Saturday, November 28, 2015

Homily for 29 Nov 2015 Advent 1

29 Nov 2015
1st Sunday of Advent, Year C

We don’t usually think of our faith as an adventure, but that’s what it is.  It’s an adventure

A couple years ago, when The Hobbit came out in theaters, there was a scene where Bilbo Baggins is sitting in his hobbit-hole, all alone.  An hour or so earlier, he’d been invited to go with the dwarves and the wizard to the Misty Mountains, a far-away place.  But he didn’t want to go.  He declined the offer, and so, there he sat, alone.  He was comfortable and was very much asleep, at least in his heart.

But before too long, he began to wake up and see that a chance at something more was quickly escaping him.  And so, he packed up some of his things, and ran out of the door of his hobbit-hole.  When the neighbors saw him, they yelled: “Bilbo Baggins, where are you going!?”  He said, “I’m late!”  “Late for what?” they asked.  And he said, “I’m going on an adventure!”

He woke up to the invitation to go in search of more life.  And that’s what this season of Advent is meant to do for us.  We hear the call from Jesus—again—today: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life . . . [instead,] be vigilant at all times.”  In other words: “Wake up!  I’m inviting you into an adventure!”

Jesus is inviting us to engage something important that’s coming.  That’s what the word “Advent” means.  From the Latin adventus: it’s an arrival, it’s something coming to us.  And an “adventure” (an “advent”-ure) is the thing that’s come which we’re invited to engage; the thing we’re invited to lose ourselves in. 

For Bilbo Baggins, the dwarves and the wizard invited him to go the Misty Mountains.  That was the adventure they offered him.  And, eventually, he took them up on that offer.  Of course, Jesus gives us the gift of our faith; he lays it at our doorstep.  The invitation to a life faith has come to usThat’s the adventure God offers us.  Advent is a time to remember the invitation to faith; to wake up to it again, and to say (at least, to ourselves): “I’m going on an adventure.  I’m going to get out of my comfortable hobbit-hole and go on the adventure of faith.”
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And our waking up to the adventure begins, perhaps, with something like the Psalm today:  “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths; . . . Good and upright is the Lord;
thus he shows sinners the way. . . . All the paths of the Lord are kindness and constancy toward those who keep his covenant and his decrees.”  There’s a lot of talk of paths, of walkways.  Somehow, the life of faith in God is marked by paths, by walkways

Of course, there’re not always well-marked out; that’s part of the adventure.  Something I’ve noticed as I’ve become an adult is that I tend to stick more to walking on the sidewalks.  I don’t know when that change happened, but at some point I went from making trails through the yard as a child, to sticking to the sidewalk as an adult.  Of course, the paths from point-A to point-B are numerous.  The sidewalk is a clear and legitimate path.  But so is going off the obvious path and onto the less obvious path that follows the contour of the land.

Our adventure of faith begins with waking up to the reality that God lays paths before us.  And paths are meant to take us somewhere.  Sometimes the walkways God gives us are clear—we can think of the Ten Commandments or even the Beatitudes.  Sometimes they’re clear, but not entirely—we might think of the Two Great Commandments to love God and love neighbor; they’re specific, but very broad as well.  And then there are those paths which God puts into our minds and hearts.  Maybe he gives us an idea.  Maybe he knocks of the door of our conscience and says: “Wake up!  I’m trying to show you something better.” 

Our adventure of faith begins, perhaps, with waking up to the idea that God lays paths before us.  And there’s a path—an invitation—that goes right up to the door of each of our hearts.  We just need to wake up from our spiritual drowsiness, and open the door enough to ask: “Lord, where does this path—where does this adventure—of faith lead?  Show me the way.  I want to see where it goes.” 
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Of course, it will lead to coming of Christ into our lives—that’s where Christmas comes in.  But did you ever think Christmas would sound like the gospel today?  “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  Now, that’s a different way to look at Christmas!

In a way, though, it’s part of the adventure of faith which Jeremiah prophecies about.  He says, “I [the Lord] will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.”  There’s a promise to get rid of everything that divides the people, and to make the faithful people one again in mind and heart.  But that “getting rid of what divides people” is the source of all that “dismay” and “fright” Jesus talks about in the gospel. 

For people who refuse to wake up to the invitation—to the adventure—of faith, the end of the world would certainly be frightening.  Death is frightening.  Being unsure about life is frightening.  But to people who have woken up to the adventure of faith, there’s nothing to be afraid of, since “the end” is simply the coming of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love.  It’s the coming of our fulfillment as human beings.  It’s the Advent of everything good our faith promises and which we deeply desire. 

With Advent we look forward to Christmas Day, of course.  We look forward to that morning of families and friends gathered into one, with gifts given in love and a banquet with more than enough for everybody.  But with Advent, we also look forward to the culmination of our life of faith at the end of time, when the new Christmas Day will dawn; when the angels will announce (again) glad tidings to people of good will—people who are awake in their faith; people who’ve been living the adventure of faith already here on earth.

On that day, what a gathering there will be!  Families and friends gathered into one in the Spirit of perfect Love, with gifts from God given to all in peace, and a banquet with more than enough for everybody.  That’s the Day the adventure of faith leads us to.  Of course, it’s an adventure we begin to live here, now, today—every time we wake up to the invitation of Christ to live a life of faith.
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Our faith is an adventure.  It’s something important that’s arrived on the doorstep of our hearts.  But will we wake up to open the door?  Will we be like Bilbo Baggins and say (at least, to ourselves): “I’m going on an adventure.” 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Homily for 27 Nov 2015

27 Nov 2015

When a person is in the last stages of dying, it’s sometimes said that they speak and act as if they’re looking at something “beyond.”  The dying person is clearly engaged with something the rest of the people in the room cannot see.  And it’s always reported as an immensely peaceful thing to witness.  There is no fear; just peace—a peaceful anticipation.

All this week we’ve heard from the Prophet Daniel.  We’ve heard Jesus speak about remaining faithful at all times.  And the two of them—along with the rest of Scripture—are absolutely intent on helping us to see “beyond.”  None of us was created by God to have our life end here on earth.  Earth can be (and is) and extraordinary place; it’s a fantastic thing to be alive and enjoy the blessings of earth.  But God has even more in store for us—that’s the “beyond” that the Prophets and the Son of God want us to anticipate.

