Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Homily for 1 Dec 2016

1 Dec 2016

Daydreaming, sleeping, watching TV . . . those are things we can do without really thinking about it.  We don’t have to be alert to do those things.  But what about sports, and school work . . . you can’t do those very well without being awake.  Imagine trying to play basketball and daydream at the same time . . . it doesn’t work. 

And that’s kind of what Jesus is trying to say in the gospel today.  He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  You know, it’s very easy to be asleep while we’re praying.  Whether it’s at Mass, or praying the rosary, or when we pray to God alone.  It’s really easy to just say words to Jesus, but not have any idea of what we’re saying. 

Just imagine trying to have a conversation with somebody, while daydreaming at the same time . . . it doesn’t work.  And that’s because it takes attention, it takes effort to really have a conversation with somebody.  And the same goes with our prayer.  Prayer is only prayer if we’re paying attention to what we’re doing.  Otherwise, it’s just words.

Daydreaming, sleeping, watching TV . . . those are things we can do without really thinking about it.  But prayer?  Being a relationship with Jesus?  Well, we have to be awake and attentive to do those things.  And that’s what Advent is about . . . it’s about waking up, and making our prayers to God real and true.  

Homily for 30 Nov 2016

30 Nov 2016

The Apostles simply left what they were doing and followed Jesus.  I suppose in a romantic sort of way, we can imagine that happening.  But, practically speaking, it’s an extraordinary thing: they just left what they were doing and followed Jesus.

It’s been suggested that a reason why that happened was because they were waiting for the Messiah to come.  They weren’t just fishermen; they were devout Jews, for whom faith was the cornerstone of life.  They knew the Messiah would come some day; they were waiting for him; they were expecting him.

Maybe that’s why they just dropped everything and followed Jesus: they were waiting for him to come along.  But that’s what faith and hope do; they keep us awake to what God is doing.  So when he does come along, we can simply follow him.

The Apostles give us an example of expectant, watchful faith.  And it’s an example we can learn from, each in our way. 

Come, Lord Jesus, be our Light.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Homily for 29 Nov 2016

29 Nov 2016

“On that day,” Isaiah says.  “On that day . . . the wolf will be a guest of the lamb, the baby shall play by the cobra’s den; there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;” on that day, the Lord’s day.

Of course, that day is a ways off; I mean, how are a wolf and a lamb supposed to sit down in peace without killing each other, if so-called Christians can’t even respect one another? We have a ways to go to reach that day; a day of peace.

Christ, be our Light.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Homily for 27 Nov 2016

27 Nov 2016
1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Christmas season is well underway.  Black Friday was a success, the Christmas decorations are going up, music of the Holiday Season is in the stores and on the radio; Christmas parties are on the calendar, eggnog is in the grocery store, and St. Nick’s feast day is just around the corner.  And that’s all fine.  You know, even in Advent, we still remember that Christ really came to us in flesh-and-blood two thousand years ago.  And that’s something we celebrate year-round here at the altar; we celebrate the Incarnation: “God with us.”

But, as with most things, we get used to God being around.  We get used to our friends and family.  We get used to the way things are, you know, our routines.  We get used to our jobs, to our time in school; we get used to the way we worship.  And it’s so easy to “fall asleep” to the wonders around us.  We even drift off into Never-Never Land here at Mass, where God is the most visible and accessible to us.     

Advent is a time to wake up!  It’s a time to get slapped on the cheek to wake up!  Or as St. Paul puts it very nicely: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”  Rise and shine, and get reacquainted with everything we’ve gotten used to, especially God.

At our baptism, each of us was given a lit candle; it was (and is) the Light of Christ.  And we (or our parents and godparents) were told to “keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts.”  Now, I have to be honest—I have no idea where my baptismal candle is.  And I imagine that might be the case for a lot of people.  And maybe there’s some irony in that.  I’m a Christian, but I don’t know where my Light of Christ is—so how do I know where I’m going in life?  What’s my guiding Light? 

Maybe we get so used to Christ that his Light sort of fades into the background, and he becomes just one star among many in the night sky.  Advent is a time to wake up, to open our eyes to find that Light again, to say, “There’s my Guiding Star, there’s the Light of the Lord!”  And, you know, that’s actually a pretty daring thing to do today.

A long time ago, between the 13th and 16th Centuries, the world experienced a major shift in its view of . . . everything.  Up to that time, God was central; God was everything.  After that time, the human person became central; men and women became everything.  Of course, this was the “Age of Enlightenment.”  Sciences and mathematics came into their own; new sciences sprang up: psychology, biology, chemistry, physics, and so on.  This was the age of striving for human perfection—physically, socially, intellectually, politically.  Life revolved around the human person, because we were everything. 

And if this was the “Age of Enlightenment,” then everything before was less-than-enlightened; they were the so-called “Dark Ages.”  Of course, this is the prevailing mindset even today.  If you are a person of faith, if you seek the Light of Christ, then you are not very sophisticated, you are foolish; you are, literally, dim-witted.  And so, to really get into Advent, to “Come, walk in the light of the Lord,” as Isaiah says, really is to go against the prevailing culture.

