Saturday, June 15, 2019

Homily for 16 June 2019

16 June 2019
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Several years ago there was controversy in the Church about baptism—whether or not it should be said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” or to say, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.”  And you’ll still hear about this from time to time today.

Of course, there never really was a controversy because the Church wasn’t going to change the sacrament of baptism.  But it’s not because the Church is stubborn or refuses to get politically correct.  It’s because there’s a fundamental difference between referring to God as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and referring to God as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” 

Now, there’s nothing especially wrong or incorrect about calling God our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier.  God certainly is all those things for us—thanks be to God.  But those are all things God does “for us.”  God creates “us.”  God redeems “us.”  God sanctifies “us.”  If that’s the only way (or the primary way) that one approaches God, then God becomes defined by what he does “for us.”  God’s purpose for being is dependent upon “us.”  (Of course, in reality, it’s the other way around.)

But if we refer to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then we begin to appreciate him as he himself—apart from what he does “for us.”  God is who God is, regardless of who we are, regardless of how we define him.  And really, this is basic stuff when it comes to relationships.

One of the questions we ask engaged couples is: “Are you placing any conditions on the marriage” you’re about to enter into?  And we ask that because if either person thinks, “I’m going to be long as the other person does this or that,” then we have ask: Is this person really in love with his or her fiancĂ©, or is this person in love with an image of what they expect their future spouse to be?  In other words, are the bride and the groom accepting of each the other is?

When we approach God, do we approach him as he is, as he reveals himself to be?  Or do we approach God through the lens of what he does “for me”?  Or both?  And these are really key questions that we each have to consider.   And they’re questions that our solemnity this weekend puts to us.

When we speak of “the Most Holy Trinity,” it has nothing to do with us; and it has everything to do with God.  God wants to share himself with us—just like we want to share ourselves with others.  But, you know, we want others to take us as we are, to love us for whom we are, and not for whom and what others expect us to be.  And God wants the same from us.  He wants to be known and he is, and not as we make him to be. 

Saint Francis of Assisi is reported to have prayed: “Who are you, Lord God; and who am I?”  And that really is our most basic prayer: “Who are you, Lord?  Who are you?”  If our most fundamental commandment is to love God, then we can’t avoid that question: “God, who are you?  Show yourself to me.  Help me to know you as you are.”  And, honestly, when it comes to building a “relationship” with God, that’s where it all begins; by asking in prayer, “God, who are you?”  And then you spend the rest of life (and all eternity) learning about, and experiencing God—as he is.

And that sounds very lovely and all—and it is.  But, it takes a certain discipline to set “me and my expectations” aside, and to just encounter God as he is.

For instance, when we come to Mass, our focus is supposed to be on God.  Now, people go to Mass for all sorts of reasons.  But the primary reason is to offer what we call a “sacrifice of praise.”  We come here to adore God, to worship God, to praise God.  When Saint Francis asked, “Who are you, Lord God,” what came out of his mouth was this:

“You are holy, Lord, the only God, and Your deeds are wonderful. You are strong. You are great. You are the Most High. You are Almighty. You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth. You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good. You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true. You are love. You are wisdom. You are humility. You are endurance. You are rest. You are peace. You are joy and gladness. You are justice and moderation. You are all our riches, and You suffice for us. You are beauty. You are gentleness. You are our protector. You are our guardian and defender. You are our courage. You are our haven and our hope. You are our faith, our great consolation. You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord, God Almighty, Merciful Savior.”

Now, Saint Francis mentions a few things that God does “for us.”  But, for the most part, it’s a “sacrifice of praise” for all that God himself.  When we sing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts; heaven and earth are full of your glory, hosanna in the highest,” we’re focused on God, praising him.  When we sing (or say), “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill; we praise, we bless you, we adore, we glorify, we give you thanks,” we’re focused on God as he is. 

When we hear the words of Scripture, we’re hearing “the Word of the Lord,” we’re focused on God.  When we hear the homily, hopefully, we hear God speaking to us through the preacher.  When we pray the great Eucharistic Prayer, our focus is on God.  And, you know, that’s something to stop and take note of.

Every Sunday we hear: “For on the night he was betrayed he himself took bread, and, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this all of you, and eat of it....”  “He himself took break, and, giving you thanks....”  We’re still focused on God; we’re talking to God (the Father).  But then there’s that phrase, “he gave it to his disciples, saying, Take this all of you and eat of it....”  The trick—the discipline here—is that we don’t suddenly stop talking to God and start talking to ourselves (because we’re his disciples).  We’re still focused on God. 

In effect, what we’re doing is we’re reminding God (as if he needs reminding) of what Jesus did and said on the night of the Last Supper.  And we’re asking God to make the grace of that moment also present for us here, today.  We’re simply remembering—with God—what Jesus did.  We’re not reenacting what Jesus did.  It’s why the priest isn’t looking at us when he says those words, “Take this all of you and eat of it....”  He (and everybody who’s participating) is still addressing God; we’re still focused on God.  And that takes discipline to remember, because, of course, it runs contrary to the “me-centered” culture we’re immersed in today.