We don’t have to wait until the final stages of our life on earth to begin to look into that “beyond.”  Scripture reminds us so clearly that all of creation is meant to reveal the mind of God to us in some way.  The detail and depth of every seashell; every tree leaf that has grown green, blossomed into Autumn colors, and floated back to earth; every melody that’s ever sung by a bird happens first in the mind of God.  If this is what we see, just imagine the depth and breadth and variety of life there is in the mind and heart of our God waiting in store for the faithful.  Creation is a hint into the “beyond.”
     
And, of course, Jesus himself gives us little glimpses, little hints of the “beyond” as well.  All his parables paint images in our minds about the Kingdom, about our human destiny.  Of course, he himself—the visible image of the invisible God—is our best hint at the “beyond” we’re anticipating.  Jesus: the one makes us whole again, who makes us deeply content, who gives himself to us without any strings attached, who is the Prince of Peace, the Source of all that is good and true and beautiful. 

As we close out this liturgical year and enter into the purplish dark of Advent, we’re reminded that each of us is moving toward the “beyond.”  Not a “beyond” that takes away the beauty of this life, but a “beyond” which is only hinted at through the beauty of this life. 
And so, we’re not that different from people in the final stages of dying.

As a people of faith, we have one foot in this world, and one foot in the next.  Living here, we look into the “beyond” . . . with anticipation, and with immense peace.    

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Homily for 26 Nov 2015 Thanksgiving Day

26 Nov 2015
Thanksgiving Day (Daily Mass Readings)

You know, the “gospel” means “good news.”  And, yet, it might be a little hard to see the “good news” in today’s reading from Luke.  Jesus talks about “desolation” and “fleeing to the mountains.”  There’s a “time of punishment” and “terrible calamity” that will come upon the earth.  “People will die of fright;” there will be “woe” and “wrathful judgment” at the Second Coming of Christ.

But the “good news” comes through in the end.  Jesus says: “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”  “Stand up,” he says; not in fear, but with faith and courage.  The fulfillment of our human desires, the fulfillment of our faith in God, the fulfillment of our desires for peace and happiness will happen. 

Sometimes the images from Scripture put us in the lions’ den—into a place to be feared.  But Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.  Why be afraid?  Just have faith in me.”  Look at Daniel.  We don’t hear a word from him in Scripture while he’s in the lions’ den.  And yet, we know he’s going to be just fine.  Of course, we know the end of that story—but even if we didn’t know the end of the story, we’d still know in our hearts that Daniel would not be touched by the danger.  And that’s because he’s a man of deep faith; faith is like a shield and a weapon for him. 

It’s ironic, though, that King Darius—who’s not locked in with a bunch of lions, who is the king and has a lot of power—is just terrified of what could happen to Daniel.  King Darius didn’t have any faith at all in God, and so fear just consumed him.  When Jesus starts talking about judgment and punishment and fear, he’s just talking about what naturally happens to the unfaithful.  They don’t have a shield or a weapon against fear.

But that’s not us, is it?  No, we’re the faithful.  And so, when life seems to be falling apart around us—whether that’s terrorism or political corruption or the cultural diseases that infect society today, or shaky finances or relationships, or whatever—when all that’s happening, Jesus asks: “Why be afraid?  Don’t be afraid, my faithful people.”  The “good news” Jesus gives us is that faith is more powerful than fear.  Thanks be to God for the gift of faith.

Of course, none of us has perfect faith.  None of us is like the Prophet Daniel.  But, thankfully, none of us like King Darius who had no faith at all.  And so, as much as we thank God for the gift of faith—the gift that keeps us grounded in what’s truly good and true—we also thank God for his gift of mercy.  To the faithful, God is very merciful.  If we ever forget that, we need only remember all the Saints in heaven who were once sinners just like us.  And we can remember all our loved ones and friends who have gone before us—in faith—and have died into the arms of God.  They were sinners, too, just like us.

On this Day of Thanksgiving—in spite of the things that aren’t quite right in the world—we come here in faith to give thanks to God for the gift of our faith—the gift that makes us rise above the storms of life; the gift that is a shield and a weapon against fear; the gift that keeps us in the Sacred Heart of God today and always.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Homily for 25 Nov 2015

25 Nov 2015

As we move closer and closer to Advent, the gospel message becomes louder and clearer: “Remain faithful.  Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  As we approach Advent, we approach the reminder that we—today—are still waiting for the Second Coming of Christ.  And, in the face of that waiting, Christ says: Remain faithful.  Remain faithful.

Of course, we’re not waiting for Christ under a perfect starry night sky, or surrounded by perfect harmony in the world.  Instead, we’re asked to wait and be faithful in the midst of a broken world.  And that’s harder; to remain faithful—to be a person of enduring hope—when the brokenness of the world works against that call to hope.

But the gospel message this time of year comes from One who knows full well what he’s asking of us.  Jesus asks his disciples to follow the road he himself has walked.  He remained faithful when his friends had deserted him.  He remained faithful when he was mocked and laughed at.  He remained faithful on the Cross, even though his heart cried out: “My God, why have you abandoned me?”  And we see the “crown of life” he won for himself.    

Of course, we have some other brilliant examples to follow.  The Prophet Daniel is particularly stellar.  Hauled off to Babylon, he refused the gifts and favors of his captors, and remained faithful to God.  And, for that, he actually won praise from his enemies.  And, even though they praised his knowledge and wisdom and ability to interpret dreams, what they were really praising was his fidelity to God—the God who gave him knowledge, wisdom and discernment.  Daniel never had to think about what to say in response to his enemies; the living faith in his heart spoke for him.

And that’s what the gospel asks of us: to live a life of faith, a life of hope.  Not a life where we try to have all the answers, or try to outsmart the people who try to run us down . . . but a life of simple faith in God.  In the end, that’s all that matters.  When Christ comes to meet us, whether it’s in death, or in times of conversion, or at the Second Coming, our enduring faith in him is what will matter.

