Saturday, December 31, 2016

Homily for 1 Jan 2017

1 Jan 2017

It depends on who you talk to, and how they would describe it, but it seems safe to say that 2016 was an “interesting” year at St. Clare.  At the start of the year, there was a lot of talk about our church buildings and the Mass times—and they were pretty contentious talks, as I understand it.  2016 seems to have been a year when the merger—if it wasn’t already difficult enough, became even more so. 

The Mass times were changed significantly at the end of May, and it took some time to get used to that; of course, it’s still a point of disagreement for some.  The pastor at the time was both liked and disliked, and it was kind of a rough-n-tumble start to the year.  Then, in July, St. Clare got a new Administrator, who started ringing bells at Mass, and chanting the prayers, and who didn’t have much to say about buildings or Mass times.

Over at the school, our principal left for another position the day I got here and, after a very long process we finally hired Dr. Nardi just a week before school started.  And she and the teaching staff are going strong.  We extended the Sacrament of Reconciliation to three times a week at all our campuses.  And people are gradually beginning to take advantage of that.

On the financial end, the parish struggles.  As you’ve seen in the bulletin, we’re tens of thousands of dollars behind in what was budgeted for sacrificial giving.  And so, 2016 has been a bit of a scramble to pay the bills.  And on the faith side of parish life, the past year has been a time of questioning, of growth, of challenge.  In uncertain times, our faith in God either soars or plummets.  And, for many of us, it seems that our faith has maybe done both in 2016.

But, at the end of it all, we came to rest where we are now—in the middle of the Christmas season.  That’s a pretty good way to end the year: celebrating the birth of our Savior, as well as the woman and the faith which brought about his birth.  We end the year—and start a new one—here at the altar of God, receiving a most precious gift that we’re meant to take with us.

It’s similar in many ways to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.  They had just received the Ten Commandments from God, and were getting ready to set out for the Promised Land.  (That’s the setting for the Book of Numbers that we heard from today.)  And as the Israelites were stepping out into a new phase in life, we hear that blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you!  The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!  The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

As we leave 2016 behind, and all that St. Clare Parish experienced, we go with God’s blessing.  And we go with the Spirit of the Savior inside us.  That’s a pretty good way to start the new year.  And not only that; it’s also a profound way to start this next year.

We hear how the shepherds came to Mary and Joseph and “made known the message that had been told them about this child.”  We heard it ourselves on Christmas: “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.  And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  That’s a stunning thing to hear about a little baby.  It’s no wonder, then, that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” 

This isn’t just the baby Jesus who’s given us; this is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.  This is someone for whom the angels sing the praises of God.  This person we’re given as our traveling companion for the next year and the rest of our lives is . . . well, he’s the Son of God.  This is God himself, Emmanuel—“God with us.”  Our Advent prayer was answered—again.  “Come, Lord Jesus, come,” we prayed.  Well . . . he’s here. 

We’re not just leaving behind 2016 and going into the New Year.  Hopefully, with the realization of exactly who it is who travels with us, the New Year will also have the flavor of new life.  But seeing our “traveling companion” for who he is comes only—it seems—with the attitude of our Blessed Mother.  She “kept all these things”—all these strange and unearthly things she had heard about Jesus—she kept them, “reflecting on them in her heart.”  And, in that, she came to know exactly who that child was that God gave her.

And God gives us that gift, too.  God has given us the gift of himself.  But, of course, we have to open up a gift to see what’s inside.  And opening up what we’ve received here at Christmas takes time; it takes time and patience, it takes imagination and wonder, it takes a lot of reflection and faith; especially faith. 

Without faith, Jesus is just an abstract historical person.  Without faith, God is just a fantasy or a nice concept.  Without faith, there isn’t anything beyond the everyday humdrum.  Without faith, the New Year is just another New Year; not necessarily new life.  And so, faith is important.  Of course, that’s a major understatement . . . faith is everything!

With faith, we come to see that Jesus is very much alive today.  With faith, we come to know God as the infinite engine in our life; God as the divine artist who creates his creation with us as his co-creators—with our Blessed Mother as the co-creator par excellence.  With faith, our eyes are opened to see as God sees, our ears are opened to hear as God hears, and our hearts are opened to breathe deeply of this thing we call “life.”  With faith, life is always new; life is always unfolding and becoming something.

We stand here looking back at 2016, and all that happened in the world, in our lives, and here at St. Clare Parish.  But we also look forward to 2017, a New Year and, hopefully, a new and good life to come.  And our God has given us at least three precious gifts to carry into the New Year: his Son, his Mother, and our faith.

