Thursday, October 27, 2016

Homily for 28 Oct 2016

28 Oct 2016

Some people think we Catholics are just silly.  We have our rituals, and our set prayers.  At Mass, you have to sit down, stand up, and kneel at just the right times.  The priest has to wear these special vestments, and then there are the bells and incense.  And the people are in the area we call the “nave,” and the rest is up here in the “sanctuary.”  Everything has its spot in the church, and we have our own set of “rules” that we follow.  And so, some people think we Catholics are just silly.  “Why don’t they just praise and worship God?!”

That’s an excellent question, really.  And I think the answer is hinted at in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  He says we are “growing into a temple sacred in the Lord” and “being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”  In other words, the way we praise and worship God is still “growing” and “being built.”  Someday, in heaven, yes we’ll “just praise and worship God.”  But, until then, we’re practicing.  We’re practicing . . . and we’re playing.

Pope Benedict wrote that: “Children’s play seems in many ways a kind of anticipation of life, a rehearsal for later life.”  Just think of how kids might “play house,” or dig in the dirt and build things.  And so, Benedict continues: “Liturgy would be a kind of anticipation, a rehearsal . . . for the life to come . . . liturgy would be the rediscovery within us of true childhood, of openness to a greatness still to come.”

Why do we Catholics have our rituals, and all our “smells and bells?”  Because we’re playing, we’re practicing, we’re getting ready to “praise and worship God” in a way we can’t possibly do here on earth.  And so, if what we do here at Mass seems a little foreign sometimes, well, it should . . . because children’s play usually takes us to other, strange places.    

Besides that, we’re not here to just praise and worship God . . . we’re here to become like God.  And that takes more than a little bit of childlike play and imagination, and a lot of practice.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Homily for 27 Oct 2016

27 Oct 2016
(School Mass)
The weather is starting to get colder, and before you know it, we’ll have snow on the ground.  The seasons are changing.  And, you know, you’re probably going to start your parents say, “Ok, make sure you put your coat on.  Where’s your hat?  Do you have your gloves?  Make sure you dress warm—you don’t want to catch a cold!”

And that’s sort of what Saint Paul is telling us, too.  The world we live in can be a very beautiful place.  But, you know, there are also some pretty bad things out there.  And we have to be careful.  So, Saint Paul says, “Put on the armor of God!  Use your faith as a shield!  And be sure to pray all the time so that you’ll be strong!” 

Now, just imagine if it was five degrees outside; it’s cold and windy.  But instead of putting your coat on, you’re just holding it in your hand.  Well, that’s silly!  Put the coat on so you stay warm!  Right?  And just imagine if we were sad or anger, or if something bad happened to us.  But instead of calling on Jesus, you just kept him in your pocket.  Well, that’s silly!  Call Jesus and ask him to protect you!  Right?

God isn’t just here in church.  He’s with us wherever we go.  That’s one of the great things about the Eucharist—we know Jesus is with us because he comes right into our bodies.  He’s always with us to protect us and to help us.  We just have to remember to call him when we need him.  Don’t forget Jesus!  You’re gonna need him!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Homily for 26 Oct 2016

26 Oct 2016

Jesus gives us one of those lines that people tend to remember: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”  We can do that; we like to strive.  But it would be a mistake if we took this to mean: “I need to do more good things; I need to strive more and try harder in my faith.”  And that’s because our salvation—which is the purpose of our faith—isn’t dependent upon how hard we work. 

We know this, but we forget: We cannot work our way into heaven; it doesn’t matter how hard we try.  The “narrow gate” Jesus refers to is the acceptance of this fact and the life of faith which follows from it.  It’s a life of true faith, sacrificial faith, a life of sometimes painful trust that God really is the Lord of my life.  The “narrow gate” is a life guided by—and I daresay controlled by—the will and the intentions of God.  In other words, it’s a life that undoes the sin of Adam and Eve; our first parents who decided that they knew better than God.  It’s a life very contrary to the contemporary mindset.

And so, “striving to enter through the narrow gate” means: “striving to do less ourselves” and “striving to let God do more for us.”  It’s counter-intuitive because, of course, we want to control our lives.  We want to determine our own destiny; we’re not too keen on letting somebody else decide what our life will be like.  And that’s why Jesus can say, “Many, I tell you, will attempt to enter [through the narrow gate] but will not be strong enough.” 

It takes strength to call Jesus “Lord” and to mean it.  It takes the strength of humility to say, “I’m not the master of my destiny; God is; my Creator is.  He is the Lord of my life, not me.”  It takes strength to say, “I trust him more than I trust myself.”

