Saturday, October 31, 2015

Homily for 1 Nov 2015 All Saints

1 Nov 2015
Solemnity of All Saints

He was a popular guy and liked to have fun, you know, drinking with friends and being a general disturbance to the peace.  His father was wealthy, and he took advantage of the fact that he didn’t have to work in order to have a good time.

And then there was a young lady who, for whatever reason, did not have a good reputation.  She wasn’t the kind of person you’d want to be associated with—she might’ve sullied your good name.  But then there was another lady, a young girl actually, who was just as saintly as you could be.  She was pure, devoted to God, thoughtful: just an all around pleasant person.

The stories could on and on, like the story a young man (a teenager, I believe) who grew up in a wealthy home.  But his parents, devout Christians, died in an epidemic and left their fortune to him.  But he didn’t squander his inheritance; instead, he used it help the needy, the sick, and the suffering.  He was very free with his spirit of giving.

And we know these people today as St Francis of Assisi, St Mary Magdalene, St Maria Goretti, and St Nicholas of Myra.  It’s an assorted “multitude” of people who make up the body of the Saints.  Some seemed to have been born saints right out of the womb.  Others had to go through some pretty major conversion experiences. 
But one thing they all have in common is that they’re simply human beings who—sooner or later—allowed God to be a priority in their lives.  Of course, that’s one of the reasons we honor the Saints . . . because letting God be a priority in life has never been easy.  It takes courage to “go against the flow” and stand firm when it comes to our beliefs.

And that’s not only courage in the face of others’ opposition; it’s also courage in the face of our own self-doubt.  You know, it would be a mistake to think that the Saints just turn a switch in their soul one day and decide, “Okay, I’m going to be a Saint from now on.”  Of course, we know it doesn’t work that way (even if we think the Saints have secretly figured out a way to do it).  No, becoming a Saint isn’t like an on-off switch; it’s more like one of those dimmer switches, where you can turn the light on really, really slowly and gradually.

The temptation, of course, is to think that the switch of our own saintliness isn’t getting turned on fast enough, or that it’s not getting turned on at all.  The temptation is to give up on that saintly idea of allowing God to be a priority in our life: “That’s for the Saints,” we say.  “They can do it.  Not me.”

And how many Saints have said that to themselves?  Probably more than we can imagine.  A Saint isn’t a person without struggles in their faith, a person without doubts and questions.  A Saint isn’t somebody who never stumbles and falls.  A Saint is someone who’s determined to keep growing, who puts more faith and trust in God’s mercy than in themselves.  And it takes courage to do that.  It takes courage to make (and keep) God as a priority in life.  But the Saints encourage us by their own example and life stories.
And a common element of each of the Saints’ lives is the idea of “purification.”  Jesus teaches: “Blessed are the clean of heart, the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”  And St John tells us that those whose ultimate hope is to be like God makes themselves “pure, as [God] is pure.”  The Saints are those who—as we hear in the Book of Revelation—who “have survived the time of great distress,” and have “washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

We celebrate the Saints as mentors, as examples, as the best of our human race because of their purity.  They were once sinners, just like every one of us.  But they desired to be more, to be better, to be like Christ in the world.

Like St Nicholas, the Saints desire to shower other people with the free gift of love; St Nicholas, a bright star, a sign in the world of Christ’s boundless and free love.  Like St Mary Magdalene, they desire to be healed of their demons, and to cling to Christ; St Mary Magdalene, a sign in the world of God’s mercy and fidelity.

Like St Francis of Assisi, the Saints desire to be free to follow the Holy Spirit wherever he leads them: St Francis, a sign in the world of Christ’s devotion, humility, and spirit of joyful sacrifice.  And like St Maria Goretti, they desire to fight for what is good, true and beautiful; St Maria Goretti, a sign in the world of Christ’s innocence.

All the Saints gradually purified their hearts and washed themselves clean of selfishness, and pride and all those other sins that get in the way of human flourishing.  Over time, they became “purified,” so that when others encountered them, they encountered the living Christ in the world.
We’re surrounded by the Saints: purified of sin, glorifying God in heaven, watching over us, and being the encouraging “big brothers and sisters” in the faith that they are.  They say, “Come, be with us.  Come and see this vision of a great multitude from every nation, race, people, and tongue filled, all enjoying the brilliance of divine and perfect Love.”  And we can get there, if we remember to put God as a priority in the story of our lives. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Homily for 30 Oct 2015

30 Oct 2015

There’s the saying that “freedom isn’t free.”  And it’s true.  We’ve all heard the stories (or lived the stories) of people leaving the comfort of home and to fight in order to secure that comfort and peace.  Whether it’s in wartime, or in politics, or in the practice of the faith, freedom and peace come with a price.

We hear St Paul say that, if it would help his people to return to God, he would gladly be “accursed and cut off from Christ.”  He’s willing to sacrifice the comfort of knowing Christ if it’ll help others.  That’s a pretty big sacrifice.

But parents can relate to this idea of “doing with less” for the good of their children.  Leaders of people can relate to that when they give up their private lives for the good of others; when they leave themselves vulnerable to attack and ridicule in order to protect the common good.

And we see this in our Lord.  But I don’t mean in the sacrifice of the Cross; I mean in the sacrifice of the Incarnation.  The Son of God left the bosom of God the Father, he came down from heaven—from the unimaginable glory of perfect love, perfect harmony, perfect union—he left that comfortable and glorious place in order to lift us up into that place.

What a sacrifice of love it was for the Word of God to leave heaven and come to earth.  Freedom is never free.  And the cost of our salvation and freedom began to be paid way back when Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem; when the Word of God left heaven to dwell among us.  Thanks be to God who took on flesh—and continues to take on Flesh in the Eucharist—in order to set us free.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Homily for 29 Oct 2015

29 Oct 2015

If there are two words which simply don’t go together they’re: “God” and “hates.”  God doesn’t hate; sinners and hypocrites hate.  And every time we hear that “God hates” this group or “God hates” these people or “God hates” whatever, we have to realize that we’re hearing a lie.  God does not hate.  And we see that amply illustrated in Scripture.

