Friday, July 31, 2015

Homily for 1 Aug 2015

1 Aug 2015

God has always had an interest in setting things right.  That’s the whole purpose of the Law he gave to Moses.  It’s the reason why he led his people through the desert and into the Promised Land.  It’s why he continues to lead us by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  And, of course, that’s why the Son became incarnate and gave himself up to the death on the Cross.

Today, the Book of Leviticus tells of the Jubilee Year—another way by which God was trying to set things right among his people, and between his people and him.  It was a time to let the slaves go free; a time to forgive debts; a time for the tribes to return to the original land God had given them.  It was a time for the people of God to reorient themselves and get right again with God and their neighbors.

Our Holy Father Francis has announced an Extraordinary Jubilee Year to start this coming December 8th, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  And it will be a Jubilee Year of Mercy; a time for all of us to let God’s mercy set things right again; a time to let God put our lives on the right track again—as individuals, as a Church, and as the human race.

With such unspeakable, unimaginable tragedies as happen in our world today, we need God’s mercy to help set us right again.  There is the new holocaust: the intentional abortion of countless innocents.  We have the thinking of some that by changing human laws, the laws of nature can be changed; of course, this is the debate over marriage.  There are the questions about immigration in our country.  We have political corruption, terrorism.  Even in the Church we can be so busy doing the Lord’s work that we overlook the Lord himself.

Every day is a chance to set things right with God and our neighbors.  Every day we have the chance to say, “I’m sorry” to someone; we have the chance to get on our knees and thank God for his many blessings; we have the chance to be reconciled to God and others.

God is always working to set things right.  And he opens the door to a perpetual jubilee by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  That’s why we’re here: to share in the Passion and the fruit of the Cross—to get our lives back on track.  The mercy of God is right here; our guiding Light is right here; Christ our Lord is present here.  Here, at the altar of God, is where God sets things right again.  Here is the place of the jubilee.      

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Homily for 31 Jul 2015

31 Jul 2015

In the everyday reality of our faith, there’s a bit of a “Catch-22” going on.  Jesus will help us, but first we have to trust him.  But sometimes it is hard to actually trust him unless we see that he’s helping us.  And so, something has to give.  Either Jesus has to help us without us trusting him, or we have to trust him, regardless of what our senses tell us.

Of course, Jesus is already at work for us, loving us, showing us the right path regardless of the amount of faith we have in him.  And so, all that’s left is for us to trust him more and more each day—whether or not we perceive that he is at work in our lives.

If only those people in Jesus’ hometown could’ve had more “raw faith” in him.  If only they could’ve not let their senses and their rationality dictate what they should believe . . . then maybe they could’ve received the blessings Jesus was ready to give them.  But they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) give in.  For them, seeing is believing. 

But Jesus asks us to believe without necessarily seeing.  He asks us to have simple faith in him.  When terrorists destroy lives; when bad things happen to good people; when life seems unfair or unjust, it takes real and simple faith to believe that he is still Lord of all that is good.  It takes faith to believe that he has not abandoned us.

And when we “give in” and just start believing in him, then our eyes of faith will be opened to see what our God is doing.  But that move toward faith is always in our court.  Jesus is always there to help us.  But, first, it’s up to us to trust that he will.    

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Homily for 30 Jul 2015

30 Jul 2015

Christianity is old.  And our tradition of wisdom goes back to ancient times.  And yet, we’re always being renewed by the perpetual newness of God.  That “cloud” of God’s continuing presence among us keeps us supple and fresh.  The Church is very old in wisdom and understanding, and yet very young at heart.  She’s always been able to blend the old and the new, like that “head of the household” Jesus speaks of who values both the past and the present.

And that’s part of the “loveliness” of God’s dwelling place, the Church.  She’s like an old, very old person whose face is deeply lined by the wrinkles of time and experience; and yet, whose eyes are still brilliant and sparkling like the day she were born.  Of course, there are many people in the world today who prefer to just put this old lady in a home somewhere and forget out her; she’s so “out of touch with reality,” so “old-fashioned” and “backwards.”

And that’s too bad.  Throwing out what’s “old” just so we can hold onto our own ways of doing things makes us pretty isolated.  It cuts us off from the Kingdom of heaven.  It cuts us off from the beauty of the Church, God’s dwelling place.  It’s a rather tragic thing to discard what’s “old” just because it seems old and irrelevant.

Of course, nor is it good to hold onto the “old” ways if we turn a blind eye to “new” ways.  Instead, blending the old and the new keeps us grounded and, yet, growing.  Maybe the Kingdom could be described as: a living thing that has deep roots and yet reaches always outward.  The Kingdom is like that old, very old woman whose face is wrinkled in her roots, and yet whose eyes are sparkling and bright as they reach outward to what is new.

And those who won’t experience the joy of the Kingdom are those who want to put that old lady away somewhere, someplace where she won’t get in their way.  And we pray for them.  We pray that they be freed someday from their self-imposed isolation and come back to the dwelling place of God.

In the meantime, though, we say to the Lord: “How loving is your dwelling place, O Lord, mighty God!”  How beautiful it is to treasure the old and the true, and to value what’s new and insightful.  How wonderful it is to have wrinkled skin and sparkling eyes, we the Church, we the dwelling place of God—God who is ever-Ancient and ever-New.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Homily for 29 Jul 2015

29 Jul 2015
Memorial of St Martha

There were the Jews and there was Jesus, and Martha was caught in between the two—and she didn’t even know it.  She was a disciple of Jesus, and yet, she was still subscribing to many Jewish beliefs.  She said the right things and was eager, but she had a ways to go in really believing what she said about Jesus.  And, in that way, we’re all like Martha to some degree.

