Saturday, July 22, 2017

Homily for 23 July 2017

23 July 2017
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”  We hear that at the start of every Mass.  And it’s basically a reminder that what we’re in search of, what we’re hoping for as Christians, is rather hidden.  We hear a lot about the “kingdom of heaven” in Scripture today.  But that kingdom isn’t going to just jump out at us; we have to be attentive and look for it.

And so, we acknowledge our sins.  We acknowledge that, no, we don’t give as much effort as we should in being attentive to the kingdom of heaven.  We acknowledge that, yes, we substitute other things for the kingdom of heaven; things that are easier to attain, things that are more obvious and pleasurable.  We acknowledge our sins, and admit that the kingdom of heaven takes effort to find, because so much of it is hidden.

Heaven isn’t going to just hit us in the face.  After all, what we celebrate are “sacred mysteries.”  That doesn’t mean that heaven can’t be known; it just means that God has to reveal it to us.  And he does.  But God speaks in a very quiet voice.  And he’s speaking about things which we’re only vaguely aware of, which makes it doubly difficult to understand him.

And that’s why at the start of every Mass we “acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”  We get quiet again, and focused again, so we can go deeper into what God wants to show us: the sacred and hidden kingdom of heaven, here in the Mass, and out in everyday life.

All of our readings today come back to this idea of “hiddenness.”  For instance, the weeds that are sown in with the wheat aren’t just any weeds; they’re zizania (or tares) which are almost identical to wheat.  They grow hidden among the wheat, and vice versa, the wheat grows hidden among the weeds.   

And then there’s the mustard plant seed, the smallest of all seeds.  It’s so small that it’s easily overlooked and underestimated.  It sort of falls into the category of being “hidden.”  Then we have the yeast which is mixed in with the flour.  It becomes “hidden” within the bread dough, and it can’t be removed.

In the Book of Wisdom, we hear about God and his “might” or power.  But we also hear how God uses his power not to be “big,” but to be “small;” to be lenient and merciful, and kind.  Just like Jesus being born in the manger, God could act with boldness, but he chooses to act quietly, subtly, and with “hiddenness.”

And then, finally, in the letter of Paul to the Romans, he speaks of the longings of the human heart; longings for the kingdom of heaven which generally lie hidden within us; longings which can’t be put into words but which we nonetheless feel in moments of quiet restlessness.

All of our readings today come back to this idea of “hiddenness.”  But that’s so often where the kingdom of heaven is.  It’s in the mysterious, the hidden, the overlooked and understated.  We would say the kingdom of heaven is revealed in the ordinariness of life, in the smallness of life, in the day-to-day activities of life.  The trick is to not let the day-to-day become an end in and of itself.  When that happens, we could be on the edge of the kingdom of heaven, and yet completely miss it.

“Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries;”—emphasis on that word “prepare.”  If we’re going to go digging for buried treasure, we need the right tools.  And the first tool we need is a healthy appreciation of the hiddenness of what we’re looking for.  Again, the kingdom isn’t going to hit us in the face; it’s much more subtle than that.

Take the parables that Jesus speaks today: we see that the kingdom of heaven is characterized by such things as: goodness (the man sowed “good” seeds); it’s characterized by community (the man had helpers), but there’s a hierarchy within the community (after all, the helpers call him “Master” and we are talking about a “king”-dom).  In the kingdom of heaven there’s: truth, clemency, wisdom and patience, trust, justice, security and belonging. 

From the parable of the mustard seed and yeast, we see that the kingdom of heaven is characterized by potential (that’s what the seed symbolizes), but potential which is always coming into being.  In other words, heaven is a place of overabundance.  It’s a hearty way of life, one which is home to the “birds of the sky,” or to put it more poetically, the kingdom is home to “creatures of the heavens.”

And, like yeast, the kingdom of heaven is a powerful agent for change and growth.  And once it’s mixed in with life, it’s there to stay.  The kingdom of heaven is permanent.  And lastly from the parables, we see that the kingdom of heaven is more than is imaginable.  What we experience of the kingdom now is like the size of a mustard seed.  But the size differential between the mustard seed and the mustard plant is a symbol of how much greater heaven is in its fullness, than what we can experience of it now.  In other words, there’s a warning of a sort, not to underestimate the potential of the kingdom of heaven.

