Saturday, July 30, 2016

Homily for 31 July 2016

31 July 2016
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The old church stands along the road, resolute and firm, as it has for decades.  Its tower, like a great finger pointing to the heavens, reminds all who pass by to “think of what is above.”  And from within, the God of all creation whispers: “Do not forget me.  Do not forget me.”  But there, on the road, the traffic passes on by, day after day; forgetful and unthinking.

Even we, who see the tower and hear the whisper of God, don’t always see and listen.  Do we think of what is above; do we remember God . . . for more than an hour a week?  Once a year, every year, each of us is smeared with ashes on our forehead, and we’re told to “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  We hear it, but do we listen?  And do we remember it—not just on Ash Wednesday, but every day of the advancing year?

The old church stands along the road, resolute and firm.  Its tower, like a great finger pointing to the heavens, reminds all who pass by to “think of what is above.”  And from within, the God of all creation whispers: “Do not forget me.”  Do not forget that “all things are vanity,” except those which are of God.  If we don’t want our life to be lived in vain, then “think of what is above,” and do not forget God.

Sometimes I look at my calendar at the end of the day, and I think about all the meetings that happened, and all the decisions that were made, all the thinking and planning and worrying, the budgets, the policies and procedures to be put into place . . . I think about all that and I wonder, “Does any of it really matter?”  In the end, does it really matter?  What is the meaning and the purpose of life?

The American author, Edward Albee, put the matter very succinctly when he wrote: “What could be worse than getting to the end of your life and realizing you hadn’t lived at all?”  What could be worse than that?  To realize, as you lay dying, that you never really lived; that all the work you’d done really wasn’t that important.  And that question—that fear—moves people to live at any cost.  That’s one response.

All those people who pass on by the church tower, who don’t see that finger pointing to the heavens, who don’t hear the whisper of God . . . maybe they’re too busy “living life” to be bothered.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But it sure is easy to be busy with life, that we forget to live.  Just imagine the life of a squirrel.  They live to gather nuts; they make it their main concern to gather them and store them, so they’ll have food for the winter.  It’s easy to be like that. 

Or to be like that farmer who was so excited about his bumper crop, that he built more barns, and bigger barns, to hold all of his harvest.  In our drive and excitement for life and abundance, it’s easy to forget that “you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  We humans, and most living creatures, have the instinct for “self-preservation.”  We’ll do whatever we can to live; whatever we can.   

Of course, some people are very aware of the brevity of life; they ponder the meaning of life because they, too, want to live.  In the 1850s, Henry David Thoreau left the city and went to nature.  He writes, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  For Thoreau, the whirl of everyday life was not where life was to be found.  He found life’s meaning in the simplicity of nature.

And when he was near death, it’s written that his friends were amazed at his tranquility.  And his aunt asked him, “Have you made your peace with God?”  To which he replied, “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”  And that’s more to the point of why he faced death with peace; because he knew he had lived; he’d gone in search of “what is above” and, with God’s help, he’d found real life.  And that kind of life exists on both sides of death; here on earth, and there in heaven.

And so, as we’re going about our daily work, we might wonder: “Does it really matter?  Is this what life is supposed to be about?”  Sometimes the answer is no.  And sometimes, yes.  It depends on what our frame of reference is.  And Saint Paul gives us our reference point.  He says, “If you were raised with Christ, then seek what is above; think of what is above, not of what is on earth.  Put to death the parts of you that are earthly, since you have taken off the old self and have put on the new self.” 

If we ever wonder if what we’re doing in life is “worth it,” then look to “what is above” and say, “Does this matter to you, God?”  The Will of God is our frame of reference.  If we want to be rich in life, if we want a life that’s real, one that isn’t just being busy so as to avoid death, then we need to be “rich in what matters to God.”  Do possessions matter to God?  Not really.  Does money matter to God?  No, not especially.  Do good looks and popularity matter to God?  No. 

