Saturday, November 17, 2018

Homily for 18 Nov 2018

18 Nov 2018
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

There used to be a sign by the highway.  It was about the size of a card table, painted white, really simple.  And there were big black letters on it that read: “Prepare! The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  And after about five years, the paint was starting to peel (I suppose from sitting out in the hot sun all day).  And then after about seven years, it started to tilt, and you could see the wood underneath the paint; it was already gray from the weather. 

And then, finally, after about ten years, it fell over in the ditch.  The mud and the rain finished it off.  So much for: “Prepare!  The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  I guess it wasn’t as “close at hand” as they thought.  Scripture reminds us today of the closeness of the coming of Jesus, and of all the earthly and cosmic events that will happen when he comes. 

But, at the same time, these Scriptures today can be a bit like that sign by the highway.  Thousands of years have gone by from the time Mark’s Gospel was written, and another six hundred years beyond that since the Book of Daniel was written.  It’s a long time for Scripture to be standing there by the highway, proclaiming its urgent message that Jesus is coming.  And, of course, for a lot of people, that message is worn and irrelevant, just like that sign by the highway.  You can only wait so long, and then you stop paying attention.

But, really, the wait isn’t that long.  Christians have long believed in what’s called the “general resurrection” when, at the end of time, what Jesus says will come to pass.  “They will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky” [Mark 13:26-27].  That’s the “general resurrection.”  And, while we don’t when that will happen, we can probably guess it’s not going to be for awhile (based on our already 2,000+ year wait).

But Christians have also long believed in what might be called the “individual resurrection,” or “individual judgment,” which we experience at the time of our death.  We hear in the Gospel of Luke: “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (16:22).  And later at the crucifixion scene, Jesus tells the repentant thief: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (23:43).  So, really, the wait isn’t that long.

For myself, I expect in the next forty years or so, “the Kingdom of God will be at hand” for me.  But, of course, I don’t know; none of us does.  But we do know that, sooner or later, “the Kingdom of God will be at hand” for each of us; at some point we have to die.  These bodies of ours aren’t made to last forever...even if our souls are.  And that’s not a reason to be afraid. 

How many times does Jesus say, “Be not afraid, be not afraid, I am with you always.”  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am going to prepare a place for you, and then I will come back to take you with me, so that where I am you also may be.”  And, really, for a people of faith, for people who trust in God, who adore God, who open themselves up to him and his grace, Christs promise is a wonderful thing to hear and to cherish: “I will come back to take you with me; be not afraid, I am with you always.”

It’s an image of the Bridegroom embracing his Beloved, his Bride.  But that only happens through what we talked about last weekend; namely, sacrifice. 

It’s similar, maybe, to the relationship we have to the earth.  The earth gives and gives.  And we are the happy recipients of all that earth offers us: food, water, shelter, star-filled nights, sunny days, heat, and cold, and so on.  The earth gives and gives...for our benefit.  And we receive everything the earth gives.  We take that food and water and warmth, and it becomes part of our lives.

But, then, at some point, we give ourselves to the earth, and the earth receives us.  Of course, that’s what cemeteries symbolize and remind us of: the give-and-take relationship between ourselves and the earth.  And if cemeteries remind us of that, then churches (and what we do here at Mass) remind us of the give-and-take relationship between ourselves and our God.  God gives and gives: love, guidance, forgiveness, hope, faith, truth, wisdom, and so on.  God gives and gives.  And we (try to) receive all that. 

But, then, we give ourselves to God, and God receives us.  God takes us to himself, so that, as Jesus says, “where I am you also may be;” not in the dark of the grave, but enjoying the “splendor of God’s Kingdom” in spirit and in truth.  But that give-and-take relationship with God requires sacrifice...from both parties: God and us. 

But by really trying to live a life of sacrifice—a life of self-offering and self-gift to God and to others—we realize that “the Kingdom of God is at hand;” not only at the end of the world, not only at the time of our individual passing from this life, but also right here in life.  The Kingdom of God is at hand; it’s here for the taking.  Just like an apple tree that’s ready for the harvest.  And the tree says, “Come, enjoy my fruit!”  So the Kingdom of God is always ripe, always ready for the taking.

