Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Homily for 24 Jun 2015

24 Jun 2015
Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist

We celebrate today not just the birth of saint, but the birth of a new way of thinking for the people of God.  And it was a hard birth for the people to accept.

John the Baptist came to “prepare the way” of the Lord.  He preached a baptism of repentance.  And in doing that he was effectively saying, “Stop looking to the past for your fulfillment; look to God and look ahead.”  The prophet Isaiah speaks of this when he writes: “It is too little . . . for you to be my servant, . . . to restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

The Messiah didn’t come to restore Israel, to restore it to its former glory.  The Messiah came to make something new that would go way beyond Israel.  And John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord by getting people onto a new track of thinking.  And that’s what repentance is—a new way of thinking, making a change that looks forward, a change that isn’t restoration but which is real growth.

When people leave the confessional, hopefully they’re not interested in going back to where they were before.  Hopefully, their repentance is geared toward a new way of living—even if it’s in little ways.  It isn’t enough to sin, to be forgiven, and then to return to our sins.  John the Baptist says, “No, with repentance something new and of a wider vision comes to be.”  And that something new is our life in Christ.

But this isn’t just limited to the idea of sin and repentance.  John the Baptist is a sign of a break in the cycle that keeps us locked in our will and, instead, gets us more focused on God’s will.  As we know, John’s father, Zechariah, doubted God and so he was made to be mute.  And the family was insistent that the newborn baby be named “Zechariah” after his father; it was part of the tradition.  But God had other plans.

And when Zechariah and the family let God’s will be done, as we know, Zechariah could speak again and John the Baptist came to birth.  There was a break with tradition; there was a break with the human will and a renewed commitment to the will of God.  John helped to begin the process of getting people to think in a new way—in preparing for the Messiah who was to be the Way.

According to the human will, so often the “glory days” are in the past.  That was the case for ancient Israel; they were interested in restoration, not something new.  And sometimes that can be the case in today’s Church as well.  Every now and then we might look to the past and say, “If only it could be like that again.  Remember when Fr. so-and-so was here; remember how we used to do this or that as a parish.” 

There’s something good about happy memories of the ways things used to be.  And so, we can sympathize with our ancestors of ancient Israel.  And yet, John the Baptist says, “Look ahead.  Something new is coming.”  And he’s right, of course.  Life never stands still; life is always moving ahead—or, rather, God’s will is always moving us ahead, moving us into a continual renewal of life . . . if we’re willing to let go and let God take the reins.    

There may have been something truly glorious about the past.  And it can be hard to see the past fade into memory.  But perhaps it’s easier to accept when we hear and heed the message of John the Baptist: “The glory days are ahead.  The real glory days are ahead.  So, prepare the way for God’s will to be done.  Our glory lies ahead, when God’s will is done." 

And so, we pray sincerely: Thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Homily for 23 Jun 2015

23 Jun 2015

You get what you ask for.  In a nutshell, that’s what justice is: you get what you ask for.  And God’s brand of justice is pretty similar: Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.  If you want to be shown mercy, then first be merciful.  If you want others to love you, then love others first.  If you want to stay out of trouble, then don’t get into it.

Now, when Lot was given the choice, he decided to move right into the land of Sodom.  It wasn’t that he liked Sodom but, after all, the land there was good for his herd.  But I suppose that’s like trying to harvest honey from a live beehive, hoping you won’t get stung.  And all we can say to Lot is: Well, good luck with that.  As we know, Lot gave himself a big headache for being so close to Sodom.  But, then again, it was his choice to be there.

But, as we also know, Lot eventually prayed for Sodom to be spared.  He was merciful to them, and so, he was shown mercy.  God was simply responding to the choices Lot had made.  And, of course, he was doing the same for Abram.  Abram chose to be generous to Lot by saying: “You pick whatever land you want and I’ll take what’s left.”  And for that, Abram ended up with the Promised Land.  He was generous to Lot, and so, God was generous to him.

We get what we ask for; the choices we make in life will come back to us . . . either as a blessing or a curse or somewhere in between.  And so, we try to make the best choices we can.  But the most basic choice we have is to say to God: “I am yours.  I choose to let you be my light along the way.”  That’s the “narrow gate” which Jesus speaks about—the narrow gate of deliberating choosing to trust God in all areas of life.

Maybe you’re thinking of changing jobs.  You’re trying to fix something in your marriage.  One of the kids or grandkids is making a questionable choice in life.  Maybe you’re going into the hospital or you’re dealing with a chronic illness.  Maybe life just seems to be going nowhere.  While there are a lot of choices to be made in all that, the most basic (and forgotten) choice is to let God show you the way.