The idea of coming together, to turn our attention away from ourselves and onto the mystery of God—as he is—is really counter-cultural.  It takes discipline, it takes focus to actually worship and adore God—not as we want him to be, but as he is.  This is a reason why so many people stop coming to Mass; they don’t get that it isn’t about “me and what I want,” it’s about God.  It’s about adoring God our Partner in life, worshiping God our “significant other,” loving God who calls himself our Spouse.  It’s about loving God, offering a “sacrifice of praise” to him, primarily because of who he is, and not because of what he does “for us.”

Actually, if all we do is praise God for what he does “for us,” then we really haven’t embraced God as our Friend, our Spouse.  We haven’t embraced real relationship with God.  Instead, we keep God as our servant, as our service provider, as our hired worker.  And that’s doomed to fail because, as he says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” [Isaiah 55:8].

When there’s a disaster and people die, some ask, “If God is so caring, why didn’t he help them?”  When there’s a tragedy and innocent people are hurt, some ask, “If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he wipe evil from the face of the earth?”  When God seems distant and silent, some ask, “If God promises to be with his people, then where is he?”  Of course, these questions have little to do with God; instead, they have everything to do with “me and my expectations of God.”

When God fails to do “for us” what we expect or ask for—even in prayer—how many people walk away from God.  How many lose faith and hope?  It’s like on Christmas morning when a child is expecting a particular gift, but he or she doesn’t get it.  It just ruins everything.  Instead, Christmas morning should be about being surprised by...whatever you get, whatever it is.  When it comes to God, it takes a lot of discipline to just let God be God, and to receive the gift of who and what he actually is, and how he actually works in our lives.  It takes discipline, but that’s what builds real relationship with God, our Friend, our Companion, our Spouse.

On this solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (and every day of our life), we ask that basic question: God, who are you?  God, who are you?  And the answer...well, leave that up to him.  He offers us unconditional love and acceptance.  Can we extend the same to him?

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Homily for 9 June 2019

9 June 2019
Solemnity of Pentecost

In 1966 there was a musical that came out called “Mame.”  It was set in 1929, right at the time of the stock market crash, and the start of the Great Depression.  And in the midst of that depression, the characters look ahead to December, and they start singing a song about Christmas to cheer themselves up.

“Haul out the holly; put up the tree before my spirit falls again!  Fill up the stocking!  I may be rushing things, but decks the halls again now!  For we need a little Christmas right this very minute!  Candles in the window, carols at the spinet!  Yes, we need a little Christmas right this very minute!”

And what they’re doing is calling upon the Spirit of that celebration, that season, to come visit them in their time of need.  In some ways, you could see this as a song about Pentecost: Come, Holy Spirit, come!  Set us on a better path, a good path!  Renew us, lift us up in hope!  We need a little Pentecost (or a big Pentecost!) right now!

When the disciples were “all together in one place,” they were waiting, just like Jesus told them to.  He’d left, he’d ascended to Heaven, but there they were, maybe feeling a little lost and uncertain—not without hope, but just…waiting.  What now?  Where do we go from here?

And that’s where we find ourselves today.  We look at our Catholic Church, we look at our country, we look at (maybe) ourselves as individuals, and it feels like we’re…waiting.  Waiting for answers to our questions.  Waiting for solutions to our problems.  Waiting for inspiration to change habits that might need changing.  We’re waiting, just like those disciples—we need a little Pentecost…right now!

Now, we know what the Spirit of Christmas brings.  It brings good cheer, peace, love, joyfulness of heart, thankfulness, light, hope, abundance, comfort.  And we know what the Spirit of Pentecost brings.  It brings everything the Spirit of Christmas brings, but also certain other gifts like: wisdom, knowledge, and understanding; counsel, fortitude, piety, and the disposition to pay attention to the Lord.  And we need all of that.  We need a little Pentecost, right now, today.

We look at our Catholic Church, and we see it’s like a beautiful painting, like the Mona Lisa—except that she’s been damaged.  Her frame is broken and off kilter, there are holes poked in the canvas, and somebody spattered some paint remover on her, so now she’s…disfigured.  You can still tell it’s the Catholic Church but, boy, is she a mess.

Too many politics at play—in all her ranks.  Too much deception and too many grossly poor judgments in her leadership.  Some of her clergy were in cahoots with the devil, using and abusing those children of God entrusted to their care.  Too much legalism, too much judgment, not enough compassion, too many Pharisees still floating around.

The Church is still there, for sure.  There is love and compassion, there is the truth spoken and taught.  There is beauty and honesty, humility, and many valiant fights against the devil.  There are good and faithful shepherds, there are good and faithful people.  But she’s been disfigured, and we’re…waiting; waiting for answers, waiting for solutions, waiting for a new day to dawn.  We need a little Pentecost, right now!

We look at our country and it, too, is like a work of art, say…the Statue of Liberty.  Except the statue’s been chipped and broken, its metal plates are dented, the internal frame is weakened, and she’s had paint splattered all over her.  She’s still there, you can tell it’s our country, but she’s kind of a mess, too.

