Saturday, March 26, 2016

Homily for 26 Mar 2016 Easter Vigil

26 Mar 2016
Easter Vigil

This is the night . . . when we celebrate destruction.  Yes, Christ is risen from the dead—Glory to God in the highest, and Alleluia for that!  And we’ll be celebrating that in the daytime tomorrow and for the next fifty days.  But tonight . . . in the night of the great Vigil of Easter, we celebrate destruction.  We celebrate the death of Death—most especially, the ways of Death.

Even when Jesus was surrounded by darkness and gloom and death, he didn’t give in.  Death was there in the agony of the Garden and in the betrayal of Judas and his closest disciples.  Death was there in the mocking and beating and crowning with thorns.  Death was there on the Cross as he was spat upon; as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  Death was all around him.  It even tried to claim his body there in the tomb.

But Death and the ways of Death were defeated.  Darkness has been overcome by Christ.  And so we gather here, at the great Vigil of Easter; we gather with darkness all around us, yet we are unafraid because the Light of Christ has split open the night and sent the darkness and the gloom of Death running away. 

How does the Christmas carol go?: Dear Savior haste/ Come, come to earth/ Dispel the night and show your face/ And bid us hail the dawn of grace/ O come, divine Messiah!/  The world in silence waits the day/ When hope shall sing its triumph/ And sadness flee away.”  Well, tonight is “the day” when the night is dispelled and sadness flees away.  Tonight is the “the day” when Death has died.  Alleluia and Glory to God in the highest for that!

And not only tonight, but every time, and every place, and every circumstance when the Spirit of Death is pestering us.  With the Name of Jesus on our lips, and the Light of Truth and Love in our hearts, the Spirit of Death has no power over us.  That’s what we celebrate tonight—the destruction of the power of Death by the Light of Life.

The Spirit of Death loves to take away our joy and happiness, our hope and love, our faith.  The Spirit of Death loves to drain the life out of us. 

You know, if someone tries to run us down or criticizes us unfairly or unjustly—when Death is trying to shame us and make us inferior, what a blessed thing it is to be able to say: “Get behind me Satan!  For I am a child of the Light!”  Or even when physical death is around us, or maybe when life gets to be challenging—and the Spirit of Death is trying to make us afraid, or doubtful, or despairing, what a great gift it is to be able to say: “Come Lord Jesus, the Light of my life, and chase away the pesky gloom of Death.”

And the darkness of Death can be pesky.  Doubt, fear, sadness, jealousy, judgmentalism and all those “ways of Death” can really be pesky . . . like a bunch of mosquitoes that just won’t leave you alone.  But the Light of Christ is like a big fly swatter that squashes ‘em and sends ‘em flying away. 

Yes, tonight we celebrate destruction!  We celebrate the demise of Death.  And with all the angels and saints of heaven, we sing and laugh and immerse ourselves in the Life and Light of God.  And if you start to think that you don’t have reason to be happy tonight, or that Christ isn’t going to be your Light, you can chase away that little demon of doubt by remembering that you are a baptized child of God. 

By faith and baptism, the Light of Christ is already in you.  You just have to uncover it!  And you do that by saying: “I don’t want death to have any more power over me.  I don’t want to live in the darkness.  Christ, be my Light!  Jesus, destroy the ways of Death in me; help me to live and to love!  Christ, be my Light!"

And no prayer is more loathsome to the Spirit of Death, than the simple prayer of a child of God living in the Light of Christ.  What a joy it is tonight—to be bathed in the Light of Christ, and to realize again that Death . . . has been destroyed! 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Homily for 24 Mar 2016 Holy Thursday

24 Mar 2016
Holy Thursday

From the burning bush, God said to Moses: “Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy ground.”  And later on, as the Hebrews prepared for the Passover to freedom, God said: Eat the sacrificial lamb “with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight.” 

And at the feast of Passover centuries later, Jesus said: “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed.”  Now, you might be wondering what the big deal is about feet: What’s the difference if they’re covered (or not), or clean (or not).  But from Scripture, we see that God likes to make a connection between our feet and our state-of-life. 

After all, our feet carry us from this place to that place; from a walk through the park to a walk through the mall.  They step on things in the dark, and the little toes get stubbed.  They get us to school, to work, to church.  They carry us to the tv or internet, or to our favorite chair to read a book.  Sometimes, our feet even fail us, and we have to find a substitute for them: a wheelchair, a cane, crutches, prosthetics, braces.  

Our feet carry us through life here in the world.  And sometimes—a lot of times—we find ourselves firmly grounded in this world.  And so, our feet have a symbolic value, too: they symbolize our wandering soul, and what we allow ourselves to be influenced by and carry away with.  Our feet are like tree roots: wherever we stand, that’s the culture and values and beliefs we’re going to soak up.