What about balancing the budget?  What about having an up-to-date flow chart for the parish?  What about making sure our worship and our prayer are correct?  Do those things matter to God?  Maybe.  It depends on our frame of reference; it depends on our motivation.  If our joy and happiness is in having a balanced budget, then it’s probably not that important to God, and it’s a waste of our life and our time.  And Saint Paul would say, “Then, put it to death.” 

But, you know, if a balanced budget helps us to love God and our neighbors, then it’s important; it is meaningful.  Does our motivation come from within us, or does it come from God and from what’s “above?”    

In 1989, the movie “Dead Poets Society” was released.  It takes place at a boys academy in the 1950s.  And it was a place where “tradition, honor, discipline, and excellence” meant everything.  And, even though they went to chapel, God wasn’t really there.  And, even though they studied the liberal arts, knowledge of “higher things” wasn’t really there.  The spirit of the academy was hollow; nothing really meant anything.  There was no life there.

Like so much of the spirit of society today; the busyness is all just busyness; there’s not a lot of life in it.  There can be; but it’s not just going to happen.  In the movie “Dead Poets Society,” the Latin phrase carpe diem becomes the motto; carpe diem—seize the day.  Don’t live life half-dead and asleep.  Seize the day.  And to that we would add: “Look to what is above.  And do not forget God.”  Seize the day, seize life . . . take hold of God, and let God take hold of you.  There walking with God, loving others as God, we’ll know real and lasting life. 

And if we forget, don’t worry.
  The old church stands along the road, resolute and firm, as it has for decades.  Its tower, like a great finger pointing to the heavens, reminds all who pass by to “think of what is above.”  And from within, the God of all creation whispers: “Do not forget me.  Do not forget me.” 

Be rich in what matters to God; love God, love your neighbor.  Then, someday, as we lay dying, we’ll realize we have lived.  And that’ll be a glorious day, then, because we’ll see that real life just goes on and on, there “above,” with our God and all the faithful who also lived and loved well.  On that day, we’ll finally understand that a life of faith, hope, and charity isn’t lived in vain; rather, it’s the only life to live.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Homily for 29 July 2016

29 July 2016
Memorial of Saint Martha

It’s an odd question, but it has to be asked: Why is Martha a Saint?  It always seems like her sister, Mary, is the one who’s got it right—not Martha.  Martha is the one who’s being overly busy about too many things.  Martha is the one who’s impatient with Jesus.  She complains to him about not being around fast enough; and she praises Jesus as a simple miracle-worker—like any ordinary Jew would do; even though she calls him “the Christ, the Messiah,” she doesn’t actually know who he really is.  Martha always seems to be missing the mark.  Why is she a Saint?

Perhaps it’s because of that one line in the gospel of John: “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him.”  She went to meet him.  Martha had an enthusiasm for Jesus, and she welcomed him with open arms.  She didn’t know exactly who she was dealing with, but that’s beside the point; Martha loved Jesus, and dedicated herself to him.  And that really gets at the heart of what it means to be a saint.

The word “saint” comes from the Latin “sanctus,” which means “to be holy,” to be “set apart” and “reserved” for something special.  In her enthusiasm for Christ, Martha “set herself apart” and focused on him—even though it took her a while to figure out who he was and what that meant for her.  To be a saint is to dedicate ourselves to the Lord, and to welcome him into our hearts and minds—however imperfectly we do that.

And so, why is Martha a Saint . . . because she loved the Lord, and she let him love her.  And, in that, Saint Martha gives us all hope that we, too, can be a saint.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Homily for 28 July 2016

28 July 2016

In the mind of God, continuity is a big idea.  It’s like if you look at a rainbow; the colors don’t have a definite end or beginning.  Red becomes orange as it mingles with yellow.  Yellow becomes green as it mixes with blue.  And so on.  Even though there are different colors, there’s no definitive break between them; there’s continuity between them.

When Jesus talks about “the new and the old,” he’s talking specifically about the Law of Moses in comparison to the new direction Jesus is taking humanity.  And what he’s getting at is that there’s continuity in our faith from generation to generation.  There’s continuity, not rupture.  Of course, continuity is very fragile. 

