Sunday, August 30, 2015

Homily for 31 Aug 2015

31 Aug 2015

Our faith touches every aspect of life.  There’s no part of life which is untouchable by our faith—unless we let it be untouched.  So often today we here the call for “relevance!”  “Make the faith relevant to our lives.  Make the faith relevant to youth.  Make the faith relevant to . . . “  Of course, hidden behind that call for “relevance” is, perhaps, the unawareness that our faith already touches every aspect of life.

Perhaps what’s needed is not so much a call for “relevance,” but a call for “conversion”—a conversion of the way we approach life; both the parts of life we can change and the parts we can’t change.  Now, in St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he brings up the subject of death.  And, obviously, that part of life we cannot change.  But we can change our approach to death.

St Paul speaks with the Thessalonians so that they “may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.”  St Paul is not saying, “Don’t grieve when somebody dies.”  It’s normal and good to cry and be touched.   Instead, he’s saying, “Don’t let the death of others, or your own fear of death, destroy you.  Live not in fear, but in hope.  Change the way you approach death.”

We can’t change the reality of death; but we can change our approach to it.  We can convert our hearts and minds to see the relevance of faith in the matter of death.  But there are aspects of life we can change.  For instance, how we relate to other people.

Here we have Jesus in the synagogue suggesting that Naaman the Syrian is more favored by God than the Jews sitting right there.  Now, to their ears, that’s like Jesus saying to us that some repentant murderer is more favored by God than us who go to Mass all the time and have never killed anybody.  It doesn’t sit right with us, and it didn’t sit right with the Jews in that synagogue.

The Jews wanted their faith to be made “relevant;” to support themselves and their way of worship and living.  But Jesus was saying, in effect: “Don’t make your faith relevant.  Instead, change your hearts to see that your faith is already relevant to this situation."

Our faith is already relevant to every aspect of our lives; it doesn’t matter who we are and what we’re dealing with.  But it takes a lifelong conversion of heart to see that and to believe it.  Our faith is fine and good; it’s our hearts, minds and attitudes that need the change.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Homily for 30 Aug 2015

30 Aug 2015
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

It’s hard to be a Catholic today.  Not that it’s ever been especially easy; but in today’s world of global communication and sharing of ideas and opinions, it’s especially hard to know what it means to be “Catholic,” what it means to be true to ourselves and faithful to our God . . . even to know what we should think about God himself. 

It’s like we’re in information overload.  There’s so much “stuff” handed onto us—views and opinions, facts and fiction—which we’re left to sift through and wonder: What am I supposed to make of this?  Is this or that statement truth, or is it just somebody’s opinion?  And on top of that—or, at least, somewhere in the mix of it all—is our Catholic tradition that’s handed down from one generation to the next.

And, even though we might experience this information overload in an extreme sort of way, the reality of competing traditions and conflicting messages about what it means to be a Christian isn’t really that new.  For instance, the first arguments between St Peter and St Paul were because of their different approaches to the Jews and Gentiles. 

Or we can look at the ancient Israelites who lived right in the middle of a cultural crossroads.  They were right on the main stretch of land between Egypt and modern-day Iraq and Turkey.  They were constantly being influenced by travelers passing through there and the other locals in the area.  They lived right in the middle of their own “information highway,” where they got experienced to all sorts of different gods, different beliefs and practices and values.  It’s no wonder why God constantly had to remind our Israelites ancestors to stay true to him.

There was temptation all over the place to wander away from God, to wander away from their faith . . . and, as we know, that really hasn’t changed much in the past three thousand years, or so.  Just this past Thursday we had a prayer service on the memorial of Saint Monica for all our friends, family and others who’ve wandered away from or left their Catholic faith.  There were about 100 people here that night.

And the prayers people prayed could’ve come right out of the Book of Deuteronomy, which we heard from today.  Deuteronomy is as relevant today as it was when it was written.  In effect, it says: “Don’t water down your God-given faith.  Live in the world, but as a child of the One God—not as a child of all those other gods that compete for your attention.”

And there are a lot of other gods and opinions and viewpoints out there today.  Some are legitimate and some aren’t.  We live right in the middle of a ten-lane-wide information highway, with traffic speeding by every which way.  And that’s a reason why, today, it can be so hard to know what it means to be a Catholic, and to live a Catholic Christian life.

Even those basic words: “Catholic” and “Christian” are confused today.  When people don’t like the word “Catholic” they just substitute the word “Christian.”  But they’re not the same.  “Christian” refers to the person we follow: Jesus Christ.  “Catholic” refers to the way we follow him: as part of a global and very diverse community of faith we know as the “Catholic Church.”     

In today’s world of competing gods and opinions and values we need to be clear about who we are, what we’re about, and what we believe.  But that does not mean being rigid or closed-minded.  It just means we need to have a clear sense of our identity—because it’s that identity as Catholic Christians that we bring to the world.  That’s the identity and voice we interject into the deluge today; the deluge of competing information about what’s right and what’s wrong, what we should believe and what we shouldn’t believe.

It’s important for us to live in the world and to engage the world.  But we can’t engage the world and be a voice of compassion and truth and reason if we don’t know who we are as Catholic Christians.  It’s hard to be a Catholic today because it’s so very easy to get confused about who we are.  But every week we have a chance to clear the air, to clear our minds and to get reoriented again about who we are and what we’re about.

Let us stand now and remind ourselves of the faith and the identity given to us by our Lord and his Apostles.  Let us profess the creed—that short, but powerful reminder of who we are, what we’re about, and the beliefs and truths we have to offer the world:

            I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things
            visible and invisible.