When Moses approached the burning bush, God said: “Take off your sandals.”  In other words: “Let nothing stand between you and me.  Let your ‘roots’ soak up all that I am.”  But later, God said, “Put sandals on your feet, you shall eat like those who are in flight.”  In other words: “As you travel the world, protect yourself from soaking up too much of worldly values.”

And at the Last Supper, Jesus said, “You only need to have your feet washed.”  In other words: “You’ve traveled in the world and become too grounded in the world.  Let me sweep you off your feet, and let me carry you.  Let me be your world.”

And that’s a beautiful image: Jesus pouring water over his disciples’ feet, dislodging them from being stuck in the world, to being free and alive in him.  But, as we know, it isn’t all clean and neat.  Humanity was too far gone to be simply washed with water.  And so Jesus poured out for us not only water, but blood as well.

Once when I was writing a paper in seminary, the professor commented that he thought it didn’t have enough “blood” in it.  In other words, it needed more “life” and “vigor” in it.  And that’s how we understand blood: Blood is life.  We need blood in us to live.  When Jesus pours out his Blood, it’s his life he gives us—both symbolically and really.  When the communion ministers say to you: “The Blood of Christ,” they could just as well say: “The Life of Christ.”

And what is the Life of Christ but a covenant of sacrificial, self-giving love.  And it’s a “covenant” that’s already happening in the life of God—between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But it’s a covenant—it’s a life and a way of living—that’s poured out in a chalice for us to share in and to drink from.

From the Book of Revelation we have the wonderful image of the River of Life flowing from the City of God.  And that’s what we have here at the Lord’s Supper: the River of God’s Life poured out in both water and Blood.  And whether it’s the washing of the feet or eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Christ, they’re both concrete ways in which our God is trying to “sweep us off our feet.”  He says, “Be grounded in me.  Let me be your feet.  Let me carry you . . . to resurrected life forever and always.”   

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Homily for 23 Mar 2016

23 Mar 2016

Judas was the only Apostle who didn’t call Jesus “Lord.”  And that seems to reflect Judas’ relationship to Jesus.  Jesus was his “Rabbi,” but he wasn’t the one guiding his life; Judas was still very much in control of himself.  And, some suggest, he was also trying to control Jesus.

There’s some reason to believe that Judas was a member of the Zealot Movement, who were trying to overthrow the Jewish leaders and get back to their roots.  I guess you could say it was a “reform movement.”  And it’s suggested that perhaps Judas turned Jesus over in the hopes that Jesus would fight and join the revolution of the Zealots.

Perhaps Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was that he was trying to “use” Jesus for his own ends, rather than letting Jesus be his Lord and God.  And that kind of betrayal of Jesus still goes on today.  For instance, when people cherry-pick Scripture passages to support their own opinions, they’re betraying Jesus; they’re “using” him for their own ends.  Or when people invoke the name of Jesus as a show of superiority or authority, they’re betraying Jesus; they’re “using” him, too.

A lesson we can take away from this is, of course, that if we’re going call Jesus our “Lord,” then we should let him be our Lord—and not merely someone who’ll help us get what we want.  Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

All Judas needed to do was call Jesus “Lord,” and mean it.  And that’s all we need to do as well.  Jesus is our Teacher, but he’s also much more: He is Lord, he is Trustworthy Friend, he is God.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Homily for 22 Mar 2016

22 Mar 2016

Time and distance give us a better vision.  The disciples were confused there by what Jesus was saying to Judas.  Simon Peter didn’t really know what he was getting into.  Even the Prophet Isaiah hints at the thought that: “I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength.”  When we’re “in the moment,” we don’t always see clearly how everything will turn out.

During Lent, we may have struggled with something personal.  We’ve been “in the moment” of the “Lenten desert;” working through the challenges that are particularly our own.  And, along the way, we may have wondered: “What’s the point?”  What’s the point of our Lenten disciplines?  Or: What’s the point of, say, exercise or eating well?  Or: Why should I struggle to forgive someone, when it’s easier to just hold a grudge?

When we’re “in the moment” of living the trials of life, we don’t always see clearly how it’s all going to turn out.  We might even be tempted to give up—and, perhaps, maybe we should (if the struggle does more harm than good).  But, sometimes, we’re in a trying situation in life because God has something better in store for us when it’s over.

Why exercise and eat well?  For a better quality of life.  Why struggle to forgive someone?  To free yourself from the chains of resentment.  Why “stick to it”—whatever “it” is—when we’d rather not?  Well, as the Prophet Isaiah puts it: “My reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.”  And Isaiah can say that because he stuck with his struggles and came to understand their purpose in his life—they drew him to rest more solidly in God.

