Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Homily for 1 Oct 2015 St Therese of Lisieux

1 Oct 2015
Memorial of St Therese of Lisieux

It happens at a young age: children begin to push their parents away.  And, with adolescence, personal independence becomes even more important.  But, of course, with early adulthood, those same kids realize how much they depend on others—particularly, their parents.  Of course, their parents hadn’t gone anywhere; they were always there.

And that image of a faithful parent, or a stable and comforting presence in our life comes through in the words of Isaiah: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, . . . as nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms and fondled in her lap; As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.” 

About the time we think we can be independent of God and his Church, life happens, and we remember how much we need God and his Church.  And God is always there; the Church is always there.  When life gets us down, or we’re confused or frustrated, or scared, we can go to the One who is always there for us.

As a mother comforts her son, so we can find comfort in our God and in his Church.  And that can seem so abstract.  But just as we can share our hearts with other people, so we can share our hearts with God; in silence, in some time away from the buzyness of life.

Sometimes you just need to sit with God in your room and spill your guts out.  Sometimes you need to be alone in a darkened Church and maybe cry some tears, knowing that God is there.  Sometimes when life gets to be too much and we realize (again) how much we depend on God and his Church, we can remember the “Little Way” of St TherĂ©se—the way of trust, the way of openness and vulnerability, the way of simple childlike love for God our Father and the Church our Mother.

And it’s not a sign of weakness to be dependent.  After all, “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” are those who are humble, trusting, and entirely dependent on God.  How great Christ is on the Cross—humble, trusting, and dependent.  How beautiful is the Church—humble, trusting, and dependent.  And how wonderful it is when we come home again; back to the bosom of our God; to God who is always there for us.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Homily for 29 Sep 2015 The Archangels

29 Sep 2015
Feast of Sts Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

“War broke out in heaven.”  That’s a fascinating line from the Book of Revelation: of all places for war to break out, it happened in heaven.  It’s an image of the future, of the end times.  But it’s also the present reality wherever the Church and Christ are at work.

Wherever the Church is, the Devil will be there, too.  Wherever the People of God are at work, the spirit of division and hatred will be there; the spirit of rivalry and close-mindedness will be at work . . . not because the Devil is in the Church; but because the Devil hates the Church.  The Devil hates the fact that we’re trying to follow Christ and become holy.

Of course, we needn’t be afraid of the Devil.  The Son of God is infinitely more powerful than a fallen angel (which is who the Devil is).  Between Jesus and Satan there is no contest; it’s pointless on the part of Satan to continue to fight.  Of course, he doesn’t give up.  And neither does God, or us, or the countless angels and saints who worship God in heaven and earth.

We have St Michael the Archangel, whom the Prophet Daniel describes as a “great prince who stands up for the children of God’s people.”  And we have St Gabriel the Archangel, who is unfailing in getting God’s message to his people.  And there’s St Raphael the Archangel, known for great powers of healing.  Among the Saints in heaven, the three Archangels stand out as defenders and supporters of God’s people.

And the Archangels are what they are because within their minds and spirits there is no war.  They are entirely devoted to God; that’s the definition of a “saint:” one who is holy, one who is single-minded in adoration and worship of God.   The peace of heaven already lives within them, and that’s what motivates them to help us.

The life of heaven has already begun within our hearts.  But it’s not entirely here yet.  The war that broke out in heaven still rages on wherever people are trying to better themselves out of love for God.  We have one foot in the peace of heaven which is Christ, and one foot in that part of heaven still at war with the Devil.

But we look forward to a day when the Devil will be thrown out of our lives, and there will be for all of God’s holy ones . . . peace and joy and happiness.  Someday we’ll enjoy that single-minded adoration and worship of God which the angels enjoy.  St Michael, St Gabriel, St Raphael . . . pray for us.        

Homily for 28 Sep 2015

28 Sep 2015

“The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all his glory.”  Of course, we all have our own ideas of what “glory” is, just like the first disciples.  We have our ideas of what the Kingdom of God should look like, just like the first disciples.  But we disciples of Christ don’t always get it right; and Jesus knows that.

And so, he reminds us from time to time of the importance of everyday, “ordinary” events of life as being little glimpses of the real “glory of God.”  Jesus put a child in front of his disciples and, in effect, said, “Here, love this one.  Love your neighbor who nobody else has time for; who nobody else cares about.  Show some kindness to that one.” 

