Saturday, October 12, 2019

Homily for 13 Oct 2019

13 Oct 2019
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Allergies have been especially bad this year.  For myself, I’ve been dealing with that for about 24 weeks now.  And it’s been kind of miserable; it’s like I became a captive to these allergies.  But then the doctor suggested I do a few things, and it’s incredibly better.  I still have a cough in the mornings, and I have to keep up my regime of “nasal care,” but it’s working. 

And that’s maybe similar to what we see in the Scriptures today.  We have two cases of leprosy; one is Naaman and the other is an unnamed Samaritan.  And they’re more or less “captive” to their condition.  It sounds like Naaman was a pretty successful military leader—in spite of his leprosy.  However, it sounds like the unnamed Samaritan was pretty much captive to his leprosy.

Now, both of them desired to be free of their illness, so they went in search of healing.  Naaman was sent to the “man of God,” the Prophet Elisha.  And the other leper called out to Jesus when he saw him pass by.  And, in doing that, both of those men received some very clear instructions.  It was like getting a prescription from the doctor.  Naaman was told to “go and wash seven times in the Jordan” river [2 Kgs 5:10], and the other leper was directed to “go show yourself to the priests” [Lk 17:14]. 

So, the two men did “what the doctor ordered,” and they were healed.  And not only that: they were freed.  They were no longer captive to the disease of leprosy that had them in its grips.  They were free to enter society again—because lepers had to stay away as outcasts.  They were free to worship again—because they were then no longer ritually unclean.  They were free to love and be loved in return.  They’d been healed and set free.  They could be whom God intended them to be when he made them “in the beginning.”

In short, we have a little snapshot of how redemption and salvation work.  In the beginning, God created everything and called it “good.”  But then Evil came in made a mess of things; and we became captive to sin and death, and everything else that holds us down.  And so God sent the Law and the Prophets and, finally, his Son Jesus to provide the remedy for sickness; to “save” us.  And those who seek this saving love of God—and follow his “prescription”—are freed; they’re redeemed.  And, even if sin and death (and allergies) are still around, we’re nonetheless not “captive” to them anymore.    

This is what defines us as “people of God,” as “people of faith.”  It’s our central message as the Church: that there is salvation, there is hope...through God and his ways.

Some people look at the Church and think, “Oh, that’s so oppressive.  All those rules and laws; all that judgment.  Where’s all the love they preach about?!”  But what they may not realize is how oppressed they themselves are—living without God, without the Law and the Prophets, without the commandments and prescriptions of God and his Church to raise them up. 

Now, that’s not to say the Church doesn’t get off track every now and again; it certainly does—after all, we’re not God.  We’re affected by evil, by the ways of sin and death.  But that doesn’t negate the fact that the Church is the community of the redeemed, the community of those who’ve been touched by the saving love of God.  Our own woundedness and brokenness doesn’t invalidate the Gospel message, the message of salvation and how salvation works.  In fact, our own brokenness—and how we’ve each been touched by God’s saving love—is what makes the Gospel message legitimate.

We follow God’s commandments not because we’re oppressed, or because we’re miserable slaves.  We follow God’s commandments because we know they work.  We hang on to them, we use them, and we’re free.  We follow the teachings of the Apostles, too.  And we do it because we’ve experienced the truth, the goodness, and the freedom that comes from living according to those teachings and Christ’s. 

Maybe some of us have been touched by the voice of Evil that whispers: “You’re not good enough.  You have nothing to contribute.  You are worthless.”  And you let that sit inside you for years, decades; you become a “leper.”  But then, one day, you hear the story of how someone just like you encountered acceptance for the first time.  And it was acceptance offered by someone who was a firm believer in God’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  And, at that moment, you knew firsthand what salvation felt like.  You were freed from being captive to others’ lies about yourself that, long ago, you’d accepted as true. 

And then, you, now a redeemed person, are excited to get on with living a new life in freedom.  And it feels great, have a nagging disdain in your heart for those who hurt you in the past.  And you can’t let it go.  You just can’t let it go.  And so, you find yourself still captive to sin and death.  Only, now it’s your own unforgiveness that keeps you captive.  You’re captive to yourself.  And—importantly—you don’t want to be.

So you call out to Jesus for help, and he brings to mind immediately that prayer he put inside us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  And then you remember his commandment: “Love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you” [Mt 5:44].  And you let the law of God, and the teachings of Christ and his Apostles, be your ticket to freedom.   