Those prayers, “O come, o come, Emmanuel,” and “Christ, be our Light” are actually pretty subversive.  To actively seek the Light of Christ, and to desire more of that Light turns the world on its head—because it means that God is the center of life, not us.  The season of Advent, and those little candles on the wreath that signify faith and the desire for Christ’s light and guidance—they undercut what the world thinks of itself.  Advent is almost a charge that says, “If you do not have the Light of Christ, you are in the dark.  If you do not have the Light of Truth and Knowledge and Wisdom, then all human endeavors will be handicapped.”

When the Prophet Isaiah says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord,” it’s an invitation to see where we’re going.  It’s an invitation to have clarity in our thoughts.  It’s an invitation to make choices in life that are made in selfless faith rather than convenience; to act in love rather than fear; to live in the light of hope rather than the darkness of doubt and despair.  Advent is an invitation to reclaim the Light of Christ as our Guiding Light, regardless of what the enlightened world says.

Advent really is an adventure!  It’s a subversive adventure.  It’s a chance (again) to wake up and say, “I don’t want to live a dull life.  There’s more to this world than me!  I want to be enlightened by Christ; I want to see what he sees.”  Happily, Christ wants the same thing for us!  He wants us to see and to live well; he wants us to be enlightened.  But it’ll only happen through faith, and by staying awake to him. 

As I mentioned, the Christmas season is well underway.  And that’s fine.  We should celebrate the birth of Christ year-round.  But let’s not get so used to that dazzling light that we forget to stay awake and look for that more understated light: the inviting light of Advent—the Light in our darkness; the Light which invites us to, “Come, follow me onto another path, the path of faith, the path toward . . . who knows where.” 

I also mentioned that we may not know where our baptismal candles are.  But we do know where the Light of Christ is; we know where that Light can be found.  He’s in Scripture and in the sacraments; he’s in the neighbors who love us and guide us and challenge us; he’s in the silence of prayer and in the stirrings of our heart; he’s in our emotions and thoughts; he’s in the wonders of creation, in truth and knowledge and wisdom. 

The Light of Christ is all around us, and within us.  We just have to make a spark to find the Light again.  And we do that every time we pray from the heart: Christ, be our Light.  O come, o come, Emmanuel!  With the spark of faith, we pray: Christ, be our Light!  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Homily for 25 Nov 2016

25 Nov 2016

When Jesus asked Peter if Peter was going to leave him like all the rest, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life.”  And at that moment (if not before) Peter’s name began to be written in the Book of Life.  We hear about this book from St. John. 

As he is shown the visions in heaven, John reports that “another scroll was opened, the book of life.  The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls.”  The dead were judged according to their deeds, where the most important “deed” is to hang onto what is eternal. 

What did Jesus say in the Gospel: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  In other words, Peter was right when he said: “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life.”  The teachings of the Lord, the truths he speaks, his words of forgiveness, his words that cause the world to be created—the Word of God lasts forever.  What more perfect “deed” can there be for us than to internalize that everlasting Word?

That’s the “deed” that puts our name into the Book of Life: saying as Peter did, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life.  You alone.  Teach me, shepherd me, love me; you alone are God.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Homily for 23 Nov 2016

23 Nov 2016

This time of year our readings begin to get us ready for Advent.  Advent isn’t only a time of waiting for Christmas to come, it’s also a time to focus on the reality that we are now, today, still waiting for the Second Coming of Christ.  Our readings help us to “stay awake,” spiritually speaking.

The Book of Revelation tends to do that by jarring us with the imagery it gives us.  And even Jesus, in his talk about the hardships that come with being his disciples, can unsettle us.  But this spiritually jarring and unsettling tone to Scripture has to be balanced with the optimism it also contains. 

As St. John writes about God’s fury, he says, “All the nations will come and worship before you,” God.  Which is to say that, even while God is “cleaning house” in his judgment, the hope is that not a single person will be lost: that all people, all nations will be saved and come to heaven.  God is not bent on destruction; he’s bent entirely toward salvation.  There’s the optimism.

And Jesus ends his speech to the crowd with a spirit of hope: “You will be hated . . . but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”  As our Scripture readings steer us toward the spirit of Advent, toward the spirit of anticipation and waiting for “the end,” we are led in a spirit of optimism and hope.

When death comes, when Christ comes again to take us to himself—whenever that is, however it is—we’re meant to face it with hope, with optimism—because God’s plan for us is always geared toward salvation.  Even in death, God is pulling us toward life.  After all, our God is a God of life.  His fury, his passion is for life.  Therein lies our hope.  Our God is a God of life.

Homily for 22 Nov 2016

22 Nov 2016

The angel of God swung the sickle over the whole earth, and the earth was harvested.  That’s a pretty dramatic image St. John gives of God taking us to himself.  Someday we’ll be like those clusters of ripe grapes, and we’ll be harvested and taken to God.  Or, as St. John puts it, we’ll be “thrown into the great wine press of God’s fury.” 

It’s strange, then, that our psalm sees God’s coming and harvesting as a joyous thing: “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice . . . The Lord comes to judge the earth!”  After all, the idea of being “thrown into the great wine press of God’s fury” doesn’t sound that exciting.  But, then again, “God’s fury” is not like ours.

