Saturday, December 16, 2017

Homily for 17 Dec 2017

17 Dec 2017
3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B

As members of the Church, we’re most often referred to as the “Body of Christ.”  But we’re also more than just the Body; we’re also the “Bride of Christ.”  Now that’s an image which men might have a harder time getting their heads around than women.  But the image of the Church as the “Bride of Christ” simply means that our basic stance before God is a position of receiving, being loved by God...first. 

As members of the Church, that’s who we are fundamentally; all of us make up the “Bride of Christ.”  In fact, before we can even be the “Body of Christ” to the world and to each other, we have to be the “Bride of Christ” to God.  And that just means that we can’t give to others if we ourselves don’t have it.  If being the Body of Christ means sharing God’s love, compassion, truth, and so on, then we first will have to have received that ourselves. 

I can’t share God’s love if I don’t know God’s love.  I can’t share God’s wisdom if I’m not open to it myself.  I can’t share the good news of Jesus if I haven’t really heard the good news myself.  We can’t be the “Body of Christ” in relation to others if we aren’t first the “Bride of Christ” in relation to God.  We can’t give what we don’t already have.

Now, in our readings this weekend, both the Body and the Bride are present.  From the Prophet Isaiah we hear: “The Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners.”  That’s the voice of the Body of Christ.  We also heard it in the gospel: “John was sent from God; he came for testimony, to testify to the light.”  He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’”  That’s also the voice of the Body.

But we also heard the Bride speak: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.”  And then in the psalm we sang, “My soul rejoices in my God.  My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”  In Saint Paul, too, he makes reference to the Bride of Christ.  He says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in all circumstances give thanks.”  Those are all things we do and say within our hearts as the “Bride of Christ.”

However, the question is: Do we have those sentiments within our hearts?  Do we have that “bridal voice” singing within us?  Because—as we know, you can’t share what you don’t have.

In the Church today there’s a lot of talk about the “New Evangelization;” the need for a second Pentecost; the need to revitalize the Church and the world.  It’s mostly a vision of what’s called “missionary discipleship;” believers going out again and sharing the faith.  But, of course, before you go out and share...you gotta have something to share! 

And so, the “New Evangelization” is also about internal renewal, spiritual renewal within ourselves.  It’s about remembering to be the Bride of Christ.  It’s about renewing the song that’s supposed to be at the heart of who we are and we’re all about; the song that goes: “My soul rejoices in my God!”

Advent and Christmas are times for us to remember that, fundamentally, we are the Bride of Christ—watching and waiting on the Lord, rejoicing in his goodness and generosity.  It’s all about the relationship between the Bride and the Groom, between us and our God.  And at the center of that relationship is the idea of “rejoicing.”  It’s why these can be such joyful seasons; we’re focusing on the One who loves us. 

Here on the 3rd Sunday of Advent we light the rose-colored candle.  You know, if you take purple and add white to it, you get a rose color.  And so, that candle is a symbol of our “rejoicing” that the Light (the white color of dawn) is lightening our darkness (the purple color).  I suppose we could call that rose candle the “candle of the Bride,” the Bride who rejoices in her God.

This 3rd Sunday of Advent even has a special name; it’s called “Gaudete Sunday.”  “Gaudete” means “rejoice!”  And it’s the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass.  During the Mass there are three antiphons (which we rarely hear, unless you go to the 6:00 Mass).  The first is during the entrance procession, the second is at the offertory, and the third is at communion.  They’re a regular part of the Mass but, as I said, we very seldom hear them. 

“Gaudete in Domino Semper! — Rejoice in the Lord always; Again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.”  That’s the entrance antiphon for today: Gaudete, Rejoice!  And it comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:4-5).  Interestingly, though, and it’s directed not to the Body of Christ, but to the Church the Bride of Christ: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” 

The difficulty, however, is that “rejoicing in the Lord” isn’t always easy, and sometimes you just don’t feel like it.  And that can be especially true for anybody who’s beyond his or her childhood years (which is most of us!).  But it’s not so much about how old we are; it’s more about how we let life affect us.

Here’s what I mean (these are sayings I found on the internet): “Adulthood is like looking both ways before you cross the street...and then getting hit by an airplane.”  “Being an adult is mostly being exhausted, wishing you hadn’t made plans, and wondering how you hurt your back.”  And lastly: “My favorite childhood memory is not paying bills.”

With those sentiments it sounds kind of silly to say, “Rejoice in the Lord!”  And so, as I mentioned before, the “New Evangelization” isn’t only about going out and spreading the gospel; it’s also about internal renewal, spiritual renewal...remembering what a joy it is to be loved by God, and to love God in return.  And that means putting things in perspective.  Yes, life gets hard sometimes; sometimes it’s downright nasty.  But that shouldn’t stop our “rejoicing in the Lord.”