It only takes a generation or two for “the old” to become “the forgotten:” and for “the forgotten” to become “the lost.”  And that’s a very real concern for the Church today.  Unfortunately, we live in a world that says anything old is bad, and anything new is good.  It’s totally contrary to the teachings of Christ, and yet, this worldview has taken hold in many parts of the Church.

How do we know that?  Just mention the word “tradition” to some people, and watch them cringe.  Just mention “Vatican II” to other people, and watch them cringe.  Either way, it’s a problem because that creates a break in the practice of our faith, where there should be continuity.

Now, Jeremiah gives us the image of the potter and the clay.  We are the clay; God is the potter.  And while God forms and reforms the clay into something new, the clay itself is always the same.  The clay is always the same.  God makes us and causes us to grow and change, and yet, we’re still the same people.  In God’s mind, the old blossoms into the new, and the new is built upon the old; the idea of continuity is big in God’s way of thinking.

As the Church struggles to bring the gospel into the world, as she works with her own generational gaps, and the fallout of an increasingly de-Christianized society, the idea of continuity will be important in questions of faith, morals, and worship.  We must embrace what is old and good, and also what is new and good.    

The question isn’t whether something is old or new; the question is: Is it good . . . because goodness lasts forever.  Like the fish in the net, the bad will be thrown away—whether they’re old or new.  But the good will be kept—doesn’t matter if they’re old or new.  All that matters is that it’s good.  Is it good for us?  Is it good for the world?  Is it the Will of God?

Homily for 27 July 2016

27 July 2016

Sometimes it’s hard to be a Catholic.  I mean, society today doesn’t seem all that interested in the gospel, or the Eucharist.  And, yet, those are pretty central to our lives.  We try to spread a message of mercy and morals; the Church tries to keep humanity on the right path so we can be fulfilled and happy and at peace.  But so much of it just falls on deaf ears. 

And, in that, trying to be a good and faithful Catholic today is, perhaps, like the experience of the Prophet Jeremiah.  He was a good and peaceful man, a man who spoke the truth that God put into his heart; someone who tried his hardest to love God above all, and to love his neighbor.  But he was “cursed” by all because of it.  It can be discouraging to be a prophet of the Lord; it can be discouraging to be a Catholic today.

But, I suppose, it’s like that person who finds a treasure buried in a field, and goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  That person found joy in the treasure (and the treasure is the Kingdom of heaven).  But the treasure was buried in the dirt; you can’t see it without digging.  But it wasn’t just that one treasure that brought the person joy.  It was also the hope that in the field there might be more buried treasure. 

Every time we uncover a bit of the Kingdom of heaven, it inspires us to keep digging (because “there has to be more where that came from”).  We Catholics put up with the indifference of society; we put up with the jokes and the derision and the put downs—because that’s the “dirt” that comes with digging for the Kingdom.  And, you know, not all of society is against us. 

Out there in the world, there are people who desire God, who desire the sacraments and their grace; there are people who are lost and are overjoyed at being “found.”  There’s a lot of “dirt” out there (and even among the faithful, I dare say).  But there’s a lot of buried treasure, too.  And that’s the joy of being a Catholic: spreading the gospel, sharing the Eucharist, digging through the dirt . . . and every now and then coming face to face with a kindred spirit; a fellow human in whom dwells the Spirit of God.

So, go ahead and give all you can to this adventure we call “the Catholic faith.”  There’ll be a lot of digging.  But the treasures we find will be well worth the effort.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Homily for 26 July 2016

26 July 2016

At our baptism, we’re anointed with Holy Oil to share in Christ’s work as Priest, Prophet, and King.  Being a prophet of the Lord has its up sides and its down sides. 

On the up side, being a prophet means having some vision of what we can be; what we’re made to be.  We should have in our mind’s eye some image of the perfect holy city, the New Jerusalem; the perfect community of worshippers of God.  In other words, “heaven” is what we should have in mind as our goal.  And it’s a supreme to have that image before us.