            I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father
            before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten,
            not made, consubstantial with the Father; Through him all things were made. 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. For our sake he was crucified under
            Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in
            accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right
            hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead
            and his kingdom will have no end.

            I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father
            and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken
            through the prophets.

            I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the
            forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of
            the world to come. Amen.

This is our faith.  This is the faith of the Church, the faith handed onto us by Christ and his Apostles.  If we ever get confused about who we are, what we’re about, and what we believe, remember the Creed.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Homily for 29 Aug 2015

29 Aug 2015
Memorial of the Passion of St John the Baptist

“Aspire to live a tranquil life,” St Paul says.  Of course, the world in the 1st Century A.D. wasn’t exactly kind to our Christian ancestors.  And we remember the beheading of John the Baptist.  There was—and there still is—a difficult task before us as followers of Christ: to aspire to live a tranquil life in Christ while, at the same time, being true to our God even if it brings us grief and hardship.

And the danger is, perhaps, to get sidelined by the difficulties of trying to be a good Catholic Christian in today’s world.  You know, when we have physical pains, those pains can kind of stand out like a sore thumb; they draw a lot of attention to themselves and they can distract us from being peaceful at heart.

But no matter the troubles we face in trying to live a virtuous life in an “unvirtuous,” and even anti-Catholic, anti-Christian world today . . . no matter the irritations and pains we may feel in trying to be true to our God, we remember St Paul encouraging words: “Aspire to live a tranquil life."

No matter the hardships, aspire to live a tranquil life in Christ . . . because it is the peace of Christ that will carry us through.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Homily for 28 Aug 2015

28 Aug 2015

She hardly ever gave him attention anymore.  I mean, it wasn’t that he she didn’t like him; she did.  And they’d known each other since they were little kids; they grew up together . . . they were hardly strangers.  But their whole relationship just fell apart.  Maybe she’d just gotten too comfortable with him and didn’t think she needed to spend as much time with him anymore.  I don’t know.

Well, whatever the reason, the love story didn’t turn out.  And she cried and cried.  She did love him but, as these things go, she didn’t realize it until it was too late.  He’d sent her a letter a month ago, but there it sat on the table, unopened.  “She’d get around to it, later,” she had said to herself.  “Later.”  Always “later.”  It wasn’t that she didn’t love him; she did.  But she’d get around to him later.

And then, one day, he’d come and gone . . . just like he said he would in that letter she opened—after the fact.  She was vigilant about everything in life, except for what really mattered.  She’d fallen asleep a long time ago in her relationship with him, and she’d let her oil lamp burn out without even knowing it.

She was one of the foolish virgins.  And here we are, the Church, the Bride of Christ—always tempted to fall asleep in our relationship with him and to let our lamp of faith and love burn out.  There’s always the temptation to take Jesus for granted and to just think, “Oh, he’ll always be there for us.  I can spend time with him later.”

And that’s true.  Jesus is always there for us; and we can always go to him later.  But why not go to him . . . now?  He gives us a divine package waiting to be opened up; he gives us his Body and Blood, he gives us Scripture and Tradition, he gives us the world.  It’s all there for us, ready to be taken and enjoyed.  Why would we just let that package just sit there, unopened?

Well, we’ll get around to it later.  Really, we will.  “Jesus is always there; we’ll get to him later.”  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Homily for 27 Aug 2015

27 Aug 2015
Memorial of St Monica

Augustine was dissatisfied with Scripture.  He loved the Lord Jesus, but the Church and the faith just didn’t do it for Augustine.  They didn’t lift up his soul; they left him kind of feeling flat and uninspired.  And so, the young Augustine went in search of truth and beauty in other places other than the Church and Scripture and the faith.

He traveled quite a bit, learned a lot; eventually getting hooked up with some so-called Christians (the Manicheans) who showed him another way to truth.  Along the way, he met a woman and had a child.  And, finally, he came upon Ambrose, the bishop of Milan who showed Augustine the truth and the beauty he was looking for . . . right in the Church, right in the place he started from.

And throughout Augustine’s years of wandering and searching, his mother, Monica, loved him.  She prayed for him.  She lived her Christian life as an example.  And she was there when he decided to be baptized.  Monica was steady in her faith and in her love of God and of her son, Augustine.  And she was patient and hopeful; so very patient and hopeful.

As we think about our friends and family—and, really, the whole world—who are wandering in search of meaning and purpose, or who’ve just gotten out the habit of living their faith, we remember the example of St Monica: patient, sorrowful, hopeful, and always loving.

And we remember that she shares our wishes, our prayers, our experiences.  She prays with us and for us.  And that’s a beautiful part of our faith—we’re in it together.  St. Paul says to the Thessalonians: “For we now live, if you stand firm in the Lord.”  We live if you live.  As a people bound together in faith and love, we rise and fall together.  When our friends and family leave their faith, we weep for them—even if they don’t.  And when they come back, we’re joyful with them.  We rise and fall together.

After St Monica died, Augustine wrote this: “Being now bereft of her comfort, so great a comfort, my soul was wounded: it was as though my life was torn apart, for there had been but one life, woven out of mine and hers.”  Our loved ones may not realize the depth of love you have for them; they may not realize yet that your life is bound up with their life.  But, until they do, we pray for them.  We remain steadfast in our faith, firm in our hope, and undying in our love for them.  Someday, may they come to see the beauty and truth of love . . . right back where they started: in the Church, in the family of God.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Homily for 26 Aug 2015

26 Aug 2015

There’s always a tension, it seems, when we gather to worship God.  We gather as a community.  And we give praise to God through the reality of the community.  And yet, we also gather as worshipping individuals, who each have a personal connection to God.