We get angry.  We turn vengeful.  Humanity holds resentment and grudges.  And so, the human brand of fury is kind of scary.  But God’s fury is entirely different; it’s an intense passion to get rid of every impurity, to burn up and smash everything that gets in between him and us.  There’s no anger or vengeance in God’s fury; there’s only the passion to see things get set right again.

And so, maybe the psalm has it right: “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice,” someday God’s angels will come and throw us into the great wine press of God’s fury.  It’ll be a great day, someday, to finally be free, to finally be alive and truly happy with our God.    

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Homily for 20 Nov 2016

20 Nov 2016
Solemnity of Christ the King

This past week I had some good conversations with a few parishioners.  They weren’t meetings I had on my calendar; they were just casual conversations.  And they each shared with me their feelings on the parish and how things were going—which I appreciate.  They shared with me their love for the people, for family and friends, for traditions.  They also shared their sadness—not anger, but sadness and struggles with the idea of change and the impact it has on community and our faith.  As I said, they were good conversations, from the heart, and they were a real blessing.

And, of course, we could expand that struggle with change to include all change, anywhere in life.  For instance, for some parents it can be a thing of sadness to see the kids grow up and move out of the house or go off to college; they just want the kids to stay little.  But they grow up, and there can be a sense of loss.  Suddenly the house is quieter; life is changed.

And for some people, as they grow older, it can be a sad and frustrating thing to see their strength fail, or to have their eyesight grow dim, or to experience one health problem after another.  Life changes quite a bit as we get older and, of course, it isn’t always a joyous thing to consider the end of life and death.  We’d rather cling to life.  And so, we can see the struggle and sadness that comes with change through a very wide lens, not just in the parish setting.

But we don’t just sit with the struggle.  We don’t let the sadness and the frustration settle into us to the point that it turns into anger and fear.  Instead, we bring God right into it—not so that we can talk to him, but so that we can be quiet and he can speak with us.  And what he puts to us is the question: “Do you love me more than these?”  It’s what he asked Peter before he put him in charge of his flock as the “first pope.”

At the end of life, when death is approaching, Jesus puts the question to us: “Do you love me more than this—do you love me more than your life?”  Or when the little kids grow up and move out of the house, and there’s sadness with that change in life, Jesus asks: “Do you love me more than these—do you love me even more than your own children?”  And in that he’s simply asking: “Do you trust me?  Will you trust me more than you trust yourself?”

And those are tough questions to answer.  Even for people of faith, that’s not an easy question.  As much as we might want to trust the Lord, as much as we think we should want to “love him more than these,” sometimes the answer is our heart is . . . no.  Sometimes the answer is . . . I want to trust you and love you, Jesus, but right now I just can’t.  When life changes, we’re hit with the question: “Who is the ruler of my life—is it God, or is it me?” 

This is the same question we face as a community of faith—and it’s good that we face it, because it’s important, even if it causes sadness and frustration.  When we look at our beautiful churches; when we consider our traditions, our history, our future; when we think about all the plans we have and all the desires in our hearts for the parish—whatever they are—Jesus steps in and puts that question to us: “Do you love me more than these?”  “Do you love me more than everything you hold dear?”  And our answer really depends on our faith in Christ.

On this Solemnity of Christ the King, it’s helpful to hear the full title of today’s celebration.  It’s “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.”  He isn’t just one lord among many; he’s The Lord.  And he isn’t just one ruler among many; he’s The King of the entire universe; he’s the Divine Ruler and Caretaker of everything that was, everything that is, and everything that will ever be.  Everything belongs to him.

And our faith in Jesus as the Lord, the King of the Universe, the Divine Ruler and Caretaker of everything should give us tremendous hope and peace when life changes and we’re tempted to fall into despair.  And that’s because everything that’s truly good and valuable to us is valuable to him as well.  He’s not going to destroy anything that’s good, true, and beautiful.  But he is going to ask us to trust him, to let him show us what is really good, true, and beautiful.

It’s a tough question Jesus puts to us: “Do you love me more than these?”  Where is life going?  I don’t know.  Why didn’t God make our bodies to last forever, why do we have to die?  I don’t know.  Why do kids have to grow up?  I don’t know.  Where’s the parish going?  I don’t know, but I’m sure we all have thoughts about that.  The question is: “Do we love Jesus more than these?  More than our thoughts and desires?  More than the sadness and frustrations that come with life changes?  Do we love Jesus more than these?”

In time, and with great faith, may our answer be “yes.”  Yes, I trust the Lord of Life with my life.  Yes, I trust the God of Love with my children.  Yes, I trust the Divine Architect of Creator of all to guide our parish, our families.  I trust Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe with our destiny.             

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Homily for 18 Nov 2016

18 Nov 2016

“It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey.”  That’s a good way to describe our experience of the Kingdom of God.  Our Lord gives us a sweet promise—eternal life, happiness, peace, joy, love in the present.  But the work it takes to get there sure can leave us with a sour stomach.

Before peace comes, we have to get through the trials of forgiveness and shame and guilt in our dealings with others.  Before joy can come, we have to face the darkness of betrayal, broken promises between friends, and the heartache of people letting us down.  Before we can experience real love, we have to experience the discomfort of realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around me and what I want.