But the more we “strive” to step back and let God be God for us, the more he’ll actually be our Lord.  Then we can call him “Lord” and he’ll recognize us as someone he knows; as someone he cares for and directs and guides on a daily basis.  To call Jesus “Lord” invokes, really, the strength of intimacy and love.  Because to call him “Lord” is to say to him, “I trust you with my life.  And I trust you because I know the lengths you go to love me.”

Jesus knows it’s hard to take the path of humility and trust, because it’s the path of weakness.  But, as Saint Paul says, “It’s when I am weak that I am strong.”  And our strength in entering through the narrow gate is in knowing—in faith—that, truly, the Lord is the Lord of my life. With him guiding the way, there is nothing for us to fear.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

Homily for 25 Oct 2016

25 Oct 2016

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God?”  Well, the Kingdom is like many things.  But, from Scripture today we can say that it’s like anything which provides rest and peace in a messy world.  And so, the Kingdom is like a swing on the porch, where neighbors are welcome to stop by and take a load off.  Or the Kingdom is like a word of reassurance that gives comfort to a troubled person.  The Kingdom is like being a good neighbor.

And we also hear that the Kingdom is like yeast in a loaf of bread.  The Kingdom is like anything which serves to build people up; the Kingdom is constructive.  And so, the Kingdom is like fertilizer; sometimes it’s smelly, but it’s always spread around for a good purpose.  Or the Kingdom is like reconciliation and forgiveness.  The Kingdom is like being a loving Christian.

The tools of the Kingdom are given to everyone—man and woman alike, as Jesus points out.  We all have the capacity to spread the Kingdom; to be a good neighbor, to be a loving Christian.  We also have the capacity to undercut the Kingdom; to incite clamor where there should be peace, to be destructive where there should be construction.

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God?”  Well, hopefully, we can each compare our lives to the Kingdom of God.  May what we say and do give others rest, and build others up.  May our everyday lives be a reflection of the Kingdom we hope for.       

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Homily for 23 Oct 2016

23 Oct 2016
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
It was Christmas morning, and John was opening a present from his 5-year old daughter.  She had a worried look on her little face as she watched him.  He peeled off layer after layer of paper—she had wrapped it well.  She put her finger up to her mouth as he opened the box.  And out he pulled an art project, made from macaroni noodles.  Only, about half the noodles had fallen off and were lying in the box.

“Well, what’s this?” John asked, with a warm smile on his face.  “It’s supposed to be a picture of you, daddy,” she said, “But it looked better when I put it in the box.  I don’t know what happened.”  “Well, that’s okay,” John said, “It’s beautiful the way it is.  And do you know why it’s beautiful?”  No, she shook her little head.  “It’s beautiful,” he said, “because it’s the thought that matters.  And what I see here is a beautiful thought from my beautiful daughter.  Thank you!”  And the Christmas festivities went on.

“It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts.”  Henry Van Dyke, a Presbyterian minister and poet in the 19th Century gave us that phrase.  And it’s as true today as it was then.  It’s the thought that matters behind what we do and what we offer; there’s where the value is—it’s in the spirit with which something is given.

We hear the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  Both of them offered prayers.  And they were fine prayers.  One was a prayer of thanksgiving, the other was a prayer for mercy and forgiveness.  But the spirit behind those prayers was entirely different.  As we heard, the Pharisee “spoke the prayer to himself;” he was saying words to hear himself speak.  The prayer never made it to God because that wasn’t the “thought” behind the prayer; that wasn’t the intention behind it.

Of course, the tax collector prayed with a different spirit.  And he was heard by God—not because he said fewer words or because he lowered himself in appearance—but because the “thought” behind his prayer revealed that he loved God and depended on him.  In other words, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor;” those who are “poor in spirit,” who offer him the gift of prayer in a spirit of . . . honesty, dependence, and trust.

And so, every one of us is, potentially, “the poor.”  For instance, when we come to Mass, each of us comes here with some disposition.  Some of us come here because we adore God, and we just enjoy listening to his words and simply being in his presence.  Some of us come here because it’s the weekend, and it’s just what you’re supposed to do on the weekend.  And maybe some of us are here because mom and dad said, “Ok, get in the car.”

Those are all reasons to be here.  But it’s the “poor in spirit” who have the best experience here.  And we can all be the “poor in spirit,” regardless of how we got here.  It depends on the spirit—the “thought”—with which we participate in the Mass.