The gospel message for us today (and always) is: “Remain faithful.  To the faithful belongs the crown of real and lasting life.”  

Homily for 24 Nov 2015

24 Nov 2015

We wouldn’t think of making a statue of iron and tile—the two just don’t go together.  They’re of two different substances, kind of like oil and water.  And yet, here in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is just that: a statue made of materials that don’t go together.  Of course, that statue can be a metaphor for what our lives are like sometimes.

We’re Catholics, a people of faith—we have in us the “gold” of Christ’s perfect love for us, the “silver” of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the “bronze” of God’s commandments.  And we, as a Church, also have the “iron” of Scripture and our Catholic Tradition in us, too.  Our lives are built up kind of like a statue made of different metals—and they’re all sturdy.

But then—you know—we have pieces of tile in us, too; just like that statue in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  And those pieces of tile might be a metaphor for sin, or bad habits, or beliefs that are contrary to what God reveals to us, or whatever.  Mixed into our faith lives are things that just don’t go with our faith.  And that weakens us—as individuals and as a community.

Perhaps the Prophet Daniel would say to us: Check to see what your lives are built of.  If there’s anything in there contrary to the faith, get rid of it—because it makes us weak instead of strong.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Homily for 23 Nov 2015

23 Nov 2015

It’s easy to be faithful when things are going well.   Whether it’s in marriage, or friendship, or in the parish or in our fidelity to God.  It’s always easier to be faithful when life is going well.  Of course, it’s when things are not going well that our faithfulness is really tested.

That was the case with the Prophet Daniel.  Jerusalem had been destroyed.  Some of the people scattered north and south, and many were hauled off to Babylon in exile.  Thing were not going well for the Israelites.  But Daniel remained faithful to God, regardless.  He never lost hope in God.

The same can be said for the poor widow who put her last two coins in the treasury.  Her husband had died, she was poor, with no one to care for her.  And yet, with all faith and hope, she put wagered all she had on God’s fidelity.  And both she and Daniel were well taken care of by God.  Daniel found compassion among his captors; and the widow was praised by Jesus himself.  Even though life was hard, it didn’t mean that God had abandoned them.  It just meant that they had to keep their eyes open—in faith—to see that God was still with them.

And that’s hard to do, for sure.  It’s hard to remind ourselves that God has not abandoned us when life is going badly.  But that’s what a people of faith do—whether the sun is shining or not; we have faith.  And we have it, and we put it into practice, because it helps us to see that God is still with us.

In every bad situation in life, there is still some good present—if we have the faith to see it.  Regardless of what life brings, it’s always good to remain faithful to God.  You never know what blessings he’ll be trying to offer us . . . through our faith.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Homily for 22 Nov 2015 Christ the King

22 Nov 2015
Solemnity of Christ the King

A pretty common question people have is: “How does Christ relate to my life?”  And it’s the task of preachers and teachers of the faith to help answer that question.  Of course, it’s a legitimate question.  I mean, the Lord came down from heaven certainly to impact our lives.  And so, somehow or another, Christ is meant to be relevant to our lives; God is supposed to be impactful to us.

And so, on this Solemnity of Christ the King, some people might feel like saying: “I don’t need a King; I need someone to heal me and to be a friend to me.” Or they might want to say, “We don’t need a lofty, majestic otherworldy King; we need somebody who’s going to take care of all the terrorists in the world, and get rid of them.”  Or maybe they’d want to say, “We’re not interested in praising an unseen King; instead, we should be taking care of people around us who are in need.”

A lot of people ask the question: “How does Christ relate to my life?”  And the answer for many is, “Well . . . he doesn’t,” or “He could be more relevant than he is.”  But our expectations of Christ aren’t incorrect: we want him to be close, to heal us, to make our relationships better; we want him to triumph over evil in the world; we want him to be with us in our work with the poor and needy. 

Those are all good expectations—and, of course, they all come from the promises of Christ himself, who said he would be “with us until the end of the age.”  He’s with us in daily life.  But, at the same time, Christ also came to raise us up.  And it’s when he tries to do just that, that he seems to become “irrelevant” to everyday life.    

I notice that when I preach (wherever I’m preaching), that the congregation is more or less interested—depending on what I’m talking about.  If the homily is about the nitty-gritty of life—say, abortion or marriage or politics—the people are more interested and attentive.  But if I’m talking about some ideal or some vision God offers us, the people are . . . well, less engaged; they’re a little more restless—they want something they can bite into.  And that right there—in that restlessness—is our human desire for Christ to be relevant to our everyday lives.

But, as I said, Christ came down from heaven to be with us . . . and to raise us up.  Christ became relevant to us (by becoming one of us) so that we would love him and follow him into what is seemingly irrelevant; namely, the Kingdom.  Christ the King is trying to care for us his subjects.  He’s trying to enhance our expectations of him—and our expectations of what life is all about—so that we can live, and have life in abundance in this thing called “the Kingdom.” 

That’s what Christ’s struggle has been since day one of his public ministry—to raise our eyes to have a bigger vision. 

Now, as we know, he was arrested and hauled in front of Pontius Pilate.  And that happened because—among other things—the Jews didn’t have any use for him.  They didn’t have any use for his vision of the Kingdom.  Here he’d been busy talking about loving one another, and doing his healings . . . and it was of no use whatsoever to the needs of the day.  The Jews needed a political leader, a messiah who was going to overrun their enemies.  Instead, they got Jesus.  He was irrelevant to their needs . . . or so they thought.  But he kept popping up . . . so they had to get rid of him.

But before Christ was crucified, he was mocked and laughed at.  The best way to make sure the people take Jesus seriously was for the Jews to make a joke out of him.  It was an effective way to make him irrelevant in the eyes of others.  “Jesus the King of the Jews?  No, he’s not a king, what a joke!  Look at him hanging there on the Cross; he can’t even save himself, let alone anybody else.  He’s nobody.  Don’t waste your time!”

