Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Homily for 1 Sep 2016 (School Mass)

1 Sep 2016

Did you hear what Saint Paul said?  He said if any of us thinks we’re smart, we’re wrong.  He said if anybody wants to be wise, then they have to be foolish; in order to be smart, we have to be dumb.  And that’s kind of a strange thing to hear on the first day of school, isn’t it.  It almost sounds like Saint Paul is saying: “Don’t bother with school; just go home and play—you’ll be smarter that way.”

But that’s not exactly what he means.  Saint Paul is just saying that if we really want to know things—if we want really want to learn—then we always have to be able to say: “There’s more for me to learn.”  There’s always more for us to learn.  It doesn’t matter if you’re in First Grade, or Eighth Grade, or whether you’re ten years old or sixty years old, there’s always more for us to learn.

Imagine if your brain is like a ziploc bag or a backpack.  As long as you keep the zipper open, you can put stuff in it.  But as soon as you zip it up, that’s it.  If we want to learn more about our friends or family, if we want to learn more about God and about ourselves, then we have to keep the zipper open.  We have to keep our minds open, and say, “There’s always more for me to learn.”

And when that happens, we can be like Peter there in the boat.  He let Jesus teach him, and pretty soon he had so many fish, his boat almost sank.  As soon as we say, “I don’t know everything, but I want to learn,” Jesus will start to fill us up with gratitude and wonder about everything around us, all of creation and more.  But we don’t have to worry about learning too much.  Remember, when Peter’s boat was about to sink, Jesus was right there to help him.

And Jesus is right here to help us, too.  But he can’t help us if we think we know everything already.  So, as we start a new school, it’s good to remember that we’re all students—doesn’t matter how old or young we are.  And Jesus is our teacher.  Just remember to keep your mind unzipped so Jesus can fill it.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Homily for 31 Aug 2016

31 Aug 2016

When Jesus walked the face of the earth, he could only do so much.  He was a single human being, touching one person at a time; healing them, counseling them, correcting them.  And he had to leave people behind because he was always traveling from place to place.  When Jesus tells the people he needs to move on to other towns, it sounds like the risen Jesus telling Mary Magdalene to stop holding on to him; in order for him to do really great things, he had to ascend to the Father.

And this is a reminder of who we’re ultimately meant to be: not only humans, but sanctified people, holy humans.
  Without being holy—without letting ourselves be raised up in mind and spirit—we can only do so much.  St Paul says as much when he writes: “I could not talk to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ.  I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it.  Indeed, you are still not able, even now.” 

Our spiritual lives are something we mature in.  And the more we mature, the more spiritual “food” we can take in, and the more we can grow into our destiny—which is to be like God, right up there with the angels.  We’re not meant to be angels; we’re meant to be holy humans, humans raised up like Jesus in body, mind and spirit—even today.

In our humanness, we can only do so much to change the world.  But, allowing our Lord to lift up our minds and hearts, we can bring the power of God into the world.  And that’s our role here on earth: to be not only human, but to be holy humans and instruments of God’s Kingdom—like so many angels who have come and gone, and changed the world for the better.   

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Homily for 28 Aug 2016

28 Aug 2016
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Sometimes the gospel message can be unattractive.  And here we have it again today.  Sirach writes, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility.”  And, in so many words, Jesus gets at essentially the same thing: “In your dealings with others, take the lowest place first.”  And, really, it’s for this reason (among others) that we look at the crucifixion; Jesus is humble, submissive, and lowly there on the Cross.

We know that humility is part of the Lord’s teachings for us.  We know we should be humble.  But, you know, it’s not always an attractive idea.  It doesn’t inspire us to leap for joy and say, “Praise the Lord, I get to be humble today.”  Humility is right up there with death and taxes, and having to admit you made a mistake.  But, then again, who said that being a Christian was supposed to be easy and fun?  Christ himself never said it.

“My child,” Sirach writes, “conduct your affairs with humility.”  And it’s too bad the humility has gotten such a bad rap, because it really helps us to be genuinely human. 