May we keep these profound gifts close to heart, and ponder what they mean for us.  And may hear God’s blessing as we set out in the New Year: The Lord bless you and keep you!  The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Homily for 30 Dec 2016

30 Dec 2016
Feast of the Holy Family

People in our lives can be both a blessing and a pain in the neck.  Whether it’s at home, at school, at work, in the parish, on the roads and highways, or wherever it can be a blessing or a pain to interact with others.  But that’s part of the human experience—the experience of being in relationship with our fellow human beings.

I remember when I was in the first stages of thinking about priesthood, I was also thinking about religious life.  So I checked out various communities of friars or monks.  And what I discovered very quickly is that they’re rather ordinary people.  They enjoy each other, but they also get on each other’s nerves.  And that was a revelation to me: the idea that “holy people” don’t always get along with each other.

But what sets those religious communities apart is that they’re very intentional about living with each other, and working through their difficulties to be a strong family.  They really try to live as Christ lived; they really try to see each other as brothers (or sisters) in Christ, and treat them as such.  They take to heart the words of Saint Paul: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” [Col 3:16].

If there’s a “key” to family living it might be that—act as Christ would act.  Saint Paul lists a bunch of ways to do that: be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, peaceful of heart, and thankful.  And that all sounds wonderful, but to really act toward others as Christ would act is hard work.  It’s hard work, and sometimes it’s just plain frustrating. 

Forgiveness isn’t always easy.  Being kind doesn’t always just happen.  And being gentle and patient can just grate your soul.  But doing this hard work is what makes our families, our parish, and our friendships holy and good.  Having a holy family, holy friendships, and a holy parish isn’t easy.  It takes work.  But the fruit of our labors is a holy family, holy friendships, and a holy parish.  The work is worth it.     

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Homily for 29 Dec 2016

29 Dec 2016

Sometimes the words of Scripture give us a very clear reminder.  And this is what we have from Saint John today.  He writes, “This is the way we may know that we are in union with [Jesus]: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.”  In other words, when people encounter us, it should be like they’re encountering Christ himself.  And that’s a pretty tall order to fill.

But, really, what Saint John is saying is that: if we’re going to call ourselves children of God, then loving our fellow Christians is not an option.  If we are to be disciples of Christ, then we must be loving.  After all, that’s our Lord’s most basic commandment: Love.  Love God, and love our neighbor.  If we can do that—even if we love imperfectly—if we can live a life of actually loving God and our neighbors, then we are truly walking in the Light of Christ.

If love is our basic mode of operation, then we are children of the Light.  Then we are disciples of Christ, and children of God, because—as Saint John teaches us—God is love.  And so, when people encounter us, may they encounter the love of Christ—for their good, and our own good as well.  After all, we want to be who and what we say we are: We are Christians.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Homily for 28 Dec 2016

28 Dec 2016

So often it’s the case that wherever Jesus goes, death is not far behind.  And so, it shouldn’t be a surprise that only three days after Christmas we’re commemorating the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents.  Jesus seems to be like a trigger for evil to rear its ugly head.  And this isn’t Jesus’ fault, of course; it’s just a reminder that wherever goodness is, something will try to undercut it.  Wherever Jesus goes, death is not far behind.

As we know, the Holy Innocents did nothing wrong, and yet they were guilty by association; they just happened to born around the same time and in the same place as Jesus.  And they were massacred because of that association with him.  Now, as Christians—as people who intentionally associate themselves with Jesus—we have a mixed experience. 

On the one hand, it’s a very deep joy to call Jesus the Lord, and to really let him be the Lord for us.  And it’s a joy to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  But, on the other hand, it puts us in harm’s way; trying to follow the example of Jesus sometimes makes for a difficult life.  It’s a simple case of guilt by association—because we attempt to be Christ-like, sin won’t be far behind.  If we try to be joyful, frustration won’t be far behind.

Just think of Mary and Joseph, who led pretty quiet lives until Jesus came to them.  Then they found themselves fleeing to Egypt and living in a foreign land for a few years.  Again, it wasn’t Jesus’ fault.  It was simply because wherever Jesus goes, death is not far behind.  Wherever goodness tries to plant itself, sin will try to uproot it.