We can think of our Blessed Mother, “full of grace” and the peace of God.  And, yet, she had to watch the horror of her Son being crucified.  But she never stopped “rejoicing in the Lord.”  Or we think of someone we know who has a serious illness.  And yet, in spite of that, that person is at peace and even “joyful in faith.”  How do they do it?  How does the “voice of the Bride of Christ” remain strong in them?  Well, we have something of a clue in the psalm.

Our “psalm” today is actually a portion of St. Mary’s magnificat; her song of praise to God.  And she says: the Lord “has looked with favor upon his lowly servant; the Almighty has done great things for me; he has shown mercy on those who fear him; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty; he has remembered his promise of mercy,” and so on.  The Bride of Christ has a very strong memory of all the good things the Lord has done.  And so, when life gets tough, the Bride has a whole bank of memories to draw on as a source of hope and “rejoicing.”

A couple of months ago, I made a list of all the times I could remember where the Lord had very clearly done something good for me.  And I came up with twelve specific instances, and then nine other recurring things I experience.  Now, that’s covering forty-two years.  So that’s about one time every two years where I very acutely felt God’s loving presence.  So, in other words, not very often.

But that list is helpful to me in that, if I ever feel like I don’t have a reason to “rejoice in the Lord,” I only have to look at that list to remind me that I have plenty of reasons to “rejoice in the Lord.”  In music, God has revealed his subtly, strength, closeness, and majesty to me.  In times of being lost, God has given me a tangible sense of peace and security—not always, but enough times.  Sometimes he speaks in words of Scripture that really resonate with me; not a whole book of Scripture, but just a phrase or an idea. 

I have plenty of reasons to “rejoice in the Lord.”  And that list of mine helps me to remember when I forget.  God has been with each of us in the past and in the present.  And part of “rejoicing in the Lord” is to remember that.  Some people encounter God in the outdoors, or in the companionship of others, in the workshop, or in the peace of just sitting reading a good story.  

We all have reasons to “rejoice in the Lord;” we just have to remember those specific reasons why.  And that’s the stuff we treasure in our hearts as members of the “Bride of Christ.”  That’s what inspires us to light the rose-colored candle, even though it’s surrounded by darker purple ones.  That’s what inspires us to keep opening ourselves to God with hope and anticipation, with joy of heart and peace.  It’s what inspires us to be the “Body of Christ,” to go out and share with others the goodness of our God. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Homily for 15 Dec 2017

15 Dec 2017

The mantra of the Advent season is: Come, Lord Jesus, come!  “O come, o come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.”  “O come, divine Messiah, the world in silence waits the day.”  “Come, O long expected Jesus, come to set your people free.”  That’s our mantra, our song: Come, Lord Jesus, come!

But, of course, he already did come once.  He’s already given us something of the “light of life,” by way of his commandments, his teachings, his pouring forth of the Holy Spirit on us in baptism.  The Lord has come to us.  And he’s given us a sense of the direction we should go in life.  Jesus has set us on the path of heaven.  We just have to follow it. So, in some respects, our prayer—Come, Lord Jesus, come—has already been answered. 

Of course, as we all know, sometimes we wander off that path.  We sin.  And then we find ourselves…lost in the woods, in the ditch, in the darkness—who knows where.  But that’s when the “unanswered” aspect of our Advent prayer comes in: Come, Lord Jesus, come!  Help me, lead me!  But, you know, that prayer is never a prayer of desperation.

Jesus has come to us before.  And because of that, we know that even when we’re lost, we needn’t be afraid.  He came before; he’ll come again…as often as we need him, and especially at the end of time.  And so, our prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” is a prayer of confident hope. 

It’s like my little dog who waits for me to get back to the rectory.  He knows I’ve been there before.  He knows I come and go.  And so, he just waits…not with anxiety, but with peace and maybe even with some anticipation. May we do the same with respect to our Lord.  He’s come before, he’ll come again.  Even in times of darkness, we needn’t worry about that.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Homily for 14 Dec 2017

14 Dec 2017
(School Mass)

Today we remember Saint John of the Cross.  He lived 450 years ago in Spain, and he was a poet, and a servant and a friend to God.  In fact, he always wanted to be closer to God.  At first, he worked in a hospital and grew to love people who were poor and sick.  But then he was sent away to study with the Jesuit religious order.

But when he was with them, he felt called to the monastic life.  So he joined the Carmelite religious order.  But after a while, he felt he still needed to be closer to God.  So, eventually, he joined his friend, Saint Teresa of Avila, in forming the Discalced Carmelites.  “Discalced” means someone who goes barefoot, or wears only sandals.