Now, I imagine we all know that coming to Sunday Mass is an obligation.  It’s something expected from every member of the faithful, and it’s one of the “precepts of the Church.”  We have our “Sunday obligation.”  As the Catechism [1389] puts it, “The Church obliges the faithful to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays . . . :” emphasis on the idea of “taking part” in the liturgy.  The “taking part” in Mass refers to the “thought” we give to it.  Our obligation isn’t just to show up; our obligation is to be thoughtful about what we’re doing.

And this is the same obligation there is the Sacrament of Matrimony.  Did you know that husband and wife are obligated to love one another?  Most people don’t think of it that way, but that’s what the marriage vows put into place: an obligation.  “I promise . . . to be true to you, in good time and in bad,” and so on.  “I promise” to love you, whether I feel like it or not.  There’s the obligation.

But, for the most part (and hopefully it is for the most part), a married couple isn’t focused on the obligation, because they’re too busy being in love with one another, and being dependent on each other, and trusting one another.  And it’s that spirit—it’s that “thought”—which we hope to bring to Mass, and to our relationship with God in general.  It’s a beautiful thing to come and take part in the Mass because . . . you want to.  It’s a beautiful thing to adore and trust God simply because . . . you do.

“It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts.”  We each love and worship God imperfectly.  And we love our neighbors and ourselves imperfectly.  And that’s okay.  What matters is: Are we trying?  What kind of thought do we put into it? 

Ironically, the most “perfect” thing we can do is to admit our imperfection.  If you remember, the Pharisee’s prayer wasn’t a bad prayer; it was, essentially, a prayer of thanks.  Even Saint Paul’s letter sounds a lot like it.  But the Pharisee was missing the all-important spirit of poverty.  The thought behind his words was, essentially: “God, look what I’ve done; aren’t you proud of me!”  All he needed to do was to go a little deeper and say, “God, I couldn’t have done it . . . without you.” 

No matter what we do in life, no matter how we take part in the Mass, no matter how perfectly or imperfectly we love God and others, what’s important is the thought we put behind it all.  Then, someday, when we turn our life over to God in a box, and he sees all the loose macaroni noodles in the bottom, he’ll say, “Well done.  Thank you for the beautiful thought.” 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Homily for 21 Oct 2016

21 Oct 2016

“Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Jesus asks.  After all, we can tell when it’s going to rain; we can tell when it’s going to be warm outside—the sky turns dark and the winds change.  So why is it that we can’t tell when the moment of God’s presence in our life has arrived?  Why can’t we feel the changing times and shifting winds of the Holy Spirit?

And I imagine that because it’s hard not to notice the darkening sky; it’s hard not to notice the changing direction of the winds.  We see it with our eyes; we feel it against our skin.  But God isn’t always so obvious in the way he moves.  At most, we might feel a slight twitch in our soul that something’s changing in life.  But it’s easy to shoo it away and to ignore.

Jesus asks, “Why do you not know how to discern the shifting winds of the Holy Spirit?”  And the answer is pretty simple: We’re not always paying attention to God and what he’s doing; and so, his work, his presence is easy to overlook. 

Now, however, St. Paul portrays himself as a “prisoner” for the Lord.  And we know he was literally imprisoned.  But, at the same time, we know he was completely “latched” onto the Lord, in a spiritual sense.  And, in that, he gives us the obvious remedy for our obliviousness to God.  And the remedy is: attachment to God, devotion to God. 

If we’re interested in what God is doing, and how his activities impact us, well, then it’s good to be devoted to him.  It’s good to attach ourselves to him, not as a slave, but as a trusting friend and student of the Master.  And there, at the feet of Jesus, we’ll learn to tell how the Holy Spirit moves, just as plainly as we can read the skies and tell that rains are coming. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Homily for 20 Oct 2016

20 Oct 2016
(School Mass)
Once, upon a time, there was an old man.  He was very, very old.  And he had lived in the village a very, very long time.  But no one knew anything about him.  He was friendly and would say hello.  But he never told anybody what he liked or disliked.  And he never did or said anything that people would think was strange.  He was very careful about that.

But, you know, years and years before when he was a little boy, he was the most talkative person there was!  If the sun was out and he was having a good time, everybody knew it.  If he had read an exciting story, he would retell the story again and again and again to everybody he met.  He didn’t like broccoli, and he wasn’t afraid to say so.  But he loved Jesus, and he wasn’t afraid to say so.

Whatever happened to that little boy?  Some say he “grew up.”  They say he “grew up” and cared more about what others thought of him, rather than what God thought of him.  They say he became embarrassed by the Christian joy in his heart; and that he didn’t want people to make fun of him, so he stopped sharing God with others.  Other people say he just lost the Spirit of wonder, and the Spirit of childhood.  Maybe it’s all true.  Maybe none of it is true. 