It’s a “you-and-I” kind of relationship that we have with God.  “Wherever I go, there you are, God.”  That’s the beauty of Psalm 139—the “you-and-I” personal connection between God and each one of us.  “Where can I go from your spirit?  From your presence where can I flee?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I sink to the nether world, you are present there.”

As much as there is “God and the people of God,” there’s even more basically “God and me.”  And, really, the fact that we each have a unique, individual relationship with God is what makes us the people of God.  It’s like a wheel.  If God is the hub, and each of us is a little part of the rim, then our individual relationships with God are like the spokes.  And, together, it all makes a single body, a community of faith.

There’s always a tension, it seems, when we gather to worship God.  We gather as a community.  And yet, if there’s no “Jesus-and-me” going on in the pews, then there’s no “Jesus-and-us;” it’s just . . . us.  We’re a worshipping community because of that beautiful “you-and-I” relationship there is between God and each of us.  We’re a community because we’re each connected to the same hub, to the One and Only God.

“Wherever I go, there you are, God.”  We don’t leave that relationship at the door.  We bring it right in here and share it for our own good, the good of those around us, and for the glory of God. 


Monday, August 24, 2015

Homily for 25 Aug 2015

25 Aug 2015

It can be hard to be corrected by other people.  I don’t image the scribes and the Pharisees really cared for Jesus telling them to clean up their act.  And it sounds like the people at Philippi didn’t really like St Paul preaching the truth of the Word of God to them.  They all thought they were just fine the way they were; they didn’t need any help from that Jesus guy who spoke blasphemy.  And they sure didn’t need any guidance from Paul who seemed a little too full of himself to preach anything but his own gospel.  

It can be hard to be corrected by other people, especially people we don’t like or people who don’t seem to like us.  It’s hard.  But, like we heard this past weekend, we don’t make ourselves vulnerable to just anybody.  We don’t let anybody and everybody tell us what we’re doing right and what about ourselves could use a little work.  Instead, we listen to those people who love us; those people who sincerely respect us.  And at the top of that list of people is God.

St Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians really expresses the bond that was formed between him and the people there.  The Thessalonians were open enough to hear the Word of God preached to them.  And they were humble enough to say, “You know, this Paul guy is onto something.  God, our Creator, speaks through him.  And we can learn from him.” 

Of course, that’s what all the Apostles and our Lord desire for us, too.  They want us to be fully alive as human beings and as disciples of Christ.  But being fully alive takes growth, and growth takes a gentle hand to guide us and correct us along the way.

It can be hard to be corrected by other people.  But it’s easier to be corrected by those who care for us.  And at the forefront of our community of friends who are rooting for us is our God; God who is always encouraging and truthful.  It’s easier and even joyful to be corrected by One who loves us.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Homily for 23 Aug 2015

23 Aug 2015

It’s one of the most hated Scripture passages there is: “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.”  It just doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, and for good reasons.  When we hear about “submission,” we usually think of somebody being beaten down or abused.  We think of somebody made to deny their human dignity.

When you think about all the women’s struggles to be recognized as equal in dignity to men; when you think about the reality that many women have been abused by men (and continue to be), it’s no wonder the idea of wives being submissive to their husbands is so hated and outright rejected by people today—both men and women, inside the Church and outside the Church.    

And yet, here it is in Scripture—the Word of God; we can’t just ignore it.  We can’t just turn our backs on the Word of God because it sounds screwed up to us.  Even if the crowds in the gospel did that to Jesus, we can’t.  We can’t say to Jesus, “You’re crazy!  I’m not listening to what you have to say.”  To do that is “to throw out the baby with the dirty bath water.”  It’s to look at the ugliness of an oyster and throw out the pearl that’s inside it.      

It goes without saying that we never submit ourselves to people who hurt us and tear us down.  We should never do that, out of respect for our own dignity as sons and daughters of God.  We do not put up with abuse in any circumstance—not in our friendships, in our work relationships, and certainly not in marriage.  So what is St Paul saying here in this very troubling passage?

Well, the passage that goes with “wives, be submissive to your husbands,” is: “Husbands, love your wives.”  Those two passages go together.  And the word “love” here refers to the kind of love which says: “I’m going to put you ahead of me.  I’m going to sacrifice and give myself in whatever way I can for your good because I love you.”  Of course, that’s the love of our God—most especially Jesus on the Cross and in the Eucharist. 

But, on the Cross, we see a man completely submissive.  On the Cross we see the bridegroom of humanity stripped naked, hung out, defenseless, and vulnerable.  Isn’t that fantastic!  St. Paul says: “Husbands, love your wives;” in other words, “Husbands, submit yourselves to your wife and to her well-being.”  And we’re talking about something more than simply husbands and wives—we’re talking about all of us in our friendships, in our relationships with coworkers and, most especially, in our relationship with God. 

There’s a beautiful and important interplay here between “love” and “submission.”  They’re the same thing.  Self-giving love and submission are the same thing: that’s the pearl of wisdom hidden in this passage about wives submitting themselves to their husbands.  St Paul isn’t saying, “Submit yourself to someone who will degrade you and dishonor;” no, he’s saying (to each of us—men and women alike), “Submit yourself to others who honestly love you and submit themselves to you in return.

Of course, this mutual submission, mutual vulnerability, mutual sharing and trust in others is the heart of what we call “love” and “friendship.”  If we don’t know how to be submissive and trust others with our heart, then we don’t know how to love and be loved in return.  It’s interesting that this most hated Scripture passage is also one of the most important ones for us as men and women made in the image of God who is love.  To live our full potential, we have to learn how to be submissive and trustful. 