Laws aren’t meant to make us slaves.  They’re not there to oppress us.  They’re meant to free us.  They’re like on ramps to the highway of salvation.  There’s no other way to get on the highway.  And so, we pray for those who are captive to the lie that God’s laws are oppressive and stifling.  We pray for those who are captive to...whatever, but who don’t realize it.

And that realization is key.  A few weeks ago we talked about sin, and how increased awareness of sin is an essential part of the “New Evangelization.”  Jesus “came to call sinners,” so if people are unaware of their sins, they don’t really have any use for Jesus—at least, not for what Jesus came to do. 

This week, though, the focus isn’t so much the sins that we do.  Instead, it’s how we are each touched by sin (and death and evil)—but not by our doing.  Naaman and the other leper hadn’t done anything wrong.  They’d simply been “captured” by this disease, leprosy.  And—importantly—they knew.  Of course, that’s a disease which is pretty easy to see.  But what about the evil, and sin, and death that’s touched us that is not so easy to see; “bad things that happen to good people,” and that we’re not entirely aware of?

We already mentioned those lies that others tell us about ourselves that we believe.  Those can be very insidious.  What about those of us who feel alone or cast out?  Those who feel abandoned?  It’s not uncommon among youth; it’s not uncommon among the elderly and the homebound.  What about those of us who are touched by envy—a grasping envy which cannot share in others’ happiness and blessings?  What about those of us who are slaves to what others think?  That’s a pretty common “ailment” among people. 

The realization of our own woundedness is key, because that’s what we lay before the Lord and ask him to make better.  Jesus can’t “save” us if we don’t know what’s wrong, or if we don’t bring it to him.  It’s like going to the doctor.  The doctor can’t help you if you don’t tell him or her what’s wrong.  The doctor can’t do anything if you yourself don’t know that something’s wrong.  So, realizing our own woundedness, our own brokenness is an essential part of the “New Evanglization;” it’s an essential part of being touched by the healing, saving love of God.

In another couple of months (already!) we’ll be celebrating Christmas.  And it’s a joyful thing we celebrate, most of all because: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone” [Isaiah 9:1-2].  We celebrate the coming of the light into our own personal darkness, the coming of the One who has the keys to set us free.  But it’s a joyful thing only if we realize that we’re captive to a certain “gloom”, and that what he has is exactly what we need.  Among other things, that’s what it makes a deeply joyful holiday.

“Sleigh bells rings, are you listenin’?”  Jesus is coming to town, but it isn’t sleigh bells that are ringing, it’s the keys of heaven that are ringing.  He’s the one who has them, Jesus, who has been “sent to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners” [Isaiah 61:1].    

The story of salvation is ours.  Each of us is a part of its message of joy and hope.  Each of us has been created good in the eyes of God.  Each of us has been touched by Evil in some way, and we can’t seem to shake sin and death.  And each of us has heard the “good news” of the saving love of God in Christ.  We’ve heard and, hopefully, we’ve experienced it.  The question is: Do we know it?  Do we believe it?

There’s so much talk today about declining numbers of people going to Mass, the priest shortage, and the increase of anxiety and despair in the world.  It’s no coincidence that this is all happening as the world increasingly pushes God to the side—like never before in human history.

Our culture pushes the truth of our own woundedness, and the truth of God’s redeeming love for us, aside.  (And the enemy isn’t the culture, the enemy is the Enemy who distorts the culture).  And when that happens—when we’re pulled apart from God—what’s left then, but to despair, to worry about the shortness of life (which apparently ends when you die—not).  What’s left but to stop worshipping God, to stop turning to God whose very existence is apparently nothing but a fairytale (not).  What’s left then but for men to stop giving themselves to Christ in the priesthood?  After all, what’s the point if you’ve never known the gracious and saving love of Jesus?  Why commit yourself to him?  Why spend your life sharing him with others? 

And so, this is important.  The message of salvation is important; this message of hope and joy.  Each of us has been created good in the eyes of God.  Each of us has been touched by Evil in some way, and we can’t seem to shake sin and death.  And each of us has heard the “good news” of the saving love of God in Christ.  We’ve heard and, hopefully, we’ve experienced it.  The question is: Do we know it?  Do we believe it? 

As members of a redeemed people, do we know we have been redeemed, that salvation is ours?  Not just once on the Cross, but every day? 