And we do take—not in guilt, but with thanksgiving.  At the Last Supper, Jesus broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this, all of you, and eat of it.”  Take it, eat it.  It’s given up...”for you.”  There’s no guilt involved, just thanksgiving.  And the same thing with the chalice: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it.”  Take it, drink from it.  It’s poured out...”for you.”  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  There’s nothing to be afraid of; just enjoy the fruits of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, just as much as we enjoy the fruits of the earth.

But, in return, what do we give to the Lord?  What do we give to the earth in return?  We care for it as responsible workers in “the vineyard of the Lord.”  We love the earth by caring for it.  And how do we love the Lord?  Through sacrifice...primarily, a sacrifice of thanksgiving, worship, and adoration.  Ultimately, though, we love the Lord by dying into his hands, with trust, and with hope and peace.  We love him by giving ourselves back to him—each and every day in spirit, and then, someday, we give our frail bodies back to him.

So, the Kingdom of God is, truly, at hand.  Right now the grace of God is ready for the taking.  And there’s plenty to go around.  And the more we enjoy that grace today, the more we enjoy and develop our friendship with Christ today, the more we’ll look forward to that day; that day when God will say, “Come, it’s time.  Be not afraid...the Kingdom of God is hand...for you.”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Homily for 11 Nov 2018

11 Nov 2018
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Sacrifice is central to our lives as Christians.  Whether we’re here at Mass, or out and about doing our thing as families, as friends, or even as individuals, sacrifice is essentially what defines us as Christians.  And that’s not just for Catholics; that goes for anyone who would call him- or herself a follower of Jesus Christ.  At the heart of Christian worship is sacrifice.  It’s why the crucifix holds a central place in Christian art.  Sacrifice is (or is supposed to be) central to who we are and what we’re about. 

And this is something our readings this weekend make us reflect on.  We hear about the sacrifice of the widow at Zarephath—using up the last of her flour and oil to feed someone.  We hear about the sacrifice of the widow at the Temple—putting her two cents into the treasury, “her whole livelihood.”  We hear about Jesus offering the sacrifice of himself, both on earth and in heaven.  This weekend, we cannot escape sacrifice.

And if there’s a main idea to our readings today it’s that: Sacrifice should cost me something.  Sacrifice should cost us something; we should “feel it.”  Now, Jesus is not asking us to be in misery and pain.  He’s not asking that; instead, he’s asking us to make sure our sacrifices are actually sacrifices.  And he makes that request through the little snapshot in the gospel.

“Many rich people put in large sums” into the treasury.  Then “a poor widow also came and put in two small coins.”  And Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more...[because the others] contributed from their surplus,” whereas she “contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”  Jesus is trying to get across the point that the widow “felt” her sacrifice, whereas the others did not necessarily. 

It’s the difference between a sacrifice of my “extra stuff” (a sacrifice which doesn’t really touch “me”), and a sacrifice which is “me.”  When Elijah came to Zarephath, the widow didn’t say, “Well, I don’t have much flour and oil, but let me go see if my neighbor can spare some.”  No, she used up what was hers, even if it was all she had.  And Jesus on the Cross sacrificed his own blood, not the blood of a sacrificial animal (which would be the usual sacrifice to make at that time). 

There’s a big difference between those people at the Temple who gave out of their surplus, and the widow who had no surplus and gave of herself, her “whole livelihood” (or in Greek we could read that “she gave her whole life.”  There’s a big difference there.  God is looking for self-sacrifice—not the sacrifice of somebody else.  And God walks the talk: he himself was sacrificed on the Cross.  So he’s not asking us to do something he himself hasn’t already done.

Now, granted, very few of us (if any of us here) will be called upon to make such a dramatic sacrifice as Jesus.  But sacrifice is still central to our lives as Christians.

For example, friendship is a good thing.  It’s a great gift from God to have true friends in this life.  But, there is a cost involved with that good thing; and the cost is sacrifice.  When it’s the end of the day, and you’re ready to just wind down, your friend might call or text, and he or she might need to talk.  Not just a “hey, how’s it going” kind of talk, but a talk that requires a caring heart.  Well, that’s where the self-sacrifice comes in.  You ignore the fact that you’re tired, and you be the friend.  And it costs you something, and you feel it. You’re tired, and if your body had its way, you’d be asleep already.  But you forego the sleep and you give your time and attention to that other person—willingly.  Sacrifice is part of who we are as Christians.