The Lord gives us a sweet, very sweet promise.  But the path toward that promise sometimes just makes our stomach turn.  The “good news” in this, however, is that God is with us—both in the sweetness of the promise, and in the sourness we have to go through to get there.  It’s God’s grace which makes us excited for the promise of heaven.  And it’s God’s grace that carries us through death and into life, through sourness and into eternal sweetness.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Homily for 17 Nov 2016

17 Nov 2016
(School Mass)
How many priests are here in this building today?  Well, I’m one.  But the Book of Revelation says there is a “kingdom of priests to serve our God.”  There’s a whole kingdom, there’s a whole bunch of people who are priests—because a priest is someone who makes an offering.

You know, when you go to art class and you make a painting or a drawing.  What do you do with it?  Well, you probably take it home and show your parents, right?  And it’s even more special when you make something to show somebody how much you love them.  But when you take that gift and you give it to someone, you’re making an offering.  And what you’re offering is the gift of yourself.

Every time we come to Mass, we see Father raising his hands all the time in prayer.  Or we see him lifting up the Body and the Blood of Christ.  But that’s what a priest does—a priest offers things.  A priest says, “Here, God, this is what we have to offer you.  Please accept it as a sign of how much we trust you and love you.”  A priest is someone who makes an offering.

But what happens when someone goes to confession?  What happens when someone prays to God from their heart?  What happens when you try to do the right thing even when it’s tough?  Well, that person is making an offering to God.  And, you know . . . that’s something each and every person here can do.  We can each say to God, “Here I am, Lord.  Lead me today; help me to do your will.” 

That’s the prayer of a priest.  And, even though not everyone here is an ordained priest, everybody can—and should do—the most basic thing a priest does; a priest makes an offering to God.  Even when we’re singing to God, we’re offering our praises to him.  So, how many priests are here in this building today?  Well, there’s one ordained priest.  And quite a few other priests as well.

What kind of offering are you going to make to God today?  

Homily for 16 Nov 2016

16 Nov 2016

When we go into something new, there’s often a time of “orientation.”  When students go off to college they have to go “orientation,” where people show them around.  When St. Clare School has its parents’ evening at the start of the school year, it’s a time when the principal and teachers can get parents acclimated to the place. 

And, you know, even heaven has a time of “orientation.”  When John is being shown heaven, and he’s being exposed to all these new sights and creatures and sounds, it’s his time of orientation—it’s his first steps toward getting acclimated to heaven.  But it’s not just his orientation; it’s ours as well.

As mysterious as heaven is—whether we call it heaven, or the afterlife, or the New Jerusalem, or Paradise—as mysterious as it is, there is a time of orientation for us.  It’s an experience we have to get used to.  And we have lots of help in getting used to heaven, even now.  How many times do we hear Jesus say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .”  It’s like a mustard seed, or the joy in finding a pearl of great price; it’s like yeast in a loaf of bread, it’s like a kingdom where there’s a king; “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .”

Jesus is our “tour guide” to heaven; he’s the one taking us through our time of “orientation.”  He’s more than happy to tell us about heaven—in fact, he’s dying to show us what it’s all about.  And so, while there can be hesitation about heaven, Jesus is right there to guide us into it.  We just have to ask: Jesus, tell me more about heaven.  Show us where we’re going.  And he will.       

Monday, November 14, 2016

Homily for 15 Nov 2016

15 Nov 2016

It’s a common theme we see in stories, literature, and the movies: two people in search of one another, they face obstacles that separate them, and then finally they’re united (or reunited).  And we see this very clearly in the story of Zacchaeus and Jesus. 

Now, we usually focus on the crowd as an obstacle, and then we look to their coming together.  But how they came to be together has to be noted.  Zacchaeus was “seeking to know who Jesus was.”  But this is echoed later on when we see that Jesus, too, was seeking.  Zacchaeus didn’t have to shout out to catch Jesus’ attention—Jesus was already looking for him.

And this is a theme that runs throughout Scripture, and throughout human history, really: God in search of his children, his lost sheep.  It started in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve hid themselves, and God had to go searching: “My children, where are you?”  And we have the Prodigal Son, whose father “saw him from a distance,” because he was looking for his lost child.  And then we have Jesus who came “to seek and to save what was lost.”

God is actively looking for us.  But he won’t find us unless we make our hearts known to him.  That’s what Zacchaeus did when he climbed the tree.  That’s what Adam and Eve did when they stepped out from behind the tree.  That’s what the Prodigal Son did when he turned around and went home.  They were signals to God that said, “I want to be found by you, God.”

God is searching for us, always.  How are we letting him know that we want to be found?        

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Homily for 13 Nov 2016

13 Nov 2016
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

If you want to get along, then everybody just “mind your own business.”  That’s basically what Saint Paul says.  If you want to get along, then everybody just mind your own business.  And there’s a lot of truth in that idea; of course, it has to be nuanced a little bit, too.

I mean, someone could say: “This is how I live my Catholic faith, so don’t try to tell me I’m doing it wrong, or that I should be doing it this way or that way.  My faith is fine; mind your own business.”  Or I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “Let’s just agree to disagree,” which is another way of saying, “I’ll mind my business and you can mind yours.”  But these attitudes, these ways of thinking, don’t really reflect what Saint Paul is saying.