And then sometimes the “glory of God” is seen in cooperation, in harmony, among people.  The disciples complained to Jesus: “Lord, we told those other people to stop because they’re not in union with us.”  And, in effect, Jesus responded: “Don’t stop them.  As long as they’re in union with me, don’t worry about them.  Stop fighting and cooperate with one another in my name.”

To really love others who need to be loved, and to work with others who seem like the enemy is messy business.  But out of that messiness comes the “glory of God.”  Out of a pile of manure and dirt sprouts . . . a little plant, a sign of the glory of God.  And Jesus asks us to “play in the dirt,” so to speak; to get into the messiness of our everyday relationships with others and let the glory of God come out of that. 

And the more we “play in the dirt,” the more the glory of God will appear: the heavenly Jerusalem, a place where “boys and girls will play in the streets” and the old and wise will sit in harmony with one another.  And over them all will be God, who is “intensely jealous” and protective in his love for them.

But that “glory of God” starts here on earth, in the ordinary (and messy) events of life.  And so, what else would Jesus say, except: “Come on, let’s play in the dirt!  That’s where the glory is!  In the dirt . . . in the messiness of life.”  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Homily for 20 Sep 2015

20 Sep 2015
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

The situation today isn’t all that different from way-back-when.  The Book of Wisdom was written about fifty years before the birth of Christ, and it was written for the Jews who were living in Alexandria, Egypt.  And Alexandria was a place where the culture was influenced by both Egyptian and Greek ways of life and ways of thinking.

The Egyptian gods were there.  The Greek gods were there.  And Greek philosophy was really ingrained in the way people thought.  It’s significant that the largest library in the world (at the time) was in Alexandria.  The author of the Book of Wisdom knew that he—and all the other Jews in the city—were constantly being pulled in this direction or that direction: ‘Think this;’ ‘Believe that.’  And somewhere in the mix of all this blending of cultures, beliefs, and ideas was the Jewish faith.

But the Book of Wisdom was written as a reminder to the Jews to be true to their faith and to their God.  There were some Jews who stayed true, and the Book of Wisdom calls them the “just” or the “wise.”  And there were some Jews who maybe assimilated too much of the Egyptian and Greek cultures, and the Book of Wisdom calls them the “wicked;” which is what we hear about today.
And this situation is exactly what we deal with today: We’re disciples of Christ, members of his Catholic Church, and every day we’re influenced by ideas and beliefs which may or may not be Catholic or even Christian.  Every day we have choices to make.  You know, we’ll come across a blog or something in the newspaper where somebody’s trying to ‘sell’ a certain point-of-view.  And the question is: Am I going to let what they’re saying influence me, or am I going to say, ‘No, that doesn’t sound right,’ and just ignore it?  It’s the same situation the Jews experienced in Alexandria, Egypt. 

Now, in the letter of James, he suggests that “passions” are the cause of all the divisions in society (and in the Church).  And what he means here is that sometimes we humans can feel so strongly about something—we can be overly passionate about something—that we stop listening to others, and we actually turn in on ourselves—which, of course, is the opposite of peace and love, which require us to “go out” and be “open” to others. 

Without knowing it, our human passions—our convictions—can actually alienate us from the community we belong to.  And this ‘tug-of-war’ over what we believe and think is something we’re going to experience even more intensely during this election year.  We’re in the middle of a cultural tug-of-war over the principles and philosophies we live by.  And there’s a lot of passion behind them.

For example, we can look at abortion.  And the Church hears the call of God: “Thou shall not kill,” and also: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”  From our Catholic perspective, the question of abortion is very clear . . . and a little complex. It’s complex because sometimes the mother’s life is in danger and the fetus has no chance of survival.  That’s oftentimes the case with ectopic pregnancy.

But the basic principle, the simple and overriding principle we Christians live by is that no one has the power or the right to end a human life.  Of course, we see this echoed in our Declaration of Independence: “the inalienable right to life” is given to all by “their Creator.”  Though, some people disagree.  A lot of people disagree; even many of our Catholic brothers and sisters disagree.

There’s a passion at work here; a passion for ‘individual human rights’ and ‘health care’ which turns many people in on themselves.  The right to ‘do what I want with my body’ blocks out the more basic right to life.  And the human community—even the community of faith—is divided and not at peace. 