And, of course, any parent knows that children bring all sorts of opportunities for self-sacrifice.  “I’d like to go to the game, but...little Matthew is sick and I need to stay home.  It’s my responsibility.”  Or “I want my kids to like me, but I just have to be the parent and say ‘no’ this time, even if makes them mad.”  Parents feel what it’s like to sacrifice.

Politics is another area for sacrifice.  For instance, Christians are absolutely pro-life.  And it takes a certain amount of courage to stand up for that, especially when you know that other people might treat you quite badly when you stand up for life.  But that’s the sacrifice: Being a willing target of others’ hostility, even the hostility of other Christians.

In this politically charged time in our history, you almost have to expect to be bad-mouthed if you dare to stand up for what you believe.  Politics can be a vicious arena, and there are plenty of chances to practice self-sacrifice.  And that are sacrifices we might feel; they’re sacrifices that might cost us something.

And, of course, sacrifice touches parish life, too.  Every volunteer we have is practicing self-sacrifice; giving their time, their efforts for the good of the community, with the only “payment” being those words: Thank you.  Even the employees have opportunities to practice sacrifice whenever they say ‘okay’ to one of Father’s off-the-wall ideas.  Really, we each practice self-sacrifice every time we give somebody the benefit of the doubt; when we choose the ways of mercy and non-judgement when, really, we want nothing more than judge somebody else.  And we all know how that kind of sacrifice feels like: it feels like a tongue that’s been bitten.

Sacrifice runs all through parish life.  And a really concrete way we experience that is, of course, with the collection basket.  Sacrifice makes the parish and the school run.  We’re not like a civic government that can just levy taxes.  The bulk of what we do is supported by people’s sacrificial offering.  Without financial sacrifice, we cease to be (a parish).  And so, talk about money and the collection basket shouldn’t be shied away from; it should be right out there in the open like any other sacrifice we’re each asked to make.  Without a healthy sense of sacrifice, the parish—the Church—doesn’t exist; whether that’s the sacrifice of money, or the sacrifice of time, or the sacrificial offering of our gifts and our talents.  The life of any Christian community runs on sacrifice; in particular, the sacrifices that we “feel.”

But, in saying that, it has to be acknowledged that sacrifice is a two-way street.  We’re called to sacrifice because of our baptism and our profession of faith in Christ.  We’re called to a life of sacrifice.  But, we’re also called to receive others’ sacrifice with gratitude, and to reverence that for what it is: a sacrifice, a self-gift.

Now, we hear today about Elijah and the scribes.  And they’re on opposite ends of a spectrum.  Both ask for sacrifice from others.  They both do it.  But Elijah asks, knowing that the widow’s sacrifice won’t bring her any harm in the long run.  He asks for a sacrifice to help her be a better Jew.  But when the scribes ask for a sacrifice, it’s only to fill their treasury.  Even if the sacrifice is intended for the Temple, there’s no attention given to the well-being of the widow, the one making the sacrifice.   As Jesus puts it, the scribes “devour the houses of widows.”  The scribes have little respect for others’ sacrifice as a sacrifice.  But Elijah does.

It’s as we say during Mass: May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…for the praise and glory of his name…for our good…and the good of his holy Church.  Sacrifice is meant to build up, not to destroy.

And so, any time we ask for a sacrifice from someone else—whether that’s among friends or family, at work, or in the parish, or from the parish; whether it’s a sacrifice of time, or money, or gifts and talents—we want to follow the example of Elijah (and Jesus).  Others’ self-sacrifice should be reverenced and cherished, not abused or taken for granted.  And perhaps the best way to do that is to make sure that we “feel” our own sacrifices, so we can appreciate the sacrifices of others.

And so, as we gather here at the Altar of God, we approach with gratitude in our hearts.  Jesus’ self-sacrifice is given to us and for our benefit.  May we, in turn, take that same spirit of sacrifice into the world, into our homes and our hearts.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Homily for 28 Oct 2018

28 Oct 2018
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Every October, on the last Sunday of the month, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates “Priesthood Sunday.”  Officially, it’s “a day to reflect upon and affirm the role of the priesthood in the life of the Church as a central one” (from Serra International).  And, to be honest, it’s an idea I’ve struggled with; primarily because what we do here at Mass isn’t about any of us—it’s about God.

Even when there is a wedding, or a baptism, or confirmation, or the blessing of an anniversary, and so on, it isn’t about us.  Instead, it’s always about offering thanks and praise to God for what he’s doing.  You know, a wedding is a time to celebrate God’s grace having brought the couple together; God’s grace blessing them and strengthening them in their lifelong union of love.  At a baptism and at confirmation, we celebrate God’s gift of salvation and new life.  And so on, and so on.