But one thing’s for sure: that little boy who once enjoyed God and was happy to share his divine Friend with others was no more.  Jesus said he came to divide people.  And he did.  He came to put joy in our hearts.  But there are people who are embarrassed to show that joy.  And there are others who love being happy in the Lord, and aren’t ashamed to be. 

That little boy “grew up” and decided to be embarrassed by his God and his Christian joy.  But we don’t have to be like him.  Even though we’ll all “grow up,” we can always be children at heart; we can always choose to be proud and happy to be a Catholic Christian.  We can always say with confidence: “I love my God, and I’m proud to be his child.  And I don’t care who knows it!”    

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Homily for 19 Oct 2016

19 Oct 2016

Jesus says some obvious things.  For instance, “If the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.”  And our response is, “Well, of course!”  When we look to the West and see dark clouds coming our way, we don’t start working outside in the garden; we get inside and prepare ourselves for the storm.  And if we knew somebody was going to break into our house, we’d be on the lookout!  It’s obvious.

Jesus says an equally obvious thing when he talks about the lazy servant—that “the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour.”  And, again, our response is, “Well, of course!”  If he’s not paying attention, then everything’s going to be unexpected.  Jesus says some obvious things today.

And, by that, maybe he’s trying to wake us up to some of the obvious.  Maybe he’s trying to say, “If you want me to answer you, then spend more time listening, and less time talking.”  Or maybe he’s trying to say, “If you want me to lead you, then you’re going to have to trust me.”  And that makes sense.

As we start a new day today, let’s see if we can pay more attention—not necessarily to the intricacies of what God is saying, but just to the obvious.  You know, those things we so easily get accustomed to and forget, like: Love God, love your neighbor, forgive others . . . you know, the obvious, the basics.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Homily for 18 Oct 2016

18 Oct 2016
Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

Saint Luke presents Jesus to us as one who is concerned for the poor and the needy.  And that is certainly true of Jesus.  But the Lord’s care and concern falls under the much larger umbrella of justice; the idea of giving to others (and ourselves) what is their due.  In other words, Jesus is concerned with giving others what they deserve.

He says, “The laborer deserves payment.”  And in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we hear that “the Lord will repay [one] according to his deeds.”  Paul even writes he that hopes his deserters will be treated mercifully by the Lord.  Saint Luke is really carrying on a teaching that he received from Saint Paul; the idea that the Lord is concerned with justice, with giving others what is due to them.

And so, Luke is very strong in his support of women, orphans, children, widows, the sick and the lame, the needy and the poor.  But what he supports is justice with regard to them.  In other words, we’re to help those who are unable to help themselves.  That is their “due” as children of God, and as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Of course, society has changed a bit since Luke’s time.  But the call is still the same: Help those who need it.

And, in return, God will “repay us according to our deeds,” because that’s a matter of divine justice.  Of course, we have to be careful there.  We don’t “work” our way into heaven by doing good to others.  The most important “work” or “deed” we do is to remember that we ourselves are the poor, and that we absolutely need God.  Our most important “work” is the work of faith—the work of simply being faithful to whatever God has in mind.

And that’s hard work—being faithful.  But, in his justice, God gives us a “just payment” for our work; and the payment is himself.  And even that is justice, because it’s God’s nature to give.  What more just thing can there be than for God to give himself . . . to those who are faithful to him; to those who are poor in spirit, and totally dependent upon him.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Homily for 16 Oct 2016

16 Oct 2016
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Everybody was gathered around the table.  The candles were all lit on the birthday cake, and they’d just finished singing “Happy Birthday.”  And somebody said, “Ok, now make a wish and blow out your candles!”  Of course, it was a “silent wish,” because you’re not supposed to say it out loud.  And all the candles were blown out in a single breath, and the smoke floated up as the party continued on.  But whatever happened to that wish? 

About five years ago, Saint Clare Parish did some long-range planning.  And, in that, there was a lot of focus on wishes and dreams.  There were dreams of unity in the parish.  There were wishes for a new, single worship site; there were also wishes of keeping our church buildings.  There were dreams of more meaningful, engaging celebrations of Mass; there were wishes for innovation, there were dreams of respecting tradition.  There were dreams of a new sense of community and collaboration. 