Humility has to do with being “grounded” in who we are—quite literally.  The Latin word for the ground or the earth is “humus.”  And we get a whole bunch of words from that like: humiliate [to shove somebody down to the ground, to degrade them], exhume [to remove a body from the ground in a cemetery], and human [to be a creature of the earth; remember, “dust to dust, ashes to ashes, earth to earth”].

And so, humility has to do with being “grounded” in who we are.  It’s about living life with authenticity.  And there are a lot of benefits to living life with humility.  We heard many of them in the Scriptures today.  Humility leads to: love and admiration from others, favor with God, and a release from the weight of our sins.  It leads us to an appreciation of the sublime for what it is; approaching the unapproachable with curiosity and wonder.  And it brings us the esteem of others, and a new life as sharers in the new Covenant with the Lord.

There are a lot of blessings which come with humility.  But, you know, even with knowing what humility is, and seeing the benefits, it still isn’t the most attractive thing for many people.  And that’s at least for a couple of reasons that I can think of. 

One is that it’s hard to get our usual image of humility out of our head.  You know, the idea that we have to be sad or miserable; the idea that humility means we have to debase ourselves and act as though we’re worthless.  Of course, that’s not humility; it’s self-annihilation.  But, still, it’s hard to get that image of humility out of our head.

But another reason why humility may not be attractive is because it puts us in a precarious position.  In many ways, to be humble is to be weak.  Humility is the path of those who are not in charge.  To be humble is to be submissive to something else.  And the prospect of all that is just not appealing to a lot of people.  You know, generally speaking, we like to be strong and secure.  We like to be in charge, or at least to have a position of influence.  We don’t like to submit or to be weak; we don’t like to obey.

Of course, what’s the flip side of humility?  Well, the lack of humility leads to things like: bullying (between both kids and adults), abuse, unforgiveness, pride, anger—seething anger, jealousy, envy, hatred, stinginess, judgmentalism, arrogance, isolation. 

In the Middle Ages, the author Dante wrote a book called “Inferno.”  It was his description of the various layers of hell.  And at the bottom of it all was Satan.  But Satan wasn’t in a raging inferno; he was frozen in a lake, his angelic wings unable to move, and in his mouth he chewed on his latest victim.  He didn’t swallow, he just chewed and gnawed, refusing to give it up.  That’s what hell is like: isolation, seething anger, unforgiveness, grudges.  And it all stems not only from a lack of charity, but also a lack of humility.

After all, Satan’s great sin was to try to make himself equal to God.  The problem was that he wasn’t.  He was less than God, but he refused to accept who he was; he refused to be “grounded” in the truth of who he was.  And so, humility maybe not be the most attractive way of life for people, but what’s the alternative?  Sadly, as we know, too many people choose the alternative.

Last weekend we heard about Jesus having come to set the world on fire, and how he wishes it were already blazing.  And we asked: “Wouldn’t it be great to take a match and burn up all the sin and division in the world?  Wouldn’t that be a beautiful sight!”  But, you know, for some people, it’s the last thing they want to see.  After all, what would they do with their grudges against their neighbor?

Some people—even within the Church—like strife; either that, or they don’t know how to live without it.  You know, there are people in the world, in the Church, in our families, in our neighborhoods who do not know what it means to live in peace.  They’re either extremely hard of heart, or they’re terrified of what it means to “conduct our affairs with humility” and peace. 

But what’s to be afraid of?  What are we going to encounter there, in a life of humility?  My guess is: our true self.  Humility makes us come face to face with . . . ourselves.

There’s a prayer which I would encourage you to try.  It’s simply called the “mirror prayer.”  You get a mirror and look at yourself in it.  Don’t look at your nose, or your mouth, or your eyes; look right into your own eyes.  Stare at yourself and see what you see.  Now, if you’re thinking is a “touchy-feely” sort of prayer, it isn’t.  Coming face to face with yourself can be very difficult.

What’s there behind those eyes?  Who’s there?  A sinner?  Yes, no doubt.  Is there someone there who secretly holds a grudge and won’t let go?  Maybe.  Is there someone in those eyes who longs for companionship, or a sense of belonging and love?  Maybe.  Or are you unable to look at yourself?  Many people are unable to look at themselves—because it makes us realize some hard truths about yourselves.

