Saturday, May 28, 2016

Homily for 29 Mar 2016 Corpus Christi

29 May 2016
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

God has blessed us with two very great gifts: our faith and our ability to think.  And, ideally, they go hand-in-hand.  Faith enlightens our thinking; and thinking helps us to understand our faith.  In fact, that’s what theology is: it’s “faith seeking understanding.”  But it’s a particular kind of understanding; faith helps us understand the meaning of things and events.  It doesn’t help us understand the science behind those things and events.

For instance, when Jesus changed water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, our faith helps us to see the meaning behind what he did.  But we don’t know how that change happened.  Or, today, we hear about Jesus feeding five thousand people with only two fish and five loaves of bread.  Our faith doesn’t really tell us how that was possible; in fact, our brain tells us it isn’t possible.  But our faith gives us some understanding, at least: Jesus feeding the five thousand was a lesson about putting more trust in God’s power than in human thinking.

God has blessed us with two very great gifts: our faith and our ability to think.  And they work together.  But, sometimes, we just have to believe—even if it doesn’t seem believable.  Sometimes we just have to have faith, even if means we have to look foolish to others.  And that’s what we run into every time we come together for Mass.  We come face to face with . . . the Body and Blood of Christ. 

Now, we can accept that Jesus is spiritually present in the priest, in the congregation, and in the words of Scripture.  For some reason, that’s just more easily accepted.  But it’s much harder to accept (in our brains) that Jesus’ Body and Blood are actually, physically present in the Eucharist.  And it’s different than when he turned water into wine, because, there, people could see and taste that it was wine.  Their senses confirmed that a real change had happened.

But that’s not what we’re dealing with here in the Eucharist.  Our senses of sight, taste, touch—they all fail us.  They’re of no help whatsoever is being able to say with certainty: This is the Body and Blood of Christ.  And not only that, our ability to think and to reason also fails us (somewhat).  When the bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Christ, we come face to face with . . . the impossible.

The Eucharist is illogical; it doesn’t make sense—it goes against the laws of logic.  It also defies the laws of nature.  According to everything we know in our brains, the Body and Blood of Christ shouldn’t be here.  But here they are.

After the consecration, the priest stands up and he says: The Mystery of Faith.  And he’s referring to the Body and Blood of Christ there on the altar.  The sheer fact that it’s there—that the seemingly impossible is staring us in the face, is the Mystery which can be accepted only in faith.  The real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ is “the Mystery of Faith.”

When the Apostles saw that two fish and five loaves were enough to feed five thousand people, what else could they say but, “We don’t understand it.  How was that possible?”  And when we hear that the bread and wine are changed really and substantially into the Body and Blood of Christ, what else can we say but, “We don’t understand it.  How is that possible?”  And with that question, we’re left with a decision: To believe or not to believe—to believe it’s the Body and Blood of Christ, or simply bread and wine.  And hidden within that decision, there’s the question: What does it even matter if we believe or not?  What does it matter?

Well, it matters because it is a test of our faith; it is a test to see in what we put our trust.  Now, it depends on what surveys we look at, but somewhere between 60-70% of all Catholics don’t believe that the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Christ.  They believe it’s either nothing or it’s just bread and wine.  And, so, whenever we come up to receive Communion and we say, “Amen,” we’re saying “Amen” to something which, for a majority of Catholics, is nonsensical. 

We’re not that different from the Apostles who were asked to have faith that two fish and five loaves would be enough.  And, like them, we’re hit with a test of faith every time Jesus takes the bread and says: “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Body.”  And every time he takes the chalice and says: “Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood.”  It’s illogical and unbelievable what we’re asked to believe.  It doesn’t make sense.

And, yet, Jesus still says: “Do you believe me?  Do you have faith that my words are true?”   What does it matter if we believe?  Well, it’s a test of faith; it’s a test of where we put our trust . . . in the Power of God, or in the power of our mind to understand?  In short: Who is your God?  Is it God, or is it yourself?  To say “Amen” to the Body and Blood of Christ is to profess faith that God alone is God.

But it isn’t just a test of our faith.  Our Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist gives us our basic identity.  And, with that, the Eucharist becomes the “source and the summit,” the “Alpha and the Omega,” the “beginning and the end” of all that we are. 

In the 4th Century, Saint Augustine wrote that to receive the Body and Blood of Christ is “to receive that which we are.”  And Pope Saint Leo the Great said the same in the 5th Century.  He said, “The sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ has no other effect than to accomplish our transformation into that which we receive.”  And it’s a belief that’s been repeated throughout the centuries up to the present day.  In short, “we are what we eat.”

And this is important to consider because we aren’t made to be a loaf of bread, or a cup of wine—either partially or entirely.  We’re intended by our Maker to really be the Body and Blood of Christ; in the world, in our relationships, and forever in the bosom of the Holy Trinity.  The Church is the Body of Christ because the bread becomes the real Body of Christ.  And the Church is the lifeblood of the world because the wine becomes the real Blood of Christ. 

Again, from Saint Augustine, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ is “to receive that which we are.”  Even though our brains can’t exactly understand how the Eucharist works, our brains are able to understand why Jesus changes bread and wine into his Body and Blood.  It’s so that our flesh-and-blood life will be bound up with his Flesh-and-Blood life.  It’s so that we can become like God—today and always.

What does it matter if we believe that the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Christ?  Well, it matters . . . if we want to touch God, and if we want to be touched by God—intimately and bodily.  It matters . . . if we really want to be the face and the hands and the voice of God to others.  It matters because, through the Body and Blood of Christ, we become “blood brothers,” “blood sisters.”  It matters because through the Body and Blood of Christ the Church is formed and sustained and nourished.  But it takes faith even to believe that.