Of course, we still see this today.  Whether it’s God, or Christ, or the Church, pop culture loves to poke fun at them all.  You know, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen images of Pope Benedict doctored up so he looks like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.  And it’s almost endless the numbers of times Jesus is portrayed as a clown or a fool.  Pop culture doesn’t have much use for Christ or the Catholic faith.  He’s quite irrelevant to a lot of people.

And so, what else would we expect but for the mockery and laughter to continue.  The real harm comes, though, when we ourselves start to wonder: “Exactly how is Jesus relevant to my life?”  The only way to see the relevance of Christ today is to listen to him with fresh ears, with a new spirit of faith, and with great imagination.  These are all things the Jews lacked; they’re all things our modern society sees as silly and stupid.

But Christ hasn’t left us; he still tries to raise us up to see the very broad, expansive vision of “the Kingdom.”  Even in the face of mockery, Jesus is the “faithful witness” to what is really good, true and beautiful.  And so, we’re left with a choice: to let Jesus lead us into what is apparently irrelevant, namely, the Kingdom; or to settle for what we know is relevant to us, namely, everyday life. 

Christ is with us in everyday life, for sure.  But he’s trying so hard to help us open our minds, our imaginations, our eyes to engage “the Kingdom.”  It’s a cosmic Kingdom; something that includes all of time and space.  It’s a Kingdom where at its center is “the Ancient One,” the Trinity of perfect and divine Love who has no beginning or end, and yet, whose Only Son is the beginning and end—the “Alpha and the Omega”—of our life.

There, in the Kingdom, is the King, not robed in ordinary clothes, but robed in splendor, robed with strength, robed with majesty.  And there are the countless numbers of angels, archangels, the angels we know as “Thrones and Dominions,” cherubim and seraphim, and all the Saints who gather around the Ancient One to offer perfect praise, perfect harmony of voices, perfect love to the One Who is Love Itself.

It’s a pretty amazing vision that Christ is trying to lift us up into.  It’s certainly one that takes some imagination and wonder to see.  But that’s where Jesus our King is trying to lead us—into what is the most relevant vision we can have—the vision of our fulfillment as human beings, a vision of the Kingdom.

The question still remains, though: “How does Christ relate to my life?”  And the answer is: “It depends on what you want.”  If you want a military leader, a political leader, a force that’s going to wipe out evil in one felled swoop, well . . . Jesus isn’t going to be very relevant.  But if you want peace and happiness, a sense of belonging with others, purpose in life, and hope that life is always going to be better in the end—and ultimately complete in “the Kingdom,” well, then Jesus is very relevant.

It depends on what you want.  If we want what he offers (and offers us the Kingdom), then Jesus is relevant to us as the King, as the one who can lift us up into the Kingdom now and forever.  But if we don’t want it—if talk of the Kingdom is irrelevant—then we don’t really need Jesus, certainly not Jesus the King.

“How does Christ relate to my life?”  It depends . . . what are you looking for . . . what do you want?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Homily for 21 Nov 2015

21 Nov 2015

Throughout this month, we’ve tried to keep the Communion of Saints in mind.  We’ve tried to remember the souls of all the faithful departed.  Maybe we’ve made more visits to the cemetery than usual.  And those aren’t just some curious things we Catholics do every November.  Really, we do these things as a reminder of the hope we have in the Resurrection. 

And it’s the same time of reminder Jesus gives us today.  He refers to “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” and how God “is not God of the dead, but of the living.”  That’s how Jesus talks about Resurrection and eternal life—by referring to the ancestors.  When the Gospel of Luke was written, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were long dead.  Just like these saints whose images hang in church—each of them has been long dead.

St Margaret Mary died in 1690; St Kateri Tekakwitha in 1680.  St Francis of Assisi died in 1226; St Nicholas in 343.  They’re all long dead.  And I think of my own ancestors: Gottfried Weidemann died in 1903; Michael Foth in 1831.  Matthias Engels died in 1686; John DeBolron in 1558.  They’re all long dead, too.  But we bring them all to mind—just like Jesus does—because in the Communion of the Saints and all the faithful departed, we see ahead to our future.

As God lives forever, so does everybody who can say from their heart: “God is my God, and I belong to him.”  Abraham said it.  Isaac said it.  Jacob said it.  St Margaret Mary said it.  So, too, did St Francis and St Nicholas and all the Saints.  Each of them could say: “God is my God, and I belong to him.”  And the faithful departed could say it, too—after all, they are the faithful departed.  They, too, could say: “God is my God, and I belong to him.”

And anyone who can say that truthfully has already become the possession of God; they’ve already begun to be drawn into God, who is eternal life.  We remember those who are long dead because we hope to be where they are: living a life that is beyond our imaginings, but which is far more good, true, and beautiful than our present life.

The Communion of the Saints is our one proof (if there is one) of the Resurrection from the dead, and life eternal.  And so, let’s remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; all the Saints and the faithful departed.  As God lives forever, so do they who were true to him in this life.  May the “God of our ancestors” be our God as well—really and truly.  And, someday, our descendants will remember us (after we’re long-dead) and hope to be where we are—living on in God, living life to the fullest, forever.    

Homily for 20 Nov 2015

20 Nov 2015

It’s never a pretty picture when you try to change the status quo.  Of course, Jesus knows that firsthand.  Who would’ve thought you could stir up so much trouble by trying to do the right thing . . . by trying to “cleanse the Temple” of everything that didn’t belong there?  But, Jesus wasn’t that na├»ve; he knew what he was coming up against. 

He told the moneychangers and the vendors to get out of the Temple not only because it was right and just . . . but because it was his Temple.  If there’s anybody who had the right to say how things should be in the Temple, it was Jesus.  It was his Temple. 

And if there’s anybody who has the right to challenge the status quo, it’s Jesus—“through whom, with whom, and for whom” all things are created.  And that includes usWe are his living Temples; we are his wonderful creations.  If there’s anybody who has the right to challenge the status quo in our lives, it’s Jesus.  And that’s because we are his.

Or do we sometimes forget that we are baptized by him, into his life?  That we’re anointed with Holy Oils and filled with his Holy Spirit?  That all wisdom and knowledge, and love and mercy come from him?  We forget.  The status quo gets in the way—our human conventions and habits of thought get in the way—and we forget.  We forget who we are and what we’re about. 