But we can do that.  We can submit ourselves to those who love us.  Those are the people we want to submit ourselves to.  And, you know, we submit ourselves to other people all the time. 

For example, every time we tell a friend something secret in our hearts, we submit ourselves; we make ourselves vulnerable and weak when we do that.  We open ourselves up to ridicule and shame.  But we’re submitting ourselves to them in the hopes that they’ll love us in return with their own self-gift and sharing. 

Or just think of various mentors in your life.  Maybe you play sports and you trust your coach to teach you the right way.  You’re submitting yourself to someone in the hopes that that he or she will do what’s in your best interest as a player.  You trust the coach and, in that, a relationship of a kind is formed built on trust.

Without knowing it, we submit ourselves to others all the time; whether in marriage or friendship, or out on the football field or in the office, or in our relationship with God.  We submit ourselves to others all the time.  And that’s right.  We should submit ourselves to others . . . but to those who really and truly love us.

And at the top of that list is God; our selfless, sacrificial, passionate God who died on the Cross so that we could live; God who pours himself out in the Eucharist for our benefit.  If we can’t trust God and be submissive to God who loves us in more ways than we can count, who else could we possibly submit ourselves to?  But we can trust him, we can love him and share our hearts and minds and bodies with him because, first and always, he loves us—completely and without reservation.  He submits himself to us.

From this most hated passage of Scripture, there is a hidden pearl; something we can keep close to our hearts.  And the pearl is this:  We can and we should submit ourselves to those who love us in return.  And at the top of that list is our loving and faithful God.     

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Homily for 20 Aug 2015

20 Aug 2015

“Many are invited; few are chosen.”  Now, to our ears, those sound like the same thing—whoever was invited is already chosen; I mean, they were chosen to be invited.  But here the Lord is reminding us of an important distinction.

Everyone, the “bad and good alike,” is invited to enjoy God.  Everyone is invited to be healed, to be comforted, to come alive again by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Everyone is invited to live a life of continual conversion toward the ways of goodness, love, justice, and so on.

Everybody’s invited.  But those who are chosen and allowed to step inside this new life we call “life with God,” the chosen ones are those who actually accept the invitation.  The chosen ones are those who wear that “wedding garment,” the white garment of baptism, the white garment of a live well-lived in the Spirit of Christ.

Everybody’s invited to the banquet of God’s grace.  Some accept the invitation because it’s just expected of them; but they don’t really engage God.  But many others do accept the invitation because they want to.  The “chosen ones” want to know God, at least in some way.  They’re able to say, to some degree, “Here I am, Lord.” 

The chosen ones of God are both saints and sinners.  And they’re those who persist in their faith, who continually grow in God’s wisdom, knowledge, love, and the virtues.  They’re the ones who say to God, “God, help me to live a good life, the kind of life you want me to live.  Help me to love you and to love my neighbor as myself."

And everybody’s invited to live the life of God’s chosen people.  All it takes is a little humility, some curiosity about divine things, and a simple prayer: “Here I am, Lord.”  Here I am—show me how to live well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Homily for 19 Aug 2015

19 Aug 2015

The laborers who started first thing in the morning didn’t like it that God gave the same wages to everybody.  They moaned and complained to God about it.  To which God said, in effect: “This is how I work.  Stop complaining and be grateful for what you have.”

There are many of our fellow Catholics who come to Mass and they don’t like this priest, or don’t like that musician.  Or over there at that other parish, they get Mass done in 55 minutes . . . what’s wrong with us that we can’t get done that fast.  They moan and complain to God about it.  To which God says, “This is what I have given you.  Stop complaining and be grateful for what you have.”

We are not here to be consumers of the Mass.  We’re not here to consume this priest or that priest; we’re not here to be consumers of this musical style or that musical group.  We’re here to be consumed by the Mass.  We may think when we come up to Communion, that we’re consuming God.  But we have it precisely backwards.  In Communion, God consumes us.

God draws us to himself and brings us right into his Sacred Heart—if we’re not already preoccupied with judging this person or that person, this parish or that parish.  To all of us, God says: “Stop complaining and be grateful for what you have."

And what we have here is God.  Or, rather, God has us.  Be grateful that God has called us to himself, to worship him and to be loved by him.  Be grateful.  And let that gratitude consume you.

Homily for 18 Aug 2015

18 Aug 2015

We live in unsettling times right now.  And, like our ancestors going back thousands of years, we look to God to help us.  But, the more we do that, the more it can seem like God is not with us.  And we might ask the question we hear in the Book of Judges: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” 

We expect God to do something.  We have the threats of ISIS and other terrorists.  There’s corruption in our politics, diminishing life in the Church, the horrors of abortion, and an apparent loss of common sense in so many areas of life.  And we want God to do something about this.  But the problems remain.  And, again, we might wonder: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”  Is the Lord with us?

But to that question, Jesus seems to counter with another question.  He seems to ask: “Are we with the Lord?”  He says: “For men, [much] is impossible; but for God all things are possible.”  It isn’t so much about waiting for God to do what we want—even if we want is noble and good.  Instead, it’s more about God waiting for us to help him.  When we help do what God is doing, then the impossible can seem more doable.

In the face of great evil, I think of (among other things) World War II.  An entire world at war, and yet everybody had some role to play in the war effort here in America.  Whether it was Victory Gardens at home, serving in the military, rolling up bandages, sacrificing food and other goods through rationing . . . everybody did something to contribute to the larger fight against evil.