Too many bad politics, harmful politics.  Too much vengeance in all her ranks, seeking to destroy others rather than build the country up.  Taking the notion of freedom and twisting it such that the notion of civil law is somehow a threat to freedom.  Freedom to kill a child in the womb; freedom to kill a child that’s been born; freedom to silence others’ free speech; freedom to defy law; freedom to seek my own life, liberty, and happiness at the expense of others’ life, liberty, and happiness.  Freedom to do whatever I want; freedom to be an unthinking, unreflective savage.

The country’s still there, for sure.  There still is common sense out there.  There are truth and respect for basic human values and rights.  There is beauty, humble service for the good of others.  There are good leaders, and good people.  The country is there, but her frame is being hacked away at all the time.  She needs some major TLC.  We need a little Pentecost for her, right now, too!

Of course, then there’s us.  We’re like a plant—not like a hearty perennial that just grows on its own, but more like a delicate annual that needs more attention.  We look at ourselves, we look at our leaves, our blossoms, our roots, our stem.  And, you know, we’re a little droopy here and there.  When there’s a call for volunteers, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth (only I think pulling teeth is easier!).  When there’s a need for liturgical ministers, where’s the response?  When there’s a call for vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate, and consecrated life, where is everybody? 

We’re not one of those hearty perennials that just sort of takes care of itself.  We’re like an annual, that needs a lot more time and effort to make it grow.  Only instead of a dose of water and sunlight, we need a shot of what comes from God; those gifts of the Holy Spirit—wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and the disposition to pay attention to the Lord.  We need a little Pentecost, right now!

And all this waiting and waiting for the Holy Spirit can be draining.  This constant, daily need to call on the Holy Spirit can be exhausting, tiring, and…all too routine.  But the good news is the sheer fact that we have the Holy Spirit to call on. 

When the disciples were “all together in one place,” and were waiting, they weren’t just twiddling their thumbs.  They weren’t saying to themselves, “Well, let’s just get on with life, nothing’s happening.”  No, they were waiting with…anticipation.  They were waiting with the full expectation and hope that the Spirit of God would be there to assist them.  There was no doubt in their minds.  And it’s because of that expectation, that openness of mind and heart, that the Holy Spirit could come to them.  The Spirit only comes where he’s welcomed and desired. 

And so, as we look around us, at our Catholic Church, at our country, at ourselves and our own needs, we wait for the Holy Spirit to come and set things right.  But we don’t wait sitting idly by.  We anticipate, we expect this gift from God.  Lord, we need a little Pentecost…right now!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Homily for 26 May 2019

26 May 2019
6th Sunday of Easter, Year C

All the sacraments of the Church have one thing in common (besides God’s presence in them).  And that common thing is: unity or wholeness.  The sacraments are given to us by the Lord as helps in our efforts toward unity and wholeness.

Baptism and confirmation bring us into closer unity with God and with the community of faith.  The Eucharist does the same.  And all three of those sacraments are meant to make us more unified with Christ—such that we become Christ-like. 

The Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation are meant to heal what is broken in body, mind, and soul.  They’re geared toward wholeness, completeness.  Marriage is meant to symbolize and to signify the covenantal power of love, that comes through the unity of husband and wife, and which is a real sign of God’s having made humanity to live in peace, harmony, and unity.

And, lastly, the sacrament of Holy Orders is meant to safeguard and to share all these sacraments of unity.  And it’s meant to image the unity there exists between heaven and earth, between the Lord and his people.  And so, all our sacraments have at least that one thing in common: they’re geared toward unity and wholeness.

And since the sacraments are such a central part of life, the idea and the ideals of unity and wholeness should characterize our common life as believers.  It’s why Jesus says, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another” [Jn 13:35].  Now, he doesn’t say “love for enemies;” he doesn’t say “love for the poor”—even though those are part of the commandments he give us.  Jesus says, “if you have love…for one another.”  And that’s not love as in warm, fuzzy feelings.  That’s love as in peace, cooperation, mutual respect, willingness to sacrifice for one another, willingness to share, and so on.

The sacraments are meant to build us up such that we have love for…one another.  Such that there is unity and wholeness within the community, within the Church, itself.  That’s basic to what it means to be Christian; that there is unity and wholeness within the Body of Christ, within the community of the faithful.

But, as Catholics, we take a very broad view of what unity means, and of what unity looks like.  In the Acts of the Apostles [9:31], we read that “the church throughout the whole of Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria had peace.”  And that phrase, “throughout the whole,” is the key to understanding what Catholic unity looks like.  And, actually, that phrase, “throughout the whole,” is the English translation of the word “catholic.”  Right there in Scripture is the word “catholic”—only in Greek it’s pronounced “kath-holays.”  And it describes the Church; it’s “catholic;” it’s spread “throughout the whole.”

