Monday, February 29, 2016

Homily for 29 Feb 2016

29 Feb 2016

Maybe they know Jesus too well—or maybe they think they do.  They have him all figured out.  They got it.  You know, they might even able to teach Jesus something. 

We could be talking about the people in the synagogue at Nazareth, or Naaman the Syrian.  Or some of our Christian friends who use Scripture as a sledge-hammer, rather than as a healing remedy.  We could even be talking about some of our Catholic brothers and sisters, who are quick to judge and slow to listen.

Maybe they know Jesus too well—or maybe they think they do.  But, in reality, there’s always something new about God; there’s always something more to take in.  God is, truly, our nearest and dearest Friend, who walks with us; but he’s also: “Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.”  And it takes great humility to see God for who he is—and to see us for who we are in relation to him.

At every Mass we sing: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Hosts!”  And to be “holy” is to be “distinct from.”   Of course, God and his ways are quite different than ours; and so, God is not simply “holy”—rather, God is “Holy, holy, holy!”  That’s the song of a humble people; a people who know God so well that they know they can never know him completely.

It’s also the song of a joyful people; a people who find joy in being “athirst for the living God;” who find joy in the humble anticipation of what God has in store—something beyond what we think it should be.

It’s good to be secure in faith; it’s good to profess the Lord to others as we know him.  But let’s be careful not to be so sure of ourselves that Jesus “passes through the midst of us and goes away.”

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Homily for 28 Feb 2016

28 Feb 2016
3rd Sunday in Lent, Year C

There once was a young lady who had a piano in her house.  It was shiny black, with the pattern of a grapevine carved into the legs.  She always had the piano by the living room window, so others could see it as they walked by.  The young lady was a pleasant person; unassuming and even quiet spoken.  And she remained that her whole life.

In the summer, people could often hear beautiful music coming through the open windows; and they remarked to each other what a fantastic pianist she was.  And then, one afternoon, when she was a ripe old age, a little boy came to her door and asked if he could come in and listen to her piano playing.  She welcomed him in with eagerness.  But instead of going to sit at the piano, she went over and put the needle down on her record: “The Best of Beethoven.”

She couldn’t play a single note on the piano!  She’d imagined herself to be a great pianist, and dreamt about it her whole life.  But, in the end, she wasn’t.  She had the piano; she had the desire; she had the inspiration . . . but it wasn’t enough—you have to actually sit down and spend the time and the effort to practice, and to actually be what you aspire to be.

And that’s what Jesus seems to say today: It isn’t enough to just plant a fig tree in the ground; you have to “cultivate and fertilize the ground around it” if it’s going to be anything.  In just the same way, it isn’t enough to call ourselves Catholic Christians; we have to “cultivate and fertilize the ground in which we live” so that we can actually be who and what we say we are.

And this is why Jesus says: “Repent, or you will perish”. . . “Change your hearts and minds, or you’ll end up missing out on life.” It’s always tempting to get “stuck in a rut,” or to just go through life or faith without really thinking about it.  Like that lady with the piano, we can be tempted to just let the piano sit there, and let somebody else provide the music; meanwhile, our potential doesn’t become anything.

“Repent,” Jesus says: “Get out of the rut of indifference, or the habit of pessimism, or the assumption that we practice our Catholic faith well-enough.” 

I remember several times in life trying to make a plant grow.  And I’d stick the little stem or seed in the dirt, and it would die.  So I’d do it again.  And that one would die.  And the next, and the next.  Of course, making a little plant takes more than just “sticking in the dirt.”  It has to be watered (but not over-watered); it has to be fed (but not over-fed); the pH balance of the soil has to be considered, and even the type of soil is important.  And then there’s the question of sunlight: How much?  How little?  How often?  There’s a certain commitment to doing the work of growing a plant if you’re going to actually grow a plant.

And we can say the same thing about practically everything we’re trying to do.  If you’re in sports, you have to practice, you have to train, you have to eat right.  If you’re in music, you have to practice, you have to study, you have to nurture a sense of patience.  Cooking, baking, mechanics, having a pet in the house, having a house, having a job, a career . . . With just about everything Jesus could say the same thing: “Don’t get in a rut; repent, change your mind and heart, and stay fresh and alert so you can be and grow into what you have the potential to be.”

And it should go without saying that we apply this to our life of faith.  It isn’t enough to come to Mass.  It isn’t enough to be baptized.  It isn’t enough to profess our faith with our lips.  Instead, we have to actually participate in Mass; we have to actually live out our baptism by letting Christ cleanse us and change our hearts; we have to actually believe in our hearts that: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, and so on.”  This is what Saint Paul is getting at when he says, “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall."

About the time we start to be “mechanical” and “unthinking” in our faith, that’s when we should “be careful not to fall.”  That’s when we need to start “cultivating” the ground us and asking God to “fertilize” it with the Holy Spirit.

There’s always the potential in us to grow and become children of God.  Are we living that potential?  Or are we letting somebody else provide the beautiful music, while we just sit back?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Homily for 26 Feb 2016

26 Feb 2016

The chief priests and the elders knew what was right and what wasn't.  Just like Joseph's brothers--they had a sense of what was good and what wasn't.  They'd called Joseph "their own flesh"--they knew he didn't deserve to be killed.  But they, and the chief priests and the elders . . . they didn't apply that sense of values to themselves.