And as we face the evils of our time, the question isn’t “What can God do to help us.”  Instead, it’s: “What can we do—what can I do—to help God in this fight against evil?”  God’s work is the “larger fight against evil” we commit ourselves to.  And in that larger work of God, we each have a role—some small, some large.  Maybe your most powerful weapon is prayer.   Or maybe God is asking you to take a public stance on some issue.  Who knows . . .

But, whatever we do, may it be God’s work.  God is always with us, fighting the good fight against evil.  But he needs us to cooperate with him.  He needs us to come to this altar of sacrifice and say, “What do you want me to do, Lord?  How can I help you?”  And, in the end, sacrificial love will win the day.          

Monday, August 17, 2015

Homily for 17 Aug 2015

17 Aug 2015

The young man said to Jesus: “All these [commandments] I have observed.  What do I still lack?”  And that’s a question we ourselves might be tempted to ask.  We say: “I go to Mass on Sundays, I spend time in prayer, I love God, and I try to love others and treat them as I would want to be treated.  So why don’t I feel happy and fulfilled all the time?  What am I still lacking?”

Of course, the thing we lack is something we cannot have.  The thing we lack is something we cannot possess; because the perfection of love and happiness we want in life isn’t about possessing anything.  Instead, it’s just the opposite.  Love lets go.  And happiness and fulfillment aren’t grasped at; they’re what we receive when we let go.   

It’s no wonder why Jesus said to the young man: “go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  And he says something similar to us.  He sees us building up our checklist of good deeds, like people making a deposit in the bank whenever we do something good.  

But in response to that he says, “Throw away the checklist and stop thinking about cashing in what you’ve accumulated in the bank.  The fulfillment you’re looking for isn’t built on spiritual achievements; it isn’t built on possessing anything.  It’s about letting go and letting me possess you.”

Money can’t buy happiness.  Spiritual achievements can’t buy happiness.  Only the self-emptying love and sacrifice of Christ can buy that.  Luckily, he’s already paid the price for our happiness.  All we need to “do” is renew our commitment to him.  And that happens most especially here at the altar with our “Amen” to the Eucharist.

We open our hands in a spirit of poverty and say, “Amen” to our Lord and Savior.  Truly, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” the kingdom of happiness, the kingdom of true and lasting love.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Homily for 16 Aug 2015

16 Aug 2015
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

From the moment we wake up, we have choices to make.  You know: What should I have for breakfast, what should I wear today.  We listen to our political leaders and we choose who to listen to and who to vote for.  Every one of you made the decision to come to Mass and worship God today.  Other people chose not to.  And, even right there, we have the choice to judge them or not. 

Among other things, life is a string of choices—some small, some big, some rather mundane, and some rather important.  Perhaps the biggest choice we have as Catholics is how to respond to the Eucharist.  Jesus proposes something to us: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”  And he waits for our response.  Every time we come up to Communion, that little Host is put in front of us—as a gift and sign of God’s sacrificial love for us, yes, it is that.  But even before that, that little Host and that golden Cup present us with a choice.

“To believe or not to believe,” that is the choice.  There is no in-between answer.  The bread is the real Flesh of Jesus and the wine is the real Blood of Jesus, or they aren’t.  Jesus is a liar, or he isn’t.  He doesn’t speak half-truths.  Jesus is divine Wisdom made flesh, or he’s just a clever man.  How we choose to respond to the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ affects how we respond to Jesus as our Lord, as the source of Wisdom and Truth, as the Bridegroom of us all who spares nothing for the good of the Church, for our good.

Saying “Amen,” I choose to believe in the Body and Blood of Christ—regardless of what human wisdom and senses tell me—saying “Amen,” I choose to believe Christ, means saying “Amen” to a new way of life.  When we come up to Communion and say, “Amen,” that means: I choose to make my decisions in life with God’s help, with God’s wisdom.  “Amen,“ I choose the way of life, and truth, and fruitfulness.  “Amen,” I choose to believe that Jesus is entirely trustworthy.

The psalm encourages us to “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”  Even if your faith is just the size of a tiny mustard seed, that’s enough—that’s enough to say, “Amen, I believe.”  It’s enough to begin to taste and then see the goodness of the Lord affect our lives.  And the more faith we choose to give the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ, the more we can choose to believe that Jesus can do anything for us, with us, and through us.  If he can change bread into Flesh and wine into Blood, what else can he do?  What else can he do?

When we get up in the morning and choose to believe Christ and choose to believe in the Flesh-and-Blood reality of his Eucharist, we’ll see just what else he can do.  But, first, we have to make a choice.  “To believe or not to believe,” that is the choice.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Homily for 15 Aug 2015 Assumption

15 Aug 2015
Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

With the assumption of our Blessed Mother, body and soul, into heaven, we here are given both a vision and a tremendous advocate.  The vision is of what we hope and long for—the vision of a complete and full life without the presence of death or fear or struggles in any way, shape or form.  And what a vision that is: to be playing or dancing with, or simply enjoying the full presence of God who is entirely True, Good, and Beautiful. 

But St Mary isn’t in heaven with her back turned to us.  Instead, like a parent who kneels down on one side of a room and encourages a little toddler to get up and walk, she’s there in heaven, kneeling down and encouraging us to come to where she is.  And she does that because she’s a mother.  And she’s a mother because she is the Bride of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 45 is a wedding song; a song of the bride going into the bridal chamber.  And it’s the song of the Church, the Bride of Christ, who is always longing to be with him in body and soul.  And that perfect union between this bride and groom is what we know as “heaven.”  Our Blessed Mother wasn’t simply assumed into heaven; she was brought right to the eternally pulsing Sacred Heart of God in an embrace which is both divine and human.