We can go it alone, without God, I suppose.  But we’ll get what we ask for.  Or we can invite God into our lives and let the light of faith lead us.  And we’ll get what we ask for.  God will respond to our choices.  And so, above all, choose God.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Homily for 22 Jun 2015

22 Jun 2015

When Jesus says, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged,” he’s not saying: “Don’t try to correct other people.”  That would go against his mandate to proclaim the gospel, which certainly involves bringing people to honest conversion.  Instead, he seems to say: “Don’t be so quick to judge—before correcting others, let yourself be corrected.”  And then we’ll be able to be a real help to someone else.

As a priest I see this all the time in the confessional.  There I sit with my purple stole on, being the face and voice of Christ to others.  And yet, I’m also a sinner, like everybody else.  It would be a terrible experience if I responded to others out of self-righteousness.  In that case, I’d be a barrier and not at all a reconciling presence.  And you don’t have to be the priest in the confessional to understand that. 

Whenever we try to correct other people without a dose of humility, relationships break down and the gospel message of unity and peace is stopped dead in its tracks.  Instead, Jesus asks us to be humble—not self-deprecating, but humble; that is, honest with ourselves about who we are: our strengths and our faults.  And in being humble, we can have more patience with others.  And with that patience we’ll be able to see more clearly and respond more mercifully to the faults of others.

Christ himself is all about getting people on the right track in life.  And we’re called to help him in that mission.  But before we can really be Christ to others, Jesus needs to be Christ to us.  Jesus, who is kind and gentle, slow to anger and of great mercy.  As he judges us with mercy, so may we judge others with the same mercy.   

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Homily for 21 Jun 2015

21 Jun 2015
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

God breaks into the storm and says: “I am God.”  I am God.  As we know, Job is getting himself lost in a storm of pride and beginning to think he knows better than God.  And the disciples are getting themselves lost in a storm of fear and anxiety about what’ll happen.  But to them both, God says: “Be quiet!  Be still . . . I am God, not you.”

And this dynamic in Scripture today is a good illustration of a current storm swirling in our world today—the debate over marriage.  There are at least two sides to this debate that involves pride and anxiety.  But over them both, God says: “Be quiet!  Be still . . . I am God the Creator, not you.”  And that voice has very practical implications for us in this debate.

For example, if you’re already wanting to take a defensive stance in your mind just because I’m talking about marriage and the proposal for gay marriage, God says to you: “Be still . . . I am God.  I am Creator of all.  Be still.”
---
Now, there are various ways that things are created.  Sometimes things are what they are because the Church teaches it.  You know, like a little kid who says, “Dad, why do I have to do this?”  And dad says, “Because I said so.”  When we look at the ritual of marriage—the procession, the readings, the rings, and who stands where—the ritual of marriage is what it is because the Church teaches it to be that way.  The Church (and human history) is the creator of the marriage ritual.

But sometimes God speaks and things are created.  The Ten Commandments are a good example.  “Thou shall not kill.”  The Church hears that and upholds it; the Church doesn’t create that law; God creates that law for humanity and puts it into our soul.

And sometimes things are what they are because God has simply created them to be that way.  The laws of physics, the laws of nature are good examples: the law of gravity, or the way that elements on the periodic table react with one another, or—when it comes to human life—the need for one egg and one sperm to make a new human being.  This is where God breaks in and says, “I am God, and this is what I have created.”

Oh, and God also creates us, and he creates us to love.  We are who we are not because the Church teaches it, but because God creates us to be this way.  We are creatures of the Creator, just like the physical laws of procreation which come from God alone.  And we are simply incapable of changing or redefining what God has created.  God breaks into the storm of pride or fear and doubt and says: “I am God, not you.”  The marriage debate isn’t about anything the Church teaches.  The nature of marriage is not what it is because the Church teaches it.  Instead, the Church recognizes and upholds what God has created. 

And so, it can be a mistake (of a sort) to say: “The Church teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman.”  No, it’s more correct to say the Church recognizes the simple nature of marriage and passes it along—like a scientist who looks into a microscope and makes a discovery and says, “Ah!  I see it!  I didn’t make it, but I see it for what it is.” 

And that’s important to keep in mind because, for many people, the “Church” has no authority whatsoever.  Happily, they don’t even have to listen to the Church to see what we’re talking about.  An atheist can see the physical and sexual complementarity of a male and female.  There’s no other way that human life can come about.  It doesn’t take a faith of any kind to see that. 

The Church doesn’t teach that marriage is between a man and a woman and so it is.  The Church recognizes in the simple order of God’s creation that it can only be between a male and a female.  But, as we know, there’s more to the nature of marriage than procreation.  There’s also love.  And the idea of love seems to be more at the heart of the debate over marriage. 

God creates us to love; after all, we’re made in the image of God who is a Trinity of love.  Love is a good and essential part of the nature of marriage.  And it’s a good and essential part of any close, intimate friendship—regardless of a person’s gender.  Love is essential to being an alive human being. 