Now, in the Acts of Apostles, it refers to the community spread throughout the whole of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.  But today it refers to the Church spread throughout the whole world, even extending to heaven and whatever spiritual realms there are.  The Church is “all over the place;” it’s “kath-holays,” it’s “catholic.”  And, yet, even in spite of the Church being “throughout the whole” world, in spite of it being spread out into every corner of the physical and spiritual world, the Church is still…one.  It’s characterized by unity within itself. 

It’s why you can go to a Catholic parish in some other place, and you belong there.  When I went to Guatemala about six years ago, I went to Mass at the church of La Merced.  And I could participate in Mass there just as much as I could here in the U.S. because I’m Catholic.  When I went to Rome, and to London and Paris, and to Switzerland, I could participate in the Mass in any of those places because I’m Catholic—because it’s the Church I’m a part of.    If you go to Mass in Green Bay or Kaukauna, you can do it; you belong there, too.  Wherever you go in the world (except in the Middle East, as of late) there’s the Catholic Church.  And it’s fundamentally the same.  Different cultures, yes.  Different music, yes.  Different languages, definitely.  But the same faith, and one and the same community, all over the world.

It’s why we pay attention to the saints and the angels, too.  It’s why we remember the faithful departed every November.  It’s why we visit cemeteries.  It’s why we value our cultural and faith traditions that have been passed on through the centuries.  We’re part of an immense Church, a community of the faithful which is not limited by time or space. 

And that’s what catholic unity looks like.  It’s very colorful.  It’s incredibly diverse.  It’s high and wide.  And, yet, it exists in harmony, as one, as a unity.  And I mention this because that kind of unity is something that we as a parish are still working through.  We know what catholic unity looks like on a global scale, and on a cosmic, interdimensional scale.  But what does catholic unity look like right here, in our little corner of the world?  Right here in our 105 square miles of the parish?

And the answer is: There is no single answer.  That’s what makes us “catholic.”  About 30% of us would love to see a new, single church building as a definitive sign of parish unity and wholeness.  That’s fine.  About 60% of us would prefer to live out parish unity in some other way.  That’s fine, too.  There is no one way that catholic unity looks in a parish; it’s whatever the people involved want it to be—within certain limits.

And those “limits” are not usually physical; they’re more spiritual, emotional, and interpersonal.  For instance, love for one another is one of those limits.  In striving for unity, we cannot not have love for one another.  And if we step outside that expectation that Jesus has of us, then we step outside the basic definition of “catholic unity.” 

How many times do we say to others, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers.”  Well, that’s a way we have love for one another.  Our prayer chain is a good witness to that kind of catholic unity here in the parish.  When it comes to the need for mutual prayer and support, there are no physical boundaries.  And so, we can be witnesses to that kind of unity right now, today. 

Another “limit” that catholic unity has is the idea of co-operation, interchange, exchange, and sharing.  If we’re striving for unity, we cannot not interact and share.  If we step outside that expectation that Jesus has of his disciples, then we step out the basic definition of “catholic unity.”

Of course, any of you who know what married life is like, you know that cooperation, sharing, and so on is essential.  Without it, you don’t have much of a marriage.  But, in order for sharing to happen, we have back up a step.  In this case, before we can talk about unity, we have to talk about diversity; in particular, the diversity (the distinctness) of the husband and the wife.

I think of the Unity Candle we sometimes see at weddings.  There are the two smaller candles on either side of the big candle in the middle.  And those smaller candles symbolize the life of the individual persons; the bride and groom take those and, together, they make something new: the flame on the Unity Candle.  But those smaller candles remain…lit.  The unity of the couple does not—and cannot—destroy the uniqueness of each person.  In fact, their unity depends on their remaining unique and distinct.

And that’s simply because the uniqueness of each person is the “stuff” that’s shared with the other person.  When we think of God—the Holy Trinity—we recognize both unity and diversity.  Yes, there is one God.  But that oneness—that unity—depends on their being a Father and a Son.  And the Holy Spirit is nothing other than the Spirit of Unity, the Bond of Peace and Love between them.  God himself is both one and distinct parts, both at the same time.

When we think of the parish, and we think of “parish unity,” we cannot think about “unity through conformity;” instead, we have to think of “unity through diversity,” “unity through sharing and exchange.”  Love, peace, and unity don’t destroy individual parts; instead, they bind them together through cooperation, sharing, and so on.

This is why in the Acts of the Apostles, we can hear about a multitude of places—Judea, Samaria, and Galilee; Jerusalem, Antioch, and Cilicia—but we’re still talking about one community.  The area described there in the Bible is about the same as entire eastern half of Wisconsin.  And the community through that whole area was “at peace;” that is, it existed in unity and in Christian love. 

What is it that this person in the parish, or that person in the parish has to offer and to share with everybody else?  What do these farmers over here have to offer and share with these people over there who commute to the office every day?  What do our youth have to share and offer our more senior members?  And what do those more senior members have to offer and share with our youth? 

Our parish is incredibly diverse.  And that is a huge asset in trying to foster actual “catholic unity.”  There’s a lot of diversity to share; a variety of life experiences; a variety of histories, a wide array of talents and passions.  And, to add to that, there is a common, shared faith, and the same Lord and God of all. 