And so, Jesus enters into the Temple which is us; us as individuals, as a society, as a parish.  He enters in and tries to get rid of everything that shouldn’t be there.  And, you know, sometimes that doesn’t make for a pretty picture.  Who would’ve thought you could stir up so much trouble by asking people to love God and to love their neighbor?  Who would’ve thought?  But then again, the status quo is hard nut to crack.    

Of course, not everybody in the Temple is hard-of-heart.  Not everybody worships human conventions more than God.  There were, and are, lots of people who just “eat up” everything Jesus has to offer.  For them, the only status quo is to keep God as the foundation and center of life.  May we be some of those people.

May we “eat up” everything he has to show us, like a child going through life with eyes wide open.  Then we won’t fall into the hard and stiff hands of the status quo.  Instead, we’ll be cleansed and restored to something beautiful, by God himself, who lives within us.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Homily for 19 Nov 2015

19 Nov 2015

It was a beautiful place.  A city, where children played in the streets, were music and art were revered crafts, and there weren’t any locks on the doors—anywhere.  Everywhere you could hear people encouraging one another; the young learned from the old; and the old cherished the young.  If someone trespassed against a neighbor, the mistake was admitted and forgiveness was given without a second thought.

It was a beautiful; a huge city, with a wall around it.  But you didn’t even see the wall unless you were living on the edges of the city.  It was a secure place, a place where you knew who you were and what you believed.  And at the center of the city was the Light of the World, the Tree of Life—and all life was grounded in that.

But then one day, the wall was breached.  And through the breach came Death—Death disguised as wisdom, as personal security, as beauty, as light.  And the minds and hearts of many were covered over by a heavy pall of pride and arrogance, ignorance and sloth.  The Light at the center of the city became dull to them, and they chopped down the Tree of Life—and erected a monument to themselves.

Locks began to appear on the doors; not only to keep neighbors out and possessions safe, but to keep the doors of people’s hearts from being opened too readily.  Forgiveness became scarce.  The young rejected the ways of their elders; and the elders looked down on the young.  There was no longer any music; just the screeches of voices in endless argument.  There was no longer any art, for the heart of humanity didn’t care anymore about the good, the true, and the beautiful.

The walls of the city were overrun by Death, and the people allowed Death into their homes, into their families, into their hearts.  And Jesus saw all this happening, and wept.  He wept for his beloved Jerusalem; he wept for his brothers and sisters.  And he still weeps . . . for us.

Advent is fast approaching, and with it, the stark reminder that the city walls are still overrun.  We’re still fighting and waiting for the beautiful city to be restored.  We’re still waiting for the Tree of Life to take new root in our hearts and in the hearts of our friends and families.  We’re still waiting for the Light of the World to be the One and Only Light of the World.  Death still has a hold in God’s beautiful city, in people’s hearts.  And Jesus weeps.  And we with him.

But there, in the midst of Death and confusion, is the beauty of tears, the beauty of a tender heart; a heart that is not clouded over by Death and Fear, but which still has faith, hope, and love in it.  It’s the Heart of Jesus, and it’s the heart of all his faithful people.  From the beauty of his tears and ours, the New Jerusalem will be born.  We weep for what has been, what is, and especially, what can be—when we hold fast to our God and see him as the Light of our world.   

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Homily for 18 Nov 2015

18 Nov 2015

Did Jesus really say that?  Did he really say: Bring “those enemies of mine who didn’t want me as their king, . . . and slay them before me.”  It’s hard to picture Jesus saying that.  And yet, there it is in the Gospel—and in the Gospel of Luke, no less; the gospel we usually associate with God’s kindness and compassion and mercy. 

Maybe it’s a stretch to say it, but Jesus sounds like a terrorist here: “Do what I say and accept me as ruler of your life, or I’m going to hurt you.”  I mean, that’s what a terrorist would say.  And so, it’s a hard parable to hear this morning, for sure.  Of course, Jesus isn’t a terrorist.  But his message does strike fear in people who don’t understand him; who think he’s just like any other heartless person in the world.

But to us who know Jesus, what he says makes sense.  God is love.  God is mercy.  God is life.  God does keep the universe working in harmony within itself.  God is endlessly giving.  And so, it makes sense . . . if people reject the Lord of Life as their Lord of life, what would they be left with but death and fear, terror and darkness.

If you turn out the light, you’re going to be in the dark.  If you don’t accept love and mercy as your mode of living, you’re going to live in fear and terror.  Jesus cancels out death and fear.  But if you cancel out Jesus, well, you better expect to feel death and fear in your heart.  So, in a real way, what Jesus says is true: His enemies “who don’t want him as their king will be slain.”  And they’ll be cut down by their own hand . . . because they chose death as leader, and not Life.

It’s not what Jesus wants.  It’s just simple cause-and-effect.  Jesus wants everybody to live under his kingship—under the influence of love and mercy, truth and goodness, justice and beauty.  But his brand of Love is so perfect, he won’t force anybody to accept him.  He won’t force anyone to love him . . . because that would be unloving.  Ironically, the most loving thing he does is when he lets people fall—by their own will.

The choice to listen to Christ, the choice to let Love itself influence us and guide us, is our choice.  The real terrorists today have made their choice.  Murderers and thieves have made their choice.  Cold, unfeeling, and harsh people in our world have made their choice.  They’ve decided against Jesus, and have chosen the way of death, the way of fear and hatred.
     
But we’re here in this place because we’ve chosen to be one of those faithful servants of Jesus; one of the servants of Love and Life.  We want to live; we don’t want to live in fear and death . . . and so, we’ve chosen Jesus as our king, as the ruler of our life.  And that’s because Jesus is love; he is mercy and harmony, truth, goodness, beauty, and so on.

He’s everything humanity wants.  And we say “yes” to him again and again, every day, “yes” to Jesus as the ruler of our life.  He’s everything we want.  How lucky for us.  Even if others disagree—how lucky for us to have as our Lord, the Lord of all that is . . . good.                  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Homily for 17 Nov 2015

17 Nov 2015
Memorial of St Elizabeth of Hungary

With Autumn the winds get stronger; they sting a little more as they turn colder.  And we might have to turn our heads down and fight against those winds in order to make our way.  When the winds turn against us, we get our heavier coats out, and our gloves and hats.  We want to keep the warmth in, and the cold out.

