all of those – known and unknown – who figured out that the sole and full meaning of life is to live for God in Christ. They are the living wheat who adorned the fields of humanity and the grains willingly crushed to become bread for the spiritually hungry. In their simplicity, in their goodness, in their truthfulness, in their humility, in their joyfulness, in their sufferings, and in their holiness, they have shown us, as Fulton Sheen so often said, that life is worthy living if it is truly lived in Christ. For two-thousand years, countless men and women – fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles, priests, sisters, bishops, teachers, blacksmiths, bakers, seamstresses, rich, poor, young and old – have heard the call of Jesus Christ, and in their own way according to their own state, heeded His call and followed Him to their eternal homeland. They are the true salt of the earth and the light of the world. They have borne so much fruit for mankind, feeding us and nourishing us with the fruit that God’s grace produced in their own lives. But like anything that bears fruit, these holy men and women did not fall from the sky…they were planted, cultivated, grown, and harvested from the ground.

Typically when we think of the saints, we tend to imagine them as they are so often depicted in art…pristine, other-worldly, and unreachable. We ask ourselves how we could ever be as pure as St. Thérèse of Lisieux or as innocent as St. Maria Goretti. We find it impossible to think that we could have as much strength as St. Catherine of Sienna or as much courage at St. Louis, King of France. We tell ourselves that we could never be as detached as St. Francis of Assisi, as eloquent as St. Mark, as wise as St. Thomas Aquinas, or as humble as good St. Joseph. And yet every time we tell ourselves these things, every time we place the saints on unreachable pedestals, we cheat ourselves out of a proper understanding of what holiness is, what is looks like, and how it is attained. We forget that all of these holy men and women started off as we all do…as small seeds. We forget that they, like us, sprout up out of the soil, grow, and bear fruit only by the means of the light of God’s grace. Every single one of us is planted by God in the same soil and every single one of us is called to great holiness. We might never have our pictures unveiled in St. Peter’s Square, we might never be given a feast day or remembered throughout the Universal Church or given the title “saint” – but we can, and in fact we must, strive to be counted among the throngs of holy men and women known by God, who have fought the good fight, and who have attained the blessedness of His Kingdom.

The holiness of all the saints is an organic holiness…it didn’t fall from the sky, it didn’t just appear in them, it was built up over time in their souls by God’s grace and their resolve to cultivate it. The virtues that they attained – faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, courage, humility, patience, modesty, chastity – they all began as seeds to be nurtured. Their acts of love – simple or great – didn’t come from nowhere…they were the fruit of these virtues and the result of much sacrifice. This kind of holiness, when it is discovered, can unleash such great power and beauty into the world. By God’s grace this holiness is not reserved to a select few…it is available to us all. And it all begins in the ground.

For our part, following the example of all these holy men and women, we must focus now on cultivating the soil in which we find ourselves. We must allow the sweet dew of God’s grace to seep into us, allowing our roots to grow strong and deep. We must allow Christ to feed and fertilize us with His Body and Blood, giving us the nourishment we need to withstand the harsh and bitter conditions we sometimes have to endure. We must allow the Holy Spirit to prune us when we grow in ways we ought not and allow Him to weed out whatever it is that prevents our good growth. We must allow our Lady, the Queen of the Saints, to protect us with the mantle of her motherly care. And we must call upon and look towards the example of all those holy men and women who have grown out from the soil in beauty, truth, and goodness, and who have provided so much fruit for the Lord’s harvest.

Today, we give God thanks for all of His manifold blessings and we ask for a continued out-pouring of His grace into our lives and hearts, that one day, when our labors are complete, we too might be counted among those who feast for all eternity at the banquet of Lamb.




Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Story of Bartimaeus and Our Experience of Poverty: A Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Homily
October 25, 2015

Two years ago as I was walking in downtown Washington, D.C. headed to the metro station, I saw a homeless woman sitting on the sidewalk. She wasn’t begging for money or anything, she was just sitting there surrounded by what few possessions she had. It’s a common and daily part of life for those who live in Washington to encounter the poor like this, but there was something about this woman that moved me. I walked over to her, knelt down, and told her that I didn’t have any cash to give her but that I would be more than happy to bring her anywhere and buy her as much food as she wanted. As I was saying this, my own pride and self-satisfaction just completely inflated. I began thinking about what a Good Samaritan I was being, about how Christ-like I was to stop and offer this poor woman a meal. I had my collar on and so it immediately entered into my head that this little act of selflessness on my part would serve as a great witness…here I was, engaging in the New Evangelization, following the example of Pope Francis, being a loving and caring Christian. But as I was talking to her she looked at me and said, “Who said I was hungry?” And she started to cry. I stared at her and she stared back, her eyes piercing through my soul, and her heart began to speak to my heart. I thought that I stumbled upon some charity case, upon a poor woman who just needed someone to get her a meal…but the reality is, I stumbled upon a living, breathing, journeying, hurting, hopeful, sorrowful, joyful, frightened, uncertain, beautiful, loveable woman…a human person…just like any of us…just like me. This realization nearly brought me to tears right there on 20th Street in DuPont Circle. So I sat down next to her, realizing that her true poverty, her wants and her needs, was ultimately not very different from my own, and we started talking. She told me about her life, how she ended up on the street after her boyfriend had abused her, and how she felt completely discarded and unwanted by society. After a bit more time, and a lot of listening, I gave her a hug and as I was getting ready to head on my way it occurred to me that I didn’t even know her name, and so I asked. “Tracie,” she said, “with an –ie.” In this short encounter, this woman – Tracie – taught me more about humanity, about the Christian life, and about myself than I could have ever imagined.

In our Gospel today, we hear of another encounter: the encounter between Jesus and the poor blind man, Bartimaeus. The account that St. Mark gives us is moving…Bartimaeus, blind and marginalized, hears that Jesus is coming and begins to cry out to him. The passersby are embarrassed by such a display and try to shush Bartimaeus, who only cries out all the louder for Jesus. This grabs Jesus’ attention – who is being swarmed by a sizeable crowd – and He asks for Bartimaeus to be brought to him. Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants, Bartimaeus responds that He wants to see, Jesus restores his sight and they all go on their merry way. We’re sort of left with a nice warm feeling as we hear a nice story about the nice Jesus helping another person in need. But there’s more going on in this Gospel passage than meets the eye, and that’s where my own encounter with Tracie comes into play.