When you think about it, all these characteristics of the kingdom of heaven are actually pretty ordinary: goodness, community, hierarchy, truth, wisdom, mercy, security, belonging, and so on.  The kingdom of heaven is “hidden in place sight.”  But that’s where preparedness and faith come in.  “Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

With faith and preparedness, we begin to see the ordinariness of life as what it is: little bits of the kingdom of heaven revealing itself to us.  For instance, when we experience kindness, there’s a little bit of heaven.  Now, we can either brush it off, or just be too busy to notice it.  But we’ll have missed an invitation from God to go deeper.  And by “going deeper,” we mean acknowledging that kindness, thanking God for it, and just simply enjoying it for a moment.

Or what about when we realize that a truth has been spoken to us.  Maybe it’s a truth we don’t want to hear.  Again, we can either brush it off, or just ignore it.  But we’ll have overlooked the kindness and mercy of God who wants to help.  And a little bit of the kingdom of heaven will have passed us by.  Again, the kingdom is subtle and understated.  But even if we miss it, or rather, “when” we miss it—because we’re going to miss it from time to time—the kingdom of heaven keeps revealing itself to us.  Like Jesus, heaven will gently, but persistently knock on the door of our hearts and minds.

The other day, I learned that someone had been knocking on the door at the rectory.  But I was in another room, and they knocked very quietly, so I didn’t hear it.  When heaven knocks, let’s hope that we’re attentive enough, that we’re quiet enough, to notice it, and let it in.  All those little moments of experiencing goodness, kindness, mercy, justice, companionship, truth, and so on; all those little, quiet, almost hidden moments are actually very important.  It’s heaven, it’s God asking, “Can I come and stay with you today?”

And that’s what we have here in the Mass.  The signs and symbols of the kingdom of heaven are more obvious than out in daily life.  But they’re still rather ordinary and understated.

Bread and wine?; they’re pretty ordinary.  Even after they’re consecrated, they still look and taste like bread and wine.  The Sign of Peace?; it looks like a bunch of people shaking hands.  The readings from Scripture?: they’re pretty ordinary words printed on ordinary paper, spoken by your neighbor; it’s all pretty usual on the outside.  And so, it’s also pretty easy to overlook those little bits of the kingdom of heaven right in front of us.

The Eucharist, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ given to us as food from the heavenly realm.  The Sign of Peace, an image of the peace among the Communion of Angels and Saints in the kingdom of heaven.  And the Word of God spoken to us, the very same, living Word that from before time began was with God and brought all things into being in heaven and on earth. 

But it takes awareness and faith to see and to appreciate the subtle presence of the kingdom of heaven among us.  Jesus said, “I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.”  He came to open up the gates of heaven to us.  And, truly, heaven does come to us.  But it’s as small as a mustard seed; easy to overlook and underestimate.  It’s hidden among the wheat and the weeds.  It’s powerful and permanent, like yeast; even though it’s in with the mix. 

The kingdom of heaven is subtle, almost hidden.  But it’s here.  If you listen closely, and look with faith, you’ll see it.  It’s here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Homily for 21 July 2017

21 July 2017

We hear in the psalm that: “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.”  It’s an odd pairing, the words “precious” and “death.”  But here’s where the cross is important to remember.  God is not sadistic; he’s not mean or cruel.  He simply takes delight in those who are true to him, who are faithful to him, no matter what comes their way.

For the Lord Jesus, his fidelity to the Father led him to the cross.  The cross wasn’t necessarily precious to the Lord, but rather, his insurmountable love of the Father was precious. 

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we see death in three ways.  Of course, there’s the obvious physical death.  But there’s also spiritual death (where someone rejects God entirely and refuses to live with faith, hope, and charity).  And then there’s self-giving, other-centered, selfless love.  That’s the third kind of death: putting my own desires at the service of God’s desires; letting God be number one in my life, being faithful to his good Will.

“Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones;” emphasis on the word “faithful.”  Fidelity is precious to the Lord.  And fidelity requires us to practice self-sacrificial love; that is, “death.”  Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the . . . fidelity and selfless love . . . of his faithful ones.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Homily for 20 July 2017

20 July 2017

The psalm today inspires us to “recall the wondrous deeds” the Lord has done.  And, of course, the temptation there is to focus on what the Lord has done for “me.”  But, really, as a people—as a community—of faith, we look beyond ourselves to get a bigger picture of all the “wondrous deeds” the Lord has done.

We can look at the story of Moses, and how God chose him to free the Israelites from misery in Egypt.  We can look at how God led his people through the desert, and purified their hearts and minds to lead them into the promised land.

Or we can do what the psalm does—we can remember the covenant God made with all humanity.  He did that with Noah (remember the rainbow), and with Abraham, and with David.  Of course, that very same covenant was renewed through the Passion of Christ.  It’s a “wondrous deed” that God, the Ancient One, the Creator of all that is wanted to be in a covenantal relationship with human beings; with each one of us individually.

We can look at our neighbors who prosper, or our friends and family who are blessed with children and grandchildren.  And then there are all the many gifts God bestows on people: artists and musicians, writers and poets, engineers and laborers, mothers and fathers, and so on and so on.  And, of course, we can look at the created world and see an overabundance of God’s handiwork.

The psalm today inspires us to “recall the wondrous deeds” the Lord has done—not just for “me,” but all around.  Happily, whenever someone else is blessed, so, too, are we, because we’re all members of the one Body.  And when one member of the Body is blessed, the entire Body is blessed.  And so, thanks be to God especially for the wondrous deed of having called each of us to be a part of the one Body, the community of the faithful, the Church. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Homily for 19 July 2017

19 July 2017

Moses went to see the burning bush.  But he didn’t go over there looking for God; he just went over to look at a bush.  He went out of curiosity—you know, it’s not every day that you see a bush on fire, and the flame isn’t burning up anything.  So he went over to check it out.  And that’s when he stumbled upon God.

Moses took a few steps toward the seemingly impossible, toward the mysterious, and that’s when he encountered God.

Of course, we live in an age where humans like to think we have the universe figured out.  We don’t often hear about the mysteries of the universe, or the mysteries of the world, or the mysteries of faith.  And that’s too bad, because our growth in faith almost depends on a healthy appreciation of the mysterious, the unknown, and the curiosities of life.

Jesus praised the Father because “although [he had] hidden these things from the wise and the learned, [he had] revealed them to the childlike.”  Moses was being like a little child when he went to check out that burning bush.  And if we want to encounter God, a good place to start seems to be remember what it’s like to be a child—a curious child.

We look at birth, we look at death, and we wonder: What’s going on there?  How does that work?  We hear the words of Scripture and might say: Huh?  I don’t get it.  We come to the altar and we’re told this is part of the heavenly banquet that we’re sharing in.  The wise may say, “I don’t think so.”  But the childlike say, “Tell me more.”

Blessed are the pure of heart, the curious and childlike of heart: for they will see God.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Homily for 14 July 2017

14 July 2017

Suffering is so often a part of life.  We see it in our readings today.  Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers at a young age.  And both he and his father, Jacob/Israel, suffered the pains of loss and separation.  Jesus today instructs his apostles very bluntly that they will end up suffering in their efforts to spread the gospel.  And the saint we remember today, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, suffered with smallpox; she suffered under the demands that she get married; she suffered the loss of her parents; she suffered ridicule when she converted to the Catholic faith.

And, of course, we know about suffering as well.  We have our physical aches and pains, our emotional aches and pains.  We suffer when loved ones are ill, and when they pass on.  We suffer other things more mundane, like heat and humidity and bad weather for the crops.  We suffer the injustice of our neighbors, perhaps.

Suffering is so often a part of life.  But it doesn’t mean that God has left us.  It doesn’t mean that God is not almighty, or that he is not the good and gracious God that he is.  Perhaps suffering is just a reminder that we’re not in heaven yet.  Maybe suffering is something that’s meant to keep us from getting too comfortable now, so that we don’t forget about what where we’re going, and what we hope for in the end.