And this happens, too, when the winds of the human family turn.  Maybe someone says a strong comment against our God; and somebody else stings us with an overly harsh criticism.  And we might have to turn our heads down to fight against those voices in order to make our way in the world.  When people around us turn cold-of-heart, we clothe ourselves even more with our faith—we want to keep God close, and hatred out.

When Eleazar’s companions criticized him, he clung even more strongly to God.  When Zacchaeus heard the murmurings of others against him, he ignored them and turned to face Jesus, who desired to share a meal with him.  Today, we remember St Elizabeth of Hungary who, in spite of what others wanted her to do, remained true to the spirit of charity, almsgiving and prayer; she remained faithful to God above all else.

Our ancestors in the faith show us what it’s like to face the sting of personal criticism, the coldness of unjust and unloving rejection of their life and faith.  In spite of the turn-of-the-winds against them, they stayed true to God . . . and were deeply joyful in that.  They kept God close to their hearts and minds.  And when all was said and done, God drew them close to him.

When life around us turns harsh, we need only remember to keep God close.  When life gets colder, fidelity to God will keep us warm and secure.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Homily for 13 Nov 2015

13 Nov 2015

It’s so easy to be distracted from God.  It even happens in places where you’d expect everybody to be totally attuned to God; you know, in a monastery, or a seminary, or in the parish.  And I think of people who confess that their mind wanders during Mass.  Even when we’re trying to do the work of God, we can be distracted from God himself by other things, by day-to-day life. 

But to that Jesus seems to say: Keep trying; don’t give up on looking for God; don’t give up on trying to see God as the eternal sun that shines on our souls.  He says: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.”  Whoever settles down into the day-to-day routine of living life, oblivious to God, will eventually lose that life . . . of course; if all someone has is day-to-day life, death will eventually cut that off.

But, Jesus says, whoever lives their life with the desire to see God will finally come to see what they desire; death won’t be an end, but a springboard into something greater.  God doesn’t ask us to stop living life here on earth; he asks us to live life with him.  He says: Don’t be so distracted that you forget about me.  Don’t forget about me—the One who gives you life and happiness, consolation and peace.  Remember me, God says.

And we can do that in a lot of ways.  The Book of Wisdom reminds us today that all of creation reveals God to us.  If it’s a sunny day, it’s a chance to enjoy the sun and to say to God from your heart, “What a beautiful day, Lord.”  Or if it’s a cloudy and rainy day in Fall, you might be moved in your soul to say: “Thanks God for the change of seasons” . . . or something else.

Or maybe you’ll taste some delicious food.  Well, remember to thank the cook and to thank God who makes such savory and sweet things.  Who knows what we’ll encounter in the day-to-day activities of our lives.  But all of it is a chance to let your mind and your heart be drawn to God.  And that’s all God asks: to live life here on earth with him in it.

And then, someday when we die, we can keep on living life . . . with him who is Life itself.      

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Homily for 12 Nov 2015

12 Nov 2015
Memorial of St Josaphat

The Kingdom isn’t anything we can “observe,” as Jesus tells the Pharisees.  It’s not anything we can put under a microscope; it’s not something we can see more clearly if we just look more carefully.  Instead, the Kingdom—or, at least, the start of the Kingdom—is when brothers and sisters in Christ live in harmony and unity. 

And that idea of “unity” is pretty important if the idea of the “Kingdom” is going to mean to anything to us.  After all, we don’t see the Kingdom so much as we experience it . . . if we’re open to experiencing real love and unity (which, of course, the Pharisees weren’t interested in).  And the Kingdom is already “among us:” in whatever unity and love and mercy we experience and give to each other.

But the Kingdom Jesus talks about (and the Kingdom we hope for) is more than an earthly kingdom.  We certainly hope that the Kingdom of God is bigger and brighter, more beautiful and more fulfilling than life is here on earth—even though life on earth is good.  We hope the Kingdom is more.  And it is. 

We hear God’s Wisdom described as a spirit “pervading all spirits,” “mobile beyond all motion.”  She “penetrates and pervades all things,” “and governs all things well.”  The Spirit of God is the “glue” that holds every good thing together: earth, heaven, the visible and the invisible.  And that unified whole is the “more” that we hope to be a part of when the Kingdom is finally revealed in all its fullness.  We don’t want division; we want peace and harmony, and for everything to be good and true and beautiful. 

Is it any wonder that we pray: “Come, Holy Spirit.  Fill our hearts with your love.”  I mean, we’re praying that the spiritual essence of the Kingdom will come and make us part of this perfect unity and oneness we call “the Kingdom!”  A unity that stretches from the depths of the earth to the highest heavens, from one end of the cosmos to the other!  Come, Holy Spirit!  But, of course, that’s the full Kingdom.  And we still wait with hope for that to come.

The Kingdom won’t pass us by . . . unless we don’t want to see it and experience it, like the Pharisees.  The Kingdom won’t pass us by.  Don’t worry about that.  Just be open to the idea of real “unity;” look for it, nurture it, let God give it to us.  And then someday, when we die (and we won’t miss that when it happens), we’ll come to see the fuller unity of “the Kingdom;” a life of unity with God and others we began to live here on earth.  

Homily for 11 Nov 2015

11 Nov 2015
Memorial of St Martin of Tours (Mt 25:31-40)

Whenever we look in a mirror, we see ourselves, of course.  But is that all we see?  Isn’t there somebody else in the mirror, too?  What about . . . our parents?  You know, sometimes people say, “You have your mother’s eyes;” or “You have father’s nose.”  We look in the mirror and we ourselves; but we also see some of our parents, too.

And do you know who else we see there in the mirror? . . . we see Jesus.  When we look at a mirror at smile, Jesus is smiling at us.  Or when we cry, Jesus is crying with us.  Or if we look in the mirror and just make funny faces, Jesus is making funny faces at us.  And that’s because Jesus is love, Jesus is the poor, Jesus is the spirit of joy.  When we look in a mirror, we see Jesus inside us, just like we see our parents in our eyes or our nose.