When I saw Tracie sitting on the sidewalk, I saw a poor person who deserved my pity and whatever food I could give her. When we hear of Jesus encountering the poor, we usually think of Him taking pity on them and fulfilling their temporal needs: food, health, etc. But the story of Bartimaeus shows us that the “poor” – as we so often and easily call them – are so much more than that. They are more than just poor people with afflictions…they are people just like the rest of us. Like you and me, each one has a story to tell and a past to share; like you and me, each one has a future to think about, to worry about, and to hope for. And like you and me, each one has needs that far surpass the things of this earth…like the need to love and to be loved, the need to forgive and to be forgiven, the need to hear and to be heard…the need to be shown mercy, the need for faith and hope, and the need for the gift of God’s grace.

Notice that when St. Mark introduces Bartimaeus to us, he immediately tells us his name and where he comes from. This man, this poor blind beggar, is Bartimaeus, which in Hebrew literally means the son of Timaeus. He is someone’s child, a unique person, his own man, and so much more than a charity case. When Jesus encounters him, He immediately knows what’s going on in this man’s life. He knows he’s blind, he knows he’s poor, he knows he’s downtrodden, but the Divine Son of God Who knows all dignifies this man by asking him what he wants. “Master, I want to see,” Bartimaeus replies. Perhaps this was the first time in his life anyone ever asked him what he wanted. No doubt, in his poor state, people threw scraps of food at him. No doubt, in his poor state, he was shown various acts of kindness by well-meaning people. But had anyone ever dared to see beyond his poor state and to see in him a living, breathing, journeying, hurting, hopeful, sorrowful, joyful, frightened, uncertain, beautiful, loveable man? That’s what makes his encounter with Jesus so incredible…Jesus didn’t see a poor blind man, He saw Bartimaeus. And because He saw Bartimaeus and not a poor blind man, He was able to offer him so much more than physical sight. Creator and creature, God and man, Jesus and Bartimaeus became one with each other that day, and the result was faith, love, and eternal life.

As I was riding back on the metro after my encounter with Tracie, I realized how easily and often I have objectified the “poor.” At times I’ve given them food or money, but what I didn’t give was the risky gift of my own love, of the love of God that dwells in me. Tracie didn’t want from me what I was willing to give her…Tracie wanted and needed from me precisely what I so often hold back. And she held me accountable for that. She begged not for my money, but for me to dare to see her as she really is.

The goal of the Christian life, after loving God, is to see ourselves and each other as He sees us: in truth. He is constantly calling us to look beyond appearances, to lay aside our stereotypes, and to gaze upon His people with the same mad, passionate love that He has. It’s not enough to do good things or to be kind towards people or to write checks for charities or to volunteer at homeless shelters…He calls us to radical, selfless love. This means daring to encounter the Tracies and the Bartimaeuses of our lives and to give them our love.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once praised for the extraordinary work that she and the Missionaries of Charity were doing to alleviate poverty and to improve the lives of the poor of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was annoyed by this praise, not because of her humility, but because it demonstrated an inadequate understanding of her work. She said, “I am not a social worker. I don’t do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the Church…Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus. The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”

Today, as we approach the fount of love that springs from this altar, we pray for the grace to listen carefully in our own lives to the cries of Bartimaeus, of Tracie, of Christ Himself present in His people. And we pray for the grace to be able to see them as they are and to be seen by them as we are, to love them as they are and to be loved by them as we are. 


Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Power of Rejection and Underestimation - A Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Homily
September 13, 2015

The Power of Rejection and Underestimation

Maybe you’re the newest employee at your company. Maybe you struggle with a learning disability. Maybe you’re getting older and things just aren’t working like they used to. Maybe you’re the youngest priest in the Diocese. Maybe you’re the shortest kid on the basketball team. Maybe you’re the textbook definition of the youngest child. Wherever you’ve come from, whatever life has thrown your way, I’d be willing to bet that everyone here has had, at one point or another, the experience of being underestimated. We all know what it feels like, don’t we? Our onlookers, our coworkers, our classmates, our teammates, even our families, perceive some kind of a short-coming in us and lower their expectations…and it stings. Think of the kid at the baseball game going up to bat…the outfielders take one look at his scrawny arms and yell, “Move in!” Or the middle-aged, unattractive woman who gets on the stage to sing for Britain’s Got Talent while everyone in the audience rolls their eyes and yawns. To be underestimated is like getting punched in the stomach…it’s a dull, but lingering pain that takes the air, and the life, right out of you. Often times, through the support of friends and loved ones, we are able to get back up and continue…but sometimes, the experience of being underestimated can leave us feeling worthless and unwanted for life.

The more I think about this dynamic, the more I’m convinced that the real pain we experience when we are underestimated has less to do with being knocked down a few pegs or not being seen to be as great as we thought, and much more to do with rejection. When we conceive of and identify ourselves almost entirely by our skills and capabilities, failure or the perception of failure in anything we do translates to a failure of self. And this is where things really begin to hurt. It’s not that we can’t simply hit a ball, or sing, or run fast, or whatever…it’s that our perceived or real inability to do these things means that we are somehow worth less than others, that we are sidelined and marginalized and rejected. Underestimation becomes just another ingredient in the greater identity crisis that we all have as human beings.

With all of this in mind, think about what’s happening in today’s Gospel. Jesus is checking in with His disciples and He wants to know how He’s being perceived by others. We can tell from the broader context of Mark’s Gospel that the answer is not good. In chapter 3 we hear that the crowds say that Jesus is “out of His mind” and that the scribes and Pharisees say he is “possessed by Beelzebul” and that “by the prince of demons He drives out demons.” Others have been both astounded and confused by all the many things He’s been saying and doing…they think he’s a magician, a sage, or one of the Prophets come back from the dead. So when Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” you can imagine their hesitancy in wanting to answer. Though the disciples, in the person of Peter, are able to respond that Jesus is indeed the Christ, they know that the majority of people think He’s crazy, evil, or a zombie. Talk about the ultimate experience of underestimation. This isn’t just everyone thinking that Timmy can’t hit a ball because he’s small…this is creation failing to recognize the Creator, darkness failing to see light, man failing to respond to God Himself. I’d be willing to bet that if any of us were in Jesus’ shoes, we’d rise up in anger and exclaim, “I’ll show them!” I mean, isn’t this our typical response to the rejection that comes with underestimation? We want to prove the naysayers wrong. Or, we'd fall into some kind of depression. And yet neither of these responses are even remotely close to what Jesus does.