Again, he says: If you want to get along, then mind your own business.  In other words, minding our own business shouldn’t lead us into isolation and division; it should lead us toward “getting along,” toward community, toward Christian friendship, respect, and so on. 

If you think about it, the last time we wished others would mind their business, chances are we felt judged or maybe squashed by those other people.  And so, Saint Paul could be saying, “Don’t judge others.  If you want to get along, then stop judging others.”  Saint Paul could also be saying, “Don’t walk all over your neighbors.  If you want to get along, then stop crushing others’ spirits.” 

That’s what Saint Paul means when he says, “Mind your own business.”  And so, you can see how that might help people to get along: if we stop judging others, and if we give others basic respect or freedom.  But there’s more to it.  After all, Saint Paul isn’t writing to just a community of people.  He’s not writing a book on “how to win friends and influence people.”  He’s writing to the Thessalonians who were a community of faith, as we are a community of faith.  And our “business” is to be about the business of God.  That’s where Saint Paul is taking us.

Now, the gospel today from Luke, and the writings of the Prophet Malachi point us toward the ideas of the Final Judgment and the End Times.  And what we need to bring to mind here is the image of Jesus cleansing the Temple, because these things are related: the End Times, Final Judgment, and the cleansing of the Temple.  They’re all about God coming to his dwelling place—remember, the community of believers (the Church) is the Temple of the Holy Spirit—it’s about God coming to his dwelling place and taking possession of what is his.

That’s what the End Times are: it’s God reclaiming us, taking us to himself in heaven.  That’s what Jesus cleansing the Temple is about: it’s God reclaiming his dwelling place—while, at the same time, cleaning house.  And that’s what the Final Judgment is: it’s God “cleaning house” so he can reclaim what is his.  They’re all related.

As we know, when Jesus came to the Temple he threw out the people selling the animals; he threw out the moneychangers, and told them to stop making his Father’s house a marketplace.  In other words, when Jesus came into his dwelling place, the Temple, he found people not minding their own business.  Those people were judging others.  And they were making it hard for others to fulfill the Law of God.  They weren’t minding their own business, and they weren’t minding the business of God (even though they thought they were).  That day when Jesus walked through the gate was “Judgment Day” for the Temple.

And Jesus was upset because, among other reasons, those people had made themselves God.  After all, God is the only Judge of people.  And when our faith is tested, it’s God alone who provides the test or the obstacle.  So what were those people doing in the Temple who were judging others and putting obstacles in front of others?  What were they doing?  They were taking the place of God . . . which was not their business to do.

When Saint Paul says, “Mind your own business,” he’s saying, “Let God be God, and you be you.  Let God take care of what’s his to take care of, and you take care of what’s yours to take care of.”  When we hear Saint Paul say this in his letter to the Thessalonians, it’s almost an echo of what Jesus said when he was cleansing the Temple.  Saint Paul is trying to help us—even today, thousands of years later—he’s still trying to help us get ready for something to come.

In just another couple of weeks we’ll be into the season of Advent.  And in that first week of Advent there’ll be a parish-wide retreat; a time of prayer and discernment precisely about the “business” God has given us to do.  You know, it’s easy to say, “Let God take care of what’s his to take care of, and you take care of what’s yours to take care of.”  But it isn’t always easy to know exactly what God has given us to do.  And so, we need time to step back and really consider that.

If you think about a lot of major life decisions, they might involve some amount of prayer and discernment.  For instance, when a couple gets pregnant, it’s not up to them to decide whether or not to have the baby; God already decided that—that’s God’s business, and God decided that this child would be for this couple.  But it’s up to the couple to raise the child in a good way—as co-workers with God; that’s their business, to cooperate with God and to be instruments of his grace and love.  But, exactly how to do that . . . well, that takes some prayer and discernment.      

Another instance where we might have to be careful to “mind our business” is with the image we have of ourselves, and how we love ourselves.  Now, I could wish that I had better athletic skills, or that I could be more outgoing and gregarious.  But that’s not who God created me to be.  Who am I say that I wasn’t made quite right?  Last time I checked, I wasn’t the Creator of the Universe—none of us is.  It’s not our business to wish we could be someone else.  That’s God’s business to be “creative.”  It’s our business simply to be thankful for who we are.

And along that same line, it isn’t our business to judge others or to deny them any of God’s mercy.  That’s what Pope Francis meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?”  He wasn’t giving humanity a “pass;” he was simply noting that it’s not his business to judge; that’s God’s business.  Francis’ “business” and ours is simply to be merciful in imitation of God.  We don’t judge who’s worthy to receive God’s mercy and who isn’t—even God himself doesn’t do that, because he wants everybody to know his Divine Mercy.

Again, we hear Saint Paul tell us: “If you want to get along, then mind your own business.”  Just like Jesus in the Temple, he’s trying to help us “clean house” so that something new can come.  Exactly what that new thing is, I don’t know.  We know it has a name: Saint Clare Parish.  Of course, further down the road the ultimate “new thing” we’re waiting for is heaven.  And what is heaven, what is the ultimate parish, but a place where everybody loves another (as Jesus commanded).