But there’s such a confusion in the last decade or so over these terms: marriage and love.  And by “confusion” I don’t mean people are stupid.  By “confusion” I mean these two words—marriage and love—have been so fused together that they’ve become practically synonymous.  Marriage is love; love is marriage.  If I love someone, then I ought to be able to get married to them.   And so, the nature of marriage can be seen to be simply love

Of course, marriage is not love.  And love is not marriage.  And just when we’re about to say, “But what about . . .,” God steps into the brewing storm and says once again: “I am God.  I created the nature of this thing you humans call ‘marriage,’ and I am love itself.  Marriage and love are not the same.  I am God.  And this is what I have created.  I am God, not you.”

And our faith in God’s goodness and wisdom helps us to admit that, yes, marriage is marriage and love is love, and they’re really distinct from one another.  Our faith also helps us to see also that love itself means many different things.  Again, God created the complex-ity of love, not the Church.  It’s up for us to discover what love is, but not to define it.

We see in God’s creative work that there’s filial love—you know, between siblings and between parents and their children.  And there’s erotic love—from the idea that something is ‘lacking’ in us.  And so, erotic love compels us to find fulfillment in other things, other people.  There’s spousal love—the love between a husband and wife as co-creators with God.  And then there’s agape love—or self-giving, sacrificial, ‘other-centered’ love.  That’s the love we see on the Cross; it’s the love that pours out from the Sacred Heart.  And that’s the love which every human being is made to give and to receive: agape love. 

And then there’s friendship, which can be a kind of love.  Again, the Church has recognized since ancient times that there are different kinds of friendship—some are loving, some are not.  Some friendships are purely utilitarian.  You know, Joe over here is my friend because he owns a truck, and every now and then I need to borrow his truck.  Some friendships look like love, but they’re really utilitarian as well.  You know, I might share my deepest secrets with someone, but I’m not really interested in what he or she has to say.  It’s very one-sided.

And then there’s this thing called “disinterested” friendship.  It’s kind of a strange term.  But it doesn’t mean that a friend is apathetic and uncaring.  It means that those friends put aside their own personal interests out of care and love for the other.  And this kind of friendship is like agape love.  It’s a friendship where each person says to the other, “I accept and love you for who you are.  And I’ll do anything for you.” 

When two people, whether they’re heterosexual or homosexual, male or female, when any two people have that kind of depth of relationship in the soul, we see them as experiencing that most perfect of friendships—that friendship which a living image of divine and sacrificial love—not erotic love, not filial love, not spousal love, but agape love. 

And so, it’s understandable why anybody who experiences this kind of love, this kind of soul-penetrating friendship might desire to be married . . . because that’s part of what marriage is.  It is a commitment to another person for life, for richer for poorer, in good times and in bad until death do they part.

But, again, love is not marriage; it’s a part of marriage, but it’s not marriage itself.  And marriage is not love.  Now, love takes many forms, as we know:  filial, spousal, erotic, agape.  It happens in both men and women, in both homosexuals and heterosexuals.  It happens in the hearts and minds of the saints.  It happens in everyday, ordinary people living their everyday lives.  It even happens in the clergy and in religious sisters and brothers. 

But marriage, by its created nature, can take only one form.  Marriage isn’t only about love; it’s also (and more fundamentally) about union.  It’s about a total and complete union between two people.  And this union is spiritual, emotional, psychological, sexual, and physical.  And such a total and complete union is built into the nature of man and woman. 

This is not to deny or even denigrate the very real, the very true agape love and self-gift that might exist between two people of the same gender.  But again, we’re not talking about love—even the best kind of love.  We’re talking about the nature of a union; a nature which no human being ever created nor can ever change.

We hear God say again, “I am God—not you.  You are my creations, just as this union you call ‘marriage’ is my creation.  You are not the Creator; I am.”  And so, regardless of what the state governments legislate, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides at the end of the month, regardless of even what the Church ‘teaches,’ the nature of marriage is beyond human control.

We have no power to change it, just as we have no power to change the orbit of the plants around the sun, or power to change the law of gravity, or power to change water into wine.  That belongs to the Creator alone.  And so, the stormy debate that surrounds the question of marriage is, ultimately, impotent.  It has no affect whatsoever on the nature of marriage. 

Obviously, people’s minds will be affected when they ignore the voice of God in that storm. The storm will rage on for at least a little while; and people will be affected.  Society will be affected.  The next generations will be affected by thinking that God can be replaced by the human will.  And the sin of Adam and Eve will be perpetuated.  But the nature of marriage won’t be changed—because God is God and we are not. 

And this isn’t a reason for anything to feel defeated or triumphant.  The nature of marriage is by God’s working, not ours.  But so, too, is the nature of love.  So, too, is the nature of committed love and friendship, regardless of who you are—male, female, homosexual, heterosexual, married, single, or celibate.  As a people of faith, we rejoice in what our God has created.  Just like our friend Job in Scripture, when we realize that, “Oh yea, God is God, not us,” we can stop arguing about things which we don’t have any control over, and we can start giving thanks for the things we do have a say in.