Instead of talking about revenge, or showing people what’s what and what He’s capable of, or making a grand and obvious display of His divinity, Jesus immediately begins to take ownership of His rejection and the underestimation He’s experiencing. He doesn’t bemoan or complain…in fact, He tells His disciples that all of this will eventually result in His death, a reality that He openly embraces. And He’s not sad, or devastated, or depressed either – He is as strong and confident as ever. This is mind-boggling to us…it doesn’t seem to make sense! No wonder Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him…probably saying something to the effect of, “Come on, Jesus, snap out of it! Don’t be a defeatist! Let’s show these guys Who You really are and what You’re made of!” But the stark and haunting words of Jesus should calm us down just as they did Peter: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

This whole episode should cause us to take a deep breath, step back, and re-evaluate ourselves, our lives, and our identities. How much effort do we spend trying to be liked, and appreciated, and admired, and loved by others? How much of our time is spent trying to avoid rejection and trying to win the esteem of the crowds? The more we focus on ourselves, the more we will attempt to use others to feel good about ourselves. But Jesus shows us a completely different way. He invites us, by His own example, to be okay with the experience of rejection and underestimation. He invites us to experience these realities and to strongly and confidently endure them, because when we do, they unleash a great power. They become opportunities for us to get over ourselves, to shed our selfishness, and to grow in true humility. Along with Christ, the rejection and underestimation that we experience in the here and now can lead us to the Cross, where we can die to ourselves so that others might live. Jesus was not interested in using the crowds for their praise and glory and love, even though He above all deserve these things…He was more interested in loving them and in dying for them so that they might have life.

Unlike the divine Son of God, our death to self does not objectively effect the redemption of the human race…but it certainly participates in it.  By dying to ourselves, we become free…free from the shackles of pride, and vanity, and self-interest...free from any obsessive need to draw attention to ourselves…free from the exhausting work of trying to get others to love us. And by dying to ourselves, we become free to love more totally and recklessly than ever before. We have the freedom to spend our time in a soup kitchen rather than in front of a mirror. We have the freedom to become lost in prayer rather than in a shopping mall. We have the freedom to listen to another’s heartache rather than wondering when we get to share ours. Ironically and paradoxically, the rejection and underestimation that we feel unjustly deprives us of love can become, in Christ, the very means by which we learn to love as He loves.

So the next time life presents us with a rejection – however big or small; the next time someone underestimates our capabilities or thinks less of us than we deserve…we should enter into the experience and not run away from it. We should allow it to chip away at any lingering pride and offer it all to Christ on His Cross. Then we listen closely as He teaches us how our death to self can bring life and love beyond all imagining: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"I'm Spiritual, but not Religious" - A Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Homily
August 30, 2015

One of the great things about being a priest is that I get to meet many different people from many different walks of life. Baptisms, weddings, and funerals all bring the friends and relatives of our parishioners to church when they otherwise wouldn’t come, and it’s often the case that I’m afforded an opportunity to speak briefly to them about where they’re from, what they do, and all sorts of other things. And it’s often the case, without my ever having to ask, that they’ll tell me something about their faith background, like: “I’m a Methodist” or “I’m Jewish” or “I don’t go to church very often, even though I should.” But, by far, the most common thing I hear is, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” I hear this so often that it’s become cliché…and I’m sure you’ve heard it yourselves before. Now while, in some sense, I get what people are trying to say with this phrase, I can’t help but think that it’s completely off-base. It proposes as a given that spirituality and religion are separate realities that may coincide, but not necessarily or even usually. Spirituality is seen as freeing and open, whereas religion is seen as restricting and oppressive. Spirituality is seen as one’s private journey to God, whereas religion is seen as institutional. Spirituality is seen other-worldly and transcendent and mysterious, whereas religion is seen as cultic and immanent. These ideas have been so engrained in our culture and in society, and yet they have very little truth in them. And because the modern world itself espouses the values typically associated with spirituality rather than religion, it’s easy for the unthinking and unreflective person to simply go along with the crowd and cast aside the notion of religion altogether. But when we instead cast aside the rhetoric and semantics and the clichés that we so easily take for granted, when we get right down to it, as human beings we have to admit that we need both spirituality and religion. This is what St. James shows us in our second reading today and this is what our Lord shows us in the Gospel: spirituality without religion is formless and useless, and religion without spirituality is corrupt and dead. Let’s unfold this a bit.

St. James says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The word that St. James uses here that we translate as ‘religion’ is “threskeia” – which means worship that is outwardly evident. In the ancient world, and certainly at the time of Christ, the worship of God required both an inward intention and an outward action: in other words, one had to ritualize his or her love of God. This was done through audible prayer, the singing of songs, and the offering of sacrifices. Now if we think about it, this is extremely intuitive to us…we know that the love we offer each other cannot simply be an inner disposition – it must be displayed in various and diverse ways. We don’t just think or feel love inwardly for our husbands or wives or children or friends…we show it to them. We give them gifts, we write them poems, we do good things for them, we tell them “I love you,” and we also engage in external rituals that continually communicate our love: a hug, a kiss, a smile. Love must be displayed and enfleshed…if it’s not, if it’s formless, then there’s a huge disconnect and objectively speaking no real love. This is essentially what St. James is getting at with the word “religion” – it means the inward love we have for God externalized and made visible. And because God has revealed Himself not just to individuals, but to “a people,” these outward acts of love, of worship, had to be communal. It wasn’t enough for someone to escape into the woods and worship God on his or her own…they had to do so with the community, with the people of God. This is what it means to be religious – to regularly and continuously offer to God an external and enfleshed sign of our adoration and love of Him, both individually and with others.