We’re caught between what the world says and what our Lord says—and oftentimes we don’t even know it.  For example, who says that Mass has to be exciting and vibrant and energizing?  The world.  Not Jesus.  And yet, we buy into that image of what real worship should look like because “that’s what sells; that’s what draws people in.”  But all Jesus asks for is fidelity to God, a spirit of humble gratitude, an open ear to hear the Shepherd’s voice, and a childlike faith to believe in him.  That’s the kind of worship Jesus asks for. 

And so, we’re caught.  Like Martha, we hear the voice of Jesus.  But we don’t always subscribe to what he’s actually saying—not that we mean to be deaf to him.  It’s just that sometimes we don’t or can’t hear that he’s trying to get us onto a different path from the one we’re on.

Martha said to Jesus, “I know [my brother] will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”  And that was the right thing to say; a beautiful statement of faith—for a Jew.  They believed in that “resurrection on the last day;” but it didn’t have anything to do with Jesus, and it didn’t require faith in Jesus himself as “the resurrection and the life.”  Martha was still following the Jewish way of thinking, not the way that Christ was trying to get her to see.

Whether it’s this story of the raising of Lazarus, or the story of Martha being too busy with serving at her house, it can be hard to see why Martha is a saint.  She always seems to be falling short or being about ten steps ahead of Jesus; over-confident, telling Jesus what to do and how to think.  But, you know, Jesus loved her immensely.  And he stayed with her as she worked to be a good disciple of his, most especially in her heart.

Martha is a saint because she grew to hear and follow the voice of Christ.  And, in that, she was no longer caught between the Jews and Jesus; she became entirely dedicated to Jesus.  And that’s like us.  We’re often caught between what the world says and what the Lord says.  But if we grow in humility and just raw faith in God himself, the one voice we’ll learn to hear and follow is Christ’s, and his alone.   

Monday, July 27, 2015

Homily for 28 Jul 2015

28 Jul 2015

Anybody who has a garden knows that pulling out the weeds is a never-ending chore.  And maybe just a few times during the year can they say their garden is “weed-free.”  The rest of the time . . . well, it’s a mix.  And that’s like us—we’re a mix.

If each of our lives is like a garden, it’s safe to say that we each have “good seeds” growing as well as the occasional “weed.”  And it’s a never-ending chore to keep pulling at our sins and weaknesses, trying to keep the garden of our lives clear and healthy.  As much as God made us to be free from sin—and, in the end, we are because of Christ—in everyday life sin is still a reality. 

[A lot of the time it’s is like a pesky little mosquito that just won’t leave you alone.  Or, then again, it’s like a swarm of mosquitos, and you wonder: “Why even bother trying to squash them?”  Why even bother trying to get over our sins . . . sometimes those “weeds” in our life can be so overwhelming.  And that’s when we take a cue from Moses and the disciples.

As we heard, Moses went into the meeting tent to talk with God about the sins and weaknesses of the people and what to do about them.  And the disciples went into Jesus’ home to ask for his wisdom because they didn’t understand.  And we do the same.  It’s because we’re sinners that we come to the Lord.

We come before the Lord again and again, here, in this more permanent “meeting tent,” the tabernacle.  Sometimes God is here on the Altar looking at us during Eucharistic Adoration.  He looks at us and we look at him and say, “Lord, I have sins in my life.  Help me with that.”  Or we go to the Lord in the quiet of our home, in the solitude of our room and talk with him.]

God knows we’re sinners.  But he also knows that we’re trying to be faithful—we’re trying to have that “weed-free” garden.  And so we keep going on the never-ending “chore” we call “conversion.”  But, as good as that life-long work of conversion is, the more important work to do in the garden of our life is to trust the Lord who is “kind and merciful."

In the end, it’s that heavenly kindness and divine mercy that’ll pull out the last weeds of sinfulness in us.  A weed-free garden won’t save us; but the kindness and mercy of God will.  The Lord is kind and merciful.  That is our reason to be hopeful, even while we are still sinners. 

Homily for 27 Jul 2015

27 Jul 2015

We pray for it all the time: the Kingdom of heaven.  “Thy Kingdom come.”  And the important word there isn’t “Kingdom;” it’s “thy.”  Thy Kingdom come, however it comes, let your Kingdom come.  But God sometimes gives us conflicting ideas of what his Kingdom looks like. 

We have the Ten Commandments—pristine, to-the-point, practical, very clean and orderly.  And from that image or orderliness, we form in our minds an image of God’s Kingdom as being well-ordered.  Certainly, there is something to that.  And we hope for it.  We hope for the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of order, the Kingdom where everything and everybody has their place and there is perfect harmony.

But then Jesus gives us a very different image of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed; the Kingdom is like a pain-in-the-neck weed that grows into a big, fat, ugly bush, with branches going every which way, and you just can’t get rid of it.

And then the Kingdom of heaven is also like yeast—yeast, a symbol in the old days of evil and corruption; the kind that infiltrates and undermines society.  The Kingdom of heaven is like . . . illegal drugs; it’s like pornography; it’s like spousal abuse that nobody sees.  To Jewish ears, and to ours, that’s a pretty shocking thing to hear.  That’s what the Kingdom of heaven is like—according to Jesus.

Of course, those are parables.  The Kingdom of heaven isn’t evil and it isn’t an ugly weed.  But the Kingdom is the kind of thing that infiltrates and undermines a society that is unjust and idolatrous.  And to those who are spiritually blind, it is an ugly thing—I mean, just look at all the people Jesus lets in the door!  Tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners and saints, conservatives, liberals, blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians, loud mouths and quiet people, gay people, straight people, divorced and remarried people, homeless people, the rich and the not-so-rich; ugly people, pretty people . . .

