Saturday, April 30, 2016

Homily for 1 May 2016

1 May 2016
6th Sunday of Easter, Year C (with optional 7th Sunday Readings)

When somebody’s going away for a while, they tend to make sure everything is in good order before they go.  For instance, we might plan to take a vacation, and so we leave instructions for other people, you know: “Please be sure to pick up the mail every day, and here’s some papers that need to be mailed out, or would you come over and feed the cats.”  We get everything in order, and make it very clear what we need done, so we can go on vacation.

Of course, that’s similar to when people are doing estate planning or funeral planning.  It’s all about making our will and our intentions very clear so others will know what to do.  And that seems to be what Jesus is doing here in the gospel.  When you think about it, next weekend we’ll be celebrating the Ascension of the Lord; we’ll celebrate his having gone away to be with God the Father.  And so, it only makes sense that, before that happened, he would’ve made sure his Will and his Intentions were very clear to his disciples.

Now, sometimes a Last Will and Testament can be focused entirely on the distribution of assets: property, finances, a car, and so on.  But it can also be rather beautiful statement about the meaning of somebody’s life.  And I saw this a lot when I was a chaplain at a hospital over in La Crosse.  When people were nearing death, or were going into serious surgery, what oftentimes became important was for them to make sure their loved ones knew how they felt. 

They wanted to testify in a short and clear way that they loved their family.  Or they wanted to make it known that they needed to forgive someone, or to ask forgiveness from someone.  Sometimes there was even a simple profession of faith in God written down.  Before they went away, they just had to say something to tell people what their life was all about.

And that’s what we have here in the gospel today.  Here in John we find out why the Word became flesh at the Incarnation, and why Jesus did what he did, and said what he said during his ministry.  Here in John we find out why he was crucified, and buried, and rose from the dead, and walked among his disciples before finally ascending into Heaven.  Jesus tells us the meaning of his life on earth.    

It was a testament to the truth that love and charity are more powerful than fear and hatred.  His life on earth was a testament to his absolute love of God the Father . . . and his perfect love for us.  And his whole Will and Purpose for being here—just in case we missed it—is “that [we] may all be one,” “that the world may believe that [the Father] sent” him, and “that [we] may also be in [God].”

This is what his life on earth was all about; it was all about exactly what he preaches to us: “Love God with all your heart, will all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your being.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Go make disciples of all peoples, so that God may be all in all.”  That’s the meaning of his whole earthly life in a nutshell.  And before he went away, he just had to make it very, very clear to the ones he loves. 

But we’ll miss the point if we stop there.  That’s his earthly life in a nutshell, yes.  But he also wants it to be our life as well.  You know, there aren’t any barriers between the Son of God and God the Father; how many times does he say that “he and the Father are one.”  They’re bound together perfectly in that reality we know as the Holy Spirit.  And it’s Jesus’ Will that there be no barriers between us and God, and not any barriers among us in the Church.

In effect, Jesus is saying: “Here’s what my life on earth was all about—now go and do the same thing.  I am with you to help you.”

And, really, it’s a beautiful vision Jesus puts in front of us—a vision of real unity and charity, peace and mutual respect; a vision where the boundaries between heaven and earth, and the distinction between human and divine become blurred to the point that they’re practically the same thing.

During Mass, there’s a moment where the priest pours a little water into the wine.  And the prayer that’s said is this: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, as he humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  And the wine and the water just mix together and they become one.  It’s a little image there in the chalice of Christ’s Will for us, and (hopefully) our own desire that God will saturate everything with the Holy Spirit, and there will be no more division, anywhere, on earth or in heaven.

As we heard in the psalm: “May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you!  May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear him.  O God, let all the nations praise you.” 

At World Youth Day 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis made his famous remarks about “making a mess.”  He said: “What do I expect as a consequence of Youth Day? I expect a mess. There will be one. . . . I want a mess in the dioceses! I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out to the street! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness, . . .  that is comfortableness, that is clericalism, that is being shut-in on ourselves.”

“I expect a mess.”  And Jesus could’ve said the same thing.  Not a “mess” in the sense of chaos and harm, but a “mess” in the sense of breaking down barriers that should never have been put up in the first place.  Making a “mess” in the sense of restoring the “order” of what God wills and intends for his creation.

And so, practically speaking, we can follow the Will of Christ by, first of all, praying.  One of my own concerns for the Church (and the world) is that she’s getting increasingly hyper.  At some point in our history, the mark of a “true Christian” became how much activity we’re doing.  A true Christian is a busy Christian.  A true Christian is a hyper Christian who just can’t sit still.  Of course, it’s in stillness that we can be the most intimate and one with God.  And so, being too busy doing the Lord’s work can actually be a barrier to knowing the Lord. 

And so, practically speaking, we can honor the Will of Christ by intentionally praying more.  If you’re looking for something solid to hang onto, think of the Our Father: “Thy kingdom come, thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  It takes the focus off of us, and puts it on the Will of God.  And it makes us be still and challenges us to be one with God.

Another practical way to honor Christ’s Will for us is maybe to think before we speak (or get really good at saying, “I’m sorry”).  You know, we all have ideas of how life can be better: at work, at home, in the parish, in the world.  But we want to be careful not to let our own sense of rightness be a barrier to loving our neighbor. 

As we know, some people are actually right about certain things.  And some people are actually wrong about certain things.  But it takes humility and an interest in the other person, to make the love of neighbor a reality.  In the vision of God there aren’t any “big egos.”  Of course, this is a big challenge for us (and everybody).

After all, we love to debate about things.  We see it in the Acts of the Apostles when they were debating about circumcision.  We argue about public policies, foreign policies, taxes, human rights, justice and equality, the Church and so on, and so on.  We love to debate with one another.  And that’s a great thing; it’s a very good and human activity to do.  But there’s always the risk of putting up barriers; there’s always the potential of the “big ego” taking over.  And then the community of disciples breaks down, as does the mingling of heaven and earth.