But we know that when people come together to do anything, chaos can easily develop. Different ideas, different values, and different ways of looking at things require that some kind of structure be utilized to bring order and harmony to the activity. Road construction, a restaurant kitchen, a courtroom, the family dinner table…anything that involves more than two people is going to require some kind of standardization. And when it comes to the public worship of God, there is no exception. God gave the Law to Moses to help bring structure to the inward worship and external worship of the people of Israel…and Christ gives us the Church to do the same in our day. Religion, in a secondary sense, can be used to refer to the way this structure is brought about: rules, regulations, liturgical calendars, hierarchy, etc. When people say, “I’m spiritual, not religious” they are usually reacting emotionally to something gone wrong – perceived or actual – with religion in this secondary sense. They rightly recognize that sometimes it seems like more emphasis can be placed on the structure and regulations of the right worship of God rather than on the deeper, spiritual significance of our love for Him. This is precisely what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel today. The Pharisees, who in a sense had become obsessed with the blind observance of external worship, had forgotten that external worship must be an expression of inward love of God. When our practice of religion is not infused with a true love of God, then it will soon become corrupt and lifeless. Jesus beckons them, and He beckons us, to guard against this.

Spirituality without religion is unhuman and dishonest, and religion without spirituality is hypocritical and dead. When the two are in tandem, however, they give rise to great holiness in a person. Because the body expresses what the spirit believes, a person can offer his or her whole self to God as an offering of love. This is exactly what St. James is getting at when he talks about religion that is pure and undefiled, and that is precisely what our Lord is getting at when he calls out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. We must fight the temptation, however, to regard our love for God as merely an internal or personal reality. It must be this, but it must also be external and communal.

Many times people have come up to me and said, “Father, why do I have to come to church…I can worship God in the forest or the golf course.” This is true…we can and we must worship God always and everywhere – but if we do not externalize this worship frequently and regularly, if we do not come together and put everything else aside to intentionally and deliberately offer our bodies and souls to God at Mass, then there is something essentially missing in our love for God. Likewise, if we come to every Mass and devotion and activity at church, but never inwardly and interiorly give ourselves over to God, then we’re lifeless puppets.

A friend of mine once put it this way. Being spiritual without being religious is like loving to eat without bothering to cook…you benefit from the hard work of others, loving the pleasure that food brings but never really learning to love food itself.  Being religious without being spiritual is like loving to cook without bothering to eat…you understand food and how ingredients work together, loving the balance and the harmony of flavor but also never really learning to love food itself. The good Catholic is spiritual because he is religious and religious because he is spiritual…the good Catholic never shortchanges himself, he has his cakes and eats it to, loving every minute of it, and shows others how to the do the same.





Friday, August 14, 2015

How Much do We Value the Holy Eucharist? - A Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
0th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Homily
August 16, 2015

The teacher says, “Unless you bring up your grades, you won’t graduate from high school.” And so we work harder. The mechanic says, “Unless you change your tires and fix your breaks, you will not get an inspection sticker.” And so we have the repairs made. The electrical company says, “Unless you make your payments on time, your power will be shut off.” And so we pay up. The oncologist says, “Unless you undergo chemotherapy, you will die.” And so we endure the treatments. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, says, “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” And what’s our response?

When we really want something, we’ll go to the ends of the earth to get it. We’ll cram for days in order to pass an important exam. We’ll shell out thousands of dollars to get the spiffy car to take us from place to place. We’ll pay a company hundreds of dollars a year to pump electricity into our homes so that we can power our iPhones and Smart TVs. We’ll even endure some of the most invasive and agonizing forms of medical treatment to ensure that we live longer. Our values directly influence our desires, and our desires directly influence our everyday choices. And when we really want something, when we really value something, nothing can stop us in our determination. But when was the last time you stopped to think about what it is that you value and desire? When was the last time you stopped to consider your priorities and the choices you make? The truth is, most of us are on automatic, and we don’t think about these things often. But today, in our Gospel, Jesus is calling us to more. He’s asking us to take a good honest look at ourselves in order to see where He falls in the midst of all our values and desires.

If you look around, you’ll see a lot of empty spaces in the pews. This wasn’t always the case…once upon a time, there would have been standing room only at Mass. Slowly, over time, people have been leaving, and for any number of reasons. For some, it’s because a priest said something that offended them. For others, it’s because they disagreed with the teachings of the Church or felt unwelcome or the Mass time was changed. And of course, for others it’s because of apathy and indifference on their part – they never planned on I, they just kind of stopped coming. Other things took precedence and Mass ceased to be a priority or something to be valued. Imagine if we did the same thing with school, or the doctor, or the dentist, or work…our bodies and our lives would fall apart. But when we stop coming to Mass, when we stop receiving Holy Communion regularly, we don’t get to see the visible consequences of our choices and so they seem less real to us. Jesus makes it pretty clear today, though, that there is indeed a consequence…and it is the most grave and most serious of consequences: “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” You could have all the things of this world: physical health and beauty, a loving family, a comfortable home, a great education, a good-paying job, and even a personal sense that you have a relationship with God…you could have all your earthly and temporal desires met and fulfilled, but if you do not have Christ in the Eucharist, you are lifeless.

Now I know very well that I’m preaching to the choir…most of you are here week after week; you go to confession regularly and receive Holy Communion very frequently. And I thank God for your faithfulness! But ask yourselves this question: what separates you from the person who would have been sitting next to you last year who is no longer coming to Mass? The answer is really very basic and simple: it’s a choice – you continue to make the choice to come to Mass whereas they have made the choice to stop coming. And as we know, our choices stem from our values. The problem here, however, is that we can value the wrong things…we can come to Mass for the sense of community, or the celebration, or the music, or the atmosphere. Eventually, however, all of these will fail us, and when they inevitably do, we too will make the choice to stop coming. Every person in this church today is a spoonful of grace and a choice away from walking out the doors and never coming back. So what keeps you here? If the answer to that question is something that could potentially go away – like the charming priest or the beautiful music – then it’s only a matter of time before you make the same choice to go away and never come back. But if the answer to that question is the one thing that cannot go away…if the answer to that question is supremely and ultimately the presence of Christ in the Eucharist that you hunger and thirst for, then you will always be able to make the choice to stay.