Receiving Communion is the highlight of our time in Mass.  Even though we receive what looks and tastes like an ordinary wafer and ordinary wine, and even though we might not feel any different after having received Communion, it still takes faith to believe that we are changed.  Something is different: we received Communion.  We’ve been received into more intimate and bodily communion with God, and through that, with our neighbors.

And that’s what our life is all about: it’s about Communion—communion with the Trinity and with all of creation—not only in spirit, but in the body as well.  And so, what does it matter if we believe that the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood Christ?  Because the Body and Blood is the “doorway” to real communion with others, ourselves and our God.  Of course, that’s not something to be understood; instead, it’s simply . . . the Mystery of Faith.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Homily for 26 May 2016

26 May 2016
Memorial of Saint Philip Neri

We humans are blessed with the ability to think and to reason.  It’s a unique gift that no other creature in the universe has.  And our brains help us to see the “light of truth.”  On the flip side, however, our ability to think through things can also lead us away from that light.

Now, Bartimaeus is a unique character in the Gospel of Mark—mostly because we’re told what his name is (it’s unusual for Mark to do that).  And Bartimaeus’ name means, literally, “son of Timaeus.”  And some scholars think there’s a connection to be made here between Bartimaeus and the Timaeus who is the title character of one of Plato’s writings.  Timaeus gives one of the early accounts of how the created world works; he is a man of knowledge and thinking.

Perhaps Saint Mark is trying to say that Bartimaeus is a man whose background is strong in “thinking” and “reasoning.”  But that, perhaps, he’s overused his brain, and has become blind to the “light of faith.”  After all, it’s Bartimaeus’ faith which “saves him,” and allows him to see again.

And, actually, Saint Philip Neri had a similar experience.  He studied philosophy and theology while in Rome, but then realized his studying was interfering with his ability to pray.  And so, he set aside his intellectual search for knowledge, and relied simply on his faith to bring him to the light of truth.

These lessons from Scripture today are more important than we perhaps realize.  In a few days we’ll be celebrating the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  And with that, we’ll be celebrating the central Mystery of Faith which can only be approached through faith.  The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is both illogical and goes against the laws of nature.  If we try to approach that mystery with our brains only, we’ll be blind like Bartimaeus, like much of the world today which relies only on hard science and provable facts, to the exclusion of faith.

We humans are blessed with the ability to think and to reason.  It’s a wondrous gift.  But an even more astounding gift is our gift of faith.  If we want to see what Jesus proclaims to us, what he shares with us, what he promises us, then we have to reach out in real faith and say: “Jesus, Son of the Living God, help me to see.  I want to see.”  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Homily for 25 May 2016

25 May 2016

In our Catholic Tradition there’s the idea of “the martyrdom of obscurity.”  Some of the saints are witnesses to Christ’s love by shedding their blood; they’re the “red martyrs.”  Some others are witnesses to Christ’s love through selfless giving; they’re the “white martyrs.” 

And still other saints are witnesses to Christ’s love through ways only God knows; they’re the “obscure martyrs.”  They simply serve and love others without fanfare, without recognition by others; nor do they seek attention.  They share the love of Christ with others for the sheer joy of being Christ to others.

Many of us will not have to shed our blood for our faith.  Many of us won’t become public examples of Christian charity.  But most of will be called to that other martyrdom—that other type of Christian witness—the “martyrdom of obscurity.”  That’s our common vocation in life: simply to love and serve in the name of Jesus.  And that’s our common joy as well: simply to love and serve in the name of Jesus.

Whether we’re recognized or not for the good we do, may our joy and satisfaction simply be: To love and serve for the love of God. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Homily for 24 May 2016

24 May 2016

One of the hardest obstacles to really being a disciple of Christ is the fear of loss.  It’s fairly common to think: “If I really try to follow Christ, then I’m going to have to give up all the things I enjoy and even love.”  We saw that yesterday with the rich man who had “many possessions.”  And we might even feel it in ourselves when we hear God say: “Be holy because I am holy.”  The idea of holiness is colored, somewhat, by the idea of loss.

Some of the more beautiful images we have of holiness in our Catholic tradition are the saints.  We think of the “big ones” like: Teresa of Avila, Benedict, Augustine, and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and Francis.  And, of course, they’re the founders of some pretty robust religious orders: the Carmelites, the Benedictines, the Augustinians, the Missionaries of Charity, and the Franciscans.  And their way of life—their path of holiness—is characterized by poverty.

But it’s been my experience (and I imagine many of us have experienced it) that those saints and their modern-day followers are some of the more joyful, peaceful, and vigorous champions of life and faith and wholeness.  None of them, I’m sure, would say they’ve reached the holiness toward which they feel God calling them.  Nonetheless, they’re joyful in trying to be holy because they know that holiness isn’t about loss—it’s about gain.

As we hear from Saint Peter, holiness (sanctity) is about “setting our hopes completely on the grace” of God.  It means seeing the promise and the beauty of Christ, and saying, “That’s what I want!”  It’s little different from falling in love and saying, “That’s the one I want to dedicate myself to.”  To be married means saying yes to that one other person, while in the same breath, saying no to every other potential spouse in the world.  But the loss of saying no to others is far outweighed by the joy of saying yes to the one.

And that’s the joy of holiness.  It’s the joy of saying yes to Jesus, and having gained his love and eternal friendship.  He is the object of our hope.  And we don’t have to be a monk or a nun to dedicate ourselves to that hope.  But we do need to say—in our hearts: I choose Christ.  Holiness isn’t about what we lose; it’s about who we gain—and that Person loves us to death.    