Now, we could go on and on about practical ways to honor Christ’s Will.  But I won’t.  Instead, I’ll just mention one more way.  And that is: To nurture our imagination.  Whenever I look at the Book of Revelation, it always strikes me how much of an imagination you have to have in order to appreciate what’s there.  The experience is almost like reading a children’s book; with talking animals, or a pumpkin that turns into a carriage, or other fantastical things happening.

To honor the Will of Christ—that we love God, love our neighbors, go make of all disciples so that God will be all in all—to honor the Will of Christ, practically speaking, it’s helpful to think impractically; to think outside the box; to nurture our imagination and begin to live in the world of possibilities.

Jesus left his disciples a “statement” of what his life on earth was all about—it was about breaking down the barriers between heaven and earth; breaking down the walls between the human and the divine.  And that’s his Will for us; that we be a people of love and charity.  Just think of the possibilities.  It’s a beautiful vision.  Will we make it ours?    

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Homily for 29 Apr 2016

29 Apr 2016

Jesus left a lot of questions unanswered . . . sort of.  He didn’t say anything about property laws, or taxes, or the form of government that works best.  He didn’t say anything about how to make the faith more attractive to youth.  He didn’t say anything about the role of art and architecture in our worship.  Jesus left a lot of questions we deal with unanswered . . . sort of.

“Love God, and love one another” is what he said in so many words.  And, in that, he gave us a lens through which to approach life and all its questions: the lens of charity, of mercy and justice; the lens of humility and sacrificial love; the lens of the community which has love for one another.  Jesus left a lot of questions answered—but he gave us the lens through which those questions can be answered.

And we see this in the question about circumcision that was brought to the Apostles.  Jesus hadn’t said anything to them about circumcision.  But through the lens of charity and humility before God, the Apostles were given an answer by the Holy Spirit—the Church was given an answer. 

As we know, a lot of life questions can’t be answered by turning to Scripture.  Instead, we have to turn to the community of believers—to the Church—to get an answer . . . trusting, of course, that the Holy Spirit is guiding the wisdom and teachings of the Church throughout the centuries.  And we do that because that’s the “tool” Jesus gave us to get those questions answered: he gave us the Church, and he put a pair of glasses on the Church whose lens is charity and mercy and truth.

Every Sunday we profess our faith in Jesus.  And we profess our faith in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”  And that’s right.  We believe in the Church who guides us with charity and mercy.  We believe in the Church whose voice, we trust, is the Voice of Christ. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Homily for 28 Apr 2016

28 Apr 2016

Right about the time we want to make our faith complex, Jesus steps in and says, “Keep it simple.  Keep it simple.”  And, really, we only have two commandments to follow: To love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Everything flows from that: the way we worship, how we live our daily lives, how we practice charity, our sense of morals and justice, and so on. 

Of course, all of that can start to weigh us down if we forget to “keep it simple.”  If we start to wonder if we’re holy enough, or if we’re Catholic enough, or if we’re charitable enough, we need only go back to the basics, and really listen to Jesus say again: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. . . . Keep my commandments and you will remain in my love.”

Now, we might get tired of hearing about “loving God and loving our neighbor,” but that’s the short and long of it.  Life and faith are all about love; that is, charity and self-gift.  Jesus encourages us to keep our faith simple, and to do our best at being a person of charity.  After all, it’s through a heart of charity that Christ recognizes us as his brothers and sisters.

And charity begins and ends here, at the Altar of God.  In love, we offer thanks to God for all his blessings.  And in love and humility we receive even more blessings to share with others.  “Keep it simple,” Jesus says.  May our lives and faith revolve around the virtue of simple, everyday charity.  And, in that, our joy will be complete.        

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Homily for 27 Apr 2016

27 Apr 2016

God is something of a gardener and a surgeon.  He goes around pruning and cutting away, so that new growth and new life can happen.  Of course, we focus on this a lot during Lent, when God inspires us to “give up” things, to slow down and spend more time in prayer, to fast and to give alms.  But God’s pruning and cutting away is just a part of life for us, year round.  Maybe that’s why those Pharisees-turned-Christians had a hard time letting go of the practice of circumcision.

They knew that God is something of a gardener and a surgeon; the growth of the people depended on God’s “cutting away.”  When you think about it, the idea of circumcision really supports God’s command to: “Be fertile and multiply.”  What better way (apparently) to foster the growth of the nation than by “cutting away” or “pruning” that which causes reproduction! 

And what better way is there to grow the Christian people than by “pruning” our souls, minds, and hearts . . . After all, that’s where we share life and grow together—on the spiritual level.  The Christian people are bound together, and expand because of our circumcised hearts. 

God really is something of a gardener and a surgeon.  And he’s a master at it: he works very carefully to cut away the “dead” parts of us, or maybe habits that stunt our growth.  He prunes our tendencies toward: gossip, gluttony, fear, selfishness and all the rest.  Sometimes he even cuts away things that have been good for us, so that new growth—especially growth in trusting him—can happen.

Circumcision is just part of our life as “branches on the Vine.”  And it’s not only part of our life; we depend on it for our life and growth.  And so, next time God comes around to prune us, we needn’t be afraid.  Instead, we can say: “Ah!  New life is coming!”       

Homily for 26 Apr 2016

26 Apr 2016

Whether it’s natural disasters, or abuse, or people killing each other, or hunger and despair, or disease and death, the presence of evil or “destructive forces” in the world, makes many people question the omnipotence and even the existence of God.  It’s one of the main arguments against the Christian God: If God is a “mighty” God, whose kingdom is “splendid” and “glorious”—as we hear in the psalm today—then how can evil exist?  Evil exists, therefore, God does not (at least, not as an all-powerful God).