The Kingdom is either an ugly, untidy bush . . . or it’s like a shining diamond with so many facets we can’t possibly see them all.  Depends on how you look at it—and whether or not we pray for God’s Kingdom to come or for our kingdom to come.  But, being a people of faith who wait patiently and soberly for God, we pray: Thy Kingdom come.  Whatever it is and however it comes, we trust in you.  May Thy Kingdom come.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Homily for 24 Jul 2015

24 Jul 2015

Living the Christian life is like playing a musical instrument; or it’s like playing a sport; or it’s like doing anything that takes practice to get good at it.  In the 3rd Century, the writer Tertullian said that “Christians are not born; they’re made.”  And he’s right about that.  If we want to be Christian, we have to be shaped into one.  And if we want to be a good Christian, it takes practice, and it takes work.

In the world of music, we have scales and fingerings and all sorts of standard practices to help us become a good musician.  In the field of sports, we have nutritional guidelines, warm-up and stretching routines, and guidelines to follow to play the game well.  And in our Christian, we have the law of God: the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the two Great Commandments to love God and our neighbor, and—most especially—we have the examples of the saints and the life of Jesus Christ to guide us.

But, just like in music and sports and other endeavors, if we want to be a good Christian, we have to practice and apply the rules we learn from Jesus our Teacher.  When I go to a concert and hear a pianist play, I don’t want to hear a display of technical abilities—I want to hear music.  And when we run into other Christians, we’re less interested in their private devotions and how often they go to confession, and we’re more interested in whether or not they’re a genuinely loving, firm, and forgiving person.

But behind that really good Christian man or woman is a certain amount of discipline in the faith.  Behind a really good musical performance is a disciplined musician who practices for hours and hours, and days and for their whole lives.  And what we discipline ourselves to follow are the guidelines—be it music, or sports, or raising a family, or interacting with friends, or living the Christian life—we use the guidelines given us as a tool to help us live.

We don’t follow the law of God for the sake of following the law.  We give ourselves over to the guidance of God’s law and wisdom so that we can live.  Our Christian life can be like a musical performance, where all anyone sees is a person alive with the Spirit of Christ.  But such a performance—such a life—doesn’t happen by accident.  As Tertullian said, “Christians are not born, they’re made."

And so, today, let’s renew our intention to be a disciplined disciple of Christ, who is the Master at this game we call “life.” 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Homily for 23 Jul 2015

23 Jul 2015

For ages, children have wondered how Santa Claus could get around to all those houses in one night.  And here’s the answer: Because Santa Claus is so big.  And I don’t mean big as in rotund; I mean his spirit is big—it’s so vast that he’s bigger than the universe; he’s bigger than our imagination.  And because he’s so big, he can get into every nook and cranny of every house just like that—in one felled swoop.

And I suppose that’s maybe like a thunderstorm.  How do we here in Appleton feel the same rain—at the same time—as somebody down in Milwaukee?  Well, because the storm that’s passing through is just that big.  Or when the sun is shining, how do I feel the same sunshine—at the same time—as my friend who lives 600 miles away?  Well, because the sun is just that big.

The “littleness” of our lives is affected by these “big” things in our lives.  Of course, the “biggest” thing in our life is God, the Holy Trinity.  God is bigger than Santa Claus, broader than the broadest storm, and more brilliant than the sun.  God is so vast that when he came down on Mount Sinai, it was only fitting that he should’ve come in the form of a huge cloud, with lightning and trumpet blasts.  God is “big.”

And it makes sense, then, why to some people’s ears, the teachings of Jesus are hard to understand.  After all, he’s trying to speak of the vastness of God and the divine life in our very small, limited human language.  And to those people who aren’t open to the vastness of who God is and what he has to offer, to those people Jesus speaks in parables.  He doesn’t mean to confuse people; they’re just not open to what he has to say.  Their minds are too focused on life in the world to even consider that there’s something much bigger going on.

But to those of us who are open to the vastness of God, to the transcendence and the mystery of God, what Jesus says is always meaningful—even if we don’t understand entirely what he’s saying.  When we at least realize how big God is, then we can also see how close God can be to us, and can affect our daily lives.  Just like that thunderstorm, or the rays of the sun, or even Santa Claus, Jesus is our most intimate Friend—he seeps into our lives, and warms each of us with his light, and is kind and generous to each of us because he is so “big.” 

He wants to be close to us, and he wants us to share in his greatness.  At Mass, there’s a little moment when the Priest mixes the wine and water.  And the prayer he says is: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ as he humbled himself to share in our humanity.” 

Jesus shares in our “littleness” here on earth, so that we can share in his greatness with the Father today and in heaven.  But first, of course, it’s important to realize that God is big: bigger than Santa Claus, bigger than the biggest thunderstorm, brighter than the sun.  God is too vast and wise and beautiful and powerful to put into words.  But Jesus tries.

And so, when you hear Jesus speak to you in Scripture or in prayer, or in music or art or poetry, and you don’t understand, just be patient with it.  He’s trying to open you up to a world that’s bigger than what we know here on earth.  Stick with it, and stick with him.  And that full height and depth and breadth of God will affect your life, today and forever.        

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Homily for 22 Jul 2015

22 Jul 2015
Memorial of St Mary Magdalene

“Stop holding on to me,” he said.  “Stop holding on to what you once knew.”  And that’s a hard thing for most of us to do. 

As a parish, as a Church, we have memories of how things used to be.  We look at our families, we look at our jobs and careers, and we probably have good memories there.  Maybe, like Mary Magdalene, you had a close friendship which is now only in the past.  In spite of the hard times of life, we have lots of good memories of how things used to be.  And, understandably, we want to hold on to them.

But the risk is that we might become like Mary Magdalene—worried more about the corpse of what our life used to be than about life in the present and future.  It’s both a blessing and a burden to remember the good times of the past.  We hold on to them and we cherish them because they are good memories.  And yet, they can be like an anchor that keeps us from moving on in life.

And so, Jesus says, “Stop holding on.  Stop letting your memories be a barrier to the new life I’m trying to give you today.”  Fulfilling his promise to be our Good Shepherd, he says, in effect: “Trust me.”  And we, like Mary Magdalene, turn to him in faith and say, “I do trust you, Lord.”