Homily for 23 May 2016

23 May 2016

Jesus sounds pretty definite: “No one is good—but God alone.”  Of course, there are lots of people we know who are good.  Just think of some of the big ones: John the Baptist, our Blessed Mother, Moses, Abraham.  And, of course, we each know plenty of people in our lives who we know are good.  But, still, Jesus says sounds pretty definite: “No one is good—but God alone.”

Now, as we just heard, a man ran up to Jesus and called him “good teacher.”  And Jesus said: “Why do you call me good?”  Now, I suppose we could take his response to be a chastisement or a correction.  But, knowing Jesus, he’s probably trying to get the man to see things in a different way.  And he might challenge us to ask ourselves: “Why do we call our loved ones ‘good’?”  Why do we call the saints “good?” 

What we’re meant to understand is just what Jesus said: God alone is good.  And so, wherever we encounter genuine goodness, we encounter something of God.  Now, the rich young man was really close to getting this; he only had to make the connection between the goodness he saw in Jesus and the goodness of God to realize that God was present to him . . . through Jesus.  The “eternal life” the man wanted was right there in the pure goodness of Jesus. 

And that’s the connection Jesus tries to help us make.  The goodness of the saints is the nothing other than the goodness of God.  The good we see in friends and family, in mentors and people we hold in high regard; that good is the goodness of God shining through them.  And we can thank God for those “good people” in our lives (and the good that’s in ourselves) because, through that goodness we begin to experience God; we begin to experience “the hope and the inheritance” given to us by Christ—the hope of eternal happiness, and the inheritance of eternal life.

Wherever we encounter genuine goodness, we encounter something of God.  That’s the connection Jesus is trying to help us make.  And when we begin to make it, we’ll see that our inheritance of “eternal life” doesn’t begin when we die; it begins today.  Our hope for happiness and life is available today . . . if only we make the connection.  Wherever we encounter genuine goodness, we encounter something of God.                

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Homily for 22 May 2016 Holy Trinity

22 May 2016
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

I imagine most of us have seen the “Coexist” bumper sticker: the word “coexist” is spelled out using the symbols of various world religions and such as letters.  The “t” is the Christian Cross.  The “x” is the Star of David.  The “c” is the Star and Crescent of Islam.  There’s even a Pentagram, the symbol of Satanism, which dots the “i.”  Of course, the idea is that all these things (and every form of humanity) should be able to coexist and be in harmony with one another.

And the reason I bring up the “Coexist” bumper sticker is that it tends to open up a can of worms.  It tends to bring out the politician and the philosopher inside each one of us.  And that’s good, especially in an election year.

On the one hand, it’s a good concept: the idea of everybody respecting each other and being at peace.  And, really, it gets at the principle of “unity in diversity,” which is a very Catholic idea.  You know, every now and then I’ll be asked why Catholics vote (sometimes) for more liberal politicians. And this is a reason why: because Catholics value the concept of “unity in diversity;” it’s a principle that comes from the Lord.  But it also comes from the revelation that our God is a Holy Trinity: three distinct, diverse Persons: “one in three, and three in one.”  The God we worship is the definitive “unity in diversity.”

So, on the one hand, it’s a very compelling and Catholic idea: Coexisting in peace.  But on the other hand, “it takes two to tango.”  Coexisting in peace only works if everybody’s dancing the same dance, and playing the same game.  The Holy Trinity “works” because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share nothing but mutual admiration and love and interest in each other.  We worship and wonder at the perfect harmony that exists within the three of them.  If God had a bumper sticker, it could certainly say, “Coexist,” because our trinitarian God is the perfection of coexistence. 

But, while it’s a good idea (and certainly one to aim for), the human race is not the Holy Trinity.  As we know very well, the diversity of cultures and such here in the United States are hardly characterized by mutual admiration, love, and selfless giving.  And sometimes that’s a real problem (and I’ll talk more about that later).  But other times, it’s good and even necessary that we don’t all get along.

If we go back to the Coexist bumper sticker for a minute . . . we see there are symbols and values which are simply incompatible.  I mentioned there’s the Pentagram, a symbol of Satanism.  Well, the values of Satan (if Satan has values) don’t mesh at all with the Cross, that symbol of Christianity.  Christ is all about love and peace, mercy and forgiveness, mutual respect and unity.  But Satan is absolutely opposed to those values. 

Satan is bad for humanity . . . because Satan wants us to live in fear and anxiety, unforgiveness and intolerance, misery, disunity and isolatino.  Satanism is bad for humanity.  And we should never try to coexist with the devil.  Of course, we have Satan’s little minions running around the world, too; names we all recognize: ISIS, the Taliban, Al-Queda for example. 

Now, it’s true that they suffer from a lack of love—very definitely.  They need love.  They need very desperately the love and mercy of God.  They’re starving for it.  But they don’t even know it’s what they need because they’re too busy killing and maiming and terrorizing people.  They’re filled with . . . emptiness.  Where is their compassion?  Where is there basic sense of empathy or unity with other human beings?  They’re the closest thing we have to the living dead.  And we should never try to coexist with such dark evil.

When Christ came, he said, “Be gone, Satan!”  He exorcised demons from people, and he triumphed over sin and death because the ways of sin and death—the ways of evil—are incompatible with human life.  Now, Jesus welcomes all people into the Kingdom: men, women, children, sinners, saints, ourselves, and the people we don’t always get along with.  Jesus welcomes everybody.  But he does not welcome evil.

And so, sometimes it’s good and necessary that we don’t all get along.  We support whatever is good for humanity, not what is destructive.  We support whatever builds people up and gives them hope and peace and healing, and not things that tear them apart.  It’s always good to remember Saint Paul’s vision of the “many parts of the one body.”  Now, in our physical bodies, we (ideally) only put into them whatever’s good: you know, healthy food, water, vitamins, and so on.