And we aren’t totally blind.  We can each look back on the tough times of life, and in hindsight we can see how it all turned out.  We made it through and we’re still here, worshipping our God, growing in love and faith.  And that’s important when we get buried “in the moment."

Remember how God has worked in the past.  Trust that God is working in the present.  And look forward with faith to that day when God will make everything . . . clear.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Homily for 20 Mar 2016 Palm Sunday

20 Mar 2016
Palm Sunday

What did he say, again?  “This is my body, which will be given up for you.”  “This is my blood, which will be poured out for many.”  That wasn’t just an invitation to share a meal with him.  It wasn’t an invitation to “come on over and hang out for a while.”  It was an invitation to “do this in memory of” him.  It was an invitation to join him in sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of the Cross

And the Cross is right here.  This “table” we gather at; this altar is the Cross.  Here is where the Body of Christ is broken and given.  Here is where the Blood of Christ is poured out and shared.  And here is where we come—with our sacrifice of open hands, open hearts, and the self-abandonment of our will to the Will of God.

Here, at the Altar of the Cross—here, at the place of sacrifice—life happens.  There’s a reason why we take our green palm leaves and keep them by a crucifix at home—they’re a reminder that through sacrifice, life happens.  Whether it’s the sacrifices shared between spouses, or between friends, or the sacrifice of putting our own interests aside here at the altar—through sacrifice, life happens.

It’s why we venerate the Cross on Good Friday.  It’s why we bow to the Altar, and kiss it, and treat it with the utmost of reverence.  It’s the place of sacrifice; it’s our link to the font of life.  And this Altar, this Cross, is here because Christ put it here.  “Do this in memory of me,” he said.  It wasn’t just an invitation to share a meal with him.  It was an invitation to join him in making a sacrifice in love for something bigger than ourselves.

Sacrifice may not be attractive.  It may not have lots of flashing lights and upbeat music.  But underneath the sometimes stark reality of sacrifice, is the beauty of real affection, and the light which gladdens the innocent and the humble.  Right here, at the center of our Catholic life, is the Cross—the Altar—and from it sprouts all those green shoots of new life.

Thanks be to God for the sacrifice of the Cross.  Thanks be to God for new life.                  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Homily for 18 Mar 2016

18 Mar 2016

We hear about it all the time: people put up walls and tear down enemies.  It even happens among Christians—and among Catholic Christians, at that.  The reaction of the Jews toward Jesus isn’t something that belongs only to history; it’s a present reality in our global church.  Sometimes (and, thankfully, not too often) Catholics squeeze each other out.  Of course, what they’re doing is shutting out not only their brothers and sisters, but Christ as well!

The very telling sign that the Jews “did not have God within themselves” is that they were very divisive.  The Prophet Jeremiah put it very sadly, but truthfully: “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.”  The Jews had cut him off, and cut him out—even though he was their brother.

And when Christians are being divisive—especially among themselves—it’s a very telling sign that “God is not within them.”  They have ceased to act and be Christian.  As we enter this final week of Lent—this final week of intense spiritual renewal—if we find that we harbor any resentment toward our brothers or sisters, or if we’re tempted to put up walls, now is the time to get humble and listen again to the Lord speak his words of peace and reconciliation.

We hear about it all the time: people put up walls and tear down enemies.  But we also hear about people who tear down walls and build up their brothers and sisters.  May we be more often in this second group—the group of Christians who see and live with a Catholic heart: a heart that embraces all as does the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Homily for 17 Mar 2016

17 Mar 2016

We’ve all been to funerals.  We know that people die.  And so, even to the ears of the faithful, Jesus’ words can seem to have a trace of incredibility: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”  Of course, we believe in the resurrection; and we know that he’s talking about eternal life. But, still, it can be hard to square what Jesus is saying about death with the reality we know as death.  And perhaps we shouldn’t try.

After all, as Jesus says, he’s simply telling people what the Father has shared with him.  And so, all this talk about “never seeing death” is really coming to us from a dimension that’s way outside our realm of experience.  That’s why the Jews called Jesus “possessed” and even “nuts.”  And it’s why so many people in the world still look at Christianity and call it “nonsensical” or a “figment of somebody’s imagination.” 

Jesus is trying to expose us to a world of understanding beyond what we normally see as reality.  And his efforts reach their climax with his own crucifixion and death.  When we see the crucifixion there’s more going on than just death.  When we look into a casket, or visit a cemetery, there’s more going on than just death.