I know, that sounds a little “Pollyannaish,” maybe a little too saccharine and sweet.  But, then again, that’s what God has in mind for us—for all his people, everywhere, today; and also then at the End Times when his dwelling place is finally cleansed, and the pride of Adam and Eve is undone.  God has in mind an existence where everybody gets along; who are we to judge if that sounds corny or not?  That’s not our business. 

Our business is to enjoy the vision God gives us, and then to do our best to see that vision become a reality.  And it begins by letting God do what is his to do, and by us doing what is ours to do—no more and no less.         

Friday, November 11, 2016

Homily for 11 Nov 2016

11 Nov 2016

The “good news” of the gospel is sometimes like getting a dose of reality; sometimes it doesn’t feel like “good news” at all.   Especially with the Gospel of Luke, the ancient text is meant to upset us; not necessarily to make us afraid, but to get us onto a different track of thinking and living.  The gospel is meant to get us into a new reality.

Now, Jesus refers to the Great Flood that “destroyed them all” in the days of Noah.  And he talks about “fire and brimstone [that] rained from the sky to destroy them all” in the days of Lot.  And then he makes those references to death, where—suddenly—someone is taken from us, and we are left behind to worry and wonder.  But that’s not the new reality he’s trying to get us into—the reality of death and destruction.

Instead, as always, Jesus is trying to get us onto a different track in life; specifically, the track of life.  Everything Jesus mentioned in the gospel today can be scary: death and destruction.  But, then again, he’s talking about the death and destruction of things that hold us back from life.  Sin is not good, and so it’s good that the Flood washed it away.  Selfishness and greed are not good, they’re not helpful, and it’s good that fire and brimstone got rid of them.

Even something as precious and good as our human bodies . . . Jesus is saying: I have something better in store for you—a glorified body.  God is always trying to replace what is limited with what is infinite.  He’s trying to replace those things that drain life away with things that give life.  

The “good news” is that our redemption is always “at hand;” the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven is always just a step away.  But we need our loving God to upset our lives just enough so we can enter that reality.  And so, as weird as it sounds, we pray: God, upset our lives; destroy what needs to be destroyed; and bring us through death and into life, through darkness and into light. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Homily for 10 Nov 2016

10 Nov 2016
(School Mass)
Now, we just heard Jesus say that “the Kingdom of God is among us.”  The Kingdom of God is right here.  But I don’t see a castle.  I don’t see a king or a prince or a princess, or a queen.  Where are all the fancy clothes and the horses?  Jesus said the Kingdom of God is here . . . but I sure don’t see it.

But, wait a second . . . Jesus said “the Kingdom cannot be observed;” we can’t see the Kingdom of God.  Well, then, how do we know it’s here if we can’t see it?  Maybe the Kingdom of God is an invisible kingdom.  That could be.  After all, all the things in the Kingdom are kind of hard to see and touch.

For instance, happiness is a part of God’s Kingdom.  So are peace and forgiveness.  Friendship and love are part of God’s Kingdom, and so are beauty, and truth, and goodness.  But, you know, we can’t really see or touch those things.  That doesn’t mean they’re not real; it just means the Kingdom of God is a different kind of kingdom.

It’s not something we see or touch; it’s something we feel in our heart and in our mind.  And so, if you ever wonder where the Kingdom of God, just remember to be a good friend, love God and love your neighbors.  And there, in a life of peace and friendship with others, you’ll begin to experience the Kingdom of God—right here on earth.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Homily for 8 Nov 2016

8 Nov 2016

God is always trying to nudge us to be more like him, and less like the world.  And Jesus does that sometimes by putting words into our mouth.  He does that when he gives us the words to the Our Father.  He does it today when he says: “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”  And, by doing that, he’s trying to change our mindset—to be more like his, and less like the world.

After all, the world would say: “We are profitable servants, now give us what is our due.”  And that’s necessarily bad; I mean, that’s how people earn a living.  But when it comes to God and salvation, God doesn’t owe us anything.  Even if we work our tail off for God, doing good works, praying, volunteering, God doesn’t owe us anything.  “We are unprofitable servants,” we do God’s work expecting nothing in return. 

Of course, that only makes us realize (again) how gracious and generous our God really is to us.  He doesn’t owe us anything, and yet, he gives us—without charge—everything we need.  He forgives us.  He offers us a path to life.  He gives joy to us.  He gives us neighbors and friends, the Church, the sacraments, Scripture, guidance, compassion, correction, and a firm hand when it’s needed.  God gives us everything we need, even though we are “unprofitable servants.” 

And what else can our response be but to be grateful, to give thanks for God’s good grace, to worship and adore God in that totally free gift of himself, the Eucharist.  What else can our response be but to take on the mind of Christ and worship and live . . . with gratitude.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Homily for 6 Nov 2016

6 Nov 2016
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Julius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Joan of Arc, Ma Barker and her Gang, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, Mother Teresa—they all had something in common: they all had a strong human will.  For that matter, most people have a strong will.  We have a drive to do what we think is good for us; a drive to succeed; a drive to live and to thrive.  And, you know, life would be so much simpler if everybody would “just think as I do.”  Of course, that’s not reality.

