Saturday, February 17, 2018

Homily for 18 Feb 2018

18 Feb 2018
1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

In December (6,2017) Pope Francis suggested that a line in the Our Father should be retranslated, the line we read as: “Lead us not into temptation.”  And, of course, that set off a storm of both praise and criticism.  The Pope said, “I am the one who falls.  It’s not [God] pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen.  A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately.  It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.”

And I think we’d all agree that God does not tempt us.  Saint James says as much in his letter when he writes, “No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’;
for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one.”  God doesn’t push us over a cliff and then watch to see if we’re going to learn how to fly.  He doesn’t entice us to watch us fall.  Obviously, that’s not who our God is. 

On a side note, if that were actually who our God is, then he wouldn’t be God.  And it would be a waste of our time to worship him.  Happily, though, that’s not who God is.  God does not tempt us.  Pope Francis is absolutely right about that. 

And yet, we see in the gospel that the Holy Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert.  Jesus was anointed by the Spirit, sent by God the Father, in a lovely baptismal scene.  But then Jesus was immediately driven out into a place of temptation, into the desert.  Jesus wasn’t only “lead into temptation,” he was “thrown out” into it, right into the lion’s den to be tempted and tested.  Satan did the actual tempting.  But Jesus didn’t just wander into that place…he was put there on purpose.

And we see that same thing happen to many of God’s chosen ones.  Take, Abraham, for example: put to the test by being told to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.  Or take Job: put to the test and tempted to resent and deny God because of all his misfortunes in life.  Think about Peter: put to the test when Jesus was being arrested, tempted to deny having anything to do with Jesus.

God does not tempt us, as Pope Francis says.  But God certainly puts us in situations where we’re probably going to be tempted and tested.  And he doesn’t do it for kicks; he does it so that we can prove ourselves and our love for him; so we can be built up and made strong in faith, hope, and love.  God is like a coach who loves his players, but who also pushes us, who makes us face our limitations so that we can overcome them.  It’s one of the ways God loves us.

Of course, sometimes we wish that God would love us more in the other ways he does.  You know, with compassion, gentleness, joy of heart, and so on.  Even Jesus wished for that.  At the Agony in the Garden when he was coming up against his ultimate test—the Cross—he prayed, “Father, let this cup pass from me.”  In other words, “Father, I’d rather not do this, I’d rather not face the Cross, but let your Will be done.” 

“Lead us not into temptation,” “do not put us to the test,” but still, may your Will be done God—because we know his Will has a good purpose.  And that good purpose is: our being made holy, our becoming who we’re made to be, our flourishing as his sons and daughters.  Pope Benedict XVI wrote that this is why Jesus had to be tempted; to answer the question, “What must the Savior of the world do or not do?”  What does it mean to be the Savior?  Temptation is ultimately a question about our identity, especially our identity in relation to God.  Am I going to be a child of God, or not?  Am I going to let God be God in this situation, or am I going to take over?  Am I going to trust God, or am I going to live in fear?  These are some of the questions we face when we’re tempted, and they all get down to a question of identity.  Who am I?

You know, one of the joys of my own life is public speaking.  I love getting up in front of a crowd of people, having hundreds of eyeballs staring at me.  It’s wonderful!  (Not really.)  Actually, it’s probably the hardest thing for me to do.  Give me tragedy and mayhem, I can handle it.  But a crowd of people….  So you can imagine what a test it is to get up and preside at the Mass.  I enjoy it; I love the Mass, but it can definitely be a time of temptation.

And the temptation is, as I mentioned, a question of identity.  It’s very easy to feel judged when you have a bunch of people looking at you.  But the question that comes with that situation is: am I going to be at peace being the child of God that I am, a child of a God who’s already judged me worthy of his love; or am I going to be a fearful slave to what others think, to how others judge?  The temptation is to be fearful.  The test is to be that peaceful child of God in that situation.

And this is a temptation that, I imagine, most of us can relate to on some level: the temptation to give more weight to what others think, and less weight to what God thinks.  We do it in our relationships, in our friendships, in the parish, in politics, at work, at school…pretty much everywhere. 