There were a lot of wishes and dreams five years ago.  Whatever happened to them?  When the smoke cleared from Saint Clare’s birthday cake, where did the dreams go?  Did they die?  Are they just on hold?  Are they still in play?  And, of course, we could ask that question about any dreams we have or any wishes we make; especially the ones that just seem to disappear with the birthday candle smoke.

In all our readings from Scripture today, there’s a constant theme of “persistence;” especially persistence in prayer.  And I suppose one message we could take away from that is: Persistence will get you what you’re looking for.  In the gospel, there’s the widow who returns again and again to the dishonest judge, demanding a just judgment from him.  As we heard, that judge eventually caves in because of the widow’s persistence.  And in Genesis, Moses’ ability to keep his arms raised—even when he just can’t do it anymore—his steadfastness wins the battle against the Amalekites.

So, I suppose we could say that persistence (in prayer) will get us justice and victory.  And those are both good things.  But what about when our faithfulness to prayer—our persistence in asking God for what we need—what happens when that doesn’t bring any returns?  Well, then I suppose we would hear the voice of Saint Paul chime in and say, “Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;” whether it is fruitful or not.  In other words, he’s saying: Remain hopeful and positive in our prayers and wishes.

But there’s a piece missing in this whole picture.  We know what our dreams and wishes are.  But what about God’s?  After all, God is pretty big dreamer; I mean, just look at all the variety and intricacy there is in the created world!  You have to have a pretty big imagination to dream up (and make) everything that’s “visible and invisible.” 

I imagine most of us have been in a situation where somebody just keeps talking and talking and talking.  And that other person just won’t let you get a word in.  And even if they do, somehow they manage to turn it around so that, before you know it, the conversation is centered on them again.  Of course, that’s what we call a “monologue,” not a “dialogue.”  When we think about our dreams and wishes—whether as a parish or as individuals and families—we have to ask: Are we engaged in a monologue with God listening, or in a dialogue where God also has a voice?  That’s is so often the missing piece when it comes to persistence in prayer.  We’re persistent in voicing our wishes, our dreams.  But we’re not persistent in asking God what his dreams and wishes are.  And we know he has them.

When Jesus says, “Pray always,” he’s saying, “Be in dialogue with God always.”  The original Greek word in the gospel [proseúxomai] we translate as “pray” means more literally to “exchange wishes.”  It means to “interact with the Lord by exchanging our human wishes with his divine wishes.”  In a nutshell, that’s what it means to pray.

Now, we use all sorts of words to describe that exchange.  We talk about being in “conversation” with the Lord, or being in “dialogue” with the Lord.  We talk about prayer as a “sharing” with God, or as “walking humbly with our God.”  And, of course, we all hear about being “in relationship” with God. 

But this isn’t just a casual relationship.  It isn’t an exchange that happens when we’re “in the mood.”  Jesus says, “Pray always.”  And, again, Saint Paul says, “Be persistent whether it’s convenient or inconvenient.”  And this is where the story of the widow comes in.

In the gospel we hear the dishonest judge say, “Because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.”  And, again, the original Greek word is helpful.  It shows that the widow wasn’t just “bothering” the judge, she was “beating him down.”  The original Greek means, literally, to punch somebody in the face just below the eye.  It means “to give someone intolerable annoyance;” to beat somebody down, to wear somebody out by asking and asking and asking and asking.

And that’s what Jesus puts out there as the model for praying to God.  We’re supposed to be like a congregation of 3-year olds who will just not stop asking God questions!  That’s the sort of exchange Jesus has in mind when he says, “Pray always.”  But, here again, it’s not persistence in a monologue; it’s persistence in a dialogue, in an exchange between our wishes, our desires, and God’s wishes, God’s desires.

Jesus asks one of those questions that sort of lingers through the centuries.  He asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  So Jesus was talking about prayer, and then about persistence in prayer, and now he’s asking about faith.  “Will he find faith on earth?”  And there are several definitions of “faith” (all related).  But the “faith” he’s talking about in the gospel today is that “persistence in prayer,” that “persistence in the exchange between God and us.”  But faith isn’t merely a conversation with God; it’s letting God’s wishes and dreams take priority over our own—by trusting that God’s will is real and good.

And so the models of faith Jesus puts out there for us are people like Moses.  In the midst of the battle with the Amalekites, Moses kept up his persistent exchange of thoughts and desires with God—and let God take the lead, whether it was convenient or inconvenient.  We can even look to the widow as an example of faith.  She’s someone who would beat on God’s door incessantly, shouting out, “God, what’s your will!?  How is this supposed to go!?  I’ll do what you want, but you gotta make it clear to me!  Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!”