And we do the same for our spiritual body—the Church, and the body which is all of human society.  We bring into it whatever’s good; and we fight against whatever is bad.  In a similar way, Jesus doesn’t welcome evil (and evil takes a lot of different forms) because it’s totally contrary to the health and the very nature of the Holy Trinity.  There is no evil in the Trinity.  There is no evil in real love and justice.  Jesus isn’t being mean by excluding Satan; he’s being wise and prudent and protective of life. 

And so, now we’ve reached the other end of the political spectrum, haven’t we.  Why do Catholics (sometimes) vote for more conservative politicians?  Because we Catholics know that evil is very real, and not everything in human society in good for us; and some of it actually destroys society.

And so, we Catholic Christians are kind of “stuck.”  We have this beautiful, beautiful image of the Holy Trinity—our God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the perfect “unity in diversity.”  And we want to be like that.  We want to coexist with others with mutual respect and mutual curiosity about each other.  But, we also know there are values in this world with which we cannot and should not coexist.  We’re stuck between a beautiful vision and a harsh reality.  And this all gets played out (among other places) in politics: Who are you going to vote for—a visionary who ignores reality, or a realist who denies the goodness of the vision?  I don’t have an answer to that.

But the “good news” on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is that we have the vision.  And thanks be to God we know the principle behind the vision; the principle of “unity in diversity.”

I mentioned before that sometimes our lack of mutual admiration and love and curiosity about others here in the United States can be a problem.  And it’s a problem because unity depends on diversity.  Just imagine: In the Holy Trinity, what would happen if the Father decided to overtake the Son and the Holy Spirit?  What if he just trampled all over them and got rid of them?  Well, we wouldn’t have a Unity anymore; we’d have an “Aloneness,” a divine “Isolation;” a single God turned entirely in on himself.

Unity depends on diversity; unity depends on there being more than one in the relationship.  In other words, diversity is essential to life, both divine life and human life.  Just think of marriage.  Two distinct people—there’s the diversity; who share a mutual respect, admiration, and curiosity for each other—there’s the unity.  Now, what happens in adultery?  What happens in spousal abuse?  The mutually loving diversity is gone, and so goes the unity.

We can say the same for friendship, for relationships with co-workers, the Church, people on the news, politicians, and so on.  When fear or hatred steps in—from either side—the diversity can’t do what it’s meant to do; then diversity becomes an obstacle to unity.  Or rather, fear and isolation and pride (and all the rest) become a weapon against unity—and diversity of humanity becomes the battlefield.

It even happens within the individual self.  As we know, there isn’t just “me.”  There’s “me, myself, and I.”  We relate to ourselves—individually.  There’s a “diversity” even within the individual.  And it’s a sad thing to see someone fall into self-hatred.  Some people—and I imagine most of us know someone like this—some people are not at peace with themselves.  In order to really love ourselves we have to respect our whole self; we have to learn to accept (and even love) though parts of ourselves we don’t like.  Unity (whether that’s our individual integrity and unity, or the unity of family and friends, or the unity of the Church, or the unity of the country) . . . Unity depends on diversity; we can’t be unified and, at the same time, be alone.

On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we’re reminded of who our God is: a perfect “unity in diversity:” a perfect relationship of shared mutual trust and admiration, mutual humility and curiosity about the other, mutual respect, and mutual self-giving.  And for us to bring that vision of God to a reality, I think it begins by first looking outward. 

It’s one of the great gifts we have as children, which most often gets lost in adulthood.  Look around.  Wonder about your neighbors, your family, your friends.  Let them share themselves with you; and share yourself with them.  Be curious about people.  Be curious about people you disagree with: What makes them “tick;” where are they coming from; what’s their background; what are their motivations for what they think.

We might still disagree with them (or not), but we can still be in union with them as fellow humans by letting them speak their piece, and then really listening.  Of course, as I said, “it takes two to tango.”  And some people may not—will not—want to dance with us.  They’ll want to say to what they have to say, but then shut us out.  And what to do with that?

In that case, we pray.  We pray for their good.  We pray for their well-being.  We pray that God bless them.  And we pray for ourselves: we ask God for an increase in the gifts of patience, charity, goodwill . . . and fortitude.  Because “unity in diversity” isn’t about denying ourselves; it’s about letting others walk all over us.  It’s about bringing ourselves and sharing ourselves with others; and letting them share themselves with us.  It’s a two-way street. 

It’s like what we hear in Scripture today: finding “delight” in the “other,” seeing others (even our supposed “enemies”) as fellow humans; greeting others (at least, in our hearts) as “brothers and sisters.”  That’s who we are as the Church: we’re curious about everybody, even people we’re not quite sure about.  And in that mutual curiosity and even love, the life of the Trinity comes among us.

And so, next time you see the “Coexist” bumper sticker, remember to consider both sides of the story.  It’s a wonderful vision that the Holy Trinity gives us: living in peace and harmony with one another.  But not everything, not every viewpoint, not every passion in our human soul is good for us.  If we can remember those two things, we’ll be well on our way toward real peace and unity.    

Friday, May 20, 2016

Homily for 21 May 2016

21 May 2016

We’d be hard-pressed to find a child who doesn’t enjoy receiving a gift.  There are even some adults who still enjoy opening up the unknown.  And that sheer enjoyment of “the gift” is where Jesus wants to take us.

Now, as we saw, Jesus was getting annoyed with the disciples.  And that’s because they were being too “stiff;” they were being “party poopers.”   They were getting in the way of the kids being able to open their present: the Kingdom of God.  And not only that, the disciples were even preventing themselves from receiving the children as gifts from God.  And so Jesus was getting annoyed.