But, at the end of the prayer, you also should see in those eyes a child of God.  A sinner, yes, but nevertheless a beloved son or daughter of almighty God.  And you can have empathy for yourself; not self-pity, but self-empathy.  You can begin to love yourself as God loves you.  And then—and only then—can we really be charitable and truthful with our neighbors.  Remember the second Great Commandment: love your neighbor as yourself.  How we treat our neighbors, our friends, our family, is direct reflection of how we treat ourselves.

If you’re angry with your neighbors, maybe you’re angry at yourself.  If you refuse to let a grudge go, maybe you’re looking for something.  If you’re gentle and forgiving of others, chances are you treat yourself the same: with gentleness and the mercy of God.

The thing about humility is that it tears down what needs to be torn down, and builds us up to be authentically who we are.  And in that authenticity we give glory to God.  St. Irenaeus said in the 2nd Century: “The glory of God is the human truly alive.”  Humility isn’t just for our own good; it’s for the good of others, the good of the community, and for the glory of God.  But it takes work.  Humility takes work.  The question is: is it worth it?

The benefits of humility: love and admiration from others, favor with God, release from the weight of our sins and grudges; appreciation of and wonder about our mysterious God; the esteem of others, and a new life as brothers and sisters in the new Covenant with the Lord.  And the flip side: bullying, abuse, unforgiveness, pride, anger—seething anger, jealousy, envy, hatred, stinginess, judgmentalism, arrogance, isolation. 

Is humility worth the effort?  Well, I think so.  God thinks so.  The saints and the angels think so.  A lot of our neighbors think it’s a good idea.  Of course, no one can make you humble, but yourself.  Why don’t you ask yourself, and see what you think. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Homily for 26 Aug 2016

26 Aug 2016

Our Lord marches to the beat of a different drummer.  I mean, he says things like: “If you want to save your life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life, you will save it.”  And “the bread I give you is my flesh for the life of the world.”  And “you have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, ‘Love your enemy.’”  He’s not quite in sync with conventional thinking.  And thanks be to God for that.

If we find ourselves too entrenched in the world—and are frustrated—maybe it’s the Holy Spirit trying to say, “You know, there is another way.”  Of course, to others, that way looks kind of foolish.  It’s the path of: being satisfied with what you have, instead of always grasping for more; the path of forgiving those who’ve trespassed against us and moving on; the path of accepting that hardship isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The way of Christ—the way of Christian foolishness and faith, is certainly a road less travelled.

But that doesn’t mean we’re being “fools for Christ” all alone.  No, the world is full of Christian fools who march to the beat of a different drummer.  The trick is to be okay with being one of the oddballs; to be okay with taking that road less travelled; to believe in an invisible and mysterious God; to have faith in the sacraments and the Church; to look at the crucifix and suffering as our doorway to life and freedom. 

Others look at us Catholics and say, “How foolish of them; how nonsensical; how ignorant they are of reality.”  And that’s okay.  We’ll pray for them.  In the meantime, we just go on our merry way, out of sync with the world, but in step with our Lord.      

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Homily for 24 Aug 2016

24 Aug 2016
Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

In the old church were rows of old pews.  They were still pretty solid, those pews.  The carpenter who made them had been a parishioner way back when.  And he inscribed his name on one of them.  But time and decades of use had made it illegible.  And so, no one remembers exactly what his name was—only that he’d built those pews so others could come and worship God.

On this Feast Day of the Apostle Bartholomew, we’re reminded that his name has kind of worn away with time.  We’re not even sure if his name was Bartholomew or Nathaniel, as we hear it in the Gospel of John.  We only know that he lived a long time ago; that he gave his life to the Lord and to building the body of the faithful, and then he died.  Even the manner of his death is up for debate.

We don’t know much about this man, other than he lived so that others could know and worship the living God.  He helped to give us a foundation, a bench, an eternal pew to rest our faith on.  And even though it’s pretty old, it’s still pretty solid.  And that’s about the most we can hope to do, too. 

In spite of all the programs and plans we pour ourselves into, the visions and dreams we wordsmith to death, the endless stack of church documents and debates in the church . . . in spite of all that, someday we’re going to go the way of our brother Bartholomew-Nathaniel (or whatever his name is).  Someday we’ll be gone, and our names will fade. 