What we do at Mass isn’t about any of us—it’s about God.  And so, on this “Priesthood Sunday,” there is something to celebrate and to honor.  And what we hold up today is…priesthood.  “Now, wait a minute, Father.  You just said we weren’t going to do that.”  Well, true.  But we are going to celebrate what God is doing.  And what he’s doing, as we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews, is that Jesus is being—at this very moment—our great High Priest.  And he’s inviting to share in that same priesthood.

Priesthood is, fundamentally, a state of being.  It’s part of who someone is.  It describes the nature and lifestyle of a person.  And at the heart of that lifestyle are two things: offering and intercession.  Offering and intercession.

When we come to Mass we do a lot of things: sit, stand, kneel, sing, put money in the basket, pray, genuflect, listen to Scripture, write intentions in the prayer book, say Amen, profess the faith, and just generally try to give our attention to what’s going on.  And all of that is an offering of ourselves.  From the moment we say, “Ok, I’m going to go to Mass,” until we get here and participate in Mass, we’re offering ourselves to God: our time, our attention, our money, our gifts, our prayers, our hopes and faith, our voices, our intentions, and our hearts.

And even when we leave from here, we still live a life of offering.  Offering our time to neighbors, friends, and family; offering our help to those in need; giving of our gifts and our talents where they’re needed; and so on.  At the heart of priesthood is this idea of “offering” and “giving.”  And so, “priesthood” should describe every one of us.

This is what the Roman Catechism says: “All the faithful are said to be priests, once they have been washed in the saving waters of Baptism.  Especially is this name given to [those who,]… enlightened by faith and charity…offer spiritual sacrifices to God on the altar of their hearts.” 

And this understanding of priesthood has been around for a very long time.  The Roman Catechism was written by Pope St. Pius V…in 1570.  And, of course, before that there was Saint Peter saying to the people, “You are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:5).  Not sacrifices and offerings on the stone or wood altar, but spiritual sacrifices on “the altar of the heart.”  And we carry our hearts and souls with us all the time.  And so, whenever or wherever we are, we can exercise our God-given ability to “make an offering.”

And also right there at the heart of priesthood is the idea of “making intercession” for others; praying to God on behalf of others.  You know, at Mass when we have our Universal Prayers, we all respond, “Lord, hear our prayer.”  “For the Church, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.  For the sick and the needy, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.  For those who have died, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.” 

The thing is that we all pray: Lord, hear our prayer.  It isn’t just the ordained priest who says it; we all say it.  We all offer prayers of intercession—for the Church, the world, the needy, our own needs, and for all the faithful departed.  And, you know, this is what Jesus does for us in heaven.  We see that beautifully in the Gospel of John (17:6-26) when Jesus prays to God the Father.  He says:

“I pray for them…Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.  Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am…that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus, our great High Priest, is praying for us—always.  He’s always interceding on our behalf, for our good.  And by exercising the priesthood God has invited us to share in, we do the same for the world, for those who hate us, and for those we love.

Now, if you’re wondering why I get to dress in black and wear a white collar, why I get to wear the fancy clothes at Mass, the reason is this.  The ordained priest is here to model a life of offering and intercession.  Just as Jesus came to mentor the Apostles in the ways of priesthood, so the ordained priest is here to mentor all the baptized in the ways of priesthood. 

And so, be sure to pray for me and for all ordained priests, that we might be faithful to our call to serve you, and to offer our lives for you, and to pray for your good. 

On this “Priesthood Sunday,” we celebrate and honor priesthood itself.  We thank God for inviting us to share in the life of Jesus who is the great High Priest, the one who offers himself perfectly and fully; the one who is always selfless in his prayers for us.  We worship God alone here at Mass.  But we do that by exercising our common priesthood, our common call to offer ourselves to God, and to pray for those who need God.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Homily for 21 Oct 2018

21 Oct 2018
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Whenever we come to worship God, we usually sing songs of gratitude or praise.  You know, we sing words like: “Here in this place new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away;” or “The God of all grace has blessed us this day, all of creation joins us in praise;” or “Sing a new song unto the Lord, let your song be sung from mountains high, singing alleluia!”