And what’s “going on” is the promise of the Son of God that “whoever keeps his word will never see death.”  What’s happening is the almost unbelievable.  And yet, we believe.  We may not understand what Jesus is talking about, and our eyes may see only death . . . but, still, we believe—not in foolishness, but in faith that Jesus is who he says he is, and that his words are true.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Homily for 16 Mar 2016

16 Mar 2016
(Elementary School Mass)

Today we hear about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo.  But did you know . . . those were not their real names?  No, they weren’t.  Their real names were Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael.  After they were captured and sent to be slaves, King Nebuchadnezzar changed their names.  And he did that because he was afraid their names would remind them too much that they were children of God.  And King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t want that; he wanted them to forget about God.  And so, he changed their names to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo to make them forget who they were.

Now, each one of us has a name, too.  And that’s the name that our parents gave us when we were born.  But there’s also another name each of us has, too, because of our baptism.  And that’s the name “Christian.”  Even if I don’t know your first name, I can still come up to you and say, “Hello, Christian”—because that’s who we are.

But, sometimes, people try to make us forget our name.  They try to make us forget who we are.  And that’s when Jesus whispers to you and says: “Remember, you’re a child of God; you are a Christian.”  And when we remember that, we can let other people call us whatever they want—because we know they’re wrong.  We are “Christian”—that’s our name, and that’s what helps us to be strong.

Now, when Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were in the furnace, they didn’t get hurt.  And that’s because they never forgot who they really were.  Their always remembered their true names, and that they were children of God, just like us.  So, today, if someone asks you what you’re name is, remember that (part of) your name is “Christian.”  That’s a big part of who you are—and it’s a reason to come here to Mass and give thanks to God.

Homily for 15 Mar 2016

15 Mar 2016

Each of us has, more or less, died a little bit already.  After all, that’s what sin does to us.  We’ve each played with, and been bitten by, the serpent of sin, whose venom is deadly.

And, as wounded children do, we’ve run to the One who loves us with tears in our eyes and fear in our hearts.  And there, through faith in God, we’ve been embraced and kissed by the mercy of God, who gives the Blood of Christ to us as a healing serum.

“Take this, all of you, and drink from it,” Jesus says, “it will be poured out for the forgiveness of sins.”  We approach the altar of God with death in us.  But we leave the altar with life in us.  And not only life, but also wisdom and faith.  God’s Wisdom: to help us steer clear of the serpent of sin.  And faith: in believing that a healing remedy is always here for us.

We’ve each died a little bit already through our sins.  But with the Cross of Christ, and his Blood flowing from it, we are raised from death to life . . . today and forever. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Homily for 14 Mar 2016

14 Mar 2016

The stage had been set for the Son of God to come on the scene.  Scripture, the Prophets of old, and the Law had all foretold his coming.  And he lived up to all that he was intended to be.  And yet, many didn’t recognize him.  They didn’t believe him.  And things just went from bad to worse.

We can see something similar, perhaps, with the Church.  The stage had been set for the Apostles and the body of Christian disciples to come onto the scene.  Christ had foretold the “new Jerusalem,” and he gave us the commandment by which people would recognize us: “Love one another as I have loved you.  That is how they will know you are my disciples.”

And the Church—more or less—has lived up to what it was intended to be.  For quite some time it was a force behind much good in the world, and was recognized as such.  Yet, today, many turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the Bride of Christ.  Many of our own children don’t believe the testimony of the Church.  And things go from bad to worse.

And what can we bring to that situation today, but the same thing that Christ brought to the 1st Century: the truth of who we are.  Christ couldn’t be anything other than who we was (and is)—the presence of the Father among the children of God.  And we can’t be anything other than who we are—the presence of Christ to whomever we meet.

When people challenge us to “prove” our Christian faith, what can we do but “love them as Christ has loved us.”  They’ll know we are Christians by our love.  And, perhaps, through that love, they’ll come to know Christ the Light of the World, and begin to really live life again—as sons and daughters of God.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Homily for 12 Mar 2016

12 Mar 2016

Jesus doesn’t fit into human categories: and that’s the problem.  As we heard: “Some say, ‘This is truly the Prophet.’  Others say, ‘This is the Christ—but wait, the Christ isn’t supposed to come from Galilee.’” Everybody’s confused by Jesus.  And he really does cause a ruckus in the community—even today’s community.

Some people call Jesus a “Friend;” others say he is “Mighty Lord;” still others say he is merely “a perfect human being.”  Jesus still causes confusion today among Christians, and even within our own individual sense of who he is.  And it seems to be because Jesus just doesn’t fit into our human categories.

Even if the Jews correctly understood him as “the Messiah, the Christ,” they still would’ve missed the mark.  And even if they had known him to be God himself, they still wouldn’t have understood him—because “who can understand God?”  Maybe the Jews didn’t know what to do with him because they didn’t know to approach him.  Many of them had a sense that Jesus was . . . peculiar, to say the least.  But all they could do was to define him in our more narrow human categories.