And so, as we continue to celebrate Christmas, we open our hearts and homes to the Lord.  We know that Christian living isn’t always easy, but the struggles and the trials are worth it.  Death and sin may follow Jesus—and his followers, but Jesus will always have the last word.  Faith, hope, and charity will always win out.

Homily for 27 Dec 2016

27 Dec 2016

It’s just natural: you receive a gift, and at some point you say thank you.  And the same goes for our faith.  Someone gave us the gift of faith, the gift of knowledge of God, the gift of hope.  And, of course, we thank God for that.

But we can also thank the Apostles.  St. John puts the gift of faith in a neat little package when he says, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you.”  And in that category of “apostles” we would also put Mary Magdalene, who was the “apostle to the Apostles.”  She’s the one who first told the Apostles about what she had seen and heard.

And what the Apostles gave us wasn’t so much a doctrine, but the story of how they themselves encountered the living God in Jesus.  They give us their own personal witness as a gift.  And they gave it so we would have real faith and hope.  And for that life-giving gift, what else can we say to the Apostles, the Saints, and all those inspire us . . . what else can we say but simply Thank you.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Homily for 23 Dec 2016

23 Dec 2016

The Old Testament closes with a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is a promise of reconciliation: the hearts of people will be turned toward one another and toward God.  And the curse is that impiety and hardness of heart will lead to complete destruction.  What we end up with is a fork in the road.  We can go down the path of blessing, or down the path of “doom.”  And the one who makes us see the fork in the road is John the Baptist.

Now, I imagine we’ve all heard stories about car accidents, or other dire situations where things would ordinarily turn out badly.  But then—suddenly—a tragedy was averted at the last second.  Well, that moment of grace, that moment of rescue and salvation is the fork in the road.  Where destruction would be the normal outcome, suddenly, a way to safety presents itself. 

As we know, we humans sometimes find ourselves in harm’s way; sometimes by our own doing, sometimes not.  Maybe we struggle with unforgiveness and bitterness of heart.  Maybe we discover that we’re a glutton and slothful.  Or maybe we don’t even know that something’s wrong.  And in those situations (which happen practically every day), God opens up a fork in the road.  And the fork in the road is God’s intervention, his mercy, his grace.

Perhaps that’s why the angel Gabriel and Zechariah insisted that John be named John—because the name John means: “God [Yahweh] is gracious.”  With John, all humanity is shown God’s graciousness and mercy.  And John does that by calling people to repentance and to Jesus.  Jesus and the message of God’s forgiveness is the fork in the road; that is God’s merciful intervention.  Jesus and reconciliation is the way of safety that is presented to us.

And the whole of the New Testament is about Jesus saying, “Come to me!  I will keep you safe!  Come to me!”  John shows us the fork in the road in our lives.  And the fork in the road is Jesus.  The thing about a fork in the road, though, is that for a little while you can sort of straddle both forks.  We can live a life of faith and a life of “unfaith” at the same time.  We can love God and, at the same time, hate our neighbors (or vice versa). 

But, at some point, as life moves forward, we’re going to have to make a choice.  We can take either the path of blessing, or the path of the curse.  We can love God and neighbor, or we live a life of bitterness and hatred.  We will follow Jesus and be safe, or we will not.  With the coming celebration of Christmas, we celebrate the opening of the way to safety; we celebrate God’s graciousness and his desire that everyone should lead a blessed life.

As gracious as God is, the choice is, nonetheless, ours to make.  John the Baptist reveals a fork in the road for us.  Jesus says, “Come to me and be safe!”  But the choice to go with him is ours.  And it’s a choice—it’s an opportunity—we’re given every day. 

The psalm has it right: “Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand” [Lk 21:28].  Lift up your heads and see!  Jesus is here . . .  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Homily for 21 Dec 2016

21 Dec 2016

Since about Halloween, it seems, we’ve been hearing Christmas music in the stores.  And so, I was surprised yesterday when I went to a store and . . . the Christmas music was gone.  And all the Christmas decorations were in one corner of the store, all discounted.  It was kind of sad.  I wanted to say, “Hey, we haven’t even had Christmas yet . . . what happened to Christmas?”

But that’s just how it is, I guess; it’s just one season in the cycle of retail life.  And now they’ve moved onto Spring and, pretty soon, Easter.  Meanwhile, in the hearts of Christians, we’re just ramping up now to our Christmas festivities: four days away.  The birth of Our Savior is a bright spot in our hearts and minds right now. 

