Homily From the Baptism of the Lord, Year C

theophanyOk, fine, you can finally start putting your Christmas decorations away, because after today, Christmas is finally over.  And thank goodness, because the wreath on my door is turning brown.  Today is the feast day of the Baptism of the Lord, when Jesus decided that he’d spent enough time laying around the manger, and it was time to get to work.  So he speeds up time so that he’s an adult, and gets baptized by John.  Not really, but the event triggers the beginning of his public ministry.  The readings from the next few weeks of Ordinary Time will revolve around his public works, how he lives out the stuff that was promised at Christmas.  Today his identity is revealed: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”  And he is given a mission, which we hear in our first reading: “I the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice.  I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring our prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

You might be wondering, did Jesus need to be baptized?  Well, he was like us in all things except for sin, so no, not really.  Normally when we think of baptism, we think of the holy waters flooding on someone to make them holy, right?  Well in this case, those waters, in washing upon him, are themselves made holy.  It was through this baptism that Jesus instituted and opened the doors for our own baptism.  Baptism is sort of the forgotten sacrament – literally.  Does anyone remember their baptism?  Does anyone remember their baptismal day (mine is April 14!)?  Sometimes baptism becomes the sacrament that we leave behind for the old photographs or yellowed baptism candles.  But it really is incredibly important.

Baptism isn’t just an excuse for our parish to start sending you donation envelopes, nor is it something as simple as a welcoming ceremony where you have to start being a good person.  The thing is, Christianity isn’t even about being a good person, nor about doing the right thing.  Anybody can do that – even someone who doesn’t care about God, even a Cubs fan, can be a good person or do the right thing.  Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to do this – in fact, thank you for being good people and not hurting each other in the pews!  But the thing is, Baptism shows us that Christianity is even more basic than that.  It’s about bringing us into the inner life of God.  It’s about defining who we are.

Jesus receives his identity today – “You are my beloved son,” but really, that line can be spoken about each of us as well.  “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased.”  God makes us who we are in baptism – he gives us an identity.  Sometimes we can think we are the ones who define ourselves.  Obviously, we make choices like what we will do, how we will live our lives, and things that people will remember us for.  But sometimes we start to define ourselves by our successes and failures.  Then we can fall into the misguided pride and arrogance about ourselves – that we don’t need God.  Or we can fall into a disdain and hatred of ourselves – that we aren’t worth God’s time.  But the things we do aren’t our identity – God decides who we are: beloved sons and daughters of God.

It’s from that identity that we receive our mission in life – to be a light of the nations, a sign of God’s covenant.  To open the eyes of the blind, to bring freedom to those captive in their self-loathing.  To bring light to those in darkness.  That’s the mission of every Christian, not just Jesus himself.  Today we have the opportunity to enroll our confirmation candidates, inviting them to begin their commitment to preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation.  Confirmation isn’t a coming of age ceremony or anything, but it’s a perfection of what was started way back on the day we were baptized.  It’s the time to embrace your faith, and see where it leads you.

This Sunday also kicks off our National Vocations Awareness Week, where we will celebrate and become more aware of the way that God calls us through baptism to become holy.  Your vocation is your highway to become a saint!  And while on the feast day of the Holy Family a few weeks ago we talked specifically about the vocation to marriage and the family, this week is dedicated specifically to remembering the vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life.

fitness-roman-collarMy own story isn’t that special.  I didn’t hear voices or see visions or find a secret message in my toast or anything.  My vocation to the priesthood is pretty simple: I had loving parents.  We went to Mass and my parents cared about my Catholic education.  I had the great example of my faithful grandparents.  I thought about it as an altar server because I was closer to the action and could see what was going on.  I received an invitation from a friend to visit the seminary in high school, then entered the College Seminary, studied there for 4 years, then 4 years of grad school, and pow!  Here I am!  Sometimes people ask when I knew that I was called to be a priest, and to be honest, it was about a day after my ordination.  It was at my first Mass and at my first Confessions that I knew that God had called me here.  Sure, I had thought about it a lot before that, and was confident in my discernment, but it was then that I realized that that’s who I am – that’s my identity.  It’s not my career as a man who went into the priesthood (because it’s obviously not about the money, but the insurance isn’t bad!).  It’s not about what I do, but it’s about who I am.  At my very core, I am a priest – and I’m proud of it!  It’s from that identity that I do what I do here at All Saints.