And these are songs of a free people; a people who’ve seen the difference between a life without Christ and a life with Christ.  They’re songs of people who are not captive anymore, but are free in spirit.  Christ has unlocked their “prison door” and they’ve begun to experience a new way of living.  They’ve begun to live God’s vision of a “new humanity.”

The question is, though: Are we these people?  We hear today that: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”—a ransom from all the things we can be a slave to, without even knowing it.  Have we allowed ourselves to be ransomed by the Lord? 

When I was in college, there was a young woman (probably in her early 20s) who had told the class she was Catholic (I think we were each describing who we were).  And she seemed pretty normal and was a good presence in the classroom; you know, kind and helpful; she always wore a crucifix on her necklace.  And then there was another young lady there who was just the opposite: she had a foul mouth; she was confrontational and overbearing, and didn’t believe in a god of any sort.

And by the end of the semester, we had two foul-mouthed girls in the class, who were rude and couldn’t care less about other people.  And we had one less Catholic—she was a captive, and she did what was popular rather than what was right.  She was in prison again, and she didn’t even know it. 

Of course, that’s the struggle of so many youth today—to be a free person in Christ, or to be a slave to popular opinion.  It’s a rather tragic thing to see a young man or woman in church with a face that says: “I would rather be anywhere else than here.”  An expressionless face, a stoic and unmovable face that says (even if they don’t know it): “I am a captive.”  And it’s sad to see someone who is unable to sing the songs of Christian freedom; who might sing the words on the page, but maybe doesn’t feel them in his or her heart.

And that’s not just a struggle for youth today; it’s also a challenge for many adults.  The old idea of “keeping up with Joneses” keeps a lot of people captive.  “My neighbor has a new car, and all I have is my old Buick with 120,000 miles on it.”  Or “my friend Joe over here can run a marathon, but I can’t even run around the block.”  It’s easy to be held captive to images of what we think we should be like. 

And then we come to Mass and sing, “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”  But do we?  Are we really so free and able to “place our trust in” God and be at peace about life?  Or are our hearts and minds held captive and bothered by other things?  I would imagine the answer is probably: “It depends.  Sometimes I’m free, and sometimes I know I’m not.”  But it’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves. 

The thing about it, though, is that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer.  And that’s because, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”  He didn’t come to strong-arm us into saying yes to him.  Jesus is Lord, but…he doesn’t lord it over us.  He never says: “I am the Son of God: the Ruler of the world.”  Instead, he’s the much weaker “Son of Man,” who invites people to follow him; he never forces us. 

He serves us by inviting us to be his friends.  His disciples follow him because they want to, not because they have to.  And they follow him because they know he’s “set them free” from their captivity to…popular opinion, or the latest gadget, or the idea that they have to change themselves in order to be lovable.  The disciples of Christ are freed from all that, and they just follow him with trust, hope, and adoration.

And they follow him into something new—into a new way of living, into a new way of being human.  Jesus shows us a “new humanity,” as Pope Benedict XVI calls it.  And what this “new humanity” looks like is: interior freedom; kindness; a life of trust and fidelity toward God and others; a life of hope and integrity; a life of greatness and inner radiance; a life of happiness and peace; a life of service (that is, love) for God, others, and ourselves; a life of commitment and self-offering; a life of always looking forward and upward; a life that treasures the ancient and the old, and reveres and nurtures the new.

The Son of Man came to “ransom us” from our old selves, and to open the way to a “new humanity.”  Of course, that “new humanity” comes with a price.  And Christ has already paid the price on the Cross.  But the price continues to be paid every time we try to “own” the freedom Christ offers us.

For many of our youth, the price of living as a free person in Christ is the fear of what others will say.  What are others going to think if I’m actually happy that there’s at least one person in life who loves me unconditionally?  What are others going to think if I say, “I can’t go out tonight because I just want to spend some time with my family.”  The Cross happens again every time they put their love of God ahead of their concerns about what others think.  The same can be said for adults. 

But the beauty of choosing to be a free person with Christ, and embracing the occasional pain that comes with it, is that God’s vision of the “new humanity” comes to be a reality in us.  In the 2nd Century, St Irenaeus saw very clearly that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive, and the life of humanity is the vision of God.”  The flowers in the field, the birds in the sky give glory to God because they are what they’re made to be.  And the glory of God, the radiance of God is within us when we are what we’re made to be: and we’re made to be free.