We thank the Lord for the good memories we’ve had in life.  We thank the Lord for the challenges we’ve had in life.  And we thank the Lord that there’s more life to come—today and forever.

But, in order for that “more” life to come, Jesus advises us: “Stop holding on.  Stop holding on to what you once knew.”  Today is a new day.  Every day is a new day.  And so, let’s look to see not only what God has done in the past, but also what God is doing today, and every new day.       

Homily for 21 Jul 2015

21 Jul 2015

Brothers and sisters have the same parents; we all know that.  And, of course, we also know that you don’t necessarily need to be related by blood to be a brother or sister.  Right here, in the community of the faithful, we call each other “brothers and sisters,” even if we’re not related to the people sitting next to us. 

And we do that because we do see us as being related in Christ.  He binds us all together—in the Spirit of mutual respect, our common faith and hope.  And so, in that sense, we can almost see Jesus as an older brother.  You know, in some families, the spread of ages among siblings is such that the oldest ones are grown up and out of the house when the youngest are just being born.  And that older brother or sister can then almost seem like a parent.

But, even though Jesus is like a much older brother to us, he still calls us his “brothers and sisters.”  And brothers and sisters are called that because they have the same parents.  And so, Jesus is saying that God the Father is not only his Father, but God the Father is our Father as well.  Jesus puts a lot of emphasis on doing the will of the FatherThat’s what makes us “brothers and sisters” with Christ—our relationship with God the Father.

And that’s something we can often forget.  While Jesus is calling us to himself, he’s also helping us to get to know God the Father.  Remember that Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  Our relationship with Jesus our Brother and Lord is made even stronger when we grow in our relationship with God the Father.

Of course, we do that through Jesus.  And so, today, let’s ask the Lord Jesus, our Brother, to show us more of Our Father—especially the will of Our Father, who draws us together and makes us the family of God. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Homily for 20 Jul 2015

20 Jul 2015

It’s often said that the Church flourishes most when it’s being persecuted.  When the chips are down, that’s when our faith turns into action.  But our Judeo-Christian history tells us that sometimes it has to get pretty bad before we realize we need to do something.

As we know, the Hebrews were on their way through the desert to the Promised Land, still enjoying freedom from Egypt.  And they turned around and, lo and behold, there was Pharaoh hot on their trail.  The enemy came barreling down on them and what did they do?  They just sat down to see what God would do!  And God said to that, “Oh no, no, no, no.  Why are you crying out to me?”

And I imagine the answer was: Because you’re God.  You are our protector, the protector of everything that’s good.  Of course, that’s a reason why we pray to God, isn’t it?  There’s a lot of good in the world, but there are also a lot of bad things happening that undercut and poison human life.  And so we call on our God and we say, “Help us!”

But to that, God most often says, “I’m already helping you.  Now stop sitting down and help me.”  There’s a tension here.  We expect God to overcome evil.  And yet, God won’t do it alone.  God won’t overthrow evil by himself.  That’s not how he operates.  About the only things God has done unilaterally, by himself, are: the creation of the world, the idea of the Incarnation, the Ascension and Pentecost. 

Even the Great Flood of Noah was done by God through the use of water.  He used creation to cleanse Creation.  The splitting of the Red Sea, likewise, was done by God—but through Moses.  Moses was waiting for God, but God said: No, you’re going to do it—even if it looks impossible. 

But Moses and all of Creation are not dumb puppets of God; they are willing, voluntary partners with what God is doing.  God is right there to help us and to empower us to do what is right and just in the world.  But we have to be on the battlefield actively fighting the good fight against evil in whatever way we can.  God depends on his faithful people to be his real presence in the world.  That’s how the work of God gets done.

And when the chips are down, when faith, hope and love are trampled on, we remember that—as much as the defeat of evil is God’s work, he needs us to help him.  We say, “God, help us!”  And God says, “I will.  But you must help me.”  You must help me. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Homily for 19 Jul 2015

19 Jul 2015
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Every now and then God “cleans house:” he tries gets his people back to basics.  And we see a little bit of that in Jeremiah today, where he called out the leaders of the people to say, “You’re not doing a good job and you’re not being faithful to God.  And so, God is going to take over reorganize this.”  The old system had to go and something new came into being. 

As we know, God appointed new shepherds, new leaders, prophets and teachers.  But, at the same time, God himself took on the role of the One Shepherd.  And that was something pretty new at the time; the idea that God himself would take over and lead the people.  God cleaned house and he set up this thing we know as the Church—the Apostolic Church, overseen by the Apostles and their successors and helpers.

And the whole purpose of this Church is to lead people back to the basics: back to God, back to the community of the faithful, back to the “green pastures and the restful waters” of the One Shepherd.  My role as a priest is not to lead you to me; my role is to be a shepherd leading you to Christ, the One, overall Shepherd.  And, in a big way, that happens through a life of prayer. 

Now, a year ago, our bishop started a two-year prayer initiative.  And the idea was to get back to the basics; for all of us to do a spiritual house-cleaning; to reorient our minds and hearts and ears to the voice of Jesus, our Shepherd.  As we see in the gospel, Jesus wants his people to take some time away to be with him; to recharge, to get reoriented, to have our souls “refreshed” by him.

But a lot of times, it takes a shepherd to lead us to the Shepherd.  And this is a big difference between the Catholic faith and many other Christian denominations.  We stress the need for a personal relationship with the Lord.  But, we also stress the need for some personal relationship with the Church, especially those people that God puts in our lives to be our shepherds, our teachers, our mentors.

We Catholics know that we depend on others to lead us to Christ, and to be Christ for us.  In that sense, we are like a flock of sheep.  There’s safety in the community, there’s a sense of freedom and relaxation even when we can count on others.  And we just naturally want to see what others think; we want to see how God is working in other peoples’ lives.  And so, our relationship with Christ the Shepherd isn’t just between him and me; it’s about him and me . . . and all of us—the entire flock.  The difficulty is, of course, in knowing exactly who in that flock to follow. 