Each of us has our own vocations, our pathways to heaven – married couples, people dedicated to the single life, religious brothers and sisters, deacons, and priests.  Our vocations aren’t about what we do, but about who we are – who God has called us to be.  As we’re celebrating the Baptism of the Lord today, and as we reflect on our own baptismal call to holiness, and how that is lived out in our vocations, then let us bring ourselves back in our hearts to that baptismal font, where the doors of the Church were opened to us, and where God gave us our core identity – “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased.”  Let us give thanks to God for who he has made us, and commit ourselves today to living that out in service to our brothers and sisters.

Homily From the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been completely powerless?  Actually, I was in one of those the other evening!  Now, apparently everybody thinks that one of my distinguishing characteristics in my homilies is talking about the Cardinals.  I’m not saying that you’re right, but I’m going to do that right now.  The other night, I’m sure there were a lot of St. Louis fans that felt powerless as our beloved team was destroyed by the San Francisco Giants.  It was frustrating.  In an age of pitch-tracking technology, all of us could see which pitches were outside or out of the strike one, and now matter how loudly we yelled at the TV for the Cardinals not to swing at that junk, they would always do it!  No matter what we did, or what prayers we said, or if we wore our rally caps, nothing was changing the situation.  Being powerless is not fun because we like to be in control of our own destiny.

In the Gospel today, we hear about Jesus healing this blind man named Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus is a really interesting and powerful character in the Gospel, and he is struggling with blindness.  Now of course, it would be a boring homily to just talk about his physical blindness, and I would have no idea what I’m talking about, so it’s important that we’re seeing this as a spiritual story too.  Spiritual blindness is always seen as a lack of faith.  It means that Bartimaeus, and all of us when we’re spiritually blind, don’t see what we’re meant to see.  It’s an inability to see God present and working in our lives.  So he’s blind.

http://tiberjudy.files.wordpress.com/

But Bartimaeus is also a beggar, and this is probably a fairly overlooked point.  You know, religion is different from any other institution on earth because it proposes a solution to an idea that within our power, we cannot solve.  If you think about it, we always want to solve problems, and most of them we can.  Car mechanics are great examples of this.  Now I have no idea what to do when someone tells me that I have a broken catalytic converter or something, but in theory, with enough time, money, and know-how, there is no problem with a car that someone can’t fix.  But it’s not the same with sin.  Sin is a problem with the will and the mind becoming twisted and perverse, and more mind or will isn’t going to fix it.  No yoga class or aromatherapy is going to fix the problem of sin.  Spiritually speaking, we’re all beggars – we can’t fix any of our spirtual problems and we all depend on God.  So in this story, we’re meant to identify with Bartimaeus, who like us, is a beggar.

Now there’s a really cool detail here.  When Bartimaeus is calling out to Jesus for help, he says, “Son of David, have pity on me!”  In Greek, that’s “eleison me, eleison me!”  Actually, at the beginning of Mass, we say the same thing: “Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.”  Essentially, it could be translated, “Lord, have pity on me.  Christ, have pity on me.  Lord, have pity on me,” – just like the blind man!  At the beginning of every Mass, we’re putting our lives into context.  We’re putting ourselves ritually in the position of Bartimaeus in that we realize that we are beggars and we need help.  Actually, that’s the virtue of Bartimaeus in the Gospel – he knows that he’s a beggar, and that he can’t fix his own problems, and so he calls out to Christ to save him.

I’m sure that there are a lot of people here who have found themselves in the same situation.  There are people who find themselves overwhelmed with the family situation, or health issues, or financial stuff, or the overall situation of the world today.  There are people who are overwhelmed with some attachment to sin that they can’t seem to be rid of.  And what does that feel like?  That’s right – complete powerlessness.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t fix this.  You can’t do it on your own power.  You are a beggar like Bartimaeus, and the only thing you can do in these troubling and desperate situations is call out to God.