Yesterday, we recalled how “kind and merciful” the Lord is.  And he is.  Even when’s he getting upset with his disciples, it’s out of kindness and mercy and love.  He wants the disciples—he wants us—to receive the Kingdom of God as the gift that it is.  In his mercy, Jesus says: “Here’s the Kingdom of God!  I’m giving it to you—don’t be shy, come on up and take it into your heart.  It’s a gift from God to you.”

All we have to do is accept it.  And we get our cue from the gospel how to do that: Jesus “embraced the children and blessed them, placing his hands on them.”  How do we accept the gift of the Kingdom?  By letting God embrace us—by believing in our heart that God is right, that we are, indeed, worth dying for. 

And we accept the Kingdom by letting God bless us—by letting Jesus say again and again: “You are my brothers and my sisters, and you are precious to me and the Father.”  We accept the Kingdom by letting God touch us—in his sacraments, in the care of friends and family, in the peace of prayer.

The Kingdom of God is a free gift!  Life is a gift!  And Jesus places that right into our hands.  All we have to do is accept it.  And then the “enjoyment of the gift” will be ours.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Homily for 20 May 2016

20 May 2016

The Psalm is right: “The Lord is kind and merciful.”  In those times in life when our “yes” didn’t really mean “yes,” and our “no” didn’t really mean “no,” the Lord was kind and merciful. 

For example, how many times have we sworn to stop gossiping; we said “no” to gossip—only to find ourselves chatting away not an hour later.  Or how many times have we said “yes” to being a more faithful disciple—only to find ourselves lukewarm in our faith by sunset.  Sometimes our “yes” doesn’t mean “yes,” and our “no” doesn’t mean “no.”  Not to worry, though: The Lord is kind and merciful.  He knows we’re wounded by sin, and he makes allowances for that.

In his kindness, he allows for the fact that our “yes” isn’t always a fully informed “yes.”  He knows that our “no” isn’t always a mature “no.”  He knows that sometimes we agree to certain paths in life, trying to follow stars which delight us, but which soon fail.  Sometimes we say “yes” to ideas and visions and goals which don’t exactly lead us to God.  We try, but sometimes we just miss the mark.  And the Lord knows that.

In his kindness and mercy, he knows we’re trying.  And he delights to see us keep trying to live life “as it was in the beginning;” when God and humanity were one, and there was peace and harmony on earth.  God delights in that.

As important as it is that we acknowledge our sins and our mistakes, it’s even more important to remember: The Lord is kind and merciful.  That’s “good news” for us sinners.  It’s one thing we can say “yes” to with certainty: The Lord is kind and merciful—as he was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.        

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Homily for 19 May 2016

19 May 2016

We have some rather bleak readings today: all this talk about “weeping and wailing,” and “impending miseries;” and Jesus really leaning into the imagery of the “unquenchable fire of Gehenna.”  But, you know, these readings just seem to be highlighting something we already know: that it’s our choice how we live—and that we have to live with our choices.

Now, unfortunately, in ages past (and even among some Christians today) all this talk of eternal fire and misery was seen as an extension of God’s character—as though God is simply an angry, vengeful God who you better be careful around, or you’ll end up in the flames of hell.  And that’s sad and unfortunate, because then life choices aren’t made in love; they’re made in fear.

Then life isn’t about choosing to love and adore God; instead, life is about living in such a way so we don’t get God mad at us.  And that really isn’t any way to live at all.  Happily, though, that’s a poor interpretation of these Scripture passages.  God shows us the way to live, and he gives us today something of a preview of where our choices naturally take us—whether that’s the “weeping and wailing” of Gehenna, or the Kingdom of Heaven and the radiant City of God. 

Life doesn’t have to be bleak.  Our Scripture readings today don’t have to be our present or our future.  God puts before us—as he does every moment of our life—a choice: the way of life, or the way of death.  Now, obviously, our loving God would prefer we choose the way of life; he’d prefer that we choose: charity over greed; and humility instead of pride; and hope and peace rather than despair and fear.  But, you know, that’s what we hope for ourselves, too.

We just want to be good people, living everyday life as best we can, with the help of God.  That’s the life we choose to live.  And as long as we keep that choice fresh and alive in our hearts, we won’t have time to worry about Gehenna and the “weeping and wailing;” . . . we’ll be too busy singing God’s praises, and enjoying his company today and forever.   

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Homily for 18 May 2016

18 May 2016

The richest people aren’t those with a lot of purchasing power.  They’re those who have Jesus and faith in their back pocket.  You know, without Jesus, without faith, you have to go through life always making sure you have enough to pay your own way: everything depends on you.  But with Jesus and faith, it’s like going out to dinner and—oh gosh!—realizing you don’t have any money with you; but Jesus says, “Don’t worry—I have you covered.”

The richest people are those who have Jesus and faith in their back pocket.  Those people are rich in freedom; they’re rich in being able to enjoy life; they’re rich in seeing fellow Christians as friends; they’re rich in quality of life, without worrying about the quantity of life.  Jesus always has them covered; he’s always ready to make up for our shortcomings.  We just have to have faith that he can do the same for us.

If we want to be rich, if we want to be successful, then we want to be poor in spirit, we want to bank everything on the promises of Christ.  And so, today and every day, let’s remember to say in our hearts: “God be with me today.”  And then have faith that he is.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the humble; those who keep Jesus in their back pocket.  For the Kingdom of God, the wealth of life and peace, will be theirs.          

Monday, May 16, 2016

Homily for 17 May 2016

17 May 2016

In this first week after Pentecost, it seems appropriate to talk about “motion.”  After all, the Holy Spirit comes to us to move us forward in faith, and in life.