We see the Apostles running up against one challenge after another.  We heard today that our brother Paul was pummeled with stones, almost to the point of death.  And we hear Jesus say those rather ominous words at the Last Supper: “The ruler of this world is coming;” he was soon to be put to death.  The destructive forces of evil were all around.

And, yet, Jesus says at the same time: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”  There’s clearly a tension between peace and unrest.  And we can relate to that.  We hear of a shooting in Antigo, in Ohio, in Menasha . . . and it rattles us a bit.  Or we see the numbers of Catholics going down . . . and it unnerves us.  And we might wonder: “If God is good and all-powerful, why do people still kill each other?  Why doesn’t God just inspire people to come to Mass?”

And we could go off in a lot of different directions in trying to work through this “question of evil.”  But today Jesus offers some help with that question we all struggle with.  He says: “The ruler of the world is coming. . . . But the world must know that I love the Father.”  He didn’t run from evil and destruction; instead, he embraced them, he looked them straight in the eye and said: “You have no power over me; the fear you try to spread is nothing in comparison to my trust in God.  Love and trust are more powerful than fear."

And that’s the response to evil Jesus is perhaps trying to put into our minds and hearts.  In the face of destructive forces around us, Jesus says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.  Have faith—real faith—in me.”  The presence of evil is, perhaps, a test of faith.  Which is more powerful to you—the fear of evil, or your loving trust in God?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Homily for 25 Apr 2016

25 Apr 2016
Feast of Saint Mark

One of the joys of being Catholic is variety.  When we look at the four evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—we see four distinct ways of spreading the gospel message.  Today on the Feast of Saint Mark, and in our readings, we see courage and steadfastness in faith as a way to share the gospel of Jesus.

Now, for some people, it’s an annoyance to have a Christian confront them and try to tell them about Jesus.  But for those same people, it may be an inspirational thing to see a Christian simply being true to his or her faith—especially when that faith is under attack.  And so, Saint Peter encourages us to “remain firm in it;” remain firm in faith—because commitment to faith draws people to the faith.

And that commitment—in the model of Saint Mark—involves courage: the courage to “clothe ourselves with humility in our dealings with one another;” the courage to “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God;” the courage to “be sober and vigilant” against the “prowling” of the devil. 

Jesus says to the Eleven apostles, and to us, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature:” evangelize the whole world.  And some of us do that with teaching and worship, like Saint Matthew.  Some of us do that by caring for the poor and outright preaching against injustice, like Saint Luke.  Some of us do that by trying to expose people to a broader vision of what humanity can be, like Saint John. And most of us evangelize by being committed to the ways of faith, hope, and love—regardless of what comes our way, just like Saint Mark.

One of the joys of being Catholic is variety.  Even though we’re all called and sent by the Lord to evangelize, there’s a variety of ways to do it.  Regardless of the way we evangelize, let’s “remain firm” in doing it—with humility before God, and charity toward all. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Homily for 24 Apr 2016

24 Apr 2016
5th Sunday of Easter, Year C

Sometimes we just don’t know the meaning of something; maybe a concept or a word.  And so we go that font of wisdom and knowledge—we turn to Google.  And there’s nothing especially wrong with that; it’s actually pretty helpful. 

Now, today we hear Jesus say what he’s said a thousand times before: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  And so I went to Google and typed in “love”—because Jesus says we’re supposed to love one another, and I wanted to know how to do that.  So I typed in “love,” and then looked to see what images would come up (because sometimes it takes too long to read words). 

So I typed in “love,” and all these images of hearts came up.  There was one where two hands were coming together to make a heart shape.  There was another one where there was a tree in it, except that instead of leaves on the tree, there was a bunch of hearts; and underneath it was a silhouette of a boy and girl holding hands.

There were candy hearts, construction paper hearts, hearts with candles and, of course, the word “love” all over everything.  And then I looked at the definition of “love” as Google gives it.  It’s “an intense feeling of deep affection; a romantic attraction to someone; a great interest and pleasure in something.”  And it comes from the Old English word “lufu,” which means “to desire something pleasing.”

So there I had it!  Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  Jesus must love us with (as I discovered) “intense feelings of deep affection, and with great interest and pleasure,” so that’s how we’re supposed to love one another.  And apparently there’s supposed to be some cuddling and lots of hearts floating around, too.

Now, I’m not making fun of Google.  Like I said, it’s actually pretty helpful; I use it all the time.  But what’s not going to pop up immediately with Google (or the in the minds of a lot of people today) is what Jesus is getting at when he says, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  To find that out we have to go that “other” font of wisdom and knowledge—we have to go to God himself. 

And so I turned to the Word of God (to the Gospel of John); I went back into the scene where Jesus had said these words.  It was the day we know as “Holy Thursday.”

The tension between Jesus and the Jews had reached a climax earlier that day.  And now it was nighttime.  The sun had set, and darkness was all around; the kind of darkness that has a tinge of evil in it.  As John tells us, “The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand [Jesus] over.”  In that very dark setting, Jesus and his twelve disciples gathered to celebrate the Passover meal.

And in the middle of the meal, Jesus got up and took the role of a servant, washing his disciples’ feet.  He returned to the table, and Judas left to go and betray him.  And this is when Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

From this we get a different image of “love;” different than what a Google search will give us.  Here, love is more like: “Sticking by someone when life gets rough.”  And we see Jesus loving his disciples in that way when they were stuck on a stormy sea, and he walked on the water, and calmed the sea [John 6:20].  He loved them by coming to be with them in the tough times.

Have we seen a family member, or a friend, or an “enemy” going through a rough patch in life?  One way to love them as Jesus has loved us is to be a calming, reassuring presence for them.  Of course, Jesus loved his disciples in other ways, too. 