And we are not those chief priests and elders and vengeful brothers.  But we do havesomething in common with them: like them, we have a sense of what's good and right within us--we are, after all, children of God, just like them.  But we also need to keep working on holding ourselves up to those standards of what we know is good and right and just.

None of us does that perfectly.  But what separates us from the chief priests and the elders and Joseph's brothers is that we're willing to admit and say, "Yes, I can do better.  I can be better."  Humility and an appreciation of the "marvels the Lord has done" for us sinners sets us apart.  We're imperfect . . . but we admit it.

Thanks be to God who shows us where we can improve.  And thanks be to God who loves us and the whole world, regardless.

Homily for 27 Feb 2016

27 Feb 2016

Every now and then we see it in the movies: somebody’s about to get annihilated and they’re begging for mercy.  And that’s where a lot of our images of “mercy” come from.  Of course, there are plenty of stories in the Old Testament that seem to show a similar picture: God’s about to destroy the people and Moses or another prophet steps in to beg God’s mercy.

But with the Prodigal Son, God himself gives us an image of mercy as something very different.  Mercy isn’t earned.  It isn’t something we beg for to avoid annihilation.  And it’s not even the “flip-side” of God’s capacity to be angry.  Instead, mercy appears to be at the heart of the Father (the father in the parable, and God the Father).

The “nature” of our God is not to be vengeful; rather, our God is (by definition, it seems) a God overflowing with kindness and forgiveness; God is a mercy-filled God.  Of course, it’s one thing to think that; it’s another to come back to God with faith that he really is a merciful God.

As we go about Lenten penances and try to get closer to God, it’s good to remember that God wants to be close to us as well.  How many does Jesus say, “Be not afraid.  Be not afraid.”  And he’s right.  What is there to be afraid of?  Our God is merciful—not like what you see in the movies, but like we see in the story of the Prodigal Son.  All we need to do is come back, and enjoy the feast of mercy.   

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Homily for 25 Feb 2015

25 Feb 2015

At some point, you just have to trust God.  Sooner or later, we’ll have to stop relying on our own certainty about things, and just say, “I gotta trust you, God.” 

If we’re sick, maybe with a chronic illness, and we’re tempted to try to figure it out or “beat it,” at some point our faith has to kick in.  At some point we’ll have to say, “I don’t get it, Lord; but I gotta trust you.  I’m gonna trust that things will turn out for the good.”

And even if life is going well, we don’t want to let our “purple robes and sumptuous dining” to distract us from turning to God.  Even our prayers of thanks are a sign of our trust in God’s goodness and mercy.

Whether life is up or down, or going nowhere, we just have to trust God.  And it’s good to practice that trust now, because sooner or later, when we face that transition from this life to the next, all we’ll be able to say is: “I gotta trust you, God.”  That’s the one sure thing: that God will be there . . . and we can trust in him.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Homily for 24 Feb 2016

24 Feb 2016

There’s no record of the Apostles ever having been baptized.  Jesus called them; he said, “Follow me,” and they did.  And, as we know, they followed him (for the most part) through the Passion and Resurrection, and then went on to spearhead the beginnings of the Church—all at a great cost to themselves.  The Apostles were never baptized (in water), but they certainly lived the life of the baptized; they lived the life of one who follows Christ—regardless of where that fidelity took them.

Of course, now, we are baptized.  And that was both the call and our response to Jesus.  And so, maybe sometimes in life, Jesus pulls us aside (like the Apostles) and says, “Now, be careful up ahead here.  Someone’s going to try to put fear in your heart, but remain strong; remain in me.  Be my disciple.”  That’s where our baptism leads us—it leads us to follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

As we continue in our Lenten practices, it’s good to consider: Is the Lord calling me to do something, or to be something which will require me to put real trust in him?  Is there a change in life I need to accept, but am afraid to?  How is the Lord asking us to live out our baptismal calling: the call to be a servant, a follower, one who trusts in the Lord and can say: “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.”   

Monday, February 22, 2016

Homily for 23 Feb 2016

23 Feb 2016

It’s a little word; one that’s easily forgotten about.  It’s the little word: us.  “Come now, let us set things right,” says the Lord.  The companionship of the Son of God is part of the “good news” that warms our hearts.  But, as our Teacher has said, only those humble enough to walk with him (and let him lead the way) will be raised up to a better place.  Only those humble enough to not go it alone.

Perhaps, the most important “work” we can do during Lent is to get humble and say: “Jesus, I need you.”  Jesus, my Teacher.  Jesus, my Companion, my Rock, my Pillow to rest my aching heart.  Jesus, I need you.  It takes courage; it takes strength and humility to be weak; to be dependent upon someone else.  But, as we know from St Paul, it’s when we are weak that we are strong.

When, in our weakness and humility, we can say, “Jesus, I need you,” then we won’t be alone.  Then we’ll hear the Lord say, “Come then, let us set things right.”  And that’s music to our ears: that little word—us.  It brings joy to the lonely, peace to the troubled, hope to the discouraged, and healing to the wounded.