Remember Moses at the burning bush?  God said to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Well, that’s what Saint John did, too.  He was trying to get as close to God as he could.  But, you know, he was put in prison for trying to do that!  But it’s when he was in prison that he wrote most of his poetry.  So it wasn’t all bad.

Saint John believed that we get closer to God through stages.  And he called those stages “purification” and “contemplation.”  Throughout his whole life, Saint John was trying to remove anything that was a distraction from God—that’s the “purification” stage.  But then he tried to fill in that emptiness with wonder and awe of God—that’s the “contemplation” stage.  In fact, Saint John was so wise in understanding this, that he’s called a “Doctor of the Church.”

Saint John of the Cross has lots to teach us.  But most important is that: We get closer to God a little bit at a time.  One day at a time.  So if you want to be closer to God, then try to be just a little bit holier today than you were yesterday.  Of course, tomorrow you might do some really big sins.  No problem.  Just get back on the path of being holy, one day at a time, one little step at a time. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Homily for 8 Dec 2017

For the past 1700 years or so, the Church—the community of the faithful—has seen in Saint Mary something unique.  She was the woman chosen by God to give physical birth to the Messiah.  And not only that, God created her in such a way as to be a perfect temple of the Holy Spirit: free from original sin from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne. 

In Advent, we hear John the Baptist say: “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  And in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, God did just that.  In that humble girl of Nazareth, the wife of Joseph, God made a clear way, a level highway, a soul which was entirely open to receiving the Holy Spirit.  God prepared for the coming of the Lord by creating Saint Mary with such a pure soul free from original sin.

And, as Saint Paul says to the Ephesians, God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.”  Like our Blessed Mother, we too are chosen to be holy and sinless.  And just like her, the angels come to us to lift us up and to let us know of our divine calling.  As much as our Lord Jesus Christ is our Model and Example, the Virgin Mary is also a model for us because her life was focused entirely on God.

And those two models of holy living set a pretty high standard.  But, of course, that’s if we’re trying to reach the heights of holiness, if we’re trying to reach and grasp for holiness.  But, you know, that’s not the model we’re trying to follow.  The holiness of the Virgin Mary wasn’t her own doing.  Her freedom from original sin was God’s doing.  The way to holiness isn’t about doing more; it isn’t about trying harder.  It’s about letting God do more; it’s about letting go of the idea that can be holy by our own efforts.

The lesson our Blessed Mother gives us today isn’t so much the fact of her Immaculate Conception; instead, it’s the fact that her pure holiness is God’s doing, not her own.  And throughout her life she knew that.  And so she couldn’t help but sing her Magnificat in praise and glory to God.  She would have sung with the utmost gladness the psalm we hear today: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.” 

As much as we are called to be holy, as much as we are called to be like the saints and especially the Virgin Mary, the path to holiness is first and foremost about desiring it—desiring holiness—and then letting God lead the way.  Holiness and purity of heart is only and always the work of God.  And we who let ourselves be made holy and good by our Creator are the happy beneficiaries of his goodness.

And so, as we continue on our way through Advent, may we hear the words of John the Baptist in our hearts: “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  Prepare the way by remembering that holiness is God’s work.  Holiness comes to those who can say, like St. Mary said, “Let it be done to me, according to your word,” my Lord and my God.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Homily for 6 Dec 2017

6 Dec 2017

Jesus “broke the loaves, gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.”  This is in contrast to what we heard just a few lines earlier: “Great crowds came to Jesus; they placed [the sick] at his feet, and he cured them.”  Sometimes Jesus works directly.  And other times he works indirectly, through others.

And this is important to remember because, as much as we pray to the Lord for this or that, our prayers may be answered through somebody other than Jesus.

When someone is going into surgery, we pray that the Lord himself will be present.  But we also pray that he guide the hands of the surgeons, doctors, and nurses.  If we find ourselves needing comfort, we pray to the Lord himself.  But he may send comfort in the form of a friend, or even a stranger.  And he seems to do this because he wants people to be involved in their own redemption. 

It’s like a parent who wants his or her child to succeed.  It’s actually detrimental if the parent does everything for the kid; the child has to be involved if he or she is going to succeed.  Eventually the “training wheels have to come off.”

So, in this season of hope, we look to the Lord, we turn to him.  But we also look to our neighbors, who might unknowingly be messengers and helpers of the Lord.  Either way, the good news is that “Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He refreshes my soul.”  

Homily for 5 Dec 2017

5 Dec 2017

“Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.”  This passage in Luke is the only time we hear this about Jesus.  And it happened because the seventy-two disciples he’d sent out, came back telling him about how “even the demons are subject to [them] because of [his] name.”  He “rejoiced” because he saw hope for his beloved humanity. 