Now, there are a lot of people in the world today who are lost; many who are lonely; who feel rejected—even rejected by the Church.  There are many in the Church herself who are wandering, trying to find meaning and purpose in life.  And to all those people our Blessed Mother reaches out a hand in support.  Second only to the Son of God in compassion and mercy, she is there for those who need consolation.  She echoes the word of our Lord: “Be not afraid.  Be not afraid, I am with you.  And I love you, no matter who you are, no matter what others say about you.  I love you and I want you to be with me.”

Of course, our Lord and St Mary say that to everyone.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could have that vision of heaven as a wedding . . . wouldn’t it be great if everyone trusted that God is not their enemy, but their staunchest Friend and Advocate.  Of course, our Blessed Mother is right there at the forefront of all the Angels and Saints who are also all rooting for us to enjoy, at least the beginnings, of that heavenly marriage.

With the assumption of our Blessed Mother we’re given both a vision and a tremendous advocate.  All that’s left is for us is to let God draw us to himself.  He opens his hands to us and says, “Here is my Flesh and Blood.  Here I am.  Come to me; enjoy my love for you.”       

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Homily for 14 Aug 2015

14 Aug 2015
Memorial of St Maximilian Kolbe

“Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him.”  They have a knack for asking him really good, solid questions.  It’s too bad that don’t actually want to hear the answer.

And there are people today who question Jesus and his Church; although, sometimes, all they want to do is argue.  They ask some really important questions: “Why can’t I get married?  What’s so bad about divorce?  In the Evangelical church they do this or that . . . why don’t we do that?”  They’re good questions.  It’s too bad they just want to argue instead of learn something from God.

In the face of the Pharisees, Jesus simply answered their questions with honesty, with compassion, with the truth that only he would know.  And he left them to decide.  He didn’t force them to accept him; instead, he simply loved them and let them be.

And in that, he shows us how to respond to those who just want to argue with the Church and with God; who don’t have any real interest in learning anything from God.  We hear their questions, we listen to them with an empathetic ear, we respond to them as best we can, and we let them know we are always here for them.

It’s a lesson St Maximilian Kolbe knew well: he loved those who hated him, and then let them put him to death in a concentration camp.  He was an image of our Lord, who loves those who hate him, and them lets them be.  And that is our lesson today: to love those who hate us, and let them make their own choices.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Homily for 13 Aug 2015

13 Aug 2015

Some people wonder: if God is a just God, why is there hell and purgatory.  If God was really just, they say, God wouldn’t be standing in judgment all the time; instead, he be loving and forgiving all the time.  And, really, that’s what Jesus seems to be saying when he says: Forgive others “not seven times but seventy-seven times.”  He says: Be forgiving and loving all the time, regardless.

But, really, the justice of God—and justice in its basic sense—is about giving to others what is their due.  For example, it’s a matter of simple justice that a newborn receives medical care to ensure its well-being.  And in his perfect justice, God gives us what is our due as his beloved creatures. 

He gives us autonomy, free will, and is endlessly patient with us.  And he wants only the best for us in all things.  And so, in that spirit of justice, God won’t ever stomp on our choices or force us to love his ways.  No, God respects us and our decisions; he gives us our due as free creatures.  And so, he simply responds to us according to what we tell him we want—whether we tell him by our words or our actions.

God is eternally forgiving and merciful, loving and compassionate.  God does forgive “seventy-seven times;” over and over again he forgives us.  And in his justice, God opens the doors of his Sacred Heart to all those who sincerely want to know him.  Nobody is rejected. 

The only ones who feel the “sting” of God’s justice are those who intentionally and definitively decide they want nothing whatever to do with God.  And what else would a just God say to them, except, “Ok, if that’s what you want.  That’s too bad.  But if you want the sting of loneliness and anger, the sting of self-hatred and the absence of love, you can have it.  It’s your choice.”  Of course, the “sting” of God’s justice is entirely self-inflicted. 

Our God is an eternally just God.  He gives us our due; he respects our freedom and desires as his beloved sons and daughters in Christ.  In his love and mercy, he asks us: “What do you want in life, my children?”  And in his justice, he gives us what we ask for—nothing more and nothing less.  And there’s no trickery involved, just honesty in the heart.

The God of justice gives us what we ask for.  And, in return, may we give God his due with a simple and honest prayer of gratitude.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Homily for 12 Aug 2015

12 Aug 2015

Moses got to see God face to face; he knew God intimately.  And so, in our eyes, did it really matter that he didn’t get to cross over into the Promised Land?  After all, he’d already seen the land beyond the Promised Land in his relationship with God.  Moses knew God intimately—that relationship is the Promised Land.

And that’s where we’re going.  We pray to God, we worship God, we open our hearts to God, we trust God and listen to his Wisdom and guidance all so that, someday, when we die, we can experience to the fullest what we’ve already begun to experience here on earth—the life of heaven, the life of intimate union with God himself.

When we hear about Moses, and how “his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated” when he died, we hear of a man fully alive by the Spirit of God.  And both in life and in death, he could easily have sung the psalm today: “Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!”  To some extent, Moses had been living in the Promised Land of God’s goodness and mercy long before he died.  And, really, that’s what the Lord hopes for us as well.

The Lord wants us to get to the Promised Land of his divine bosom, and (happily) we want the same thing.  But the Lord tells us in so many ways: “You don’t have to wait to see the Promised Land.  You don’t have to wait to know me intimately.”  Christ gives us all sorts of ways to know him and to be loved by him in the here and now as a preview of the glory that awaits us.