God help us to hear the words of Saint Paul today: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.”  If we want to be raised up, if we want to be healed and made whole—not only at the end of time, but even now, today, and every day—we want to follow the doctor’s orders.  We want to remember Jesus Christ and all he said, did, and taught.  We want to remember him and his Apostolic Church, with whom he shares those all-important keys of heaven. 

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead,” Saint Paul says.  Salvation is ours in Christ Jesus, today and every day.  May God heal any doubts we have about that, and bring us joy, thankfulness, and abundant life.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Homily for 8 Sep 2019

8 Sep 2019
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

When engaged couples come in to see about getting married, it’s my job to say, “Congratulations, that’s wonderful…and now let’s sit down and talk about a few things first.”  And it isn’t the wedding day that I want to talk about…yet.  Instead, we talk about things they might not have thought about yet; personal, relational, practical things that come with being married.

For example, we send them to workshops where they talk about finances.  How are they going to handle that?  Who’s going to make sure the bills get paid?  Are they going to work on a budget together?  Do they know what a budget is?  And the couple is made to address things like “conflict resolution;” what do they do when they get irritated with each other?  Is there resolution and compromise?  Is just one person always bending to keep the peace?

The engaged couples are made to do what Jesus is talking about in the gospel.  Before they get married, they’re made to sit down and consider the “cost” of being married—not the expense of the wedding, but the personal cost to each of them in living married life.  And they do that—not as a hoop to jump through, but to get them off on a good path.

Before someone builds a tower, Jesus says, they first sit down and see how much it’s going to cost.  And, of course, that’s a no-brainer.  But it’s also the wise thing to do.  Before you go buy a new lawnmower, you first ask: Do I have enough money to pay for this?  Even with credit cards, you still want to ask: Can I handle this expense on my credit card?  Am I going to be able to pay it off?  It’s smart to think about that.  It’s smart.  It’s...wise.

When the Lord talks about the cost of discipleship, he’s not saying: “Be my disciple, no matter the cost.”  That would be foolish.  Instead, he’s saying: “Here’s the cost of being my disciple: you’re going to have to bear the weight of your cross, and you’re going to have to put me first in your life—not to the exclusion of others, not in opposition to that Fourth Commandment to honor your father and your mother—but with me as first in your life.  That’s the cost of being my disciple.  If you’re not able to handle that cost, then don’t pretend to follow me—for your own good.”

And we can infer this by the examples he gives to the people.  The first is the tower building project.  He’s saying, essentially, that the wise person won’t (shouldn’t) build it if they already know they won’t have enough to finish it.  In our efforts to help build the Kingdom of God, Jesus is saying: “Before you jump into a project in the parish, or the diocese, or wherever, first stop; stop and consider the ‘cost’—not only the financial cost, but the human cost as well; the availability of volunteers, the time you have available, people’s general interest in the project.” 

“Consider all that,” Jesus says, “so your work to build my Kingdom will have the best chance for…success.”  “But if the cost is too high,” Jesus says, “or if the human and other resources are not available, then do not start.”  “Be wise, and know your limits; plan for success, not failure,” he says. 

Or there’s the example of the king going into battle.  Now being a Christian can certainly be an uphill climb.  And to that Jesus says, “Look ahead.  Can you handle the cost—the human, spiritual, and emotional cost—of being a Christian ‘soldier’ in the world?”  “If you can’t,” Jesus says, “then it would be foolish to put on a suit of armor.”  “It’s far better,” he says, “to make peace with the reality of the situation, and to do the best you can.”  And that’s not foolish or complacent; it’s simply being wise.

Last week we heard about the importance of humility; being “grounded in the reality” of who and what we are; fully accepting both our strengths and our weaknesses, our abilities and our inabilities.  “It would be wiser,” Jesus says, “not to be my disciple than to risk being a Christian in name only; that is, a hypocrite.”  Again, Jesus wants us to be successful, however that looks, rather than to jump foolishly into failure and frustration.  “Be humble, be wise,” he says.

It’s like the weather.  Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain—and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot—and so it is” [Lk 12:54].  In other words, we know how to be wise; we know how to look ahead so we’ll be ready for the weather.  And we should do the same with faith and the Lord.  He’s very clear about the cost of discipleship.  But how do we respond to that cost…humbly and wisely?

This seems to get at the idea of our “vocation,” our calling—not only individually, but as families, as a community of faith.  Saint Paul says, “There are many parts of the one body” [1 Cor 12:12], and we each have some part to play in that body.  And the part we play is built on the reality of who we are: our personal strengths, our personal limits.