We have a say in how we love others.  We have a say in how we are friends to one another.  Regardless of who we are, we are each made to love.  We’re not all made to be married.  But we are all made to love and to give ourselves to others in love.  And that’s the task God puts before us.  God speaks to us out of the storm cloud and says: “Be quiet, be still . . . I am God.  Now go and love one another according to the way that I have made you.”

Friday, June 19, 2015

Homily for 20 Jun 2015

20 Jun 2015

We look around at the church and we wonder: Where is everybody?  We look at all the people who can’t stand to be at Mass any longer than they have to be.  And we wonder: Why are they so dissatisfied?  Where are so many of our youth, and why is there such bitterness in the Church between this parish and that parish, between this group and that group?

Jesus said to his disciples: “No one can serve two masters.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”  If we seek fulfillment in the world alone, then there’s no room for God in our lives.  There’s no reason for anyone to come to church.  That’s rather pointless.  There’s no reason to be at Mass any longer than necessary.  We’ve got other more exciting things to do.

We look around at the church and we wonder: Where is everybody?  Are they out serving another master, something infinitely more important and worthwhile than God?  Maybe their work, or the pleasures of money or trying to ‘get ahead’ in the world?  We look at all the people who can’t stand to be at Mass any longer than they have to be.  And we wonder: Are they in a rush to get out of here to sit at the feet of another master?  A master somewhere in this world—maybe on the internet, maybe on tv, maybe on the sports field or even in the home where there’s more excitement and satisfaction to be found?  What other master are they in a hurry to go serve?

We see this and we hear Jesus say: “No one can serve two masters.”  You “will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”  And he’s right, of course.  We can see what happens when people choose not to hold God tightly in their hearts.  It becomes a chore to worship God.  Morality goes down.  Faith suffers.  The community falls apart.  People fall into misery and anxiety, and they cling desperately to their fragile happiness.  They are divided in their soul.

But then we have the saints; we know people who inspire us.  And we see how they live.  They’re more deeply happy and quietly joyful.  They get through the tough times in life, a little bruised perhaps, but not destroyed.  They’re always looking out for their neighbors.  And we wonder: What makes them that way?  Why are they at Mass and happy to be here?  How do they just sit back and enjoy a leisurely Sunday?  Why are they so satisfied?

Well, they know that, truly, “no one can serve two masters.”  Their souls are not divided.  They choose God above all else.  They choose to serve and worship and hold close to their hearts the God of all that is truly good.  Their faith is real.  Their faith is alive.  Their faith is in God alone—and it isn’t lip service.

And that’s what we aim for: an undivided, living faith in our God.  That’s what will keep us satisfied.  That’s what’ll keep us coming back to worship him at Mass.  That’s what’ll keep our life on track.  With God at the center of our lives, we can stop being anxious and divided, and we can just . . . live.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Homily for 19 Jun 2015

19 Jun 2015

The Church here in America is focused a lot on the idea of “success.”  And, of course, we want to be successful in the mission that Christ has given to us.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, it’s good to have that kind of focus and determination.  But here again in Scripture we’re reminded of how to gauge our success—as a community of the faithful, and as individuals.

St. Paul says that “if I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”  Paul’s inadequacies are where he finds his measure of “success;” because in his weaknesses, his absolute need for God is made all the clearer.  In his weakness, Paul realizes how indispensable the love and mercy of God is to him.

And so, his admission of weakness is the measure of “success” for him.  That’s what he boasts in.  He hasn’t become so focused of his own accomplishments and abilities that he forgets about his reliance God.  And, in a way, that goes against our normal way of thinking about “success.”  St. Paul seems to exhort us to measure our success as a Church and as individuals not by how the world defines success, but by how he defines success.

Usually we try to measure our success as a parish in terms of numbers (and there is something to that, of course).  But what if we started to measure our success by seeing how many of us can say: “I’m a sinner, and I know I need God in my life.”  And not only that, but how many people can say this as a boast?  Now there’s a measure of success in our life of faith—the deep realization that by ourselves we are weak—we need God in our lives

When Jesus tells us to store up treasures in heaven, this is one of those treasures—the truth of our weakness, the admission that we are dependent upon God.  And that kind of weakness and dependence is, for us Christians, the real measure of success.  If we ever forget that, we only need to look at the Cross and see Christ crucified: weak, vulnerable, dependent on the Father.

Christ came to call sinners.  He came to call the weak.  And so, let’s boast in our weakness; let’s boast in the fact that we’re sinners—so that God can lift us up, so that God can bring us real “success.”

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Homily for 12 Jun 2015 Most Sacred Heart

12 Jun 2015
Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

In most Catholic churches, the main piece of art in the sanctuary is a crucifix.  We don’t have that here.  Instead, we have the statue of our patron, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  And yet, it isn’t quite right to say the crucifix is not here.  And that’s because the Sacred Heart of Jesus is what’s behind the crucifix; it’s what led him to the Cross; it’s the indomitable Spirit of divine Love poured out.