Sheep have a habit of just going off and following whichever sheep happens to be leading the way, even if it’s to a bad end.  I was reading that last year a flock of 600 sheep died in the Middle East because just one sheep tried to cross a little river—not knowing that the river was 15 feet deep!  But the sheep just followed one right after the other into the river and they all drowned.  Happily, we’re not entirely like sheep.  I mean, we’d see what’s going on ahead and say, “Hey, I’m not going into that river!” 

And sometimes we have to do that; we have to be able to say, “I’m not going to follow what this or that person says because what they’re saying doesn’t sound like the voice of Christ—it doesn’t sound like something my Shepherd would say.”  And sometimes we have to do the opposite and say, “Yea, I can hear Christ in what this or that person is saying.  It’s okay to follow them because I hear the voice of Jesus the Shepherd coming through there.”

The question is: How to do that; how to pick out and recognize the voice of Christ.  I remember when I was in seminary, I didn’t have to think too much about which writers and which viewpoints I should listen to—and that’s just because I trusted the shepherding of the seminary faculty.  But then I graduated and realized that, “Oh, now I’m going to have to figure out where to find the voice of Christ in books and homilies and discussions, and so on.” 
You know, we read all sorts of books on the Catholic faith, we listen to preachers and teachers, we hear a friend of ours say something that may or may not sound right.  Of course, then there’s the more secular voices out there—some of them are perhaps the voice of Christ; others are more like the howl of a wolf that makes our hair stand on end because it’s clearly not the voice of our Shepherd.    

There are many good and faithful shepherds in the Church: priests, deacons, teachers, parents, friends.  And there are not-so-good shepherds as well: priests, deacons, teachers, parents, friends.  I imagine there’s probably a mix of both in every shepherd we come across.  But we don’t avoid the mess of it all by going it alone.  Instead, we listen to others, we ask questions, we study and, above all, we pray to Jesus our Shepherd.  We pray, “Jesus, help me to hear you.  Help me to hear you and follow you.”  That’s the “system” our Lord set up when he cleaned his house and made the Church.  He is the One Shepherd, and yet, he appoints other shepherds to help out.

As we move into this next year of our bishop’s prayer initiative, it might be helpful to know a little bit of how to hear the Shepherd’s voice coming through (or not coming through) other people.  To begin with, let me paint a little portrait of how a sheep might experience a real-life shepherd.  Then we might have an idea of what to listen for and to look for:

The shepherd wakes up in the morning with his sheep on his mind.  He’s been sleeping on the ground alongside his fellow shepherds—he knows the value of working together.  He looks out at the fold of sheep and, even though there are several flocks mixed together in this one pasture, he knows exactly which ones are his.  After all, he knows each one of them by name; they aren’t just anonymous bundles of wool on four legs—each one has a personality (of a sort), and he knows each one personally.

The shepherd leads the flock with care; he doesn’t drive them hard.  He leads them—sometimes in the front, sometimes from behind, sometimes walking alongside them.  And he leads them to a pasture where there’s lots of water to quench their thirst.  He wants them to be satisfied, and yet, he knows that his sheep don’t like running streams; they’re afraid to get too close to all that turbulence.  And so, he leads them to “restful” waters, to little pools of standing water.

To pass the hours, the shepherd plays with his sheep.  He pretends to run away, and the sheep run after him and surround him, jumping around him with delight.  They don’t worry because they know their shepherd won’t ever leave them.  He is faithful and compassionate.  But, if he finds one that causes others to stray, he’ll take that one and break its leg so it has to rely on the shepherd.  He’ll carry that one around his neck until it’s healed.  And that one will end up having a closer bond with the shepherd than all the others, because that one sheep spent the most time with the shepherd while it healed.

At the end of the day, the shepherd brings his flock to mingle with the others who belong to other shepherds.  And, together, as one flock, they sleep under the watchful and loving gaze of the One Shepherd above.  That’s just a little look at how a real-life shepherd relates to his flock.  Of course, that sounds a lot like our Lord, who is the definitive Shepherd.

And so, if you’re trying to wade through all the books, the homilies, the speeches, the things you hear and see on the internet and social media—if you’re trying to hear the voice of your Shepherd it all that, remember that little image of how a sheep experiences a shepherd.

All those shepherds in the Church, and the shepherds in life we can follow are those who sound and act like a real shepherd.  They care about you as a person.  They’re humble enough to draw from others’ wisdom.  You know, it’s very helpful to just glance at the bibliography at the end of books when you read them—how often do they use the wisdom of other writers, especially spiritual writers throughout the ages?  How often do they use Scripture?  A good shepherd to follow is who sees him- or herself as part of something bigger than themselves.

A person who might echo the voice of Christ to you is someone who leads you, and never forces you.  And they should lead you to a place of harmony, a place of being settled inside.  Now, that doesn’t mean that that person won’t lead through a “dark valley.”  It doesn’t mean that person won’t try to “break your leg” and challenge you to rely more on God.  But those challenges should have some resolution.  A good shepherd, a good person to listen to is one who gives you courage, strength, and insight.

Really, if we want to see if someone is a good person to follow, just apply the psalm from today and say, “Does this person sound like the One Shepherd?” 

Number one: the shepherds in the Church and others you might follow should lead you to God—not to him- or herself.  “The Lord is my shepherd; the Lord; I shall not want.”  “In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside still waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.  He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake—for the purpose of our salvation.”

“Even though I sometimes walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; because the shepherd is at my side with the rod of truth and the staff of compassion that give me courage.  You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes—you lay before me a vision of life and true fidelity; you anoint my head with the oil of gladness; my cup of blessings—my relationship with Christ the One Shepherd overflows.”

“Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in unfailing hope that the house of the Lord will be open to me, little ol’ me, for years to come.”  When you listen to a preacher, when to see a work of art or read a story; when you read a book about our faith and about God, or when you hear somebody’s opinion on the internet or in social media, use that psalm—use Psalm 23—as a test, as a mirror.