In the Scriptures, there are several ways that people are in relation to Jesus.  Some are apostles; people who are not only followers and disciples of the Lord, but are also his spokesmen; leaders of people, sent out into the world.  Some people are evangelists; who are also followers and disciples, but also preachers and writers of the good news.  Some people are teachers, who are, again, followers and disciples, but charged with passing on the faith in the synagogue, at home with the children.

There are the disciples—lots of them; students of the Lord who commit themselves to learning from Jesus, who commit themselves to putting Jesus first in their lives and carrying their daily cross as best they can.  And, then, in Scripture, there are “the crowds;” people who are intrigued by Jesus and touched by him; who love Jesus and have faith in him, but who don’t necessarily have the strength or the ability to pick up the cross.  Jesus has mercy on them; he goes around healing them, bringing the Kingdom of God to them.

Finally, in Scripture, there’s “everybody else”; people who have little use for Jesus—either that or they just hate him.  When Jesus lays out for us the cost of discipleship, it seems to get at this question of vocation; because our vocation is directly tied to the strengths and weakness, potentials and limitations God has given each of us.

What abilities has God given me?  What level of spiritual endurance has God blessed me with?  Whatever it is, we know there’s a limit.  After all, God didn’t create us to be superhuman.  It’s like our money—even the richest person in the world has…a limit.  In following Jesus, he asks us, essentially, to live within our limits; to live within the means that he himself gave us.  But to find those limits, we have to be tested, we have to stop and consider the cost of things and whether or not we can handle that cost.

During Saint Paul’s conversion, in between the day when God knocked him to the ground, and the day he started preaching the gospel, Saint Paul spend three years in the Arabian desert.  He was out there to see what his personal, physical, and spiritual limits were.  Only when he knew that he could handle the cost of being an apostle did he go and live that life.  He came out of that desert very wise, ready for success (knowing his limits), and with happiness in the heart.

It’s why we have surveys in the parish from time to time.  There might have an idea for something in the parish, but if the cost is too high, then we won’t go with the idea.  Right now, there’s the idea of having Fish Fries in Lent.  But the primary cost of that isn’t the fish (or the french fries or the coleslaw); the primary cost is volunteers.  It takes a lot of people to run a fish fry for five weeks.  If we don’t have enough “volunteers in the bank,” so to speak, then we won’t do a fish fry.  And that’s just the wise thing to do.  After all, who wants to spend five weeks of frustration in the kitchen because there weren’t enough volunteers to begin with? 

Now, as we know, “with God all things are possible.”  But, of course, we are not God.  And it’s very frustrating and foolish to try to be God.  With God all things are possible—as long as it’s in the mind of God to begin with.  But, as the Book of Wisdom says, “Who can know the mind of God?”  We certainly have a limitation there…which is a good thing.  Limits and weaknesses are blessings from God.  They give us parameters for being our truest, best self for others and God.

And that’s what the Lord simply asks of us; he asks us to “live within our limits;” to spend ourselves for love of him and for all that’s good, true, and beautiful—but within the limits and abilities he himself has given us.  Picture the widow’s mite.  It the eyes of others, she didn’t give all that much.  In reality, though, she gave herself to God…right up to her limit.  And, in the eyes of God, that was everything.  And he loved her, and she was happy.

What matters to God is that we give our best to him—not my neighbor’s best, but “my” best.  And having the wisdom to know our limits—and using the strength to live up to those limits—is how we give our best.  And that makes for success and happiness with others, with God, and ourselves (this side of heaven): giving our best to God—no less and…no more.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Homily for 25 Aug 2019

25 Aug 2019
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Last week we talked about motivation, and what inspires us to do what we do.  And we saw that having a “vision” is important.  Jesus had a vision; it was of “the joy that lay before him”—that’s what motivated him to endure the cross.  The Saints all have their own visions, too, that motivate them, that compel them to live in a particular way.  The “vision” helps give us that “fire” that Jesus talks about; the fire of intentional, purposeful, meaningful life in God.

But the Letter to the Hebrews follows up this week with a critical concept with respect to “the vision;” and that is “discipline.”  The vision can be exciting to think about.  But there’s the discipline that comes with attaining the vision and living the vision.  In fact, discipline itself is part of the vision.