It’s an important detail, actually, that Bartimaeus is the only person helped by Jesus who is recorded by name.  Scripture scholars have suggested that it was because he probably became an early Christian convert, and so it was Mark’s way of pointing out to other Christians someone they might know by name in their midst.  Whether we realize it or not, probably know people who are weak like ourselves, where everything seems stacked up against us.  I mean, I’m one of them!  That’s why I’m here!  St. Paul tells us that “every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring (that’s you), for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.”  The second reading is one of my favorites of all time, and was read at my ordination to the priesthood.  And honestly, every day that I’m a priest, I realize how true it is.  I can tell you for a fact that I’m not worthy to be here.  I am not qualified to be here.  And only God and I know the full extent of that statement, but it’s the truth.  Lots of times, people have trouble going to confession because they worry about what the priest is going to say or think about them.  But to be honest, this is what I see: I see a sinner, someone who is weak – like me.  But I see someone who, despite being powerless to save themselves is reaching out like Bartimaeus to Christ, striving to be a disciple.

Johann Heinrich Stöver, 1861
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healing_the_blind_near_Jericho

It is tough to have faith.  Lots of people start out with faith as children, or have inherited at least the practice of their faith from their parents or friends.  But they’re not entirely convinced by it.  They can’t see God (obviously).  Conversation with God is not exactly the same as it is with anyone else.  They want faith – they want to be able to see what God sees – but it’s too difficult or too discouraging.  And let’s face it, our society isn’t exactly big on faith.  I mean, maybe it enjoys the trappings of faith, like little angels or WWJD bracelets.  But when our faith challenges us to live it?  When it challenges us to look at our social views, our economic views, or even our political views beyond what we ourselves might want to control?  Probably a lot of us find ourselves in a situation where we need faith.  And even though people discourage you, or the culture or the situation of your life discourages you, don’t give up.  Keep calling.  Keep persisting.  Keep enduring.  That’s ultimately what brought Christ to Bartimaeus’ side, and that is what will bring Christ to ours as well.

When Bartimaeus is called, it’s interesting how he responds – he throws off his cape.  Umm, wait a second…he’s blind.  If this whole Jesus thing doesn’t work out, how’s he going to find it again?  That’s pretty much all his security and protection against rain, cold, or whatever.  It’s pretty much everything he has.  Do you see what we’re being taught here?  He abandons himself to God in order to run to him.  That is what faith is: abandonment to God.  Faith is leaving behind all the things that we want to keep ourselves self-sufficient, leaving behind all the things we want to control but can’t.

So as we come near to the Lord in the Eucharist today, we recognize that we are beggars totally dependent on the mercy of God to make us whole.  May we rise then, leaving our powerlessness behind, and give ourselves to his loving care.

Homily From the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

It’s kind of interesting the questions I get as a priest.  10 years ago, probably the most complicated question I could answer with authority is “Who is playing second base for the Cardinals this evening?” (The answer, by the way, was Fernando Viña.)  Now the questions are more complex: “Why doesn’t the Church believe in divorce?  Why do I have to get an annulment?  Why doesn’t the Church believe in artificial contraception?  Why does the Church believe what it believes about homosexuality?”  And my favorite, “Why do we have to go to a year’s worth of classes with you just to use the All Saints church for our wedding?”  Sometimes, these questions get a little antagonistic or rough, but I think most people just want to understand.

There are times when I wish I could just have them go and talk to Jesus about it to get them off my back!  You explain the non-refundable payment for reserving the church for their wedding, Jesus!  But I have a feeling that if all these different people came at Jesus with all these different questions, it would look a lot like the Gospel today.  Like the people who ask these questions, the Pharisees come because they want to know.  And I have a feeling that Jesus would say the same thing to them today that he did back then.  He doesn’t do it by explaining a dogmatic statement, but he starts with, “From the beginning of creation…”  Whoah!  Hold on to your shorts, people, because we’re going way back!  Close your Bibles, and open them up again on page 1 with the Book of Genesis!