All was not lost.  People still had it in themselves to listen to God, and to let themselves be an extension of God in the world.  There was still hope.  And so Jesus “rejoiced.”  In the Greek, the word is “eg├íngli├ísato,” which means “to jump and leap very much for joy.”  For most of us, I imagine the last time we did that was when we were children.  Jesus was overjoyed; he couldn’t contain himself he was so happy.  He “jumped for joy” in his prayer to the Father…there was hope for humanity.

If we ever want to know what makes God happy and…giddy…this is a good passage to reflect on.  God loves it when we trust him; when we let ourselves see and hear what he sees and hears; when we stop being our isolated selves and let God be our partner again in life—like it was “in the beginning.”  Advent is a time to get reoriented again to our Hope and our Light.  And we have it in ourselves to do that, just like the seventy-two disciples did.

“Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.”  It happened once in the gospels.  The question is: will he rejoice again, today, for us?  Let’s hope so—for God’s sake, and for own, too.  After all, who wants to be joyless in a season of joyful hope?  

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Homily for 29 Nov 2017

29 Nov 2017

Cars today are getting pretty advanced.  If it looks like you’re going to cross over into another lane, the “Lane Departure Warning” kicks in.  If you’re about to hit something, the “Collision Avoidance System” does its thing.  Of course, if those don’t work you either have a horn blaring at you, or somebody saying, “Hey, watch out!”  And this is what we have with God as well.

We go along in life, and God keeps an eye out for us.  If we’re heading in the wrong direction, he’ll let us know.  Maybe he pokes at our conscience.  Maybe it’s a feeling we get that “something has to change.”  Maybe he tells us through the loving concern of a friend.  Or maybe it’s through an insight or a blessing of wisdom and understanding.

Both of our readings today highlight God’s watchful care for his people.  He lets us know what’s ahead—not to frighten us, but to help us so we can make good decisions; so we can change our course if we need to.  It’s one of the ways he is merciful to us.  God is like our spiritual “Lane Departure Warning,” our internal “Collision Avoidance System.”  Thanks be to God that he’s always looking out for us.  It’s one of the many ways he cares for us.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Homily for 26 Nov 2017

26 Nov 2017
Solemnity of Christ the King

The Catholic Church in the United States donates about 30 billion dollars annually to charity.  That includes: parishes, collections for the poor, Catholic Charities, Knights of Columbus, in addition to the ministries of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, food pantries, homeless shelters, assisted living, adult day care for dementia sufferers, hospice programs, and so on, and so on.  The Catholic Church invests a lot of time, money, and love in trying to meet the needs of those who have needs.

And so it would be awful thing, after all this charitable work, if the Church were to hear the Lord say, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  And, of course, our natural response would be: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?...I thought we were doing good work, Lord, following your example.”

Now, of course, I don’t know if the Lord would put us in with the goats for doing good.  But, from our gospel reading, it sounds like it could happen.  And this is what has always troubled me about this particular passage. 

We have here a group of people who are intentionally doing good, meeting the needs of those who have needs…and they’re cast aside because of it.  And then there’s the other group of people who, apparently, have no idea what they’re doing; they’re not at all intentional about helping the needy…but they end up being the inheritors of the kingdom.  It doesn’t make sense. 

It seems like the King we celebrate today has the potential to make some questionable judgments.  Of course, that’s incorrect; we’re the ones who can make the wrong judgments; because Jesus didn’t cast them aside for doing good works.  That would be silly.  He did it for another reason.  Jesus sees way beyond outward appearances.  He sees into the heart and mind.  He sees what our motivations are; he sees where our focus is. 

As we know, Jesus said very clearly to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It’s one of the Great Commandments.  And so it’s something we have to be attentive to.  But he also said the “first and greatest commandment” is to “love God with all your heart, will all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your being.”  Love of God comes first.  That’s the motivation, that’s the focus Jesus is looking for in our hearts and minds.

Now, in the gospel, it’s not really clear how these two groups of people were helping the poor and the needy.  But it is clear that the first group—the inheritors of the kingdom, weren’t focused at all on doing that good work; apparently, it was just something that happened in the course of their day.  Their focus was simply on God, and following him.  They were just a bunch of sheep, living a good life, following the Shepherd.

But with the second group, it’s clear that they were very focused on helping the needy; they put a lot of thought behind it.  But perhaps that was the problem.

Jesus didn’t cast them aside for doing good works; they were cast aside because they’d lost sight of God.  They had neglected “the first and greatest commandment.”  God hadn’t been the source and the motivation behind the good they were doing…they themselves were the source of the good they were doing.  They didn’t need God, apparently.  And so God let them go.