And we do the same thing. Maybe the reason Jesus can be such a mystery to us because . . . he is.  He’s God and, again—“who can understand God?”  There’s more to him than we can possibly grasp by our human understandings of things and how the world works.  Is Jesus “Friend?” Yes.  Is Jesus “Mighty Lord?”  Yes.  Is he “a perfect human being?”  Yes.  But not in the way we define those things.

Jesus comes to us; he reveals himself to us.  And, to an extent, we can know him.  But, ultimately, there’s always a part of Jesus that will remain a mystery.  He’ll always be somewhat fleeting in our lives.  The remedy, however, is to keep an open mind to the ways of God.  About the time we think we have God figured out, we don’t.

And we can let that frustrate us, or we can just go with it . . . and wait to see what God is up to next.        

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Homily for 11 Mar 2016

11 Mar 2016

The Agony of Jesus on Holy Thursday night wasn’t his first agony.  Already, days before, we see him grapple with the inevitable.  He didn’t want to go to Jerusalem, because he knew the Jews would try to kill him there.  And, yet, when his “brothers” went off to the city, he changed his mind—out of love for their well-being, and in obedience to the larger plan of his Father.

And when I go to visit people who are very ill, I see a similar struggle.  Death might still be a long ways off, and yet, they’re starting to grapple with the inevitable.  They don’t want to face death.  And yet, their Christian faith encourages them to accept the inevitable with trust in God, with hope in the promise of eternal life, and in loving obedience to the voice of God, which says from the other side of death: “Come to me.”

I don’t imagine any of us are planning to die today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next year.  But, at some point, the inevitable will come, and we may find ourselves grappling with that.  May it bring us some peace, though, to remember that Christ has already been there: he knows very well the agony.  But he also knows—better than we do—what lies on the other side of death; because he’s already there.

Just as God the Father was there for him, so he and the Father are there waiting for us.  The agony of life and death is, well, agony.  But there’s something sweet in store . . . for those who remain faithful to the end.     

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Homily for 10 Mar 2016

10 Mar 2016

In the courtroom, tensions were high.  The judge was not having a good day, and the defendants were like a bunch of rowdy teenagers who should’ve known better.  Luckily, for them, they had a top-notch defense lawyer—a man who knew the Law inside and out (and who knew the judge pretty well, too); they had Moses.  And he was able to cool things down, and get them off with only a slap on the wrist and a warning.

But Moses wasn’t done; he had other work to do.  Across the hallway, tensions were hot—and they were only getter hotter.  The judge was particularly stinging in his remarks to the defendants, an overly righteous group.  But when the defendants realized it was their own father—Moses—who was accusing them, well, they almost blew a gasket!  They figured the judge had set it all up.  They figured Jesus had dragged Moses into it, and tried to pit their own father against them.  And their hatred for that judge went from hot to red hot.

But so goes the life of a prophet, whether it’s Moses or Jeremiah or Elijah . . . or Jesus.  It’s not always fun to get in the middle of things.  But it’s the right thing to do, even if it hurts; even if it seems to bring more division than unity.  And thanks be to God for Jesus the Prophet of prophets who stood between God and humanity—who got right in the middle of humanity’s messed up relationship with God—and said, “Crucify me, not them."

Thanks be to God for the mercy and truth Jesus brings to our lives.  By him, we are not only acquitted, but our record is wiped clean, and we are set free. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Homily for 9 Mar 2016

9 Mar 2016

From the Prophet Isaiah we hear a wonderful litany of all the good things God has done, and will do: freedom to prisoners, a place of rest and pasture, mercy, guidance toward refreshing waters, comfort, and so on.  And yet, as we heard, Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”  God’s works are all around Zion, and yet, they are blind to them.

And the blindness of “the Jews” in the gospel is apparent.  Jesus lives the Law of God perfectly, and still they can’t see him for who is he; they can’t even see him as a fundamentally good person.

But it isn’t just our ancestors who had temporary spiritual blindness.  It kind of “runs in the family,” up to the present day.  It’s tempting sometimes—especially when life is rough, or Lent is throwing us curve balls—to forget the good things God has done for us.  It’s even tempting sometimes to get so used to our spiritual practices, even coming to Mass, that we can forget the magnitude and the depth of goodness of what we have here.

Even in our private prayer, we might occasionally forget that we’re speaking with God himself.  Or, rather, we might forget how amazing that is—that the God of creation knows each of us personally, and that he wants to share himself with us.  That is an astounding thing—for those who have eyes to see it.

And so, if we’re ever tempted to say, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me,” we need only open our eyes of faith, and remember the goodness of our God, and his promise to be “near to all who call upon him.”    