But what happens when we look at other people around us?  Well, we might see their parents in them (if we know what their parents look like).  But we also see Jesus in them.  When we look at our friends (or other people we don’t know), and we see them smile, or cry, or play, we see Jesus.  And it’s the same Jesus we see in ourselves when we look in the mirror.

That’s why when we love our neighbors and friends, we’re also loving Jesus . . . because Jesus is in us and in other people.  And so, next time you look in a mirror and see your mother’s eyes or your father’s nose, remember to look for Jesus, too.  He’s there in your smile, in your tears, in the funny faces you make.  And then look at your neighbors and friends, and love them . . . because he’s in them, too.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Homily for 10 Nov 2015

10 Nov 2015
Memorial of St Pope Leo the Great

Every now and then I’ll hear somebody suggest that because I’m a priest, it’s like I have a sure ticket to heaven—because I give my life to God.  Or maybe at a funeral, I’ll hear a eulogy that highlights all the things the deceased has done for God.  And, of course, we spend a lot of time praying to God, asking his help and guidance—if we just pray the right way or with the right words, he just has to respond to us.

Well, Jesus puts these words in our hearts today in response: “We are unprofitable servants.”  That doesn’t mean what we do in our life of faith isn’t worth anything.  Instead, it means that we do what we do as Catholic Christians simply out of love for God and others . . . we don’t expect anything in return.

And, you know, there really is a joy that comes from serving and loving and caring . . . without having that expectation of profiting from it.  We do what do for the good of others.  We pray to God and thank him out of simple gratitude.  We go through life expecting nothing.  And, in return—without us even looking for it—God repays us with his blessings; we don’t have to worry about that.

We are unprofitable servants . . . sometimes.  Other times, as we know, we can unintentionally expect God to pay us back for the good that we do.  Sometimes we can think that God owes us.  Sometimes we can think that friends owe us, or family.  And so, it’s good to let Jesus put these words in our heart from time to time: “We are unprofitable servants.”  We are unprofitable servants.  We serve and love purely to serve and to love.

And that’s an ideal, for sure.  But that’s what we aim for: Love without strings attached.  Love that doesn’t seek to paid back.  Love that is pure and simple.        

Monday, November 9, 2015

Homily for 9 Nov 2015 Lateran Basilica

9 Nov 2015
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

We use all sorts of things to remind ourselves: Post-It notes in bright colors; notes stuck on our desk, on the refrigerator, or in our checkbook; writing a note on the palm of our hand.  We make those reminders big and we put them where we can’t miss them.  And that’s a reason why we have this feast today: the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. 

The Basilica (or any church building) is a big reminder to us of what we’re meant to be.  It’s as St Paul says: We are “God’s building,” the “temple of God.”  Right in our own human body, right in our human soul . . . God dwells . . . just like in the church building, the “house of God.” 

You know, we Catholics don’t look at church buildings just as another place to gather together—even if it is for worship.  The building itself means much more than that.  The church building is a visual reminder of what we’re meant to be as children of God.  What we could say about the church building, we could say equally about the faithful disciple—they’re both temples of God.

As you walk up to the Lateran Basilica, you see it’s built on a firm foundation, and its walls are massive—it wouldn’t crumble very easily.  Just like us when our life is built upon faith in Christ.  And as you enter the enormous doors, you’re immediately struck by the vast openness of the space.  Not unlike the openness of heart and mind the Lord asks us to have. 

It’s a beautiful place; there’s artwork everywhere: the floors, the ceilings, the walls.  And that’s like the heart of us disciples: we treasure what is good, true, and beautiful.  We keep those things close to our heart.  In the Basilica, there’s the chair where the pope sits—he alone sits there.  And that’s like us—in our minds, we know that there are others more knowledgeable, who have the responsibility to care for us and watch over us.  And we let them occupy that place of authority in our lives; we don’t try to take it ourselves.

As you go stroll along the wide aisles of the Basilicas, there are chapels here and there, dedicated to this Saint or that Saint.  Just like us, who have areas of our hearts where we hold certain devotions and saints and traditions in high regard.  Of course, at the heart of the Basilica is the altar and the Eucharist.  It’s very strong and very tall.  Even with all the rest that’s going on in the church building, the whole building is focused on the altar.  Just like us disciples: we have a lot going on in our lives, but everything we do, everything we are is rooted in the Eucharist.  Christ has a central place in our hearts.

And, lastly, the Basilica is immaculately clean.  Jesus gets out his whip to cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem—literally and figuratively.  The cleanliness of the church building is a reminder of the cleanliness we aspire to have in our souls. 

You know, many people get down on Catholics because we spend money, time, and energy on our church buildings.  Of course, they don’t realize that these aren’t just buildings where we get together to worship; they’re visual reminders of who and what we’re meant to be as Christ’s disciples.  They’re like a big Post-It note that says: keep Christ as the center, appreciate the beautiful, be strong and firm, let the breath of the Holy Spirit move within the openness of your heart, respect authority, have a clean heart, and be a warm and stable place of welcome and hospitality in the world.

We celebrate, today, a church building in Rome, a temple of God.  We also celebrate what they remind us of . . . that we ourselves are made to be temples of the Holy Spirit.  May we respect our church buildings, and so come to respect ourselves.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Homily for 8 Nov 2015

8 Nov 2015
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Every election year we’re faced with the big questions of social justice.  You know, we hear about immigration, poverty, unemployment, crime and discrimination—just to name a few.  Of course, among these issues, we Catholics pay special attention to the question of “the poor.”  And as the next election year goes into full swing, and we’re hearing what differing sides think, whether it’s Progressives or Conservatives, or whomever, it’s good to hear again what our Catholic faith tells us.  And today’s Scripture readings are a good starting point.    

Right from the outset, we see that God comes to the poor; he comes to the starving widow of Zarephath through the Prophet Elijah.  And God comes to the poor widow at the Temple Treasury through the observant eyes of Jesus.  And in both situations God gives high praise to the poor for giving every last penny they have, every last morsel of food they have. 