And that’s not only God’s vision, but it’s ours as well.  James and John asked if they could sit with Christ “in glory.”  And we’re just like that.  We want “glory,” happiness, peace; we want life to be good and fulfilling.  We know we’re made to be free.

So why remain captive to all those things in life which stop us from becoming part of God’s “new humanity?”  Why remain captive to others’ opinions of us?  Why remain captive to the social ideas that our human worth comes from our appearance, or the kind of house we have, or whatever?  Why remain captive to all that when the Son of Man came to ransom us from that and to show us a better way, a happier and more glorious way?

Christ shows us a “new humanity,” a new way to live life.  And he frees us from everything that holds us back.  All that’s left is to take the first step: the first steps from captivity to freedom in God.  And maybe it starts by taking to heart the words we sing at Mass: “Glory and praise to our God, who alone gives light to our day, many are the blessings he bears to those who trust in his ways.”

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Homily for 30 Sep 2018

30 Sep 2018
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off,” Jesus says.  “If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” says Jesus.  But he’s not telling us to maim and mutilate our bodies—the bodies he himself made.  Instead, he’s telling his followers to get rid of anything that causes them to sin.  That’s the message behind those rather shocking words of Jesus: Get rid of anything that causes you to stray from the path of life.  And it’s a very relevant passage for today, in many respects.

Our world is broken.  Not that it’s ever been perfect, but it seems to be especially broken today.  The national political scene is looking like a brawl.  The Church is in a questionable state.  The practice of the Catholic faith is waning, at least in this part of the world.  Youth are lost and in want of meaning, connection.  The world, the Church, society has strayed from the path of life and gotten lost.

And we should ask: How did we get here?  What caused us to “sin;” what caused us to stray into our present world?...where goodness, truth, and beauty are sometimes hard to see.  Well, as we might expect it’s all the usual suspects: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and apathy (sloth).  We could add fear to the list, too.

When you watch the national news (or, at least, when I watch it), you can’t help but shake your head.  One side tends to be too fearful or slow (or slothful).  The other side tends to be too prideful, greedy, and wrathful.  And it only seems to get worse, as parts of our national politics sink into near, literal insanity.  Politically, these are dangerous times.

Or when you look at the Church amid the continuing revelation of past abuse (or, at least, when I take it in the situation), you can’t help but feel that very Spirit of the Church has been betrayed.  Lust, gluttony, fear and anger, greed, pride…they all got the Church to where it is today.  As a people of faith these feel like very uncertain times.

Or we look at our youth and so many are doing wonderful things.  But so many are also lost, or struggling to be loved, to have real mentors in their lives, to have questions answered they wonder about—all in the midst of going from this practice to that game, from this after-school event to the next, spending the rest of their “free time” doing homework, and not being given the time to know they’re worth something to somebody.  Gluttony for activity, envy, pride, competition…what else has gotten them to where they might be today?

Jesus says in so many words, “Get rid of anything that causes you to stray from the right path, from the path of life.”  But, you know, doing that means taking some bold steps—not only with other people, but especially with ourselves.  Jesus didn’t say, “Cut somebody else’s hand off;” he said, “Cut your (own) hand off”—figuratively speaking.  “Before pointing out the splinter in somebody else’s eye, take out the log that’s in your own eye.”  In order for us—as a Church, as a society, as individuals—to find our way back to the path of life, we have to be willing to take some bold actions with….ourselves.

You know, maybe you’re addicted to food.  Food has become your comfort instead of God or friends.  Well, maybe a bold move would be to start writing down everything you eat so you become self-aware.  And, you know, practicing honesty with ourselves is really a bold thing.  It can be scary.  But it’s a tool we can give ourselves in order to “cut off” that tendency toward gluttony.

Or maybe you find yourself so busy with life that just forget to stay connected with friends, with family, with hobbies, with God.  Well, maybe a bold move would be to cut out some activities, to slow down.  It might hurt, but it’s like rushing to gobble down a plate of food—you can’t really enjoy it.  So slow down, and enjoy what’s in front of you.  Even it means cutting out some activities.

Now, as you would expect, these would be significant changes to our life.  And so, while we’re “cutting things off” in order to get on a better path, we should expect some pain and some discomfort.  Again, Jesus is speaking figuratively, but I can’t imagine that cutting your own hand off would be a pleasant experience; that plucking your own eye out would be happy occasion.  Again, Jesus is speaking figuratively here, but he’s driving home the point that to make some bold changes in our lives is probably going to hurt.