And that’s okay—because God’s holy city will still be around.  And we will have helped to build it.  And we will be a part of it—that’s what matters.  It isn’t important if people remember our names; it only matters that they remember God’s.  After all, like Saint Bartholomew-Nathaniel (or whatever his name is), we’re here for God’s glory, not our own.

May we spend our lives to help build the splendor of God’s kingdom . . . and then simply fade away into glory.     

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Homily for 21 Aug 2016

21 Aug 2016
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

When I was in 3rd Grade, my teacher used to carry a yard stick around the classroom.  Sometimes he’d use it like a walking stick; sometimes he used it to point to something on the chalkboard.  But other times it was one of his disciplinary tools.  Now, he never hit anybody, but when he was upset about something the class or a student was doing, he’d whack that thing on somebody’s desk and raise his voice.  More often than not, he broke the yard stick.

It was one of his ways of disciplining us 3rd Graders.  And I never liked it.  But, of course, that’s the way discipline works.  “At the time, all discipline seems [to be] a cause not for joy but for pain.”  Being a disciple of Christ, a child of God, and a student of life in general is sometimes a real pain.  Sometimes it’s not enjoyable at all.  Of course, it’s in those times that we’re perhaps learning the most.  And that’s the point of discipline: to learn, to grow, to flourish.

When I used to go to the gym, I had a personal trainer (that was back when I had money).  And his sole job was to push me; to take me to the point where it begins to hurt, and then to back off.  The next day, my arms or legs would be sore all over, but that’s when I was getting stronger and healthier.  The point of going to the gym wasn’t to “feel the burn,” it was to grow and have better health.  That personal trainer was really a personal disciplinarian.  He didn’t let me get away with anything, and he pushed me for my benefit.

Now, we hear Jesus say, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”  And by the word “strive” he means to “struggle or contend with” the demands of that narrow path.  The ancient Greek word is “a-go-níd-zo-mai,” which is where we get the word “agony.”  Agonize, struggle, contend with the demands of what it means to be a Catholic Christian; not for the sake of pain, but for the sake of living up to our potential as children of God.

In years past (and maybe even still today) there was something called “Catholic guilt.”  And it’s just the idea that we Catholics are burdened very heavily by our consciences: “everything is an occasion for sin, and you better watch your step or God’s going to condemn you or punish you.”  And there’s certainly something to be said for that.  After all, we want to have a conscience; we want to do what’s good and avoid what’s not.  And when we make a mistake, there should be a consequence, because that’s how we learn.

The problem isn’t the burden of our conscience; the problem is the fear of God which can creep in there.  If someone is afraid of God, then having a conscience really is just a burden.  Then being a disciple of Christ really is just a pain, and nothing more.  If we’re afraid of God, then all that agony and “striving” to enter through the narrow gate, is just an endless agony.  But that’s not what “discipline” is—whether it comes from God or someone else. 

Discipline is always for a good purpose.  God doesn’t give us a conscience to give us a guilt complex; he doesn’t give us the Great Commandments and the teachings of the Lord to make our lives miserable.  God disciplines us so that we can be something glorious; so that we can be more than what we currently are. 

The Prophet Isaiah reminds us: “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” [64:8].  And, the potter’s hands press against the clay, and push it this way and that way, molding it into something more than just a lump of clay.  God disciplines us so that we can become something.  And that’s a reason to give thanks; it’s a reason to welcome (and even ask for) the discipline of God.

And so, the problem isn’t our conscience; it’s whenever we let the fear of God creep into our hearts—then, the discipline of God is just a heavy burden.  But as we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews, “My son [my child], do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom[ever] the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son [every child] he acknowledges” as his own. 

When people come into the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I’ll sometimes ask them to thank God that they’re aware of their sins; to thank God for having a conscience.  And that’s because the guilt and shame we feel is a sign that God is at work within us, loving us.  If God didn’t love us, he wouldn’t care; there’d be no reason for him to discipline us, because he wouldn’t care how our lives turned out. 