But this judgment by Jesus shouldn’t sound all that shocking; we’ve heard it before.  He’s the one who said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25).  “In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33).

We’ve heard it before—many, many times before—and we’ll hear it again and again until the day we pass from this life: “Love God first, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  And we’ll keep hearing it because it’s such a hard thing for humans to do: loving God, putting God…first.  And that’s the central idea, perhaps, behind today’s solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: putting ourselves in God’s hands, letting him take first place in our lives.

You know, the difference between a king and a president is that a president isn’t at the center of our lives; regardless of who the president is, that person is not at the center of my life.  But a king is.  A shepherd is, a judge is.  For a flock of sheep, the voice of the shepherd is everything; he’s the one who protects and provides, who guides and nurtures.  For someone standing in front of a judge, that judge has the power to determine the course of life; that judge’s voice and his or her decisions are life-altering.

And, for a nation of subjects, the king (or queen) is central to life; that’s the one who protects and directs, who nurtures and provides.  And that’s what we remember today: Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and also Judge and Shepherd, and King.  He’s all of those things (and more) rolled into one.  As much as Jesus is our Friend—and he certainly is—he is first our Lord, Judge, Shepherd, and King.

And, in fact, it’s because he is all those things to us that he is our faithful Friend.  Remember what he says: “You are my friends, if you do what I command” (John 15:14).  That’s Jesus the Lord and Shepherd speaking.  And then he says, “I have called you friends, for everything I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).  That’s Jesus the King speaking.

Jesus issues his commandments, and we’re his “friends” if we listen and follow.  Jesus also opens up the treasuries of his wisdom and love, and we’re his “friends” if we accept his graciousness.  In fact, Jesus lives his Kingship and Friendship with us so perfectly, that’s where his authority comes from. 

It’s why we genuflect and bow.  They’re signs of respect and awe of him.  They’re signs of reverence; they’re signs that we see (in our Catholic imagination) what Doubting Thomas saw: “My Lord and my God!”  And we genuflect and bow.  They’re actions we do with our body to express what’s in our hearts; a sentiment that says, “You, Jesus are my King, my Shepherd; I depend on you, and I love you and I need you—my Lord and my God.”

And the ultimate reason we have such respect for him is because of the Cross.  Of course, he did many wonderful things: healing people, casting out demons, preaching, and so on.  But we revere him most of all because of his fidelity to the Father. 

On the Cross, everything comes together.  There on the Cross is Jesus the Shepherd saying, “This is the way, the Cross is the way, follow me.  Remain faithful to God, no matter what.”  There on the Cross is Jesus the Judge issuing his judgments: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”  He’s also issuing the judgment we hear at every Mass: that we “have been found worthy to be in his presence and minister” to him. 

There on the Cross is Jesus the King giving his life to protect his brothers and sisters, pouring out all the gifts of his life for our benefit, sharing with us what the Father shares with him: selfless love.  There on the Cross the “glory of the Lord” is reveal.  The glory—the essence of what he’s all about—is revealed right there on the Cross.  The Cross is his throne of glory on earth. 

And it’s from the Cross that Jesus’ authority comes.  And we have that “throne of glory” right here: it’s the altar.  The glory of our King and Friend is revealed to us right here—broken and shared, poured out and given, freely and happily for us.

It’s why we come to the altar of God and, right off the bat, we “acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”  Compared to the glory of God, we have a ways to go…and that’s okay.  Actually, the most glorious and perfect thing we can do to start Mass is to bow before God and say, “Lord, I have sinned, and you know it.  I need your mercy and your forgiveness.”  It’s a spectacular show of our dependence on God—as long as it’s sincere.

It’s also a reminder to him and us that we’re trying to keep him first in our life.  It’s a reminder that we’re trying to let him be the inspiration behind all the good we do, and not us.  In many ways, it’s a gesture of our own subjection to him.  As much as God has made us to be free, we aren’t free on our own.  The “first and greatest commandment” is always in effect. We’re always subjects of the heavenly King, putting him first.

And that doesn’t always rub us the right way—the idea of being a subjected to, or under-neath, someone else.  It’s one of the reasons why so often people will have a problem with Ephesians 5:22, when Saint Paul says: “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.”  We don’t like to be under somebody else’s thumb.  But, of course, the other half of what St. Paul says here is, “Husbands, love your wives.”

Saint Paul isn’t saying, “Submit yourself to a tyrant, to an uncaring, cold, manipulative troll.”  He’s saying, “Submit yourself to one—and only to one, who loves you unconditionally, with his or her whole heart, mind, body and soul.  Submit yourself to that one—wives and husbands—it goes both ways.”  And that’s an echo of what Jesus our King and Shepherd says, too: “Submit yourself to me, love me first…because I am the one who loves you unconditionally.  Submit yourself to my love.” 

