Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Our Heavenly Father Looks After His Sheep (Easter 5C)

To mark the Year of Faith, we've invited a number of parishioners to share their testimony at Mass, as allowed by liturgical norms. From time to time I will post their words on the blog alongside of my homily.

Today is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, so it’s a perfect day for me to make an announcement—and a confession.

First, the announcement.  We are going to establish a Vocations Committee in our parish. It’s part of Archbishop Miller’s plan to foster what he calls “a culture of vocations” in our local Church. A group of dedicated parishioners will look for ways to encourage our young men and women to think about God’s call to the priesthood and the consecrated life. The committee will also encourage all of us to pray harder for vocations.

Now, the confession.  When it comes to promoting vocations to the priesthood, I’m a bit pushy. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I’ve been so happy as a priest that I can’t help but invite young men in the parish to share that happiness. The second reason is that I’m overworked as a priest and want more help!

But I do get carried away. A young parishioner came for spiritual direction, sat down in my office, and said “Can we talk about something other than the priesthood today?” As it turned out, he became a lay missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach—a reminder that the priesthood and religious life, however crucial, aren’t the only callings in Christ’s sheepfold.

I had another reminder of this some years ago from Felipe Grossling, who is going to share his testimony of faith with us in a few moments. He was obviously deeply committed to the faith, then-unmarried, and I knew he was a popular and effective religion teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas highschool. So I couldn’t wait to pop the question.

“Do you think you might have a vocation to the priesthood?” I asked. He replied without hesitation. “I’ve thought and prayed a lot about that,” he said. “But I think God wants me to be a high school religion teacher.”

His answer teaches us three things. I’ve already mentioned one of them: the Lord’s flock needs all kinds of shepherds alongside priests, Sisters and Brothers. The second is that every young person, whether or not they’re ultimately called to the priesthood or consecrated life, ought to consider the possibility prayerfully and carefully.

And the third point is that we need religion teachers like Felipe Grossling. Which is another way of saying that we need Catholic high schools. We won’t have shepherds unless we have disciples first.

It’s only a happy coincidence that Mr. Grossling was scheduled to speak this Sunday, as we launch our annual Project Advance appeal. But as you listen to his story of faith, you can’t help noticing that he was both a student and a teacher at STA—the school our parish has chosen to help rebuild, through Project Advance 2013.

I’m very pleased to introduce Felipe Grossling:

I am a cradle Catholic, went to Catholic school, but in high school I had fallen into doubts about the faith.  My fear of surrendering to God helped me develop a pattern of lukewarmness finishing off with misunderstanding several Church teachings.

In university I struggled to find an identity in what was evidently an unknown attempt to find God.  I dabbled in almost every philosophical trifle available, and settled in identifying myself as a communist.  And like a good comrade I came to resent religion, especially the Catholic Church.  But my heavenly Father did not desert me – Through my parents, He instilled particular truths that I could never abandon – namely the divinity of Christ and the dignity of all human life from conception to natural end.  This was the epitome of my spiritual life, and it was all my Heavenly Father needed to slowly reel me back into His arms.  All that was needed was a push of the the first domino.

My first domino was Mark; an old friend who was also a lapsed Catholic.  I found out that he had come back to his faith and was regularly attending Mass.  I thought to myself, why?  Since I had extensive experience arguing with Catholics who did not know how to defend their faith, I thought I’d set him straight.  This was not the case.  If you could call this conversation a match of some kind, I got creamed.  Mark simply answered my pointed questions and each answer not only was given in charity, but sounded logical.

St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, tells us that:  “In my weakness I am made strong.”  You see, I am a sore loser and hate being wrong in any debate, (that remains a weakness today, just ask my wife).  So God used my arrogance as a way to begin searching just why I had lost this debate and to figure out where I went wrong.

This opened a door of intellectual investigation of the teachings of the Church and thanks to certain people, in particular two former religion teachers whom I drove bonkers when I was their student, I came to the realization that I needed to come into a full relationship with Christ through his Church.  It took just under a year, but I finally went to my first Confession in over 8 years.  Thus began my return to the heart of the Father.

It is often said that the longest journey is from the head to the heart.  I had intellectually accepted Catholicism but I was still quite immature, judgmental, self-righteous, you name it.  And here is when my Heavenly Father led me to being a high school religion teacher.

Ten years of teaching has let my Heavenly Father show me I cannot be half the teacher I am without Him.  I’ve also learned that love must always to be the impetus of sharing any witness of Christ.  To quote St. Paul:  “If I have faith that can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.”  I have the privilege of teaching students, God’s children; some who radiate the love of God like a saint, some that are lost, some that are broken into a million pieces, some that are searching, some that don’t need to learn anything from anyone, others that are relishing in their youth, the list goes on.  And in my students, I can see the love of God and little silhouettes of myself – ME, someone who wants to love God, someone who is lost, someone who is broken, someone who is searching, someone who is a know-it-all, someone who is refreshing etc.  And in learning to love His children more and more, I understand myself and God’s love more deeply.

As a married man, God the Father has revealed that living with me is not a bed of roses for my wife.  A great deal of growth is offered when one vows to spend their entire life in service for the one they love.  In order to be the figure of Christ for my wife, I need Him to transform me.  And this has been one further step in realizing that I can only flourish with my Heavenly Father; the God who has always sought us; as far back as in the book of Genesis.

Young children understand who their parents are because of how they depend on them for everything.  They teach us that we fully find ourselves when we acknowledge how much we need God.  It is why Jesus clearly tells us that we cannot see heaven unless we become children again.

Wherever you may be on your spiritual road, I encourage you to open your eyes to see God.  He is everywhere.  Parents always want what is best for their children and our Father is no different, only more infinite and perfect.

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