For instance, he spends time with them, just being with them.  We see this when Jesus and his disciples come together as guests at the Wedding in Cana [John 2:2].  We see it when they’re “spending time” together in the Judean countryside [John 3:22].  And we see it when Jesus brings his disciples up on the mountain and sits with them [John 6:3].  Jesus loved his disciples by getting to know them as a companion, but also as someone who brought them to a “higher place,” a place of holiness—which is symbolized by the mountain.

Have we ever seen someone who perhaps needed an encouraging word?  How many of our younger brothers and sisters are in need of good, solid mentors in life?  One way to love each other as Jesus has loved us is to spend time getting to know each other—even the people we don’t especially like.  Remember, Jesus doesn’t tell us to like one another; he tells us to love one another.  We see that in his encounter with the Samaritan woman [John 4:27].

Jesus loved his disciples by opening them up to a bigger vision of life, and what can be (and what will be).  This is especially true in the Gospel of John.  With the Samaritan woman, Jesus is saying, “It’s good and charitable (that is, loving) to reach out to our supposed enemies, and to accept them as children of God, if not also as friends.”  But Jesus loved his disciples not just in that way, but also in trying to widen their horizons as far as life with God goes.

Jesus tells Nathaniel about “greater things to come” [John 1:51], but doesn’t exactly say what those things are.  He cleanses the Temple and the disciples start to make connections between what Jesus is doing and what the larger picture of the Prophets had foretold [John 2:17].  He speaks about a certain “food” the disciples don’t know anything about yet—the food of doing the will and the work of the One who sent him [John 4:34].

Jesus loved his disciples by moving them forward and upward in faith; by moving them toward the vision of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem which we heard about today in the Book of Revelation.  It’s a loving thing for us to raise each other up, to something “higher” and more fulfilling.  It’s a reflection of how Jesus loved his disciples.  It’s also a reflection of Christ-like love to challenge each other.

Jesus loved his disciples by occasionally doing that.  When they were trying to feed the five thousand, Jesus let them struggle a bit with that question [John 6:11].  He challenged them to think of another way—a “higher” way, the way of gratitude.  He loved the disciples by showing them that with a spirit of gratitude, what they had would be enough.  He took the bread and fish, gave thanks, and there was enough for everyone.  He loved them by challenging them, in a gentle way, and also in an upfront way.

When the Jews were pretty much rejecting Jesus, he turned to his disciples (to the large crowd of disciples) and challenged them to stop complaining about what he’s saying and just believe in him.  But many simply walked away, and didn’t follow him anymore [John 6:61,66].  At that point, he turned to his twelve disciples and put the same challenge to them: “Do you want to leave me, too?”  And with that, the faith of the twelve disciples deepened.  They grew in faith because Jesus loved them enough to challenge them on their discipleship.

All this, and the washing of the disciples’ feet, were all ways Jesus loved his disciples.  Jesus is defining what “love” is—not spousal love, or erotic love, or filial love (which are legitimate forms of love), but “love” in the sense of “self-giving charity.”  There are at least four different words in Ancient Greek which we translate as “love.”  But here, when Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you,” he’s saying, “Be self-giving and charitable to one another, as I have given myself in charity to you.”

And there may not be a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings in that kind of love.  There may not be “intense feelings of deep affection,” or “great interest and pleasure” as there can be with filial love, or spousal or erotic love.  Instead, as Saint Paul and Barnabas said, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” to enter into the kingdom of that other kind of love—the kingdom of perfect charity.

Just like Jesus and his disciples on that Holy Thursday night, we gather to celebrate the Passover.  Around us in the world, and even in our midst, there is the darkness of: greed, corruption, hatred, despair.  Popular culture murmurs against us and our God.  The situation of Holy Thursday continues on today.  But into that Jesus speaks again those words we’ve heard a thousand times before: “Love one another, as I have loved you."

He’s gone on ahead of us, and the “good news” is that he wants us to be there with him.  And he’s given us love—charity—as the way to get there.  Charity amongst ourselves is what lifts us upward and onward to our God.  Charity is what gets us to the Holy City, where there is nothing but perfect love, now and forever.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

Homily for 23 Apr 2016

23 Apr 2016

All week long we’ve heard Jesus say essentially the same thing: The Father is in him, and he is in the Father.  But today he asks whether or not we believe that.  Even for people of faith, it strikes us as odd to think of Jesus as the face of the Father; that when we see an image of Jesus, we’re seeing an image of the Father.  But that’s what he asks us to accept and to believe.

Of course, this is the model for our relationship with Jesus.  We eat his Body, we drink his Blood, we let his Holy Spirit into our minds and hearts, we take in his words.  And Jesus says to us—in so many words: “I am in you, and you are in me.”  And he follows that up with the same question as before: “Do you believe this?” 

When people encounter us do they encounter the face of the living Son of God?  Or when we encounter other people, do we see them as the face of Christ?  More often than not, the answer is probably “no.”  But that’s what Jesus asks us to accept and believe about his relationship with us: He is in us, and we are in him. 

But if that’s hard to believe, Jesus says, believe because of the works we do.  For instance, every time we love our neighbor (or are loved by our neighbor) there’s Jesus at work.  Every time there is comfort and consolation shared among people, there’s Jesus at work.  Every time a hard truth is spoken in charity, there’s Jesus at work.

If it’s hard to believe the concept that Jesus is in us, and we are in him, Jesus says: Believe because of the works I do through you and with you.  May we go throughout this day with eyes wide open, to see how much Jesus really is in us.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Homily for 22 Apr 2016

22 Apr 2016

Thomas was getting all upset because he didn’t know where he was going.  He knew that Jesus was the Way to get there . . . but he didn’t know what the destination was.  And that was bothering him.

And I suppose we can relate to that.  You know, if we’ve ever planned anything—from a career, to family, to a vacation—we probably had an idea of where we were going.  We like to plan; we like to know what’s up ahead.  It’s why we don’t like to drive behind semis; you can’t see what’s coming.  And we can get upset when our view is blocked.