Even right here in Mass, our passions—our beliefs and philosophies—can divide us.  Now, when a parish takes a survey, there are generally a lot of critiques about the music at Mass.  And it was no different here with our recent survey.  We hear that: People love the organ; people hate the organ.  People want exciting, vibrant music; people want calm, inspiring music.  People want new, modern music; people want traditional hymns

And these divisions are rooted in our passions, in our beliefs and convictions about: who God is, what Mass is about, what the Church is, and what relationship there should be between the Church and the world in which we live.  And all these beliefs and convictions are shaped not only by our Catholic faith, but also by a whole society of competing philosophies about life and faith; competing ideas about happiness and fulfillment.

And the fact that we have all these ideas and philosophies and beliefs floating around is not the problem.  You know, part of being “Catholic” is that we’re interested in the wider “whole.”  My goodness, the entire Tradition of the Church would collapse if we weren’t open to new ideas and sources of truth, whatever they happen to be. 

The problem isn’t that there are a lot of ideas out there.  The problem is in being influenced by ideas without first asking in all humility and curiosity: “Is this really Christian?  Is this really Catholic?”  It’s so easy to become so passionate and convinced about an idea that we block out the bigger picture; that we righteous in our minds instead of sober.  It’s so easy today to be carried away from the community of faith and worshipping other gods, particularly the god which is our own sense of rightness.

We see this among the early disciples.  Jesus tried to tell them about his passion and death; but they wouldn’t listen.  They thought they knew how the Messiah was supposed to live—and being put to death wasn’t supposed to happen.  And so, as we hear, they did not ask him any more questions; there was a breakdown in their communion with Jesus because of their own sense of rightness—they knew what was true (they thought). 

And so, we’re not all that different from those Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, way back when.  They were trying to find their way in the midst of a world of competing values, competing philosophies of life—all the while trying to stay true to their God.  We’re in exactly the same boat.      
And while we sit and ponder how to be a Catholic Christian in the world today, Jesus puts himself right in front of us and says, “I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  I Am.”  Just like that child he put in front of the disciples—a child who had no legal standing and was worthless in the eyes of the world—just like that child he puts himself in front of us—him who has been banished from the public square and is worthless in the eyes of the world—he puts himself in front of us and says, “Follow me.  Let me into your heart and mind.”

Christ is our touchstone for truth and wisdom.  He’s the one we go to when we wonder: “What should I believe?”  But Christ doesn’t exist by himself; he lives on in his Church.  As he said to Simon, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.”  And the Holy Spirit of Christ came on Pentecost and filled the hearts and minds of his disciples who make up his Church.

We live in a world of competing values and philosophies of life; some are good to adopt into our lives; but others take us away from God and his Church.  And when we feel that “tug-o-war” in our hearts or minds, it’s good to go to Christ, to sit with him and his Church with all humility.  And there, where there is no division, no overriding passion within us, but just simple openness to the goodness of the Lord . . . there, we’ll find the assurance that what I believe is truly right and good.

And it will be so because it will be God’s truth, and not our own.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Homily for 18 Sep 2015

18 Sep 2015

It’s a nice little image there, in the gospel: Jesus and his community of followers, out and about preaching the gospel by example and by word.  There’s almost a sense of “rightness” about it; like that’s the way it’s supposed to be for us Christians.  No bickering, no trying to trump somebody else, no laziness—none of that.  It’s a nice little image there, in the gospel, of where as Christians started out.

Of course, by the time St Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, he had to remind people not to be conceited or envious or unkind to one another.  There were plenty of Christians still trying to follow the ideal of community living and worship, but—as it happens—there were others who didn’t quite follow that ideal.

And then we have our whole 2000 year history of the Church, and the present-day life of the Church.  And somewhere in the mix of it all today, somewhere in between all the meetings and debates, the disagreements, the politics, the factions and frictions that happen in the community of the faithful . . . somewhere in our collective memory as Christians is that nice little image from the gospel: Jesus and his loving disciples, moving together, living together, proclaiming the good news together, as one.

It is a nice image; something to keep in mind.  It’s where we started out as the Church.  Maybe someday, by the grace of God, that image will become a reality again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Homily for 17 Sep 2015

17 Sep 2015

If you ever just sit down and read one of the gospels straight through, you’ll see Jesus as a very steady, stable person.  People come at him, it seems, from every side; some are against him (like the Pharisees), some are intrigued by him (like the crowds we so often hear of), and some are committed to him (like the woman in the gospel today).  But no matter what the people around him are doing, he just goes along . . . steady and sure.

That’s part of the attraction of Jesus—his inner strength and his quiet assuredness about what he’s doing.  No matter what people say about him, he just does what he does.

And that’s the diligence St Paul talks about in his letter to Timothy.  “Set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. . . . Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone.”  Diligence and commitment are attractive . . . to us; but to our culture today—not so much.