So, what does catholic unity look like, here in our little corner of the world?  Well, it’s whatever the faithful decide it’s going to look like—not just the faithful here in the parish, but the faithful throughout time and space.  The saints give us examples of unity to follow—unity with others, and unity with God.  The early Church—“spread throughout the whole” Middle East—gives us an example of unity to follow—again, unity with others and unity God.

We have all the seeds right here, today, for unity.  We have diversity, we have sharing, we have faith, we have the angels and the saints to help us, we have the faithful departed to pray for us, we have the “catholic” Church throughout the world to draw on, we have God.  And, we have the sacraments—especially the Eucharist, which steers us toward unity, love, and peace.

We have all we need for unity right here, today.  What we do with it all—well, that’s up to us.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Saint Michael, and all you Choirs of Angels, pray for us.  Saint Peter and Saint Paul, pray for us.  Saint Francis and Saint Clare, pray for us.  Saint Patrick and all you Saints and holy people of God everywhere, in every time and place, pray for us.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Homily for 19 May 2019

19 May 2019
5th Sunday of Easter, Year C

We’ve heard Jesus say it a thousand times before: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  But here at the 5th Week of Easter, it maybe knocks us off kilter to realize we have to go back to Holy Thursday—when Jesus said those words—in order to grasp what he’s saying.

And so, there it was: Holy Thursday.  The tension between Jesus and the Jews had reached a climax earlier that day.  And now it was nighttime.  The sun had set, and darkness was all around; the kind of darkness that has a tinge of evil in it.  As John tells us, “The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand [Jesus] over.”  In that very dark setting, Jesus and his twelve disciples gathered to celebrate the Passover meal.

And in the middle of the meal, Jesus got up and took the role of a servant, washing his disciples’ feet.  He returned to the table, and Judas left to go and betray him.  And this is when Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

From this we get a different image of that word “love;” different than what an internet search will give us.  Here, love is more like: “Sticking by someone when life gets rough.”  And we see Jesus loving his disciples in that way when they were stuck on a stormy sea, and he walked on the water, and calmed the sea [John 6:20].  He loved them by coming to be with them in the tough times.

Have we seen a family member, or a friend, or an “enemy” going through a rough patch in life?  One way to love them as Jesus has loved us is simply to be present to them.  Of course, Jesus loved his disciples in other ways, too. 

For instance, he spends time with them, just being with them.  We see this when Jesus and his disciples come together as guests at the Wedding in Cana [John 2:2].  We see it when they’re “spending time” together in the Judean countryside [John 3:22].  And we see it when Jesus brings his disciples up on the mountain and sits with them [John 6:3].  Jesus loved his disciples by getting to know them as a companion, but also as someone who brought them to a “higher place,” a place of holiness—which is symbolized by the mountain.

Have we ever seen someone who perhaps needed an encouraging word?  How many of our youth are in need of good, solid mentors in life?  One way to love each other as Jesus has loved us is to spend time getting to know each other—even the people we don’t especially like.  Remember, Jesus doesn’t tell us to like one another; he tells us to love one another.

Jesus loved his disciples by opening them up to a bigger vision of life, and what could be (and what will be).  This is especially true in the Gospel of John.  When he visits the Samaritan woman, Jesus is essentially saying, “It’s good and charitable (that is, it’s loving) to reach out to our supposed enemies, and to accept them as fellow children of God, if not also as friends.”  But Jesus loved his disciples not only in that way (with their neighbors), but also in trying to widen their horizons—as far as life with God goes.

Jesus tells Nathaniel about “greater things to come” [John 1:51], but he doesn’t exactly say what those things are.  And then Jesus cleanses the Temple and the disciples start to make connections between what he’s is doing and what the larger picture of the Prophets had foretold [John 2:17].  Jesus speaks about a certain “food” the disciples don’t know anything about yet—the food of doing the will and the work of the One who sent him [John 4:34].

Jesus loved his disciples by moving them forward and upward in faith; by moving them toward the vision of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem which we heard about today in the Book of Revelation.  It’s a loving thing for us to raise each other up, to something “higher” and more fulfilling.  It’s a reflection of how Jesus loved his disciples. 

It’s also a reflection of Christ-like love to challenge each other.  And Jesus certainly loved his disciples by occasionally doing that.  When they were trying to feed the five thousand, Jesus let them struggle a bit with that question [John 6:11].  He challenged them to think of another way—a “higher” way, the way of gratitude, by which there’d be enough food.  He took the bread and fish, gave thanks, and there was enough for everyone.  He loved them by challenging them, in a gentle way, but also in upfront ways, too.

When the Jews were pretty much rejecting Jesus (because of what he was saying about his Body and Blood being food and drink), he turned to his disciples (to the large crowd of disciples) and challenged them to stop complaining about what he was saying and just believe in him.  He was very upfront.  But, as we know, many simply walked away, and didn’t follow him anymore [John 6:61,66].  At that point, he turned to his twelve disciples and put the same challenge to them: “Do you want to leave me, too?”  And with that, the faith of the twelve disciples deepened.  They grew in faith because Jesus loved them enough to challenge them—very directly—on their discipleship.