But Jesus says to Thomas (in so many words): I’ve already told you where we’re going, but don’t worry about it anyway—just follow me.

And Jesus says to us (in so many words): Don’t worry about where you going, and what’s up ahead.  Just follow me.  Sit back and enjoy the ride through life; don’t worry . . . I’ll get you to where you need to be.  You have faith in God . . . have faith also in me.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Homily for 21 Apr 2016

21 Apr 2016

A couple thousand years ago, Jesus was “good news.”  He was the fulfillment of what people were waiting for; he was the answer to their questions; the answer to the prayers.  And he kept a seamless continuity between the old and the new.  Jesus’ coming onto the human scene—everything from his birth to his death and resurrection—was really “good news.”

But, somewhere along the line, we humans stopped asking the questions in life for which Jesus is the answer.  It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that our proclamation of the gospel—the sharing of our faith—falls on deaf ears.  After all, we’re trying to give people the answer to questions they’re not even asking.  They’re not interested in Jesus—he’s not the answer to what they’re looking for.

And so, it seems, the most we can do is to continue to be sent by Jesus into the world—not necessarily to speak his name (after all, people have already heard his name), but to be his presence; a presence that pokes and prods people to get back on track and to ask those basic human questions about life and death; questions about the meaning of life and faith . . . questions for which Jesus is the answer.

With the right questions in the human heart, Jesus shows himself as the answer; Jesus reveals himself to be truly “good news.”  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Homily for 20 Apr 2016

20 Apr 2016

Saint John writes that: “Jesus cried out and said” (John 12:44) these things—but it’s not clear to whom.  His words are kind of like those explosions we see in science fiction movies: they just fly out into open space and keep going and going.  And whoever has ears to hear them will be affected by what Jesus says.

Maybe that’s how “the word of God continued to spread and grow” (Acts 12:24).  The apostles, prophets, and teachers just kept proclaiming Jesus—and proclaiming Jesus, and proclaiming Jesus—as the answer and the fulfillment of their questions about life, faith, worship, and so on.  And, as we know, Jesus “did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.”  And that message of salvation has never stopped echoing through the ages. 

So, there’s something like a double-explosion here sent out into the world.  There’s Jesus’ crying out that, indeed, God has come among us, and the door to human fulfillment is opened to us.  And there’s also the message of God’s mercy; the message of a “perpetual second-chance” for those who believe in Jesus Christ.

And what does God ask of us, but that we keep the proclamation of Christ rippling through our own time, and that we let ourselves simply be in awe of the great mysteries of our faith . . . mysteries opened up for us by the explosive Word of God.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Homily for 19 Apr 2016

19 Apr 2016

Barnabas was sent to Antioch, and “when he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all.”  And I wonder: What did he see there in Antioch?  What did the “grace of God” look like?  Maybe it was simply that Jewish and Greek converts were living as friends and not enemies.  Maybe Barnabas saw they were taking Jesus’ commandments to heart, and that they were actually loving God, and loving their neighbors. 

Whatever it was that Barnabas saw there in Antioch, I wonder—if he were to visit us: Would he see the “grace of God” here and also rejoice and encourage us?  Well, as far as “seeing the grace of God” goes, we would certainly hope that Barnabas could see the Holy Spirit at work among us.  Regardless, we could say with fair certainty that Barnabas would encourage us.

After all, the name “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement.”  He had a reputation for picking up on the smallest presence of God in people, and then encouraging them to be even more faithful to the Lord.  And, in that way, he is very much a reflection of Christ the Good Shepherd. 

Now, in the 1st Century, Jews and Greeks living and worshipping as friends and neighbors was a big deal.  Today, though, it isn’t; it’s pretty usual to see Christians of different backgrounds coming together.  But, as common as everyday life and love are for us Christians today, they’re still pretty remarkable.    

And maybe that’s all Barnabas saw when he arrived at Antioch.  Maybe he just saw men and women actually living their everyday lives as real Christians: loving God and loving their neighbors.  It may not seem like much, but really, it’s everything.  And for all those times we have loved God and others—even imperfectly, Christ says, “You’re doing well, my brother, my sister . . . keep it up!  As the Father and I are one, so I am with you."

And that’s some pretty encouraging words.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Homily for 17 Apr 2016

17 Apr 2016
4th Sunday of Easter, Year C

The crowds from all over were gathering to hear them speak; in particular their leader, he was an especially powerful shepherd.  His message really spoke to people, and he ignited in them a passion and excitement for what they were all about.  And there were arguments, as we know.  But, at the end of the day, the shepherd and his followers had spoken their piece . . . and people loved it and began to follow them.

Now, I could be talking about Paul and Barnabas, spreading the good news of Jesus to anyone and everyone who would listen.  But I could just as easily be talking about . . . maybe our presidential debates: the crowds of people stirred up with passion to follow this candidate or that candidate, listening for the voice of their shepherd in all of it. 

Of course, I could just as easily be talking about . . . maybe the people of Nazi Germany in the 30s and 40s: listening with undivided attention to their shepherd, Adolf Hitler.  We could say the same with our modern-day terrorist groups: “People were gathering to hear them speak; in particular their leader, he was an especially powerful [and influential] shepherd.  His message really spoke to them, and he ignited in them a passion and excitement for what they were all about.” 

And that’s kind of the story of our world, isn’t it?  That’s what advertising is all about: getting people excited about what you have so they’ll buy it.  Every time we go to the internet, every time we go to our smart phones, every time we watch the news or engage in any human activity whatsoever, people are trying to get us to go along with them.  That’s what preaching the Gospel is all about.  I wouldn’t be up here if I wasn’t trying to encourage you to be better disciples and followers of Jesus. 

“People were gathering to hear them speak; in particular their leader, he was an especially powerful shepherd.  His message really spoke to people, and he ignited in them a passion and excitement for what they were all about.”  And there’s nothing inherently bad about doing that.  Morally, it’s rather neutral.  What makes preaching and influencing others good or bad is, of course, the message that’s preached, and the effect it has on people.