http://www.conciliarpress.com

There are actually two accounts of creation in Genesis.  The 7 days of creation that everyone is familiar with is the first.  The one Jesus is referring to today is the second, with God creating man out of the clay of the ground.  In an incredibly poetic and beautiful scene, God then breathes into the man’s nostrils the breath of life.  Now, in the second account, it’s only after God creates Adam that he creates all the other things.  Why?  Because they are all a gift to him: the lush gardens, the beautiful streams, the shining oceans, the varieties of animals.  But what’s interesting is that despite the beauty of these gifts, the more Adam walked around and enjoyed these things, the more he felt alone.  Sure, he gets to call the animals anything he wants, but none of them ever call back to him.  I’m sure you know what I mean here.  If you’ve got a dog, you know that you can love the dog all you want, pet it all you want, put it in ridiculous Halloween costumes, feed it bistro-inspired dog food.  But ultimately, you know that it never turns to you and thanks you.  It never asks you how your day was.  It never tells you it loves you.  The same was true with Adam.  The deep spiritual relationship was what Adam was lacking, because there was nothing like him in the world.

So God sees Adam’s depressing Facebook status, and says, “I will create a suitable partner for the man.”  Adam didn’t ask for this, and he didn’t get to design the woman however he wanted.  Rather, through all the animals, God awakened within him the keen awareness of his need for someone else – for a relationship.  And so when God does create the woman, when Adam sees her standing before him, he sees a body like his, but different.  And he realizes that he is created for this woman, and that she is created for him.  Blessed John Paul II called this the “spousal meaning of the body.”  Try to imagine the first time Adam saw Eve.  After seeing water buffalo after water buffalo for what must have seemed like ages, he sees her standing there, and she must have been the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  And so he looks on her, gazes upon her – not judgmentally, not lustfully, not as an object to be exploited, but as more than that – and they see each other as God created them.  They are made for each other, to give of themselves for each other.  How true that is!  Masculinity and femininity are made for each other – not to take out the trash, not to fulfill base desires, but for the mutual self-giving and receiving of each other.  In short, they were created for communion.

And it’s for this reason, Jesus tells us, that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  So when people ask if the Church hates or looks down on sexuality, uh…the answer is no, not at all.  Sexuality has dignity!  Not only is it a good thing, but a holy thing – the very thing we were created for!  Real sexuality is a desire for union, not the lust after bodily needs.  Animals are drawn together from carnal or uncontrollable instincts, but human beings are drawn together for communion!  What greater example of this, what greater image of this, than marriage.  Obviously, the Church understands marriage as a sacrament, a channel of grace and a participation in the life of God, but it’s kind of the proto-sacrament.  It was a sacrament before sacraments were cool!

But the Pharisees point out that there is a flaw in the equation, and as Jesus says, it was never supposed to be this way, but was harmed like most other perfect things in the world by evil.  There are so many good and holy people in our parish who are suffering in their marriages – separated, divorced, going through the annulment process.  It may be one spouse’s fault, it may be the other spouse’s fault, or it may be nobody’s fault – but they’re suffering.  And that’s not right.  As Jesus told us, that was not the way that things were supposed to be.  Marriages suffer from the presence of evil in the world – there’s no other way to put it.  And I think it’s important that we have a special place in our hearts for these people whose marriages suffer.  They need our support, they need our love, and they need our prayers.

It’s crazy how well evil is able to manipulate the good in our world.  If you look around to movies or TV shows or the internet or advertizing, you can see this clear as day.  Mutual self-gift has been reduced to self-gratification.  The body is no longer seen as a thing of beauty and holiness, but things like music have reduced it to meat.  It has become an object to attract buyers, a means to make money for clothing companies everywhere.  And even the styles of clothing reduce men and women from God’s creation to an object of lust, and a temptation against others’ purity.  Things in our world are no longer about communion, but about letting the good times roll.  How did this happen?  How did people forget all this?

http://www.stmarguerite.org

Well, I for one think that people are a lot smarter than they let on.  I think that somewhere inside the deepest part of the soul, people have an innate understanding that it doesn’t make sense to love and to take for oneself at the same time.  Normally, I try to make my homilies at least sort of practical.  But not today – partly because I’m running out of time, but mostly because of the ideal.  I want to place the ideal of marriage, the ideal of creation, and the ideal of communion before you as a reminder and a challenge.  Remember that ideal of love.  Even when the kids are screaming or crying in the cart at the grocery store, remember that ideal of love.  Even when your gutters overflow, your basement floods, or your front porch collapses, remember that ideal of love.  Even when you’re on a completely different work schedule than your spouse and you only get to see them for an hour or two a day, remember that ideal of love.  People know that the ideal of marriage exists, but it’s tough, and people need more than just an ideal – people need witnesses.  They need the example of your marriages as a mystery of self-giving love.  They need the example of your marriages as a union with God.  They need the example of your marriages as life-giving, love-giving, and lasting communion with each other.