On the down side, though, having that image in our mind also makes us realize how far we are from it.  When the Prophet Jeremiah weeps and laments over Jerusalem, he does it out of sadness “over her incurable wound.”  And the “incurable wound” within us is, of course, sin and the effects of sin.

Many parents and grandparents are troubled because their own children and grandchildren have no faith.  Or they’re not interested in church or morals . . . they’re not interested in the image of heaven; they’re not interested in God’s vision for them.  And those parents and grandparents weep like Jeremiah because they see that things aren’t how they should be.  That’s the price of being a prophet of the Lord.

It’s a price that every good priest has to pay as well.  He lets God put into his mind’s eye an image of what can be.  And it’s a mix of joy and heartache that he experiences until the people of God are what and whom God has made them to be.  But we—all of us—gladly accept the heartache—the weeping, the worrying, the concern—because the up side is worth it.  Heaven is worth it.  Moving our family, our loved ones, our friends along the path of holiness is worth the pain. 

And, with that in mind, remember too that others are trying to be a prophet of the Lord to us.  Others weep for us, because we have that “incurable wound” as well.  We aren’t yet whom God has made us to be.  Others weep for us; and we should weep for ourselves—not in self-pity, but in simple sadness that we let the cloud of sin blot out the glory of God in our lives.

We pray as the psalmist prays today: “For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.”  Deliver us from our sins, from our hardened hearts.  Deliver us, Lord, from our incurable wound.  Make us all to “shine like the sun in the Kingdom of our Father.”

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Homily for 24 July 2016

24 July 2016
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  It has such a peaceful, gentle sound to it.  And we might picture a few light knocks on the door, or a child asking for something with patience, or someone sitting under a tree pondering a question to find the answer.  “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

But, really, in the ancient Greek, it’s more like this: “Demand and beg for something long enough, and you’ll receive it; refuse to take no for an answer, leave no stone unturned, and you’ll what find you’re looking for; bang on the door with your fist and yell at the top of your lungs, and the door will be opened to you.”  The vigor of these words gets lost in the translation.  But Christ asks us to pray and to live with this vigor and insistence and persistence.

Our prayer isn’t supposed to be lazy, or routine, or unthinking.  It should be insistent and intentional.  It should even be demanding of God.  And this is what Jesus taught the disciples when they said, “Teach us to pray as John taught his disciples to pray.”  Remember that John the Baptist is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” 

Just think of that prayer Jesus gave us, the Our Father.  “Thy kingdom . . . come.  Thy will . . . be done . . . Give us our daily bread . . . Forgive us our trespasses . . . Lead us not into temptation . . . Deliver us from evil.”  The Our Father is one demand after another.  And we don’t end that prayer by saying, “Please.”  We just demand those things from God; we beg for them.  That’s the prayer of John the Baptist; a prayer that begs and demands—with faith and insistence.

Of course, it’s possible not to pray that way.  Does this prayer sound familiar: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be blah, blah blah . . . but deliver us from evil.”  You know, sometimes you just go on autopilot; you hear words, you know your lips are moving, but that’s about it.  It’s like spending an hour to cut the grass, only to realize when you’re done that you forgot to turn the mower on.  It’s kind of silly example.  But we do it with our prayers probably more often than we’d like to admit.

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Just remember to turn the engine on; remember to put your heart and soul into it, and to be persistent—like John the Baptist.

But “persistence” doesn’t mean being “pushy,” or “irreverent,” or “greedy.”  It simply means being a man or woman of real faith.  You know, if we say we trust in God, well then let’s put our money where our mouth is; let’s put our mind and our focus where our mouth.  If there’s a problem with our prayer, it’s probably not the words we’re saying—it’s probably the spirit with which we’re saying them.

There are many people around who don’t like the Catholic faith because we put so much focus on rituals.  The Mass is a ritual.  Getting married is a ritual.  Being baptized and confirmed, getting anointed, going to confession, getting ordained . . . they’re all rituals.  And the problem some people have is that they see rituals as mindless, as empty repetitions, as words and actions that don’t come from the heart of the individuals; and so the rituals, they say, are ineffective, outdated, and meaningless. 