You have your peers, your teammates, classmates, friends, neighbors; you have your parents or other authority figures; you have God and Church; and somewhere in the mix you have yourself.  Where does your allegiance lay?  Are friends more important than personal integrity?  Or does personal integrity win friends?  Is getting along with everybody more important than being true to your faith?  Or does faith influence how you get along with others?  Am I a child of God, or am I a slave to what others think?  Of course, most of us are probably a mix of the two.    

When finances get tight, or life takes you on a strange path, the temptation is to worry too much, to despair.  The test, though, is to keep our head screwed on right, to trust the providence of God, and to just go with it.  When I was in college in Milwaukee it never failed: the last couple months of summer I’d be dead broke.  I was like a kid getting all excited about finding a dime, or a quarter…”Alright, I can buy a loaf of bread this week!” 

As Jesus says, “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matt 6:26,33).  I may have been scraping the bottom of the financial barrel there in college, but I made it; God got me through.  I passed the test; I didn’t despair.

The Book of Wisdom tells us, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”  God does not tempt us.  But he puts us in situations where we might be tempted.  Like a good coach, a loving teacher he stretches and pushes us to mold us into who and what we’re made to be: sons and daughters of God.  The temptation is to recoil back from that.  The test is to stay true to God and to ourselves. 

“Lead us not into temptation,” we pray, “but still…may your Will be done.”  Make us instruments of your peace, instruments strong enough to be nailed to a cross.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Homily for 16 Feb 2018

16 Feb 2018

There’s a spiritual benefit to the discipline of fasting.  It recalls the desert experience, and how in that setting we are challenged to rely more on God than on worldly nourishment.  But there’s also more to fasting.  And Scripture today reminds us of that.

Fasting is a reminder that we’re not yet in heaven.  Even though heaven has already broken into our lives, we’re still not entirely there.  We’re “away from the Bridegroom” Jesus.  And so our feasting with happiness that God has called us to himself is also mixed with fasting in a spirit of longing to be definitely with God. 

And then the Prophet Isaiah brings to our awareness the social aspect of fasting: fasting from being resentful or proud, fasting from being neglectful of those in need, fasting from self-centeredness, and so on, and so on. 

As part of our Lenten discipline, we fast.  But we don’t do it mechanically or absentmindedly.  We do it for some very definite purposes: as a way stop feeding the stomach, and start feeding the soul; as a reminder that we’re not yet in the feast of heaven; and as a way to look outward, toward those in need, and toward our God. 

May God bless us and make our fasting fruitful.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Homily for 15 Feb 2018

15 Feb 2018
(School Mass)

Today we get to learn a new vocabulary word.  And the word is “repent.”  We heard it right before the gospel reading when Jesus says, “Repent, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  And we heard it yesterday, too, for Ash Wednesday.  When we got ashes put on our forehead, we heard, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  So, it’s an important word for us during Lent.

Now, the word “repent” can have two meanings.  It can mean “to feel sorry” for things that maybe we shouldn’t have done.  Things like: talking in class when we should’ve been listening; or not respecting a classmate, or a teacher or parents.  There are a lot of things we can feel sorry for. 

But Jesus doesn’t tell us to “repent” in order to make us feel bad.  He tells us to “repent” so we remember that we’re supposed to be loving our classmates, and teachers and parents, and everybody else.  People who can feel sorry are people who know how to love others; and they don’t want to hurt others.  So when Jesus tells us to “repent,” he’s reminding us to make sure we have a loving heart, a heart that feels both joy…and sorrow.

Now, the word “repent” has another meaning, too.  It can also mean “to think again,” or “to rethink” something.  For example, when we have a choice, we have to think about it.  If I have a choice to be nice to somebody, or the choice to be disrespectful, I have to think about it.  What am I going to do?  Am I going to be nice, or am I going to disrespectful?  Well, if I make the wrong choice, I have to “rethink” my decision…I have to “repent.”  I have to change my mind about what I’m doing.

So the word “repent” is very important for us, especially during Lent.  It means “to feel sorry” and “to rethink” the decisions we make so can make better ones in the future.  Ultimately, it means to be a more loving, wise person.  It means to be like Jesus. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Homily for 9 Feb 2018

9 Feb 2018

Can God create a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it?  It’s a question meant to demonstrate what’s called the “omnipotence paradox.”  The paradox being: If God really is all-powerful, is there anything he cannot do?  Is there anything which God does not have ultimate power over?  And the answer is supposed to be No. 