We need you!  We the single, we the celibate, we the youth, we the separated, we the divorced, we the widowed, we the Church need you.  As we celebrate this great mystery of communion in the Eucharist today, my prayer is that you see what it is that you represent, and respond to it.  May you have the courage and strength to give witness to the presence of God in the union of husband and wife in marriage.

Homily From the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

What is the meaning of life?  It’s kind of a big question, isn’t it?  People spend all their time and energy searching for it.  It’s something we feel we need to discover.  It can be something that evades us our entire lives, except for us young people who clearly have it figured out completely already.  What is it?  Is it having peace of mind?  Is it doing nice things for people?  Is it about feeling good about ourselves?  What is it?

History is filled with philosophers, scientists, outspoken celebrities, and religious leaders who ask themselves that question, and have been seeking for thousands of years what is the meaning of life – what will fulfill us, what will satisfy us.  But really, despite the helpful suggestions given by so many people throughout history, only Christ gives us the answer, and he hints at it today.  We hear in the Gospel that Jesus is walking around by the Jordan River, doing his thing, listening to his iPod, and John the Baptist, a man who has dedicated his entire life for preparing for the Messiah and being able to recognize him calls out, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  John and Andrew, who had been John the Baptist’s followers, decide to investigate this, to check Jesus out, and so they follow Christ.  Jesus sees them, takes the earbuds out of his ears, and asks them, “What are you looking for?”  This may seem like a pretty basic question with a pretty basic answer (“a Wendy’s, “a Target store”, “the All Saints Athletics Fields”).  But it’s a very deep question.  In it, Jesus is asking them what it is that they seek, what it is that they long for within their hearts, what it is that gives them meaning.  The two are awestruck, and don’t really know what to say, so they ask Jesus where he’s staying, and where they can get more information.  And Jesus sort of smiles, and looks at them, and says, “Come and see.”  Come and see.  These beautiful words are some of the most important that we’ll hear in scripture, because they invite him, and all of us, to follow him and to become his disciples.  You see, the meaning of life isn’t something out there for us to find.  It’s not something abstract that we spend our whole lives seeking to possess.  It’s not some strange doctrine to wrap our minds around.  It’s a relationship that we enter into.  It’s a deep and personal friendship and companionship that we share with Christ.

In the Church, that call to friendship with Christ is called our vocation.  It’s the call to the deepest part of ourselves.  It’s not just the call to come to Mass, although that’s certainly out there.  It’s not just the call to help the poor and the lonely, and those in need.  But it is the call to our true purpose, our true mission.  It’s a call from someone who knows us more than we even know ourselves, to share intimately in the life of God.  Everyone has a vocation, whether you’re a mother or father, a husband or wife, or a single person.  And each of us are called in a special way, a unique way, to follow Christ, just as John and Andrew did.

This past week, we celebrated National Vocations Awareness week.  Did anyone know that?  Maybe we didn’t do the best job of awareness…  And while certainly we promote awareness to the married and single life, in a particular way, we promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  I think this is something in dire need in our Church and in our parish.  It should be part of every young man’s life to think about serving God as a priest, and part of every young woman’s life to think about serving God as a religious sister or nun.  But unfortunately, it hasn’t really turned out that way in our world today.  I was looking at some statistics for the united states, and in 1965, 994 men were ordained as priests.  But in 2003, just 9 years ago, there were only 441 ordinations.  You can see this in the class sizes that come out of the seminary especially.  In St. Louis, which is a pretty healthy diocese for vocations, Msgr. Whited’s class was made up of 16 people.  Just this past May, however, I was ordained as one in a class of…4.  What’s going on?  Why is this happening?  If it’s truly a call, then why is God calling fewer men?  Well, my theory is that God is still calling men to follow him, and maybe even moreso considering the need of the Church today, but that it’s become harder and harder for them to hear His call.  Other things are blocking that out: consumerism, the sexualization of our society, the emphasis of pleasure over happiness, and the growing idea that faith has nothing to do with life, or that faith is something purely individual.  All these messages and calls are going out.