The bleeding Heart of Jesus and the open wound on Jesus’ side from which blood and water flow are the same.  The human body of Christ is broken open as is the divine Spirit of Christ—they both overflow with blood, with life and divine love.  And this gush of Body and Spirit is the love of the Bridegroom for his Bride, the Church.

Some people jokingly say that their wedding day was their funeral.  But for Jesus, his funeral—his crucifixion—was his wedding day.  It was the day and the place that he gave himself, definitively, to the Church, his Bride given to him by God the Father.  And behind that act of spiritual and bodily love for us is the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

His love is not given in a spirit of sentimentality, as we so often take “love” to be today.  Instead, the sacredness of his love is that it is unconditional; it is freely given and sacrificial; completely selfless and given for the good of those who are open to receive it.  This kind of love is, ideally, seen in marriage, in the family, within intimate friendships.  And this relational, sacrificial love is central to the Sacred Heart.

The image of husband and wife, where God is the husband and Israel is the wife, is a thread that runs throughout the Old Testament prophets.  So, too, is the image of a parent’s love for a child.  The prophet Hosea speaks of God who “fostered [Ephraim] like one who raises an infant to his cheeks.”  It’s a touching image, one that has a sentimental and emotional aspect to it.  But beneath that is the more primordial, unconditionally devoted love of a parent for a child.  We adore God.  But it’s important to remember that God adores us first.  That divine adoration is his Sacred Heart poured out for us.

But Hosea notes also that, although God “stooped to feed [his] child, they did not know that I was their healer.”  The love of God was not acknowledged nor returned with any gratitude.  And that’s the overarching story of Scripture; it’s the story of the whole of salvation history.  God loves us and creates us.  For a time, humanity returns his love.  But then we go on this roller coaster relationship of fidelity and infidelity.  We are faithful.  We are unfaithful.

But the Sacred Heart of Jesus pours out one last definitive show of divine love for us.  And we have the crucifixion, the wedding day when Christ the Bridegroom pours out his love for his Bride the Church.  The day when his Sacred Heart moved him to give his whole body, his whole being in love to the Bride, to us.  And he says to us: “Return to me.” 

That’s the message of the prophets, the message of Christ’s teachings, the message of our Scripture and Tradition as a whole: return to God.  Entrust ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to that love which knows no limits, which is eternally forgiving, which is kind, gracious, and merciful.

This is the prayer of St. Paul when he writes to the Ephesians.  He kneels before the Father interceding for us so that we might “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, . . . [and] be filled with all the fullness of God.”  In effect, his prayer is that we be able to pray the psalm from today: “God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid.  My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior.”

And he shows himself our Savior on the Cross.  There, his Sacred Heart is poured out in sacrificial love: the Bridegroom gives himself to the Bride.  And he says to her—he says to us: Come to me.  Follow me, whose Heart is aflame with love for you.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Homily for 7 Jun 2015 Corpus Christi

7 Jun 2015
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Advent and Christmas are done.  Lent and Easter are over.  And things are pretty much back to “normal.”  Now we’re in this long stretch of Ordinary Time until Advent comes around again.  And so it’s a good time to stop and say, “Whoa!  What did we celebrate?”  And it’s really the Lord who makes us put on the brakes, turn around, and go back for a second look. 

In about the year 1240, Jesus appeared to a nun, St. Juliana of LiĆ©ge, and he told her he wanted the Church to celebrate, with greater focus, his Body and Blood.  He gave her a few reasons why.  But the first was that he wanted the Church to stop and reconsider what happened on Holy Thursday.  There’s a lot that happens on that day, and it seems that the Eucharist was too often lost in the mix of things (and, of course, the Eucharist still gets lost in the busyness of life today).   

And so, since the 13th Century, this feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ has been celebrated.  Since the Middle Ages, every year the Church stops and says, “Whoa!  What did we celebrate?  What happened back there on Holy Thursday?”  And we do it because God himself wants us to see there’s something important about that night.  And so, Jesus said to St. Juliana and his Church: “Stop.  Turn around. Reconsider what really happened on the night of my Last Supper.” 

Well, we know that on that night Jesus had sent his disciples ahead of him to prepare for the Passover meal.  And later, while they were eating, Jesus made the prediction that one of his disciples would betray him.  They each denied it, of course.  And then, at some point, Jesus, “On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all . . . took bread in his . . . hands, and with eyes raised” to his Father in heaven, he gave thanks, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples saying: “Take it; this is my body.”

And we also know that, “in a similar way, when supper was ended,” he took the chalice filled with wine.  He gave thanks, said the blessing, and gave it to his disciples saying: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”  And after that, they sang a hymn and went to the Mount of Olives—at least, that’s how the evening went according to the gospel of St. Mark.