Whether the Spirit comes like a strong wind in a thunderstorm that practically pushes us over, or like a gentle breeze that just kind of rustles the new leaves on the trees, the Spirit of God is sent to move us.  He lifts us into greater faith, hope, charity, mercy, forgiveness . . . if we let him.  The Holy Spirit pushes us forward but, as we know, we can push back. 

Saint James is very right: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  And that’s simply because “the proud” resist God—they push back, whereas “the humble” don’t.  And so, if we want to be grace-filled and moving forward in living a good life, we want to let ourselves be moved by the Holy Spirit of God.

Maybe the Spirit is sweeping through your conscience.  Maybe he’s inspiring you to change something in your life that needs changing.  Maybe the Holy Spirit is putting the desire in you to spend more time in prayer.  Or maybe the Spirit is just trying to say: “Lighten up!  And let me support you!”  Who knows . . .

The grace of the Holy Spirit is always trying to move us.  Where to?—only the humble know that answer.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Homily for 13 May 2016

13 May 2016

As Pope Francis reminds us, there is joy in the gospel.  There is joy in being a Catholic Christian.  There is joy in sharing the Christian life with others.  There is joy in having Christ as our most intimate companion through life.  But, the joy of the gospel is, well . . . it’s different.

We have here today a snapshot of the joy that Saints Peter and Paul experienced.  Paul was arrested, dragged before the Sanhedrin, left in limbo for a while waiting for Caesar, and eventually beheaded.  Peter, on the other hand, was told by Jesus that he’d be taken to places he’d probably rather not go.  They both suffered for love of God, and they had joy in that.

Gospel joy isn’t worldly joy.  Gospel joy comes from sticking with it, especially when the going gets rough.  It’s the kind of joy athletes feel when they push themselves.  It’s the joy newlyweds have after they make it through their first big fight; and they make it through together, and love each other even more because of it. 

There is joy in the gospel.  There’s joy in being a Catholic Christian.  But it’s joy which comes with a price.  And the price is: Commitment . . . commitment through thick and thin.  There is joy in Christianity; and it’s the joy of sacrificial love.

As we approach the Altar to receive that Sacrament of sacrificial love, we do it with joy.  Not superficial joy, but the joy of a people who are committed to God—to God who is joyfully, sacrificially committed to us.            

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Homily for 12 May 2016

12 May 2016

An often disliked image of Jesus is “Jesus as Judge.”  We’ll take Jesus as “the Lamb,” as our “Friend,” as “Prince of Peace,” but not as “Judge.”  Of course, our experiences of judges tend to be like what Saint Paul experienced. 

He was brought before the judgment seat of the Sanhedrin—made up of the Sadducees (the old-school priestly Israelites, the “conservatives” of their day, who focused on Temple worship) and the Pharisees (the more “progressive” lay thinkers, who focused on preaching in the synagogues).  Either way, Paul wasn’t going to get an unbiased hearing.  He wasn’t going to be shown mercy (unless it benefitted one of the judges).

But Jesus as “Judge” is entirely different from the Sanhedrin.  He’s not partisan in what he sees; instead, he sees and judges only as God knows things to be.  Jesus is simple honest in his judgment when he says, “Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and [the ones you have given me] know that you sent me.”  He doesn’t judge someone’s worth as a person; he simply sees and says what is true.

And that’s a very great blessing.  Jesus is a “Judge” like a parent is a teacher.  If a parent sees a child doing something good or bad, the parent will simply tell that to the kid—to steer the little one on the right path.  We need our parents, our mentors, our friends to tell us what we perhaps don’t see about ourselves.  We need those kinds of “judges” in our life—to teach us; especially to show us what’s true.

The “trick” is to be open to hearing and accepting that judgment.  You know, Jesus knows very well that each of us is a sinner; he knows that we do things and say things which go against charity.  But he doesn’t hold that against us—that’s what a typical “judge” would do: our sins would be held against us.  But Jesus the Just Judge doesn’t do that.  Instead, he just kind of whispers his judgments into our heart.

Something like: “My brother, my sister: I know you have it in you to be more patient, so why not calm down and listen to this neighbor you disagree with?  You’re being kind of close-minded right now; I’ll help you.”  Jesus says things like that to us through our conscience.  The “trick” is to hear it and accept it—not in a spirit of defeat, but in a spirit of thanks to God.

God is loving and merciful in being our Judge.  And so we pray: “Jesus, be our Judge.  Show us “the path to life;” the path to you. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Homily for 11 May 2016

11 May 2016

Yesterday, Jesus said something odd.  He said (to the Father), “I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me.”  And it’s odd because we so often hear the call to “go out and make disciples of all nations.”  It’s a pretty central idea to evangelization and the “New Evangelization” in the Church.  And, yet, there was Jesus saying, “I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,” Father.

And today we hear both Saint Paul and Jesus expressing their concerns and love for “the flock.”  They’re not looking outward; they’re looking inward to the body of the faithful.  They want to make sure that the faithful, the “flock,” the Church is strong and well cared for.  And so, in today’s Church where we put a lot of emphasis on “going out” and sharing the gospel, maybe it’s good to remember that only a strong body of the faithful is able to evangelize.

Jesus is giving us, perhaps, permission and even a precedent to “take care of our own.”  As much as we want to bring Christ to others, we can’t do it if we ourselves are not the living and true Body of Christ, the flock of the faithful.  And so, let’s remember the obvious; let’s remember to pray for each other, to build each other up, and to spend time as a community of faith, gathered around our Shepherd, and being at peace with him. 

Homily for 10 May 2016

10 May 2016

We hear in the Psalm: “A bountiful rain you showered down, O God, upon your inheritance.”  And God has.  He showered down the life and ministry of Saint Paul on us.  He poured out for us the life and ministry of Jesus.  God’s goodness and grace overflow through the Twelve Apostles and their teachings, and literally countless disciples through the ages.