But that seems to be what God loves about the poor: they don’t have a surplus of anything, and so everything they give is truly a sacrifice.  When it comes to loving their neighbor, the poor don’t have a choice but to share what little they have. 

And so, our Catholic faith recognizes a certain “solidarity” with the poor (that’s the word we use . . . “solidarity”).  God comes to the poor, and so, we do the same.  They’re the most dependent people in our society, and in some ways that’s what God asks us to imitate—at least, spiritually speaking.  God asks us to be “poor in spirit;” to take the risk and actually rely on him—instead of what we consider to be our “surplus.”

And we show our solidarity with the poor in so many way—many of which we probably don’t even consider important.  For instance, when someone we know is in the hospital, or is in need of some dire help, what’s left, but to pray?  When all our resources are spent, prayer becomes our “widow’s mite.”  It’s all we have left, sometimes.  But that’s perhaps the most valuable and important gamble we can make—to bank everything on the mercy of God.  And so, in prayer we can show our solidarity with the poor . . . we become “poor in spirit.”

We Catholics are in solidarity with the poor: who’ve maybe fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and those who are physically or mentally unable to care for themselves, those who are starving, those who are lonely or rejected, and so on.  It’s to them that God comes.  God comes to the homeless, to the hungry, to the sick.  But he also comes to those who may not even realize they’re poor. 

You know, a trend that’s happening among our youth is an increase in “doubt”—doubt in their faith, doubt in God, and even doubt in themselves.  Some of our youth decide they don’t agree with the Church on “this” social issue or “that” teaching, and so they leave.  Without so much as a brieg conversation, they decide that the 2,000 year old Church, with billions upon billions of believers throughout time and space, and with God as its head . . . is wrong.

And so, they follow the path of doubt; they enter into a world of poverty and become part of “the poor.”  But we remain in solidarity with our younger brothers and sisters—even if they don’t want us and our prayers for them; even if they don’t know they’re part of “the poor.”

Or consider friends or family who are divorced, or people who have mental illnesses, or addictions.  Consider those who have marital problems, or financial problems, or problems being accepted by others.  Think about those we reject because they’re . . . different.  And then think about ourselves who are rejected by others; rejected, at least, because of our Catholic faith, if not for other reasons.

The “poor” are all around us.  And we are part of “the poor.”  And God comes to all the poor.  Of course, this idea of solidarity with the poor is one that we usually hear from the “Progressives.”  Following God’s example, we would agree: God shuns no one, certainly not “the poor.”
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But it’s interesting that, in the stories of the two widows today, God doesn’t give them a free hand-out.  Elijah doesn’t appear to the widow and say, “Oh, I’m sorry you’re almost out of food . . . here, let me get you some.”  He doesn’t say that.  And when Jesus sees the widow put her last two coins in the treasury, he doesn’t try to stop her and say, “Oh, no . . . you keep that money; you need it.”  He doesn’t do that.  In fact, it’s just the opposite! 

Not only does God not give them a hand-out or a free pass, he expects them to give what they have.  And, of course, God does this because he knows a valuable truth here (and it’s one we know, too)—the truth that it’s in giving that we receive.  Now, we usually associate that with us: “When we give to the poor, we receive the blessings of having done well.”  But God turns this idea around and says just the same about the poor.  When the poor give, they receive. 

And what do the poor receive from their giving, but a sense of worth and value.  That little widow at the Temple Treasury could’ve thought: “What are my two little coins going to matter here?  Are they really going to make a difference?”  But, of course, they did make a difference—not so much to the Treasury, perhaps, but to God and to her it made a difference.  She contributed “from her livelihood;” she shared herself and so she had a purpose.  She mattered because she gave.
This past week I was visiting an elderly woman.  She was in her 90s and was pretty much confined to her home.  But she had a great big smile when I met her at the door, and we had a pleasant talk together.  Well, she had been baking some cookies and told me I just had to take some with me.  And so, of course, I took some (because you don’t turn down cookies).

But whenever I’m in that situation and that happens, I always feel like I’m taking something they should probably be enjoying themselves.  But that’s not how this woman saw it.  From her perspective, those cookies were a gift . . . out of the little she has, she shared with me.  It wasn’t just some cookies she gave me; it was a piece of herself that she gave me.  In her ability to give, she had value; she had purpose, she still had meaning as a human being, even in her old age. 

And so, God knows a valuable truth about the poor which we can sometimes forget: that it’s in giving that we receive.  And what “the poor” receive back is their human dignity.  This is a good lesson from Scripture to remember in this next election year: that—like God himself—we Catholics expect and challenge the poor to give what they can.  And, of course, we hear this view expressed by the more “Conservative” voices in politics today.

And so, neither the Progressive nor the Conservative view of the poor is complete by themselves.  Instead, the two views work together—at least, in our Catholic mindset.  We call solidarity with the poor “solidarity,” and we call encouraging to the poor to give what they can “subsidiarity.”  Solidarity and subsidiarity—those are two principles central to our Catholic view of “the poor.”
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Again, it’s in giving that we receive.  And “the poor” have lots of themselves to give, if we encourage them to give.  They may not money to give, but they can give out of who God made them to be as a person.  We have lots to give—we, too, are “the poor”—and the more we give of ourselves, the more of a sense of value and dignity we have. 

For instance, I’m a musician; the more music I play—the more I share of myself—the more dignified I become in my own humanness.  Or maybe somebody has a knack for encouraging others; well, the more they share that gift, the greater sense of worth and purpose they have.

“Giving” isn’t about what we don’t have . . . “giving” is about what we do have.  And everybody, even the poorest of the poor, has something to give. 
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Every election year we’re faced again with the big questions of social justice.  And this next election year won’t be any different.  But when we hear various thoughts on what to do about “the poor,” let’s consider the views of our Catholic faith.

And let’s remember the example of the Lord, who embraces the poor, but also helps them to get on their own two feet.  Let’s encourage the poor—and each other—to give what we can of ourselves . . . because it’s in giving that we receive, and what we receive back is our human dignity.