The sacraments are, perhaps, the most concrete ways we can know Christ—especially the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation.  Christ says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”  When a sinner goes to the confessional, and confesses their sins to God and a priest in a spirit of humility, honesty, and dependence on God, there Christ is in the midst of them; there the Spirit of God’s mercy is present and alive.  The sacraments are powerful ways that the Promised Land is open to us.

We don’t have to wait until we die to begin to know the life of heaven; the full life, love and mercy of our God.  We don’t have to wait for that, and we shouldn’t.  Like Moses, we can begin to know God intimately now, today.  And it begins here, at the altar of God, mingling the Body and Blood of Christ with our own.  Here at the altar we see a vision of the Promised Land.  Here Christ looks at us face-to-face and says, “Come to me, my beloved.  Come to me.”   

Monday, August 10, 2015

Homily for 11 Aug 2015

11 Aug 2015
Memorial of St Clare of Assisi

The threshold of the Kingdom is here.  The Israelites looked out and, there on the horizon, they saw the Promised Land just over the Jordan.  They could see it.  And the disciples were right there, looking into the eyes of the Son of God; talking with the Door of the Kingdom himself.  And here we are, at the altar of God, hearing the words of Sacred Scripture, consuming God himself.  The threshold of the Kingdom is here; it’s so close.

But the last thing we want to do is reach out and try to grab it.  Instead, God simply asks us to trust.  He puts a little child in front of us and says, “Here, if you can trust me and depend on me the way this child trusts and depends on its parents, you will do well.”  And that’s similar to what God told the Israelites.  Moses put Joshua up in front of them all and said in so many words: “If you can trust Joshua to lead you, you’ll make it into the Promised Land.”

If we really want to enter the life of God, it takes trust.  It’s both simple and not-so-simple because, as we all know, we’re more prone to follow the route of pride or independence.  Of course, we don’t usually mean to; it just happens.  Somehow, when we grow up, we lose our tendency to trust and really depend on others.  But God calls us back to our childhood is that respect.  He says, “Trust me.”

And in that God really asks us to assume a certain amount of spiritual poverty.  Some of the most deeply joyful people I’ve met are monks, nuns, sisters and brothers.  Like St Clare, they embrace a life in which they have to depend on others and God; they must be like children and trust God’s ways.  And in that spirit of trust and poverty, they experience in a deep way the freedom of God, the freedom of knowing that with God things will be well in the end.

Now, each day we have challenges to face.  And with that we also have a choice: to entrust our situation to God, or to try and go it alone without him.  When we’re not sure what to do about this or that, we’re on the threshold of the Kingdom.  When we come to Mass to be consumed by the Word of God, we’re on the threshold of the Kingdom.

No matter what we’re doing, we’re always on the threshold of the Kingdom; we’re almost there.  But the key to get over that threshold is in the hands of a child.  Luckily for us, each of us is a child of God.  We’re on the threshold of the Kingdom, and we have the key to get in.  All we have to do is use it.  All we have to do is trust our God.

Homily for 10 Aug 2015

10 Aug 2015
Feast of Saint Lawrence

For eons love and death have been a matched pair; like peanut butter and jelly, day and night, and salt and pepper.  They go together—love and death.  And we might think of those tragic lovers Romeo and Juliet who died for love; or maybe St. Lawrence, who gave all his love to God and the poor and was put to death because of it.  Or we think of Christ on the Cross, the starkest image of how tightly love and death are bound up together.

When a wife says to her husband, “No, honey, you go ahead and buy that,” even though she’d rather have something else, she gives up something—she dies to something—in love for her husband.  When a father stays home to take care of the new baby, even though he really wants to go to the ball game, he gives up something—he dies to something—in order to love for his child.

When two people love each other as spouses, or even as the dearest of friends, they let down their guard—they die to the way of fear—so they can really love one another.  And when we give to our neighbors for their good, even though we might feel the pinch in our time, or in our wallet, or in our patience, we die a little bit in order to love them.  Love and death go together.

It’s no wonder, then, why Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  To give ourselves for the good of another is—in a way—to die.  And to die in such a way is to love.  And to love by dying is to be a disciple of Christ.

May we spend our whole lives learning how to die; that is, learning how to love.  And then when we die and let go of our last breath, we can enter into the fullness of undying love.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Homily for 8 Aug 2015

8 Aug 2015

The message from this past Sunday still lingers: God lays before us the “bread of life.”  Every day he gives us all of creation, his teachings, divine wisdom; he gives us his promises that he’ll always be with us.  He gives us those great commandments to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.  He even gives us—and this is something we don’t always remember—he gives us, he invites us to share in, his divinity.

On this memorial of St Dominic, the patron saint of preachers, we recall that the word that we preach to others and the word that is preached to us is this: With God all things are possible—so go through life as a companion of God.  How important it is to go through life with God by our side; or more importantly, with us by God’s side—because from God alone comes the bread of life.  From God alone comes everything we need to live.

By ourselves, we can’t achieve the depths and the heights of life that we desire.  But if we hang on to God, we can.  If we can say to God, “I love you, Lord, my strength,” then the Lord can be our strength.  If we have real faith in him and open our spirits to receive his Holy Spirit, then he can give us the “bread of life;” he can give us everything we need in life.

But it begins with faith.  It begins with hearing and believing deeply that God alone is God.  And with us by his side for life, nothing will be impossible.  God gives us the “bread of life;” everything we could possibly need in life.  All we have to do is open our hands, say “Amen” to him, and receive him and his divine blessings into our hearts and into our lives.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Homily for 7 Aug 2015

7 Aug 2015

The Lord will “repay each of us according to our conduct,” according to the way we live life.  Of course, he knows each of us a sinner.  But he also knows about all those times when we try to correct our mistakes, when we try to get back on the right track again.  He knows about all those times we laughed at ourselves, shook our heads and said, “God, help me.”