And so, keeping the spirit of Advent and Christmas alive and real has to begin with us; with us who hold these celebrations very near to our heart.  And what we hold close to us is that spirit of hope and joy and anticipation that Christ will come again.  We hold that spirit so close that it’s almost like a secret; like a secret joy.

Two thousand years ago, a secret joy was shared between Mary and Elizabeth—while the world was unaware.  And, today, that same secret is shared among all believers.  Our task is to spread that secret—not necessarily shouting from the rooftops, but maybe by whispering that secret again to someone who’s forgotten about it.

In our own quiet way, like Mary and Elizabeth, may we share the hope of Advent, and the eternal joy of Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Homily for 20 Dec 2016

20 Dec 2016

So often in the life of faith, we find ourselves where Mary found herself—sitting there saying, “This doesn’t make sense, God.  It doesn’t make sense.”  The angel Gabriel said to her, “You will conceive and bear a son.”  To which Mary said, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  It doesn’t make sense.

And it isn’t only with things that have happened already.  It’s also with the promises God gives us.  For instance, Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life.”  Well, humanly speaking, that’s a hard thing to wrap our minds around.  Or when Jesus says, “Whoever does my will are my brothers and sisters and mother.”  There again, how does doing God’s will make us a mother of Jesus?  And, from the male perspective, how can a man be a mother?  It doesn’t make sense.

But, in faith, we just go with it.  We don’t have to understand everything that God is doing.  We don’t have to understand where and how he’s leading us.  It doesn’t have to make sense to us for it to be a good thing.  And so, often in the life of faith, we find ourselves doing just that . . . living a life of faith.  And the more we do that, the more we step out in faith, the more we see that God is right, and that life turns out the way it’s supposed to.

Mary stepped out in faith and simply said, “May it be done to me, God, according to your word.”  And, from that, God came and lived among us.  A wonderful thing happened through Mary’s faith.  What might God have in store for us if we do the same?  What might happen if we really live a life of faith?  

Homily from 2 Nov 2016 All Souls

2 Nov 2016
Solemnity of All Souls

Every night when our day is over, we turn out the lights and go to sleep.  The light of the sun is reflected in the soft glow of the moon.  The stars twinkle above in the black sky.  We put our head on a pillow, and God looks down on his sleeping children.  Sometimes the darkness is just a time of rest; there’s nothing to be afraid of.  And the blackness of night is just part of the experience of peace and quiet, and rejuvenation. 

When the day is done, we go to sleep to wait for the light of a new day.  And today we remember all the faithful departed who have gone into the sleep of death and wait for the light of a new and unending day—the Light of heaven.

Yesterday the Church celebrated those who have died and who already see that Light, the Light of God’s glory.  We celebrated the Saints who have gone into the house of God and are enjoying the banquet of heaven.  Today, though, we celebrate and we pray for those souls of the faithful departed who are on the porch, who are in the front hallway of God’s house.

They already went through death and are there, getting ready to go into the fullness of what their faith has promised them, what Christ has promised them.  We pray for our brothers and sisters who sleep the sleep of death by the soft glow of the moonlight.  And even though they sleep under the twinkling stars of the dark sky, they can hear the feast going on.  They can see the Light of God’s glory shining from under the dining room door.  We pray for them, for those who have been faithful . . . the faithful departed who haven’t yet finished their journey of faith.

They aren’t in a bad place at all; they’re closer to heaven than we are.  Christ is their Shepherd and he’s led their souls right to where they should be.  And for some of us, that is very comforting and encouraging.  But for others, well, we’d rather have them back here on earth with us.  It depends on how they died, and what age they were, and what the circumstances were.        

In many ways it’s almost easier to celebrate the Saints, especially the big ones: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Joseph, St. Vincent, St. Nicholas, and so on.  We only know them as Saints, as people who have always just lived in heaven, it seems.  It’s harder for us to mourn them and their passage from this life to the next—because we never looked into their eyes.  We never heard the sound of their voice.  We never heard them laugh or saw them weep.  And so, they’re a bit more removed from us.  Even the more modern Saints can seem distant and almost unreal.

But those faithful departed—our loved ones, our friends who have died . . . they aren’t so removed from us.  We know their names.  We know their faces.  And they knew ours.  Even if they had died at a ripe and old age and had lived a good life, there’s a part of us that might still mourn the physical separation that death brings.

Regardless of our experiences of death—whether they were tragic, unexpected, or seen as a blessing—this Solemnity of All Souls and this time of the year reminds us of the frailty of human life.  And it reminds us of the importance of faith, and the importance of being there for others and praying for others, especially the dead.