But he’s giving us that “guilty conscience” because he loves us; because we are his beloved sons and daughters.  God hasn’t abandoned us; he’s inside us, disciplining us from the inside out, shaping us to be (forever) children of all that’s good and true and beautiful.  Again, discipline is always for a good purpose.  And that’s important to keep in mind when we think about all the ways we’re disciplined in life.

Now, was my 3rd Grade teacher with the yard stick one of God’s disciplinarians?  Maybe.  He did what he did, not to scare us or tear us down, but out of concern that we learn what we needed to learn.  And, you know, I don’t think any of my classmates ever disliked him.  I hear similar stories from people who went to Catholic grade school years ago.  I’ve heard many, many “nun stories.”  The sisters could be strict, but at the same time, they could be incredibly loving.  Were they some of God’s disciplinarians?  Maybe.

I was thinking about all the ways God disciplines his children, and I came up with a few.  In ancient times, he lead the people out of Egypt and into . . . the desert.  For forty years they wandered through the desert, being disciplined by God—being taught by God to rely on him alone.  Just think about those times in life when we might feel lost, or spiritually or emotionally “dry.”  Those times are especially hard when we just come off of a “high point.”

Maybe you had money and a good job, and then suddenly money is tight and they’re cutting back at work.  Welcome to the desert.  God is there, with you.  But it’s a time of testing, a time of endurance and discipline.  A time when “the rubber hits the road”—speaking of faith.  Or maybe you were in a relationship and life was great, but then that ended and you’re completely off kilter inside.  Welcome to the desert.  God is there, with you in the dryness.  But it’s a time of discipline—not necessarily because we did something wrong, but because God is trying to push us onto another path, and we may not want to go there.

I already mentioned “Catholic guilt” and our conscience as a way God disciplines us, but what about all the teachings and truths that Jesus speaks?  Especially the ones we have a hard time accepting.  You know, he doesn’t change what he says; he just lets us “sit with it” and mull it over.  He leaves it for us to “strive to enter through the narrow gate.”  He lets us agonize and struggle over some of his teachings (and the teachings of his Church); not to abandon us or leave us confused, but to let us learn through the struggle. 

This is similar to how God uses temptation as a disciplinary tool.  God lets us be tempted so our faith can be strengthened.  It’s like lifting weights, or running, or going on diet, or anything like that.  We get stronger by facing resistance.  We get stronger through discipline. 

And a third way (and the last one I’ll mention today)—a third way he disciplines us is through the revelation of his Son Jesus.  You know, when we encounter the person of Jesus and become aware of his perfection and goodness, his fidelity and beauty, it’s a delightful thing.  But, at the same time, that encounter also serves to highlight our own imperfections.  Encountering Jesus is like encountering an image of what we aspire to be, only to realize we’re not there yet.  And that realization can be frustrating, and that frustration can be a way God disciplines us.

But, of course, we have to be careful with this.  God never condemns us.  And he doesn’t show us the perfection of his Son to make us feel ashamed of who we are (even in our sinfulness).  God reveals his Son in order to inspire us—not to be him, but to be like him, each in our own way.  And, in that, God disciplines us by standing on the sideline, shouting: “You can do it!  I’m not going to let you settle for less than who you are.”

Thanks be to God for teachers and nuns with rulers and yard sticks.  Thanks be to God for a guilty conscience and the shame we feel when we sin.  Thanks be to God for temptation, and for letting us struggle with hard truths from time to time.  Thanks be to God for his discipline and correction.  They are signs to us of his very great affection.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Homily for 19 Aug 2016

19 Aug 2016

God is willing to help us, if we’re willing to be helped.  We hear the Lord say: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”  But God can’t do that if we aren’t willing to be raised up.  It’s something of a catch-22.  Either God has to violate our free will (which he won’t do), or we have to trust God in what he says—knowing that what God promises won’t be proven until it actually happens. 

As the Lord says, “You shall know that I am the Lord . . . but not until I open your graves have you rise from them.”  This brings back our idea from Sunday’s homily: Give in, and trust God.  God is willing to help us, but we have to be willing to be helped.

I’m sure we’ve all wished God would do this or that in our life.  We’ve prayed for the Lord to help us with a difficulty we’re facing.  We’ve prayed for guidance and wisdom.  And that’s all good; it’s very good to turn to God in our needs.  But it’s just as important to be patient, to really look for God’s response, and to be okay with being a little vulnerable while God “gets back to us” with an answer.