Oh, we have activists around, for sure.  We experience people who are committed to ideals; though, they’re not Christian ideals; they’re not ideals of real love and self-sacrifice.  But, of course, that kind of commitment comes and goes.  Instead, the diligence and commitment of Christ—and therefore of us—is a commitment to God’s ways, whether or not they’re appealing to others.

And that’s a hard commitment to make.  When we see the numbers of Catholics declining; when we see our youth being lured away by something more exciting, we’re tempted.  We’re tempted to do what’s trendy without first wondering: Is that trendy thing true?  Is that God at work?  We’re tempted to step off the path of Christ and onto . . . another path.

The Pharisees complained that Jesus forgave the sinful woman.  But he didn’t backtrack and revamp his program to appease them.  He forgave the woman, and left the others to follow him or reject him.  Of course, he hoped that everyone would follow him.  But he knew only too well that not everyone would.  He never sacrificed his commitment to the Father so others would follow him.

He never sacrificed the one thing that was his most powerful invitation for others to follow him.  He never sacrificed his commitment to the ways of God.  If we ever wonder how to draw others to Christ, perhaps the best thing we can do is remain steadfast—and joyfully so—in love for our God.  No matter what others say, may we remain true to our God.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Homily for 16 Sep 2015

16 Sep 2015
Memorial of Sts Cornelius and Cyprian

When Jesus said he came “to divide people,” he meant it.  There he was, talking to the crowds, pointing out to them how the people around were divided and fighting with each other “like children.”  When Jesus enters the picture, when the gospel message comes into play, people splinter off into groups.

Of course, we see this today.  Just look at how many different Christian denominations there are; it depends on how you define “denomination,” but the estimates are anywhere from 40 to 40,000.  Either way, it demonstrates the point: Christians are not a unified bunch. 

But, in spite of all that disunity about what we believe, we should—as St Paul says—we “should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the Church.”  In spite of disagreements, we can still behave toward others with kindness, respect, and the love which comes from Christ.  If we can do that, then at least we know we’re connected in some way to the Wisdom of God.

All that’s left, then, is to let the Wisdom of God guide us all into deeper unity.  To love our neighbors—whoever they are—is one sign of unity.  But to love God above all else, and to be guided by his Wisdom, is the ultimate source of unity for us Christians.

It’s a wonderful goal to have—to be united with all others under the umbrella of the Holy Trinity.  It’s a vision for which Saints Cornelius and Cyprian gave their lives.  And it’s a vision we each have a part in.  The next time we’re tempted to say or do something divisive, consider another way—consider the way of peace and unity.

Homily for 15 Sep 2015

15 Sep 2015
Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

As much as there is “the joy of the gospel,” there’s also the sorrow that comes with the gospel.  The gospel message is beautiful, for sure.  And it’s a source of deep joy and happiness for us who love it and live it.  The sorrow comes in, though, when we’ve taken the Word of God into our hearts, but we see that others haven’t. 

It’s the sorrow of parents who just have to let their children make mistakes in life in order to get back on the right track. It’s the sorrow of Jesus who wept over ancient Jerusalem, soon to be destroyed for its lack of faith in God.  It’s the sorrow our Blessed Mother, who opened her soul to the Word of God, but had to stand and watch that same Word be brutally rejected by others.

No doubt, St Mary knew deep joy in bringing up the child Jesus, and she knows unbelievable happiness now in heaven.  But there was the time when her soul was ripped apart by sorrow because Jesus the Word—Jesus her Life—was ripped apart on the Cross.

Of course, the Word is still rejected today—not everywhere, happily; but in enough places in the world.  And what else can we feel about that except sorrow?  And it’s bittersweet to feel that sorrow.  After all, the fact that we feel the sorrow is a sign that the Word has taken root in our souls—and that‘s something to be joyful about.  But the sorrow itself is just that . . . sorrow.

Sorrow rooted in love of God.  Sorrow rooted in others’ rejection of “the joy of the gospel.”  That’s the sorrow we remember today.  It’s the sorrow of the Blessed Mother.  And it’s our sorrow, too.     

Monday, September 14, 2015

Homily for 14 Sep 2015 Holy Cross

14 Sep 2015
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Not too many people really like it.  But it just comes with being human, especially since we can be weak and fragile.  It’s just something we have to face from time to time—and it can really feel like torture to accept that it’s part of life.  But then there we are again, and we feel the pain, the sting of it.  And then the nurse puts a bandage on the spot, and tells us to have a nice day . . .