The reality is that for every human soul created by God, there’s yet another will put into the mix—to cooperate or to clash with others.  If you’re a parent, at some point I’m sure you realized that, “Oh my, this child of mine has a will of its own!”  That’s when life at home gets really interesting.  What is the struggle sometimes between parents and teenagers but a struggle with the human will?

Of course, there are examples of really fruitful cooperation.  I think of Marquette and Joliet, who were of one mind in their explorations of the new world.  Or Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who cooperated on a number of innovations, many of which are everyday items today.  We could talk about those first citizens of the United States in 1776 who, even though argued a lot, were nonetheless united in their drive for freedom and a new life.

The human will is an amazing gift from our Creator.  No other known creature has a will quite like ours; the will, the drive to become something.  The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (?) said rightly that the human person is most human when he is striving to become.  In other words, we’re most human when we’re pushing the limits to see what we can do, and what and who we can become.  That’s when we’re most human, because we’re exercising our will.

Ironically, it’s when we’re exercising our will that we can also be the least human.  In our reading from Maccabees, we have an example of human will gone awry.  Some Jews were arrested, “and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.”  One by one they were killed—because their captors willed it to happen.

The debate between the Sadducees and Jesus is another example.  The Sadducees were convinced of their own rightness, and their will—their desire—was to be right and to defend what they believed to be true.  Every confrontation between Jesus and the Sadducees or Pharisees was a contest of wills. 

There’s a lot of good that can from us exercising our human will.  There’s also a lot of struggle and pain that can come with it.  Just think about death.  Every human who ever lived, is living, or will live will go through death.  It’s just part of our human life.  But, you know very well that we’ll do everything we can to avoid it!  And that’s what makes death even more painful when it comes—it’s not only the death of a loved one, it’s also the death of the illusion that I am the master of my world.

When I consider the life of the parish—any parish, really—when things are going well, it’s because people are of the same mind and heart; they have the same desire or will.  Someone said to me just recently, “Father, you know, there’s a sense of peace in the parish today which hasn’t ever been here before.”  And I acknowledged the comment.  But I wondered, you know, are people just tapping into some common desire?  Maybe people are just willing, and wanting, to live in peace.  Maybe; I don’t know.

When eight of our young adults were inspired to start a youth group, there’s another example of people moving forward with a single purpose.  They’re each unique individuals, but they each bring something to the group and to their common, shared desire for a youth group.  But, you know, the youth group also meshes with the larger will or desire of the parish; it blends beautifully with the mind of the Church.  And that’s the “litmus test:” does our human will blend with the larger will of humanity and, most importantly, with the will of God?

Of course, oftentimes in the parish—any parish—when there’s a rough patch, it’s because people’s wills are at odds.  It would be a gross understatement to say that the merger of St. Paul, St. Mary, and St. Patrick has been rough.  I mean, talk about a contest of wills!  I wish I could bottle up all your human drive and will—we’d never have an energy problem!  And sometimes that’s good.  Sometimes things need to be hashed out; they need to be taken to the woodshed, with respect and charity.

But sometimes that contest of wills does more harm than good.  And that’s where Jesus has to step in and say, “Hold on there, my little sheep.  What are you arguing about?”  We see him do that quite often in Scripture.  And that’s when the will of God really has to be listened to: when we find ourselves arguing—without charity, without humility, without mercy or forgiveness.  That’s when we need to let our wills and desires “cool down” a bit.

And I think that’s what the past five months have allowed us to do here.  I came on board back in July, and that very first weekend I said pretty plainly: “I’m not here as an ally to anyone; I’m here as a friend to everyone.”  And I think you’ve taken that to heart.  I haven’t been asked to get on anybody’s side on issues, and I’ve heard pretty charitable and complimentary things from you about each other.  I see this time in our parish life as fragile—in a good way.  It’s like a little plant that’s starting to sprout after eight years—and you don’t want it to get blown over or washed away in the rain.  Our parish life is fragile and tender right now—in a good way.

However that contest of wills is beginning to grow again—not in a big way, but it’s there.  Of course, it centers around the review of our new Mass schedule that was put into place six months ago.  When we still had five Masses, our attendance was at an average of 778 people per weekend.  When we went to three Masses, the number dropped to an average of 548.  In other words, we lost 230 people.

Now, they didn’t simply disappear; they’re just going to other parishes right now for Mass.  They’re over in Brillion and Denmark, De Pere, Freedom, and Kaukauna.  And I receive messages from them, through people who are still here at the parish, that “we want to have our Mass time back.”  The human will is a powerful thing, second only to the Will of God.  And it shows its tenacity and resolve in that request: We want to have our Mass time back.

But who are the contenders in this contest of wills?  Well, one is the group of those who “want to have our Mass time back.”  Another contender is the wider parish—that little plant which is starting to sprout a new life.  But there are other contenders, too, in this contest of wills—probably too many to be aware of, but I’ll mention just two of the big ones.