To this day, in our so-called modern and progressive world, there are Catholics who are showing us by their lives and even by their deaths what it means to value the Holy Eucharist above all things. In parts of China, Catholicism is so heavily persecuted that Chinese Catholics walk dozens of miles to go Mass, risking imprisonment or even death to do so. In Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East, Catholics face the daily threat of radical Islamic persecution – their churches are continuously bombed and they expose themselves to the threat of assassination simply by being at Mass. And in Uganda, Egypt, and other African countries, Catholics are being dragged from their churches and murdered in the streets. A soccer game or a relaxing vacation is enough to keep the average American Catholic family away from Mass…and yet the real and daily threat of death does not deter our brothers and sisters across the ocean from risking their lives to receive Christ in the Eucharist. They are willing to lose everything in order to gain what is most important, while we so often chose to gain everything and lose it all.

If we are not here in this church today because we have a passionate desire to receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, then sooner or later we will leave. We will leave just like the crowds who left Jesus in His own day. We will slip into lukewarmness and go wherever our earthly values are satisfied. But if we are here because we desire the Bread of Life more than anything…if we are here because we want the true food of Christ’s flesh and the true drink of His blood, then we hold within ourselves the true key to eternal life and happiness.

So, ask yourselves one more question: how much do you value the Holy Eucharist and how much are you willing to sacrifice in order to receive it? Would you be willing to take a bullet in the head like the Catholic man from Uganda? Would you be willing to travel all day on foot like the Catholic woman in China? Would you be willing to face imprisonment like the Catholic girl in Syria? If everybody in this Church today developed even a sliver of that kind of love for the Eucharist, this church would be packed because the witness would be irresistible and infectious.

Our Lord places in our own hands the magnificent freedom to value whatever we want, to desire whatever we want, and to choose whatever we want. What will we do with this freedom? Will we choose the difficult path that leads to life or the easy path that leads to destruction? Today let us pray for the grace to use our freedom to really and ultimately value, desire, and choose Jesus Christ, present in the Holy Eucharist, knowing full well that unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood we will not have life within us. 


Friday, August 7, 2015

The Holy Eucharist: Boring, but Extraordinary - A Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Homily
August 9, 2015

I’m sure that many of us here today have heard someone say, at one time or another, “Mass is soooo boring.” Maybe we’ve even been guilty of saying this ourselves. I find this fascinating though, because on every level Mass is the exact opposite of boring. I mean, objectively speaking, the Mass truly and really makes the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary present to us in the here and now…decidedly not boring. And objectively speaking, Jesus joins us to His Sacrifice and offers us, along with Himself, to the Father, effecting the redemption and salvation of the human race…again, decidedly not boring. Now we can admit that if we’re not in-tune to these spiritual realities, if we’re not preparing ourselves for Mass and praying throughout the week, then these objective realities will be lost on us and we could – God forbid! – slip into boredom. But what baffles me is that the same generation of people who are entertained for hours by TV shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Real Housewives of New Jersey can be bored stiff when reading and listening to Scripture at Mass. I’ll go on record saying that Scripture, especially the Old Testament, is filled with more intrigue, juicy drama, and entertainment than anything you’ll find on TLC or HBO. And to prove it, all we have to do is look at our first reading today from the First Book of Kings.

So we start off by hearing that the Prophet Elijah is having a rough day…he’s thrown himself under a tree and starts huffing and puffing and bellyaching, telling God that he’s had enough, that he can’t go on, and that he just wants to die. After essentially crying himself to sleep, an angel wakes him up and gives him some food – a hearth cake and a jug of water. Nothing like a nap and a snack to chase grumpiness away, right? Well, not for Elijah. He’s still moping, so he just goes back to bed. The angel wakes him back up, gives him more food, and then tells him to snap out of it and that he better get his act together. Elijah acquiesces, and with a stomach full of hearth cakes, starts off to Horeb to get back to work doing prophet things. It’s a short little story, apparently pretty boring, but it’s what happened to Elijah right before that makes this all the more juicy and interesting. You see, Elijah has just come from the Kishon River where he had just finished slaughtering 450 prophets of the false god Baal. The King of Israel – Ahab – married a woman who dabbled with Baal worship – Jezebel – and needless to say she’s none-too-happy with Elijah. She sent a message to him that basically said, “You better run, because I’m coming after you.” Fearful for his life, Elijah fled Israel and headed south to Beer-sheba in Judah. Exhausted and frightened, he feels he can no longer continue, and this is where we find him in our first reading today. Once we know the rest of the story, we can garner up a little more pity and understanding for Elijah’s mental breakdown underneath the tree. But for me, the most interesting part of this whole story is one boring, seemingly insignificant thing: the hearth cake. When Elijah was at his worst, when he was in the midst of emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion, it was the hearth cake that restored his strength and essentially brought him back to life. He didn’t have a long session with his therapist…he wasn’t given a convincing pep talk by someone…he literally just ate some hearth cakes. A seemingly boring, tasteless piece of bread – which anyone might turn their noses up to – became the source of new life for the devastated Elijah. Things are not always as they seem.

The bread that nourished Elijah underneath the broom tree should be a lesson for us. He could have easily told the angel who brought him the hearth cakes to get lost and to bring something that would actually help him in his distress. But he didn’t…he got up, ate the mundane bread, and it changed his life. If we’re looking for the spectacular and the obvious to give us life; if we’re looking for the fun and the exciting and the entertaining to make us whole…then, at the end of the day, we’re going to end up starving to death underneath our own broom trees. Until we dare to see that some of the simplest and most boring things in this life are so often used by God to accomplish the most amazing and extraordinary things, then we’re doomed to become victims of devastation as we wait for the spectacular to save us. Elijah shows us that sometimes, often times, the answer to life’s biggest problems can be found by just eating some bread.

Those of us here, however, have a leg up on Elijah. We know something that he did not know. The bread that he consumed and that gave him life is a wonderful foreshadowing of the true Bread of Life that Christ would give to us in the Holy Eucharist. In the most unassuming and unobvious way, under the appearance of boring bread and uninteresting wine, the God of the universe gives us His own Flesh and Blood. When we are fatigued, when we are lost, when we are devastated, when it seems as if we have lost it all, there rests before us the very means by which we can be restored, not just to fullness of life, but to eternal life. Like Elijah’s hearth cakes, the gift of the Eucharist is not flashy or mesmerizing or ostentatious…it is so beautifully simple, and for this reason it is so easy to overlook or even to deny.