But there might be one thing: the human heart.  We heard that after Jesus healed the deaf man, “he ordered [the people] not to tell anyone.  But...the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”  In the psalm we hear: “My people heard not my voice, and Israel obeyed me not...if only my people would hear me.” 

It’s a breathtaking thing—to realize that the human heart can easily overrule the will of God.  God’s voice can easily be pushed aside by our own voice.  It’s breathtaking, and it can be downright scary to realize we have that kind of power.  But God has entrusted that power—that freedom, to us.

May we use our freedom of heart...wisely.  May we use it for the good, being humble instruments and faithful friends of our God.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Homily for 6 Feb 2018

6 Feb 2018

“Hypocrites!”: it’s probably the worst thing Jesus called the Pharisees and scribes.  For people who prided themselves on fidelity to the law of God, “hypocrites” was the worst thing to be called.  But, of course, it was the truth.  They presented themselves as “the faithful;” and they were…but not necessarily to God.  That was the problem.  And they didn’t recognize it, which made the problem much worse.

The Christian life is characterized by many things, one of which is the interior freedom to “go with the flow” of the Holy Spirit; to make corrections in the course of life so we stay on track.  You know, if you’re driving your car and you start to drift to the left or the right, you don’t just keep drifting and go into the ditch; you make a correction.  And we do it without even thinking, really.  Well, we do the same in our lives as disciples of Christ.

If there’s a passage in Scripture, or something in a homily, or something that a bishop or pope or a friend says which makes you think: “Oh!...maybe I need to change something in my life,” it’s good to listen to that.  It’s good to act on that.  We hope that we’ll never hear Jesus call us a hypocrite, like he did the Pharisees.  But if he says some other truth that we need to hear, it’s good to listen and act on it—not in fear, but with thanks.

The Lord is our Navigator through life.  He’s our GPS who says, “Turn right, turn left.”  And it’s good to listen to him and to act.  He’ll get us to where we’re going, safe and sound.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Homily for 31 Jan 2018

31 Jan 2018

Our God is a personal God: he knows each of us by name, and that’s how he relates to us.  We aren’t just another sheep in the flock.  And that’s the gospel, the good news today.  God knows each of us personally...and we can know him personally.

This is maybe why the Lord was not happy when King David called for the census of the people.  David turned people into numbers; into faceless, nameless statistics.  And it was a similar problem in the gospel today: the people had their own ideas of who Jesus was, and they refused to accept him as the person he is. 

God created something very personal when he created the human race.  We aren’t statistics; we’re persons, with names and identities.  And our God isn’t a nameless God; he is Jesus, Yahweh, Emmanuel, “God-with-us.”  And this is all good news. 

When we’re tempted to feel alone, Jesus is there for the unfailing Friend he is.  When we pray, we pray from one heart to another—from ours to God’s.  And when we see others—in person, on the internet, in the paper—they are brothers and sisters (even if we forget it sometimes).

Our God is a personal God, and he created a personal world.  May we enjoy each other’s company, and remember to share our own self with others.  Especially, may we open our heart to God’s and know we are deeply, personally loved and adored.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Homily for 28 Jan 2018

28 Jan 2018
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

It was about twenty years ago.  I was looking through some pictures, and I saw one of me.  And it just grabbed my attention because I saw that, oh my goodness...I was really overweight.  You know what they say, “The camera doesn’t lie!”  It was one of those life-changing moments.  And right then I committed myself to getting in better shape, which I did.  But it wouldn’t have happened without that one snapshot.  That’s what opened my eyes to see that something needed to change.

And I wonder sometimes if that’s how it is with us in our lives of faith—as individuals and as a Church.  Do we at some point have an “awakening,” where we get a glimpse of ourselves and say, “Oh my goodness, I’ve really gotten off track here!”  Does that happen?...because if it doesn’t, then maybe that’s something to pray for—the gift of self-awareness, and the fortitude to change what needs to be changed.

As a “shepherd” in the Lord’s flock, it’s something that crosses my mind quite a bit.  Not too long ago, I was at a Church gathering; it lasted about an hour and a half.  And, except for the opening prayer, Jesus was never mentioned once in that ninety minutes.  Not once.  You wouldn’t think that would happen in the Church.  But it does; every now and then we lose our grounding, we get off track; we forget what we’re about.  Jesus, God, faith...they all seemed to be absent during that meeting.