You know, it’s so easy to ask God for help, and then to go off without waiting for God to help.  And then we wonder why life is hard.  If we’re willing to be helped, God will help us.  But that’s a big “if.”  It’s good to ask God for whatever we need.  But let’s be sure to let God get back to us—in his time, and in his way.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Homily for 18 Aug 2016

18 Aug 2016

“The king came in to meet the [wedding] guests.”  But this wasn’t just a handshake and a friendly hello; it was something more profound than that.  The king came in to “behold” his guests; that’s what the ancient Greek tells us.  He came in to “behold” his guests, to gaze upon them, to enjoy the sight of them, to contemplate their beauty.

They weren’t like all the other people who ignored or rejected the invitation; no, these guests accepted the invitation, and gladly went to the wedding feast.  Their pure hearts—their willing, docile, peaceful, self-giving hearts—were the wedding garment they wore.  That’s the “beauty” the king came in to “behold.”  And it’s what our God desires to behold in us.

But that “beauty” isn’t necessarily moral perfection, or intellectual skill, or human achievement.  It’s the beauty of a human heart that honestly and gladly desires to share life with God.  It’s the beauty of a bride (the Church) deeply in love with the groom (the Lord).  That’s what our God desires to behold in us—the beauty of a soul in love with him. 

Of course, we understand that.  I mean, love and affection is a two-way deal; whether it’s marriage or friendship.  It’s hard to love someone who doesn’t love you; it’s hard to respect someone who doesn’t respect you.  And so, we see where God is coming from.  He desires to behold in us the beauty of a soul in love with him.  And what he’s looking for is that “pure heart” in each of us which has simply and happily accepted the invitation to “Come, be with him, and enjoy life with him.”

That peaceful and willing acceptance is the wedding garment we try to put on.  As we come to this wedding “supper of the Lamb,” what garment do you have on?  Is it the garment of a willing and happy heart . . . or something else?    

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Homily for 17 Aug 2016

17 Aug 2016

Sometimes I think, “Why can’t I be more like . . . St. Francis, or St. Benedict, or our Blessed Mother; why can’t I be more radically devoted to God like them?”  Or, “why can’t I have the spiritual depth like . . . St. Augustine, or St. Clare, or St. Francis de Sales?”  And, “why can’t I have the kind of relationship with Christ like . . . everybody else seems to have?”

And, in that, I suppose we’re not that different from the worker in the vineyard who wondered why the last guy hired got the same pay as somebody who worked all day.  It’s easy to focus on what everybody else seems to have, and to overlook our own blessings.  And the vineyard owner’s response to that is basically, “Don’t worry about the deal I made with the other person, focus on the deal I made with you.”

None of us here is Saint Francis, or Saint Clare, or Saint Whomever.  God’s relationship with them is different than his relationship with each of us.  The beautiful thing to keep in mind is that God is in relationship with each of us.  “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  He’s the Shepherd of a lot of people; but he’s nonetheless MY Shepherd.  And our Shepherd has made a deal with each one of us, individually.

Regardless of how others’ relationships with God look, it shouldn’t distract us from our own relationship with the Lord.  We might ask, “Why can’t I be more like . . . Saint Whomever?”  To which Jesus says, “I didn’t make you to be Saint Whomever; I made you to be you, and I made you personally to know and love me.”

The Lord is my Shepherd; my personal Shepherd.  May we take that to heart today and always.   

Monday, August 15, 2016

Homily for 16 Aug 2016

16 Aug 2016

The reward of our faith is to “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  That’s the “prize” (or part of the “prize”) of giving up everything and following him.  But, you know, I’m not sure too many people are interested in the prize.  I mean, I assume that no one here aspires to sit on a throne and be a judge—even in heaven. 

And that’s part of the difficulty in spreading the Gospel—the benefit of following Jesus doesn’t match the cost.  People are asked to give up everything for a Kingdom they’re not even sure they want.  And it’s part of our difficulty as a Church today too.  Do we want the Kingdom of God?  Are we willing to follow Jesus—to put his will ahead of our own, to pay a price for something we’re not even sure what it is? 