Nobody wants to face life (or death) alone.  Life is meant to be shared; and we’re meant to raise each other up to a better place.  That little word, “us,” means everything.  And at the forefront of that life of love, mercy and fidelity is Jesus Christ.  He says, “Come, let us be on our way.”  And, like a trusting child, we hear him with a smile in our heart and say, “Thank you.  Show me the way, Lord.  I want to walk with you.”      

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Homily for 18 Feb 2016

18 Feb 2016

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  In other words, love your neighbor as yourself.  Of course, this is how God treats us: he loves us as he loves himself.  He’s ready to give his life for us; he’s willing to pour out the good things we need—no questions asked.  “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find.”  God looks at us and sees a reflection of himself, because—of course—that’s who we are; we’re made in his image.

But sometimes it’s hard to see ourselves reflected in other people, in the way God sees himself in us.  You know, sometimes it’s just plain difficult to love others as ourselves.  Maybe those other people are on the other end of the political spectrum.  Maybe they have different views of marriage, or Church, or religion.  Maybe they don’t have any beliefs at all.  Or maybe they’re just simply unpleasant people.

But, in spite of all that, they still are . . . people.  And part of loving others as we would have them love us, is to see our own human longings at work in other people, too.  You know, we all desire happiness.  We all want companionship, or a sense of belonging; we want to know we’re loved.  Most of us don’t want to hurt others; we’re just trying to figure out what’s right and just.  There is something of us in our neighbors—even the neighbors we don’t like.  And there’s something of them in us.

And that something is the human spirit, in search of . . . meaning, life, security.  And it’s nothing new.  For instance, Queen Esther lived centuries and centuries ago, but we can still empathize with her desperate plea for help in Scripture.  And even though the psalmist lived a long time ago, too, we can still feel (or imagine) in our hearts those feelings of delight and happiness he had at having been heard by God.

How many times do we hear a story told to us, and we can feel ourselves get “wrapped up” in it?  Well, it’s because the human spirit in us is in our neighbors, too.  We can “do to others as we would have them do to us.”  And we do that by loving them as God loves us—by giving them the benefit of the doubt; by giving them “a loaf of bread instead of a stone,” and “a fish instead of a snake.”         

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Homily for 17 Feb 2016

17 Feb 2016

At this time every year, the gospel scene from today is played out: And “still more people gathered in the crowd” around Jesus.  The crowd seeking to find Jesus grows.  After all, that’s what Lent is about . . . it’s about moving closer to Jesus.

But as we get closer to him, the experience can be mixed.  Some of us might feel more at peace, or more alive.  But, for some of us, we might hear him say to our heart: “This generation is an evil generation,” (or something challenging like that).  The closer we get to Jesus, the stronger we can feel his call to repentance.

And at that point, we’re left with a choice.  We can either let him be a loving prophet to us—one who leads us on the way of goodness and right—or we can see him as just another person with his own opinion of how to live life.  It’s the choice to either change direction in life, or to go on as we have been.

We’re part of that crowd who gathers around Jesus.  And the closer we get, the more challenging his love can be.  But it is, nonetheless, great love that he offers.  The question is: what will we do with that love?  What is our response to Jesus’ challenging words?  Will we stay the course and come to Easter?  Or go another path?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Homily for 16 Feb 2016

16 Feb 2016

I wonder how many times we’ve prayed the Our Father . . . thousands, tens of thousands?  And we’ll be praying for quite a bit longer, I imagine.  And that’s good.  We need that prayer to stick around in our lives.  Maybe someday the beauty of those words will soak into us and bring us face to face with Our Father.  We can only hope.

It’s kind of like when “the rain and snow come down, and they don’t return [to heaven] until they’ve watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful.”  The Spirit of the “Our Father” comes from heaven and sticks around.  That prayer isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  And it’s not going to return to heaven until the Spirit’s watered us and made us faithful and loving and merciful. 

The “Our Father” waters us and softens our hearts.  And it keeps on doing that.  Every day: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”  Every day, wearing away at our stony hearts.  Every day, “Our Father . . .”  And then, someday, after the Spirit comes to take us home, our only prayer will be: “Our Father!” as we gaze upon the face of Our Father.

But for now, the prayer sticks around, like the rain, and we let it soak in.  Day after day, we just let it soak in. 

Homily for 15 Feb 2016

15 Feb 2016

In one of his sermons, St Augustine said: “Love, and do as you will.”  This was meant to be (somewhat) a summary of God’s commandments, and to put in a nutshell the relationship between the Law of God and our everyday life.  “Love, and do as you will.”

In other words, the Law of God (the Divine Law of Love) is already written on our hearts; all we have to do is carry it out.  When St Augustine says: “Love!” it’s a prophetic command to “be human!”  “Being human” and “loving” should be synonymous.  But how often do we hear people say (after they’ve made a mistake and failed to love), “Well, I’m only human.”

“I’m only human:” as though we were made to be unloving.  And it’s that view of humanity that makes God’s commandments necessary.  Those basic commandments to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves are given to remind us of who we are as human beings.  They’re not an imposition; they’re not given so we can follow them mechanically, and without thinking.  Instead, the commandments are the “blueprint,” they’re the “DNA” that makes us human.