I was just reading an article about a young man who had committed suicide.  And, as it turned out, his girlfriend was voice he listened.  She’d gotten tired of him telling her all his problems, and so she said: Well, just go kill yourself, then.  And he did.  Now, to us that might sound ridiculous—why would he listen to her and go kill himself?  What kind of hold did she have over him?  But, really, how many times have we let someone influence us to the point of making a bad decision?   

For our youth, there’s a lot of pressure to do any number of things which aren’t good for them, for instance: drugs, binge drinking, looking good at any cost, relinquishing their faith for something more exciting, and so on.  Or they’re encouraged to “go it alone,” and forget about parents, and mentors, and real friends who actually care for them.  Of course, that’s what “radical individualism” is.  Youth are bombarded with pressure to make unhealthy and even harmful decisions.  And sometimes they do.  Sometimes the Voice of Christ the Shepherd is muted by other more in-your-face voices. 

And, of course, that doesn’t go away with adulthood.  Although, we do get better at filtering out who’s a good person to listen to, and who’s not.  And that’s largely because we have hindsight.  We can see where our decisions have led us and we get better at making decisions.  We get better at paying attention to the Voice of Christ our Shepherd.

Of course, how do we know it’s the Voice of Christ we’re following?  How do we know we’re being influenced by Christ and not by someone else?  What makes us Catholic Christians different from all those other people who are loyal to their shepherd, like: the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, or those who today follow ISIS with blind loyalty, or those who let their lives revolve around whatever the latest fad is?  What makes us different?

And the answer seems to be in how our Shepherd speaks to us.  God always speaks to and through a community.  It’s never a lone voice we’re following as Christians; it’s always a community of voices that say the same thing.  Even our Shepherd himself is a community—we call it the “Holy Trinity.”  Jesus doesn’t speak on his own; he speaks with the Father, and through the Holy Spirit.  As he says, “The Father and I are one.”

Our Shepherd, God, is a community.  That’s different than other cult leaders.  Hitler was a single man; and people followed him alone.  So was Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Julius Caesar, Pharaoh.  They were all single persons, and they were the lone source of their own ideologies.  That isn’t the case with our God, the Holy Trinity.

But our Shepherd’s Voice doesn’t stop there, with the Trinity.  There’s also the “great multitude,” which Saint John speaks of; the “great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”  The Shepherd’s Voice is heard in the community of believers, in the Church.  Not this particular person, or that particular person, but in the whole of the community.  Ideas, practices, beliefs, and values that stand the test of time, and are universal are ways we heard our Shepherd’s Voice.

Just look at all the ways God has revealed his Will: through a multitude of leaders, from Noah and Abraham, to Moses and Joshua, David and Solomon, Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary; through the Apostles and countless disciples, saints, spiritual writers, theologians, poets, musicians and artists, the poor, the rich, and everybody in between; the young and old, the middle-aged, the clergy and laity, the famous and the obscure. 

They’re all ways we hear the Voice of the One Shepherd, and they all reflect the Peace and Love, Joy and Life of the one Holy Trinity.  And that is very different from how the lone leaders and powers of the world operate.  Among other reasons, this is what sets Christianity apart—it’s who our Shepherd is, and the way our Shepherd makes their Trinitarian Voice heard.

How do we know if we’re following the Voice of our Shepherd?  Well, it’s a Voice spoken through the generations upon generations of the community; it will be a source of strength that carries us through “distress;” and its message will lead us to the still waters of faith, hope, and love.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Homily for 15 Apr 2016

15 Apr 2016

God challenges his people to look outside the box.  Of course, that tends to upset the apple cart.  We hear the confusion from the Jews: “How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?”  We see it in St Paul’s conversion when he’s knocked off his path and blinded by the Light.  And we feel it in ourselves when something from Scripture knocks us over the head, or when some preacher jars us out of our way of thinking.

God challenges his people to look outside the box.  And, in that he’s trying to open us up to a Way of life that’s far richer, far more complex, far more mythical and mystical than we imagine.  There’s so much talk in the Church about evangelization, and that’s great.  But what are we evangelizing others (and ourselves) into?  A life of social activity and outreach?  A life of parish meetings and committees?  A life of prayer and devotions?

God challenges his people to look outside the box, and to see that all our efforts should lead the world to Jesus . . . not Jesus in a painting, or Jesus in a statue, or Jesus in a book.  But Jesus, the Son of the Living God; Jesus the mystical Second Person of the Holy Trinity; Jesus the mythically ever-living God of all creation who scandalizes us by coming in something so ordinary as human Flesh and Blood.

God challenges his people to look outside the box.  He challenges his people to embrace the mystical, the mythical, the unbelievable, the extraordinary, and the ordinary.  There, outside the box of our own assumptions of how life works and what’s important, we’ll find Jesus.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Homily for 14 Apr 2016

14 Apr 2016

Even after all these centuries, we still wonder: Who is this Jesus, the Son of God?  He remains something of an enigma, a puzzle, a mystery.  And, in that, we’re similar maybe to the Ethiopian eunuch who wonders about the Prophet Isaiah, and who Isaiah is referring to.

Now, from the same Prophet, we hear these lines around Christmas time: “For a child has been born for us . . . and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father Forever, Prince of Peace.”  But those words, “Father Forever,” are something of a mystery.  We don’t think of Jesus as “Father Forever;” instead, maybe as “Son Forever.”

But Isaiah seems to say otherwise.  And Jesus himself makes too tight of a connection between himself and the Father for us to ignore.  The Father is who draws people to Jesus.  And, as Jesus tells us, he and the Father are “one.”  We read these things in Scripture, and we still wonder: Who is this Jesus, the Son of God? 