Does that book, or preacher or whatever lead you to experience the shepherding of Christ?  Does it lead you in some way to the pasture of that One Shepherd, who cares for his sheep by name, who plays with them and teases them, who is firm when a firm hand is needed, and guides them to a place we can call “home?"

As we enter this second year of bishop’s prayer initiative, try to listen more closely for the voice of your Shepherd.  He’s placed a whole Church-worth of shepherds to help you in getting to know him better.  But first, we have to hear and respond to the words of Christ in Scripture: “Come away by yourselves to a quiet place and rest a while.”  Come away and I will refresh you, my dear, little sheep.        


Friday, July 17, 2015

Homily for 18 Jul 2015

18 Jul 2015

Going out and making disciples is hard work.  You try to pass Catholic values onto our kids, and they may or may not listen.  You try to “keep Christ in Christmas” and others are offended.  You try to help somebody in need, but they refuse.  It’s frustrating sometimes to be an evangelizer.  It’s hard work and, like Jesus said, sometimes you just have to turn around, shake the sand from your feet, and go onto the next person.

It’s helpful to remember that Jesus didn’t always succeed in his mission.  There were lots of people who loved him.  And there were lots of people who hated him.  But, regardless of how people treated him, he just kept going around trying to reconcile the people around him with God.  He gives us a perfect example of perseverance—not a hard and pushy perseverance, but a gentle and steady perseverance.

When he learned the Pharisees wanted to kill him, he just went away and preached the Kingdom and healed sick people somewhere else.  Jesus knows how hard it is to soften the human heart and make a disciple.  And so, whether it’s with family or friends, or with other parishioners or just somebody on the street, if you feel like somebody is rejecting you and your Catholic faith, well, pray for them and move on.

Who knows . . . maybe their encounter with Christ through you will be enough to start getting their spirits softened a little.  Going out and making disciples is hard work.  And so, just do what the Spirit moves you to do, and then leave the rest up to God.           

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Homily for 17 Jul 2015

17 Jul 2015

It’s something we’ve probably heard our parents say: “Eat everything on your plate.”  The meat, the potatoes, the vegetables and fruits, and your glass of milk.  Eat it all up.  Even if you like some of it better than the rest, eat everything on your plate.  It makes for a balanced diet.

And God says something similar: “When you roast the lamb, roast all of it—with the head and shanks and inner organs.  Cook it all up and eat as much of it as you can.”  Of course, the “lamb” here is an Old Testament preview of Jesus the Lamb of God.

And so, we can translate this to mean: “When you hear Jesus say, ‘Take this and eat of it; take this and drink from it’ he means all of it.”  And by the “it,” we mean everything he has to offer: his forgiveness, his wisdom, his teachings, his example, his being, his very self.  Eat it all up if you want a well-balanced diet of heavenly food.

Now, some of the Pharisees didn’t do that.  They knew parts of God’s law, and chose to forget or ignore other parts.  They were right to say that the disciples were violating the law on the Sabbath.  But they were just as wrong when they overlooked the story of David and the further teachings in the law.  There’s the “law,” and then there’s the fuller law.

And that’s what God wants from us.  He says to us: “Eat it all up.  Listen to everything that my Son tells you in word or example.  Don’t love your neighbor just when it’s convenient; love your neighbor always.  Don’t be so concerned with justice—even if there’s a legitimate cause to be concerned—don’t be so concerned with justice that you forget mercy.”

If we’re going to follow the law of God—we have to follow all of it.  If we going to call ourselves “Christians,” then we need to listen to everything Christ has to say.  In today’s world that’s increasingly polarized, people can be quite assertive in saying, “I’m a conservative.  I’m a liberal.  I’m an independent.”  The problem is that God doesn’t operate under those categories.

If we’re going to follow the law of God, sometimes we’re going to look like a conservative.  If we’re going to follow the example of Christ, sometimes we’re going to look like a liberal.  And that’s because the fullness of what Christ is trying to give us by way of his example and teachings, and such, goes way beyond human political categories.

We hear the voice of God and the voice of our parents here: “Eat it all up.  Take in everything the Lamb gives you.  Even if you like some it better than the rest, eat everything on your plate.  It makes for a balanced diet.  It makes for true Christian living."

So, how’s your diet coming?     

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Homily for 16 Jul 2015

16 Jul 2015
Opt. Memorial of Our Lady of Mt Carmel

Our Blessed Mother heard words that both comforted and troubled her.  And she kept them all close to her heart.  She pondered them and let them guide her.

Today, our world suffers many troubles: the loss of common sense in the public square; the murder of the holy innocents known as abortion; the de-Christianization of society; fights in the Church over things that don’t amount to anything; the loss of appreciation of the good, the true, and the beautiful.  We hold these things close to our hearts, and they trouble us.

But into all that, like a ray of light through a storm cloud, Christ says, “Come to me.  Come to me, all you labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.”   May we hold these words close to our hearts and ponder them. 

Homily for 15 Jul 2015 Totus Tuus

15 Jul 2015
(Totus Tuus Mass - 1st through 6th Grade)

A little over a week ago we all celebrated the 4th of July; we celebrated the birth of our country.  And that was a pretty big job for the people back then to do.  But they knew they couldn’t do it without God.  They knew that if they didn’t trust in God, the whole thing would fail.

And that’s why, every time we look at a dollar bill, there’s that phrase printed on there: “In God We Trust.”  And it’s on our coins, too: “In God We Trust.”  It’s a reminder to us that in order for our country to be strong and free and good, we have to trust in God.

Now, God is also trying to build his own nation—we call it the “Kingdom of God.”  And in order for that to happen, we—the People of God—we also need to trust in God.  One of the great builders of God’s nation was Moses. 