As we go outside and see the Autumn leaves strewn all over the place, it’s good to remember that not that long ago they were lush and green, high in the trees.  And then Autumn came and they turned into their burning golds, oranges, yellows, purples, and reds.  But now they’ve completed their short life.  They’ve turned brown and dry, and have returned to the earth to help get ready for next year’s Springtime.

When we visit the graves of loved ones, or think about them, or go outside and see the bare trees and the fallen leaves, it’s hard not to remember the frailty and the shortness of human life.  And we can see death either as something to be afraid of, or as something to wonder about and even peer into with childlike curiosity.  As Christ says: The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as those who are like little children. 

We faithful people here on earth are curious, we wonder about things, we wonder about death and our faith tells us there’s more there than meets the eye.  Of course, the faithful departed would tell us: There is.  Indeed, there is.  As we heard from the Book of Wisdom: “The souls of the just . . . seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction.  But they are in peace.”

People around us may not believe in life after death.  Or they may be afraid to admit their own fears of death.  But we are a people of faith.  We believe that with death, life is simply—or dramatically—changed, but not ended.  Life is never ended, unless we choose it to be.    

Christ asks the blind man and us the question: “What do you want me to do for you” [Mk 10:51]?  Of course, the answer comes from our soul, not from our mouth.  The blind man living in the darkness of death said, “I want to see.”  And so it happened.  Eternal Light and life is ours—if we want it.  We already know that “the will of [the] Father [is] that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.”

The faithful departed answered that question in the same way: They want to be with God and their loved ones in the full ecstasy of heaven.  That longing was in their soul, and God knows the truth of our soul.  Of course, no one longs for God and for heaven perfectly.  That’s why the faithful departed are on the porch and in the front hallway of God’s house.

They’re already there.  They can see the Light from under that dining room door.  And they can hear the feast going on.  And we pray for them, that God bring them into what they have longed for.  And, of course, we pray the same for us.  They may be the faithful departed, but we are the faithful here on earth.  And even though we’re not yet at the doorstep of God’s house, we too can hear the singing and the music of the heavenly banquet. 

We too can see a dim glimmer through the darkness of death.  There’s something there where Christ has gone before us.  No, life doesn’t end with death.  It only changes.  And the only thing the faithful suffer is anticipation.  Anticipation of heaven.  Anticipation of what our earthly life will change into when we ourselves will pass through death and stand at the doorstep of God’s house.  Anticipation of what it will be like to be counted among the faithful departed.

In the meantime, we keep in mind the moon’s soft glow at night when we lay our head to rest.  The stars twinkle above, and God looks down on his sleeping children.  There under the black sky, we dream dreams of heaven, and we rest up and get rejuvenated for a new day.  We may not yet be departed, but we are still God’s faithful.  And that’s what the faithful do: they dream of heaven.      

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Homily for 18 Dec 2016

18 Dec 2016
4th Sunday of Advent, Year A

God wants to know us personally.  That’s been said many times in Scripture, and it’s been the cornerstone of the Church’s spiritual life since forever.  God wants to know us personally, and he wants us to know him personally: our human nature in sync with his divine nature.  Jesus even goes so far as to call his disciples his brothers and sisters, and his friends.  There’s a personal connection we’re meant to have with God.

Nonetheless, the Lord is still the Lord.  He is the King of Glory; he is Emmanuel; he is the Son of God.  And so, our relationship with the Lord is a little complicated.  We’re meant to be his friends; we’re meant to be intimate with him, and bare our souls to him.  And yet, at the same time, we’re not equal to him; he is far greater than we are. 

And so, what we end up with in our relationship with God is not only friendship and intimacy; we also an alliance with him; an alliance and an allegiance.  God becomes the one whom we trust with our lives.  And we can understand the idea of that.

When you’re going through a rough patch—maybe there are financial problems, maybe the kids decided to be atheists, maybe you’re just generally frustrated—when we’re going through a rough patch, what do we turn to?  Food?  Work?  Sleep?  Prayer?  The internet?  When life gets tough, we turn to whatever takes our mind off it for a while. 

We know where to go for comfort or support; we turn to our allies.  For a lot of people, food is a tasty ally.  Or sleep is an ally that helps us to escape.  Of course, if you really want to get away from troubles, the internet is a great ally; you can get totally distracted there.  When life gets tough, we turn to our allies—and we know who and what those allies are.