Oh . . . you thought I was talking about the Cross?  Oh . . . no.  I was talking about going to the doctor to get a vaccine shot.  They’re not very pleasant, you know.  But, I suppose, the Cross is a lot like a flu shot, or a booster shot, or those other vaccines.  Jesus even says it’s like that serpent which “Moses lifted up” in the desert.

The people had been bitten by the serpent, and many died.  But then God made a “vaccine” from the serpent itself—or, he made a “vaccine” from a less powerful version of that serpent.  And anybody who looked at that serpent was healed and made whole again.  God turned a symbol of death—the serpent—into a remedy for death.

And it that way the Cross is like a vaccine for us.  The Cross was (and still is) a symbol of death.  But Jesus turned the Cross into a remedy for death.  In effect, Jesus is saying: “If you don’t want to die (literally or figuratively), then accept a certain amount of death into your lives.”  It’s just like a vaccine: If we don’t want to get the flu, then we accept a certain amount of the flu germ into us to build up our immunity against it.

Embracing the Cross works as a remedy against the Cross.  And what is the Cross but death and those things in life which have the “scent of death;” you know, something like losing a job.  Losing a job has the “scent of death” about it; it threathens our livelihood and our sense of security.  Losing a friendship has the “scent of death” about it; it threatens our happiness and our sense of personal value.  Getting older has the “scent of death” about it because, well, it moves us closer to physical death. 

But instead of falling under the weight of those crosses in life, we embrace those crosses.  We embrace the Cross and lift it up.  And in doing so, we disarm it.  When we accept the Cross (and the hardships and death it represents) then it isn’t a threat to life, but instead because a part of life.  Embracing the Cross works as a remedy, as a vaccine, against the Cross.  And we do that all the time.   

Every Sunday, the first thing that leads the opening procession is the Cross.  As a people of faith we “Lift High the Cross” as a sign that we embrace it, just as our Lord embraced it.  We gather for meals and make the Sign of the Cross.  We visit friends in the hospital and we bless them with the Sign of the Cross.  We wear the Cross on necklaces, on bracelets, on rings, on clothing.  We build churches in the form of the Cross.  On Good Friday we kiss the Cross.

We already bring the Cross into our lives all the time.  We know that the Cross is a divine “vaccine” against what ails us.  It’s a remedy against death itself.  And the more we embrace the Cross, the sweeter it becomes.  The more we embrace the Cross, all the more is death defeated in us, and is Life triumphant and beautiful.

The Cross is the one remedy against the Cross.  And so, today and always, may we “Lift High the Cross” and be joyful in it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Homily for 12 Sep 2015

12 Sep 2015

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  Praise God for that.  That’s why we’re here at the altar of God: to give thanks that he comes to show us the right way.  I mean, where would we be without him . . . busy building a house on a sandy foundation?  Or trying to convince ourselves that those “bad apples” lying on the ground are from somebody else’s tree? 

What a wonder it is to know that we’re sinners—and God still comes to us and loves us.  God, the Creator of the universe, “raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor.”  God does that!  He opens our eyes to see more clearly, and our hearts to love more truly.  He gives us faith and hope.  And he speaks the truth with love.

How lucky we are to be sinners, and to have a God such as we have.  How lucky and blessed we are.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Homily for 11 Sep 2015

11 Sep 2015

There’s a lot of talk nowadays in the Church about the “New Evangelization.”  And the idea of going out into the world to spread the gospel message is certainly a part of it.  The other, perhaps understated, aspect of the New Evangelization is the idea of coming in from the world to sit at the feet of the Master Teacher, Jesus.

Before we can “go out” and make disciples of others, we have to be a disciple ourselves.  Otherwise, we really are “the blind trying to lead the blind.” 

You know, when we think of St Paul, we see that he’s had such an enduring effect on Christians because, first, he sat with the Lord—three years—and he let the Lord teach him.  The Lord was for him all those things we hear about in the psalm.  Jesus was his “refuge” and his “prize.”  The Lord “counseled” him and was always at his “right hand,” showing him “the path to life” and what’s at the root of true “joy.”

St Paul was no “blind” leader.  He knew Jesus intimately, and the Lord opened his heart and mind and soul so he could see clearly—not only for Paul’s own good, but for the good of others as well.  That’s why St Paul was, and continues to be, a person who inspires faith in others; he knew how to be quiet and learn from the Lord.  He was very much a wide-eyed disciple of the Lord and his ways.