The “bountiful rain” of God comes to us through the lives of the Saints, through the wisdom and poetry of spiritual writers, through the mysteries and wonders of creation that reveal the mind of God to us.  Of course, there’s also the Church, her prayers and liturgy, her Tradition, and her ever-fresh heart attuned to the working of the Holy Spirit.

The “bountiful rain” of God is poured out on us through Our Blessed Mother, through goodness and truth and beauty; through our neighbors, our friends and family, our teachers and mentors; through our desires for happiness and fulfillment.  The “bountiful rain” of God’s grace drenches the whole world, not unlike the Great Flood; to overcome what is evil and to restore and build up what is good.

You know, if a houseplant is starting to wilt, we give it a good dousing of rain, sunlight and food.  And it perks up again.  And if our souls are starting to get a little worn by the world, it’s time to give ourselves a good dousing of God’s grace, light, and love.

God’s showers down a bountiful rain of blessings for us.  And he says, “Come on outside and play in the rain!”  And so, let’s do that.  Let’s step outside of whatever wears us down and dries us up.  Let’s go and find refreshment in God’s bountiful rainfall.   

Monday, May 9, 2016

Homily for 9 May 2016

9 May 2016

The Civil War ended over 150 years ago, but there’s still the occasional tension that comes up.  World War II ended almost 71 years ago, but we hear about Neo-Nazis, and we might even still hear some slur against the Japanese or the Jews.  Jesus triumphed over evil and death centuries ago, and yet we still hear of the remnants of evildoing in the world today.

The war is over, and yet the devil refuses to believe it.  Maybe this is what Jesus is trying to tell us when he says, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”  Jesus overcame the darkness long ago, but it takes a while for the world to catch up.  It takes a while for evil and hatred to admit they’re fighting a battle they have no hope of winning.

In the meantime, as we’re sometimes caught in those lingering battles between hope and despair, love and fear, charity and hatred, Jesus gives us words of assurance.  He gives us the gospel, the “good news” that he’s already won the war.  So, “take courage,” he says.  “Take courage,” be at peace, and live in hope.  The world will catch up in time.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Homily for 8 May 2016

8 May 2016
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Astronomers think that the universe is about 14 billion years old, and we usually hear about the Big Bang Theory as the reason why.  With that, there was a giant explosion that sent matter spreading out in all directions.  And, in time, the universe started to cool down, and the matter started to combine to form stars and planets and all the rest.  And so, the universe as we know it came into being.

But what about Heaven?  And I don’t mean “heaven” as in “the earth and the heavens.”  That’s the same as saying “the earth and the sky and everything beyond the sky.”  The “heavens” are certainly up in the sky: the clouds, the stars, the sun, the moon.  When we see artwork showing Jesus ascending into Heaven, it’s usually an image of him rising up into the clouds—which is an image we get from Scripture.

But he didn’t go to join the birds flying in the sky, as beautiful as the birds are.  He didn’t go up and sit down on a cloud, as big and powerful as clouds can be.  He didn’t ascend to “the heavens;” he didn’t become part of the vast “spirit” of the universe.  He ascended to Heaven.  So where’d he go?

We know a lot about the universe; how old it is, and we have some theories (scientifically speaking) of where it came from and how it works.  But what about Heaven?  How old is it?  And where did it come from, and how does it work? 

You know, we Catholics talk a lot about Heaven: whenever we get together for a funeral, our focus switches to Heaven; when we talk about baptism, we talk about Heaven; when we talk about our life here on earth, we talk about “getting to Heaven.”  There’s even a connection between what we do here at Mass and Heaven.  And yet, what do we really know about Heaven?  I would bet more than we think.

Today, with the Solemnity of the Ascension, we celebrate not only Jesus’ going up to “sit at the right hand of God the Father;” we also celebrate the birth of Heaven.  We’ve all seen depictions of angels and saints (and the angels is another question)—we’ve seen those depictions of all the faithful gathered around God, worshiping and adoring, singing and praise in perfect love.

But that gathering we call “Heaven” had a very definite starting point: it was when the first human being finally saw God face-to-face and was completely satisfied.  And that human being is Jesus.  Of course, the Son of God has known the Father since before time began; so there wasn’t anything especially new in Jesus the Son of God having ascended to the Father.  What was new was Jesus’ human natureThat hadn’t ever been there before, mixed into the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.

The day that human nature was lifted up into the life of the Holy Trinity was the day that Heaven began.  Before the Ascension there was no Heaven.  There was God; there were angels.  But there weren’t any human beings.  But with the Ascension, that all changed, and Heaven was born.  You have to hunt around a little bit in our Catholic Tradition to find this, but it’s there. 

And so, how old is Heaven?  Oh, about 2,000 years old—give or take a few years.  But it’s so tied up with the eternity of God that time is pretty much irrelevant in Heaven.  And we wonder (as we should): well, what is it?  Is it a place?  Is it some sort of parallel universe or something?  What is it?  How does it work

Of course, any answer we try to give is going to fall short.  After all, we can’t really describe the infinite with our finite human minds and our limited ways of expressing ideas.  But we’re certainly going to try. 

In 2010, a little book came out called “Heaven is For Real.”  I imagine many of us have read it, or at least heard of it.  It’s about a four-year old who goes into surgery, slips into unconsciousness, and visits Heaven.  And the book is about him retelling what he saw there in Heaven.  He talks about meeting relatives who died long before he was born; Jesus was there, and a bunch of others were there in long white robes and golden sashes.  It’s really a very interesting read.