The first is the Will of God.  Now, God isn’t so particular about our Mass schedule; he’s not going to carve into stone tablets what our Mass times are supposed to be.  He’s not that concerned about it.  But he is the one who, we trust, is generally steering the ship.  Where’s the parish going, and how much of it is God’s will, and how much of it isn’t?  It’s God’s will that “none of what he has given to the Son will be lost; that all will come to the fullness of life.” 

God’s will is a contender in this contest of wills in that he’s constantly reminding us to be: charitable and just, self-sacrificing and thankful for our blessings.  Just think about it: When people are unhappy—generally speaking—what do we do?  We gossip.  We become prideful and convinced of our own rightness.  We become wrathful and filled with hate.  We become hard of heart.  And so, our wills can be in contention not only with other people and other ideas, but with the will of God himself.  After all, there’s nothing life-giving about gossip, or pride, or hatred, or a hardened heart.  They’re all in direct opposition to the will of God.

And a last big contender in this contest of wills we find ourselves in today is death; specifically, the death of an idea, the death of a way of life.  As I mentioned earlier, each of us knows very well that we’ll do anything to avoid death.  And so, what happens when life changes and we can’t accept it?  Well, the change—the death—becomes even more painful, and we might fight it even more vigorously.

I remember, as a seminarian, there was what seemed like a constant battle between me and God; between my will and God’s.   But after awhile I realized the battle wasn’t with God, it was with death—specifically, the death of a way of life that I didn’t want to let go of, but which I knew I needed to let go of if I was ever going to follow Christ as a disciple.  Life didn’t pick up again until after I had stopped fighting with death.  God had plans for my life, but they couldn’t happen until I let my own plans take second place to God’s.

When I think about these church buildings we have, and the people who built them, I’m reminded that none of these are the original buildings of the congregations.  The people built, torn down, built again, and some even built yet again.  Our ancestors—your ancestors—knew how to die and rise, how to let go so they could survive and thrive.  And that’s an important lesson we can learn from them.

In this month of November, Catholics have traditionally spent time remembering loved ones who have passed away.  But especially with parishes that are the result of a merger, it’s a time to remember the parishes that were, but are no longer.  “Unless a grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain, without fruit.”  Saint Clare Parish has begun to move forward; a little plant has begun to sprout . . . because we’ve begun to accept (even if it is with sadness and regret) we’ve begun to accept the passing away of the former parishes.

St. Paul’s, St. Patrick’s, and St. Mary’s were testaments to the faith and willingness of the people to follow God.  And, like most of creation, they each had their lifecycle: they were born, they grew up, they thrived, and they began to shrink and diminish.  And their lifecycle is bound up with the lifecycle of the Church: Mass attendance continues to dwindle across the board; new vocations to the priesthood are not replenishing those priests who are dying or retiring; cultural values are shifting in some pretty monumental ways.  We are contending with death in a big way: the death of a way of life; the death of how we used to understand what it meant to be a parish.

Some of us have begun to accept the passing away of the former parishes of St. Paul, St. Patrick, and St. Mary—not in a spirit of defeat, but with a willingness and desire to build upon what has been given to us.  Some of us, however, do not accept the passing away of the former parishes.  And so, there’s a pretty strong contest of wills between their own and death.

Our parish life is fragile and tender right now; there are a lot of good things happening, thanks be to God.  However that contest of wills is beginning to grow.  The question is: What to do with this six-month review of our Mass schedule.  Well, after a lot of consultation with councils, parishioners, and other pastors, and after a lot of prayer and deliberation, a two-pronged answer was arrived at.

First, what is going well and growing is going to be kept and nurtured.  And so, our current Mass schedule will be maintained as it is.  Of course, that’s not going to make everybody happy, but that’s not what I’m here for, and that’s not what I gave up my life for.  By God’s hand we are hopefully being led into the ways of death—so that new life can sprout, specifically a new life known as Saint Clare Catholic Parish.

And so, first, our current Mass schedule will be maintained as it is, as we continue down the road of death to old ways and birth to new ways.  Secondly, however, our brothers and sisters who go to other parishes, those who “want to have their Mass time back,” have to know that we want them to be a part of Saint Clare.  There’s a good thing going here, and we don’t want them to miss out on it.

And they have to know that in this contest of wills over Mass times (and other aspects of parish life) preference will always be given to the will of God, to whatever is life-giving and fruitful, and to the ways of self-sacrificing charity.  That’s the spirit we want to foster.  And we welcome them to be a part of that spirit at Saint Clare.  But their participation—and our participation—in that spirit won’t be because somebody else changed; it’ll be because we changed, because we died a little so that something new and good could come into being.

Now, if you know some of our lost flock who go to other parishes, I challenge you to bring this message from Saint Clare to them.  This is a real honest-to-goodness opportunity to practice evangelization.  I invite you take copies of this homily to them (and there are copies in the back of church).  I invite you to share with them the results of the review of our Mass schedule.  It doesn’t sound like they’re going to come here . . . so we’ll have to go to them.

And when you see them, let them know we’re praying for them and that we wish them all goodness and peace.  In the meantime, however, Saint Clare Parish will continue to move forward following the Will of God.

If there’s a message to take from our Scripture readings and from this whole question of Mass times, it would be: Don’t be afraid to die for what you believe in; just make sure what you’re dying for is the Will of God, who brings us through death and into new life; always into something new.