Really, what is the Kingdom of God?  It defies understanding.  But, we know some things.  We know that the “poor in spirit” will enter the Kingdom first—those who put their lives in Jesus’ hands will enter it first.  We know there’ll be an overabundance of “family and houses and lands.”  It’ll be a place of belonging.  It’ll be an existence where “there is no more death or wailing or pain;” where life will finally be entirely good; it’ll be “home.” 

Of course, it takes faith to believe that that’s what the Kingdom is; and to believe that the promise of Jesus can be taken seriously.  Jesus asks us to put our lives into his hands; into the hands of an invisible God.  And, in return for our fidelity, our sacrifice, he promises a Kingdom of perfect health, peace and happiness.  It almost sounds like it belongs to the world of fiction.  But, of course, it doesn’t.  It’s very real. 

Are we willing to be poor in spirit; to put our life into the hands of an invisible God, knowing that the reward of that faith has yet to be seen entirely?  It’s a tall order Jesus asks of us.  But, if we ever need encouragement, it’s good to remember that he puts himself into our hands.  He entrusts his good name to us.  He entrusts his words, his heart, his Body to us.  Talk about a leap of faith.

But if God can put himself into our hands, that should encourage us to take a much smaller leap of faith, and put our lives into his hands.         

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Homily for 14 Aug 2016

14 Aug 2016
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain.”  And, of course, we know that; we know how seeds die and grow.  In fact, we count on it.  If those little grains of wheat don’t do their thing and die, we’re not going to have any bread on our table, or crackers, or pizza, or Frosted Mini-Wheats. 

All that delicious goodness depends on those grains of wheat falling to the ground and dying.  There’s no other way for it to happen.  Those wheat grains have to “give in.”  They have to give into the idea of being stuck in the dirt; in the dark, wet earth; exposed to worms and bugs, the sting of fertilizer and the stench of manure.  They have to give into that, unpleasant as it may be.

Of course, the fruit of “giving in” are all those fresh wheat fields, “amber waves of grain,” which yield an abundance of life and food.  “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain.”  Life depends on letting go; it depends on “giving in” to what has to be done, even if the prospects look grim.

Now, Jesus says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.”  And we might immediately think of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, the community of disciples set aflame with love for God and others.  We think of the birth of the Church.  The fire of the Holy Spirit is a life-giving, empowering, constructive force.  Jesus came to “set the earth on fire” with the Spirit of exuberance and joy.  Yes! . . . and no.

He also came to cause division.  He came to overturn peoples’ attempts at peace and happiness.  This was prophesied by Simeon when the infant Jesus was presented at the Temple [Lk 2:34-35].  He said the child was to be “the cause of the falling of many in Israel.”  The “fire” Jesus brings to the earth is a fire of . . . destruction; a Spirit of tearing down and separating, a Spirit of confusion.  And that fire is directed right at the human race.

That certainly doesn’t match the image we usually have of Jesus.  After all, he’s supposed to be the “Prince of Peace,” the “Lord of Love;” “Friend to sinners,” and “Hope of all the earth.”  He’s supposed to be a nice guy.  I mean, when was the last time you saw a statue or a painting of Jesus being mean to somebody?  I would guess: Probably never. 

And so, what do we do?  What do we do when Jesus starts talking about this destructive fire, and being a force of division; a force that even pits family members against one another?  What do we do?  Well, we ignore it.

When the Prophet Jeremiah came to Jerusalem with God’s message, people didn’t like him.  They were having a good time there in Jerusalem; they had things under control.  Their enemies, the Babylonians, were pounding on their doors.  But the people were secure in themselves.  They knew if they fought hard enough, they would win. 

But then Jeremiah came and told them to “give in” to their enemy.  And that was “demoralizing” to the soldiers.  All he ever talked about was the “ruin,” the inevitable destruction of the people.  “Give in,” he told the people.  And so, people didn’t like him.  They rejected his message and they threw him into the cistern to get rid of him.  It was a rather drastic way to ignore his message.