Faith is that incessant exchange between God and us, where we’re like that congregation of 3-year olds who will just not stop asking God what his wishes are!  It’s about letting God persuade us that his way is a good way, and letting his wishes and dreams become ours.

There were a lot of wishes and dreams five years ago when Saint Clare Parish did its long-range planning.  When the smoke cleared from Saint Clare’s birthday cake, the dreams and wishes didn’t go anywhere; they’re still around.  They’re still in people’s hearts and minds; they’re still on paper; they’re still in discussion.  But until they’re brought into conversation—and exchange—with what God has in mind for us, they’ll only be what we want.  And we won’t have acted with as much faith as we could have.

And so, with this “call to faith,” this call to an “incessant exchange between God and us,” and letting God persuade us with his dreams and wishes—with this call in mind, the parish will go into a time of more intense prayer and faith to discern what is God’s will for us.  What are God’s wishes for us?  What does he have in mind?

Over the next three months, until around the end of January, we’ll be working on this with God’s help.  God so oftentimes reveals his will through the course of human history.  And so, starting today, we’re going to work on writing a parish history.  Where did St. Mary Greenleaf, St. Patrick Askeaton, and St. Paul Wrightstown come from?  What are the stories of the people of those former parishes?  How was God working (or not working) in the lives of our not-so-distant ancestors?

And what’s been the history of St. Clare Parish these past eight and a half years?  How has God been working (or not working) in our lives as a parish?  It’s an important question to consider—our parish and God’s will—because, of course, it’s his parish; it’s his church.  How has God worked in the past, in the present, and what is his will for us for the future?  Look for more information about this important project of writing our parish history.

And then in Advent, there’ll be a parish-wide retreat: eight days of considering what God’s wishes are for each of us as: individuals, families, youth, elderly.  More information to come on that.  And then, at the close of January and the start of February, our new picture directory will come out, our parish history will have started in a big way, we’ll hopefully have become more focused on the will of God, and we’ll put the wishes of God in exchange with wishes and make some of those important decisions about our direction and identity as a parish.  But that direction won’t come without first answering the Lord’s call to faith. 

Jesus asked, “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  Will he find incessant faith right in this parish?  Well, let’s hope so!  Let’s be like a congregation of 3-year olds who just won’t stop asking God all those questions of faith: “God, what is your will?  What do you want?  Well, how does that work, God?  Here’s what I think . . . what do you think?  Ok, that sounds good.”  Let’s be a parish of incessant prayer and exchange with our God.  Let’s be a people of real faith.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Homily for 14 Oct 2016

14 Oct 2016

Sometimes the idea of redemption is just not that appealing.  Sometimes it can be a little intimidating.  After all, a consequence of being “blessed and chosen in Christ, and sealed with the Holy Spirit” is that “there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.”  And imagine there are some parts of us—things we’ve said or done—that we’d rather not be known.

And so, as wonderful as the gift of the Holy Spirit is, the redemption he brings has a price; and the price is: transparency, vulnerability, and brutal honest with ourselves and God.  And that’s not always appealing.

On the other hand, I’ve heard stories of people with addictions, or people who’ve committed crimes and kept them secret for decades, who were “found out.”  And being “found out” and brought to “the light” was a moment of freedom for them.  Being caught was a redeeming grace from God, because they themselves didn’t have the strength to make known what needed to be made known.  And it needed to be revealed . . . for their own good, for their own happiness and well-being.

Now, our life situations may not be like that, but still, we might find it hard to be honest with God about things we need to be honest about.  And it’s then that we call upon the Holy Spirit—knowing that we’re asking him to help us be . . . vulnerable, transparent, and brutally honest with God—all those things that are uncomfortable for us to be. 

But, then again, it’s good to remember who we’re asked to be honest with: God.  And about him Jesus says very simply, “Do not be afraid.”  We aren’t “blessed and chosen in Christ” to be pummeled.  We’re blessed and chosen . . . to be made whole again, to live with integrity, to be fully alive and free.  And so we pray with the psalmist today, “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.”  How lucky are those who are chosen to pay the price of redemption.      

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Homily for 13 Oct 2016

13 Oct 2016
(School Mass)
This is kind of a hard gospel today.  I mean, Jesus is yelling at the Pharisees and the scribes.  He doesn’t even give them a chance to say anything—he just yells at them and then goes away.  And so, it’s a hard gospel today. 

We don’t like to think of Jesus as somebody who would yell at us.  And, you know, I don’t think he would—mainly because we’re not the Pharisees and the scribes.  I mean, they wouldn’t listen to Jesus at all.  We’re at least trying to listen to Jesus and be good friends of his.  And so, I don’t think Jesus would yell at us.      