Monday, March 7, 2016

Homily for 8 Mar 2016

8 Mar 2016

The blind man had been waiting for thirty-eight years for someone to help him.  He wasn’t that far from the pool, but he had no way to get there by himself.  And so he was waiting for an angel to come along.  And one did.

As we get deeper into Lent, we ourselves might become aware of “spiritual illnesses” that are beyond our ability to fix.  Like the blind man, we can have a sense of where we want to be, but we don’t know how to get there.  Maybe we struggle with gossip.  Maybe our illness is that we turn to food or internet or something else to find satisfaction.  Maybe we struggle with faith.  Whatever it is, it can paralyzing to just sit there, to know something isn’t right, and yet to feel powerless to make it right.  Sometimes, we can be waiting for an angel to come along.

Now, Jesus came to the blind man.  But instead of picking him up and taking him to the pool to be cleansed, Jesus gave a commandment: “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”  The blind man didn’t know it was Jesus.  But he followed that voice and he was made well.

And, of course, Jesus comes to us.  But instead of just taking away our spiritual ills, he gives us commandments, just like the blind man.  He offers a way of healing—speaking through our conscience.  There, in our innermost being, Jesus whispers to us commandments and advice in the form of an active conscience (and we may not even recognize that it’s him speaking). 

Maybe when we’re tempted to reach for yet another piece of chocolate, Jesus says, “Come, sit with me, and tell me what’s on your mind.”  Or maybe when we feel the urge to judge someone, Jesus says, “Don’t worry about them; I am Lord, and I watch over them too."

Like the blind man, Jesus offers us his words as a remedy for what ails us.  And the sooner we listen to that voice in our conscience, the sooner we can “rise, take up our mats, and walk.”   

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Homily for 6 Mar 2016

6 Mar 2016
4th Sunday in Lent, Year C

We’re knee-deep into the election year, and it’s both frustrating and interesting.  The candidates are getting their positions out there—and we’re trying to figure out what their positions actually are.  The debates rage on—in the news, at home, at work, on social media.  We’re wondering who the final candidates will be, and who we’d vote for.  And some of us might be wondering how and what our Catholic faith has to say about it all.

I imagine the scene could be something like the drama there on the farm: two sons with different ideas of how things are supposed to be (and, no doubt, many others also who are there to take sides with one son or the other).  We might even consider which son we’d align ourselves with.  But in the middle all that drama on the farm is the father.

If our country today has a “father,” it could be the Catholic faith.  Of course, it isn’t exactly the same as on the farm; after all, the Catholic Church is not head of the United States.  And there are lots of people who really couldn’t care less what the Church has to say; for them, maybe the excitement is in watching politicians (the two brothers) just duke it out themselves, until one of them is victorious.  But, for us Catholics, our faith does play (something of) the role of the father in politics, especially in an election year.

Now, on the one hand, the father (in the parable) seems kind of weak.  I mean, the younger son says: “Give me my inheritance.”  And the father just lets him have it; no arguments.  And then that son comes back, and the father doesn’t scold him or anything.  It seems like the younger son is able to just walk all over him.  Even with the older son, the father sounds weak.  I mean, it doesn’t sound like he ever told his son that everything was his to share; he sounds like a poor communicator, at least.  And he doesn’t seem to have been able to soften his son’s heart and bring a reconciliation between the two. 

The father seems to be rather weak.  Of course, that’s how the Catholic Church is sometimes viewed in relation to politics: weak and irrelevant, at best—or, at worst, a meddlesome voice that disrupts the flow of things.  But, on the flip side, the father (and the Church) is rather strong.

He respects the autonomy of each son to make up their own minds.  He holds firm to the values of family, mercy, and forgiveness.  He doesn’t favor one son over the other, but treats them both the same.  He doesn’t compromise on principles—not even if it means losing a son.  He’s there for everyone, equally.  And he’s a stable presence, and generous with good things.  In all those ways, the father is actually quite strong.  And those are the same strengths the Church brings to the arena of politics.

Chances are, you’ll never hear the Church endorse one candidate or another; you won’t hear the Church side with this political party or that political party.  And that might sound weak or wishy-washy, but that’s where the strength of our faith comes in; the Church is very much like the father in the parable—the Church is interested in “preaching the principles” of a good and just society, and then people are free to take them or leave them.  The strength that our faith brings to politics and elections is the strength of stable principles.  Those principles are what we bring to the ballot box.

And, just like the older son and the younger son, our political parties and candidates are neither entirely right nor entirely wrong.  Both sides embody Catholic values and principles, and both sides do not embody Catholic values and principles.  And so, either way, whomever we vote for will require us to compromise something of our Catholic faith.  The question is always: What to compromise on.