Of course, sometimes, that’s true.  But, there again, the problem isn’t the ritual; the problem is in how someone approaches ritual.  Is it with a mind that’s vigorous in faith; with a heart that’s persistent in seeking to know and love God?  Or does someone approach ritual with a mind that wanders and a heart that’s grown tired of the discipline of faith?  Rituals shouldn’t be mindless; they shouldn’t be divorced from what’s in our heart.

Instead, our rituals, our prayers depend on us being conscious of what we’re doing.  They depend on us meaning every word we say; they depend on a heart and mind that yearn for God.  “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Just remember to do it with persistence and vigor.  That’s the spirit we need to bring to our rituals; it’s the spirit we need to bring to our prayer—if our prayer is to mean anything.

Just last week saw a great example of this: the story of Martha and Mary.  Martha was persistent and vigorous—but not about Jesus who was right in front of her.  Mary was also persistent and vigorous of heart and mind—but she showed it by simply sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his every word.  Mary was “asking” and “seeking” and “knocking” at the door; and she did it by being intentional in her focus.

We also see a great example of the “spirit” we need to bring to prayer in the story of Abraham today.  Again and again he asked God: “Will you spare the city if there are so many innocent people in it?”  And again and again God said yes.  But with Abraham, it’s not only the spirit he brings to prayer, it’s also the intention he brings to prayer.

Mary (the sister of Martha) was focused entirely on Jesus.  And that’s good; that’s the First and Greatest Commandment.  But Abraham’s focus was on the good of other people.  Even though the people of Sodom were sinners, Abraham still had hope that there was good in them.  And so, he prayed vigorously and persistently to God on their behalf.  And that’s good, too; that’s the other half of the Greatest Commandment: love of neighbor.

If our prayer seems to be dry or empty; if the Our Father has a beginning and an end—but no middle—when we say it; if our ritual seems devoid of meaning . . . maybe it’s the spirit and the intention we put behind our prayers.

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  In other words: “Demand and beg for something long enough, and you’ll receive it; refuse to take no for an answer, leave no stone unturned, and you’ll what find you’re looking for; bang on the door with your fist and yell at the top of your lungs, and the door will be opened to you.”  This is the persistence of spirit that Christ asks us to have with our prayer and in our lives. 

And so, are you “asking” or are you “demanding?”  Are you “seeking” or are you “leaving no stone unturned?”  Are you “knocking” or are you “pounding with your fists” at the door of God’s heart?  Jesus gives us the words to say; the Church gives us the rituals we use.  But it’s up to us to put the heart and soul into them.  If you want more “soul” in your prayer, then put your soul into it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Homily for 22 July 2016

22 July 2016
Feast of St Mary Magdalene

On June 3rd, Pope Francis elevated the Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene to the level of a Feast.  And that’s the level at which we also celebrate the Apostles: Peter and Paul, Andrew, Matthew, Bartholomew, and the rest.  We celebrate Mary Magdalene now with the same vigor as we celebrate the Apostles.  And this is simply because she is what St. Thomas Aquinas called “the Apostle of the Apostles.”

She was the first one sent by Jesus to proclaim the Resurrection.  She was the first one to experience the effects of Divine Mercy.  And she was the first to make that step from a “private love” for Christ toward a more “public love” for Christ.  It’s not a coincidence that Pope Francis elevated our celebration of Mary Magdalene to a Feast.  After all, this is the Jubilee Year of Mercy; and the Church is working very hard on the New Evangelization—the renewed sharing of the gospel out in the world.  Saint Mary Magdalene is, for us, a model disciple, a model evangelist, and a model “lover of Christ.”

Perhaps our biggest challenge as Catholics today is to be in love with Christ so much that we can’t help but want others to know that same love, and mercy and acceptance.  Our challenge is twofold: to love the Lord—with affection, with adoration, with awe and wonder, with honesty, fidelity and courage—and to let our love for the Lord be something we share . . . freely and with conviction.  It’s a twofold challenge we have as Catholic Christians.