And so, we bow, we genuflect.  We receive the Body and Blood of Christ with open hands.  We worship him because he’s the inspiration and the goal of this adventure we call “life.”  Every week we have a chance to come here and put our life in order again: God first. 

It’s a wonderful thing to just be led by him, and to “go with the flow” of the Holy Spirit.  And that’s because the Christian life isn’t so much about doing, as it is about being: being a friend of Christ, being a subject of our King, a trusting sheep in the flock of the Shepherd.  Everything else we do beyond that—including love of neighbor—just sort of happens. 

A heart in love with God overflows into a life of love in general.  If we want to love and be loved, then we want to submit ourselves to Christ our Friend and King.  If he is our focus, then those who need to be loved will be; we needn’t worry about that.  His love will reach them, through us.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Homily for 23 Nov 2017

23 Nov 2017
Thanksgiving Day

Three U.S. Presidents have made proclamations regarding this national holiday we celebrate today: President Washington in 1789, President Lincoln in 1863, and President Roosevelt in 1942.  And they each reaffirm the purpose of this day.

Washington said it is a day “devoted…to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”  Lincoln said: “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

And then Roosevelt said simply: “’It is good to give thanks to the Lord.’…The days are with us again when, at the gathering of the harvest, we solemnly express our dependence upon Almighty God.”  As much as today is about family and friends, turkey, dressing, cranberries and squash, it’s also about taking a moment to thank God from whom all those good things come.

We heard that Jesus cleansed ten lepers, but only the one took a step out of the routine to come back and say, “Thank you,” to God.  That simple act is the heart of this national holiday we celebrate today…counting our blessings and expressing thanks to God for them.

But, as we know, blessings come in many shapes and sizes.  For instance, even though the leper had been cleansed, did he ever think of his leprosy itself as a blessing?  Did he see it as a cause for him to be humble, to thankful for whatever charity others gave him; did he see it as a way he could advance in holiness and trust in God? 

In the Old Testament, Job is well-known for his sad life situation.  But he says one of those lines that are hard to listen to.  He says: “We accept the good from God; should we not also accept the bad?”  Are there blessings to be found in illness, in tough situations with friends or family?  Are there blessings to be found when the finances are tight? 

When Presidents Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt issued their proclamations, the nation was in tough times.  In 1789, the country had just come out of the Revolutionary War, and a new nation was still figuring things out.  In 1863, the country was in the middle of the Civil War.  And in 1942, the country was still coming out of the effects of the Great Depression.  In the midst of all that, the presidents reminded the citizens to be thankful.

And so, today, we call to mind all the blessings God has given us…both the good, the joyful and the challenging, the difficult.  We call them to mind, and we offer—in our hearts—some simple expression of gratitude.

Before we stand before God here and offer our prayers of intercessions, let’s take a minute or two in silence to reflect on how God has blessed us.  And then our first intercession will be a prayer of thanks.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Homily for 22 Nov 2017

22 Nov 2017
Memorial of St. Cecilia

“Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day, yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.”  What’s interesting to note, however, is that she didn’t just “bear it courageously”—she was also active in making the martyrdoms happen.  She encouraged her sons to die for their faith.

We can easily expand that image and think of the mother as the Church.  As much as the Church wants her children to be kept safe, she also encourages her sons and daughters to give their lives for the faith.  In the face of terrorism, or injustice, or hatred, or simple indifference, Holy Mother Church says to us: “Stand up for your faith in God.”  And many of our brothers and sisters in the faith have done just that.

It’s why we celebrate today Saint Cecilia.  She vowed her virginity to God, but she was married off anyway.  However, she converted her new husband to Christianity.  And both she and her husband were martyred for staying true to the Lord.  He was killed for giving proper burials to Christians, and she was martyred for refusing to worship false gods.  But it wasn’t necessarily a sad ending. 

Instead, it’s more like our psalm today: “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.  I shall be content in your presence.”  St. Cecilia, the mother in the Book of Maccabees, and all the martyrs had (and continue to have) a hopeful end…because their ultimate hope is in the Lord.  No matter how we pass from this world, may we be like St. Cecilia, and go “with the song of God in our heart.”  A song of faith, hope, and love.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Homily for 19 Nov 2017

19 Nov 2017
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

It was the wedding day—again.  The bride walked shyly, but steadily and slowly up the aisle; one small step in front of the other.  She was dressed in her favorite white gown, flowing and graceful.  Atop her head was a small tiara, with a single dazzling pearl set in it.  Her face was aglow, and the music was just phenomenal. 