But, you know, what he would do is tell us the truth.  Right?  That’s what we expect Jesus to tell us: the truth.  And that’s what he does.  Everything Jesus says is true.  And whatever he tells us, he says it with great love.  That’s how we know it’s Jesus speaking to us in our hearts.  You know, if we feel like Jesus is scolding us, or if we feel like he’s just whispering in our ears and playing with us, if the truth isn’t spoken to us with great love, then it isn’t Jesus speaking.   

So, if Jesus was standing right in front of you, what might he say to you?  Whatever it is, it’s going to be said with love, and it’s going to be the truth. 

He would say: “I am Jesus and I care about you.”  He would say: “You’ve made some mistakes, haven’t you?”  And we’d have to shake our heads, right, because we know he’s telling the truth—we do make mistakes; we are sinners.  But he would say: “If you let me, I’ll forgive your sins.”  And he’s right again; he will forgive us and make us better—if we let him.  And he would say: “You are my child—you are my son, my daughter—and I love you more than you can imagine.” 

He says all this to us because it’s true.  And he says it in a spirit of love.  So, what do you think Jesus is trying to tell you in the Eucharist?  When he says, “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” maybe he’s trying to say, “Here, just so you know, I do love you.”  And we believe him—because he always tells the truth, and he tells the truth with very great love.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Homily for 12 Oct 2016

12 Oct 2016

When we think about our lives of faith, it’s good to remember that the fruits of the Spirit don’t come all at once.  Instead, as we hear in the psalm, those fruits come “in due season.” 

Saint Paul makes a sharp distinction between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.”  And I suppose it can be tempting to say, “Well, I want the fruit of the Spirit—not the works of the flesh.”  And that’s fine; and it’s good.  But, like anything that grows, the fruits come “in due season.”

We wouldn’t look at an apple tree and expect it to be full of juicy apples just like that.  Or, we don’t look at an infant and expect him or her to just be an adult.  Those things take time.  And they’ll happen when they happen.  The fruits—the maturity—will come “in due season.”  And it’s the same with our lives of faith.

We may grow impatient with our “works of the flesh.”  We may want the “fruits of the Spirit” to be here—now.  But our task is simply to be faithful, to walk with Jesus, and to let those fruits of the Spirit come in due time.  And they will.  Don’t get discouraged by sins and mistakes.  Just be patient and faithful, and those fruits of the Spirit will come . . . “in due season.”

Monday, October 10, 2016

Homily for 11 Oct 2016

11 Oct 2016

God made us to be workers; we’re just built that way.  For instance, look at our hands and arms and all the things we do with them: typing, cleaning, sewing, cutting lumber, grabbing, throwing, lifting, and so on.  And look at our legs and feet.  Even if we’re not athletes, we know the potential that God put into those muscles and bones for doing work.  And, of course, look at our brains.  Talk about a workhorse!

God made us to be workers, and to accomplish a lot by using our bodies and minds.  But there’s one thing we cannot accomplish by our own efforts; and that’s our salvation.  When I go visit people in the hospital, and they’re unable to take care of themselves, it’s a frustrating thing.  We want to be “the worker;” our ability to “do” and to contribute is so important to us.  So, when someone’s in the hospital and he or she has to rely on others, it’s understandably frustrating.

And it’s for the same reason that our faith can sometimes be frustrating.  As much as God created us to be workers—in body and mind, the most important “work” we do is to step aside and let God do what God does for us.  It’s a real work of faith to be able to say what Saint Paul says: Nothing of the work I do “counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

God made us to be workers, in body, in mind . . . and in spirit.  And the most important work we do in spirit is to have real faith, real trust in the Lord.  It can be frustrating to “let go and let God.”  But that’s the ultimate work we’re made for—letting go of our self-reliance, and learning to rely on God. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Homily for 9 Oct 2016

9 Oct 2016
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

They stood at a distance from him, and cried out, “Jesus, Master, Have pity on us!”  And he said to them all, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”  So they did what he had said.  And as they were on the journey, they were all cleansed, but only one realized it.  And that one turned back to show himself to the one and only priest: Jesus.  And there, no longer at a distance from his Lord, but now touching his very feet, he gave thanks for God’s good grace.  Communion was reestablished between God and at least a part of humanity.  And the man was sent out, not away from Jesus, but to continue glorifying God with his life, and with the Spirit of Jesus, the spirit of living faith alive in his soul.