When the runner decides to run a marathon, he or she has to prepare for it.  The runner has to be disciplined enough to eat right, to train properly, and to run the race not wildly but with self-control and a good pace.  When someone wants to be a successful business leader, he or she has to be disciplined enough to study good business practices, and to practice good business practices.  The business leader has to be disciplined enough to be a good role model for his or her employees.

For someone to be a good priest, he has to be disciplined enough to care more about what’s right and just, than what’s popular.  He has to have enough discipline to pray on his own, without someone reminding him to pray.  He has to practice the discipline of self-control, the discipline of charity, the discipline of being both loving and encouraging, as well as corrective and...corrective.  I figured out there’s a reason why we call the priest “father.”

And, lastly, when the Christian is determined to live the Christian vision of things, he or she has to be disciplined in all the things necessary to attain that vision.  It’s why those basics of Christian living are preached on over and over again: forgiveness, mercy, patience, honesty, self-control, charity, faith, hope, self-giving, neighborliness, and so on, and so on.  If we aspire to live a good Catholic Christian life, then discipline is an unavoidable part of the deal; it’s an inescapable part of the vision.

Jesus says as much when tells the people, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”   And you think of a narrow gate, and immediately we think of something that constricts us; something that squeezes and makes us feel uncomfortable.  But that’s what discipline feels like.  It feels constricting on our personal freedom, it squeezes us and makes us let go of some things we want to hang on to, it makes us suck in the gut or feel the pangs of adjusting our diet.  Discipline does that. 

If you’ve ever striven to do anything, you know that it takes a certain stick-to-itiveness—especially when the going gets rough. stay with it, you endure the sweat and the irritations; you power through the setbacks and the moments of wanting to give up.  And begin to see it.  You begin to see your goal taking shape.  And it makes all the discipline it took to get there worth it.  Sometimes we call it “the thrill of victory.”  But it’s only a thrill if you’ve fought to get there; if you’ve gone through the narrow gate of discipline.

Now, that’s a very positive way to talk about “discipline”.  But there are also plenty of negative attachments to it as well, where “discipline” becomes “punishment.”  And then we can talk about: detention, losing privileges (car, telephone, and so on), dragging out a mop and bucket to do some cleaning.  Maybe for adults it would be the punishment of being publicly rebuked, the punishment of fines or jail time, the punishment of being shunned by others.

It’s interesting, though, in that these negative punishments have (or should have) the same purpose as the discipline of an athlete.  Discipline, generally speaking, is supposed to be instructive; it’s supposed to give guidance.  When the Letter to the Hebrews uses the word “discipline”, it means some “instruction that trains someone to reach full development (maturity).”  It’s some form of instruction that trains a person to reach his or her full potential.  And this is why, the Letter says, to “not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him.”

If we feel that the Lord is somehow disciplining us, that’s not a reason to be worried or to think God does not love us.  It’s just the opposite.  When someone comes to the confessional with their sins, I will sometimes remind that person that one way God cares for us is by his bringing our faults to our attention.  When I was in college taking organ lessons, every single lesson the professor would point out my mistakes.  But she did that so I could hear what she was hearing, so I could be a better musician.  She did it because she cared.  And the same is with God.

The Lord brings attention to our faults as a matter of discipline, as a matter of being trained in the ways of God, in the ways of good living.  And that is a loving thing to do.  Of course, God also lifts our spirits when we’re doing things well, when we’re learning and growing.  That’s all part of a living a life of discipline.

I always get a little nervous when I hear somebody preaching only the old fire-and-brimstone way of God...because God isn’t all that.  And I get just as nervous when I hear somebody preaching about God only as though he were a big teddy bear with nothing but sugar and honey to share...because God isn’t all that either.  

Now, Jesus certainly preached the fire-and-brimstone.  We heard it in the gospel today: “And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see [all these other people] in the kingdom of God—and you yourselves cast out.”  Jesus also preached the teddy bear when he calls God the Father “Abba,” that is “papa.”  God is both.  God is tender and unconditionally loving; God also disciplines and teaches through discipline.  God is both.  And, in fact, God’s brand of discipline and God’s love go hand-in-hand.

And so, the Letter to the Hebrews is right: when we’re disciplined the Lord, it’s actually a cause to give thanks.  It means God cares enough to steer us in the right direction.  It means God sees the potential in us, and he wants us to live the fullest vision of life we can. 