Of course, the same thing happened to Jesus.  Remember the scene where Jesus is trying to convince the crowds of people that his Body is true food, and his Blood is true drink?  Remember that most people said, in so many words, “This guy’s nuts!”  And so, they went back to their lives and ignored his message.  And it still happens today, even among Catholics. 

How many of the faithful refuse to call the Body and Blood of Christ what it is?  ‘We’ll just call it bread and wine, because that’s safe.  We know what bread and wine are; but Body and Blood?  No, that’s too weird, we don’t want to go there.  So we’ll just ignore what Jesus said and say what’s comfortable for us.’ 

Another way we might ignore Jesus is to make him into our image; to pick and choose those parts of Jesus that resonate with us—and ignore the rest.  Jesus is gentle and forgiving; he’s also demanding and sometimes harsh.  Jesus doesn’t condemn anyone; he is a friend to all.  But he also “calls it like he sees it,” and is a friend only to those who want his friendship. 

People liked Jesus.  Until he started getting too radical; until his words upset the applecart too much . . . then he was crucified. 

And so, what do we do?  What do we do when Jesus starts talking about this destructive fire he’s come to spread over the earth?  What do we do when calls himself a force of division; a force that even pits family members against one another?  What do we do?  Do we ignore him, or do we take him seriously?

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain.”  Jesus is trying to make sure that we, too, “fall to the ground and die.”  He’s trying to shove us in the dirt . . . not to be mean, but to ensure that we will have real life; that we’ll grow and become the children of God we’re made to be.  And in that, I imagine, most parents know what he’s doing. 

Now, I’m not a parent, but I do have a little dog.  And about a month ago, I was taking my dog—his name’s Elliott—I was taking Elliott to the vet.  And we got there, and he was just shaking all over he was so nervous.  But he had to get some shots.  So I stayed with him, and when it was all done, he was fine.  Of course, I didn’t want to see him all nervous and afraid, but we had to do what we had to do—for his health; for his good. 

Jesus shoves us in the dirt, like a grain of wheat; he takes us to the vet all nervous and shaking; he makes us do chores around the house and makes us follow rules, like a parent does for a child . . . for our own good, for our health and well-being.  There will be “peace on earth,” but there’s going to be darkness and shaking and a lot of chores to do before we get there.  The grain of wheat will bear fruit, but first it has to die.  The Resurrection will come, but not without the Cross.

And Jesus sends the fire of his Spirit to make sure that anything that gets in the way of life, is destroyed.  He comes to tear down pride.  He comes to demolish gluttony and selfishness.  He comes to obliterate our false ideas of what makes for peace and happiness.  He comes to destroy ignorance, arrogance, self-righteousness, and especially that hardness of heart which makes people enemies instead of friends.  Jesus sends his fire to make sure that everything that gets in the way of life is destroyed.  And how he wishes the whole world was blazing with that fire!

What a sight it would be!  Wouldn’t it be beautiful to take a match to . . . all the politics in Church life—to sit there and watch it all burn up.  Or what about our preoccupations with money and business in the Church?  What about the disinterest there is between youth and elders?  What if we could set fire to all the infighting that goes on in the Church . . . wouldn’t it be beautiful to watch it all burn up. 

And what would arise from the ashes?  A new life; a life built on the demise of what needed to go.  And a better life, too; a life built on all the good stuff the fire wasn’t meant to touch.  In the end, it’s all good.  But first we have to believe that Jesus is right—that there’s some stuff in our lives, in our church, in our hearts which needs to go.

The voice of Jeremiah still speaks loud and clear today: “Give in!”  Whether you’re a youth, a parent, an elder, stop clinging to whatever makes you fearful, or prideful, or hesitant to love.  “Give in,” Jeremiah would say, “and stop clinging to what’s not good for you.”  Give in to the destructive fire of God’s love, so that all’s that left is . . . goodness, life, and charity. 

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain.”  And unless we die to whatever separates us, we, too will each be just single grains—shoved in the dirt of our worlds, refusing to open up to the light of the Sun.  “Give in,” Jeremiah says.  “Give in,” Jesus says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, not for peace, but for destruction.”

Of course, if that message is too hard, we can always go to another parish, to another denomination.  We can always tune out the message.  But the message will remain: Give in.  Give in to God’s blazing, life-giving Will.