St Paul makes the joyful realization that, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  It is God who acquits us.  Who will condemn? . . . I am convinced,” he says, that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In other words, God is entirely, completely for us.  God doesn’t hate anybody, any more than a true parent could hate his or her child.

And yet, there is one thing that causes a breach in the relationship with our loving and faithful God, and that is our own lack of faith, hope, and love for him.  But when we’re unfaithful or unloving to our God, he doesn’t hate us—instead, he weeps for us.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the people chose death and hatred over life and love.  God weeps for our sins; he doesn’t hate us.

And so, whoever preaches to others that “God hates” is preaching a false gospel.  It isn’t God who hates, but they themselves who hate.  Now, there are many people who’ve been touched by this false gospel.  They reject the idea that “God hates,” as they should reject it.  But do they ever hear the true gospel, the real “good news” that God loves unconditionally?  Do they encounter that unconditional love in us? 

As the Church tries to evangelize and re-evangelize, how important it is that the true gospel is preached.  The gospel is a potent message; if it’s preached well, it has the power to raise up human life toward divine and human ecstasy; but if it’s preached poorly or falsely, it has the power to devastate lives and tear the community apart.

As we go to “glorify the Lord by our lives,” may we preach the good news well.  May we love unconditionally as does our God.  May we find joy in the good news that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And may we spread that good news to those who need to hear it. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Homily for 28 Oct 2015 Simon and Jude

28 Oct 2015
Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

There are so many thoughts floating around today about God, faith, morals, spirituality, and so on.  It can be confusing to know who to listen to.  And we see that same situation in ancient Judea.

The Pharisees had their views, the Sadducees had their own.  And the influence of Roman laws and Greek ways of thinking were felt, too.  Somewhere in the mix were the long-dead voices of Moses and David.  The message of God was getting lost.

And so, the Son of God came and appointed new messengers of what was true and good—fresh voices sent directly from God.  Of course, they are the Apostles.  Most of them died in their mission; Simon and Jude were martyred together.  But that’s what it took for the Apostles to interject God’s truth back into the world.

And today, the Church continues the mission of the Apostles.  How many countless denominations are there today; how many websites and other media outlets are there; how many books and preachers and talk show hosts are there . . . all trying to get our attention—all trying to be the voice of God; all trying to tell us “how it is.”

And when our head starts to spin, who do we turn to but those Twelve Apostles chosen by God to be the voice of clarity, truth, and goodness.  Their message, their teachings live on in the Church and in our Sacred Tradition.  If we’re ever lost about what to believe, what to think, or who to listen to, we can turn to those twelve brothers of ours, the Apostles.  

Learning from them, we’ll be set right again.  Listening to them, we can find peace again.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Homily for 27 Oct 2015

27 Oct 2015

Jesus doesn’t just come right out and tell us what the Kingdom of God is.  He’s always using analogies or comparisons: The Kingdom of God is like this; the Kingdom of God is like that.  And, of course, that’s right.

The most we can understand about the Kingdom—right now—is what we know through our everyday.  The Kingdom of God is like a lot of things we can see and experience.  But the Kingdom is so much more than those things.  And this is what St Paul seems to be saying today: “Now hope that sees for itself is not hope.  For who hopes for what one sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.”

Whether it’s a mustard seed, or yeast in a loaf of bread, or treasured buried in a field, or a pearl of great price, or a beautiful sunset, or the autumn colors, or the best of friendships . . . we can get a taste of the Kingdom through them all.  But the Kingdom is far greater than them all. 

We enjoy the good things of this life.  But our hope lies beyond them all, in something we can’t possibly know fully in this life.  Our hope lies in the unseen Kingdom where God is the Light the lights the day; the Sun which never sets; the Spirit of peace, love, and wonder which fills every heart.  We can imagine the Kingdom in its glory.  But even our imaginations don’t do justice to the real truth, beauty and goodness of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus doesn’t just come right out and tells us what the Kingdom of God is . . . because he can’t.  But someday we’ll see it—not as a metaphor or a comparison, but as it really is.  And it’ll be a glorious day.  But until then, we wait.  And we put our hope in that Kingdom which is simply beyond description.   

Homily for 26 Oct 2015

26 Oct 2015

If there’s one thing Jesus does not like it’s hypocrisy.  We hear him again and again in Scripture calling people out (the Pharisees, in particular) for being hypocrites.  But, he’s not calling them out for being sinners—he’s calling them out for being hypocrites.  And they aren’t the same.

We’re all sinners.  From time to time we all go against the ideas of faith, hope and, especially, love—love of God and love of neighbor.  We’re all sinners.  But a hypocrite is someone who more quickly points out the sins of others, rather than his or her own sins.  A hypocrite is self-righteous and looks down on others.  In many ways, a hypocrite replaces God in his or her heart—insofar as God is the one who is all-seeing, all-knowing, and truly righteous and good.

A hypocrite makes an idol out of him or herself.  And so, it’s easy to see why Jesus absolutely does not like hypocrisy.  But, you know, he loves the sinner—especially sinners who admit with honesty and even joy that they need God in their lives.  Hypocrites cut God out of their hearts by their own pride.  But sinners open their hearts to God by simply saying, “Lord, I have sinned.  Forgive me."

What a blessed thing it is to be a sinner, a humble and honest sinner.  What a blessed thing it is to have a heart open to God—because that one Jesus can love.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Homily for 25 Oct 2015

25 Oct 2015
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Whenever we come to celebrate the Mass, we enter into a world of signs and symbols.  Just about everything has some deeper meaning behind it: the colors of the fabric, the candles, the arrangement of the pews, the people, the windows, the music we sing, the prayers.  Everything about the Mass is meant to help us make a connection between this world and the life of God.

And so, there should be an “otherworldly” quality to our experience here.  Mass isn’t just another thing to do; it’s meant to open our lives up to something greater, and to let that “something greater” we know as God to come down to raise us up.  And as a reminder that there is something greater, we have the priest.  In the United States, Catholics celebrate “Priesthood Sunday” today.  And it’s not so much a celebration of the person as it is a celebration of the divine role of the priest.