And that’s why St Augustine can say: “Love, and do as you will.”  If we’re simply loving and merciful and fully human in our everyday life, we won’t have to worry about whether or not we’re following the Law of God . . . because we will be.  We won’t have to worry about “following” the commandments, because we’ll be too busy living the commandments.

“Love, and do as you will.”  This is what Jesus seems to be saying in the Gospel: “Don’t love God and others because you have to; instead, just be human and love—just live the Law of decency and respect and kindness and mercy already written on your hearts.”  And then we’ll be able to say to Jesus, “I had no idea I was helping you and loving you . . . I was just being human.” 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Homily for 14 Feb 2016

14 Feb 2016
1st Sunday of Lent, Year C

If we could put the spirit of Lent in a nutshell, it would the call to: “Return to the Lord, our God.”  Of course, that’s what we heard from the Prophet Joel on Ash Wednesday: “Return to the Lord, your God.”

Now, for catechumens and candidates, Lent is a time of preparation: it’s a time of looking ahead to Easter when they’ll be fully initiated into the Catholic faith.  But for us who’ve already been baptized, and confirmed, and who participate in the Eucharist—for us, Lent takes on the flavor of re-turning to the Lord.

And so, it’s a time to renew and return to that most basic relationship we have as Christians: our relationship with God through Jesus.  That’s why we pray and fast and give alms.  And it’s why we talk so much about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  That sacrament is all about restoring right relationship with God and his Church.

And, since it’s such an important part of Lent, I thought it would be helpful to talk about and review the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
At the ends of your pews are copies of a little brochure, called “The Sacrament of Penance.”  Please take one and pass them down.  These are for you to keep.  We have plenty more, so please take these home with you.
I remember my First Reconciliation pretty well.  I was just a little Second-Grader, and I went in and told the priest that I’d taken some bubble gum from my brother.  And he said to me: “Is that it??”  I think he wanted me to say more, but I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Yea.”  And it wasn’t a bad experience, but I didn’t understand the point of it.

And so, it was about twenty years before I had my second reconciliation.  Of course, by then, I’d forgotten how the sacrament went.  So I was a little nervous when I went in; I didn’t entirely know what to expect.  And so, a little refresher might be helpful.

[1- Go through the “mechanics” of the sacrament]

[2- Sin]
Sometimes people will say to me: “I don’t know what to confess.”  And the short answer is: “Your sins.”  But I think would be more helpful to back up and talk about “sin.”  I suppose a simple definition of “sin” would be: When we do wrong things or make mistakes.  But that’s almost too simple; it’s over-simplified and kind of “misses the mark,” because “sin” has to do with relationships: our relationship to the Lord, to others, and to ourselves.  “Sin” happens when we disrupt those relationships in some way—by what we say or do or think . . .

Now, in the readings today, we have some examples of relationships without sin.  In Deuteronomy, we see the people were offering to God their prayer and their work; they were offering thanks for what God had done for them.  They were in right relationship with God; they knew they depended on God, and they were grateful and happy about that fact.  And we see this in Psalm 91 as well, with those prayers to God the “Most High;” God who was acknowledged to be a “refuge and fortress.”  The Psalmist knew that God was God and not him.  He was in right relationship to God the Most High.

Even in the Gospel, we see an example of being in right relationship with God.  Jesus was tempted by the devil, but his relationship with the Father was such that he could go against temptation with divine wisdom and fortitude and love . . . all those things that his relationship with the Father gave him.  He was able to be loving and strong because he was in right relationship with the Father.

But “sin” disrupts that right relationship with God, with others, and ourselves.  And so, we end with things like: pride, envy, gossip, laziness, selfishness, and all the rest.  Now, sometimes “sin” only puts a bruise on a relationship—we call that “venial sin.”  But other times, “sin” breaks and destroys a relationship, and we call that “mortal sin.”  And it’s “mortal” because the one thing we need to live is love.  If we cut ourselves off from love (especially from God who is love), we’re essentially cutting off our air supply; we’re starving ourselves to death through lack of love.  That’s why they’re “mortal” sins.

And so, “sin” isn’t just about doing bad things or wrong things; it’s more deeply about rupturing a relationship through our mistakes and failings.  We go to confession to repair those relationships.

[3- Mortal and Venial Sin review]
[4- Penance review]
Something to note about penances is that we have the right to negotiate a penance.  When the priest gives you the penance, if you think it’s too light or too heavy or not helpful, let him know.  Often times I’ll ask the penitent if there’s a penance they would find helpful.  I usually have something in mind already, but the penitent may also have something in mind.  Again, the sacrament is about restoring your right relationship to God and Church, and yourself.  The penance should help with that.
That’s why the sacrament is not only called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but the Sacrament of Penance.  Penance itself is a channel of God’s grace and mercy—just as much as Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist and the other sacraments.

But, on one last note, is should be admitted that this sacrament can be one of the hardest to engage.  After all, it makes us be honest with ourselves—both the good and the not-so-good parts of ourselves; and that’s not always a pleasant thing.  And sometimes, too, the idea of admitting our sins to another person is nerve-racking. 