And it’s interesting to think of Jesus singing.  He was probably singing what’s known as the “Hallel Psalms;” psalms in praise of God.  These were psalms 113 to 118.  If you notice, we sang Psalm 116 today; we sang part of the hymn Jesus was singing on the night of the Last Supper.  And to get at the idea of what happened there on that Holy Thursday evening, our ancestors in the 13th Centuries wrote their own hymns.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the hymn we sing every Holy Thursday called Pange lingua, which means “Sing, O tongue!”  “Sing, O tongue, the mystery of the glorious Body, and of the precious Blood, which the King of all nations, the fruit of a noble womb, poured forth as the ransom for the world.  Given to us, born for us of a stainless Virgin.”  . . . Did you hear it?  There’s a hymn within this hymn.  And the gist of this “hidden” song is very familiar to us; although, we don’t usually associate it with Holy Thursday or the Body and Blood of Christ.  It’s a song we might recognize in these words:

“Hark! the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’  Veiled in flesh the Godhead see: hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.  Hark! the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King!”

There’s a fantastic connection between Holy Thursday, the Body and Blood of Christ, and Christmas Day.  We say it every Sunday: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”  The Word became Flesh.  “This is my body, this is the blood of the covenant.” “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity.”  The Word of God became Flesh.  Not an image of flesh; not a symbol; not a metaphor, but really and truly.  The Word became Flesh and Blood.  And, hark! the herald the angels sing: “Glory to the newborn King!”

If we believe that Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a real flesh-and-blood infant to the Virgin Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, then we believe just as strongly that Jesus, the Word of God, by the power of the same Holy Spirit, becomes flesh-and-blood here, wrapped in the mere appearance of bread and wine, and laid on the altar. 

The Word became Flesh on Christmas Day.  And that same Word became flesh again on Holy Thursday.  And he becomes flesh again and again, every time we come here and celebrate the Eucharist, every time we call on the Holy Spirit, every time we “do this is memory of” him.  We just thought Christmas happened only once a year.  But it happens every day.  The Word becomes flesh all the time—not metaphorically, not symbolically, but really and truly. 

What a beautiful insight our medieval ancestors had.  And we can benefit from their wisdom.   If we believe in Christmas—if we believe in the Incarnation—then we believe in the flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus present in the Eucharist. 

This feast that Jesus asks us to celebrate every year really challenges us to look beyond what we can see and feel.  It really challenges us to grow in faith.  The Body and Blood of Christ challenge us to go to a place where our human reasoning and our senses can’t help.  St. Thomas Aquinas also wrote a hymn about this as well called Tantum ergo (which is actually just the last couple verses of Pange lingua).  It goes like this:

“Therefore, so great a Sacrament let us venerate with heads bowed, and let the old practice give way to the new rite; let faith provide a supplement for the failure of the senses.”  Let faith provide a supplement for the failure of the senses.  Seeing here on the altar the flesh-and-blood presence of Christ takes faith.  It takes Catholic faith.

For the first 800 years or so of the Church’s life, there was little written about belief in the “fleshiness” of the Eucharist.  And that’s simply because it wasn’t an issue; everybody believed it.  But in the 9th Century, there were some who began to see the Eucharist as a metaphor for the Body and Blood.  Or they started to see the Body and Blood as not really the Body and Blood, but more as a symbol of our shared life in Christ. 

And so, in the 9th Century (and ever since then), there’s been a lot written about the Eucharist.  From Day 1, the Church has believed with faith in the Lord that “this is my body; this is my blood of the covenant.”  Even though, to our senses it looks like bread, (or a cracker, which is more of what the unleavened bread would have been like at the Last Supper) . . . even though, to our senses, it looks like bread and tastes like bread, and the wine looks like wine, smells like wine and tastes like wine . . . they aren’t. 

Our senses and our human reasoning can deceive us.  We have here the real Body of Christ, the real Blood of Christ.  In the manger at Bethlehem, there was a little baby boy.  He looked like any other infant, but he wasn’t.  Something else was present there: the living God was present there—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity; as he is present here in this miracle of incarnation we call the Eucharist.

That’s what happened on that Holy Thursday night—the Word became Flesh, again.  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone.  For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.  They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” [Is 9:1,6]. 

As the infant Jesus came to share our humanity, so Jesus remains with us—not only in Spirit—but in the Flesh.  His Body and Blood is a sign of the new and eternal covenant with us; the Eucharist is a flesh-and-blood sign that he will never leave us; not a symbol, but a concrete sign that he is always here for us.  And not only that, but it’s a sign that he wants to be within us. 

He asks us to eat and to drink, to mingle his Body and Blood with ours.  He wants to be one with us—in Spirit and in Body.  Then again, what else would we expect between Jesus the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church?  He wants to be one with us—in Spirit and in Body.  And being the happy Bride of Christ that we are as the Church, we say: Amen.