For 400 years (from 1570-1970), when Mass was celebrated, the priest stood at the altar—and sometimes he faced the altar, and sometimes he faced the people.  If he was speaking to God on behalf of the people, he was facing the altar; and if he was speaking to the people on behalf of God, he (obviously) would be facing the people.   He was always “back and forth” between the two. 

Of course, that’s the role Jesus has: even today, Jesus our High Priest is trying to reconnect—he’s trying to make a peaceful reconciliation between—God the Father and humanity.  Jesus prays to God on our behalf, and he also turns to us to share the beauty, truth and goodness of God.  And so, right here in the Mass, the priest is a concrete sign (and a reminder) that Jesus is always at work; standing between God and humanity, trying to reconnect the two.

That’s the divine role of the priest: to be a sign of Jesus the High Priest, Jesus the Mediator, Jesus the Intercessor.  Even though, today, the visible symbol of the priest turning back and forth is mostly lost, the reality is still there.  The priest is both the voice of Jesus the Head and the voice of Christ’s Body, the Church, the people.

Now, as you know, whenever the priest says: “The Lord be with you,” the response is, “And with your spirit.”  Of course, we used to respond: “And also with you.”  But that translation of the Latin was changed to recapture something of the divine role of the priest.  To say, “And with your spirit,” means something like: “May God be with that ordained spirit of yours so that you pray well to God for us.”

The priest isn’t an entertainer; he’s not someone who tries to capture our attention for an hour or so once a week.  He’s a sign of Jesus the High Priest, who stands between God and the people of God and tries to bring the two together; the priest is a bridge.  In Latin, a bridge is a “pons,” and a priest is a “pontiff.”  That’s why we call the pope the “supreme pontiff;” he’s the main priest in this world.  He prays to God on behalf of the people, and he serves as a way the Spirit and Life of God can be known to the people.

“The Lord be with you—and with your spirit,” is the people’s prayer that the priest will minister well and that he’ll be an effective bridge between God and the world.  And so, the priest is one of those “signs and symbols” we encounter in the Mass.  He’s a sign (and a reminder) that there is something beyond what we can see and touch and taste.  His life and ministry is a reminder that there is a greater reality beyond what we experience in the day-to-day.  The priest isn’t about himself—he’s about the people, and he’s about God.  He simply bridges the two.

And so, in many ways, the priest is also a leader and a prophet (because a major role of the prophets was to stand in between God and the people and be a mediator between the two).  The prophet was someone who led the people from slavery to sin, and opened the way to the Promised Land.  Think of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.  Think of Jesus who died to free us from the weight of sin and who opened the way to the possibility of a renewed life in God. 

And, today, we hear of the Prophet Jeremiah and the ancient Israelites’ freedom from Babylon.  When they were freed from the Assyrians and were finally able to return home to Jerusalem, they sang for joy.  The Lord and his prophets broke down the Israelites’ captivity to misery and opened the way for them to go back to that “greater reality;” back to Jerusalem, the desire of their souls.

And that’s part of the divine role of the priest—to be a prophet, to be someone who opens our eyes (and our minds, bodies, and spirits) to the life, freedom, peace and joy God has in store for us.   But the ministry of the priest (the ministry of Jesus Christ the High Priest) is only effective if we realize that sometimes—a lot of times—we can be like Bartimaeus.  The ministry of the priest becomes meaningful and effective when we realize that we can be spiritually “blind” and that there’s more to life than what we our senses tell us.

Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”  And the priest asks the same question to the people; whether it’s at Mass or outside.  You know, when I meet with someone at the parish here, or at their home or in the hospital or nursing, one of the first questions I ask myself is: “What does this person want?”  Sometimes they simply want some prayers and a blessing, and that’s enough to help them.  Other times, a person may need to know that somebody is actually listening to them and cares what happens to them.  And sometimes a person needs to know that God forgives them and that he really is a merciful and loving God; they need to encounter God.

Jesus asks—the priest asks—“What do you want me to do for you?”  And our answer is so very important.  Do we realize our own spiritual blindness, like Bartimaeus?  Even we priests can be spiritual blind sometimes, and so we turn to our spiritual directors to open our eyes some more.  Do we realize that we can be spiritual blind?  If we do, then a priest can be that bridge—then what a priest does or says at Mass or where we meet him will have some value.  If we can admit that we’re spiritually blind, then we’ll be able to see through the mediation of the priest, through the intercession and help of Christ our High Priest. 

Then we’ll be able to rejoice like the Israelites who were freed from captivity.  We’ll be able to be happy like Bartimaeus and say to Jesus for the rest of our lives: “Show me more.”   There’s always more of God to see, there’s always more of that “greater reality” we call “life in Christ;” there’s always more of that more fulfilling life we desire.  There’s always more to see—if we admit that we’re always a little bit blind.

The priest is here to help us see, to broader our horizons, to open the way to something greater.  The priest is a bridge between what we know and what is possible for us to experience in this life and the next.  The priest is one who brings God and people back together.  And, importantly, the priest is one who helps the people of God to be priests in their own way, according to the baptism.

In baptism, God makes us “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” [1 Peter 2:9]; a nation of priests.  Just as the priest prays to God on behalf of the people of God, so the people of God pray to God on behalf of the whole world.  You know, every time you pray for a friend (or an enemy) or somebody who needs God’s help and guidance in their lives, you’re exercising your baptismal priesthood.  We see this very clearly at every Mass during the Prayers of the Faithful: “For the Church, we pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.”  “For the world, we pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.”  Lord hear our prayer, Lord hear our prayer—that’s the prayer of a priestly people.

Or whenever we sacrifice our time or our possessions so that others can experience a better life, we are acting as a priestly people.  Of course, the idea of sacrifice and offering is central to the priesthood; it’s central to our identity as Christians.  That’s why the Eucharist holds a central place in our worship of God.  We worship and adore the idea and the reality of sacrificial love.  It’s what a priestly people aspire to live out in everyday life.

It’s the aspiration of the ordained priest, for sure: to be a sign of Christ the High Priest who stands in the gap between God and humanity and tries to bridge the two through sacrificial love.  He tries to be a sign of Jesus, the definitive Bridge between God and humanity, who continues to be with us and continues to build us up into the People of God; a people released from captivity and on the way to a better life today and forever.