Perhaps it would be helpful to know that the priest is very much aware of his own sins, and he is there with you before God as a fellow sinner; there’s no judgment there, only mercy and forgiveness.  And, it might be helpful to know, and remember, that you can confess your sins to any priest you want; you have a canonical right to do that.  That’s why we post the name of the priest who’s hearing confessions.

And, lastly, the sacrament can be difficult because we’re embarrassed of our sins; maybe we wonder how the priest is going to react.  But even in my short time as a priest, I can say I’ve almost everything—and nothing has shocked me.  About the only “big” sin I haven’t heard is murder.  But I’ve already heard about: adultery, abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, pornography, lust, gossip, gluttony, blasphemy . . .

I’m not shocked by what I hear in the confessional.  Instead, every now and then it hits me how beautiful it is to see one of God’s children working to set things right . . . with faith, with hope, and with love.  Confession isn’t just about confessing our sins, it’s also about confessing our faith in God’s infinite mercy—that’s the part the Pharisees and scribes never understood: it isn’t about our sins, it’s about God’s mercy.  It’s about confessing our desire to love and be loved by our God who is: “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”  

Friday, February 12, 2016

Homily for 13 Feb 2016

13 Feb 2016
Saturday after Ash Wednesday

There are a lot of “ifs” and “thens” in Isaiah today.  “If you remove oppression, then the Lord will guide you always.”  “If you call the Sabbath a delight, then you shall delight in the Lord.”  “If you bestow your bread on the hungry, then the Lord will give you plenty.”  We give and the Lord gives.

But God is interested in the quality of our giving; the quality of our “yes” to those many “ifs” he puts in front of us.  In the gospel we see that Jesus put in front of Levi a proposition, and Levi responded very generously.  When Jesus said, “Follow me,” Levi didn’t roll his eyes and let out a heavy sigh.  He simply “left everything behind,” and then “gave a great banquet” for Jesus at his house. 

Saint Paul says that “God loves a cheerful giver” [2 Cor. 9:7]; and Levi certainly was that.  In him we have one example of the quality we want to try to have in our everyday response to the Lord—the quality of trust and even joyful acceptance of what the Lord asks of us.

For instance, we might feel Jesus saying something like: “If you stop thinking uncharitably, then I’ll show you a happier life.”  Or maybe, “If you turn to me instead of turning to food when you’re depressed, then life will be more peaceful for you.”  Or even, “If you spend more time with me in prayer, then your life will fall into place.”  Jesus puts propositions like that into our hearts.

And what leads to the greatest benefit, is when we can say “yes” to Jesus with trust and even joyful acceptance of what he asks of us.  During Lent, it might be a good thing to consider how we respond to the Lord when he “pokes at our conscience.”  Do we follow him willingly and with joy?  Or do we let out a sigh and give a half-hearted . . . oh, ok.            

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Homily for 12 Feb 2016

12 Feb 2016
Friday after Ash Wednesday

When something bad happens in life, it’s not that uncommon for us to lose our appetite.  A family member dies, and we don’t feel like eating.  A friendship ends, and we take a little less pleasure in things . . . at least for awhile.  In that context, the idea of “not eating” makes sense; it’s a sign that some part of us is deadened a little bit inside.

And this is how Jesus approaches the idea of fasting: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”  Well, no.  That’s why his disciples weren’t fasting.  Fasting makes sense—but only in a certain context.  Really, all that we do during Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—it only makes sense in the larger context of salvation.

You know, if we don’t have some sense that there’s a barrier between us and God, then why bother fasting?  What is there to mourn or to be sad about?  But if we feel in our hearts that we’re not as close to Christ as we could be, well . . . there’s a reason to fast—as a spiritual discipline, yes, but also as a sign of sadness that we’re separated from the One who loves us.

As the Prophet Isaiah shows very colorfully this morning, God isn’t interested in fasting, if it doesn’t have behind it a love for, and a desire to be with, him.  God is interested in what’s going on in our heart, in our soul.  That’s why the psalmist can say: “A heart contrite and humble, O God, you will not spurn."

God sees the prayer, the fasting, and the almsgiving we do.  But he also sees our motivations behind our Lenten practices.  As he looks into our hearts, what does he see?  Is it a desire to love him, to serve him?  Or is there some other reason why we do what we do?   

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Homily for 11 Feb 2016

11 Feb 2016

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Jesus speaks in what sounds like black-and-white terms: “Anyone who wishes to come after me, must deny himself and take up his cross daily.”  We either follow him or we don’t.  And Moses has a similar tone: “I have set before you life and death.”  So, choose one (preferably, life).  It’s one or the other, but not both.  Even the psalm separates people into the “blessed” and the “wicked.”  There’s a lot of black-and-white talk in Scripture this morning.

But, as we know, life isn’t always black-and-white.  Even attempting to “return to the Lord” during Lent isn’t black-and-white; in fact, it’s most often very, very gray.  For example, we’re called to pray more during Lent.  But how much more?  Well, it depends . . . how much more do you think you need to pray?  The same goes for fasting and almsgiving.  How much fasting?  How much almsgiving?  Well, it depends . . . it’s not black-and-white.  There’s no set “formula” for how to “do” Lent. 

