Monday, January 25, 2016

The Conversion of St. Paul: not what we usually think

Today, January 25th, is the feast of the Converstion of St. Paul.

We all know this day as the "day that Paul fell off of his horse" when he heard the Voice of Jesus asking why Paul was persecuting Him.  Then when Paul realized that he was persecuting Jesus he became a Christian and then the greatest evangelist we've ever had. Well, there is more to the story than that.

As I hear confessions there is one very consistent theme that most people struggle with.  We (and I am part of this group too) all tend to struggle with the same sin over and over again.  It seems that each and every time we go to confession we are saying, "Yup, did it again."  While each of us has a different "it" a different sin that we are constantly struggling with we all have at least one sin that we can't quite stop committing.

St. Paul was no different!

I often think that we need to change our imagination about what things like "conversion" or "discipleship" or "holiness" look like.  So frequently we think that conversion is a drastic once-in-a-lifetime experience that changes us so completely that we spend the rest of our years almost untroubled by sin and the "same old stuff" of life.

The story of St. Paul's conversion is drastic and life changing but it is also ongoing and very normal.  St. Paul wrote this in his Second Letter to the Corinthians chapter 12 verses 6-10, "A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me."  

This is the real story of St. Paul's conversion.  Yes, his life changed when he first encountered the Lord but his struggle for holiness is ongoing and never ending.  This is what conversion is really about.  Rarely does a conversion moment mean much apart from an ongoing struggle with sin and weakness.

Yet, this is exactly the point!  This is what Jesus has planned for all of us.  Conversion isn't overcoming weakness but rather learning how to be weak.  

Jesus responded to Paul with these words, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."

The only way that we can come to know the power of Jesus Christ is through our own weaknesses.  The only was that we can be changed by the power of Jesus Christ is through our own weaknesses.   

But here's where we need to reimagine what conversion and holiness looks like.  Jesus' power isn't made perfect when we overcome our weaknesses and sins.  No!  Jesus' power is made perfect when we are weak, when we experience weakness, and when we learn how to be weak.

When St. Paul finally figured this out (after begging Jesus 3 times to remove his "thorn in the flesh") he said this, "I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.  Therefore, I am content with weaknesses... for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, them I am strong."

Please, hear and understand Paul's insight. His strength, the strength of Christ, doesn't show up after He overcomes his weakness but rather Paul's weakness is necessary for Christ to be strong.  Our weaknesses and sins are needed and necessary for Christ to be strong.  Christ can't be strong in our lives apart from our weaknesses.

So next time you examine your conscience and see that, yes, "you did it again" take comfort.  St. Paul found out that conversion isn't about perfection.  Rather conversion is about weakness.  The more that we learn what our weaknesses are and the more that we learn to be honest about them the more that we give Christ permission to be strong in our lives.
Fr. Augustine Francis Donegan TOR

In the words of Fr. Augustine TOR, who was my spiritual director when I was in college, "Peter, your last temptation will come two minutes after you're dead!"  

Fr. Gus (as we all called him) said that with a broad smile and twinkle in his eye that made it clear that he knew what he was talking about.

This is what the strength of Christ looks like.  This is what the conversion of St. Paul is really about.  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Reflections on the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary time (August 31st 2014)

Hello all,

I didn't have a public mass call this morning so I celebrated mass in the friary chapel.  This doesn't happen all that often but it is very prayerful for me and a wonderful time to reflect, pray, and savor the mass.

While I didn't prepare a homily for today I did pray with the readings and I wanted to share my thoughts.

I love these reading!  I especially love the connection between the Gospel reading from last Sunday to today.

Last Sunday we heard about the question that Jesus asked, "who do you say that I am?" It was Simon Peter who spoke up and professed that Jesus "is the Christ the Son of the Living God."

In response to this Jesus called him "Peter" the Rock upon which His Church will be built.  This Church will even withstand the onslaught of the powers of hell, time, and last into eternity.