“Priesthood Sunday” isn’t about celebrating Father so-and-so.  It’s about celebrating the divine role of the priest; it’s about celebrating our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who gives his Body and Blood, who speaks his words in Scripture, and who pours out the Holy Spirit—all to be a grace-filled bridge between this world and that greater life we call “life with God.”

[But a priest doesn’t take this role upon himself.  It’s as we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews: “It was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my son: this day I have begotten you.”  God the Father sent and anointed Jesus for the task.  And it’s no different today.  Priests are called into ministry.

In my own case, the idea of being a priest was just the flash of an idea that God put into my head one day.  And I responded to that call.  Sometimes, the Holy Spirit works through other people.  And so, it’s good to consider who among us might have what it takes to be a priest.  Or, for that matter, a deacon or a religious brother or sister.  Who among us might God be calling to consider a life of ministry, service, and prayer?

Last weekend, there was a “Called By Name” flyer in the bulletin.  And this is a chance for you to be the voice of God; it’s a chance to let a young man or woman know that you think he or she might have a vocation to the priesthood, or the diaconate or religious life.  How it works is that you write the name of the person down (and their contact info if you know it), and then Fr D or myself will simply let them know that someone is thinking of them.

There’s no pressure involved; it’s just the idea of planting seeds and offering an encouraging word to our young men and women.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit goes direct, and sometimes he works through others.  Either way, the “Called By Name” program helps us to be the voice of the Lord for others.

If you brought the little slip of paper from the flyer today, you can simply put it in the collection basket as it goes around.  Also, there’s a little box by the crucifixion that says “Called By Name” on it.  You can put your suggestions in there today or anytime.  God is always calling men and women to brothers or sisters, deacons, or priests, and so the Called By Name box will remain out there.]

On this Priesthood Sunday, we give thanks to Christ our High Priest who lays down his life to be a bridge between us and God.  And we ask him to send us more priests so that we can have life . . . life in abundance today and forever. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Homily for 24 Oct 2015

24 Oct 2015

Having the Holy Spirit within us is pretty important.  If the Spirit of God dwells in us, we’re able to be at peace with God, we’re able to be raised up with Christ from the dead, we’re able to live a life of goodness [Rom 8:1-11].  Having the Holy Spirit within us is like having blood flowing in our veins—we need it to be alive.

And yet, often times we can feel distant from God; separated from the Holy Spirit.  How do we know the Holy Spirit is still in us?  Well, aside from faith that God is always with his people, we pay attention to our souls.  The psalm [Ps 24] speaks about “the people that longs to see” the face of God.  The desire for God; concern for our relationship with God is itself a sign that the Holy Spirit is working in us.

Also, today Jesus really impresses the importance of repentance.  And with that we see that a certain amount of guilt and sorrow for the wrongs we’ve done is another sign that the Holy Spirit is working in us; it’s a sign that we have a conscience and our conscience prizes what is right and just over what is wrong and unjust.  Repentance is a sign that we want to do what’s right; and it’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is working with us to live a good life.

Jesus also talks about “cultivating” and “fertilizing.”  Those are other ways we know the Holy Spirit is working in us—God supports us and he makes us grow as human beings, as children of God, as loving neighbors to one another.  The fact that we sin is not a sign that God has left us.  On the contrary, the Holy Spirit works with our sins.  The question is: Will we let him?

Having the Holy Spirit within us is pretty important.  The Spirit gives us peace, life, and virtue.  And the surest way to know the Spirit is within us is simply to pray, with all sincerity: “Come, Holy Spirit.  Come, and show me how to live.”

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Homily for 23 Oct 2015

23 Oct 2015

We often look to the western sky, just like Jesus says we do.  There are clouds, and we think: “Rain is coming.”  Or pretty soon we’ll be thinking: “Snow is coming.” We know how to look ahead and see what’s coming.  And we know how to prepare for it by making wise decisions.

And we can extend our “forecasting” abilities into the realm of morality, as Jesus suggests we do.  If we’re faced with a question of right or wrong, we have enough experience in life to know which of our choices will turn out well and which ones won’t. 

But we can extend our ability to look ahead into looking at our life as the Church.  Jesus says: “Interpret the present time;” interpret the present life of the Church and make wise decisions based on what we see.  And what we do we see?  Is it sunny, clear skies?  Or are there clouds and shifting winds that we should pay attention to?

The number of priests continues to dwindle.  How long can we go on like that?  We’re a mission diocese now—priests from other countries come to us to help us.  It used to be the other way around.  There’s a chilly breeze in the air to pay attention to. 

Or we consider our youth, and how far too many of them are practical atheists.  And the Tradition is not being handed onto them; some of them couldn’t care less about it.  What a sad thing it is to realize many of them don’t even basic Christmas songs: sad and worrisome.  There’s a cold front we need to pay attention to.

There’s a moral component to what Jesus says: “Look ahead and make wise decisions.”  But there’s also a spiritual component.  How is the church doing today?  Is she healthy?  Is she splintered and falling ill?  While sometimes a bad forecast can seem overwhelming, we do what we can—each in their homes—to ensure that the storm will not beat us.

And, in that, our security, our hope for the future lies with the Lord.  And so, we pray with the psalmist today: Lord, save us.  Save your church, for we are yours.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Homily for 22 Oct 2015

22 Oct 2015

Diet and exercise—two words a lot of people don’t like to hear.  It’s a pain to cut down on our favorite foods—especially if they have a lot of calories and are particularly delicious.  And sometimes it’s a real chore to get on the treadmill and work off some of those extra pounds.  But, you know, that’s why we diet and exercise: to cut off—to divide off—those extra pounds and make us healthier.

And the spiritual equivalent is, I suppose, repentance and conversion.  It’s a lot of work to cut down on gossip, or laziness or apathy toward others, or whatever makes us less than Christ-like.  But that’s why Christ came: to help us shed our “spiritual fat” and make us healthy in mind and heart.  He came to “divide us;” to get rid of what weighs us down and boost what’s good in us.