There at the altar stood her groom, waiting for her to come to him.  And they embraced and kissed.  They spoke simple, loving words of commitment to each other.  And they walked away from that wedding day, not as two people, but as one.  It was a lovely scene, a perfect day.  Of course, it didn’t really happen that way at all....

Actually, she was just another person in line.  She shuffled her feet like everybody else, and when she got up to the altar, the priest held up the host and said, “The Body of Christ.”  And she said, “Amen.”  And, like everybody else, she just went back to her pew and sat down.  She was just going to communion.  Or, was she...?

Last weekend we talked about how rituals are natural, human things.  We talked about the handshake and flirting.  We talked a little about our cemetery services and how people act and talk in a particular way in a cemetery, and how it “just happens” that way.  We mentioned rites of passage: graduation, baby showers, the rituals we natural do when someone dies. 

Rituals are very human things.  But then God takes those human rituals, and he makes them channels of his grace.  But, you know, it takes imagination to believe all that.  From the outside, most everything we do here at Mass is pretty routine, it’s expected.  We sit, we stand, we kneel when we’re supposed.  If I say, “The Lord be with you,” you say, “And with your spirit.”  And if we offer our prayers “Through Christ our Lord,” an “Amen” just pops out of our mouth—whether or not it’s supposed to happen.

From the outside, our rituals—even though they’re rooted in our human nature—can appear to be rather mechanical, unthinking, dry, routine.  And they certainly can be...if we stop believing there’s more to it.  Imagination is essential.  The ability to see or envision something beyond what’s here is essential.  It’s what turns the routine of going to communion into a weekly event!: into the celebration of a wedding, where bride and groom become one in the intimacy of communion.

But imagination isn’t about making things up.  It isn’t about living in a “fake” world, or stepping out of reality.  Imagination is about living in “the world of possibilities.”  And that world is based on what we already know.  But it isn’t only about what we already know; it takes what we know (and what we think we know) as a jumping off point into something else.  Imagination asks the questions: “What if?” and “What else?” and “What about?”

Psychologists think that our imagination begins to develop when we’re about three years old.  That’s when we have the capacity to take what we know and add new meanings to it; to take something concrete and attach an image to it in our mind.  And that’s probably why three-year olds are known for asking question after question after question.  All their questions are about feeding the imagination: “What if?” “What else?” “What about?”  “How’s this work?”  “What’s that?”  Three-year olds take the world as they know, and they run with it!

Now, today we hear the Parable of the Talents.  And we’ve heard it a hundred times before.  We know what it means.  It means: Take the gifts God has given and use them, make them grow.  We know that.  We’ve heard it before.  But it takes imagination to hear the parable with fresh ears...every time we hear it.  It takes imagination to realize that...hey, this parable might be about...imagination.

The first two servants took their talents and, right away, asked: “I wonder what I can do with this?  What if I did this?  Or how about if I did that?”  Right off the bat, they were using their imagination.  When they looked at their talents, they didn’t just see money—they saw possibilities. 

But that third servant, not so much.  He didn’t have any imagination, not even enough to put the money in the bank.  He knew too much to really think outside the box.  Remember what he said: “Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter.”  That little servant was too smart for his own good.  He looked at his talent, and he saw...nothing, really.  He had no imagination, and so he couldn’t enjoy the things of God. 

So we might think we know what this Parable of the Talents means.  After all, we heard it a hundred times before.  But...it could mean other things, too.  Jesus might be saying to us: “Use your imagination.  Take what I’ve given you and see what you can do with it; live in the world of possibilities.  Don’t get trapped by what you think you know; use your imagination.” 

And maybe that’s why Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  It isn’t because children are sinless; maybe it’s because they have an imagination.  And if we’re going to be in touch with God, if we’re going to live a deeper, truer reality, we have to use our imagination.  We have to ask those questions: “What if?”  “What else?”  “What about?”  “How’s this work?”  “What’s that?”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes what we do here at Mass as being like children’s play.  The rituals, the buildings, the artwork, the music, the garments we wear...all of it is like a bunch of children playing; using our imaginations, getting in touch with the deeper reality we call the “kingdom of God.”

Imagine—picture in your mind—a triumphal arch; something from ancient times, a triple arch where the victor, having come back from the battle, enters through the center arch to meet the people.  It’s a glorious scene.  Well, we have that right here.  Each of our churches has three arches up front, and who comes through the center arch?  Christ the Lord, the Victor over sin and death.  He comes to meet us, and we come to meet him.  It’s a triumphal scene, right here at the Mass.