And we can give thanks to God for St Paul and for people like him; who take the time to be a true disciple of Christ.  Those are the people who can lead us to God.  And those are the people who’ll help us move toward a clearer vision of God and our faith.  Thanks be to God for that.  After all, the last thing we want—especially when it comes to faith, hope, and love—is for the blind to be leading the blind.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Homily for 10 Sep 2015

10 Sep 2015

When Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” we have to ask: “Who is my enemy?”  It sounds very black-and-white: “Love your enemies.”  It sounds like we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys . . . whoever “they” is.  But, as we know, it’s a lot grayer than that.  None of us is entirely “good,” and none of us is entirely “bad.”  And so, who is my enemy?  Well, sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. 

“Love your enemies,” Jesus says.  And this could just be another way he’s trying to teach the “Golden Rule” or the second Great Commandment: “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.  And love your neighbor as yourself.”  We love our “enemies” because, sometimes, we can be an “enemy” to them.

If we’re ever too judgmental of someone—even justifiably so—we withhold God’s mercy from them.  If we’re condescending or prideful, we can be an unintentional enemy of love and of those we’re called to love.  It isn’t all black-and-white; sometimes we’re the enemy of love; though, most of the time we are not.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus says.  Be merciful to those who sin against us, just as we hope they will be merciful to us when we sin against them.  Love your enemies; love your neighbor as yourself.    

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Homily for 9 Sep 2015

9 Sep 2015

There’s a tug-of-war going on; although, it’s not side-to-side, but up-and-down.  It’s a tug-of-war between “what is above” and “what is on earth.”  It really is a struggle on the cosmic level.  Of course, part of the tug-of-war is to even believe that there is a cosmic level.

St Paul writes: “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above. . . . Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”  And that’s where the struggle is.  We live in this world (both the bad and good of it), and yet, God has made us to look beyond this world.  As Christians, we’re oftentimes caught in the middle of the two.

But when we feel “caught,” maybe we can hear those words of St Paul in our conscience: “Seek what is above.”  It sounds similar to what he said to the Thessalonians: “Aspire to live a tranquil life.”  It’s not necessarily a life detached from the world.  Instead, it’s a life open to the influence of that other world—where absolute Truth, Goodness and Beauty are the Light that lights the day and the night.

“Seek what is above,” St Paul says.  Be open to the influence of God, and let the tug-of-war come to an end.   

Monday, September 7, 2015

Homily for 8 Sep 2015

8 Sep 2015
Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

We see here in the genealogy of Jesus a snapshot of a community of people; a family existing at various points in time.  Some of those names are “big,” like: Abraham, David, Solomon, and Jesse.  And many others aren’t, like: Hezron, Obed, Abijah, and Joram. 

Of course, Mary is kind of both; she’s a big name in that genealogy; and yet she’s one of the many humble and simple doers of God’s Word—many whose names have disappeared with time.  We celebrate today the birth of the Mother of Jesus and our own Blessed Mother.  But we also celebrate, in a way, the “living family tree” of Jesus: the Church. 

Of course, just like the genealogy we hear today, there are “big names” today in the Church; and there are a lot of other people who simply live quietly and do all the “little” everyday things that bring the peace of Christ to others.  And Jesus needs both kinds of people; the Church needs both kinds of people.

Some of us will do “mighty deeds.”  And most of us will do those everyday, “ordinary” works of faith, hope, and love.  But however we fit into the family tree of Jesus—the Church—we know that we each have a place there.  None of us is a mistake; God made each of us for a purpose.  We’re each made to be a part of the ongoing, living “family tree” of Jesus.

And whether we’re a “big” name in that genealogy, or a “small” name that’ll be forgotten someday, what matters is that God knows.  And what God pays attention to is our fidelity.  Simple fidelity to God is what builds up the family of God.  The birth of the Virgin Mary reminds us of that: simple fidelity to God is what builds up the family of God.      

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Homily for 6 Sep 2015

6 Sep 2015
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Whenever there’s a major catastrophe, people run to God for help.  There’s just something in us that kicks in and says: “Go to God.”  Maybe it’s the prophetic word Isaiah speaks “to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God . . . he comes to save you.”  Or maybe it’s the sense that we have to turn to something bigger than we when our troubles are bigger than we are.  Or maybe it’s simply faith at work. 

Back on September 11, 2001, I was working at a parish in Oshkosh.  And I just remember that the church was packed.  And for several days after, people kept coming and coming to pray.  Or you might think of the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.  Again, we see the images of churches packed with people; people seeking God, seeking refuge, seeking understanding and each other. 