The trouble, of course, is that our allies aren’t always the best choice.  That was the problem with Ahaz, the King of Judah.  When he was in trouble with the King of Israel (and his fellow Jews), he turned to the enemies of the Jewish people; he turned to the Assyrians for help.  Now, God had said to Ahaz, “I’ll be your ally; ask me for a sign.”  But Ahaz trusted more in the Assyrians than in God, and so he rejected God’s offer.  Ahaz survived, but he ended up being a slave to the Assyrians.  Ironically, his trusted ally turned out to be his conqueror.

And that’s perhaps a danger in putting all our trust in other things or people or ourselves, and not in God.  God has no interest in conquering us, but all those other allies we make for ourselves—those may actually end up conquering us.  And then our allegiance may not be to God at all, but to those other things.  And if it got to that point, we’d have to question if we are actually a people of faith.  We’d really have to wonder if it’s true that “in God we trust.”

If there’s one thing that connects all the lives of the saints, all the lives of “holy” people, it’s that alliance with God built on friendship with the Lord.  And it’s an alliance that a good portion of the population out there sees as silly, as foolish, as uneducated.  But, you know, it’s the foundation of what we’re about as Catholic Christians.  Our allegiance is to: an unseen God, a God who died a humiliating death on a cross, a God who sometimes appears weak and impotent.  That’s our ally: our friend the Lord.

As Americans we reverence the stars and stripes.  Ideally, that’s what connects us as Americans: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.  That’s where our allegiance is as Americans: for the ideals embodied in the stars and stripes.

And as Christians, we reverence Christ.  He’s our one common ally, and the crucifix is our flag.  That’s what we hold up as Catholic Christians.  Whenever we’re in procession, at the start of Mass, at the end of Mass as we go, in a procession to the cemetery, and so on, we’re led by the crucifix.  That’s why it takes a central place in the church; we don’t tuck it away into a corner, because that’s the one we pledge allegiance to: Christ the Lord, Christ our ally.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.  We’re sinners, of course.  As much as we say that Jesus is Lord, and that God is our ally, we still put other alliances ahead of our friendship with him.  Whether it’s with parish decisions, or relationships at home or with friends, or whatever we can always be better about really trusting in our friend, Christ the King.  We can always hold the crucifix just a little bit higher in our hearts and in our minds to let him lead the way.

And Advent is certainly a time to do this; to reorient our lives toward Christ, our one true ally, our one true and eternal friend.  It’s a time, again, to say, “I pledge allegiance to Christ the Lord,” and mean it.  And maybe that’s what makes the coming of Christmas even more of a celebration.

In the midst of all the presents and the parties, the food and the music, the candy and candlelight, is the realization that God really is with us.  “I pledge allegiance to” . . . one who is here; to one who comes not just to “us,” but to “me:” to one who is with me when I am frustrated, who is with me when I am afraid, who is with me when I am confused or hurting.  With Christmas we celebrate God our faithful ally who is with us. 

Just like he did with King Ahaz, God comes to us—to each of us—with an offer; an offer of alliance, protection, and guidance; an offer of friendship.  And he places that offer in the form of the Infant Jesus lying in a manger in Bethlehem.  He places that offer into our hands at Communion.  What more of a sign do we need of God’s alliance and friendship with us than the incarnation of Christ at every Mass?

God is with us; the offer is made and put into our hands.  What’s left but to accept it, and to let the Lord really be our friend and ally, in both good times and in bad . . . never to be parted.     

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Homily for 16 Dec 2016

16 Dec 2016

Being a disciple of Christ is really a great privilege.  It’s a powerful thing when you realize that we’re meant to be messengers of God.  And some people really take that and they go with it, and they become very public preachers of the gospel.  Most of us, however, are messengers of God in more private settings—in our families, in the parish, maybe with co-workers. 

But, regardless of however we are messengers of God, there’s always the temptation to lose sight of the fact that we’re messengers of God, not messengers of ourselves.  Maybe that’s why Jesus “does not accept testimony from a human being;” because he knows we sometimes forget about God, even when we think we’re doing God’s work.

I imagine we’ve all come across someone who’s such a strong supporter of God that they’ll rip you to shreds if you disagree with them.  God wants us to be zealous about the Lord and his mission, but that’s just it: He wants us to be a messenger of God, not a messenger of ourselves.  And that’s a tough one.  It isn’t enough to just talk about Jesus, and try to do what’s right and just.  It really takes work to make sure we’re actually bringing Christ to others.