In our Gospel today, Jesus is continuing to teach and to prepare the crowds for the gift of the Eucharist. He tells them that He is the Living Bread that has come down from Heaven and that everyone who eats this Bread will live forever. And the response? Unbelief…they don’t believe a word He’s saying. They murmur amongst themselves about the stupidity of such a thing – their eyes and their ears are closed…their hearts are hardened. They want an obvious and great Messiah who, with sword in hand, will free them from their Roman oppressors…they have no use for some sap Who will die on a Cross, free them from sin, and be their Living Bread. In the Gospel we’ll hear next week, Jesus will lay it all out for them one last time, and by the following week we will hear of their final rejection. Unable and unwilling to believe, they will reject Him and walk away. Much to their chagrin, the boring and uninteresting man from Nazareth that they would reject is the true and only salvation of the world...and if they had listened to His words and feasted upon the Bread He was offering them, they too could have shared in the extraordinary gift of eternal life.

So, is Mass boring? Compared to most other things in this life, yes; it won’t give you a physical thrill like a roller coaster or an emotional buzz like young love…it won’t excite you like the new car you bought and it won’t entertain you like Netflix. But the Mass can, like the bread Elijah ate, change your life unlike anything else. What appears to be a boring old ritual is really the most amazing thing this side of heaven…and what appears to be ordinary bread and wine is really God Himself. Today we have to ask ourselves: will we be the like crowds who move from spectacle to spectacle, waiting for the next great flashy thing to satisfy us…or will we be like Elijah and eat the simple hearth cake that has been placed before us?





Saturday, August 1, 2015

Childlike Faith and the Holy Eucharist: A Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou 
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Homily
August 2, 2015
Childlike Faith and the Holy Eucharist

I’d like to share with you a beautiful and touching story about a Pope and a little boy. Mother Francis Alice Monica Forbes, a biographer and contemporary of Pope St. Pius X, tells the story of an Englishwoman who had the privilege of having a private audience with the Pope. Now Pius X had already earned for himself the reputation of being a great lover of children and so the woman brought her four year old son with her to receive the Pope’s special blessing. As the Pope and his mother were speaking, the little boy stood at a distance looking on – when the conversation was finished, the boy was brought over to the Pope to receive his blessing. Much to the horror of his mother, however, the boy went to the Pope, placed his hands on his knees, and looked up at him. Allaying the fears of the embarrassed woman, the Pope smiled at the boy, stroked his head, and then asked, “How old is he?” His mother said, “He is four, and in two or three years I hope he will be able to make his first Communion.” Just a short time earlier, the Pope had issued a decree lowering the age at which children could receive Holy Communion – he made it very clear that so long as children had reached the age of reason, which could be said to be around 7 years of age, they were to be permitted to receive the Holy Eucharist. The little boy expressed his own excitement about the prospect of receiving Holy Communion in just a few short years, and this sparked the interest of the Pope. He looked earnestly into the boy’s eyes and asked, “Whom do you receive in Holy Communion?” Without hesitating, the little boy answer, “Jesus Christ!” The Pope smiled and further asked, “And who is Jesus Christ?” Once more, without missing a beat, the boy responded, “He is God.” The Pope leaned back in his chair, looked over at the boy’s mother and said, “Bring him to me tomorrow – I will give him Holy Communion myself.”

This little boy, whose name has faded into the shadows of time, has so much to teach us. With the innocence and purity of a four year old, his understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist surpasses that of any scholar and his love for It rivals that of any saint. With eyes that have not been tainted by skepticism and doubt, and with a heart that has not known the darkness of sin, he looks upon the Eucharist with such holy simplicity and love. He literally throws himself on the lap of the Vicar of Christ on earth and articulates so plainly and beautifully what so many of us struggle to believe. For this little boy, there is no question…Christ is truly and really and simply present in the Holy Eucharist, and his little heart cannot help but desire so great a gift. The very next day, at the hands of the saintly Pope, his desires are realized. His Lord and His God comes to Him in Holy Communion, and, in an instant, the great miracle of God’s love is accomplished in yet another soul. Perhaps this is what our Lord is trying to convey to us when He says in Matthew’s Gospel, “Unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So much of our life is centered on growing up. We value maturity, wisdom, and experience over and above many things. And while we should never negate the importance of these things, we must keep in mind that God’s ways are not our ways. The Mysteries of our faith, while they baffle the learned and confound even the most diligent of theologians, are so often grasped and loved effortlessly by children. In their innocence and purity, children never try to be something they are not. Unlike those of us who try to mine our way through this dog-eat-dog world, children know their own helplessness…they instinctively cry out to their parents for their every need, and when we introduce them to Jesus, they so easily abandon themselves to Him. Life, experience, and growing up bring many good things for us, but sometimes, often times, we will learn to trust more in the obvious, ourselves, and less in God. This is where we have so much to learn from our children.

In our Gospel today, Jesus is inviting the crowds to leave the world of the obvious and to enter into the world of children, the world of faith. Last week we heard of the great miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, where Christ filled the hungry bellies of the multitudes with an abundance of earthly food. This was, of course, a foreshadowing of the greater miracle of the Eucharist, where Christ would fill their hungry souls with a superabundance of heavenly food: His own Body and Blood, His own self. But today, the crowds just aren’t getting it. Like hungry animals, they are chasing after Jesus in the hopes that He’ll give them more bread. They are fixated on the obvious, on the temporal, and on the earthly, and they are content to use Jesus to have these needs met. But as they focus on their bellies, they have neglected to see that the bread they hunger for is none other than the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. To see this, though, requires simplicity and abandonment…it requires a heart that can see beyond appearances and superficialities…it requires the heart of a child.  