And in the middle of that decision which each of us has to make at the polls, is the stable, principle-driven Church (like the father in the parable).  When we consider the candidates and parties, and the issues at stake now at this time in history, we remember our Catholic principles.  For instance, from God our Creator we have the right to life, the right to personal freedom, the right to religious freedom, among many other rights and freedoms which reflect our basic human dignity. We also accept that we have the responsibility to care for the sick and those in need, to be a champion of the underdog, to be the presence of our merciful God to all we meet.

Then there’s the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity:” the idea that within relationships between larger entities and smaller entities, what can be handled on the smaller, more local level should be handled there.  And that’s also a reflection of human dignity, and the right and responsibility of the individual, the family, and the local community to live up to their own God-given potentials.  And so, practically speaking, the principle of subsidiarity affects our view of government: Big government or small government?  It affects our view of social welfare: When and how to help, and is it possible to help too much?

When we wade through all the positions the candidates and parties put out, it’s like trying to be the mediator between the prodigal son and his unforgiving brother—Who do you pick when neither is entirely right nor entirely wrong?  Again, it comes back to the question of :What part of your Catholic faith are you willing to compromise on?

When the younger son came home, mercy was more important to the father than punishment.  Punishment has its place and its value, but in the grand scheme of things, mercy wins out.  And when the older son was unforgiving, truth was more important to the father than appeasement.  And this brings up an important Catholic principle we bring to the ballot box: the principle that not all issues and values have the same weight.

For instance, human life is more important than tax law.  Immigration is more important than, say, gun control.  But it’s not all black-and-white, of course.  Because gun control affects human life; it also affects person freedom.  Human life is more important than fiscal policy, and yet, fiscal policy affects human life and dignity.  And the right of a people to govern themselves is to be protected; yet so is the responsibility of that society let itself be governed by some universal principles.

Politics and this election year we’re in are both frustrating and interesting.  There’s a lot to consider as the sides make their cases.  But in the middle of all that—as Catholics—are the principles of our Catholic faith.  They’re like a big sounding board that we test political views against.  Some views are good for humanity; others aren’t quite so.  But like the father which the Church is, I can’t tell you who to vote for, or what position to take.  I can only pass along the principles of our faith, and then say: “You are your own person.”  As the father said to his two sons in so many words: The decision is yours.  The decision is yours.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Homily for 5 Mar 2016

5 March 2016

It wasn’t theatrical.  It wasn’t a jumble of words.  It wasn’t there for everyone to see and hear.  Instead, it was simple and quietly said: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner;” a prayer spoken more by the heart than by the lips.

And, no doubt, it was a sincere prayer—as was the Pharisee’s.  But, most especially (and most importantly) it was a humble prayer.  God loves sinners—but especially sinners who know they’re sinners and can admit it; not only to themselves, but to God as well.  God loves that.  He loves to see people vulnerable because, of course, that’s when real love can happen—when we let down our guard and say: “God I need you.  Have mercy on me.”

That’s when God can actually be merciful and show his great affection for us—when we’re humble and vulnerable.  No theatrics are needed; no drama.  No piles and piles of words are needed.  Just . . . humility.  It’s so simple, and yet so hard sometimes.

May God inspire us to be always more humble—humble of heart, and vulnerable in our prayers.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Homily for 4 Mar 2016

4 Mar 2016

The first commandment is to love God: “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  But, if we actually do that, there’s nothing left to love our neighbor with! 

The commandment to love God involves every last ounce of who we are.  Nothing is to be held back.  “Love God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, ALL your mind, and ALL your strength.”  It seems like there wouldn’t be any bit of us left over to follow the second commandment: to love our neighbor.  But, of course, Christ is not asking the impossible here.

He’s not asking us to divide up our capacity to love—some for God, some for my neighbor, some for God, some for my neighbor.  Instead he’s asking us to love God first and foremost, and then let that love overflow into love of neighbor. 

St Bernard of Clairvaux used the images of a canal and a reservoir to describe how the love of God works in us.  With a canal, water (the Spirit) moves through it from one area to another.  But with a reservoir, the water builds up and then overflows into another area.  In other words, the reservoir is never empty—and is always overflowing.  And that’s something like what Jesus is saying here.

Love God with ALL of our being—be a reservoir, always open to God.  And then let God’s grace in us overflow into love of neighbor.  When you think about it, the second commandment is almost unnecessary; because if our love of God is complete enough, we’ll naturally love our neighbors as we should.

Of course, our reservoirs are a little leaky.  It’s hard to keep the grace of God from escaping through our sins.  And so, we need to be reminded of that second commandment—the commandment to intentionally share God’s mercy in us with others.