And so, it’s helpful to really study up on Jesus: Who is he, what’s he about, what did he really say, what did he really mean?  And then, about the time we think we have it figured out, step back and pray about it with all humility.  After all, the “Jews” forgot what God was really about, and so they couldn’t even recognize God standing right in front of them.

Saint Paul wasn’t the first one to go preaching about the Gentiles; it was already there in the Old Testament.  We heard about it in the prophet Isaiah today.  But the people of God forgot; the “Jews” forgot what God’s message really was when it came to the Gentiles, to the foreigners.  And so, they couldn’t very well put God’s plan into action; they could only put their own plan in place.  That’s what we want to avoid as messengers of Christ.

Being a disciple of Christ is really a great privilege.  But it carries the responsibility of making sure that the message we bring to others really is Christ’s, and not our own.  It’s a responsibility, but one we gladly take on, because being a disciple of Christ isn’t only a privilege; it’s a pleasure and a joy.

Homily for 15 Dec 2016

15 Dec 2016
(School Mass)

Jesus says that John the Baptist is the greatest human that ever lived.  And John certainly did a lot of good things.  He told people about the Messiah.  He got them ready so that when Jesus came, people could recognize him.  So, John did a lot of very good things.  Jesus is right: John is the greatest human that ever lived.

But, you know, we usually think of the Virgin Mary as the greatest human ever to live.  But that’s true too.  We have two people who are the best.  They’re the two greatest humans who ever lived—but they’re the greatest in two different ways.

Everything John did was good, it was excellent.  He used his own human strengths and abilities, and he depended on God.  Everything John did was excellent.  But everything that Mary did was just a little better, because everything she did depended on God alone.

So, when we’re living life, and using our gifts and our talents, that’s great; we should use them, just like John the Baptist used his strengths and abilities.  But it’s an even better thing to let God help us to use our gifts and talents.  And it’s the best of all to just say, “God, thy will be done,” and then just God’s will be done—whatever it is.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Homily for 14 Dec 2016

14 Dec 2016

With Christmas just around the corner, a lot of people have gift-given on their minds.  And with that, the big question: What to get?  I imagine we’ve had the experience of getting a gift for someone, but not being sure if they’d like it, or not being sure if it’s something they’d want.  But, you give the gift anyway, and hope they like it.

Well, that’s how Jesus sounds when he says, “Blessed are those who don’t take offense at me.”  God’s gift to us—to the whole world, is, of course, himself.  And it’s as if Jesus is saying, “I hope they like what they get for Christmas, because they’re getting me.”

And Jesus would have good reason to think people might take offense at who he is, and what he’s about.  He knows—as do we—that people have expectations.  And sometimes those expectations are good; they keep us looking forward to what’s coming.  But expectations become a problem when all we want is what we want, and that’s what we expect, and that’s all we’ll accept.

Jesus says: “Blessed are those who don’t take offense at me.”  And with that, perhaps he’s saying: “Expect me to do good things for you . . . but let me decide what is good.  In other words, let me be God.”  Jesus gives us the gift of himself.  And so let’s give him the gift of an open mind, and simple faith in him—as he is.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Homily for 13 Dec 2016

13 Dec 2016

Christmas is a joyous time of the year; a time to remember the birth of the Savior; a time of good cheer; a time of being a little more loving and forgiving than usual.  The coming celebration of Christ’s birth is just that—it’s a celebration.  And so, it’s easy to forget that not everybody was excited when the little child Jesus was born all those years ago.

Herod wasn’t too happy about it.  For him, the Star of Bethlehem was a star of judgment; it was God pointing his finger at Herod, bringing to light all of Herod’s sins.  And so, Jesus (and John the Baptist) were not very comforting figures for Herod.  That first Christmas wasn’t a time of celebration for everyone.

And, as we sit here in Advent and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come,” we’re praying for the Second Coming of Christ—we’re praying for the second Christmas to come; for the Star of Bethlehem to shine again in glory over our heads.  But what will that star bring us?  Comfort?  Joy?  Dread?  Fear?    

While the Lord is the epitome of mercy and kindness, he’s also the epitome of judgment and what it means to speak the truth.  He never shied away from calling out the chief priests and elders, telling them to get their act together.  He didn’t hesitate to call Peter “Satan” when Peter tried to stop Jesus from going to the Cross.  And he doesn’t hesitate to speak the truth about ourselves to us.  Jesus doesn’t hesitate to call it like he sees it. 