The Body of Christ.  Amen.  The Blood of Christ.  Amen.  And through this really fantastic mystery of Body and Blood, the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of the Word becoming Flesh, we see—hopefully—the mystery of our own transformation.  As Christ gives his real Flesh and his real Blood for us, so we turn around and we give our real body and our real blood in love for God and others.

We are a “Eucharistic people;” that is, we help Christ to be reborn again and again in the world—through our own flesh-and-blood.  Someone struggles to rake the lawn or blow the snow in winter, and we put our own bodies into action to relieve their stress.  A friend is in the hospital, and so we make the effort not only to call or send a card, but to get our flesh-and-blood bodies over to the hospital to be physically present to them.  When someone is having a hard day, or maybe an excellent day, we give a hug, we smile, we shake their hand, or give them a pat on the shoulder—all very physical things to let them know that Christ is with them . . . in the flesh.

On this feast day Christ asks us to stop! turn around, and say “What did we celebrate back there on Holy Thursday?  What happened that night?”  When we take the time to do that, to open our eyes of faith, we see that the Word became flesh, again.  Christmas day happened again.  The herald angels sang ‘Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’  God and sinners are brought together again—not by a symbol, not by a metaphor, not by an image—but by the very real Body and Blood of Christ.   

Friday, June 5, 2015

Homily for 6 Jun 2015

6 Jun 2015

People of all sorts and shapes come into our lives.  And we can be tempted to idolize the people who inspire us, the people we enjoy knowing.  But the archangel Raphael says, “No, praise God.  Thank God for the gift of those people who inspire us.”  Of course, there’s nothing wrong—and, indeed, it’s very good—to thank people.  But we mustn’t forget to thank God and realize it is, ultimately, God at work.

But God is always present to us in some or another.  God doesn’t “come and go” in our lives.  And so, ultimately, all the good we encounter in others is meant to draw us to God and to give him thanks.

While our main vocation in life is to love God, our other vocation as Catholics is to help others connect and reconnect with God.  That’s what the priestly vocation is all about.  It isn’t about me.  It’s about pointing others to God.  That’s what evangelization is all about.  It’s about bringing others to know God and believe in him, not us.  And, of course, we evangelize every time we are an instrument of God—whether it’s with a kind word, or some encouragement, or something else that brings God’s mercy into their lives through us.

The archangel Raphael talks about almsgiving, the idea of giving from our “wealth.”  But the most precious, valuable “thing” we have is our own relationship with God and our own experiences of knowing God—God who is goodness, truth, beauty.  That’s the wealth we want to share.  And that’s the wealth we want others to share in as well.

We try to give ourselves over to God, to God’s will and the ways of God—just like Tobiah and Sarah, just like the widow putting her two coins in the treasury.  We try as best we can to say to God, “I am yours.”  And in return God says, “I am yours.”  And from that rich relationship, we give to others. 

And all those people in our lives who inspire us . . . well, they have their own relationships with God, the God of life and love, the God of all goodness.  When we encounter them, we give thanks to God for his presence in them.  And, hopefully, when they encounter us, they give thanks to God for his presence in us. 

Behind all that inspiration we receive from others is God.  And to that we say: “Blessed be God, who lives forever.”  Blessed be God. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Homily for 5 Jun 2015

5 Jun 2015

We know that God is present and at work in the here-and-now.  And yet, our hope and our joy as Christians also lie in the future. 

We hear today of Anna, the mother of Tobiah, who looks off into the distance for her son.  She looks to the future with anticipation because she knows he’s coming.  And when he comes, she is overjoyed—as we expect.

The same can be said of the Jews.  In the 1st Century, they were expecting the messiah to come.  It was a reason for them to celebrate when they heard Jesus talking about the messiah in such a fantastic way.  They couldn’t, of course, foresee that the messiah would have to suffer and die.  But when that did happen, Jesus himself held an inner “joy,” an inner peace because he knew where he was going—back to his beloved Father.  On the Cross, he was looking ahead.

And that’s a common thread, it seems, with so many of the saints.  Even though they face difficulties, they have a vision of where they’re going and what they’re about.  We remember today St. Boniface, the patron saint of the Germanic lands, who went from one difficult situation to the next around Europe, only to be martyred one night while reading a book.  His life revolved around the Kingdom of God—both in the present and in the future to come. 

God was his hope and his joy.  And the same goes for us.  Our hope is in God alone.  And as much as God is present here and today, he also stands further down the road in a place we hope to be.

Beyond the Cross is the Resurrection.  Beyond the difficulties of life are the blessings of life.  Beyond the darkness of doubt is the light of hope.  May we look ahead and be upheld by that light.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Homily for 4 Jun 2015

4 Jun 2015

It isn’t enough to quote Scripture.  It isn’t enough to say, “the Church teaches” this or “the Church teaches” that.  It isn’t enough.  The Christian faith demands more; it requires understanding.  Jesus recognizes the scribe’s response as having come from a place of “understanding.”  And that scribe is “not far from the Kingdom” because of it. 