Now, we just heard how God said to Moses: “I’m sending you to Pharaoh to free my people, the nation of Israel.”  And Moses was nervous and even afraid a little bit.  And that’s because he was too worried about his own weaknesses to trust in God.  Of course, we do that sometimes, too. 

You know, if a teacher asks you to do a project for class, or if your parents ask you to do something you’ve never done before, you might think to yourself: “I don’t know if I can do that!”  Maybe you’re afraid or just think you can’t do it.  Well, that’s like Moses.  But God said to him, and he says to us, too: “Trust me.  I have faith in you.  You can do it.”

And so, Moses said, “Ok, I trust you God.”  And what happened then?  Well, Moses was able to free the people in Egypt and God was able to continue building his Kingdom; he was able to keep to building his nation of people.

And, you know, God calls each one of us to help build his Kingdom.  Maybe you’re really good at art and music.  Maybe you’re really good at teamwork.  Maybe you’re really good at caring about other people.  You’re all good at something, and God gave you those gifts to help him build his Kingdom here on earth.  And, you know, God trusts you to help him.

Now all we have to do is trust God.  Every time we say the “Our Father,” we say: “Thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  And it’ll happen.  It’ll take a lot of prayer and work, but God’s Kingdom will be built here on earth.  But we first we have to say: “In God We Trust.”  Always, we have to say: In God we trust. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Homily for 15 Jul 2015

15 Jul 2015

Every time we give a $20 bill to the cashier at the gas station, there it is: “In God We Trust.”  Every time we stick a quarter in the parking meter downtown, there it is: “In God We Trust.”  Any nation that’s going to be free and just, any nation that’s going to change the world depends on the idea that “In God We Trust.” 

When God said to Moses, “I’m sending you to Pharaoh to free my people, the nation of Israel,” Moses didn’t starting praying Hail Marys.  Instead, he might’ve said over and over to himself: “In God I trust, In God I trust, In God I trust.”  It was a massive undertaking—the freedom of God’s people from slavery.  And it couldn’t have been done without the idea that “In God We Trust.”

It’s interesting, though, when we look at our credit cards—they don’t say, “In God We Trust.”  It’s more like, “We trust in the best interest rate.  We trust in our own credit rating.  We trust in our ability to manage our finances well.”  We trust in the system we’ve created to get what we want, or to build what we want to build—even if it’s the nation that we’re trying to build.  We can end up trusting in ourselves.

Of course, now, some of that trust in ourselves is good.  When God called Moses, Moses first said, “Wait a minute, here . . . I’m not qualified for this.”  To which God responded, “Nonsense.  I trust in your abilities, and I will be with you through it.”  To some extent, God does say, “Trust yourself.”  But, of course, we trust ourselves because we trust and believe that God trusts us.

And there’s a danger here of over-thinking this.  No matter what God is asking to do today or tomorrow, he’s asking us to have simple, childlike faith in him, who is “kind and merciful.”  And that kind of faith puts more trust in God than in our own understandings of things.  Moses doubted himself; in his own mind he couldn’t imagine himself doing what God asked.  He was teetering between faith in his own understanding of himself and faith in the goodness of God’s Will for him.

Of course, we do that, too.  We might feel that God is asking the impossible of us in some way.  Or maybe God is simply asking us to do something that we haven’t done before.  We can doubt ourselves.  But to us God simply says, “Trust me.  I’m building my nation and you’re just the person I need in this place and at this time.  Trust me that I have chosen you.”  And what else can we say, but, “Ok."

The next time we stick a quarter in the parking meter or give the cashier a $20 bill, maybe that phrase will pop out and we’ll remember, “Oh yeah, in God we trust.”  God is building his kingdom, and he needs us to trust what he is doing.       

Monday, July 13, 2015

Homily for 14 Jul 2015

14 Jul 2015

It’s something we usually associate with adolescence, but it happens in the life of adults all the time: the struggle to belong and to be who we are.  And that struggle often happens when the cultures we belong to collide with one another.

Right now, there’s a big collision over the marriage debate.  Our Catholic culture recognizes one thing, but our American culture—or, at least, a portion of the American culture—sees something very different.  We’re Catholics and we’re Americans.  And so, this current cultural debate over marriage makes us ask the hard questions: “What is it that I believe?  And what does that tell me about who I am?”

Now, as we know, Moses was Hebrew by birth.  But he was raised as an Egyptian.  And that caused problems for him when their different beliefs and values clashed.  But when he killed the Egyptian in defense of that Hebrew worker, he made a statement that said: “I am Hebrew.”  His sense of identity lay with the Hebrews; the slaves, the people of Yahweh.

And Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was also torn between different people and cultures.  Not only did she witness tribal conflicts, she was also caught in the middle of battles between French soldiers and her native Mohawk village.  Of course, the French had also brought the Catholic faith, which she accepted.  But her uncle, who raised her from the age of four hated Christianity.  Whom did she belong to?  Her tribe?  Her uncle?  The Catholic faith?

We celebrate her because in the middle of that, she constantly chose Christ.  The saints are those who say even in the midst of personal questioning: Yes, I am a Catholic and I belong to Jesus Christ; I belong to God.  And whenever we encounter others with the same convictions, we find a home, a place of belonging.

Moses found that belonging and identity among the Hebrews; a people who were “sunk in the abysmal swamp, where there is no foothold,” except in God.  St. Kateri also found a home: in a settlement of Christian Natives in Canada.  God gave her her identity, but the community there confirmed it and strengthened it.

In the midst of some pretty deep cultural battles today, we need to be reminded of who we are and what we believe.   And we find our place of belonging, our sense of identity right here, gathered together at the foot of God’s altar.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Homily for 10 Jul 2015

10 Jul 2015

The Apostles weren’t the first ones sent by God into the world.  Many, many others were sent before them: the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph; the prophets; angels; wives and children; grandchildren and a lot of other people.  God has sent his people on mission for an unknown number of ages.  And, of course, Jesus sends us. 