The same happens when we’re struck with more individual troubles. Maybe someone is diagnosed with cancer, or struck with some life-threatening disease or injury.  Maybe a loved one is rushed to the emergency room.  Or maybe old age simply, and finally, says: “It’s time to move on from this life.”  And in those times, prayer becomes very important.  Faith becomes very important.  Whenever there are troubles—especially the kind that shake our sense of security—people people run to God for help.

And what does that tell us, except that we do know where to go for help.  We do know whom we can trust and be safe with.  Nobody has to tell us that.  When we hear all the stories in Scripture of the poor and the oppressed, they knew exactly who was there to help them.  Doesn’t matter if it’s the Old Testament or the New Testament, the people of God—sinners though they are—ultimately turned to God himself.

You know, when we have a toothache, we don’t get all confused and call the plumber.  When we break a bone or have a fever, we don’t call the vet.  We go to the doctor; we go to the dentist.  Nobody has to tell us who to go to.  In just the same way, when we’re really troubled in our soul—when we’re really shaken up and disturbed—we do know where to go for help.  We do know who we can trust and be safe with.

Sometimes, though, we have to be reminded that we need God’s help.  If there’s one theme that runs through the whole of Scripture it’s the idea that God is constantly reaching out to his people saying, “Hey, remember me?”  The First Commandment of the Law God gives is, “I am God.  Remember that.”  And then he sent out all the prophets to say, “Hey, people of God, return to your God.”  And then we have the Son of God himself, and the Apostles and the whole life and Tradition of the Church which remind us, “Hey, come back to God; you need God’s help.”

We forget.  We forget that we need God.  But we’re reminded of that right off the bat here at Mass.  We make the Sign of the Cross, and the first thing we do is “acknowledge our sins.”  “Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins,” let us acknowledge the reality that each of us needs God’s help in some way or another.  And so, of course, we say, “Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.”  “Lord, we need your help.  Christ, we depend on you.  Lord, you are our refuge and healing.”  It’s the first thing we do in every Mass because we know we have to be reminded that we need God’s help.

[And that’s one of the very practical reasons why we come to Mass.  This is the only place we’re going to be reminded that we need God’s help.  Outside these walls, outside this community of faith, people aren’t going to say we need God.  Instead, they’re going to say: “You need to be popular.  You need to be better looking.  You need to have different friends.”  Or, “You need to have more money, or influence,” or whatever.  Only here at Mass are we reminded that we need God.]

But the fact that we need God’s help is really a reason to be glad.  When we admit that we need God, then God can help us.  Then we can actually sing the psalm we sang today: “Praise the Lord, my soul!”  He “sets captives free . . . gives sight to the blind . . . raises up those who are bowed down,” and so on.  It’s interesting that, during Mass, right after we say, “Lord, have mercy,” we sing the Gloria.  The Gloria is the song of a happy people; a people who know they need God, and for whom God is there to help in times of trouble.         

You know, God is so much bigger than we are.  God is like one of those over-sized umbrellas that we pull out when it’s raining.  “Shelter me, O God.  Hide me in the shadow of your wings.”  Or God is like a friend who sticks up for us when we’re knocked down.  And what else could we feel about that except thankfulness and gladness.  When we realize the rain is coming down on us, but that God is there to protect us and bring us healing, what else can we say besides, “Thanks be to God."

Thanks be to God, and glory to him who heals us and makes us glad.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Homily for 4 Sep 2015

4 Sept 2015

Sometimes it’s like Jesus is speaking another language.  The images he uses, the teachings he speaks, the vision of the Kingdom he puts out there is so very different from what we’re used to.  To the 1st Century Jews, what he was saying probably sounded totally “out there.”  I imagine the Pharisees and scribes, and lots of other good people just shook their heads and said, “What is he talking about?”

Of course, even after two thousand years, a lot of people in the world (and even in the Church) still scratch their heads whenever the Gospel message and the vision of Jesus is put out there.  Even when St Paul mentions “invisible things, thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers,” he’s trying to get us onto a different plane, into a wider vision of the life Christ is drawing us into.

There’s more to Jesus than meets the eye.  There’s more to our Catholic faith than we think.  And that’s why sometimes when the depth of the Gospel is actually preached to us, it can feel like Jesus is just speaking another language—and we want to say, “What is he talking about?”