All these examples, as well as the washing of the disciples’ feet on Holy Thursday, were all ways Jesus loved his disciples.  Throughout his time on earth, Jesus defined what “love” is—not spousal love, or erotic love, or filial love (which are legitimate forms of love), but “love” in the sense of “self-giving charity;” concern and care for “the other.”  When Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you,” he’s saying, “Be self-giving and charitable to one another, as I have given myself in charity to you—even to death.”

And there may not be a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings in that kind of love.  There may not be “intense feelings of deep affection,” or “great interest and pleasure” as there can be with filial love, or spousal or erotic love.  Instead, as Saint Paul and Barnabas said, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” to enter into the kingdom of that other kind of love—the kingdom of perfect charity.

Now, if you consider what we’re doing here, just like Jesus and his disciples on that Holy Thursday night, we gather to celebrate the Passover.  Around us in the world, and even in our midst, there is the darkness of: greed, corruption, hatred, despair.  Popular culture murmurs against us and our God.  The situation of Holy Thursday continues on today.  But into that, Jesus speaks again those words we’ve heard a thousand times before: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” 

And those aren’t just encouraging words; they’re a commandment.  Loving one another as Christ has loved us is not optional—if we intend to be his people on earth.  It’s been said before: Love—sacrifice—is what makes the Church run; it’s what keeps the faith alive and spreading in the world.  As Saint Paul says, without love—Christlike love—we are “nothing” [1 Cor 13]; just another corporation in the world, “in the world” and “of the world.”

But that’s not who Christ intends us to be.  That’s not what he commands us to be.  And so, we take to heart the words of the Lord—words that are very familiar, but which are life-changing when we really embrace them: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”   

Jesus has gone on ahead of us.  And the “good news” is that he wants us to be there with him.  And he’s given us love—charity—as the preeminent way to get there.  Charity amongst ourselves is what lifts us upward and onward to our God.  Charity here on earth, is what gets us to that place, that life, where there is nothing but perfect charity, perfect love, forever and ever.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Homily for 12 May 2019

12 May 2019
4th Sunday of Easter, Year C
World Day of Prayer for Vocations

They all died.  Six were crucified.  Four were stabbed with swords, or arrows, or a spear.  One was stoned to death.  One was beheaded.  Another killed himself.  And the last one died naturally of old age.  They were the Apostles (and in case you were counting, that was fourteen, not twelve.  The two “extras” were Matthias, who replaced Judas, and Paul).  And I don’t imagine that any of them knew how their life would turn out when they heard Jesus say, “Come, follow me.”

We hear about Paul and Barnabas today, preaching to the Gentiles, while at the same time, rebuking the Jewish leaders and elders.  Being the good Jew that he was, Paul had no inkling that at some point in his life he would speaking against his own people.  And yet, there he was, preaching the gospel of Jesus—even if it meant alienation from his fellow Jews.

But consider Peter and Andrew, James and John, too.  They had all been fishermen.  They never would’ve thought that they’d be preaching and healing, being social reformers, being leaders of a new religious group.  But that’s where Jesus led them when he invited them to “come, follow me.”

Today, around the world, the Church focuses on vocations; in particular, priestly vocations.  The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday.  And so we focus on, we pray for, and we encourage the vocation, the inner calling, to be a “Shepherd” in Christ’s Church.

And we need to pray for such vocations.  Not only because we have a real shortage of ordained priests in our part of the world, but because the vocation itself demands much.  Given our culture today, given the destroyed credibility of the Church, given the variety of expectations that are laid on priests, it truly is a wonder that we still have men who are willing to listen to Jesus and “come, follow me.”

Prayers are very much needed for vocations to the priesthood: prayers for strength, for a spirit of sacrifice; prayers for humility and patience, and prayers, especially, that those who fall in love with God remain enchanted by God, above all else.  After almost 2,000 years of spreading the gospel, the situation hasn’t changed that much from what Paul and Barnabas experienced.  The gospel of Jesus—the love of Jesus—is still a hard sell, even today.  And prayers for divine assistance are especially needed.

At this time of the year (even on this very weekend), in seminaries throughout the country, groups of seminarians prepare themselves to be ordained to the priesthood in the coming months.  It’s a time of newness, of anticipation and excitement; a time of planning, making sure the new priest has all the right things, all the right liturgical books, all the garments and vestments he needs for Mass; making sure he’s got vessel for holy oil for when he anoints the sick and the dying, and so on, and so on.  Even if there’s nervousness, there’s still a sense of promise and a deep joy in placing yourself at the service of God.

But in the midst of all that, there’s still the unknown.  It’s like Jesus says to Peter: “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” [John 21:18].  In other words, to really respond to the vocation of “servant of God” and “servant of his people,” one has to accept the unknown.

And so, as new priests are ordained, they’re almost like those sheep we hear about in Scripture.  Dressed in their white robes, they’re off to be...sacrificed, but...they don’t fully understand it.  But it’s like that with many vocations.