We’re part of that vast flock of sheep that God sends into an even larger pack of wolves.  God sent Jacob and his family into Egypt; and Jesus sends his Apostles and disciples down to this very day into the world around us.  We’re here on a mission, as we heard yesterday.  We’re in the world we live in because God needs us to be here—not so much to suffer, but to bring his goodness and light where there is sin and darkness.    

We’re sent out, like St. Peter was sent out to tend and feed the Lord’s flock.  We’re sent out to love our neighbors as ourselves.  But if that’s all we get from Scripture today—and the message of Christ as a whole—we’d be missing the other half of our mission.

God says to Jacob: “I will make you a great nation.  Not only with I go down to Egypt with you; I will also bring you back.”  And Jesus says to his Apostles: “Do not worry about how you are to speak; the Spirit of your Father [will be] speaking through you.”  And, if we still don’t hear the other half of our mission, the psalm lays it out very clearly: “Trust in the Lord; take delight in the Lord.”

The other half of our mission as disciples of Christ is to let God love us and then love him in return by trusting him and enjoying him.  That’s the “Marian” dimension of our mission; Mary sits at the feet of Jesus the Teacher and she simply adores and loves him.  Jesus sends us out into the world, for sure.  But he also sends us to the Father by the power of the Spirit.  And in order to actually “go out” on mission in the world, to love our neighbor, we have to first go to God and be loved.

The strength of Jacob and Joseph was God himself.  The power behind the Apostles was God himself.  The light that shines through Jesus is God himself.  Fulfilling the mission, first, to let God himself be our light and our joy and our strength is what empowers us to then “go out” on mission in the world.  The love with which we love ourselves and our neighbors is nothing other than the same love God pours out on us.

Before we can follow in the footsteps of St. Peter, or the Patriarchs, or the Apostles, we have to follow in the footsteps of Mary.  Our mission begins not in “going out,” but in “sitting down.”  Sitting down and learning to trust that God’s power and wisdom is sufficient for what we need to do in the world.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Homily for 9 Jul 2015

9 Jul 2015

From a Christian perspective, we usually think of ancient Egypt as “the land of slavery,” a place of sin, a place where the goodness of God is absent.  And, sometimes, we can get that impression about our own time and place.  As much as we are a free people here in the U.S., and as much as there are many free people in the world, there’s still a lot of “slavery to sin.”  It can be hard sometimes to see the goodness of God around us or even within us.

But into the darkness of ancient Egypt God sent Joseph.  It was a roundabout sort of way getting in there—being sold into slavery by his brothers.  Nonetheless, as Joseph himself realizes, it was ultimately God who sent him there.  And in a similar way, I suppose—by the sin of Adam and Eve—we were sent by God into this world, which is sometimes a dark and cruel place.

But after awhile, Joseph became a light in the land of Egypt.  He brought God’s goodness to whatever he did, and he was patient in whatever injustice was leveled at him.  And, especially, he brought divine mercy and forgiveness into Egypt; we see in how he dealt with his brothers.  He could have been vengeful, but he wasn’t—and the family of Joseph was reunited.

In just the same way, we are here in this world not to fall under its weight, but to be a light of God’s goodness in it.  We try to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and drive out demons.”  When others are unkind to us, we try to love them in return.  When others are unjust and unwelcoming, we say those words of Jesus from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And wherever there are blessings, we get on our knees and thank God for them.

We’re in the world we live in because God needs us to be here—not so much to suffer (although, that happens), but to bring his goodness and light where there is sin and darkness.     

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Homily for 8 Jul 2015

8 Jul 2015

We human beings really like to have a plan.  You know, maybe we want to lose weight; so of course, we make up a diet and exercise plan.  Or we want to have more income; so we draw up a financial plan.  Or, even as a Church, we want to evangelize people and get them to know God; and so, we come up with plans to try to make that happen.  We human beings really like to have a plan to work with.  And, of course, that can be for the good . . . or not.

When we consider the story of Joseph’s brothers, well, they had a plan when they sold him into slavery.  And even in today’s story, Joseph himself has a plan when he’s being shrewd in not revealing his identity to his brothers.  The difference is that the brothers’ plan had nothing to do with honesty and justice, whereas Joseph’s plan was about justice and getting to the truth of things.

And then we hear the list of the Apostles given today, always ending, of course, with Judas Iscariot.  It’s always kind of a mystery why he betrayed Jesus.  But it’s been suggested that he belonged to a political revolutionary group of Zealots, like Simon the Zealot.  And in turning Jesus over, it’s thought that he had hoped Jesus would resist the arrest in the Garden and join the Zealot cause for revolution. 

In other words, Judas had a plan: he wanted a better political-religious situation and Jesus was going to help him.  Of course, Judas’ plan was not God’s plan.  And it’s understatement to say that things went horribly wrong.  Whether it’s Judas, or the brothers of Joseph, or Pharaoh, or Herod or anybody else’s plans, if they don’t mesh with God’s plans they’re probably not going to turn out well in the end.

The psalm puts it pretty plainly: “The Lord brings to nought the plans of nations; he foils the designs of peoples. But the plan of the Lord stands forever.”  Of course, the Lord doesn’t squash people’s plans just arbitrarily.  And he doesn’t foil the plans of all people.  It’s just those plans we draw up that have nothing to do with God’s overall plan.

We human beings like to have plans.  And that’s a good thing, because it means we’re interested in going somewhere in life; we’re interested in becoming something.  A plan is a good way to get there.  But our goal is to arrive at the bosom of God; and he already gives us his Son who is the Way.  We can be creative with our life plans as individuals, as a parish, as families, as a Church.

But our ultimate “plan” is the life, the teachings, and the merciful love of our Lord.  And so, as we try to become whoever and whatever it is that we’re planning to become, let’s stick close to the Lord; let’s stick close to the ultimate “plan” which is the will and vision of God.