Then today we hear Jesus warn the Apostles that He is going to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die, but rise from the dead.  In response to this Simon Peter confronts Jesus and tries to prevent Him from going.  Jesus then says to Peter, "Get behind me satan! You are an obstacle to me.  You are not thinking as God does but as humans do."

Notice the contrast!

One moment Peter is professing faith in Jesus that was revealed to him from the Father and then very next moment he is no longer thinking and acting based on the inspiration of God.  One moment Peter is being praised by Jesus and the next he is being called "satan".  One moment Peter is made to be the building block for the Universal Church and then next moment Jesus is calling him an "obstacle" to His work.

I love this moment in the Gospels because at times I feel like I can identify with what St. Peter is going through.  There are moments when I feel like I am part of God's plan and the very next moment my sin, pride, and weakness is an obstacle to Our Lord.

So often we get this silly idea in our mind that saints are perfect.  We fail to realize that it is stories like this that illustrate what the life of a saint is really like.

We all, sinners and saints, are part of God's plan and then obstacles to that plan.  

It is so difficult to accept God's mercy, at times, because we often fail to forgive ourselves.  I think the secret to forgiving ourselves as freely as God does is by accepting this reality.  We are all sinners and saints at times.  One moment we are part of God's plan and then the next we are His obstacle.

If we look at St. Peter we should be able to see something profound to hope in.  God can still do great things in us even if we are very good at being His obstacle.  St. Peter was a formidable obstacle to Jesus and yet he is still a saint.  St. Peter even was running away from persecution the day that he died.  Jesus appeared to him, Peter realized his weakness, and he turned around  to return to Rome to be crucified upside down.

I love St. Peter and I think that his example of humanity, mistakes, and humility is good example to meditate on today and for life.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My homily from August 24th 2014

Hello all,

Well I've finally figured it out how to make a movie from the audio recording of my homily.
Then I put that movie on YouTube.

This is a first and a very exciting step for me, personally.  This is my first movie to be put on YouTube.

Here's my homily from yesterday.

Enjoy and God bless.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Homily: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle A (August 24th, 2014)

Hello all,

I was able to record my homily today... please stay tuned as I try to figure out how to upload it to this blog.

I'm not tech savvy so this might take a bit but once I figure it out it will be easy in the future to upload my homilies quickly and often.

Sorry for the delay.

But while you are reading this I just wanted to let you know that Monday August 25th is my 2 year anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood!

Thanks for all your prayers and support.

God bless and stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I've moved!

I know that it has been a long time since I've blogged anything.

I do hope to get better at that now.

I have recently moved down to Baltimore and I will be teaching at Archbishop Curley High School.

I will be teaching Morality to the Juniors and one section of Philosophy to the Seniors.

Along with that I will be going to help out with masses at some local parishes on the weekends.
It is my hope that I can figure out a way to audio record my homilies and post them here on my blog.

I know that a good number of people (especially my mother) want to hear my homilies so I'm going to try to share them with you as often as I find myself preaching on a Sunday.

I never really got the hang of "blogging" so if you want to see certain things here please don't hesitate to email me at and let me know what you'd like me to blog about.

Someone suggested that I share what I'm reading and studying.  I'm not sure if that is something that you'd enjoy hearing about since I have continued studying in some specific and technical areas of theology.

But incase you are interested I am in the middle of a few books (audio and otherwise) and here is some of what I'm doing/reading/studying right now.

The Great Courses: Exploring Metaphysics

The Great Courses: The Great Ideas of Philosophy

The Great Courses: The Story of Human Language

Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction

The Outer Limits of Reason

I'm rereading The Nature of Doctrine

And this is the article that I was reading yesterday.

Reconstructing The Nature of Doctrine

If any of this is interesting let me know.  I'm not sure if my curiosities are at all something that you'd enjoy hearing about.

God bless!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why should I go to mass reason #5 (A response to love)

Hello all,

I recently had someone email me and ask where reason #5 was for the list of reasons  that I had begun to share about "why go to mass".

I thought I had concluded this list a while ago and I'm sorry to say that I forgot the most important and last one!