For example, if anger is something that controls us, it’s hard to just “cut if off.”  You can’t just flip a switch and then the anger is gone.  Instead, the anger has to be worked through.  It’s more like a gradual cutting away.  And, you know, that can be painful; like pulling out a splinter really slowly.  It hurts.  But it’s a good thing to do.

When I look at our national politics, I sometimes wonder if the chaos is because some foundational changes are trying to be made in “the way things have always been done.”  We hear that in the Church, too, don’t we: “We can’t change that…we’ve always done it this way!”  Whenever we’re trying to rout out: sloth, pride, anger, or whatever it is…whenever we try to “cut them out” of our lives, we better expect a fight.  But, as St. Paul says, it’s a “good fight.”  So even though politics is kind of a battlefield right now, perhaps it needs to be in order to “cut off” whatever needs to be “cut off.”

And the same goes for the Church.  Perhaps this is the time in the Church’s long history that some serious changes need to be made—both in its internal structures, and in the minds and hearts of all those (especially the clergy) who profess to be followers of Christ.  When you watch a little chick hatch, the egg itself gets all broken up and messy.  But from it comes a new life.  Granted, that new baby chick is a little ugly and wet, but in short time it’s a cute little fuzzball. 

The Church’s shell has been broken—necessarily so—so that new life can come from it.  As a Church, it’s good and necessary to ask what needs to be “cut off” so we can get back on the right path again.  Bishops and priests talk about that on the wider Church level, and we can talk about it on the local, parish level.

This past week, we had our Finance Council meeting and it was brought up (again) how our finances are unsustainable—as they are.  Either the parish will have to make some significant cuts in spending, or parishioners will have to sacrifice more for the good of the parish.  More than likely, both have to happen.  No matter what, though, it’s going to hurt. 

We need more liturgical ministers.  We need more people to volunteer when opportunities come up.  We need more people to be mentors and catechists for our young people.  We need people to sacrifice their time and efforts in order have a parish picnic next year. 

On the parish level, some things need to be “cut off” in order for us to be a vital community of faith.  What needs to be cut off?  Things like: apathy, anger, pride, and even fear perhaps.  It’s so very easy to stray off the path, and it’s so hard to get back on it.  But we have to do the difficult thing and get back on that path—the “path” being outstanding Christian living.

When Jesus says to “cut it off”—whatever “it” happens to be, he’s asking us to do something difficult.  And he knows it—because he’s asking us to do it to ourselves.  But he also knows the good that comes from “cutting off” whatever gets in between us and the path of God.  Let’s face it: Sometimes we have to prune ourselves.

We have to prune ourselves, like a growing plant.  But, you know, pruning only causes more growth, more good fruit.  And so, pruning is a good thing—even if we feel the “pinch” of the snippers.  And so, it’s good for us today—as individuals, as a community, as a country—What might God be asking us to prune?...not in somebody else, but in ourselves.  Whatever it is, can we—can “I”—take the snippers (figuratively speaking) and do we need to do, to get back on the path of life?

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Homily for 23 Sept 2018

23 Sept 2018
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

It was a place of great intercultural mixing, a place where differing religions touched each other.  And it was a place of testing for a people of faith.  Now, we could be talking about our 21st Century world, or we could be talking about ancient Alexandria, Egypt, where the Book of Wisdom was written. 

The Jews there were constantly being pulled in this direction or that direction: ‘Think this;’ ‘Believe that.’  But the Book of Wisdom was written as a reminder for them to be true to their faith and to their God—even as they lived within a mix of cultures.  And this situation is exactly what we deal with today.

We’re followers of Jesus Christ, members of his Catholic Church, and every day we’re influenced by ideas and beliefs which may or may not be Catholic or even Christian.  Every day we have choices to make.  Every time you listen to the news, every time you go to a blog, every time you read the newspaper someone is trying to sell a certain point-of-view.  And the question is: What I am going to do with all that?  Who am I going to listen to, who should I question?  And, as we know, it’s very easy to get caught up in all that, and lose our way. 

Now, in the letter of James, he suggests that what’s behind all the cultural divisions and arguments in (and in the Church) are our “passions.”  He’s saying that sometimes we humans can feel so strongly about something—to the point that it affects our physical being and happiness—our passion can be strong that we actually stop listening to others; that we stop interacting with other people. 