I’m the only priest here today, as far as I can tell, so you might wonder how this affects you in any way.  But it’s important, because God needs a little help making his call heard.  Samuel had Eli to point it out, and John and Andrew had John the Baptist to point it out.  The priests and religious need us to point it out.  Do we pray for vocations?  Do we make frequent use of Mass, confession, individual prayer?  All these are important, especially to give a good example to foster vocations among our youth.  So if you know anyone who would make a good priest or religious, PLEASE TELL THEM!  It’s not an insult, or a sign of a lack in confidence of them, but a compliment!  It’s a challenging life, but a life of great, great rewards and happiness that ultimately gives meaning to my life.  The reality is that the Church can’t survive without priests.  If it’s a great community, that’s great!  If it’s a great social justice organization, that’s wonderful!  But the Church isn’t the Church if it’s not built around the Eucharist, and the Eucharist can’t happen without priests.

So as we turn the corner here back into Ordinary Time, we’re entering another long journey.  It’s not a boring time, but a time of invitation, a time of that call to get to know Christ and his teachings.  That call is for each of us: not just priests, not just religious, not just married or single people, but for all of us.  The only way that we’re going to know God’s call in our lives is to listen.  So as we come to this altar, as we are called to behold the Lamb of God, then let us respond just as Andrew and John did.  Let us put our trust in him, and in his call, and follow him, and let us find the happiness that Christ offers us in our lives.

Hot Around the Collar

“Gosh, Father, you look so warm in that!”
“Black isn’t the best color to be wearing in the heat, eh, Father?”
“Wow, Father, you’re dressed so formal!”
“Why don’t you loosen up that collar a little?”

One of the things I’m really picking up in my first year of priesthood is the importance of wearing my clerical dress, namely, the Roman collar.  Sure, all of those statements above are true – it’s hot, it absorbs heat like crazy, it’s sometimes uncomfortable, and it makes people stare.  Sometimes, I even wonder whether as children, some peoples’ parents told them to stop staring, smacking them upside the head.  And yet, I’m called wear this thing anyway.

Sure, you could consider a legal thing.  The 1983 Code of Canon Law states that “clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb in accord with the norms issued by the conference of bishops and in accord with legitimate local custom.” (canon 284)  So yes, I guess I have to wear it according to the law.

But the collar means so much more than that.  We find ourselves in a very secularized, very materialistic society, one that longs for signs of the sacred and of something beyond itself.  The distinctive black shirt with the white Roman collar stands out as a beacon in this world, and is very recognizeable as a sign of what we stand for.  The man who wears that white piece of fabric or plastic around his neck is more than just the guy who lives at the church down the street.  He is a man of God, a dispenser of the great mysteries of our faith, and by virtue of his ordination to the priesthood, he is conformed to the image of Christ, consecrated and set apart from others.

This is where it gets tough.  In living at the parish, many priests have a pull within themselves between the things that they have to do as presiders – preach, lead the community in worship of Almighty God, stand in the person of Christ (for goodness sakes!) – and the things they have to do as spiritual fathers – get close to the families of the parish, be present in the best and worst times in their lives, etc.  In this way, a false humility almost gets the better of us.  Many priests don’t want to wear their clerics for fear of being set apart from solidarity with their people, but the reality is, the priest is called to be set apart, in the same way that Christ himself was set apart amongst his disciples – not to be their boss, but to lead them to the Father.

As I reflect on the meaning of the clerics in my own life, I see it as a challenge.  When I put on that collar (even when it keeps unbuttoning itself, i.e. I need new ones), I feel Christ calling me to something more.  He is calling me to truly be the pastor, the shepherd that my people need me to be.  And it is a reminder to me that I’m not here to do my own work, but the work of the one who sent me to this parish, this hospital room, this classroom, this confessional.  When people see me walk in with my collar, my prayer is that they don’t see Michael Joseph Grosch, some twerp kid from Ballwin, but Jesus of Nazareth coming to minister to their needs.

The ministerial priesthood is a vocation and a witness, not merely a job, and so the clerical shirt isn’t about what I do, but who I am.

So yes, it’s hot, and sometimes uncomfortable, but don’t worry, I’m fine.