Is he only the Son, or is he so wound up with the Father that he is also “Father Forever?”  When we look at the Crucifix, or see an image of Jesus, do we see not only him, but also the Father?  If we don’t, perhaps we should try. 

After all, Jesus is less interested in being the “Bread of Life” for his own sake, and is more interested in closing the gap between us and the Father.  Who is this Jesus we encounter in Scripture?  Well, among other things, he’s the Bridge . . . to the Father.  We eat his Flesh and drink his Blood to get on the Bridge, so that we can get over to the Father.

Just when we thought Jesus was enough, we see that he points us even further . . . to God the Father.  Through the Eucharist, he opens the way to the Heart of eternal life.  We may not know everything about Jesus.  But we know he always has something more to show us.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Homily for 13 Apr 2016

13 Apr 2016

It’s helpful to know what you’re dealing with.  Jesus knew the crowds wouldn’t believe him, and so he didn’t expect them to.  And the Apostles and the early Church knew that persecution would come.  They expected it; they knew what they were dealing with.  Maybe that’s why the Apostles didn’t make a big deal of Saint Stephen’s martyrdom; they don’t even seem to have reacted to his death in any way.

Of course, there’s a difference between knowing what you’re dealing with, and being a pessimist.  Of course, we Catholics aren’t pessimistic; we’re a people of faith and hope. But, at the same time, we know that we’re in an uphill battle right now.  And so, we expect difficulty in trying to be Catholic out and about in the world.  We expect people to ignore our efforts to evangelize.  We expect others to dislike us.

That doesn’t mean we give up hope.  It just means that we know what we’re dealing with, and we accept that.  And this is helpful because it keeps our faith and hope (and happiness) grounded in Christ, and not in how others perceive us, or in our successes or failures.  With Christ we know who we’re dealing with; we’re dealing with the Son of God who is always faithful, who wants us to have the best of life, who gives himself—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—for us.

And with that kind of attitude and acceptance of what the situation is, we can be like Saint Stephen, the early martyrs and the Apostles who just lived their life in Christ, regardless of what anybody else thought.  Their hope and joy was in God alone.  And, regardless of the ups and downs of our life, may God alone be our hope and joy as well.     

Homily for 12 Apr 2016

12 Apr 2016

We all know what it’s like to receive an invitation.  Maybe it’s to a wedding, or a birthday party.  Maybe it’s a casual invitation to go out to lunch, or something like that.  Or maybe it’s an invitation to some event here in the parish.  And with the invitation, we’re left with a choice: to go or not to go—there really isn’t an “in-between” option.

And the same goes with our Lord.  He offers us an invitation when he says, “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  He’s inviting us to come to him and to believe in him.  Even for us who’ve been coming to Church for years, the invitation is always there to know the Lord more deeply.

Of course, with that invitation to “come and believe,” we’re left with a choice: to go or not to go.  Again, there really isn’t an “in-between” option.  And this choice brings up all the big questions we carry through life: questions of trust, questions of faith, wondering where it’ll go if I accept the invitation.

Now, we hear the story of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.  We can see where his acceptance of Christ’s invitation took him . . . to the vision of heaven.  Maybe you thought I’d say, “It led him to being stoned to death.”  And that’s true, of course.  But for him that was nothing compared to the glory of God that attracted and inspired him. 

To answer Christ’s invitation is to say to him, “Jesus, I trust you.  I trust you because I know you love me.  And I trust that you want nothing but the best for me.  Jesus, you are beautiful to me.”  And every time we go to Jesus and believe in him, it’s like a sunny and fresh start to a new day.  Just like with Saint Stephen, the clouds of life begin to scatter, and we start to see God’s goodness again.

But that doesn’t happen without a response to the Lord’s invitation.  And we respond very simply.  With all our heart—even more so than in words—we say, “Lord Jesus, I trust in you.  Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.  Show me the Way, the Truth, and the Life you promise.  Give me the Bread of Life always."

Jesus extends the invitation again today (and every day): “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  And he leaves us to answer that invitation on our own.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Homily for 11 Apr 2016

11 Apr 2016

You know, when we consider what to eat every day, we have an enormous selection.  You go to the grocery store and there are oodles to pick from.  Of course, the best option is to pick whatever’s healthy.  That doesn’t mean can’t have the occasional candy bar.  But, generally, we want calories that have some “substance” to them.  We want food that’s going to build us up, and not merely sustain us in the moment. 

And the same goes with our life of faith.  We feed ourselves—spiritually—with all sorts of things: the Mass, the Rosary, traditions and customs, Scripture, values and principles, Church law and teachings . . . all sorts of things that nourish us and keep us alive in God.  Of course, the most basic food we take in is the person of Jesus.  He’s what gives all that spiritual food “substance” and value.

Of course, problems come up when people prefer the delicious “avenues to Jesus,” but never get to Jesus himself.  And so, we can end up in the Church with disagreements over, say, “traditionalism” and “modernism.”  People can separate off into camps, and they give more weight to the type of spiritual food than to the substance of that spiritual food.  They may or may not be taking in spiritual food that lasts.

And this is a pattern seen throughout the history of God’s people.  And so, we would expect to see it around today as well: instead of Christians gathering around our basic spiritual food (i.e., Jesus), they often scatter into groups; even among Catholics.  This group likes broccoli, and that group likes Brussels sprouts.  This group likes a solemn type of worship, and that group likes a more upbeat worship.

Now, if the Church were a grocery store, she’d be packed with an enormous variety of spiritual foods.  And she is.  There’s legitimate diversity in spiritual food.  But, on some level, all those types of food are perishable.  But what they contain is not.  And so, whatever spiritual diet we’re on, whatever our spiritual life looks like, let’s be sure that Jesus himself is who we’re taking in—because he himself is the food that endures forever.  

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Homily for 10 Apr 2016

10 Apr 2016
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C

When you look at all the reasons why people leave the Church, or all the reasons why people stop believing in God, chances are you’ll never hear them say, “I left because I was too comfortable.”  You’ll probably never hear them say, “I left because there weren’t enough opportunities to suffer.”