But right there in that “gray area” is “the cross.”  I’d read a book by Bishop Morneau a while ago, and he described trying to follow God as like being on a foggy meadow; you can’t see anything; you can feel the ground under you, but you don’t know what’s coming, so you move forward very slowly; and you just reach your arms out trying to feel your way through it.  And that sense of being “lost” and wondering how to “do” Lent this year is the cross we’re asked to carry.

Jesus lays before us a choice: to either accept the “foggy grayness” of the spiritual journey of Lent, or to just let that path of conversion go untraveled (at least, until next year).  There’s always the choice between the ways of life and the ways of death.  But Jesus gives us yet another choice: the way of life, or the way of a better life . . . through the cross . . . through the gray fog of the spiritual journey.  What will our choice be . . . today?       

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Homily for 10 Feb 2016 Ash Wed.

10 Feb 2016
Ash Wednesday

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.  The God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light.  And he called the light “day,” and the darkness “night.” 

And God created the skies above, and the depths of the oceans below.  And there in the sky were the two great lights: the sun to rule in the day, and the moon in the night.  And below was the fertile ground called “earth.”  And God brought forth every kind of vegetation from the earth: fruit trees and budding things in abundance.

And the waters of the sea churned with countless numbers of living creatures; and birds swooped and flew in the skies.  From the earth, God brought more creatures: cattle, creeping things, and animals of all kinds.  And God looked at all he had made and saw that is was good.  But then on the sixth day, God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  And so, God formed man out of the clay of the earth, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.

But God didn’t wish man to be alone, so he put him into a sleep.  And from the man’s side he created woman.  God looked upon his entire creation, then, and saw that it was “very good.”  On the seventh day, God, man and woman, and all creation rested in peace and joy.  Humanity and God were naked before each other, and there was no shame.

At the start of Lent, it’s good to remember where we came from . . . and where we’re going.  It helps us to understand why we put ashes on our forehead, and why we spend more time in prayer, and fasting, and almsgiving, and why we do penance.  We came from God, and were born into . . . paradise.  And God laid before us a beautiful vision; a vision of eternal friendship with him and all those who are good, true, and beautiful.

We started out on the right foot.  And we have God to thank for that.  But then, somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn—many wrong turns in life.  And now, who knows where we’re going in life—except back to the earth from where we came: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.”  But, you know, even though we’re all sinners, and we’ve each damaged our relationships with God and each other . . . even though we have done that (and still do that), God remains merciful and faithful.

God hasn’t given up on us.  He’s destined us for greatness!  He’s made us to be good, and true, and beautiful—even to the point of sharing his divine nature in heaven.  And that’s why he sent his Son to us—to “save” us, to bring us back to his bosom—to be totally honest with him and each other . . . without shame

And so, Lent is both a hopeful time and a time of sorrow.  Of course, God’s mercy is what gives us hope; our sins and failings do not have the final word—God’s mercy does.  And so, Lent is a time of hope.  But it’s also a time of sorrow and tears and frustration because we know we can be so much more; we know can be so much better.  God doesn’t lay a guilt trip on us to make us feel bad.  Instead, he pokes at our conscience and says: “You know you want to be a better person; after all, you’re the spittin’ image of . . . me.  You know you want to make some changes in life . . . so make them, and set things right again.”

At the last prayer we have for Mass today, we’re going to ask God to give us a “spirit of compunction.”  And that’s what “compunction” is: it’s God poking at our conscience, and giving us a feeling of real sorrow and regret for our sins—for our choices and habits that have steered us away from God and our destiny.  There’s no guilt involved in that “spirit of compunction;” just the sad (or tearful) realization that we can be so much more, so much better as sons and daughters of God.  We’ve let God down.  We’ve let others down . . . and ourselves.

And, you know, Lent would be pretty dreary if there weren’t any hope.  But there is hope.  God doesn’t shame us into oblivion; instead, he offers us forgiveness, mercy, and love.  That’s the kind of God we have.  He says to us: “Go and set things right.”  And we understand that.  You know, if we hurt somebody, what do we say?  We say: “I’m so sorry.  Please, let me make it up to you; I’m sorry, let me set things right.”

And that’s why we pray, and fast, and give alms.  That’s why we do penance and ask God and others for forgiveness.  They’re all ways we can “set things right again.”  But the Lord asks us to “set things right again” in a particular way. 

We first hear about it in the Prophet Joel when he says: “Rend your hearts, not your garments.”  In other words, pour out—gush out—all the messy intimacy of your soul and mind to God; rip open your heart to him, as he has ripped open his heart and body for you.  Share with God what’s on your mind and in your heart.  Do it in prayer.  Write to God in journal or a diary.  Tell God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  “Rend your hearts,” the Prophet says, to “set things right.”

But then Jesus clarifies it even more when he talks about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”  “When you give alms, don’t make a big show of it.”  “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.”  Setting things right—making up for our sins, and showing to God we’re trying to get back on the right track is largely . . . a personal thing.  It happens in the intimacy of our relationships with God and with each other.

Now, in a little bit we’re going to have ashes put on our forehead.  And perhaps the most important thing you can do with those ashes is to look in the mirror and say to yourself and God: “I’m a sinner.  But I can be better with your help, God.  And so, help me.”  And then wash the ashes off, so as to not make a public show of it all, and then get to the work of “setting things right” with God and each other.