So often, we pray: “Come, Holy Spirit.”  Or we pray: “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Or we hear psalms like the one today: “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.”  But, you know, it’s a radical thing to really pray: “Come, Holy Spirit.”  It’s a daring thing to actually hope in the Lord, and it’s life-altering to actually look for God’s Will to be done.

It’s a brave thing to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit of Christ because he’s going to come and divide us on the inside.  He’s going to praise us for the good things, and he’s going to show us (gently) the parts of ourselves that can use some work.  He’s going to come and “divide us.”  But that’s okay; and that’s good.  In order to be better people, every now and then we need a little spiritual “diet and exercise."

And so we pray: “Come, Holy Spirit.  Burn off the fat of sin.  And make us lean in fidelity to God.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Homily for 21 Oct 2015

21 Oct 2015

The Lord is a thief.  At an unknown hour, “the Son of Man will come,” and our “house”—our life—will be broken into.  And what will he find?  Maybe there’s a secret we haven’t told anybody.  Maybe there’s a sin stashed away in a closet or in the attic.  Maybe there’s a bad habit we just couldn’t ever break.

Of course, there’s all the good stuff, too.  He’ll come in and see a box full of greeting cards from people who appreciate the help we’ve given them.  And there are pictures on the wall of people we love: family and friends.  Maybe there’s an unfinished project on the workbench we were planning on giving to someone for Christmas.

At an unknown hour, the Lord will come like a thief and break into our life.  And what will he find?  Probably a mix of the good and the bad.  But, unlike a regular thief who steals the good stuff, the Lord breaks in and steals the bad stuff.  He wants to see that sin we’ve hidden away; he wants to see it and take it away.  He wants the secrets we can’t tell anyone; he wants to hear them and take them away.

The Lord is a thief.  But this particular thief we welcome.  Come, Lord Jesus, and break into our lives.  Steal away from us what you will!    

Monday, October 19, 2015

Homily for 20 Oct 2015

20 Oct 2015

It’s so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day lives that being a Christian can become kind of routine: going to Mass, saying our prayers, and the rest.  And, of course, there is a certain amount of “regularity” in our life as followers of Christ.  But every now and then Christ turns the tables on us. 

In all the readings from Scripture today, the idea of Jesus taking humanity on a new course comes out very clearly.  He see again that he undoes the sin of Adam (he is the new Adam, the new humanity); Jesus moves the people from offering sacrifice toward offering an open heart; and he turns the whole servant-master relationship upside-down.  We see a Jesus today who is upsetting the apple cart.

Maybe he’s trying to tell each of us that there’s something in our lives that needs some change.  Maybe we’re stuck in a rut.  Maybe our prayer life is getting to be too routine . . . who knows?  We each have areas of our life that Christ is trying to change or, at least, get onto a better track.  One thing we can all be better about is being more aware of God in everyday life.

About the time that God gets to be routine in our mind and heart, Christ is there trying to open our eyes to something new.  About the time we start to think, “What’s the point of faith?,” Christ is there to give us an answer and to inspire us to keep going.

Jesus is always trying to show us a fuller life, and a better way to be human.  He’s always knocking on the door of our heart.  But nothing will change unless we open our hearts to him and say, “Here I am, Lord.  Here I am.  Show me what you have in store today.”     

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Homily for 18 Oct 2015

18 Oct 2015
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Whenever we come to worship God, we usually sing songs of gratitude or praise to God.  You know, we sing words like: “Here in this place new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away;” or “The God of all grace has blessed us this day, all of creation joins us in praise;” or “Sing a new song unto the Lord, let your song be sung from mountains high, singing alleluia!”

And these are songs of a free people; a people who’ve seen the difference between a life without Christ and a life with Christ.  They’re songs of people who aren’t captive anymore, but are free in spirit.  Christ has unlocked their “prison door” and they’ve gone through the door and into freedom: out to begin living life in a new way.  They’ve begun to live God’s vision of a “new humanity.”

The question is, though: Are we these people (not necessarily here at St Bernadette, but as a Church as a whole)?  We hear today that: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”—a ransom from all the things we can be a slave to, without even knowing it.  Do we know ourselves as a free people or not? 

When I was in college, there was a young woman (probably in her early 20s) who had told the class she was Catholic (I think we were each describing who we were).  And she seemed pretty normal and was a good presence in the classroom; you know, kind and helpful; she always wore a crucifix on her necklace.  And then there was another young lady there who was just the opposite: she had a foul mouth, was confrontational and overbearing, and didn’t believe in a God of any sort.

By the end of the semester, we had two foul-mouthed girls in the class, who were rude and couldn’t care less about other people.  And we had one less Catholic—she was a captive, and did what was popular rather than what was right.  She was in prison again, and she didn’t even know it

Of course, that’s the struggle of so many youth today—to be a free person in Christ, or to be a slave to popular opinion.  It’s a rather tragic thing, I think, to see a young man or woman in church with a face that says: “I would rather be anywhere else than here.”  An expressionless face, a stoic and unmovable face that says (even if they don’t know it): “I am a captive.”  And it’s sad to see someone who is unable to sing the songs of Christian freedom; who sings the words on the page but maybe doesn’t feel them in his or her heart.

And that’s not just a struggle for youth today; it’s also a challenge for many adults.  The old idea of “keeping up with Joneses” keeps a lot of people captive.  “My neighbor has a new car, and all I have is my old Buick with 120,000 miles on it and a few scratches and dents.”  Or “my friend Joe over here can run a marathon, but I can’t even run around the block because of my knee problems.”  It’s easy to be held captive to images of what we think we should be like. 

And then we come to Mass and sing, “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”  But do we?  Are we really so free and able to “place our trust in” God and be at peace about life?  Or are our hearts and minds held captive and bothered by other things?  My guess is that’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves. 

But to help with that we’re reminded again today that: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  He came so that we might “have life and have it more abundantly.”  Yes, Jesus is Lord, but he doesn’t lord it over us.  And as much as Jesus is the divine Authority, he’s not interested in a display of power, but in an understated show of mercy and companionship.     