It’s always tempting, of course, to just let things be the way they are.  But as we enter into the second half of Lent, let’s put some extra attention to patching up those sinful holes in the reservoir of our souls, and see if we can’t love God even more fully—for our good, for God’s glory, and for the love of all.    

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Homily for 3 Mar 2016

3 Mar 2016

We’re almost half way through Lent, and Scripture today puts something of a test before—kind of like a “mid-term exam.”  There is Jeremiah, speaking bold words, true words, honest words—meant to ruffle feathers.  And there is Jesus, again speaking boldly, with truth and honesty about the situation—also to ruffle feathers.

The “test,” it seems, is to poke at our conscience and see how “hard” or “soft” it is.  Honest criticism does that to us: it either ruffles our feathers and hardens our heart, or it shines on us like the morning sun and keeps our heart soft.  If a prophet were to say to us: “You fail to listen to the voice of the Lord,” I imagine our response would be mixed.

One person might be offended and say, “I do not fail—I try all the time!”  And a second person might say, “You’re right; sometimes I do fail to listen; thanks be to God, though, not always.”  It’s the same response, but the first is with a still hardened heart, and the second is with a softer heart.  And that second person might score an “A” on this mid-term exam, and the first might score a “C."

Perfection in holiness doesn’t earn the “A”—a supple and humble heart does.  As we go into the second half of Lent, it’s good to consider what honest critiques the Lord might make about our own Lenten practices.  The test, though, is how we respond to his voice.  Do we take it in like a breath of fresh air, or do we shut it out?  What kind of a “grade” would you give your own spiritual growth as we enter the “mid-term” of Lent?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Homily for 2 Mar 2016

2 Mar 2016

No one who was there in 1898 is alive today.  They did their part: they received the faith from their ancestors, and passed it on to their children and their children’s children.  And it’s why the parish is still here today.  Our ancestors knew they were each a “link in the chain,” a single “thread in the fabric,” a mere steward of God’s gifts—to be received and shared.

And that’s what Jesus asks of us as well: to receive into our hearts the law of faith, hope, and charity—and then to pass it along.  He asks us to be faithful stewards of his very great love.  Of course, times have changed.  Today, many of our children’s children aren’t too interested in receiving the faith and the hope God offers.  Some are; but many aren’t.  And what else can we feel but hurt when that with which we’re entrusted is rejected.

And it should hurt because we’re not only stewards of faith—we’re part of that living faith we profess.  When others reject our faith, in some ways, they reject us—personally.  And we remember Jesus who was expelled from his home town, who was judged unfairly and treated unjustly by the authorities, who was crucified because he tried to be the faithful Steward of the Father’s love.

We have our mission from God: to pass on what we have received.  But we also have a great support in God who knows what it’s like to see that mission flounder.  And, to quote a humble servant of God in Calcutta: “God does not ask that we successful; he only asks that we faithful."

Our ancestors carried out the mission of Christ: they were faithful stewards.  And that’s the most we can hope to be—faithful and true, offering the wisdom and mercy of God . . . to anyone who’ll hear us.  

Homily for 1 Mar 2016

1 March 2016

What a strange prayer! . . . “Remember your mercies, O Lord.”  Does God have to be reminded that he’s supposed to be merciful?  It’s a question that runs throughout the readings today. Azariah in the furnace prays that God “not make void his covenant;” as though God has the potential to be unfaithful.  And even in what Jesus says, if God is like the king in the parable, then it would seem that God’s first inclination is to be merciless, not merciful.

What a strange prayer—“Remember your mercies, O Lord.”  And it should strike us as strange.  After all, we have the Son of God himself who says: “I am with you always, until the end of the age;” I am faithful (and here’s my Holy Spirit to help you).  And we have the Word-made-Flesh who made the definitive ratification of the covenant on the Cross.  And then, here again, is the Son of God himself freely offering mercy and healing to sinners, lepers, prostitutes, the Gentiles.  It doesn’t sound like that merciless king in the parable.

But, you know, that king wasn’t exactly merciless.  After all, he forgave the servant’s debt—no questions asked.  All the servant had to do was to ask for it, and desire it.  The idea of reminding God to be merciful isn’t because God is always on the brink of being unfaithful or forgetful or merciless.  Instead, it’s because we are.

That prayer, “Remember your mercies, O Lord,” is really a reminder to us that God is the merciful One, the faithful One, the One who signed the everlasting covenant with his Blood.  The flood gates of God’s mercy and love are always poised to be opened . . . we just have to want it and ask for it.  And that’s simply because God will never force himself upon us—after all, that would go against his very being Love itself.

God doesn’t need to be reminded to be merciful, but we do.  And so, we pray again and again, “Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Make us merciful . . . as you are very merciful.”