But to our occasional confusion about our faith, Jesus asks us to just stick with him.  He’s trying to introduce us to something new; a new way of life, a new way of faith and values and practices, a new relationship with him and the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes it can seem like the Word of God is trying to take us to a place we’re unfamiliar with . . . and that’s about right.

All Jesus asks is that we trust him, and that we not get overly comfortable with what we know about him and our faith.  He always has a lot more to show us.  There’s always more to see in the Kingdom of God.   

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Homily for 3 Sep 2015

3 Sep 2015
Memorial of Pope Saint Gregory the Great

“From now on,” Jesus says, “life will be different.”  That’s what he says to those who say “yes” to him.  And I’m sure Peter had no idea what he was getting himself into when he said “yes.”  Saint Gregory the Great didn’t know; none of the saints knew what their “yes” to God would get them into.  But they still trusted God and just let the Holy Spirit lead them wherever they needed to be, and to do whatever they needed to do.

Today, as we remember Saint Gregory, we’re reminded of an ongoing call that the Lord puts into the hearts of his people—and it’s the call for “balance” in our Christian life.  In the 6th Century, when St Gregory lived, there was a tension between the ascetic life and the life of what would become known as the “parish.”  There was a tension between a life focused on God and a life focused on the needs of others.   And this tension is still around today.

Some people really like to spend quiet time in prayer, study, and contemplation of God.  Other people really like to be out there doing the work of social justice, feeding the hungry, and being visible evangelizers.  Of course, it’s more than a simple “like” of what we do; most of us do these things because God has put it in our hearts to do them. 

But St Gregory and the Lord say, “Don’t get overly comfortable in the particular way of life we enjoy.”  Saying “yes” to God, being docile and trusting in the guidance of God’s good will means listening to that voice which might be saying to us:

“Maybe I can’t spend all my time in prayer; maybe God is asking me to do just a little something for a neighbor in need.”  Or, perhaps, “Maybe I can’t spend all my time being busy doing the Lord’s work; maybe God is asking me to spend some quiet time with him, to make sure the work I do is his work, and not merely my own."

“From now on,” Jesus says, “life will be different.”  Maybe that’ll a more balanced life between prayer and action.  Maybe it’s something not even on your radar.  Who knows?  Saying “yes” to God means just that—saying “yes” to the will of God.  But we know and trust that to be a truly good will.  And so we get up and go with Jesus, wherever he takes us.    

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Homily for 2 Sep 2015

2 Sep 2015

Chances are, we each have a demon inside of us—some lie that others have told us about ourselves . . . and we grew to believe it.  Or maybe we have a fever, like Simon’s mother-in-law—the burning heat of self-doubt within us; doubt about our own goodness and beauty, a fever we just can’t seem to shake. 

In another Gospel, St John said, “The truth will set you free.”  And that’s what St Luke says, too.  Jesus rips those demons and fevers right out of us if we let him speak “the word of truth” to us: the basic truths that we are good, we are loveable, we are sinners, and we’re loved in spite of our sins and mistakes.  The truth of God’s unconditional love sets us free from self-doubt; he sets us free from believing that lies that others put into our hearts and minds about ourselves.

The love of God opens us up again to see, truly, that there is reason to hope; there is reason to feel joy deep in our soul.  The truth which Jesus speaks sets us free from the lies, the demons, the fevers, and the self-doubt which keep us captives.

Chances are, we each have a demon inside of us that holds us down.  But the love and truth of God is stronger than any lie.

Homily for 1 Sep 2015

1 Sep 2015

The battle between good and evil is an ongoing reality in human history.  St Paul speaks of this when he contrasts the children of darkness and the children of light.  And anytime Jesus exorcises demons we see a concrete form of that battle.  Of course, just about anytime we turn on the news or look at the internet these days we see that battle between good and evil going on.

And to have that war going on around us—and even involving us—can be . . . scary; it can be disheartening and upsetting.  It can even push us to feelings of hopelessness.  And into those feelings, Jesus interjects the Good News.

And the Good News is that the battle has already been won.  It’s over, and God has won.  I think of stories of the Civil War, where the whole thing was over and decided.  But here and there were pockets of people who were unaware that the war was over, and they were still fighting.  Either that, or they knew about it, but refused to believe it was over, and they kept on fighting anyway.

The Good News for us who believe in God is that the war is over, even if these little battles between good and evil continue today.  Evil will never win the day.  The “bad guys” will never come out ahead—even if, sometimes, it seems like they will.  And if it seems like they will, we only need remember that: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?"

Even though the battles between good and evil continue today, the Lord of Goodness has already won the war.  The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?