He knows about it all.  But to us who really try to be faithful to him, who keep coming back to him again and again to say, “Lord, I screwed up,” or “Lord, I need your help,” or simply, “Lord, I love you and I want to know you better,” to us he shows his mercy and kindness.  The most perfect way for us to conduct our lives is to be a “faithful sinner."

The saints are the saints not because they weren’t sinners, but because they were faithful even in spite of their failings and shortcomings.  And that’s the way of life we aspire to follow—the way of the “faithful sinner.”  And then, after a lifetime of being faithful to him, we’ll hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Come and share your Master’s joy!” 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Homily for 6 Aug 2015 Transfiguration

6 Aug 2015
Feast of the Transfiguration

Sometimes it’s hard to believe there’s anything beyond the everyday.  And, I would venture to say, many people couldn’t care less whether or not there is.  We are a culture of facts and figures.  We trust what we can see and what we understand.  And we’re not terribly fond of the idea of story and myth. 

Just look at the way the arts have fallen by the wayside in the education of children.  We go on the internet or turn on the tv and hear political sound bites, or we read little snippets of somebody else’s opinion.  We’re not a culture that “goes deep.”  Nor do we “reach up.”  We’re firmly ground in the everyday.

Because of that, I bet there are some people who would call St. Peter a liar.  He says, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  But our culture says, “Sure you did.  Christianity is a myth; it’s a story and nothing more.”  In college, I remember a professor saying to a class I was in: “Yea, and about Christianity—don’t get suckered by it.”

Of course, we who come here to the altar of God aren’t on that page.  But how can we not be affected by the culture around us which sees Christianity as . . . a fiction, as a story which is totally irrelevant to everyday life?  How can that not affect us?

We hear of the Transfiguration of Christ.  We hear the prophet Daniel speak of the “Ancient One,” whose “throne was flames of fire.”  He describes the vision of “one like a Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.”  And what do we think of that?

The psalm proclaims, “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth! . . . The mountains melt like wax before the Lord . . . the Lord, exalted far above all gods.”  And then there’s that voice—that voice from the overshadowing cloud of God’s “majestic glory:” “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Is it true?  And, even if it is, many around us would ask: “So what?”

In ancient times, the mountain was a place where this world mingled with things beyond this world.  The mountain was a place of visions, a place of the revelation of truth (not facts), a place akin to, say, a bubbler (or water fountain) where you’d go to quench your thirst and be rejuvenated to go on living with hope and expectation and wonder.  Sadly, though, we don’t have any mountains around here—figuratively speaking.

We live on a big, flat, open plain where there’s this world and not much else.  In the realm of politics, people are too busy trying to outdo the next person to care if there’s anything beyond that arena.  In the world of business, the thrill of the bottom line cancels out the thrill of anything else.  Even in the Church, we can be rather myopic in our daily lives, in our worship, in what we see as important to the life of the parish and the surrounding community.

We have here, today, the Transfiguration.  And we’re left with the question: “What am I supposed to do with that?”  For some, it’s food for thought or contemplation.  Some of us (or, at least, some people around us) might say: “I’m too busy living life to have the majesty of God break into it.  I don’t have time for that.  I don’t have time for a story—I’m trying to live real life here and now.” 

For many people, Christianity is just that—a story, a myth.  And they go about their daily lives: honking their horns on the road, being impatient at the checkout line over at JCPenney, being busy, busy, busy doing this and doing that.  And we see that and wonder: Are they right?

J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” called Christianity a myth.  But, he said, he is a myth like none other, because Christianity is a “true myth.”  It is a “true myth.”  Even if some of the “facts” of the Christian story are incorrect, the “truths” that story contains are what’s important.

Tolkien was a staunch Roman Catholic and he weaved the truths of the Catholic faith into his stories.  There are no such creatures as hobbits, or elves or dwarves.  Middle Earth doesn’t exist, except in the imagination.  But the truths those characters and stories convey are very real

When we look at the Transfiguration, or Daniel’s prophecies, or when we hear all this talk of the majesty and the glory of God, a God who speaks out of a cloud upon a mountaintop, a God who takes on human flesh and becomes an infant in a manger . . . when we encounter this, we are encountering truth.  And truth is far more valuable to us than facts.

We Catholics value truth.  We value the story of our faith—the fantastical as well as the more realistic.  We value “true myth,” and imagination and all those things that elevate our souls and minds and bodies, and which bring another realm and depth of reality into our everyday lives.  We are a people who live on the plains as well as on the mountaintop. . . . Or, at least, that’s who we say we are.

With the Transfiguration, we’re not faced with the question: “Did it happen?”  Instead, we’re asked: “Do I really believe there is more to this world, and that there is more beyond this world?”  Not necessarily the “beyond” of death, but the “more” which is the majesty of God and the promise and vision of a new heaven and a new earth which exist right now, this very moment.

The Transfiguration opens us up again to the world of the “true myth,” to a greater world that includes and transforms this world.  The Transfiguration is an invitation from God to believe again, to believe in: grandeur, beauty, goodness and truth—to believe in something greater, like children who live life with eyes wide open. 

There’s more to life than life on the flat, open plains of the mundane.  There are mountains here; and lush, green valleys teeming with life; there’s another whole world of places and people, creatures and God mixed in right here with this world . . . if we open our eyes of faith to see it.

In our culture, seeing is believing.  But, for us lucky ones, to believe is to see.  God extends the invitation to believe in that greater world—to have faith in the “true myth” he gives us through Jesus Christ.  All that’s left is for us to believe; to believe and to see.