“Strive to enter though the narrow gate,” Jesus says.  Discipline is like the narrow gate.  Jesus himself is the gate; God is our primary “disciplinarian,” our primary teacher.  But there’s that verb, “strive;” “strive to enter through the narrow gate.”  In other words, have the vision of good Catholic living; have it, own it, love it, and deliberately seek the discipline it takes to see that vision come true.  “Strive” for the vision.

If you want to have more prayer time in your life, then strive to ensure it happens.  Put something on your nightstand to remind you pray before you go to bed.  Put the mealtime prayer up on your refrigerator as a reminder to pray.  Deliberately choose to do that.

If you want to get over that voice in your head that just ruminates about this person or that person, then strive to get over it.  When you come into church, light a candle for that person and pray for their good.  Do it once, do it twice, do it until you genuinely stop ruminating, and you get on with life. 

If you want to be more disciplined by the Lord, then strive to be open to whatever tools he’s using to mold and shape you.  In the Prophet Isaiah and in the Gospel, it was other people—the “nations”—and God’s acceptance of them that challenged people’s hearts to be like God’s.  The happenings of life around us can serve God’s purposes.  “God, help me to be disciplined by the challenges I face today.”  “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

It’s important to have a vision of intentional, purposeful, meaningful life in God.  Have the vision, love the vision, live the vision—with discipline, the loving discipline that comes from Jesus, the Narrow Gate himself.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Homily for 18 Aug 2019

18 Aug 2019
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

A basic message we get from Scripture today is: Keep going, persevere in faith, live with a fire in your spirit.  In a way, it’s the voice of the “cloud of witnesses,” who are like the fans alongside a race course, cheering the runners on.  “Keep going!  Persevere in faith!  Live with a fire in your spirit!”  And that can certainly be helpful to hear.  But, at the same time, it can be kind of annoying to hear...if we lose sight of the end goal, if we forget why we started to run the race in the first place. 

The question “why” really jumps out from a reading of the Scriptures today.  Why do we do...anything?  What motivates the runner to run a marathon?  What motivates politicians to take the positions they do, and do that in the manner they do?  What motivates the baker to bake a pie for the county fair?  What motivates the Christian to be a Christian, to be a Catholic?  Why do we do...anything that we do? 

I imagine if we each thought about it, we’d come up with a whole bunch of answers, depending on what it is we’re talking about.  But I also imagine there’d be some common themes.  What motivates us?  Maybe the idea of: fulfillment, satisfaction, or personal well-being; being a good neighbor, a good citizen, looking out for what’s good, right, and just; doing things for the betterment of others, out of love for others, out of love for God, love of country, love of a particular way of life; the experience of being alive; the experience of being part of something.

If the purpose behind what we’re doing is something we’re drawn to, well, we’ll probably persevere until we reach our goal.  We’ll probably keep going, and live “with a fire in our spirit” just naturally.  When we consider Jesus and what compelled him to do what he did, we know he stayed the course because...he had a clear vision of where he was going.  The Letter to the Hebrews says: “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross....”

For the sake of the joy that lay before him....  Jesus had “joy” in his sights; specifically, the joy of being with the Father again.  That was his goal; that was his vision.  And that’s what kept him going.  Even when others opposed him, and persecuted him, and put him to death, he powered through.  The vision, the “joy that lay before him” is what put the fire in his belly to persevere, to live well and truly while on earth.

And we see the same with all the Saints. Saint Francis and Saint Clare had a vision of total dependence on the providence of God, total abandonment to his good will.  And they didn’t let anything stand in between them and that vision.  Saint Gianna Molla had a vision of respect for life.  And when she was pregnant, and was encouraged to have an abortion, she said no.  She lived the vision of life—even at the expense of her own.

Saint Pope Pius X had the vision of beautiful liturgy (him and many others), where Mass would be truly a meeting between the living God and his faithful people.  And he did everything in his power to support that vision.  St. Catherine of Siena had a vision where the Church would have its act together.  And so, she didn’t hesitate to call the bishops and the pope on the carpet for not having it together.  The Saints all had (and have) a vision before them; a vision that has something to do with the Kingdom of God.  And, what’s most important is that they don’t lose sight of the vision.  That’s the “crown,” that’s the “prize:” attaining the vision.

And this idea of “the vision” is fundamental to us and our life.  Why go to Mass?  Why be merciful?  Why stand up for something?  Why give my time?  Why give my money?  Why do...anything?  That question “why” is all-important because it makes us consider what it is that we’re living for; that is, “the vision.” 