But, the example of Mary Magdalene shows us the way.  Love the Lord; and share your joy with others.  That’s what evangelization is; it’s what Catholic living is; it’s how the kingdom of God grows.  Love the Lord; and share your joy with others.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Homily for 21 July 2016

21 July 2016

I heard someone say that: The world is “ripe” to hear the gospel, because people today are in touch with their desires.  And what he meant was that, since God is the fulfillment of our desires, people are ready to hear what God has to offer.  Of course, if people have already decided that God is unfulfilling, then the gospel really isn’t the answer to their desires.

For some people today—I don’t know how many, but at least some, if not many people have already “tried” God; they’ve “tried” faith and Church . . . and were not overly impressed.  God did not satisfy.  And so, they went looking elsewhere for satisfaction, for life and happiness.  Maybe even we’ve done that from time to time.

There’s always the temptation to replace God with something else; something more fulfilling, or more exciting, or more worldly—something that matches our standards for happiness, at least, for the moment.  Even in the parish and the Church we can do that—unintentionally, of course.

One of the most difficult aspects of parish life is prayer and spirituality among the faithful.  Maybe it’s too abstract, it’s not concrete enough, it’s too wishy-washy . . . I don’t know.  But where the focus of our efforts should be on the spiritual well-being of all, and the fostering of relationship with the Lord, so often we get focused on the “concrete” things of parish life.

You know, it’s much more engaging to debate about the budget, or to get into discussions and disagreements about who should be doing what, and who answers to whom, and the politics of Church life.  It’s more satisfying to set our own goals and measures of how our lives should be as Catholics.  It’s fulfilling to say we want to have fifty more families in the parish this year, and then to reach that goal.  That’s fulfilling.  That’s satisfying. 

But what about God?  As the Lord said through Jeremiah: “My people have forsaken me, the source of living waters; they have dug for themselves broken cisterns that hold no water.”  Can’t our relationship with God be fulfilling?  Do we always have to find satisfaction elsewhere?  And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy the life God has given us.  It just means we should remember that it’s God who is the Source of everything we have and are. 

The everyday affairs of life aren’t the source of our happiness; God himself is.  And, until the world accepts that, there will be restlessness in people’s hearts.  Our hearts will be restless, until they rest in God [from St. Augustine].

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Homily for 20 July 2016

20 July 2016

When we’re younger, it’s not hard to tell who our teachers are: They’re the people who are older than us.  But when we get older, it’s not as easy to tell who our teachers are.  And that’s because some of our teachers end up being younger than we are. 

You know, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say to me: “I’ve never met a priest as young as you.”  That can throw people off sometimes, because we usually think of a priest as a “wisdom” figure, or an experienced “teacher,” or a “wise old man.”  And there’s definitely some truth in that.  But the idea of a younger priest coming along is a good challenge to accept the idea that God works in ways we don’t normally expect.

Take Jeremiah, for example; a young man, inexperienced, with no real standing in the community.  And yet, he’s the chosen teacher and “drill sergeant” sent to get Israel in shape.  Or take Jesus himself as an example.  In Scripture today, we see him sitting down—and that’s significant because that’s the position of a teacher.  In the “old days,” the teacher sat, while the student stood up. 

And yet, Jesus is only in his early thirties; he doesn’t match the image of “the wise old man,” or “the elder of the community,” but there he is being a teacher to his elders.  Sometimes it’s easy to tell who our teachers are; and sometimes it’s not—especially when the teacher is younger. 

Some of our most popular Saints were also quite young: St. Therese of Lisieux was only 24 when she died; St. Aloysius Gonzaga was also in his early 20s.  Saint Maria Goretti was in her teens.  Even Saint Francis of Assisi was only in his early 40s when he died.  None of them match the image of a “wise old man,” or a “wise old woman.” 

But they all have mountains of wisdom to share with us—because God often works in ways (and in people) we don’t expect.  Who might God be trying to put in your life as a teacher, as a guide?