A response to love! Reason #5 for why we should go to mass.

In the Sermon on the Plain in Luke chapter 6:20 (and following) we see Jesus preaching the Beatitudes.  That list of beatitudes begins with "Blessed are you who are poor for the Kingdom of God is yours."

When Matthew tells of Jesus preaching of the Beatitudes he tells of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 and following. The beginning of this list of beatitudes is "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

I think there are many who are poor in our world and they are certainly blest by God.  They are even more blessed by God than those who are rich in spite of the fact that our world sees wealth as a blessing.  

There are also those who suffer from spiritual poverty.  In fact I think most of us suffer spiritual poverty in our culture.  Our culture tells us that things, stuff, possessions, and wealth will make us happy.

If anyone ever really gives this type of offer a try they quickly will find out that stuff doesn't fill the hole that each of us have in our hearts. We all long to be loved.  We all need to know that love, affection, and affirmation of another.  Money can't buy this, wealth can't supply it, and possessions can't fill this hole.

The love of another person can go a long way in filling our need to be loved but even then everyone knows some type of loneliness and longing.  There is some type of emotional need that even other people can't fill.

The only think that can fill this need is God.  St. Augustine, famously said, 
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
This is our struggle.  This is the struggle that everyone shares in.  This is what it is to be "Poor in Spirit"

Spiritual wealth is to know and plunge into the love of God.  Yet, we so often plunge into the love of wealth and the collection of possessions.   In so doing we grow in our spiritual poverty even as we amass material wealth.  

Spiritual wealth is to know, even in some small way, the love of God.  This knowledge, this experience, this assurance that God is for us, supporting us, encouraging us, and blessing us is a profound things.

This experience of God's love changes our lives.  I don't think it will make life easier.  There will still be the temptation to seek material wealth to fill the void that can only be filled by God.  But once we have tasted the love of God we too, like St. Augustine, hunger and thirst for more.  

This is reason #5 for why we should go to Mass.  Our worship of God, within a community, is a seeking of God.  We know that in some special way God is to be found in the ancient ritual, the reading of the Word of God, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and in the community of fellow Christians who are gathered.

I don't know of anyone who has known what it was like to be loved and then they weren't different.  Usually when someone loves us we love them in response and that changes our lives, our behavior, and our priorities.

Look at teenagers who experience their first taste of love.  They change, they behave differently, and they act (especially around their beloved) differently.  This is a beautiful thing!
Look at young adults who love and know that they are loved.  They willingly give up huge amounts of their time, money, and autonomy and share their lives with each other.  They marry and then new life is the product of love.

In our culture we tend to celebrate individualism and we believe that we don't need others to be happy. That's not true.  We need love.  We need to be loved.  And we need to love and be loved by our creator.  It's just who we are.

So communal worship, at mass, is a response to being loved.  I attend mass because I long to love He who loved me first.

I think the reason that mass attendance is declining is primarily because our culture is so "poor in spirit".  So few people know what it is to be loved by God and so they don't even think to love God back.

When we do love God in return then we willingly participate in a ritual of love, the mass.
When we like a sport we willingly participate in it.  We play that sport, attend games, or watch it on TV.
When we love our country we attend parades, observe national holidays, fly a flag, and vote.

The idea that love of something changes our behavior isn't abnormal.  In fact our behavior is the best indication of what we love.

So we go to mass as a response to knowing the love of God and seeking to love Him in response.  It is in Mass that we encounter Him in a special and powerful way.  So we go to mass as a response to love. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jesus Christ is Our King

Hello all,

I wanted to share with you the homily that I offered on this past Solemnity of Christ the King.

I find that I, myself, am coming back to these words are readings as a inspiration for prayer and reflection.  I hope that they might offer the same for you.

Homily on Christ the King

I'm not sure how long this like will work since it is saved on our parish website.

Let me know if you can't hear it if you are interested and I'll try to get the link to work/work again.

Here are all the friar's homilies that are updated regularly from St. Paul Church