And, as the one who has perfect vision, we trust that what he says is true; that his judgments are right.  But since his judgments are meant to get us on the right track again, they’re a sign of his mercy and kindness.  In his honest judgments, God is merciful. 

And so, if we’re praying, “Come, Lord Jesus, come;” if that Star of Bethlehem begins to shine for us in our hearts and minds; if we feel Christ poking at our conscience, or moving us to maybe change our ways or our attitudes, then be glad!  God’s judgments are never against us; they’re always for our benefit, for our salvation. 

Thanks be to God for speaking the truth to us; we need it.  We need that Light of Truth to set us on a good path, even when the Truth sometimes hurts.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Homily for 9 Dec 2016

9 Dec 2016

Being a disciple of Christ puts us in a tough spot.  That’s because the ways of God can be (they aren’t always, but they can be) so different from the ways of the world around us.  And so, sometimes, to be a disciple of Christ is to be a fool—in the eyes of others.

Jesus talks about how children sometimes put others down when those other people don’t want to play their games.  St. Paul writes in a letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:10) “We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.”  And, then, at the trial and scourging of Jesus, there are the guards who put a purple robe on him, and a crown a thorns to mock him as a king.

To be a disciple of Christ, and to really try to follow his ways can put us in a tough spot.  Sometimes it makes us look like fools—in the eyes of others.  But what those others don’t see is that we are “like trees planted near running water, that yield their fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade; whatever we do, prospers” (Ps 1:3-4). 

If being a fool for Christ means living a blessed life in what really matters, then so be it: we are fools, happy fools walking in the path of God. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Homily for 8 Dec 2016

8 Dec 2016
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

With the Immaculate Conception of Mary, we celebrate the “marvelous deeds” of God.  Even though you won’t find any explicit reference to this work of God in Scripture, the faithful have known and believed since the first centuries of Christianity that God had done something different when he created Mary, the daughter of Anne and Joachim. 

We don’t celebrate Mary’s immaculate conception in the womb of her mother as a miracle.  Instead, we see it and we celebrate it as God bringing into creation a new creation, a new standard, a new beginning for humanity.  The Fathers of the Church were very quick to pick up on Mary as the new Eve; where Eve failed, Mary succeeded . . . by a special grace from God.  And what God succeeded in doing through Mary’s immaculate conception is that he “set the stage” for the world’s Savior to born.

In fact, that’s one of the “proofs” we have as a reason to believe in Mary’s Immaculate Conception: the fact that the Word of God became incarnate through her.  There was only one Christ born, and he came into the world through her alone.  Something about Mary was unique; more unique than any other woman before or since.  And the angel Gabriel says very clearly what it was: “Hail, full of grace!”

Of all women (and men) she alone was “full of grace” (emphasis on the word “full”).  In Greek, the idea is that God’s grace was freely and fully received by her—not just in that moment when Gabriel came, but from the beginning in her mother’s womb, in her created being.  The angel Gabriel declares to her (and to us) the nature of this woman—she is “full of grace” because there is nothing in her that obstructs God’s grace—there is no stain of sin in her.  And because she is so “full of grace” she is the one who carries God himself in her womb and gives him to the world. 

Eve could’ve been the one (perhaps), but she turned from God and let just enough sin into her to not be “full of grace.”  God could still work through her and Adam, but in a limited way.  From Eve—the “mother of the living”—all of humanity became a carrier of that spiritual disease we call “sin.”  But with Mary, God gave humanity a new start.  Sin never took root in her heart, and so she could give birth to the Sinless One—Jesus the Savior.

But, you know, on the Cross (in the Gospel of John), Jesus says to his mother: “Mother, behold your son” (meaning, the beloved disciple standing there by Mary).  And he says to the beloved disciple: “Behold, your mother.”  In that instance, Jesus says to that disciple (and to all of us): “I want you to have a new start, a fresh start.  You are no longer to be children of sinful Eve; you are to be children of my mother, the sinless Mary.”

God desires us to be sinless, to be immaculate in heart and soul.  What better way to accomplish that than by giving us his only Son to be our Savior and Lord, and the uniquely Immaculate Mary to be the mother of us all. 

With the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate something new in the annals of human history: a fragile and otherwise average human being kept free from sin.  We celebrate a “marvelous deed” of God, done so that God’s re-creation of heaven and earth could begin.  How blessed are we to hear Jesus say: “Behold, my disciples . . . behold your mother, full of grace, who will help you into a life of grace.”