The Holy Eucharist is, as the Second Vatican Council articulates beautifully, the source and summit of the Christian life. Because it is the Sacrament that makes present to us Jesus Christ Himself, It is the source of all grace. The heart of God beats for love of us in all the tabernacles of the world, calling us to adore and to feast upon the gift of His Divine love. And yet it is so easy for us to take this wonderful and holy reality for granted. We can become so distracted by all of our earthly concerns, entrenched in the world of the obvious, that we completely miss that the answer to all of our hungers and desires rests wherever the little red light of the sanctuary lamp glows. We can be like the crowd that harps on Jesus to give them more of the things of this world, or we can be like the little boy who knows simply and beautifully that the Lord will fill him beyond all measure in the Holy Eucharist.

Today, during this Holy Mass, perhaps we could pray for the grace to put aside all of our grown-up problems and desires so that we can “grow-down,” becoming more and more like little children. As you come forward today to receive Holy Communion, run up with childlike faith and allow your Lord and God to fill you with Himself. Savor His sweetness and feast upon His goodness. May we learn to leave the world of the obvious….carelessly abandoning ourselves to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament all the days of our lives. When we learn to do this, we know that we will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Calling our Priests to Holiness - A Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Homily
July 19, 2015
Calling our Priests to Holiness

St. John Vianney, the humble parish priest of the tiny and insignificant village of Ars in France during the early decades of the 19th century, was – in the eyes of the world – a worthless and weak specimen of a priest. He failed his classes in the seminary, was in poor health for most of his life, was physically unattractive, lacked social charisma, and was ostracized by many of the other priests in his diocese. He was sent to Ars – a “backwater” town with barely 200 people in it – under the presumption that he could do very little damage there since the place was already in such bad shape. It was a poor village and the people of Ars had become quite irreligious in the aftermath of the French Revolution: on Sundays the parish church would be almost empty while the four taverns in town were bursting at the seams. The people openly blasphemed God in the streets and the fathers of families squandered their money away on gambling and drink. This was, it seemed, the perfect place to send a dud of a priest.

But, as you can well imagine, the new curé of Ars had been underestimated. As is so often the case with God, John Vianney had been deprived of earthly wisdom and magnanimity so that he could excel in spiritual wisdom and sanctity. When he arrived in Ars, he immediately began fasting and making sacrifices for his people: his diet consisted of rotten potatoes and stale bread, his bed was nothing more than a couple of planks of wood on the floor, and he would spend long hours throughout the night before the Blessed Sacrament begging God to convert the hearts of his people. And slowly, over time, things began to change in Ars. The taverns began to close and more and more people began coming to Mass to hear the little priest preach with passionate conviction. The name of Jesus could be heard on the streets spoken with piety and reverence rather than in blasphemy. And due to the word that was spreading all throughout the region, the lines of John Vianney’s confessional were so long that he would have to sit there for upwards of 17 hours a day – breaking only to say Mass, to teach catechism, and to replenish his feeble body with a modicum of sleep. In a few short decades, Ars had been completely changed by this so-called dud of a priest. In fact, St. John Vianney had been so successful that the Devil – who often attacked him – told him once: “If there were three such priests as you, my kingdom would be ruined.”

The example of St. John Vianney, and of so many others like him, shows us yet again that God does not build up His Church with the great and the intelligent and the wonderful, but with the humble and the holy. This was true in the early 19th century, it was true in 33 AD, and it still is true in our day. It is the genuine sanctity of our priests, of our shepherds, that keeps the flock strong and faithful. A priest can be charming, intelligent, charismatic, attractive, cultured, funny, and yet if he lacks holiness these very traits will lead him and others to destruction.

There’s an old saying, attributed to another 19th century French priest, that says:
“If a priest is a saint, his people will be holy.
If a priest is holy, his people will be good.
If a priest is good, his people will be lukewarm.
If a priest is lukewarm, his people will be bad.
And if a priest is bad, his people will go to hell.”

This is a sober, but poignant reality: a shepherd of souls bears great responsibility, and if he fails to grow closer to Christ himself, how can he expect to help bring others closer to Christ? If holiness is not his goal, he will lead himself and others to pursue things that are not holy or that are unholy. If you listened closely to our readings today, you’ll hear this message loud and clear. In the first reading, Jeremiah brings the very harsh and frightening words of God to those who had charge over the people of Israel: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture…you have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.” And in the Gospel, our Lord is moved to pity for a people who had been abandoned in their needs, like sheep without a shepherd.

In our world and in our Church today, shepherds are continuing to scatter the flock of the Lord, just as in the days of Jeremiah and in the days of our Lord Himself. We can easily think of the horrible tragedy of the sex abuse scandal, but the scattering can and does happen in more subtle and pernicious ways. Priests who refuse to preach the truth, who condone sin, who abuse their authority in the confessional…priests who celebrate the Mass and the Sacraments carelessly and recklessly, who don’t go to the hospital when they’re called, who won’t make time to meet with those in distress…priests who over-indulge in pleasure, who seek the things of the earth and not the things of heaven, priests who don’t pray and who don’t help others to pray. The only key to a good priest is not his worldliness or his intelligence, it’s not his ability to socialize or his charm…it’s his holiness.

But priests do not become holy in a vacuum – we need you, just as you need us, to attain holiness. We need your prayers and your sacrifices. And we need you to challenge us and to call us to greater holiness. We cannot be seen just as professional ministers employed to make sure religious services happen and sermons get preached…we are your shepherds, and if we are to succeed in our mission, we have to become holy. Often times priests become less holy because there’s no one to keep them accountable…people become satisfied simply that there’s a priest, and it’s easy to lower their expectations of them. But the Lord calls His priests to much more, and the people of God deserve everything that the Lord can give them through His priests. There are certain things that you can absolutely expect from your priests, and when they fail, for the sake of your salvation and theirs, you have the right and the obligation to challenge him to more. Here are the things that you can expect from your priest:

1.)   That he celebrate the Mass and the Sacraments faithfully, reverently, and carefully.
2.)   That he is moral and chaste.
3.)   That he pray and fast often, and that if you ask him he will do so for you personally.
4.)   That he preach and teach the truth and not error, and that he remain 100% faithful to the teachings of the Church.
5.)   That he preach thoughtful homilies, or at least homilies in which he has put much thought.
6.)   That he be a lion in the pulpit, but a lamb in the confessional.
7.)   That when you or a loved one is sick or ailing and in need of the Sacraments, he will come as quickly as possible.
8.)   That he will tell you the truth, even if you don’t want to hear it at the time.
9.)   That he will live relatively simply – being a man in the world, but not of the world.
10.)  That he will sacrifice himself for your needs and the needs of the parish.