When people ask me why I became a priest, it wasn’t because I wanted to go to finance meetings.  It wasn’t because I wanted to know more about boilers and building codes.  And it certainly wasn’t because I wanted to be responsible—legally and canonically—for everything that happens in a parish and school.  I became a priest because I had a vision of a life devoted to God and his ways.  Pure and simple.

It’s also the basic vision the Church has of its priests; that they will assist the people of God in their devotion to him and his ways.  Interestingly, though, that vision—it seems—is often put on the back burner.  Other, “more pressing” things easily overtake that vision.  And then, pretty soon, you don’t have anybody in the parish being a spiritual “head;” an administrative head, yes, a financial and organization head, yes.  But, a spiritual head?  Not as much, or not as strongly.

I sometimes wonder if the trickle of priestly vocations we have is due, at least in part, to an impoverished vision of what we’re about—either as a Church or as priests (or both).  If there’s one vocation that could really be fostered today is the vocation of prophet.  Among other things, the prophet is someone who keeps others on track; they remind others of the vision, of what it is they’re living for. 

There’s a big difference between the time in which the Scriptures were written, and our 21st Century world.  For the past six- or seven-hundred years, Christianity has really taken a beating.  And, in the last one hundred fifty years or so, the basic idea of the religious or spiritual sense—the idea that there is God or “the gods”—has also been pummeled. 

When the Letter to the Hebrews was written, God was a given, faith in Jesus was a given (for believers).  That letter (or, at least, the portion we heard today) was meant to encourage.  It was meant to encourage people who already had the vision; who were invested in the vision.  But, today, the Letter to the Hebrews lacks some context and relevance, because it depends on the hearer already having a commitment to the vision.  If the vision isn’t there, the letter doesn’t mean anything.

But that’s where we find ourselves today.  Now, certainly, there are pockets of people who are very definitely committed to the vision of God and his ways.  And there are pockets of people who, at least, have an inkling of the vision; who have not written off God and faith as useless.  But those people—us—live within a sea of doubt and non-faith. 

So often, the centuries before the Renaissance are called the “Dark Ages”—as opposed to the “Enlightenment.”  The “Dark Ages,” some say, is that time in human history when people were intellectually “dark,” when they were “dim-witted,” when they were...stupid; when they were fooled into believing in God and faith.  The “Enlightenment,” they say, is when people stopped believing, and started using their brains; when they became “enlightened.”

Today, however, from the standpoint of faith, there are many who think that right now we’re living in an honest to goodness “dark age.”  Human reason is good, science is great.  But without faith, without God, we’re just lost in the dark.  And that darkness can be consuming, sometimes, to people who have the Light within them, who have a vision of a something else impressed upon them by God their Creator.

And those are the ones—we are the ones—who have the challenge of staying true to the vision, even as the “cross of darkness and ignorance of God” is all around us. 

Now, you might say, “Father, I don’t have the vision.  My faith is kind of dry.  I’m not really sure why I come to Mass, other than out of habit.  I don’t know that I’m moving toward... anything.”  And, to that, I would say: Let’s talk.  It’s too individual of a question to really address in a homily.  So, I would say, let’s sit and talk.

If you notice, I haven’t really tried to lay out “the vision” in this homily.  And that’s because each of us is motivated by different things, by different visions.  From a Catholic standpoint, those visions all connect to the one Kingdom of God.  But there are many ways to approach God and faith; different ways to appreciate what God has in store for us.

Some of us are motivated by a vision of excellent worship.  And that’s what we dedicate ourselves to—for love of God.  Some of us are motivated by a vision of harmony and cooperation among God’s people—or people in general.  And so we dedicate ourselves to that vision—for love of God.  Some of us are motivated by the vision of just contemplating God and his beauty and truth, like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.  And so, we embrace prayer—intense prayer, as our purpose in life—for love of God.

The Kingdom of God is like a many-faceted jewel.  You can come at it from different directions, with different vantage points, but it’s one and the same Kingdom.  And the visions we have of God and Christian living and what lies beyond are also many-faceted.  The important thing is to have the vision—even if it’s a little foggy to start.  Have the vision, love the vision, be intrigued and motivated by the vision, and go deep—no matter the cost.

That’s the “fire” Jesus refers to; the fire of intentional, purposeful, meaningful life in God.  Have the vision, love the vision, live the vision—no matter the cost, no matter what.

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?