He never says: “I am the Son of God: the Ruler of the world.”  Instead, he’s the much weaker “Son of Man,” who invites people to follow him, and never forces them.  His disciples follow him because they want to, not because they have to.  And they follow him because they know he’s “set them free” from their captivity to popular opinion, or the latest gadget, or the idea that they have to change themselves in order to be lovable.  The disciples of Christ are freed from that and just follow him with trust, hope, and love.

And they follow him, the Son of Man, into something new—into a new way of living, into a new way of being human.  The Son of Man reveals to us a “new humanity,” as Pope Benedict XVI calls.  And the freedom that Christ summons us into in this “new humanity” is a life of: kindness; a life of trust and fidelity in one another; a life of hope and truth; a life of greatness and inner radiance; a life of happiness and peace, a life of service (that is, love) for God, others, and ourselves; a life of commitment and self-offering; a life of always looking forward and upward; a life that treasures the ancient and the old, and reveres and nurtures the new.

The Son of Man came to “ransom us” from our old selves, and to open the way to a “new humanity.”  Of course, that “new humanity” comes with a price.  Christ has already paid the price on the Cross.  But the price continues to be paid every time we try to live the fact that Christ has freed us.

For many of our youth, the price of living as free person in Christ is the fear of what others will say.  What are others going to think if I’m actually happy that there’s at least one person in life that loves me unconditionally?  What are others going to think if I say, “I can’t go out tonight because I just really need to spend some time with my family.”  The Cross happens again every time they put their love of God ahead of their concerns about what others think.

Sometimes, though, it’s easier to be held captive to others than to be free with Christ.  Adults know that, too.  At the office, or out in the field, sometimes it’s easier to just “go with the flow” than to stir things up by bringing Christian values into a situation.  Sometimes it’s easier to be a captive to others’ values than our own . . . because we don’t want the pain of the Cross, the pain of sometimes doing what’s right and just even though it’s going to be hard.

But the beauty of choosing to be a free person with Christ, and embracing the occasional pain that comes with it, is that God’s vision of the “new humanity” comes to be a reality in us.  In the 2nd Century, St Irenaeus saw very clearly that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive, and the life of humanity is the vision of God.”  The flowers in the field, the birds in the sky give glory to God because they are what they’re made to be.  And the glory of God, the radiance of God is within us when we are what we’re made to be: and we’re made to be free.

And that’s not only God’s vision, but it’s ours as well.  James and John asked if they could sit with Christ “in glory.”  They didn’t ask if they could share in his troubles and his miseries, but in his “glory.”  And we’re just like that.  We want “glory,” happiness, peace; we want life to be good and fulfilling.  We know we’re made to be free.

So why remain captive to all those things in life which stop us from becoming part of God’s “new humanity?”  Why remain captive to others’ opinions of us?  Why remain captive to the social ideas that our human worth comes from our appearance, or the kind of house we have, or whatever?  Why remain captive to all that when the Son of Man came to ransom us from that and to show us a better way, a happier and more glorious way?

Christ shows us a “new humanity,” a new way to live life.  And he frees us from everything that holds us back.  All that’s left is to take the first step: the first steps from captivity to freedom in God. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Homily for 16 Oct 2015

16 Oct 2015

We shouldn’t expect too much from God.  It’s not that God isn’t trustworthy—quite the opposite.  It’s just that when we expect something from someone (even from God), we could very well be disappointed.  When we expect something, we’re looking for something—something that we want.  In our expectations, we can completely miss the answer to our prayers.

In the psalm we pray: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.”  That’s not the prayer of a person loaded down expectations—except maybe one: the expectation that God will answer prayers in his time and in his way, for our good. 

How many times have we prayed: “Lord, help me with this problem I’m having.  Lord, guide me.”  And have we been disappointed by the response?  If so, why?  If we’re going to pray to God to “do his thing,” then we have to let God do what he does—without the interference of what we expect him to do.  And that’s hard.

It’s hard to pray to God and not think about how we’d like our prayers answered.  It’s hard not to have expectations of God.  But like Abraham, our father in faith, we strive to have simple faith in God and whatever he’s doing in our lives.  And whenever we’re tempted to mistrust God, or to start thinking, “Oh, I wish God would do this,” or “I hope God does that,” Jesus steps in and says, “Do not be afraid."

Do not be afraid of the Will of God.  Do not be afraid to have faith in God.  Don’t be afraid to put more trust in God’s wisdom than in our own expectations.  When we can stop expecting things from God, then we’ll see how God is working.  Then we’ll be able to pray the psalm today: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.”      

Homily for 15 Oct 2015

15 Oct 2015

Faith is hard.  It’s hard to live our faith out in the world.  But that’s not the kind of living faith Jesus and St Paul are talking about today.  Here they’re just talking about our basic faith in God—our basic trust in God.  And that kind of faith is hard.

This past weekend, Jesus mentioned how hard it was for a rich person to enter the kingdom; it’s hard for a person to follow the “narrow way” if they’re loaded down with things.  And we get that.  I mean, just try to walk through a regular door in your house carrying a bunch of luggage.  It’s hard.

And faith is hard because having real faith and trust in God is the “narrow way.”  And it’s hard because we can be loaded down with the sense that simple faith isn’t enough—that I need to prove myself to God; that I need to work my way into God’s heart.  Faith is hard—the “narrow way” is hard—because it makes us put down our baggage and say: “Ok, God, your mercy and love is enough.”

Faith is hard because it requires us to just trust God—without worrying about if there’s anything else I can do to secure his love and affection.  The “narrow way” of faith is the way of simple trust and adoration of God for who he is: a God of mercy and goodness.

And faith is the “key” Jesus speaks of today.  Simple faith opens the door to knowledge of God.  Ironically, though, we don’t turn that key—God does.  That’s faith, that’s the narrow way: to “let go and let God.”  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Homily for 14 Oct 2015

14 Oct 2015

It’s kind of a scary thought sometimes, I mean . . . that “the Lord gives back to everyone according to his works” [Ps 62:13b].  I don’t know that I want to be repaid for the some of the things I’ve done.  You know, I’m a sinner.  I make mistakes.  In some ways, it can feel like we’re set up to fail.