At the Second Vatican Council (and since about the 1890s), there had been a strong push for “fully conscious and active participation” during the Mass.  People were concerned that the faithful (and even the ordained) weren’t really “engaged” in what was happening at Mass.  And so, the “push” for active participation was an attempt to get the Church “back on track” in its worship. 

Now, it’s interesting to note that the original Latin word [actuosa] from Vatican II we translate as “active,” can be translated as either “active” or “actual.”  And think we’d all agree there’s a difference.  “Active” generally means “doing things.”  But “actual” means to “make something real.”  So when the Church made that call for “active” participation in the Mass, it makes more sense to think of it as a call for “actual” participation.

After all, we can be singing, standing, kneeling, responding, and so on...we can be “doing” everything correctly, but still be totally disconnected from what’s going on.  We can be “actively” participating, but still off track.  And so, we want to be “actually,” consciously involved in what’s going on here. 

For example, our psalm today, Psalm 95, is a song of praise and adoration of God: “Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us bow down in worship; for he is our God and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.”  It’s a really heartfelt, deeply felt kind of song.  The question, though, is: Did we mean what we sang?  Were we “actually” singing that psalm?

Of course, that’s a question we each have to ask ourselves: Did we mean what we sang?  And it doesn’t matter if we sing well or not, or even if we sing at all.  That’s not the point. The question is: Is the sentiment of that psalm in our heart, in our spirit?  Do we feel those words of praise and adoration inside?...because that’s where “conscious and actual participation” happens...deep within each of us. 

If we don’t feel it—if we’re not actually participating in the words we sing, in the gestures we make, and so on—well, then there’s a disconnect.  And when we feel that disconnect, it’s like seeing a snapshot of ourselves and saying, “Oh my goodness...something’s not right here.  What happened to Jesus?  What happened to living faith, and hope, and love?  Something has to change.”

It can be one of those life-changing moments to be aware of that disconnect.  But it can be also very empowering, because it motivates us to make a change.

Now, here in the parish (and in any parish, it seems), when building projects are in discussion, those discussions can be a major “dis-traction” from what we’re all about.  And it takes an enormous amount of effort to stay on track; to remember our priorities, to remember what’s important.  But if we get off track, if we lose our focus, then something has to change.

Now, last week we had a joint meeting of the Pastoral and Finance Councils.  And the meeting was a result of my feeling that “something had to change.”  It’s no secret that discussions and disagreements about buildings have dominated the life of the parish for far too long.  We’ve lost focus on the Lord, on our mission, and our basic call to love one another.

And so, I sent a recommendation to the Councils regarding our buildings; which they generally accepted.  And it contains some definite changes and some concrete direction.  And it’s a recommendation which should resonate with parishioners because it’s based on what I’ve heard the parish community say—as a whole. 

“Something had to change.”  And what had to change was the plan itself; to make it more in line with what parishioners (generally speaking) desire.  And so, if it’s acceptable to you—to a vast majority of parishioners—we will keep and use our three churches for the foreseeable future.  We will do necessary upgrades and upkeep on them.  We will also build a new Parish Center on our new land.  And it’ll serve as a place for continued growth in unity as friends and neighbors in Christ.

We’ve been talking with an architect.  And we could be fundraising as early as September—if it’s what parishioners generally want.  Now, I’m not going to go into all the details of this in the middle of the homily (I’ll say more about that at the end of Mass).  Something needed to change in order to get the parish on track again; in order to be “actually engaged” in what we’re about: love of God, love of neighbor, and the call to go out and share the gospel.

Now, if we look at more snapshots of ourselves as a Church, we see how many of our youth have fallen away from their Catholic faith.  And that’s disturbing.  You know, the fact that we’re unable to keep our youth in Christ’s flock should be like a red warning light: “Something’s not right; something needs to change.”  And that’s a tough one.  It’s a tough one…for several reasons. 