Now, if that little story sounds familiar, it should—it’s the gospel reading we just heard a minute ago.  But it might sound familiar for another reason.  It’s familiar because we live this little story every single time we come to celebrate the Mass.  Let me tell the story again . . .

The ten of them—which in Jewish terms signifies an assembly—the ten of them, the assembly was together.  They stood at a distance from Jesus, because their leprosy, their sin, was such that they could not get close to him.  And they knew that he was the one who stands above everyone else.  And so, together, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy!”  “Lord Jesus, you healed the sick: Lord, have mercy!  Lord Jesus, you forgave sinners: Christ, have mercy!  Lord Jesus, you raise us to new life: Lord, have mercy!”

And, in response, he spoke to them his words.  And they listened to the Word of the Lord and, in their hearts, said, “Thanks be to God!  And Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ!”  And they went to show themselves to the priests; to open their hearts and minds to the teaching and healing ministry of the priests.  They broke open their hearts in faith, in humble obedience to Jesus, and with hope that better days would come their way.  After all, that’s why they assembled before Jesus; he’s the Savior; he’s the one who knows.

And it happened that they were all healed; all ten of them—the whole assembly!  But only that one person realized it.  He was the only one paying attention!  He’s the only one who really meant it when he said, “Lord, have mercy!”  He’s the only one who really meant it when he said, “Jesus, Master.”  The nine others wanted healing very sincerely.  But they expected it to come from the priests; the priests were their saviors; the priests were their masters.  Not that the priests were bad; they weren’t.  They were good servants of God—just like the prophet Elisha we heard about today.

But the priests weren’t God—they still aren’t.  So, did Jesus send them on a wild goose chase?  No, not really.  God often times uses our neighbors as instruments of his grace and mercy.  God doesn’t work alone.  Those nine other members of the assembly were simply following Jesus’ instructions and going to the people he sent them to.  The priests were servants of God, after all.  But in sending them to the priests, Jesus was really sending them to . . . himself.

Perhaps that’s where the problem was: they were simply following Jesus’ instructions, not realizing that the instructions are meant to lead them back to Jesus himself.  Of course, you know, that one who’d realized he’d been cleansed could’ve told them.  But, then again, he was a Samaritan; he was an outsider, a foreigner.  He was part of the assembly . . . but not really. 

Now, he was singing God’s praises; surely, others must have heard him.  Apparently, though, they didn’t.  I guess they weren’t interested in his story.  They weren’t interested in the way God was working in his life.  There was no communion, no real community there.  And that’s too bad, because those other nine lepers lost out on an opportunity for real healing.  Oh well.

Now, that one person who’d been healed went right up to Jesus.  There was communion between the two of them.  He turned back to give thanks—not to the priests, not to his neighbors, but to God himself.  If you remember Elisha and Naaman: Elisha won’t accept Naaman’s gift of thanks.  He says, “As the Lord lives whom I serve, I will not take it.”  In short, Elisha is saying, “Give the thanks to . . . God.”  And that’s what our cleansed leper did.  He turned back and gave thanks to Jesus.

The Scriptures use the Greek word, “eucharíston.”  He “fell [on his face] at the feet of Jesus and eucharíston.”  Literally, he gave homage to God’s “good grace.”  When we ourselves assembly to eucharíston, that’s precisely what we do.  We come right up to the feet of Jesus, we “show ourselves” to the one and only priest, and we give homage to God’s “good grace.”  And the homage we give—the sacrifice we offer—is a heart and mind open, in faith, to God’s presence in our lives . . . and in the lives of our neighbors.

And so, the man was sent out, not away from Jesus, but to continue glorifying God with his life, and with the Spirit of Jesus, the spirit of faith and real communion alive in his soul.  It’s a very familiar story, the story of the cleansing of the leper.  It’s a story we “act out” at every single Mass.  Of course, the challenge is to not simply act it out, ritually, but to live it out as brothers and sisters in the vast assembly of God all over, which stands at a distance from Jesus and says, “Lord, have mercy!  Jesus, Master, have mercy!”  And he does.  He has mercy on us—simply because he loves us.

The Samaritan leper believed that.  And we know how his story of faith turned out.  We know how God’s “good grace” was present in his life.  The question is: Do we believe it?  Regardless of what others say about us, do we believe it?  Is Jesus the one who oversees all of creation?  Is Jesus the Lord?  Is he really merciful and happy to forgive?  Does he love me?  If the answer is: yes, yes, yes, and yes, then what other response can there be but to turn back to him and offer him the Eucharist—our homage to God’s “good grace.”