The spirit of Lent is summed up by the Prophet Joel: “Return to the Lord, your God.”  But it’s a call that began way back at the start of creation.  And it’s a call we hear from ahead us, too; from God on the other side of heaven: “Return to me, my beloved children,” he says.  “Return to me.”  And, in that, he’s saying not only “Return to him,” but also “return to your true self.”  God has made us in his image, and destined us for greatness; for goodness and truth and beauty of heart.  

On this Ash Wednesday, let’s ask God for that “spirit of compunction,” and begin the work of setting things right again . . . with each other, and with our God.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Homily for 9 Feb 2016

9 Feb 2016

“Tradition” is such a maligned thing today.  Some people would point to today’s gospel as a sign that “tradition” is totally contrary to the message of Jesus.  For them, anything “traditional” is just hopelessly on the wrong path.  On the flip side, of course, are the modern-day Pharisees among us who are obsessed with the “letter of the law.”  For them, “tradition” is somewhat of a god—inviolable, unchangeable.

You know, so often, we talk about hymns as “traditional” church music.  And then we talk about guitars and piano as “modern” church music.  But, really, so much of that “guitar and piano” music we’ve been singing since the 1980s or so has become . . . traditional.  And—strangely enough—a very great number of our “traditional” hymns haven’t been passed on for at least a couple generations.  A lot of hymns aren’t “traditional” anymore . . . they’re simply fading away.

But, you know, that’s actually a sign of a living tradition; customs and practices are born . . . and they also fade away, to be replaced by new practices.  And that’s a healthy thing—to a degree.  But even as customs and practices come and go, what they’re passing along remains unchanged.  It’s kind of like a ball float atop the water.  The ball remains the same . . . but the water moves and changes, and carries the ball along. 

What remains unchanging for us is the Law of God, the Love of God, the Revelation of God.  That’s the “ball” on the water.  And the “water” is like all our human traditions that come and go; they change, but they carry the unchanging truth from one generation to the next.  And this is the kind of “tradition” Jesus wants—one that’s both stable and very fluid.

And so, we don’t want to throw out the idea of “tradition”—after all, the rock-solid truth and beauty of our God is at the core of “tradition.”  But, on the other hand, we don’t want to get so married to our customs and practices that they become a god themselves.  Jesus asks us today, simply, to remember the fluidity of our human life and customs . . . and the solidness of God’s life and unchanging Law of Love.

May our human traditions open us to God.  And may God be the beginning and end of all our efforts.    

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Homily for 5 Feb 2016

5 Feb 2016
Memorial of St Agatha, Martyr

It’s a perennial image in human history: A powerful leader who makes things happen by strength.  But that’s just an image.  Hitler was powerful, but he wasn’t strong.  Saddam Hussein was powerful, but he wasn’t strong either.  Thugs and murderers and rapists are powerful, but none of them are strong.  They’re all like Herod: powerful, but very weak.

After all, they have no resistance to temptation; they fall prey to the influence of the devil quite easily.  They live in fear: they’re always afraid of losing power.  And they’re constantly on edge that somebody else is going to overthrow them.  The image of a powerful leader who makes things happen by strength is just . . . an image.  They’re really very weak.

But the martyrs, well they’re just the opposite.  They appear to be weak, but they act and they live with strength—even supernatural strength.  John the Baptist is an obvious example: there he was in prison—defenseless, weak.  But I imagine the executioner lopped his head off so quickly because John freely handed over his head . . . with strength of faith.  Something similar could be said of St Agatha, a young woman who accepted torture and mutilation—not because she was weak, but because she was strong in mind and heart.

The executioners and the tortures have long since died, and their names are forgotten.  But John the Baptist, Agatha, and all the martyrs and saints who lived and died with strength . . . they continue to live on.  Their names are remembered.  They were not powerful people, but they were strong . . . strong in their faith in God’s abiding care. 

Whenever we’re tempted to think we’re too weak, that’s the time to embrace our weakness and say to the Lord: I need you.  That’s the time to sing our psalm today: “The Lord live!  And blessed be my Rock!  Extolled be God my savior.”  Praise be to God who makes the strong weak . . . and the weak strong.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Homily for 4 Feb 2016

4 Feb 2016

One reason we remember our history is that it gives us a sense of identity and belonging.  We might look at our family history, or the parish history.  Maybe the history of America and what it means to be an American.  Or we might look at the first disciples and Apostles as a reminder of who we are as Christians.

Jesus summoned them and sent them.  And they did wonderful and good things—not by their own power, but by Christ who lived in their minds and souls.  And that’s fundamentally who we are.  We, too, are summoned by Christ.  We let him into our minds and hearts.  And he sends us out.

But, you know, the world has changed.  We’re still a people sent on mission; but the mission field has changed—dramatically.  Two thousand years ago nobody had ever heard of Jesus.  Today, however, his name is all over the place . . . and the name of Jesus carries a lot of baggage.

Just think of all the killings—past and present—done “in the name of God.”  Think of how Jesus’ name has been tarnished by, say, Christian Fundamentalists, or by Christian hypocrites who judge others and condemn others and say they’re going to hell . . . all in the name of Jesus.  And how many friends or family members do we know who’ve been shamed or put down by a well-meaning, but very misdirected Christian . . . and have written off God and the Church because of it? 