None of us lives in a bubble.  And that’s especially true with our youth.  Our circle of influence isn’t just our neighborhood; it isn’t just the people we see every day.  The circle of influence for our youth is, quite literally, the entire world.  There’s been global communication before, but not like there is today.  There’s instantaneous sharing of ideas.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But it does mean that, today, the Catholic Church is easily just one voice among many, many others for our youth (and adults, too).  What some anonymous person puts on YouTube can be just as influential as (or more so than) what a bishop or the pope says.  And that isn’t a fault of our youth; it’s just the situation we find ourselves in today as the Church.  But, still, something isn’t right here; something has to change.

And one area of change here at the parish is in our Discipleship Formation program.  We’re basically overhauling the whole thing.  You know, it isn’t enough to simply tell our youth what to think or believe.  That has its place, certainly.  But when youth get to high school, they have the ability to think for themselves.  And so, in the Discipleship Formation program we’re going to start teaching our youth how to think.  We’re going to have an entire semester on critical thinking skills.  They’re going to learn how to make an argument, how to recognize a good argument from a bad one, and so on.

And they’re going to take those skills and apply them to real life situations.  And they’re apply those skills to the teachings of the Church.  As a parish, we’re not going to run from the challenge of global communication and social media; instead we’re going to teach our youth how to think, how to engage their Catholic faith intelligently, and how to engage other ways of thinking and believing that are out there.  And that will be a major change in the Discipleship Formation program.

But another area of change, with respect to youth, is in the home.  You know, our youth can go to Wednesday Discipleship Formation, they can go to St. Clare School, and they can learn about the faith, our values, and such.  But unless that’s supported in the home, it’s almost pointless.  Is there a change that needs to happen at home, regarding faith and our youth?  Maybe, maybe not.  I don’t know.  If you were to see a snapshot of home life—and how faith is part of home life, what would you see?  Is there a change that needs to happen?

Do the kids know they’re loved?  I know it sounds like a wishy-washy sort of question, but it’s important: do the kids know they’re loved, that they have a home, a place where they absolutely belong?  And that’s not just a question for parents; it’s also for grandparents, aunts and uncles, and…the the parish community.  Of all the places someone should be able to expect love and acceptance it should be in the Catholic Church.  It’s what makes us “catholic.”  Jesus loves everybody; he welcomes everybody to follow him.

He went out and touched the lepers who were literally the outcasts of society.  He welcomed prostitutes and ate meals with them; he wasn’t ashamed to be associated with either of them.  The same went for the “tax-man;” imagine Jesus having the Commissioner of the IRS over for supper.  And he even loved those people who hated his guts.

Do our youth know—and, for that matter, does each of us know—that we are unconditionally welcomed by the Lord?  Welcomed and cared about... 

It always strikes me as sad, but especially as tragic, when I read or hear about a youth who commits suicide because he or she felt unloved, unwanted, and unwelcome.  I mean, where was the Church for that lost soul?  Was it too busy strategizing about finances, or reorganizing committee structures, or what?  Did the Church get off track and forget to “go after the lost sheep”?  Or did the Church do everything it could?  I don’t know.  But it makes me wonder.

If we were to come across a snapshot of ourselves as a parish—with regard to love of neighbor, with regard to our youth—we’d probably (hopefully) say, “Oh my goodness, we have some work to do there; something has to change.”

Just recently, Bishop Ricken asked parishes to do some “mission planning.”  And the questions we’re going to be asking are these types of questions.  The planning isn’t going to be about how to boost Mass attendance, or how to increase financial giving; it’s not going to be a survey about Mass times or anything like that. 

The planning is going to ask questions like: Are people satisfied with their lives?  Do people have it in their hearts to be of service to others?  Do people feel welcome, and invited, to share themselves, and to give of their talents to their community?  Is this a spiritual home for people?  Does each and every person—young and old and in between—know that he or she is deeply loved by our God? 

And whatever snapshots we come up with in that planning, we pray that God will give us all the courage to notice what needs to change, and then to actually make those changes.

You know, twenty years ago when I first saw that picture of me being a little overweight, my initial reaction was, well...I was shocked.  But it made me determined to make a change.  And I did, and it was great.

God helps us to see ourselves—as individuals and as a parish.  He holds up a snapshot of our lives and, very gently but firmly, he points to it and says, “You might want to fix that.  You’re going off track right there.”  May we see what God sees, and change our lives…for our own good, the good of our neighbor, and for his glory.