In 2000, there was another book published called “My Descent into Death.”  Only here it was an atheist’s experience.  He, too, had slipped into unconsciousness during surgery, and he went on a bit of a roller coaster ride—first being tormented by merciless beings, and then hearing a voice that told him to pray to God.  He resisted the idea of praying to God (he was an atheist, after all), but at some point he did.

He writes: “I didn’t know how to express what I wanted and needed, but with every bit of my last ounce of strength, I yelled out into the darkness, ‘Jesus, save me.’  I yelled that from the core of my being with all the energy I had left.  I have never meant anything more strongly in my life.”  But he recalls there appeared “far off in the darkness . . . a pinpoint of light like the faintest star in the sky.”

He came to see Heaven more so from a distance.  But he saw Jesus; he came to him as a “luminous being,” radiating nothing but pure love.  The man conversed with other people who were there.  He writes: “They all seemed to know and understand me and to be completely familiar with my thoughts and my past. . . . It felt like they were closer to me than anyone I had ever known.”

Both the little four-year old, and the adult atheist characterize Heaven as the experience of relationship—a perfect relationship of pure love.  And this is how the Catholic Church has understood the nature of Heaven.  Jesus was the first human being ever to worship God and love God and be in relationship with God perfectly.  After him, the whole community of Heaven began to grow.  Heaven is perfect love (foreshadowed, of course, by that perfect love we know as the Holy Trinity).

But, you know, that little boy and the atheist had different experiences of that perfect love.  There’s a universal aspect to Heaven, but there’s also an individual aspect to Heaven as well.  Pope Benedict (XVI) writes how our experience of Heaven is necessarily unique—because our relationships with God are each unique.  It’s kind of like if I were to ask everyone here to describe the image of the Sacred Heart.  There’s only the one image, but each of us sees it in a little different way.  And so it seems to go in Heaven.  There’s only the one God, but we each relate to God in a little different way, and so our experiences of Heaven are going to be unique.

But we also know that an essential part of Heaven is community.  It isn’t just “me and God;” it’s “me and God” and everybody else who’s also in relationship with God.  Now, on this Mother’s Day weekend, we, of course, give special attention and honor and thanks to our mothers.  But for many people, their mothers have passed away.  Like Jesus, they were “taken from our sight.”  But, like Jesus, they’re still with us.

They’re still with us (and us with them) in the communal life we know as “Heaven.”  In the 1980s, there was the song: “Somewhere Out There.”  “Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight, someone’s thinking of me and loving me tonight.  And even though I know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star.  And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby, it helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky.”

It’s actually a nice image of how we relate to those who’ve passed away.  Two people, separated by death, and yet together gazing on the same “bright star” of God.  Of course, in Heaven (and the perfection of love and relationship) we’ll see them again, and be side-by-side as we love God and the whole Communion of the Saints together.

But we would make a mistake if we thought Heaven was only for the future.  Heaven is the experience of perfect love and relationship with God and one another; it’s the experience of everything that’s human and good coming together with what’s divine.  And that experience begins here. 

You know, when we think of a book, there’s a preface and introduction, all the chapters in the book, and then maybe a postscript or an epilogue at the end.  And when we think of our human life, where do we usually put Heaven?  Probably at the end, as a postscript for when the chapters of our life are filled up.  But that’s not right.

Heaven starts much earlier; maybe like the first or second chapter in our life story.  Every time a person is baptized, and commits him- or herself to life with God, there’s a little bit of Heaven.  Every time we give or receive charity, there’s a little bit of Heavenly sunlight coming through.  Every time we feel compassion, or pray, or give thanks to God for a beautiful day or whatever, there’s the experience of Heaven growing in us and through us.

Heaven is all about the perfection of our human nature—and we’re made to love and be loved.  And when we reach that perfection, we’ll discover that there is no end to the book; there is no postscript to the story of our life with God and our neighbors . . . other than “they lived happily ever after."

With the Ascension of Jesus, the idea of living “happily ever after” with God and our neighbors became a reality.  Heaven came into being.  It’s a great day to celebrate!  And we celebrate it with the Eucharist: one Host, one Cup, and we all share in it as fellow citizens of Heaven—today, now, and forever.

Homily for 8 May 2016

8 May 2016

One of the benefits of the internet is that it gives us a look into the minds of people.  And one thing we see is that a lot of people have Jesus all figured out.  It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is, there’s always the underlying theme of : “This is what Jesus said.  End of discussion.”

Of course, we see this in Scripture as well.  People think they have God all figured out, even the disciples sometimes.  And so, they’re not interested in what Jesus has to say.  Either that, or they’re trying to listen to Jesus, but they still don’t get it.  And what they don’t “get” is that Jesus always has more to show them.

Jesus always has more to show us; he has more to tell us about . . . everything under the sun (and everything over the sun, too!).  And that’s an exciting thing!  And Apollos knew something of that excitement.  As we heard, “with ardent spirit, [he] spoke and taught accurately about Jesus.”  But “he knew only the baptism of John.”  And so, when Priscilla and Aquila had more to tell him about “the Way of God,” he wanted to know more.

Jesus speaks in “figures of speech.”  As we’ll hear in Monday’s readings, the disciples said, “Oh, no.  We got it.  You’re speaking plainly enough.”  To which Jesus said, “Hold on, you have more to learn.”  And Jesus says something similar to us: We always have more to learn—and that’s an exciting thing.  There’s a whole world of truth and goodness and beauty the Lord is trying to keep our eyes open to see.

And so, let’s take a lesson from Apollos, from the Apostles, and from all the billions of faithful and interested followers of Jesus throughout time.  Let’s see what Jesus has to show us.  Like a bunch of 3-year olds, let’s keep pummeling the Lord with questions.  There’s always more to know and love.  With Jesus there’s always more.