The very name of Jesus carries a lot of baggage—but it’s the name and the person we’re entrusted to share with others.  And that underscores the importance of being an authentic disciple of Christ; a disciple who speaks and acts on his behalf . . . from a place of humility and prayer.  A disciple who speaks and acts with gentleness, with truth, with compassion.  If we fail to represent Jesus faithfully, people should reject us and the message we bring—because it isn’t Christ we bring; it’s something else.

We’re very much like the Apostles: summoned and sent.  And even though we have an uphill climb, we can still do good things . . . by being authentic disciples of Jesus—just like our ancestors, the Apostles.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Homily for 3 Feb 2016

3 Feb 2016

Without faith, God can’t do too much.  The people there in the synagogue not only didn’t have faith in Jesus—they were offended by him.  And so, Jesus could only cure a few sick people—even though he could’ve cured a lot more.  And King David, by calling for a census, was putting more faith in the power of an army than in God.  Ironically, the thing David put faith in was partially destroyed by God.  Without faith—in God, God can’t do too much.

And that’s a hard lesson to learn, for sure.  You know, with all the abuses against human dignity and innocence in the world, it’s hard to have faith in God when our prayers for peace and justice seem to go unanswered.  But to that, God says: “Have faith.” 

When a loved one is ill, and the sickness is getting worse instead of better, we might wonder why God doesn’t hear our prayers.  Or we might think of the parish and the Church in general.  “God, help your people,” we pray.  But, again, God says: “Have faith.  I can’t do anything if you don’t have faith."

And so, today, let’s renew (again) our commitment to be a people of faith . . . because with faith, God can work in us, and through us, to be his presence in the world.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Homily for 2 Feb 2016

2 Feb 2016
Feast of the Presentation in the Temple

God is always moving from “promise” to “fulfillment;” God promises and God fulfills those promises.  And the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple is a fulfillment of that promise, that prophecy we heard from Malachi: “And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.”  The Lord’s coming is even foreseen, somewhat, in the psalms.  Psalm 24 refers to him as “the king of glory:” strong and mighty, mighty in battle. 

But, perhaps, the people of God didn’t think “the king of glory” would come in so little and ordinary a package as an infant.  There he was, the Lord, the awaited Messiah, coming to his Temple . . . and next to no one noticed.  There was Simeon and the prophetess, Anna; they recognized him.  But that seems to have been it.  God fulfilled his promise . . . but not quite as everyone expected.

And then we think of the promises Jesus has made to us.  Among them, he said: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  God made a promise to his faithful people.  The question is: How is fulfilling that promise?  We know he is.  But how is he doing it?

Well, if learn anything from our ancestors in the faith, it’s that we shouldn’t put too much stock in our own expectations.  If we’re looking for God to do something for us, he may do it in a completely different way than we expect.  And so, what seems best, but to be open to . . . anything.

Jesus says: “This is my Body.  This is my Blood.”  Okay, we’ll go with it.  Our human senses fail to understand that, but we’ll believe him.  It looks like ordinary bread; looks like ordinary wine.  But if that’s how Jesus wants to fulfill his promise, we’re open to it.  And then Jesus says: “When you helped the least of my brothers and sisters, you helped me.”  Ok, so Jesus is presented to us through the poor and the poor in spirit.

His glory is presented to us . . . in creation, in the innocence of a child, in the love between friends, in the correction made by a parent or teacher.  Jesus promised to be with us always; he promised—in effect—to make his Presentation at the Temple last until the end of time.  And we are that Temple—temples of the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord comes to us; he fulfills his promises.  But will we recognize him?  Will we accept him with open arms in whatever way he comes to us?  Will we be satisfied with that little, understated package of delight which is our Lord?  Or are we waiting for something . . . more like what we expect?

Homily for 1 Feb 2016

1 Feb 2016

People don’t respond to Jesus (or Christianity) in the same way; that’s obvious.  Just go out into public and start talking about Jesus, and you’re probably going to get a nice variety of reactions.  Some people might just look at you weird, and keep walking by.  Others might stop and have a friendly conversation.  And for some people, it might set off an explosion of annoyance and disdain.  People don’t respond to Jesus in a uniform way.

And we see this in the gospel.  There’s Jesus, doing his thing, exorcising a demon from somebody, and then letting the demons possess a herd of swine instead, which ends up drowning in the sea.  Who could be bothered by that?  He’s doing a good thing. 

Of course, the owner of all those pigs might be annoyed.  And the people there in the countryside, living a relatively peaceful life, were suddenly disturbed.  They were “fearful” and, essentially, told Jesus to leave them alone—“Stop disturbing the peace!”  Even the person possessed by the demon might have been disappointed with Jesus.  After all, he begged Jesus to let him follow him.  And Jesus said no.

But, in the midst of all that, Jesus just keeps going.  And, with that, he gives us an example to follow.  When we stumble and sin, or when those demons of self-doubt and hopelessness creep in, we keep going—not by our own power, but by the power of the Lord.  He is, after all, the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord of the skies and the sea . . . the Lord of all.