Really, how can any of us be truly happy?  If God pays us back for what we do, we’re always going to be in the hole—because none of us is perfect.  How can an imperfect creature ever reach perfection; the perfection of happiness, the perfection of peace?  But, Christ says we can do it—not by ourselves, of course . . . but with God we can.

This past Sunday he said that with God all things are possible.  And that’s the key.  Of all the things we do that God pays attention to—of all the things we do that God pays us back for—the thing that wins a gold star is when we love the fact that we depend on him.  God pays us back most powerfully for the trust we put in his merciful Heart.    

And there is no sin God cannot forgive.  The “work” we’re left to do is to believe that, and then to live a life of faith and hope that God really is who he says he is: a God of love and mercy.  With God by our side (or, rather, with us by God’s side), we don’t have to live in fear what God will do to us because of what we’ve done . . . because what we will have done is to love God.

We love God imperfectly, of course.  But the fact that we attempt to love God as best we can is the “work” God pays attention to.  God “gives back to everyone according to his works.”  So, may we do that most important work of letting go of fear and trusting in the goodness and mercy of God.

Homily for 13 Oct 2015

13 Oct 2015

We usually think of God as Lawgiver, as Trinity, as the Creator.  But God is also the Artist.  When we listen to a piece of music by Mozart, Mozart himself is reflected through the music.  When we see and touch a handcrafted chair or desk, something of the craftsmen is imprinted in that piece of art.  In many ways, art reveals the artist.

And St Paul [Rom 1:16-25] and the Psalm [19:2-5] today bring to our attention God as the Artist.  And what is God’s art, but the whole of creation.  Even if we’re not well-versed in Scripture, or we don’t have the best prayer life, we can still be awed by God the Artist by marveling at creation.  Of course, Autumn is a perfect time to just wander around and be dazzled by the art of the divine Artist. 

Art reveals the artist.  And so, creation reveals something of God’s imagination, his humor, his complexity, his simplicity.  As the Psalm says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; not a word is heard, but their message resounds to the ends of the world.”  Nature itself has a “gospel” to proclaim to us—as St Paul says.  And what is that gospel—what is that “good news”—but that God is not only the Creator, but God is the Artist of artists.

As we deepen our relationship with the Lord, let’s be sure to stop and see what creation is trying to tell us about God.  After all, something of the artist is imprinted in the art.  Something of God is revealed in creation.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Homily for 12 Oct 2015

12 Oct 2015

Children and older people tend to do it better: they take things on faith.  And children, especially, are better at just being awed by something; they don’t necessarily have to have something proven to them in order for them to believe it.  And that’s where Jesus seems to be calling us today—as a culture, and as a people of faith.

You know, science and debate are so much a part of our culture—and they have been for centuries—that it’s almost second nature for us to say: “Prove it.”  And, of course, a lot of the time, that’s good.  We hear about global warming, and we say: “Prove it.”  We hear presidential candidates say they’re going to be fiscally responsible, and we say: “Prove it.”

And then we hear Jesus say, “I am the Bread of life,” or something else and people say: “Prove it.”  And there . . . a line has been crossed.  Whenever our culture says: “Prove it,” we set ourselves up as the ones who determine what’s true and what isn’t.  Of course, with politics, finances, and science that works; but not with God.

While many other people tell Jesus to “prove it,” we don’t.  Instead, it’s our pleasure—as a people of faith—to just sit back and let God be the One who knows what’s true and what isn’t.  Whether it’s Scripture or the Eucharist or the way the Holy Spirit works in the Church, as children of God, we can simply marvel at all the Lord does.

If our society today had a motto, it would probably be: “Prove it.”  But the motto of the children of God is: “I believe.”  When it comes to our God, we believe; and we do it joyfully and with wonder.  And that is sufficient for us.    

Friday, October 9, 2015

Homily for 10 Oct 2015

10 Oct 2015

In some way, we’re all related to Jesus by blood; I mean, his Blood flows in our veins and in our spirit.  We become “blood relatives” to Jesus through the Eucharist.  And being a blood relative is similar, I suppose, to being like that mother [in the gospel] whose womb is blessed for having carried Jesus.  There’s a blood relationship between Jesus and his mother.

But Jesus says that’s not enough.  It isn’t enough to eat his Body and drink his Blood; it isn’t enough to simply be a “blood relative” of his by coming to Mass.  Instead, he says, it is an even more blessed thing to be transformed by the Mass, in spirit.  “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

Blessed are those who not only engage the Eucharist in a physical way, but who participate in Mass and are moved in a spiritual way.  We hear the Word of God in Scripture, and we eat the Incarnate Word of God from the Altar.  We become “blood relatives” of Jesus.  And, in doing so, we become like that mother who carries Jesus in her womb.  What’s left, but to give birth to Jesus in the world by the way we live our life.

Only by taking our blood relationship with Christ to the next level of spiritual companionship with him do we arrive at a place where we can see ourselves as truly “blessed.”  And we’re blessed in that we won’t live in fear of God; instead, we’ll spend our life adoring God and wanting to know him better.  We’re blessed in that we’ll come to see God as he is.

Going through the motions of our faith doesn’t give us that peace of mind and joy of heart.  It isn’t enough to be in a “blood relationship” with the Lord.  Instead, he says, it is an even more blessed thing to be transformed by the Mass, in spirit.  “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”    

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Homily for 9 Oct 2015

9 Oct 2015

When we’re trying to overcome sin, it isn’t enough to simply stop committing our sin.  It isn’t enough to have a house that is “swept clean and put in order.”  It isn’t enough to just get rid of bad influences . . . because what’s left is an empty house; a clean house, a clean soul, yes, but a vacant one—one that’s all set and ready for our sins to move back in again.

It isn’t enough to reject sin.  We also have to let the mercy of God in.  With God living in our soul, there won’t be any room for our past sins and “demons” to take up residence.  Of course, that’s for the day when we’re perfectly united to God with the angels and saints.

Until that day, however, we keep cleaning those sins out of our souls.  And each day, we invite the Lord into our hearts and minds just a little bit more.  Every day, just a little more: “Jesus, come be with me."