When a bride and a groom stand here at the altar, all dressed to the nines with their bridal party, do they fully comprehend what they’re getting into?  Probably not.  When a child is about to be baptized, and the parents and godparents stand at the altar and promise to raise the child in the practice of the faith, do they fully comprehend what they’re getting into?  Possibly not.  Or when we each fulfill our own vocations to be in union with union with God, and so we come to the altar and receive Communion, do we always fully grasp what that Communion demands of us—in our relationship with God, with our friends and enemies, and with ourselves?  Possibly not.

To step into any role that Christ calls us into means to step into the unknown.  But we do it anyway because of the promises we’re given by God.  We do it because we trust God.  We do it because we’re of one heart and mind with God.

It’s as we heard last weekend: Communion makes the Church.  Our personal communion with God is what makes the Church go.  And that personal communion is where vocations come from.  God may invite us into the unknown, but we don’t go into alone.  We enter that vocation with God at our side, and with the support of countless others who love us.

But, as I mentioned earlier, vocations to the priesthood don’t always have that support—for a variety of reasons.  And so, we pray for inner strength for priests and those who are considering priesthood.  We pray that their personal communion with God will not grow weak.  And we pray for men (of any age) who are considering priesthood, that they step out in faith and trust that the Lord has an important work for them to accomplish.

Now, the Church and the Catholic Faith have had its ups and downs throughout history.  That’s just the way any form of life seems to go.  But here at the start of the 21st Century, the faith seems to be in a particularly deep fog.  And one reason why—among several—is perhaps because the faith isn’t challenging enough.  Now, it is certainly challenging.  But, perhaps it isn’t presented that way as much as it should be.

For the past fifty to sixty years, we’ve heard a lot about the love of God.  And it’s a message that needed to be heard, for sure.  Too many people had become fearful of God, rather than trustful of his tender care.  And so, the message of God’s love and intimacy was very much needed.  But, in the wake of that good message, have we also forgotten the expectations God has of us?  Has God become so much the Good Friend, that we’ve forgotten that he’s also our Lord, Shepherd, and Savior?  And that to preach and to live the gospel of God’s love requires a certain amount of commitment and sacrifice?  Has the Catholic faith become too...ordinary?  Has it ceased to be a Light that challenges, or a Word that pokes at our conscience, or a Way of life characterized by sacrificial love?

Perhaps the “important work” I just mentioned is the task of reinvigorating the faith with such basic mindsets as: devotion to God, letting God be the captain of my ship, treating the Creed as a “national anthem” of sorts, being slow to judge and quick to forgive, and so on.  Those are all radical, radical mindsets that our faith demands of us.  And who’s going to take up the charge that Jesus gave to Peter when he said, “Feed my lambs, shepherd my sheep, feed my sheep” [John 21:15c,16c,17c]?

Who’s going to take up that very important work of God?  Who’s going to preach the unpopular message?  Who’s going to call others on the carpet for poor behavior toward others?  Who’s going to let themselves be tied up and taken into places and situations they’d rather not go, but who go anyway out of devotion to God?  Who’s going to feed the sheep and tend the lambs; who’s going to love them...not as a sheep, but as a shepherd?

On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, these are all questions we take to heart—especially if we’ve heard the Lord calling.  May the Lord hear our prayers, and may we consider his hopes and desires...for us.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Homily for 5 May 2019

5 May 2019
3rd Sunday of Easter (First Communions)

It’s a very special day here at Saint Clare—our 2nd Graders are about to receive Communion for the first time.  And throughout their lives they’ll receive Communion something like 3,500 more times (if they go every Sunday).  If they go to daily Mass too, it would be something like 20,000 times.  Either way, it’s a lot!  So, for our 2nd Graders, today is the start of a new habit; it’s the start of a new way to experience the Mass and God.

But, at the same time, for them and for us, Communion is something we already know about; it’s something we already experience—even outside of Church.  And that’s because “communion” isn’t so much a “thing” that we hold in our hands; instead, it’s an experience—in particular, an experience of life and fellowship.  After all, the ideas of “communion” and “community” are practically the same.

For instance, when we Catholics talk about our relationship to the pope, we say that we’re “in communion with the pope.”  In other words, we share the same faith, we see him as both a brother and friend in Christ, and he and we live according to the same set of standards and practices.  We’re “in communion with” the pope.

And—even though we don’t usually talk this way—we could say the same thing about our circle of friends, or our family, or politicians we agree with, or with fellow Catholics around the world and those sitting in the pews next to us.  You and your friends are a “communion”; you share life, you share the same passions and interests, you journey together.  You are a “communion,” a “community.”  The same with your family; you share traditions, you share life, your lives are intertwined with each other.  Your family is a “communion,” a “community.

And, of course, the Catholic Church is a “communion”; it’s a “community” which shares common beliefs and practices, which lives according to a basic standard of conduct.  The Church is a “communion” held together by the working of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit given to each of us just the same at baptism.

And last, but not least, we can talk of God himself as a “communion.”  The Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is a community, a “communion” of absolute love and perfect friendship and adoration. 