As we know very well, suffering can be a spring board to holiness.  It’s why we put our heroes on pedestals: people who fought in wars and undercut evil in the world; people who suffered in the arena of politics for the good of others; people who took one for the team, for the sake of others and even ourselves.  It’s why we admire the saints who suffered, and yet still triumphed.  It’s why we venerate the Cross and celebrate the Resurrection in the same breath.  Suffering can be a spring board to holiness.

Suffering in and of itself is just suffering.  But suffering with hope can be redemptive.  And so, as much as suffering is a part of life, hope must also be a part of life.  Suffering challenges our spirit of hope, and hope keeps our suffering in check.  Together, however, they take us to where we want to go: to heaven, to the breast of God, where there is no suffering, but only life in abundance, and the fulfillment of our hopes and all our longings. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Homily for 13 July 2017

13 July 2017

Love of neighbor is a basic commandment; it runs throughout Scripture.  And by “neighbor” we don’t necessarily mean people we know.  More often than not Scripture views a “neighbor” as someone we don’t know.

In the Letter to the Hebrews we hear: “Do not forget to show love to strangers, for by doing so some have unknowingly entertained angels” (13:2).  In the Book of Leviticus we hear: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as a native-born among you” (19:34).  The Book of Exodus says: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (22:21).  Psalm 146: “The Lord protects the stranger” (vs 9).

And, of course, there is the Great Commandment of the Lord to love our neighbors as though they’re ourselves.  There’s the story of the Good Samaritan, the woman at the well, Jesus’ reaching out to those who were sick, wounded, forgotten, or despised.

Love of neighbor is a basic commandment; it runs throughout Scripture.  It’s in our readings today about Joseph and his brothers, and Jesus’ having sent out his apostles.  Only here, Scripture talks more about the consequences of being inhospitable.

As we know, Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery.  He was their own flesh-and-blood, and they weren’t exactly hospitable to him.  But when the truth came, Joseph was merciful to them—even though his first concern was for his father’s well-being, not his brothers’.  And then there were the apostles, sent not to foreign lands, but to their own people; to their own flesh-and-blood.  Only the consequence here of being inhospitable was to be something worse than what had happened to Sodom and Gomorrah; not much mercy involved there.

Of course, none of us loves our neighbors perfectly.  But the intention is what matters.  If our intention is to love our neighbors, to be hospitable to those we meet, even if we do that imperfectly there’s no doubt that God will overlook the failings because he sees the intention in our heart.  That’s why Joseph’s brothers were shown mercy; they weren’t bad people, they were still learning.

Love of neighbor is a basic commandment; however, it can be a tough one to follow.  But as long as we’re trying, and we have that intention in our heart, everything will be okay—for us, and for the strangers and angels among us.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Homily for 12 July 2017

12 July 2017

Jesus gave his Twelve apostles “authority over unclean spirits;” even to Judas Iscariot he gave that authority.  Judas himself had the God-given power to drive demons away, to “cure every disease and every illness.”  But, from what we know of him and his activities, it doesn’t appear that Judas ever used that power. 

It’s similar to the parable of the talents.  God gives to each of us certain gifts and strengths.  And by virtue of our having been baptized, and our sharing in the Eucharist, he also gives us a certain “authority” over evil, despair, hopelessness, and sin.  God puts the tools for living well right into our hands.  He simply asks that we use them, and not let them go to waste.

It’s as if God has given us each a bucket of seeds, and he’s said, “Now, go make good things happen.”  Well, we wouldn’t want them to go to rot, so we put those seeds to good use.  In a similar way, God gives us the power and the ability—for example—to trust him.  But if we never use that power, we’ll never know what it’s like to be a disciple of the Lord.  We’ll never know what real hope and love are.  And we’ll never be able to convince others that faith in God is a good thing.

Our own personal growth and the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven depend a lot on us using the gifts and the powers God has given us.  We’re not God, of course.  But, we do have a part to play in his vision.  Each of the apostles had a role to play in the Kingdom.  And so, we have to ask: What’s my role?  What’s your role?  We each have one. 

God gives a mission to each one of us.  May he give us the wisdom to know what it is, and the strength to do it—for our good, the good of others, and for his glory.