Imagine—picture in your mind—the heavenly realm where God the Father dwells, and—even as much as God dwells within us here on earth—the heavenly realm is still not quite where we are.  There’s a thin veil that separates us from where the angels and saints dwell, but the veil is there.  And that veil is here.  The veil is the difference, the separation, between the sanctuary and the nave, the body of the church.  When churches used to have communion rails, it was easier to see the veil; it was easier to imagine, to envision, the deeper reality that, yes, we’re still not in heaven yet.  But that’s where we’re going.  We don’t just sit facing anywhere in church, we gather with our eyes focused on...heaven.  Of course, it takes imagination to see that; it takes a little bit of child’s play to picture that.

Imagine—picture in your mind—this difference between heaven and earth.  There’s an opening between the two, a beautiful doorway, a gateway we call Jesus.  Jesus stands in the midst of this wall, a wall made up of all the angels and saints who gaze on the beauty of God on the other side of the wall.  Jesus stands there in the doorway.  Sometimes he’s facing toward God the Father, praying to him for us.  He is on our side, our friend, the one who gives voice to what’s in our hearts.  But then sometimes he’s facing us, speaking to us the words of God the Father.

Jesus, a revolving door between us and God the Father, a swinging gateway between earth and the heavenly realm.  Well, we have that here, too.  That’s what the priest does; that’s who the priest is.  Sometimes the priest speaks to the people on behalf of God.  And sometimes the priest speaks to God on behalf of the people.  The priest is like Christ, the revolving door. 

It’s why, during our prayers at Mass, I’m not looking at you.  I’m standing with you, looking together with you toward God.  Our entire Eucharistic Prayer—even the part where it says, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Take this and eat of it’—our entire Eucharistic Prayer is a prayer to God the Father.  And when I’m speaking to you on behalf of God, obviously I look at you.  Christ, the revolving gateway, is here at Mass in the person of the priest.  In the old days (before the 1970s), the priest literally turned back and forth—sometimes facing God (the altar) along with the people, sometimes facing the people extending God’s blessings and words to them.

It’s children’s play, what we do here.  And children’s play is serious business.  You know, it doesn’t take much to make a fort in the dining room.  You take the chairs and make a wall around the table—make sure there’s room for a doorway—and then you put a few sheets or blankets over the whole thing.  And, voila!, you have a fort—an honest to goodness fort, and it’s real.  It’s serious business to guard that fort, because...it’s a fort.

On one level, we know it’s just a dining room table with a blanket over it.  But on a deeper level, we know it’s much more; it’s a fort.

On one level, we know what we have here at Mass is a bunch of routine things we do.  We sit, we stand, we kneel.  We say prayers we’ve said a thousand times before: “Our Father, who art in heaven...Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my room...The Mass is ended, Thanks be to God.”  We eat little wafers and take a sip from the cup.  It’s all very routine.  On one level we know what we’re doing here.

We just don’t want to be like that servant who took his talent, and thought he knew so much, and had so little imagination that he didn’t do anything with gift, other than bury it in the ground.  That’s when ritual becomes dead; when we have no imagination at all; when we’re unable to see and to imagine as children do.

On one level, we know what we’re doing here at Mass. But on a deeper level, it’s much more; it’s the heavenly wedding feast, a celebration, a cosmic event between Jesus Christ the Lord, King of the Universe and his faithful people, who go through thick and thin to remain valiantly and courageously dedicated to him.  It’s much more than a routine, this is serious business; this is children’s play.  

God has given a tremendous gift—the gift of the Mass, with all its routines, its rituals.  And he says, “Here, see what you can make of it.  Now, don’t change it into something that’s more familiar; it’s familiar, it’s natural and human enough.  Take it as it is, and consider the possibilities.”  The natural, human rituals of the Mass are a jumping off point to another realm, another world.  But it takes imagination and a little faith to enter that world. 

And if you haven’t used your imagination in a while, now’s as good a time as any.  In a few minutes we’ll be celebrating the Eucharist, asking Almighty God to send down his Holy Spirit to transform some little wafers and some wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who walked on earth 2,000 years ago.  We’ve seen it happen a thousand times before.  But each time it’s a chance for our imagination to kick in.

It was the wedding day—again.  The bride walked shyly, but steadily and slowly up the aisle; one small step in front of the other.  She was dressed in her favorite white gown, flowing and graceful.  Atop her head was a small tiara, with a single dazzling pearl set in it.  Her face was aglow, and the music was just phenomenal. 

There at the altar stood her groom, waiting for her to come to him.  And they embraced and kissed.  They spoke simple, loving words of commitment to each other.  And they walked away from that wedding day, not as two people, but as one.  It was a lovely scene, a perfect day.  Of course, it didn’t really happen that way at all....

Actually, she was just another person in line.  She shuffled her feet like everybody else, and when she got up to the altar, the priest held up the host and said, “The Body of Christ.”  And she said, “Amen.”  And, like everybody else, she just went back to her pew and sat down.  She was just going to communion.  Or, was she...?