Homily for 19 July 2016

19 July 2016

“Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father are my brothers and sisters and mother.”  God will always be God.  And we will always be less-than-God.  And yet, by the way we live our lives, we become so close to God that we can call him “brother.”  As much as Jesus is the Lord God, he’s also our brother . . . and our child.

Every time we share a living faith, or lively hope, or merciful charity, Christ is made present again on the face of the earth.  Like our Blessed Mother, we, too, can give birth to Jesus—not in a figurative way, but really.  And the flesh Jesus takes on is our flesh.  So that when people encounter us, they run into not only a relative of Jesus, but also a mother of Jesus, and even Jesus himself in the flesh.

“Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father are my brothers and sisters and mother.”  Jesus isn’t just playing around with words and concepts.  He’s reminding us of our essential role in keeping his presence active in the world.  And the world needs a lot of Jesus’ presence—today and always. 

“Love one another,” Jesus said on behalf of God the Father.  “Love one another,” our Brother said to us—because it’s through the practice of mercy and charity that the family of God grows.  And the more the family of God grows, the less room there is in the world for despair and hopelessness.  Even among our differences and diversity, may we be brothers and sisters in Christ—for the glory of God, and the good of the world.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Homily for 17 July 2016

17 July 2016
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

For over a century now, since Saint Pius X in 1903, the Church has been trying to foster “conscious and active participation” in the Mass.  When Pope Pius XII looked out into the pews in the mid-1950s, he characterized the people sitting there as “dumb and silent spectators.”  And he wasn’t being uncharitable; by “dumb” he meant that people weren’t focused at all on what was happening.  Today we would say they were “disengaged.”

But with the Second Vatican Council in 1963, the push for “fully conscious and active participation” in the Mass was ramped up even more.  And many people took that idea and ran with it.  And so today, if we ask what the ideal parish and worship should look like, we’ll often hear words like: “engaging,” “exciting,” “joyful,” “vibrant,” and “alive.”   

And this goes for everything: worship and music, social justice, the parish office, hospitality, the buildings, religious education, community life, and so on.  The ideal parish today is a “vibrant” parish—literally, a parish that “vibrates” with the activity of God, and is vibrant to the point of being “a guiding light” in the world.  Of course, that reflects the missionary nature of the Church; we’re not meant to sit still; we’re meant to be on the move and busy with the Lord’s work.

And so, it’s strange that Jesus commended Mary for “just sitting there,” while Martha was chastised for her “buzyness.”  I mean, she wasn’t busy doing nothing; she was busy trying to be a good housekeeper, a good hostess for her guest.  She was going over and above the usual to be a truly hospitable and welcoming person.  But all she got for her efforts was a lecture, while Mary got the praise.     

I remember several years ago I went to the Chrism Mass up at the cathedral (that’s the Mass where the bishop blessings the Holy Oils for the next year).  And it’s a unique Mass because people from all over the diocese come to it.  But that particular year was the first time they’d started to say the Rosary together before Mass.  The problem was that, up until that year, people had been encouraged to visit before Mass, and to reconnect with people from other parts of the diocese.    

And so there was something of a “showdown” in the cathedral that day.  Half the people were praying the rosary, and the other half were trying to socialize.  And I’d hear people around me say things like: “Look at them trying to pray the Rosary;” or “This is a time for community, not a time for the Rosary.”  And it was a rather uncomfortable time there before Mass.  Maybe that’s how it was at Martha and Mary’s house.

Martha was getting all upset because Mary decided it was more important to just sit there, instead of being busy with hospitality and welcoming.  To be busy welcoming, or to just sit therethat was the question in the cathedral, and also at Martha and Mary’s home.  To be “vibrant” or to “just sit there”—that is the question in parish life, and in the Mass.

But, as I said, the ideal parish and its worship are often described as: “engaging,” “exciting,” “joyful,” “vibrant,” and “alive.”  So, really there doesn’t seem to be much of a question.  No sitting around, just “sitting there.”