Knowledge of Scripture, knowledge of Church teaching, knowledge of Tradition is one thing.  But understanding why we do what we do, and how we teach what we do makes all the difference between passing on knowledge and passing on wisdom and truth.  And, of course, that translates directly into how we live and how we evangelize others.

It’s often said that Catholics might not be able to quote Scripture, but they can tell you what it means.  And that’s what we aim for—we aim for understanding; not only in what Scripture and our Church and our Tradition say, but also understanding in how to bring that to others.

If we want to evangelize others and share our faith with them, it doesn’t do much good to slam them with an out-of-context Scripture quote.  It doesn’t do much good to say, “the Church teaches” this or that when, for some people, the Church has no authority whatsoever—in their mind.  Jesus could have come down in a dramatic display of divine power and proclaimed, “Here I am, the Son of God, obey me and everything will be fine.”  But he didn’t.

Instead, he took the time—and still takes the time—to walk with us.  He helps us to move from having knowledge to having real wisdom and understanding.  And he does that with such patience, with forgiveness, with divine mercy, and yet more patience.  And, in that, he gives us an example to follow—both with ourselves and with others.

Jesus is wise enough to know that isn’t enough to simply quote Scripture.  It isn’t enough to say to people (and ourselves), “Here’s the truth—just follow it!”  It isn’t enough.  The Christian faith he gives us demands understanding and wisdom.  And the beginning of wisdom is a humble walk with our God; it begins with “fear of the Lord.”

In a nutshell, wisdom demands, above all, a love of God.  From that love we can speak to others with wisdom, with understanding of the knowledge we have from Scripture, our Church teachings, and our Tradition.  But we can’t do that with that first commandment: Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  Above all, love God.  Then what we do and what we say . . . will be enough.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Homily for 3 Jun 2015

3 Jun 2015

As God lives, so do all who belong to him.  And since God lives eternally, all who belong to him live eternally.  This is what Jesus is getting at when he quotes that famous line from Exodus: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  This is how he taught the idea of resurrection and eternal life.

God is the one constant in life and death.  Abraham is born and dies.  Isaac is born and dies.  Jacob is born and dies.  Every person is born and dies.  But God is the God of them all.  From one generation to the next, God is there, ever-present, ever-faithful.  Through the centuries, through the millennia, God remains constant.  As God lives, so do all who belong to him.  And since God lives eternally, all who belong to him live eternally.

And one of the prime ways we show that we belong to God, not as a slave, but as a friend, is that we turn to him in prayer—with thanks, with praise, with our needs.  In the story of Tobit and Sarah, we see two people who are already living eternal life.  They definitely have their problems; but they turn to God.  They are firmly attached to God and rely on his help and guidance.

Of course, this is an example for us to follow.  We turn to God, we pray to him so that we can really live.  Sometimes it’s a prayer of thanks we offer up.  Sometimes it’s sorrow for having made yet another stupid mistake.  Sometimes it’s a tearful prayer because we’re at our wits end.  Whatever the reason, we make the prayer of the psalmist our own: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.”

And in lifting up our souls, we join ourselves to the One who is constant.  From before time began until long after time ceases, God lives.  And as God lives, so do all who belong to him; so do all who say from the heart: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.”   

Monday, June 1, 2015

Homily for 2 Jun 2015

2 Jun 2015

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”  Yes, we should pay our taxes and follow the laws of this country.  We should vote responsibly and be concerned about the social and political issues of our time.  We should pay attention to things like money and have a good business sense as a parish, as families, as individuals.  We live in the world.  And so, yes, we need to repay to the world what belongs to the world.

But we are also citizens of heaven, children of God.  And so, to us and all his followers Jesus says: repay “to God what belongs to God.”  And what belongs to God other than: devotion and time in prayer; an open ear, a supple spirit; thanks and praise.  It belongs to God, above all, to be loved and adored.  And, of course, we also love and adore God present in others around us—all others around us.

The Lord knows we are exiles.  We’re travelers just passing through this life.  We come from the Holy Trinity and we’re on our way back there.  We’re just passing through.  And the snare that threatens us on our way is when we become too concerned with the things of the world.  They’re important, of course: laws, taxes, money, politics.  They’re part of our human society and culture.  But they, too, are passing.

While we live in the world, we mustn’t forget that we are first and ultimately citizens of heaven.  God himself is the Law of our land.  He himself is the Spirit of freedom and goodwill that moves us to act.  He is our leader; our ever-just, always good, eternally supportive leader. 

We live in the world, and we repay to the world what belongs to the world.  But we are also citizens of heaven, children of God.  And so, in all we do, no matter what we’re focused on, we mustn’t forget God.  We mustn’t forget to repay to God what belongs to God.