The more of Christ there is in us, the less room there is for sin.  The more of Christ there is in us, the less room there is for sin.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Homily for 8 Oct 2015

8 Oct 2015

It kind of goes without saying that being a Catholic Christian isn’t easy.  It never has been.  And the struggles we face as a Church today aren’t new.  But what got us through in the past, is what will get us through today; and that is Christ.

You know, we see the family under assault, we see Christians around the world under attack—even right here in the U.S. last week in Oregon.  There are divisions in the Church, and we see our youth lured to other faiths, or to no faith at all.  And, in comparison to the world, it can seem like we’re doing pretty poorly as a community of faith.

But just when we start thinking that maybe we should try something else to increase our numbers or whatever, Jesus steps in and says: “Please be faithful to me.”  You know, the world has a lot to offer, and a lot of wisdom we the Church can learn from.  But if we step away from Christ in order to try “another plan” in order to revitalize ourselves, we’ve stepped away from the one and only “thing” that can revitalize us and the world. 

When we’re tempted to think we need a new program, or a new campaign, or a new philosophy of life, or whatever, Jesus steps in and says: “Remember me.”

And that’s where it’s hard to be a Catholic Christian today.  It’s hard to remain true to the Lord as the Lord when the world tries to convince us there’s a better way, a more efficient way, a more productive way.

The Lord asks us to be persistent in our faith; to keep knocking at the door of heaven asking for help and guidance; to be always true to him.  And with that persistence, Christ—and Christ alone—will get us through to see the next generation of faithful Christians arise.  

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Homily for 4 Oct 2015

4 Oct 2015
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

“You can be anything you want to be; you have a lot of potential.”  And that’s something we can hear a lot when we’re younger—especially when we’re in high school and looking beyond toward college or perhaps entering the workforce.  But it’s also something God says to us every day of our lives, whether we’re younger or middle-aged or older: “You can be anything you want to be; you have a lot of potential.”  And the idea of “potential” is a major idea that runs through Scripture today. 

God sees humanity.  He says, “I love you; I embrace you ‘without shame’ as my ‘brothers and sisters.” But he also says, “Let me raise you up to be even more.”  And that’s basically what it means to be relationship with Jesus: He happily and warmly accepts us as we are, and at the same time, is pushing us to be more.  God is always trying to elevate us, to heighten our awareness of who we are, and what we’re made to be as his beloved sons and daughters.

And so, God really is the most perfect Friend we could have: He loves us unconditionally and whispers into our heart: “You have a lot of potential.  Don’t settle for less.”
When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, he replied simply: “In the beginning,” it was not so.  In the beginning (the way God created us) there was no divorce; there was only unity and love.  And, of course, that’s the ideal; that’s the potential every married couple has in mind on their wedding day.  They don’t get married with the intention of getting divorced; they get married so that can live out what was “in the beginning:” an image of love and lifelong companionship.

But, as we know, sometimes divorce happens—for good reasons, and not-so-good reasons.  You know, spousal abuse and infidelity are good reasons.  But getting divorced because somebody just “falls out of love” is not a good reason.  And it’s not good because Jesus is saying: “You have the potential to be more than you are . . . if only you’d live up to your vows.”  He’s saying: “Don’t give in to your own boredom with this relationship; don’t concede to the struggles your marriage presents.”  In the beginning, there was no divorce, only unity and love.  Again, that’s the ideal—the potential—we shoot for.

Of course, sometimes a marriage is so harmful, it’s so toxic and dehumanizing than a husband or wife can’t possibly live up to their potential as a child of God.  And we see in those cases there wasn’t any marriage to begin with.  And the Lord says, “Get on a better track in life—you weren’t made to be abused; you were made to love and to be loved.”
Or we look at abortion.  This is an area where human society has really slipped into the nether regions.  What could be a more perfect image of our human potential than a child developing and growing in the womb?  It’s a perfect image of the fact that God makes us to be something: to grow, to become, to live and love.  But abortion stops that potential dead in its tracks—not only for the child in the womb, but also for those who think that abortion is okay. 

If there’s one way for human society to kill its own God-given potential, it’s through abortion.  How are we possibly living up to our human potential if we think that destroying human life is okay?  Jesus sees the bloody holocaust of innocent children, and he looks up and says—with bloodshot eyes from weeping: “You are better than this.  I love you, my brothers and sisters, but I know you are better than . . . this.”
God is trying to elevate us.  He’s trying to help us “live up to our potential”—not only in a moral way, but even more fundamentally in a spiritual, emotional, and relational sort of way, too.  You know, every morning we wake up and we have the whole day ahead of us—a beautiful gift from God.  And the day is charged with potential.

And, as we know, children (especially) take that potential and they run with it.  When I was growing up, it’s like every day was a day of exploration, or new ideas, or playing around.  I remember, once, sitting on the curb and trying to get a magnifying glass to harness the sun’s rays and melt the tar on the road.  And that was neat—I was growing in my potential as a thinker.

Or I remember spending years and years practicing the piano or the trumpet or the organ because God gave me that potential to be a musician.  And I remember being in high school and college and thinking, “What am I supposed to be?  What can I be?  What do I want to be?”  And I enjoyed studying Anthropology and practicing my hand at being a creative writer.  When I studied music in college, it was great to be around other musicians; and when I was in seminary studying for priesthood, it was great to be around other people who were serious about their faith, and serious about their relationship with the Lord.

Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, Jesus is calling us to “live up to our potential.”  He put the little child in front of his disciples and said, “Here, be like this one.  Be like this child who has not conceded to the notion that life is dull and limited.  Be like this child who has not given in to the idea that faith and God are irrelevant and pointless.  Be like this child who’s going through life with eyes wide-open, and is having the time of their life becoming who and what God has made them to be.

And it doesn’t matter how young or old we are, God is always pushing us to live up to our potential.  Even on our death-bed, there’s still potential within us—the potential to pass into the arms of God definitely and eternally.

Jesus is always trying to elevate us, to open up the gift of life and love for us.  He says: “You can be anything you want to be; you have a lot of potential.”  All that’s left is to trust that he’s right: that we have a lot of potential . . . and to see where that God-given potential takes us.