About a year and a half ago I did an informal study of all the parish mission statements in the diocese.  And every parish—100% of them—sees apostolic work and ministry as part of their mission.  Every parish hears Jesus’ call to “go, make disciples of all nations.”  Every parish is interested in being hospitable and welcoming, sharing the gospel, and inviting others to be part of the Catholic faith. 

But of that 100%, a full 80% see that as their only mission—according to their mission statements.  In other words, what characterizes the Catholic parish today is the buzyness of Martha; the “vibrancy” of doing the Lord’s work in the parish and out in the world, getting people “engaged” with the life of the parish and the work of God.

And so, while there may not be much of a question in our minds of whether to be “vibrant” or to “just sit there” as a parish, maybe Jesus is saying that there should be the question.

“Martha, Martha . . . you have literally worked yourself into an uproar, over many things.  But Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”  Jesus loves Martha.  And he even appreciates the work she does.  But it’s the intensity and the wide scope of her activity that makes him concerned.  Martha isn’t neurotic; she’s just overly busy—she’s overly busy about too many things.  In all her efforts to be welcoming and hospitable, she neglects to welcome . . . the guest.  Of course, that’s where Mary succeeded.

If we want to be hospitable and welcoming, then spend time with the guest.  Welcome the guest—and not on our terms, but on their terms.  Welcome the guest as he or she is, and as he or she desires to be welcomed.  And that goes for God as well.  If we want to welcome God into our lives, then we have to spend time with him; simply and on his terms.

In the story of Abraham and Sarah today, God comes to them in the form of three angels/men.  And, while Abraham has to do a few tasks (get some food made, and prepare a place to eat), his focus is on his guest.  He isn’t concerned with trying to put his best dinnerware out, or getting dressed up; he doesn’t even have a fancy place to eat—they just eat under a tree.  He’s only concerned with getting the food there so that he can spend time with his guest.  And that’s all his guest wants—to spend time with Abraham (and Sarah, too).

And that’s what God wants of us, too.  We build churches, we build communities of faith, and we welcome God to come and dwell among us.  We take God “under our roof” as our guest.  But when that happens, our life revolves around the guest.  And I imagine most of us know that.  When we have somebody over to the house, we don’t just ignore them.  No, we change our patterns and our habits to accommodate the guest.    

Well, when Jesus comes into our home, into our hearts and minds, into our parish, our life revolves around him.  That’s the price and the joy of opening our doors to the Lord.  And Mary knew that joy.  As soon as Jesus walked in the door, there she was at his feet.  That’s how Jesus wanted to be welcomed.  Of course, Martha was being hospitable and welcoming, but it was on her terms, not on Jesus’.  And so, she never really welcomed him; she was too busy telling Jesus how he was going to be welcomed.  He was going to be welcomed with a sumptuous feast and the finest Martha had to offer.  But that’s not what Jesus wanted; he just wanted her.

And so, while there may not be much of a question in our minds of whether to be “vibrant” or to “just sit there” as a parish, maybe Jesus is saying that there should be the question.  Because, of course, “just sitting there” isn’t “just sitting there;” it’s sitting at the feet of Jesus and welcoming him into our lives.

For over a century now, the Church has tried to nurture “conscious and active participation” in Mass (which should spill over into our lives).  When I look out and see the congregation, I see people looking at me; I see people sitting and standing, kneeling; giving the Sign of Peace, singing, saying Amen and Our Father.  I see all that. 

But are you “consciously and actively participating” in the Mass?  I don’t know.  I can’t tell by looking at you; because that kind of “participation” isn’t necessarily energetic, vibrant and busy.  What we participate in here is an intimate sharing; the kind there is between Jesus and Mary.  Among other things, we participate in a mutual welcoming: God welcomes us to hear him speak and to taste his Body and Blood; and we welcome him by simply saying yes to that.

And so, are you welcoming the Lord “under your roof?”  Are you participating in what happens at Mass?  I don’t know.  But if we’re not, we’re in a good position to start.  We’re already sitting here at the feet of God.  All that’s left is to say: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  That’s the best welcome we can give to our guest: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”