There are other qualities you might want in a priest, but these are the things I think that are necessary for his holiness, and by extension, your holiness. In truth and in love, hold us accountable when we fail so that we all might truly and more really experience the same grace that flowed through the little village of Ars, the grace of the Holy Priesthood. 


Friday, July 10, 2015

Prophecy and Popularity - A Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Homily
July 12, 2015
Prophecy and Popularity

When I was growing up, everything was about popularity. In school, at the playground, in the neighborhood, while playing sports, your quality of life seemed to depend almost entirely upon how well you were liked and how many people liked you. The “cool kids” were the ones who called the shots about everything and they were the ones who determined who “belonged” and who didn’t, thus determining whether or not someone would be liked. There were not many “cool kids;” their numbers were kept fairly low, allowing them to become an elite minority catered to by the majority – those who desperately wanted to be cool and liked and who spent a lot of time and energy trying to fit in, doing whatever they could to impress others. On the bottom of the childhood food chain were the rejects – those who, whether they wanted to or not, would simply not be accepted by the cool kids and the majority they controlled. These were the kids who, because of their physical appearance, family situation, academic capabilities, etc., were deemed too much “unlike” the others and so could enjoy no acceptance by them. The social structure punished rejects for being different, creating an atmosphere of bullying. The cool kids and their cronies seemed to enjoy having others to pick on…they needed the rejects in order to further assert their social superiority and they delighted in making their lives miserable. The funny things is, it was precisely when a so-called reject showed no interest in trying to be liked and accepted by the others, when he or she spent no effort catering to the demands of the majority, that he or she would become a target of the most intense bullying. When a person stops caring about being accepted or liked by the majority, they pose a threat to the false gods of popularity and the infrastructure that protects the popular elite is at risk of crumbling, and so persecution is the only alternative.

For kids, this whole thing can be particularly and drastically traumatic. Those of us who have reached adulthood often look back at this dynamic, shake our heads and dismiss it as youthful and immature ignorance. But the social phenomenon of childhood bullying, the dynamic of an elite minority that controls a complacent majority and that persecutes a rejected minority, is not limited to childhood…it extends itself, more subtly and more perniciously, into our big and sophisticated grown up world. We tend to think that, as a child grows he or she will become more enlightened, just as we tend to think that as society progresses it inevitably becomes more moral, but this is not the case. The reality is, from the time we are conceived in our mother’s womb to the time we die, whether it’s in antiquity or in modernity, the human person suffers from sin, which brings about an inordinate love of one’s own self. When we love ourselves inordinately, we want to force others to love us inordinately…and this is the root cause for almost every problem we face in our world.

In our readings today, the Lord is trying to open our eyes and ears to this dynamic and He is trying to show us where our place ought to be in it. In our first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Amos, we see the prophet encountering rejection by the priest Amaziah. Speaking on behalf of the sinful and self-absorbed people, Amaziah tells Amos that he has no place in Israel…Amos’ message is one of conversion and repentance, but the people of Israel will hear none of it. Amos is only one such example of a prophet who is rejected by the elite minority and the complacent majority. He was forced out of the land of Israel and had to retreat to his native land. If Amos were a weaker man, he might have tried to begin catering to the demands of the people in order to sweeten them up towards him and to win their affection, or he might have become devastated by their rejection allowing himself to be crushed by them. But Amos was not concerned with his popularity among the Israelites…his love for them was subordinate to the love of God, Who commanded Him to prophesy, at whatever cost, to this people gone astray. Though he would not be given a voice in public discourse, and though his presence would not be tolerated in the land of Israel, his words – the words God gave him – could still be made known to them. Amos changed his tactics and began to write his oracles from afar, hoping and trusting that this generation or the next might eventually begin to heed the word of God and obey His law.

In our Gospel today, Jesus Himself sends the Apostles out two-by-two on their first mission trip. Though they are invested with His own authority, the authority of God Himself, He warns them that they will be rejected and He encourages them to take this rejection in strides. It seems inherent to Christianity, as evidenced in both the Old and New Testaments, that the recurring response to the saving message of Christ is rejection. The Cross itself, the very symbol of Christianity, is the ultimate symbol of rejection. Those who hold power and those who cater to them are threatened by Christ because He, not the beautiful and the popular, subjects all things to Himself. And when, in fidelity and love, we subject ourselves to Christ, we must also be prepared to face the rejection He faced.

In our modern times, the world is becoming more obvious in its rejection of Christ and His Church. In the Middle East, Christians are being slaughtered daily…and so very little is being done to stop it. In the United States, the elite minority have convinced and bamboozled the majority of people into accepting laws directly contrary to the will of God…and the Church, like the Prophet Amos, is told to shut up and to go along with it. Our Crucified Christ bleeds Himself out in love for His people, but because He is not one of the cool kids and because His message undermines their powers, He is rejected and His followers are bullied.

As we consider all of this, there are three things we should be mindful of. The first is that we cannot escape rejection while still remaining faithful to Christ. He Himself said to the disciples, “The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted Me, they will persecute you.” Christianity is tough stuff – it’s not a feel-good fairy tale – and so if you want it, you have to be willing to suffer. The second is that this rejection that we face offers us no excuse to bellyache. Like the Prophet Amos, we have to be willing to pick ourselves up and start anew, shaking the dust from our sandals as our Lord commands us. Martyrdom, enduring persecution for Christ’s sake, is an honor and brings with it a glorious crown…but there is no merit to this suffering if we spend our time complaining about it. The third is that this rejection is not final…Christ is the Victor, He is the Ruler, and He is the Redeemer. He has already triumphed over sin – the question now is will we get on our crosses and endure His death so that we can share in His victory?

Our quality of life as Christians doesn't come from acceptance by the crowd or the love of the majority...it comes first and foremost from knowing that we are radically and unconditionally loved by God. So Christianity isn’t about being popular or following the crowd…it’s about calling all people, including ourselves, to respond to Christ’s gift of His love. Today we pray for the grace to remain steadfast and faithful, to continue being God’s prophetic voice no matter where we go and no matter the cost.