So, even before our 2nd Graders receive Communion for the first time today, they’ve been living communion already with their friends and family, with Church and with God.  But today, they and we take another deeper step into Communion.  We take a deeper step into the vision God has for us and all humanity; a vision of real friendship and love, not only with each other, but with God as well.  And that’s a communion we (hopefully) step more deeply into every time we receive Communion.  And I say “hopefully” because, you know, we can receive Communion without really receiving Communion. 

When you think about it, that’s kind of an interesting idea: to “receive” Communion.  Now, obviously, we take the Host and we put it in our mouth and chew.  We take the Cup and we swallow a bit of the Precious Blood.  We certainly receive Communion into our bodies.  But there’s also receiving Communion in our heart and mind.  Remember that the Eucharist is, yes, the Body and Blood of Jesus.  But it’s also the Soul and Divinity of Jesus.  The Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord.

So, to “receive” Communion means also to let Jesus’ soul and divinity mix with our soul and humanity.  If we eat and drink Communion, but then we don’t also “receive” the rest of what the Eucharist is into our life, we haven’t received Communion with Jesus as much as we could.  That’s why someone can receive Communion, and then five minutes later they have road rage trying to get out of the parking lot.  They ate and drank, but didn’t let Jesus “soak in.”  They haven’t entirely “received” Jesus’ invitation to Communion with him.

And I imagine most of us do that from time to time—not the road rage part, but the other part: we eat and drink, but we don’t always “receive” the invitation to deeper communion with God and others (or with ourselves).  Sometimes after receiving Communion myself, I’ll be sitting in the chair, thinking about what’s coming next (the closing and any announcements).  And then it hits me: “Whoa, slow down, take a moment.” 

In fact, that’s what that time of silence is all about after receiving Communion.  It’s a time to be “in the moment”, to reflect on what just happened.  The God of the Universe, the God of all creation comes to me and to you, and he invites each of us to be in communion with him; to share his divine life, and to let him share our human life.  To actually “receive” Communion is a profound act.  To say “thank you” and “yes” to God’s invitation takes a moment.  Or, it takes many moments, repeated throughout life.

And so, we receive Communion again and again and again.  Not just eating and drinking, but also soaking in and absorbing, being affected by our communion with God, by our shared life with God.

Now, at some point, the phrase “Jesus and me” came into Catholic life.  And whenever you hear it, it’s usually said as a negative.  And those who say it mean that the purpose of what we do at Mass—what we do during Communion especially—is supposed to be about building up the community of faith.  It’s not supposed to be about “Jesus and me;” it’s supposed to be about “Jesus and us,” in other words. 

The problem with that, however, is that if there isn’t any “Jesus and me” going on during Mass—that is, if there is no real communion happening between “Jesus and me”—then there is no “Jesus and us.”  There’s just “us.”  And that’s because of something the faithful have known since the first centuries of the Church; namely, that “the Eucharist makes the Church.”  The Eucharist makes the Church.  Without my personal communion with God, without your personal communion with God, without your neighbor’s personal communion with God, then there is no communion among “us”—there is no Church.

The Church is a communion—where the most basic commonality we share is our own personal communion with one and the same God.  My personal communion with God the Father makes me a son of God.  Your personal communion with God the Father makes you a son or daughter of God.  And we are, therefore, brothers and sisters in the one God.  We become the Church—because of our personal communion with the Lord.  The Eucharist makes the Church.  Without some “Jesus and me” going on during Communion, then there is no “Jesus and us.”  There’s just “us.”  And “we” alone don’t constitute a community of faith.

And so, to actually receive Communion is essentially to our life.  Without it we don’t exist.  Without communion, Jesus isn’t in the world.  Without real communion with God, the world becomes rather chaotic.  In our world, among other issues, there’s a “crisis of communion”—or lack of communion with God.  In the church, too (and you can put the parish in there), what is the root of many problems other than not being in real communion with God?                

Just think of all that God freely gives us—especially from the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel/guidance, fortitude, knowledge, piety, respect and awe of God.  Of course, then there are the fruits of those gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Where there’s lack of patience, where people are quick to judge, there’s lack of communion with God.  Where there is no love, no forgiveness, where there is mean-spiritedness, there’s lack of communion with God.  Where there’s no real peace or love, there’s lack of communion with God.  Without real communion with God, our life as Christians doesn’t really exist.  We simply eat and drink, we go through the motions, but we don’t “take it in;” we don’t “receive” Communion and all its good blessings.

Now, today, when our first communicants come up, you’ll notice something a little different.  They’re going to line up along the sanctuary steps, and I and the deacon will come to them.  And then, after “eating and drinking,” they’re going to kneel here on the steps.  We’re going to let them linger a bit here at the Altar of God, who invites them into communion with him—because communion shouldn’t be rushed.  And we’re going to ask God’s blessing upon them, that they truly receive him, and let him be their companion for life.

It's a special day for our 2nd Graders.  But it’s also a special day for us, too (and every Sunday), because we’re also invited to receive Communion.  Maybe even for some of us, we’ll really be receiving Communion with God…for the first time.