Christianity today—at least in the popular mindset—is supposed to be all about happiness and feeling good.  With the Risen Christ in our life, things are supposed to be great!  Troubles are supposed to fly away, and struggles will be no more!  And to that we’d say, “Well, yea . . . in heaven.  But not right now.”

A main thread that runs throughout Scripture—and especially today’s readings—is the idea of “being found worthy to suffer” for the love of God.  We hold up Jesus as the Son of God, but we also praise him as “the Lamb who was worthy to suffer;” who was worthy to be slain.  He knew very well that he would be crucified.  And he knew his Apostles and disciples would suffer as well for the sake of Christian living.  And he told them as such.

We heard that in the Gospel, when Jesus says to Peter, “Someone else will tie you and take you where you don’t want to go.”  That’s part of the price of actually following Jesus.  And Peter and the rest of the Apostles found that out soon enough.

So, wherever the popular idea of a “feel-good” Christianity came from, it didn’t come from Christ.  Now, obviously, there is Easter happiness and Easter joy—most definitely.  But that kind of joy is the effect of having been “found worthy to suffer” for the love of God and all that is good.  After Peter and the Apostles were flogged by the Sanhedrin and given a stern warning, they went away singing and with exuberance.  They had just been whipped and yelled at . . . and that were ecstatic about it!  Now that’s Easter joy.

Sometimes when people come to confession, they’re really nervous.  They’re nervous, but they know it’s the right thing to do come to confession.  And that nervousness can certainly feel like suffering.  But, you know, they go right through that suffering, they confess their sins, and then it’s like when the sun comes out after a thunderstorm . . . it’s just wonderful!  There’s Easter joy in their hearts . . . because they were “found worthy to suffer” the nervousness of doing the right thing.  And they’re not only joyful, but they feel empowered by the Spirit to keep on living and growing . . . for love of God.

Maybe a reason why people leave the Church, or stop believing in the goodness of God, is that they haven’t suffered enough.  Maybe they haven’t experienced the joy of doing the right thing, even when it hurts.  Maybe they don’t know the Easter happiness that comes with being cast out because you dare to be true to Christ, even when friends don’t want you to.

It’s a paradoxical thing, really.  We want to be joyful of heart; we want to be fulfilled.  People want Christianity to be “feel-good.”  And yet, the path to really feeling good is through suffering.  After all, Christ didn’t save us in the Resurrection . . . he saved us on the Cross.  He saved us by “being worthy to be slain” for love of God.  That’s how Peter and the Apostles continued the saving work of Christ—by proclaiming “Christ crucified” both in words and in the way they lived.  And that’s how the Gospel message grows today: not in superficial joy, but in deep joy that comes with having been “found worthy to suffer” for the love of God.

Jesus asks each of us: “Do you love me?”  And if our answer is “yes,” he says, “Then come and join me in my suffering, so that you can share . . . in my Easter joy.”

Friday, April 8, 2016

Homily for 9 Apr 2016

9 Apr 2016

I hear it too often among priests: they don’t have time to pray.  Either that or they do all their prayers first thing in the morning because they know they’re not going to have time during the day.  Of course, it’s a common thing to hear among all the faithful: we don’t have time to pray.  We’re either too busy with life, or we’re too busy doing the Lord’s work to spend any time with the Lord.

And we hear something of this situation in Scripture today when there were complaints that people “were being neglected in the daily distribution.”  Community life among Christ’s disciples was getting preoccupied with day-to-day business.  And the situation was getting darker, just like the fallen night sky around those disciples out in their boat, and “the sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.”  The needs of our daily life—inside and outside the Church—can certainly be like a strong wind that preoccupies us.

But then there was Jesus—walking on the water, restoring peace again to his disciples in the boat.  And the Spirit of Jesus came out of the mouths of the Apostles, too.  There, in the middle of all the complaining, the Apostles said, “Whoa!  Hold on!  It’s not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.”  And that did it: the restlessness and problems there in the community subsided.

And that’s what we can bring into the buzyness of our lives—an attentiveness to the voice of Jesus who says, “Whoa!  Slow down, my brothers and sisters!  Buzyness is not the remedy for buzyness—I am.  Don’t be afraid to set aside your buzyness and come to me in prayer."

The Lord keeps us focused in life: focused and fruitful.  God forbid that we should let Jesus fall by the wayside, and let the buzyness of life take center stage.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Homily for 8 Apr 2016

8 Apr 2016

Jesus wasn’t interested in “greatness.”  He wasn’t interested in being right; nor were the Apostles.  If anything, they found delight in being shoved in the dirt for their faith.  Instead, Jesus and his Apostles were interested in being true . . . true to God’s vision of the heavenly kingdom; true to the principles of peace and mercy; true to the ideals of sacrificial love.

We don’t see Jesus going around trying to pick fights.  Nor do the Apostles do it.  Their main “offensive weapon” (if we can all it that) is to be men of integrity.  And that’s our main “offensive weapon” as well.  We don’t need to go around trying to pick fights with other Christians or atheists or anybody else.  All we need to do is live as true brothers and sisters in Christ; to love God, and to love our neighbor.

Our witness to Christian love in the world is the most powerful “offensive move” we can make in a world that desperately needs to hear the Gospel.  And that’s because authentic Christian living is a magnet: by the sheer fact of our being true to our faith, we will both attract and repel people.  And if some people try to attack us for our beliefs, well, then we can defend ourselves . . . with arguments and even righteous anger.

But our basic way of life is to just live and love as Christ does.  That’s the example the Apostles give us—and we see how their witness to faith and love has changed the world.  And we also see that the Pharisee Gamaliel was right: the things of God are what endure.  So whatever we do, however we live, may we do it as true children of God, and as brothers and sisters in Christ.