For example, we can look at the immigration issue today.  We know both sides of the argument.  But, as we also know, people can be very passionate about their view to the point that communication breaks down.  And then you just have people shouting at each other.  And that’s not helpful.  It some respects, passion has to be dialed down a little bit because, in reality, immigration is a complex issue.

There are undeniable problems with families being separated.  But there are also real problems with drug dealers and human traffickers coming into the country.  There are also those people in the mix trying to seek legitimate refuge.  And our own government does have a right and a responsibility to oversee its borders and to do what it feels is best for its people.

On this issue, the Church stands on both sides.  Drug dealers and human traffickers should be dealt with and kept out; men, women, and children seeking to come in should be treated humanely and compassionately; and the country (per the social justice teaching of the Church) has that right and responsibility to protect and exercise its sovereignty.  The Church has a pretty “dispassionate” approach to this, and so it can see both sides.  But this approach to the question of immigration gets lost because passions run high, and people are divided.

Even right here in Mass, our passions—our beliefs and philosophies—can divide us.  You know, whenever there’s a parishioner survey, there are generally a lot of critiques about the music at Mass.  We hear that: People love the organ; people hate the organ.  People want exciting, vibrant music; people want calm, inspiring music.  People want new, modern music; people want traditional hymns.  No matter what you do, you can’t win. 

And these divisions are rooted in our passions (which aren’t necessarily bad)...our passions, our beliefs and convictions about: who God is, what Mass is about, what the Church is, and what kind of relationship faith and culture should have.  And all these beliefs and convictions are shaped not only by what our faith tells us, but also by a whole society of competing philosophies about life and faith; competing ideas about happiness and fulfillment.

But the fact that we have all these ideas and beliefs floating around is not the problem.  You know, part of being “Catholic” is that we’re interested in the wider “whole”—the entire Tradition of the Church would collapse if we weren’t open to other ideas in the pursuit of the truth of things. 

The problem isn’t that there are a lot of ideas out there.  The problem is in taking on ideas and beliefs without first asking: “Is this really Christian?  Is this really Catholic?”  It’s very easy to become so passionate and convinced about an idea we have that we block out the bigger picture.  It’s easy to be carried away from the anchor of faith and to go worshipping other gods, particularly the god which is our own sense of rightness.

And—no surprise—we see this among the early disciples.  Jesus tried to tell them about his passion and death; but they wouldn’t listen.  They knew how the Messiah was supposed to be—and his being put to death wasn’t part of the Messianic vision of things.  And so, they didn’t ask Jesus anymore questions.  There was a breakdown in their communion with Jesus because of their own sense of rightness—they knew what was right (they thought). 

And so, we’re not all that different from those Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, way back when.  We’re not that different from those first disciples who honestly tried to listen to Jesus.  We’re in pretty much the same boat.

And while we sit and ponder how to be a Catholic Christian in the world today, Jesus plops himself down right in front of us and says, “I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  I Am.”

And that’s nice, but, you know, in our society today Jesus isn’t all that relevant.  Even among people of faith, Jesus can so easily become “what I want him to be.”  As a priest, it happens that I ask (or tell) Jesus to help me do what “I’m doing.”

Jesus is easily overlooked.  And, in that, he’s like that child he put in front of the disciples—a child who had no legal standing, who didn’t have much value in the eyes of the world at that time.  Jesus puts himself in front of us and says, “Here.  Do you want a compass to find your way through life?  Here, take me—‘worthless’ that I am.”

And where does Jesus take us but to himself and…to his Church that he’s been building since forever.  Ah, the Church—another “worthless and irrelevant” thing today.  Jesus asks us to commit ourselves to a raggedy child, impoverished, unimportant, weak, and outcast.  He asks us to commit him—and to somehow find truth and happiness in that.

That’s a pretty screwed up idea—according to many people we might hear today.  I mean, why “throw life away” for him (or for anybody else)?  Of course, that’s not what Jesus asks.  We don’t have to stop listening to others.  We don’t have to stop experiencing the wealth of cultures in our world.  Jesus simply asks that we not let his voice get choked off in the midst of life around us; that we not let his light get shoved under a bushel basket. 

The world is a wonderful place with wonderful cultures, even in the midst of terrible problems.  But above it all is Jesus, our Guiding Light, our “star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright.”  Above it all is our God, who asks us to passionate about him, to look up to see where we’re going; to know what’s good, beautiful, and true in our world.